Skyrocketing Mass. inmate count sparks calls for reform
Massachusetts’ soaring prison population is renewing calls for changes to the state’s mandatory minimum sentences.
Many of the sentencing laws were passed in the 1980s and 1990s during a national crackdown on drug crimes. One result is that inmates are remaining behind bars longer, driving up the prison population.
In 2003, there were less than 10,000 inmates in Massachusetts. The estimated population could top 12,000 next year, for a prison system with a capacity of less than 8,000.
Department of Correction Commissioner Harold Clarke said the rising population of prisoners, many with no history of violence, will force the system to double-bunk inmates.
He said sentencing reforms could help ease the problem.
MANSFIELD — A Massachusetts soldier has died along with a comrade in a shooting blamed on an Iraqi Army soldier.
The Defense Department said last Friday that 21-year-old Spc. Corey M. Shea of Mansfield and 23-year-old Sgt. Jose Regalado of Los Angeles died Nov. 12 in Mosul after an Iraqi Army soldier, in uniform, approached them and opened fire.
The Pentagon said the circumstances are under investigation. Both soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas.
Shea’s family told reporters at their home he had been in the Army for about a year and was set to come home in January. He was a 2005 graduate of Mansfield High School, where he was on the hockey team.
His stepfather, Jeff Margolin, said Shea was well-liked and “was the gentlest kid.”
Hub banker accused of scamming 91-year-old man
A Boston bank employee has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of larceny after prosecutors said he tried to steal more than $300,000 from an ill, 91-year-old man.
Police said Rodolfo Bonilla allegedly gained control of Michael Kostecki’s finances when he was hospitalized. Bonilla was the man’s longtime personal banker at a Citizens Bank branch in Jamaica Plain.
The 44-year-old was arraigned last week in West Roxbury District Court and held on $100,000 bail.
Prosecutors said Bonilla withdrew or transferred more than $300,000 from the man’s bank account over the summer. Bonilla has been fired from the bank, which notified authorities when it became aware of the scheme.
Sarah McClean, an attorney for Bonilla, said the checks were not in Bonilla’s name and he did not benefit from the money.
Prosecutors said they also plan on charging a girlfriend of Bonilla.
PALMER — Mohegan Sun has leased land in western Massachusetts for a possible casino development, just in case state lawmakers approve casino gaming.
The Mohegan Tribe announced last Thursday it has signed a 50-year lease on 152 acres in Palmer with options to renew it for another 49 years. The land is in a private lot just off Route 32.
The cost of the lease was not immediately disclosed. Mohegan representative Paul Brody said they are investing millions now.
This year, state lawmakers declined to approve casino gaming, but they may reconsider it next session.
Mohegan officials said if lawmakers approve gaming next year, the new Palmer casino could open by 2012.
State regulators would still have to grant Mohegan a state license.
Area cigar bars question proposed city ban
An association representing Greater Boston cigar bars last week sent a letter to the Boston Public Health Commission, hoping to persuade the city health agency to reject a proposed ban of the smoking establishments.
In September, the commission’s board gave preliminary approval to proposed regulation changes to limit the sale of tobacco products and reduce workplace exposure to secondhand smoke in the city. Hearings on the proposals were held last month.
The changes would ban the sale of tobacco products at health and educational institutions like pharmacies, drug stores, colleges and universities; expand workplace smoking restrictions to include areas such as patios and loading docks; prohibit smoking in hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts; prohibit the sale of blunt wraps; levy heavier fines on establishments that violate smoking regulations; and ban smoking bars — including cigar and hookah bars — in Boston after five years.
The proposal isn’t sitting well with cigar bar proprietors.
“I fear you may be basing your decision on information and data that remain inconclusive and enveloped in reasonable doubt,” wrote Chris McCalla, legislative director of the International Premium Cigar Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR). “There exists legitimate research that contradicts such claims [about secondhand smoke], including those regarding the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report.”
At issue is freedom of choice. Patrons and employees at businesses like cigar bars, McCalla argued, are above the age of reason and know what they’re getting into when they walk through the door.
“A cigar bar is a ‘destination location’ that a non-smoker would not enter without first understanding the nature of the business,” he wrote. “… Employees of cigar bars, like their patrons, are aficionados of premium cigars who choose their career based on their personal passions.”
The commission’s vote on the matter is slated for next month.