No Time to Wait: BBA Recommends a Comprehensive Set of Reforms for a Fair and Effective Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts
BOSTON – Donald K. Stern, Managing Director at Affiliated Monitors, Inc. and former United States Attorney in Massachusetts from 1993 to 2001 collaborated with a group of Boston Bar Association attorneys to suggest a list of reforms for the Massachusetts’ criminal justice system. A new report issued by the Boston Bar Association (BBA) Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, entitled No Time to Wait, recommends a comprehensive set of reforms to the Massachusetts’ criminal justice system. The report commends the reforms proposed earlier this year by Massachusetts leaders based on research by the Council of State Governments (CSG), but strongly urges lawmakers to enact broader reforms designed to further reduce recidivism, and make the criminal justice system fairer and more cost-efficient.
The BBA report, which can be found here, offers six additions to the proposed criminal justice reforms:
1. Increasing opportunities for pre-trial diversion for more defendants. (Currently Massachusetts has no statewide coordinated system for pre-trial diversion).
2. Adopting significant reforms to the Massachusetts cash bail system so that defendants are not incarcerated before trial simply because they cannot afford bail.
3. Repealing mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for drug crimes, which are primarily driven by drug weight and do not permit judges to evaluate a defendant’s role in the drug distribution.
4. Ensuring that ordering payment of multiple fines and fees does not effectively criminalize poverty and impede successful reentry after incarceration.
5. Expanding recidivism reduction programs to advance public safety.
6. Reforming the state’s criminal record laws, also known as the Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) laws that adversely impact the ability of ex-offenders to find jobs.In addition to these reforms, No Time to Wait addresses the issue of racial disparities, noting that higher incarceration rates and harsher sentences of black and Hispanic populations have resulted in a racially disproportionate prison population.
Incarceration rates for blacks and Hispanics in Massachusetts far exceed the rates for whites. Blacks are incarcerated at eight times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. And the data shows that this disparity is, in fact, worse here than elsewhere in the country: the Hispanic/white disparity in Massachusetts is the highest in the nation, and the black/white disparity ranks thirteenth among the fifty states.
“We must ensure that the criminal justice system treats everyone equally and fairly,” said Mark Smith, President of the Boston Bar Association. “Even if we cannot identify the causes of these inequities with precision, we believe we know enough to take action to address its consequences, and the time has come to do that now.”
“The data clearly demonstrates that defendants of color are less likely to be given pre-trial diversion and more likely to be jailed before trial because they can’t afford cash bail,” said Hogan Lovells partner Kathy Weinman, who co-chaired the working group and was formerly president of the BBA. “Raising state revenue from convicted individuals and their families who are too poor to pay is counter-productive because criminal justice debt interferes with efforts to build a law-abiding life.”
“Our report points the way forward to a criminal justice system that is fairer and more effective—one that allows people to break free from the cycle of poverty and recidivism, leaving the Commonwealth stronger and safer,” said Foley Hoag partner Martin F. Murphy, co-chair of the working group and treasurer of the BBA. “We urge legislators to consider our recommendations.”
The Boston Bar Association traces its origins to meetings convened by John Adams, who provided pro bono representation to the British soldiers prosecuted for the Boston Massacre and went on to become the nation’s second president. Its mission is to advance the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitate access to justice, serve the community at large and promote diversity and inclusion.