FAMM Testifies Before Mass. Judiciary Committee on Need to Repeal Harsh Drug Sentencing Laws

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Post Date: June 9, 2015

Mandatory minimums prevent addicts from getting treatment; public safety and state budget better protected when sentences fit the crime

MEDIA Contact: Barbara Dougan, (617) 543-0878, bdougan@famm.org, or Mike Riggs, (202) 822-6700, mriggs@famm.org

BOSTON – Today Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) will testify before the legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee in support of bills to repeal harsh “one size fits all” mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenses.

We call upon legislators to join the nationwide movement for more fair, effective and fiscally responsible drug sentencing laws,” said Barbara J. Dougan, director of FAMM’s Massachusetts project.

“For over 30 years, Massachusetts has been locking up drug offenders by way of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Yet we are no closer to solving the problems of addiction and drug crimes. Contrary to basic common sense, our sentencing laws prevent the courts from sending those drug offenders who are addicts to treatment and evidence-based programs shown to reduce recidivism. Our sentencing laws are also focused on drug weights instead of an offender’s actions, a crude proxy to assess culpability or to impose punishment. All the while, taxpayers shell out money to warehouse nonviolent offenders for lengthy sentences that bear little relation to their crimes.”

Over the past 15 years, over 20 states have reformed or repealed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drugs, efforts supported across the political spectrum.

Dougan (read testimony) will be joined by five others who will offer their perspectives on why Massachusetts’ failed drug sentencing policies must be changed:

  • Rahsaan Hall, a former Suffolk County prosecutor and current Deputy Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (read testimony). “Despite the intent of minimum mandatory drug laws, there was nothing I saw in my work as a prosecutor to suggest that these laws had a deterrent effect.”
  • Joanne Peterson, founder and Executive Director of Learn to Cope (read testimony), a support organization for the families of addicts. “For 14 years I have watched young people who never would have committed a crime end up incarcerated due to the prescription pill and heroin epidemic. We need to choose treatment and a chance to recover so that we can stop filling our prisons with people who have a sickness. They need a chance to recover and give back to our society. I see many do just that and get on with a healthy life. If we did that, there would be less crime and less need for incarceration.”
  • Bonnie DiToro, who was sentenced to a 15-year mandatory minimum for being in the next room during a drug deal (read testimony). “I got into trouble because I was a drug user, not a drug dealer. I needed help, not 15 years in prison.”
  • Michelle Collette, who sold drugs to support her addiction until she was arrested (read testimony). “What I did was wrong and I deserved to be punished. But it doesn’t help anyone to treat addicts the same as the ring leaders. That’s wrong, too.”
  • Robert Harnais, President-Elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association (read testimony). “Especially today, when the commonwealth is grappling with a terrible drug epidemic, mandatory minimums are not only part of the problem, they are getting in the way of the solution. By removing any discretion for meaningful rehabilitation or treatment, mandatory minimums contribute to the high recidivism rates found in many drug offenses, effectively sentencing addicts to ‘life’ on the installment plan.”

FAMM supports the two bills that were filed to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, S.786, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), and H.1620, sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield). Sixty-eight other legislators co-sponsored the bills. Both bills build on the 2012 drug sentencing reforms, which reduced the length of some mandatory minimum sentences.

FAMM is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to ensure that punishment fits the crime. In 2008, FAMM launched its Massachusetts project, focusing on drug sentencing laws.  For more information on FAMM, visit http://www.famm.org/.

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