Monthly Archives: September 2017

Good Omens at the State House — & How You Can Help Turn Them Into Good News

September 13, 2017:  The chances for comprehensive criminal justice reform at the State House are looking good.  Nothing is certain yet, but here’s some backgound and then one thing you can do that would really help.
Background:  The current plan is that the Senate and House will each pass two bills — the bill about reducing recidivism that came out of the Council of State Governments process and is sponsored by Gov. Charlie Baker, and an “everything else” bill that brings together a wide range of issues into one package.  The Senate’s omnibus bill is likely to come out first, and it is likely to draw the essence of more than forty bills into one comprehensive package that includes most of what people like me have been advocating for.  The House’s omnibus bill may not be as comprehensive, as the goal is to propose a bill that will get enough votes to pass, and the common wisdom is that the House is less welcoming to reforms than the Senate.  It’s also really clear, though, that the grassroots advocacy and organizing of the last few years has made a difference, as legislators are now seriously considering proposals that a few years ago they would have dismissed out of hand.
What You Can Do Now Rep. Claire Cronin, the House co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, has invited all members of the House to make an appointment to talk with her about their opinions of criminal justice reform in the next few weeks.  If you think that your state rep supports criminal justice reform, please call them and ask them to talk with Rep. Cronin and tell her that they hope she will be ambitious in her proposals for criminal justice reform.  (There are a few reps who seem opposed to just about everything in this space.  If that describes your rep, please don’t contact them in the next few weeks — let them think about other issues and forget to talk with Rep. Cronin 🙂 .)
Thoughts about strategy:  For years now, people have been working on a wide variety of bills, each of which focuses on one or a few priorities.  We have tried to educate legislators and the public about these issues, why they are important, and what’s in each bill.  This year dozens of bills related to criminal justice reform have been filed, and only a handful of people (primarily legislators on the Judiciary Committee and their staff) have any chance of getting on top of the contents of all of them.  Dozens of these bills will feed into the House and Senate omnibus bills, which will be long and complicated.  Unless your legislator is on the Judiciary Committee — and perhaps even then — trying to get them to engage with the details of a comprehensive bill is asking too much.
Instead, our role now is to raise enthusiasm for the concept of broad and ambitious criminal justice reform.  If your state rep cares about specific bills and wants to ask Rep. Cronin to include them in the package bill, great.  But what Rep. Cronin really needs to hear is that lots of state reps are inclined to support an omnibus bill that she brings forward, and they want her to make it strong and ambitious.  She and her staff are currently working on what to include and how it all fits together.  They will include more if they get the message that state reps are broadly enthusiastic about a strong reform package.  And state reps are more likely to give that message if they hear it from their constituents — i.e., us.
If you don’t know your state rep’s phone number, you can look them up here:  https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator  A phone call is best, but if you can’t get yourself to place a call then an email can be helpful too.
Thank you for anything you can do!
Lori Kenschaft
EMIT Core member and coordinator, Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington
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CALL your State Rep by Sept. 22, 2017

Massachusetts statehouse and state legislators have passed dozens of bills to fill our prisons and jails. These bills often discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, income, social class, education, mental health and drug and substance addiction and abuse

CALL YOUR state representative TODAY and advocate for justice.

After a decade of activism, we have a window of opportunity for broad reform of the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems.Members of the Massachusetts Senate will be voting on a package of comprehensive reforms this fall.  We need to urge House members to take similar action. The House Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, is now meeting with every House member to learn what reform they will support.

 

The goal is for you to join a statewide movement to call your state representative (not senator) within the next week, so your rep will relay to Rep. Cronin, that they support a bold and comprehensive package of judicial and corrections systems reforms.

HERE is what we are asking you to do by Sept. 22.

If needed, identify your state representative at www.openstates.org, find their phone and e-mail.  Call and ask to speak with your state rep.  If s/he is not available, speak with their aide. Here is the message.

Hello my name is …  I am a constituent of Rep. …  I have been aware for a long time of the need to reform our justice and corrections systems.  I know there is discussion about bills to make badly needed changes in the systems.

I have heard that the Co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Clare Cronin, is meeting with each member of the House to discuss areas of reform they will to support and what to include in a comprehensive package. In the discussions between Rep.… and Rep. Cronin, please urge her to be ambitious, to think big, and to develop a comprehensive House package, equal to the Senate version.

You may have a specific issue of concern, such as ending mandatory minimum sentences, reducing or eliminating bail, solitary confinement, or fees or fines.  Mention that issue in one sentence.  The main reason for the call is to ask your state rep to urge Rep. Cronin to think big, and assure her that House members will support broad reforms this fall.

  1. The ask: Can I count on you to deliver a message of support to Rep. Cronin?
  2. Next, send an email to your state rep to reinforce the message.
  3. Go HERE  to let the organizers, know you have connected with your state representative.

THANK YOU.

The Rev. Bill Gardiner, Susan Tordella and  Laura Wagner, Unitarian Universalist Association; The Rev. Jon Tetherly,  The Rev. George Oliver, Kathryn Byers, United Church of Christ.

For information, visit these resources:

One-Pager_justice-corrections reform_0922

https://massinc.org/our-work/policy-center/criminal-justice-reform/

http://www.macucc.org/justicewitnessministries

Bail reform emanates from MA High court

Last month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that judges must take into account a defendant’s financial resources when setting bail. The original intent of bail was to be sure a defendant returned to court, but in today’s environment, where approximately 97 percent of criminal cases are settled with plea bargain agreements, the setting of bail that people cannot pay, serves to guarantee more convictions.

When one is incarcerated pretrial, one is more likely to accept a plea, and a criminal conviction, in order to go home.

It is unclear what the impact will be for this ruling. The practice of bail will continue, and the court can use it when their is a flight risk.  Dangerousness hearings are also part of Massachusetts law, so that defendants deemed a danger to the public can be retained pretrial.  At this time the Mass Bail Fund is meeting with others to determine what kind of monitoring can be done to determine compliance with the new ruling.

See more here about the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

–Submitted by Louellyn Lambros of Scituate, an EMIT CORE member.