BOSTON – Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) recently joined her Senate colleagues in voting for a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that updates decades old criminal sentencing laws to improve outcomes of our criminal justice system. The bill, S. 2185, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, passed by a vote of 27-10.
Several provisions included in the final bill were filed by Senator Jehlen earlier this session as individual pieces of legislation: creating a medical parole system allowing eligible inmates access to more suitable and medically appropriate care; disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline by ensuring fewer students are arrested for non-violent and verbal misconduct; increasing the felony larceny threshold; and updating Massachusetts’ wrongful conviction statute.
“In 1982, about one of every 127 Massachusetts residents was under correctional control or supervision. Now that number is about 1 out of 25. These individuals are disproportionately poor, of color, and, once released, have very few resources to help them get back on their feet. Many are young people who have moved through the school to prison pipeline. Many face mental health issues or substance use disorders. Many have limited education or professional work experience. And being involved in the criminal justice system makes an already daunting climb to self-sufficiency even more difficult,” said Senator Jehlen. “It is a major achievement to pass a criminal justice package of this magnitude, and I am proud of the Senate’s efforts to reform our broken system.”
The bill creates a parole system so that permanently incapacitated and terminally ill inmates can receive treatment in an appropriate hospital or hospice setting. Other states and the federal government have been using medical parole systems to reduce corrections costs without affecting public safety for decades. Currently, Massachusetts is one of only 5 states without a medical parole process.
The bill updates the commonwealth’s juvenile justice system, to encourage rehabilitation and positive future outcomes, reduce recidivism, and ensure fair treatment for young people. Recognizing that juveniles have not reached full adult maturity, this legislation decriminalizes in-school disorderly conduct, to reduce the use of arrest as a tool of school discipline. Currently, a mistake like talking back to the teacher could introduce adolescents to the criminal justice system, an experience riddled with negative impacts that could harm kids throughout the rest of their lives.
The bill increases the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1500. There are many products whose retail value exceeds $250, such as cellphones, that are ever-present in today’s society. While stealing cellphones should certainly be punished, this bill would remove the potential for a 5 year prison sentence, a cost of about $250,000 to the state, and the significant collateral consequences that accompany felony convictions.
This bill also simplifies and speeds up the process by which victims of wrongful convictions are compensated. As it stands, the legal process often takes several years to complete, delaying compensation. An expedited process would serve to move closer towards justice and fair reparations for people who have been wrongfully convicted.
S.2185 includes several other critical provisions such as repealing ineffective mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenders, reducing and eliminating over burdensome fees and fines, and reforming the bail system.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.