State legislators debate implementing ‘3 strikes’ rule

Officer’s killing added urgency

Describing a war on Beacon Hill over mandatory minimum sentence policies, a freshman lawmaker contended Thursday that most of his colleagues voted to crack down on habitual felons last year without understanding the consequences.

“We’re going to war in here; we’re going to battle about this bill,’’ said state Representative Carlos Henriquez, Democrat of Dorchester, adding, “We have found out that most of our colleagues who voted for this bill originally did not do so with the full knowledge of what this bill will do to our communities.’’

Henriquez spoke at the foot of the State House at a rally against legislative efforts to eliminate parole and impose maximum sentences for criminals convicted of a third felony. The “three-strikes’’ idea has been championed for decades by Republican lawmakers and governors, but only after the shooting death of a Woburn police officer in 2010 did Democratic leaders take up the cause.


Opponents have contended that the proposal would worsen prison overcrowding, that it was too broadly crafted to deprive parole for felons who commit nonviolent crimes, and that it would add millions of dollars in costs to a cash-strapped prison system. Others, including those at the rally, contended that the bill would disproportionately target minority convicts.

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Rally organizers, under the banner “Smart on Crime, Massachusetts,’’ brandished signs reading “Who came up with three strikes? Who is affected? People of color’’ and others calling the proposal “the new Jim Crow.’’ Supporters said more than 65 organizations attended the rally.

State Representative Byron Rushing, Democrat of Boston and a member of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s leadership team who voted against the crime bill, attended the rally, as well. He declined to speak with a reporter as he pressed into the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds.

Over the objection of the members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the House voted hurriedly in November on a bill to achieve that policy, beating the clock before a seven-week recess.

The House vote came six days after the Senate unanimously passed a more sweeping package, a move that some House members said put a political squeeze on them to quickly follow suit even though formal sessions are not scheduled to end until July. During its consideration of the bill, House leaders combined a series of amendments into a single “consolidated amendment,’’ a process that is typically used only during consideration of the state budget, to speed the bill’s passage.


Supporters of the bill said at the time that the proposal was necessary to shore up public safety by keeping the state’s most dangerous criminals behind bars, while making reforms to the state parole system that some critics said had failed by allowing violent offenders out of prison only to have them commit new crimes.

“It captures those who, quite frankly, have no place in society,’’ Representative David P. Linsky, a Natick Democrat, said during debate on the bill on Nov. 16. State Representative Paul Adams, Republican of Andover, said that the bill would capture the “most heinous criminals.’’

Since then, the two bills have been locked in a six-member committee charged with reaching consensus on the proposals. DeLeo has opted against calling for a vote on many policies in the Senate’s proposal, including a plan to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes, to expand wiretapping authority for the State Police and to require mandatory supervision for former inmates.

Instead, House leaders have sought to use negotiations to preclude wider deliberation among House members, floating pared-down proposals to see whether the Senate will concede.