Criminal Justice Reform Passed

Joint Press Release from the House and Senate

More background and detail on the package here.

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:

  • Reduces the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor.
  • Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.
  • Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications.
  • Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

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.”



Published by Will Brownsberger

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

34 replies on “Criminal Justice Reform Passed”

  1. Thank you for your part in implementing these changes. They certainly are an impressive start for reform. I hope that in the future, even more leniency will be a part of the criminal justice system. My husband, Dante, worked for many years as a sociology teacher from Curry College, helping prisoners earn college degrees so that they would have a good start when released. He would be happy to know about these changes.

  2. Was a long hard fight but happy the bill is finally at the finish line. Baker batter sign it if he knows what is good for our commonwealth. Thank you Brownsberger for staying with this until the end.

  3. What a day for Massachusetts! Truly sweeping landmark legislation that may well serve as a model for the nation. Significant reforms at every stage and level of the various “systems” plural that make up the criminal justice system. Should be a banner headline in the Globe tomorrow with follow up stories for days to come (but alas that will probably not be – they do a lousy job of covering the Legislature). Glad to have played my part these last 5 years! Congratulations Will…!

  4. Bravo Will and thank you for the tremendous amount of work that you have put into steering this through and getting to a resounding Yes!

  5. Thank you Senator Brownsberger for your tireless efforts on behalf of criminal justice reform.

  6. Congratulations, Will. Your insight and leadership played a major role in the passage of this important bill.

  7. Interesting that the system will now be geared to offenders. There is nothing there that makes offenders repay their
    victims. So as I see it one can rob people of up to $1000 and get a slap on the wrist. Well for most people $1000 is a lot of money.

    1. Unfair, Dave. People can still go to jail for stealing even the smallest thing — although that would rarely be right. The point is that they won’t have to go through their life labeled as a felon.

      This bill is a balanced bill that says let’s ease up on the little guys and the kids who make mistakes, while making the public safer from more serious offenders.

  8. Great and final news! Dear criminal justice advocate community: Let’s all support these fine people in the legislature who have made this happen.

  9. Congratulations! And thank you for keeping your constituents informed throughout the process. Unanimous in the Senate… amazing!

  10. Thank you all for your great efforts!!Now we need to make sure that the Corrections Dept provides enough programs and care to make all of these good outcomes possible. They need to re-allocate funds to education and programs and not merely all on security.If all of these good ideas are going to work, the DOC needs to be on board. If you have 100 hungry people and prepare food for only 20, many go hungry. We need enough programs so that every person in prison starts to prepare to return to society from DAY ONE, not 2-3 mos. before their ten year sentence ends. Let’s hope everyone works as hard as you all have to make this happen. Thanks again for your humanity.

  11. Congratulations, Will! This has been a long and grueling task, but it appears that the legislature is happy with the results. It is an example of democracy in action; refreshing considering what is not happening on the federal level!

  12. Congratulations on successfully moving forward on such an important issue. We can only hope that other state legislatures follow the example of Massachusetts.

  13. Criminal records should never be expunged or sealed. Individuals retain voices to present further information to interested parties. Money saved by no prison time or reduced prison time should be invested in reducing all of the many factors leading to criminal activity.

  14. I hope that data collected on the effect of no terms and shorter terms will further enlighten the reform process. Many people will be released with the same inadequate life structure and other conditions leading to criminal activity.
    Criminal records should never be sealed or expunged. Individuals retain voices which they can use to state further information to interested parties.

  15. Your well-studied and opinion-inclusive approach to this issue earns you an A+ in my opinion. I am so proud you have been my Selectman, Representative, and Senator. I also know that you played a big part in the effort to reform our criminal justice system, although your name is not mentioned even once. That humble approach to getting the job done is rare today and admirable. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  16. Dear Senator Brownsberger

    Thank you for notifying me about the Criminal Justice Bill. It is a major accomplishment for the MA legislature and for you as well as I know you have shepherded this bill and responded to the comments and beliefs of your constituents. We can all be proud of what the state has accomplished.

    Judy Nygren

  17. Senator B,

    Great work! I have not seen the specific details, but if the new legislation actually achieves the goals set forth in this announcement, it’s a great leap forward.
    Too late to help the particular person that got me interested in this legislation, but very positive going forward.
    I have to admit; I thought the legislature would defer this reform out past the November elections. I’m glad my cynicism proved to be inaccurate.

  18. What about those with a non-violent or no drugs federal conviction.

    How do we change the perception of employers towards those with a criminal conviction

    1. Giving people the ability to more quickly seal their record if they stay clean is a first step, accomplished by our legislation.

      We also need to give people skills and good work habits and make them fully ready for employment.

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