A long-stalled crime and sentencing reform bill is now on the governor’s desk. It cleared both houses of the state Legislature this week, more than a decade after it was first proposed. Both opponents and supporters of the measure are now anxiously awaiting Gov. Deval Patrick’s response.
Melissa’s bill is named after a young woman who was raped and murdered by a repeat offender in 1999. Les Gosule, her father, has long fought for the sentencing reform proposal.
“This bill should be signed because it goes a long way to help protect the citizens of Massachusetts,” Gosule said. “Is it perfect? No. Could there be changes to make it better? I’m sure that is true. Nothing in life is perfect.”
Jamarhl Crawford of Roxbury is an outspoken activist against the crime bill. He’s the editor and publisher of the Blackstonian newspaper.
“We would hope that the governor is going to veto this, but even so, then it would just go back and there’s a good chance that the veto would get overridden,” Crawford said.
While it is a tough-on-crime bill supported by most of the state’s district attorneys, it also includes some concessions. The measure changes some provisions that have been enforced for about three decades. For instance, it would make sweeping changes to the state’s drug laws, in some cases decreasing mandatory minimum sentences, and it includes shrinking the distance and hours of school zones.
At the same time it would toughen treatment of repeat offenders, eliminating the possibility of parole if they’re convicted of certain violent crimes a third time. This provision prompted state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez of Jamaica Plain to vote in favor of the bill.
“In communities like mine, where we have a high number of shootings going on by perpetrators that we know are repeat violent offenders, we needed another tool,” Sanchez said.
But critics, such as Crawford, say at a time when other states are facing overcrowding due to similar measures, this is the wrong direction.
“Number one, it’s going to cost the state a bundle of money we don’t have, more people are going to go to jail and stay there longer and that has a cost,” Crawford said.
And Crawford said it doesn’t address key the problem of recidivism.
“Once somebody goes into prison, what’s happening while they are in there — are they getting job skills, are they getting life skills, are they getting education, which we know are key factors to prevent recidivism,” Crawford said.
Patrick has 10 days — from the time it cleared the Legislature — either to approve or veto the measure. He could also send it back to lawmakers with recommendations for amendments.
Gosule doesn’t think it has to get to that point.
“The governor has shaken my hand,” Gosule said, “he’s looked at me straight in the eye — he’s given me a couple of hugs over the years and said if the bill is balanced — and that’s his word — he’d be happy to sign it.”
Patrick also has the option of a pocket veto — which means he could do nothing before the Legislature adjourns next week. That would force lawmakers to call an emergency session during which they could pass the crime and sentencing bill into law with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.