We have a public safety and justice system that protects residents of all backgrounds.
As of January 1, 2016, there were over 10,000 people in prison in Massachusetts Department of Correction facilities. Among the incarcerated, Black and Latino inmates are severely over-represented. While the state population is 7% Black and 11% Latino, the state’s inmates are 27% Black and 25% Latino. We must work to reduce the incarceration rate overall and address the racial inequities in our justice system. We must also do more to support released prisoners as they reenter society.
End disparate incarceration rates and incidence of deaths by law enforcement actions among populations of color.
People of color are disproportionately represented in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. Sentencing policies, particularly the application of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, are one significant cause of this disparity. Implicit and explicit racial bias in policing and arrests is also seen as contributing to higher levels of convictions and tougher sentencing for people of color. Incidents of violence between Black and Latino men and law enforcement, and the increased visibility of these incidents through social media and activism, have raised awareness of ongoing tensions between police and minority communities. State and municipal leaders therefore must work to change sentencing policies and support efforts by law enforcement to build community trust.1
MAPC. State of Equity in Metro Boston: Staying Safe and Out fo the System, 2017. http://www.regionalindicators.org/topic_areas/7#staying-safe-and-out-of-the-system ↩
Continue to emphasize community policing, engagement and proactive interventions.
Boston’s Police Department and others around the region have long been considered models of community policing and engagement, working to build stronger relationships in neighborhoods and with a range of community leaders, such as clergy. The use of neighborhood advisory councils, the community ombudsman program and the institution of procedures that ensure dialogue with minority community leaders after incidents of violence between police and community residents are important elements of this approach, as we have seen in Boston and Somerville’s Teen Empowerment program. Similarly in Cambridge, the police department works with the schools and public health officials to identify at-risk young people before they get caught in the criminal justice system. These approaches should be maintained and expanded across the region.
Repeal mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
Mandatory minimum sentences require judges to impose a predetermined term of incarceration for individuals convicted of committing certain offenses, such as distributing illegal narcotics. The sentences are levied regardless of a defendant’s criminal history or other mitigating factors. This sentencing practice has driven higher incarceration rates, particularly for Black and Latino men. People sentenced to mandatory minimum often aren’t eligible for early release programs or other transition programs, which ultimately results in an increased risk of recidivism. The range of crimes triggering minimum sentences should be scaled back, especially for non-violent drug-related offenses, enabling judges to consider a range of factors in determining sentences.
Require police departments to conduct implicit bias and de-escalation trainings.
Implicit racial bias can have a profound effect on the relationship between law enforcement officers and residents. Training related to implicit bias, the use of force and interacting with individuals suffering from conditions such as mental illness and substance abuse problems can help improve police and community relations. Six cities around the country are currently participating in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, and local communities should seek to follow suit. Funding to enable officers from across the state to take such trainings, which are offered by organizations such as the NAACP would encourage participation. Local police departments could also require officers to take bias training, as a bill before the legislature proposes.
MA Department of Correction facilities imprison three times the number of Black and Latino inmates than in our non prison population
Require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras while they are on duty.
Some studies have shown that when police officers wear body cameras, it can improve the police-resident encounter. Other research suggests that body cameras do not improve the relationship or the trust between the police and residents. Boston recently implemented a 100-camera study, and the results of this study, and studies in other cities across the nation, should inform whether body cameras become required for all law enforcement officers while they are on duty.
Transition to a restorative justice framework that focuses on rehabilitation and re-integration
Research shows that increasing incarceration rates has minimal impact on reducing crime, and that between 2010 and 2015, crime dropped faster in states that had declining rates of incarceration.[^58] In addition, as a society, we recognize that we imprison people at a much higher rate than our peer countries while at the same time that our focus on punishment may serve as barrier for integrating formerly incarcerated people back into our communities. As we look to update our reform our justice system, we should adopt a framework of restorative justice. Restorative justice focuses on the harm caused, the roots of its effects as well as its cause, and engagement of those involved – wrongdoer, victims and community – as a way to heal and address the harm done. It provides a mechanism to seek justice as well as a way to knit community back together, rather than splintering it, and states like Colorado and Vermont have instituted laws to enable its use. We should also not stop with restoration. We must support current efforts to address the socio-cultural roots of crime that reflect past prejudices and that often ignore context and effects on families.
Limit solitary confinement in all Massachusetts correctional facilities
Human rights organizations, legal scholars, health professionals, and advocates all agree that solitary confinement is a violation of basic human rights and should be abolished or severely restricted. Most proponents agree that inmates should only be kept in solitary confinement if they pose a threat to the prison population and they should be given special behavioral programming to address the underlying issues. Any inmate in solitary confinement must experience humane treatment and be given access to regular programs and services.
Raise juvenile jurisdiction from 18 to 21 and expunge juvenile records.
Currently 18-year-olds are automatically tried as adults in Massachusetts, but many advocates argue that this should be raised to 21 for some offenses. There is significant evidence to suggest that the adult brain isn’t fully formed until a person is closer to 20 years old, and that the differences in brain development lead to challenges with impulse control. Young people who remain in the juvenile justice system are far more likely to finish school and receive workforce training or coaching than those who land in adult justice systems.
When 18-year-olds are tried as adults and sent to adult prisons, they are at greater risk of recidivism and developing mental health issues.1 Juvenile records are typically sealed, but if young people commit crimes and are tried as adults, the records will follow them for the rest of their life.
Foster G, Hall M, Leal J, Bin Tan S. Rapid Health Impact Assessment of MA Proposed Expungement Bill, 2016. http://www.mapc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/RapidHIA-MAS900.pdf ↩
Eliminate “fine time” and better evaluate low-income defendants’ ability to pay.
In the last eight years, 48 states, including Massachusetts, have increased civil and/or criminal fees that are assessed on defendants. Debt accumulated through court-imposed fines and fees can show up on an individual’s credit score and consequently affect their ability to secure housing or employment. In Massachusetts, criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines can be ordered to serve jail time, adding $30 per day onto their debt until it is resolved. This practice disproportionately affects low-income people of color. Some proposals would allow the court officer to determine a defendants’ ability to pay before assessing fines and fees, and would create a more flexible fine system.
Allow for community-based sentencing alternatives for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.
Data suggests that incarceration, especially over longer periods of time, is correlated with recidivism. While prisons may serve to protect our communities from those who have a high risk to offend, these same prisons can end up holding many who have committed non-violent crimes. Placing these non-violent offenders in prison may contribute to the risk of physical and mental health issues, does add to the economic burden of our prison system, and, most importantly, removes these individuals, especially women and caretakers, from families and neighborhoods that rely on them. Many states, including California and New York, have taken steps to eliminate mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenders and to create programmatic alternatives to hold the offenders accountable for their behavior while reducing the potential for lasting negative outcomes from involvement in the prison system. An example of this legislation in Massachusetts is the Primary Caretakers bill which would keep parents and children together as the parent fulfills their obligations under a community-based sentencing alternative.1
Currently 18-year-olds are automatically tried as adults in Massachusetts, but many advocates argue that this should be raised to 21 for some offenses. When 18-year-olds are tried as adults and sent to adult prisons, they are at greater risk of recidivism and developing mental health issues
Programs that focus on re-entry
Cheshire T.R.U.E. Prison Program, Connecticut: In March 2017, Governor Dannel Malloy announced that Connecticut Department of Corrections would build a new facility to house inmates ages 18-25. The Governor partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice on this project. This age group has the highest rates of recidivism and the T.R.U.E. (Truthfulness, Respectfulness, Understanding, and Elevating) program aims to target this group of inmates differently from the adult population and provide special programming and services.
In Massachusetts, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian announced a new program that will house offenders aged 18-24 in a separate facility beginning in February 2018. This is an initiative in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice and UTEC. This program is modeled on Connecticut’s T.R.U.E. program. According to the Sheriff’s office, “Nationwide, 18- to 24-year-olds comprise 10 percent of the population, but account for 21 percent of all individuals admitted to adult prisons each year.”1
Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. MSO to Open Young Adult Offender Unit, 2017. https://www.middlesexsheriff.org/home/news/mso-open-young-adult-offender-unit ↩