After bottling up discussions in a roughly yearlong study, state officials this week uncorked a proposal to slow the criminal justice system's revolving door of recidivism.
The plan filed by Gov. Charlie Baker would afford convicted traffickers in marijuana and cocaine an opportunity to reduce their time of incarceration by participating in programs behind bars. That same opportunity would not be extended to traffickers in heroin and other opiates under the bill.
Aside from enhancing prisoners' ability to earn "good time" and the quality of programming, the long-awaited criminal justice reform bill does not do much else in its current form.
But even the strongest advocates of eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes called the legislation a good, if small, first step. They are excited about the prospect of the Legislature actually digging in on what they see as a neglected issue. The road to a more comprehensive overhaul of the Commonwealth's punishment policies will likely be a long and winding one.
The perspective of voters, and lawmakers, in more suburban and rural communities around the state is likely different, and perhaps less personal, than the neighbors of Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz. At last month's Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, the Jamaica Plain Democrat described how there are city blocks in her district where not one household is unaffected by the criminal justice system. There are likely cul de sacs and country roads elsewhere in the Commonwealth where the criminal courts are a mere abstraction for all who live there.
Racial disparities in the prison population are one of the problems reformers hope to solve.
This past week also offered reminders of the brutal toll of the state's opiate epidemic.
Vigilantism was the motivation behind a grisly double murder in Peabody on Saturday, if the account that suspect Wes Doughty allegedly gave to carjacking victim Kenneth Metz is to be believed. Metz said Doughty told him he participated in the murder because the slaying victims had allegedly given his godfather heroin.
The maximum state penalty for heroin distribution is 10 years. The penalty for first degree murder is a lifetime in prison.
Last week, Regla Santana and Antonio Rivera felt the weight of a new state law bolstering the punishment for fentanyl distribution before pleading guilty to trafficking in the deadly and addictive opioid. Lawmakers in 2015 hiked the maximum penalty for trafficking in more than 10 grams of fentanyl to 20 years, and Attorney General Maura Healey said the pair represented the first conviction under the law, receiving sentences of three to four years in state prison.
And last Friday, the state announced 1,465 people had died of confirmed unintentional opioid overdoses in 2016, with another 469 to 562 suspected of dying the same way, representing an increase in opioid deaths last year compared to 2015.
In the case of criminal justice reform, tight budgets might come to the aid of those seeking further reductions in the prison population. It cost an average of about $53,000 annually to house a prison inmate as of fiscal 2014.
A continued reduction in the prison population - Baker has emphasized that the number of prisoners has fallen under his watch - could free up some budget dollars for other priorities since tax revenue growth has been sluggish for an extended period despite low unemployment.
Yet from a political perspective, the elected officials who craft state laws must worry that today's trafficker in maui waui or sour diesel could, if freed, go on to commit future crimes that shock the public conscience and call into question any steps toward leniency.