White testifies at Statehouse hearing on sentencing reform

Issue December 2007 By Jennifer Rosinski

Massachusetts Bar Association President David W. White Jr. asked for the repeal of mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug crimes and an increase in both parole opportunities and treatment programs when he testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Statehouse on Nov. 13.

“Massachusetts is a leader in so many ways; it should be a leader in the field of corrections,” White said. “Crime rates have not been reduced, the number of men and women behind bars continues to rise, we are desperately over capacity, and we are spending a fortune on this failed system.”

White, who has made sentencing reform a priority of his 2007-08 term, led the MBA Sentencing Symposium, which featured 10 distinguished panelists, at a half-day forum attended by more than 100 people in the Great Hall of the Statehouse on Oct. 23.

Panelists discussed the political, financial and ethical issues surrounding the state’s sentencing structure and Criminal Offender Record Information system.

At the Joint Committee on the Judiciary hearing on Nov. 13, White was joined by Boston Bar Association President Tony Doniger and Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services Executive Director Leslie Walker. The committee heard testimony regarding bills asking for reform of the state’s sentencing system.

Current sentencing practices have resulted in a budget approaching $1 billion, more than 25,000 incarcerated residents and less money for programs that include drug treatment and work training, White said during his testimony.

In addition to advocating for education and training programs, White asked for amending or abolishing the school zone statute that results in harsher punishments for drug arrests close to schools.