This week, the Massachusetts Legislature sent to Governor Charlie Baker a comprehensive package of criminal-justice measures that includes a host of recommendations made by the Boston Bar Association’s (BBA’s) working group on the subject, including changes to keep people from being unnecessarily swept into the justice system and to give those emerging from incarceration a true second chance. The bills had nearly unanimous support as they passed both houses and now sit on the desk of Governor Charlie Baker.
“This legislation represents a major step toward a fairer and more effective justice system, and I urge the Governor to sign it into law,” said BBA President Mark Smith, of Laredo & Smith. “I also offer my deep appreciation to the Legislature—in particular, Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Harriette Chandler, former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and the Judiciary Committee co-chairs who drafted the final bill in conference, Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Claire Cronin.”
The conference committee also included Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Stone Creem, who has been advocating for comprehensive criminal-justice reform of this type throughout her legislative career, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, and Rep. Sheila Harrington, the ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee.
Among the proposals from the BBA working group’s report, No Time to Wait , that made their way into the legislation are provisions that would:
• repeal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses,
• increase opportunities for pre-trial diversion for more defendants,
• modernize cash bail and the wide array of fees and fines, so that individuals are not incarcerated solely for being poor, and
• reform the state’s criminal offender record (CORI) laws to make it easier for people to move on after completing a sentence.
“We may have a lower incarceration rate, in comparison to other states, but for racial disparities in the criminal justice system we are near the top,” said former BBA President Kathy Weinman, of Hogan Lovells, who co-chaired the BBA’s working group. “If enacted, this bill promises to reduce the excessive rates of incarceration for black and Latino residents and gives all involved in the criminal legal system a better chance to rebuild their lives in compliance with the law.”
The working group’s other co-chair, BBA Treasurer Marty Murphy, of Foley Hoag, said, “This legislation continues a positive recent trend, both in Massachusetts and nationwide, toward reducing the negative impact of mandatory minimums, and away from the failed harsh and counterproductive sentencing structures of the 1990s. The BBA has for decades opposed mandatory minimum sentences for virtually all offenses—and we will continue to do so—because they offer only one-size-fits-all justice, strip judges of the discretion they need to make the punishment match the offense, and aggravate pre-existing racial disparities.”
In addition, the bill creates a stream-lined process for post-conviction relief for individuals who were arrested and convicted of certain offenses while under the control of a trafficker, which the BBA separately endorsed .
The Governor has ten days from the delivery of the legislation to decide whether to sign it into law, veto it, or send it back to the Legislature with recommended changes.