On November 15, 2017, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed, by an overwhelming margin, a bill that will make major changes in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. This bill is an effort to reduce recidivism, eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences, and toughen punishments for those convicted of dealing fentanyl and carfentanil.
With Massachusetts experiencing an unsettling increase in drug overdoses over the past couple years, the legislature decided to tackle these relatively new drug scourges. For example, the bill lowers the threshold for a defendant, charged with distribution of fentanyl, to be sentenced to a mandatory minimum penalty of 3.5 years. However, the bill will also eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, which should reduce prison overcrowding.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill will also set new limits on the cruel and counterproductive use of solitary confinement. There is nothing more debilitating to the emotional and mental health of an inmate than to be isolated from, realistically, all human contact for a period of days or weeks. Additionally, the bill will allow judges to consider financial need in setting bail and imposing fines and fees. For those with criminal records, the bill proposes to expand the crimes for which an individual might apply for sealing or expungement of his record, freeing these individuals to pursue jobs and housing. Finally, the bill also creates new diversion programs that should reduce the amount of time before an individual can apply to the Department of Probation to have their criminal record sealed.