a. The Good News–This elevates criminal justice reform to being a “must pass” a bill situation given the Governor, Senate President, House Speaker and Chief Justice are behind it.
b. THE CHALLENGE: The bill they file will likely NOT strong enough and focus on probation, parole, and recidivism. It will likely ignore the repeal of long mandatory minimum sentences on non-violent drug offenders etc.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Attend the Rally / Press Conference on December 13 at 10:00.
2. Contact your legislators and/or come to the Jobs Not Jails Lobby Day in January – ask that they co-sponsor the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, The Justice Reinvestment Act, which will include the Jobs Not Jails Priorities. More details to come – filing deadline is Jan 20
3. In March 2017, the coalition will organize six major public action meetings in Boston, Brockton, New Bedford, Worcester, Springfield, Lynn, Lowell to show large-scale public support from major criminal justice reform and engage legislators, mayor, sheriffs, police chiefs.
BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court says a review of socalled finetime practices is underway. Scores of indebted become ‘finetime’ inmates. Posted from The Boston Globe.
By Milton J. Valencia GLOBE STAFF NOVEMBER 07, 2016
They call it “finetime” — a questionable practice in which defendants “pay off” court fines and fees by serving time behind bars, even if they never committed a crime deserving of jail time in the first place.
A sampling of cases in Massachusetts from last year showed more than 100 instances in which defendants were sent to jail because they could not afford to pay a fine, a practice first laid bare in the federal investigation into the criminal justice system in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, sparking outcries of discrimination in that state. The 105 examples were cited in a report to be filed this week by the state Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight. Among them:
■ A defendant charged with driving under the influence of alcohol was ordered to serve 25 days in jail for failing to pay $760 in fines and fees. “Do I have any say on this? Like, any defense?” the defendant asked.
■ In Leominster District Court, a defendant who owed $175 two years after a shoplifting offense was sent to jail, even though he told the judge he intended to pay the money within a month.
■ A third case was described to the Globe directly by the defendant, identified as James K. He told state officials he was looking to get his driver’s license, so that he could apply for a job, after serving prison time for a robbery in New York City when he was a teenager, he said. However, he had outstanding fines for a drug arrest years earlier in Dudley District Court.
When he returned to Dudley last year looking to address the fines, he said he was told he owed more than $1,000. He said he could not pay, that he had stayed in a homeless shelter the night before. He was sent to jail for 36 days.
“I was in disbelief, saying ‘You’re going to lock me up because I can’t pay a fine?’ ” said James K, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy during job searches.
“It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “I was sent to jail because I was poor.” The 105 examples are from Worcester, Plymouth, and Essex counties. It’s unclear how many other cases may have also occurred in other counties.
The review found that most of the 105 defendants who were sent to jail had initially arrived at the court for a relatively minor offense: 40 percent of the cases related to automobile violations that did not involve allegations of operating under the influence. In 16 percent of the cases, the original charge was for public disorder, such as disorderly conduct, public drinking, or trespassing.
None of the 105 defendants went to trial on the original offense, and in 60 percent of the cases the charges were continued without a finding or disposed of with pretrial probation. In 40 instances, the defendant was guilty of at least one charge, but only four ended up serving jail time at the original disposition of the case.
Ultimately, the sentences ranged from one day to 112 days. In nearly half of the cases, the defendant was ordered to serve at least two weeks.
The state expects more than $40 million in fees and fines each year, half of it related to probation fees, according to the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight. Senator Michael Barrett, a Democrat from Lexington and chairman of the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, said the review raised troubling questions about the state’s dependence on revenue from the poor, through the imposition of fees and fines — with stiff enforcement designed to make people pay up.
“We do this in the name of punishment, but it turns out to be a nifty business in terms of revenue generation, and we’ve grown too fond of what it pulls in,” said Barrett, an attorney by trade. “It’s a moneymaking sideline, run by the criminal justice system. The money comes out of the hides of not only poor offenders who have to get their lives back on track, but also the families of poor offenders. . . . We need to descale the hunt for revenue to sustain the court system.”
The review comes as top court officials have recently acknowledged the need for the courts “to provide equal justice for those who face financial challenges.” Ralph Gants, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, said in his annual State of the Courts address last month that “We are examining whether we are unwittingly punishing poverty by the imposition of fines, fees, and restitution that a defendant has no ability to pay, and taking steps to ensure that the inability to pay does not result in the revocation of probation, the inappropriate extension of a period of probation, or time in jail.”
Barrett said the review of cases and state laws shows it may take a combination of new court policies and legislative fixes to address the issue. ‘We are examining whether we are unwittingly punishing poverty by the imposition of fines,fees, and restitution . . . ’
State law, for instance, allows for a defendant to pay off fees by serving jail time, at a rate of $30 a day. Barrett’s committee called for increasing the rate to $60, so that a defendant can pay off his dues quicker if jail becomes an option.
The review also found that judges failed to appoint lawyers for defendants — who had already been declared indigent — when considering whether to send them to jail for failure to pay fines, a potential violation of their constitutional right to counsel. Barrett’s committee called on the Supreme Judicial Court to uphold a defendant’s right to an attorney in such cases, saying the court has not yet addressed the issue directly.
At the least, Barrett said, the courts should set policy requiring judges to appoint lawyers and to better inquire into whether a defendant is being in contempt of the court, or truly cannot pay. He also said the courts should consider alternatives to sentencing someone to jail.
“I’m not suggesting all fees go away. I think there’s a place for fines and fees in the fullness of things,” Barrett said. “Some people can feel the sting, and still pay it, but for some people this is more than a sting. It means you can’t pay rent for the month. That’s what we’re finding in these cases.”
Cassandra Bensahih, executive director of the Worcesterbased advocacy group ExPrisoners and Prisoners Organized for Community Advancement, said the report shows the cycle of hardships that many lowincome people face, in which they can’t get a job because of past encounters with the criminal justice system, and so they can’t pay their fines.
“When they can’t find employment, can’t find jobs, what are they to do?” she said. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
In response to activists requests for justice and corrections systems reform and a plethora of bills before the state Legislature in the last 2015-16 term, Gov. Baker convened a 25- member panel of electeds and state bureaucrats. They have partnered with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to propose an omnibus bill [a multi-faced reform bill] in Jan. 2017. What follows is an update on that process of monthly meetings from the State House News Servce, summarizing activity and research by the CSG, a neutral non-profit that advises state governments on best-practices.
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 20, 2016…..Discussions of recidivism and community supervision slated for this fall are among the final steps in a process policymakers hope will result in reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.
After months studying recidivism trends, drivers of incarceration and other elements of criminal justice in Massachusetts, researchers from the Council on State Governments Justice Center plan to gather with a 25-member working group in December to go over final policy recommendations.
Those recommendations would then become the basis for legislation expected to be filed in January.
The Justice Center’s review launched after Gov. Charlie Baker, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo reached out in August 2015, requesting support in an effort to study the system and institute new data-driven and cost-effective practices.
In a letter to center staff, the four officials expressed hope that the the analysis would help them “better understand how we can further reduce recidivism and enable successful re-entry, and whether we can further reduce our prison and jail populations through early release programs while ensuring appropriate punishment and preserving public safety.”
Baker, Gants, Rosenberg, DeLeo and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito sit on a steering committee guiding the development of policy options.
The working group, which includes representatives from law enforcement, legal services, the judiciary, Legislature and executive branch, has held three public meetings so far, during which members have offered their reactions and suggestions to data presented by Justice Center researchers.
Three more meetings are planned for rest of the year, building towards a policy discussion before the start of the new legislative session in January.
The first, tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Oct. 20, will explore prisoner release, reentry and recidivism, according to Justice Center spokesman Robert Busweiler.
A November meeting focused on community supervision will be followed by the December policy framework discussion, Busweiler said. Dates for those meetings have not yet been set.
Several criminal justice reform efforts this session stalled despite pushes from advocates and interest groups.
A series of Senate-backed bills — creating a medical parole program for terminally ill inmates (S 2433); raising the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500 (S 2176); and a package of juvenile justice reforms including expungement of certain juvenile misdemeanor records (S 2176) — were not taken up in the House before the July 31 end of formal sessions and have remained before the House Ways and Means Committee.
New laws passed this session ended automatic driver’s licenses suspensions for most drug crimes unrelated to motor vehicles; banned the practice of sending women civilly committed for addiction treatment to a state prison in Framingham; and increased the penalties for trafficking of the opiate fentanyl.
Lawmakers have been awaiting the findings of the outside review before tackling other major justice system reforms.
Advocates, too, are watching with interest as the process enters its final months. The Jobs Not Jails Coalition, which rallied on Beacon Hill repeatedly last year in support of sentencing legislation and other reforms, is now working to determine its criminal justice priorities.
The coalition hopes to have its priorities finalized in October, and will then bring them to the steering committee of “decision makers” working with the researchers, said Lew Finfer, a coalition member and director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.
“There’s definitely a lot of things we think about,” Finfer said. He said potential reforms could be viewed through “three frameworks” — changes that would affect people before they are incarcerated, while they are in prison, and after release.
If new laws do result from the recommendations, Justice Center staff will then work with policymakers for two to three years, developing implementation plans, providing progress reports, and testifying before relevant committees. According to a January overview of the project, the state will be able to apply for federal grants to meet “important one-time implementation needs, such as information technology upgrades and ongoing quality assurance outcomes.”
Justice Center staff also plan to help state officials identify metrics and monitoring strategies to gauge the impact of new policies on crime, incarceration and recidivism.
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The economic toll of incarceration in the U.S. tops $1 trillion, and more than half of that falls on the families and communities of the people incarcerated, according to a recent study by Washington University researchers.
“For every dollar in corrections spending, there’s another 10 dollars of other types of costs to families, children and communities that nobody sees because it doesn’t end up on a state budget,” said Michael McLaughlin, the doctoral student and certified public accountant who led the study. “Incarceration doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”
The study’s authors claim to be the first to assign an actual dollar amount to the societal costs of incarceration, not just the governmental costs of running corrections systems, which many experts estimate to be $80 billion.
The study was spearheaded by McLaughlin and Carrie Pettus-Davis, who as co-director of the Smart Decarceration Initiative advocates for the shrinking of the U.S. mass incarceration system, which is the largest in the world. Pettus-Davis is also director of the Concordance Institute for Advancing Social Justice, which like the initiative is based at Washington U.
Some of the societal costs of incarceration include the wages people no longer earn while imprisoned — $70.5 billion — and the amount of lifetime earnings they will likely lose out on — $230 billion — after they get out because of employment restrictions and discrimination against the formerly incarcerated, the study says.
The formerly incarcerated also have a mortality rate that is 3.5 times higher than people who were not incarcerated, according to the study, and researchers estimated the cost of their shortened lives to be $62.6 billion.
As for the communities where incarcerated people live, the researchers believe the biggest cost — $285.8 billion — is the criminogenic effect of prison, or the theory that prison reinforces criminal behaviors that carry over into a community.
Incarcerated people are 18 to 25 times more likely than those who have never been jailed to commit a crime in the future, Pettus-Davis says.
Jail and prison removes a person’s social ties to a community, so it’ll become harder for them to get a job, and they’ll be more likely to turn toward crime to fill that economic need, McLaughlin says. Because incarceration is so frequent in some communities, the social deterrent to not commit a crime may be weakened in those neighborhoods, McLaughlin added.
Children with incarcerated parents are also five times more likely to go to prison themselves and receive less education and wages, a total estimated cost of $166.6 billion.
Other costs include the increased likelihood of divorce, $17.7 billion, decreased property values, $11 billion and adverse health, $10.2 billion.
The study’s authors acknowledge that correlation does not always equal causation and that these costs may have already been likely to happen in the community independent of incarceration because of other associated phenomena, like poverty. The authors were careful to select research that controlled for factors like poverty and isolated the impact of incarceration as much as possible.
They also admit the study does not analyze the benefits of incarceration, but argue that “there is a point where the marginal cost of incarcerating an additional individual exceeds the marginal benefit.”
“If anything, we believe our study underestimates the true cost of incarceration,” McLaughlin added, because there are some costs like poor emotional health that can’t be quantified by a dollar amount.
The Massachusetts Judiciary Committee released a bill favorably to increase the thresholds set 30+ years ago from $250 to $1500 to determine what constitutes a larceny felony. This is good news.
There are a few minor provisions that need tweaking, such as designating welfare fraud of $100 a felony. However, the bill is good news. Please connect with your state representative and senator [find them here] to endorse it when to comes out of Ways and Means.
Here’s a link to an article by the respected PEW foundation that shows raising the felony threshold does not increase crime. Raising the felony threshold will make certain crimes a misdemeanor, which gives the perpetrators a second chance and doesn’t mark them a felon.
Justice and corrections systems reforms require a series of bills passed over a number of years. This is an important bill to prevent people from entering the corrections system, and have shorter sentences if they do.
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