Category Archives: Re-entry

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

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Fees add to hurdles of returning citizens after jail

By Andy Metzger     STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 15, 2016…Inmates released from prison who are placed on probation should not need to pay fees for their supervision, the chief justice of the district court said Wednesday.

“The imposition of a fee at that point in time, a probation fee, is counter to rehabilitative efforts, and we’ve seen some evidence it interferes with employment, with housing,” District Court Chief Justice Paul Dawley told the Governor’s Council during a hearing.

Dawley led a court system working group on judicial reforms, producing a report Nov. 17 that the chief justice said had been shared with Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

“It’s been positively received by all three,” Dawley said Wednesday.

The Big Three have also collaborated with Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants on developing a justice system reform package for next session.

Policymakers are eyeing ways to reduce recidivism, cut down on incarceration and related costs, and deliver more supports to individuals before and after they are released from jails and prisons. Revenue constraints loom as a potential obstacle to more expansive pre- and post-incarceration services, as state officials are in the midst of a midyear budget reductions and the appetite for new or higher taxes on Beacon Hill appears low.

On Tuesday the Jobs Not Jails coalition rallied in Boston for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes while worrying that the coming reforms would only result in “tinkering” with the laws and changes to probation and parole.

On Wednesday, appearing on behalf of attorney Sarah Ellis’s nomination to the Woburn District Court, Dawley said state laws currently force the assessment of certain fees on defendants regardless of their ability to pay.

“There are some statutes that exist now that make it very difficult for judges,” Dawley told Councilor Robert Jubinville. “In fact there are some statutes, as you know, that take away any discretion of the judge to actually waive a fee or fine. The law is very clear.”

The working group suggested new court policies and proposed legislation in response to recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice, which concluded that the criminal justice system in Ferguson, Missouri had “deprived people of their constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and other federal protections.”

In public speeches, Gants has also questioned the fees imposed on defendants.

According to the working group, people placed on probation are charged either $65 or $50 per month. In some cases, defendants released from incarceration can be assessed monthly fees for both parole and probation supervision, according to the report.

The group, which was led by Dawley and counted Ellis as a member, recommended the court explore the feasibility of allowing defendants to establish payment plans, develop a remote-access electronic payment system, and adopt a policy requiring judges to appoint attorneys for indigent defendants in proceedings when the enforcement of fees and fines related to a criminal case could lead to incarceration.

A person can be incarcerated for non-payment when a judge finds the person was able to pay and willfully failed to pay, according to the report, which says “the judge should consider alternatives to incarceration.”

In fiscal 2016, the Trial Court collected $99.9 million in fines, fees and court costs in 30 collection categories, while also assessing $73.9 million in restitution, and ordering $1.4 million in forfeited bail money turned over to the General Fund.

“There’s no judge in our system that wants to sit there all day and collect money,” Dawley said.

Jubinville recalled a time he spent in court in recent months where he saw a judge repeatedly order people to be locked up for failure to make payments.

“Five straight people got locked up in a row,” Jubinville said. “I said to the court officer sitting next to me, ‘This is like the French revolution. Step up and off with their heads. Into the lock-up.'”

The working group suggested changes to the “several statutes” that prohibit judges from ordering waivers on specific fines and fees. As an example of a non-waivable fee it would like to see changed, the group noted a $250 head injury assessment for driving under the influence of drugs or liquor.

The group wants changes to a law last amended in 1987 that applies to people incarcerated for failing to pay fines. Current law allows people to “work off” the amount they owe, receiving $30 off the balance owed for every day incarcerated. The working group calculated that $30 in 1987 would be worth $64.21 today. The working group also recommended development of a single standard that could be used by a judge in determining whether to waive a fee based on a person’s inability to pay.

-END-
12/15/2016

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