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Massachusetts To Have Criminal Justice Policies Reviewed

WikiMedia Commons

Massachusetts is joining a national movement to reexamine get-tough-on-crime policies.

Massachusetts state leaders earlier this month committed to a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice policies with a goal to reduce the cost of incarceration and improve public safety by reducing recidivism. 

The leaders of the three branches of state government, Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and Chief Justice Ralph Gants signed a letter to the U.S. Justice Department asking for a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice practices.

" We need to identify the things we are doing well and the things where we have room for improvement," said Rosenberg.

Rosenberg said Massachusetts will join thirty other states that have had similar policy analysis by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project funded by the federal government and the Pew Center on the States.

Criminal justice reform is a rare issue that has brought Democrats and Republicans together, albeit for different reasons.  Liberals question the value to society of locking up people in prison for lengthy periods of time, while conservatives object to the costs.

In Massachusetts, mandatory minimum drug sentences have been at the center of recent debate over changes to the criminal justice system.  The legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a hearing in June on an omnibus bill that included eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

Carlos Rodriguez, a community organizer with Neighbor to Neighbor in Holyoke, said the state should take money it could save by reducing the state’s prison population and reinvest it in job training programs.

"If you bring people from jail and put them back to work it means more money for the state. So it is good for everybody," he said.

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said it would be a mistake to eliminate mandatory minimum drug sentences.

" Because  I think we are sending the wrong message particularly during this opioid crisis that somebody with 500-2000 bags of heroin doesn't face any consequences," said Sullivan.

The state’s district attorneys argue it is a myth that mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in the “mass incarceration” of non-violent drug offenders, as some reform advocates contend. A report from the Massachusetts District Attorney Association said just 1 percent of the people convicted in 2013 were subject to a mandatory minimum sentence. The report said 73 percent of inmates doing time for a governing drug offense have a history of crimes involving firearms or violence.

" These minimum mandatories have not been applied to drug users, it is applied to drug dealers who are profiting from the misery and death of others," said Sullivan.

Criminal justice reform advocates in Massachusetts have also called for repealing a law that imposes a five-year driver’s license suspension for a drug conviction unrelated to operating a motor vehicle.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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