Tag Archives: statehouse

PLEASE contact your state rep by Friday, Feb. 1

Please email the list below of constructive criminal justice reform bills to your state representative and senator and ask them to co-sponsor these bills. When six constituents contact a legislator, they pay attention.

State reps need to decide which bills to co-sponsor by Friday, February 1, so this is an important week. State senators have a little more time.

After the criminal justice omnibus bill passed in April, there is sparse energy for another comprehensive bill.  Yet there are many issues that were not adequately addressed by the omnibus bill — including:fully decriminalizing substance use disorders;increasing access to parole;bail reform; and providing better options for young adults who are entangled in the system.

Each of these bills would make our criminal legal system more fair and effective, and is supported by at least one of the organizations that participates in the Criminal Justice Working Group. 

Please email the attached list to your state rep and state senator with a cover note asking them to co-sponsor these bills.  The bill numbers and sponsors are included in the list to make it easy for them.

Don’t know who your legislators are?  You can look them up at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator

Thank you very much for taking action.
Lori Kenschaft

Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington and EMIT member

Constructive Bills Related to Criminal Justice  [copy & paste]

January 2019

Each of the following bills would help make the Massachusetts criminal justice system more fair and effective and is supported by one or more organizations that participate in the Criminal Justice Working Group.  Participating organizations include the ACLU of Massachusetts, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, Emancipation Initiative, Greater Boston Legal Services, League of Women of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Community Action Network, and Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery.  This list was compiled by Lori Kenschaft (lori.kenschaft@gmail.com).

Decriminalize Substance Use Disorders

These bills are based on the premise that substance use disorders should be handled as medical and public health problems, not criminalized.

HD.2727 / SD.1477:  An Act Relative to Treatment, Not Imprisonment (Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Cindy Friedman).  This bill would allow judges to order a person to get help for an addiction, but prohibit courts from sending a person to jail just for relapsing if they are otherwise engaged in treatment.  Currently someone who is on pretrial release or probation and experiences a relapse can be incarcerated even if they are actively working to achieve long-term recovery.  Incarceration disrupts treatment, endangers recovery, and greatly increases the risk of overdose after an individual returns to the community.  It is both unsafe and unjust to require a person suffering from addiction to remain relapse-free or else face jail.

HD.1044 / SD.1479:  An Act Ensuring Access to Addiction Services (Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Cindy Friedman).  This bill would require that men, like women, who are involuntary committed because of an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder be under the care and supervision of the Department of Public Health or Department of Mental Health.  Currently the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) is operated by the Department of Corrections. 

SD.1722 / SD.582:  An Act to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences Related to Drug Offenses (Sen. Cynthia Creem, Sen. Joseph Boncore).  This bill would further repeal the failed war‑on-drugs policy of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.  Research shows that mandatory minimum sentences have no real effect on crime rates, that incarcerating drug users and low‑level drug dealers does nothing to deter crime or the flow of drugs, and that Black and Hispanic individuals receive more of these sentences.  Mandatory minimums tie the hands of judges and increase the chance that families will be torn apart by incarceration.

Improve Data Collection and Transparency

HD.1780 / SD.336:  An Act Relative to Clarity and Consistency for the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board (Rep. Michael Day, Sen. Joseph Boncore). 
This bill would expand the data collection and reporting requirements included in the landmark 2018 criminal justice reform bill to include District Attorneys.  Without information from prosecutors about charging and diversion, it is impossible to get a comprehensive picture of the criminal justice system to inform future policy-making and ensure fair treatment.

HD.3412 / SD.795: An Act Improving Juvenile Justice Data Collection (Rep. Chynah Tyler, Sen. Cynthia Creem).  The Massachusetts juvenile justice system still fails to collect or share many of the basic statistical data needed to understand how the system is operating.  As a result, taxpayers are blindly funding a system without adequate metrics to assess its fairness or effectiveness and policymakers are limited in assessing whether what we are doing improves public safety and the outcomes of youth.  Massachusetts also has some of the worst racial disparities in the country.  This legislation would gather key demographic data at major decision points to better identify and evaluate policies or practices that may inadvertently drive children deeper into the system.

Avoid Excessive Punishment of Juveniles

HD.2800 / SD.1731:  An Act to Promote the Education Success of Court Involved Children (Rep. Joan Meschino, Sen. Pat Jehlen).  Current law allows a student charged with any felony to be suspended or expelled from school – prior to arraignment or adjudication – without any opportunity for due process in the juvenile court.  This bill would clarify that students who are facing discipline under §37H and §37H½ are entitled to all of the procedural protections received by students facing discipline under §37H¾.  Requiring additional procedural protections does not prevent schools from implementing serious disciplinary consequences if the principal determines such consequences are warranted.  They simply require the school to take steps to ensure that the offense occurred and was committed by the student being disciplined, and to hear the whole story, including mitigating circumstances, before imposing very serious and potentially life-altering consequences.

HD.2888 / SD.2095:  An Act Decriminalizing Consensual Adolescent Sexual Activity (Rep. Jason Lewis, Sen. Rebecca Rausch).  Massachusetts is one of only four states that criminalizes consensual sexual activity between two adolescents.  Most states have “Romeo and Juliet” laws to ensure that these relationships are handled by parents, not judges.  This bill would protect teens from criminal prosecution for consensual sexual activity with peers.  It would not change the laws that criminalize non-consensual or forcible sexual assaults by youth or consensual activity with a significantly younger individual. 

Promote Better Outcomes for Young Adults

These bills are based on the research showing that young adults are rapidly changing, open to influence, and have distinctive developmental needs until their brains fully mature at the age of roughly 25.  Massachusetts taxpayers spend a disproportionate amount of resources on young adults in the criminal justice system, and they have the worst outcomes.  Studies show that young adults who are handled by a developmentally appropriate system have lower recidivism rates than those in the adult criminal justice system.

HD.2697 / SD.1533: An Act to Reduce Recidivism among Emerging Adults (Reps. Kay Khan & James O’Day, Sen. Cindy Friedman).  This bill would infuse developmentally-appropriate, evidence-informed policies modeled after Massachusetts’ juvenile justice system into the adult system to promote positive outcomes for system-involved young adults (under the age of 25 or 26) and increase public safety by (1) individualized case planning, (2) family engagement, (3) access to education, including post-secondary education, (4) abolishing the use of solitary and restraints, (5) community-based pre-release, (6) access to physical, mental and dental health care, (7) prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and (8) prohibiting incarceration due solely to lack of placement by another state agency.

HD.1295 / SD.530: An Act to Promote Public Safety and Better Outcomes for Young Adults (Reps. James O’Day & Kay Khan, Sen. Joseph Boncore).  This bill would, over several years, raise the upper age in delinquency and youthful offender cases to include 18- to 20-year-olds.  Young people charged with murder and other serious offenses would still be eligible for adult sentencing.  This bill would expand the upper age of commitment to the Department of Youth Services for emerging adults (ages 18‑20) to ensure that there is an adequate opportunity to rehabilitate older youth entering the system, including extended commitment with DYS in “youthful offender” cases up to age 23.  This bill would help prevent long-term criminal justice system involvement by ensuring that individuals are both held accountable and engaged in the treatment, education, and vocational training that are most effective for their age group.

HD.3449 / SD.1908:  An Act Relative to Expungement (Reps. Marjorie Decker & Kay Khan, Sen. Cynthia Creem).  In 2018 Massachusetts passed legislation that allowed the expungement of criminal records for individuals whose offense was charged prior to their 21st birthday.  While this was an important step forward, the law created significant limitations by allowing only one charge on the record and making over 150 offenses categorically ineligible for expungement.  These strict criteria mean that very few individuals are eligible under this law, which intended to help young people access education, employment and housing.  This bill would close major gaps in the law by (1) letting people expunge records even if they have more than one charge, (2) permitting the expunging of any juvenile offense except never-sealable sex offenses, (3) preventing all juvenile fingerprints from going to the FBI, (4) allowing juvenile records to be sealed immediately by a judge if there was no adjudication, and automatically once the waiting period expires, (5) treating access to youthful offender juvenile court files the same as delinquency cases, and (6) stopping juvenile offenses from triggering mandatory minimum sentences in later adult cases.

HD.1228 / SD.94:  An Act to Prevent the Imposition of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Based on Juvenile Adjudications (Rep. Liz Miranda, Sen. Will Brownsberger).  This bill would prohibit the use of juvenile cases as predicate offenses that trigger later mandatory minimum sentences.  Youth of color and LGBT youth are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system and are therefore especially vulnerable to disproportionate penalties as adults.

Allow Judges to Use Discretion in Responding to Probation Violations

SD.1727 / SD.254:  An Act Relative to Probation Violations (Sen. Cynthia Creem, Sen. Will Brownsberger).  A judge may suspend a criminal sentence and allow a person to serve a term of probation.  An anomaly in the Massachusetts law requires, however, that if probation is revoked due to any violation of a condition of probation, the judge has no discretion but to impose the original suspended sentence, even if the new offense is very minor.  This bill would amend the Massachusetts law to, like the current federal law, provide for judicial discretion when incarceration would not be a just and warranted response to a probation violation.

Reduce Recidivism by Better Access to Visits and Calls

These bills are based on studies showing that visits and phone calls help maintain family relationships, reduce violence, reduce recidivism, and promote successful rehabilitation and re-entry.

HD.3011 / SD.2137:  An Act to Strengthen Inmate Visitation (Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Rep. Marjorie Decker).  This bill would eliminate overly broad restrictions on visitation.  The present system discourages visitation and makes it easy to lose connections that are important for good outcomes.

HD.3636 / SD.690:  An Act Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Family Relationships During Incarceration (Rep. Liz Malia, Sen. Harriet Chandler).  This bill would require that jail and prison staff receive training on the importance of visits to those who are incarcerated and the positive benefits of maintaining family ties.  It would also require training on how to promote safety and encourage positive interactions with families and other visitors.

HD.3024 / SD.888 / SD.1741:  An Act Relative to Inmate Telephone Service for Inmates / An Act Relative to Inmate Telephone Calls / An Act Relative to Inmate Telephone Rates (Rep. Chynah Tyler, Sen. Will Brownsberger, Sen. Mark Montigny).  All of these bills would reduce the exorbitant cost of phone calls, which isolates prisoners from their families.  SD.888 would provide for free calls.

Regulate the Use of Force

HD.2372 / SD.2050:  An Act to Create Uniform Standards in Use of Force, Increase Transparency, and Reduce Harm (Rep. Mary Keefe, Sen. Michael Barrett).  This bill would create uniform standards for the use of force in all state and county correctional facilities, including entrance of cell procedures and the use of chemical agents, restraining chairs, and K-9s.  It would require uniform standards for reporting on the use of force against individuals who are incarcerated.  It would also require all correctional officers to wear a personal audio-video recording device that is activated during planned entrance of cell procedures, emergency entrance of cell procedures, and all other uses of force.

HD.2956:  An Act to Reduce Harm by Creating Baseline Standards for Use of Force by K9’s in Correctional Facilities (Rep. Tram Nguyen).  This bill would create uniform standards for the use of force by K-9 dogs in state and county correctional facilities. 

Increase Access to Parole

These bills are based on research showing that people who are released on parole often have better outcomes than those held until the end of their sentences, and at lower expense to taxpayers.  Studies also show that many people “age out” of behaviors that endanger public safety.

HD.3620:  An Act Establishing Presumptive Parole (Rep. David Rogers).  Currently an individual who is eligible for parole has to convince the Parole Board that they deserve to receive parole.  This bill would shift the burden of proof so that the state would have to indicate why an individual who is eligible for parole should not receive it.

HD.1903 / SD.1860:  An Act Relative to Parole (Rep. Andres Vargas, Sen. Cynthia Creem).  This bill would expand the size of parole board to nine members, to decrease time for decisions.  Currently many people wait for months after they are eligible for parole to receive a decision about whether they will be paroled – sometimes until the end of their sentence.  This bill would also require at least three members of the Parole Board to have at least five years of experience in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, or the treatment of substance use disorders.  Expertise in these clinical fields would help the Parole Board more accurately evaluate prisoners.

HD.154 / SD.533:  An Act to Reduce Mass Incarceration (Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Joseph Boncore).  This bill would eliminate the sentence of life without parole, as well as all other sentences or combination of sentences that mandate incarceration for more than 25 years.  It would require the possibility of parole, and the opportunity for a parole hearing, after 25 years.  It would not require release, just a possibility of parole.  This change would be retroactive and would apply to those currently incarcerated.  Currently, one in eight people in our state prison system are serving sentences of life without parole.  People can and do change, especially after 25 years, and those who change should be allowed some hope of not dying in prison.

Protect Voting Rights

Under current Massachusetts law, people who are currently incarcerated because of a felony conviction do not have the right to vote, though their voting rights are returned upon release.  People who are incarcerated for other reasons, including pre-trial or after a misdemeanor conviction, retain the right to vote.  In many cases, though, people do not realize they have voting rights and/or cannot access voting materials.

HD.1107 / SD.1814:  An Act to Increase Voter Registration, Participation, and to Help Prevent Recidivism (Rep. Russell Holmes, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz).  This bill would protect the voting rights of incarcerated people who retain that right.  It would require access to voter registration, voter information, and absentee ballots for incarcerated people who have the right to vote.  It would also require the education of prisoners, attorneys, judges, election officials, correction officials, parole and probation officers, and members of the public about when voting rights are lost, not lost, and restored.  This bill was drafted by the incarcerated members of the African American Coalition Committee at MCI-Norfolk, the state’s largest prison.

SD.25 & SD.26:  Proposal for a Legislative Amendment to the Constitution Relative to Voting Rights & An Act Relative to Voting Rights (Sen. Adam Hinds).  Together, these bills would restore the right to vote to all citizens who are incarcerated, including those convicted of a felony.

Increase Access to Re-entry Programs

HD.1096 / SD.1178:  An Act Relative to Community Corrections: Increasing Access to Reentry Programs (Rep. Frank Moran, Sen. Will Brownsberger).  This bill would make all formerly incarcerated people eligible to participate in reentry services at the nineteen existing Community Corrections Centers, which provide assistance with housing, jobs, and treatment for substance use disorders.  It would authorize the Department of Probation to allow effective non-profits to offer reentry programs and to separate reentry services from sanctions and corrections locations.  It would also require the Department of Corrections and county Houses of Correction to provide departing prisoners with government identification cards and with information about re-entry services.

Reduce Recidivism by Increasing Employment Opportunities

HD.3637:  An Act Promoting Family Stability by Further Reforming Criminal Offender Record Information, Increasing Access to Employment and Preventing Unfair Accrual of Debt (Rep. Liz Malia).  This bill would increase access to jobs by ending the disqualification of drivers from transportation-related positions based on criminal cases that ended favorably in dismissals and by amending the casino-gaming law to end the disqualification of job applicants based on felony theft convictions (until 2018 the threshold for a felony theft was just $250).  This bill would also require that people who are incarcerated be given information about their right to request a reduction in child support orders while they are incarcerated, to avoid racking up massive child support debt that they have no ability to pay.

HD.3635:  An Act Providing Easier and Greater Access to Record Sealing (Rep. Liz Malia).  This bill would provide for the automatic sealing of records after the applicable waiting period.  The sealing process is now done manually for each and every request, and a request has to be mailed or delivered to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation.  This change would increase efficiency and benefit many people who are harmed by their criminal records but unaware of their right to seal their records.

Protect Civil Liberties

HD.2759 / SD.1804 An Act Relative to Forfeiture Reform (Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Cynthia Creem). 
This bill would require that a person be convicted of a crime before the government can take their private property.  An independent survey of state forfeiture laws gave Massachusetts an ‘F’ grade in our use and abuse of forfeiture laws. 


HD.2726 / SD.671:  An Act Relative to Unregulated Face Recognition and Emerging Biometric Surveillance Technologies (Rep. David Rogers, Sen. Cynthia Creem).  This bill would establish a moratorium on unregulated government use of face recognition and other biometric monitoring technologies that can screen, identify, and surveil people from a distance without their awareness and without any privacy protections.  

HD.1978 / SD.1229:  An Act to Protect Electronic Privacy (Rep. Sarah Peake, Sen. Hariette Chandler).  This bill would require a warrant for access to information about your cell phone and computer use. 


HD.1710:  An Act Relative to Access to Justice (Rep. Michael Day, Rep. Marjorie Decker).  This bill would ensure that all victims, witnesses, defendants, and people with civil matters in court receive due process and are able to attend court proceedings in safety.  Massachusetts courts must be places of redress and justice — for immigrants, and for all. 


Add your voice to this letter

The “Big 4” Gov. Baker, Chief Justice Gants, Senate Pres. Rosenberg and House Speaker DeLeo received a 9-page letter from the Coalition for Effective Public Safety on justice reform for the 2017-18 legislative session, signed by 70-plus advocacy groups.
 
 
The deadline is Feb. 14, 2017. Sign today, add your comments and ask friends to join in this simple action. Post it on Facebook, and forward the invitation to your networks. CLICK HERE to sign.
Below are links to the one-page summary and the 9 page letter. This is a huge statewide effort. Please join us. THANK YOU.

Save 12/12 & 12/13; Plan for 2018

Sign a petition to end the unfair Electoral College that delivered Bush II and Trump, whose opponents won the popular vote. This antiquated tradition emanates from 1776 when our wealthy white founding fathers deemed that the people could not be trusted with the responsibility to directly elected the president. 

If California had its proportional number of electoral college 200 votes, instead of a measly 50, we would be feeling less afraid today for America’s future.  Click here to learn more and make others aware of the necessity to dump the Electoral College.

SAVE Monday, Dec. 12, 7-8 pm. Join a statewide EMIT conference call to hear updates on the Council of State Government’s process to evaluate our justice/corrections systems, AND what legislation they are proposing to Beacon Hill, based on their neutral research. 

SAVE Tuesday, Dec. 13, 10 am, Boston. Join our allies, Jobs not Jails, at a rally/press conference across from the State House at 140 Bowdoin Street, Church of the New Jerusalem to call on the four state leaders filing the criminal justice reform to include the six proposals of the Jobs NOT Jails Coalition.

Make our votes count – other states give hope for 2018 election — in this article from The Nation. In Massachusetts, 14 district attorneys  will be up for re-election. We need to support alternative candidates who do not intimidate the accused and force plea deals to avoid trials. We have the power to elect sane district attorneys who embrace restorative justice. Many Massachusetts sheriffs ran with no opponent for 6-year terms. We  must levereage our power through voting and running for office. 

Election Night Saw Victories in Local Criminal-Justice Reform—This Should Be the Beginning

Local prosecutor and sheriff races are winnable and build power.

  • Joe Arpaio Protest

For progressives, winter came early this year. It started around 8:30 pm on Tuesday, November 8 and has been growing steadily colder ever since. Republican control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, does not bode well for a range of issues close to the heart of American progressivism, from health care to immigration to the environment.

But, amid a sea of bad news that evening, there emerged an island of hope. It came, of all unlikely places, in Jefferson County, Alabama, home to Birmingham. On Wednesday morning, Brandon Falls, the incumbent Republican district attorney, conceded that he lost his seat to Charles Todd Henderson, who became the first Democrat to be elected district attorney in over a decade. Henderson won his race in deep-red Alabama by promising to end “mass incarceration of those with drug addictions and mental illness,” and by revealing that he is “not supportive of the death penalty nor incarcerating our children in adult jails and prisons.”

Henderson’s victory in Birmingham is no fluke. Until last year, district-attorney races tended to fly under the public radar. Elected prosecutors were routinely reelected, often running unopposed and, as a result, served for decades. When they did bother to campaign, their slogans frequently highlighted a record of sending as many people to prison for as long as possible. But that recipe for electoral success is changing. And, with increased attention to these races from extraordinary faith-based groups, community advocates, and local journalists, as well as an influx of support from national donors such as George Soros, progressive challengers are gaining footholds in local races across the country.

In Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, Republican Devon Anderson lost her seat to challenger Kim Ogg, who has promised to overhaul drug prosecutions and has criticized the DA’s office for seeking the death penalty too often. The same basic story emerged in Hillsborough County, Florida, which includes Tampa, where incumbent Republican Mark Ober lost to challenger Andrew Warren. Earlier this year, elected prosecutors lost their primary races to more progressive, reform-minded candidates in Albuquerque, Chicago, Denver, and Jacksonville. In Corpus Christi, Texas, Mark Gonzalez, a criminal-defense lawyer and Democrat with the words “NOT GUILTY” tattooed on his chest, became the district attorney–elect this week.

These local electoral victories are not limited to prosecutor races. In Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his fearmongering, cruel and degrading tactics, and barbaric crackdown on immigrants, lost his election. The Harris County sheriff was defeated as well. Nor does the momentum for reform within local district-attorney and sheriff offices exclusively revolve around elections. In Seattle, a partnership among community groups, the public defender, law enforcement, and the King County District Attorney’s Office led to the creation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which steers people arrested for drug offenses and prostitution away from prosecution and into services aimed at decreasing recidivism such as drug treatment and job training. LEAD, which began in Seattle in 2011, spread to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2014, and to Albany, New York, earlier this year.

These victories represent tangible progress in the ongoing struggle among a dedicated band of progressive advocates in the fight for a more humane and sensible justice system, one that strives to keep us safe while simultaneously treating people fairly and conserving taxpayer dollars.

More importantly, though, this string of successes shows the enormous promise of focusing on both criminal-justice reform and American progressivism more broadly at the local level. While significant advances in climate change and immigration reform require congressional action, criminal-justice reform is an entirely different beast. The center of gravity for meaningful reform tends to be local. Should police officers use stop and frisk tactics? Conduct invasive raids of homes while investigating nonviolent offenses? Use military style vehicles? Those are decisions made by individual police departments or city councils, and are influenced by community advocates. Should prosecutors ask for bail, and how much? Prosecute nonviolent drug possession cases? Prosecute homelessness related offenses, such as sit-sleep-lie bans? Transfer juveniles to adult court? Seek the death penalty? For those decisions, too, local politics matter.

Local criminal-justice reform also serves as a bulwark against the worst impulses of Trumpism. What happens when a Donald Trump Justice Department, perhaps led by Rudolph Giuliani, refuses to intervene when a local police chief suppresses the speech of citizens who are protesting? How about when law enforcement fails to address targeted attacks on our most vulnerable citizens, such as ripping off a Muslim woman’s hijab? Mayors appoint police chiefs. So, here, too, local politics matter. If Trump continues to say that the Central Park Five should be executed, advocate for a national stop-and-frisk program, or claim falsely that the murder rate is at a 45-year high (it is not; in fact, 2015 had one of the lowest rates in 45 years), this use of the bully pulpit may stir local law enforcement and prosecutors into retributive excess. Resources and attention at the local level are an antidote to this fearmongering, allowing advocates and journalists to douse the flames before they can commence a second age of mass incarceration.

The election of Donald Trump may send forth global tremors in many areas. But it changes very little on issues related to criminal-justice reform as practiced at the local level. Roughly 50 million people live in just 15 of the counties that Clinton won this week. Some of these counties voted for Clinton by a margin of 2-1. If disheartened citizens and advocates chose to refocus their resources and attention to pushing reforms in these places, they could quickly see significant gains in the battle to end mass incarceration and help secure relief for millions of Americans.

Moreover, in 2017, there will be district-attorney races in several progressive strongholds. We know that there are over 100 such races in 2018. And that number does not include sheriff races. Nor does it include city-council members and county commissioners who shape budgets and priorities or mayors who appoint police chiefs. Progressive power could be particularly potent in urban areas, where so many progressive advocates reside, and where the need for reform is profound. Unlike at the federal (and often state) level, the population most burdened by overzealous prosecution and policing also possesses the most power to influence local politics.

Criminal-justice reform is not among many progressives’ priorities, but this local analysis shows why it should be. First, in places like Durham, North Carolina, traditional Democratic strongholds with large black populations situated in swing states, investing in local criminal-justice reform could help with voter turnout in 2018 and 2020. Given the narrow margins that tend to accompany wins in states like North Carolina, voter mobilization in these locations is incredibly important for progressives. Investment in criminal-justice reform at the local level creates a strong infrastructure that includes organizers, church leaders and civil-rights organizations. Unlike “out-of-town swoop down” get out the vote efforts, local power in the criminal-justice space draws on strong preexisting relationships, communications channels, and mobilization infrastructure. Most importantly, though, creating the energy to mobilize around local races serves as an insurance policy against national candidates who are less than inspiring.

One reason Clinton lost Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all by relatively small margins—is a persistent inability to connect with working-class white voters. Criminal-justice reform is an issue that can bridge this divide. Most people—black, white, brown, and Asian—have a family member, a neighbor, or a friend who struggles with mental illness and addiction. For many of us, and especially for those who struggle financially, those addictions inevitably intersect with the criminal justice system. White people, too, and especially marginalized white people who feel that government has abandoned them, struggle to pay overly punitive fines and fees, languish in jail because they cannot afford unnecessarily high bail, and struggle to find employment after convictions for marijuana possession and other low-level offenses. White people, too, are treated as disposable by the criminal-justice system.

There is also an opportunity to connect the massive taxpayer investment in stop-and-frisk and other programs that do not reduce violent crime with overly intrusive government, overzealous and unaccountable public servants, and colossal misuses of resources. Indeed, these are exactly the rationales that have propelled conservatives and libertarians, such as Right on Crime and the Koch brothers, into criminal-justice reform.

Finally, focusing on criminal-justice reform, especially at the local level, helps to create a pipeline of future progressive leaders. First, as an issue, criminal-justice reform is particularly compelling and often very personal, especially among those who have watched our broken system destroy the lives of family members and neighbors. A strong, progressive local criminal-justice reform community is able to attract and recruit the next generation of prosecutors, sheriffs, and other local officials.

These local officials become powerful in statewide prosecutor and police associations, groups with enormous influence at the statehouse, and often become state legislators, judges, attorney generals, and governors. Kamala Harris, who was elected to the United States Senate this week, is a striking example. She started as the district attorney of San Francisco County, became California’s attorney general, and now she’s headed to Congress. Who knows, perhaps the pathway from criminal-justice reformer to progressive visionary will take her all the way to the White House.

Bills Related To Increasing Penalties for Interfering with Police

In response to the Dallas massacre, our Massachusetts state legislature has introduced the following bills.

1. HB4440: An act relative to assault and battery on a police officer

Amends various GLs to punish whoever commits an assault and battery upon a

police officer and causes the officer serious bodily injury, by 1 to 10 years in state

prison or 1 to 2½ years in the house of correction, with a minimum mandatory 1

year to serve, and a fine between $500 and $10,000; and provides that a judge

may consider that a defendant charged with this offense is dangerous enough to

justify setting bail on the defendant or ordering such defendant's release, but with

Lead sponsor: Governor Charlie Baker (R)

Co-sponsors: None

Status: In Judiciary Committee. Hearing held 7/13/16. 4 testimonies in

opposition, 6 testimonies in support.

2. HB4466: An act protecting police officers

Section 13D of Chapter 265, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is

hereby amended by adding at the end thereof the following new paragraph:

Whoever commits an assault or an assault and battery upon a law enforcement

officer, when such an officer is engaged in the performance of their duties, that

results in bodily injury shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for

not more than 5 years or in the house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years,

or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Second or subsequent assaults upon a law enforcement officer, when such an

officer is engaged in the performance of their duties, or assaults and battery,

resulting in bodily injury shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000,

and imprisonment for not less than 1 year in a house of correction or more than

10 years in state prison.

Lead sponsor: Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn)

Co-sponsors: Rep. Ashe, Brian (D); Rep. Berthiaume Jr., Donald (R); Rep.

Boldyga, Nicholas (R); Rep. Campanale, Kate (R); Rep. Cantwell, James (D);

Rep. DeCoste, David (R); Rep. Diehl, Geoff (R); Rep. Dooley, Shawn (R); Rep.

Durant, Peter (R); Rep. Dwyer, James (D); Rep. Ferguson, Kimberly (R);Rep.

Fiola, Carole (D); Rep. Gordon, Kenneth (D); Rep. Gregoire, Danielle (D); Rep.

Haddad, Patricia (D); Rep. Hill, Bradford (R); Rep. Howitt, Steven (R); Rep. Hunt,

Randy (R); Rep. Kane, Hannah (R); Rep. Kelcourse, James (R); Rep. Kuros,

Kevin (R); Rep. Lombardo, Marc (R); Rep. McKenna, Joseph (R); Rep.

McMurtry, Paul (D); Rep. Miceli, James (D); Rep. Muratore, Mathew (R); Rep.

Orrall, Keiko (R); Rep. Poirier, Elizabeth (R);Rep. Puppolo, Jr., Angelo (D); Rep.

Rogers, John (D); Rep. Smola, Todd (R); Rep. Vieira, David (R); Rep. Vincent,

RoseLee (D); Rep. Whelan, Timothy (R); Rep. Wong, Donald (R); Rep. Zlotnik,

Join us at the Statehouse June 9, 1 pm hearing to support criminal justice reform in Massachusetts

Campaign to Greatly Lessen Mass Incarceration

Increasing Treatment for Drug Offenders and Decreasing Incarceration, Keep Families Together, Lessen Crime in Our Neighborhoods, Redemption and Second Chances and Jobs for Ex-Prisoners, Save Taxpayers money

COME to THE HEARING on legislation to lessen mass incarceration, lessen crime, and increase jobs    Tuesday June 9 at 1:00 in Room B-1 State House in Boston

CALL YOUR State Senator TODAY and ask him or her to have the hearing moved to the Gardner Auditorium to insure there is sufficient room for all attendees.

Too many people go to prison who instead need drug treatment, mental health services, and/or jobs.   The consequences are huge when we otherwise send people to prison; scarring individuals, harming families, increasing crime in communities, increasing costs to all taxpayers. Incarceration also disproportionately affects African-Americans and Latinos.  We need to be “smart” on crime to increase safety and opportunity.

The legislation we are working for is the Justice Reinvestment Act: An Act to Increase Neigbhorhood Safety and Opportunity, House 1429 and Senate 64.

  1. End Mandatory Minimum Sentences for drug offenders and restore that decision to judges who can examine the facts and circumstances of the case….this will lead to more people being sent to drug treatment instead of prison.
  2. End the $500 fine to regain your driver’s license if convicted of a drug offense; it’s an unfair burden to put on people trying to go forward after prison.
  3. Change some felonies into misdemeanors like raising the threshold for felony larceny from $250 to $1250. Lessening sentences for drug possession, but not for possession with intent to distribute (drug dealing).
  4. Compassionate release of long term prisoners with terminal illnesses
  5. Bail Reform so people’s bail is based on their showing up for trial not based on whether they can afford to raise the bail funds.
  6. Jobs—The funds saved from lessening numbers in prison and lessening the length of sentences would go into a fund for jobs and job training.

The Jobs Not Jails Coalition is organizing for passage of this law.  This includes community groups, labor unions, religious based groups, ex-prisoners groups.  We are building allies to from law enforcement and elected officials.

For more info, contact: Steve O’Neill of EPOCA (508) 410-7676 steve@exprisoners.org,      Lew Finfer of MCAN: (617) 470-2912 LewFinfer@gmail.com,         Rev. Paul Ford of BWA  RevFord@BostonWorkersAlliance.org (617) 955-0559,  Elena Letona of Neighbor to Neighbor (617) 997-7503  Elena@N2NMA.org, Rev. Laura Ahart, Black Ministerial Alliance  (857) 492-1634

 Justice Reinvestment   Senate Bill 64                   House Bill 1429

 An Act to Increase Neighborhood Safety and Opportunity

Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston) and Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester) and 55 co-sponsoring legislators have filed an omnibus bill backed by a large coalition of community, religious, and union organizations to improve Massachusetts’ systems of criminal justice, end mass incarceration, and re-invest in our communities through job and educational opportunity.   Included in the bill are:

Criminal Justice Reforms

  • Repeal Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences – This would restore judicial discretion in sentencing for drug charges, reducing the risk of longer than warranted prison terms;
  • Reduce Certain Low-Level Felonies to Misdemeanors – Under this scenario certain offenses (such as shoplifting or other petty theft, or low-level drug charges) would be made misdemeanors, with different sanctions that rely less on long and expensive terms of incarceration;
  • End Collateral Sanctions at the RMV – This would eliminate the current law allowing the Registry of Motor Vehicles to confiscate the license of a person convicted of any drug offense (even where charges are unrelated to the operation of a vehicle) for up to 5 years and charge at least $500 to reinstate it; and
  • Extraordinary Medical Placement – This would allow a judge to decide whether a person who is permanently incapacitated or terminally ill should be transferred out of prison for treatment, remaining under state custody.
  • Bail Reform—though not in this bill, we are also supporting a separate Bail Reform Bill so people are no longer in prison just because they could not raise bail for less serious crimes\
  • Jobs and Schools The final sections of the bill establish a Trust fund with the cost savings from these improvements in the criminal justice system. Trust funds will be used to right our unbalanced economy by investing in evidence-based practices including job development efforts for youth, veterans, victims of violence, and other people with significant barriers to employment, and supporting programs that help at-risk youth to stay in school.
  • Programs supported by the Trust will include:
  • Job training programs to address the skills gaps identified by Massachusetts industry leaders;
  • Transitional job and pre-apprenticeship programs to prepare people for today’s workforce and place them in good, living-wage jobs;
  • Youth jobs that provide both sustenance and experience;
  • Initiatives to create new jobs through social enterprises, coops, and other businesses; and
  • Evidence-based programs that specialize in drop-out prevention and recovery, giving youth a second chance at academic achievement and setting them on a path to success.
  • NOTE: Legislators are also filing many of the above sections as separate, individual bills: Mandatory minimums: Sen. Creem and Rep. Swan;  Extraordinary Medical Placement: Sen. Jehlen and Rep. Toomey;  RMV Collateral Sanctions: Sen. Chandler and Rep. Malia.

For more info, contact: Steve O’Neill of EPOCA (508) 410-7676 steve@exprisoners.org,      Lew Finfer of MCAN: (617) 470-2912 LewFinfer@gmail.com,         Rev. Paul Ford of BWA  RevFord@BostonWorkersAlliance.org (617) 955-0559,  Elena Letona of Neighbor to Neighbor (617) 997-7503  Elena@N2NMA.org, Rev. Laura Ahart, Black Ministerial Alliance  (857) 492-1634

Visit your state rep to inform to reform — IT WORKS!

From Judy Gates of Marblehead

We can write letters, go to meetings, contribute money, but there’s no real substitute for face-to-face encounters.  That was evident to me again when I joined Susan Tordella of EMIT and two other activists at the State House last Thursday to visit members of our legislature in support of Bail Reform and ending Mandatory Minimum sentencing for drug crimes.  These are two pieces of legislation being considered by our state legislators, and are co-sponsored by many members of the bi-partisan Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus.

Upon arriving at a legislator’s office, we asked to meet with an aide and who in the office had read “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander.  EMIT gave a copy of to all legislators last year. I was pleased that almost everyone was familiar with the book and that often more than one in the office had read it or were in the process of reading it.

The good news is that everywhere we went, searching out offices even in obscure corners of the State House, we found people willing to listen, who appreciated our fact-sheets on the two bills, and many asked questions.

As Susan says, it is essential to “Inform to Reform.”   As someone deeply committed to reform of our broken criminal justice system, I am encouraged by the rising level of concern across our country and the increased media coverage on the need for criminal justice reform.

The bottom line is that we need to make our voices heard and one of the best ways is to make an appointment with your state rep or senator, and/or walk into a legislator’s office and speak face-to-face to an aide or legislator.  Building relationships in this direct way can make a major impact on passing these laws and relieving suffering for millions of people.  I’m grateful to have been a part of it last week.