For those of you following the current controversy over Massachusetts sentencing bills, Families Against Mandatory Minimums has this update:
- As of last month, the conference committee that was trying to negotiate a compromise between the Senate and House sentencing bills had not made progress. As you know, the Senate bill included mandatory minimum reforms (along with many other issues) while the House bill only addressed habitual offenders.
- The House leadership then announced that the House of Representatives would be debating and voting on a second sentencing bill that covered some of the other issues from the Senate bill.
- But by early February, the House leadership said that the House members of the conference committee could negotiate a final bill after all, without the need for the House to take up a second sentencing bill. FAMM members did a terrific job of writing to their representatives in the House, urging them to include drug sentencing reforms.
- Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of concern about changes to the habitual offender law (also called the “three strikes” law) that both the House and Senate passed. FAMM has joined community leaders, clergy and activists in speaking out against mandatory maximum sentences. Click here for our fact sheet. (Lowell area members, we hope to see you at tonight’s community forum.)
- Opposition to the habitual offender parts of the bills has slowed down the conference committee’s work – and rightly so. This is a critical criminal justice issue that needs to be fully considered.
Brandon Kennedy, who went to jail for 28 months on drug charges when he was 17.
Massachusetts is one of only 13 states where criminal cases involving 17-year-olds are handled in the adult justice system rather than juvenile justice system. Fortunately, though, this may change; the state legislature is considering a bill that would increase the age of criminal responsibility in Massachusetts to 18. This follows on the heels of a recent Citizens for Juvenile Justice Report showing that there is a 47 percent greater likelihood of a teen being arrested again if the adolescent is charged in the adult system versus the juvenile system. The report also said younger inmates are more likely to be sexually victimized.
Currently, 500 17-year-olds are sent to adult jails or prisons in Massachusetts every year.
Click here to read more and hear WBUR’s radio coverage.
There’s a lot of news and action circulating about the three strikes bill here in Massachusetts. Luckily, Blackstonian just released a special edition on the legislation, featuring Judge Gertner and Charles Ogletree among other prominent thinkers and activists. For more on the issues, visit Smart on Crime MA.
For more about the Framingham project, see here.
When I went to drop off books at the Prison Book Program in Quincy last week, I walked into a whirlwind of activity generated by a big, diverse and inspiring community of people committed to getting reading materials into prisoners’ hands. Some of the forty-some volunteers that evening, who were young, old, and everything in between, were catching up with each other at round tables where they were packaging books to send out to prisons; others were absorbed in processing and filing letters and requests from prisoners all around the country; more were stocking and organizing the shelves of their small bookstore-like supply room, sorting donations, or dashing around pulling books for packages.
PBP has been increasing prisoner access to resources for education and personal development by sending out books to incarcerated individuals since 1972. They’ve moved locations a number of time over the years but since 2004 have been housed in the basement of the United First Parish Church in Quincy, Mass. I hate to give away surprises but as an inducement for you to go check it out, this Unitarian Universalist church is worth a visit itself. It was opened in 1639 as “Ye Church of Braintry” and holds the remains of two former presidents, John Adams and John Quincy, and their spouses, Abigail and Louisa Catherine. A part of your tour of PBP can include a detour round the corner to the crypt that holds the four tombs:
PBP receives around 200 letters from prisoners per week, ships to over 800 facilities, serves around 7000 individuals a year. In order to do this work, they rely entirely on volunteer labor and donations, which almost all go to postage costs. Every hour and every dollar makes a big difference. Please consider sharing some of yours! I can’t think of many ways they could be better placed.
Quincy isn’t far from Boston, and the Program has regular volunteer hours every Tuesday and Thursday evenings and some special Saturday hours over the next few months too. You can get more info about all of this from their website. Literature about the program and one of their partners, Better World Books, is also available in the PLAP office, so please look for it.
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute at Harvard is looking for research help on projects related to commutation and pending three-strikes legislation in Massachusetts. If you’re interested, see more here.
The editors of the Boston Phoenix weigh in on what Three-Strikes legislation would mean for Massachusetts, in a way consonant with the article discussed in this earlier post.
Take a look! The Coalition for Effective Public Safety has compiled the following recent articles urging Massachusetts to reconsider its law on Juvenile Life without Parole:
January 3, 2012
- Letter to the Editor from David Fassler, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont:
- Letter to the Editor from Joe Donovan, Sr, father of Joe Donovan, a juvenile lifer in Massachusetts:
- Letter to the Editor from Jody Kent Lavy, Director of the National Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth:
December 31, 2011
- Forgotten Change: State Fails to Measure Impact of Historic Juvenile Justice Reform. Follow up article by the New England Center for Investigative Journalism on JLWOP in Massachusetts:
December 27, 2011
- For teens guilty of murder, penalties can vary widely. Article in the Boston Globe by the New England Center for Investigative Journalism on JLWOP in Massachusetts.
- ‘Our Youngest Killers’: Juvenile Sentencing Varies Widely Report Shows. Coverage by WBUR, Boston NPR, of JLWOP in Massachusetts:
December 25, 2011
- If sentences vary too widely, court should make corrections. Boston Globe editorial supporting greater judicial discretion in JLWOP cases and the review of Joe Donovan’s case and a sentence reduction:
In this article in Metrowest, Leslie Walker and Jean Trounstine warn about the possible consequences of two Three-Strikes bills recently passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate for the already overcrowded Massachusetts prison system. With the prison population average at 143% over capacity and reaching levels of over 330% the intended capacity, these bills will further increase overcrowding and state spending on prisons by increasing both the number of sentences of life without parole and the likelihood of prisoners reoffending by making resources shown to decrease recidivism more scarce. The authors point out that by contrast, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas are reducing crime, prison populations and state corrections spending all at once with smart prison reform reducing sentences for non-violent offenders.
As a result of the high suicide rate and the growing problem of the treatment of the mentally ill in Massachusetts prisons, especially the consequences of placing this vulnerable population in solitary confinement, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections has entered into a settlement agreement with the Disability Law Center. The agreement, which is pending court approval and remains under seal, requires the Department of Corrections to maintain the number of beds in secure treatment units, limits the amount of time that prisoners with severe mental illness can be housed in department disciplinary units or in special management units to 3o days, provide expanded mental health services and out-of-cell time, among other things; these improvements may cost the Department of Corrections $5.6 million a year.