Half an ocean away

The MassCJRC Journal

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was racing east across the Southern ocean two weeks ahead of his nearest competitor when the winds inexplicably turned to face him head-on for 12 consecutive days. It was 1968; he’d been at sea on his own for five months, attempting to win the first solo around the world race. Facing these easterly winds day after day at a place in the ocean where the breeze was supposed to blow steady from the West nearly drove him mad. Criminal justice reformers can relate.

Last month, we wrote about the FY 2019 budget as a sign that the Legislature remains steadfast on comprehensive criminal justice reform. The budget passed by the House and Senate included a commission tasked with carefully reviewing correctional spending. This body was critical to overcoming the narrow mandate given to the CSG, which ultimately meant that we never got an objective look at the savings the larger reform package would generate, nor estimates of what it would cost to implement the new evidence-based approaches called for in the legislation.

When the budget provisions creating this commission made it to the Governor, he amended the language slightly. Citing a concern that some of the advocacy groups named to this commission had a history of suing the Department of Correction, Governor Baker struck language naming all of these groups (including MassINC) directly to the commission.

Now, rather than sending the provision back unchanged, or revising it to take out one or two of the groups that actually had engaged in litigation with the state previously, the Legislature removed the commission language entirely from the budget, closing off this opening for a serious discussion about how we allocate justice system resources.

After 312 days, Knox-Johnston won the race by default. He was the only one of the nine competitors to make it all the way. His account, A World of My Own, is full of episodes where he’s beset with overwhelming fatigue and yet somehow he suffered on, even though the likelihood of him surviving all the way to the finish seemed slim. His example is inspiration for criminal justice reformers. Few people thought a comprehensive bill would pass. Now that it has, we’re still tacking upwind, half an ocean away.

Here in Massachusetts 

William Gross, a proponent of criminal justice reform, is sworn in as Boston’s next police commissioner. At the scene of a recent murder, he calls upon judges to get tougher on gun charges.

Filings in district courts across Massachusetts are down 37 percent between 1998 and 2017, as arrests decline and more civil disputes get resolved through arbitration.

End-of-session opiate legislation authorizes five Houses of Correction to provide medication-assisted treatment to inmates who enter with prescriptions (Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, and Norfolk) and requires the DOC to do the same at four of its facilities.

In a Berkshire Eagle op-ed, Bill Sturgeon looks at how Massachusetts can further advance the cause of criminal justice reform.

Tens of thousands of defendants convicted of drunk driving in the state could seek new trials that would exclude the potentially flawed breathalyzer evidence used against them in their initial trial under a proposed deal negotiated by defense attorneys and the state’s 11 district attorneys.

In Washington

The Hill reports on a White House meeting where President Trump tells senators he’s inclined to support federal sentencing reform.

The Common Application will no longer asks students about their criminal histories.

Senator Elizabeth Warren says the criminal justice system is racist. A recent study from the Vera Institute back her up. So does the Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham. 

From the Media

A Globe editorial urges the Federal Communications Commission to block a planned acquisition by one of the biggest companies providing telephone service to inmates across the country, arguing that the takeover would likely only make already costly prison phone calls even pricier.

The Marshall Project looks at whether neuroprediction could work.

Rolling Stone examines the trend of charging heroin addicts with murder.

From the Researchers

New data from Pew show recidivism rates dropped by nearly one-quarter between 2005 and 2012.

The CSG Justice Center issues a 50-state public safety report with 300 data visualizations.

In the first-ever nationally-representative sample, the Prison Policy Initiative finds that 27 percent of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed.

The Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project maps the distribution of capital that funds the prison industrial complex.

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