Category Archives: Statehouse

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.

The inhumanity of solitary

U.S. faith leaders push for prison reform of solitary confinement

Rev Laura Markle Downton, director of the U.S. Prisons Policy and Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is pictured in a replica solitary confinement cell during the Ecumenical Advocacy Days event in 2015. Photo: CNS/Erin Schaff, courtesy Perisphere Media

The “SHU” is not much larger than a good-size bathroom.

The SHU, or special housing unit, was where Johnny Perez spent a total of three years – the longest period being 10 months – in solitary confinement during the 13 years he was in New York prisons for armed robbery.

The tiny cells where inmates are sent for breaking prison rules or misbehavior are also known by nicknames such as the box, the bing, punk city, the hole, the pound and lockdown.

Perez was sent to solitary for fighting, testing positive for marijuana and having a frying pan in his cell.

In solitary he was alone with his thoughts 23 hours a day, with an hour outdoors in a small caged area for exercise. Corrections officers who brought meals and conducted security checks offered his only human contact.

“If they’re not sociable then you won’t be having a conversation with them,” Perez said of the guards. “One didn’t even look me in the face. It’s hard that the only person you come in contact with doesn’t validate you as a human being.

“It was dehumanising.”

Perez, 37, made it through isolation with no debilitating psychological effects, unlike some others. He received “tons of magazine subscriptions” and two books a week – the maximum allowed – from his family and their church. He had writing materials so he could journal and also thought a lot about being elsewhere, far from the around-the-clock fluorescent-lit cell. He kept reminding himself, “I have to leave here the same as I came, that I don’t succumb to my environment.”

It was an environment where the men in neighbouring cells screamed, acted out their frustration in anger and cut themselves. And there was suicide.

About halfway through his sentence Perez began to realise “my mother didn’t give birth to me to sit in a jail cell”. He had a daughter who was born two days before he was arrested and he had barely seen her.

Perez enrolled in college classes while incarcerated, studying criminal justice and is set to graduate from St Francis College next year. His studies and change of heart helped prepare him for his first job when he was released from prison two and a half years ago. Today, he is a safe re-entry advocate with the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project in New York City helping the newly released adjust to life outside of prison.

He also is a vocal advocate for solitary confinement reform.

Perez’s stay in solitary was relatively short. Some incarcerated people have spent 30 years or more in isolation.

Advocates like Perez have joined their voices in a growing campaign to call attention to the wide use of solitary confinement nationwide. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were held in isolation in 2014, said a report from the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called attention to the importance of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate people convicted of crimes and that imprisonment “should be about more than punishment” in its 2000 statementResponsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.

While the bishops did not address solitary confinement directly, they expressed a belief that prisons are places where human dignity must be respected.

Advocates for reform as well as psychologists say solitary confinement often destroys people rather than rehabilitates them.

The Washington-based National Religious Campaign Against Torture, of which the USCCB is a supporter, is one of numerous organisations calling for the end of solitary confinement.

Rev Laura Markle Downton, director of the U.S. prisons policy and program for the religious campaign, compared inmate isolation to torture, citing a 2011 United Nations finding.

“For us as people of faith, we really see this effort as a profoundly moral effort, that we would deny any person access to community, access to restorative justice, to, what I would say as a Methodist minister, access to redemption and a belief in God’s ability give us all a second and third and 23rd chance,” Rev Downton told Catholic News Service.

“There’s been a real acceptance that once someone is labeled a criminal that the standard of humanity and dignity would be removed from them,” she said. “The inherent God-given human dignity of the person doesn’t end at the prison doors.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has produced a documentary on solitary confinement titled Breaking Down the Box. The organisation also has built a replica 1.8-metre-by-2.7-metre cell that it displays at programs.

In 2011, Juan E. Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture with the Human Rights Council, called for a ban on solitary confinement except in exceptional circumstances and for no longer than 15 days. Mendez also said that in no case should the practice be used for juveniles and people with mental disabilities.

In January, President Barack Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons. He said the practice is overused and can “worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones”.

Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has researched the psychological effects of incarceration. He has found that segregated prisoners deprived of normal human interaction reportedly suffer from mental illnesses including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression.

The Association of State Correctional Administrators did not respond to requests for comment.

Bills to limit solitary confinement have been introduced in several states in response to concerns raised by once incarcerated people and psychologists. They have met with mixed results.

Catholic leadership on the issue, particularly by Catholic Mobilising Network, the New York State Catholic Conference and the California Catholic Conference has helped obtain gradual shifts in inmate isolation practices, Downton said.

In New York, the bishops in 2000 called upon state officials to “avoid extreme forms of confinement and abusive punishment” in its statement Restoring All the Fullness of Life: A Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice. In April, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany addressed the need for reform of solitary confinement in a column in the Times Union.

The New York Catholic conference also backs the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. The bill would limit the time anyone can spend in segregation, end solitary confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in isolation and create more humane and effective alternatives for inmates.

Retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany told CNS that the state’s bishops have worked on restorative justice issues for more than a decade. He said their concern always has been for the dignity of the inmates.

He also welcomed a settlement agreement reached in December in a lawsuit over incarceration practices in New York prisons. The agreement calls for a step-down unit to help inmates reintegrate into the general prison population, a substance abuse treatment program, a community re-entry program for people being released, incentivising good behaviour, ending the use of a restrictive diet as punishment, and disciplinary guidelines to end the use of arbitrary sanctions.

Cross country, the California Catholic Conference has pursued avenues to reform the state’s use of solitary confinement. From meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown to backing legislation placing limits on inmate isolation, the conference has staked out a consistent position that, a staff member told CNS, the bishops view as a human rights issue.

“They just felt like this is wrong. That we need to find different ways to address this. There’s different ways than keeping people in isolation for so long,” said Debbie McDermott, associate director for restorative justice at the California Catholic Conference.

Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Monterey, California, who chairs the conference’s Restorative Justice Committee, said he was troubled to see during visits to different isolation units that some inmates were held in cages. He said the men told him they feel lonely and neglected.

“It’s disconcerting that a lot of the people are left alone. Many threaten suicide. They can’t see their families for long, long times. So we have to reach out to them (state corrections officials) to say, ‘This isn’t the way to go. They’re not animals’,” the bishop said.

Over the years, the committee has been instrumental in gaining reforms in California solitary confinement practices. It played a major role in ending a two-month hunger strike in 2013 that involved nearly 10 per cent of California’s inmate population over solitary confinement policies, particularly at Pelican Bay State Prison.

“When the men were not eating at Pelican Bay, certainly we advocated for them and against what was happening to them there,” Bishop Garcia said.

“I think the SHU is improved, especially at Pelican Bay, from what I’ve been hearing,” he added.

Perez is pleased that reform campaigns are gaining attention. The reform efforts are not meant to prevent prison officials from doing their job, he explained, but to ensure that administrators remember that incarcerated people must make amends for their wrong-doing and not to be further punished in isolation for even minimal rules violations.

“We’re not saying you can’t not hold people accountable,” Perez said. “But you don’t have to treat them inhumanely.”

States Lead the Way on Justice Reform

CreditDandy/John J. Custer

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.

Race to the Finish & Mariposa

Until July 31, we are on the fast track in Massachusetts to refer bills out of committee [deadline today] and pass them by the end of session July 31. [New session starts Jan 2017].
WOULD YOU take a minute today to:
1) Contact your Representative and ask him/her to express support to House Chairman John Fernandes for H1475 (Solitary Reform Bill), H1381 (An Act to Require Data Regarding the Use of Solitary Confinement)
Solitary is cruel and inhumane after 15 days, and torture for people with mental illness. We treat our animals better. Some people are released directly to the street from solitary and end up rebounding back to jail because they are so disoriented.
And ask them to act on
H1628 (Medical Placement for Terminal and Incapacitated Prisoners)
 
It costs up to $200K/year to keep a person in jail at the end of life, versus releasing them to a nursing home where they go home or medicare takes over for $120,000-$140,000, which also creates jobs in the community.
2) Contact your Senator and ask him/her to express their support to Senate Chairman Brownsberger for S843 (Medical Placement for Terminal and Incapacitated Prisoners). The Senate version of the Solitary Reform Bill is pending in a different committee and the Solitary Data bill (H1381) is a stand alone bill- no Senate version. Still ask your Senator to let Chairman Brownsberger know that you are supporting the House versions of those bills.
To find your legislator, go to: http://openstates.org/.
3) Get a free ticket to attend Mariposa & the Saint,  
a powerful short play about the intense experience of solitary confinement based on a woman’s experience of living in a barren space the size of an elevator for nearly 3 years.
                     Performances March 23-26 in Boston and
                    Milford on Thursday March 24.  FREE Tickets HERE.
​ENCOURAGE your state legislators to attend.

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.

Join us Nov. 15 in Northboro with Sen. Jamie Eldridge

Ending Mass Incarceration, part of "The New Jim Crow" in Massachusetts, is part of criminal justice reform, led by State Sen. Stan Rosenburg, D Amherst. We must work together in Mass. to reform our criminal justice system and end the systematic incarceration of black, brown, poor, mentally ill and addicted people.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, is a progressive senator who constantly advocates for the underprivileged, to protect the environment and for civil liberty.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rebecca Miller, aide to Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, will preview upcoming legislation for the 2015 legislative session and give inside information on how to connect with and influence our state legislators.

The meeting gets rolling at 10:45 am with registration and coffee. The program starts promptly at 11 am and ends at 1 pm. Light refreshments served. Free. Handicapped accessible. Plenty of parking. If you need a lift from public transit – Green Line to MetroWest Transit, please contact susan . tordella at g mail . com.

Register here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/end-mass-incarceration-training-tickets-13678989225

Bring friends who are outraged by the injustice of mass incarceration. Please share this notice with your networks.

We are building an ecumenical

statewide grassroots network to influence state legislators to pass a series of bills to return justice for all to Massachusetts, from revising pre-trial services to ending mandatory minimum sentencing.

Join a chorus of statewide advocacy groups working on this issue. We are stronger with many voices singing together loudly in many harmonies.

‘Secret’ Sept. 9 MA primary election will decide critical candidates

Here is a synopsis of Mass. gubernatorial candidates position on criminal justice reform. Source: the highly regarded Mass INC, an advocate for the middle class. The “no stated positions” say quite a bit between the lines. Make sure and vote on Sept. 9 or file an absentee ballot.

On the Campaign Trail

Below you will find a review of the policy positions for each candidate running for governor and attorney general in November. This review focused on the main areas of recommendations for reform identified in a 2013 report from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition – sentencing reform, programming & treatment, reentry & supervision, and uniform data collection & evaluation.

 

Powerful video to end the state of incarcer-nation in Massachusetts

This concise powerful informative video explains my motivation to end mass incarceration.

Watch it and share with your people. Then sign up with me and EMIT to reform justice in Massachusetts, one law at a time.  emit.susan @ gmail . com 

We must continue to connect with our state legislators and congressional representatives about changing laws they and their predecessors put in place that has made the USA an incarcer-nation. 

We have only 5 percent of world population and more incarcerated people than any country on the planet, with 25 percent of all people who are incarcerated. Thanks to Wendy for sharing. She is one of the wonderful activists I’ve met this year in the march together toward justice, because we can only succeed together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Xj8rAU_zbs

Rally for Justice- Tuesday July 8, Hall of Flags 10 am

Over the past 4+ years as a prison volunteer, the most acute awareness I bring home is a sense of freedom.

This weekend as we celebrate freedom and justice, our state senators on Beacon Hill are preparing to debate h4184 on Tuesday, an act relative to juvenile justice [to keep young offenders in jail longer], with an amendment that would setback parole hearings for long-time inmates from every five years to every ten years.

Bottom line is more people, usually poor, black, brown and often mentally ill, will spend more time in prison. We will spend less on education, roads, and health care while incarcerating people at $48K a year, and more.

Join us at a rally Tuesday, 7/8, 10 am in the Hall of Flags at the Statehouse, followed by visits to your state senators. Training and talking points provided.

Call or email your senator http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/
as well as the senate leaders below. It takes less than 5 minutes. Live people often answer the phone.

The legislative session ends July 31, and so will this torrent of emails urging you to act. THANKS for your support of freedom. Forward this message to a few friends.

​This bill may be up for Senate Debate Tuesday, July 8Therefore, if you haven’t called, we need you to call speak with your Senator as well as Senate leadership (below) THIS WEEK to let them know that they should support fair sentencing for youth and oppose H.4184. Please urge friends, allies and others to call as well!

CONTACT YOUR OWN SENATOR and leadership with this message:

1. Youth should have an initial opportunity to seek parole no later than 15 YEARS into their sentence. REMEMBER: Eligibility is NOT a guarantee to secure parole, just an opportunity to be reviewed!

2. Everyone should be eligible for further parole hearings, if needed, no later than every 5 YEARS. 10 year setbacks are too extreme.

In addition to your senator, call or email:
Calling takes less than 5 minutes- they want to get rid of you fast!

Sen. Ways and Means Chair Steven Brewer, D-Barre:
617-722-1540 Stephen.Brewer@masenate.gov

Senate Judiciary Chair, William Brownsberger (D. Belmont):
617-722-1280, William.Brownsberger@masenate.gov

President Therese Murray (D. Plymouth):
617-722-1500, Therese.Murray@masenate.gov

Majority Leader Stanley C. Rosenberg (D. Amherst):
617-722-1532, Stan.Rosenberg@masenate.gov

We need your voices to be heard. TIME IS RUNNING SHORT, SO PLEASE CALL TODAY!

Sincerely,
Citizens for Juvenile Justice​