Council passes Yancey’s resolution urging 3 strikes study in MA

Charles Yancey

Charles C. Yancey

Boston City Councillor

PRESS RELEASE

Contact: Kenneth Yarbrough – Chief Information Officer

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For Release Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Boston City Council passes Yancey’s resolution urging three strikes study in Massachusetts

Boston City Hall (March 7, 2012) – The Boston City Council today passed Councillor Charles C. Yancey’s resolution urging Governor Deval Patrick and the 187thGeneral Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to perform a study on the impact of proposed three strikes bills in Massachusetts.

Three strikes laws (a metaphor from baseball) are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States that impose life sentences to persons convicted of two or more serious criminal offenses. Nearly 30 states currently have some form of habitual offender’s laws.

Opponents say three strikes laws increase taxes, congest the courts, remove sentencing discretion from judges, and disproportionately impact Black and Latino offenders.

Yancey’s resolution, which initiated debate among colleagues, committee meetings, a working session, and numerous Council recesses, simply urged the Commonwealth to review and publish the results of the social and economic impact of such laws, before passing and enacting three strikes legislation.

“We’re just saying to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; before you take action, tell us what the impact will be on people in the City of Boston,” Yancey said, to nearly 100 residents, community leaders, and city officials at a Public Safety Committee hearing on February 28, 2012 at Boston City Hall.

Councillor Tito Jackson said the object of the resolution is to make sure all the facts surrounding the three strikes debate are known. “We don’t want to see more folks locked up,” he said.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the City of Boston’s health commissioner, stated that Mayor Thomas Menino would neither support a bill that disproportionately incarcerates people of color, nor support a bill which imposes excessive sentences on non-violent offenders. “The mayor shares these concerns and will only support a bill that targets extremely dangerous, violent, criminals, and that offers pathways to treatment and rehabilitation,” she said.

Mary Tuitt, speaking on behalf of State Representative Gloria Fox, said Representative Fox and the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus were uncomfortable with many components of the Commonwealth’s three strikes bills that would disproportionately impact people of color and poor people of the commonwealth.  Tuitt emphasized the need for reentrance services and employment programs for inmates before they are released.

The Boston City Council resolution introduced today reflects many of the concerns of Boston residents and urges the State Legislature to consider the following:

  • Make no changes to the habitual offender law until the completion and publication of a study of the economic and social impact it will have on each Massachusetts city and town.
  • Allow judges to retain control and discretion over sentencing, rather than give prosecutors unfettered power to dictate the application of mandatory sentences.
  • Ensure that any revision to the law be tightly focused on only the most violent offenses that occur with physical injury.
  • Retroactively eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for state drug offenses.
  • Include strong provisions aimed at enabling treatment and rehabilitation for offenders struggling with addiction or mental illness.
  • Provide for expanded work-release and post-release programs that help reduce recidivism by connecting those newly released with necessary support services, education, and job training, rather than threaten re-incarceration.

Also testifying at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Pastor William Dickerson of the Greater Love Tabernacle Church called for improved quality of life and education for those who are most challenged in society. “Locking up and throwing away the key is not going to fix the problem. Let’s be smart on crime. We’ve got to plug up and stop this prison pipeline,” he said.

William Gross, deputy superintendent at the Boston Police Department, said there are good children out there that made a mistake. “We need to identify a way to reach individuals before they receive their first strike in life and make them productive citizens of society. We’re looking for a fair bill that will concentrate on habitual, violent offenders,” he said.

Others who testified in favor of Yancey’s resolution included Massachusetts State Representative Russell Holmes; activist and newspaper publisher, Jamarhl Crawford; Michael Curry, president of the NAACP Boston Branch; Boston City Councillors Ayanna Pressley and Sal LaMattina; Clifton Braithwaite, owner of C1 Entertainment Marketing/Promotions; Reverend Jeffery Brown, executive director of Boston Ten Point Coalition; Nancy Murray Director of Education ACLU of Massachusetts; Harold Adams, founder of the Committee of Friends and Relatives of Prisoners; Rahsaan D. Hall, deputy director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Economic Justice; and more.

A spokesperson for Massachusetts State Senators Steve Baddour of Methuen, and Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, testified in favor of Massachusetts’ three strikes legislation.

The City of Cambridge adopted a slightly amended version of Councillor Yancey’s original three strikes resolution during its February 27, 2012 Council meeting.  Addressing the Cambridge City Council, Councillor Yancey said he was deeply concerned that three strikes laws disproportionately impact people of color, and take discretion away from judges. “I think these are very serious issues,” he said.

Councillor Yancey today congratulated the Boston City Council and hundreds of supporters for passing such a meaningful resolution. “This represents a victory for the people of Boston who believe we must take a smart approach in dealing with violence in our society. Simply locking up people and throwing away the key doesn’t take into consideration the cause of violence,” he said.

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