Massachusetts House Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reforms

It doesn't go quite as far as the Senate version, but it still aims to reduce recidivism and mandatory minimum sentences.

The Massachusetts State House

Photo via iStock/RodrigoBlanco

The Massachusetts House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that would limit mandatory minimum sentences and ramp up punishments for certain drug crimes.

The bill passed by a vote of 144-9 late Tuesday night, after a lengthy debate and the filing of more than 200 amendments. Though slightly more conservative than the State Senate’s crime legislation, it still targets recidivism, particularly among juvenile offenders. It also seeks to expunge some offenders’ criminal records and help them find stable jobs and housing. House leaders praised the bill’s potential to increase equality within the criminal justice system.

“Growing up in Boston, many of my childhood friends felt the impacts of an unjust criminal justice system,” Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “These bills focus on treating people as individuals, rather than the product of broad-based policies.”

The House bill is slightly tougher on drug trafficking than the Senate version, according to the Boston Globe. It lowers the threshold for how much of a fentanyl-laced drug someone must traffic to be hit with a mandatory minimum penalty of 3.5 years. The House legislation also does not legalize sex between teens close in age or change the age at which someone is tried as an adult to 19, unlike the Senate bill.

The House debate was not without some fireworks, according to the Globe. Republicans criticized the chamber’s leaders for proposing to further study one amendment—akin to an eternal kick of the can down the legislative road. The proposal stipulated dealers who sell certain drugs that lead to fatal overdoses should receive a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of life in prison. The House ultimately voted 110-41 in favor of studying the amendment further.

The House and the Senate will next convene to iron out the differences in the two pieces of legislation and then send it to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.