Category Archives: advocacy

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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This is cause for hope

This article published on The Marshall Project, an online news agency founded by former New York Times journalists, is dedicated to reform of our country’s justice and corrections systems.

FILED 7:15 a.m.
01.19.2016

Massachusetts Mobilizes to Treat Addicted Moms

Jail time increasingly gives way to residential programs.

Clients at the Edwina Martin House take part in a music expression therapy class in the home’s living room on Jan. 6, 2016. MEREDITH DERBY BERG

Kayla Duggan, a heroin addict, had just started a one-year jail sentence in Massachusetts when she was startled to learn she was pregnant. Only a few months earlier she had given birth to a baby girl who was immediately taken into foster care and whom Duggan then gave up for adoption.

This story was produced in collaboration with Fusion.

This time she wanted to be part of her child’s life.

Her chance came about because of a policy changes in Massachusetts in which women addicts, particularly mothers, are increasingly directed to intensive drug treatment and away from time behind bars.

Duggan, who was imprisoned in late 2012 for a domestic violence and drug related conviction, was paroled after serving four months of her sentence and entered a residential drug-treatment program for mothers run by Spectrum Health Systems. Spectrum, a private company that works with the Department of Correction, also has smaller outpatient clinics across the state. Duggan gave birth to her son, Giovanni, while living there, still under correction department custody, and remained until he was six months old. Afterward she moved into a Boston halfway house.

“I got a beautiful second chance to be a mother to my son,” said Duggan, now 26. “I had to learn to be responsible, be available today. Because I wasn’t available before.”

Because of the opioid drug crisis sweeping New England, and the crime that accompanies it, women have become the fastest growing group heading to jail or prison, a situation reflected nationwide. This cohort includes young mothers — who are usually the primary caretakers to young children — and the long-term effects on children and families can be devastating.

Mothers, separated physically from their children while in prison, can come to experience emotional separation as well, said Judy McDonough, executive director of Edwina Martin House, a residential treatment center for women outside of Boston. A growing number of its clients are referred by the courts and probation officers.

“And then they start to lose their confidence in who they were as a parent and feel their kids are better off maybe with their parents. So it really fragments the family,” McDonough said.

A panel convened last year by Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, concluded that mothers and pregnant women need “specialized care.” Its report recommended that treatment centers make pregnant women a priority. In 2014 the state funded two new recovery homes specifically for women, bringing the state’s total to 14.

Those who work in the field say there’s a growing recognition within the Massachusetts criminal justice system and among policymakers that intensive drug treatment can be a key to helping women transform their lives in a way that prison does not.

“The courts were not so involved with treatment as they were with let’s say punishment in a sense. And thankfully that’s turned around, and it’s really a positive now and we work very well together,” said Donna McDade, McDonough’s colleague at the Edwina Martin House, where she has served as director for 24 years.

Massachusetts is among a number of states working to address the needs of addicted mothers who are facing criminal charges.

“We’re unique because being counselors and being here, when we come to work, we see [clients] where they live every day,” says Donna McDade, center, program director at the Edwina Martin House.

A 2010 report by the National Women’s Law Center and The Rebecca Project said that 32 states had programs that offered mothers who are nonviolent offenders the possibility of what is called “family-based” treatment rather than prison or jail time. Family-based treatment permits mothers to live with their children at a site within the community or have visits with them regularly while receiving drug abuse treatment.

But keeping such alternatives funded can be challenging, said Edward Latessa, director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati. He said that despite the rise in the number of incarcerated women, they still constitute only eight percent of the national prison population.

“As a general rule there tend to be fewer [alternative sentencing] programs for women, but it really varies by state and jurisdiction,” he said. “Of course many female offenders have substance abuse problems and are in need of treatment and recovery programs, but again, for service providers, since the numbers are smaller it is not always economically feasible to open a facility for women. In addition, if you are including mothers with young children the costs go higher, which again makes it more difficult to operate.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has its own long-standing program called Mother and Infant Nurturing Together, or MINT. It allows pregnant women — among them drug addicts — in minimum security prisons in their last trimester to reside in halfway houses before they deliver and usually for three months after they give birth. These women, who are eligible for release within five years, are taught parenting skills with the goal of encouraging bonding with their babies and are also eligible to be treated for addiction.

For both men and women addicts charged with crimes, the doubling of the number of drug courts nationally in the last decade, to 2,966, has increased opportunities for defendants to serve at least part of their time at residential treatment facilities or halfway houses instead of prison or jail.

But diversion or treatment programs have not found universal acceptance. In Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama, women are being prosecuted and locked up for endangering their children by using drugs when pregnant. Eighteen states have laws stating substance abuse during pregnancy is child abuse.

The evolution of Massachusetts’ approach has been aided by the jump in the number of drug courts established in the last two years, adding five new ones for a total of 18.

Drug courts are vitally important now because it’s where the state can refer people to residential drug treatment homes instead of jail or prison. And even though more women are being arrested and convicted, fewer female defendants are actually being sent to serve time. According to the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, there was a four percent drop, to 1,625, in the number of women incarcerated from 2012 to 2013.

In previous years a woman who was addicted to drugs and charged with a non-violent crime could be given the choice between jail and a residential drug treatment center, but the numbers of court-ordered referrals now appear to be rising dramatically. It’s now more likely that residential treatment will become part of an offender’s sentence. The average number of probationers at 12 women’s-specific recovery homes in Massachusetts rose to 60 percent in 2014, from 25 percent in 2009, according to annual enrollment reports from the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.

The minimum stay is at the Edwina Martin House in Brockton, Mass., is four months but a woman can live there for a year.

In 2014, the opioid crisis led to a record 1,000 fatal overdoses. The state has tested a range of responses, from trying to ban the powerful painkiller Zohydro to offering prostitutes mental health or medical treatment instead of jail. One city, Gloucester, created an amnesty program for addicts.

The state does not track the number of people who are offered—or manage to win—an alternative to incarceration. But judges say they are becoming more aware of the harm incarceration can have on families and that addiction may not be adequately addressed in jail. Longtime program directors report that they now get more referrals from judges than they once did.

“Many of us, and I am one of them, firmly believe that you cannot just lock people up and incarcerate them and expect their substance abuse issues to go away. It’s just not working anymore,” said District Court Justice Mary Heffernan, who runs two drug courts. “You have to put the resources into treatment.”

Beyond residential centers, treatment options include intensive outpatient addiction programs that require daily, daylong attendance. These programs can mandate community service combined with substance abuse counseling, job training, electronic monitoring, and drug testing.

Vincent Lorenti, regional program manager of the Massachusetts Office of Community Corrections, described his department’s program as “halfway between traditional probation and incarceration.” Annual community corrections statistics show that women make up an increasing percentage of the program, up five percent between 2011 and 2014.

At residential recovery homes such as Edwina Martin House, which receives significant state funding, the average four-to-six month stay costs $12,000 to $18,000. At the women’s prison in Framingham, the oldest women’s prison in the country, it costs $60,000 a year to house an inmate, according to corrections department data.

Part of the rehabilitation process is helping women to relearn basic life skills that atrophied as they began their descent into addiction. These include structuring their days, keeping appointments, shopping for groceries and cooking. Group and individual therapy sessions emphasize self-esteem. They also work to rebuild connections with their families and children. At some homes mothers live with their infants and pregnant women await delivery.

About 6:45 each morning the ringing of alarm clocks echoes through the corridors of the Edwina Martin House. The women shower, make their beds and tidy their bedrooms. By 9 a.m. they are attending group meetings on topics like music expression, relapse prevention, household budgeting and family dynamics. Some women go to work, others go to vocational training or take classes. In the evenings they attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Though jail time can include access to substance abuse programming, it’s not considered to be as intensive. “Jail doesn’t fix the issue of addiction. You’re there, and it’s just time. You’re idle,” said Stephanie, who asked to be identified by her first name only. She is a mother who was ordered by a drug court to attend Project Cope, a Boston area women’s recovery home.

It’s not an easy road, and treatment is no panacea. At Edwina Martin there is a 48 percent program completion rate, but that is still better than the state average of 31 percent completion, according to McDade.

The clients Edwina Martin has seen in recent years are young, usually in their early 20s. Typically they did not experiment much with other drugs before becoming hooked on opioids. “We have great success with them, because they are young,” says McDade. “They have not had as many losses. But their losses come quick with heroin.”

Mental health and Michelle Alexander

Join EMIT on Thursday, Dec. 3 at the Maynard Town Hall, 195 Main Street, to discuss how mental health is treated in prisons, and the relationship to drug addiction. Joining in the conversation are police chiefs from Arlington, Hudson, and Maynard as well as Sarah Abbott, director of the jail diversion program for Advocates, Inc. Three legislators will weigh in on the discussion: State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and State Representatives Sean Garballey and Kate Hogan.

The event is 7-830 pm with light refreshments, and is free and open to the public. The cosponsors are the Maynard and Hudson Democratic Town Committees.

Join EMIT on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 6-7:30 pm at the Hazlett Room of the Winthrop Public Library,  2 Metcalf Square for a showing of the 23-minute TEDx talk by Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” A discussion will follow, with free refreshments offered.

Sponsored by EMIT and hosted by the Winthrop Public Library. For information on either event, contact emit.susan@gmail.com, 978-772-3930.