On Monday, July 27, the legislative Joint Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on a bill sponsored by Springfield state Rep. Ben Swan that would reform sentencing laws that result in harsh penalties for people arrested for drug crimes within a designated "school zone." The Dukakis-era law carries mandatory sentences of two to 15 years for drug convictions within 1,000 feet of a school. But as a report by Easthampton's Prison Policy Institute notes, the zones are drawn too broadly to be effective at their stated goal of deterring drug deals near schools; unfairly target people living in densely populated urban areas where it's almost impossible to not be within 1,000 feet of a school; and have cost the state millions in costs for lengthy prison sentences that many judges would, in fact, not have elected to impose had they not been bound by the mandatory sentencing law. (For more, see this Advocate article from February.)
Swan's bill would reduce the 1,000-foot zone to 100 feet, and exempt drug arrests that take place within private homes. It would also allow people convicted under the law to serve probation and to participate in education, rehab and work-release programs—something they currently cannot do. People arrested in school zones would still be prosecuted for the underlying offense.
That same day, the Judiciary Committee will also begin hearings on a bill, written by the Mass. Law Reform Institute, that would reform the state's criminal record, or CORI, system. The bill would provide that CORI records only show convictions and open cases (right now, all arrests are included, even if the case was dropped or the person found innocent). It would also reduce the waiting period before a person could apply to have an item removed from his or her record: Misdemeanors, which now stay on a record for 10 years, could be removed after three; the waiting period for felonies would drop from 15 years to seven.
For more on the reforms, check out the Massachusetts arm of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.