Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009
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Legislative News

Senate passes legislation granting parole eligibility for non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences; Legislature tackles several court-related veto overrides

Sentencing reform in Massachusetts cleared a major hurdle Wednesday night when the Senate, prior to the end of this year's legislative session, passed legislation that would grant parole eligibility for non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences.

The MBA is a long-standing opponent of mandatory minimum sentences and has been outspoken in support of reforms to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. The astronomical increase in the Massachusetts correctional population is due, in large part, to the increase in drug arrests. It costs $48,000 per year to house an offender. Non violent drug offenders face a one-size-fits-all justice system in which previous offenses or their role in the offense are not taken into account. Offenders have no incentive to plead guilty since judges have no discretion over the sentence, thus most cases go to trial.

The MBA's Drug Policy Task Force issued a report earlier this year recommending meaningful drug reform for non violent drug offenders including reform of mandatory minimum drug sentences. For a copy of the report, click here. In addition to the cost savings, enactment of this legislation would reduce recidivism. Instead of being released directly into the community, this legislation would grant offenders eligibility for parole and work-release programs. Numerous studies have shown that offenders who gradually re-enter their communities have a much lower recidivism rate than someone who walks right out of a correctional facility and into society.

The MBA has also been supportive of efforts to revise CORI laws to provide our citizens with greater accuracy, earlier sealing of records and greater clarity in the reports.

The bill now awaits action by the House of Representatives. Formal legislative sessions have ended for the year and will resume in January.

Veto Overrides

In the waning hours of the Legislature's formal session, they tackled several court related veto overrides. In the FY10 budget, Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed a $950,000 trial court account. The Legislature last night overrode that veto.

The Legislature also restored $4.1 million of the $9 million cut from the Probation Department and $300,000 of the $788,786 cut from Community Corrections.

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