Drug offense sentencing reform should pass House

April 2, 2010
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I never do this, begging for support, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Turns out that my friend just recently got sentenced to nine to 10 years, starting in the maximum security reception center in Walpole (MCI-Cedar Junction). That seems to me a very harsh punishment for his crimes, which were five different counts of selling small amounts of cocaine, none of which exceeded 28 grams. Now, I do not in any way condone the sale of cocaine, but that sentence seems over-the-top to me, especially when you hear it was awarded to someone convicted of a non-violent drug infraction.

The point here is that the state of Massachusetts awards the same sentence for drug infractions of all types, which means they are not trying to apply sentencing that is actually commensurate or equal to the crime committed. The culprit here is the state Mandatory Minimum Sentencing laws; as far as I know, it is a 30-year-old law that is getting very long in the tooth. This law smacks of human rights violations to me. And it turns out that it smacks of human rights violations to others, too. The local office of a national organization called åçFAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) has brought a bill before the Massachusetts Legislature to reform state sentencing laws. The bill has passed the Senate and is now awaiting votes from the House.

If this sentencing reform bill were to pass anytime soon, I think my friend could get his sentence reduced from nine to 10 years down to about six years. The bill is aimed at making sentencing fair and proportionate to the crime committed in regard specifically to drug offenses. So it would, for instance, cut the years applied to a non-violent drug offense down well below current sentencing.

If this bill passes, it would allow a very special person to come home early. I am hoping everyone tells their state representatives that in only a few years, if this sentencing reform bill passes, it will have started to reduce the number of people crowding our state jails.

Thanks to all who join in this fight for more conscience in our state’s sentencing practices.

Bruce Mahfood
Jamaica Plain

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