Criminal Justice Reform

An Act relative to the appropriate use of solitary confinement

Solitary confinement can exacerbate mental illness, leading prisoners in solitary to attempt suicide at significantly higher rates than those in the general prison population.  In addition, the cost of building solitary confinement units and housing prisoners in segregation is significant higher than in the general population.  Prisoners deprived of normal human contact cannot properly integrate back into society, which results in higher recidivism rates.  The vast majority of prisoners in solitary confinement are eventually released back into the community, therefore, it is critical that we take steps to reduce and regulate the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts in order to provide for the successful reentry and reintegration of prisoners.  This bill will take those necessary steps by calling for appropriate standards prior to placing a prisoner in solitary, decreasing extreme isolation, encouraging individualized rehabilitation programming, and improve  mental health monitoring for people in solitary.

An Act promoting restorative justice practices

This bill creates an option for law enforcement and courts to refer juvenile and low-level adult criminal offenders to a community-based restorative justice program in lieu of or alongside other responses. The referral may be made pre-complaint, at the arrest, pre-arraignment, or sentencing phase and impacted parties and victims may also be part of the process. Restorative justice practices may include voluntary meetings among victim, offender, supporters, and community members that provide an opportunity to meet victim needs, hold an offender accountable, explore the impact of the crime upon community, and agree upon a constructive plan of repair by consensus. The bill also creates an advisory committee to study, track and make policy recommendations to aid in the implementation of restorative justice practices in the Commonwealth. An Office of Restorative Justice will also be established to provide support and assistance to community-based restorative justice programs in the Commonwealth.

An Act prohibiting the participation of health care professionals in the torture and abuse of prisoners

This bill will ensure that in the future, MA-licensed health care professionals are not involved in torture, abuse, or direct interrogation of prisoners or detainees. It would impose civil sanctions on health care professionals who participate in torture, abuse, or direct interrogations; require professionals to report torture or abuse; and provide protections to whistleblowers. Health care professionals are expected to do no harm, yet medical and mental health professionals helped to develop the enhanced interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere; they supervised interrogations and waterboarding; and they helped cover up abuse and, in at least one case, a resulting death.

An Act to decriminalize being in the presence of heroin

This bill strikes the section of the MGL that criminalizes and punishes individuals who are arrested for being around heroin but not using it.

Resolve establishing a special commission on prisoner and correctional officer suicides

This bill establishes a special commission to study and recommend next steps for issues surrounding prisoner and correctional officer suicides. Massachusetts has among the highest numbers of prisoner and correctional officers suicides of any state in the country. Last year, suicides in Massachusetts state prisons occurred at a rate more than four times the national average. The Department of Correction has taken steps to address this problem, this bill creates a commission to involve more stakeholders in the discussion in order for the Commonwealth to permanently reduce instances of suicide in state correctional facilities.

An Act to reduce recidivism, curb unnecessary spending, and ensure appropriate use of segregation

This bill will curb the use of long-term segregation as a tool for enforcing prison discipline by limiting the length of disciplinary segregation. This bill will also establish minimum humane standards for segregation, such as time for exercise and recreation, and provide access to mental health services for prisoners who require it.

An Act relative to the expungement of records of persons falsely accused and juveniles

This bill allows expungement of criminal records for anyone who has been falsely accused. This change is prompted by two court decisions, Commonwealth v. Tina Boe 456 Mass 337 (2010) and Commonwealth v. Paul Moe (SJC 11124) 463 Mass 370 (2012). It also includes language that allows for the sealing of youthful offender records and the expungement of juvenile records.

An Act relative to the waiver of billable hours for the private bar in certain circumstances

Currently members of the private bar who are assigned indigent cases have a cap of 1,650 hours, which was imposed by the Legislature in the FY 2012 Budget. Circumstances arise in which the cap prohibits CPCS from fulfilling its mandate to provide representation to the poor because we (i) do not have sufficient certified attorneys in certain geographical locations or practice areas to provide the services, (ii) have observed that a particular issue of law presented in the case is best represented by an attorney who may have already exhausted his or her allotment for the year, or (iii) understand that reassigning a case to another attorney mid-case would not be cost effective. The need for this waiver has presented itself most recently in the dramatic increase in family law cases throughout the Commonwealth, most significantly in western Massachusetts. This bill would allow the chief counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services to determine whether a waiver that would increase the cap to 1,800 hours would be necessary to best serve the interests of justice.

An Act relative to privileged communications

This bill will create an exemption for social workers, so that they are not considered mandated reporters relative to their work when part of an attorney’s team in assisting a client.

An Act to establish retirement parity for long term public defenders

This bill amends Group 4 of paragraph (g) of subdivision 2 of section 3 of chapter 32 of the General Laws, which proscribes membership of the Commonwealth’s retirement pension plans. It classifies attorneys, investigators, social workers, and social service advocates in the public defender division of the committee for public counsel services with ten or more years of service as members of Group 4 of the contributory retirement system for public employees.

An Act relative to larceny

Under existing law, in order for a person to be charged with larceny the value of the property allegedly stolen must exceed $ 250.  This bill would increase the amount to $ 1,000.

An Act relative to training for law enforcement

This bill would require that the municipal police training committee develop a training program for regional and municipal police training schools. The course of instruction would focus on crisis control, de-escalation and disengagement techniques to build community trust and confidence.

An Act promoting use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement

This bill requires municipal and state police departments in Massachusetts to acquire and use body-worn cameras; sets standards for the cameras and for policies governing their use; and establishes a Law Enforcement Data Review Committee to oversee retention and analysis of data from body-worn cameras, police stops and police surveillance.