While signing a sentencing reform bill into law on Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Devel Patrick (D) condemned the mass imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders.
“The bill contains important parole reforms for those convicted of the worst crimes; but just as important are the parts of this bill that reform the sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders,” he said in a statement. “Those changes start to move us away from the expensive and ineffective policy of warehousing non-violent drug offenders towards a more reasonable, smarter supervision and substance abuse program.”
Thanks to the sentencing reform bill, as many as 600 non-violent drug offenders could be immediately eligible for parole, the governor said. The new law also reduces the length of some mandatory minimum sentences and increases the quantity of drugs needed to trigger certain low-level trafficking offenses.
But it also contains a “three strikes” provision, which eliminates parole eligibility for certain three-time violent offenders. Patrick hoped to amend the provision, giving judges some discretion over parole eligibility, but his amendment was defeated by the state legislature.
“We must also get serious about reforming mandatory minimum sentences,” Patrick said. “Like I said, the warehousing of non-violent drug offenders has proven to be a costly failure. It does nothing to improve public safety and it doesn’t deal with the substance abuse that is the source of the problem. States across the country are moving away from it and we must, too.”
The governor said the state legislature had promised to consider further reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing in their next session.
“In the coming years, hundreds of drug offenders now in prison will benefit from the new law,” Barbara J. Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said. “They will be eligible for parole and have the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of returning home sooner. They will also be better able to prepare for their eventual return to the community due to their eligibility for work release and earned good conduct credits through vocational and educational programs.”
[Prison cell via Shutterstock]