Before the legislative winter recess commences on November 15th, the House and the Senate are hoping to pass two criminal justice bills.
One bill, proposed by the House, has received substantial bipartisan support and would create programming in Massachusetts prison systems to reduce high rates of recidivism. The passage of this bill would allow prisoners to receive shorter sentences if they participate in work training and therapy programs. These programs are designed to properly equip them with the social, emotional, and practical work skills needed to re-enter their communities without returning to criminal activity.
Former Supreme Court Justice Roderick Ireland will be advising the House regarding this bill.
The second bill, proposed by the Senate, would be somewhat broader in scope. This bill would repeal certain mandatory minimum sentences, impose stricter sentences on fentanyl trafficking, require regular reviews of and programming for prisoners kept in solitary confinement, gradually phase out a $150-dollar fee imposed on criminal defendants unable to afford a lawyer, and make it easier for people to conceal certain past felony and misdemeanor offenses on national databases.
Currently, felony charges can be eradicated from state-wide databases after ten years and misdemeanor chargers can be eradicated after five years. However, these records often are still accessible, particularity to employers, in national databases. The proposed legislation would reduce the time needed before shielding criminal records in both state and national databases to five years for felonies and three years for misdemeanors.
These proposed bills could lead to the first major criminal justice reform in Massachusetts since 2012, when former Governor Deval Patrick’s administration reduced some mandatory minimum sentences and maximized penalties for three-time felony offenders. Since then, the state’s prison population has dropped and lawmakers are confident that the current proposed legislation will help continue that trend.
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