Massachusetts Legislature Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform
Bill Sent to Governor’s Desk
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature passed landmark criminal justice reform legislation today. An Act relative to criminal justice reform will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety. The vote was unanimous in the Senate and near unanimous in the House.
The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.
“I am incredibly proud of the Legislature for passing such substantial, landmark legislation,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “The criminal justice system should serve our communities and residents in a way that fosters rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This consensus legislation will modernize how the Commonwealth treats defendants and offenders in the hope of fostering a more fair and equitable society.”
“This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I wholeheartedly thank Chairwoman Cronin for her insight and diligence, Leader Mariano, Chairman Sanchez and Representative Harrington.”
For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.
The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.
This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Additionally, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).
This legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. It also expands diversion programs to the Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Court.
Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies:
This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,000. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.
Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.
“Individuals in our communities deserve a chance to effectively transition back into productive members of society, and this bill eliminates roadblocks toward achieving that goal,” said Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D- Quincy). “We believe these changes will be instrumental in encouraging folks that mistakes of their past will not serve as a life sentence.”
“Together, the bills we are putting on the Governor’s desk constitute a comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system from front to back. In each aspect of our reform, we have considered all points of view and taken a responsible and balanced approach,” said Conference Committee co-Chair Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “I’m terribly grateful for the collaboration we’ve had between the House and the Senate, with the Baker administration and with hundreds of officials and advocates.”
“The compromise piece of legislation makes reforms to all aspects of the criminal justice system, from the time a person first comes in contact with the criminal justice system through the time a person re-enters society. These reforms will give people a second chance to rebuild their lives, while also preserving public safety,” said Representative Claire D. Cronin (D-Easton), Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary. “We have passed a comprehensive and workable bill that will have a meaningful impact on the criminal justice system. I am pleased to see this bill pass with strong bipartisan support.”
“For too long, our approach to criminal justice has been primarily focused on the punitive side of the system,” said Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D. Newton). “This bipartisan bill takes a much more balanced approach that recognizes the impact that crime has on victims, while focusing on the underlying causes of crime and offering both the tools and the opportunity for successful re-entry.”
“This bill represents a collaborative effort which creates a balance of opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation while enhancing public safety by treating those who would threaten it with serious consequences,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “The bill achieves many important goals in protecting the public, including those championed by the Republican Caucus, such as supporting our law enforcers, strengthening penalties for distributing dangerous drugs such as Fentanyl and Carfentanil, greater accountability and oversight of forensic evidence and its analysis, and supports for those who have been victims of sexual assaults.”
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