A bill that toughens sentences for violent repeat-offenders passed the Senate last Thursday after having been overwhelmingly in the House Wednesday evening.
The so-called "three-strikes" law eliminates parole for someone convicted three times of a violent crime, 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.
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.
While cracking down on violent criminals, the bill 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, and includes two "Good Samaritan" laws, one of which would allow someone to come forward to report an overdose to a medical professional without fear of legal action.
All three of Wakefield's legislators supported the bill.
"This balanced approach represents a solid step forward in our effort to keep the most violent, habitual criminals out of our communities and behind bars,” said Senator Katherine Clark (D-Middlesex and Essex), adding that the reforms to the parole system are "common sense" and allows opportunities for rehab for nonviolent drug offenders.
Representative Donald Wong (R-Saugus) said he was pleased to see bi-partisan support for the bill.
“This legislation will target the worst of the worst offenders – habitual offenders – while further ensuring the safety of the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," he said.
"This legislation is an important step forward because it targets a small number of repeat violent offenders,” added Representative Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose). “This bill also makes common sense reforms for the sentencing of nonviolent drug offenses and it opens the door for expanding rehabilitation opportunities."
The bill now heads to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk, where he has until July 31 to act on it. Patrick has said he is disappointed that the bill does not allow judges to grant felons the opportunity for parole after they serve the majority of their sentence. Still, he called the bill a "good faith step in the right direction,"according to the Boston Globe.