Monthly Archives: December 2014

Ferguson and Staten Island are the tip of the iceberg

Recent events in which black men have died at the hands of police are examples of how the US justice system is slanted against people who are black, Latino, poor, addicted to substances and mentally ill.

In Massachusetts, EMIT — End Mass Incarceration Together [a statewide grassroots advocacy group led by Unitarians and UU Mass Action Network] — partners with voters and state legislators to pass a series of bills in the next few years to ensure justice for all. We advocate legislative action, information, and coalition building to change Massachusetts state laws, policies, systems of justice and incarceration, probation and parole.

Such change is achieved one bill at a time, working in a statewide grassroots network of voters, legislators, communities, churches, non-profits and advocacy groups. We are working on generating support for two bills in the 2015 session: ending mandatory minimum sentencing and reform of pre-trial practices.

We need local leaders willing to take some small steps by Jan. 31.

1. Print out the letter below and invite people to sign individual letters to their state senator and representative. [Determine reps/senators here.]

2. Collect the letters and deliver them to your state representative and state senator BY JAN. 30.  Make an appointment with him/her in your district. You do not need to go to Beacon Hill. A personal visit to deliver the signed stack of letters has a BIG impact on your legislator. Ask other voters to attend the meeting.

3. Let EMIT know [emit.susan@gmail.com] that you have taken this action. If you cannot deliver the letters, send them to 5 Hedgeway St., Ayer, MA 01432.

Here are fact sheets on the two bills.

Pretrial Reform FactSheet(2)       Mandatory Minimums FactSheet2

Date ___________________________

Massachusetts State House   Room

24 Beacon Street   Boston, MA 02133

The Honorable_______________________________,

I am writing to ask you to co-sponsor two bills that are priority legislation for the Harm Reduction & Drug Law Reform Caucus. As you know, the Caucus is a coalition of more than 65 legislators, working to end mass incarceration through policy changes, education and coalition building.

The Caucus is committed to reforming the Commonwealth’s justice system, which unjustly impacts and incarcerates people who are black, Latino, poor, uneducated, addicted to substances, and mentally ill. The Caucus is co-chaired by Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland) and Senator Jamie Eldridge, (D-Acton). If you are already a caucus member, thank you.

Your help is needed to join the work of the Caucus and continue the momentum to end the injustice of mass incarceration in Massachusetts. We urge you to co-sponsor the two bills by Jan. 15, so your names will be printed on the cover of the bills, along with many fellow legislators.

  1. Removal of Mandatory Minimum sentencing – sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Cream, D-Newton, and Rep. Ben Swan, D-Springfield, to allow drug offenders to be sentenced based on their role in the offense, prior criminal history (if any) and need for treatment.
  2. Reform pre-trial and bail practices – sponsored by Sen. Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) and Rep. Sannicandro, to transform a justice system based on wealth to a risk-based system.  One-fourth of the 22,000 people incarcerated in the state are awaiting trial, without a guilty finding.

Fact sheets on these issues are available at www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com or by contacting Rebecca Miller, legislative aide to Rep. Sannicandro,  617-722-2013 and    Rebecca.Miller@mahouse.gov.

Thank you in advance for supporting justice reform in 2015 in Massachusetts.

Sincerely,

Signature_____________________________________

Printed name_________________________________

Address______________________________________

Town_________________________________________

Charles Koch’s views on criminal justice system just may surprise you

"Charles Koch" and "Newt Gingrich" are famous conservatives who are joining the movement to end mass incarceration, spurred by Michelle Alexander's landmark book, "The New Jim Crow."

After studying the U.S. criminal justice system, Charles Koch concluded that there are too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders. (May 22, 2012) BO RADER FILE PHOTO
Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/special-reports/koch/article5050731.html#storylink=cpy

BY ROY WENZL           THE WICHITA EAGLE

12/27/2014 5:12 PM 12/29/2014 9:49 AM

Of all the contentious history between Koch Industries and the U.S. government, the Corpus Christi, Texas, case from 1995 is the one that Charles Koch remembers most vividly.

A federal grand jury indicted his company on 97 felonies involving alleged environmental crimes at an oil refinery.

Prosecutors dropped all but one of the charges six years later, after the company spent tens of millions of dollars defending itself.

Ultimately, Koch Petroleum Group agreed to pay a $10 million settlement.

“It was a really, really torturous experience,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s chief counsel. “We learned first-hand what happens when anyone gets into the criminal justice system.”

Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”

No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case, Holden said. But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system – both federal and state – wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody.

His conclusion: Yes, it has.

Ten years ago, he began giving money to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers and reverse what some see as a national trend to get tough on crime, which has resulted in the tripling of the incarceration rate since the 1980s and has stripped the poor of their rights to a legal defense.

He’s going to give more to that effort, he said.

“Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.”

The nation’s criminal justice system needs reform, “especially for the disadvantaged,” Koch said, “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”

Holden said legislators in recent decades drifted into a habit of adding more laws every year and taking stands to show themselves as “getting tough on crime.” It has gone too far, Holden said.

The weight has fallen most heavily on minorities, Holden said.

It has festered in neighborhoods and fostered the anger of people protesting against police actions in Missouri and New York. And, Holden said, “It definitely appears to have a racial angle, intended or not.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one in three black men will spend time in prison.

The impact

Among the concerns, Holden said, of federal and state governments are:

▪ Too many nonviolent offenders have been sent to prison for too long. The United States incarcerates 2.2 million people. Another 65 million – one in four adults – now have criminal records, according to the defense lawyers association.

“We have more of America now in prison than they ever did (in South Africa) in apartheid,” Holden said. “Let that swirl around in your head for a while.”

▪ The economy has been damaged by making it difficult for offenders to get jobs once they are out of prison. The social stigma and routine background checks, according to the association, “has made it all but impossible for a person with a criminal record to leave the past behind.”

▪ Millions of former offenders have been denied voting and other rights long after they have paid their debt to society.

▪ The Sixth Amendment right to an attorney has been impaired by allowing public defender offices to be underfunded and overwhelmed, including by government prosecutors with more far more resources at their disposal.

The Corpus Christi case led Charles Koch and his company to give money, starting about 10 years ago, to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The company and the association would not say how much Koch has given, but the amount totals in the seven figures, Holden said.

Campaigning against overcriminalization has prompted Koch to form unofficial alliances with people and organizations that usually champion liberal causes, including political activist George Soros and the American Civil Liberties Union, who are also campaigning for a reduction in prison populations.

Kansas prisons

Kansas has 9,600 inmates in eight adult prisons, according to the 2014 annual report from the Kansas Department of Corrections, which has an annual budget of $306 million.

The cost per inmate is $25,000 per year.

“That’s more than what it costs to send a kid to college for a year,” said David Gilkey, a Wichita youth mentor.

The prison population is projected to rise by 740 more inmates by 2024, which would add another $18.5 million per year to the state cost, according to state estimates.

Nobody wants to let violent criminals out of prison, Holden said. Of the 9,600 inmates in Kansas, 4,836 were convicted of committing violent crimes, and another 2,129 were sent there for sex offenses.

But there are also 1,736 inmates serving drug sentences and another 567 serving sentences for nonviolent property crimes.

Wasting human resources

Gilkey and Norman Reimer say much the same things about overcriminalization of the justice system and their support of Koch’s plans to reform it. Few men could be as different in background.

Reimer, an attorney, directs the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C.

Gilkey is a former Wichita crack addict and an ex-convict who spent nearly four years in Kansas prisons. But in the nine years since his release, Gilkey has become a respected Wichita mentor to young people.

He runs “Rise Up for Youth,” a United Way-supported group; he goes regularly into the tough parts of town, speaks to gang members and goes into local schools at the request of educators to plead with youngsters to study, stay away from drugs and stay out of crime.

Reimer said the “tough on crime” stance has created “too many laws, too many flaws in the criminal justice process and far too much work for beleaguered public defenders assigned to represent poor people in courts.”

“There are never adequate resources now to ensure that the poor can have access to a lawyer,” he said.

It may surprise some Koch critics that Koch took an interest in criminal justice; it’s not a surprise to Reimer.

“We share a reverence for the Bill of Rights,” he said.

Putting 2 million people in prison was a mistake, he said.

“We are not a nation of bad people. We are a nation that made some bad choices,” he said.

“We’ve become addicted to severe sentences, to the point where we are mass-producing convictions in many courts, while not providing defense counsel on a timely basis.

“We’ve got to fix that, and there is now a growing consensus among people knowledgeable about justice and economics that we are wasting precious human resources in criminal justice.”

Gilkey said he’s seen hundreds of examples showing Reimer and Koch are right. He grew up and committed crimes in Wichita’s poorest neighborhoods, then began to work with youths there and visit prisons where people from Wichita are incarcerated.

He’s no liberal on many social or justice issues. He tells boys to treat police officers with respect.

He wishes he could legally obtain a gun because of some of the tough neighborhoods he walks into to mentor youths.

He says marijuana should never be legalized, because as a drug addict, he learned first-hand that pot is “the gateway drug to all the other drugs.”

But he said we have devised a “crazy” and costly system where we spend tens of millions in Kansas to incarcerate people and train them so well in prison that many of them earn tech school certificates to become plumbers or electricians or other trade workers.

“When they get out, they can’t get jobs,” Gilkey said. “They have to check that box on the job application that says, ‘Have you ever been convicted?’ No one hires them then.”

Gilkey, like millions of other convicted felons, lost the right to vote and to apply for a concealed-handgun permit.

“Most employers won’t hire me if they learn I’m a convicted felon,” he said. “Most apartment complexes won’t rent to me if I tried. My wife and I rent a house only because someone decided to trust us.”

He believes nonviolent offenders should not face prison time. It would save millions, he said. It would put people to work paying taxes instead of getting fed for years at taxpayer expense.

Holden, Koch’s counsel and a friend of Gilkey’s, said laws allow many crimes to be expunged from someone’s record. But that’s a tricky legal process, and many poor people don’t have the money to hire lawyers, he said.

It makes no sense to give a life sentence like that to nonviolent offenders after they’ve served time, Holden said.

“If you have a nonviolent felony and you get out of prison, we as a country can’t forgive and forget?” he asked

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/special-reports/koch/article5050731.html#storylink=cpy

Letter to legislators to ask for co-sponsorship of upcoming legislation

[Church or personal address]

[Date]

Here is a letter to print out and distribute to your circle of influence to send to state legislators by Jan. 15, 2015.

To identify your state lawmakers and their room numbers at the Statehouse, go to: https://malegislature.gov/people/search

Massachusetts State House
Room _______
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 01233

The Honorable ____________________________

I am writing to express my support of bills to end mass incarceration in the 2015-16 legislative term and invite you to co-sponsor one or all of them. The bills are as follows.

  1. End Mandatory Minimums – sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Cream, D-Newton, and Rep. Ben Swan, D-Springfield, to allow drug offenders to be sentenced based on their role in the offense, prior criminal history (if any) and need for treatment.
  2. Reform pre-trial and bail practices – Sen. Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) and Rep. Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), to transform a justice system based on wealth to a risk-based system.  One-fourth of the 22,000 people incarcerated in the state are awaiting trial, without being found guilty of a crime.
  3. End collateral sanctions at the Registry of Motor Vehicles – Liz Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) and Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). Remove the requirement that a person convicted of a drug offense loses driving privileges for up to five years and pay $500 or more to reinstate.
  4. Implement restorative justice programs – Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Sean Garbally (D-Arlington) to provide an opportunity to repair the harm caused by the event, as opposed to handing down a punishment.
  5. Expungement – Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), to expunge a criminal record in which the defendant was mistakenly brought into the criminal justice system.

The five bills above are endorsed by the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus, led by Rep. Sannicandro and Sen. Eldridge, which I hope you will join, if you haven’t yet.  I encourage you to sign on as a co-sponsor of one or all of these bills before Jan. 15, 2015. As you know, adding your name to the front page of a bill increases the likelihood that the legislation will pass.

I also support three additional bills that will: redefine the criteria of a felony charge; put limits on the use of solitary confinement; and allow compassionate release of people who are terminally ill.

We must work together to end one of the worst travesties of our time – mass incarceration, as well to offer economic opportunities in communities hardest hit by poverty, drugs and hopelessness. I look forward to our continued communication to restore justice for all in Massachusetts.

Mass incarceration is inhumane, ineffective and fiscally irresponsible. I strongly support proven methods to reform the Massachusetts system of justice. I recognize that a lack of economic opportunity leaves many people with few options for legal employment. I support investing in our most vulnerable communities  through business development, providing job skill training classes, and by other programs that a community identifies to generate change.

As a Unitarian Universalist, my denomination will continue to advocate for these needed changes.  I look forward to our continued communication and partnering to end mass incarceration together and restore justice in Massachusetts.

Sincerely,

[signature]

[printed name]________________________

[address]_____________________________

Police brutality is the tip of the iceberg – join statewide activist call tonight 8-9 pm

Transform our moral outrage over police brutality and victim mortality through direct political action with activists from all over Massachusetts. Taking to the streets expresses outrage; joining activists is a direct path toward changing state laws and policies around criminal justice.
You are invited to join a statewide 1-hour call tonight  Monday Dec. 15, 8-9 pm
 712-432-1212, entrance code is 351-484-548#
 
Our goal is to mobilize, energize and prepare voters like you to connect with your state rep and senator in the next 30 days, in person, hopefully with 2-3 other voters from your district. If you can’t meet in person, (possibly in your district), a call with the legislator or staffer, an email (last resort) will suffice.
“The ask” to your lawmakers: Will you co-sponsor upcoming criminal justice reform bills to be introduced Jan. 2-15?
The more cosponsors behind a proposed law, the more likely the legislation will be passed. The only way to end mass incarceration is by passing a series of bills over a number of years.
To transform your moral outrage to ACTION and REFORM, join our statewide grassroots movement to educate and activate voters and lawmakers, starting from profiling at arrest through to conviction, sentencing and inhumane ineffective treatment in prisons.
 
We will provide a letter you can invite fellow constituents to sign, to request your state rep and state senator to co-sponsor a variety of criminal justice reform bills, that must be delivered by JAN. 10. The deadline for co-sponsorship is Jan. 15. 
 
THANKS for your voice in the choir. Together we make a chorus that generates reform. ​Call or email with questions. ​I look forward to you joining the call tonight.
AGENDA:
Reports from those who have visited, called and emailed their state legislators.
      Challenges?    Suggestions?    Questions?
 
Review the letter to legislators – see EMIT site- www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com
 
Questions on the proposed bills?
 
Set next call for January. 

A preview of 2015 Massachusetts legislation to end mass incarceration

Advocates and lawmakers are working together to draft legislation for the 2015-2016 legislative session on Beacon Hill. EMIT is encouraging voters who want to restore justice for all in the Commonwealth, to contact their state senators and state reps NOW in December, in advance of the January blitz of activity to introduce all of the bills for the 18 month session.

The more co-sponsors behind a proposed bill, the more support it will generate from other legislators. Lawmakers must commit to co-sponsor a bill by Jan. 15, 2015. The bills will be introduced during the first two weeks of January, given a number and assigned to a committee.

Here is a partial list of criminal reform measures we anticipate will be considered by the Massachusetts Legislature.

  • End mandatory minimum sentences related to drug offenses.  Some 70 percent of incarcerated people in Massachusetts prisons and jails are serving sentences set by mandatory minimum sentences, which eliminated judicial discretion. Mandatory minimum sentences have not been shown to increase public safety. There is no evidence to show mandatory minimums deter or reduce crime, or rates of addiction and substance abuse. Mandatory minimums are costly because they keep people incarcerated for longer periods of time than necessary, and disproportionately impact communities of color.
  • Pretrial and bail reform — about 20 percent of the state’s 22,000  people in county jails and state prisons have not been convicted of a crime. Many are awaiting trial because they cannot afford to make a small amount of bail. New legislation would revise how accused individuals are evaluated, and determine if they can safely return to the community and be expected to appear at trial.
  • Ending collateral sanctions by the Registry of Motor Vehicles so that people convicted of drug offenses will be eligible to immediately obtain a driver’s license [instead of waiting for up to 5 years] and eliminate the $500 reinstatement fee.
  • Implement Restorative justice — an approach to community harm, to repair the harm caused by the event instead of punishing the person who committed the crime.
  • Compassionate release to allow terminally ill inmates to be released to the community.
  • Solitary confinement to revise how the Department of Corrections assigns solitary confinement to incarcerated individuals and especially juveniles.