Category: MetroWest Daily

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

Lawmakers rally in rain for school breakfast bill

BOSTON – Gathered in the rain outside the Statehouse on Tuesday, a group of about two dozen ralliers held signs telling the stories of people experiencing hunger in Massachusetts – among them, a gig worker who relies on supplemental food assistance between jobs, and a disabled man on a fixed income who uses food stamps to buy the healthier foods his doctor recommends.

“The weather is illustrative sometimes of how I think it feels to be battling hunger issues, right,” state Rep. Hannah Kane told the group. “It always feels like we’re battling something.”

The demonstration, organized by the Greater Boston Food Bank and other organizations, was part of Hunger Action Month.

The national organization Feeding America says 652,760 Massachusetts residents – or one in 10 people – are struggling with hunger, including 167,450 children.

Ralliers recognized Kane, a Shrewsbury Republican, and Democratic state Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett and Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston for their work combating hunger.

The group called on the House to pass a Senate-backed bill that would require schools where at least 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins. The bill outlines breakfast service models that include “breakfast in the classroom, grab and go breakfast or second chance breakfast.”

With more than three months left in the legislative session, the “breakfast after the bell” bill, sponsored by DiDomenico, is now before the House Ways and Means Committee. It passed the Senate unanimously on July 26.

“Breakfast after the bell, to get kids into school and performing much better, is incredibly key, and I hope we can still get that done this year,” Livingstone said.

Bills require unanimous votes to advance during informal sessions, but very few lawmakers attend the sessions.

“That should be a question that is as commonplace as ‘What’s your plan for jobs?’ ” she said.

As the rally broke up, Assefa offered a parting note to participants: “For anyone who’s hungry, we are getting pizza.”

https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20180925/lawmakers-rally-in-rain-for-school-breakfast-bill

Smooth sailing seen for auto-voter bill

BOSTON – A co-sponsor of automatic voter registration legislation advancing in the House Wednesday said he expects to see the measure become law in a matter of weeks.

“I’d be surprised if it isn’t signed into law in the next month,” state Rep. Jay Livingstone said.

Livingstone joined Boston City Councilors Josh Zakim and Matt O’Malley at a State House press conference to tout the bill, which would automatically register eligible voters when they interact with a state agency such as the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth. People could opt out of registering to vote if they wish.

Zakim, a Democrat running for secretary of state, said the bill would boost registration across demographic groups and could be particularly beneficial for communities of color and populations that are younger, low income or move frequently.

As the press conference was being held, the House voted to advance the bill, with plans to consider possible amendments and send it to the Senate later Wednesday.

“Looking forward to voting for #AVRinMA in the @MA_Senate after it passes in the Massachusetts House!!” Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem tweeted Tuesday.

The bill has an effective date of Jan. 1, 2020.

http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20180627/smooth-sailing-seen-for-auto-voter-bill

http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20180628/smooth-sailing-seen-for-auto-voter-bill