By Shira Schoenberg
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday signed a major overhaul of Massachusetts’ criminal justice system, calling it a bill that “takes our criminal justice system and makes it better.”
The 121-page bill includes myriad policy changes that will divert more people to treatment and programming, make jails more humane and help people convicted of crimes move on with their lives. Advocates cheered the bill as the product of years of work and the most comprehensive criminal justice overhaul in years.
Baker acknowledged that he had some concerns with the bill, and he filed a new bill Friday that would make some fixes to the law.
But, Baker said, “The very positive elements of the bill far outweigh some of the concerns we have.”
Baker also filed a request to the Legislature for $15 million to begin implementing the law this year. He estimates that state agencies will require $40 million in fiscal 2019 to do things like hiring new staff and purchasing equipment and software to fulfill the law’s requirements.
Among the many provisions: The new law eliminates a handful of mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealing. It creates a process for records to be expunged for juveniles and young adults and for convictions for offenses that are no longer crimes, like marijuana possession.
The bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years old and decriminalizes some minor offenses for juveniles. It changes the way bail and fines and fees are levied to take into account someone’s ability to pay. It raises the threshold at which theft is considered a felony. It requires more humane conditions for inmates in solitary confinement.
The bill strengthens penalties for trafficking in the dangerous opioids fentanyl and carfentanil and for repeatedly driving drunk.
Baker also signed a separate bill, which was the result of a year-long task force examining recidivism in Massachusetts. That bill enhances the programming available in prison and jails, enhances community supervision and expands behavioral health resources.
The criminal justice overhaul had bipartisan support. Some of the Legislature’s most liberal Democrats and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, stood behind the Republican Baker during the bill signing, alongside Republican legislative leaders. Attorney General Maura Healey and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, both Democrats, also attended.
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