Omnibus Bill Released

The conference committee released the compromises and many reforms to the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems on Friday, March 24. Their fellow state representatives and senators will vote YES or NO, with no opportunity for amendments, and the bill will go to Governor Baker, who has not yet stated his position.  Advocates are hopeful we would have sufficient votes to override a veto, if necessary.

Below are highlights of the comprehensive bill, which are mostly positive steps in the right direction. There are a few glaring contradictions, such as increasing mandatory minimum sentencing for opiate trafficking and  new laws to protect police officers.

For greater details, open this 7-page PDF:CORRECT_Omnibusbill_2018

HIGHLIGHTS of the Conference Committee’s decisions

Decriminalize minor offenses

Divert minor offenses away from prosecution/incarceration

Reform Bail to reduce unnecessary incarceration

Repeal/limit mandatory minimums for non-opiate, non-weight retail drug offenses

Strengthen minimum mandatories for opiate trafficking

Strengthen Protections for Public Safety

Reduce solitary confinement

Generally improve prison conditions

Release prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk

Make it easier for people to get back on their feet

Take better care of juveniles and young adults

Improve transparency of the criminal justice system

Better protect women in the criminal justice system

Reduce and remedy errors of justice

 

 

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NEW INFO: Omnibus Bill may come out of conference committee on Friday, 3/23

​TENTATIVE ACCORD REACHED ON GAME-CHANGING CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL

By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 21, 2018….The six House and Senate lawmakers negotiating a complex overhaul of the state’s sentencing and criminal justice laws have reached a tentative agreement that is expected to be finalized before the end of the week, according to multiple sources.

The conference committee, led by Sen. William Brownsberger and Rep. Claire Cronin, has been privately negotiating the details of the bill since November.

The competing House and Senate bills (H 4043/S 2200) broadly seek to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to encompass 18-year-olds, repeal some mandatory minimums for drug offenses, address the use of solitary confinement and give judges greater leeway in sentencing street level drug-dealers.

Passage of a criminal justice bill in the coming weeks would mark a major accomplishment for lawmakers before they head into the state budget cycle. The emergence of a final legislative compromise could also make clear possible areas of policy differences between lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker.

House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, one of the three House conferees, confirmed to the News Service that the group was nearing a final compromise.

“Things are progressing and there is reason to be optimistic that it will be resolved by the end of the week,” the Quincy Democrat said Wednesday.

Several other sources at the State House told the News Service Wednesday that copies of the finalized bill were being circulated among legal counsel for review, and the conference report could be signed by the conferees and filed with the Senate clerk’s office by Friday.

Brownsberger did not return a message left on his cellphone on Wednesday.

Gov. Charlie Baker was in Haverhill on Tuesday with a collection of local law enforcement officials and district prosecutors urging the House and Senate to use the criminal justice bill as a vehicle to tweak the state’s three-year-old fentanyl trafficking law to make it more enforceable by prosecutors.

Criminal justice reform advocates will also be watching closely to see how the Legislature approaches mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.

Details of the tentative compromise were not immediately available on Wednesday.

Other lawmakers on the conference committee include Rep. Sheila Harrington, a Republican, and Sens. Cynthia Creem and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

-END-
03/21/2018


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Omnibus Bill in limbo until 5/25

The good news is that we have a significant bill to reform the Massachusetts justice andMassachusetts statehouse and state legislators have passed dozens of bills to fill our prisons and jails. These bills often discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, income, social class, education, mental health and drug and substance addiction and abuse

corrections systems. The bad news is that legislators are afraid of political repercussions of being smart on crime instead of tough on crime, out-dated practices that delivered us a racist system of mass incarceration.

The buzz on Beacon Hill is that because crime and punishment are hot buttons, many state legislators want to avoid antagonizing a constituent into running against her or him.
Hence, we expect NO ACTION will be taken to bring the Omnibus Bill out of conference committee until AFTER May 25, the last day candidates can file to run for state office in Massachusetts on the ballot. [Write-ins are always possible.]
The conference committee is struggling to resolve Mandatory Minimums. Most district attorneys use the possibility of a mandatory minimum sentence in drug cases to threaten and intimidate someone into pleading guilty to a lesser charge and shorter sentence.
With the power granted by mandatory minimums, District Attorneys are empowered to act as prosecutor, judge and jury, at their discretion, only answering to voters. In the voting booth, a typical voter doesn’t realize the power of a district attorney, and they often run unopposed.
Some legislators and grieving parents mistakenly believe that mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses will end the war on drugs, and eliminate drug dealers. This is false. Mandatory minimums have NOT ended the drug war, just filled up our prisons and jails. Drugs are still available to buyers and addicts.
What a difference a District Attorney Makes
EMIT and the ACLU of Massachusetts have partnered on the project What A Difference A DA Makes.   Educational events to raise awareness of this campaign have already been happening, including in Arlington, Mass. If you would like to host an event on What a Difference A DA Makes,  contact emit.susan@gmail.com.
​Continuing Education and Networking opportunities
To learn more about reforming our justice and corrections systems, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at the Harvard Law School, regularly sponsors FREE speakers, films and forums.
Sign up to their mailing list here: houstoninst@law.harvard.edu 

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

Massachusetts statehouse and state legislators have passed dozens of bills to fill our prisons and jails. These bills often discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, income, social class, education, mental health and drug and substance addiction and abuse

Side-by-side comparison of Mass. justice reform bill

It’s the season of waiting and expectations, and we are hoping for the gift of the strongest possible bill to emerge from the conference committee to reform our state’s justice and corrections systems.

Click on this link for a side-by-side of the House and Senate versions of the massive bill to reform our state’s justice and corrections systems. Thanks to the dedication of State Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, co-chair of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and his staff for the information.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill, and it is in conference committee — see below for members. With our partner activist groups, EMIT is preparing a list of priorities to make the bill as strong as possible when it goes back to both legislative houses for either a thumbs up or thumbs down vote, with no further revisions.

If you are in the districts of any of the conference committee members, please contact me immediately, emit . susan [at] g mail . com, so we can coordinate a face-to-face meeting with your legislator to maximize our impact.

For everyone else, we will be asking you to contact your state representatives and senators with a carefully crafted list of preferred compromises and improvements.

Reform is on the horizon! The question is how strong will it be?

State Senator Will Brownsberger , D-Belmont, and co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in the Massachusetts Statehouse.   Will can often be seen  biking to the Statehouse. 

Conference committee members

Senate

Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont)
Cynthia Creem (D-Brookline/Newton)
Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester)
House
Claire Cronin (D-Brockton)
Ronald Mariano (D-Qunicy)
Sheila Harrington (R-Groton)

The conference committee for the Massachusetts Act to Reform Criminal Justice was appointed today, Nov. 28, 2017.
Senate
Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont/Cambridge), Senate Co-Chair of the Joint Judiciary Committee, and a principal author of the Senate version of the bill.
Cynthia Creem (D-Brookline/Newton), a member of the Judiciary Committee
Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Senate Minority Leader
House
Claire Cronin (D-Brockton), House Co-Chair of the Joint Judiciary Committee, and a principal author of the Senate version of the bill.
Ronald Mariano (D-Qunicy)
Sheila Harrington (R-Groton), a member of the Judiciary Committee
The House engrossed bill (new number, House 4043) is out:
The bi-partisan group will work out comprimses between the House and Senate version of the monumental Act to Reform Criminal Justice.

Would Paul McCartney or Bono get the same treatment as Rapper Meek Mill?

Jay-Z: The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill
A Philadelphia judge sentenced the rapper Meek Mill to two to four years in prison for violating probation.
By JAY-Z                November 17, 2017
This month Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation. #FreeMeek hashtags have sprung up, and hundreds of his fans rallied near City Hall in Philadelphia to protest the ruling.
On the surface, this may look like the story of yet another criminal rapper who didn’t smarten up and is back where he started. But consider this: Meek was around 19 when he was convicted on charges relating to drug and gun possession, and he served an eight-month sentence. Now he’s 30, so he has been on probation for basically his entire adult life. For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.
What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day. I saw this up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew.
Taxpayers in Philadelphia, Meek Mill’s hometown, will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him locked up, and I bet none of them would tell you his imprisonment is helping to keep them safer. He’s there because of arrests for a parole violation, and because a judge overruled recommendations by a prosecutor and his probation officer that he doesn’t deserve more jail time. That’s why I stopped my show in Dallas last week to talk about Meek.
Look at what he’s being punished for now:
In March, he was arrested after an altercation in a St. Louis airport. After video of what had actually happened was released, all charges were dropped against Meek. In August, he was arrested for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle on his video set in New York. Those charges will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble.
Think about that. The charges were either dropped or dismissed, but the judge sent him to prison anyway.
The specifics of Meek’s case inspired me to write this. But it’s time we highlight the random ways people trapped in the criminal justice system are punished every day. The system treats them as a danger to society, consistently monitors and follows them for any minor infraction — with the goal of putting them back in prison.
As of 2015, one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were black. Black people are sent to prison for probation and parole violations at much higher rates than white people.
In Pennsylvania, hundreds of thousands of people are on probation or parole. About half of the people in city jails in Philadelphia are there for probation or parole violations. We could literally shut down jails if we treated people on parole or probation more fairly.
And that’s what we need to fight for in Philadelphia and across the country.
The racial-justice organization Color of Change is working with people in Philadelphia to pressure the courts there and make that vision a reality. Probation is a trap and we must fight for Meek and everyone else unjustly sent to prison.
 
Correction: November 17, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated details of a New York criminal case involving Meek Mill. The case will be dismissed in the spring if he is not arrested again; it was not dismissed on condition of his attending traffic school.
Jay-Z is a philanthropist and musician. Meek Mill is signed to his entertainment company, Roc Nation.