LYNN — A Lynn pastor said a criminal justice reform measure supported by the state Senate will help drug addicts get treatment instead of jail and reduce prejudice in sentencing.
“I am grateful that our legislators are listening to the cries of suffering in our communities, said Rev. Andre Bennett of Zion Baptist Church, in a statement. “The war on drugs and mass incarceration is making crime worse, not better. This is an important step in the right direction.”
The Essex County Community Organization (ECCO), a coalition of more than three dozen North Shore congregations, has worked for criminal justice reform since 2014. The nonprofit said it has held more than 50 meetings with legislators and public hearings.
Bennett said passage of an amendment on “Justice Reinvestment,” sponsored by state Sen. Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn) and Joan Lovely (D-Salem) is a victory for the organization. The provision requires half of the money the state saves through criminal justice reform be placed into a Neighborhood Safety and Opportunity Trust Fund to strengthen job training in at-risk communities.
Other provisions in the Senate bill include repealing some of the mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug charges, CORI reform, increasing diversion to treatment instead of incarceration, and raising the age of Juvenile Court jurisdiction to 19.
“So often prosecutors threaten defendants with mandatory minimum charges in order to compel them to accept a plea bargain still involving a prison sentence,” said Astrid af Klinteberg, an Essex County attorney, in a statement. “This is unfair and makes our justice system unjust. We are grateful for the Senate’s important step, and hope the House will follow suit.”
The House is expected to release and debate its own reform bill soon.