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Massachusetts House lawmakers have approved an overhaul of the state's criminal sentencing laws that would bar parole for three-time violent offenders and reduce some mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.
The bill, approved on a 139-14 vote, would eliminate the possibility of parole for felons convicted three times of serious violent crimes ranging from murder to child rape to certain types of assault.
The crackdown on habitual violent offenders — sometimes called a "three strikes" provision — has for years been championed by Les Gosule, whose daughter Melissa Gosule was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1999 by a man who had 27 prior convictions.
Critics of the habitual offender measure have argued it will disproportionately target minority groups and lead to more prison overcrowding.
The top House negotiator on the bill, Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty, D-Chelsea, said that while the overhaul wasn't perfect, the legislation included important changes to the state's criminal justice laws.
Some legislators said they wished the bill took a broader view.
Rep. Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat, said lawmakers should have done more to take into account the roles that mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction play in crime.
"We could develop an approach that is far more effective and humane," she said.
Others defended the "three strikes" provision for dealing with repeat offenders.
"There are a very small number of people who come before the criminal justice system ... for whom no redemption is possible," said Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick.
The law now goes to the Senate for a final vote before heading to Gov. Deval Patrick.
This program aired on July 19, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.
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