In April, 2018, Massachusetts passed historic legislation to reform the racially discriminatory system of criminal justice. This legislation rejected the philosophy of mass incarceration that had dominated Massachusetts politics for decades. This will help to reduce mass incarceration, decrease recidivism, and make the system fairer.
CSJ played a leadership role in the grassroots campaign to pass this legislation, working through the statewide Jobs Not Jails Coalition. Specifically, based on the organizing and advocacy of CSJ and our allies, we were able to achieve a number of important changes:
- Ending mandatory minimums for drug related offenses: The legislation repealed several mandatory minimums for offenses that too often target people who are addicted to substances rather than the big dealers.
- Raising the felony threshold: The legislation raised the dollar amount that triggers a felony from $250 (passed in 1987!) to $1,200.
- Reforming Criminal Records (CORI): The legislation lowered the sealing time for felonies from 10 years to 7 years and misdemeanors from 5 years down to 3.
- Reducing Fines and Fees: We made progress to allow judges to use their discretion to lower fines and fees for those people who cannot afford them, and often had to go to jail to serve “fine time” to pay off their fees.
- Allowing In-person Visitation: The legislation prohibited any jail or prison from eliminating in-person visits. This practice, instituted by Bristol County’s very own Sheriff Hodgson, won sharp condemnation from legislators and advocates who worried about the adverse mental health effects on inmates of not being able to see their loved ones.
There is no doubt that over 2/1/2 years of advocacy by a vibrant state-wide grass roots movement really had an impact on legislators! We organized speakers who were directly affected by the issue. We repeatedly organized busloads of people to attend the State House for rallies, lobby days and public hearings, organizing many residents of halfway houses as well as many of our volunteers who were moved by the issue. We also organized volunteers to contact voters to call their legislators, making sure that our elected officials heard from their constituents.
Read more about the bill here.