Massachusetts Legislature Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

Friday, April 13, 2018
By Transcript Staff

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, State Rep. RoseLee Vincent and State Sen. Joseph Boncore joined their colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass landmark criminal justice reform legislation. An Act relative to criminal justice reform (S.2371) 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 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 An 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.

“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 Speaker DeLeo. “I wholeheartedly thank Chairwoman Cronin for her insight and diligence, Leader Mariano, Chairman Sanchez and Rep. Harrington.”

“I am proud that the Massachusetts Legislature has once again led the way for the nation by adopting a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that will help to revamp and enhance the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system,” said Rep. Vincent.  “It has been decades since our criminal justice system was studied and tweaked with legislation. I believe the provisions included in the conference report will help to make our system better, and I am happy to have supported its passage.  I thank Speaker DeLeo and the members of the Conference Committee for their hard work in crafting this landmark legislation.”

“As a former public defender, I have firsthand experience of the need for criminal justice reform,” said Sen. Boncore. “I worked closely with House and Senate leadership to include programs like diversion for low level offenses and juvenile justice. When implemented these policies will help to ensure equal access to justice, curb recidivism rates and eliminate collateral consequences.”

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. 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 10 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 $1,200. 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.

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