A bill that toughens sentences for violent repeat-offenders passed the Senate today after having been overwhelmingly in the House Wednesday evening.
The so-called "three-strikes" law eliminates parole for someone convicted three times of one of 40 or so violent crimes, with at least one conviction having carried a minimum three-year prison term. It passed the House with a vote of 139-14. In the Senate, it passed 31-7.
It did so with a "no" vote from Senator Chang-Díaz, D-Jamaica Plain. She said the benefits of the bill don't outweigh the costs:
"As a senator representing a district grappling day-in and day-out with the pervasive effects of violence and the drug trade, I have a strong interest in government putting forth smart, evidence-based solutions to make our neighborhoods safer. This bill doesn't get us there,” said Chang-Díaz in a statement. "Over the past several months, I have met with criminal justice experts, faith leaders, and victims’ families, and talked with scores of constituents about what they see as the benefits and drawbacks of this legislation. These parties have put forth great advocacy about the alternative solutions that would serve our communities better. Ultimately, I am not convinced that the benefits of this bill outweigh its fiscal and societal costs—or its opportunity costs."
Here is a link to the full letter from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus on the bill.
Jamaica Plain's representatives in the House, Jeffrey Sánchez and Liz Malia, both Democrats, voted for Melissa's Bill.
The movement to pass the law was fueled, in part, by outrage over two crimes. In one, . In the other crime more associated with the law, sometimes dubbed "Melissa's Law," 27-year-old Jamaica Plain schoolteacher Melissa Gosule was murdered in 1999 after being raped and murdered by a felon who had 27 previous convictions. Gosule grew up in Randolph.
While cracking down on violent criminals, the bill passed last night eases mandatory sentencing on nonviolent drug offenses, in part to take the strain off overcrowded prisons. It also reduces the size of school zones, inside which drug activity carries a larger penalty, since most urban areas fall largely within these zones.
The bill heads to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk, where he has until July 31 to act on it.
The full text of the bill is attached to this post as a PDF.