For years, critics of the Massachusetts criminal justice system have claimed that it it too punitive, focusing on harsh consequences rather than rehabilitating offenders. Others stated that it was racist, imposing stricter penalties on people of color than Caucasians. But a new bill has passed that will take aim at both of these criticisms and will address many other controversial issues in the system.
After a months-long negotiation process, a bipartisan effort to reform Massachusetts’ criminal justice system passed the State Legislature last week. The proposal passed in the House with a vote of 148-5 and the Senate with a vote of 37-0. Several aspects of the justice system will be revised, including the sentencing and rehabilitation of inmates.
Reforming the justice system
The bill calls for widespread reform in nearly every part of the state’s criminal justice system. Few aspects will go untouched. Just a few of the bill’s measures include:
- Reconsidering the use of solitary confinement in prisons.
- Ramped-up efforts to keep vulnerable offenders who have addiction, are mentally ill or are underage out of court.
- Making the state’s bail system proportionate to the offense.
- Repealing some of the mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses.
- Expunging certain offenses including possession of marijuana.
However, the bill also includes increased penalties for some offenses. For example, anyone who is caught driving drunk for the fifth time will face increased jail time. There are also new, mandatory sentences for selling or transporting synthetic opioids. Legislators say that these measures, while harsh, were compromises necessary to pass the bill.
The legal repercussions for offenders
There will no doubt be major legal implications for Massachusetts residents who face criminal charges. In some ways, the new bill will work in defendants’ favor; in others, it could work against them. Because the new bill is so significant and far-reaching, it is likely to affect many thousands of criminal defendants. It is important for anyone who is currently dealing with the criminal justice system to know their legal rights, and to understand the ways in which the new bill could affect their individual case.