Clergy members and community activists gathered near the State House Tuesday to condemn more than just the "three-strikes" criminal-sentencing bill that currently sits on Governor Deval Patrick's desk. In a press conference, opponents of the bill attacked the state's all-around neglect of proactive anti-crime legislation, as well as the looming law's failure to provide meaningful remedies.
"This bill does not lend itself to any form of rehabilitation," said Rev. George Walters-Sleyon of the Center for Church and Prison in Dorchester. Along with others, including Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, Walters-Sleyon urged Patrick to amend the bill to eliminate all mandatory-minimum sentencing requirements for non-violent drug offenders. Furthermore, speakers argued that the "three-strikes" provision — which would make third-time felony offenders ineligible for parole in circumstances in which two prior crimes resulted in prison sentences of three years or more — is especially troubling, because the compromise does not allow judges to make exceptions.
While lawmakers overwhelmingly favored the bill, a number of concerned parties cast recommendations against it. On June 26, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School issued a report condemning the act, arguing that it "fails to target the most serious habitual offenders," and also claiming that lawmakers have not been forthright about the potential economic impact of the legislation. "Massachusetts has inexplicably chosen to move in the wrong direction," the Harvard report said.
The final decision rests with the governor, who has until July 31 to sign, veto, or seek amendments to the bill. While Patrick has said he likes some parts of the measure and not others, activists are demanding that he fix the controversial parts of the act, rather than simply veto it, which would likely result in a legislative override. "We want him to amend," said Walters-Sleyon.
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