DeLeo: Mandatory minimums should be evaluated individually

DeLeo said developing a strategy to address high recidivism rates is his top priority

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – House Speaker Robert DeLeo would likely not support a repeal of all mandatory minimum sentences, he said Monday, and would find it “very difficult” to round up the votes for such a proposal in the House as the Legislature prepares to consider criminal justice reform this session.

“I have to take a look at each and every one quite frankly, but I do not think I would be in support of just doing away with all mandatory minimums,” DeLeo told reporters on Monday after meeting privately with Gov. Charlie Baker and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

Baker, DeLeo and Rosenberg partnered with Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants in late 2015 to seek help from the Council of State Governments in reviewing the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

With a report and final recommendations due later this month, some advocates and lawmakers have expressed disappointment that the review seems to have focused more on pre-release programming, stronger community supervision and access to behavioral health services.

Rep. Russell Holmes, the co-chair of the Black and Latino Caucus, said last month that the speaker had made clear in a meeting with the caucus that the elimination of all mandatory minimums would “not be one of the things that would come out of legislation.” He said the caucus would still “push as far as we can go” for sentencing reform.

“Too many blacks and Latinos are locked up and that still is the case,” he said, adding, “We’re saying, let’s get them out, let’s get them programming, let’s get them connected to jobs.”

DeLeo on Monday stood by Holmes’s characterization of his position.

“I think what I said was I’m uncertain as to whether I have the votes to just completely do away with mandatory minimums….Knowing the body as I do know it, I would probably find that to be very difficult to just say dispense with all mandatory minimums,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo said he hasn’t “taken the temperature of the body as of yet,” but did not rule out a debate over eliminating some mandatory minimum sentences.

Rosenberg broached the topic of sentencing in his speech to senators last week after winning a second term as the leader of that body.

“We’ve been tough on crime; now we need to get smart on crime,” Rosenberg said in his remarks. “We need to scale up successful diversion and restorative justice programs, end mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses, address the needs of those who otherwise languish in our jails suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. We should reform our bail and probation systems and shift away from a focus on long sentences and toward helping offenders re-enter society successfully so they never go back to prison again.”

DeLeo said developing a strategy to address high recidivism rates is his top priority for the criminal justice review.

“The way it’s described to me, in many cases, these folks are just not being prepared to go out into the so-called real world,” he said.

DeLeo also said he’s interested in finding alternatives to jail when appropriate for offenders and making sure those in prison have access to the educational and training opportunities that can prepare them for when they are released.