Massachusetts Governor Signs Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

By CSG Justice Center Staff

Mass. Gov. BakerToday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (right) signed two major pieces of criminal justice legislation that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature: HB 4012 and SB 2371. Together, these bills represent the most significant changes to the state’s criminal justice system in decades.

What does this legislation mean for Massachusetts residents?

  • Expanded earned-time credits will be afforded to people who complete recidivism-reduction programming and treatment (HB 4012). People who participate in recidivism-reduction programs while in prison can earn up to 15 days of sentence-reduction credit (earned-time credit) per month. Upon completion of select programs that are both proven to reduce recidivism and are approved by the department of corrections, people with prison sentences are also eligible to receive up to 80 days of additional earned time as a completion bonus, in addition to the existing 10-day completion credit. HB 4012 also allows people with certain mandatory minimum sentences to accrue earned time toward supervised release prior to their minimum sentence date. Total earned time credits accrued through monthly program participation and completion credits may not exceed 35 percent of a person’s original sentence. Expanded earned time credits will help incentivize positive behavior and enable supervision officers to focus more time and resources on people who are most likely to reoffend.
  • Judges will have more pretrial alternatives to incarceration (HB 4012, SB 2371). Judges will be able to require participation in a pretrial service program within the office of community corrections as an alternative to incarceration in jail prior to trial.
  • Judges will take a defendant’s ability to pay bail into account when setting bail (SB 2371). Currently, many people stay in jail pretrial because they are unable to pay bail amounts that wealthier people can easily pay. Going forward, judges will be able to take this inequity into consideration when setting bail.
  • People who have behavioral health needs may be diverted from jail (SB 2371). District attorneys are encouraged to use diversion programs in lieu of jail, when appropriate, for people who have mental illnesses and addictions so that they receive the treatment and programming they need.
  • Mandatory minimums will be eliminated for some drug crimes and imposed for others (SB 2371). Mandatory minimum sentences will be eliminated for certain low-level drug offenses, but people convicted of trafficking synthetic opioids will be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of three-and-a-half years. This ensures that prison space is prioritized for people convicted of the most serious drug offenses, while people convicted of low-level drug crimes receive treatment instead, when appropriate.
  • Data collection and transparency will be improved (SB 2371). All law enforcement agencies will be required to report crime and arrest data on a quarterly basis, including the race, gender, and age of anyone who is arrested. Previously, a lack of standardized data collection and reporting left the state unable to analyze arrest trends.

Why is this legislation needed?

Massachusetts has achieved one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation in recent years, but state leaders realized they needed to do more to address recidivism. People who have prior convictions accounted for three-quarters of new sentences in 2013. Further, more than half of people on probation and two-thirds of people on parole in the state have addictions or mental health needs. By incentivizing good behavior, diverting people to treatment and programming, and strengthening supervision overall, the state expects to reduce recidivism and avert nearly $10 million in corrections costs by 2023.

How was the legislation developed?

In the summer of 2015, Massachusetts leaders embarked on a data-driven justice reinvestment approach to address issues within the state’s criminal justice system. A bipartisan, interbranch steering committee and working group were established to support this work. These groups met multiple times between January 2016 and January 2017 to develop policies to reduce reoffending, contain corrections spending, and invest in strategies to increase public safety. The justice reinvestment process led directly to HB 4012 and helped inform the development of SB 2371.

Learn more about the passage of the legislation from the Framingham Source, The Boston Globe, and MassLive.

Read the report issued by the CSG Justice Center as well as criminal justice system analysis presentations that were delivered to the steering committee and working group.