Senators outline broad criminal justice reform agenda

Lawmakers look to broaden scope beyond pending report

SAYING THE TIME is right for the state to take a look at sweeping criminal justice reforms, a group of Democratic state senators is urging the Legislature to take up bills addressing everything from mandatory minimum drug sentences to fines and fees that lawmakers say are unfairly leading some people to spend time behind bars simply because they can’t afford the charges.

The menu of proposals rolled out to reporters this morning in the Senate president’s office comes ahead of the expected release next week of legislation based on a lengthy review of criminal justice policies coordinated by the nonpartisan Council of State Governments.

That review, which was launched more than a year ago at the invitation of Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, is expected to produce legislation centered on prisoner reentry, probation and parole practices, and other policies that officials hope will help drive down recidivism rates. A third of those released from state prisons are reincarcerated within three years.

Critics have said by focusing only on the so-called “back end” of the criminal justice system when offenders are completing a sentence that the review is too narrow and has missed opportunities to rethink sentencing practices and other policies that are driving incarceration rates at the front end of the system.

The Senate presentation seemed designed to lay down a marker in advance of next week’s proposal saying the Council of State Governments plan should not define the limits of criminal justice reform that the Legislature will take up this session.

There’s “a much bigger picture of criminal justice reform,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger, the cochairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. “This is the year where I think the stars may align for us to make progress on a lot of these issues.”

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