The Massachusetts House unanimously approved legislation Monday that would allow inmates in state jails and prisons to shorten their time behind bars by participating in rehabilitation programming, a major policy shift intended to reduce recidivism.
The bill (H 4012), filed in February by Gov. Charlie Baker at a joint appearance with legislative leaders, came after they partnered with the Council of State Governments (CSG) to conduct a review of the justice system. It passed the House 151-0 with no debate.
The vote kicked off what is expected to be two days of House debate over broader criminal justice reform legislation (H 4011).
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The Legislature has until Wednesday to act on major legislation for the year, but a spokesman for Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told the News Service the Senate has no intention of passing the CSG bill this week to get it to the governor's desk before the holiday break.
"We will not be doing CSG this week," spokesman Pete Wilson said.
Baker in late October said he would "love" to see the CSG bill reach him before the break since there was "already consensus" among legislative leaders, but there's a possibility the CSG bill will get caught up in what are expected to be lengthy House and Senate deliberations over the more expansive reform bills.
Under the CSG bill, sentence deductions for participation in educational, vocational training, work-release and other programs could substantially reduce the time people spend in jails or prisons, cutting incarceration costs while helping inmates prepare for life outside of prison.
House Judiciary Committee Co-chair Rep. Claire Cronin (D-Brockton) said program participation and supportive supervision would help people succeed after they are released from prison and help the state address the problem of people leaving correctional facilities and being re-arrested, re-convicted and re-incarcerated. The bill also aims to reduce the number of people held pre-trial by utilizing community correction centers.
The CSG has estimated the bill, if adopted, will help reduce recidivism in Massachusetts by up to 15 percent over the next six years, Cronin said in her introduction of the bill on the floor.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo had long ago signaled his intentions to separate the so-called CSG bill from from more expansive legislation that took months to prepare, and the Senate left the provisions out of its sentencing, bail and criminal statute reforms that passed the upper chamber more than two weeks ago.
At a rally outside the House chamber, House Majority Whip Byron Rushing urged clergy leaders to rally for broader reforms. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization is pressing for changes in state laws governing bail amounts, solitary confinement, mandatory minimum drug sentencing, and fees and fines.
But the measures in the CSG bill are significant, Rushing said.
"There are reforms in that bill that we would never have done in this state five years ago. People who have mandatory minimums now, once this bill is signed by the governor, will be able to get good time if they participate in programs in prisons," he said.
Good time allowances in the bill also could reduce the amount of time people spend on probation, Rushing said.
Rushing told ralliers the larger debate on justice reforms is "not going to be as easy" and urged them to remain involved as reforms are debated.
"We are starting with a bill that has signifiant reforms. But it does not have enough," Rushing said. "There are lots of details that need to be corrected."
Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan) said the Black and Latino Caucus was strongly behind the CSG bill and other reforms, and against amendments that he said "will hurt us as communities."
"CSG does not go far enough," said Holmes. He told ralliers, "Go knock on some doors. Act like you own this building because you do."