BOSTON – On April 4, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her legislative colleagues in passing landmark criminal justice reform legislation that will lead to a more equitable system that supports our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reduces recidivism, increases judicial discretion, and enhances public safety. The bill, An Act relative to criminal justice reform, includes many provisions championed by Friedman to implement jail diversion strategies to address the mental health and opioid crisis and to reform the current pre-trial bail system.
The Legislature also passed an accompanying bill, Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. This bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.
“I am incredibly proud of the work we have done to pass this meaningful legislation,” said Senator Friedman. “This bill focuses on diverting people from the criminal justice system rather than locking them up, and provides a real avenue for individuals to reintegrate back into society. Although this comprehensive legislation represents a giant leap forward, we must still continue to look for more ways to create a more just system for all.”
For the first time in Massachusetts history, 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. It also 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.
Additionally, this legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Further, 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).
The legislation also requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. The bill includes a jail diversion initiative originally sponsored by the late Senator Ken Donnelly and subsequently championed by Senator Friedman that would develop a Restoration Center in Middlesex County. The proposed center would support ongoing law enforcement diversionary efforts across the county while also expanding the community capacity for mental health and substance use treatment.
“I’m very pleased that the criminal justice reform bill includes language to address the criminalization of mental illness and substance use disorder in our state,” said Senator Friedman, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “The goal of the proposed Restoration Center is to give first responders a real option for diverting individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder from arrest and connect them to appropriate treatment services.”
Further, the legislation includes updates to the Commonwealth’s pretrial system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. Oftentimes, pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail are incarcerated before trial with no ability to work, take care of their families, or access important community services. The bill also creates a pre-trial services unit to remind pre-trial detainees of upcoming court dates using modern messaging approaches, and establishes a temporary bail commission to monitor the system and suggest further improvements.
“We made real progress in reforming our pretrial system,” said Senator Friedman. “While the bill codifies the SJC’s recent Brangan decision to help move our bail system away from a cash-based system, a comprehensive overhaul of our pretrial bail statute is still necessary to ensure than an individual is not held solely based on his or her ability to pay.”
Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk; and reformation of the criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.