State House Unveils Sweeping Criminal-Justice Reform Package

The legislation repeals some mandatory-minimum sentences and aims to reform the juvenile court system.

The Massachusetts State House

Photo via iStock/RodrigoBlanco

Criminal justice in Massachusetts could be headed for an overhaul.

On Friday, state lawmakers submitted a comprehensive legislative package that repeals mandatory-minimum sentences for “low-level” drug crimes and updates the state’s approach to juvenile offenders, according to State House News Service. The compromise bill comes after four months of negotiations in the House and Senate and is not expected to be voted on until the beginning of April.

The bill eliminates mandatory minimums for several offenses, including the first and second time someone is caught with cocaine, PCP, or methamphetamine. The package also includes several provisions aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system and shrinking the population of incarcerated minors in Massachusetts. The bill, if ratified, would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 years old to 12 years old, and put in place several legal mechanisms to divert juveniles from prison. The package does not raise the age of criminal adulthood to 19 years old.

Several initiatives aimed at reducing recidivism, improving prison conditions, and enhancing public safety also made it into the bill. State Sen. Will Brownsberger, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers hope the package will help reform various systems that make post-prison life more difficult.

“The agreement we have reached today is about lifting people up instead of locking people up,” Brownsberger, said at a press conference. “It is about cutting the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back on their feet.”

The governor’s office has not waded into criminal justice reform with a comparable package, but a spokesman for Gov. Baker told State House News that the administration “is pleased” legislators reached an agreement.