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Massachusetts legislators are considering abolishing mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent drug offenders, the Associated Press reports. The move would be part of a plan to reduce overcrowding in prisons and relieve budget pressures.

A bill sponsored by Governor Deval Patrick would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses not involving guns or children, and would allow inmates to be moved to lower security levels, work release programs and community supervision when appropriate.

Drug-free zones around schools would be reduced from 1,000 feet to 100 feet, according to the AP.

The legislation would give judges leeway to create sentences that would promote rehabilitation, according to supporters. Mary Beth Hefferman, the state’s Public Safety Secretary, told legislators, “Mandatory minimum sentencing fails to protect the public and prevents offenders from getting the substance abuse treatment and other support they need and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars.”
As of September 19, the state’s Department of Corrections held 43 percent more prisoners than the state’s prisons were designed to fit.

The state’s district attorneys do not support the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, the article notes. They say having statewide requirements ensures that offenders receive similar sentences for the same crimes across the state. Minimum sentences allow prosecutors to settle cases out of court, and can help them gain information about more serious criminal activity, according to Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter.

Under the bill, drug offenders would be eligible for parole after they serve half of their sentences.  All inmates would receive between nine months and two years of supervision after being released, even if they served their full sentence.

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