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Massachusetts Legislature Looks At Sentencing Reforms

An exterior view of the Massachusetts State House in Boston

Massachusetts legislators are planning to hold a hearing Tuesday on a proposal to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

Critics of mandatory minimum sentences, who include Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, say the policy is ineffective, unjust, and expensive.

But prosecutors, including Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, say it would be a mistake to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers.

" Because I think  we are sending the wrong message, particularly during this opioid crisis, that somebody  with 500-2,000 bags of heroin doesn't face any consequences," he said.

Sullivan and other district attorneys point to a review of records of inmates serving time for a governing drug offense in Massachusetts that revealed 73 percent had a history of crimes involving firearms or violence.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.