Category Archives: Statehouse

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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Good Omens at the State House — & How You Can Help Turn Them Into Good News

September 13, 2017:  The chances for comprehensive criminal justice reform at the State House are looking good.  Nothing is certain yet, but here’s some backgound and then one thing you can do that would really help.
Background:  The current plan is that the Senate and House will each pass two bills — the bill about reducing recidivism that came out of the Council of State Governments process and is sponsored by Gov. Charlie Baker, and an “everything else” bill that brings together a wide range of issues into one package.  The Senate’s omnibus bill is likely to come out first, and it is likely to draw the essence of more than forty bills into one comprehensive package that includes most of what people like me have been advocating for.  The House’s omnibus bill may not be as comprehensive, as the goal is to propose a bill that will get enough votes to pass, and the common wisdom is that the House is less welcoming to reforms than the Senate.  It’s also really clear, though, that the grassroots advocacy and organizing of the last few years has made a difference, as legislators are now seriously considering proposals that a few years ago they would have dismissed out of hand.
What You Can Do Now Rep. Claire Cronin, the House co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, has invited all members of the House to make an appointment to talk with her about their opinions of criminal justice reform in the next few weeks.  If you think that your state rep supports criminal justice reform, please call them and ask them to talk with Rep. Cronin and tell her that they hope she will be ambitious in her proposals for criminal justice reform.  (There are a few reps who seem opposed to just about everything in this space.  If that describes your rep, please don’t contact them in the next few weeks — let them think about other issues and forget to talk with Rep. Cronin 🙂 .)
Thoughts about strategy:  For years now, people have been working on a wide variety of bills, each of which focuses on one or a few priorities.  We have tried to educate legislators and the public about these issues, why they are important, and what’s in each bill.  This year dozens of bills related to criminal justice reform have been filed, and only a handful of people (primarily legislators on the Judiciary Committee and their staff) have any chance of getting on top of the contents of all of them.  Dozens of these bills will feed into the House and Senate omnibus bills, which will be long and complicated.  Unless your legislator is on the Judiciary Committee — and perhaps even then — trying to get them to engage with the details of a comprehensive bill is asking too much.
Instead, our role now is to raise enthusiasm for the concept of broad and ambitious criminal justice reform.  If your state rep cares about specific bills and wants to ask Rep. Cronin to include them in the package bill, great.  But what Rep. Cronin really needs to hear is that lots of state reps are inclined to support an omnibus bill that she brings forward, and they want her to make it strong and ambitious.  She and her staff are currently working on what to include and how it all fits together.  They will include more if they get the message that state reps are broadly enthusiastic about a strong reform package.  And state reps are more likely to give that message if they hear it from their constituents — i.e., us.
If you don’t know your state rep’s phone number, you can look them up here:  https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator  A phone call is best, but if you can’t get yourself to place a call then an email can be helpful too.
Thank you for anything you can do!
Lori Kenschaft
EMIT Core member and coordinator, Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington

CSG 2017 omnibus bill needs backbone

You may have heard about the Council of State Governments [CSG] recommendations to come on justice/corrections systems in Massachusetts to be proposed when the new 18-month legislative session opens in January on Beacon Hill.
Join a statewide EMIT call on Monday, Dec 12, 7-8 pm to learn more about this critical legislation.  EMIT leaders Laura Wagner and Dirck Stryker will lead the discussion. Your questions and comments are welcome.
Call in: (712) 432-1212  Meeting ID – 351-484-548#
 
Here’s more information on the Monday call and Tuesday rally downtown led by EMIT’s partners, the Jobs not Jails coalition.
 
The Governor, Speaker, Senate President, and Chief Justice will JOINTLY file a bill in mid-January on criminal justice reform.   It will include some of the recommendations of a CSG report on the criminal justice system in Massachusetts to be released when their bill is filed.

  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. 

 Read more about the Jobs Not Jails Priorities

WHAT YOU CAN DO
1.  Attend the Rally / Press Conference on December 13 at 10:00.

140 Bowdoin St Boston, Church of the New Jerusalem.  Jobs NOT Jails will have a rally/press conference to call on the four state leaders to include the six proposed bills of the Jobs NOT Jails Coalition

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.  

 
Let us know if you can help organize one of these events or offer a meeting space. Contact: Laura Wagner lwagner@uumassaction.org

There’s still time in New Hampshire

You’re invited to join a last-minute push in New Hampshire, where their 4 electoral votes are being hotly contested for US President and to tip the US Senate to a democratic majority. NH residents  can register to vote on Election Day,  people in low-income neighborhoods are being encouraged to vote.
You are invited to campaign door-to-door in Manchester, NH starting at 3 pm on Monday, Nov. 7. 
Contact Darren, 917-327-6528 to participate. I’ll be going on Monday if anyone wants to carpool from Route 495/Ayer area. On Saturday, activists from Vermont and Mass. showed up to canvass and Spanish speakers were particularly welcomed.
On Tuesday Nov 8 join with progressive reformers at the campaign/election night party, hosted by State Sen. Jamie Eldridge [D-Acton], a leader for justice and corrections systems reform on Beacon Hill. The party is at the Boxborough Holiday Inn, 242 Adams Place, Boxborough,  8 pm – until midnight. Campaign donation for Sen Eldridge requested, cash bar, light refreshment served. Hope to see you there.
Jamie Eldridge is an outstanding state senator in Massachusetts. He is on the Harm Reduction and Drug LAw reform caucus on Beacon Hill. He really cares about immigration, the disenfranchized and ending mass incarceration.

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis and Susan Tordella, co-founder of EMIT at a campaign event for State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, one of the leading progressives on Beacon Hill. Jamie is a co-leader of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He works tirelessly to end mass incarceration and reform our state’s corrections, probation and courts systems for the betterment of all.

A cop explains restorative justice

Restorative justice is a way to prevent people from entering the prison and court systems, and eliminates creating young felons. A short stint of 24-48 hours in jail can change the trajectory of a life FOREVER. More than a dozen communities in Massachusetts have voluntarily signed up for this diversion program. See more here.

Restorative justice is an equitable way for the people, property owners and families of those who are impacted and perpetuated a crime to sit together in a circle, and talk about what happened.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge [D-Acton] has sponsored legislation to introduce restorative justice to every community in Massachusetts.  The bill has been introduced in several sessions and has failed to gain endorsement at the State House. Most people don’t understand what it is and how it works.

Restorative justice allows people to take responsiblity for what they did, and for all parties to understand the impact on victims, perpetuators and property owners. The process reduces the rate of recidivism and keeps people out of jail and prison.

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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Massachusetts needs DATA DRIVEN info on justice

This opinion piece — “MA is MIA on criminal justice reform” — in The Boston Globe on July 17, 2016, highlights how Massachusetts lacks one comprehensive system to collect and analyze data on our justice and corrections systems. With a common tool, all of the various agencies — the 14 jails jails, state Department of Corrections, sex offender registry, local and state police and more — could all share data for the common good.

Other states, such as Colorado, have invested in such technology, which officials and electeds from across the state meet monthly to analyze for economies of scale, service delivery, cost/benefit savings and more.

Right now, a working group appointed by Gov. Baker is working with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to evaluate the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems to make recommendations for legislative reform in Jan. 2017. A chronic complaint by the working group is the lack of accurate data. It’s ironic that the bureaucrats and electeds who have created, maintained and defend the broken system, now attack the poor data the CSG researchers present as indicators for needed reform. This article highlights the value of good data.

By Stephen Goldsmith and Jane Wiseman

LOCKING UP MILLIONS of Americans costs a lot of money. It comes with devastating social consequences. And it has produced a vast archipelago of institutions at the local, state, and federal level that’s too complicated for even those who administer small corners of it to understand in full.

The White House’s newly announced Data-Driven Justice Initiative aims to tackle these interwoven problems simultaneously by reducing the number of criminal defendants held in our local jails on pretrial detention orders. Seven states and 60 counties across the country have signed up so far.

Notably absent from this coalition: Massachusetts, which continues its silence on the critical issue of local criminal justice reform.

One of the cornerstones of data-driven justice is the use of risk assessment in the pretrial process — to keep dangerous defendants in jail awaiting trial and let low-risk ones remain in the community, staying connected to family and work, and paying their rent and their taxes. Keeping low-risk defendants out of jail awaiting trial has been shown to result in less crime and lower costs — in short, good government.

A thoughtful and ambitious bill crafted by Representative Tom Sannicandro of Ashland and Senator Ken Donnelly of Arlington would finally incorporate data into the pretrial decision-making process and bring Massachusetts in line with this growing reform movement. The bill is long overdue — the current statute governing bail and pretrial in Massachusetts dates to 1836. A hodgepodge of updates has been made over the years, but the law is in need of a total overhaul.

Beacon Hill should move on this timely and important legislation. Delay in moving to data-driven justice increases crime and cost and decreases fairness in our administration of justice.

The decision about release or detention should be based on a defendant’s risk of flight and likelihood of committing a crime before trial. Analyzing existing data about the defendant’s risk is far more objective than the current methods, too often a judge’s best guess about the defendant’s risk and a defendant’s ability to scrounge up bail money.

The tragic murder of Jennifer Martel at the hands of Jared Remy demonstrates the horrific result when data are not used in pretrial release decisions. Remy had 20 prior arrests, mostly for violent offenses. Yet a few days before he killed his girlfriend, after being arrested on assault charges, he paid a $40 fee and was released on his own recognizance.

For every Jared Remy, there are just as many indigent nonviolent offenders incarcerated for minor drug or petty larceny charges who cannot scrape together bail money and sit in our local jails while posing no threats to our communities.

How do data help? By looking at factual prior records and current circumstances, judges can have objective information to guide the decision about pretrial release. Data are blind to famous names and expensive lawyers. Nor are data swayed by a defendant’s ability to make bail.

Jurisdictions that do use data to make pretrial decisions have achieved greater fairness, lower crime, and lower costs. Washington, D.C., releases 85 percent of defendants awaiting trial. Compared to the national average, those released in D.C. are two and a half times more likely to remain arrest free and one a half times as likely to show up for court. The results are lower jail costs and lower crime.

This approach can also help stamp out some of the inequity in the criminal justice system because we know that under the current approach defendants who already have advantages (higher income, employment, stable housing, etc.) are released more often than those with fewer advantages (lower income, ethnic or racial minority, etc.), even for the same crime.

Data-driven justice is also cheaper. Defendants released on their own recognizance cost essentially nothing. For a defendant released and supervised while awaiting trial, the cost is 90 percent lower than the cost to incarcerate. How much could be saved by moving to risk-based pretrial decision-making? Experts say that up to 25 percent of those detained pretrial might be safely released.

While precise estimates are difficult to determine, assuming Massachusetts mirrors the national rate incarcerating 60 percent of criminal defendants while awaiting trial, data driven reforms in line with this new White House initiative have the possibility of saving taxpayers anywhere from $60 million to $150 million annually. One of the few states to quantify the value is Kentucky, which saves $100 million a year with risk-based pretrial decision-making.

With Governor Charlie Baker and State House leaders looking to fill a significant budget gap, we can’t think of a better way to save Massachusetts taxpayers millions annually while reforming a broken system that perpetuates inequality and does little to protect the public’s safety.

Stephen Goldsmith is the director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. He previously served as a prosecutor in Marion County, Ind. Jane Wiseman is a senior fellow at the Ash Center. Previously she served as assistant secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.