Barrett calls for an end to modern debtors’ prisons at State House rally

Press Release

Boston – State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) joined his colleagues and advocacy groups in the State House yesterday to rally behind a criminal justice reform bill that seeks to keep people from ending up back in prison.

The comprehensive bill includes significant reforms to the common practice by district court judges of incarcerating defendants solely for failure to pay fines, fees or court costs, commonly referred to as “fine time”.  This is an issue that has been championed by Barrett and he has worked closely with the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to ensure that the problem is addressed.

Currently in Massachusetts, criminal defendants run a gauntlet of fees and fines as they move through the district courts.  Among the exactions commonly imposed: a fee for court-appointed counsel (even if a defendant is indigent), a fine (if he’s guilty of the underlying crime), a victim/witness assessment (even if the crime is victimless), a monthly supervision fee (if he’s put on probation), a daily monitoring fee (if he has to wear a GPS device), a default fee (if he misses a court date), and so on.

Senator Barrett calls for an end to modern debtors' prisons at State House Rally
Senator Barrett calls for an end to modern debtors’ prisons at State House Rally

Addressing the rally, Barrett said that the State is “absolutely addicted to the money that we extract from people as they move through the criminal justice system”.  He argued that it is time to “roll back that negligent history” and to “lift the burden from people trying to reintegrate into society.”

The new bill restores a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to a lawyer by phasing out the indigency counsel fee and puts in place procedural protections for “fine time”.  The bill is expected to be debated in the Senate this month and Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s office has said that he is looking forward to working with the House and Governor Baker on criminal justice issues “so that we have truly meaningful reforms.”