For the first time ever, five Caucuses unite to sound support for criminal justice reform
BOSTON – Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Senate Co-Chair of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus and the Senate Progressive Caucus and House Co-Chair of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), joined the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the House and Senate Progressive Caucuses, Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators Justice Involved Women Task Force on Monday to present a united call to action on critical criminal justice reforms. These combined caucuses represent over half of the legislature, which is comprised of 200 legislators. This is the first time in history that five caucuses have united on this effort to bring about a more just and fair criminal justice system.
“For the first time ever, a group of dynamic caucuses are uniting to call for critical criminal justice reforms about ongoing criminal justice reform efforts in the Legislature” said Senator Eldridge. “In light of Senate President Rosenberg’s call to action around criminal justice reform and the urgent need to strengthen policies that will help make our communities safer, I hope that people will come away from the expo with greater awareness and determination to make criminal justice reform come about in Massachusetts. While grassroots organizations such as EPOCA, No Jails No Jobs, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Restorative Justice Coalition, and Neighbor to Neighbor have organized for years on criminal justice reform, more legislators need to demand action on criminal justice reform to be acted upon this session.”
“Today’s event was the first time ever these five caucuses Came together to make an organized, coordinated call for action,” said Co-Chair of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland). “I feel inspired by the movement within the legislature for critical, data driven and common sense criminal justice reform. We must build on the momentum of this event to ensure swift action.”
“Many of the people in our care and custody really belong in an addiction recovery program or diversionary program instead of with us behind bars,” said Suffolk County Sherriff Steven Tompkins. “But, because of mandatory minimum sentencing, judges are left with little to no discretion with respect to sentencing for low–level, non–violent drug offenses.
“The ACLU of Massachusetts is honored to be a part of this effort to bring meaningful reform to the Commonwealth,” said Rahsaan Hall, Civil Rights Lawyer at the ACLU. “We are especially concerned with the racial disparities that exist within the criminal justice system and hope that those in attendance will come away empowered to make these proposed reforms a reality.”
“I understand the need to focus on re-entry, I’ve been through that process, but we also cannot be afraid to say the words ‘no entry!’” said Andrea Goode James Founder at Families for Justice as Healing. “We need to put some energy into policies focused on no entry.”
The Massachusetts prison population has tripled since the 1980s. Massachusetts’ incarceration rate is 2.5 times higher than Spain, 3 times higher than China and Canada, and nearly 5 times higher than Germany. It costs an average of $53,000 a year to house one inmate in a Massachusetts prison. This dramatic rise in prison population can largely be attributed to the War on Drugs. However, the over incarceration of drug addicts and low level offenders has failed to reduce substance abuse or violent crime.
“Unlike our sister states, we have been slower to embrace the calls for sentencing reform and prison and criminal justice reform,” said Former MA DOC Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy. “We now have a window of opportunity to reclaim our place as an innovative leader in the country by shaping a new vision for data-driven prison reform…one that is urgently needed. Today’s event showcases some timely and important criminal justice bills pending in the legislature.”
In addition to being extremely costly with little reward, the system of mass incarceration has also disproportionately affected communities of color and low-income communities. While African Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented in prison populations nationally, there is an even starker racial divide in Massachusetts. Despite all races using substances at equal levels, a greater proportion of Massachusetts inmates are racial or ethnic minorities than compared to the national average, while whites are underrepresented in the Massachusetts prison population.
A number of reforms have been implemented in different states that reduce incarceration, increase public safety, save money, and more effectively ensure healthy communities. The Caucuses today have highlighted a number of evidence-based reforms many of which have already been successfully implemented in other states. Today, the caucuses stand in solidarity by affirming the need for change and standing behind practical solutions.
Reforms Highlighted at the Expo:
1. Racial Profiling and Data Collection
• H1575/S829 An Act relative to data collection and fair treatment of drivers filed by Representative Rushing and Senator Dorcena Forry
• S736 An Act relative to traffic and pedestrian stop data filed by Senator Chang- Díaz
2. The Justice Reinvestment Act
• H1429/S64 An Act to increase neighborhood safety and opportunity filed by Representative Keefe and Senator Chang- Díaz
3. Collateral Sanctions at the RMV
• S2021 An act relative to motor vehicle license suspensions filed by Representative Malia and Senator Chandler
4. Mandatory Minimums
• H1620/S786 An Act eliminating mandatory minimum sentences filed by Representative Swan and Senator Creem
5. Medical Placement for Terminally Ill Inmates
• H1628/S843 An Act relative to medical placement of terminal and incapacitated inmates filed by Representative Toomey and Senator Jehlen
6. Solitary Confinement
• H3451 An Act Prohibiting the solitary confinement of inmates 21 years of age or younger filed by Representative Rogers
• H1381 An act to collect data regarding the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts prisons and jails filed by Representative Holmes
• H1475/S1255 An Act to reduce recidivism, curb unnecessary spending, and ensure appropriate use of segregation filed by Representative Malia and Senator Eldridge
7. Pretrial Reform
• H1584/S802 An Act reforming the pretrial process filed by Representative Sannicandro and Senator Donnelly
8. Investigation of Officer-involved Death
• H1227 An Act relative to maintaining the integrity of the judicial system filed by Representative Carvalho
• H1270/S810 An Act to expunge the records of persons falsely accused and juveniles filed by Representative Dykema and Senator Eldridge
• H1248 An Act relative to the expungement of records of persons false accused and of juveniles filed by Representative Cronin
• H1299 An Act relative to the sealing of youthful offender and the expungement of juvenile records filed by Representative Fox
• H1433/S900 An act relative to expungement of criminal or juvenile offenses as children or young adults filed by Representative Khan and Senator Spilka
10. Restorative Justice
• H1313/S71 An Act promoting restorative justice practices filed by Representative Garballey and Senator Eldridge
11. Peace Officers
• H2192 Resolve providing for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training” to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system filed by Representative Holmes and Representative Vieira
12. The Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators’ Justice Involved Women Task Force
• The Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislator’s Justice Involved Women Task Force has been ongoing for over a decade and is chaired by Representative Kay Khan and Representative Ellen Story. Recently, the Task Force has been focused on improving systems within correctional institutions in order to provide gender-responsive approaches to corrections. The Task Force has partnered closely with Dr. Erika Kates and the Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network to canvass state and county prison populations and establish date by which to measure evidence-based approaches to maintaining family bonds, providing appropriate mental health and substance abuse treatment and reducing recidivism.