End Mass Incarceration Group Update - Recent Events

The Massachusetts Legislature was flooded with bills in January – including hundreds of bills to reform our criminal justice system – for the new legislative session that runs until June 2018. Committees have yet to start scheduling public hearings, which will provide a major opportunity for us to demonstrate support, while the focus right now is on a new state budget.  Despite this apparent lull, members of the United Parish Stretching into Justice: End Mass Incarceration Group (EMI), and other members of our congregation, were active at 3 recent events.

On Monday, we delivered the 50 new blankets that United Parish purchased for the Judge Connelly Youth Detention Center in Jamaica Plain and were given an hour-long tour.  The fact that we kept passing through locked doors underscored that this is a secure facility operated by the state Division of Youth Services (DYS). Among the things we learned about were the emphasis on education, including a new online college credit course in addition to high school courses (the adult prisons have been faulted for eliminating all but one college-level program in the state). Many thanks to our congregation for the $1,200 it donated in a special offering plus Mission Giving support, to Wayfair that provided a $500 discount when it learned why we were making this bulk purchase, and to Paul Q., our EMI ministry team leader, for pushing this service project to completion.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon a number of us traveled to a Unitarian church in Winchester to hear Adam Foss speak. Before Christmas, EMI presented a program based on his TED Talk about the creative handling of one of his cases as a young prosecutor in Boston, so this was an opportunity to learn more about his views. He has recently started a nonprofit organization with performer John Legend to alter the way prosecutors see their job. Foss’s essential points are that even low-level involvement in the criminal justice system has life-long consequences, that prosecutors have the discretion to do things differently, and that citizens can influence the choices by actively participating in the election process. The next county District Attorney elections in Massachusetts are in 2018. The fact that District Attorneys uniformly oppose repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for drug cases illustrates that we have a long way to go.

On a recent Wednesday, United Parish representatives went to the State House to support a press conference presented by legislators to rally support for criminal justice reform. Representatives of the Black & Latino Caucus, the Harm Reduction Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, and the Justice Involved Women spoke, backed by many of their colleagues.

In closing, the United Parish End Mass Incarceration Team will be providing more information on bills in the Legislature. If you would like to add your name to our “Legislative Alerts” email list please let us know at endmassincarceration@upbrookline.org.