THE STATE HOUSE Massachusetts is poised to get tougher on repeat violent criminals, while easing penalties for non-violent drug crimes. The most controversial part of the crime bill eliminates parole for three-time violent offenders. Gov. Deval Patrick wanted to change the measure so that judges could grant parole in certain cases. But lawmakers thought the amendment would gut the intent of the bill, and rejected Patrick’s proposal.
Patrick told reporters Wednesday that the good parts of the bill outweigh the not-so-good parts. He said the so-called “three strikes” bill would only hit a few people each year.
“We estimate as many as six people will be affected on an annual basis,” Patrick said. “And on the non-violent drug offender side, with an easier access to parole, it will affect over 600 people. And that is exactly what I’m looking for.”
Supporters of the three strikes provision celebrated at the State House Tuesday.
“Public safety has won,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, who was on the judiciary committee that wrote the bill.
“And it’s won because we have been persistent,” he continued. “And we’ve been focused on the goal. And we’ve stood for what’s right. And what’s right is to say that those violent criminals that again and again and again victimize people in the commonwealth of Massachusetts are going to be called to account for their deeds. They’re going to be called to justice and they’re going to serve meaningful sentences.”
Critics of the three strikes provision say it will exacerbate prison overcrowding and be expensive for taxpayers.
Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood was one of a few dozen House members who supported Patrick’s move to add judicial discretion to the bill. But he said he understands why Patrick signed the bill.
“Yes, I’m still worried about it,” Holmes said. “But I think it’s good that we did something.”
Holmes, as well as the governor and other lawmakers, are preparing for another fight over sentencing next year. They say this bill doesn’t go far enough, and they’ll push to completely do away with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.