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New report calls for an end to non-driving-related driver’s license suspensions

May 14, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 14, 2014

Contact:
Leah Sakala
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, MA — Every year the state of Massachusetts needlessly suspends the driver’s licenses of thousands of the state’s residents, charges a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative. The report, Suspending Common Sense in Massachusetts: Driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to driving, explains that a state law from the late 1980’s automatically suspends the driver’s licenses of anyone convicted of a drug offense, even if the offense had nothing to do with operating a vehicle or road safety.

“After more than two decades, the evidence is in. Using the Registry of Motor Vehicles to punish drug offenders is neither smart drug policy nor good for road safety”, said report author Leah Sakala, a policy analyst at the Easthampton-based non-profit Prison Policy Initiative.

The Massachusetts legislature is currently considering a bill, H3099/S1643, that would end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unrelated drug offenses.

“Mandating license suspensions for those facing drug possession charges not stemming from any involvement with a motor vehicle is ineffective and counterproductive,” said bill sponsor Representative Liz Malia. “We must move away from policy creating collateral consequences that form barriers to successful reentry and access to treatment and recovery.”

“Both at the state and federal level we are seeing an increasing embrace of not just being tough on crime, but smart on crime,” bill sponsor Senator Harriette Chandler stated. “Unduly burdening folks trying to turn their lives around with a license suspension and subsequent draconian reinstatement fee is not smart, and is in fact counterproductive.”

Mike Earielo, a volunteer with the Worcester community organizing group EPOCA, said, “We want people coming out of jail to change their ways, but then laws like this one make it nearly impossible for guys like me. I have a serious disability due to a cyst on my spine, and there’s no way I can come up with $1,500 to reinstate my driver’s license. Stop holding me back and watch what I can do!”

The Prison Policy Initiative report explains that both law enforcement officials and organizations such as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators have publicly opposed the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for reasons unrelated to driving, pointing to the enormous fiscal and administrative burden associated with enforcement.

The report reviews the inefficacy of the current policy, tallies the unanticipated side effects, and calls for Massachusetts to join more than 33 other states in opting out of this shortsighted policy.

Ms. Sakala will present her findings at a legislative briefing in support of H3099/S1643, sponsored by Sen. Harriette Chandler Rep. Liz Malia, at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday May 14 at 2:30 PM. The report, Suspending Common Sense in Massachusetts, will also be made available after the briefing at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/driving/.

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