The Massachusetts Senate passed, by a vote of 27-10, a comprehensive criminal justice reform package Friday, October 27.
The bill, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, updates decades-old criminal sentencing laws to improve outcomes of the state’s criminal justice system.
Senator William N. Brownsberger (D-Belmont), chairman of the Senate’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, sponsored the bill.
Among the provisions included in the bill are repealing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, reducing and eliminating some fees and fines, reforming the bail system, allowing for compassionate release for infirm inmates and reforming the juvenile justice system, Senator Julian A. Cyr (D-Truro), whose district includes Mashpee, said in a statement.
“In state after state, criminal justice reform has led to lower incarceration rates, lower crime rates and lower recidivism rates,” Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said in the statement. “It’s time Massachusetts joins the national ‘let’s get smart on crime’ movement. This bill protects public safety and makes commonsense reforms while improving outcomes with our precious tax dollars.”
Sen. Cyr sponsored two amendments that were included in the final version of the bill approved by the Massachusetts Senate.
One amendment aims to secure equal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), intersex and gender-nonconforming prisoners by ensuring access to health care providers with expertise in transgender health care and creating a special commission to study the health and safety of such prisoners in Massachusetts.
“The lived experience of LGBTQ, intersex and gender-nonconforming inmates within our correctional system is often harrowing, traumatic and heartbreaking,” Sen. Cyr said. “LGBTQ inmates are six times more likely to be sexually assaulted than those in the general prison population, and transgender inmates are disproportionately forced into solitary confinement on the basis of their gender identity. As a Commonwealth, we have a responsibility to ensure that inmates in the custody of the state have access to culturally and clinically competent care. I am proud of the Senate for adopting these protections for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our correctional system.”
Sen. Cyr also secured an amendment that permits the Commissioner of Probation to designate certain probation officers to specialize in servicing young adults from ages 19 to 26. Specialized caseloads allow assigned officers to receive training on specific techniques relative to the young adult age bracket and develop a broad understanding of relevant community-based services, the statement said.
“Young adults stand out as a distinct developmental group with heightened impulsive behavior, risk-taking and poor decision-making,” Sen. Cyr said. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is individuals in this age group that are most likely to become repeat offenders. Probation officers play a key role in the lives of young adults in the criminal justice system, and with targeted interactions and training the results can be more productive and beneficial.”
The bill sets strict guidelines for judges when setting bail for a defendant, the statement said, and rewrites the existing bail statute to create a clear road map for decision-making consistent with the Supreme Judicial Court’s recent ruling that cash bail must be affordable.
“The bill goes beyond that guidance to further strengthen the procedural barriers to setting bail that is higher than a defendant can afford, to ensure individuals are not held solely because they are unable to pay,” the statement said.
The bill also addresses the issue of “fine time.” where the state incarcerates individuals who are unable to pay court fines and fees. The bill sets a schedule to reduce and eliminate these fines and fees over time to protect indigent defendants.
The bill repeals mandatory minimum sentences for all retail drug-dealing offenses and repeals existing mandatories for low-weight cocaine sales. Under the bill, one would have to sell more than 100 grams of cocaine to be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence.
The bill does not repeal mandatory minimums for opioid trafficking and provides that trafficking in higher weights of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl should be subject to the same mandatory minimums as natural opioids such as heroin and morphine.
In addition to sentencing reform, the bill would make diversion to a program, as an alternative to the criminal process, more available for young adults and for people with substance use disorders, while supporting the expansion of restorative justice approaches in appropriate cases.
The bill also raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 18-year-olds, holding young adults accountable for their mistakes while ensuring access to developmentally appropriate rehabilitative and educational services.
The bill now goes to the state’s House of Representatives for consideration.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!