By Mark Labbe
BRAINTREE — In a letter sent to the Members of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Conference Committee, Massachusetts Catholic bishops applauded the committee’s efforts in crafting criminal reform legislation, and reiterated items that they hope will be included in the legislation.
The letter, issued through the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in the state, was signed by Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski and Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha.
“We are pleased to learn that comprehensive criminal justice reform remains a top priority of Governor Baker along with the leadership of the House and Senate this legislative session,” the bishops wrote.
“The legislation has the potential to benefit society as a whole and be life changing to many individuals and families throughout this great Commonwealth,” they continued. “Issues such as eliminating certain mandatory minimum sentences, creating rehabilitation and reentry programs, providing service to those suffering from mental health struggles must be at the forefront of your discussions.”
The legislation is a result of findings made in a review conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center that was aimed at discovering ways to “reduce reoffending, contain corrections spending, and invest in strategies to increase public safety,” according to a summary of the review made available on the center’s website.
The bishops, while noting that the “specific details of the reforms are best left for the Committee to craft, debate, and resolve,” reiterated reforms they would like the committee to consider. The reforms were previously detailed in a letter sent to state leaders in late 2016.
Their suggestions include repealing “excessively long” mandatory minimum jail sentences for non-violent drug convictions, and offering treatment programs rather than imprisonment for offenders suffering from substance addiction.
Additionally, they are urging policymakers to increase funding for in-prison and re-entry programs focused on providing mental health and drug abuse services, as well as education and job training.
The bishops also suggest altering the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system to reduce the amount of time potential employers have access to an individual’s criminal records, and proposed raising the threshold for felony larceny from its current level of $250, a level that was established more than 30 years ago, to a higher amount.
Speaking to The Pilot Feb. 28, MCC director Jim Driscoll said the bishops believe the legislation may soon be passed.
“I think we’re on the verge of something pretty historical when it comes to criminal justice reform, and that is why we wanted to reaffirm our support of their efforts,” he said.