A bill that toughens sentences for violent repeat-offenders passed the Senate Thursday after having been overwhelmingly in the House Wednesday evening, July 18.
But in an op-ed sent to Belmont Patch, State Sen. Will Brownsberger – one of the seven who voted against the popular bill – said while more acceptable from the first draft of the bill in November, the measure "leaves much to be done" in overall sentencing reform before he can back it.
"Our correctional system is overloaded and so is less capable of doing the careful evaluation of offenders necessary to identify those most likely to hurt people if released," said Brownsberger, who voted against the first draft as a member of the state House of Representatives before winning a special election in January to become state senator of the district covering Belmont and parts of Watertown and Boston neighborhoods
Read Brownsberger's entire op-ed in the pdf file attached to this article.
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.
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.
Brownsberger counters that "brutal" overcrowded prison conditions only makes imates more dangerous and less likely to cope on the outside.
"We can't afford to increase the capacity of the system," said Brownsberger. But the current bill on "habitual offender statute moves in the other direction – increasing likely sentence lengths by reducing parole eligibility."
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.
While those sections of the bill are positive, "the prospect of mandatory life-without-parole with no safety valve for unusual situations remains very troubling," said Brownsberger.
The bill heads to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk, where he has until July 31 to act on it.