The Codcast: Brownsberger tees up criminal justice reform bill

The tough-on-crime era of the 1980s and 90s has given way to what some are calling the smart-on-crime era, a time in which policymakers and politicians are rethinking what it takes to keep communities safe while also giving criminal offenders the best shot of getting on a more positive path after paying their debt.

That debate will come front and center on Beacon Hill this fall, as lawmakers take up bills that would address perceived shortcomings in the current system. The most ambitious proposal was unveiled last week by Sen. Will Brownsberger, cochairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, who is this week’s guest on The Codcast.

His bill would touch on almost every aspect of criminal justice policy. One of the most contentious parts of the bill is sure to be its call for the repeal of several laws imposing mandatory minimum sentences on those convicted of various drug distribution offenses. It also includes a push to divert more defendants away from court and into programs to address problems; reform of the state bail system; new rules for the use of solitary confinement in prisons; and removing fees and fines that the senator says can trip up those trying to get on track.

The goal, says Brownsberger, is to reduce unnecessary incarceration and to minimize the ways people become “entangled” in the criminal justice system without easy ways out.

Brownsberger does a good job laying out the argument for his bill, but equally interesting is his account of how a middle-class kid who attended Harvard Law School and hails from leafy Belmont wound up leading the charge for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

The story starts with his own youthful indiscretions with drugs and moves to his experience living in New York during the crack epidemic of the early 1990s, where he found himself caught in the middle of four different “drawn-gun police chases” in prosperous areas of Manhattan. “There’s something wrong with what we’re doing in the drug war,” Brownsberger said he concluded. He worked in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and spent a decade involved in a criminal justice research and policy working group at Harvard. Then, tired of just talking about people dealing with addiction, he went to work with drug defendants in Brighton and Dorchester district court.

“My whole orientation changed,” he said. “I learned how badly the criminal justice system chews people up and what a blunt instrument it is in terms of changing people’s lives.”



Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan lauds parts of a Senate criminal justice reform bill and says she supports doing away with some mandatory minimum sentences. (CommonWealth)

A Herald editorial chides the Legislature for its “fuzzy math” in overriding millions of dollars of gubernatorial budget vetoes after two straight years in which Gov. Charlie Baker was forced to make mid-year cuts to balance the books.

A trade group representing service stations wants the state to offer businesses compensation for the botched rollout of a new computer system for the state’s automobile inspection program. (Boston Globe)


Residents of Boston’s Chinatown protest short-term rentals run by limited liability companies. (CommonWealth)


Top Republicans and NRA officials are signaling that they are open to enacting restrictions, if not a ban, on “bump stocks,” the legal device Las Vegas killer Stephen Paddock used to change his semi-automatic rifles to rapid fire similar to a full automatic weapon. (New York Times) Paddock carried out online research of large venues in Boston, including Fenway Park. (Boston Globe) In a speech at Curry College in Milton, former Boston police commissioner Bill Bratton said the city should deploy police officers to high locations overlooking high-profile, open-air events. (Boston Herald)

US Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a staunch anti-abortion lawmaker who said he would not run for reelection after texts surfaced of him suggesting his mistress have an abortion, has decided to step down now. (U.S. News & World Report)

The bill for high-priced flying by members of the Trump administration continues to climb as documents show Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has taken seven military flights at a cost to taxpayers of more than $800,000. (New York Times)

California Gov. Jerry Brown signs “sanctuary state” legislation. (NPR)


Tito Jackson challenges Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to four debates, but Walsh, who is riding a huge lead in a recent poll, says two debates will be just fine, thank you. (Boston Globe)

Bill Weld, who pledged to “stay with the Libertarian Party for life” when he became its nominee for vice president last year, has decided it’s OK to do some two-timing, as he’s slated to appear next week at a big fundraiser for the Massachusetts Republican Party. The former GOP governor says he’s also backing his protege, Charlie Baker, in his reelection race for governor and Republican Senate hopeful Beth Lindstrom. (Boston Globe)


State Street Bank, the financial institution behind the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street, settles a lawsuit alleging it paid female executives less than male executives. (Bloomberg)

Two brothers from New Bedford who own one of the largest fish auctions on the East Coast have a deal in place, awaiting federal approval, to pay $93 million to buy the commercial fishing permits and boats from Carlos Rafael, the so-called “Codfather” who was convicted of money smuggling and violating catch quotas. (Standard-Times)

Boston residents favor the city trying to lure Amazon, but they want the bid information made public, and are mixed on whether the proposal should include financial incentives, according to a MassINC Polling Group survey for WBUR. (WBUR)

Pot-a-palooza: Marijuana paraphernalia fills the Hynes Convention Center as vendors salivate over the millions to be made in the state. (Boston Herald)

Harvey Weinstein, the famous Hollywood producer, allegedly engaged in decades of sexual harassment. (New York Times) Weinstein said he is suing the New York Times, which he accuses of getting a lot wrong in a rush to print to avoid being scooped by New York magazine. (New York Post)


The Worcester School Committee is proposing new drug prevention efforts, particularly in lower grades. (Telegram & Gazette)


President Trump is set to repeal the Obama-era mandate, perhaps as early as today, that employers carry insurance plans that provide free birth control coverage. (New York Times)

Five medical marijuana dispensaries in eastern Massachusetts have been given the okay to make home deliveries anywhere in the state. (Wicked Local)


The MBTA seems to be back on track with the Green Line extension contract, but the transit authority is still having problems overseeing some of its contractors. (CommonWealth)

Kathryn Carlson and Tim Brennan recount what they learned about housing and mobility on a Barr Foundation-funded trip to Seattle. (CommonWealth)

The Braintree Town Council approved a measure reducing the speed limit on the town’s side streets to 25 mph. (Patriot Ledger)


The family of slain Auburn police officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. is presented with the Hanna Medal of Honor at the State House. (Boston Herald)

A serial arsonist from Fall River who served two years in prison for setting fires around the South Shore was arrested and charged with setting a commercial building on fire in Brockton and police are eyeing him in 10 other fires in Plymouth and Bristol counties. (The Enterprise)

A Florida woman pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to trying to hide $3.5 million in income she made for performing exorcisms for a Martha’s Vineyard woman. (Associated Press)

Police stopped a man in Lawrence twice, both times discovering large quantities of marijuana and other drugs. At his arraignment, he was denied bail. (Eagle-Tribune)


OUCH! A headline on an editorial in the Eagle-Tribune said “Fairy expansion will ease traffic woes.” That could work, but we think the E-T meant “Ferry expansion.”