For Immediate Release
FAMM Hails Massachusetts Governor for Signing Sentencing Reform Law
BOSTON - Today Governor Deval Patrick signed into law limited but promising reform of the state's harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenses. Drug offenders who are serving mandatory minimum sentences at county Houses of Correction will be eligible for parole after they serve one-half of their sentences -- the same as other county prisoners who are eligible for parole -- unless one of three "aggravating factors" apply. The Legislature passed this measure on July 31 as part of the CORI (criminal records) reform bill. This is the first time that the Legislature has moved to ease rigid drug sentencing laws since the laws were first enacted nearly 30 years ago.
FAMM's Massachusetts project director Barbara J. Dougan, who spoke at the press conference, stated:
"FAMM and its members are gratified to see Massachusetts take this first step toward meaningful sentencing reform. Over the years the studies have amassed, showing that mandatory minimum sentences do not reduce either drug offenses or drug dependency and addiction. Instead, too often they result in nonviolent or low level offenders being punished with the same lengthy sentences intended for drug kingpins. The Legislature showed courage in its willingness to acknowledge that when laws do not work as intended, change is needed. And today, by signing the bill into law, Gov. Patrick continues his strong leadership on this issue. This is part of a nationwide trend, as at least 15 other states have reform their drug sentencing laws in recent years."
The new law applies to those who are currently incarcerated, as well as to those sentenced in the future. Drug offenders serving county sentences will be eligible for parole only if they did not use violence or guns when committing the drug offense, direct the drug activities of others, or sell drugs to minors or use minors in drug transactions.
The new law does not include two reforms previously endorsed by the Senate: allowing drug offenders in state prisons the same access to parole, and allowing all drug offenders to be eligible for work release programs. Under current state law, drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences are barred from either parole eligibility or work release programs, even if such restrictions force them to leave prison without supervision or job skills. FAMM will continue to work for those reforms in the coming legislative session.