Criminal Justice Reform Bill being debated now, your help is needed

Many of you are aware that Massachusetts Senate Judiciary Committee recently issued its omnibus Criminal Justice Reform Bill S.2170. Now is the time for us to help to get this Bill passed! 

Our Working Group has been learning about this issue from JP Progressives, Jobs Not Jails, Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz. We would like to thank them for their activism and all the information and help they have given us.

There are numerous reforms in the Bill, and overall the Bill is an improvement. However, as you may be aware, some reforms do not go far enough. For example, the Bill still contains mandatory minimums for drug offenses; young people will continue to have difficulty finding housing and jobs because juvenile records will still be accessible.

While there are many areas of the criminal justice system addressed in this Bill, the following 7 areas are key priorities to address:

  1. bail reform

  2. full repeal of mandatory minimum drug sentences

  3. reducing fees and fines

  4. eliminating excessive time in solitary confinement

  5. Raise felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1500

  6. Lower CORI Sealing times to 7 years for felonies/3 for misdemeanors instead of 10 for felonies/5 for a misdemeanor

  7. Juvenile Justice

 

We provide details on each of  these seven areas at the end of this letter.

The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation within the next week, after which the House Judiciary Committee will issue its Bill. Our help is needed now.

How you can help:

  •  Call your state senator and ask for his/her position on the comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Bill S.2170.  Then, share your reasons for why you hope your state senator will support the Bill.  Note:  If you live in Sen. Chang-Diaz’s district, please thank her for being a champion of criminal justice reform. If you live in Sen. Mike Rush’s district, please be aware we have had a lot of contact with him on the Safe Communities Act, feel free to speak to him or his staff about both bills if you are so inclined.  

  • Ask friends and relatives to call upon their Senators to support the Bill, especially those who live outside Boston.  You may have the most significant impact on the vote with this one action. Opposition and swing votes are predominantly in districts outside Boston.

  • Join us this Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 6:30 at Roslindale House, 120 Poplar Street, Roslindale to make these calls with the RISE CJRG.

A tool provided by Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) http://p2a.co/y2d8t9o makes calling legislators easy; it automatically connects you to your representative’s and senator’s office (even if you don’t know who they are!).

The tool includes a script you can follow; of course, feel free to use your own words and to ask for the reforms you are most passionate about. The suggestion is to focus on 3 or 4 aspects of the legislation.

Again, please share the tool with your friends and relatives; our criminal justice system affects the whole Commonwealth; it’s crucial that folks in other areas of Massachusetts ask their senators and representatives to support this legislation.

Lastly, we ask you to complete a three-question survey after your call to let us know about your calls.

As always, thank you for your assistance,

RISE, Criminal Justice Reform Group: Sharon Sabin, Andy Lesser-Gonzalez, Dorothea Keeling, Laura Landy, Claire Ruddy and Laura Pattison

More information about the Bill’s seven priorities:

Many activists and activists groups, including Sonia Chang-Diaz, Jobs Not Jails and GBIO, do not think this Bill goes far enough, especially on drug offense mandatory minimums (you may feel the same way). They are supporting this Bill, even though it could do more, because the reforms in the Bill will improve our criminal justice system. It could be a very long time before another such Bill gets through to a vote.

Seven Criminal Justice Reform Priorities (Please pick 3 or 4 that are most important to you to point out in your call).

  1. Reform bail:  People who are not a flight risk, or a danger to the community, are too often held in jail simply because they cannot pay the cash bail. Waiting for trial in jail significantly disadvantages these defendants. They risk losing jobs, housing and social supports. Innocent people may be compelled to plead guilty to a lesser crime simply to be released. The bail system disproportionately impacts communities of color.

  2. Reduce excessive fees and fines:  Since the 1980s, Massachusetts has imposed numerous fees, including indigent counsel fees and parole fees. The consequences for nonpayment are serious, including incarceration. For poor people released from prison, criminal justice debt significantly interferes with efforts to live a law-abiding life.

  3. Eliminate excessive time in solitary confinement:  Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states that allows prisoners to be placed in solitary confinement for up to 10 years. Lengthy solitary confinement risks irreparable psychological harm and does not deter violent behavior or reduce recidivism.

  4. Repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses:  Under these laws, judges have no discretion, after hearing the arguments of both the prosecutor and defense attorney, from imposing a lower sentence based on defendant’s minimal role in the offense, extenuating circumstances and otherwise exemplary conduct. Approximately 75% of people serving sentences for mandatory minimum drug offenses are people of color.

  5. Raise felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1500

  6. Lower CORI Sealing times to 7 years for felonies/3 for misdemeanors instead of 10 for felonies/5 for a misdemeanor.

    • Allow sealing of juvenile records within one year

    • Confirm that sealed records need not be mentioned in housing and professional licensure applications

  7. Juvenile Justice

    • Raise age of adulthood to 19 (consider increases to 20 and 21 later)

    • Raise minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 12

    • Appoint counsel at parole hearings for juveniles serving life sentences

    • Create parent-child testimonial privilege

    • Create close age exceptions to statutory rape and indecent assault and battery offenses

Sources: JCRC and GBIO, Sonya Chang-Diaz, JP Progressives and Jobs Not Jails

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