Category Archives: Massachusetts

Six by 10: Stories from Solitary

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. 

John Bradley for District Attorney in Plymouth County, Mass.

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. 

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

By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICEbaker

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.”

A landmark decision on 50th year remembrance of Martin Luther King

Great news!  Yesterday the state Senate voted unanimously for the conference committee

end mass incarceration; MLK legacy; bail reform; felony threshold

Martin Luther King Jr was honored yesterday by the Mass. Statehouse when it passed its Omnibus Bill to reform the commonwealth’s justice and corrections systems. The bill is awaiting action by Gov. Charlie Baker.

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 next step is to get Gov. Baker to sign the bill — not send it back with amendments.
Please contact Gov. Baker in whichever of the following ways you prefer, ask him to sign the criminal justice omnibus bill without amendments, and perhaps include 1-2 sentences about why this bill is important to you (either particular provisions you care about, or that it will promote justice and compassion and true public safety, or whatever feels right to you):
+  Call his office at 617-725-4005
+  Use the webform at http://www.mass.gov/governor/constituent-services/contact-governor-office/  (ignore the “old website” warning)
+  Email his Legislative Director Kaitlyn Sprague at Kaitlyn.Sprague@state.ma.us or constituent serivices director Mindy D’Arbeloff at mindy.darbeloff@state.ma.us
+  Tweet @CharlieBakerMA
Also — Passing a bill doesn’t mean we’re done!  Laws matter, but what people are doing matters too.
The Mass Bail Fund and What a Difference a DA Makes campaign are seeking court watchers — people who get some training, commit to going to a courthouse at least three mornings in three months, and collect information that will help hold judges and prosecutors accountable.
No experience is necessary.  Some of the people receiving this email have had altogether too much experience with courtrooms, while for others this is an excellent opportunity to learn and grow personally while helping the movement.  Everyone is welcome!
The Suffolk County training will be this Sunday, April 84-6:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church (633 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain).  Trainings for Plymouth, Hampton, and Essex Counties are scheduled for April 22May 6, and May 20.  If you live in Middlesex County, which is not one of the counties we’re focusing on, please consider helping out in Suffolk, Essex, or Worcester County.  You don’t have to attend the training in the same county where you do your court watching.
If you have some mornings free and can help in this way, please learn more and register at www.courtwatchma.org .
And may we all help keep alive Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a world where people have quelled the triple evils of racism, militarism, and excessive materialism, and everyone has justice, peace, and the material and spiritual foundations of a good life.
Lori Kenschaft 

Omnibus Bill Released

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

 

 

Omnibus Bill in limbo until 5/25

The good news is that we have a significant bill to reform the Massachusetts justice andMassachusetts 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

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.

The buzz on Beacon Hill is that because crime and punishment are hot buttons, many state legislators want to avoid antagonizing a constituent into running against her or him.
Hence, we expect NO ACTION will be taken to bring the Omnibus Bill out of conference committee until AFTER May 25, the last day candidates can file to run for state office in Massachusetts on the ballot. [Write-ins are always possible.]
The conference committee is struggling to resolve Mandatory Minimums. Most district attorneys use the possibility of a mandatory minimum sentence in drug cases to threaten and intimidate someone into pleading guilty to a lesser charge and shorter sentence.
With the power granted by mandatory minimums, District Attorneys are empowered to act as prosecutor, judge and jury, at their discretion, only answering to voters. In the voting booth, a typical voter doesn’t realize the power of a district attorney, and they often run unopposed.
Some legislators and grieving parents mistakenly believe that mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses will end the war on drugs, and eliminate drug dealers. This is false. Mandatory minimums have NOT ended the drug war, just filled up our prisons and jails. Drugs are still available to buyers and addicts.
What a difference a District Attorney Makes
EMIT and the ACLU of Massachusetts have partnered on the project What A Difference A DA Makes.   Educational events to raise awareness of this campaign have already been happening, including in Arlington, Mass. If you would like to host an event on What a Difference A DA Makes,  contact emit.susan@gmail.com.
​Continuing Education and Networking opportunities
To learn more about reforming our justice and corrections systems, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at the Harvard Law School, regularly sponsors FREE speakers, films and forums.
Sign up to their mailing list here: houstoninst@law.harvard.edu 
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)