Criminal justice reforms are expected to be debated in the Massachusetts legislature during the two-year session that began this month. Already, one bill has been filed at the request of a mayor who says rules about bail need to change to keep violent criminals off the streets.
The office of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that legislation has been filed to allow prosecutors to appeal bail rulings by judges. Current law allows defendants to appeal to lower the bail set by a District Court Judge, but prosecutors are barred from appealing bail decisions.
" This legislation takes away no rights from the defendants, it just puts us, we the people of the Commonwealth, on an equal playing field," said Sarno.
Sarno championed the bill last year but it died on Beacon Hill as the legislative session ended. State Rep. Angelo Puppolo of Springfield refiled the bail reform legislation this week on Sarno’s behalf, according to the mayor’s office.
Sarno has often voiced frustration with what he claims to be an “alarming trend of repeat violent offenders returning to the streets” after judges set little or no bail.
"This is not fair to the residents or business community of Springfield, or our police officers here in Springfield and throughout the Commonwealth," Sarno said last year while advocating for the legislation.
The legislation ran into strong opposition from the Hampden County Bar Association, which said Sarno was “misguided” to blame Springfield’s violent crime problems on bail decisions by judges. The bar association said high bails discriminate against low-income defendants.
District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said he feels very strongly about the need for bail reform.
" Judges come to work with the best intentions everyday. They are hardworking, well-meaning, intelligent people, but no one is infallible," said Gulluni. " We want the opportunity where we feel public safety is at jeopardy to have a second set of eyes look at the matter of bail."
Springfield Police Deputy Chief William Cochrane said the proposed bail reform law would support thew ork of the police.
" It is frustrating for the officers to make a good arrest and then find a couple of days or months later they are chasing that same guy in a stolen car, or he's engaged in gang activity again. It is so extremely frustrating," said Cochrane.
Another endorsement for the legislation came from Springfield City Councilor Tom Ashe, the longtime chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee.
" I encourage our local delegation to push this strongly and I hope the legislature acts to pass this bill which is so appropriate and very much needed," stated Ashe.
The non-profit Council of State Governments has spent months studying the state’s criminal justice system and will shortly issue a report that could lead to reform legislation being filed.
The recommendations could include changes to laws governing bail, mandatory minimum sentences, parole, and probation practices.