Lawmakers are considering changes to the state's criminal justice system, making it easier for convicts to get job training and substance abuse treatment, but activists are trying to push Beacon Hill to take on more radical changes.
 
The Judiciary Committee heard a bill from Gov. Charlie Baker that aims to reduce recidivism through early release and training programs. Baker's bill has the support of Senate President Rosenberg and House Speaker DeLeo and will likely be taken up this fall.
 
Activists rallying at the State House Monday want to pass a more comprehensive bill while legislative momentum is on their side. They want to go further than the bill backed by the governor and top lawmakers to take on issues like ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and increasing the minimum dollar value for felony theft.
 
Dorchester Rep. Evandro Carvalho told ralliers from the Jobs Not Jails Coalition that mandatory minimums are a racist policy keeping people of color out of the workforce.
 
"I believe it's a matter of economic social justice... I'm talking about jobs. [CROWD: not jails!] It's a matter of economic social justice because it's about economic opportunities," Carvalho said.
 
Many of the state's district attorneys support keeping the state's system of mandatory minimum sentences, which require judges hand out certain punishments for specific charges. 
 
"The few limitations that you as a Legislature have wisely imposed on judicial discretion has brought greater consistency to sentencing practices and are used by the district attorneys as a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, in our courts, to address the dangerous intersection of drug trafficking and distribution and violent crime," Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley told the panel Monday.
 
DeLeo is satisfied with just passing the recidivism bill this session and has said that further bills to update the criminal justice system will work their way through the committee process.  Activists suspect that lawmakers are unlikely to revisit the topic after the recidivism bill is passed, so their goal now is to push enough House Democrats to support changes to the governor's bill loosening some penalties before it goes to the floor for a vote.
 
The coalition has some support in the Legislature, 71 lawmakers are signed on to bills that would repeal mandatory minimums, but it's unclear if the group will have enough sway with DeLeo and his lieutenants to offer an amendment to the recidivism bill.
 
After meeting with Baker and Rosenberg Monday afternoon, DeLeo told reporters he would like to see the recidivism bill get done by the end of 2017. The Speaker described what he called a "two-track" process where the agreed-upon recidivism bill would go forward while also considering further measures like sentencing reform.
 
Rosenberg said the Senate will hold a six or seven hour retreat away from Beacon Hill to discuss what elements should go into their version of a criminal justice bill. Rosenberg said the Senate should deliver "a pretty robust package," to put into law by the end of the fall.
 
"There's a lot of interest in the Senate to work on mandatory minimums and that will be one of the subjects we'll be discussing," Rosenberg said.