Tag Archives: influencing legislators

A cop explains restorative justice

Restorative justice is a way to prevent people from entering the prison and court systems, and eliminates creating young felons. A short stint of 24-48 hours in jail can change the trajectory of a life FOREVER. More than a dozen communities in Massachusetts have voluntarily signed up for this diversion program. See more here.

Restorative justice is an equitable way for the people, property owners and families of those who are impacted and perpetuated a crime to sit together in a circle, and talk about what happened.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge [D-Acton] has sponsored legislation to introduce restorative justice to every community in Massachusetts.  The bill has been introduced in several sessions and has failed to gain endorsement at the State House. Most people don’t understand what it is and how it works.

Restorative justice allows people to take responsiblity for what they did, and for all parties to understand the impact on victims, perpetuators and property owners. The process reduces the rate of recidivism and keeps people out of jail and prison.

A must-see solitary drama, free

mariposa_artThe longer I’m in this movement, the more I learn about every aspect of prison life. Solitary, SHU [special housing unit], the hole, the box, or whatever you call it, is not much of a life. Deprived of most sensory experiences in life and often with the only regular human contact, antagonistic, outside of your door, solitary can drive a sane person mad, and a mad person to self-destruction and deeper madness.

The public is invited to view a powerful informative 45 minute play that dramatizes these realities, based on the letters of a woman in solitary for nearly three years.

It will be performed Thursday, March 24, 8 pm, at the Milford Performing Arts Center, 150 Main St., Milford. Admission is free, donations accepted. Reserve free tickets here: http://tinyurl.com/Mariposa-MASS

Other performances in the Boston area are as follows: Wednesday, March 23, 7 pm at the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, lower level, Room 129, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; Friday, March 25, 8 pm, Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont St., Boston; and Saturday, March 26, 6:45 pm, First Church in Roxbury, 10 Putnam St., Roxbury. For information, go to http://www.juliasteeleallen.com/portfolio/mariposa/

The play is co-sponsored by Prisoners Legal Services, Coalition for Effective Public Safety, EMIT, End Mass Incarceration Together, a task force of UU Mass Action Network and host venues. For information, contact emit.susan@gmail.com or Susan Tordella at 978-772-3930. More information on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/170428996672052/

The shows are part of a week-long series of events to raise awareness about the inhumanity of being confined in a sterile environment the size of an elevator or parking space, for months, years and decades. The USA boasts an estimated 80,000 people in solitary. Because of the veil of secrecy shrouding most prisons, the true number is unknown.




Felony thresholds out of committee

The Massachusetts Judiciary Committee released a bill favorably to increase the thresholds set 30+ years ago from $250 to $1500 to determine what constitutes a larceny felony. This is good news.

There are a few minor provisions that need tweaking, such as designating welfare fraud of $100 a felony. However, the bill is good news. Please connect with your state representative and senator [find them here] to endorse it when to comes out of Ways and Means.

Here’s a link to an article by the respected PEW foundation that shows raising the felony threshold does not increase crime. Raising the felony threshold  will make certain crimes a misdemeanor, which gives the perpetrators a second chance and doesn’t mark them a felon.

Justice and corrections systems reforms require a series of bills passed over a number of years. This is an important bill to prevent people from entering the corrections system, and have shorter sentences if they do.

Save the date: June 9 Judiciary Committee hearing at Gardner Auditorium, Statehouse 1pm

To support criminal justice reform, you can contact members of the Judiciary Committee of Massachusetts before the June 9 hearing and if possible, attend hearing at Gardner auditorium at 1 pm. EPOCA will be sponsoring buses and possibly a rally before the hearing.

Justice will be restored and our prison population reduced ONLY through a series of bills passed over a number of years. In January, state legislators introduced many bills for justice reform for the 2015-16 session on Beacon Hill. The next step is for the Judiciary Committee [and other committees] to hold hearings and a favorable reference for each bill so it can be debated and voted on the floors of the Senate and House on Beacon Hill.

You can have impact by attending the hearing, and/or through  calls, letters and especially face-to-face visits with your legislator. See this link for a list of Judiciary Committee members. Even if your legislator is not on the Judiciary Committee, you can still call and write to the members and advocate they support reform.

Here are some of the bills supported by EMIT and maybe heard on June 9, 2015. For a complete list of bills, go here.  fact sheets on each bill, go here.

    1. Repeal Mandatory Minimums – (S 786 Creem) (H 1620 Swan) to allow judges to determine sentences to fit the crime for drug offenders. These laws contribute to the cost of prison and jails, and to their overcrowding.
    2. Pre-trial and Bail reform – (S 802 Donnelly) (H 1584 Sannicandro), to transition from a bail system based on ability to pay, to a system to determine if someone is not a danger to others, and will show up for court.
    3. Implement restorative justice programs – (S 71 Eldridge) (H 1313 Garbally), to provide an opportunity for offenders to repair the harm caused by the event, as opposed to punishment and incarceration.
    4. Extraordinary Medical Placement – (S 843 Jehlen) (H 1628 Toomey), to release terminally ill inmates to the community. The state spends an inordinate amount of resources to care for seriously ill incarcerated people who are no longer are a threat to public safety. We are one of the few states without this law.
    5. End collateral sanctions at the Registry of Motor Vehicles – (S 1812 Chandler) (H 3039 Malia), to remove the penalty that a drug offender loses driving privileges for up to five years and pays $500 or more to reinstate.
    6. An act to Increase Neighborhood Safety and Opportunity – (S 64 Chang-Diaz) (H 1429 Keefe). This Omnibus Bill will improve the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system, and re-invest in education and job training.
    7. Caregivers bill—(H 1382 Holmes) to establish community-based sentencing alternatives for primary caretakers of dependent children, charged with non-violent crimes, to alleviate harm to families and communities.
    8. Solitary confinement – (S 1255 Eldridge) (H 1475 Malia) to ensure appropriate use of segregation in prisons and jails that will also reduce recidivism and curb unnecessary spending.

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.

Marriage equality: an example of successful grassroots activism

EMIT’s goal is to motivate constituents to form long-term relationships with their state senators and representatives to influence them to support criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.

An example of a landmark, first-in-the-country achievement, of the success of personal connection with lawmakers is the Marriage Equality campaign, which survived a challenge by the Legislature, even after the Supreme Judicial Court had approved same-sex marriage.

This perspective piece in the Sunday Boston Globe Magazine, details how Richard Ross, D-Wrentham, was influenced by constituents to change his stand.

The change-of-heart about same-sex marriage that changed everything

As more and more states embrace marriage equality, a look back at one personal struggle.

By Marc Solomon

In June 2007, the Massachusetts Legislature would be voting for one last time on a constitutional amendment that would take away marriage for gay couples. Marriage equality advocates needed nine lawmakers to change their votes to defeat it, and in the weeks prior to the vote, we were pulling out every stop.

One of the two Republican lawmakers on our target list was a representative named Richard Ross. He was the only lawmaker in the Legislature who’d voted our way and then reversed and voted against us. His wife was extremely religious — a Southern Baptist who’d gone to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University — so voting our way had created difficulties in his domestic life. But Ross made it a practice to seek out different opinions and draw his own conclusions, even if that meant bucking his party or discovering new information that might lead him to change his mind.
Ross owned a funeral home in Wrentham, one of the more Republican parts of the state. In January, he’d gone over to the Parish of St. Mary, the Catholic church across the street, to meet with the local branch of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization, and talk about the issue. “Now that they’re getting married,” Ross asked the group, “what’s changed?” Nobody could point to anything concrete. The best they could do was to argue about where this was all going and make what to Ross were outrageous claims about polygamy and bestiality.

Our MassEquality organizer made sure that Ross would have access to opposing views and arranged for same-sex couples and families from the district to meet with him. He was especially moved by a veterinarian and her wife from Medfield, as well as a lesbian couple and their children living in Plainville who had invited Ross over to their home. He also met some kids with gay parents who attended King Philip Regional Middle School with his own children.

At home, he’d share his experiences and his thought processes with his family, particularly his wife and his high school-age daughter: “This is a much deeper issue than I’ve had any idea about. I’m having trouble reconciling this in my mind.” His wife couldn’t believe it. “How can you do this as a Christian?” she’d ask, as he thought out loud about voting against the amendment. The arguments raged around the dinner table.

View Graphic
A timeline of same-sex marriage in the US
Since the Supreme Court issued its decisions on the DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 in June 2013, several states’ constitutional bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down.

On June 12, two days out from the vote, Ross could still feel some wrestling going on inside, but he’d settled on his position. He knew being consistent with his last vote was a comfortable place to be for many reasons. He headed to the State House for some meetings, including a get-together with Patrick Guerriero, a gay former Republican state representative who had been meeting with legislators.

This afternoon was Guerriero’s final meeting with Ross to try to get him over whatever obstacles stood in the way of voting against the amendment. Guerriero listened carefully to Ross and recognized he was still conflicted about the issue. “I have watched you go through this process and be so thoughtful,” Guerriero told him. “I know where you need to end up, and not for us, but for you.”

But Ross seemed to have his mind made up. After a good amount of additional back and forth, Guerriero still didn’t see the path to getting Ross to a no vote. As he got up to leave, he inquired about the kind of clients Ross served in his funeral home business.

The question triggered something deep inside Ross. He remembered the summer day in 1976 just a few weeks before his father passed away from heart disease. Ross, who’d been studying at American University to become a diplomat, dropped out and came home to help his father with the funeral business. Soon, Ross would be taking over, and his father wanted to impart some advice.

“I want to tell you certain things about people, son, that will make your life a whole lot easier,” Ross’s father said. “Folks from all walks of life are going to ring that doorbell. Do yourself a favor. When you open that door, don’t look them up and down and judge them by what you think you see. You look them in the eye and you find one thing about their character or their makeup that you like about them, and you build a relationship around that. And I promise you this: Nobody will ever leave your life as an adversary.”

Ross started to sob uncontrollably at the memory. Guerriero asked what was wrong. “I can’t believe I’m about to treat people in one day job differently than I treat them in another day job,” he responded.

Ross packed up his belongings and headed back to Wrentham to reflect. He entered the parlor room of his funeral home, where portraits of his parents hung prominently. In good times and in dark times, he found their presence comforting. It felt as if the image of his dad lifted right off the canvas and he was still standing right there.

After awhile, Ross turned and looked at the portrait of his three children on the wall behind him. As he sat and reflected, it became clear that he needed to vote against the amendment, no matter what, even if it cost him his job, which he thought it would. He knew he’d be letting down some of his constituents, those who had entrusted him to carry their message. They’d feel betrayed. But he knew what he needed to do.

On the morning of the vote, Ross continued to feel, at his very core, that his parents were with him. As he grappled with his decision, what came to mind was a quote from Hamlet that his mother loved: “To thine own self be true.”

Senate President Therese Murray gaveled the joint session of the Legislature to order.

To prevail, backers of the amendment needed a total of 50 votes between the two houses. The Senate voted first — the tally there was 5 yes, 34 no. Next was the House. Of the 160 House members, we needed to hold the opponents below 45 yes votes.

When it was his turn, Ross voted no. He felt as if his was the deciding vote and knew he was doing the right thing. He was also sure that this would mark the end of his career. (It didn’t; he was elected to the state Senate, then reelected earlier this month.)

Outside the chamber, we watched carefully as the board filled quickly: 40 yes, 117 no. We’d won! Murray immediately announced the final, combined vote: 45 to 151, in the negative. “The amendment fails,” she said.

More coverage of same-sex marriage
A timeline of same-sex marriage in the US
A state-by-state look at gay marriage bans
Editorial: Supreme Court should make gay marriage a national right
Celebrating 10 years of gay marriage in Mass.
Ideas: America, the religious?
For many same-sex couples, equality comes at cost
Radically normal: A view from the front lines of a same-sex marriage
Marc Solomon, former executive director of MassEquality, is national campaign director of Freedom to Marry. This essay was adapted from his new book “Winning Marriage.” Send comments to magazine@globe.com.