John Oliver weighs in on extreme unchecked power of District Attorneys

In John Oliver’s usual style, this is informing and entertaining.

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Feds are following suit as states lead the way for justice/corrections reform

National activists are mirroring reform in Massachusetts and other to prevent people from entering the system, humane treatment during incarceration, shorter sentences, and better preparation for re-entry to reduce recidivism.

An EMIT activist participated in a national call on Monday, which included representatives from the Koch brothers, who favor justice/corrections systems reform.  Her are highlights from her report.

On the call, several groups such as FAMM – Friends Against Mandatory Minimums,
#CUT 50, and the Koch Group were advocating to keep up the pressure to pass the bills through Congress.

They plan to use many of the same methods that we used at the Statehouse here, such as briefings, letter writing, op-ed pieces and call ins to persuade passage.

Some activists on the call members had met privately with legislators directly. Some parts of the two bills will reform federal sentences, change mandatory minimums,
expand programs and expand the elderly release program which allows those over age 60 who have served two-thirds of their sentence to ask to be released due to their age and or health.

When and if many of these reforms become law at the federal level, it will be much easier for us to ask for similar changes at the state level.

The representatives of the activist groups felt that President Trump supports the bills. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner has been working to get the bill passed. I agree with Kushner’s  statement that ” The single biggest thing we want to do is really define what the purpose of a prison is. Is the purpose to punish , is the purpose to warehouse, or is the purpose to rehabilitate?”

We are working here  in Massachusetts to insure that our corrections system  does rehabilitate while also reducing the prison population and saving tax dollars. I
believe that these are worthy goals that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind.

The only ones who seem to not want passage according to those on the call are the private prison lobby and law enforcement , They both have a vested interest in keeping prisons full as a means of job security.

I feel the tax paying public deserves better. I feel that we can hold prisons accountable , rehabilitate and save money without damaging public safety. To do this, we all will not have to work harder, instead we all have to work smarter.

Here is a copy of the information on the sentencing reform and corrections bill that passed the House. Now a companion bill S.1917 Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act has come through the Senate. It is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassly (R) and Richard Durbin (D) as well as Lindsey Graham (R) and Cory Booker (D).

https://famm.org/s-1917-sentencing-reform-corrections-act-2017-115th-congress/#.W2mfmcr__Fw.email

Get informed for Sept. 4 primary for district attorney

The Sept. 4, 2018 primary will likely determine the next Middlesex and Suffolk District Attorneys.  District attorneys have a HUGE role in influencing who gets prosecuted for what, and the punishment. Unfortunately, the district attorney’s role is often under the radar.
The Middlesex and Suffolk County district attorneys will likely be determined on the Sept. 4, 2018 primary.
Some 400 people attended the Middlesex County District Attorney and District 3 Governor’s Council debate July 24. Watch Arlington cable TV’s excellent recording of the Middlesex debate here.

The Suffolk County debate for District Attorney can be seen on Facebook

HELP spread the word about the opportunity we have on Sept. 4 to influence who gets prosecuted for what crimes in Middlesex and Suffolk counties.
You could invite friends to a group viewing in your home to watch the debate together and talk about it.
Ask if your local municipal television station is carrying the debate, and if not ask them to do so.
You could team up with a group to host a public viewing and discussion.  Please share a link to this post to educate people.
Anything you do will be appreciated.
Both Middlesex County candidates are Democrats, so the primary election will be decisive.  Five of the six candidates in Suffolk County are Democrats, and whoever wins the primary will go on to face an independent challenger in November. There are no Republicans are in this race.
The eight members of the Governor’s Council race is another “under the radar” way to influence the public process. They approve the Governor’s commutations and pardons, and nominations to judges, clerk-magistrates, public administrators, members of the parole board and more.
THANKS for caring and taking action of any size, including forwarding this post to friends and activists to encourage them to VOTE on Sept. 4.

The Mississippi Man Tried Six Times for the Same Crime

Heartbreaking outrageous stories of injustice like this keep me taking action, especially for Americans with African ancestry. It’s ironic that America prides itself on our justice system when so many African-Americans do not get fair treatment. 

By David Leonhardt, Opinion Columnist, The New York Times, May 20, 2018

One morning nearly 22 years ago, four employees of a furniture store in a small Mississippi town were shot to death. For months afterward, local law-enforcement seemed stumped by the crime. Eventually, the top prosecutor — Doug Evans — charged a former store employee, Curtis Flowers, a black man who had no criminal record.

The case since then has been unlike any other I’ve ever heard of. Evans has put Flowers on trial six separate times — even though no gun, fingerprints or other physical evidence ties Flowers to the crime and no witness even puts him at the store that day.

At each of the first three trials, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out all three convictions. The first two times, it cited misconduct by Evans during the trial, and the third time it found that Evans had kept African-Americans off the jury. The justices called it as bad a case of such racial discrimination “as we have ever seen.”

The fourth trial was the first to have more than one black juror, and it ended with a hung jury. The fifth also had multiple black jurors and likewise ended in a mistrial. The sixth trial had only one black juror, and Flowers was convicted, thanks largely to dubious circumstantial testimony that Evans had coached witnesses to give. I see no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.

Yet today he sits in solitary confinement, on death row, in Mississippi’s Parchman Prison. He is serving his 22nd straight year behind bars, having never been released between convictions. He will turn 48 years old next week. His parents continue to visit him as often as possible.

His heartbreaking, enraging story is the subject of a new podcast — the second season of “In the Dark,” led by Madeleine Baran of American Public Media — that’s already been downloaded more than two million times. The reporting and storytelling are fantastic, and I can’t capture all of it here. If you aren’t already listening to the podcast, I recommend it.

While the Flowers case is shocking in its details, it is all too typical in its broad strokes: The United States suffers from a crisis of unjust imprisonment. The crisis has been caused partly by powerful, unaccountable prosecutors, like Doug Evans. And the costs are borne overwhelmingly by black men, like Flowers.

We now know that dozens of innocent people have been executed in recent decades. Many others languish behind bars. My colleague Nicholas Kristof, in his latest column, told the story of Kevin Cooper, who’s on death row in California because of highly questionable evidence. Cases like these are the most extreme part of our mass-incarceration problem. As the legal scholar Michelle Alexander has noted, a larger share of black Americans are imprisoned than black South Africans were during apartheid. “A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch,” she has written.

When Americans today look back on the past, many of us wonder how our ancestors could have tolerated blatant injustices — like child labor, Jim Crow or male-only voting — for so long. When future generations look back on our era, I expect they will ask a similar question. They will be outraged that we forcibly confineda couple million of our fellow human beings to cages, often for no good reason.

President Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are trying to make the problem even worse, by locking up ever more people. But Trump and Sessions can’t squelch the burgeoning, bipartisan movement for criminal-justice reform. They can’t, because as the recent Pulitzer-winning author James Forman Jr. points out, criminal justice happens mostly at the local and state levels. “We should always remember that the fight is going to be at the local level,” Forman told NPR’s Terry Gross, “and, there, we continue to win.”

To take one example, manufactured jailhouse confessions are a common part of wrongful prosecutions (and are central to the Flowers case). With a shocking frequency, prosecutors and police coax so-called snitches to lie outright about what other prisoners say. In response, Texas enacted a law last year requiring the tracking of snitches and the disclosure of any plea deals to defense attorneys, who can then call the testimony into question in front of a jury. Rebecca Brown of the Innocence Project told me that the Texas law was “excellent” — and that the Illinois legislature had passed an even better version, awaiting the governor’s signature.

Elsewhere, some district attorneys are trying to make the system fairer on their own. It’s happening in Brooklyn, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities. Most prosecutors, after all, are decent, ethical public servants. One change involves “open-file” policies, which give the defense attorney access to all of the evidence in a case. That may seem like an obvious step, and it’s the norm in civil trials. Yet it remains rare in criminal trials.

I don’t want to exaggerate the recent progress. As you read this column, thousands upon thousands of American citizens sit behind bars, unjustly denied their freedom. “Ooooh, I miss Curtis,” his devastated father, Archie Flowers, says on the podcast. “Yes. It is rough. Rough, rough, rough, rough.”

But the Flowers family refuses to give up hoping for justice. Curtis Flowers’s sixth conviction is still being appealed, and new evidence — uncovered by the podcast — seems likely to help that appeal.

If the Flowers family won’t give in to despair, nobody else should, either.

Gov. Baker to sign justice reform bill today at 3 pm

By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICEbaker

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 13, 2018….Gov. Charlie Baker plans to sign a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill into law Friday afternoon, advocates said.

“I have great news for you. Governor Baker plans to sign our bill, as is, at 3 p.m. today,” Cherish Casey of the Essex County Community Organization said at a State House press conference.

Casey’s declaration triggered applause and cheers from those in attendance.

The press conference was originally called to urge Baker to sign the bill but took on a celebratory mood as its backers thanked the lawmakers and others who got the long-awaited bill to the governor’s desk…..

As the press conference was unfolding, Baker was holding a meeting of his cabinet Friday morning at the State House.

Baker’s office confirmed he will sign the bill, at 3 p.m. in room 157 at the State House, and said he will also “discuss additional reforms that the administration plans to propose.”

Make every correctional officer a program officer

Gov. Baker [of Massachusetts] has proposed $640 million for the Department Image result for photo of a correctional officer FREEof Corrections [DOC] for 2019 PLUS a line item for $11 million for the training and hiring of 200 new correctional officers [COs]. The DOC now spends less than 2 percent on programs for incarcerated people.

Does this reflect our priorities or prepare people to return home? Some 92 percent of all incarcerated people will return home.

Another possibility is to transition toward the goal that all COs serve as program officers, who share a skill and/or knowledge with the people in their care. The program can be practically anything–culinary, GED preparation/tutoring, plumbing, carpentry, writing, running a small business, yoga/mindfulness, college or high school classes, computer repair/programming, job skills, trauma awareness/healing, or sales and communication skills, to name a few possibilities.

“The union would never go for it,” according to naysayers. What about tuning into the WIFM channel — What’s in it for me?

When every CO is a program officer, they:

  1. Would work in a safer environment because their relationships with incarcerated people would be transformed from adversarial and punishment to one of friendly guidance;
  2. Would have more interesting satisfying jobs, that go deeper than providing security and warehousing, with opportunities to help people;
  3. Might have less suicide and/or substance abuse disorder, better relationships at work and at home, and improved mental and physical health in the short and long term.

Wouldn’t that be motivation for the union to work toward constructive change within the system?

With a healthier environment, other problems might dissipate, such as contraband and drug distribution and use inside; gang membership; violence; mental illness; idleness and lack of motivation and rehabilitation.

New ideas are typically first ridiculed. More humane prisons in Europe have demonstrated that more progressive prisons and jails result in dramatically lower rates of recidivism.

We have nothing to lose from implementing something NEW in our broken correctional system, which depends on repeat customers filling our prisons and jails.  It would give the opportunity for the DOC to fulfill its motto of “Manage, Care, Program, Prepare.”