National activists are mirroring reform in Massachusetts and other to prevent people from entering the system, humane treatment during incarceration, shorter sentences, and better preparation for re-entry to reduce recidivism.
An EMIT activist participated in a national call on Monday, which included representatives from the Koch brothers, who favor justice/corrections systems reform. Her are highlights from her report.
On the call, several groups such as FAMM – Friends Against Mandatory Minimums,
#CUT 50, and the Koch Group were advocating to keep up the pressure to pass the bills through Congress.
They plan to use many of the same methods that we used at the Statehouse here, such as briefings, letter writing, op-ed pieces and call ins to persuade passage.
Some activists on the call members had met privately with legislators directly. Some parts of the two bills will reform federal sentences, change mandatory minimums,
expand programs and expand the elderly release program which allows those over age 60 who have served two-thirds of their sentence to ask to be released due to their age and or health.
When and if many of these reforms become law at the federal level, it will be much easier for us to ask for similar changes at the state level.
The representatives of the activist groups felt that President Trump supports the bills. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner has been working to get the bill passed. I agree with Kushner’s statement that ” The single biggest thing we want to do is really define what the purpose of a prison is. Is the purpose to punish , is the purpose to warehouse, or is the purpose to rehabilitate?”
We are working here in Massachusetts to insure that our corrections system does rehabilitate while also reducing the prison population and saving tax dollars. I
believe that these are worthy goals that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind.
The only ones who seem to not want passage according to those on the call are the private prison lobby and law enforcement , They both have a vested interest in keeping prisons full as a means of job security.
I feel the tax paying public deserves better. I feel that we can hold prisons accountable , rehabilitate and save money without damaging public safety. To do this, we all will not have to work harder, instead we all have to work smarter.
Here is a copy of the information on the sentencing reform and corrections bill that passed the House. Now a companion bill S.1917 Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act has come through the Senate. It is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassly (R) and Richard Durbin (D) as well as Lindsey Graham (R) and Cory Booker (D).
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.
Thanks to the continued actions of voters, Massachusetts state legislators are poised to take a giant step toward comprehensive justice and corrections systems reform by their Nov. 17, 2017 recess.
The state Senate passed an omnibus bill, S. 2185, on Oct. 27 contatining a series of reforms. The House introduced its own version, H 4011, An Act To Reform Criminal Justice this week, and they are expected to debate it Nov. 14 or 15.
The burning actions to take are:
- Call and email your state rep AGAIN ! and remind him/her you support the SENATE version of reform, which covers more ground, and ask them to vote for amendments to strengthen the House version.
Ask like-minded friends to do the same- forward the note below. Identify your state rep & contact info here.
- Storm the Statehouse in person wearing buttons, t-shirts and stickers to broadcast your position.
There are several options. summary of House justice reform bill
- Weds. Nov. 8“Raise the Age Lobby Day”. Join young people of I Have a Future at 3 p.m.at the State House grand staircase. https://www.facebook.com/events/776630415841283/
- Monday, Nov 13, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO)rally for comprehensive criminal justice reform, 1 p.m.at the State House grand staircase.
- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:Nov 14 or 15, attend debates in the House of Representatives to amend and discuss the particulars. Legislators want to see supporters in attendance. The sessions usually start at 11 am or 1 pm. More to come on specifics.
Some aspects of the House bill we would like to see strengthened to be in line with the Senate version:
- Raise the felony threshold to $1500. The House proposed it to be $750. It was last set in the 1980s at $250.
- Allow greater permisiveness for juveniles to avoid incarceration, and to expunge their records.
- Include the Romeo and Juliet clause to decriminalize sex between minors of the same age.
- Provide pre-trial services and eliminate incarcerating people between arrest and trial because of poverty.
Here is an email to share with like-minded friends. THANKS for taking action. See you when we STORM THE STATEHOUSE next week.
STORM THE STATEHOUSE email to forward
Please call your state rep before Nov. 13 to encourage him or her to support H4011, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform. We are exhilarated to be on the cusp of giant steps of reform with the Omnibus Bill, the culmination of more than five years of baby steps.
Please share this email with like-minded friends anywhere in Massachusetts to encourage them to call and email their state representatives. The state Senate passed a stronger version of the Omnibus Bill on Oct. 27.
Attached is an info sheet with details on the House version of the bill.
Identify and optain contact info for your state rep here: https://openstates.org/
Please call, re-call and email your rep. If you get voice mail, ask for a return call from the rep and/or aide.
Here are talking points.
“My name is _____. I am a constituent of Rep._____. I am calling to urge Rep._____ to support H 4011, An Act to Reform Criminal Justice, during the House debate next week. This Omnibus Bill will bring much needed, long overdue, comprehensive reform to our state’s justice and corrections systems.”
“Activists and legislators have campaigned for reform for more than five years, to reduce the number of incarcerated people, to insure humane treatment while incarcerated, and to reduce recidivism.”
“Please support amendments that would more closely align the Senate and House versions of the bill.”
“Now is the time for reform. Many people believe that the system wastes too much money and destroys too many lives.”
“I will be watching to see how Rep. ____ votes on this bill, and share that information with my circle of friends in town. Thank you.”
After a decade of activism, we have a window of opportunity for broad reform of the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems.Members of the Massachusetts Senate will be voting on a package of comprehensive reforms this fall. We need to urge House members to take similar action. The House Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, is now meeting with every House member to learn what reform they will support.
The goal is for you to join a statewide movement to call your state representative (not senator) within the next week, so your rep will relay to Rep. Cronin, that they support a bold and comprehensive package of judicial and corrections systems reforms.
HERE is what we are asking you to do by Sept. 22.
If needed, identify your state representative at www.openstates.org, find their phone and e-mail. Call and ask to speak with your state rep. If s/he is not available, speak with their aide. Here is the message.
Hello my name is … I am a constituent of Rep. … I have been aware for a long time of the need to reform our justice and corrections systems. I know there is discussion about bills to make badly needed changes in the systems.
I have heard that the Co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Clare Cronin, is meeting with each member of the House to discuss areas of reform they will to support and what to include in a comprehensive package. In the discussions between Rep.… and Rep. Cronin, please urge her to be ambitious, to think big, and to develop a comprehensive House package, equal to the Senate version.
You may have a specific issue of concern, such as ending mandatory minimum sentences, reducing or eliminating bail, solitary confinement, or fees or fines. Mention that issue in one sentence. The main reason for the call is to ask your state rep to urge Rep. Cronin to think big, and assure her that House members will support broad reforms this fall.
- The ask: Can I count on you to deliver a message of support to Rep. Cronin?
- Next, send an email to your state rep to reinforce the message.
- Go HERE to let the organizers, know you have connected with your state representative.
The Rev. Bill Gardiner, Susan Tordella and Laura Wagner, Unitarian Universalist Association; The Rev. Jon Tetherly, The Rev. George Oliver, Kathryn Byers, United Church of Christ.
For information, visit these resources:
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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.
In New Jersey, voters and lawmakers gave judges more power to release low-risk defendants who can’t afford bail, letting them go home rather than sit in jail while they await trial. In Idaho, a new law created 24-hour crisis centers to help keep people with mental health issues from being locked up unnecessarily. Georgia and Louisiana established courts for military veterans accused of crimes. Hawaii funded programs to help reunify children with parents who are behind bars.
These are just a few of the hundreds of criminal-justice reforms that states around the country have put in place over the last two years, according to a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice.
While Congress continues to dither over a package of sentencing and corrections reforms for the federal prison system, the pace of bipartisan, state-level innovation is an encouraging reminder that there are ways to reduce the devastating impact of mass incarceration on families, communities and public safety. Nationwide, more than nine in 10 inmatesare housed in state facilities, so state reforms reach the vast majority of people in the justice system.
The Vera report draws three lessons from state experiences. First, long sentences do little, if anything, to deter crime. Second, community supervision is often safer, cheaper and more effective than prison for those convicted of low-level crimes. And third, the path from prison back to full participation in society is too often blocked by state and federal post-imprisonment penalties that make it extremely hard to establish a law-abiding life.
For decades, it was politically impossible to tackle these issues. But in 2014 and 2015, nearly every state adopted at least one measure to reduce the prison population, steer people away from prison (for example, through substance-abuse treatment programs) and smooth the way to re-entry for those coming out.
Many states have also taken steps to reduce or eliminate the use of long-term solitary confinement. In 2014, Colorado banned long-term solitary for those with serious mental illnesses, unless they pose a physical threat to themselves or others. In 2015, Nebraska banned the severest form of solitary, which isolated an inmate completely from all contact with other people.
Other states lowered sentences for drug and property crimes, increased opportunities for early release, and created housing and jobs programs to reduce the chances that those leaving prison would end up back behind bars.
Reforms like these are often associated with decreases in crime, or at least no increase in crime, which undermines the argument that public safety depends on doling out the harshest punishments available. For example, after California voters in 2014 overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47, a measure that sharply reduced penalties for low-level drug and property offenses, critics warned that jail populations would spike. In fact, the opposite has happened.
In Congress, however, some recalcitrant lawmakers still cling to outdated or incorrect beliefs about crime and punishment in America. They need to pay close attention to the ingenuity and the record of the states.
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.