Baker proposes changes to the Massachusetts court and prison systems

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BOSTON (WWLP) – Governor Charlie Baker filed a bill on Tuesday to make changes to the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

While Baker acknowledged prison populations are on the decline, he said too many paroled convicts are returning to prison; “Over half of the people leaving our Houses of Correction and state prisons wind up back in the court system at some point after their release.”

This comes after the Council of State Government found that Massachusetts be do more to help inmates get their lives on track during and after incarceration.

Governor Baker’s proposal would allow certain inmates to reduce their prison time for completing substance abuse and workforce training programs. Not everyone is happy about the bill.

A small but vocal group of protesters interrupted the announcement, demanding that lawmakers eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

“A lot of people, even those who are not guilty decide to plead guilty, do a plea bargain so they don’t face a long mandatory minimum,” said Rabbi Margie Klein Ronkin of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

It costs roughly $53,000 to house a Department of Corrections inmate each year.

House and Senate leaders indicated they plan to make several changes to Governor Baker’s criminal justice reform package.


An Act Implementing the Joint Recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review

SECTION BY SECTION

SECTION 1 – Technical change to incorporate new section 32 H ½.

SECTION 2 – Technical change to incorporate new section 32 H ½.

SECTION 3 – Inserts new section 32H ½, which allows certain offenders sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences to state prison for drug distribution offenses access to work release and parole before the mandatory minimum term is served, while continuing to limit any reduction of the maximum term of sentence below the mandatory minimum.

  • 32H½(a) – Establishes a group of “ineligible offenders” for whom mandatory minimum sentences for drug distribution will function as they did before this new legislation.  Ineligible offenders include those who distribute class A drugs, fentanyl or other opiates, who traffick in heroin, who distribute to a minor or use a minor to commit a drug distribution crime, who use violence or threats of violence or possess a weapon, or who direct another person to commit a drug felony.  Other offenders serving a mandatory minimum sentence to state prison for drug distribution are considered eligible offenders.
  • 32H½(b) – Provides that, for eligible offenders, good conduct deductions may not reduce a maximum term of sentence below a mandatory minimum term but that good conduct deductions may reduce a minimum term of sentence below a mandatory minimum term.  The reduction of the minimum term of sentence means that the offender may receive parole to supervision for the remainder of his sentence.
  • 32H½(c) – Provides that eligible offenders are eligible for non-discretionary parole pursuant to new section 130B of chapter 127 before the mandatory minimum term is served.
  • 32H½(d) – Provides that eligible offenders are eligible for work release before the mandatory minimum term is served.

SECTION 4 – Requires that the Department of Correction (“DOC”) consult with the parole board before determining the program needs of prisoners.

SECTION 5 – Updates and reorganizes section 129D of chapter 127 to provide for expanded good time opportunities and completion credits for inmates serving sentences to state prison. Maintains the current system for inmates serving sentences to the houses of correction. Inmates serving mandatory minimum sentences, other than those covered by new section 32H½, will continue to be ineligible for application of any deductions from their sentences, including the new completion credits, until the mandatory minimum term is served.

  • 129D(a) – Sets forth the parameters for earned good time.  For inmates serving sentences to the state prison: (1) the maximum for earned good time is increased from 5 days to 7.5 days per program and from 10 days to 15 days per month; and (2) the requirement that a program last at least six months in order for the DOC to award a 10 day completion bonus (so-called “boost time”) is eliminated.  Discretion regarding how earned good time programs, within the statutory caps, are implemented is retained by DOC.
  • 129D(b) – Provides the mechanism for reducing the maximum term of an inmate’s sentence as a result of earned good time.  Caps the maximum reduction of the maximum term of sentence at 35%.
  • 129D(c) – Sets forth the parameters for completion credits for prisoners in the state prison and caps the number of credits at 80 days per program completed.  Sets an overall cap for completion credits for each inmate of 17.5% of the imposed maximum sentence.  Discretion regarding how the completion credit program, within the statutory caps, is implemented is given to DOC.
  • 129D(d) – Provides the mechanism for reducing the minimum term of an inmate’s sentence (the parole eligibility date) as a result of earned good time and completion credits.  Caps the maximum reduction of the minimum term of sentence at 35%.
  • 129D(e) – Retains existing language regarding determination of eligibility of earned good time credits and expands that language to cover completion credits.
  • 129D(f) – Retains existing language regarding certificates of discharge for those prisoners who serve out their maximum term incarcerated rather than on parole.

SECTION 6 – Provides that the term of parole supervision may be reduced by compliance credits granted pursuant to new section 130C and that the overall reduction in the maximum term of sentence imposed by a court, whether it be as a result of earned good time or compliance credits or both, may not exceed 35%.

SECTION 7 – Establishes non-discretionary parole for prisoners serving state prison sentences by inserting a new section 130B in chapter 127. Non-discretionary parole functions exactly like regular parole, except the parole board does not make a threshold determination whether “there is a reasonable probability that, if the prisoner is released with appropriate conditions and community supervision, the prisoner will live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that release is not incompatible with the welfare of society” before granting parole.

Establishes new program of compliance credits for parolees by inserting a new section 130C in chapter 127.  Compliance credits can reduce the period of time parolees are supervised by the parole board if they comply with the terms and conditions of parole.

  • 130B(a) – Sets the date for release on non-discretionary parole as the prisoner’s maximum term of sentence, reduced by any earned good time and any completion credits and precludes release to non-discretionary parole on a date earlier than the date that would represent a 35% reduction of the imposed maximum term of sentence.  Defines the “parole plan” that the parole board must approve for a person granted non-discretionary parole.
  • 130B(b) – Establishes non-discretionary parole, but ensures that any inmate granted such parole be supervised for at least 30 days.  Requires approval of a parole plan by the parole board.
  • 130B(c) – Requires that the parole board set terms and conditions for non-discretionary parole and provides that a parolee may be arrested for violation of those terms and conditions or any criminal law and that such violations may result in revocation of parole.
  • 130B(d) – Clarifies application of non-discretionary parole  for multiple sentences, either concurrent or consecutive.
  • 130B(e) – Provides that a parolee granted non-discretionary parole shall enjoy the same privileges and be subject to the same rules as a parolee granted discretionary parole.
  • 130B(f) – Sets forth requirements for information sharing between the Department of Correction and Parole Board relating to inmates eligible for non-discretionary parole.
  • 130B(g) – Excludes from eligibility prisoners serving sentences in out-of-state facilities.
  • 130B(h) – Excludes from eligibility prisoners serving sentences imposed by other jurisdictions in the physical custody of the DOC.
  • 130B(i) – Provides that prisoners ineligible for discretionary parole because they have yet to serve a mandatory minimum sentence are also ineligible for non-discretionary parole.  Does not apply to eligible offenders under new section 32H½ of chapter 94C.
  • 130C(a) – Caps compliance credits at 15 days per month and allows for reduction of the supervision term by the amount of compliance credits earned and not rescinded.  Provides that compliance credits may not operate to reduce parole supervision such that a person’s sentence is reduced below a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.
  • 130C(b) – Empowers the Parole Board to issue regulations governing the rescission of compliance credits for parole violations.
  • 130C(c) – Precludes judicial review of the award / rescission of compliance credits.
  • 130C(d) – Excludes from eligibility parolees sentenced to life sentences.
  • 130C(e) – Provides that compliance credits apply only to those parolees on discretionary parole and not to parolees who received non-discretionary parole.

SECTION 8 – Sections 8 through 14 expands programming options and use of programming at Community Corrections Centers.  Section 8 defines “pretrial services plan” and “pretrial services program.”  Distinguishes between “pretrial services program” and pre-existing programs under section 3 of chapter 211F.

SECTION 9 – Technical change to implement pretrial services programs.

SECTION 10 – Technical change to implement pretrial services programs.

SECTION 11 – Technical change to implement pretrial services programs.

SECTION 12 – Establishes that courts may order individuals to pretrial services programs in lieu of bail or as a condition of release.  Permits Probation to refer a person supervised pretrial to pretrial services programs with that person’s consent.  Creates a mechanism for a sheriff who has custody of a person held on bail to recommend that person’s release to a pretrial services program and requires the sheriff to provide notice of that recommendation.  Any such release requires an order of the court and the person’s consent.  Requires victim notification consistent with G.L. c. 258B.  Permits probation to use community corrections programs for a person not sentenced to community corrections to fulfill a court-ordered condition of probation or with the person’s agreement.

SECTION 13 – Technical changes to implement pretrial services programs.

SECTION 14 – Establishes reporting requirement on effectiveness of new use of community corrections centers to reduce pretrial incarceration and increase court reporting rate.

SECTION 15 – Establishes new program of compliance credits for post-incarceration probationers by inserting a new section 87B into chapter 276. Compliance credits can reduce the period of such probationers are supervised by Probation if they comply with the terms and conditions of probation.

  • 87B(a) – Establishes group of eligible offenders for whom compliance credits are available.  Defines compliance as the lack of any judicial finding of a violation of probation conditions.  Provides that compliance credits shall operate to reduce the length of probation supervision.
  • 87B(b) – Institutes earning compliance credits on the first day of each month following a month of compliance.  Sets schedule of compliance credits:  no compliance credits in the first year of probation supervision; 5 days of compliance credits per month for the second year of probation supervision; 10 days of compliance credits per month thereafter.
  • 87B(c) – Specifies effect of filing of a violation notice on accrual of compliance credits.  Provides that if the court does not find a violation, compliance credits are awarded retroactive to the violation notice.
  • 87B(d) – Expands sanction options when a court finds a violation to include not awarding compliance credits for the pendency period of the violation and revocation of previously earned compliance credits.  Establishes that probation revocation resulting in incarceration revokes previously earned compliance credits.
  • 87B(e) – Requires Probation quarterly to calculate and notify probationer of probation termination by determining compliance credits.
  • 87B(f) – Requires courts to provide notice of compliance credits to eligible offenders at the time of sentencing.

SECTION 16 – Transition section restricting applicability of changes to chapter 94C to persons whose offense date is on or after the effective date of the act.

SECTION 17 – Transition section restricting applicability of parole compliance credits to persons who receive their parole permit on or after the effective date of the act.

SECTION 18 – Transition section restricting applicability of pretrial services provisions to chapter 211F to persons charged or held in jail on or after the effective date of the act.

SECTION 19 – Transition section providing applicability of changes to post-disposition probation provisions of chapter 211F to any person on probation supervision on or after the effective date of the act.

SECTION 20 – Transition section restricting applicability of post-release probation compliance credits to persons who begin probation supervision on or after the effective date of the act.

SECTION 21 – Effective date section establishing nine month period before act goes into effect.

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