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Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins denounces “War on Drugs”

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Calls for more addiction recovery beds, mental health services

Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins recently traveled to the Massachusetts State House to participate as a panelist in a forum addressing criminal justice reform. Hosted by think tank MassINC and held at the Gardner Auditorium, the panel featured former Congressman William Delahunt, who served as moderator for the event; Director of Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice, Jack McDevitt; and Michael Widmer, former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Sheriff Tompkins and his fellow panelists were joined by over 200 attendees representing the criminal justice community, activists, elected officials and others. The panel was preceded by a research presentation by Brennan Center for Justice Researcher Lauren-Brooke Eisen, who gave a brief overview of a new report detailing the lack of effectiveness that over-incarceration has had in overall crime reduction.

During her presentation Eisen stated, “The excessive growth of incarceration has had a limited effect on crime with a five percent reduction in the 1990’s, and a zero percent reduction in the 2000’s,” demonstrating diminishing returns on incarceration and the need to provide more comprehensive reentry and diversionary programming. Eisen also reported that 77 percent of Americans support eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes.

Calling the decades-old so-called War on Drugs a “joke,” Sheriff Tompkins agreed that mass-incarceration for non-violent offenders has failed to reduce the epidemic of substance abuse. “The War on Drugs has been a flaming – dare I say – joke, frankly,” Sheriff Tompkins said. “Eighty-five percent of the people in Department custody are there due to some involvement with drugs. Forty-two percent have some form of mental illness from the most mild to the most severe. We need more diversionary programs, mental health and substance abuse recovery beds.”

Speaking on the subject of mandatory minimums, Delahunt cited the failure of the current system to achieve individualized justice. “Mandatory minimums wreak injustice on an individual,” said Delahunt. “Our laws were not intended to be ‘one size fits all.’ We need to return judicial discretion to the courts.”

Tagging in on the discussion about mandatory minimums, Sheriff Tompkins said, “Mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders are not the solution. We’ve had them for the past two-and-a-half decades and we’ve only seen drug use increase. And now the use of heroin and opioids is skyrocketing. We need to seriously reconsider what our priorities are – do we want to just keep locking people up or do we want to begin dealing with addiction and some of the causes of crime.”

Sheriff Tompkins will participate in a press conference in the Senate Reading Room on Tuesday, June 9 at 12:45 p.m. at the Massachusetts State House, which he will follow by giving testimony at the Massachusetts State House in the Gardner Auditorium on behalf of the “Justice Reinvestment Act” (S.64/H.1429), a bill sponsored by State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and State Representative Mary Keefe which, among other things, seeks to repeal mandatory minimum laws for non-violent drug offenders.


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