Category Archives: Justice

Restorative Justice training opportunities

Volunteers are needed to participate in the restorative justice system, to keep offenders from serving prison time, and create opportunities to make restitution with the victims of their crime.

C4RJ, Communities for Restorative Justice, in Middlesex County, is directed by Erin Freeborn.  Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan is a primary advocate and practitioner of restorative justice. Learn more from these experts at the following events and websites.

1. Arlington Human Rights Commission’s “Understanding Restorative Justice” event with Arlington’s Police Chief Fred Ryan and Erin Freeborn, the Executive Director of Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ), on Saturday, October 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Arlington Senior Center (27 Maple Street).  Here’s the Facebook event:

C4RJ led the restorative justice process with the individual who defaced my congregation’s Black Lives Matter banner and, more recently, with 14 youths who covered the Arlington High School with offensive graffiti.  Last year they handled cases from 17 different communities and put out a new “Restorative Practices Guide for Schools” (

2. The Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University is offering three training events for people who want to use restorative practices professionally.  These events are limited to 25 people each, and preregistration is required, and there are a few vacancies in each:

Tier 1:  Circle Training and Introduction to Restorative Practices for Educators (Oct. 19-20):

Tier 2:  Restorative Mindset and Restorative Classroom Management (Nov. 16-17):

Tier 3:  Restorative Conferencing for Discipline (Dec. 7-8):

Restorative justice focuses on helping people understand the harm they have done, take responsibility for their actions, and help meet the needs identified by the people they have hurt.  It is important for reducing mass incarceration and the number of people who are burdened with a criminal record, and a helpful approach to school discipline to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline.

Restorative justice often has much better outcomes for everyone than more punitive approaches.  It has a high satisfaction rate among participants (98 percent in C4RJ’s circles last year), but when something happens, people are unlikely to choose restorative justice unless they’ve heard about it already.

Please attend on Oct. 13 for a general introduction to restorative justice, and share these invitations with anyone who might be in a position to use restorative justice in their life or work.

–Lori Kenshaft, EMIT Core member, leader of End Mass Incarceration Working Group of First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Arlington. 

The Mississippi Man Tried Six Times for the Same Crime

Heartbreaking outrageous stories of injustice like this keep me taking action, especially for Americans with African ancestry. It’s ironic that America prides itself on our justice system when so many African-Americans do not get fair treatment. 

By David Leonhardt, Opinion Columnist, The New York Times, May 20, 2018

One morning nearly 22 years ago, four employees of a furniture store in a small Mississippi town were shot to death. For months afterward, local law-enforcement seemed stumped by the crime. Eventually, the top prosecutor — Doug Evans — charged a former store employee, Curtis Flowers, a black man who had no criminal record.

The case since then has been unlike any other I’ve ever heard of. Evans has put Flowers on trial six separate times — even though no gun, fingerprints or other physical evidence ties Flowers to the crime and no witness even puts him at the store that day.

At each of the first three trials, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out all three convictions. The first two times, it cited misconduct by Evans during the trial, and the third time it found that Evans had kept African-Americans off the jury. The justices called it as bad a case of such racial discrimination “as we have ever seen.”

The fourth trial was the first to have more than one black juror, and it ended with a hung jury. The fifth also had multiple black jurors and likewise ended in a mistrial. The sixth trial had only one black juror, and Flowers was convicted, thanks largely to dubious circumstantial testimony that Evans had coached witnesses to give. I see no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.

Yet today he sits in solitary confinement, on death row, in Mississippi’s Parchman Prison. He is serving his 22nd straight year behind bars, having never been released between convictions. He will turn 48 years old next week. His parents continue to visit him as often as possible.

His heartbreaking, enraging story is the subject of a new podcast — the second season of “In the Dark,” led by Madeleine Baran of American Public Media — that’s already been downloaded more than two million times. The reporting and storytelling are fantastic, and I can’t capture all of it here. If you aren’t already listening to the podcast, I recommend it.

While the Flowers case is shocking in its details, it is all too typical in its broad strokes: The United States suffers from a crisis of unjust imprisonment. The crisis has been caused partly by powerful, unaccountable prosecutors, like Doug Evans. And the costs are borne overwhelmingly by black men, like Flowers.

We now know that dozens of innocent people have been executed in recent decades. Many others languish behind bars. My colleague Nicholas Kristof, in his latest column, told the story of Kevin Cooper, who’s on death row in California because of highly questionable evidence. Cases like these are the most extreme part of our mass-incarceration problem. As the legal scholar Michelle Alexander has noted, a larger share of black Americans are imprisoned than black South Africans were during apartheid. “A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch,” she has written.

When Americans today look back on the past, many of us wonder how our ancestors could have tolerated blatant injustices — like child labor, Jim Crow or male-only voting — for so long. When future generations look back on our era, I expect they will ask a similar question. They will be outraged that we forcibly confineda couple million of our fellow human beings to cages, often for no good reason.

President Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are trying to make the problem even worse, by locking up ever more people. But Trump and Sessions can’t squelch the burgeoning, bipartisan movement for criminal-justice reform. They can’t, because as the recent Pulitzer-winning author James Forman Jr. points out, criminal justice happens mostly at the local and state levels. “We should always remember that the fight is going to be at the local level,” Forman told NPR’s Terry Gross, “and, there, we continue to win.”

To take one example, manufactured jailhouse confessions are a common part of wrongful prosecutions (and are central to the Flowers case). With a shocking frequency, prosecutors and police coax so-called snitches to lie outright about what other prisoners say. In response, Texas enacted a law last year requiring the tracking of snitches and the disclosure of any plea deals to defense attorneys, who can then call the testimony into question in front of a jury. Rebecca Brown of the Innocence Project told me that the Texas law was “excellent” — and that the Illinois legislature had passed an even better version, awaiting the governor’s signature.

Elsewhere, some district attorneys are trying to make the system fairer on their own. It’s happening in Brooklyn, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities. Most prosecutors, after all, are decent, ethical public servants. One change involves “open-file” policies, which give the defense attorney access to all of the evidence in a case. That may seem like an obvious step, and it’s the norm in civil trials. Yet it remains rare in criminal trials.

I don’t want to exaggerate the recent progress. As you read this column, thousands upon thousands of American citizens sit behind bars, unjustly denied their freedom. “Ooooh, I miss Curtis,” his devastated father, Archie Flowers, says on the podcast. “Yes. It is rough. Rough, rough, rough, rough.”

But the Flowers family refuses to give up hoping for justice. Curtis Flowers’s sixth conviction is still being appealed, and new evidence — uncovered by the podcast — seems likely to help that appeal.

If the Flowers family won’t give in to despair, nobody else should, either.

Gov. Baker to sign justice reform bill today at 3 pm

By Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 13, 2018….Gov. Charlie Baker plans to sign a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill into law Friday afternoon, advocates said.

“I have great news for you. Governor Baker plans to sign our bill, as is, at 3 p.m. today,” Cherish Casey of the Essex County Community Organization said at a State House press conference.

Casey’s declaration triggered applause and cheers from those in attendance.

The press conference was originally called to urge Baker to sign the bill but took on a celebratory mood as its backers thanked the lawmakers and others who got the long-awaited bill to the governor’s desk…..

As the press conference was unfolding, Baker was holding a meeting of his cabinet Friday morning at the State House.

Baker’s office confirmed he will sign the bill, at 3 p.m. in room 157 at the State House, and said he will also “discuss additional reforms that the administration plans to propose.”

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 .)
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.
[Your name]
[Your address and phone number]

MA State Senators are listening to us

State senators and the ACLU held their first Commonwealth Conversation on Feb. 28. in Canton. Thanks to Peter Panov of Needham for this report.

The Commonwealth Conversations South Shore Town Hall on Tuesday, February 28th showed widespread interest in justice and corrections systems reform. This Town Hall was for Senators Keenan, O’Connor, Ross, Rush, and Timilty’s districts, however half of the Senate’s 40 members were present.

They explained these meetings represent a portion of setting the Senate’s agenda for the 2017-2018 legislative session. Among several of the frequently repeated themes such as the Safe Communities Act and the planned Weymouth gas compressor station was justice and corrections system reform in the Commonwealth.

Six of the 54 statements (by about 50 citizens attending the meeting) addressed Criminal Justice reform, from: ending mass incarceration in general and mandatory sentencing; to mandatory minimums, solitary confinement, and reducing recidivism; to unnecessary imprisonment, rehabilitation, and the example of a traffic fine becoming a license suspension becoming imprisonment.

From the ACLU Freedom Agenda (which includes “Smart Justice” — shifting from incarceration to rehabilitation) reflecting the speaker’s values; to 60% of our jailed being held pre-trial & 70 percent of those held because they can’t afford bail; to raising the felony larceny threshold, with the remark that Texas’s felony larceny at $2500 required to constitute a felony versus a misdemeanor, is TEN times ours, but Texans are not ten times better!

This is a clear message that moving Massachusetts away from mass incarceration is a priority for many Commonweawlth citizens, who are passionate about some several solutions we need to the many aspects of the problem.

More ACLU/Senator meetings are scheduled in March and April: March 7 in the Southeast; March 14 in Central; March 21 in Northeast; March 28 in Western; April 4 in Metrowest; and April 11 in Northshore.

Prisons becoming obsolete in Holland

The Netherlands is running out of incarcerated people by treating them like individual human beings. From the BBC News and The Marshall Project.

By Lucy Ash BBC News, Veenhuizen 10 November 2016 Magazine While the UK and much of the world struggles with overcrowded prisons, the Netherlands has the opposite problem. It is actually short of people to lock up. In the past few years 19 prisons have closed down and more are slated for closure next year. How has this happened ­ and why do some people think it’s a problem? N

The smell of fried onions wafts up the metal staircase, past the cell doors and along the wing. Down in the kitchen inmates are preparing their evening meal. One man, gripping a long serrated blade, is expertly chopping vegetables. “I’ve had six years to practice so I am getting better!” he says.

It is noisy work because the knife is on a long steel chain attached to the worktop. “They can’t take that knife with them,” says Jan Roelof van der Spoel, deputy governor of Norgerhaven, a high­security prison in the north­east of the Netherlands. “But they can borrow small kitchen knives if they hand in their passes so we know exactly who has what.”

Some of these men are inside for violent offences and the thought of them walking around with knives might seem alarming. But learning to cook is just one of the ways the prison helps offenders to get back on track after their release.

“In the Dutch service we look at the individual,” says Van der Spoel. “If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. So we try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”

He adds that some persistent offenders ­ known in the trade as “revolving ­door criminals” ­ are eventually given two ­year sentences and tailor­made rehabilitation programmes. Fewer than 10% then return to prison after their release.

In England and Wales, and in the United States, roughly half of those serving short sentences reoffend within two years, and the figure is often higher for young adults. Norgerhaven, along with Esserheem ­ another almost identical prison in the same village, Veenhuizen ­ have plenty of open space. Exercise yards the size of four football pitches feature oak trees, picnic tables and volleyball nets.

Van der Spoel says the fresh air reduces stress levels for both inmates and staff. Detainees are allowed to walk unaccompanied to the library, to the clinic or to the canteen and this autonomy helps them to adapt to normal life after their sentence. A decade ago the Netherlands had one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe, but it now claims one of the lowest ­ 57 people per 100,000 of the population, compared with 148 in England and Wales.

But better rehabilitation is not the only reason for the sharp decline in the Dutch prison population ­ from 14,468 in 2005 to 8,245 last year ­ a drop of 43%. The peak in 2005 was partly due to improved screening at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, which resulted in an explosion in the numbers of drug mules caught carrying cocaine.

Today the police have new priorities, according to Pauline Schuyt, a criminal law professor from the southern city of Leiden. “They have shifted their focus away from drugs and now concentrate on fighting human trafficking and terrorism,” she says. In addition, Dutch judges often use alternatives to prison such as community service orders, fines and electronic tagging of offenders. Angeline van Dijk, director of the prison service in the Netherlands, says jail is increasingly used for those who are too dangerous to release, or for vulnerable offenders who need the help available inside. “Sometimes it is better for people to stay in their jobs, stay with their families and do the punishment in another way,” she says from her brightly lit office at the top of a tower block in The Hague.

“We have shorter prison sentences and a decreasing crime rate here in the Netherlands so that is leading to empty cells.” But while recorded crime has shrunk by 25% over the past eight years, some argue that this results from the closure of police stations, as a result of budget cuts, which makes crime harder to report.

Find out more

Listen to Lucy Ash’s report Prisons for rent in the Netherlands for Assignment on the BBC World Service Click here for transmission times, or to listen online Other critics, such as Madeleine Van Toorenburg ­ a former prison governor and now the opposition Christian Democratic Appeal party’s spokeswoman on criminal justice ­ blame the shortage of prisoners on low detection rates.

“The police are overwhelmed and can’t handle their work load,” she says. “And what is the government’s response? Closing prisons. We find that surprising.” What is clear is that many of Angeline van Dijk’s staff are not happy about the lack of people to lock up. Frans Carbo, the prison guards’ representative from the FNV union, says his members are “angry and a little bit depressed”.

Young people don’t want to join the prison service he adds “because there is no future in it any more ­ you never know when your prison will be closed”. One empty prison was turned into a fancy hotel south of Amsterdam, its four most expensive suites named the The Lawyer, The Judge, The Governor and The Jailer. But others, converted into asylum reception centres, have provided work for some former prison guards. The desire to protect prison service jobs has sparked another surprising solution ­ the import of foreign inmates from Norway and Belgium.

“At one point our state secretary met the Norwegian minister of justice and said I have some cells to spare ­ you can rent one of our prisons,” says Jan Roelof van der Spoel. So last September Norway began sending some of its convicts south to serve their sentences at Van der Spoel’s prison, Norgerhaven. The governor of the prison is now a Norwegian, Karl Hillesland, but the prison guards keeping an eye on the 234 men locked up here are Dutch.

A mild­mannered former bookseller with a bushy moustache, Hillesland strikes me as an unlikely jailer. His green uniform with epaulettes looks extremely formal, and is nothing like the relaxed clothing of his Dutch colleague, but in fact Norway has a more liberal prison regime than the Netherlands, he says. Norwegian inmates are allowed, for example, to give media interviews and watch DVDs of their choice because the underlying principle is one of “normalisation”, meaning that life in prison should replicate life on the outside as closely as possible to help exoffenders reintegrate into society.

“There are some differences in the way we do things,” says Van der Spoel. “We discipline a prisoner for breaking the rules straight away whereas the Norwegians do an investigation and wait a while before imposing the punishment. For our guards that style of working was a bit tough to begin with.” “But on the whole”, says Hillesland, “we share the same basic values about how to run a prison.” He adds that a few prisoners were forced to come here from Norway but most volunteered, partly because groceries and tobacco are cheaper in Holland.

A recently installed Skype room is another big attraction at Norgerhaven. Relatives who want to visit have to pay their own travel costs, and a round trip costs at least 500 euros with an overnight in a hotel. But many of the long­term prisoners are foreign nationals who very rarely saw their families anyway when they were behind bars in Norway. Michael’s immaculately tidy cell is decorated with pictures of his football team and his four small children. A welder from northern Poland he was convicted in Norway but didn’t have access to Skype in prison there.

“My wife is busy looking after four kids and trying to hold down a job and anyway she doesn’t have the money to come and see me”, he says. “So I opted for this prison so I could see my family and not just hear their voices on the phone.” He stares at the floor for a moment or two. “After the Skype call it’s very hard ­ especially at Christmas and Easter but it is better than nothing.” As I leave through security doors and clanging gates I wonder what will happen to Norgerhaven once the Norwegians have gone in a few years’ time. The guards know that one of the Veenhuizen jails ­ Norgerhaven or Esserheem ­ will be listed for closure next year.

But could the numbers of prisoners in the Netherlands ever rise again? A walk through the village is a reminder that, in the distant past, the Netherlands locked up large numbers of citizens. It’s located in the remote, sparsely populated Drenthe province ­ a land of peat bog, fens and heather known as the “Dutch Siberia”, and a place where beggars, tramps, penniless orphans and other “undesirables” were exiled from the cities in the 19th Century.

An army general founded a reform colony in Veenhuizen, which he believed could eradicate poverty. Over time the institution morphed into a penal colony which was closed to outsiders until the 1980s. According to a demographer, one million of Holland’s 17m citizens alive today are descendants of people exiled to Veenhuizen. “That’s a huge chunk of the population,” says Amsterdam­based author Suzanna Jansen, whose grandfather was sent there for begging. “And being raised in poverty, in a difficult environment is something that could happen to any one of us, so I think we should remember that when we think about those behind bars today.”

More from the Magazine Two Norwegian institutions vie for the title of the world’s “nicest” or “most humane” prison. Inmates on the prison island of Bastoey, south of Oslo, are free to walk around in a village­style setting, tending to farm animals. They ski, cook, play tennis, play cards. They have their own beach, and even run the ferry taking people to and from the island. And in the afternoon when most prison staff go home, only a handful of guards are left to watch the 115 prisoners.


Debtors prisons exist in Massachusetts

BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court says a review of so­called fine­time practices is underway. Scores of indebted become ‘fine­time’ inmates. Posted from The Boston Globe.

By Milton J. Valencia                                GLOBE STAFF NOVEMBER 07, 2016

They call it “fine­time” — a questionable practice in which defendants “pay off” court fines and fees by serving time behind bars, even if they never committed a crime deserving of jail time in the first place.

A sampling of cases in Massachusetts from last year showed more than 100 instances in which defendants were sent to jail because they could not afford to pay a fine, a practice first laid bare in the federal investigation into the criminal justice system in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, sparking outcries of discrimination in that state. The 105 examples were cited in a report to be filed this week by the state Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight. Among them:

■ A defendant charged with driving under the influence of alcohol was ordered to serve 25 days in jail for failing to pay $760 in fines and fees. “Do I have any say on this? Like, any defense?” the defendant asked.

■ In Leominster District Court, a defendant who owed $175 two years after a shoplifting offense was sent to jail, even though he told the judge he intended to pay the money within a month.

■ A third case was described to the Globe directly by the defendant, identified as James K. He told state officials he was looking to get his driver’s license, so that he could apply for a job, after serving prison time for a robbery in New York City when he was a teenager, he said. However, he had outstanding fines for a drug arrest years earlier in Dudley District Court.

When he returned to Dudley last year looking to address the fines, he said he was told he owed more than $1,000. He said he could not pay, that he had stayed in a homeless shelter the night before. He was sent to jail for 36 days.

“I was in disbelief, saying ‘You’re going to lock me up because I can’t pay a fine?’ ” said James K, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy during job searches.

“It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “I was sent to jail because I was poor.” The 105 examples are from Worcester, Plymouth, and Essex counties. It’s unclear how many other cases may have also occurred in other counties.

The review found that most of the 105 defendants who were sent to jail had initially arrived at the court for a relatively minor offense: 40 percent of the cases related to automobile violations that did not involve allegations of operating under the influence. In 16 percent of the cases, the original charge was for public disorder, such as disorderly conduct, public drinking, or trespassing.

None of the 105 defendants went to trial on the original offense, and in 60 percent of the cases the charges were continued without a finding or disposed of with pretrial probation. In 40 instances, the defendant was guilty of at least one charge, but only four ended up serving jail time at the original disposition of the case.

Ultimately, the sentences ranged from one day to 112 days. In nearly half of the cases, the defendant was ordered to serve at least two weeks.

The state expects more than $40 million in fees and fines each year, half of it related to probation fees, according to the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight. Senator Michael Barrett, a Democrat from Lexington and chairman of the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, said the review raised troubling questions about the state’s dependence on revenue from the poor, through the imposition of fees and fines — with stiff enforcement designed to make people pay up.

“We do this in the name of punishment, but it turns out to be a nifty business in terms of revenue generation, and we’ve grown too fond of what it pulls in,” said Barrett, an attorney by trade. “It’s a money­making sideline, run by the criminal justice system. The money comes out of the hides of not only poor offenders who have to get their lives back on track, but also the families of poor offenders. . . . We need to descale the hunt for revenue to sustain the court system.”

The review comes as top court officials have recently acknowledged the need for the courts “to provide equal justice for those who face financial challenges.” Ralph Gants, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, said in his annual State of the Courts address last month that “We are examining whether we are unwittingly punishing poverty by the imposition of fines, fees, and restitution that a defendant has no ability to pay, and taking steps to ensure that the inability to pay does not result in the revocation of probation, the inappropriate extension of a period of probation, or time in jail.”

Barrett said the review of cases and state laws shows it may take a combination of new court policies and legislative fixes to address the issue. ‘We are examining whether we are unwittingly punishing poverty by the imposition of fines,fees, and restitution . . . ’

State law, for instance, allows for a defendant to pay off fees by serving jail time, at a rate of $30 a day. Barrett’s committee called for increasing the rate to $60, so that a defendant can pay off his dues quicker if jail becomes an option.

The review also found that judges failed to appoint lawyers for defendants — who had already been declared indigent — when considering whether to send them to jail for failure to pay fines, a potential violation of their constitutional right to counsel. Barrett’s committee called on the Supreme Judicial Court to uphold a defendant’s right to an attorney in such cases, saying the court has not yet addressed the issue directly.

At the least, Barrett said, the courts should set policy requiring judges to appoint lawyers and to better inquire into whether a defendant is being in contempt of the court, or truly cannot pay. He also said the courts should consider alternatives to sentencing someone to jail.

“I’m not suggesting all fees go away. I think there’s a place for fines and fees in the fullness of things,” Barrett said. “Some people can feel the sting, and still pay it, but for some people this is more than a sting. It means you can’t pay rent for the month. That’s what we’re finding in these cases.”

Cassandra Bensahih, executive director of the Worcester­based advocacy group ExPrisoners and Prisoners Organized for Community Advancement, said the report shows the cycle of hardships that many low­income people face, in which they can’t get a job because of past encounters with the criminal justice system, and so they can’t pay their fines.

“When they can’t find employment, can’t find jobs, what are they to do?” she said. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.

Action you can take to influence the Judiciary Committee

The Judiciary Committee is now evaluating bills to reform the Commonwealth’s judicial and correctional systems. YOU CAN INFLUENCE this process in several ways.

1. Pledge to attend the June 9 hearing, 1 pm at the Gardner Auditorium of the Statehouse to show support for reform. Sign up here or show up at 12:45 pm at the Statehouse.

2. Print out multiple copies of this action letter. Invite others to sign individual letters. Mail them to EMIT, C/o Susan Tordella, 5 Hedgeway St. Ayer, MA 01432. EMIT will deliver them in person to the Judiciary Committee members. Or deliver the letters in person to Judiciary Committee members.

3.Call or email members of the Judiciary Committee and encourage other voters to do the same,  to encourage legislators to support criminal justice reform, especially the bills in the action letter

Here are the Judiciary Committee members, positions and contact information.

The legislators with NONE beside their names really need to hear that we support reform. 

Key (bills Sponsored -SP or Co-sponsored):
MM:    End Mandatory Minimums
PT:      Pre-Trial and Bail Reform
Just:   Justice Reinvestment Act
Care:   Caretaker Act
Exp:    Expungement
RJ:      Restorative Justice
Extra:  Extraordinary Medical Release

William Brownsberger, D-Belmont – Chair    617-722-1280
MM, Just, Exp, RJ,
Sen. John Keenen, D-Quincy – Vice Chair NONE   617-722-1494
Sonia Chang Diaz, D-Boston           617-722-1673
PT, MM, Just -SP
Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville         617-722-1578
PT, MM, Care-SP, Exp, RJ, Extra -SP
Cynthia Creem, D-Newton               617-722-1639
MM- SP, Just
Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham             NONE   617-722-1555
Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford- Chair   NONE     617-722-2396
Claire Cronin, D-Easton – Vice Chair                       617-722-2396
PT, MM, Just, RJ Extra
Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut    NONE       617-722-2380
Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield     NONE       617-722-2582
Michael Day, D-Winchester                        617-722-2582
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem          NONE          617-722-2400
Rep. James Lyons, R-Andover    NONE          617-722-2450
Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin                     617-722-2020
Pre-Trial, MM, RJ
Evandro Carvalho, D-Dorchester      617-722-2460
MM, Just
Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield         617-722-2080
PT, MM, Just, Care
Sheila Harrington, R-Groton              617-722-2305

Charles Koch’s views on criminal justice system just may surprise you

"Charles Koch" and "Newt Gingrich" are famous conservatives who are joining the movement to end mass incarceration, spurred by Michelle Alexander's landmark book, "The New Jim Crow."

After studying the U.S. criminal justice system, Charles Koch concluded that there are too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders. (May 22, 2012) BO RADER FILE PHOTO
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12/27/2014 5:12 PM 12/29/2014 9:49 AM

Of all the contentious history between Koch Industries and the U.S. government, the Corpus Christi, Texas, case from 1995 is the one that Charles Koch remembers most vividly.

A federal grand jury indicted his company on 97 felonies involving alleged environmental crimes at an oil refinery.

Prosecutors dropped all but one of the charges six years later, after the company spent tens of millions of dollars defending itself.

Ultimately, Koch Petroleum Group agreed to pay a $10 million settlement.

“It was a really, really torturous experience,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s chief counsel. “We learned first-hand what happens when anyone gets into the criminal justice system.”

Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”

No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case, Holden said. But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system – both federal and state – wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody.

His conclusion: Yes, it has.

Ten years ago, he began giving money to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers and reverse what some see as a national trend to get tough on crime, which has resulted in the tripling of the incarceration rate since the 1980s and has stripped the poor of their rights to a legal defense.

He’s going to give more to that effort, he said.

“Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.”

The nation’s criminal justice system needs reform, “especially for the disadvantaged,” Koch said, “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”

Holden said legislators in recent decades drifted into a habit of adding more laws every year and taking stands to show themselves as “getting tough on crime.” It has gone too far, Holden said.

The weight has fallen most heavily on minorities, Holden said.

It has festered in neighborhoods and fostered the anger of people protesting against police actions in Missouri and New York. And, Holden said, “It definitely appears to have a racial angle, intended or not.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one in three black men will spend time in prison.

The impact

Among the concerns, Holden said, of federal and state governments are:

▪ Too many nonviolent offenders have been sent to prison for too long. The United States incarcerates 2.2 million people. Another 65 million – one in four adults – now have criminal records, according to the defense lawyers association.

“We have more of America now in prison than they ever did (in South Africa) in apartheid,” Holden said. “Let that swirl around in your head for a while.”

▪ The economy has been damaged by making it difficult for offenders to get jobs once they are out of prison. The social stigma and routine background checks, according to the association, “has made it all but impossible for a person with a criminal record to leave the past behind.”

▪ Millions of former offenders have been denied voting and other rights long after they have paid their debt to society.

▪ The Sixth Amendment right to an attorney has been impaired by allowing public defender offices to be underfunded and overwhelmed, including by government prosecutors with more far more resources at their disposal.

The Corpus Christi case led Charles Koch and his company to give money, starting about 10 years ago, to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The company and the association would not say how much Koch has given, but the amount totals in the seven figures, Holden said.

Campaigning against overcriminalization has prompted Koch to form unofficial alliances with people and organizations that usually champion liberal causes, including political activist George Soros and the American Civil Liberties Union, who are also campaigning for a reduction in prison populations.

Kansas prisons

Kansas has 9,600 inmates in eight adult prisons, according to the 2014 annual report from the Kansas Department of Corrections, which has an annual budget of $306 million.

The cost per inmate is $25,000 per year.

“That’s more than what it costs to send a kid to college for a year,” said David Gilkey, a Wichita youth mentor.

The prison population is projected to rise by 740 more inmates by 2024, which would add another $18.5 million per year to the state cost, according to state estimates.

Nobody wants to let violent criminals out of prison, Holden said. Of the 9,600 inmates in Kansas, 4,836 were convicted of committing violent crimes, and another 2,129 were sent there for sex offenses.

But there are also 1,736 inmates serving drug sentences and another 567 serving sentences for nonviolent property crimes.

Wasting human resources

Gilkey and Norman Reimer say much the same things about overcriminalization of the justice system and their support of Koch’s plans to reform it. Few men could be as different in background.

Reimer, an attorney, directs the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C.

Gilkey is a former Wichita crack addict and an ex-convict who spent nearly four years in Kansas prisons. But in the nine years since his release, Gilkey has become a respected Wichita mentor to young people.

He runs “Rise Up for Youth,” a United Way-supported group; he goes regularly into the tough parts of town, speaks to gang members and goes into local schools at the request of educators to plead with youngsters to study, stay away from drugs and stay out of crime.

Reimer said the “tough on crime” stance has created “too many laws, too many flaws in the criminal justice process and far too much work for beleaguered public defenders assigned to represent poor people in courts.”

“There are never adequate resources now to ensure that the poor can have access to a lawyer,” he said.

It may surprise some Koch critics that Koch took an interest in criminal justice; it’s not a surprise to Reimer.

“We share a reverence for the Bill of Rights,” he said.

Putting 2 million people in prison was a mistake, he said.

“We are not a nation of bad people. We are a nation that made some bad choices,” he said.

“We’ve become addicted to severe sentences, to the point where we are mass-producing convictions in many courts, while not providing defense counsel on a timely basis.

“We’ve got to fix that, and there is now a growing consensus among people knowledgeable about justice and economics that we are wasting precious human resources in criminal justice.”

Gilkey said he’s seen hundreds of examples showing Reimer and Koch are right. He grew up and committed crimes in Wichita’s poorest neighborhoods, then began to work with youths there and visit prisons where people from Wichita are incarcerated.

He’s no liberal on many social or justice issues. He tells boys to treat police officers with respect.

He wishes he could legally obtain a gun because of some of the tough neighborhoods he walks into to mentor youths.

He says marijuana should never be legalized, because as a drug addict, he learned first-hand that pot is “the gateway drug to all the other drugs.”

But he said we have devised a “crazy” and costly system where we spend tens of millions in Kansas to incarcerate people and train them so well in prison that many of them earn tech school certificates to become plumbers or electricians or other trade workers.

“When they get out, they can’t get jobs,” Gilkey said. “They have to check that box on the job application that says, ‘Have you ever been convicted?’ No one hires them then.”

Gilkey, like millions of other convicted felons, lost the right to vote and to apply for a concealed-handgun permit.

“Most employers won’t hire me if they learn I’m a convicted felon,” he said. “Most apartment complexes won’t rent to me if I tried. My wife and I rent a house only because someone decided to trust us.”

He believes nonviolent offenders should not face prison time. It would save millions, he said. It would put people to work paying taxes instead of getting fed for years at taxpayer expense.

Holden, Koch’s counsel and a friend of Gilkey’s, said laws allow many crimes to be expunged from someone’s record. But that’s a tricky legal process, and many poor people don’t have the money to hire lawyers, he said.

It makes no sense to give a life sentence like that to nonviolent offenders after they’ve served time, Holden said.

“If you have a nonviolent felony and you get out of prison, we as a country can’t forgive and forget?” he asked

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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‘Secret’ Sept. 9 MA primary election will decide critical candidates

Here is a synopsis of Mass. gubernatorial candidates position on criminal justice reform. Source: the highly regarded Mass INC, an advocate for the middle class. The “no stated positions” say quite a bit between the lines. Make sure and vote on Sept. 9 or file an absentee ballot.

On the Campaign Trail

Below you will find a review of the policy positions for each candidate running for governor and attorney general in November. This review focused on the main areas of recommendations for reform identified in a 2013 report from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition – sentencing reform, programming & treatment, reentry & supervision, and uniform data collection & evaluation.