Tag Archives: massachusetts

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.

Prisons becoming nursing homes

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The Sentencing Project logo
A new report by The Sentencing Project, Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences, finds a record 206,268 people serving life with parole, life without parole, or virtual life sentences in 2016—one of every seven people in prison.

The report, authored by senior research analyst Ashley Nellis, provides a comprehensive analysis of individuals serving life sentences, including the first-ever census of those serving “virtual life” sentences of 50 years or more. Extreme prison sentences are a nationwide phenomenon, but in eight states — Alabama, California, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, and Utah — at least one of every five prisoners is serving a form of life in prison.

Racial disparity in the prison population is also a hallmark of mass incarceration and the composition of the population serving life reflects this stark disproportionality. Indeed, one in five African Americans in prison is serving a life or virtual life sentence. In Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and South Carolina, two-thirds or more are African American.

The report concludes with recommendations to address the outsized life and virtual life population:

  • Eliminate life without parole and dramatically scale back other life sentences;
  • Improve the process of parole;
  • Increase the use of clemency and authorize other mechanisms to adjust overly punitive sentences.

We hope you will help us spread the report’s eye-opening findings about the United States’ historic incarceration levels and advocate for change.

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.

 

Join the Call-in Storm for more Gardner visiting hours

“I went to visit [Gardner] Friday [April 7, 2017] and it was CRAZY. One family member took a picture of all the cars lined up on the road to the prison from Route 2 [two miles away]. They are bringing the men into the visiting room before their families to try to move it along but today, men waited one hour or more before the family came in. Some men got up and walked out without the visit from a family member.”  — From “H”, a dedicated visitor.

The family member who made the statement above often gets the inside information.

The real story is that Colette Goguen, superintendent of the institution, does not follow normal scheduling protocol for correctional officers (COs) who work the 1-9 pm shift, typical for visiting hours. Most other institutions provide COs two days off in a row after working a 1-9 pm shift in the visiting room. Gardner’s weekend visiting hours are now 9 am to 3:30 pm.

Goguen refuses to give that perk, so correctional officers refuse to bid for those shifts. Hence, visiting hours are condensed, families and incarcerated men are furious, and we must take action to remedy this situation. Some incarcerated men who have protested from inside have reportedly been sent to segregation for “organizing.”

You are urged to call Gov. Baker, (617-725-4005) or (888-870-7770) in- state, and Supt. Goguen, (978) 630-6000, (press 1 then 7) with the following message – or your own words.

“Family visits are crucial to well-being inside of prison, and to maintain relationships with children and adults to promote successful re-entry. More than 92 percent of all people leave prison, and many studies have shown the importance of family visits.

“Please reinstate Monday visiting hours and put back the Saturday and Sunday visiting hours to 1-9 pm instead of the 9-3:30 hours.”

THANK YOU for calling. Prison officials and Gov. Baker must feel pressure from people directly impacted and from the larger community who want to insure decent treatment of incarcerated people and their families. Although the state requires three visiting periods a week, which Gardner technically exceeds, as do most other institutions. Some 900 men are incarcerated in free public housing in Gardner, at an average cost of more than $54,000 a year, per person. Most of that cost is for CO wages and benefits.

Storm the Statehouse by telephone! Make your voice heard. This has impact. THANK YOU. Please do it this week- April 10-15.

 

 

 

Help restore more visiting hours at Gardner Prison

The visiting hours at Gardner State Prison have been cut to only Friday and half-time on Saturday and Sunday. This creates a hardship for many people because of their work schedules and/or the long travel distances to get to the prison.

Please join us in objecting to the policy by signing this petition:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/do-not-reduce-family-visitation-schedule-at-ncci

Please join our protest by calling your elected representative to the Governor’s Council to demand additional days of visiting hours.  Find your rep here.

http://www.mass.gov/portal/government/govs-council.html

Other medium-security prisons in Massachusetts have 29 to 39 hours available to visit, Gardner has just 14 hours a week on three days since March 27. Families are very upset because many people who work weekends can now visit on Friday evening.

Because only two adults are allowed to visit at a time, many families will not be able to spread out visits with the new limitations. Other problems include limited visitor parking, a small waiting area that only holds at most 30 people, and an equally small visiting room. Such over-crowding may cause some people to be turned away and unable to visit.

The families of the incarcerated men believe this limited visitation schedule alienates the families and harms children who need to see their father more than once a week. Severely limiting visiting hours does not promote the re-unification of families, and has caused great upset among the men who are incarcerated at Gardner.

Curtailing visitation is not in the spirit of justice and corrections systems reform. Many studies of incarceration and re-entry show evidence that maintaining strong family connections during incarceration leads to lower rates of recidivism and more positive dynamics within a correctional institution. THANK YOU for signing the petition and calling your governor’s council representative.

Visiting schedule for Gardner State Prison

Friday                   1-8:30 pm [Open two periods]

Saturday              9 am to noon      Last names beginning with A-L

12-3:30 PM         Last names beginning with M-Z

Sunday                 9 am to noon      M-Z

12-3:30 pm         A-L

Monday-Thursday            No visiting hours for general population.

MA – follow suit & eliminate cash bail

NEW YORK TIMES March 9, 2017.

HOUSTON — It was an awkward scene for officials of Harris County, Texas, who are defending themselves in federal court against a claim that they keep poor defendants locked up just because they cannot afford bail.

On Wednesday a judge and the county sheriff testified for the other side.

“When most of the people in my jail are there because they can’t afford to bond out, and when those people are disproportionately black and Hispanic, that’s not a rational system,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was elected after the case was filed.

Both the judge and the sheriff are defendants in the suit. Their defections were yet another sign of the growing skepticism over the fairness of the long-used system of money bail, especially when it is applied to those who cannot afford it.

The class-action lawsuit contends that on any given night, several hundred people are in the Harris County jail on misdemeanor charges solely because they cannot make bail. If defendants with bail bond amounts of $500 or less had simply been released, the county would have saved $20 million over six years, according to a “very conservative” estimate by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania.

The practice of setting money bail, particularly for low-level offenses, has come under heavy criticism, and states like New Jersey and Maryland have sharply curtailed its use in recent months. A growing body of evidence shows that even a brief detention before trial can disrupt lives and livelihoods, make case outcomes worse and increase the likelihood that the defendant will commit future crimes. Putting a price on pretrial liberty can allow those with money to go free even if they are dangerous, and keep the poor in jail even if they are not.

Civil rights lawyers have mounted a series of lawsuits against bail practices like those in Harris County, where people without ready money can spend up to four days in jail before getting a chance to even contest their bond amount. Almost a dozen similar cases across the country have been settled with significant changes to the local bail system.

But two of the biggest challenges, in Houston and San Francisco, are still in play. And in both places, key officials have sided with the bail critics.

In San Francisco, the city attorney, Dennis Herrera, and the state attorney general at the time, Kamala Harris, declined to defend against the lawsuit, saying the bail system was unfair. In Houston the district attorney, Kim Ogg, weighed in with an impassioned friend-of-the-court brief, writing, “It makes no sense to spend public funds to house misdemeanor offenders in a high-security penal facility when the crimes themselves may not merit jail time.” Like Sheriff Gonzalez, Ms. Ogg is newly elected.

Those left to defend the system have had a lonely uphill fight. James Munisteri, a private lawyer hired by Harris County, faced calls for his removal after he told the court at an earlier hearing that misdemeanor defendants might be in jail not because they couldn’t afford to post bond, but because they “want” to be there. “If it’s a cold week,” he added.

The judge, Lee H. Rosenthal of Federal District Court, was skeptical of that contention, calling it “uncomfortably reminiscent of the historical argument that used to be made that people enjoyed slavery, because they were afraid of the alternative.”

The case was filed last May on behalf of Maranda Lynn ODonnell, who was arrested on charges of driving with an invalid license. She spent over two days in jail because she couldn’t afford to pay her $2,500 bond. Civil Rights Corps, the organization whose director, Alec Karakatsanis, has led the legal attacks on unaffordable bail across the country, joined with the Texas Fair Defense Project, a nonprofit legal defense organization, and Susman Godfrey, a law firm, to bring the case.

So far, the county has spent $1.2 million on outside lawyers to defend itself.

The Supreme Court has held that liberty before trial should be the norm, and that bail conditions must be set based on the individual’s circumstances. Bail is not meant to be punitive; it is intended simply to ensure that defendants return to court. Texas law requires consideration of “the ability to make bail.”

But the videos made it clear that bail was routinely set with no inquiry into defendants’ ability to pay — or with the full knowledge that they could not. When suspects are first booked, their bail is set using a fee schedule based on the charge and on criminal history. At the probable cause hearing, where typically no lawyer is present, the hearing officer can raise or lower the bond, or grant a personal bond, which allows the defendant to go without an upfront payment.

The county argued that it began reforming its pretrial release system before the lawsuit was filed. It recently issued guidelines recommending the use of personal bonds for people accused of 12 low-level misdemeanors. Beginning on July 1, it plans to make public defenders available at the probable cause hearing. The bail fee schedule will disappear, to be replaced by a risk assessment, a more sophisticated method of determining an arrestee’s likelihood of fleeing or of committing a new crime.

Any injunction striking down parts of its pretrial release system would hamper these ongoing reforms, county lawyers argued. They also contended that a court order would tie judges’ hands, reducing their discretion and potentially allowing dangerous detainees back onto the streets. “There are a category of high-risk detainees who should not be released,” Melissa Lynn Spinks, a lawyer representing the county, said.

Besides the sheriff, another star witness for the plaintiffs was Darrell Jordan, elected as a Harris County criminal court judge last November. At first, Mr. Jordan said, he followed the bail practices of his 15 fellow judges. But he radically changed his approach after learning of research showing that locking people up makes them more likely to be repeat offenders.

Mr. Jordan began releasing nearly all defendants, either on a personal bond or on one they could afford. .

A homeless man who recently came before Mr. Jordan was prepared to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge just to gain release, but changed his mind when he realized that the judge was willing to let him out of jail immediately.

”He had never heard of a personal bond,” the judge remembered. “He started crying when I told him he could go home.”