Tag Archives: MA

Yet cash bail persists in MA

Massachusetts judges and prosecutors find it difficult to imagine there are people who cannot and do not have $100 to $500 cash to post for bail. Despite the Brangen decision, which prohibits imposition of unaffoardable cash bail upon “indigents,” the Mass Bail Fund still reports it provides assistance for people without means.

Art and article courtesy of the New York Times

ECONOMIC VIEW

Unable to Post Bail? You Will Pay for That for Many Years

 by Seema Jayachandran, The New York Times, March 1, 2019 CreditImage

Cash bail favors the rich, who can pay it and go home, while poorer people are frequently forced to remain in jail while they await trial.

That fact alone helps to explain why cash bail has been eliminated or restricted in California, New Jersey and Arizona, and appears to be on the way out in a number of other places, including New York.

But two new studies in economic journals show that inequities in the cash-bail system lead to more long-lasting and pernicious consequences.

In itself, an inability to pay bail after being arrested makes it more likely that you will be convicted of that offense, according to a study published last year in the AmericanEconomic Review. The study found that being held in jail while awaiting trial also makes it more likely that, two to four years after an initial arrest, you will be engaged in criminal behavior or unemployed.

A separate study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that while the cash-bail system penalizes poor people, it also discriminates against African-Americans, who tend to be treated more severely than white people by judges who set bail, regardless of the judge’s race.

Two scholars — Will Dobbie, an economist at Princeton, and Crystal Yang, a law professor and economist at Harvard — were co-authors of both studies. Jacob Goldin, a law professor and economist at Stanford, was also a co-author of the firststudy, “The Effects of Pretrial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges.” David Arnold, a graduate student in economics at Princeton, was a co-author of the second, “Racial Bias in Bail Decisions.”

Both studies analyzed the bail system in two counties, Miami-Dade in Florida and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. By subjecting judicial bail-setting decisions to statistical analysis, the first study found that some judges tended to be stricter in their bail rulings, and some more lenient. Which judge a defendant was assigned to was, for the most part, a matter of luck.

In most court cases, judges, whether lenient or strict, made the same decision as their peers, the study found. All of them set bail high for violent felonies, for example. But in about one-seventh of the cases, whether the defendant ended up detained or released hinged on which judge made the bail determination. Zeroing in on this group of “close-call” cases — in which the leniency of the judge was the decisive factor — enabled the researchers to go a long way in establishing causation in the effects of cash bail on a person’s future.

Consider two defendants with similar backgrounds who were accused of a nonviolent property crime or misdemeanor. By the luck of the draw, one faced a lenient judge and was released, and the other got a different judge who set an unaffordable bail amount. Such an unlucky defendant was detained until trial, typically for about two weeks, the study found.

The researchers then traced the defendants’ lives. The detained arrestee was more likely to appear in court for his trial.

But he was also more likely to be convicted. The study found that in the two counties, being detained before trial increased the chance of being convicted to 58 percent from 44 percent. That’s a big effect and one corroborated by other studies, in settings including New York City and the federal court system.

Moreover, being detained until trial reverberates for years. The study also found that detainees were more likely to commit crimes after release. One reason may be new personal connections made while locked up: Jail and prison are prime networking opportunities.

What’s more, the study linked court records to Internal Revenue Service data for more than 200,000 people. Three to four years after trial, the detained arrestee was less likely to be employed, according to income tax filings.

In the second study, the researchers used the same core data and found compelling evidence of bias against African-Americans in bail decisions. Among the “close-call cases,” judges tended to treat African-Americans more harshly than whites, based on an analysis of the frequency of defendants committing new crimes.

On average, white defendants in this group, who were released before trial, were rearrested for a new crime 24 percent of the time, compared with only 2 percent for African-Americans. In other words, African-Americans who were released before trial were, on average, far less likely than whites to commit crimes, implying that they were being held to a higher standard.

The implications of the two studies are powerful and troubling. Being behind bars while awaiting trial had profound negative repercussions, and they were borne disproportionately by low-income people and by black people.

Several government and nonprofit efforts are underway to reform the bail system. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed ending cash bail for minor crimes. Court rulings have challenged its legality. Nonprofits are posting bail for low-income defendants.

Alternatives to cash bail exist. One method is known as supervised release, a parole-like system that requires people released before trial to regularly check in with social workers. Technological solutions, like electronic anklets that monitor an individual’s whereabouts, are another option. Even sending text-message reminders to show up in court makes it more likely that a defendant will do so. All these options are cheaper than incarceration.

Finding good alternatives to cash bail would be important even if “only” two weeks of freedom were at stake. In fact, the two studies suggest, what’s at stake is an individual’s future. Surely, poverty and the color of a person’s skin should not govern their treatment in the criminal justice system.

Seema Jayachandran is an economics professor at Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter: @seema_econA version of this article appears in print on March 3, 2019, on Page BU8 of the New York edition with the headline: Consequences of the Cash Bail System

Abolish parole? WHY NOT?

Martin Horn, Former New York City Commissioner of Correction and Probation, Martin Horn has held every job imaginable in corrections: from debating the fairness of a state’s sentencing guidelines to fixing leaky water pipes in aging facilities. Horn tells Alec that his opinion toward inmates was formed from his early years as a parole officer: “every one of them was just a normal, ordinary guy … who had made bad judgments.”

Former New York City Commissioner of Correction and Probation, Martin Horn has held every job imaginable in corrections: from debating the fairness of a state’s sentencing guidelines to fixing leaky water pipes in aging facilities.

Former New York State Parole Director and New York City Probation Commissioner Martin Horn has proposed abolishing parole supervision and channeling the savings from reduced revocations to provide vouchers for persons on parole to buy their own services and supports.

Horn believes that parole is not particularly good at rehabilitating people on its caseload because parole is about taking risks and government is risk-averse.  He reasons that individuals convicted of a new crime during the time they would have been on parole should be given moderate additional punishment, but should not be violated for non-criminal acts.

Give Returning Citizens More Responsibility

By putting programmatic decision-making into the hands of returning citizens, Horn also believes services will flow into the neighborhoods they live in.

Horn’s watershed proposal, and the experience of New York City, force us to ask basic questions about the proper role of government in helping people reacclimate to their communities.

High caseloads, scarce resources and a “trail ‘em, nail ‘em, and jail ‘em” attitude that replaced the Progressive-era’s rehabilitative ethic has rendered community supervision too big, overwhelmed and punitive to succeed.

There is not much evidence that revoking and imprisoning people contributes to public safety or rehabilitation, but we know it has a devastating and disproportionate toll on poor, young men of color.  In contrast, recent research by Patrick Sharkey has found that increasing community programs helps improve community safety.”

See more here: https://thecrimereport.org/2019/01/24/do-we-really-need-probation-and-parole/ Learn more about Martin Horn here.

Submitted by Jean Trounstine, Massachusetts activist and author.

ACTION ALERT: make a call for Parole Board diversity

Background

Gov. Baker nominated on Jan. 2 the Parole Board’s General Counsel, Gloriann Moroney, to fill Lucy Soto Abbe’s seat, who served on the Parole Board since 2010. Prior to coming to the Board as General Counsel in Jan. 2016, Moroney was an Assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County for 14 years.

The Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS is a meta-group of activists and advocacy agencies) has long advocated for a parole board member with experience in social work, mental health, and substance abuse disorder.

We are calling on YOU to speak out for the appointment of a board member with a psych background so that the Board can better assess candidates who come before them, including many with mental health and addiction issues. 

Five current members of the Parole Board have law enforcement backgrounds which limit the range of perspectives to fairly judge parole applicants.

There are other problems with Moroney’s nomination.

·        She oversees a Board that  does not have a healthy paroling rate;

·        Prisoners with life sentences must wait eight to 10 months for parole decisions;

·        The Board has not recommended one person for commutation or pardon since Moroney became General Counsel, much less in the past year since Ms. Moroney became executive director and general counsel; 

·        The Board has not acted on a single petition for commutation since she became Counsel; and 

·        Too many people are returning to prison on technical violations rather than receiving intermediate sanctions, and so we needlessly fill our prisons and create more harm.

In her testimony given Wednesday, Moroney would not promise to serve out the five year appointment, and would not answer the question, “Do you want to become a judge?” The conclusion could be made that Moroney may use the Parole Board role as a stepping stone to a judgeship.

PLEASE take action by Tuesday at 5 pm

CEPS asks you call to your Governor’s Councilor (which appoints Parole Board members) before Weds. Jan. 16, when they will vote on Moroney’s nomination. 

Here are talking points for your councilor

Our present Parole Board has five members who have worked in law enforcement, parole, as attorneys, or in corrections, with only one member, Dr. Charlene Bonner, with experience and training in psychology. 

We have no Parole Board members with experience and training in psychiatry, sociology or social work.

 I oppose Moroney’s nomination because to fairly judge the parole applicants, the Board needs more balance in their training and experience, outside of law enforcement.

Because she does take ownership of her role at the Board and supervises seriously flawed practices—low paroling rate, too many re-incarcerations, not acting on commutations, unconscionable delays in lifer decisions—I ask you to vote against Gloriann Moroney’s nomination for parole board.

Find your Governor’s Councillor here:  https://www.mass.gov/service-details/councillors

 Find your district here: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eledist/counc11idx.htm 

​THANK YOU VERY MUCH on behalf of CEPS, the Massachusetts Coalition for Effective Public Safety, a group of individual activists and advocacy agencies.

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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Influence & inform your state rep AGAIN ! It’s critical & timely

TODAY, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, the Massachusetts House will hopefully start debating on 212 possible amendments to its big criminal justice reform bill, and we expect a vote on the bill by WednesdayWe’re in the final stretch!

We need YOUR HELP to make this bill as strong as possible. Here are three things you can do:

(1)  Email your state rep the attached list of requested votes.  The list includes “YES” votes on amendments that would help make our justice system more fair and effective, and critically important “NO” votes.   The list itself is simple, to make it easy for state reps to use.   Click here for the list:  H 4011 Requested Votes

Check whether your state rep sponsored any of the positive amendments.  If so, thank them for that.  (You can look up your state rep at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

Use a subject line like “Vote requests for H.4011 & amendments.”  The body of the email can be short and sweet:

Dear Representative XXX,

I am excited by the current opportunity for comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.  [Thank you especially for your leadership on YYY.]

I hope you will help make our justice system more fair and effective by voting on amendments to H.4011 as requested in the attached document.

Most importantly, I hope H.4011 will pass with a resounding majority.

Thank you!

(2)  Attend any part of the House debate.  The House will likely start to debate this bill  at around 1 p.m on MondayTuesday, and Wednesday (Nov. 13-15).

 Sometimes sessions go well into the evening. You call the State House at 617-722-2000 and ask whether the House is still in session.
Email or text your state rep to tell them you’re there and/or drop by their office to say hi to their staff and possibly drop off a paper copy of the amendments requests.
Wear light-colored or bright-colored clothing with a message printed or a button, and sit in the front row of the balcony (which is on the fourth floor).  We want our presence to be known and visible!
(3)  Share this email with anyone you think might want to help improve our Commonwealth’s justice system.

Thank you for anything you can do!  
Activists [like YOU] have created the momentum for this exciting opportunity for several years. PLEASE email your rep the list of amendments RIGHT NOW.

Here’s hoping for a strong bill with a 2/3 veto-proof majority . . .
Susan Tordella
Thanks to EMIT core members Lori Kenschaft for compiling the email and the list of amendments, and for Lauren Gibbs additions.
 
And thanks to YOU for participating in our democracy, to correct some of the worst injustices of our time.

14 KEY Amendments & sponsors to H 4011

For all tireless justice and corrections systems advocates, H 4011, An Act to Reform Criminal Justice, is poised to be debated by the Mass. House of Representatives Nov. 12, 13, 14. Here are the latest amendments EMIT is advocating for. You can copy and paste and email to your state rep. Find your state rep here. 

NOW IS THE TIME to email your state rep! Don’t wait. We expect legislators to finalize it by Nov. 17.  Even if you’ve previously contacted your rep, the amendments and sponsors are NEW. Encourage him/her to co-sponsor & support them.

Dear Rep ___,
As your constituent, I urge you to vote for H4011, and to co-sponsor and advocate for the following amendments, to rebuild lives, prevent incarceration, and save money. Justice reform is bi-partisan and the Omnibus Bill offers a huge opportunity for all of us.
 
These amendments would enhance the bill significantly:
 

• Felony larceny threshold – Rep. Linsky:  Taise the level of what constitutes a felony to $1,500 — the level it would almost be if the threshold had kept up with inflation;


• Fines and Fees – Rep. Keefe:  Eliminate parole fees, and also public counsel fees for people who are indigent;

• Justice reinvestment — Rep. O’Day:  Track the savings generated from reducing the prison population, and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other supports to further reduce unemployment and recidivism;

• Juvenile diversion — Rep. Cahill:  Allow statewide pre-arraignment diversion for young people;

 
• Juvenile expungement — Reps. Dykema, Khan and Decker:  Strengthen the House bill’s expungement provisions;  Rep. Khan is filing an amendment to allow some juvenile records to be sealed in 4 years (rather than 10);
 

• Mandatory minimums #1 – Reps. Carvalho and Keefe:  Repeal mandatory minimums for all non-violent drug sentences;

• Mandatory minimums #2 – Reps. Carvalho and Keefe:  Repeal the “school zone” mandatory minimum;

• Medical parole #1 — Rep. Connolly:  Make people with permanent cognitive incapacitation (think dementia) eligible, in keeping with the Senate bill;

• Medical parole #2 — Rep. Connolly:  Lengthen the terminal prognosis from 12 months to 18 months, in keeping with the Senate bill;

• Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction — Rep. Carvalho and Rep. Khan:  Raise the lower age to 12 and the upper age to 19 ;

 

• Romeo & Juliet — Rep. Lewis:  Don’t prosecute teens who are close in age and engage in consensual sexual activity;

• School-based arrests — Rep. Vega:  Reduce school-based arrests for adolescent misbehavior like disorderly conduct and disturbing an assembly;

 
• Shackling — Rep. Khan:  Codify current court policy prohibiting indiscriminate shackling of juveniles;
 
• Solitary — Rep. Balser:  Further limit the use of solitary confinement and provide data on its use.
​Sincerely,
Your name & address
prosecutor's role in Massachusetts

Crucial time to make a burning call

Could you take a minute to call or email your state representative and ask them to support H.4011, the criminal justice reform bill?  
 
Could you ask someone else to do the same?  (Find legislators at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)
Do you want to help strengthen the bill?  Are you curious about this process and want a little bit of civics education?  If so, keep reading.
For context — Proposed amendments must be filed by Nov. 9, and will be voted on early next week, right before the bill itself.  The more legislators co-sponsor an amendment before it is filed, the politically stronger it is.  They can co-sponsor after tomorrow too, but the political impact is smaller.  The Senate bill of An Act to Reform Criminal Justice had 162 proposed amendments, so I suspect plenty of amendments will be filed for the House bill too.
The dilemma — People who want real criminal justice reform face a balancing act.
On the one hand, we want the House bill to be as strong as possible.  After next week’s vote, the House and Senate bills will go to a conference committee, whose job it is to hash out a bill that both the House and the Senate will be willing to support in a yes/no vote (no amendments allowed).  The stronger the House bill, the stronger the final bill is likely to be.  If a provision in the House bill is amended to match the language in the Senate bill, that’s one less thing to negotiate over.  Note that sometimes the House language is better than the Senate language.
On the other hand, the most important thing is to get a law out of this long process.  That means either getting Governor Baker’s support or having enough votes to override a veto.  To be veto-proof, a bill needs two-thirds support in both the House and the Senate.  If the final bill is so ambitious that it can’t get that level of support, we could really lose.
Legislators are now trying to get a sense of how much support various amendments would have.  Would plenty of state reps vote for this amendment?  Does it risk undermining support for the bill as a whole?  How far to push?  How cautious to be?  Massachusetts has 160 state representatives, so that’s a lot of people to talk with.
My suggestion — I don’t have perfect answers to these questions, and I don’t think anyone does.  I do, however, believe it would be helpful for you to ask your state rep to co-sponsor the following 12 possible amendments that are actively being discussed:
+  Raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction to 12 (not just 10);
+  Raise the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to 19;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,500 (the level it would be if it had kept up with inflation);
+  Reduce the criminalization of poverty by further reducing or eliminating fines and fees;
+  Eliminate mandatory minimums for all lower-level drug offenses;
+  Raise the thresholds for trafficking (they are currently what someone with a serious substance abuse issue would use in a few days, so would entrap users);
+  Increase pre-arraignment diversion options for juveniles (since getting a court record can affect someone for the rest of their life);
+  Allow juvenile records to be eligible for expungement after 3 years (H.4011 says 10 years, which is a very long time);
+  Put into statute that juveniles are not to be shackled without a specific reason;
+  Follow the advice of Citizens for Juvenile Justice on what juvenile data is important to collect;
+  Protect children by considering primary caretakers’ parental responsibilities when sentencing; and
+  Track the savings from reduced prison populations and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other support for re-entry.
If this makes sense to you, I suggest you make this a two-step process.  First, call your state rep and tell them (or their aide) that you are asking them to vote for H.4011 and co-sponsor some amendments that would strengthen it.  Tell them you will email a list of a dozen amendments, so they will have them in writing rather than taking notes on the phone.  Then, follow up with the email as soon as you get off the phone.  A draft email is below.  Feel free to shorten the list.
It’s helpful for state reps to hear from constituents while making political judgment calls.  It gives them more information, and it lets them tell other legislators they are getting pressure from their constituents.  Most importantly, it lets them know we’re paying attention.  They may or may not do exactly what we ask in any particular decision, but they also have knowledge that we don’t.  When we work together, better decisions get made.
Now more than ever, I believe, it’s important for citizens to understand and participate in our democratic political process.
— Lori Kenschaft, EMIT Core Member
Blog editor’s note: Here are two more amendments that will insure humane treatment for incarcerated people and save the state money:
*  Rep. Balser’s amendments to limit the Department of Corrections’ cruel over-reliance of solitary confinement and to provide data on its use; and
* Rep. Connolly’s two amendments to broaden medical parole for incapacitated and terminally ill inmates, which will save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
————————————————————-Draft Email—————————————————-
Dear Rep. ________,
Thank you for talking with me today.  [Or, “I want to thank your aide, [name here], for speaking with me today.]
As I said on the phone, I encourage you to vote for the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, H.4011, and for amendments to strengthen it.
In particular, I encourage you to co-sponsor and vote for the following amendments:
+  Raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction to 12 (not just 10);
+  Raise the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to 19;
+  Reduce the criminalization of poverty by further reducing or eliminating fines and fees;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,500 (the level it would be if it had kept up with inflation);
+  Eliminate mandatory minimums for all lower-level drug offenses;
+  Raise the thresholds for trafficking (they are currently what someone with a serious substance abuse issue would use in a few days, so would entrap users);
+  Increase pre-arraignment diversion options for juveniles (since getting a court record can affect someone for the rest of their life);
+  Allow juvenile records to be eligible for expungement after 3 years (H.4011 says 10 years, which is a very long time);
+  Put into statute that juveniles are not to be shackled without a specific reason;
+  Follow the advice of Citizens for Juvenile Justice on what juvenile data is important to collect;
+  Protect children by considering primary caretakers’ parental responsibilities when sentencing;
+  Track the savings from reduced prison populations and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other supports;
+  Rep. Balser’s amendments to limit the Department of Corrections’ cruel over-reliance of solitary confinement and to provide data on its use; and
+  Rep. Connolly’s amendments to broaden medical parole for incapacitated and terminally ill inmates, which will save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thank you for putting more justice into our justice system.
Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your address and phone number]
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

The Practical Case for Parole for Violent Offenders

From the NY Times                 By MARC MORJÉ HOWARD                     AUG. 8, 2017
o

An inmate at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama. Credit: William Widmer for The New York Times

The American criminal justice system is exceptional, in the worst way possible: It combines exceptionally coercive plea bargaining, exceptionally long sentences, exceptionally brutal prison conditions and exceptionally difficult obstacles to societal re-entry.

This punitiveness makes us stand out as uniquely inhumane in comparison with other industrialized countries. To remedy this, along with other changes, we must consider opening the exit doors — and not just for the “easy” cases of nonviolent drug offenders. Yes, I’m suggesting that we release some of the people who once committed serious, violent crimes.

There’s widespread agreement that current practices are unsustainable. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The grim reality of American justice is that there are 2.3 million people behind bars, five million on parole or probation, 20 million with felony convictions and over 70 million with a criminal record.

That’s why sentencing reform — mainly consisting of reduced penalties for drug-related crimes — has received bipartisan support at both the federal and state levels. But this isn’t enough. We should also bring back discretionary parole — release before a sentence is completed — even for people convicted of violent crimes if they’ve demonstrated progress during their imprisonment.

Other democracies regularly allow such prisoners to be granted reduced sentences or conditional release. But in the United States the conversation about this common-sense policy became politicized decades ago. As a result, discretionary parole has largely disappeared in most states and was eliminated in the federal system. Prisoners whose sentences include a range of years — such as 15 to 25 years, or 25 years to life — can apply to their state’s parole board for discretionary parole, but they almost always face repeated denials and are sent back to wither away behind bars despite evidence of rehabilitation. (Inmates who have served their maximum sentence are released on what is called mandatory parole.)

But this fear-driven thinking is irrational, counterproductive and inhumane. It bears no connection to solid research on how criminals usually “age out” of crime, especially if they have had educational and vocational opportunities while incarcerated. It permanently excludes people who would be eager to contribute to society as law-abiding citizens, while taxpayers spend over $30,000 a year to house each prisoner. And it deprives hundreds of thousands of people of a meaningful chance to earn their freedom.

But are prisoners who have served long sentences for violent crimes genuinely capable of reforming and not reoffending? The evidence says yes. In fact, only about 1 percent of people convicted of homicide are arrested for homicide again after their release. Moreover, a recent “natural experiment” in Maryland is very telling. In 2012, the state’s highest court decided that Maryland juries in the 1970s had been given faulty instructions. Some defendants were retried, but many others accepted plea bargains for time served and were released. As a result, about 150 people who had been deemed the “worst of the worst” have been let out of prison — and none has committed a new crime or even violated parole.

This outcome may sound surprising, but having spent one afternoon a week for the past three years teaching in a maximum-security prison in Maryland, I’m not shocked at all. Many of the men I teach would succeed on the outside if given the chance. They openly recognize their past mistakes, deeply regret them and work every day to grow, learn and make amends. Many of them are serving life sentences with a theoretical chance of parole, but despite submitting thick dossiers of their accomplishments in prison along with letters of support from their supervisors and professors, they are routinely turned down.

Over the past several years, I have brought in hundreds of Georgetown students for tours that include a meeting with a panel of prisoners, and I have accompanied nearly 50 academic colleagues who have delivered lectures to my incarcerated students. Without fail, the things that stand out to visitors are the same things that haunt me: the compassion, engagement and intellect of people who made terrible mistakes long ago but should not be perpetually defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done.

Until recently the political situation was favorable to bipartisan criminal justice reform. But the election of a self-described “law and order candidate,” the doubling of the stock prices of private-prison companies and the return of the discredited war on drugs gives an indication of the direction of the current administration.

But whenever a real discussion about reform does come, policy makers should look beyond the boundaries of the United States.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that all long-term prisoners should be released nor that the perspectives of crime victims should be ignored. Serious crimes warrant long sentences. But other democracies provide better models for running criminal justice and prison systems. Perhaps we could learn from them and acquire a new mind-set — one that treats prisons as sites to temporarily separate people from society while creating opportunities for personal growth, renewal and eventual re-entry of those who are ready for it.

Marc Morjé Howard is the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown, where he is a professor of government and law, and is the author of “Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism.”

FREE event 6/16 at Harvard Law on redefining prosecutor’s role

prosecutor's role in Massachusetts

Friday, June 16, 20179:30am4:30pm
Wasserstein Hall, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Join the Houston Institute and the ACLU for a daylong conference at Harvard Law School titled: “Redefining the Role of the Prosecutor within the Community.”

Prosecutors are key actors within our current justice system and possess an enormous amount of discretion about who is charged, for what, and the severity of the sentence received. Additionally, prosecutors wield power in state legislatures, in determining how tax dollars are spent, and in prioritizing rehabilitation or retribution in these decisions.

Yet, we know surprisingly little about how these decisions are made, why, and the pressures and incentives that inform prosecutorial actions and cultures. In the past several years, grassroots organizations, justice reform advocates and scholars have taken a more critical look at the role of prosecutors in building historic rates of incarceration, and have begun to define a more expansive set of metrics for measuring their performance.

In the morning, we will identify and discuss new models for prosecution and hear from former prosecutors about their experiences and insights. We will then hear brief presentations from economist John Pfaff about his research regarding the impact of prosecutorial decisions on incarceration rates, and from Measures for Justice on new ways to measure “justice outcomes” within a community. Our afternoon panel and ensuing discussion will focus on creating and implementing models for community engagement and oversight.

Confirmed speakers/organizations include:

  • Adam Foss
  • John Pfaff, Author of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform
  • Measures for Justice
  • Miriam Krinsky, Fair and Just Prosecution
  • Color Of Change
  • PICO

This event will be free and open to the public. More details to come!

RSVP Here