Senate retreat to hear from criminal justice experts
Speakers will address ‘key facts and issues’
LEADERS OF THE SENATE, including President Stan Rosenberg and William Brownsberger, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, have made clear their support for a range of criminal justice reforms that go beyond those in legislation that resulted from a recent review of state policy focused on recidivism.
On Wednesday, senators will hear from criminal justice experts whose research may provide a foundation for broader reform of state policies. Brownsberger has organized an all-day, closed retreat for senators at the UMass Club on Beacon Street, where they will hear presentations from 15 to 20 speakers.
The idea is to give senators “a common understanding of some of the key facts and issues” facing the state’s criminal justice system, said Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat.
Brownsberger declined to identify any of the speakers or organizations that would make presentations. He also emphasized that the session is not focused on any specific bills that lawmakers might be considering.
In January, Gov. Charlie Baker introduced legislation that would allow inmates, including some of those convicted of drug charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences, to earn “good time” credits that would shave time off their sentences. It also includes funding for services for inmates during their incarceration and after their release aimed at reducing their odds of returning to prison.The bill, which grew out of a lengthy review of state policies conducted by the nonpartisan Council of State Governments, enjoys wide support and appears to be on an easy path to passage. But a number of senators, including Rosenberg and Brownsberger, want to see the Legislature go much further in its reform of the criminal justice system. Among the issues senators are advocating are elimination of many mandatory minimum sentences and changes to policies that impose a range of so-called “collateral consequences,” such as costly probation and parole fees charged to offenders and legal barriers to housing and employment that advocates say make it harder for those coming out of prison to get back on their feet and avoid reoffending.
A lot of the tough-on-crime policies enacted in the 1980s and 90s may have made sense at the time and may be “individually defensible,” Brownsberger wrote in February. “Yet, taken together, the burdens imposed by the system are crushing for individuals who have made mistakes and destructive to social cohesion generally,” he said.