Patrick will sign sentencing reform bill

The following is a statement from Governor Deval Patrick.

“I asked for a balanced bill and, after many twists and turns, the Legislature has given me one. Because of the balance between strict sentences for the worst offenders and more common sense approaches for those who pose little threat to public safety, I have said that this is a good bill. I will sign this bill.

The bill contains important parole reforms for those convicted of the worst crimes; but just as important are the parts of this bill that reform the sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders. Those changes start to move us away from the expensive and ineffective policy of warehousing non-violent drug offenders towards a more reasonable, smarter supervision and substance abuse program. Preliminary estimates are that nearly 600 non-violent drug offenders would be immediately eligible for supervised parole, setting them on a path to recovery and stability and saving the state millions of dollars.

But our work is not complete. I still believe there is a necessary role for judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing and many of the advocates of this bill have pledged to support that next year. 

We must also get serious about reforming mandatory minimum sentences. Like I said, the warehousing of non-violent drug offenders has proven to be a costly failure. It does nothing to improve public safety and it doesn’t deal with the substance abuse that is the source of the problem. States across the country are moving away from it and we must, too.

The Senate President and the Speaker have pledged to return to the subject of mandatory minimum sentencing early in the next session. I take them at their word. When we do, I trust the decisions we make will be based on data about the costs and trade-offs inherent in the choices we make. I have asked the Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth’s Criminal Justice System to give us a thorough analysis by year-end. I have also asked the Parole Board to give priority review to the supervised release of non-violent drug offenders, consistent with the terms of this bill.

This bill is an emotional issue for people on all sides. I understand the concerns of those who worry we have taken judgment out of the justice system and the pain and frustration of the families of victims of violent crime. For all those interests, and those of the public at large, this bill is a good start. I look forward to finishing this work together in the next session.”