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Signs that major drug sentencing reform is coming to Massachusetts

In recent years, there has been much national discussion about and debate over federal and state sentencing laws for non-violent offenders. The adoption of widespread mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related convictions is among the most controversial and problematic with regard to draining resources and contributing to overcrowding in prisons.

According to the website drugwarfacts.org, as of Sept. 30, 2014, "fifty percent of sentenced inmates in federal prison were serving time for drug offenses." The majority of these individuals are considered nonviolent offenders who, when shipped off to prison, aren’t able to obtain the help and assistance needed to better and turn their lives around.

In response to growing calls for reform of nonviolent drug sentencing laws, a 25-member bipartisan task force was recently formed in Massachusetts to study issues affecting drug sentencing and propose reform legislation by January 2017. While today individuals who are arrested and convicted of drug-related charges face mandatory minimum sentences, this may change in the near future.

In addition to eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, other recently proposed bills deal with the "expungement of juvenile criminal records," and increased "access to re-entry services and community corrections programs." Additionally, earlier this fall, members of the Massachusetts State Senate took action to repeal "automatic driver's license suspensions for persons convicted of drug crimes." 

While it appears as though progress is being made with regard to drug crimes sentencing reform in Massachusetts, individuals who are convicted of misdemeanor or felony drug possession, distribution or trafficking charges still face hefty penalties including lengthy prison sentences. For these reasons, individuals who are facing criminal drug charges are advised to contact a defense attorney who can provide advice and strong legal advocacy.

Source: The Enterprise, "Bipartisan group named to study criminal justice reform in Massachusetts," Katie Lannan, Oct. 29, 2015

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