Mandatory minimums play a role in criminal justice system

Re “Harsh 1980s laws, meet cautious 2016 politics” (Editorial, Dec. 22): I had the opportunity to represent the 11 elected district attorneys on the working group to the Council of State Governments criminal justice review. Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and Chief Justice Ralph Gants asked for the review with an emphasis on making recommendations that would help reduce rates of recidivism.

An important fact the council noted at the outset of this yearlong process was that Massachusetts’ criminal justice system was not in crisis.

We were 48th in the nation last year with respect to our rate of incarceration, and our prison population continues to drop. Violent crime in Massachusetts, and nationally, hit its high in 1993 and has trended down significantly since that time.

It would be unrealistic to ignore the correlation between truth in sentencing and minimum mandatory sentences for some offenses, passed by the Legislature in 1994, with the drop in violent crime.

The positive trends in criminal justice speak to the proper and thoughtful employment of minimum mandatory sentences by the state’s district attorneys.


That does not mean that the system can’t be improved. Robust post-release supervision and enhanced institutional programming can help reduce recidivism.

The council’s effort brought together parole, probation, members of the judiciary, defense lawyers, legislators, sheriffs, and a prosecutor. We all have our role in the criminal justice system and represent a particular constituency.

My fellow district attorneys and I represent the victims of crime and the public. While we contemplate reforms and recidivism reduction for defendants, we must strike a balance that recognizes public safety as an important factor too.

Michael O’Keefe
Cape and Islands district attorney