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Mass. Senate OKs Tightening Parole Eligibility

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would deny parole to anyone convicted of a third serious felony.

The bill would require that anyone convicted of two crimes from a list of the state's most serious offenses would be considered a habitual offender.

An offender convicted of a third crime on the list would be required to serve out his or her full sentence. The bill would also deny parole to any inmates serving multiple life sentences.

Senate President Therese Murray says the case of Dominic Cinelli was a driving force behind the legislation. He was a repeat criminal who shot and killed a Woburn police officer while on parole last December. Murray says Cinelli never should have been paroled.

The legislation would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes and establish the crimes of assault and battery by discharging a firearm, assault with a firearm, murder for hire and strangulation.

It also updates the state wiretapping laws to include text messages and other electronic communications.

During debate, Senate Ways and Means Chair Stephen Brewer called the measure a reasonable response to concerns about habitual criminals.

"This is a common-sense bill that takes the worst of the worst off of our streets, strengthens our criminal justice system, and provides important tools for law enforcement to protect our public safety," Brewer said.

Critics say the legislation would hinder rehabilitation and cause prison overcrowding.

"We do not oppose long sentences for very serious crimes, but at these times today this is the wrong direction to be taking," said Cassandra Bensahih, president of EPOCA — Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement.

Bensahih compares the Senate bill in Massachusetts with laws in California, which she says have led to a prison overcrowding crisis.

"California right now has to release thousands and thousands because they are overcrowded, behind the same bill just like this," she said. "The three strikes bill, the mandatory minimum bill, it has increased the population. Where are the people going to go?"

"We're not California," Brewer said. "We do spend more money in corrections in Massachusetts than we do in higher education, but that being said we need to keep our streets safe and this is a responsibility we have in a society that, frankly, is running mayhem on many occasions as well. This is a fair and balanced approach to corrections."

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.

With reporting by The Associated Press and WBUR's Delores Handy

This program aired on November 10, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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