MA Pols on Verge of Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms

The state’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would pare back mandatory-minimum sentences and make it easier for some convicts to get jobs and housing. The Senate has passed a similar bill, and legislators will now negotiate a compromise proposal to send to Gov. Charlie Baker.

On a 144-9 vote, the Massachusetts House on Tuesday passed its most sweeping criminal justice bill in years, aimed at reducing recidivism by paring back mandatory-minimum sentences and making it easier for some convicts to obtain employment and housing, reports the Boston Globe. At the same time, the proposal toughens penalties for opioid trafficking. The bill, while not as progressive on many fronts as the version passed by the Senate last month, nonetheless reflects a sharp turn among policy makers on criminal justice. The Senate voted to legalize sex between teens close in age and to boost the age of criminal responsibility to 19. The House did not include these provisions in its bill.

In the coming weeks, the two Democrat-dominated bodies will appoint negotiating committees aimed at reconciling differences and sending a compromise to Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who has criticized elements of the Senate plan. House leaders said that by stripping away mandatory-minimum sentences for some drug offenses, including some involving cocaine and methamphetamine, they could provide an easier path back to productive society for some convicts. Those provisions loosely jibe with the Senate’s template. Also similar to the Senate, the House is looking to expunge criminal records for many offenders, including those who committed crimes when they were juveniles or whose offenses are no longer crimes under state law. That measure has grown particularly salient due to voters’ decision last year to legalize recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.