Author Archives: Susan

About Susan

I'm an advocate for justice in Massachusetts and bring Toastmasters programs and volunteers into prisons.

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.

OK Bay State, catch up with Louisiana

The governor of Louisiana just signed 10 bills to overhaul their justice and corrections systems. Massachusetts sadly lags behind reform. We in Massachusetts must copy Louisiana, where grassroots activism, testifying at the statehouse and in the media, and direct, face-to-face contact with their elected officials fueled success.

 

CONTACT ME, emit [dot] susan [at] g mail if you live in Massachusetts and want EMIT to to assist you to take the most effective action: making a face-to-face visit with your state rep, near where you live. Find your state rep here. It’s your state rep’s JOB to listen to your concerns and requests.

We have held small group dialogues of constituents with with dozens of lawmakers from across the state, including Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, speaker of the House of Representatives.

To enact comprehensive reform similar to Louisiana, a series of bills is required. The sponsors of each bill insure they have support before asking Speaker DeLeo to bring a bill forward for a vote of the whole body.

We must capture the attention of every state representative this session, which runs from January 2017-July 2018. Take action today and contact EMIT — emit [dot] susan [at] g mail. We have a team of volunteers standing by to set up appointments and attend them with you and a small group of other registered voters from your district.

The Practical Case for Parole for Violent Offenders

From the NY Times                 By MARC MORJÉ HOWARD                     AUG. 8, 2017
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An inmate at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama. Credit: William Widmer for The New York Times

The American criminal justice system is exceptional, in the worst way possible: It combines exceptionally coercive plea bargaining, exceptionally long sentences, exceptionally brutal prison conditions and exceptionally difficult obstacles to societal re-entry.

This punitiveness makes us stand out as uniquely inhumane in comparison with other industrialized countries. To remedy this, along with other changes, we must consider opening the exit doors — and not just for the “easy” cases of nonviolent drug offenders. Yes, I’m suggesting that we release some of the people who once committed serious, violent crimes.

There’s widespread agreement that current practices are unsustainable. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The grim reality of American justice is that there are 2.3 million people behind bars, five million on parole or probation, 20 million with felony convictions and over 70 million with a criminal record.

That’s why sentencing reform — mainly consisting of reduced penalties for drug-related crimes — has received bipartisan support at both the federal and state levels. But this isn’t enough. We should also bring back discretionary parole — release before a sentence is completed — even for people convicted of violent crimes if they’ve demonstrated progress during their imprisonment.

Other democracies regularly allow such prisoners to be granted reduced sentences or conditional release. But in the United States the conversation about this common-sense policy became politicized decades ago. As a result, discretionary parole has largely disappeared in most states and was eliminated in the federal system. Prisoners whose sentences include a range of years — such as 15 to 25 years, or 25 years to life — can apply to their state’s parole board for discretionary parole, but they almost always face repeated denials and are sent back to wither away behind bars despite evidence of rehabilitation. (Inmates who have served their maximum sentence are released on what is called mandatory parole.)

But this fear-driven thinking is irrational, counterproductive and inhumane. It bears no connection to solid research on how criminals usually “age out” of crime, especially if they have had educational and vocational opportunities while incarcerated. It permanently excludes people who would be eager to contribute to society as law-abiding citizens, while taxpayers spend over $30,000 a year to house each prisoner. And it deprives hundreds of thousands of people of a meaningful chance to earn their freedom.

But are prisoners who have served long sentences for violent crimes genuinely capable of reforming and not reoffending? The evidence says yes. In fact, only about 1 percent of people convicted of homicide are arrested for homicide again after their release. Moreover, a recent “natural experiment” in Maryland is very telling. In 2012, the state’s highest court decided that Maryland juries in the 1970s had been given faulty instructions. Some defendants were retried, but many others accepted plea bargains for time served and were released. As a result, about 150 people who had been deemed the “worst of the worst” have been let out of prison — and none has committed a new crime or even violated parole.

This outcome may sound surprising, but having spent one afternoon a week for the past three years teaching in a maximum-security prison in Maryland, I’m not shocked at all. Many of the men I teach would succeed on the outside if given the chance. They openly recognize their past mistakes, deeply regret them and work every day to grow, learn and make amends. Many of them are serving life sentences with a theoretical chance of parole, but despite submitting thick dossiers of their accomplishments in prison along with letters of support from their supervisors and professors, they are routinely turned down.

Over the past several years, I have brought in hundreds of Georgetown students for tours that include a meeting with a panel of prisoners, and I have accompanied nearly 50 academic colleagues who have delivered lectures to my incarcerated students. Without fail, the things that stand out to visitors are the same things that haunt me: the compassion, engagement and intellect of people who made terrible mistakes long ago but should not be perpetually defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done.

Until recently the political situation was favorable to bipartisan criminal justice reform. But the election of a self-described “law and order candidate,” the doubling of the stock prices of private-prison companies and the return of the discredited war on drugs gives an indication of the direction of the current administration.

But whenever a real discussion about reform does come, policy makers should look beyond the boundaries of the United States.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that all long-term prisoners should be released nor that the perspectives of crime victims should be ignored. Serious crimes warrant long sentences. But other democracies provide better models for running criminal justice and prison systems. Perhaps we could learn from them and acquire a new mind-set — one that treats prisons as sites to temporarily separate people from society while creating opportunities for personal growth, renewal and eventual re-entry of those who are ready for it.

Marc Morjé Howard is the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown, where he is a professor of government and law, and is the author of “Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism.”

FREE event 6/16 at Harvard Law on redefining prosecutor’s role

prosecutor's role in Massachusetts

Friday, June 16, 20179:30am4:30pm
Wasserstein Hall, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Join the Houston Institute and the ACLU for a daylong conference at Harvard Law School titled: “Redefining the Role of the Prosecutor within the Community.”

Prosecutors are key actors within our current justice system and possess an enormous amount of discretion about who is charged, for what, and the severity of the sentence received. Additionally, prosecutors wield power in state legislatures, in determining how tax dollars are spent, and in prioritizing rehabilitation or retribution in these decisions.

Yet, we know surprisingly little about how these decisions are made, why, and the pressures and incentives that inform prosecutorial actions and cultures. In the past several years, grassroots organizations, justice reform advocates and scholars have taken a more critical look at the role of prosecutors in building historic rates of incarceration, and have begun to define a more expansive set of metrics for measuring their performance.

In the morning, we will identify and discuss new models for prosecution and hear from former prosecutors about their experiences and insights. We will then hear brief presentations from economist John Pfaff about his research regarding the impact of prosecutorial decisions on incarceration rates, and from Measures for Justice on new ways to measure “justice outcomes” within a community. Our afternoon panel and ensuing discussion will focus on creating and implementing models for community engagement and oversight.

Confirmed speakers/organizations include:

  • Adam Foss
  • John Pfaff, Author of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform
  • Measures for Justice
  • Miriam Krinsky, Fair and Just Prosecution
  • Color Of Change
  • PICO

This event will be free and open to the public. More details to come!

RSVP Here

June 5 & 19 Judiciary Hearings Set

Activists are preparing to fill the hearing rooms at the Statehouse when the Judiciary Committee – where most bills for justice/corrections reform are heard, reviews juvenile justice, CORI reform and more.

We recommend using public transit or taking the bus from Worcester on June 5 and June 19 hearing. See below for info.

1. Monday June 5 at 1:00 in Room A 1
Hearing covers
  a. Justice Reinvestment Act, CORI reform, Ending punitive Fines and Fees, Raising the Felony Theft Threshold,Ending Mandatory Minimum Sentences on Drug Convictions etc.
  b. Juvenile Justice bills on the Expungement of Juvenile Misdemeanors and Raising the age of those covered under the Juvenile Justice system.
2. Monday June 19 at 1:00 probably in Room A 1 AND Proceeded by 12:00 Rally at place to be determined at the State House
Covers Repeal of long Mandatory Minimum sentences on drug convictions
Covers the Governor’s CSG bill with the limited reforms it calls for
Covers bills on Solitary

STAND IN SOLIDARITY TO SUPPORT CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM WITH EPOCA ON JUNE 5TH.  BUSES LEAVING FROM 4 KING ST.WORCESTER,MA.