The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) will form a drug policy task force, MBA President David White, Jr. announced last week. The task force will examine current drug policy and consider reforms, White said.
"We look to build a coalition from a broad spectrum of the Massachusetts health care, business and law enforcement communities. The coalition will take a hard look at the difficult questions of drug addiction and punishment of drug-related crimes," said White. "This is one part of our effort to improve sentencing in Massachusetts. Reforms of the current sentencing system will reduce crime, rebuild families and communities and save money," he added.
White's announcement came as a two-hour symposium on sentencing at the Statehouse Great Hall came to an end. During that symposium, panels of legislators, advocates, and attorneys suggested that the Bay State could see meaningful sentencing reform for the first time in years.
"I'm more optimistic than ever that we can have a useful discussion," said panelist state Sen. Robert Creedon Jr., Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
Mandatory minimum sentencing came under attack from several panelists, including at least one law enforcement official. Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral said mandatory minimums make treating inmates with drug problems more difficult and constitute obstacles to rehabilitation.
"The sheriffs, we are on the forefront of reentry programs, but we are stymied by mandatory minimums that don't allow us to classify people for acceptance into some of our programs," Cabral said.
Other panelists at the symposium included Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox, Families Against Mandatory Minimums vice president and general counsel Mary Price, Washington state Rep. Roger Goodman (who leads the pioneering King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project), and several ranking Massachusetts elected officials.
White was named head of the MBA earlier this year. He has said that sentencing reform is one of his top priorities.