FAMM Applauds Gov. Patrick for Recommending Repeal of Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses

For Immediate Release

FAMM Applauds Gov. Patrick for Recommending Repeal of Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses

BOSTON, MA - Today Gov. Deval
Patrick announced a ground-breaking criminal justice reform package
that includes the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent
drug offenses.  The Governor’s
bill would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to become eligible for
parole, work release and earned “good conduct” credits, as are most
other prisoners.  Gov. Patrick’s bill reflects the national trend toward
evidence-based drug sentencing policies that
better protect public safety while costing taxpayers less.  

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) applauds Gov. Patrick’s leadership on sentencing reform.  Barbara J. Dougan, director of FAMM’s Massachusetts project, issued the following
statement in response to today’s bill:
 
“This is a
bold move by the Governor, but at the same time, it’s just basic common
sense.   The Governor’s bill would simply re-align our current drug
sentencing policies so that they are in sync with
what we know about who is being sentenced to mandatory prison terms and
what those people need to stay out of trouble when they leave prison.  
Nearly two-thirds of those  sentenced to mandatory prison terms fall
into the two lowest level ”criminal history”
groups – no prior record or few lower level offenses.   Yet too often
they serve disproportionately harsh sentences, sometimes longer than
those who commit violent crimes.  As a result, the public pays for
lengthier sentences than are warranted.” 
 
“Additionally,” Dougan
explained, “drug offenders often serve their sentences under more
restrictive conditions than other prisoners, conditions that actually
increase recidivism and undermine
public safety.  The Governor is to be commended for proposing policies
that will actually do some good – for public safety and taxpayers –
rather than just sounding good.” 

 
Governor Patrick’s proposal would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for
drug crimes that don’t involve guns or children, allow certain
nonviolent drug offenders serving mandatory minimums in state prison to
be eligible for parole after serving half their maximum
sentence and allow drug offenders to be eligible for work release and
earned “good conduct” credits.  “Drug offenders with legitimate work
skills are more likely to earn an honest living upon release from
prison,” said Dougan.  “There has never been
a sound policy reason for forcing them to remain idle during their time behind bars.” 
 
The bill
would also reduce drug-free “school zones” from 1,000 feet of a school
to 100 feet, the same as for parks and playgrounds.  As a result, the
school zone law, which currently carries a two
to 15 years sentence, will fulfill its original intent to protect
children.  As it is current written and enforced, it serves mainly to
add a second penalty for those who lives in urban areas.
 
In addition to Gov. Patrick’s proposal, other sentencing reform bills were recently filed.  Last week, Sen. Steven Tolman and Rep. Benjamin Swan filed bills to repeal mandatory minimums for
drug offenses and to reform the school zone law, bills drafted by FAMM.   Sen. Cynthia Creem, a long-time proponent of drug sentencing reform, also filed bills. 
 
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to insure that the punishment fits the crime.  In 2008, FAMM launched a project
in Massachusetts to reform state mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug and school zone offenses.  
 
To read profiles on people serving mandatory minimum sentences in Massachusetts, or for more information on FAMM, visit
http://www.famm.org/StateSentencing/Massachusetts.aspx
 
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