Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Judge seeks to reform drug cases

The new Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judical Court recently spoke on the “state of the judiciary”. One of his most important goals for the future is to call for the end to mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenders. He said that mandatory minimum sentences interfere with judges’ discrection, disproportionately affects minorities and fails to rehabilitate offenders.

This is a direct reversal to the so-called “war on drugs” from the the 1980’s. Sentences should not merely punish and deter future criminal conduct, but should also provide offenders with supervision and the tools they need to maximize their chances for success upon release from jail and minimize the likelihood of recidivism. This means considering mental health or substance abuse treatment in addition to prison time.

Giving judges the ability to craft a sentence that addresses the individual needs of a defendant could go a long way to reducing prison populations that are tremedously overcrowded. A great majority of drug offenders have serious mental health or substance abuse issues that are simply not dealt with by sentencing a defendant to a long mandatory prison term.

This approach is long overdue and is already being addressed by the Federal Courts as well.