OR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 12, 2015
CONTACT: Peter Van Delft
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins recently delivered testimony during a public hearing before the Massachusetts Joint Judiciary Committee in support of the Justice Reinvestment Act, an omnibus bill that addresses – among other issues – the repeal of mandatory minimums.
Held inside Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House, Sheriff Tompkins’ testimony was given as a call for a change in policies and regulations pertaining to sentencing for drug offenses in Massachusetts.
The Justice Reinvestment Act (Bills S. 64/H. 1429) co–sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang–Diaz and Representative Mary Keefe, would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences related to drug offenses, repealing the “one size fits all” approach to more appropriately allow for more judicial discretion in sentencing. The use of mandatory minimums currently inhibits the ability of judges to determine appropriate sentences on a case–by–case basis.
“Speaking only for my Department, I can unequivocally say that mandatory minimums are an absolute impediment to our work,” said Sheriff Tompkins during his testimony. “My Department places an intense focus on programming to help offenders improve their station in life and successfully re–enter the community and it’s my belief that we should, and must allow for incentives that encourage them to take our programming.” Sheriff Tompkins went on to explain that those with mandatory sentences are not eligible to have time taken off of their sentences through earned good time for enrolling in programming, thus weakening the motivation to participate. Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutojoujian and Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti echoed these concerns during their testimony alongside Sheriff Tompkins.
Citing the negative effects that mandatory minimums have on inmates, their families and communities Sheriff Tompkins also spoke about their fiscal impact.
“Education for children costs somewhere between thirteen– to twenty–thousand dollars annually,” Sheriff Tompkins said. “A drug or detox program costs approximately seventeen– to twenty–thousand dollars annually. We know that the cost to incarcerate a single person is between forty–six and fifty–thousand dollars annually. Clearly, something is very wrong with our system.”
Another part of the Justice Reinvestment Act, which will be addressed in a hearing at a later date, is the Collateral Sanctions law. Under the current provision, offenders of certain drug–related crimes are stripped of their drivers’ licenses for up to five years, even if their charges are not related to the operation of a motor vehicle. Illustrating the great obstacles that such a law creates with respect to positive re–entry for offenders, Sheriff Tompkins voiced his support for the reform of this law as well.
“My Department works hard to rehabilitate and teach marketable skills to our population so that they can get out, get a job and be successful in their re–entry,” said Sheriff Tompkins. “Many of these jobs are a distance away and most of these people will also need to travel to get to medical appointments and continue in their recovery treatment programs.”
“Taking away and withholding their licenses and their ability to drive is a recipe for failure,” Sheriff Tompkins continued. “We tell them that we want them to stay out, stay clean and get to work and then we take away what may be one of the most vital tools to their success. It just makes absolutely no sense to me.”