Category Archives: STORM THE STATEHOUSE

MA State Senators are listening to us

State senators and the ACLU held their first Commonwealth Conversation on Feb. 28. in Canton. Thanks to Peter Panov of Needham for this report.

The Commonwealth Conversations South Shore Town Hall on Tuesday, February 28th showed widespread interest in justice and corrections systems reform. This Town Hall was for Senators Keenan, O’Connor, Ross, Rush, and Timilty’s districts, however half of the Senate’s 40 members were present.

They explained these meetings represent a portion of setting the Senate’s agenda for the 2017-2018 legislative session. Among several of the frequently repeated themes such as the Safe Communities Act and the planned Weymouth gas compressor station was justice and corrections system reform in the Commonwealth.

Six of the 54 statements (by about 50 citizens attending the meeting) addressed Criminal Justice reform, from: ending mass incarceration in general and mandatory sentencing; to mandatory minimums, solitary confinement, and reducing recidivism; to unnecessary imprisonment, rehabilitation, and the example of a traffic fine becoming a license suspension becoming imprisonment.

From the ACLU Freedom Agenda (which includes “Smart Justice” — shifting from incarceration to rehabilitation) reflecting the speaker’s values; to 60% of our jailed being held pre-trial & 70 percent of those held because they can’t afford bail; to raising the felony larceny threshold, with the remark that Texas’s felony larceny at $2500 required to constitute a felony versus a misdemeanor, is TEN times ours, but Texans are not ten times better!

This is a clear message that moving Massachusetts away from mass incarceration is a priority for many Commonweawlth citizens, who are passionate about some several solutions we need to the many aspects of the problem.

More ACLU/Senator meetings are scheduled in March and April: March 7 in the Southeast; March 14 in Central; March 21 in Northeast; March 28 in Western; April 4 in Metrowest; and April 11 in Northshore.

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.

Driving toward legal driving

By Shira Schoenberg | sschoenberg@repub.com
Follow on Twitter
on March 23, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Beacon Hill

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House passed a bill on Wednesday repealing the automatic license suspension of anyone convicted of a drug crime.

“Over time, we’ve come to realize … a driver’s license, for someone who’s been convicted, paid their price, is important if we also want them to get back into society, get a job, support their family and meet those responsibilities,” said state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The bill, H.4088, passed the House unanimously, by a vote of 156-0, with little discussion.

Both the House and the Senate passed similar bills earlier this session, but differences between the House and Senate versions had to be worked out by a team of negotiators. That conference committee released a final version of the bill last week.

The bill will now go to the Senate and then to Gov. Charlie Baker. Baker has said he supports the concept behind the bill.

Under current law, established in 1989, anyone convicted of a drug-related crime, whether or not it relates to a motor vehicle, has his license suspended for between six months and five years. The offender must pay a fine of at least $500 to have their license reinstated.

The law was put in place during the federal war on drugs, as part of a crackdown on illegal drug use. Advocates for prisoners have since argued that the license suspension is unrelated to the crime, and the suspension makes it harder for offenders to reintegrate into society after they served their sentence. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has backed the bill, along with several sheriffs and district attorneys.

The bill that passed the House would eliminate the license suspension for most drug crimes – including the possession and sale of drugs. It would keep a five-year license suspension in place for anyone convicted of trafficking in cocaine, fentanyl, heroin or other opiates – although someone convicted of these offenses can apply for a hardship license.

Anyone whose license was already suspended would have it reinstated within 30 days of the bill being signed into law. Records of suspensions would be shielded from public access. The bill would repeal the current $500 license reinstatement fine.

A judge could still suspend someone’s license for a crime related to driving.

Visit your state rep to inform to reform — IT WORKS!

From Judy Gates of Marblehead

We can write letters, go to meetings, contribute money, but there’s no real substitute for face-to-face encounters.  That was evident to me again when I joined Susan Tordella of EMIT and two other activists at the State House last Thursday to visit members of our legislature in support of Bail Reform and ending Mandatory Minimum sentencing for drug crimes.  These are two pieces of legislation being considered by our state legislators, and are co-sponsored by many members of the bi-partisan Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus.

Upon arriving at a legislator’s office, we asked to meet with an aide and who in the office had read “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander.  EMIT gave a copy of to all legislators last year. I was pleased that almost everyone was familiar with the book and that often more than one in the office had read it or were in the process of reading it.

The good news is that everywhere we went, searching out offices even in obscure corners of the State House, we found people willing to listen, who appreciated our fact-sheets on the two bills, and many asked questions.

As Susan says, it is essential to “Inform to Reform.”   As someone deeply committed to reform of our broken criminal justice system, I am encouraged by the rising level of concern across our country and the increased media coverage on the need for criminal justice reform.

The bottom line is that we need to make our voices heard and one of the best ways is to make an appointment with your state rep or senator, and/or walk into a legislator’s office and speak face-to-face to an aide or legislator.  Building relationships in this direct way can make a major impact on passing these laws and relieving suffering for millions of people.  I’m grateful to have been a part of it last week.

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.

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​