The mandatory-sentencing bill that Gov. Patrick said today he will sign should have been better, but could have been worse.
The ACLU of Massachusetts opposed this bill because it takes our justice system in the wrong direction, expanding unjust, wasteful mandatory sentencing and depriving judges of the ability to depart from required mandatory maximum sentences for so-called 'habitual offenders'. This bill will put more people in prison and keep them there longer--at a price tag of nearly $50,000 per prisoner each year.
However, the bill does take some steps in the right direction, such as:
- reduced mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses;
- permitting drug offenders in prison to become eligible for parole and work release and to earn 'good time' sentence reductions;
- more 'good time' for participation in prison programs;
- reduction of the 'school zone' for drug offenses and limiting the hours of its operation (5am to midnight);
- a 'Good Samaritan' law to protect people who help in drug overdose situations.
The need for further reform is greater than ever, so our work needs to continue and expand. Many states are turning away from expensive, unfair mandatory sentencing and toward smarter policies. Massachusetts needs to get smart too. We hope public officials will approach the next legislative session with determination to make real, much-needed reforms to mandatory-sentencing laws--reforms that will save millions, improve public safety, and enhance justice.
The author is solely responsible for the content.