Tag Archives: Mass.

Baker undermining solitary confinement reform

By Margaret Monsell  

Last year’s criminal justice reform law tried to nudge the state toward a more humane policy on solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails by adding due process protections for all prisoners confined to their cells for more than 22 hours a day and creating a 12-member Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee consisting of mental health and social work professionals as well as corrections personnel to conduct an annual study of solitary confinement practices, including recommendations on ways to minimize its use. 

The Baker administration, deeply unenthusiastic about this initiative, is using the regulatory process to throttle it.  In March, the Department of Correction sidestepped the new due process protections by way of regulations confining some prisoners to their cells for 21 hours a day instead of the 22 hours referenced in the statute. Problem largely solved.  

And in mid-June, the Department of Correction issued regulations governing the Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee that will certainly impair its ability to carry out its mission. Despite statutory language giving committee members “access to all correctional institutions,” the regulations require advance approval from the institution superintendent before any visit, prohibit a quorum or more of committee members from visiting the same institution at the same time, and apply all the rules governing visitation generally to committee members as well, making them, for example, subject to searches for weapons and contraband and to having their visits terminated at the discretion of corrections staff.

The committee must also obtain a written release from every inmate before reviewing any medical, criminal history, or other information the institution has about that inmate. While this requirement may serve the inmates’ privacy interests, it also provides corrections staff with a list of the inmates who have cooperated with the committee’s inquiries, intelligence that inmates might reasonably believe would lead to retaliatory punishment.    

In addition to these constraints on the ability of committee members to gather information, the regulations also forbid them from making “any statement(s) to the public or the press about any matters pending before the Committee, unless approved by the Chair of the Committee to do so” (the chair of the committee is the governor’s secretary of public safety). 

What constitutes a “matter pending before the Committee” remains undefined in the regulations, but presumably it includes the subjects the committee is required to address in its annual report, such as the criteria for placing an inmate in restrictive housing and the effect of restrictive housing on prison safety. In the absence of the chair’s approval, members would be unable to share their experiences and findings with anyone, including the Legislature, which established the committee for the purpose of its own edification. 

The Department of Correction put these regulations forward on an emergency basis, which means that they’re effective immediately and that the agency may dispense with the usual period between the announcement of a proposed new regulation and its adoption, during which time it is required to receive and consider public comments. (The solitary confinement regulations issued in March were also emergency regulations).

 Although they’re effective immediately, emergency regulations are of limited duration. These expire at the end of August. Maybe before then, the Legislature, the public, and the press can convince the Baker administration that, unlike these emergency regulations, permanent ones must reflect the fact that solitary confinement policy is not exclusively an executive branch prerogative. 

Margaret Monsell is an attorney practicing in the Boston area.

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.

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.

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]