The MassCJRC Journal

A Monthly Newsletter from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
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Second Annual Criminal Justice Summit Sparks Public Debate

Last week, the Criminal Justice Reform Coalition's Second Annual Summit drew nearly 500 guests for a morning of substantive discussion focused on the judicial branch and sentencing practices in the Commonwealth. The Coalition would like to sincerely thank Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Attorney General Maura Healey, Professor Bruce Western, the great panelists, and our engaged audience for making this event a resounding success.


Chief Justice Gants set the tone with a keynote address that provided a well-reasoned amplification of remarks he had made earlier this year in an eye-opening State of the Judiciary speech. Justice Gants backed up his call for greater judicial discretion in sentencing drug offenders by drawing on hard numbers for Massachusetts and evidence from other states. With his remarks, Chief Justice Gants has  initiated a healthy public discourse within the criminal justice community that, as a Coalition, we hope culminates in statutory reforms and changes in sentencing practices.


Harvard Professor Bruce Western reviewed his recent findings on national trends in incarceration rates from his National Academy of Science report. His presentation was a sobering reminder of how drastically the racial and socioeconomic make-up of the national prison population has changed over the past several decades and how dramatic increases in lengths of incarceration has affected not only individuals but families, communities, and society as a whole.


Respondents on two panels that followed the Chief Justice and Professor Western provided context from both local and national perspectives. District Attorney Dan Conley offered a passionate rebuttal of the Chief Justice's keynote that has further fueled the public debate. We have been pleased to see the conversation continue in earnest since the Summit, with members of the media and influential decision-makers like Senate President Stanley Rosenberg weighing in on the issue.


We are also deeply appreciative of Attorney General Maura Healey, who in her closing remarks repeated her commitment to lead on improving corrections-particularly when it comes to efforts to address the longstanding challenge Massachusetts faces providing better care for women. We applaud her willingness to examine conditions of confinement, a pressing issue for criminal justice reform.


The Second Annual Summit built off of the momentum of last year's event, which centered on administrative reform. It also provided the coalition with an opportunity to update the data we used to formulate our original recommendations. Furthermore, the Summit also highlighted the Coalition's call for the establishment of a taskforce to explore opportunities to coordinate and improve data collection as a system, giving policymakers the information they need to make evidence-based decisions.


Wayne Budd

Kevin Burke

Max Stern
Co-Chairs, Criminal Justice Reform Coalition


2nd Annual Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Summit


Chief Justice Ralph Gants used his keynote speech to bring attention to the obstacles state prosecutors are creating in eliminating minimum mandatory sentences for drug offenders, stating that they "hold the cards" over judges and are reluctant to give up their power to them, CommonWealth reports. 


The Boston Globe explores data included in Bruce Western's research presentation on the current trends in the growth in reincarnation across the country.


During a panel focused on justice for special populations of inmates, District Attorney Daniel Conley took some time to openly reject appeals made by Chief Justice Gants, the Boston Globe reports. Conley defended his position to the Boston Herald after the summit.


In her closing remarks, Attorney General Maura Healey did not take sides, but rather emphasized the need for the evaluation of these sentencing practices, suggesting the state examine results of the 2012 sentencing reforms.


Amid the back and forth on mandatory minimums, Boston Globe columnist RenĂ©e Loth's takeaway was to highlight the conditions for  women and girl populations in the Commonwealth and to call on Attorney General Maura Healey to champion the cause.


The contrasting views presented at the Criminal Justice Reform Summit continued to generate public debate over the effectiveness of mandatory minimums. Nancy Gerner, former U.S. District Court Judge, issued an op-ed in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly on the ineffectiveness of mandatory minimums and her dismay at District Attorney Conley's remarks supporting them. Conley responded with his own piece in MLW backing up his statements and claiming Gertner was upholding "falsehoods."


On Capitol Hill


In a speech to the House Appropriations Committee, Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer denounced mandatory minimum sentences, saying a wiser use of federal money would be to assign offenders to probation and other supervised release programs, the Wall Street Journal reports.


In the States


Unlikely bedfellows have joined forces to reform the criminal justice system under a new organization named the Coalition for Public Safety. CommonWealth sat down for a chat with, Christine Leonard,  the new executive director of the Washington-based institutionto discuss how these groups have come together to tackle issues in the justice system, ushering in a new era of bipartisan support for reform.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has included juvenile justice reform laws in his executive budget, including raising the age under which teenagers could be charged as adults, and moving the prosecution of youths for misdemeanors, violations, and most felonies from criminal courts to family courts.


Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill designed to keep some nonviolent offenders out of prison and reduce recidivism. 


The National Institute of Corrections selected Colorado, Indiana, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin to participate in their Evidence-Based Decision Making program, in which experts from the NIC will assist those states to improve public safety outcomes with best practices.


New Mexico has passed legislation to end civil asset forfeiture in the state, which allowed law enforcement agents to seize private property without charging the owner of any crime. Many have argued the practice has had a disproportionate impact on blacks and Hispanics. 



Massachusetts is now requiring police to undergo mental health training to understand how to better respond to the needs of people they interact with that have mental health disorders.


The trial of Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has raised many questions about why cameras are not allowed in federal courts.


Attorney General Maura Healey spoke the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ways and Means about reinstating a statewide grand jury system, arguing it would be more cost effective and efficient in tackling issues like human trafficking, drug trafficking, and the opioid crisis than county-level grand juries.


Quincy's drug court program offers nonviolent offenders a chance to avoid jail time by joining a regimented rehab program, the Patriot Ledger reports.


The Marblehead Reporter publishes an editorial discussing the merits - or lack thereof - of allowing Massachusetts police to decide if and when criminal records are released to the public.


In the Media


The Boston Globe explores the detrimental effects of the criminal records in America for ex-offenders trying to reintegrate themselves and obtain jobs.


Joseph Margulies asks: when discussing criminal justice reform in the public arena, why can we criticize sentencing and prisons, but not policing?


Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University law professor and member of the Standing Committee on Eyewitness Identification, explains how we can improve the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.


The Marshall Project, a website devoted to coverage of criminal justice issues exclusively, is off to a fast start, reports the Nieman Journalism Lab.


NBC News delves into how criminal justice reform is increasingly becoming a bipartisan effort.


Barbara Dougan, the Massachusetts project manager of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, explains her reasoning for abolishing mandatory minimum sentences alongside William Brooks III, the police chief of Norwood, who argues they should be kept intact, the Boston Globe reports.


From the Researchers


Researchers from the American Public Health Association find vast disparities of mental health disorders in female veterans vs. male veterans in the criminal justice system, revealing that nearly 90% of incarcerated female veterans have mental health disorders compared to 76% of men.


The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to making use of technology to improve democratic participation, has started an inventory of criminal justice data from all 50 states.


In a study published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, researchers show that implementing enhanced job assistance programs for nonviolent offenders drastically improves their chances of landing and keeping jobs after their release, and reduces recidivism by nearly 20%.


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The Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition is a group of prosecutors, corrections practitioners, defense lawyers, community organizers, and businessmen and women working together to reform the Massachusetts criminal justice system. MassINC supports the work of the Coalition with research, polling, communications and outreach.

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