State Auditor Weighs in on Changes to Sentencing Guidelines

Wants legislature to establish a timeline for submission of proposed changes...
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump (Courtesy photo)

Boston, MA – State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump is calling on the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission (MSC) to establish a specific deadline by which it will provide the Legislature with recommended changes to the Commonwealth’s sentencing guidelines. Bump’s call for action comes after an audit by her office, which examined the period of July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018, found the MSC has not submitted changes to the guidelines it approved in August 2017. Under state law, the guidelines only take effect if enacted into law by the Legislature. Bump’s office initiated the audit after members of the Massachusetts District Attorney Association raised concerns that the guidelines were being used in the court system, despite never being submitted to the Legislature for enactment.

“While justice may be blind, the process by which individuals convicted of crimes are sentenced must be plain to see,” Bump said. “I commend the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission for taking steps to ensure our criminal justice system recognizes disparate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic impacts when considering sentencing. However, by failing to submit their revisions to the Legislature it not only denies the body the opportunity to weigh in on the changes it also risks inconsistent use of the guidelines across the Commonwealth.”

The MSC is tasked with recommending sentencing policies and practices for the Commonwealth, including the development of sentencing guidelines. The guidelines are intended to provide consistent and objective criminal sentencing practices across the Commonwealth. In addition to standard criminal history and offense level, the guidelines the MSC approved in 2017 also take into consideration disparate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic impacts when considering sentencing.

While Bump’s office was able to confirm the MSC’s most recently revised guidelines were in use in the Commonwealth’s courts, it was unable to determine to what extent they were used, in part because the Executive Office of the Trial Court would not provide access to the data necessary to conduct such an analysis.

The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission was established in 1994 by the “truth in sentencing” law. It has nine voting members and six non-voting members. All voting members are appointed by the Governor.

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