Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus to Vote Against Sentencing Reform Bill
BOSTON--Citing the bill's lack of evidence-based solutions, removal of judicial discretion, and the absence of any elimination of mandatory minimums on non-violent offenses, members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus (MBLLC) announced today that, as a Caucus, they will be voting against the final sentencing reform bill released by the Conference Committee on Tuesday evening.
“As a senator representing a district grappling day-in and day-out with the pervasive effects of violence and the drug trade, I have a strong interest in government putting forth smart, evidence-based solutions to make our neighborhoods safer. This bill doesn't get us there,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston). “Over the past several months, I have met with criminal justice experts, faith leaders, and victims’ families, and talked with scores of constituents about what they see as the benefits and drawbacks of this legislation. These parties have put forth great advocacy about the alternative solutions that would serve our communities better. Ultimately, I am not convinced that the benefits of this bill outweigh its fiscal and societal costs—or its opportunity costs.”
“Addiction is a real concern and we need a comprehensive approach to providing critical services that break the cycle of repeat sentencing,” said Representative Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester). “This is not just a criminal issue—It is a mental health and addiction issue, and judges need the discretion to determine the difference.”
In a letter to House and Senate colleagues delivered on Wednesday afternoon, the MBLLC expressed concerns that the bill did not include data-driven solutions to reduce violence and recidivism. The Caucus expressed disappointment that the bill “imposes new burdens on our courts and prisons while doing too little to promote rehabilitation for non-violent offenders and prevent recidivism. It also removes the judicial discretion that is fundamental to the purpose of our judicial system and the principal of separation of powers.”
In announcing their opposition to the final bill, MBLLC members also pointed to:
- Data from the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission suggesting that this bill will cost over $100 million over the next 10 to 15 years—funding that will be siphoned off from priorities such as education, job training, and transportation improvements.
- The half-dozen states around the country, including Kansas and South Carolina, that have moved away from mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and have seen their crime rates drop.
- The disproportionate representation of communities of color in our jail and prison systems. As of 2009, Black and Latino people comprised approximately 12 percent of Massachusetts’ population yet accounted for 56 percent of its prison population. They argued that unnecessary and ineffective jail sentences devastate communities, preclude valuable job training and educational opportunities, fracture families, and perpetuate a cycle of violence and crime that has had serious consequences on communities of color.
Over the past eight months, MBLLC members have facilitated and attended many community forums, State House briefings, and constituent meetings to solicit input on the two sentencing bills passed by the House and the Senate last fall. This input informed the position that the MBLLC took during the course of Conference Committee negotiations and in their communications with House and Senate leadership.
Although they could not endorse the bill on balance, the MBLLC did note and express appreciation for the fact that the Conference Committee included several provisions for which the MBLLC had advocated. These provisions included:
- Significant reduction of the so-called “school zone” area for drug sentences, and a suspension of the school zone policy between midnight and 5am
- Inclusion of the “Good Samaritan” provision
- Increased access to earned-good-time and work release programming for inmates serving time on non-violent offenses.