Drug Sentencing Opponents Say Poll Shows Public Agrees With Them


A majority of Massachusetts voters want to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and an even larger percentage supports shifting resources from jails to drug addiction treatment programs, according to a poll commissioned by an advocacy group.

Commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums and conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center, the telephone survey found 62 percent of registered voters support repealing the Bay State’s drug mandatory minimums after learning that 20 states have taken similar steps.

Another 72 percent of voters agree that Massachusetts spends too much money imprisoning non-violent drug offenders and the state should instead focus its resources on “rehabilitation programs that could reduce the likelihood that prisoners will reoffend.”

About half of the 500 people polled said they would be more likely to support a candidate who voted to repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences, while only 19 percent said that vote would make them less likely to support the candidate.

After reducing some mandatory minimum drug sentences in 2012 while adding stricter punishments for other crimes, top lawmakers said they would return to the subject the next session, but now three years later legislative leaders are waiting for a comprehensive outside review of the criminal justice system before changing the law.

“Massachusetts has been collecting data on mandatory minimum sentences for drugs for over 20 years,” the pollsters prefaced. “Do you think Massachusetts should conduct a new study or go ahead and vote to repeal drug mandatory minimums now?”

Only one third of voters backed a new study while 47 percent said the state should vote to repeal and 20 percent were undecided.

The poll was taken Nov. 18-22 and it had a 4.4 percent margin of error, according to Barbara Dougan, Massachusetts project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“Our position is that you don’t need to conduct any more studies to show that mandatory minimums have failed as public policy,” Dougan told the News Service. She said, “Mandatory minimums have not reduced drug crimes, and they certainly haven’t reduced substance abuse and addiction.”
Dougan said mandatory minimums limit the courts at sentencing to focus only on the “literal weight of the evidence,” requiring at least a 12-year sentence for trafficking in 200 grams of heroin or cocaine.

“Twelve years means 12 years, and you can earn good time credits but they won’t do you any good unless your maximum sentence is higher,” said Dougan, who said prisoners aren’t eligible for parole until they have served their minimum sentence.

Lawmakers did not add a mandatory minimum sentence when they created the crime of trafficking in fentanyl – a powerful opiate – this fall.

– Andy Metzger

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