FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 23, 2014
CONTACT: Peter Van Delft
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins recently traveled to Beacon Hill to voice his support for House Bill 3099, “An Act Relative to Motor Vehicle License Suspension,” and accompanying Senate Bill 1643.
Hosted by Massachusetts House and Senate sponsors of the legislation –Representative Elizabeth Malia and Senator Harriette L. Chandler – the event was held to bring attention to some of the law’s adverse impacts on citizens of the Commonwealth.
In 1993, a federal law was enacted, which required states to suspend the drivers’ licenses of people convicted of drug offenses for up to five years, even in cases where the offense was unrelated to driving. States that did not comply with the law would risk losing federal highway funds unless they formally opted out through legislation or a resolution. Currently, Massachusetts has not opted out of the law’s automatic license suspension for non–driving offenses, a situation that the bills now positioned before the House and Senate seek to remedy.
According to materials distributed by numerous concerned organizations, including Community Resources for Justice (CRJ), the Worcester Initiative for Supported Reentry (WISR), the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and Ex–Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement (EPOCA), the current federal law impacts about 7,000 people each year in Massachusetts. Among the list of negative effects created by the law, ex–offenders are faced with the possibility of having no license for between six months and five years and must pay a reinstatement fee of at least $500 when they become license–eligible again. Another potentially harmful feature of the law involves driving records, which now include non–driving license suspensions and warrants and can be obtained by prospective employers (and others) from the Registry of Motor Vehicles for less than ten dollars.
This law, said Sheriff Tompkins, when added to the list of hurdles already faced by ex–offenders seeking to reenter the community with a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) and limited access to housing and healthcare, can be devastating.
“As the Sheriff of Suffolk County, I can attest with certainty that obstacles that restrict an offender’s ability to get a job also contribute to the Commonwealth’s high rate of recidivism,” said Sheriff Tompkins. “By prohibiting an ex–offender from legally driving we are, albeit unintentionally, prohibiting them from finding and maintaining employment and potentially limiting their chances of staying out of our jails and prisons.”
Representative Malia, Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, agreed.
“I see this [issue] as an essential part of a system that allows for full recovery of people,” said Representative Malia. “Again, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are diseases and are treatable. People can recover from them, and to throw an additional curve at someone with those issues when they’re trying to recover is totally nonsensical.”
“Thirty–three other states have already done this,” added Senator Chandler. “There’s no reason why Massachusetts can’t be the thirty–fourth. I’m very convinced that this is a doable thing, but, we need your help. We need you and everybody you know to write and email and call your senators and representatives and say to them, ‘this is important to me.’”
Driving home the connection between employment and crime reduction, Sheriff Tompkins cautioned legislators against failing to act in support of the bills.
“We have educational and vocational programming that provides those in our care with employable skills that they can use when they reenter society,” said Sheriff Tompkins. “We’ve now been working with employers in the construction trades who have agreed to hire some of our folks, but some of these sites are outside of Boston, and the difficulty is in getting them there. So, we’ve begun picking them up and bringing them back, which is really something that falls outside of our purview as a Sheriff’s Department, but if employers want to hire some of our people, then I’m going to get them there.”
“It costs $46,000 to incarcerate one individual per year,” Sheriff Tompkins continued. “We can no longer afford to warehouse people. Passage of these two bills will help the people cycling out of our facilities mightily by allowing them to change some of the dynamics that led them to be incarcerated. These are people who want to go to work but they can’t because they have no license. Something’s wrong with that. If we’re serious about slowing down recidivism, then we can’t put unnecessary obstacles in paths of those trying to do the right thing.”