Monthly Archives: March 2016

Driving toward legal driving

By Shira Schoenberg | sschoenberg@repub.com
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on March 23, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Beacon Hill

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House passed a bill on Wednesday repealing the automatic license suspension of anyone convicted of a drug crime.

“Over time, we’ve come to realize … a driver’s license, for someone who’s been convicted, paid their price, is important if we also want them to get back into society, get a job, support their family and meet those responsibilities,” said state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The bill, H.4088, passed the House unanimously, by a vote of 156-0, with little discussion.

Both the House and the Senate passed similar bills earlier this session, but differences between the House and Senate versions had to be worked out by a team of negotiators. That conference committee released a final version of the bill last week.

The bill will now go to the Senate and then to Gov. Charlie Baker. Baker has said he supports the concept behind the bill.

Under current law, established in 1989, anyone convicted of a drug-related crime, whether or not it relates to a motor vehicle, has his license suspended for between six months and five years. The offender must pay a fine of at least $500 to have their license reinstated.

The law was put in place during the federal war on drugs, as part of a crackdown on illegal drug use. Advocates for prisoners have since argued that the license suspension is unrelated to the crime, and the suspension makes it harder for offenders to reintegrate into society after they served their sentence. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has backed the bill, along with several sheriffs and district attorneys.

The bill that passed the House would eliminate the license suspension for most drug crimes – including the possession and sale of drugs. It would keep a five-year license suspension in place for anyone convicted of trafficking in cocaine, fentanyl, heroin or other opiates – although someone convicted of these offenses can apply for a hardship license.

Anyone whose license was already suspended would have it reinstated within 30 days of the bill being signed into law. Records of suspensions would be shielded from public access. The bill would repeal the current $500 license reinstatement fine.

A judge could still suspend someone’s license for a crime related to driving.

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A must-see solitary drama, free

mariposa_artThe longer I’m in this movement, the more I learn about every aspect of prison life. Solitary, SHU [special housing unit], the hole, the box, or whatever you call it, is not much of a life. Deprived of most sensory experiences in life and often with the only regular human contact, antagonistic, outside of your door, solitary can drive a sane person mad, and a mad person to self-destruction and deeper madness.

The public is invited to view a powerful informative 45 minute play that dramatizes these realities, based on the letters of a woman in solitary for nearly three years.

It will be performed Thursday, March 24, 8 pm, at the Milford Performing Arts Center, 150 Main St., Milford. Admission is free, donations accepted. Reserve free tickets here: http://tinyurl.com/Mariposa-MASS

Other performances in the Boston area are as follows: Wednesday, March 23, 7 pm at the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, lower level, Room 129, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; Friday, March 25, 8 pm, Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont St., Boston; and Saturday, March 26, 6:45 pm, First Church in Roxbury, 10 Putnam St., Roxbury. For information, go to http://www.juliasteeleallen.com/portfolio/mariposa/

The play is co-sponsored by Prisoners Legal Services, Coalition for Effective Public Safety, EMIT, End Mass Incarceration Together, a task force of UU Mass Action Network and host venues. For information, contact emit.susan@gmail.com or Susan Tordella at 978-772-3930. More information on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/170428996672052/

The shows are part of a week-long series of events to raise awareness about the inhumanity of being confined in a sterile environment the size of an elevator or parking space, for months, years and decades. The USA boasts an estimated 80,000 people in solitary. Because of the veil of secrecy shrouding most prisons, the true number is unknown.

 

 

 

Race to the Finish & Mariposa

Until July 31, we are on the fast track in Massachusetts to refer bills out of committee [deadline today] and pass them by the end of session July 31. [New session starts Jan 2017].
WOULD YOU take a minute today to:
1) Contact your Representative and ask him/her to express support to House Chairman John Fernandes for H1475 (Solitary Reform Bill), H1381 (An Act to Require Data Regarding the Use of Solitary Confinement)
Solitary is cruel and inhumane after 15 days, and torture for people with mental illness. We treat our animals better. Some people are released directly to the street from solitary and end up rebounding back to jail because they are so disoriented.
And ask them to act on
H1628 (Medical Placement for Terminal and Incapacitated Prisoners)
 
It costs up to $200K/year to keep a person in jail at the end of life, versus releasing them to a nursing home where they go home or medicare takes over for $120,000-$140,000, which also creates jobs in the community.
2) Contact your Senator and ask him/her to express their support to Senate Chairman Brownsberger for S843 (Medical Placement for Terminal and Incapacitated Prisoners). The Senate version of the Solitary Reform Bill is pending in a different committee and the Solitary Data bill (H1381) is a stand alone bill- no Senate version. Still ask your Senator to let Chairman Brownsberger know that you are supporting the House versions of those bills.
To find your legislator, go to: http://openstates.org/.
3) Get a free ticket to attend Mariposa & the Saint,  
a powerful short play about the intense experience of solitary confinement based on a woman’s experience of living in a barren space the size of an elevator for nearly 3 years.
                     Performances March 23-26 in Boston and
                    Milford on Thursday March 24.  FREE Tickets HERE.
​ENCOURAGE your state legislators to attend.

It’s time to keep inflation in pace with crime

Public Safety Secretary applauds higher threshold for felony larceny

Massachusetts Public Safety and Security Secretary Daniel Bennett cheered the Senate’s plan to take up legislation heightening the threshold before larceny can be treated as a felony.

The Senate on Thursday plans to take up a bill (S 2156) that cleared the Judiciary Committee, which would raise the felony larceny threshold for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The threshold was last increased in November 1987 when Gov. Michael Dukakis approved a law increasing the felony amount to $250, up from $100. The Senate bill would raise the threshold to $1,500 before a defendant could be punished with years in prison.

“I think it makes sense. It’s been at $250 for a long time,” Bennett told the News Service Friday on his way into a cabinet meeting.

Bennett said the new threshold is an important consideration and he hoped to work with lawmakers to find a “fair amount for victims.”

“It depends on the amount, but certainly it should move up from $250 to realistically make what was a misdemeanor a felony. So I applaud the amounts going up. We do have to see what that amount goes to because we don’t want to take advantage of victims by making it too high,” Bennett said. – Andy Metzger/Statehouse News Service

3/7/2016 9:52:06 AM

Gourmet dinner in … Prison

NEW YORK TIMES

Italian Cuisine Worth Going to Prison For
By JIM YARDLEY    MARCH 5, 2016
Prison movie posters on the walls at InGalera, at the Bollate penitentiary in Milan, as an inmate serves patrons. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Time

MILAN — The waiters glided through the crowded dining room of InGalera, a restaurant that opened recently to rave reviews. Dinner reservations are almost fully booked for March, and the Milanese elite have taken note. A former bank president came a few weeks ago. So did a former Miss Italy. Families come on weekends.

For Silvia Polleri, the restaurant’s manager and visionary, InGalera is a dizzying triumph, if more because of the locale than because of the food.

It is inside the Bollate penitentiary, a medium-security prison with 1,100 inmates on the outskirts of Milan. The waiters, dishwashers and cooks have been convicted of homicide, armed robbery, drug trafficking and other crimes.

“May I take your plate, sir?” asked a waiter, Carlos, an inmate dressed in a tie, white shirt and black vest as he cleared a table on a recent night.

It is hard to imagine a less likely culinary success story than InGalera, or a more intriguing experiment in rehabilitating inmates — and confronting public attitudes about them.

Few people think of prisons as a place for a nice night out, yet the novelty of going to the prison grounds for food and drink has resonated, and even become something of a marketing tool.

Ms. Polleri decided that the best way to reassure patrons was to take a wink-wink approach. The name, InGalera, is Italian slang for “In Prison.”

The restaurant’s design is sleek, airy and modern, but the walls are decorated with posters from famous prison movies, including “Escape From Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood.

Curiosity about a forbidden and feared world has turned a night at InGalera into a daring adventure, with a fine meal as a bonus. (It has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor.)

“We wanted to see the reality here,” said Carla Borghi, who came with a group of couples from the nearby town of Paderno Dugnano. “It is not the classic restaurant. But it is a classic restaurant. The food is excellent.”

For years, Italy has struggled with its prison system, as well as how to balance punishment with rehabilitation. Overcrowding had become such a problem that in January 2013 the European Court of Human Rights ordered the country to fix the system.

Amuse-bouche dishes of cheese mousse with mustard, curry and dill awaiting customers. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Italian lawmakers responded with more alternative measures for minor crimes. In 2014, Italy also repealed harsh drug sentencing laws enacted during the 1990s, similar to the “three strikes” laws in the United States. In 2014, Italy began releasing 10,000 inmates (of roughly 60,000) who had been convicted of minor offenses.

But the issue of how best to rehabilitate offenders — and lower the recidivism rate — remained difficult. Italy has long allowed inmates in medium-security prisons to move around the facilities during the day.

“The main problem has been that they do little during the day, which doesn’t help them at the present, nor for their future outside prisons,” said Alessio Scandurra, who works for Antigone, a nonprofit group focused on the rights of detainees.

The Bollate prison was at the vanguard of experimentation even before opening the restaurant. Under the director, Massimo Parisi, the prison offers an array of programs. Companies have work programs on prison grounds. Volunteers teach theater and painting. Carpentry skills are taught in workshops equipped with power drills and saws. Inmates maintain a stable of horses in the prison yard.

 

There is also an initiative involving a carefully vetted group of 200 inmates who are allowed to leave each day for jobs with an outside firm. Inmates travel without supervision on public transportation; they must check in upon arrival at work, and at other points during the day.

Mr. Parisi said only one inmate had failed to return at the appointed time, and he showed up a few days later.

InGalera, Italian slang for “In Prison,” represents an experiment in rehabilitating inmates and confronting public attitudes about them. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
But sending out inmates is different from asking law-abiding citizens to come in for a meal.

“Our first worry was: Who would come?” Mr. Parisi said. “But many people are coming. People are curious about prisons. It is an unknown world to many people. That creates interest.”

The force behind the project is Ms. Polleri, who spent 22 years teaching kindergarten before becoming a caterer and later founding a social co-op in 2004 to help inmates. She hired select inmates from Bollate for catering jobs outside the prison. Once, she took a convicted bank robber to wait on tables at a reception in a bank.

But the idea of starting a restaurant was an altogether different challenge.

“People looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “They also thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to name it InGalera. But I wanted to stop talking about this in a sweet way.”

She solicited grants from sponsors, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm, and a local architect designed the restaurant’s interior for free. It is on the ground floor of the dormitory for prison guards; inmates are housed in a different part of the prison. She hired a maître d’ — who seats guests and handles the money — and a professional chef, Ivan Manzo, who was unfazed by working with convicts.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy people working in kitchens outside of here!” Mr. Manzo said.

In the kitchen, inmates were busily preparing dishes as one, Mirko, was showing another how to make tarts. Inmates are paid up to 1,000 euros a month to work in the restaurant, and share tips.

“It is a matter of pride, a way to make people happy and show them that even inmates can change and evolve,” said Mirko, who like the other inmates wanted to be identified only by his first name.

Ms. Polleri says that she realizes the restaurant may bother some people and that she does not want to offend victims of crime. But she argued that prisons must train inmates to become responsible citizens capable of re-entering society, and noted that the recidivism rate of inmates in similar programs is far lower than average.

Before the dinner crowd arrived on a recent night, Ms. Polleri hovered over the waiters, reminding Carlos to “walk straight.” Her most nerve-racking moment came in early December when she learned that a food critic for one of the country’s most important newspapers, Corriere della Sera, had secretly come for dinner one night and was preparing a review.

“I couldn’t sleep for a week,” Ms. Polleri said. The critic praised the food, the waiters and the “convivial atmosphere.” He even praised the prices, which are more reasonable than most Milanese restaurants. “To have honest prices,” he wrote, “you have to come to jail.”

Looking across the dining room, Ms. Polleri pointed to the guests enjoying their meals. “This is the revolution,” she said. “A lot of these people before didn’t know where the prison was.”