Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Seeking to Correct ‘Misconceptions’ About Melissa's Bill

Yesterday I joined with Senate Ways and Means Vice Chairman Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen) to reach out to the Boston City Council in an attempt to correct some of the inaccuracies and misconceptions surrounding the Senate’s habitual offender bill and to request the Council’s support for the incarceration of violent repeat offenders.

In a letter hand-delivered to the Council’s Public Safety Committee yesterday afternoon, we sought to refute some of the concerns raised in a Resolution proposed by District 4 Councilor Charles Yancey relative to the cost, scope and impact of the habitual offender bill. That bill, along with a scaled-back House version, is currently being reviewed by a six–member House and Senate Conference Committee on which Senator Baddour and I are both serving on.

The habitual offender bill, contrary to published reports, will not cost millions of dollars, nor will it lead to an increased burden on Massachusetts tax payers. In fact, the Senate Ways and Means Committee whose primary function is to ensure that the state budget is balanced and responsible, has analyzed the Senate version of the bill and concluded that it will have no cost in Fiscal Year 2012. The Senate Ways and Means Committee also estimates that, when fully implemented, the costs incurred by this legislation will be offset by cost-saving measures contained in the legislation. This includes an estimated savings of up to $5 million associated with drug offenders who are currently serving mandatory minimum sentences in state prison but who will now become eligible for parole.

In addition to the economic costs, we also refuted several other concerns raised in the Yancey Resolution, including:

• Scope of Bill – The Yancey Resolution suggests that the habitual offender bill would apply to hundreds of felony crimes in Massachusetts and would ensnare the non-violent, the petty criminal, the drug dependent and the mentally ill. The bill would actually impact only those individuals convicted for the third time of committing one or more of the 59 most violent felonies, including rape, murder and other serious crimes that involve violence, force or the threat of force.

• Automatic Life Sentences – The Yancey Resolution compares the habitual offender bill to so-called “three strikes laws” implemented in other states that require a life sentence without parole after two or more previous criminal offenses. The Senate bill simply requires repeat offenders to serve the maximum punishment for a third offense, but does not mandate life sentences for all crimes.

• Prison Overcrowding – The Yancey Resolution predicts massive long-term incarceration if the Senate bill is enacted that will exacerbate an already overcrowded prison system, but the bill will actually free up prison space by reducing mandatory drug minimums, steering those individuals to needed rehab services and freeing up space in our prisons for the most violent criminal offenders. The letter also notes that over the last 10 years, 84 individuals were sentenced under the existing habitual offender statute (an average of 7 to 8 a year), while the Senate bill, once implemented, would impact an estimated 4 to 5 additional offenders a year, due to the fact that the Senate bill specifically targets repeat, violent offenders who have been convicted of some of the most heinous crimes against society, not anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or a lesser felony.

We welcome the City Council’s partnership in our efforts to preserve public safety, and hope that we can move forward by working together to ensure that these violent, repeat offenders will no longer be a threat to the residents of Boston or any other citizen of the Commonwealth.

Posted below is the letter we sent yesterday to the Boston City Council in its entirety.

Letter to Boston CIty Council Regarding the Habitual Offender Bill 2012.02.28