Criminal Justice Reform in Massachusetts

Problem

Overcrowding in Massachusetts prisons has been a problem for years. Contributing to this problem is Massachusetts’ mandatory minimum laws from its “tough-on-crime” era, which have incarcerated thousands of non-violent drug offenders and unnecessarily left them in prison for decades. Additionally, minors as young as seven years old can be held criminally responsible and tried in juvenile court. Although the crime rate has declined for several years, violent and juvenile crime rates are growing quickly, as is corrections spending.

Solution

In 2018, Governor Charlie Baker (R) signed a bipartisan criminal justice reform package that focuses on reducing the prison population by diverting low-level offenders to rehabilitation and treatment and helping ex-offenders move on from a life of crime. Reforms in this package include:

  • Diverting low-level offenders to community-based restorative justice programs;
  • Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes;
  • Allowing expungement eligibility for offenders under 21 who committed certain low-level crimes;
  • Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12-years-old; and
  • Creating a bail reform special commission to evaluate cash bail and whether it should be eliminated.

This criminal justice package was a big first step for Massachusetts; however, there is still work to be done. Massachusetts needs to build on these reforms to make prison conditions better for incarcerated women and expand diversion programming. Such reforms as these would respect the dignity of incarcerated women and reduce the recidivism rate. All in all, these reforms should improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.