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Governor Patrick should ensure justice by rejecting mandatory sentencing bill

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  July 19, 2012 02:02 PM

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A deeply flawed mandatory-sentencing bill is now on Governor Patrick's desk. It would expand unjust and wasteful mandatory sentencing, and force judges to impose one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of the facts and circumstances of an individual case.

The Governor should reject the bill as-is, because it's bad for public safety and bad for Massachusetts.

The proposed legislation would change Massachusetts law in ways that will put more people in prison and keep them there longer--at a price tag of nearly $50,000 per prisoner each year.

But the real cost in human lives and public safety is far greater than even this price tag.

By requiring judges to simply impose a mandatory sentence--automatically, robotically, without any individualized consideration, and without any judging--the proposed law ensures that too many people will spend too much time in prison, rather than having the chance to become productive members of our Commonwealth.

Instead, it's a guarantee that prisons will become even more over-crowded than they already are, that more poor people will be locked up rather than rehabilitated, and that too many children will be stripped of their parents--and thus more likely to become criminals themselves.

That's no way to run a Commonwealth.

Consider the case of Jamie Ayers. She married young, to a man who was a drug addict and, as a result, became an addict herself. Eventually, her drug use led to her getting arrested, leaving behind her young children to be cared for by family members. Jamie's story has a happy ending: she did her time, got out, got clean, and went home to raise her five children. Two of those kids grew up to serve in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, two are training to become teachers, and one is a nurse. Jamie herself has earned an associate degree in business administration and is in the process of obtaining a second degree in human services.

If the proposed legislation were the law of the land, Jamie Ayers and hundreds of people like her could be charged and sentenced to mandatory prison terms, even mandatory maximum prison terms, and could be locked up without the possibility of parole, with their kids becoming wards of the state. All those lives would be wasted--and no one would be safer as a result.

Massachusetts needs to repeal mandatory sentencing, not expand it. Governor Patrick should exercise leadership at this critical moment by rejecting the mandatory sentencing requirements in this bill, and by, instead, making sure that they're replaced with provisions that defend public safety by ensuring that the punishment fits the crime.

A one-size-fits-all system of justice isn't justice at all.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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