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The Case For Closing Prisons in Massachusetts If not now, WHEN ?

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Crime rates and prison populations are dropping at a steady rate in Massachusetts due to many factors. Even larger cities like Boston and Worcester are reporting loweer crime rates.

The same is true of the prison population — which continues to drop. In 2010 the Massachusetts Department of Corrections [DOC] reported 11,429 men and women in custody. By 2018, that number dropped to 9,207 of which only 8,044 are sentenced for a crime.

The latest 2019 figures have not been released, but it is estimated to have dropped even more. This can be due to action by the courts, more alternative sentences that avoid prison, and more district attorneys who understand crimes that are related to substance abuse disorders.

The facts are clear, that in a good economy where crime is dropping and incarceration is dropping, we have to start talking about closing prisons.

With the 2020 State budget about to be decided, the proposed House Budget calls for $677,073,942 for the DOC. Gov. Baker is calling for even more. With some 8,000 incarcerated people, that will equate to more than $80,000 per inmate for one year of incarceration.

The DOC has one of the highest payrolls in the state with many corrections officers doubling their salaries with overtime. In 2018 the overtime account for corrections officers exceeded $32,000,000.

To stop this outflow of our tax dollars, it is time to think of closing prisons. Each prison requires a physical location, an administrative staff, officers, and overhead.

MCI Concord, one of the oldest prisons in the state, would be an excellent first choice to close. According to the DOC, MCI Concord housed 1,324 inmates in 2013. In 2018, that number dropped to only 613.

In 2017, the DOC stated in its facility brochure that it cost some $69,000 for each of the 613 inmates. Compare this to MCI Norfolk where costs was only $46,000 or Gardner NCCI, where the cost was $52,000 per year, per person. For only 613 inmates, as the new numbers may show, Concord MCI needs to close. The buildings are old and some are not usable because of mold and other problems.

MCI Concord is in a prime location and is assessed by the Town of Concord for nearly $40,000,000. In this hot real estate market, this prime property could sell for more.

When we start to close prisons, we can move incarcerated people to other locations. The recent evaluation by the Council of State Governments advised that the DOC assigns people at too high of a custody level, which requires higher staffing levels. More minimum and pre-release facilities could be opened with the money saved by closing a major prison.

The prison education could benefit because for every dollar spent on prison education, five dollars is saved on recidivism. The DOC reports there are nearly 4,000 people on a waiting list for HiSET [High School Equivalency Test] and vocational education. This is a disgrace. We need to make programs and education available to all people in the care of the DOC within six months of coming to prison — or sooner.

This can be achieved by better utilizing technology to educate with tablets that are already in use in the prisons. Former gym space or other areas can be converted into classrooms. When incarcerated people are ready to move to minimum or pre-release, they can work inside or outside the prison to better prepare to go home. The money saved on closing prisons will help the remaining ones gain access to programs, which now have long waiting lists.

There are nearly 3,500 corrections officers who supervise 8,000 sentenced people. Unlike some other states where officers run programs, Massachusetts employs officers primarily for security. With a thriving economy, now is the time to talk about closing prisons and increasing programming.

We taxpayers work hard to support our state, and deserve to see the money spent wisely. None of us would want a doctor who refuses to cure us just so he can continue to bill us for medical services. None of us would want our children with a teacher who fails her students just so that they return next year so she has a job.

In the private sector, jobs are changed all the time and facilities are closed and sold. Even teachers and doctors can be subjected to downsizing. There should be no guarantee of a job when it is no longer needed because taxpayers deserve better use of taxes. It is estimated that the numbers in prison will continue to drop and prisons will become more vacant.

We owe it to those in prison to make changes to save tax dollars and still provide a better experience where prison can actually educate and help those who are sent there. Let’s get ready to start closing prisons because the data is on our side. This is a subject that needs to be addressed and, if not now, when?

                                                —Submitted by a person who has a family member in prison

BU offers free legal counsel for incarcerated terminally ill people

                           

Incarcerated people who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated can access free representation from the Compassionate Release legal clinic staffed by Boston University School of Law students until June 2019.

Founded and operated by Ruth Greenberg, the goal of the clinic is to provide free legal counsel for every terminally ill, or permanently incapacitated, inmate to insure he or she has an advocate to be released from prison.

“Terminal illness,” as defined in the new Criminal Justice Reform Act, is a diagnosis of likely to die in 18 months. “Permanent incapacitation” means physically or cognitively so debilitated as to not pose a public safety risk.

If you know an inmate that could benefit from clinic representation at no cost, please help the inmate contact Ruth Greenberg, 450b Paradise Rd 166, Swampscott MA 01907, telephone 781-632-5959, ruthgreenberg44@aol.com. 

Please see this LINK for more information. Massachusetts is one of the last states to provide medical release for people who are debilitated in prison.

  at the address or phone below for these free services.

Gov. Baker to sign justice reform bill today at 3 pm

By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICEbaker

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 13, 2018….Gov. Charlie Baker plans to sign a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill into law Friday afternoon, advocates said.

“I have great news for you. Governor Baker plans to sign our bill, as is, at 3 p.m. today,” Cherish Casey of the Essex County Community Organization said at a State House press conference.

Casey’s declaration triggered applause and cheers from those in attendance.

The press conference was originally called to urge Baker to sign the bill but took on a celebratory mood as its backers thanked the lawmakers and others who got the long-awaited bill to the governor’s desk…..

As the press conference was unfolding, Baker was holding a meeting of his cabinet Friday morning at the State House.

Baker’s office confirmed he will sign the bill, at 3 p.m. in room 157 at the State House, and said he will also “discuss additional reforms that the administration plans to propose.”

Philly shows how a District Attorney influences delivery of “justice”

A new district attorney in Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, is following through on his campaign promises to stem the flow of people into prison by decriminalizing poverty and addiction, for starters.  See more at this SLATE article below. Art is courtesy of SLATE.com.

EMIT and the ACLU of Massachusetts and others are working together to bring new district attorney candidates to Massachusetts. We need to get rid of the old guard and bring in the new in our 11 district attorney races [for 14 counties].

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/03/phillys-new-top-prosecutor-is-rolling-out-wild-unprecedented-criminal-justice-reforms.html

philly

epoca filled the statehouse June 9, 2015 to let the judiciary committee know that the time for reform is NOW.

STORM THE STATEHOUSE! Reform within reach

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: 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”

THANK YOU

Post CSG- we need you at May 15 meeting

From Mass. Criminal Justice Reform Coalition

“There is no issue more worthy of our efforts, and no time left for inaction.”
Massachusetts is at a crossroads. For years, leaders at the highest levels of state government have been promising to take on comprehensive criminal justice reform; to mine the data, to develop policies based on what we need and what is proven to work, and to bring these proposals forward for a vote. In the summer of 2015, we saw a first step in this direction when the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the Governor, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court united to commission the Council of State Governments (CSG) to review and analyze our criminal justice system data and the outcomes we are producing.
 What the CSG found was staggering. Fewer than half of those incarcerated in state prisons complete the recidivism-reduction programming recommended for them prior to their release. People involved in the criminal justice system (at every stage) have high substance abuse and/or mental health treatment needs that are going unaddressed. Our state lacks a standardized system for collecting data at all levels of the justice system, making tracking trends and outcomes difficult. Of course, making changes to all of these aspects of our system should be a priority.
 
But what the CSG didn’t find, or rather, what it was never tasked with looking into, is just as troubling. Absent from the CSG study was any focus on front-end problems, like the cash-bail and pretrial process, or sentencing reforms, like eliminating mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases and raising the felony threshold for low-level property crimes. Without a holistic look at how our justice system operates, from the beginning of the pipeline to the end, we are bound to continue the kinds of costly, racially disproportionate, and unjust policies that have brought us to the realities we’re facing today.
 
While Massachusetts is sometimes lauded for a low overall incarceration rate compared to other states, we must look, again, at what this perspective leaves out. Incarceration in every US state is significantly higher than in many other countries. Our own incarceration rate has tripled since the 1980s, before the “tough on crime” era picked up steam, and exceeds that of China, Canada, and Germany by significant margins. For some perspective, if the Bay State was a country, we’d be among the top 15% highest per capita incarcerators in the world.
 
Where our own residents are concerned, decades of racially biased sentencing policies have had an overwhelming and irrefutable impact on communities of color, both in regard to the individuals we are locking up and to the neighborhoods they leave behind. While Blacks and Latinos make up less than one-fifth of the state population, they account for more than half of the incarcerated population in our state, and they represent about 75% of those convicted of drug crimes that carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Addressing these issues must also be a priority.
 
Following the release of the CSG report in February, which provided a starting point of “low hanging fruit” criminal justice investments, and looking forward to the public hearings on a variety of criminal justice proposals slated to commence in the coming months, we must make a collective decision to make comprehensive reform a real priority. We must fight for a package that includes pretrial and sentencing reforms at its core, and we must do it this session.
 
I was proud to join my colleagues in the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the House Progressive Caucus, the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus’s Justice Involved Women’s Task Force at a press conference last week to stake out this agenda in the legislature. It is going to take a significant effort on our part to maintain this momentum, and to work with House and Senate Leadership to craft legislation that will accomplish our goals. But there is no issue more worthy of our efforts, and no time left for inaction.
Sonia Chang-Diaz    State Senator, Second Suffolk District
Register for the fourth annual Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Policy Summit
 
May 15, 20178:30am-12:00pm
Omni Parker House, Boston
The annual Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Summit brings together 300 leaders from around the Commonwealth interested in comprehensive reform. Participants include elected officials, policy makers, public safety and corrections officials, advocates, and civic and religious leaders from Massachusetts and beyond. Learn more…