Tag Archives: Mass.

Good Omens at the State House — & How You Can Help Turn Them Into Good News

September 13, 2017:  The chances for comprehensive criminal justice reform at the State House are looking good.  Nothing is certain yet, but here’s some backgound and then one thing you can do that would really help.
Background:  The current plan is that the Senate and House will each pass two bills — the bill about reducing recidivism that came out of the Council of State Governments process and is sponsored by Gov. Charlie Baker, and an “everything else” bill that brings together a wide range of issues into one package.  The Senate’s omnibus bill is likely to come out first, and it is likely to draw the essence of more than forty bills into one comprehensive package that includes most of what people like me have been advocating for.  The House’s omnibus bill may not be as comprehensive, as the goal is to propose a bill that will get enough votes to pass, and the common wisdom is that the House is less welcoming to reforms than the Senate.  It’s also really clear, though, that the grassroots advocacy and organizing of the last few years has made a difference, as legislators are now seriously considering proposals that a few years ago they would have dismissed out of hand.
What You Can Do Now Rep. Claire Cronin, the House co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, has invited all members of the House to make an appointment to talk with her about their opinions of criminal justice reform in the next few weeks.  If you think that your state rep supports criminal justice reform, please call them and ask them to talk with Rep. Cronin and tell her that they hope she will be ambitious in her proposals for criminal justice reform.  (There are a few reps who seem opposed to just about everything in this space.  If that describes your rep, please don’t contact them in the next few weeks — let them think about other issues and forget to talk with Rep. Cronin 🙂 .)
Thoughts about strategy:  For years now, people have been working on a wide variety of bills, each of which focuses on one or a few priorities.  We have tried to educate legislators and the public about these issues, why they are important, and what’s in each bill.  This year dozens of bills related to criminal justice reform have been filed, and only a handful of people (primarily legislators on the Judiciary Committee and their staff) have any chance of getting on top of the contents of all of them.  Dozens of these bills will feed into the House and Senate omnibus bills, which will be long and complicated.  Unless your legislator is on the Judiciary Committee — and perhaps even then — trying to get them to engage with the details of a comprehensive bill is asking too much.
Instead, our role now is to raise enthusiasm for the concept of broad and ambitious criminal justice reform.  If your state rep cares about specific bills and wants to ask Rep. Cronin to include them in the package bill, great.  But what Rep. Cronin really needs to hear is that lots of state reps are inclined to support an omnibus bill that she brings forward, and they want her to make it strong and ambitious.  She and her staff are currently working on what to include and how it all fits together.  They will include more if they get the message that state reps are broadly enthusiastic about a strong reform package.  And state reps are more likely to give that message if they hear it from their constituents — i.e., us.
If you don’t know your state rep’s phone number, you can look them up here:  https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator  A phone call is best, but if you can’t get yourself to place a call then an email can be helpful too.
Thank you for anything you can do!
Lori Kenschaft
EMIT Core member and coordinator, Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington
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CALL your State Rep by Sept. 22, 2017

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

CALL YOUR state representative TODAY and advocate for justice.

After a decade of activism, we have a window of opportunity for broad reform of the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems.Members of the Massachusetts Senate will be voting on a package of comprehensive reforms this fall.  We need to urge House members to take similar action. The House Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, is now meeting with every House member to learn what reform they will support.

 

The goal is for you to join a statewide movement to call your state representative (not senator) within the next week, so your rep will relay to Rep. Cronin, that they support a bold and comprehensive package of judicial and corrections systems reforms.

HERE is what we are asking you to do by Sept. 22.

If needed, identify your state representative at www.openstates.org, find their phone and e-mail.  Call and ask to speak with your state rep.  If s/he is not available, speak with their aide. Here is the message.

Hello my name is …  I am a constituent of Rep. …  I have been aware for a long time of the need to reform our justice and corrections systems.  I know there is discussion about bills to make badly needed changes in the systems.

I have heard that the Co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Clare Cronin, is meeting with each member of the House to discuss areas of reform they will to support and what to include in a comprehensive package. In the discussions between Rep.… and Rep. Cronin, please urge her to be ambitious, to think big, and to develop a comprehensive House package, equal to the Senate version.

You may have a specific issue of concern, such as ending mandatory minimum sentences, reducing or eliminating bail, solitary confinement, or fees or fines.  Mention that issue in one sentence.  The main reason for the call is to ask your state rep to urge Rep. Cronin to think big, and assure her that House members will support broad reforms this fall.

  1. The ask: Can I count on you to deliver a message of support to Rep. Cronin?
  2. Next, send an email to your state rep to reinforce the message.
  3. Go HERE  to let the organizers, know you have connected with your state representative.

THANK YOU.

The Rev. Bill Gardiner, Susan Tordella and  Laura Wagner, Unitarian Universalist Association; The Rev. Jon Tetherly,  The Rev. George Oliver, Kathryn Byers, United Church of Christ.

For information, visit these resources:

One-Pager_justice-corrections reform_0922

https://massinc.org/our-work/policy-center/criminal-justice-reform/

http://www.macucc.org/justicewitnessministries

OK Bay State, catch up with Louisiana

The governor of Louisiana just signed 10 bills to overhaul their justice and corrections systems. Massachusetts sadly lags behind reform. We in Massachusetts must copy Louisiana, where grassroots activism, testifying at the statehouse and in the media, and direct, face-to-face contact with their elected officials fueled success.

 

CONTACT ME, emit [dot] susan [at] g mail if you live in Massachusetts and want EMIT to to assist you to take the most effective action: making a face-to-face visit with your state rep, near where you live. Find your state rep here. It’s your state rep’s JOB to listen to your concerns and requests.

We have held small group dialogues of constituents with with dozens of lawmakers from across the state, including Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, speaker of the House of Representatives.

To enact comprehensive reform similar to Louisiana, a series of bills is required. The sponsors of each bill insure they have support before asking Speaker DeLeo to bring a bill forward for a vote of the whole body.

We must capture the attention of every state representative this session, which runs from January 2017-July 2018. Take action today and contact EMIT — emit [dot] susan [at] g mail. We have a team of volunteers standing by to set up appointments and attend them with you and a small group of other registered voters from your district.

The Practical Case for Parole for Violent Offenders

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

It’s time for justice reform in Mass.

A poll out today from the policy group Mass INC is encouraging with 2-1 support for ending the long Mandatory Minimum sentences on drug convictions and for other reforms on CORI reform, felony theft threshold, reducing or ending fines and fees on ex-prisoners

WHEN IT COMES TO CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM, VOTERS WANT MORE — At least according to a new poll out this morning from MassINC Polling Group, which finds a bipartisan support for getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences and pursuing second chance reforms by a 2-1 margin.

Some 53 percent of voters believe incarceration currently does more harm than good – potentially opening the door for more aggressive reforms than are in the current criminal justice reform bill rolled out by Gov. Charlie Baker in February and backed by state House Speaker Robert DeLeo. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who supports the proposal, has also stated he wants to go further than Baker’s bill to delve into sentencing policy and bail practices – things this poll indicates the public has more of an appetite to pursue.

The poll also reveals bipartisan interest in reform, which could provide cover for both chambers in the legislature to pursue more progressive policies, like getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences and an emphasis on rehabilitation and prevention of future crimes – two things specifically favored on both sides of the aisle. “You see an appetite for changing things around, for trying something new and changing the realities of the criminal justice system of Massachusetts,” MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela told POLITICO. – Check out the toplines. Click on “Check out the toplines” for details of the  question and responses in the poll.

It’s important to organize meetings, calls, and letters to both your state representatives and senators that you support criminal justice reform and specifically name what that includes such as Ending Mandatory Minimum’s drug convictions and returning sentences to Judges, CORI Reform including reducing the number of years employers can see CORI’s to 7 years on felonies and 3 years on misdemeanors, reducing ending fines and fees like the $65 a month fee those on probation must pay, raising the threshold for what’s a felony from the 30 year old $250 level up to $1500, Diversion to Treatment, Juvenile Expungement and Raising the Age of Juvenile Court coverage.

–Thanks to Lew Finfer and Jobs not Jails for this update. Please submit YOUR post for this blog to emit.susan@gmail.com.

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…

 

This documentary on solitary is powerful & memorable

Maine and Mississippi have both reduced use of solitary, also known as “segregation” or “SHU-Special Housing Unit,” by 70 to 80 percent. We are rallying to end this cruel and unusual punishment in Massachusetts that typically makes matters worse instead of better.

PBS Frontline has crafted a powerful 2-hour documentary, “Last Days of Solitary” available online for free. What makes this film so remarkable is that it humanizes the most dangerous and difficult to reach people who are incarcerated, and it takes us behind the barbed wire into places usually hidden from the public.

The camera brings us face-to-face with caged people in Maine, while officials transitioned 92 people back to general population over a few years, leaving eight in the unit. The new approach saves the state an estimated $1 million a year because staffing solitary is so labor intensive.

This film is a must-see. Even watching 30 minutes will inform you on why and how we can change this practice often negatively impacts people for years, and does NOT necessarily add to institutional security.

Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, a champion of rights of the incarcerated, created a 7 minute video of testimonies from Massachusetts residents who have suffered the torture of solitary.

Here is a sampling of bills Massachusetts activists are endorsing during the 2017-18 session. Please contact your state legislator, set up a face-to-face meeting and encourage him/her to support the bills.

Solitary Confinement Reform (S.1306/H.3071)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Russell Holmes . These bills would end the practice of sentencing prisoners to long periods of isolated confinement. They would divert vulnerable groups (youth, pregnant women, those deaf, blind or in protective custody, prisoners with     serious mental illness or likely to deteriorate, away from solitary confinement.

To Collect Data Regarding Solitary Confinement in MA Prisons (S.1286/H.3092)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Christopher Markey. Massachusetts corrections facilities are not required to make public information regarding our state’s solitary   confinement practices. This bill would require quarterly data relating to solitary confinement, including the age, disability status and racial composition of inmates, the length of time spent in solitary and the number of suicides.

Segregation Oversight (S.1297/H.2249)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. This bill would create a solitary confinement oversight committee to review data and make recommendations on the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts.

 Promote Humane Conditions of Confinement (S.1296 / H.2248)

Lead sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. Vulnerable populations, including those who have serious mental illness, should not be placed in solitary confinement. Those who are placed into segregation should have full access to regular mental health treatment, facility programming, disability accommodations and other humane services.