State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz recently joined Boston Herald Radio’s “Rundown” program to discuss a new bill focused on criminal justice reform.
Q: What are your aims as a senator who is supporting this bill?
A: I think one of the important principles to make sure is embedded in what effort we pass in the Legislature is a strong recognition that our criminal justice system is deeply broken in several ways and is really crying out for fundamental and comprehensive reform. Not just reform that kind of nibbles on one edge of the system, but really looks at if from soup to nuts, from the pretrial process to reentry, right after people have served their time.
Q: It’s my understanding that you’re getting some pushback from district attorneys across the state, particularly for the Senate bill. What are you hearing? What is your response to some of these district attorneys?
A: I really appreciated the thoughtfulness and the nuance coming from (Middlesex) District Attorney (Marian T.) Ryan and also (Suffolk) District Attorney (Daniel F.) Conley. I think it’s an encouraging sign that there’s some daylight where the various DAs stand on this so far.
Some of the DAs are embracing what is a growing, and at this point, a very strong public consensus that mandatory minimums just are not the way to do sentencing.
I think people recognize that we have judges for a reason, and that’s because there are just different facts in different cases that we want judges to take into consideration. That doesn’t mean you don’t throw the book at somebody when they’ve done something really heinous, but it means that we want judges to be able to distinguish between someone who has distributed, let’s say 36 grams of cocaine because they’re an addict and they bought that amount and gave half of it to a friend ... versus someone who is five rungs up of the distribution supply chain who’s vastly profiting off the system.
Also, and I have to say, really importantly, this is where I have a lot of frustration with some of the DAs’ comments from earlier this week, it’s time to call to question whether or not this tactic of mandatory minimums is working.
Not out of concern for defendants, but out of concern for communities that are really struggling with the drug crime and are really struggling with the drug trade. ... We’ve been doing mandatory minimums for the past 40 years, we’ve given DAs a huge amount of power in determining sentencing and if we had seen increases in public safety and decreases in drug addiction in exchange for that maybe it would be worth it, but we just haven’t seen those things.
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