Senate, House Approve Crime Bill
Final legislation sent to the Governor
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature today passed a tough and balanced sentencing bill that cracks down on habitual offenders and establishes new requirements to improve the functions of the state parole board.
“We remain dedicated to supporting important initiatives and legislation to advance public safety and security throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Karen Spilka. “This bill takes a smart and balanced approach to address crime in our communities, increase accountability of the state’s parole board, and protect our residents.”
The bill requires that anyone convicted of two crimes from a list of the most serious offenses, including murder, rape and kidnapping be considered a habitual offender. Any habitual offender found guilty of a third offense from the list of most serious crimes will be ineligible for parole.
The legislation also closes a loophole that currently prevents federal sentences from counting toward habitual offender status.
Parole eligibility for anyone serving a life sentence will require a two-thirds vote of the parole board under this bill. The current requirement is a majority vote. The bill also allows judges to require an offender to serve 15-25 years in prison before the first parole eligibility date. Inmates with life sentences for separate and distinct incidents would not be eligible for parole.
The legislation also makes the following parole board improvements:
- Gives the governor the ability to remove parole board members;
- Diversifies membership of the parole board;
- Requires the parole board complete a risk/needs assessment before granting parole;
- Requires certification by parole board members that they have reviewed criminal records;
- Requires tally of voting record of board decisions;
- Increases notification requirements when violent felons have a parole hearing; and
- Requires eight hours of annual training for parole board members.
The bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses under the Controlled Substances Act which will help alleviate prison overcrowding and save taxpayers money. Those serving a prison sentence under the Controlled Substances Act will now be allowed to participate in authorized vocational and educational programs.
The legislation also reduces school zone areas from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, which triggers enhanced mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, and reforms DNA collection practices, alleviating a backlog in the crime labs and DNA database and assisting law enforcement and prosecutors.
Additionally, the bill includes two Good Samaritan provisions. One allows doctors to prescribe and dispense a potentially life-saving drug normally administered for heroin and other opioid overdoses to abusers and family members for preventative purposes. The second allows a person to come forward in good faith to a medical professional or member of law enforcement on behalf of someone experiencing an overdose without fear of being prosecuted.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.