Category: Lowell Sun

Justice reformers set their sights on life sentences

By Michael P. Norton STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE Published: 2/28/2019 11:06:02 PM

Now that the landmark 2018 criminal justice reform law is on the books, lawmakers are exploring additional ideas and “even harder work,” as Sen. Jamie Eldridge put it Thursday, including the possibility of releasing prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences for the most serious crimes, including murder.

Eldridge and Rep. Mary Keefe on Thursday hosted a meeting of the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus where the focus was on legislation eliminating life sentences without the possibility of parole. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project said a record 206,000 people are serving life terms in prisons across the nation. That’s more than the entire prison population in 1970, he said.

In Massachusetts, 1,018 people in 2016 were serving life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“There’s beginning to be increasing questioning of these policies around the country,” Mauer said, adding that “people age out of the high crime years” and pose “very much diminished” public safety risks in their older years.

Under legislation sponsored by Rep. Jay Livingstone and Sen. Joseph Boncore, all people serving life sentences would have the opportunity for a parole hearing after 25 years, a change in law that would apply retroactively so that it would affect people currently incarcerated. Both bills are titled “An Act to Reduce Mass Incarceration.”

Noting the number of people serving life sentences has “skyrocketed,” Eldridge said the bill deserves attention, although he told the News Service after the briefing that as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he needs to fully review the bill and declined to comment on his position on the legislation.

“We addressed some of the non-violent mandatory minimum drug crimes, repealing them last session,” Eldridge said, referring to a law that also emphasized treating offenders for substance use addiction. “But now we need to get into, in some ways, the more nuanced discussions around people who are in prison for violent crimes and whether we should be changing the sentencing for some group of those individuals.”

A provision in the 2018 law permitting medical parole, Livingstone said, shows lawmakers are open to changes that reduce incarceration costs while taking into account the danger that individuals pose if released from prison.

Asked about her position on the bill, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who attended Thursday’s briefing, told the News Service that she was still gathering information on the topic. In 1980, Ryan was the victim of a vicious assault and a witness to the murder of her then-boyfriend.

Ryan said the life-without-parole sentence is reserved for first degree murder, and outlined considerations for lawmakers weighing the bill.

“There’s all of those considerations of – what are we trying to accomplish through incarceration? How has somebody behaved while in custody? And as is clearly true, none of us would ever want to be defined by the worst act of our lives,” said Ryan, a veteran prosecutor whose district spans 54 cities and towns and includes a quarter of the state’s population. “And then you have to weigh against that the loss that victims’ families have suffered and sometimes it isn’t just the immediate loss, it’s the continuing piece. So, many of the things you heard about that continued for years when someone’s in custody, obviously the same thing is happening on the other side. So it is a balance. And then obviously our overall goal is the protection of the public safety and the concern about – what does real rehabilition mean? When and is someone ready to be back out in society, while the rest of us are keeping folks safe?“

Livingstone, who attracted 27 co-sponsors to his bill, noted it’s been 22 years since the last commutation of a sentence for a person serving life without parole. Commutations must be recommended by governors, and approved by the eight-member Governor’s Council. He also said the bill would apply to convicted murderers, people with stacked sentences and those convicted under the “three strikes” law.

According to backers of the Livingstone and Boncore bills, Massachusetts has a lower overall incarceration rate than most other states but ranks second among all states for the highest percentage of its prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences.

The number of incarcerated men over the age of 60 increased 41 percent between 2010 and 2018, while the overall prison population declined by 18 percent, according to Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, and it’s up to three times more expensive to house an elderly prisoner in the general population.

The proclivity to commit crime is “highly age dependent,” the group said in literature distributed at the event, adding, “The peak age is in one’s early to mid-twenties, and continues to decline as one ages. It makes little sense to mandate that a person in their twenties must stay in prison for the rest of their life without a chance to later determine if they still pose a threat to public safety. Incarcerating people who pose no threat is a waste of resources.”

Membership in the caucus co-chaired by Eldridge and Keefe has increased in the past four years, Eldridge said, and the “standing room only” attendance at Thursday’s briefing “reflects the fact that as much as we passed a major reform last session, there’s still a need and an interest and enthusiasm for more reform.”

https://www.recorder.com/APPeter-justice-reform-23819708

http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_32485076/should-life-without-parole-be-eliminated

https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20190303/justice-reformers-set-sights-on-life-sentences

Bail reforms working in other states

By Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON — As state senators prepare to take up a bill this week that would overhaul the state’s bail system, one Massachusetts sheriff said he’s seeing positive signs from other states that have undertaken bail reform.

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian last week attended a Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration summit at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and returned armed with business cards from officials in Tennessee and New Jersey, whom he hopes to put in touch with lawmakers here.

Tennessee and New Jersey recently reformed their bail systems, and Koutoujian said law enforcement from those states could serve as useful resources for Massachusetts legislators mulling similar changes.

“They’ve had really good results, and the great thing was, the results they’re getting out of New Jersey are completely consistent — the numbers are almost identical — to the results they’re seeing out of Tennessee as well, which is interesting,” Koutoujian told the News Service. “It validates the numbers are consistent and real, basically.”

New Jersey’s bail reform — a move away from a cash-based system to one involving a tool to evaluate a defendant’s risk of fleeing or causing danger to the public — took effect on Jan. 1, 2017. By Aug. 31, the state court system there reported that the number of people in jail before a trial had dropped 15.6 percent since the year began, from 7,337 people to 6,195.

Of the 29,637 eligible defendants arrested from January through August 2017, 8 percent were released on recognizance, roughly 71 percent were ordered to participate in some form of a pretrial monitoring system, and 17.4 percent were placed in detention.

A major package of criminal justice reforms the Senate plans to debate on Thursday includes measures intended to address an August ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court that judges cannot set bail “higher than necessary to ensure the defendant’s appearance” and “that a judge may not consider a defendant’s alleged dangerousness in setting the amount of bail.”

The ruling came in a case filed by Jahmal Brangan, who was held at the Hampden County jail for more than three and a half years because he was unable to post the $40,000 bail after his 2014 armed robbery arrest.

“A bail that is set without any regard to whether a defendant is a pauper or a plutocrat runs the risk of being excessive and unfair,” Justice Geraldine Hines wrote in the decision shortly before retiring from the high court. “A $250 cash bail will have little impact on the well-to-do, for whom it is less than the cost of a night’s stay in a downtown Boston hotel, but it will probably result in detention for a homeless person whose entire earthly belongings can be carried in a cart.”

The bill (S 2185), according to a Senate Ways and Means summary, abolishes cash bail for juveniles and requires judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail for adults. Judges would be given additional options besides cash bail, including unsecured bonds and a wider range of pretrial conditions, and the bill would require that conditions imposed be the least restrictive necessary to ensure the defendant will appear in court.

Judges would be prohibited from setting bail so high “that the defendant represents, in good faith, that he or she cannot afford” it, except if the judge finds the risk of non-appearance is so great that no other conditions would ensure the defendant would come to court, and that the defendant is likely to be incarcerated if convicted. In such cases, the judge would have to orally or in writing explain those findings for the record.

The judge would also have to explain “why the commonwealth’s interest in the secured bond amount outweighs any likely adverse impact on the defendant’s employment, education, mental health treatment, substance or alcohol use treatment and primary caretaker responsibilities.”

The bill would also require the development and use of a risk assessment tool for bail determinations, and expand the ability of pretrial detention for defendants determined to be dangerous, according to the summary.

Whether the bail changes ultimately become law would depend on the level of support they receive in the Senate — where lawmakers filed 162 amendments to the bill — and in the House, where leaders have not yet specified what criminal justice reform measures they intend to pursue.

Rep. Claire Cronin, the House chair of the Judiciary Committee, has been meeting with representatives to discuss criminal justice, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo has enlisted former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland as an advisor.

In a letter to Cronin earlier this month, six members of the House Progressive Caucus — co-chairs Byron Rushing and Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Reps. Mary Keefe, David Linsky, Jay Livingstone and Jay Rogers — identified bail reform as one of their priorities.

“Instituting a risk-based approach to pretrial release detentions would allow persons who cannot afford money bail to avoid incarceration, losing employment, and having to find emergency childcare, all while saving the state money,” the letter said. “Massachusetts should focus the money spent on unnecessary incarceration for pre-trial individuals who pose little threat to public safety towards expanding programs that encourage an alternative route to incarceration like restorative justice or diversion programs.”

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/breakingnews/ci_31401924/bail-reforms-working-other-states-koutoujian-says