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Massachusetts enacts bipartisan criminal justice reform law.

In April, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker signed into law a pair of bipartisan criminal justice bills that included reforms of everything from juvenile justice to bail to prison conditions.See Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018); and Massachusetts HB 4012 (2018). Also see Steve LeBlanc, “Gov. Baker Signs Sweeping Criminal Justice Overhaul Bill,” U.S. News & World Report, April 13, 2018; and Steve Brown, “7 Key Provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill,” WBUR, April 6, 2018.

The Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018 eliminates mandatory minimums for many drug offenses for substances not classified as Class A drugs.Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018). It also decriminalized the offense of “being in the presence of heroin,” among other offenses, and limited the two-year mandatory minimum sentence for violating drug-free school zone laws to offenses involving guns, drug sales to minors, or leadership roles in drug offenses.Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018). The law increased the threshold for felony larceny from $250 to $1,200, and allows judges to consider whether someone is the primary caretaker of children before sentencing them to jail or prison—in fact, judges are now required to consider that factor if the person files a request and may not impose a sentence including incarceration until they have made findings concerning alternatives.Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018). Proponents hope the law will help pave the way to alternatives to incarceration entirely; it adds incentives for district attorneys to establish diversion programs for veterans, active service members, and people with mental illnesses or substance use disorders.Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018).

The law does include some tougher sentences, however, with lawmakers adding new mandatory minimums for offenses involving the synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil, and reducing the amount of those drugs needed to qualify for a charge of “trafficking.”Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018). Setti Warren, the former mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, and an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, stated that he would have vetoed the bill because of these new mandatory minimums.Shira Schoenberg, “Gov. Charlie Baker Signs Landmark Massachusetts Criminal Justice Overhaul, Despite Concerns,” MassLive, April 13, 2018.