Author Archives: Susan

About Susan

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

Would Paul McCartney or Bono get the same treatment as Rapper Meek Mill?

Jay-Z: The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill
A Philadelphia judge sentenced the rapper Meek Mill to two to four years in prison for violating probation.
By JAY-Z                November 17, 2017
This month Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation. #FreeMeek hashtags have sprung up, and hundreds of his fans rallied near City Hall in Philadelphia to protest the ruling.
On the surface, this may look like the story of yet another criminal rapper who didn’t smarten up and is back where he started. But consider this: Meek was around 19 when he was convicted on charges relating to drug and gun possession, and he served an eight-month sentence. Now he’s 30, so he has been on probation for basically his entire adult life. For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.
What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day. I saw this up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew.
Taxpayers in Philadelphia, Meek Mill’s hometown, will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him locked up, and I bet none of them would tell you his imprisonment is helping to keep them safer. He’s there because of arrests for a parole violation, and because a judge overruled recommendations by a prosecutor and his probation officer that he doesn’t deserve more jail time. That’s why I stopped my show in Dallas last week to talk about Meek.
Look at what he’s being punished for now:
In March, he was arrested after an altercation in a St. Louis airport. After video of what had actually happened was released, all charges were dropped against Meek. In August, he was arrested for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle on his video set in New York. Those charges will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble.
Think about that. The charges were either dropped or dismissed, but the judge sent him to prison anyway.
The specifics of Meek’s case inspired me to write this. But it’s time we highlight the random ways people trapped in the criminal justice system are punished every day. The system treats them as a danger to society, consistently monitors and follows them for any minor infraction — with the goal of putting them back in prison.
As of 2015, one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were black. Black people are sent to prison for probation and parole violations at much higher rates than white people.
In Pennsylvania, hundreds of thousands of people are on probation or parole. About half of the people in city jails in Philadelphia are there for probation or parole violations. We could literally shut down jails if we treated people on parole or probation more fairly.
And that’s what we need to fight for in Philadelphia and across the country.
The racial-justice organization Color of Change is working with people in Philadelphia to pressure the courts there and make that vision a reality. Probation is a trap and we must fight for Meek and everyone else unjustly sent to prison.
 
Correction: November 17, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated details of a New York criminal case involving Meek Mill. The case will be dismissed in the spring if he is not arrested again; it was not dismissed on condition of his attending traffic school.
Jay-Z is a philanthropist and musician. Meek Mill is signed to his entertainment company, Roc Nation.
Advertisements

Influence & inform your state rep AGAIN ! It’s critical & timely

TODAY, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, the Massachusetts House will hopefully start debating on 212 possible amendments to its big criminal justice reform bill, and we expect a vote on the bill by WednesdayWe’re in the final stretch!

We need YOUR HELP to make this bill as strong as possible. Here are three things you can do:

(1)  Email your state rep the attached list of requested votes.  The list includes “YES” votes on amendments that would help make our justice system more fair and effective, and critically important “NO” votes.   The list itself is simple, to make it easy for state reps to use.   Click here for the list:  H 4011 Requested Votes

Check whether your state rep sponsored any of the positive amendments.  If so, thank them for that.  (You can look up your state rep at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

Use a subject line like “Vote requests for H.4011 & amendments.”  The body of the email can be short and sweet:

Dear Representative XXX,

I am excited by the current opportunity for comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.  [Thank you especially for your leadership on YYY.]

I hope you will help make our justice system more fair and effective by voting on amendments to H.4011 as requested in the attached document.

Most importantly, I hope H.4011 will pass with a resounding majority.

Thank you!

(2)  Attend any part of the House debate.  The House will likely start to debate this bill  at around 1 p.m on MondayTuesday, and Wednesday (Nov. 13-15).

 Sometimes sessions go well into the evening. You call the State House at 617-722-2000 and ask whether the House is still in session.
Email or text your state rep to tell them you’re there and/or drop by their office to say hi to their staff and possibly drop off a paper copy of the amendments requests.
Wear light-colored or bright-colored clothing with a message printed or a button, and sit in the front row of the balcony (which is on the fourth floor).  We want our presence to be known and visible!
(3)  Share this email with anyone you think might want to help improve our Commonwealth’s justice system.

Thank you for anything you can do!  
Activists [like YOU] have created the momentum for this exciting opportunity for several years. PLEASE email your rep the list of amendments RIGHT NOW.

Here’s hoping for a strong bill with a 2/3 veto-proof majority . . .
Susan Tordella
Thanks to EMIT core members Lori Kenschaft for compiling the email and the list of amendments, and for Lauren Gibbs additions.
 
And thanks to YOU for participating in our democracy, to correct some of the worst injustices of our time.

14 KEY Amendments & sponsors to H 4011

For all tireless justice and corrections systems advocates, H 4011, An Act to Reform Criminal Justice, is poised to be debated by the Mass. House of Representatives Nov. 12, 13, 14. Here are the latest amendments EMIT is advocating for. You can copy and paste and email to your state rep. Find your state rep here. 

NOW IS THE TIME to email your state rep! Don’t wait. We expect legislators to finalize it by Nov. 17.  Even if you’ve previously contacted your rep, the amendments and sponsors are NEW. Encourage him/her to co-sponsor & support them.

Dear Rep ___,
As your constituent, I urge you to vote for H4011, and to co-sponsor and advocate for the following amendments, to rebuild lives, prevent incarceration, and save money. Justice reform is bi-partisan and the Omnibus Bill offers a huge opportunity for all of us.
 
These amendments would enhance the bill significantly:
 

• Felony larceny threshold – Rep. Linsky:  Taise the level of what constitutes a felony to $1,500 — the level it would almost be if the threshold had kept up with inflation;


• Fines and Fees – Rep. Keefe:  Eliminate parole fees, and also public counsel fees for people who are indigent;

• Justice reinvestment — Rep. O’Day:  Track the savings generated from reducing the prison population, and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other supports to further reduce unemployment and recidivism;

• Juvenile diversion — Rep. Cahill:  Allow statewide pre-arraignment diversion for young people;

 
• Juvenile expungement — Reps. Dykema, Khan and Decker:  Strengthen the House bill’s expungement provisions;  Rep. Khan is filing an amendment to allow some juvenile records to be sealed in 4 years (rather than 10);
 

• Mandatory minimums #1 – Reps. Carvalho and Keefe:  Repeal mandatory minimums for all non-violent drug sentences;

• Mandatory minimums #2 – Reps. Carvalho and Keefe:  Repeal the “school zone” mandatory minimum;

• Medical parole #1 — Rep. Connolly:  Make people with permanent cognitive incapacitation (think dementia) eligible, in keeping with the Senate bill;

• Medical parole #2 — Rep. Connolly:  Lengthen the terminal prognosis from 12 months to 18 months, in keeping with the Senate bill;

• Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction — Rep. Carvalho and Rep. Khan:  Raise the lower age to 12 and the upper age to 19 ;

 

• Romeo & Juliet — Rep. Lewis:  Don’t prosecute teens who are close in age and engage in consensual sexual activity;

• School-based arrests — Rep. Vega:  Reduce school-based arrests for adolescent misbehavior like disorderly conduct and disturbing an assembly;

 
• Shackling — Rep. Khan:  Codify current court policy prohibiting indiscriminate shackling of juveniles;
 
• Solitary — Rep. Balser:  Further limit the use of solitary confinement and provide data on its use.
​Sincerely,
Your name & address
prosecutor's role in Massachusetts

Crucial time to make a burning call

Could you take a minute to call or email your state representative and ask them to support H.4011, the criminal justice reform bill?  
 
Could you ask someone else to do the same?  (Find legislators at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)
Do you want to help strengthen the bill?  Are you curious about this process and want a little bit of civics education?  If so, keep reading.
For context — Proposed amendments must be filed by Nov. 9, and will be voted on early next week, right before the bill itself.  The more legislators co-sponsor an amendment before it is filed, the politically stronger it is.  They can co-sponsor after tomorrow too, but the political impact is smaller.  The Senate bill of An Act to Reform Criminal Justice had 162 proposed amendments, so I suspect plenty of amendments will be filed for the House bill too.
The dilemma — People who want real criminal justice reform face a balancing act.
On the one hand, we want the House bill to be as strong as possible.  After next week’s vote, the House and Senate bills will go to a conference committee, whose job it is to hash out a bill that both the House and the Senate will be willing to support in a yes/no vote (no amendments allowed).  The stronger the House bill, the stronger the final bill is likely to be.  If a provision in the House bill is amended to match the language in the Senate bill, that’s one less thing to negotiate over.  Note that sometimes the House language is better than the Senate language.
On the other hand, the most important thing is to get a law out of this long process.  That means either getting Governor Baker’s support or having enough votes to override a veto.  To be veto-proof, a bill needs two-thirds support in both the House and the Senate.  If the final bill is so ambitious that it can’t get that level of support, we could really lose.
Legislators are now trying to get a sense of how much support various amendments would have.  Would plenty of state reps vote for this amendment?  Does it risk undermining support for the bill as a whole?  How far to push?  How cautious to be?  Massachusetts has 160 state representatives, so that’s a lot of people to talk with.
My suggestion — I don’t have perfect answers to these questions, and I don’t think anyone does.  I do, however, believe it would be helpful for you to ask your state rep to co-sponsor the following 12 possible amendments that are actively being discussed:
+  Raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction to 12 (not just 10);
+  Raise the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to 19;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,500 (the level it would be if it had kept up with inflation);
+  Reduce the criminalization of poverty by further reducing or eliminating fines and fees;
+  Eliminate mandatory minimums for all lower-level drug offenses;
+  Raise the thresholds for trafficking (they are currently what someone with a serious substance abuse issue would use in a few days, so would entrap users);
+  Increase pre-arraignment diversion options for juveniles (since getting a court record can affect someone for the rest of their life);
+  Allow juvenile records to be eligible for expungement after 3 years (H.4011 says 10 years, which is a very long time);
+  Put into statute that juveniles are not to be shackled without a specific reason;
+  Follow the advice of Citizens for Juvenile Justice on what juvenile data is important to collect;
+  Protect children by considering primary caretakers’ parental responsibilities when sentencing; and
+  Track the savings from reduced prison populations and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other support for re-entry.
If this makes sense to you, I suggest you make this a two-step process.  First, call your state rep and tell them (or their aide) that you are asking them to vote for H.4011 and co-sponsor some amendments that would strengthen it.  Tell them you will email a list of a dozen amendments, so they will have them in writing rather than taking notes on the phone.  Then, follow up with the email as soon as you get off the phone.  A draft email is below.  Feel free to shorten the list.
It’s helpful for state reps to hear from constituents while making political judgment calls.  It gives them more information, and it lets them tell other legislators they are getting pressure from their constituents.  Most importantly, it lets them know we’re paying attention.  They may or may not do exactly what we ask in any particular decision, but they also have knowledge that we don’t.  When we work together, better decisions get made.
Now more than ever, I believe, it’s important for citizens to understand and participate in our democratic political process.
— Lori Kenschaft, EMIT Core Member
Blog editor’s note: Here are two more amendments that will insure humane treatment for incarcerated people and save the state money:
*  Rep. Balser’s amendments to limit the Department of Corrections’ cruel over-reliance of solitary confinement and to provide data on its use; and
* Rep. Connolly’s two amendments to broaden medical parole for incapacitated and terminally ill inmates, which will save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
————————————————————-Draft Email—————————————————-
Dear Rep. ________,
Thank you for talking with me today.  [Or, “I want to thank your aide, [name here], for speaking with me today.]
As I said on the phone, I encourage you to vote for the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, H.4011, and for amendments to strengthen it.
In particular, I encourage you to co-sponsor and vote for the following amendments:
+  Raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction to 12 (not just 10);
+  Raise the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to 19;
+  Reduce the criminalization of poverty by further reducing or eliminating fines and fees;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,500 (the level it would be if it had kept up with inflation);
+  Eliminate mandatory minimums for all lower-level drug offenses;
+  Raise the thresholds for trafficking (they are currently what someone with a serious substance abuse issue would use in a few days, so would entrap users);
+  Increase pre-arraignment diversion options for juveniles (since getting a court record can affect someone for the rest of their life);
+  Allow juvenile records to be eligible for expungement after 3 years (H.4011 says 10 years, which is a very long time);
+  Put into statute that juveniles are not to be shackled without a specific reason;
+  Follow the advice of Citizens for Juvenile Justice on what juvenile data is important to collect;
+  Protect children by considering primary caretakers’ parental responsibilities when sentencing;
+  Track the savings from reduced prison populations and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other supports;
+  Rep. Balser’s amendments to limit the Department of Corrections’ cruel over-reliance of solitary confinement and to provide data on its use; and
+  Rep. Connolly’s amendments to broaden medical parole for incapacitated and terminally ill inmates, which will save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thank you for putting more justice into our justice system.
Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your address and phone number]
epoca filled the statehouse June 9, 2015 to let the judiciary committee know that the time for reform is NOW.

STORM THE STATEHOUSE! Reform within reach

Thanks to the continued actions of voters, Massachusetts state legislators are poised to take a giant step toward comprehensive justice and corrections systems reform by their Nov. 17, 2017 recess.

The state Senate passed an omnibus bill, S. 2185, on Oct. 27 contatining a series of reforms. The House introduced its own version, H 4011, An Act To Reform Criminal Justice this week, and they are expected to debate it Nov. 14 or 15.

The burning actions to take are: 

  1. Call and email your state rep AGAIN ! and remind him/her you support the SENATE version of reform, which covers more ground, and ask them to vote for amendments to strengthen the House version.

Ask like-minded friends to do the same- forward the note below. Identify your state rep & contact info here.

  1. Storm the Statehouse in person wearing buttons, t-shirts and stickers to broadcast your position.

There are several options.                                       summary of House justice reform bill

  • Weds. Nov. 8“Raise the Age Lobby Day”. Join young people of I Have a Future at 3 p.m.at the State House grand staircase.  https://www.facebook.com/events/776630415841283/
  • Monday, Nov 13, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO)rally for comprehensive criminal justice reform, 1 p.m.at the State House grand staircase.
  • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:Nov 14 or 15, attend debates in the House of Representatives to amend and discuss the particulars. Legislators want to see supporters in attendance. The sessions usually start at 11 am or 1 pm. More to come on specifics.

​Some aspects of the House bill we would like to see strengthened to be in line with the Senate version:

  • Raise the felony threshold to $1500. The House proposed it to be $750. It was last set in the 1980s at $250.
  • Allow greater permisiveness for juveniles to avoid incarceration, and to expunge their records.
  • Include the Romeo and Juliet clause to decriminalize sex between minors of the same age.
  • Provide pre-trial services and eliminate incarcerating people between arrest and trial because of poverty.

Here is an email to share with like-minded friends. THANKS for taking action. See you when we STORM THE STATEHOUSE next week.

STORM THE STATEHOUSE email to forward

Please call your state rep before Nov. 13 to encourage him or her to support  H4011, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform. We are exhilarated to be on the cusp of giant steps of reform with the Omnibus Bill, the culmination of more than five years of baby steps.

Please share this email with like-minded friends anywhere in Massachusetts to encourage them to call and email their state representatives. The state Senate passed a stronger version of the Omnibus Bill on Oct. 27.

Attached is an info sheet with details on the House version of the bill.

Identify and optain contact info for your state rep here: https://openstates.org/

Please call, re-call and email your rep. If you get voice mail, ask for a return call from the rep and/or aide.

Here are talking points.

“My name is _____. I am a constituent of Rep._____. I am calling to urge Rep._____ to support H 4011, An Act to Reform Criminal Justice, during the House debate next week. This Omnibus Bill will bring much needed, long overdue, comprehensive reform to our state’s justice and corrections systems.”

“Activists and legislators have campaigned for reform for more than five years, to reduce the number of incarcerated people, to insure humane treatment while incarcerated, and to reduce recidivism.”

“Please support amendments that would more closely align the Senate and House versions of the bill.”

“Now is the time for reform. Many people believe that the system wastes too much money and destroys too many lives.”

“I will be watching to see how Rep. ____ votes on this bill, and share that information with my circle of friends in town. Thank you.”

THANK YOU

Statehouse rally Oct 12, reform in reach

Some degree of comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts is likely in the next few months.  The question is how much.

The MA State Senate is expected to vote on its omnibus bill, S.2170, sometime in the next two weeks, perhaps on October 19th.  The House omnibus bill will probably be reported out shortly after that, and Speaker DeLeo said he hopes it will be voted on and the two bills sent to a conference committee before Thanksgiving.  Depending on how arduous that process is, we might have comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts by the end of December.  Exciting times indeed!

The biggest dangers here are that the Senate bill may be weakened by amendments, the House bill might be a lot weaker than the Senate bill, and the resulting law might not have much impact.

There may also be an opportunity to strengthen the Senate bill, especially its provisions regarding the conditions of solitary confinement.

If the proposed MA Senate omnibus became law, it would improve thousands of people’s lives.  Among other things, it would:

+  Reduce fees, fines, and other collateral consequences that trap people in a cycle of poverty and recidivism;
+  Raise the age for being tried as an adult to 19, with a mechanism to consider raising it to 20 or 21 in the future;
+  Promote the use of restorative justice;
+  Repeal mandatory minimums for lower-level drug offenses;
+  Expand eligibility for diversion to drug treatment;
+  Implement the SJC ruling that bail must be affordable;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500, in keeping with other states;
+  Allow records to be sealed after 3 years for misdemeanors and 7 years for felonies;
+  Restrict the use of solitary confinement and improve its conditions;
+  Provide for medical release of people who are incapacitated or terminally ill; and
+  Decriminalize disturbing a school assembly and sexual activitiy between young people close in age, also know as the Romeo and Juliet provision.

Six things you can do to help make real reform a reality:

(1)  Come to a rally for criminal justice reform today — Thursday, October 12 — 11 a.m. on the grand staircase in the State House.

(2)  Call or email your state senator and ask them to vote for the criminal justice reform omnibus bill, S.2170, without amendments that would compromise its goals.  You could add a request that they support amendments that would further improve the conditions of solitary confinement.

(3)  Call or email your state representative and ask them to make sure that Rep. Claire Cronin, the House Judiciary Committee co-chair, knows that they support a strong omnibus bill.  You could add that you hope the House bill will include some or all of the priorities listed above.  (You can look up your legislators at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

(4)  Send letters to the editor to your local paper explaining why you think these issues are important and supporting the Senate omnibus bill.

(5)  Write supportive comments (questions are fine too) on Sen. Will Brownsberger’s blog at https://willbrownsberger.com/senate-criminal-justice-reform-package/

(6)  Share this information with your friends (by social media, email, or good old-fashioned conversation) and tell them you’re excited by this opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Lori Kenschaft

On behalf of EMIT leadership team

EMIT — End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots all-volunteer working group of Unitarian Universalism Mass Action Network

The only way to reform our state’s judicial and corrections systems is through a number of bills passed over several years.
This requires regular contact with your state legislators.

​EMIT
End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots volunteer
working group of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network
http://www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com

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