Category Archives: end mass incarceration

A landmark decision on 50th year remembrance of Martin Luther King

Great news!  Yesterday the state Senate voted unanimously for the conference committee

end mass incarceration; MLK legacy; bail reform; felony threshold

Martin Luther King Jr was honored yesterday by the Mass. Statehouse when it passed its Omnibus Bill to reform the commonwealth’s justice and corrections systems. The bill is awaiting action by Gov. Charlie Baker.

version of the criminal justice omnibus bill, and then the House voted for it 148-5.  This is fabulous!  Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen.

The next step is to get Gov. Baker to sign the bill — not send it back with amendments.
Please contact Gov. Baker in whichever of the following ways you prefer, ask him to sign the criminal justice omnibus bill without amendments, and perhaps include 1-2 sentences about why this bill is important to you (either particular provisions you care about, or that it will promote justice and compassion and true public safety, or whatever feels right to you):
+  Call his office at 617-725-4005
+  Use the webform at http://www.mass.gov/governor/constituent-services/contact-governor-office/  (ignore the “old website” warning)
+  Email his Legislative Director Kaitlyn Sprague at Kaitlyn.Sprague@state.ma.us or constituent serivices director Mindy D’Arbeloff at mindy.darbeloff@state.ma.us
+  Tweet @CharlieBakerMA
Also — Passing a bill doesn’t mean we’re done!  Laws matter, but what people are doing matters too.
The Mass Bail Fund and What a Difference a DA Makes campaign are seeking court watchers — people who get some training, commit to going to a courthouse at least three mornings in three months, and collect information that will help hold judges and prosecutors accountable.
No experience is necessary.  Some of the people receiving this email have had altogether too much experience with courtrooms, while for others this is an excellent opportunity to learn and grow personally while helping the movement.  Everyone is welcome!
The Suffolk County training will be this Sunday, April 84-6:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church (633 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain).  Trainings for Plymouth, Hampton, and Essex Counties are scheduled for April 22May 6, and May 20.  If you live in Middlesex County, which is not one of the counties we’re focusing on, please consider helping out in Suffolk, Essex, or Worcester County.  You don’t have to attend the training in the same county where you do your court watching.
If you have some mornings free and can help in this way, please learn more and register at www.courtwatchma.org .
And may we all help keep alive Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a world where people have quelled the triple evils of racism, militarism, and excessive materialism, and everyone has justice, peace, and the material and spiritual foundations of a good life.
Lori Kenschaft 
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Omnibus Bill Released

The conference committee released the compromises and many reforms to the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems on Friday, March 24. Their fellow state representatives and senators will vote YES or NO, with no opportunity for amendments, and the bill will go to Governor Baker, who has not yet stated his position.  Advocates are hopeful we would have sufficient votes to override a veto, if necessary.

Below are highlights of the comprehensive bill, which are mostly positive steps in the right direction. There are a few glaring contradictions, such as increasing mandatory minimum sentencing for opiate trafficking and  new laws to protect police officers.

For greater details, open this 7-page PDF:CORRECT_Omnibusbill_2018

HIGHLIGHTS of the Conference Committee’s decisions

Decriminalize minor offenses

Divert minor offenses away from prosecution/incarceration

Reform Bail to reduce unnecessary incarceration

Repeal/limit mandatory minimums for non-opiate, non-weight retail drug offenses

Strengthen minimum mandatories for opiate trafficking

Strengthen Protections for Public Safety

Reduce solitary confinement

Generally improve prison conditions

Release prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk

Make it easier for people to get back on their feet

Take better care of juveniles and young adults

Improve transparency of the criminal justice system

Better protect women in the criminal justice system

Reduce and remedy errors of justice

 

 

NEW INFO: Omnibus Bill may come out of conference committee on Friday, 3/23

​TENTATIVE ACCORD REACHED ON GAME-CHANGING CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL

By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 21, 2018….The six House and Senate lawmakers negotiating a complex overhaul of the state’s sentencing and criminal justice laws have reached a tentative agreement that is expected to be finalized before the end of the week, according to multiple sources.

The conference committee, led by Sen. William Brownsberger and Rep. Claire Cronin, has been privately negotiating the details of the bill since November.

The competing House and Senate bills (H 4043/S 2200) broadly seek to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to encompass 18-year-olds, repeal some mandatory minimums for drug offenses, address the use of solitary confinement and give judges greater leeway in sentencing street level drug-dealers.

Passage of a criminal justice bill in the coming weeks would mark a major accomplishment for lawmakers before they head into the state budget cycle. The emergence of a final legislative compromise could also make clear possible areas of policy differences between lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker.

House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, one of the three House conferees, confirmed to the News Service that the group was nearing a final compromise.

“Things are progressing and there is reason to be optimistic that it will be resolved by the end of the week,” the Quincy Democrat said Wednesday.

Several other sources at the State House told the News Service Wednesday that copies of the finalized bill were being circulated among legal counsel for review, and the conference report could be signed by the conferees and filed with the Senate clerk’s office by Friday.

Brownsberger did not return a message left on his cellphone on Wednesday.

Gov. Charlie Baker was in Haverhill on Tuesday with a collection of local law enforcement officials and district prosecutors urging the House and Senate to use the criminal justice bill as a vehicle to tweak the state’s three-year-old fentanyl trafficking law to make it more enforceable by prosecutors.

Criminal justice reform advocates will also be watching closely to see how the Legislature approaches mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.

Details of the tentative compromise were not immediately available on Wednesday.

Other lawmakers on the conference committee include Rep. Sheila Harrington, a Republican, and Sens. Cynthia Creem and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

-END-
03/21/2018


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Pauline Quirion

THREE free events in April will give you more substance when you meet with your state rep to encourage him/her to support justice and corrections systems reform bills this session on Beacon Hill. Please post and share.
You’re welcome to join Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Day on the Hill on Tuesday, April 11 http://www.uumassaction.org/events-2/  Storm the statehouse with more than 100 activists to visit your state rep on that day of action. All welcome. Make our collective voice heard!  ($35).
1 – Thursday April 6 at Harvard, 10 am- 4 pm. Free.
A conference
2 – Thursday April 6 Belmont  7:30 pm, in the church library. Free
Leslie Walker, director of Prisoners Legal Services, will speak at the First Church UU in Belmont, 404 Concord Ave in Belmont, across from the Commuter Rail station. An expert on prison conditions, Walker will speak on  the problems, how prison conditions contribute to a high rate of poverty and recidivism among former prisoners, and her recommended solutions.
3- Sunday, April 23 Arlington, 2 pm, Free, donation requested
Adam Foss on the Evolution of Prosecution
First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington
630 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington Center

Prosecutors have enormous power and discretion, and their decisions shape thousands of lives.  Some are realizing that their traditional tools can’t solve the real problems people face.
Adam Foss is a former Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney and the founder of Prosecutor Impact, which helps prosecutors learn a better way.  His TED Talk on “A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System” has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  (https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_foss_a_prosecutor_s_vision_for_a_better_justice_system)
Come hear him speak about how prosecution needs to change and how we can help.
 This event is free and open to the public.  An optional $10-20 donation to support Prosecutor Impact will be invited but not required.

Sponsored by the Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Questions? Email end-mass-incarceration@firstparish.info .

There’s still time in New Hampshire

You’re invited to join a last-minute push in New Hampshire, where their 4 electoral votes are being hotly contested for US President and to tip the US Senate to a democratic majority. NH residents  can register to vote on Election Day,  people in low-income neighborhoods are being encouraged to vote.
You are invited to campaign door-to-door in Manchester, NH starting at 3 pm on Monday, Nov. 7. 
Contact Darren, 917-327-6528 to participate. I’ll be going on Monday if anyone wants to carpool from Route 495/Ayer area. On Saturday, activists from Vermont and Mass. showed up to canvass and Spanish speakers were particularly welcomed.
On Tuesday Nov 8 join with progressive reformers at the campaign/election night party, hosted by State Sen. Jamie Eldridge [D-Acton], a leader for justice and corrections systems reform on Beacon Hill. The party is at the Boxborough Holiday Inn, 242 Adams Place, Boxborough,  8 pm – until midnight. Campaign donation for Sen Eldridge requested, cash bar, light refreshment served. Hope to see you there.
Jamie Eldridge is an outstanding state senator in Massachusetts. He is on the Harm Reduction and Drug LAw reform caucus on Beacon Hill. He really cares about immigration, the disenfranchized and ending mass incarceration.

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis and Susan Tordella, co-founder of EMIT at a campaign event for State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, one of the leading progressives on Beacon Hill. Jamie is a co-leader of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He works tirelessly to end mass incarceration and reform our state’s corrections, probation and courts systems for the betterment of all.

Massachusetts needs DATA DRIVEN info on justice

This opinion piece — “MA is MIA on criminal justice reform” — in The Boston Globe on July 17, 2016, highlights how Massachusetts lacks one comprehensive system to collect and analyze data on our justice and corrections systems. With a common tool, all of the various agencies — the 14 jails jails, state Department of Corrections, sex offender registry, local and state police and more — could all share data for the common good.

Other states, such as Colorado, have invested in such technology, which officials and electeds from across the state meet monthly to analyze for economies of scale, service delivery, cost/benefit savings and more.

Right now, a working group appointed by Gov. Baker is working with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to evaluate the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems to make recommendations for legislative reform in Jan. 2017. A chronic complaint by the working group is the lack of accurate data. It’s ironic that the bureaucrats and electeds who have created, maintained and defend the broken system, now attack the poor data the CSG researchers present as indicators for needed reform. This article highlights the value of good data.

By Stephen Goldsmith and Jane Wiseman

LOCKING UP MILLIONS of Americans costs a lot of money. It comes with devastating social consequences. And it has produced a vast archipelago of institutions at the local, state, and federal level that’s too complicated for even those who administer small corners of it to understand in full.

The White House’s newly announced Data-Driven Justice Initiative aims to tackle these interwoven problems simultaneously by reducing the number of criminal defendants held in our local jails on pretrial detention orders. Seven states and 60 counties across the country have signed up so far.

Notably absent from this coalition: Massachusetts, which continues its silence on the critical issue of local criminal justice reform.

One of the cornerstones of data-driven justice is the use of risk assessment in the pretrial process — to keep dangerous defendants in jail awaiting trial and let low-risk ones remain in the community, staying connected to family and work, and paying their rent and their taxes. Keeping low-risk defendants out of jail awaiting trial has been shown to result in less crime and lower costs — in short, good government.

A thoughtful and ambitious bill crafted by Representative Tom Sannicandro of Ashland and Senator Ken Donnelly of Arlington would finally incorporate data into the pretrial decision-making process and bring Massachusetts in line with this growing reform movement. The bill is long overdue — the current statute governing bail and pretrial in Massachusetts dates to 1836. A hodgepodge of updates has been made over the years, but the law is in need of a total overhaul.

Beacon Hill should move on this timely and important legislation. Delay in moving to data-driven justice increases crime and cost and decreases fairness in our administration of justice.

The decision about release or detention should be based on a defendant’s risk of flight and likelihood of committing a crime before trial. Analyzing existing data about the defendant’s risk is far more objective than the current methods, too often a judge’s best guess about the defendant’s risk and a defendant’s ability to scrounge up bail money.

The tragic murder of Jennifer Martel at the hands of Jared Remy demonstrates the horrific result when data are not used in pretrial release decisions. Remy had 20 prior arrests, mostly for violent offenses. Yet a few days before he killed his girlfriend, after being arrested on assault charges, he paid a $40 fee and was released on his own recognizance.

For every Jared Remy, there are just as many indigent nonviolent offenders incarcerated for minor drug or petty larceny charges who cannot scrape together bail money and sit in our local jails while posing no threats to our communities.

How do data help? By looking at factual prior records and current circumstances, judges can have objective information to guide the decision about pretrial release. Data are blind to famous names and expensive lawyers. Nor are data swayed by a defendant’s ability to make bail.

Jurisdictions that do use data to make pretrial decisions have achieved greater fairness, lower crime, and lower costs. Washington, D.C., releases 85 percent of defendants awaiting trial. Compared to the national average, those released in D.C. are two and a half times more likely to remain arrest free and one a half times as likely to show up for court. The results are lower jail costs and lower crime.

This approach can also help stamp out some of the inequity in the criminal justice system because we know that under the current approach defendants who already have advantages (higher income, employment, stable housing, etc.) are released more often than those with fewer advantages (lower income, ethnic or racial minority, etc.), even for the same crime.

Data-driven justice is also cheaper. Defendants released on their own recognizance cost essentially nothing. For a defendant released and supervised while awaiting trial, the cost is 90 percent lower than the cost to incarcerate. How much could be saved by moving to risk-based pretrial decision-making? Experts say that up to 25 percent of those detained pretrial might be safely released.

While precise estimates are difficult to determine, assuming Massachusetts mirrors the national rate incarcerating 60 percent of criminal defendants while awaiting trial, data driven reforms in line with this new White House initiative have the possibility of saving taxpayers anywhere from $60 million to $150 million annually. One of the few states to quantify the value is Kentucky, which saves $100 million a year with risk-based pretrial decision-making.

With Governor Charlie Baker and State House leaders looking to fill a significant budget gap, we can’t think of a better way to save Massachusetts taxpayers millions annually while reforming a broken system that perpetuates inequality and does little to protect the public’s safety.

Stephen Goldsmith is the director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. He previously served as a prosecutor in Marion County, Ind. Jane Wiseman is a senior fellow at the Ash Center. Previously she served as assistant secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.