Criminal Justice Reform Debate Priorities

Today, the legislature will consider two major pieces of Criminal Justice Reform legislation.

There's lots to say about this topic, as our Commonwealth is long-overdue for reforms to virtually all aspects of the criminal justice system.

Over the past few weeks, my office has been receiving lots of messages in support of various provisions — therefore, I want to provide the following list to let people know where I stand on various amendments to the legislation.

Right now, the House is taking action on some 200 proposed amendments to H.4011, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform.

Update: The House adopted H.4011 a little after 9 pm on Tuesday, November 14th. Stay tuned for a complete report on the final House bill and updates on the next steps in the process!

Amendments I support:

  • Amendment #41 - Good time eligibility

    • Filed by Rep Gonzalez and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment clarifies that persons currently serving time for a mandatory minimum drug crime may, upon passage of the bill, be eligible to receive good time credit through participation in programs or other incentives which would make them parole eligible earlier in their sentences.

  • Amendment #42 - Cost of prison phone calls

    • Filed by Rep. Gonzalez and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment adjusts the cost of local and long distance correction facility telephone service provided to prisoners to the same rates charged for comparable residential telephone service

  • Amendment #67 - Eliminating Cash Bail for Juveniles Amendment

    • Filed by Rep. Meschino and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment would eliminate cash bail and pre-trial detainment for juveniles.

  • Amendment #78 - Data Collection

    • Filed by Rep. Rushing and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment does three things: it requires racial and ethnicity data collection for all police stops, it implements the recommendation of the CSG report to develop uniform, cross-agency data collection and tracking and also makes disaggregated data available to the public for research purposes, and implements the recommendation of the CSG report to create an interagency oversight board on data collection. This amendment also includes the data collection requirements designed to capture the particular needs of justice-involved women. Representative Rushing’s amendment on data collection has great additions to collect better information on justice-involved women, including primary caretaker status, reproductive health needs, and a review of criminal justice agencies to ensure gender-specific risk assessments are accurate and appropriately screening defendants. I encourage you to sign on to this amendment as well.

  • Amendment #89 - Felony Threshold for Property Offenses

    • Filed by Rep. Linsky and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment would raise the threshold for felony larceny from the current law of $250 to $1,500. Current version of House legislation calls for $750.

  • Amendment #112 - Justice Reinvestment

    • Filed by Rep. Jim O’Day and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this ensures that the savings generated by criminal justice reform are reinvested to strengthen communities and prevent crime. Every year, the annual savings will be calculated by EOPSS and half of the savings will be deposited into a ‘Strong Communities and Crime Prevention Fund.’ This fund will be managed by a 13-person Board of Directors comprised of 6 members from impacted populations and 7 members who have experience administering workforce development and skills training programs. The board will direct the funds to support communities across the state heavily impacted by crime and the criminal justice system, through programs including workforce development, social enterprise and small business development, transitional employment, and dropout prevention programs.

  • Amendment #142 - Primary caretakers

    • Filed by Rep. Holmes and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment requires courts to consider primary caretaker status prior to the imposition of a sentence.

  • Amendment #144 - Solitary Confinement

    • Filed by Rep. Balser and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment will strengthen the language that is already in H4011 by ensuring that the newly created segregation oversight committee is directed to collect some additional important data, that would further clarify the limitation on how long an inmate may remain in solitary, ensure objective criteria for determining placement in solitary,  ensure appropriate mental health oversight of care of mentally ill inmates, and add back LGBTI inmates as one of the protected groups, (along with pregnant women and juveniles).  

  • Amendment #148 - Raise the Age

    • Filed by Rep. Khan and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to the 19th birthday, moving juvenile and emerging adults into an individualized, developmentally appropriate justice system to reduce recidivism and prevent deeper criminal involvement.

  • Amendment #150 - Risk Assessment Commission

    • Filed by Rep. Livingstone and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment proposes a bi-partisan Risk Assessment Commission to evaluate potential changes for our bail system to implement a just structure specific to the pre-trial population in Massachusetts. The commission would be made up of many different stakeholders in the criminal justice conversations from the prosecutor's side to the defense's side. Factors like gender bias will be looked at specifically to ensure that we create a Risk Assessment that works for Massachusetts.

  • Amendment #152 - Juvenile Shackling

    • Filed by Rep. Khan and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment codifies current court practice by requiring that restraints be removed from a juvenile during court proceedings prior to the juvenile’s appearance in court, unless it is reported that the juvenile presents an immediate and credible risk of escape that cannot be curtailed by other means; poses a threat to their own safety or to the safety of others; or restraints are reasonably necessary to maintain order in the courtroom. A court officer may report any issues that they feel should be recorded and taken into consideration for the purpose of using restraints on a juvenile in court. The presiding justice has sole authority to use restraints on a juvenile before the court.

  • Amendment #153 - Wrongful convictions

    • Filled by Rep. Roy and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment updates the wrongful compensation statute to make it is easier for those wrongfully convicted to receive payment, which can take up to 3 or 4 years currently.

  • Amendment #157 - School zone mandatory minimums

    • Filed by Rep. Carvalho and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment would repeal the mandatory minimums associated with drug offenses within a school zone, which is defined as anywhere within 300 feet of a school or within 100 feet of a public park or playground, between the hours of 5:00 am and midnight. This is important because a large amount of any urban area is within a school zone and this mandatory minimum is often applied to those whose activities had no connection to a school or children. This amendment does not repeal any statutes dealing with drug distribution to minors.

  • Amendment #162 - Justice-involved women policy review panel

    • Filed by Rep. Barber and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment will create a policy review panel, which will be chaired by the Commissioner of DOC and be comprised of members from DCF, DMH, experts representing justice-involved women, trauma-informed programs, domestic violence prevention and others. The panel will review the impact of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice statutes and recent reforms on justice-involved women, and report annually to the General Court, making recommendations for improvements related to gender responsiveness and trauma-informed approaches to the needs of justice-involved women.

  • Amendment #163 - Implicit bias training

    • Filed by Rep. Holmes and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment creates a new implicit/unconscious bias police training program that examines issues of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, as well as socioeconomic and professional status in relation to policing decisions as passed in the Senate.   

  • Amendment #166 - Gender-specific risk assessment for pre-trial diversion

    • Filed by Rep. Barber and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment will direct the commissioner of probation to implement a risk assessment when screening defendants eligible for pre-trial diversion to programming. The risk assessment must include factors that screen eligible defendants for past trauma and abuse, and dependent children, as well as substance use and mental health conditions.

  • Amendment #179 - Safeguard in-person visitation within the Commonwealth’s correctional institutions, jails and houses of correction

    • Filed by Rep. Cabral and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this would provide a safeguard against the decision of Sheriff Hodgson to eliminate in person visitation within the Bristol County Jail & HOC. The amendment’s main provision would prohibit correctional institutions, jails, or houses of correction from (1) prohibiting/eliminating/unreasonably* limiting inmates’ in-person visitation; and (2) pressuring inmates to forego in-person visits. Next, the amendment would allow video/electronic visitations of inmates, so long as they are not provided to replace in-person visits. The amendment would not apply to temporary suspensions of visitation for misbehavior, emergency, or other just causes. Finally, the amendment would allow correctional institutions, jails, or houses of correction to charge a fee for electronic visitation, provided that the fee does not exceed the operating cost of the service. Any fees collected in excess of the operating costs would be directed to the Victim’s Trust Fund (M.G.L. ch. 258C).

  • Amendment #186 - Bail Payments

    • Filed by Rep. Rogers and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment allows bail to be paid at any court, not just the one the defendant’s case is pending. This is a simple administrative fix that will reduce the burden on the defendant and his or her family.

  • Amendment #194 - Mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses

    • Filed by Rep Keefe and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment would repeal mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses which are not already repealed within the current House bill, H.4011. Specifically, besides those associated with fentanyl and carfentanil, the amendment would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking, distribution, possession with intent to distribute, subsequent offense distribution, drug offenses within a school zone, selling drug paraphernalia, and distribution of drugs to minors.This does remove the criminal penalty for these offenses, it just allows judges to use their discretion within the already established sentencing guidelines.

  • Amendment #197 - Fines and Fees

    • Filed by Rep. Keefe and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment would allow for judicial officers to waive many burdensome fines and fees associated with our criminal justice system. It also phases out the indigent counsel fee, eliminates parole fees, allows probation fees to be waived and allows the RMV to create a payment plan for individuals to reduce license suspensions. It also standardizes the process for waiving fees if someone is found to be indigent.

  • Amendment #198 - Expungement

    • Filed by Rep. Khan and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, this amendment strengthens the expungement language in the current House bill, H.4011, by giving the affected juveniles and emerging adults an opportunity for a brighter future sooner. It decreases the time for petitioning to expunge a record from 10 years (as in H.4011) to 4 years for misdemeanors and 5 years for felonies; expands the eligibility for the consideration of expungement in H.4011 to individuals who have more than one offense; and ensures that the related court records are maintained in an anonymous manner for future research and data needs.

Amendments I oppose:

  • Amendments 127 and 137, which would roll back protections for immigrants in our Commonwealth.
  • Amendments 4 and 7, a.k.a. the "Blue Lives Matter" Amendment that creates a new, mandatory-minimum sentencing scheme for Assault and Battery on a police officer.
  • Amendments 34, 36, and 40 which would exacerbate concerns with regards to solitary confinement.
  • Amendments 53, 65, 105, 115, and 174, which are opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because they would hugely expand invasive government surveillance of residents' phone and online communication.
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