Being among the best of the worst is not an honor. Massachusetts may rank 48th in the nation in incarceration rates, as was written in "Opponents of mandatory minimum sentencing fail to account for reality". However, our nation's incarceration rate is far greater than any other country in the world. This is not good. Mandatory minimums are one reason that our incarceration rates are far greater than any other in the world.
Mandatory minimums were developed decades ago partly for deterrence but mainly to try to decrease the disparities in sentencing between races. The idea was that if all defendants were to be given the same minimum sentence for a crime, minorities would not be subjected to longer sentences than whites. However, what happened was just the opposite. Poor and many minority defendants were not able to afford as good legal representation as wealthy and many white defendants. Defendants with better legal representation then were able to plea to lesser crimes and the poor and minorities were left with a mandatory minimum sentence.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Correction, drug offenders make up about 16-26 percent of the DOC's population, depending on the year. On 1 January 2014, 1,564 inmates were in the DOC on a drug related charge, and of that 1,062 inmates were serving a governing mandatory drug sentence.
That is about $50 million in incarceration costs per year on inmates with a mandatory minimum for a drug offense. We are not saying 'release them'; we are saying that there are other better ways to sentence offenders.
In 2009 the DOC wrote:
Mandatory minimum sentencing is intended to decrease drug use through general and specific deterrence. However, the DOC has not seen a decrease in admissions for drug use; drug related incarceration has fluctuated over the past 10 years undermining claims of deterrence.
The conservative crime prevention organization 'Right On Crime' stated that
the [mandatory minimum] policies appear to have produced many unintended consequences, one of which is a dramatic and unsustainable increase in criminal justice spending... Community supervision alternatives to incarceration are often more effective and substantially cheaper than mandatory incarceration, and states that have eschewed mandatory minimum sentencing have seen some success in limiting costs. Texas is a good example.
Are Texas and other conservative states really being smarter and more progressive on crime than Massachusetts? On the issue of mandatory minimums, yes!
There is an argument that Massachusetts' judges are too liberal and therefore won't sentence offenders to long enough periods of time. There are three things we can say about that. The first is that duration of incarceration does not decrease recidivism. Second, if judges are not sentencing offenders properly, that is a separate problem that needs to be addressed. And third, no county, state or national prison system has ever decreased crime by using mandatory minimums or increasing the duration of incarceration of its offenders.
We oppose mandatory minimums for drug offenders at the least because mandatory minimums add to our very costly prison population by increasing the length of incarceration and ultimately taking money away from other better means of reducing crime; remove discretion from the judges; and increase racial disparities in sentencing. We are not basing our conclusion on our subjective experience or opinions; the research is very clear about the consequences of mandatory minimums.
Paul Heroux State Representative
Jay Livingstone State Representative
Chris Walsh State Representative
Tom Sannicandro State Representative
Benjamin Swan State Representative
Leah Cole State Representative
Gloria Fox State Representative
Denise Provost State Representative
David M. Rogers State Representative
James J. O'Day State Representative
Cory Atkins State Representative
Brian Mannal State Representative
Jamie Eldridge State Senator
Robert Jubinville Governor's Council