Your reporter does a good job of describing the state’s overcrowded county jails (“Making room for inmates,” May 17). At this point, we’ve got three options. We can ignore the problem, await the inevitable tragedy, and then chafe at court-ordered solutions. Or we can build more prison cells, courtesy of the taxpayers. Or — and this one costs less, not more — we can put an end to policies that require incarceration whether it’s needed or not.
Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti is right when he calls for an earlier release for some nonviolent drug offenders. Mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws are notorious for requiring judges to impose sentences that are predetermined — and often disproportionately long — without allowing them to consider either the individual who stands before the court or the facts of the case.
But the better approach is to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses altogether. There are those offenders who should be in treatment programs, not behind bars. And there are others who should have the book thrown at them. But as long as judges’ hands are tied, we can’t figure out who deserves what. Until we change our ways, we’ll keep pouring money into a system that’s already broken.
Massachusetts project director
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Arlington