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Yesterday the Senate and House passed a major criminal justice reform bill.  A 6-member conference committee  worked hard to resolve the differences between House and Senate bills and crafted a comprehensive bill that will improve public safety, promote justice, and reduce recidivism in Massachusetts.  Sen. Will Brownsberger, co-chair of the committee with Rep.Claire Cronin, summed it up:

"The agreement we have reached today is about lifting people up instead of locking people up. And it is about cutting the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back on their feet."

Sen. Brownsberger's always excellent blog has a detailed summary.  I urge you to read it, but I won't reproduce it here.  Highlights include:   
  • decriminalizing some minor offenses,
  • diverting some other offenders from prosecution and incarceration
  • bail reform
  • repealing or limiting minimum mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenses, but strengthening them for opioid trafficking
  • reducing solitary confinement
  • reducing collateral damages
A Globe editorial favoring the bill pointed out that, while Massachusetts' incarceration rate is low compared to other states, if we were a country our rate would be 12th highest in the world.  See also my newsletters on criminal justice problems and solutions.

I was especially pleased that bills I've sponsored and focused on were included:

Massachusetts is one of only five states without a medical parole program, which would allow terminally ill or permanently incapacitated prisoners to be paroled to a hospital or hospice.  I have worked for years with Prisoners Legal Services, Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, and others to pass such a bill here.  Its provisions are in the omnibus bill.

Like other states, we have a rapidly growing elderly prison population.  Caring for prisoners who need nursing home level care is extremely expensive, inefficient, and inhumane.  At the Shirley medium security prison's equivalent of a nursing home, I saw a man who had not moved in years; he was hardly a threat to anyone. When such prisoners are sent to a hospital, as they often are, they are guarded 24 hours a day by two corrections officers.
I told the Globe, "I don’t see a public purpose in keeping people in prison if they are dying or they are totally immobile.  It’s not making the family of the victim better off. And it’s costing enormous amounts of money."  The Globe editorialized in 2015.

A newsletter last fall described the barriers people who were wrongfully convicted face in receiving just compensation.  The New England Center for Investigative Reporting wrote in October and January about the delays and problems men like Fred Clay face.  The conference committee bill contains many of the remedies included in the bill I filed, such as expedited process and raising the cap to $1 million.
The omnibus bill includes my bill to prevent arrests for non-violent verbal behavior ("disturbing a public assembly") in school, disrupting the school to prison pipeline.  It requires memos of understanding between schools and police, and training of School Resource Officers.

This op ed by Jessica Lander summarizes the problem, as documented also by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the ACLU.
The bill changes the threshold for felony larceny from $250 to $1200.  Larceny under $1200 will still be subject to up to a year in jail, as opposed to felony larceny, which is subject to 5 years.  Defendants could still be arrested in cases over $250.  (My bill would have raised the threshold to $1500.)
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Copyright © 2017 CTE Pat Jehlen

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