Category Archives: legislative action

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 https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)
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.
Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your address and phone number]
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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.

Ferguson and Staten Island are the tip of the iceberg

Recent events in which black men have died at the hands of police are examples of how the US justice system is slanted against people who are black, Latino, poor, addicted to substances and mentally ill.

In Massachusetts, EMIT — End Mass Incarceration Together [a statewide grassroots advocacy group led by Unitarians and UU Mass Action Network] — partners with voters and state legislators to pass a series of bills in the next few years to ensure justice for all. We advocate legislative action, information, and coalition building to change Massachusetts state laws, policies, systems of justice and incarceration, probation and parole.

Such change is achieved one bill at a time, working in a statewide grassroots network of voters, legislators, communities, churches, non-profits and advocacy groups. We are working on generating support for two bills in the 2015 session: ending mandatory minimum sentencing and reform of pre-trial practices.

We need local leaders willing to take some small steps by Jan. 31.

1. Print out the letter below and invite people to sign individual letters to their state senator and representative. [Determine reps/senators here.]

2. Collect the letters and deliver them to your state representative and state senator BY JAN. 30.  Make an appointment with him/her in your district. You do not need to go to Beacon Hill. A personal visit to deliver the signed stack of letters has a BIG impact on your legislator. Ask other voters to attend the meeting.

3. Let EMIT know [emit.susan@gmail.com] that you have taken this action. If you cannot deliver the letters, send them to 5 Hedgeway St., Ayer, MA 01432.

Here are fact sheets on the two bills.

Pretrial Reform FactSheet(2)       Mandatory Minimums FactSheet2

Date ___________________________

Massachusetts State House   Room

24 Beacon Street   Boston, MA 02133

The Honorable_______________________________,

I am writing to ask you to co-sponsor two bills that are priority legislation for the Harm Reduction & Drug Law Reform Caucus. As you know, the Caucus is a coalition of more than 65 legislators, working to end mass incarceration through policy changes, education and coalition building.

The Caucus is committed to reforming the Commonwealth’s justice system, which unjustly impacts and incarcerates people who are black, Latino, poor, uneducated, addicted to substances, and mentally ill. The Caucus is co-chaired by Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland) and Senator Jamie Eldridge, (D-Acton). If you are already a caucus member, thank you.

Your help is needed to join the work of the Caucus and continue the momentum to end the injustice of mass incarceration in Massachusetts. We urge you to co-sponsor the two bills by Jan. 15, so your names will be printed on the cover of the bills, along with many fellow legislators.

  1. Removal of Mandatory Minimum sentencing – sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Cream, D-Newton, and Rep. Ben Swan, D-Springfield, to allow drug offenders to be sentenced based on their role in the offense, prior criminal history (if any) and need for treatment.
  2. Reform pre-trial and bail practices – sponsored by Sen. Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) and Rep. Sannicandro, to transform a justice system based on wealth to a risk-based system.  One-fourth of the 22,000 people incarcerated in the state are awaiting trial, without a guilty finding.

Fact sheets on these issues are available at www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com or by contacting Rebecca Miller, legislative aide to Rep. Sannicandro,  617-722-2013 and    Rebecca.Miller@mahouse.gov.

Thank you in advance for supporting justice reform in 2015 in Massachusetts.

Sincerely,

Signature_____________________________________

Printed name_________________________________

Address______________________________________

Town_________________________________________

Letter to legislators to ask for co-sponsorship of upcoming legislation

[Church or personal address]

[Date]

Here is a letter to print out and distribute to your circle of influence to send to state legislators by Jan. 15, 2015.

To identify your state lawmakers and their room numbers at the Statehouse, go to: https://malegislature.gov/people/search

Massachusetts State House
Room _______
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 01233

The Honorable ____________________________

I am writing to express my support of bills to end mass incarceration in the 2015-16 legislative term and invite you to co-sponsor one or all of them. The bills are as follows.

  1. End Mandatory Minimums – sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Cream, D-Newton, and Rep. Ben Swan, D-Springfield, to allow drug offenders to be sentenced based on their role in the offense, prior criminal history (if any) and need for treatment.
  2. Reform pre-trial and bail practices – Sen. Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) and Rep. Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), to transform a justice system based on wealth to a risk-based system.  One-fourth of the 22,000 people incarcerated in the state are awaiting trial, without being found guilty of a crime.
  3. End collateral sanctions at the Registry of Motor Vehicles – Liz Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) and Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). Remove the requirement that a person convicted of a drug offense loses driving privileges for up to five years and pay $500 or more to reinstate.
  4. Implement restorative justice programs – Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Sean Garbally (D-Arlington) to provide an opportunity to repair the harm caused by the event, as opposed to handing down a punishment.
  5. Expungement – Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), to expunge a criminal record in which the defendant was mistakenly brought into the criminal justice system.

The five bills above are endorsed by the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus, led by Rep. Sannicandro and Sen. Eldridge, which I hope you will join, if you haven’t yet.  I encourage you to sign on as a co-sponsor of one or all of these bills before Jan. 15, 2015. As you know, adding your name to the front page of a bill increases the likelihood that the legislation will pass.

I also support three additional bills that will: redefine the criteria of a felony charge; put limits on the use of solitary confinement; and allow compassionate release of people who are terminally ill.

We must work together to end one of the worst travesties of our time – mass incarceration, as well to offer economic opportunities in communities hardest hit by poverty, drugs and hopelessness. I look forward to our continued communication to restore justice for all in Massachusetts.

Mass incarceration is inhumane, ineffective and fiscally irresponsible. I strongly support proven methods to reform the Massachusetts system of justice. I recognize that a lack of economic opportunity leaves many people with few options for legal employment. I support investing in our most vulnerable communities  through business development, providing job skill training classes, and by other programs that a community identifies to generate change.

As a Unitarian Universalist, my denomination will continue to advocate for these needed changes.  I look forward to our continued communication and partnering to end mass incarceration together and restore justice in Massachusetts.

Sincerely,

[signature]

[printed name]________________________

[address]_____________________________