For the next month, until formal sessions end on November 15, the Legislature is going to be working on the subject of criminal justice reform, and, as always, what they’re hearing from the public is going to matter. Here’s some info:
Some of the big issues (just some):
- Repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses: these have been around since the War on Drugs days of the 1980’s. They have proven to be ineffective in curtailing drug abuse and have been proven to be imposed disproportionately on members of racial and ethnic minorities. Is it time for them to go?
- Increasing the threshold at which stealing property becomes a felony rather than a misdemeanor. In this state, theft of property greater than $250 is a felony (in Connecticut, by contrast, theft of property greater than $2000 is a felony). Stealing a cell phone, therefore, is a crime that stays on the criminal record that’s available to potential employers and landlords for ten years. Is it time to increase the amount from $250?
- Curbing the use of solitary confinement: In Massachusetts, corrections officials may hold a person in solitary confinement for 10 years. The United Nations Convention on Torture says that solitary confinement for more than 14 days qualifies as torture. Is it time to impose restrictions on its use?
- No longer making poverty a criminal offense: there are many laws imposing fines for violations of laws, and indigent people who cannot afford to pay these fines can be incarcerated for that failure. Is it time to stop punishing people for being poor?
The biggest bill in play right now is Senate 2170, a 122-page omnibus bill (covering the above issues and many more) that Senate Judiciary Chair Will Brownsberger has drafted based on bills that he and many other Senate and House members have filed. It appears that the Senate will be taking up this bill for debate on Thursday, October 19. Senator Brownsberger has compiled a lot of useful information on his website (props for the transparency, Senator!), including this summary of each section of the bill. After the Senate debate, the House will likely take up the issue, and then at some point presumably, a Senate-House compromise bill will go to the Governor. As often seems to be the case lately, the House appears to be more content with the status quo while the Senate sees the need for a bolder approach.
So here’s an invitation to advocates of criminal justice reform who would like to offer, by way of comments, more detail about what they think is needed and why, and also to the BMG readership to opine and to ask questions. It’s going to be a busy month — or more — and we’re going to try our best to keep up with things.