Category Archives: state laws

CSG plugs along toward proposing reforms

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.

END
09/20/2016

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Has anyone ever died of a pot overdose?

Hear some reasons why marijuana legalization and regulation in Massachusetts makes sense on this free statewide phone call on Ballot Question 4 on Monday, Sept. 19, 7-8 pm 
 
Call in: 515 739 1020,  157277#
There will be time for Q&A of our guest speaker Bill Downing, a member of MASS CANN/NORML, a public-education organization that has been educating in preparation for marijuana decriminalization, medical and full regulation since 1989.
Question 4 for is the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana. If voters say YES , Massachusetts will join Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia in legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use.
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The speaker in the Sept. 23 event below is Rev. Dr. Harold Dean “Doc” Trulear is formerly incarcerated. His church community rallied around him to welcome him home after incarceration. He will inspire you to reach out to others returning home to avoid the high rate of re-offense, and the many barriers to successful re-entry after prison.

Please share this with your communities.
You are invited to a workshop on

Prison Ministry: Forming Networks for Connection, Growth and Healing

at the First Parish Church, Unitarian Universalist

50 School Street, Bridgewater, MA

Friday, September 23, 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Free and open to all. Lunch included.

Let’s learn together: 

  • To open our hearts to the incarcerated and to their families, friends and all who are working with them
  • To embrace and provide understanding to the incarcerated and members of communities working with them, whether they be congregational, academic, political or institutional
  • To collaborate and learn to build networks with others supporting prisoners
  • To form networks and support systems across all boundaries

 First Parish is honored to host this workshop, led by Rev. Dr. Harold Dean “Doc” Trulear, in collaboration with Messiah Baptist Church of Brockton. Dr. Trulear is Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Howard University and Director of the Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Prisoner Reentry Project of the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation.

To register:

Go to the workshop registration form: http://tinyurl.com/hbjyxrx

Or email: firstprincipleproject@gmail.com with your name and affiliated congregation or organization.

For more information, contact:

Dr. Susan A. Holton, 508-821-2034firstprincipleproject@gmail.com;

Betty Gilson, 774-226-0942gillyflower@verizon.net;

or Rev. Rachel Tedesco, 508-944-6436revrayted@comcast.net

Felony thresholds out of committee

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.

This is cause for hope

This article published on The Marshall Project, an online news agency founded by former New York Times journalists, is dedicated to reform of our country’s justice and corrections systems.

FILED 7:15 a.m.
01.19.2016

Massachusetts Mobilizes to Treat Addicted Moms

Jail time increasingly gives way to residential programs.

Clients at the Edwina Martin House take part in a music expression therapy class in the home’s living room on Jan. 6, 2016. MEREDITH DERBY BERG

Kayla Duggan, a heroin addict, had just started a one-year jail sentence in Massachusetts when she was startled to learn she was pregnant. Only a few months earlier she had given birth to a baby girl who was immediately taken into foster care and whom Duggan then gave up for adoption.

This story was produced in collaboration with Fusion.

This time she wanted to be part of her child’s life.

Her chance came about because of a policy changes in Massachusetts in which women addicts, particularly mothers, are increasingly directed to intensive drug treatment and away from time behind bars.

Duggan, who was imprisoned in late 2012 for a domestic violence and drug related conviction, was paroled after serving four months of her sentence and entered a residential drug-treatment program for mothers run by Spectrum Health Systems. Spectrum, a private company that works with the Department of Correction, also has smaller outpatient clinics across the state. Duggan gave birth to her son, Giovanni, while living there, still under correction department custody, and remained until he was six months old. Afterward she moved into a Boston halfway house.

“I got a beautiful second chance to be a mother to my son,” said Duggan, now 26. “I had to learn to be responsible, be available today. Because I wasn’t available before.”

Because of the opioid drug crisis sweeping New England, and the crime that accompanies it, women have become the fastest growing group heading to jail or prison, a situation reflected nationwide. This cohort includes young mothers — who are usually the primary caretakers to young children — and the long-term effects on children and families can be devastating.

Mothers, separated physically from their children while in prison, can come to experience emotional separation as well, said Judy McDonough, executive director of Edwina Martin House, a residential treatment center for women outside of Boston. A growing number of its clients are referred by the courts and probation officers.

“And then they start to lose their confidence in who they were as a parent and feel their kids are better off maybe with their parents. So it really fragments the family,” McDonough said.

A panel convened last year by Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, concluded that mothers and pregnant women need “specialized care.” Its report recommended that treatment centers make pregnant women a priority. In 2014 the state funded two new recovery homes specifically for women, bringing the state’s total to 14.

Those who work in the field say there’s a growing recognition within the Massachusetts criminal justice system and among policymakers that intensive drug treatment can be a key to helping women transform their lives in a way that prison does not.

“The courts were not so involved with treatment as they were with let’s say punishment in a sense. And thankfully that’s turned around, and it’s really a positive now and we work very well together,” said Donna McDade, McDonough’s colleague at the Edwina Martin House, where she has served as director for 24 years.

Massachusetts is among a number of states working to address the needs of addicted mothers who are facing criminal charges.

“We’re unique because being counselors and being here, when we come to work, we see [clients] where they live every day,” says Donna McDade, center, program director at the Edwina Martin House.

A 2010 report by the National Women’s Law Center and The Rebecca Project said that 32 states had programs that offered mothers who are nonviolent offenders the possibility of what is called “family-based” treatment rather than prison or jail time. Family-based treatment permits mothers to live with their children at a site within the community or have visits with them regularly while receiving drug abuse treatment.

But keeping such alternatives funded can be challenging, said Edward Latessa, director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati. He said that despite the rise in the number of incarcerated women, they still constitute only eight percent of the national prison population.

“As a general rule there tend to be fewer [alternative sentencing] programs for women, but it really varies by state and jurisdiction,” he said. “Of course many female offenders have substance abuse problems and are in need of treatment and recovery programs, but again, for service providers, since the numbers are smaller it is not always economically feasible to open a facility for women. In addition, if you are including mothers with young children the costs go higher, which again makes it more difficult to operate.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has its own long-standing program called Mother and Infant Nurturing Together, or MINT. It allows pregnant women — among them drug addicts — in minimum security prisons in their last trimester to reside in halfway houses before they deliver and usually for three months after they give birth. These women, who are eligible for release within five years, are taught parenting skills with the goal of encouraging bonding with their babies and are also eligible to be treated for addiction.

For both men and women addicts charged with crimes, the doubling of the number of drug courts nationally in the last decade, to 2,966, has increased opportunities for defendants to serve at least part of their time at residential treatment facilities or halfway houses instead of prison or jail.

But diversion or treatment programs have not found universal acceptance. In Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama, women are being prosecuted and locked up for endangering their children by using drugs when pregnant. Eighteen states have laws stating substance abuse during pregnancy is child abuse.

The evolution of Massachusetts’ approach has been aided by the jump in the number of drug courts established in the last two years, adding five new ones for a total of 18.

Drug courts are vitally important now because it’s where the state can refer people to residential drug treatment homes instead of jail or prison. And even though more women are being arrested and convicted, fewer female defendants are actually being sent to serve time. According to the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, there was a four percent drop, to 1,625, in the number of women incarcerated from 2012 to 2013.

In previous years a woman who was addicted to drugs and charged with a non-violent crime could be given the choice between jail and a residential drug treatment center, but the numbers of court-ordered referrals now appear to be rising dramatically. It’s now more likely that residential treatment will become part of an offender’s sentence. The average number of probationers at 12 women’s-specific recovery homes in Massachusetts rose to 60 percent in 2014, from 25 percent in 2009, according to annual enrollment reports from the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.

The minimum stay is at the Edwina Martin House in Brockton, Mass., is four months but a woman can live there for a year.

In 2014, the opioid crisis led to a record 1,000 fatal overdoses. The state has tested a range of responses, from trying to ban the powerful painkiller Zohydro to offering prostitutes mental health or medical treatment instead of jail. One city, Gloucester, created an amnesty program for addicts.

The state does not track the number of people who are offered—or manage to win—an alternative to incarceration. But judges say they are becoming more aware of the harm incarceration can have on families and that addiction may not be adequately addressed in jail. Longtime program directors report that they now get more referrals from judges than they once did.

“Many of us, and I am one of them, firmly believe that you cannot just lock people up and incarcerate them and expect their substance abuse issues to go away. It’s just not working anymore,” said District Court Justice Mary Heffernan, who runs two drug courts. “You have to put the resources into treatment.”

Beyond residential centers, treatment options include intensive outpatient addiction programs that require daily, daylong attendance. These programs can mandate community service combined with substance abuse counseling, job training, electronic monitoring, and drug testing.

Vincent Lorenti, regional program manager of the Massachusetts Office of Community Corrections, described his department’s program as “halfway between traditional probation and incarceration.” Annual community corrections statistics show that women make up an increasing percentage of the program, up five percent between 2011 and 2014.

At residential recovery homes such as Edwina Martin House, which receives significant state funding, the average four-to-six month stay costs $12,000 to $18,000. At the women’s prison in Framingham, the oldest women’s prison in the country, it costs $60,000 a year to house an inmate, according to corrections department data.

Part of the rehabilitation process is helping women to relearn basic life skills that atrophied as they began their descent into addiction. These include structuring their days, keeping appointments, shopping for groceries and cooking. Group and individual therapy sessions emphasize self-esteem. They also work to rebuild connections with their families and children. At some homes mothers live with their infants and pregnant women await delivery.

About 6:45 each morning the ringing of alarm clocks echoes through the corridors of the Edwina Martin House. The women shower, make their beds and tidy their bedrooms. By 9 a.m. they are attending group meetings on topics like music expression, relapse prevention, household budgeting and family dynamics. Some women go to work, others go to vocational training or take classes. In the evenings they attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Though jail time can include access to substance abuse programming, it’s not considered to be as intensive. “Jail doesn’t fix the issue of addiction. You’re there, and it’s just time. You’re idle,” said Stephanie, who asked to be identified by her first name only. She is a mother who was ordered by a drug court to attend Project Cope, a Boston area women’s recovery home.

It’s not an easy road, and treatment is no panacea. At Edwina Martin there is a 48 percent program completion rate, but that is still better than the state average of 31 percent completion, according to McDade.

The clients Edwina Martin has seen in recent years are young, usually in their early 20s. Typically they did not experiment much with other drugs before becoming hooked on opioids. “We have great success with them, because they are young,” says McDade. “They have not had as many losses. But their losses come quick with heroin.”

A preview of 2015 Massachusetts legislation to end mass incarceration

Advocates and lawmakers are working together to draft legislation for the 2015-2016 legislative session on Beacon Hill. EMIT is encouraging voters who want to restore justice for all in the Commonwealth, to contact their state senators and state reps NOW in December, in advance of the January blitz of activity to introduce all of the bills for the 18 month session.

The more co-sponsors behind a proposed bill, the more support it will generate from other legislators. Lawmakers must commit to co-sponsor a bill by Jan. 15, 2015. The bills will be introduced during the first two weeks of January, given a number and assigned to a committee.

Here is a partial list of criminal reform measures we anticipate will be considered by the Massachusetts Legislature.

  • End mandatory minimum sentences related to drug offenses.  Some 70 percent of incarcerated people in Massachusetts prisons and jails are serving sentences set by mandatory minimum sentences, which eliminated judicial discretion. Mandatory minimum sentences have not been shown to increase public safety. There is no evidence to show mandatory minimums deter or reduce crime, or rates of addiction and substance abuse. Mandatory minimums are costly because they keep people incarcerated for longer periods of time than necessary, and disproportionately impact communities of color.
  • Pretrial and bail reform — about 20 percent of the state’s 22,000  people in county jails and state prisons have not been convicted of a crime. Many are awaiting trial because they cannot afford to make a small amount of bail. New legislation would revise how accused individuals are evaluated, and determine if they can safely return to the community and be expected to appear at trial.
  • Ending collateral sanctions by the Registry of Motor Vehicles so that people convicted of drug offenses will be eligible to immediately obtain a driver’s license [instead of waiting for up to 5 years] and eliminate the $500 reinstatement fee.
  • Implement Restorative justice — an approach to community harm, to repair the harm caused by the event instead of punishing the person who committed the crime.
  • Compassionate release to allow terminally ill inmates to be released to the community.
  • Solitary confinement to revise how the Department of Corrections assigns solitary confinement to incarcerated individuals and especially juveniles.