WORCESTER – Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. offered his support for a criminal justice reform package that was approved by the State Legislature today.
Several provisions in the bill have been championed by Mr. Early for years, including expanding diversion programs for people charged with lesser crimes in district court, changes to address the opioid epidemic, increasing the effectiveness of school resource officers, as well as CORI and bail reforms.
“This bill is a great step in criminal justice reform,” Mr. Early said. “It is the product of a lot hard work by legislators and advocates for reform. My fellow DAs and I met with the legislative leadership six times in addition to testifying at six Judiciary Committee hearings from June of last year through the end of January this year.”
“It is a good bill and we look forward to implementing these reforms while working with the Governor and the Legislature to address any areas of concern moving forward,” he said.
Mr. Early started a diversion program in 2008 which has allowed young adults charged with lesser offenses for the first time to be diverted prior to arraignment. If a defendant completes eight hours of community service and an online course about alcohol and drug abuse, the defendant’s charges will be dismissed prior to arraignment, preventing one from obtaining a criminal record. The criminal justice reform bill prohibits age restrictions on diversion programs, like the one already established in Worcester County.
Several provisions within this bill address the opioid epidemic, an issue Mr. Early has passionately focused his efforts on over the last several years. Changes include eliminating minimum mandatory sentences for low-level drug distribution charges while maintaining tough penalties for those trafficking heroin or other synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The bill also strengthens the Good Samaritan Law to further eliminate the fear of calling for emergency medical assistance when someone is suffering an overdose and increases access to substance use disorder treatment for those entering the criminal justice system. Mr. Early believes these changes can help open the doors to treatment and save lives.
As District Attorney, Mr. Early spends a great deal of time in schools talking with students on a variety of topics and has seen first-hand the impact school resource officers can have on kids in school. Many schools in Worcester County already benefit from school resource officers, and the criminal justice reform bill clarifies the procedures for hiring school resource officers and codifies best practices.
The bill also makes changes to the Criminal Offender Record Information law, increasing information released about defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity. The change, which Mr. Early supports, would allow dispositions in these cases to be made public under CORI.