Criminal Justice Reform—Key Issue on Beacon Hill

By Colleen Kirby, LWVMA Legislative Specialist

In the 1970s and 1980s, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts developed strong positions on our courts and corrections systems. Since that time, the rate of incarceration in Massachusetts has more than tripled, and nationally, nearly one of every 100 adults is in prison, 5 to 10 times higher than other democracies.  This burden falls disproportionately on young minority men, the impoverished, the mentally disabled, or those with drug and alcohol addictions.  This increase was not due to more criminality in the public but to policy changes.  It is our responsibility to undo these policy failures and now is the time.

In 2015, Governor Charlie Baker, Chief Justice Ralph Gants, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito invited the Council of State Governments to study our criminal justice system in Massachusetts and report on recommendations for legislative changes in January 2017.

Although the focus is on reducing recidivism, there are many other aspects of reform that need to be addressed to be comprehensive.  The League is likely to support the proposed legislation that comes out of this process, but we will also need to continue to support legislation that is not included in the CSG bill.

This session the League will continue to support bills to eliminate mandatory minimums, to increase the felony larceny level from $250 to a more reasonable level (like $2500 as in Texas), for pretrial and bail reform, for restorative justice, for presumptive parole, to restrict solitary confinement, and to expunge the records of persons falsely accused and of juveniles.  We are also considering supporting legislation addressing the overuse of fines and fees, so we don’t have “debtor’s prisons,” and medical release of the seriously ill or elderly.

If your local League would like to learn about these bills, Colleen Kirby, the LWVMA legislative specialist for criminal justice reform, would be happy to give an informal talk on what we are focusing on for the 2017-18 legislative session.

If you would like to learn more about criminal justice reform nationally or in Massachusetts, we have compiled a list of resources for all levels of interest.  If you are new to the issue and want an overview, check out the books listed in (1) or watch a program or listen to a podcast in (2).  To see the data for yourself or keeping up with the latest information, use the sources in (3). For more in depth reporting on Massachusetts, see the resources in (4).  And for in depth reporting on specific topics you can start with some of the information in (5).