When it comes to Massachusetts felonies, how serious are we, really?

In my various Attorney Sam’s Takes, I have told you a number of times that there is a “game” element to our criminal justice system. I have also claimed that our concerns regarding law enforcement are not quite as straightforward as our political leaders would have us believe. In my last blog, we discussed the adventure of the escaped suspect. The suspect was wanted for drug trafficking. The evidence against the alleged drug trafficker was purportedly strong. In fact, according to law enforcement, the suspect had sold illegal drugs to an undercover police officer at least once. It was only by luck, and perhaps panic, that the suspect fled the scene while others were apparently getting arrested.

Indeed, as you would expect, there was a manhunt for the suspect. The manhunt included the use of police dogs and a helicopter. That lasted for approximately 2 hours before they gave up looking.”After all”, they explained, “we know who he is so we can always get him any time.”

This was days ago. Is he still out there? Our system treats drug dealers like insidious and dangerous criminals. After all, look at what our government has passed as mandatory criminal sentences for drug dealers. It is commonplace to be given a mandatory sentence for drug dealing, indeed drug possession with intent to deal, which is larger than one would normally face for an attempted murder or sexual assault. And yet, there is this rather relaxed reaction to one of these allegedly escaped monsters who require such a mandatory sentence.

I wonder if he is still out there…allegedly selling the demon substance to other folks. Maybe my kids. Maybe yours.

Do you smell hypocrisy here?

Do you sense sarcasm on my part? Good.

Speaking of huge mandatory minimum drug sentences, here is another interesting little tidbit to swallow in the meantime.

A 40-page report has been delivered recently – endorsed by a coalition of prominent former prosecutors, defense attorneys, and justice officials – which criticizes the Commonwealth for focusing too much on prolonged incarceration, through measures such as mandatory minimum sentences, and for paying too little attention to successfully integrating prisoners back into society. The report argues that this is not simply a “social justice” issue.

Translation: we are not simply being “bleeding heart liberals here.” After, as we have discussed many times, being seen as “soft” on “criminals” is political suicide.

No, this report has a concern much deeper than the human condition; it’s about money.. You see, the report estimates that policies that have led to more Draconian sentences and fewer paroles have extended prison stays by a third since 1990, costing the state an extra $150 million a year.

“It’s an odd set of numbers: crime going down while prison populations are still going up,” said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, the nonpartisan research group that commissioned the study. “What the report shows is that it’s a problem with the corrections system’s front and back doors – sentencing and release.”

The study says Massachusetts, with its rising prison population, is heading in the opposite direction of several more traditionally law-and-order states – many of which have changed sentencing requirements, closed prisons, and cut costs. While other states have seen drops in incarceration in conjunction with falling crime rates, Massachusetts has seen the opposite.

In addition to the longer prison stays, Torre points out, a reduction in post-release supervision has left Massachusetts with a recidivism rate higher than many other states, which in turn has sent more offenders back to prison. New data in the report show that six of every 10 inmates released from state and county prisons commit new crimes within six years.

If the recidivism rate was cut by 5 percent, the report says, Massachusetts could cut $150 million from its more than $1 billion corrections budget.
So, folks, how do we make sense of all this? We come up with extremely harsh mandatory criminal sentences which translates to a loss of funds, not to mention human dignity. We do this in certain cases. We particularly do this in drug cases. However, when such a defendant escapes, and we allegedly know who he is, we leave him out there to do his thing until we get good and ready to go get him. Seemingly, he is not a threat suddenly.

Is there a way to tie this all up so that it looks like we actually have some consistency in our criminal justice system?

You bet there is. And it is not very pretty.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog.

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