There has been a great deal of real and serious concern raised about a bill I cosponsored, S. 826, titled, An Act to reduce mass incarceration. The bill would direct that:
- The court shall fix a minimum term of 25 years before being eligible for a parole hearing. The parole hearing allows for measured consideration of whether a person is no longer a threat and whether the person could become a productive member of the community.
- A prisoner serving more than one life sentence caused by separate and distinct incidents (that occurred at different times), where the second offense occurred after the first conviction, is eligible for parole 25 years after the start of the second or most recent sentence.
- The victim/their family may represent themselves/the victim at parole hearing.
- If the person who committed murder in the first degree was between 14 and 18 at the time, then the court shall recommend a sentence that is at minimum 15 years and not more than 20 years. If a person is sentenced to murder in the first degree but was not the actual killer (eg, they were an accessory to the murder), and they were between 14 and 18, the court shall recommend a sentence that is between 10 and 12 years.
This is an acutely painful issue. I acknowledge the strong convictions and emotions it raises.
I co-sponsored the bill initially because constituents brought it to my attention and because I felt there were strong policy reasons to bring it before the legislature for a hearing and consideration.
I acknowledge here (and I’ve shared publicly prior to this moment) that initially I did not think the bill through–fully–from the victims’ family perspective. That’s the work I’ve been engaged most recently.
In July I was contacted by the families of Tom Harty and Joanna Fisher, who asked that I remove myself as a co-sponsor from the bill. After hearing their concerns, I agreed to reflect on the bill and speak with the Senate author. In making decisions about co-sponsorship, I try to meet and discuss with stakeholders who have varying viewpoints so that I can consider the issue from all sides before making a decision. I have let the Fisher family know the steps in my decision making process with full transparency. I understand that my timeline does not match with the family’s timeline.
Here are some final important things to know:
- Everyone should understand that offering the possibility of parole does not mean a prisoner will be granted parole. The incarcerated person must go through a hearing process, with the final decision made by the Parole Board, chaired by a prosecutor.
- Not everyone sentenced to life in prison are equally culpable. Our system convicts people for first-degree murder even if they had an ancillary role in the crime, such as being a look-out where someone was accidentally killed.
- An article which ran in both the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Greenfield Recorder had a factual inaccuracy: The lead author of the bill, Sen. Joe Boncore, has not withdrawn his support. Like me, he has heard from victims’ families and, like me, he’s reflecting deeply on the way forward. I have spoken at length with the Senator and his staff.
I’m also meeting with advocates for and against the bill and will continue to find a way forward. The bill would need to have a hearing in the Judiciary Committee before it could advance out of the Committee.