State leaders unveil bill aimed at cutting recidivism

Officials divided on further changes, Gants urges repeal of most mandatory minimums

At today’s announcement of legislation aimed at reducing recidivism, from left to right, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Gov. Charlie Baker, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

STATE LEADERS UNVEILED long-awaited legislation Tuesday aimed at reducing recidivism rates in the criminal justice system. But whether the bill tackles the most pressing issue facing the system or

simply marks a good first step in what should be a more sweeping reform process depends on which leader is speaking.

That divide is likely to animate what is shaping up to be the most robust debate on state criminal justice policy in many years.

The bill would allow state prisoners to earn more “good time” credits that reduce their sentence, and would provide more services and programming for offenders while incarcerated and after their release. It would also allow some of those sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes to earn time off their sentence by taking part in prison programs, something not allowed under current law. Those convicted of distribution of opiates or trafficking heroin, or whose drug crime involved violence or a weapon, would not be eligible.

The legislation is the product of a review commissioned in 2015 when Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants asked the nonpartisan Council of State Governments to conduct an evidence-based evaluation of state criminal justice policies.

The review, part of the federally-funded Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which has been carried out in more than two dozen states, requires initial agreement among a state’s top leaders on the scope of the problem and a commitment to follow through with legislative and policy changes. The four leaders, who all appeared at the morning announcement, agreed on the need for reforms at the “back end” of the system aimed at lowering recidivism rates among those who have served time in prison, even if they differ on whether further major changes should also be pursued.

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