Do You Support Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws?


Mandatory minimum sentence laws remain popular on Beacon Hill. Just last summer, the state passed the so-called “three strikes” bill, which Gov. Deval Patrick signed despite reservations. 

However, a new study says that such laws cost the state and taxpayers millions each year—and potentially billions in the future—without much return on investment, as Massachusetts’ recidivism rate remains high compared to other states.

Nonpartisan research group MassINC commissioned the study in partnership with the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a group of those in the criminal justice realm, businessmen and women and community organizers.

The study said that the state’s prison population has tripled since the early 1980s because of Massachusetts’ criminal justice policies, while 60 percent of state inmates and a similar percentage of county inmates end up convicted of new charges within six years of release. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of drug offenders and almost 60 percent of non-drug offenders received sentences where the minimum and maximum were very similar.

“This sentence structure limits parole eligibility, reducing the incentive offenders have to take steps to self-rehabilitate while in prison,” the report says. “It also means more offenders return to the community without supervision.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts spends an estimated $ 150 each year to keep inmates in jail for longer stays than those committing similar offenses in 1990, the report said. Without reform, over the course of the next decade that figure will total $ 1.5 billion.

“This new report looks to models developed elsewhere, including in many ‘red states’ that have stopped prison construction, reduced mandatory sentences, and invested in evidence-based programs to cut cost and increase public safety,” the report says. “Instead of spending more on what doesn’t work, states like Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas are spending less on what does.”

Meanwhile, in battling recidivism, Massachusetts has passed in recent years criminal record information reforms, such as prohibiting employers from asking about criminal history on preliminary job application, and reducing the amount of time before certain criminal records can be sealed.

Should mandatory minimum sentencing laws be cleared from the books? Should the state keep such laws for specific, serious crimes? How can the state make it easier for those released from prison to be reintegrated in society—and keep them from becoming repeat offenders? Tell us what you think in the comments.

South End Patch