MCC supports criminal reform bill

BRAINTREE -- In a testimony sent to the Massachusetts Senate Judiciary Committee, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) praised a state bill that would see reforms to the criminal justice system, but also suggested additional ways in which the system could be reformed.

"The Conference recognizes and applauds the Council on State Governments along with the Governor, Senate President, House Speaker and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for the collaborative effort put forth in crafting this legislation," wrote Jim Driscoll, Executive Director of MCC, in the June 19 testimony.

"The Conference supports the recommendations made within the Bill but also urges the Legislature, through this Committee, to strengthen it by providing a more comprehensive reform package," he continued.

House Bill 74, "An Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Review," would introduce a number of changes to the current criminal justice system in the state.

The bill is a result of findings made in a review conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center that was aimed at discovering ways to "reduce reoffending, contain corrections spending, and invest in strategies to increase public safety," according to an overview of the review.

Speaking to The Pilot June 26, Driscoll highlighted some of the changes the bill would introduce, noting it would provide some non-discretionary parole for state prisoners, provide "work release or release to parole for some mandatory minimum sentences, and allow inmates to earn time off by earning credits."

"It's a good first step," he said, but it doesn't go far enough.

In the testimony, he lists several additional reforms to the state's criminal justice that the MCC, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in the Commonwealth, would like to see added to the bill.

Suggested reforms include a repeal of "excessively long" mandatory minimum jail sentences for non-violent drug convictions by enabling judges to hand down sentences on a case-by-case basis, and the creation of "treatment programs" for offenders suffering from abuse or mental health issues.

Additionally, MCC is calling on lawmakers to increase the "threshold for the felony of theft by increasing the current limit to some amount higher than the current $250," and adopt a "bail reform" so "individuals charged with non-violent crimes are not unnecessarily held behind bars awaiting trial simply because they are too poor to post bail."

MCC is also suggesting altering the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system to reduce the amount of time potential employers have access to an individual's criminal records, which provides "'roadblocks' to successful rehabilitation."

The suggestions "would make the bill even stronger for criminal justice reform," said Driscoll.