Category Archives: drug law reform

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.

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Justice & Equity Conference Saturday

When:          Sat., Oct 1, 9:30 Registration, 10 am to 2:00 PM – Lunch Included.
Where:         All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
                        196 Elm St,, Braintree – Handicap accessible, Free.
Who:              YOU – open to the public, along with activists

This is a crucial time in the struggle for equity, issues of faith and the need for action.

Presenters will discuss justice and corrections reform in Massachusetts and the anticipated impact of the Council of State Government Study with recommended reform in Dec. 2016.
Hear from a formerly incarcerated person on what it’s like to be at the mercy of the Commonwealth’s justice system; as well as alternatives to courts and prison, such as restorative justice, and what you can do to support sane alternatives.
Another panel inform people on the progress of the Fair Share Amendment and what you can do help get this passed.

Join us for lively discussion and plan to the next steps on how individuals, groups and congregations can join the movement for justice.
Save the date – What do sheriffs do and why should I care?
When:         Monday, Oct. 24, 7-8 pm
Where:         From the comfort of your own home
Call in:         605 475 5900  access 618-9987#
 
Why:            Find out how the 14 county sheriffs in Mass. impact the county jails and who                             is up for election.
Who:           Activist Angel Cosme of Brockton Interfaith  will share information on why                               voters must care about this powerful role that impacts incarceration and                                    recidivism.

Punished for being poor? Lawyers ask SJC to take up bail issue

From The Salem Daily News

BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER Aug 5, 2016

SALEM — The state public defender’s office and an advocacy group are asking the state’s highest court to take up the question of whether cash bail is fundamentally unfair to poor people, citing a North Shore woman’s case.

In a filing on Friday, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the group Equal Justice Under Law are asking the Supreme Judicial Court to take up the case of Jessica Wagle, a woman who is currently being held on $250 bail in a heroin possession case brought by Lynn police.

Wagle’s case was heard on Wednesday in Salem Superior Court, where her attorney argued that her $250 bail should be reduced to personal recognizance because she cannot afford to pay it and has no family in the area who are willing to post the bail.

Wagle’s lawyer, Shira Diner, told Judge Timothy Feeley on Wednesday that Wagle was being “punished for being poor.”

Feeley disagreed, pointing to a history of missed court appearances, or “defaults,” in her past cases as a reason to keep the bail at $250, the amount originally set on July 19 by Lynn District Court Judge Richard Mori, four days after her arrest.

Wagle, 32, who has struggled with heroin addiction for six years, her lawyers said, had been free during those four days after her arrest, until she walked into court and prosecutors sought to have her taken into custody on bail.

Her lawyers argue that both the SJC and the United States Supreme Court have repeatedly held that no person can be kept in jail solely because of poverty — and argue that neither Feeley nor Mori took into account Wagle’s ability to pay.

“This case raises an issue of fundamental importance to the Massachusetts justice system: Can a person be kept in a jail cell because she cannot make a monetary payment?” the attorneys for Wagle say in their filing.

“Although that basic rule has long been a pillar of our legal system, it is overlooked as a matter of daily practice in courtrooms and jails throughout the Commonwealth. This case is about the irrationality and harmfulness of wealth-based pretrial detention. Such a practice is terrible for public safety and grossly unjust,” the filing says.

In his decision on Wednesday, Feeley concluded that, based on Wagle’s record and a history of missed court appearances, the $250 bail was appropriate, and that her inability to pay doesn’t make it unreasonable.

Wagle’s lawyers say judges routinely “misuse” the bail statute and ignore the question of a defendant’s ability to pay.

If economic status cannot be used in determining a sentence or a probation violation, “it has no place in pre-trial release decisions,” especially when a person is still presumed innocent, Wagle’s attorneys write.
http://www.salemnews.com/news/local_news/punished-for-being-poor/article_a1c9e610-a056-516e-9ae3-79a9b571584c.html

PEW study might do some good in MA

Alaska Draws Up Plans to Reduce Expanding Prison Population
Date:  01-20-2016

Recommendations include re-examining the bail bond system and revising drug laws

The Alaska Dispatch News reported that the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission has released recommendations on how to curb the state’s overly populated prison system. The Commission was aided byPew Charitable Trusts in drawing up the plans.

According to the Dispatch News, besides collecting data to measure the effectiveness of new laws and policies, and installing an oversight council, the recommendations include:

  • Expanding the use of citations in place of arrests for low-level, nonviolent offenses.
  • Deciding whether to release someone before trial based on the likelihood they’ll return for subsequent hearings or commit other crimes, instead of on their ability to pay a monetary bond. A review of court files showed the majority of cases required some type of monetary bond and “52 percent of sampled defendants were detained for the entirety of their pretrial period,” the report says.
  • Focusing resources on high-risk defendants — those who are “most likely to fail” or reoffend, the report says. More restrictive release conditions would be reserved for these offenders.
  • Limiting the use of prison space for low-level misdemeanor offenders by reclassifying some misdemeanors and violations, including changing disorderly conduct laws to allow for arrests but limit jail time to 24 hours, among other changes, the report says.
  • Revising drug penalties to focus the most severe punishments on serious drug crimes. Among the specific actions recommended, lawmakers are encouraged to reclassify the simple possession of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine as a misdemeanor.
  • Implementing a specialty parole option for long-term, geriatric inmates.
  • Incentivizing treatment for sex offenders with sentence reductions for completing treatment

Next steps toward reforming the Mass. justice system

THANKS TO YOU, regular voters who care, EMIT and UU Mass Action Network, delivered 700-plus

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

The Statehouse is where we need to encourage lawmakers to pass a series of bills over a number of years to untangle the injustice of mass incarceration in Massachusetts.

letters to state lawmakers in January 2015 asking them to cosponsor criminal justice reform, especially to end mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses and to reform pre-trial practices — what happens when someone gets arrested, and on what basis do we decide to incarcerate them, without being found guilty.

Reaching out to state lawmakers, especially representatives in face-to-face meetings, is one of the most effective ways to make our voice heard in future laws. This is the goal of EMIT.

We especially need voters to visit with state representatives in Springfield, New Bedford and Fall River, Plymouth-Cape Cod-The Islands, and Cape Ann/The North Shore. Can you join us? Please email emit.susan at g mail dot com. Our strategy is simple and issues can easily be understood and communicated to state legislators.

Thanks to the leadership of the State Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, the 40 members of the State Senate may be on board with criminal justice reform this legislative session. In 2015, we must focus on the 160 state representatives, and meet with them personally, in their home districts, with constituents like you and a few friends. You can meet at the public library or town hall for 30 minutes and share your urgency to end mass incarceration now.

EMIT is also co-sponsoring events to inform to reform so people feel more knowledgeable when meeting with state representatives.

Save March 28 in Amherst, 10 am to 2 pm at the UCC Church, 165 Main St. Featured speakers are Sen. Stan Rosenberg, who will give more details on justice reinvestment and State Sen. Jamie Eldridge who will describe some pending criminal justice reform bills. Formerly incarcerated people will share their stories, and participants will have time to network. Sponsored by EMIT and Social Justice Committee of Amherst UCC.

Save March 12 in New Bedford and April 16 in Springfield for additional events. More info to come.

In Arlington, on Saturday, March 14, 1-4:30 pm, attend a Road Map towards Justice: How to End Mass Incarceration in Massachusetts, at First Parish Unitarian Universalist 630 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington.

Come learn about the bills related to mass incarceration and prison reform that might become law in the next two years, and how you can help make our criminal justice system more fair and effective.  You will hear from experts, receive fact sheets, and have time to connect with others and digest what you are learning.  Speakers include Rep. Dave Rogers, Rep. Sean Garballey, Barbara Dougan, Andrea James, Jon Tetherly, and EPOCA members.  Refreshments served too!

RSVPs to end-mass-incarceration@firstparish.info are appreciated but not required.

This interactive workshop is organized by the Mass Incarceration Working Group of First Parish Arlington and co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, End Mass Incarceration Together, EPOCA (Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement), Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Mystic Valley Branch of the NAACP,