Criminal Justice Reform at a Glance

Summary of Major Package Elements (other than CSG bill)

See collection of all CJ reform resources here.
 Decriminalize minor offenses
  1. Minor offenses for juveniles – civil infractions and first offense misdemeanors with penalties under 6 months – cannot be the subject of delinquency findings
  2. Disruptive behavior in school (disturbing assembly or disorderly conduct) cannot be the subject of delinquency findings (but more serious behavior can still be prosecuted);
  3. Additionally schools shall enter MOUs with school resource officers defining non-disciplinary role of school resource officers.
  4. Repeal offense of being the presence of heroin
  5. Expand scope of good Samaritan protections to youth alcohol and to probation violations
  6. Specify that use of prescribed drugs and medical marijuana, shall not constitute a probation violation

Divert minor offenses away from prosecution/incarceration — see explainer here

  1. Create mechanism for judicial diversion of juveniles for less serious offenses
  2. Improve and expand mechanism for district court diversion of adults
    1. Eliminate defunct requirement for probation certification of diversion programs
    2. Eliminate age restrictions on diversion
    3. Exclude serious offenses from diversion
    4. Assure that victims are heard in diversion decisions
  3. Create legal/administrative framework to expand use of restorative justice programs for diversion of both juveniles and adults
  4. Require judges to make written findings before imposing a sentence of incarceration of primary caretakers of children
  5. Make drug diversion more workable by making it possible for a wider range of professionals to to make findings of dependence
  6. Preserve powers of District Attorneys to divert cases and manage their own diversion programs
  7. Require District Attorneys to develop diversion programs for veterans and people with mental illness or substance use disorders.

Reform Bail to reduce unnecessary incarceration — see explainer here

  1. Codify main holding of the Brangan case – judge should consider financial capability of defendant and set bail only as high as needed to assure defendant’s return
  2. Require that if judge needs to set unaffordable bail to assure return, the judge make written findings that the Commonwealth’s interest in assuring return outweighs the harm of detention to the individual and their family
  3. Allow judges to use community corrections facilities for pre-trial release (consistent with CSG report)
  4. Create pre-trial services unit to remind defendants of upcoming court dates using modern messaging approaches
  5. Create commission on bail to monitor change and suggest further improvements

Repeal/limit mandatory minimums for non-opiate, non-weight retail drug offenses — see explainer here

  1. Limit applicability of school zone law to cases involving guns or minors
  2. Eliminate mandatory for second offense class B (move fentanyl to class A)
  3. Eliminate mandatory for first offense cocaine/PCP/meth
  4. Eliminate mandatory for second offense class cocaine/PCP/meth
  5. Eliminate mandatory for second offense class C
  6. Eliminate mandatory for second offense class D
  7. Eliminate mandatory for sales of drug paraphernalia
  8. See explainer here

Strengthen minimum mandatories for opioid trafficking — see explainer here

  1. Make all federally scheduled synthetic opioids class A drugs in Massachusetts (if not otherwise classified in Massachusetts)
  2. Include fentanyl, carfentanil and emerging synthetic opiates in trafficking weight ladder – mixtures containing these substances and weighing over 18g, 36g, 100g, or 200g will draw the same minimum mandatory penalties currently applicable to mixtures containing heroin
  3. Modify fentanyl trafficking statute so that it applies to mixtures weighing over 10 grams that contain fentanyl. Add minimum mandatory of 3.5 years, effectively adding a special bottom rung applicable only to fentanyl to the trafficking weight ladder. 10 grams gets 3.5 years under this section, 18 grams gets 3.5 years (from the main opioid ladder)
  4. Add a special minimum mandatory of 3.5 years applicable to mixtures of any weight containing carfentanil in any quantity but with the proviso that the commonwealth must prove knowledge that the mixture contained carfentanil

Strengthen Protections for Public Safety

  1. Strengthen penalties for intimidation of witnesses
  2. Broaden eligibility for witness protection programs
  3. Strengthen penalties for solicitation of murder and other crimes
  4. Allow district court prosecution of conspiracy, solicitation and intimidation
  5. Strengthen penalties for corporate manslaughter
  6. Strengthen penalties for high repetition of OUI offenses
  7. Broaden definition of inhalants that may result in OUI prosecution (in 14 places)
  8. Strengthen penalties for reckless homicide by motor vehicle
  9. Create new crime of assault and battery on police officer causing serious injury
  10. Create new crime of unlawful possession of credit card scanner
  11. Expand crime of providing false information to police officer
  12. Disclose findings of not guilty by reason of insanity in the same way as convictions for general employers and landlords.
  13. Strengthen DNA collection procedures from serious offenders — collect forthwith upon conviction
  14. Mandate better tracking and retention of rape kits
  15. Mandate creation of police training program for bias-reduction and de-escalation

Reduce solitary confinemen — see explainer here

  1. Repeal archaic solitary confinement concept (“isolation”) and define more humane restrictive housing concept
  2. Define minimum humane conditions for restrictive housing.
  3. Require that the commissioner develop regulations “to maximize out-of-cell activities in restrictive housing and outplacements from restrictive housing consistent with the safety of all persons.”
  4. Require that prisoners confined to restrictive housing shall, under regulations to be developed, have “access to vocational, educational and rehabilitative programs to the maximum extent possible consistent with the safety and security of the unit”
  5. Require that prisoners confined to restrictive housing receive regular reviews to see if they are ready to return to general prison population and have an opportunity to participate in those reviews
  6. Assure that correctional officers staffing restrictive housing facilities have appropriate training
  7. Protect LGBTQ prisoners from arbitrary use of restrictive housing
  8. Assure that those segregated from other inmates for their own safety are not placed in restrictive housing, but in conditions comparable to general population
  9. Create a balanced oversight board with access to data, prison facilities and prisoners to report on conditions in restrictive housing and progress in reducing restrictive housing. The oversight committee will have no authority over individual prisoner confinement decisions

Generally improve prison conditions

  1. Assure that transgender prisoners are housed with prisoners of the same gender identity unless it would endanger the prisoner or other prisoners
  2. Require that all prisoners without high school diplomas have access to education programming
  3. Require that all prisoners are assessed for substance use disorders (but do not require medically assisted treatment)
  4. Preserve inmate access to regular in-person visitation – video visits permitted, but not in lieu of in person visits
  5. Expressly authorize creation of special prison units for emerging adults (ages 18 to 24)
  6. Create commission to study LGBTQ prison health
  7. Create task force to study correctional officer suicides
  8. Study prison long distance phone costs

Release prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk — see explainer here

  1. Prisoners who are so debilitated that they do not present a public safety risk may petition their superintendent or sheriff for medical release
  2. The sheriff or superintendent shall make a recommendation to the commissioner of correction
  3. The commissioner of correction will determine whether the inmate is incapacitated and the medical release plan is appropriate
  4. The parole board will supervise the released prisoners and re-incarcerate them if they are recovering contrary to expectations
  5. Judicial review is only by certiorari

Make it easier for people to get back on their feet

  1. Reduce fees imposed on defendants
    1. Eliminate counsel fee for juvenile defendants
    2. No parole fee for the first year after release from prison
    3. No probation fee for the first six months after release from prison
    4. Make more fees waivable and standardize waiver language across fees
    5. Streamline waiver process for probation fees – no written finding required
    6. Improve procedural protections for people facing incarceration for non-payment of fines and increase rate at which fines are worked off from $30 per day to $90 per day
  2. Assure that when state criminal records are sealed or expunged, national fingerprint records are also sealed or expunged
    1. Require that offense based tracking number (OBTN) associated with a set of fingerprints taken at arrest is recorded in court files (not expand scope of fingerprinting)
    2. Assure that when cases are disposed of, the disposition is transmitted to the national system (using the OBTN)
    3. Similarly assure that sealing and expungement orders are transmitted for parallel action in the national system
  3. Make criminal records more private
    1. Assure that cases dismissed before arraignment do not appear on criminal records
    2. Assure that youthful offender cases tried in juvenile court are treated as juvenile instead of adult CORI
    3. Accelerate sealing availability from 10 years to 7 years for felonies and from 5 years to 3 years for misdemeanors.
    4. Fix the glitch that causes resisting arrest charges to be non-sealable
    5. Allow expungement of cases involving errors of justice
    6. Allow expungement of non-serious cases up to age 21 (both juveniles and young adults)
    7. Exclude juvenile arrests from public police log and expunge public police logs if the court case is expunged
    8. Raise threshold that defines felony larceny from $250 to $1200, so making more cases misdemeanors that can be quickly sealed or expunged (preserve ability of officers to arrest defendants in cases above $250)
    9. Require that licensing authorities disclose in advance offenses that may be disqualifying
    10. Confirm that sealed records need not be mentioned in applications for housing or professional licensure
    11. Prevent employers from inquiring about sealed or expunged cases
    12. Protect employers from liability for failing to know about cases that they are not permitted to know or inquire about under CORI law.
  4. Reduce entanglements with the registry of motor vehicles
    1. No longer suspend licenses upon court defaults
    2. No longer suspend licenses upon conviction of tagging or vandalism
    3. Assure that parents will not lose their license for non-payment of child support if the warning notice is going to a bad address (do not limit otherwise limit ability of the DOR to suspend licenses)

Take better care of juveniles and young adults — see explainer here

  1. Raise minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 12
  2. Do not raise age of criminal adulthood to 19, but
    1. Expressly authorize creation of young adult units within Houses of Correction (18-24)
    2. Expressly authorize designation of youth probation officers
    3. Create task force to “to examine and study the treatment and impact of individuals ages 18 to 24 in the court system and correctional system of the commonwealth.”
  3. Minimize harsh detention of minors (mostly codifying existing good practice)
    1. Assure swift parental notification and appropriate handling upon arrest
    2. Limit shackling in court room settings
    3. Prohibit housing of juveniles in contact with adults
    4. Prohibit the use of room confinement as a disciplinary measure for juveniles in DYS custody
  4. Protect the parent-child relationship by disqualifying parents and children from being called to testify against each other in court (this does not apply to domestic situations and does not prevent parents from asking the police for assistance with their children if necessary)
  5. Create a juvenile justice policy and data board to oversee and improve treatment of juveniles.
  6. Create task force on trauma-informed juvenile care
  7. Provide access to counsel at parole hearings for juveniles sentenced to life
  8. See decriminalization section above for additional measures affecting juveniles
  9. See comparative study on German youth justice and discussion of next steps for Massachusetts here.

Improve transparency of the criminal justice system

  1. Mandate National Incident Based Reporting System for arrests, including racial data
  2. Juvenile justice policy and data board is to drive consolidation of information about juvenile contacts with the system
  3. Require the Secretary of Public Safety to lead improvement of adult criminal justice data systems, creates adult criminal justice systems board
  4. Require expanded reporting on civil forfeitures.

Better protect women in the criminal justice system

  1. Mentioned above: Mandate better tracking and retention of rape kits
  2. Allow vacatur of crimes committed by victims of human trafficking
  3. Create commission on justice involved women
  4. Mentioned above: Requirement to make written findings before incarcerating primary caretakers

Reduce and remedy errors of justice

  1. Empower stronger oversight of forensic labs and techniques
  2. Increase access to compensation for wrongful convictions

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

6 replies on “Criminal Justice Reform at a Glance”

  1. This whole thing sounds good on paper.
    How is the justice system going to deal with repeat criminals???
    Seems you let them out to kill cops and commit more crimes. What about restitution to victims? The ones who suffer most from crimes.

  2. RE: disqualification of parents from being called to testify in court about children with dangerous behavior. Perhaps parents could shed invaluable light on a troubled child potentially headed for disaster. Doesn’t the parent with the best long view and current window have vital information for law enforcement and life-saving interventions?

    1. Agreed. The rule does not prevent a parent from seeking help from law enforcement or from disclosing to law enforcement all relevant information. The limitation only applies to actual testimony under oath on the stand.

  3. I am curious when the restrictive housing oversight committee will be formed per section 39G(a). I didn’t see a date listed with the others committees at the bottom of the page.

      1. Hello Michael,
        The restrictive housing oversight committee must be established by December 31, 2018 (see section 236) and submit its recommendations on the use of restrictive housing no later than January 31, 2019 (see section 93).

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