House Approves Crime Bill; Sends Final Legislation to Governor
State Representatives Paul J. Donato (D-Medford ) and Carl M. Sciortino, Jr. (D-Medford) joined their colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature in passing a tough and balanced sentencing bill that cracks down on habitual offenders and establishes new requirements to improve the functions of the state parole board.
“I congratulate Chairman O’Flaherty, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and the conference committee for getting this bill done,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We cannot continue to allow habitual offenders to terrorize and victimize our friends, loved ones and public servants. This strong, balanced bill represents a powerful deterrent to those who commit serious crimes repeatedly.”
“While there is still work to do in the public safety area, this bill is a big step forward in cracking down on habitual offenders and it also provides for sentencing that balances differentially serious crimes from non violent crimes”, said Representative Paul J. Donato.
“I voted in favor of the crime bill with a very mixed opinion of the very different aspects contained within the legislation,” said Representative Carl Sciortino. “My priority would be to devote far greater resources to addressing substance abuse and mental health treatment rather than incarceration. The specific ‘three strikes provisions’ that have raised much concern were targeted at individuals who have repeatedly committed very serious crimes of the most violent nature in our state, making them ineligible for parole if they are convicted for a third violent offense. I share concerns about how these provisions might be used, but I felt on balance the concerns were outweighed by my support for the provisions of the bill that reduce drug-related mandatory minimum sentences and school zone penalties, which will lead to fewer people being incarcerated for longer periods of time.”
The bill requires the habitual offender tag to be placed on anyone convicted of two crimes from a list of the most serious offenses, including murder, rape and kidnapping. It mandates that any habitual offender found guilty of a third offense from the list of most serious crimes would be ineligible for parole.
The legislation also closes a loophole that currently prevents federal sentences from counting toward habitual offender status.
The bill raises the parole eligibility threshold to a two-thirds vote of the parole board from the current majority vote for anyone serving a life sentence and allows judges to set an imprisonment term between 15-25 years before an initial parole eligibility date. Inmates with life sentences arising from separate and distinct incidents would not be eligible for parole.
The legislation also makes the following parole board improvements:
- Gives the governor the ability to remove parole board members;
- Diversifies members on the discretionary parole appointment panel;
- Requires the parole board complete a risk/needs assessment before granting a parole permit;
- Requires certification that parole board members have reviewed criminal records;
- Requires tally of voting record of board decisions;
- Increases notification requirements when violent felons have a parole hearing; and
- Requires eight hours of annual training for parole board members.
The bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses under the Controlled Substances Act which will help alleviate prison overcrowding and save taxpayers money. Those serving a prison sentence under the Controlled Substances Act will now be allowed to participate in authorized vocational and educational programs.
The legislation also reduces school zone areas from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, which triggers enhanced mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, and reforms DNA collection practices, alleviating a backlog in the crime labs and DNA database and assisting law enforcement and prosecutors.
Additionally, the bill includes two Good Samaritan provisions. One allows doctors to prescribe and dispense a potentially life-saving drug normally administered for heroin and other opioid overdoses to abusers and family members for preventative purposes. The second allows a person to come forward in good faith to a medical professional or member of law enforcement on behalf of someone experiencing an overdose without fear of being prosecuted.
- Submitted by Rep. Donato’s office