Welcome to FAMM’s Massachusetts Project!
In 2008, FAMM opened its Massachusetts office. We hit the ground running and don’t plan to slow down until we achieve our goal – fair and proportionate drug sentencing laws. We won victories during each of the last two legislative sessions. The 2013 – 2014 session of the Massachusetts Legislature started in January – and with your help, we plan to keep up our winning streak.
Maybe you are reading this because you have a loved one who is incarcerated. Or perhaps you are a taxpayer who is tired of the skyrocketing costs of failed drug policies. Whatever the reason, we hope that you will join over 2,000 Massachusetts FAMM members in our fight for justice. We can’t do it without you.
2010 reforms – the first step. In 2010, state lawmakers eased harsh mandatory drug sentencing laws for the first time since they were enacted over 30 years ago. Certain nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimums at county prisons (called “houses of correction” in Massachusetts) became eligible for parole after serving half of their sentences – the same as other county prisoners who are eligible for parole.
2012 reforms – more progress. In 2012, state lawmakers continued to improve drug sentencing laws. Mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses were shortened, by up to one-third. For drug offenders who were already in prison, many became eligible for parole, work release and earned good time – either at an earlier date or for the first time ever. The size of drug-free school zones was reduced from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, to better reflect the law’s intent to protect children. Moreover, the school zone law no longer applies to drug offenses that occur between midnight and 5 a.m., when children are not going to or from school. Finally, the quantity of drugs needed to trigger four trafficking offenses was increased, so that more low-level drug crimes will be prosecuted as distribution offenses, which are not punished as harshly.
Finishing the job. We still have much to do. While many people were helped by the reforms so far, our system of mandatory minimum sentencing laws remains intact – just downsized somewhat. Judges must be allowed to fulfill their proper role of imposing sentences that fit the crime while still protecting public safety. That will require the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing laws altogether. Drug offenders who are sentenced to the new, shorter mandatory minimums will still be barred from parole and earned good time, returning us to the same system that fails to prepare them for a return to the community. That must be fixed as well. The 2013 – 2014 session of the Legislature started this month and we intend to make the most of it.
Get connected, stay informed. Please explore the information listed below to learn more about Massachusetts’ drug sentencing laws and FAMM’s work to change them. If you don’t find the answer to your question, please ask us. If you have not yet signed up for our Massachusetts e-alerts, you can do so here. (If you live outside of Massachusetts, please contact us directly and we will add you to the Massachusetts e-alert list.) This is the best way to stay up to date on all developments and what you can do to change the law.
Please contact us for further information:
Massachusetts Project Director: Barbara J. Dougan
Mailing address: P.O. Box 54, Arlington, MA 02476
Telephone: (617) 543-0878
FAMM's summary of the 2012 sentencing reform law and the law
FAMM's summary of the 2010 sentencing reform law and the law
FAMM's Massachusetts bills
Other sentencing reform and drug-related bills
Read our Massachusetts Profiles of Injustice:
Read our Massachusetts materials:
Voices for Reform: 30 Years of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws in Massachusetts (pdf)
How laws are made in Massachusetts (pdf)
Comparison of mandatory minimum sentences (pdf)
Drug sentencing reform: A bipartisan priority (pdf)
Current mandatory sentencing laws (pdf)
The case against mandatory minimums in Massachusetts: research, policy statements & public opinion (pdf)
Drug sentencing reforms in other states (pdf)
For prisoners: Massachusetts profile brochure (pdf) and information request form (pdf)
For families: Turn your commitment into action (pdf)
Advocating for change: A grassroots guide to influencing lawmakers (pdf)
Does the state have mandatory minimum sentences? Yes. Click here to learn more.
Does the state have a sentencing commission? Yes, the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission. Currently, its main role is to track data on sentencing practices. Its annual reports or “surveys” are an excellent source of information. For the latest report, covering the state’s 2010 fiscal year (July 2009 through June 2010), click here.
Does the state have sentencing guidelines? Not officially. The Sentencing Commission proposed a set of guidelines in 1996. The guidelines have been filed as bills during every legislative session since then, but have never passed. Some Superior Court judges use them, but only on an advisory basis. In addition, judges can only use them to decide on a sentence within the penalty provided by the legislature; the guidelines cannot be used to get around mandatory minimum sentences.
If yes, are the sentencing guidelines voluntary/advisory or mandatory? See the answer to the previous question.
Does the state have drug courts? Yes, but not on a unified or state-wide basis. Click here to learn more (but please note that this list has not been updated since 2005).
Does the state have one or more safety valve/exceptions? No. To learn more about safety valves, read our factsheet, Safety Valves in a Nutshell.
Note: FAMM cannot guarantee that these websites are up to date.
Governor Deval Patrick
Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety & Security
Massachusetts Department of Correction
Massachusetts Parole Board
Massachusetts Probation Department
Massachusetts Executive Clemency (pardons and commutations)
Massachusetts state legislature, called the "General Court"
Massachusetts Court System
Massachusetts Drug Courts
Want help finding a lawyer in this state? The statewide public defender’s office is called the Committee for Public Counsel Services. It provides free representation for low-income defendants in criminal cases. The Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has a list of 500 defense lawyers in the state. There are also three main lawyer referral services sponsored by legal organizations: Massachusetts Bar Association, Boston Bar Association, and National Lawyers Guild. Prisoners’ Legal Services (formerly known as Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services) provides free legal services to inmates on prison issues -- no criminal defense representation. You can learn more about how to work with an attorney by reading our answers to frequently asked questions.
Want to search this state’s laws? Click here
Want to find out how a bill becomes a law in this state? Read our helpful guide, "How laws are made in Massachusetts."
Want to find your state legislative representatives? Click here to find who your elected officials are. After you enter your address, the names and website links for your state senator and representative are shown in the last gray box. You can also find information on any state legislator by clicking here and searching by Senate, House, or city/town.
Want to work on changing the laws in your state? Learn how through our pamphlet, Advocating for change: A grassroots guide to influencing lawmakers.
DISCLAIMER: FAMM does not endorse or support and is not affiliated with any of the attorneys, organizations, or sites listed on this page. FAMM cannot guarantee that the laws listed on its website or the content appearing on any of the links listed on this page are accurate or fully up-to-date. Laws change often, and before taking any action in reliance on the information presented on FAMM’s website or on the sites linked to on this page, you should always verify that the information is still accurate or talk with an attorney. If you feel you need legal advice, you should seek the help of an attorney in your state. FAMM cannot provide legal advice, representation, research, or referrals.