Join the Call-in Storm for more Gardner visiting hours

“I went to visit [Gardner] Friday [April 7, 2017] and it was CRAZY. One family member took a picture of all the cars lined up on the road to the prison from Route 2 [two miles away]. They are bringing the men into the visiting room before their families to try to move it along but today, men waited one hour or more before the family came in. Some men got up and walked out without the visit from a family member.”  — From “H”, a dedicated visitor.

The family member who made the statement above often gets the inside information.

The real story is that Colette Goguen, superintendent of the institution, does not follow normal scheduling protocol for correctional officers (COs) who work the 1-9 pm shift, typical for visiting hours. Most other institutions provide COs two days off in a row after working a 1-9 pm shift in the visiting room. Gardner’s weekend visiting hours are now 9 am to 3:30 pm.

Goguen refuses to give that perk, so correctional officers refuse to bid for those shifts. Hence, visiting hours are condensed, families and incarcerated men are furious, and we must take action to remedy this situation. Some incarcerated men who have protested from inside have reportedly been sent to segregation for “organizing.”

You are urged to call Gov. Baker, (617-725-4005) or (888-870-7770) in- state, and Supt. Goguen, (978) 630-6000, (press 1 then 7) with the following message – or your own words.

“Family visits are crucial to well-being inside of prison, and to maintain relationships with children and adults to promote successful re-entry. More than 92 percent of all people leave prison, and many studies have shown the importance of family visits.

“Please reinstate Monday visiting hours and put back the Saturday and Sunday visiting hours to 1-9 pm instead of the 9-3:30 hours.”

THANK YOU for calling. Prison officials and Gov. Baker must feel pressure from people directly impacted and from the larger community who want to insure decent treatment of incarcerated people and their families. Although the state requires three visiting periods a week, which Gardner technically exceeds, as do most other institutions. Some 900 men are incarcerated in free public housing in Gardner, at an average cost of more than $54,000 a year, per person. Most of that cost is for CO wages and benefits.

Storm the Statehouse by telephone! Make your voice heard. This has impact. THANK YOU. Please do it this week- April 10-15.

 

 

 

Help restore more visiting hours at Gardner Prison

The visiting hours at Gardner State Prison have been cut to only Friday and half-time on Saturday and Sunday. This creates a hardship for many people because of their work schedules and/or the long travel distances to get to the prison.

Please join us in objecting to the policy by signing this petition:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/do-not-reduce-family-visitation-schedule-at-ncci

Please join our protest by calling your elected representative to the Governor’s Council to demand additional days of visiting hours.  Find your rep here.

http://www.mass.gov/portal/government/govs-council.html

Other medium-security prisons in Massachusetts have 29 to 39 hours available to visit, Gardner has just 14 hours a week on three days since March 27. Families are very upset because many people who work weekends can now visit on Friday evening.

Because only two adults are allowed to visit at a time, many families will not be able to spread out visits with the new limitations. Other problems include limited visitor parking, a small waiting area that only holds at most 30 people, and an equally small visiting room. Such over-crowding may cause some people to be turned away and unable to visit.

The families of the incarcerated men believe this limited visitation schedule alienates the families and harms children who need to see their father more than once a week. Severely limiting visiting hours does not promote the re-unification of families, and has caused great upset among the men who are incarcerated at Gardner.

Curtailing visitation is not in the spirit of justice and corrections systems reform. Many studies of incarceration and re-entry show evidence that maintaining strong family connections during incarceration leads to lower rates of recidivism and more positive dynamics within a correctional institution. THANK YOU for signing the petition and calling your governor’s council representative.

Visiting schedule for Gardner State Prison

Friday                   1-8:30 pm [Open two periods]

Saturday              9 am to noon      Last names beginning with A-L

12-3:30 PM         Last names beginning with M-Z

Sunday                 9 am to noon      M-Z

12-3:30 pm         A-L

Monday-Thursday            No visiting hours for general population.

THREE free events in April will give you more substance when you meet with your state rep to encourage him/her to support justice and corrections systems reform bills this session on Beacon Hill. Please post and share.
You’re welcome to join Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Day on the Hill on Tuesday, April 11 http://www.uumassaction.org/events-2/  Storm the statehouse with more than 100 activists to visit your state rep on that day of action. All welcome. Make our collective voice heard!  ($35).
1 – Thursday April 6 at Harvard, 10 am- 4 pm. Free.
A conference
2 – Thursday April 6 Belmont  7:30 pm, in the church library. Free
Leslie Walker, director of Prisoners Legal Services, will speak at the First Church UU in Belmont, 404 Concord Ave in Belmont, across from the Commuter Rail station. An expert on prison conditions, Walker will speak on  the problems, how prison conditions contribute to a high rate of poverty and recidivism among former prisoners, and her recommended solutions.
3- Sunday, April 23 Arlington, 2 pm, Free, donation requested
Adam Foss on the Evolution of Prosecution
First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington
630 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington Center

Prosecutors have enormous power and discretion, and their decisions shape thousands of lives.  Some are realizing that their traditional tools can’t solve the real problems people face.
Adam Foss is a former Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney and the founder of Prosecutor Impact, which helps prosecutors learn a better way.  His TED Talk on “A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System” has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  (https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_foss_a_prosecutor_s_vision_for_a_better_justice_system)
Come hear him speak about how prosecution needs to change and how we can help.
 This event is free and open to the public.  An optional $10-20 donation to support Prosecutor Impact will be invited but not required.

Sponsored by the Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Questions? Email end-mass-incarceration@firstparish.info .

MA – follow suit & eliminate cash bail

NEW YORK TIMES March 9, 2017.

HOUSTON — It was an awkward scene for officials of Harris County, Texas, who are defending themselves in federal court against a claim that they keep poor defendants locked up just because they cannot afford bail.

On Wednesday a judge and the county sheriff testified for the other side.

“When most of the people in my jail are there because they can’t afford to bond out, and when those people are disproportionately black and Hispanic, that’s not a rational system,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was elected after the case was filed.

Both the judge and the sheriff are defendants in the suit. Their defections were yet another sign of the growing skepticism over the fairness of the long-used system of money bail, especially when it is applied to those who cannot afford it.

The class-action lawsuit contends that on any given night, several hundred people are in the Harris County jail on misdemeanor charges solely because they cannot make bail. If defendants with bail bond amounts of $500 or less had simply been released, the county would have saved $20 million over six years, according to a “very conservative” estimate by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania.

The practice of setting money bail, particularly for low-level offenses, has come under heavy criticism, and states like New Jersey and Maryland have sharply curtailed its use in recent months. A growing body of evidence shows that even a brief detention before trial can disrupt lives and livelihoods, make case outcomes worse and increase the likelihood that the defendant will commit future crimes. Putting a price on pretrial liberty can allow those with money to go free even if they are dangerous, and keep the poor in jail even if they are not.

Civil rights lawyers have mounted a series of lawsuits against bail practices like those in Harris County, where people without ready money can spend up to four days in jail before getting a chance to even contest their bond amount. Almost a dozen similar cases across the country have been settled with significant changes to the local bail system.

But two of the biggest challenges, in Houston and San Francisco, are still in play. And in both places, key officials have sided with the bail critics.

In San Francisco, the city attorney, Dennis Herrera, and the state attorney general at the time, Kamala Harris, declined to defend against the lawsuit, saying the bail system was unfair. In Houston the district attorney, Kim Ogg, weighed in with an impassioned friend-of-the-court brief, writing, “It makes no sense to spend public funds to house misdemeanor offenders in a high-security penal facility when the crimes themselves may not merit jail time.” Like Sheriff Gonzalez, Ms. Ogg is newly elected.

Those left to defend the system have had a lonely uphill fight. James Munisteri, a private lawyer hired by Harris County, faced calls for his removal after he told the court at an earlier hearing that misdemeanor defendants might be in jail not because they couldn’t afford to post bond, but because they “want” to be there. “If it’s a cold week,” he added.

The judge, Lee H. Rosenthal of Federal District Court, was skeptical of that contention, calling it “uncomfortably reminiscent of the historical argument that used to be made that people enjoyed slavery, because they were afraid of the alternative.”

The case was filed last May on behalf of Maranda Lynn ODonnell, who was arrested on charges of driving with an invalid license. She spent over two days in jail because she couldn’t afford to pay her $2,500 bond. Civil Rights Corps, the organization whose director, Alec Karakatsanis, has led the legal attacks on unaffordable bail across the country, joined with the Texas Fair Defense Project, a nonprofit legal defense organization, and Susman Godfrey, a law firm, to bring the case.

So far, the county has spent $1.2 million on outside lawyers to defend itself.

The Supreme Court has held that liberty before trial should be the norm, and that bail conditions must be set based on the individual’s circumstances. Bail is not meant to be punitive; it is intended simply to ensure that defendants return to court. Texas law requires consideration of “the ability to make bail.”

But the videos made it clear that bail was routinely set with no inquiry into defendants’ ability to pay — or with the full knowledge that they could not. When suspects are first booked, their bail is set using a fee schedule based on the charge and on criminal history. At the probable cause hearing, where typically no lawyer is present, the hearing officer can raise or lower the bond, or grant a personal bond, which allows the defendant to go without an upfront payment.

The county argued that it began reforming its pretrial release system before the lawsuit was filed. It recently issued guidelines recommending the use of personal bonds for people accused of 12 low-level misdemeanors. Beginning on July 1, it plans to make public defenders available at the probable cause hearing. The bail fee schedule will disappear, to be replaced by a risk assessment, a more sophisticated method of determining an arrestee’s likelihood of fleeing or of committing a new crime.

Any injunction striking down parts of its pretrial release system would hamper these ongoing reforms, county lawyers argued. They also contended that a court order would tie judges’ hands, reducing their discretion and potentially allowing dangerous detainees back onto the streets. “There are a category of high-risk detainees who should not be released,” Melissa Lynn Spinks, a lawyer representing the county, said.

Besides the sheriff, another star witness for the plaintiffs was Darrell Jordan, elected as a Harris County criminal court judge last November. At first, Mr. Jordan said, he followed the bail practices of his 15 fellow judges. But he radically changed his approach after learning of research showing that locking people up makes them more likely to be repeat offenders.

Mr. Jordan began releasing nearly all defendants, either on a personal bond or on one they could afford. .

A homeless man who recently came before Mr. Jordan was prepared to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge just to gain release, but changed his mind when he realized that the judge was willing to let him out of jail immediately.

”He had never heard of a personal bond,” the judge remembered. “He started crying when I told him he could go home.”

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.

End the criminalization of poverty

We have the opportunity to end the criminalization of poverty and “Fine Time” curing the 2017-18 session of the Massachusetts State Legislature.  Sen. William Brownsberger has introduced a comprehensive bill to prevent people from imprisonment because of inability to pay fines.

Read more in this opinion column published in USA Today.

Suspending driver’s licenses creates a vicious cycle: Column

Some states are recognizing the injustice of linking to the ability to pay court-imposed fines and fees.

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Though our nation feels more divided than ever, there is a common concern that cuts across party lines and entrenched ideological silos: a pervasive sense that we have failed to give all Americans an equal opportunity to attain the American dream.

Despite our best efforts, government policies too often create obstacles that prevent Americans from climbing the ladder of opportunity. Nowhere is this disparity more evident than in the criminal justice system.

It is universally understood that the justice system should be fair — and that those who violate the law should be held accountable, pay their dues, and move on. But too often, justice comes only for those who can afford it. And all of us pay the price.

Consider the case of Damian Stinnie. A product of Virginia’s foster care system, Damian graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average and went right to work, making close to minimum wage. Then he lost his job. In the four months it took for him to find a new position — another low-paying job in retail — he received four traffic citations. The total owed on the resulting fines and four sets of court costs was just over $1,000.

Making only about $300 a week, Damian could not pay his fines and fees in 30 days. The court gave him no other payment options. Instead, with no notice and no inquiry into his ability to pay, his driver’s license was automatically suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As a result, Damian was caught between two untenable choices: risking more fines and possible jail time if caught driving with a suspended license, or losing his job because he didn’t have a way to get to work. Months later, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, he then had to choose between breaking the law and making his doctors’ appointments.

Second, license suspension for conduct other than drunken driving makes us less safe by diverting resources from critical public safety concerns to arresting, prosecuting, adjudicating and sometimes incarcerating defendants for license suspension cases.

How can we stop this troubling and growing trend?

 

This type of commonsense criminal justice reform has strong bipartisan support. Even in a divided nation, we can agree that our criminal justice system must dispense justice fairly and equally, and that policies disproportionately punishing the poorest among us have no place in our courts.

Marc Levin is policy director of Right on Crime. Joanna Weiss is director of Criminal Justice Reform, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To submit a letter, comment or column, check our submission guidelines.

Add your voice to this letter

The “Big 4” Gov. Baker, Chief Justice Gants, Senate Pres. Rosenberg and House Speaker DeLeo received a 9-page letter from the Coalition for Effective Public Safety on justice reform for the 2017-18 legislative session, signed by 70-plus advocacy groups.
 
 
The deadline is Feb. 14, 2017. Sign today, add your comments and ask friends to join in this simple action. Post it on Facebook, and forward the invitation to your networks. CLICK HERE to sign.
Below are links to the one-page summary and the 9 page letter. This is a huge statewide effort. Please join us. THANK YOU.