From Lauren K. Gibbs, an EMIT leader and activist
I just finished “Six By Ten: Stories From Solitary,” edited by Taylor Pendergrass and Mateo Hoke, 2018, part of the Voice of Witness series. I got it from the library system and it is available on Amazon.
The experiences are from nine imprisoned or formerly imprisoned people, one from the wife of an imprisoned young man who died, one from the mother of an imprisoned young man who she believes is likely to die soon, and two from white Corrections Officers – one who almost was incarcerated before joining the COs – who are trying to make a difference in the system.
The incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people are three black men, two white men, one Asian man, two black women (one Muslim), and one black transgender woman. These are frightening stories.
Read this book if you can. I am asking the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the heads of the Judiciary Committee, and my legislators to read the book (242 pages plus six appendixes comprising 37 pages including what we on the outside can do, a timeline of Solitary Confinement in the US, a glossary of Solitary language, a six-page discussion of Intimacy and Violence in a supermax prison, a six-page discussion of where Solitary Confinement is headed in the US, and the five-page demands of the 2011 California Prisoner Hunger Strike.
The 10 things we can do are as follows.
1. Befriend someone in Solitary. Go to http://solitarywatch.com/about-lifelines to obtain a pen pal.
2. Invite people who have been in Solitary to speak in our community about their experiences and thoughts.
3. Make demands of local elected officials and candidates, such as Sheriffs (and District Attorneys).
4. Give money or time to local prisoners’ rights and reentry organizations. Prisoners Legal Services in Massachusetts is a strong advocate for incarcerated people, especially in solitary.
5. Organize to pass statewide reforms, particularly of solitary confinement and improve access to quality mental health care funding in the broader community and in prisons and jails.
6. Ask Governor Baker to take a stand against Solitary Confinement and appoint a corrections director who implements reforms to Solitary Confinement different from this administration.
7. Volunteer in a prison.
8. Support efforts to hire formerly incarcerated people.
9. Support investigative journalism.
10. Share this book.
The 5 Demands of the 2011 Strike are as follows.
1. End Group Punishment and Administrative Abuse.
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria.
3. Comply with the 2006 Recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons to end Long-Term Solitary Confinement.
4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU-Status Inmates.
Gov. Baker, the Massachusetts State Legislature and the Mass. DOC should work to end Solitary Confinement [under many different names and designations] and provide the programming, food, and mental health care that incarcerated people need to break the cycles of incarceration and get ahead in life.
This powerful 2 minute video sums up reasons to vote for John Bradley, Democratic candidate for District Attorney in Plymouth County.
If you don’t live in Plymouth County, please share this with friends who do live there.
You can also find out about your county races for District Attorney here.
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
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.”
Great news! Yesterday the state Senate voted unanimously for the conference committee
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 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
corrections systems. The bad news is that legislators are afraid of political repercussions of being smart on crime instead of tough on crime, out-dated practices that delivered us a racist system of mass incarceration.
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?
Conference committee members
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.
(2) Attend any part of the House debate. The House will likely start to debate this bill at around 1 p.m on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (Nov. 13-15).
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.
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