Senator Dan Wolf
Massachusetts Cape & Islands District
Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform Legislation
Alters penalties for tagging and vandalism, and increases use of pre-trial diversion

BOSTON- Today the Massachusetts Senate continued its work of reforming the state’s criminal justice system by passage of four sentencing reform related bills: S.727, S.728, S.795, and S.2216.  The bills address various criminal justice reform issues such as penalties for vandalism and graffiti (“tagging”), non-payment of fines, and the use of community corrections and diversion programs for those awaiting trial.

S.727, An Act Relative to Tagging, removes the penalty of a one year license suspension for those found guilty of “tagging.”  Tagging is defined under the law as “Whoever sprays or applies paint or places a sticker upon a building, wall, fence, sign, tablet, gravestone, monument or other object or thing on a public way or adjoined to it, or in public view, or on private property…”

Current law also imposes a punishment for up to two years in the House of Correction and a minimum fine of between $1500 and three times the value of the damaged property.  These penalties remain in place under this bill.

S.728, An Act Relative to the Penalty for Vandalism, also removes the driver’s license suspension clause for the penalty of vandalism.  Vandalism is defined as “Whoever intentionally, willfully and maliciously or wantonly, paints, marks, scratches, etches or otherwise marks, injures, mars, defaces or destroys the real or personal property of another including but not limited to a wall, fence, building, sign, rock, monument, gravestone or tablet…”  Current law has similar penalties for vandalism as tagging which will remain in place.

S.795 An Act Relative to Adjusting the Credit for Nonpayment of Fines, updates the current credit of $30 per day for someone incarcerated for non-payment of fines to $60 per day.  This will allow offenders to spend less time in jail and pay off their fines more quickly.  The credit was last updated in 1987 when it went from $3 to $30 per day.

S.2216, An Act Relative to the Use of Community Corrections for Pre-Trial Detainees and Criminal Defendants, will allow for the increased use of community corrections and diversion programs supervised by county Sheriffs for those offenders who are awaiting trial.  Diverting offenders from jails who are awaiting trial will save money and allow for supervised release of offenders.

The Senate has been actively reforming the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism, adopt best practices, and produce better outcomes.  The Senate passed legislation last month updating the threshold for felony larceny and the Governor recently signed legislation, first passed by the Senate, which repeals automatic license suspension for non-violent drug crimes. 

Following a request from Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph, the Council on State Governments Justice Reinvestment Center has been providing technical assistance in a data-driven effort to conduct a review of the Massachusetts criminal justice system.  Their aim is to further reduce recidivism, prison population, and taxpayer costs while enhancing public safety.

The bills passed today now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.