Last month, Governor Baker introduced much anticipated legislation to address recommendations made by the Council of State Governments (CSG) on backend criminal justice reform. In public remarks given on the same day the CSG legislative package was unveiled, Chief Justice Gants called this work a “first down, not a touchdown.” Calling attention to the State Sentencing Commission’s recent vote to recommend removal of all mandatory minimums except for murder, he then went on to say that “it’s time we recognize that mandatory minimum sentencing is a failed experiment that must end.”

Rather than moving toward individually-tailored evidence-based sentencing practices by simply repealing mandatory minimums, the CSG legislation is largely about providing a complex workaround to some of the problems mandatory minimums have created—namely that those serving them are far more likely to complete their sentence and return to the community with no post-release supervision and without having received programming that could reduce their risk to reoffend.

But these fixes fail to address the disparate racial and ethnic impact of mandatory minimums sentences that should be equal cause for concern. As an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Science concluded in seminal 2014 report:

The best single proximate explanation of the rise in incarceration is not rising crime rates, but the policy choices made by legislators to greatly increase the use of imprisonment as a response to crime. Mandatory prison sentences, intensified enforcement of drug laws, and long sentences contributed not only to overall high rates of incarceration, but also especially to extraordinary rates of incarceration in black and Latino communities. Intensified enforcement of drug laws subjected blacks, more than whites, to new mandatory minimum sentences—despite lower levels of drug use and no higher demonstrated levels of trafficking among the black than the white population.

MassINC’s research clearly reveals this pattern in Boston’s minority neighborhoods Justice Gants and others have repeatedly drawn attention to how these racial and ethnic disparities undermine confidence in the courts. At the State House last week, we heard compelling testimony from those who have personally experienced the effect of these policies on their community. The CSG process excluded these perspectives and failed to examine the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences. Now the legislative process begins and citizens will have the opportunity to have their voices heard.

Ben Forman



 Federal

Sen. Chuck Grassley suggests the Senate Judiciary Committee will move quickly to act on sentencing reform once President Trump’s nominations are confirmed.

Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups aren’t holding their breath. They’re increasing looking at state efforts to reduce US incarceration rates.

New data from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics shows states have consistently cut prison populations since 2010 without discernable crime rate increases.

Massachusetts

The Council of State Governments Justice Center releases its findings from a yearlong review of the state’s criminal justice system. Gov. Baker files legislation implementing CSG recommendations.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and many of his colleagues call for much broader criminal justice reform.

The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission votes to recommend repeal of all mandatory minimum sentences except in the case of murder, adding an important voice to the current call for sweeping criminal justice reform.

Writing for CommonWealth, Sen. William Brownsberger shares his thinking on comprehensive criminal justice reform.

Boston’s alternative sentencing pilot program RISE is seen as a success by local and federal officials.

Legislators file a slew of criminal justice reform bills. These include Rep. Mary Keefe and Sen. Sonjia Chang Diaz’s omnibus bill which looks to curtail non-violent mandatory minimum sentences, raise the threshold for felony theft, address probation and parole fees, and to shorten CORI sealing times. Other bills include Rep. Carvalho and Sen Creem’s bill to end long mandatory minimums for drug convictions; multiple bills filed by Rep. Tyler, Sen. Jehlen, and Sen. Eldrige to raise the felony theft threshold to $1,500; a bill sponsored by Sen. Brownsberger, Sen. Barrett, and Rep. Tyler which would end parole and probation fees; and a bill to expunge juvenile misdemeanors at age 18 sponsored by Sen. Spilka and Rep. Khan. State Rep.

Other States

The Vermont house passes a bill expanding access to expungement.

The Illinois senate passes criminal justice reform bill focused on sentencing reform and trauma recovery services for violent crime victims.

Michigan’s senate passes legislation aimed at reducing recidivism.

Gov. Mary Fallin announces the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force will submit recommendations they claim will save the state nearly $2 billion over the next 10 years.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signs a bill requiring criminal convictions before law enforcement can permanently seize assets.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin unveils bipartisan criminal justice reform bill designed to help people with criminal records stay out of jail and get back to work.

In the Media

After the first anniversary of the Housing Unit for Military Veterans at the Middlesex jail and house of correction, the Boston Globe takes a look back at the success of County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian’s program to reduce veteran recidivism rates.

The Lowell Sun explores work release programs in Middlesex and Worcester Counties.

The Alliance for Public Safety produces a short video explaining how policies choices have led to mass incarceration making us less safe.

From the Researchers

The Vera Institute looks at how justice reinvestment can better address the problem of violent crime.

The Prison Policy Initiative reports on the money behind mass incarceration and efforts by interest groups to oppose reform.

The Katal Center releases an interesting fact sheet on what the Affordable Care Act means for public safety.

 

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