Final Criminal Justice Package Released

Update: April 13 — the bill is law!

The Governor signed the bill today, Friday, April 13. Perhaps that is a good luck omen!

View the signing ceremony speeches here.

Package summary and explainers here.

After four months of negotiations, the conference committee between the House and Senate reached final agreement on a criminal justice reform package. Below is my statement at our press conference and further below is an outline of the bill.

The agreement we have reached today is about lifting people up instead of locking people up. And it is about cutting the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back on their feet.

And it is about better protecting the public from drugs and violence.

We are profoundly grateful to and respectful of the men and women who labor in the trenches every day to protect us from crime and to administer justice – the police officers, the prosecutors, the judges, the probation officers, the correctional officers, the parole officers and the lawyers. And we know their work is essential to the preservation of civil society.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned about high incarceration rates in commwunities of poverty and color and we understand that the criminal justice system has become just too hard for people to navigate. It mires people in cycles of frustration from which they cannot escape.

Most issues in criminal justice involve hard judgment calls and many are deeply controversial. They are the kind of difficult issues that many seek to avoid. So, I’m very grateful for the leadership of former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Speaker Bob Deleo for bringing us to the threshold of this conversation. I am also grateful to Senate President Chandler for sustaining our momentum.

Last fall, both branches produced and approved comprehensive criminal justice packages that examined the system from front to back. The bills each branch produced differed from each other in approach and in hundreds of details. We have spent the last four months sorting through all the pieces.

We considered and discussed each piece individually and we hope we have succeeded in re-assembling a balanced bill, each piece of which actually works. We hope and believe that the final bill is really a better bill than either branch started with.

To the extent we have been successful, it reflects the fact that we have listened to each other, we have respected each other and we have not been afraid to accept each other’s thoughts and feelings. I will remain forever grateful to all the five of other people who sat at that table for hours on end.

I am especially grateful to my co-chair Claire Cronin whose abiding sense of fairness is what kept this conversation moving and brought it to a successful conclusion. I am also especially grateful to the staff supporting the committee members. We started as several teams, but we finished as one team.

See package summary here.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

72 replies on “Final Criminal Justice Package Released”

  1. Will,

    If you do nothing else in the legislature (unlikely) this is a legacy to be proud of. Are the specifics of compensation for wrongful convictions available?



  2. No professional nor drivers license should be taken for inability to afford ones child support. No person can reasonably keep or find a job nor transport their children they are no longer able to drive or no longer able to make a living if ones professional license is taken away. This portion should be changed that NO license can be taken for inability to afford ones child support. No one wins if they do

  3. There is nothing here to strengthen the restraining orders to require higher standard of evidence which has criminal penalties – one can obtain a restraining order based on he said she said but any violation becomes a criminal matter bypassing a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial hearing. Further there is not balance for a defendant the scales of justice are very tilted to the plaintiff and commonwealth

  4. Congratulations on a truly sweeping reform package, covering a multitude of important and beneficial changes and that I know fromwatching up close is the culmination of many years of your hard work and indefatigable leadership.

  5. I truly appreciate all your hard work on this! This legislation will improve people’s lives and hopefully begin the resurrection of entire communities. It was only through your vision and persistence that it happened. I’m so proud to have you represent me! Thank you!

  6. Thank you! I’m on a civil rights tour in Alabama, so this feels like timely news indeed. I look forward to reading the bill in detail when I get home.

  7. Will, I . appreciate the broad inclusion of every facet of this issue, and agree with your recommendations. Thanks so much.

  8. This makes sense to me. We need to be more compassionate towards the incarcerated and recently released prisoners. How can they take their place in society if they are not helped to adapt to a new and changing environment?

  9. Will,

    Thank you for your work on this. Today, coincidentally I was at a bail hearing for a friend who I believe was falsely accused for a crime. Of the two people who went before the court, both were poor, both were Korean. The first waived his right for bail and they handcuffed him and took him away. He is a drummer that plays at our church. He should be rehearsing for Holy Week not sitting in jail. The other had a family sitting in horror as they watched the proceedings. The man could not speak English well and had someone interpreting for him. He was crying. Apparently, one must have a landline in place and a home visit before one can be released on bail. “It is policy” the judge repeated several times. How many people, especially poor people, have no land line these days? Humiliating him in front of his family, costing tax-payers money to hold him, for most likely a bad mis-understanding or circumstances. How can this be justice? Keep reforming, Will!

  10. State Senator
    Sonia Chang Diaz
    Thank you, for the important official justice information of created changes.
    We hope that changes be made stronger for humans rights , genders rights and women’s rights.
    Thank you again.

    Ms. Maria Celia Hernandez 3-23-2018
    MA. US

  11. In California, non-violent theft of property under $950 were decriminalized four years ago.

    The result has been an explosion of car burglaries, mailbox thefts, shoplifting, and such by organize teams of criminals who know the cops, DAs, and courts are looking the other way.

    I’ve gotten beyond angry at CA’s failure to adjust to this new reality, in which politicians point at one another and at voters who approved of the law by referendum. One example is a bill filed in our state Senate last month to eliminate a stupidity in the auto-burglary law, which requires that a vehicle owner or renter demonstrate proof that the car doors were locked–even if the glass was smashed, this proof still has to be presented.

    Make sure that cops & courts in MA are empowered to go after serial-violators with meaningful felony charges; a petty thief committing one or two misdemeanors is one thing, but gangs of dozens of thieves committing thousands of small thefts per month can make urban life a living hell.

  12. Everyone is “virtue signaling”. The world is great, we’re going to make things better with reform. People are going to see their wicked ways and reform themselves.

    This is all brought on by some “new” paradigm of constant mistreatment and unfairness which hasn’t been proven. Keep “repeating” SAID mistreatment and if they don’t listen, keep repeating until politicians become afraid of offending and/or want votes.

    That isn’t the way it is in reality. People are serving long sentences because they committed crime after crime after crime.
    It’s like a “Progressive” slot machine. You put in one coin and you hit the 3 cherries and you win “X”. You put in 2 coins and you win “X2” (squared). You put in 3 coins and you win “X3” (cubed).

    The kids being disruptive in school interfere with the ones trying to learn. Don’t the well behaved ones deserve something for trying to do the “right thing” ? We saw that in Parkland High School in Florida where all of a sudden the crime and disruption rates went mysteriously down to low levels. A kid will say “I punched someone and they did nothing to me ?” Means I can do it again and again and again. The officials can all pat themselves on the back. Sheriff can get re-elected again. The county can get more Federal money. It’s all a sham.

    Then a student, Nik Cruz feels emboldened to enter the school with a gun. This M S Douglas High School was rated as one of the safest and best schools by some poll. Nik Cruz was turned in 29 times locally and 2 times to the FBI. “If you see something, say something !”

    Meanwhile the cop that was there to “protect and serve” isn’t going to risk losing his job for reprimanding a student. Never mind risk his life (after putting in a 30 year career) for these student ‘pukes’ when nothing happens to them for bad behavior.

    I remember the cops over in Cambridge one night passing out free whistles and flashlights because there was a rapist on the loose. So when are you going to start passing out free “mace”, lanyards with noise alarms and helmuts (getting whacked on the head and/or the ‘knock-out game’) ? Or better yet, allow people the “right to carry” if you are going to let criminals run loose on the streets with a “hope” and a “promise” that they won’t commit anymore crimes.

    I remember old Mrs. Hollum, an 80 year old widow who owned property on N. Harvard St. First the Gov’t comes and takes her property by “eminent domain” and pays her “peanuts” for it telling her they know what’s best for her. Then they wanted her out of HER HOUSE in 2 weeks so they put her into the Fanueil Projects. This circa 1969-1970. Then she is targeted because she was old and frail. They beat her and mugged her and put her in the hospital. She never came out of the hospital. She died of her injuries. You are willing to give thugs 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th chances. When people are older, they don’t recover and get no chances.

    Criminal Justice Reform- The fatal hoax in Connecticut

    Published on Jan 13, 2018

  13. Thanks for all your hard work and leadership on this bill! And thanks to all on the conference committee for the people of Massachusetts.

  14. This is a complicated, lengthy, and far reaching bill, thank you.

    To understand it better, could you offer answers to the following and/or point us to these answers in the writings of others?

    What or who were the competing factions shaping the bill? From economic interests to those who “labor in the trenches”, what was their expression of interest and their significant impact on the conditions of the revision of law?

    1. We didn’t get pressure from people in the trenches (other than the very public conversation we had with DAs about some issues). We did seek advice from many about how they thought different features would work.

      I don’t feel that this bill was significantly shaped by interest group politics. The questions were always what will actually work and was it is fair.

  15. I ask once again why non violent broke fathers are still a different class and this bill does not address them. Why Penina violent criminals are given more rights than a non violent broke father? Why non violent fathers can still be jailed and why this bill still allows their drivers licenses and professional licenses to be taken? Why????

  16. Thank you for your hard work! This is a big improvement. I was sorry not to see restrictions on the maximum time an individual can be kept in solitary confinement.

    1. There are a few people who just have to stay in restrictive housing. It isn’t right to have a hard limit on restrictive housing. The point is to get most of the others out, and this bill will do that.

  17. Thank you for this detailed report of complex decisions that required deep consideration by lawmakers. Thank you also for your ongoing dedicated work toward positive reform. I appreciate your opening statement framing the process. Most of the details of the reforms described sound good to the best of my limited knowledge. They were obviously all carefully considered. Thank you for doing this hard work on behalf of all of us.

    I was particularly glad to see the requirement that high school education be supplied. A little worried about still taking drivers license from fathers not fulfilling child support because licenses are so important to earning capacity. Overall the list looked well considered. Thank you!

    1. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t be using licenses as an enforcement tool in child support cases — I agree it is counter-productive. Unfortunately, federal law requires child support collection agencies to use the power to suspend licenses for collection purposes. We had a lot of conversation about possibly putting financial parameters on license suspension, but couldn’t reach agreement.

  18. Will this is monumental, which carries multiple meanings. Educating everyone about the changes will be a huge under-taking. Then checking to be sure it is happening as written. In the old saying, who guards the guardians? Talk about a life’s work! Congrats. John M.

  19. Please forgive this cursory take on this monumental work. I am most concerned that destructive behavior(toward self or others) be identified and addressed. Hopefully this happens before contact with the criminal justice system. I see frustration by observers at all points of the continuum. Ideally, diversion before criminal activity (as addressed in S1298 which would direct funds to diversion programs) would be available through schools, health care facilities, etc. That lacking, I imagine prosecutors are consumed by the need to do something to break the cycle of progressive descent into more destructive criminal behavior. I see individuals in the emergency department presenting with intoxication and assaultive behavior who then purport suicidal and homicidal ideation. The need to strengthen community educational and mental health care is the consuming need at this point in time and place.
    I do see that Massachusetts has the lowest rate of death by guns in the US (Globe 3/23/2018). This is impressive and must be preserved.

  20. This package of reforms is a huge step forward! Thank you, Senator Brownsberger and all the others who hung in through the marathon of details and compromises.

    Sharon Bauer, Watertown

  21. Thank you for all your hard work in passing a great many of the reforms we have advocated for! This summary is very helpful. Now the challenge will be to see that these reforms are implemented. Congratulations!

  22. Thank you for the tremendous work you and others have done on this huge and complicated topic. Victor and I attended one of your early justice forums, Will, and are grateful for the information you and others provided. We also are grateful to our local Senator Sonia Chang Diaz who has written and spoken out strongly for effective legislation to deal with inadequacies and inequities in our criminal justice system. The details of this newest version you and others have presented is truly heartening. Catherine and Victor Carpenter

  23. This tremendous effort is a profound credit to your work, Sen. Brownsberger, as
    well as a credit to all the senators and representatives who voted for it, and especially the six of you, senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans, who must have spent hour after tedious hour struggling with this. All citizens of the Commonwealth are better off when the governor signs this legislation.
    I appreciate the section, “Reduce and Remedy Errors of Justice”, and Item 13 under “Strengthen Protections for Public Safety” having to do with immediate DNA testing of those incarcerated. This could lead to innocent people being freed. But these measures don’t go far enough to deal with 4% to 10% of the inmate population who are innocent. As a retired chaplain, I can attest to the anguish felt by innocent convicts.
    In the next iteration of crime bills, please consider mandated scientific methods of eyewitness identification, equal resources of legal support and discovery for prosecution and defense in high-profile cases, the end to all junk science being used in court, better police training, restrictions on jailhouse confessions, sanctions for prosecutorial evidence suppression, and more.
    Again, thank you so much for your work on this legislation.

  24. AS the public becomes more unsafe the people who commit crimes are not held responsible

  25. I agree with your policy and believe this is the right direction. I do not want to read the details but I assume that a few I may disagree with but this is a compromise bill and we must move forward on this bill. Barbara Resnek

  26. This is a really great start! And I can only imagine how much work it took to get to this point.

  27. thank you for this excellent summary. We had discussions in our local committees, we had the Sheriff come and talk with us; we had Eileen Duff who presented an outline of the provisions in the bill (she is on Governor’s Council) and we have an ongoing “opioid committee”. I think this will give our local municipal officials the information that is needed to think through the city needs that we have; the work you describe on “opioid” is important to me as well as the provisions for careful consideration of the cases when youth are
    involved (to stop the “school to prison pipeline”… ]Haverhill MA

  28. A very helpful summary of all the complicated work you and your committee did in working to improve our criminal justice.You should be given a lot of credit for the many hours put into this

  29. Remember the days when it used to be legal to resist a false arrest ? Or, before “under god” was added to the pledge of allegiance ? When Portugal legalized all drugs in 2001 and their crime rate dropped by 80% ?

  30. Remember the days when it used to be legal to resist a false arrest ? Or, before “under god” was added to the pledge of allegiance ? When Portugal legalized all drugs in 2001 and their crime rate dropped by 80% ?

  31. When are we going to address the obesity crisis in this country ? We could outlaw insulin so that these injecting drug addicts overcome their addiction to fats and sugars. A plant based diet will cure 50% of these addicts in two weeks !

  32. Thank you and the conference committee for all the hard work and deliberations over the past 4 months. I think this bill, when implemented, will make a huge change in how our people in custody are treated. And this should mean they are better integrated into our communities when they get out. I am especially happy about taking caretaking status into account so children’s needs are considered, that restrictive segregation is minimized and has oversight (and is no longer possible for juveniles or pregnant women), that we can expunge records for the falsely accused and certain other incidents, that children younger than 12 are not treated as criminals, that those who are terminally ill or incapacitated can be treated with dignity in their final years, that we have increased felony larceny limits and have reduced fines and fees especially for those newly out of custody, that we are collecting data and becoming more transparent and much much more. Such a well-considered system-wide bill. I hope it passes soon!

  33. Congratulations! Your efforts will lead to a more fair and more just criminal justice system.

  34. Thank you for all of your hard work on this very complicated bill. I feel we still need to work on the solitary confinement issue as the bill does not go far enough. The United Nations has called any solitary over fifteen days to be torture. Other states like Maine have almost eliminated solitary. We need to do more as the threat of solitary is what puts a toxic tone in the prisons and allows corrections officers to be in some cases very confrontational and disrespectful to those in prison which I have seen first hand myself and could not imagine being treated like that all the time.Since most people will get out of prison, we want them to be better, not worse then when they went in. Solitary has to end. We need to make that happen.

  35. Thanks for a thorough summation of the legislation. It is really helpful to have facts!

  36. Lines 2600 through 2619 of the bill are troubling and will rule out the vast majority of people the law is intending to help. Basically, if a person in either category (Sections 100F, 100G or 100H) have any court appearances, juvenile appearances, dispositions, or motor vehicle offenses with a fine of over $50 in MA or any other state, they are not eligible for expungement. I can see if these restrictions are limited to the period of the previous 7 years for a felony or 3 years for a misdemeanor, but the way it is written, it sounds like if you have ever had any of these on your record, you are not eligible for expungement. It is very common practice for police to overcharge, knowing that some charges will be thrown out or used as a bargaining chip for deals. However, it appears that these charges could prevent someone from being eligible for an expungement if they are convicted for one of the charges. In addition, I think all moving violations in MA will result in a fine of over $50. Currently, a person can get a felony record sealed after 10 years as long as they haven’t had any new convictions within that time period. If they have, the clock restarts based on the new conviction disposition date. The new bill should be similar in that dismissed cases and CWOFs (and minor motor vehicle violations) don’t prevent someone from getting a conviction expunged if they happened prior to the 7 or 3 year time frame from the conviction that the person is trying to get expunged. As it is currently written, most people will not be eligible for expungement.

    1. You are right that expungment is only available in very limited circumstances — very clean records with one blemish or clear errors of justice.

      Bear in mind that sealing is as good as expungement for most purposes and becomes more broadly available in this legislation.

  37. Your statement is beautiful and true, and begins to restore my faith that democracy may yet prevail in my country.I have new respect for my Mass. legislators. I am inspired by their incredible hard work, creativity, and willingness to think of the common good, even across borders of race and class, city and suburb. Thanks!

    About codifying the Brangan decision:excellent! let’s continue to remember that, until convicted, those booked for crimes must be presumed innocent, and should not be put under the control of the prison system.Thanks.

  38. Barring a year’s study to acquire appropriate knowledge to send an educated response, I’m writing to ask that minds remain open to data resulting from implementation of the changes. I hope the money saved by shorter prison terms, no prison terms, reduced fines etc. will be directed to the needs which are common causes of eventual criminal activity. People will be released from prison and court often with the same deprivation and lack of structure and resources they had before their involvement with the criminal justice system. Schools, being the one constant in childrens’ involvement with societal resources, must have the funds and staff to discern and address problematic behavior. Criminal records should never be expunged or sealed. Do those records not represent crimes against the state? Individuals with those records have voices and can make their own cases for consideration by interested parties. To me, such continual tuning of the law represents the best in society.

    1. Thank you, Lorraine.

      I agree with you that we need to give people the structure and resources that they need to avoid criminality. I also agrees are the key channel for that.

      As to sealing/expungement, I think there is a role for it. It is true that history is what it is, but is also true that people tend to overreact to criminal history and fail to appreciate that people can grow and change.

  39. It’s about time that changes are being made to the old and out dated criminal justice system. My question is and I’m sorry if I missed it…when are these changes going into effect?

  40. And another criminal on parole kills a police officer. Ya maybe if we are nice to them and release them they will not commit anymore crimes??????????
    When will this end

    1. The death of the officer is an unspeakable tragedy.

      We need to look carefully at what actually happened in the case.

      But for sure, every day 1000s of people come through the system who are not killers and we need to bring back them into society.

  41. When are we going to hold the judges accountable for their actions? Right now they are political hacks that are untouchable. They disregard mandatory minimums and constantly allow repeat violent offenders off with a slap on the wrist. The judge that allowed Thomas Latanowich walk the streets has blood on his hands. He had over 100 items on his BOP and attempted to stab someone to death in 2016. In other parts of the country judges are elected officials and are held accountable. Sadly this is not the case in Massachusetts. They are simply untouchable

  42. Thank you Senator Brownsberger for your relentless pursuit and endless work on criminal reform. Your dedication and tieless efforts to this major piece of legislation makes Massachusetts shine when it comes to common sense reform, compassion and justice. I am so thankful for your presence in our Senate.

    With gratitude,
    Debbie Deagle

  43. WE are all gratefull for the reforms that Gov. Baker has signed. They will help people if they are enacted. Now we have to make that happen. As for the officer who was killed, it is a great loss. However, I would wait until the facts come out because I have already read that many of the accused’s arrests ended in dismissals and obviously his behavior was not typical. I would like to see all of the facts. For now, I would like to promote the DOC to help those who need it to return to society. This will make us all better off.

  44. This is a giant leap in the right direction for criminal justice reform. Thanks to Senator Brownsberger and the rest of our legislature for their extensive effort to do something positive for the state of Massachusetts.

  45. Monica James, I enjoyed the collaborations that were happening amongst all interested stakeholders that brought about this piece of comprehensive legislation that is more progressive than any other at current time. My goals and prayers is that this piece of progressive legislation from the innovative state of MA. will serve as a model around the world aiming forward social reform.


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