The ACLU of Massachusetts is calling for the repeal of mandatory minimum drug sentencing, saying it unfairly targets minority offenders, particularly blacks, who are imprisoned at a rate roughly eight times that of white people.
In Massachusetts, black and Latino people account for 22 percent of the population yet comprise 75 percent of those serving sentences for mandatory minimum drug offenses, according to state reports from September.
While the state legislature is considering changes to its criminal justice system, the proposals fail to address issues of race and focus only on repeat offenders, said the ACLU’s Rahsaan Hall, who directs the Racial Justice Program. Gov. Charlie Baker’s criminal justice reform bill that was introduced in February also doesn't suggest changing mandatory minimums.
But change is needed, Hall said. The September report highlights the disparity among minority and white criminal offenders in the Commonwealth.
Black people in Massachusetts are incarcerated at about eight times the rate of white people, according to the state Sentencing Commission’s report. Nationally, that rate is 6 to 1. Latino people in Massachusetts are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people; nearly four times higher than the national rate.
Hall said several of the most common arguments against doing away with the mandatory minimum drug sentences are rooted in common misperceptions. The first one, he said, is that people think there aren’t that many inmates serving those sentences.
There are around 900 people in Massachusetts serving mandatory minimum drug sentences, Hall said. But, he added, another 1,800 inmates who faced that mandatory minimum ended up pleading guilty to reduced charged.