Category Archives: advocacy

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

It’s time for justice reform in Mass.

A poll out today from the policy group Mass INC is encouraging with 2-1 support for ending the long Mandatory Minimum sentences on drug convictions and for other reforms on CORI reform, felony theft threshold, reducing or ending fines and fees on ex-prisoners

WHEN IT COMES TO CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM, VOTERS WANT MORE — At least according to a new poll out this morning from MassINC Polling Group, which finds a bipartisan support for getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences and pursuing second chance reforms by a 2-1 margin.

Some 53 percent of voters believe incarceration currently does more harm than good – potentially opening the door for more aggressive reforms than are in the current criminal justice reform bill rolled out by Gov. Charlie Baker in February and backed by state House Speaker Robert DeLeo. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who supports the proposal, has also stated he wants to go further than Baker’s bill to delve into sentencing policy and bail practices – things this poll indicates the public has more of an appetite to pursue.

The poll also reveals bipartisan interest in reform, which could provide cover for both chambers in the legislature to pursue more progressive policies, like getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences and an emphasis on rehabilitation and prevention of future crimes – two things specifically favored on both sides of the aisle. “You see an appetite for changing things around, for trying something new and changing the realities of the criminal justice system of Massachusetts,” MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela told POLITICO. – Check out the toplines. Click on “Check out the toplines” for details of the  question and responses in the poll.

It’s important to organize meetings, calls, and letters to both your state representatives and senators that you support criminal justice reform and specifically name what that includes such as Ending Mandatory Minimum’s drug convictions and returning sentences to Judges, CORI Reform including reducing the number of years employers can see CORI’s to 7 years on felonies and 3 years on misdemeanors, reducing ending fines and fees like the $65 a month fee those on probation must pay, raising the threshold for what’s a felony from the 30 year old $250 level up to $1500, Diversion to Treatment, Juvenile Expungement and Raising the Age of Juvenile Court coverage.

–Thanks to Lew Finfer and Jobs not Jails for this update. Please submit YOUR post for this blog to emit.susan@gmail.com.

Add your voice to this letter

The “Big 4” Gov. Baker, Chief Justice Gants, Senate Pres. Rosenberg and House Speaker DeLeo received a 9-page letter from the Coalition for Effective Public Safety on justice reform for the 2017-18 legislative session, signed by 70-plus advocacy groups.
 
 
The deadline is Feb. 14, 2017. Sign today, add your comments and ask friends to join in this simple action. Post it on Facebook, and forward the invitation to your networks. CLICK HERE to sign.
Below are links to the one-page summary and the 9 page letter. This is a huge statewide effort. Please join us. THANK YOU.

UUCM speaker tackles mass incarcerations

This story ran in the Marblehead Wicked Local Paper. Meghann Perry and I are available to speak, fill the pulpit, set up a table to share solutions on what voters in Massachusetts can do to volunteer in prison or jail and to reform our justice and corrections systems.

Proponents of justice system reform believe that drug addiction should be treated as a health problem and not a crime, and that over-incarceration of the poor, mostly black males, is the civil rights issue of our time.”Reform takes baby steps and it takes a lot of people working together to make it happen,” said Susan Tordella, co-founder of End Mass Incarceration Together (EMIT), a task force of the Unitarian Universalist Church Mass Action Network. “It’s about breaking down barriers and

Source: UUCM speaker tackles mass incarcerations

Save 12/12 & 12/13; Plan for 2018

Sign a petition to end the unfair Electoral College that delivered Bush II and Trump, whose opponents won the popular vote. This antiquated tradition emanates from 1776 when our wealthy white founding fathers deemed that the people could not be trusted with the responsibility to directly elected the president. 

If California had its proportional number of electoral college 200 votes, instead of a measly 50, we would be feeling less afraid today for America’s future.  Click here to learn more and make others aware of the necessity to dump the Electoral College.

SAVE Monday, Dec. 12, 7-8 pm. Join a statewide EMIT conference call to hear updates on the Council of State Government’s process to evaluate our justice/corrections systems, AND what legislation they are proposing to Beacon Hill, based on their neutral research. 

SAVE Tuesday, Dec. 13, 10 am, Boston. Join our allies, Jobs not Jails, at a rally/press conference across from the State House at 140 Bowdoin Street, Church of the New Jerusalem to call on the four state leaders filing the criminal justice reform to include the six proposals of the Jobs NOT Jails Coalition.

Make our votes count – other states give hope for 2018 election — in this article from The Nation. In Massachusetts, 14 district attorneys  will be up for re-election. We need to support alternative candidates who do not intimidate the accused and force plea deals to avoid trials. We have the power to elect sane district attorneys who embrace restorative justice. Many Massachusetts sheriffs ran with no opponent for 6-year terms. We  must levereage our power through voting and running for office. 

Election Night Saw Victories in Local Criminal-Justice Reform—This Should Be the Beginning

Local prosecutor and sheriff races are winnable and build power.

  • Joe Arpaio Protest

For progressives, winter came early this year. It started around 8:30 pm on Tuesday, November 8 and has been growing steadily colder ever since. Republican control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, does not bode well for a range of issues close to the heart of American progressivism, from health care to immigration to the environment.

But, amid a sea of bad news that evening, there emerged an island of hope. It came, of all unlikely places, in Jefferson County, Alabama, home to Birmingham. On Wednesday morning, Brandon Falls, the incumbent Republican district attorney, conceded that he lost his seat to Charles Todd Henderson, who became the first Democrat to be elected district attorney in over a decade. Henderson won his race in deep-red Alabama by promising to end “mass incarceration of those with drug addictions and mental illness,” and by revealing that he is “not supportive of the death penalty nor incarcerating our children in adult jails and prisons.”

Henderson’s victory in Birmingham is no fluke. Until last year, district-attorney races tended to fly under the public radar. Elected prosecutors were routinely reelected, often running unopposed and, as a result, served for decades. When they did bother to campaign, their slogans frequently highlighted a record of sending as many people to prison for as long as possible. But that recipe for electoral success is changing. And, with increased attention to these races from extraordinary faith-based groups, community advocates, and local journalists, as well as an influx of support from national donors such as George Soros, progressive challengers are gaining footholds in local races across the country.

In Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, Republican Devon Anderson lost her seat to challenger Kim Ogg, who has promised to overhaul drug prosecutions and has criticized the DA’s office for seeking the death penalty too often. The same basic story emerged in Hillsborough County, Florida, which includes Tampa, where incumbent Republican Mark Ober lost to challenger Andrew Warren. Earlier this year, elected prosecutors lost their primary races to more progressive, reform-minded candidates in Albuquerque, Chicago, Denver, and Jacksonville. In Corpus Christi, Texas, Mark Gonzalez, a criminal-defense lawyer and Democrat with the words “NOT GUILTY” tattooed on his chest, became the district attorney–elect this week.

These local electoral victories are not limited to prosecutor races. In Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his fearmongering, cruel and degrading tactics, and barbaric crackdown on immigrants, lost his election. The Harris County sheriff was defeated as well. Nor does the momentum for reform within local district-attorney and sheriff offices exclusively revolve around elections. In Seattle, a partnership among community groups, the public defender, law enforcement, and the King County District Attorney’s Office led to the creation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which steers people arrested for drug offenses and prostitution away from prosecution and into services aimed at decreasing recidivism such as drug treatment and job training. LEAD, which began in Seattle in 2011, spread to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2014, and to Albany, New York, earlier this year.

These victories represent tangible progress in the ongoing struggle among a dedicated band of progressive advocates in the fight for a more humane and sensible justice system, one that strives to keep us safe while simultaneously treating people fairly and conserving taxpayer dollars.

More importantly, though, this string of successes shows the enormous promise of focusing on both criminal-justice reform and American progressivism more broadly at the local level. While significant advances in climate change and immigration reform require congressional action, criminal-justice reform is an entirely different beast. The center of gravity for meaningful reform tends to be local. Should police officers use stop and frisk tactics? Conduct invasive raids of homes while investigating nonviolent offenses? Use military style vehicles? Those are decisions made by individual police departments or city councils, and are influenced by community advocates. Should prosecutors ask for bail, and how much? Prosecute nonviolent drug possession cases? Prosecute homelessness related offenses, such as sit-sleep-lie bans? Transfer juveniles to adult court? Seek the death penalty? For those decisions, too, local politics matter.

Local criminal-justice reform also serves as a bulwark against the worst impulses of Trumpism. What happens when a Donald Trump Justice Department, perhaps led by Rudolph Giuliani, refuses to intervene when a local police chief suppresses the speech of citizens who are protesting? How about when law enforcement fails to address targeted attacks on our most vulnerable citizens, such as ripping off a Muslim woman’s hijab? Mayors appoint police chiefs. So, here, too, local politics matter. If Trump continues to say that the Central Park Five should be executed, advocate for a national stop-and-frisk program, or claim falsely that the murder rate is at a 45-year high (it is not; in fact, 2015 had one of the lowest rates in 45 years), this use of the bully pulpit may stir local law enforcement and prosecutors into retributive excess. Resources and attention at the local level are an antidote to this fearmongering, allowing advocates and journalists to douse the flames before they can commence a second age of mass incarceration.

The election of Donald Trump may send forth global tremors in many areas. But it changes very little on issues related to criminal-justice reform as practiced at the local level. Roughly 50 million people live in just 15 of the counties that Clinton won this week. Some of these counties voted for Clinton by a margin of 2-1. If disheartened citizens and advocates chose to refocus their resources and attention to pushing reforms in these places, they could quickly see significant gains in the battle to end mass incarceration and help secure relief for millions of Americans.

Moreover, in 2017, there will be district-attorney races in several progressive strongholds. We know that there are over 100 such races in 2018. And that number does not include sheriff races. Nor does it include city-council members and county commissioners who shape budgets and priorities or mayors who appoint police chiefs. Progressive power could be particularly potent in urban areas, where so many progressive advocates reside, and where the need for reform is profound. Unlike at the federal (and often state) level, the population most burdened by overzealous prosecution and policing also possesses the most power to influence local politics.

Criminal-justice reform is not among many progressives’ priorities, but this local analysis shows why it should be. First, in places like Durham, North Carolina, traditional Democratic strongholds with large black populations situated in swing states, investing in local criminal-justice reform could help with voter turnout in 2018 and 2020. Given the narrow margins that tend to accompany wins in states like North Carolina, voter mobilization in these locations is incredibly important for progressives. Investment in criminal-justice reform at the local level creates a strong infrastructure that includes organizers, church leaders and civil-rights organizations. Unlike “out-of-town swoop down” get out the vote efforts, local power in the criminal-justice space draws on strong preexisting relationships, communications channels, and mobilization infrastructure. Most importantly, though, creating the energy to mobilize around local races serves as an insurance policy against national candidates who are less than inspiring.

One reason Clinton lost Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all by relatively small margins—is a persistent inability to connect with working-class white voters. Criminal-justice reform is an issue that can bridge this divide. Most people—black, white, brown, and Asian—have a family member, a neighbor, or a friend who struggles with mental illness and addiction. For many of us, and especially for those who struggle financially, those addictions inevitably intersect with the criminal justice system. White people, too, and especially marginalized white people who feel that government has abandoned them, struggle to pay overly punitive fines and fees, languish in jail because they cannot afford unnecessarily high bail, and struggle to find employment after convictions for marijuana possession and other low-level offenses. White people, too, are treated as disposable by the criminal-justice system.

There is also an opportunity to connect the massive taxpayer investment in stop-and-frisk and other programs that do not reduce violent crime with overly intrusive government, overzealous and unaccountable public servants, and colossal misuses of resources. Indeed, these are exactly the rationales that have propelled conservatives and libertarians, such as Right on Crime and the Koch brothers, into criminal-justice reform.

Finally, focusing on criminal-justice reform, especially at the local level, helps to create a pipeline of future progressive leaders. First, as an issue, criminal-justice reform is particularly compelling and often very personal, especially among those who have watched our broken system destroy the lives of family members and neighbors. A strong, progressive local criminal-justice reform community is able to attract and recruit the next generation of prosecutors, sheriffs, and other local officials.

These local officials become powerful in statewide prosecutor and police associations, groups with enormous influence at the statehouse, and often become state legislators, judges, attorney generals, and governors. Kamala Harris, who was elected to the United States Senate this week, is a striking example. She started as the district attorney of San Francisco County, became California’s attorney general, and now she’s headed to Congress. Who knows, perhaps the pathway from criminal-justice reformer to progressive visionary will take her all the way to the White House.

CSG plugs along toward proposing reforms

In response to activists requests for justice and corrections systems reform and a plethora of bills before the state Legislature in the last 2015-16 term, Gov. Baker convened a 25- member panel of electeds and state bureaucrats. They have partnered with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to propose an omnibus bill [a multi-faced reform bill] in Jan. 2017.  What follows is an update on that process of monthly meetings from the State House News Servce, summarizing activity and research by the CSG, a neutral non-profit that advises state governments on best-practices.

By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 20, 2016…..Discussions of recidivism and community supervision slated for this fall are among the final steps in a process policymakers hope will result in reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.

After months studying recidivism trends, drivers of incarceration and other elements of criminal justice in Massachusetts, researchers from the Council on State Governments Justice Center plan to gather with a 25-member working group in December to go over final policy recommendations.

Those recommendations would then become the basis for legislation expected to be filed in January.

The Justice Center’s review launched after Gov. Charlie Baker, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo reached out in August 2015, requesting support in an effort to study the system and institute new data-driven and cost-effective practices.

In a letter to center staff, the four officials expressed hope that the the analysis would help them “better understand how we can further reduce recidivism and enable successful re-entry, and whether we can further reduce our prison and jail populations through early release programs while ensuring appropriate punishment and preserving public safety.”

Baker, Gants, Rosenberg, DeLeo and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito sit on a steering committee guiding the development of policy options.

The working group, which includes representatives from law enforcement, legal services, the judiciary, Legislature and executive branch, has held three public meetings so far, during which members have offered their reactions and suggestions to data presented by Justice Center researchers.

Three more meetings are planned for rest of the year, building towards a policy discussion before the start of the new legislative session in January.

The first, tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Oct. 20, will explore prisoner release, reentry and recidivism, according to Justice Center spokesman Robert Busweiler.

A November meeting focused on community supervision will be followed by the December policy framework discussion, Busweiler said. Dates for those meetings have not yet been set.

Several criminal justice reform efforts this session stalled despite pushes from advocates and interest groups.

A series of Senate-backed bills — creating a medical parole program for terminally ill inmates (S 2433); raising the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500 (S 2176); and a package of juvenile justice reforms including expungement of certain juvenile misdemeanor records (S 2176) — were not taken up in the House before the July 31 end of formal sessions and have remained before the House Ways and Means Committee.

New laws passed this session ended automatic driver’s licenses suspensions for most drug crimes unrelated to motor vehicles; banned the practice of sending women civilly committed for addiction treatment to a state prison in Framingham; and increased the penalties for trafficking of the opiate fentanyl.

Lawmakers have been awaiting the findings of the outside review before tackling other major justice system reforms.

Advocates, too, are watching with interest as the process enters its final months. The Jobs Not Jails Coalition, which rallied on Beacon Hill repeatedly last year in support of sentencing legislation and other reforms, is now working to determine its criminal justice priorities.

The coalition hopes to have its priorities finalized in October, and will then bring them to the steering committee of “decision makers” working with the researchers, said Lew Finfer, a coalition member and director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

“There’s definitely a lot of things we think about,” Finfer said. He said potential reforms could be viewed through “three frameworks” — changes that would affect people before they are incarcerated, while they are in prison, and after release.

If new laws do result from the recommendations, Justice Center staff will then work with policymakers for two to three years, developing implementation plans, providing progress reports, and testifying before relevant committees. According to a January overview of the project, the state will be able to apply for federal grants to meet “important one-time implementation needs, such as information technology upgrades and ongoing quality assurance outcomes.”

Justice Center staff also plan to help state officials identify metrics and monitoring strategies to gauge the impact of new policies on crime, incarceration and recidivism.

END
09/20/2016

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