Please email the list below of constructive criminal justice reform bills to your state representative and senator and ask them to co-sponsor these bills. When six constituents contact a legislator, they pay attention.
State reps need to decide which bills to co-sponsor by Friday, February 1, so this is an important week. State senators have a little more time.
After the criminal justice omnibus bill passed in April, there is sparse energy for another comprehensive bill. Yet there are many issues that were not adequately addressed by the omnibus bill — including:fully decriminalizing substance use disorders;increasing access to parole;bail reform; and providing better options for young adults who are entangled in the system.
Each of these bills would make our criminal legal system more fair and effective, and is supported by at least one of the organizations that participates in the Criminal Justice Working Group.
Please email the attached list to your state rep and state senator with a cover note asking them to co-sponsor these bills. The bill numbers and sponsors are included in the list to make it easy for them.
Don’t know who your legislators are? You can look them up at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator
Thank you very much for taking action.
Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington and EMIT member
Constructive Bills Related to Criminal Justice [copy & paste]
Each of the following bills would help make the Massachusetts criminal justice system more fair and effective and is supported by one or more organizations that participate in the Criminal Justice Working Group. Participating organizations include the ACLU of Massachusetts, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, Emancipation Initiative, Greater Boston Legal Services, League of Women of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Community Action Network, and Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery. This list was compiled by Lori Kenschaft (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Decriminalize Substance Use Disorders
These bills are based on the premise that substance use disorders should be handled as medical and public health problems, not criminalized.
HD.2727 / SD.1477: An Act Relative to Treatment, Not Imprisonment (Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Cindy Friedman). This bill would allow judges to order a person to get help for an addiction, but prohibit courts from sending a person to jail just for relapsing if they are otherwise engaged in treatment. Currently someone who is on pretrial release or probation and experiences a relapse can be incarcerated even if they are actively working to achieve long-term recovery. Incarceration disrupts treatment, endangers recovery, and greatly increases the risk of overdose after an individual returns to the community. It is both unsafe and unjust to require a person suffering from addiction to remain relapse-free or else face jail.
HD.1044 / SD.1479: An Act Ensuring Access to Addiction Services (Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Cindy Friedman). This bill would require that men, like women, who are involuntary committed because of an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder be under the care and supervision of the Department of Public Health or Department of Mental Health. Currently the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) is operated by the Department of Corrections.
SD.1722 / SD.582: An Act to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences Related to Drug Offenses (Sen. Cynthia Creem, Sen. Joseph Boncore). This bill would further repeal the failed war‑on-drugs policy of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Research shows that mandatory minimum sentences have no real effect on crime rates, that incarcerating drug users and low‑level drug dealers does nothing to deter crime or the flow of drugs, and that Black and Hispanic individuals receive more of these sentences. Mandatory minimums tie the hands of judges and increase the chance that families will be torn apart by incarceration.
Improve Data Collection and Transparency
HD.1780 / SD.336: An Act Relative to Clarity and Consistency for the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board (Rep. Michael Day, Sen. Joseph Boncore). This bill would expand the data collection and reporting requirements included in the landmark 2018 criminal justice reform bill to include District Attorneys. Without information from prosecutors about charging and diversion, it is impossible to get a comprehensive picture of the criminal justice system to inform future policy-making and ensure fair treatment.
HD.3412 / SD.795: An Act Improving Juvenile Justice Data Collection (Rep. Chynah Tyler, Sen. Cynthia Creem). The Massachusetts juvenile justice system still fails to collect or share many of the basic statistical data needed to understand how the system is operating. As a result, taxpayers are blindly funding a system without adequate metrics to assess its fairness or effectiveness and policymakers are limited in assessing whether what we are doing improves public safety and the outcomes of youth. Massachusetts also has some of the worst racial disparities in the country. This legislation would gather key demographic data at major decision points to better identify and evaluate policies or practices that may inadvertently drive children deeper into the system.
Avoid Excessive Punishment of Juveniles
HD.2800 / SD.1731: An Act to Promote the Education Success of Court Involved Children (Rep. Joan Meschino, Sen. Pat Jehlen). Current law allows a student charged with any felony to be suspended or expelled from school – prior to arraignment or adjudication – without any opportunity for due process in the juvenile court. This bill would clarify that students who are facing discipline under §37H and §37H½ are entitled to all of the procedural protections received by students facing discipline under §37H¾. Requiring additional procedural protections does not prevent schools from implementing serious disciplinary consequences if the principal determines such consequences are warranted. They simply require the school to take steps to ensure that the offense occurred and was committed by the student being disciplined, and to hear the whole story, including mitigating circumstances, before imposing very serious and potentially life-altering consequences.
HD.2888 / SD.2095: An Act Decriminalizing Consensual Adolescent Sexual Activity (Rep. Jason Lewis, Sen. Rebecca Rausch). Massachusetts is one of only four states that criminalizes consensual sexual activity between two adolescents. Most states have “Romeo and Juliet” laws to ensure that these relationships are handled by parents, not judges. This bill would protect teens from criminal prosecution for consensual sexual activity with peers. It would not change the laws that criminalize non-consensual or forcible sexual assaults by youth or consensual activity with a significantly younger individual.
Promote Better Outcomes for Young Adults
These bills are based on the research showing that young adults are rapidly changing, open to influence, and have distinctive developmental needs until their brains fully mature at the age of roughly 25. Massachusetts taxpayers spend a disproportionate amount of resources on young adults in the criminal justice system, and they have the worst outcomes. Studies show that young adults who are handled by a developmentally appropriate system have lower recidivism rates than those in the adult criminal justice system.
HD.2697 / SD.1533: An Act to Reduce Recidivism among Emerging Adults (Reps. Kay Khan & James O’Day, Sen. Cindy Friedman). This bill would infuse developmentally-appropriate, evidence-informed policies modeled after Massachusetts’ juvenile justice system into the adult system to promote positive outcomes for system-involved young adults (under the age of 25 or 26) and increase public safety by (1) individualized case planning, (2) family engagement, (3) access to education, including post-secondary education, (4) abolishing the use of solitary and restraints, (5) community-based pre-release, (6) access to physical, mental and dental health care, (7) prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and (8) prohibiting incarceration due solely to lack of placement by another state agency.
HD.1295 / SD.530: An Act to Promote Public Safety and Better Outcomes for Young Adults (Reps. James O’Day & Kay Khan, Sen. Joseph Boncore). This bill would, over several years, raise the upper age in delinquency and youthful offender cases to include 18- to 20-year-olds. Young people charged with murder and other serious offenses would still be eligible for adult sentencing. This bill would expand the upper age of commitment to the Department of Youth Services for emerging adults (ages 18‑20) to ensure that there is an adequate opportunity to rehabilitate older youth entering the system, including extended commitment with DYS in “youthful offender” cases up to age 23. This bill would help prevent long-term criminal justice system involvement by ensuring that individuals are both held accountable and engaged in the treatment, education, and vocational training that are most effective for their age group.
HD.3449 / SD.1908: An Act Relative to Expungement (Reps. Marjorie Decker & Kay Khan, Sen. Cynthia Creem). In 2018 Massachusetts passed legislation that allowed the expungement of criminal records for individuals whose offense was charged prior to their 21st birthday. While this was an important step forward, the law created significant limitations by allowing only one charge on the record and making over 150 offenses categorically ineligible for expungement. These strict criteria mean that very few individuals are eligible under this law, which intended to help young people access education, employment and housing. This bill would close major gaps in the law by (1) letting people expunge records even if they have more than one charge, (2) permitting the expunging of any juvenile offense except never-sealable sex offenses, (3) preventing all juvenile fingerprints from going to the FBI, (4) allowing juvenile records to be sealed immediately by a judge if there was no adjudication, and automatically once the waiting period expires, (5) treating access to youthful offender juvenile court files the same as delinquency cases, and (6) stopping juvenile offenses from triggering mandatory minimum sentences in later adult cases.
HD.1228 / SD.94: An Act to Prevent the Imposition of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Based on Juvenile Adjudications (Rep. Liz Miranda, Sen. Will Brownsberger). This bill would prohibit the use of juvenile cases as predicate offenses that trigger later mandatory minimum sentences. Youth of color and LGBT youth are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system and are therefore especially vulnerable to disproportionate penalties as adults.
Allow Judges to Use Discretion in Responding to Probation Violations
SD.1727 / SD.254: An Act Relative to Probation Violations (Sen. Cynthia Creem, Sen. Will Brownsberger). A judge may suspend a criminal sentence and allow a person to serve a term of probation. An anomaly in the Massachusetts law requires, however, that if probation is revoked due to any violation of a condition of probation, the judge has no discretion but to impose the original suspended sentence, even if the new offense is very minor. This bill would amend the Massachusetts law to, like the current federal law, provide for judicial discretion when incarceration would not be a just and warranted response to a probation violation.
Reduce Recidivism by Better Access to Visits and Calls
These bills are based on studies showing that visits and phone calls help maintain family relationships, reduce violence, reduce recidivism, and promote successful rehabilitation and re-entry.
HD.3011 / SD.2137: An Act to Strengthen Inmate Visitation (Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Rep. Marjorie Decker). This bill would eliminate overly broad restrictions on visitation. The present system discourages visitation and makes it easy to lose connections that are important for good outcomes.
HD.3636 / SD.690: An Act Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Family Relationships During Incarceration (Rep. Liz Malia, Sen. Harriet Chandler). This bill would require that jail and prison staff receive training on the importance of visits to those who are incarcerated and the positive benefits of maintaining family ties. It would also require training on how to promote safety and encourage positive interactions with families and other visitors.
HD.3024 / SD.888 / SD.1741: An Act Relative to Inmate Telephone Service for Inmates / An Act Relative to Inmate Telephone Calls / An Act Relative to Inmate Telephone Rates (Rep. Chynah Tyler, Sen. Will Brownsberger, Sen. Mark Montigny). All of these bills would reduce the exorbitant cost of phone calls, which isolates prisoners from their families. SD.888 would provide for free calls.
Regulate the Use of Force
HD.2372 / SD.2050: An Act to Create Uniform Standards in Use of Force, Increase Transparency, and Reduce Harm (Rep. Mary Keefe, Sen. Michael Barrett). This bill would create uniform standards for the use of force in all state and county correctional facilities, including entrance of cell procedures and the use of chemical agents, restraining chairs, and K-9s. It would require uniform standards for reporting on the use of force against individuals who are incarcerated. It would also require all correctional officers to wear a personal audio-video recording device that is activated during planned entrance of cell procedures, emergency entrance of cell procedures, and all other uses of force.
HD.2956: An Act to Reduce Harm by Creating Baseline Standards for Use of Force by K9’s in Correctional Facilities (Rep. Tram Nguyen). This bill would create uniform standards for the use of force by K-9 dogs in state and county correctional facilities.
Increase Access to Parole
These bills are based on research showing that people who are released on parole often have better outcomes than those held until the end of their sentences, and at lower expense to taxpayers. Studies also show that many people “age out” of behaviors that endanger public safety.
HD.3620: An Act Establishing Presumptive Parole (Rep. David Rogers). Currently an individual who is eligible for parole has to convince the Parole Board that they deserve to receive parole. This bill would shift the burden of proof so that the state would have to indicate why an individual who is eligible for parole should not receive it.
HD.1903 / SD.1860: An Act Relative to Parole (Rep. Andres Vargas, Sen. Cynthia Creem). This bill would expand the size of parole board to nine members, to decrease time for decisions. Currently many people wait for months after they are eligible for parole to receive a decision about whether they will be paroled – sometimes until the end of their sentence. This bill would also require at least three members of the Parole Board to have at least five years of experience in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, or the treatment of substance use disorders. Expertise in these clinical fields would help the Parole Board more accurately evaluate prisoners.
HD.154 / SD.533: An Act to Reduce Mass Incarceration (Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Joseph Boncore). This bill would eliminate the sentence of life without parole, as well as all other sentences or combination of sentences that mandate incarceration for more than 25 years. It would require the possibility of parole, and the opportunity for a parole hearing, after 25 years. It would not require release, just a possibility of parole. This change would be retroactive and would apply to those currently incarcerated. Currently, one in eight people in our state prison system are serving sentences of life without parole. People can and do change, especially after 25 years, and those who change should be allowed some hope of not dying in prison.
Protect Voting Rights
Under current Massachusetts law, people who are currently incarcerated because of a felony conviction do not have the right to vote, though their voting rights are returned upon release. People who are incarcerated for other reasons, including pre-trial or after a misdemeanor conviction, retain the right to vote. In many cases, though, people do not realize they have voting rights and/or cannot access voting materials.
HD.1107 / SD.1814: An Act to Increase Voter Registration, Participation, and to Help Prevent Recidivism (Rep. Russell Holmes, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz). This bill would protect the voting rights of incarcerated people who retain that right. It would require access to voter registration, voter information, and absentee ballots for incarcerated people who have the right to vote. It would also require the education of prisoners, attorneys, judges, election officials, correction officials, parole and probation officers, and members of the public about when voting rights are lost, not lost, and restored. This bill was drafted by the incarcerated members of the African American Coalition Committee at MCI-Norfolk, the state’s largest prison.
SD.25 & SD.26: Proposal for a Legislative Amendment to the Constitution Relative to Voting Rights & An Act Relative to Voting Rights (Sen. Adam Hinds). Together, these bills would restore the right to vote to all citizens who are incarcerated, including those convicted of a felony.
Increase Access to Re-entry Programs
HD.1096 / SD.1178: An Act Relative to Community Corrections: Increasing Access to Reentry Programs (Rep. Frank Moran, Sen. Will Brownsberger). This bill would make all formerly incarcerated people eligible to participate in reentry services at the nineteen existing Community Corrections Centers, which provide assistance with housing, jobs, and treatment for substance use disorders. It would authorize the Department of Probation to allow effective non-profits to offer reentry programs and to separate reentry services from sanctions and corrections locations. It would also require the Department of Corrections and county Houses of Correction to provide departing prisoners with government identification cards and with information about re-entry services.
Reduce Recidivism by Increasing Employment Opportunities
HD.3637: An Act Promoting Family Stability by Further Reforming Criminal Offender Record Information, Increasing Access to Employment and Preventing Unfair Accrual of Debt (Rep. Liz Malia). This bill would increase access to jobs by ending the disqualification of drivers from transportation-related positions based on criminal cases that ended favorably in dismissals and by amending the casino-gaming law to end the disqualification of job applicants based on felony theft convictions (until 2018 the threshold for a felony theft was just $250). This bill would also require that people who are incarcerated be given information about their right to request a reduction in child support orders while they are incarcerated, to avoid racking up massive child support debt that they have no ability to pay.
HD.3635: An Act Providing Easier and Greater Access to Record Sealing (Rep. Liz Malia). This bill would provide for the automatic sealing of records after the applicable waiting period. The sealing process is now done manually for each and every request, and a request has to be mailed or delivered to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation. This change would increase efficiency and benefit many people who are harmed by their criminal records but unaware of their right to seal their records.
Protect Civil Liberties
HD.2759 / SD.1804 An Act Relative to Forfeiture Reform (Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Cynthia Creem). This bill would require that a person be convicted of a crime before the government can take their private property. An independent survey of state forfeiture laws gave Massachusetts an ‘F’ grade in our use and abuse of forfeiture laws.
HD.2726 / SD.671: An Act Relative to Unregulated Face Recognition and Emerging Biometric Surveillance Technologies (Rep. David Rogers, Sen. Cynthia Creem). This bill would establish a moratorium on unregulated government use of face recognition and other biometric monitoring technologies that can screen, identify, and surveil people from a distance without their awareness and without any privacy protections.
HD.1978 / SD.1229: An Act to Protect Electronic Privacy (Rep. Sarah Peake, Sen. Hariette Chandler). This bill would require a warrant for access to information about your cell phone and computer use.
HD.1710: An Act Relative to Access to Justice (Rep. Michael Day, Rep. Marjorie Decker). This bill would ensure that all victims, witnesses, defendants, and people with civil matters in court receive due process and are able to attend court proceedings in safety. Massachusetts courts must be places of redress and justice — for immigrants, and for all.