Earlier today you received a newsletter describing problems in the criminal justice system. This newsletter describes some of the provisions of the Senate bill adopted Oct. 26. The House takes up its version of criminal justice reform on Wednesday. If you would like to see portions of the Senate bill preserved or changed or added to, this is a good time to contact your state representative.
The provisions are organized here by themes.
KIDS, NOT CRIMINALS
1. The 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.
Every year, hundreds of students are arrested for non-violent, verbal behavior that used to be handled by school discipline measures. In 2012, 162 students were held overnight in DYS, for a total of 2,660 days. They were mostly students with disabilities and minority students.
For example, a School Resource Officer saw a girl refusing to identify herself to a teacher; he asked for her ID, and when she refused and walked away, he handcuffed her and forced her to the floor, arresting her for disturbing an assembly and resisting arrest.
In contrast, as Lander's column points out, Cambridge's Safety Net Program of collaboration between police, schools, and nonprofits has reduced school arrests by 70%.
Channel 5 also reported on those problems and on that success story, adding that there have been only 10 school arrests Cambridge in the past 4 years.
Right now, the Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education doesn't collect this data from schools. I hope to find out more, especially from the other high schools in our district.
2. The bill raises the age of the juvenile justice system and DYS to include 18 year olds. David Scharfenberg's article, Too Young for Jail, in Sunday's Globe reports on the reasons that's just a good start.
3. The bill allows sealing of juvenile records after 1 year, and expungement after 3 years.
4. It excludes juvenile offenses from public arrest logs.
5. The bill changes the ages for statutory rape. The “Romeo and Juliet” provisions are best discussed by Sen. Brownsberger. Under current law, the penalty for having sexual intercourse with someone under 16 — even if no force or threat of force is involved, and even if the young people are the same age — is imprisonment for any term of years up to life, and the offender must register as a sex offender. The Senate bill says that if there are 2 years or less age difference and the youngest person is at least 13, it will not be a crime unless there is force or the threat of force. That doesn't mean we think sex between a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old is a good thing. It just means it should be considered a crime. Prison is not going to make it better and the threat of prison won't stop itfrom happening. JOBS, NOT JAILS
1. The bill eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug dealers, while preserving them for dealers in heroin, fentanyl, carfentanyl, etc. Really the best explanation of mandatories and what the bill does is on Sen. Brownsberger's blog.
2. Sen. Barrett's report, Fine Time, found people incarcerated for inability to pay numerous fines and fees. A person might be subject to fees for counsel (even if they've been found indigent), a fine (if found guilty), a victim witness fee (even if there's no victim or witness), supervision fees (if put on probation), a daily monitoring fee (if wearing a GPS), court costs, and a default fee (if he fails to show up for a court date). If a person fails to pay those fees and fines, a judge may send him to jail to "work off" the debt at $30 a day.
The bill limits the cases in which people can be incarcerated for failure to pay, reduces or eliminates some fees, and increases the per day credit for discharging fines and fees.
3. The bill changes the threshold for felony larceny from $250 to $1500. Larceny under $1500 will still be subject to up to a year in jail, but felony larceny is subject to 5 years.
4. The bill reduces driver license suspensions for non-driving events like not showing up in court or not paying child support.
5. It allows sealing of CORI records after 3 years instead of 5 for misdemeanors, and 7 years instead of 10 for felonies.
6. Before sentencing a primary caregiver of children to prison, a judge must provide written findings of why incarceration is necessary.
REHABILITATION, NOT INCARCERATION
1. Our money bail system locks up thousands of people who are not flight risks, and lets people go who have lots of money. It doesn't ensure that people who aren't likely to show up for trial actually do. (see previous newsletter: more than half the people in county facilities are awaiting trial.) When people are locked up for inability to pay, they can lose their jobs, even their homes and families.
The bill requires judges to use a scientifically validated tool to determine flight risk, and to set the least restrictive pretrial conditions. It bans the use of bail for juveniles.
2. The bill expands restorative justice programs to divert people from the criminal justice system.
3. The bill offers reforms to solitary confinement. A Globe article discusses them, as well as suggestions of ways the bill should go further.
4. The bill includes my legislation allowing medical parole for inmates who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated. I have visited the nursing home unit at Shirley. Massachusetts has a growing number of elderly inmates, and more are becoming disabled and dying in prison. One man had a short sentence for insurance fraud and was granted parole if he finished 6 months in pre-release. Instead, he was diagnosed with cancer, underwent multiple surgeries during 7 months in the hospital, and died with few chances for visits with his wife. Under current law, prisoners sent to hospitals are guarded by two correctional officers 24 hours a day, at great expense.
Allowing such patients to be placed in hospitals or nursing homes or hospice would not only be humane, but save lots of money, and the Medicaid would help pay for the care.
5. The bill includes my legislation improving the wrongful convictions law. You can read about that in a previous newsletter.
The Senate criminal justice bill was the result of years of work by advocates and legislators. It would not have been possible without the work of GBIO, EPOCA, and many others. The work continues, as the House takes up their criminal justice bill this week. A conference committee will work to resolve the differences, and the governor will have a chance to sign it.
Throughout the process, your voice is important. Please tell your legislators, and write letters to the editor and social media posts, about proposals you believe will make our state safer and more just. And tell me too!