Monday, April 11, 2011

Massachusetts Monday

Crack cocaine is the subject of the day in Massachusetts.  This weekend, community members and experts, including FAMM's Barb Dougan, met to remember, discuss, and mourn the impact of crack cocaine on Boston's African American community in the 1980s.  Barb was on hand to explain how Congress's fears about crack -- some real, many overblown -- sparked the creation of the harsh mandatory minimums we now have:
In the late 1980s, Congress brought back mandatory minimum drug sentences, treating crack offenses much more harshly than powder cocaine crimes, said Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“These laws were not passed out of concern for young, black men, but out of fear of young, black men,” Dougan said.
The result, she said, was an explosion in the prison population that has left one out of nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 behind bars.
“Clearly, they’ll be coming back to our communities,” said Boston Police Superintendent Paul Joyce, “and we want to make sure they end up in a better situation than they began.”
Supt. Joyce is right.  Mandatory minimums aren't helping a lot of people get the treatment, rehabilitation, and skills they need to come back as law-abiding citizens.  Some people can and do clean up in prison, if treatment is available.  But it comes at a high price.  When we use tough prison sentences as the knee-jerk reaction to a new and scary drug -- crack or otherwise -- we get bad justice, full prisons, huge costs, and not much additional public safety in return.

Unlike the federal laws, Massachusetts’ state laws don’t distinguish between crack and powder cocaine. But they still rely on mandatory minimum sentences. Fortunately, Massachusetts started to chip away at rigid drug sentencing laws last session, and several bills have been filed to expand reforms this session. We look forward to watching Massachusetts set a new course when it comes to drug policy.