Advocates, experts, legislators and community leaders converged at the State House on Monday to testify in favor of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that would repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences, reduce certain non-violent felonies to misdemeanors, would further reform the CORI system to promote successful re-entry and more.
The bill would also create a medical parole mechanism for permanently incapacitated inmates, raise the threshold for felony larceny and would also take the savings produced from lower incarceration rates to create a trust fund to redistribute resources from the criminal justice system to community education and workforce development programs.
“Our state is wasting precious resources on a system that isn’t just and doesn’t work,” said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), Judiciary Committee member and a sponsor of the bill, An Act for Justice Reinvestment (H.2308/S.791), according to a press release. “We can use public resources responsibly, on those sentences and programs that are fitted to the crime and that prevent crime where we know we can. We can save millions of dollars, and invest those savings to ensure that our neighborhoods are well-served.”
“Today we can clearly see the high cost of our criminal justice policies on historically impoverished communities and neighborhoods. Now is the time for Massachusetts to prioritize public safety by being smart on crime and investing in programs in education, job training and youth employment,” said state Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester), a sponsor of H.2308, according to a press release. “H.2308 contains provisions which will help reinvigorate these communities through the creation of a trust, which will transfer the cost savings from these policies to support programs that would help those people reentering our communities as well as prevent people from being incarcerated in the first place.”
“We have a crisis of too many people being imprisoned for too long,” said Lew Finfer, spokesperson for the Jobs NOT Jails coalition and Executive Director of the MA Communities Action Network. “We are dealing with drug addiction too much through criminal prosecution and imprisonment instead of with treatment. There’s a huge recidivism rate, so we need to reform sentencing, in-prison programs, and re-entry programs. We make it very hard for ex-prisoners to get jobs with CORIs. There are great racial disparities on who gets sentenced to prison on mandatory minimums and other charges. We need criminal justice reform to make us all safer.”
“We know that the health of our communities depends on access to quality, affordable healthcare,” said Darrin Howell, Political Organizer at 1199SEIU, the largest healthcare union in Massachusetts. “I also know from personal experience that social and economic factors, such as barriers to employment and the structure of our criminal justice system, affect our communities’ ability to thrive. That’s why we must address criminal justice reform during this legislative session. We urge the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to act quickly to favorably report out An Act for Justice Reinvestment and help us promote healthy and just communities.”
The next step for the bill is for the Judiciary Committee to report on the bill, either recommending the bill should or should not pass, or recommending the bill be further studied. If the bill were to receive a favorable recommendation from the Judiciary Committee it would be taken up by the House and Senate for deliberation and voting.
The bill's progress can be tracked through the Massachusetts Legislature's website.