FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Natalie Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 978-602-3772
November 17, 2017
House Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Legislation
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined with her colleagues in the House to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation that will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.
“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. “I am proud of the unprecedented reforms we’ve made to support our youngest and most vulnerable residents, particularly children facing adversity and individuals of all ages battling addiction. I am grateful for the dedication and insight of Chairwoman Cronin, and I thank Chairman Sanchez, Leader Mariano and Chief Justice Ireland for their guidance.”
“The reforms made in this bill address all aspects of the criminal justice system from a person’s first contact with the criminal justice system, up until an individual leaves the system and re-enters society,” said Representative Claire Cronin, Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary. “We have updated and improved our laws, made the system more equitable, and are giving people opportunities to rebuild their lives, while also ensuring public safety. This comprehensive and workable bill will have a meaningful impact on the criminal justice system.”
“Growing up in Boston, many of my childhood friends felt the impacts of an unjust criminal justice system,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means. “These bills focus on treating people as individuals, rather than the product of broad-based policies. Through a number of practical and progressive reforms, the House has taken steps to improve the criminal justice system, so people can make the most of opportunities and end the cycle of incarceration.”
“Our objective with this legislation is to reduce recidivism by removing the many obstacles facing justice-involved individuals after they have served their time,” said Majority Leader Ronald Mariano. “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. We believe these changes will be instrumental in encouraging folks that mistakes of their past will not serve as a life sentence.”
“This is a reform plan for the real world,” said Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. “This bill provides judges with enhanced discretion and allows people to reclaim their lives after their debt to society is paid. I commend Speaker DeLeo and the Massachusetts House for their meaningful work on a very complex issue.”
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 legislation also bars third-party data companies from disseminating expunged records.
This legislation reflects a balanced, modern, smart-on-crime approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. At the same time, it bolsters the House’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic by creating the nation’s strongest law for trafficking Carfentanil and by strengthening the Fentanyl trafficking law. The legislation also toughens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).
As part of the House’s focus on combating the opioid epidemic and providing healthcare parity, this legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues. It removes the age restriction to participate in a diversion program, as they are currently only available to defendants 22 and under. The bill also establishes restorative justice as a voluntary pre-arraignment program.
The House 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 ten 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.
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:
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. Fines and fees could be waived if they would make it impossible for an individual, their immediate family or their dependents to meet basic food, shelter and clothing needs.
The legislation sets a limit on how long an inmate can be held in segregation (solitary confinement) without review and bans segregation for pregnant women and juveniles. It also creates a Segregation Review Board to ensure appropriate oversight of the use of segregation. Additionally, the bill creates a process and establishes an independent board for terminally ill inmates to petition for medical parole.
The legislation 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.
The legislation also establishes a sexual assault evidence kit tracking system, modeled after a bill filed by Representative Natalie Higgins and Representative Carmine Gentile. “We know that many survivors of sexual violence do not immediately report their assaults to the police, and this legislation will ensure that they have the peace of mind of knowing where their evidence kit is when they are ready to report their assault to the police,” said Representative Higgins. “Massachusetts has been leading the effort to reduce the rape kit backlog and this is a crucial next step to continue that progress.”
The bill passed the House 144-9. The vote follows unanimous passage of a separate criminal justice bill on Monday (commonly referred to as the Council of State Government bill) designed to complement the House’s comprehensive bill. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.