Category Archives: Massachusetts

Massachusetts statehouse and state legislators have passed dozens of bills to fill our prisons and jails. These bills often discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, income, social class, education, mental health and drug and substance addiction and abuse

Side-by-side comparison of Mass. justice reform bill

It’s the season of waiting and expectations, and we are hoping for the gift of the strongest possible bill to emerge from the conference committee to reform our state’s justice and corrections systems.

Click on this link for a side-by-side of the House and Senate versions of the massive bill to reform our state’s justice and corrections systems. Thanks to the dedication of State Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, co-chair of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and his staff for the information.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill, and it is in conference committee — see below for members. With our partner activist groups, EMIT is preparing a list of priorities to make the bill as strong as possible when it goes back to both legislative houses for either a thumbs up or thumbs down vote, with no further revisions.

If you are in the districts of any of the conference committee members, please contact me immediately, emit . susan [at] g mail . com, so we can coordinate a face-to-face meeting with your legislator to maximize our impact.

For everyone else, we will be asking you to contact your state representatives and senators with a carefully crafted list of preferred compromises and improvements.

Reform is on the horizon! The question is how strong will it be?

State Senator Will Brownsberger , D-Belmont, and co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in the Massachusetts Statehouse.   Will can often be seen  biking to the Statehouse. 

Conference committee members

Senate

Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont)
Cynthia Creem (D-Brookline/Newton)
Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester)
House
Claire Cronin (D-Brockton)
Ronald Mariano (D-Qunicy)
Sheila Harrington (R-Groton)
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Influence & inform your state rep AGAIN ! It’s critical & timely

TODAY, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, the Massachusetts House will hopefully start debating on 212 possible amendments to its big criminal justice reform bill, and we expect a vote on the bill by WednesdayWe’re in the final stretch!

We need YOUR HELP to make this bill as strong as possible. Here are three things you can do:

(1)  Email your state rep the attached list of requested votes.  The list includes “YES” votes on amendments that would help make our justice system more fair and effective, and critically important “NO” votes.   The list itself is simple, to make it easy for state reps to use.   Click here for the list:  H 4011 Requested Votes

Check whether your state rep sponsored any of the positive amendments.  If so, thank them for that.  (You can look up your state rep at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

Use a subject line like “Vote requests for H.4011 & amendments.”  The body of the email can be short and sweet:

Dear Representative XXX,

I am excited by the current opportunity for comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.  [Thank you especially for your leadership on YYY.]

I hope you will help make our justice system more fair and effective by voting on amendments to H.4011 as requested in the attached document.

Most importantly, I hope H.4011 will pass with a resounding majority.

Thank you!

(2)  Attend any part of the House debate.  The House will likely start to debate this bill  at around 1 p.m on MondayTuesday, and Wednesday (Nov. 13-15).

 Sometimes sessions go well into the evening. You call the State House at 617-722-2000 and ask whether the House is still in session.
Email or text your state rep to tell them you’re there and/or drop by their office to say hi to their staff and possibly drop off a paper copy of the amendments requests.
Wear light-colored or bright-colored clothing with a message printed or a button, and sit in the front row of the balcony (which is on the fourth floor).  We want our presence to be known and visible!
(3)  Share this email with anyone you think might want to help improve our Commonwealth’s justice system.

Thank you for anything you can do!  
Activists [like YOU] have created the momentum for this exciting opportunity for several years. PLEASE email your rep the list of amendments RIGHT NOW.

Here’s hoping for a strong bill with a 2/3 veto-proof majority . . .
Susan Tordella
Thanks to EMIT core members Lori Kenschaft for compiling the email and the list of amendments, and for Lauren Gibbs additions.
 
And thanks to YOU for participating in our democracy, to correct some of the worst injustices of our time.

Statehouse rally Oct 12, reform in reach

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.

Lori Kenschaft

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.

​EMIT
End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots volunteer
working group of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network
http://www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com

Bail reform emanates from MA High court

Last month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that judges must take into account a defendant’s financial resources when setting bail. The original intent of bail was to be sure a defendant returned to court, but in today’s environment, where approximately 97 percent of criminal cases are settled with plea bargain agreements, the setting of bail that people cannot pay, serves to guarantee more convictions.

When one is incarcerated pretrial, one is more likely to accept a plea, and a criminal conviction, in order to go home.

It is unclear what the impact will be for this ruling. The practice of bail will continue, and the court can use it when their is a flight risk.  Dangerousness hearings are also part of Massachusetts law, so that defendants deemed a danger to the public can be retained pretrial.  At this time the Mass Bail Fund is meeting with others to determine what kind of monitoring can be done to determine compliance with the new ruling.

See more here about the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

–Submitted by Louellyn Lambros of Scituate, an EMIT CORE member.

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 .

Connect to Correctional Officers to gain understanding

This article published in Mother Jones gives excellent insight into the job of a private prison guard. The book, “NewJack: Guarding Sing Sing” by Ted Conover, is another excellent accoung by an undercover journalist. I found “NewJack” at my public library. It is well-written, informative and interesting.

To succeed in our movement to reform our police, justice and corrections systems, we must reach out to those responsible for enforcing our policies — the correctional officers and departments of corrections. These are worth reading.

My four months as a private prison guard
Shane Bauer, Mother Jones

This blockbuster first-person piece details Bauer’s undercover job as a guard in a Louisiana penitentiary run by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the U.S. (It has since rebranded as CoreCivic.) Bauer witnessed violence and cost-cutting at every turn, and — as journalist Ted Conover did in his similar 2000 book, “New Jack” — examined his own evolving reaction to a job spent keeping other people locked up.

— submitted to The Marshall Project by Beth Schwarztapfel