Some degree of comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts is likely in the next few months. The question is how much.
The MA State Senate is expected to vote on its omnibus bill, S.2170, sometime in the next two weeks, perhaps on October 19th. The House omnibus bill will probably be reported out shortly after that, and Speaker DeLeo said he hopes it will be voted on and the two bills sent to a conference committee before Thanksgiving. Depending on how arduous that process is, we might have comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts by the end of December. Exciting times indeed!
The biggest dangers here are that the Senate bill may be weakened by amendments, the House bill might be a lot weaker than the Senate bill, and the resulting law might not have much impact.
There may also be an opportunity to strengthen the Senate bill, especially its provisions regarding the conditions of solitary confinement.
If the proposed MA Senate omnibus became law, it would improve thousands of people’s lives. Among other things, it would:
+ Reduce fees, fines, and other collateral consequences that trap people in a cycle of poverty and recidivism;
+ Raise the age for being tried as an adult to 19, with a mechanism to consider raising it to 20 or 21 in the future;
+ Promote the use of restorative justice;
+ Repeal mandatory minimums for lower-level drug offenses;
+ Expand eligibility for diversion to drug treatment;
+ Implement the SJC ruling that bail must be affordable;
+ Raise the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500, in keeping with other states;
+ Allow records to be sealed after 3 years for misdemeanors and 7 years for felonies;
+ Restrict the use of solitary confinement and improve its conditions;
+ Provide for medical release of people who are incapacitated or terminally ill; and
+ Decriminalize disturbing a school assembly and sexual activitiy between young people close in age, also know as the Romeo and Juliet provision.
Six things you can do to help make real reform a reality:
(1) Come to a rally for criminal justice reform today — Thursday, October 12 — 11 a.m. on the grand staircase in the State House.
(2) Call or email your state senator and ask them to vote for the criminal justice reform omnibus bill, S.2170, without amendments that would compromise its goals. You could add a request that they support amendments that would further improve the conditions of solitary confinement.
(3) Call or email your state representative and ask them to make sure that Rep. Claire Cronin, the House Judiciary Committee co-chair, knows that they support a strong omnibus bill. You could add that you hope the House bill will include some or all of the priorities listed above. (You can look up your legislators at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)
(4) Send letters to the editor to your local paper explaining why you think these issues are important and supporting the Senate omnibus bill.
(5) Write supportive comments (questions are fine too) on Sen. Will Brownsberger’s blog at https://willbrownsberger.com/senate-criminal-justice-reform-package/
(6) Share this information with your friends (by social media, email, or good old-fashioned conversation) and tell them you’re excited by this opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.
On behalf of EMIT leadership team
EMIT — End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots all-volunteer working group of Unitarian Universalism Mass Action Network
The only way to reform our state’s judicial and corrections systems is through a number of bills passed over several years.
This requires regular contact with your state legislators.
End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots volunteer
working group of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network
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.
Public Safety Secretary applauds higher threshold for felony larceny
Massachusetts Public Safety and Security Secretary Daniel Bennett cheered the Senate’s plan to take up legislation heightening the threshold before larceny can be treated as a felony.
The Senate on Thursday plans to take up a bill (S 2156) that cleared the Judiciary Committee, which would raise the felony larceny threshold for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The threshold was last increased in November 1987 when Gov. Michael Dukakis approved a law increasing the felony amount to $250, up from $100. The Senate bill would raise the threshold to $1,500 before a defendant could be punished with years in prison.
“I think it makes sense. It’s been at $250 for a long time,” Bennett told the News Service Friday on his way into a cabinet meeting.
Bennett said the new threshold is an important consideration and he hoped to work with lawmakers to find a “fair amount for victims.”
“It depends on the amount, but certainly it should move up from $250 to realistically make what was a misdemeanor a felony. So I applaud the amounts going up. We do have to see what that amount goes to because we don’t want to take advantage of victims by making it too high,” Bennett said. – Andy Metzger/Statehouse News Service
3/7/2016 9:52:06 AM
Advocates and lawmakers are working together to draft legislation for the 2015-2016 legislative session on Beacon Hill. EMIT is encouraging voters who want to restore justice for all in the Commonwealth, to contact their state senators and state reps NOW in December, in advance of the January blitz of activity to introduce all of the bills for the 18 month session.
The more co-sponsors behind a proposed bill, the more support it will generate from other legislators. Lawmakers must commit to co-sponsor a bill by Jan. 15, 2015. The bills will be introduced during the first two weeks of January, given a number and assigned to a committee.
Here is a partial list of criminal reform measures we anticipate will be considered by the Massachusetts Legislature.
- End mandatory minimum sentences related to drug offenses. Some 70 percent of incarcerated people in Massachusetts prisons and jails are serving sentences set by mandatory minimum sentences, which eliminated judicial discretion. Mandatory minimum sentences have not been shown to increase public safety. There is no evidence to show mandatory minimums deter or reduce crime, or rates of addiction and substance abuse. Mandatory minimums are costly because they keep people incarcerated for longer periods of time than necessary, and disproportionately impact communities of color.
- Pretrial and bail reform — about 20 percent of the state’s 22,000 people in county jails and state prisons have not been convicted of a crime. Many are awaiting trial because they cannot afford to make a small amount of bail. New legislation would revise how accused individuals are evaluated, and determine if they can safely return to the community and be expected to appear at trial.
- Ending collateral sanctions by the Registry of Motor Vehicles so that people convicted of drug offenses will be eligible to immediately obtain a driver’s license [instead of waiting for up to 5 years] and eliminate the $500 reinstatement fee.
- Implement Restorative justice — an approach to community harm, to repair the harm caused by the event instead of punishing the person who committed the crime.
- Compassionate release — to allow terminally ill inmates to be released to the community.
- Solitary confinement — to revise how the Department of Corrections assigns solitary confinement to incarcerated individuals and especially juveniles.