BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) — Hundreds of people are protesting a crime bill that bans three-time violent offenders from parole, saying the legislation will lead to overcrowded prisons and a disproportionate number of locked up minorities.
“They’re incarcerating minorities that are not doing violent crimes and shouldn’t be hit with the three strikes rule,” said Russal Caballero of Springfield.
While the governor and lawmakers insist the legislation will only target habitual violent felons, the crimes that qualify a person for a three-strikes record have not been agreed on yet, so folks are concerned that the legislation could net people who commit non-violent felonies.
“I speak on behalf of the mothers that have their sons locked up,” said Jacqueline Navarro of Westfield. “What about if they’re hanging out with the wrong crowd and it’s not their fault, they’re just with the wrong person and they get caught and they’re not doing anything, and they get smacked with that three strikes because they just happen to have that in their record.”
In a sign that advocate concerns are being heard, on Wednesday, the House’s lead negotiator, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), proposed reducing the zones around schools in which drug offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences from 1000 feet to 100 feet. For advocates this is a step in the right direction, but they believe it doesn’t go far enough to address social issues at the heart of crime.
“We need to figure out alternatives and stop just wasting money on more prisoners and start working on how to correct the prisoners that get out,” said Sheldon Gaynor of Springfield.
It’s been nearly four months since the House and Senate passed two very different versions of the three-strikes crime bill. Lawmakers end formal business on July 31
st , so the clock is ticking away for the Legislature’s 6-member conference committee to consolidate the House and Senate-passed bills. O’Flaherty declared Wednesday that the deal will get done and that “you can take [that] to the bank”.
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