The past month has been unbelievable. Many of you -- but not all of you -- are reasonably comfortable and reasonably safe. If your situation isn't so great, and you think my staff and I can help, contact us.
Because the states have emerged as the epicenters of governmental response, the Massachusetts Senate is busy. We're passing legislation, albeit under remote and sometimes eerie circumstances. We're trying to smooth out glitches in state programs tasked with quickly scaling up operations. We're dealing with all kinds of problems that confront people in the district. In each case we work with the folks who are staffing the executive branch, often to heroic effect.
But occasionally we come across areas where the Baker administration is not delivering.
A week ago, a group of concerned legislators -- 15 State Senators and 23 State Representatives -- sent a joint letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, urging him, as part of the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to step up the screening and release of inmates from Massachusetts penal institutions.
I organized the effort after reading an April opinion issued by the state's highest court, five of whose seven current members are Baker appointees. Still, looking out for inmates and correctional officers isn't a popular cause. I felt supported by the graceful community of criminal justice advocates who live out here in the district, and by nearby State Representatives Michelle Ciccolo, Carmen Gentile, Ken Gordon, and Tami Gouveia.
The Supreme Judicial Court acted in response to
a lawsuit brought by the state's public defender agency. "We agree," the Court wrote, "that the situation is urgent and unprecedented, and that a reduction in the number of people who are held in custody is necessary."
The Court went on, in unusually clear terms, to advise the Governor's Parole Board, and I quote, to "use every effort to expedite the several stages of this process as far as reasonably possible so as to reduce the over-all number of incarcerated inmates as quickly as possible."
I wrote the Governor to ask him to heed the words of the Court. Then I sent out an alert to members of the House and the Senate, inviting them to join me as co-signers. From across the state, and in the midst of often-frenzied efforts to help local constituents, 37 of my colleagues read the text, considered the suddenly mortal risk descending upon people serving time for often-minor offenses, and said yes.
I hope the Governor takes note of the horrendous situation in places like Chicago, where the Cook County Jail ranks as one of the largest sources of infection in the nation. This has ominous implications for Massachusetts, where 70% of the prisoners in facilities run by the Mass. Department of Corrections eat and sleep within 6 feet of one another.
Given the variety of crimes for which people are imprisoned, Gov. Baker and his appointees could reduce state and county penal populations without releasing anyone deemed truly dangerous.
My colleagues and I end our letter with this:
"Whatever their original offenses, and whatever their original sentences, inmates throughout the Commonwealth are now in danger of suffering the ultimate penalty. The correctional officers with whom they come into contact run the same drastic risk. For the sake of both communities, we respectfully ask that you take the steps we enumerate in this letter."
We'll see what happens. If you care to weigh in with the Governor, submit
your thoughts here
May we all be safe, determined, and resilient.