End Mass Incarceration Update

EUREKA! A comprehensive criminal justice reform bill has reached the state Senate floor. At over 100 pages it is difficult to summarize succinctly. Suffice it to say that the bill – now identified as Senate Bill 2170 – hits all the priorities set by Jobs NOT Jails and GBIO (Greater Boston Interfaith Organization). It repeals many (but not all) drug mandatory minimum sentences, curtails the state’s addiction to fees paid by low income people caught in the criminal justice system, sets a $1,500 felony larceny threshold, reforms CORI (criminal records) to get people back into the workforce, restrains solitary confinement, reforms the bail system, and raises the age for juvenile court jurisdiction to 19 years.

A BIG STATE HOUSE RALLY! On Wednesday over 175 people attended a rally inside the State House, where Senate President Rosenberg was the kick-off speaker. One-half of the members of the state Senate were present and added comments, alternating with many of the activists seeking comprehensive change, including EPOCA (Ex-Prisoners), GBIO, Jobs NOT Jails, League of Women Voters, Greater Boston Legal Services, Roca, Unitarian Universalist Mass Action, and the Boston Bar Association. Marian Ryan, the Middlesex District Attorney, was one of the unexpected speakers. United Parish is well-represented among the Senate supporters. Before the Rally began Beverly Bowman approached Sen. Will Brownsberger, the bill’s chief architect, to say she was surprised to learn how many constituents he has in the U.P. congregation, drawing his quick response, “I’ll come to speak anytime.” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (Jamaica Plain) is the lead sponsor of the Justice Reinvestment Act, the omnibus bill backed by Jobs NOT Jails. Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (Brookline, Newton, parts of Wellesley) is the lead sponsor of the bill seeking repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, a top priority. They are due a big “thank you” for their efforts to date.

AND THE HARD WORK BEGINS. Citizen activists have worked years to reach this milestone. Now we must turn the corner on the five-fold increase in incarceration in Massachusetts and redress our above-average racial and ethnic disparity. But you will have noticed the absence of State Representatives from this write-up. We don’t know yet where Speaker DeLeo or members of the more numerous (140 members) and more conservative House of Representatives really stand. Citizens must take up the challenge of contacting their State Reps to say that the time for comprehensive change is now. WITHIN U.P. we will reach out on our special Legislative Alert e-mail list. To check if you are on the list or to add your name to our list send an e-mail to endmassincarceration@upbrookline.org. Thanks for your help.