Massachusetts legislatures consider criminal justice system reforms

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering bills that could lead to major reform of the criminal justice system in the state.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are taking a variety of bills into consideration that would impact the criminal justice system in the state. Two issues that are under review are the mandatory minimum sentencing structure and the current bail system.

Mandatory minimums and drug crimes

One change under consideration is an attempt to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentencing structure used for certain drug crimes in Massachusetts. A number of states have made similar changes. For example, Rhode Island repealed mandatory minimums in 2009 and both Nebraska and Alabama passed major reforms to the systems just last month.

The Boston Globe notes that many of the changes are part of a bigger picture know as "justice reinvestment" currently occurring in 33 states. The process uses political and judicial leadership to reduce jail costs and siphon some of the savings back into programs that are designed to reduce the rate of recidivism, or repeat offenses by those who complete their prison sentences.

Advocates of this proposal argue that the shift away from long prison sentences would ultimately save the community in both financial and social costs. Articles by both The Boston Globe and a local NPR affiliate note that the legislation is designed to shift the focus from incarceration to rehabilitation. Instead of issuing long jail sentences for those guilty of these relatively low level offenses, judges would be able to have discretion to use jail sentences or other treatment options to aid those who may be battling addictions. The piece by NPR provided an analogy used by Ralph Gants, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to help illustrate the point. He stated that just as a person seeking medical care should avoid surgery if physical therapy would suffice, the courts should avoid incarceration if probationary conditions would suffice.

Bail costs

In addition to removing the mandatory minimum sentencing structure, some legislatures are also pushing for the state to move away from a cash bail system and focus instead on conditional releases. Those in favor of this proposal argue that the current cash bail system is unfair to low-income defendants.

Impact of these negotiations

Although reform may be imminent, those facing criminal charges in Massachusetts should take the charges seriously. If a charge becomes a conviction, harsh monetary penalties and lengthy prison sentences can result. Contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options and better ensure your legal rights are protected.

Keywords: criminal justice criminal defense