Massachusetts is ready to revamp the criminal justice system. In a previous post, we discussed how state legislators were proposing a sweeping bill that would focus more on rehabilitation than on punishment. On April 4, 2018, the compromised bill, written by a House-Senate conference committee, was approved 37-0 in the Senate and 148-5 in the House. This bill will bring a multitude of changes, especially in terms of implementing more diversion programs and reducing the overall incarceration rate.
Multiple Areas of Reform
One of the largest issues the bill targets centers around drug offenses. While the legislation repeals many mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses, but implements mandatory minimum sentencing of at least three-and-a-half years for those convicted of trafficking the opioids fentanyl and carfentanil. Legislators are hopeful that eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for lower-level drug offenses will reduce the number of people serving lengthy prison sentences and provide them with the treatment they need instead. The bill urges district attorneys to create and use diversion programs as alternatives to jail time, leaving a convict with no record of a criminal charge once the program has been completed.
Two other changes deal with bail reform and the use of solitary confinement. Historically, lower-income people charged with crimes have been unable to post bail, since the amounts are usually too expensive. Under the new bill, the defendant’s ability to pay bail will be considered by the judge who is setting the price of bail, aiming for a more equitable bail system. For those within the state prison system, there will be more restrictions on the use of solitary confinement, including periodic hearings for inmates to determine if this practice should continue.
Expunging Criminal Records
Additionally, the bill aims to make expunging or sealing arrest and criminal records easier and more equitable. Under the new bill, felony conviction records can be sealed after seven years instead of ten, and misdemeanor records can be sealed after three years instead of five. The bill also expands the ability of someone applying for housing or a professional license to answer “no record” if their record has been sealed. Furthermore, courts will be able to expunge many juvenile and young adult crimes. For adults whose convictions were for acts that are no longer considered crimes, such as marijuana crimes, these records can now be expunged.
A Victory For Massachusetts
Many are praising the philosophy behind this sweeping reform bill. House speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) stated, “This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions.
Representative Steve Ultrino, who has a background in law enforcement, also praised this bill. “As someone with a background in correctional education, I know how important these reforms will be for people working to turn their lives around. This bill is an incredible step forward for justice for everyone who calls Massachusetts home, and makes all of our communities safe, just, and whole.”
Working on Your Behalf
This bill brings big changes to the Massachusetts criminal justice system. If you or a loved one is currently facing drug-related criminal charges, or if your child has been charged with a juvenile crime, Thomas Whitney Attorney at Law is here to help. Contact our Amherst office today at (413) 256-6234 to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.