Letter to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary

June 19, 2017

June 19, 2017

Sen. William Brownsberger & Rep. Claire Cronin
Joint Committee on the Judiciary
MA State House – Rooms 504 & 136
Boston, MA 02133

Chairs and Members of the Committee:

We, the 56,000 Massachusetts healthcare workers of 1199SEIU and our families, offer this brief written testimony in strong support of An Act Eliminating Mandatory Minimum Sentences Related to Drug Offenses (H.741; H.820; H.989; & S.817). Today is the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of U.S. slavery and celebrated by African-American communities across Massachusetts and the nation. Today, June 19, 2017, it is also now widely understood and has been meticulously documented that mandatory minimum sentences — particularly for lower-level drug crimes — have a disproportionate, unfair and harmful impact on African-Americans and other communities of color. It is especially appropriate, therefore, that this Committee is hosting this hearing on this date.

Though these bills do vary slightly on some of the details and will therefore need to be consolidated through the legislative process into a single final bill, together this legislation would make very important criminal justice reforms:

Mandatory Minimums: Eliminate state mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. This would reduce the excessive power of prosecutors’ charging/settlement decisions and restore essential judicial discretion to set case-by-case sentencing terms that accurately reflect the individual circumstances of the offense and the offender.

Excessive Fees: Disallow excessive probation and parole fees for poor individuals that far too often result in lengthier sentences simply for failure to pay these fees.

CORI Reform: Further reform Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) laws to seal most records two years earlier than under current law and to end “lifetime CORIs” for certain crimes which can now not be sealed. These reforms are crucial to advancing rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders.

Angela Davis, the political activist and scholar, notes that “prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the humans beings contending with them are relegated to cages”. Our legislative leaders must help to end mass incarceration by enabling us to treat people as individuals impacted by larger systemic issues, like limited access to treatment and job training. The bills in front of you today all take a step in this direction, but we will only begin to address the systemic racism present in our judicial system if we understand it as such and respond with, as Dr. Martin Luther King notes, “the fierce urgency of now.” All three of the bills highlighted above must be passed this session. Only then can we live up to our nation’s commitment to the 13th Amendment.

We are honored to join all of those here today at this exceptionally apt moment to debate and advance these vital criminal justice reform bills. Today is the perfect day for our Commonwealth to take these important steps toward justice and unbiased fairness for all. We strongly support and urge this Committee to favorably report An Act Eliminating Mandatory Minimum Sentences Related to Drug Offenses, and we look forward to continuing our work with our stakeholder and community allies, this Committee, and the full Legislature on these issues of foremost importance to all of us at 1199SEIU.

Submitted by,

Tyrek D. Lee, Sr.
Executive Vice President, Massachusetts