Time for Actual Justice in MA Criminal Justice Reform


Following the monumental passage of the omnibus criminal justice bill in Massachusetts in 2018, the mood throughout the commonwealth for continued change remains strong. Our Conference has led the way in passing a “Resolution on a Massachusetts Innocence Commission” in the 211th  Annual Meeting (2010)  followed by the resolution, “Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in Massachusetts” in the 216th Annual Meeting (2015); and finally the resolution “Expression of Opposition to Massachusetts Sentences of Life Imprisonment Without Opportunity for Parole" in the 218th Annual Meeting (2017).
These resolutions have helped to create legislation in the 2019-2020 legislative session.

We have an excellent bill requiring that eyewitness identification be done scientifically. Among those who have been convicted of a serious crime and have later been found to be innocent, approximately 75% have been the victims of mistaken eyewitness identification. Senator Cynthia Creem has introduced SD1677, “An Act Improving the Accuracy of Eyewitness Identification Procedures”, which includes a double-blind process of interviewing of the eyewitness by the police, a timely interview with the eyewitness, videotaping of the interview and more, all in intricate detail. The bill can be seen here: malegislature.gov/Bills/191/SD1677.

We also have two identical bills ending life without parole, one in each house. In the great new book by Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis, The Meaning of Life, shocking statistics reveal that around the country, and in Massachusetts, as murder rates are decreasing, and mass incarceration is beginning to be reduced, the numbers of those serving life without parole are greatly increasing. Nationally, In the last 25 years, the murder rate has been cut in half, while the number of prisoners serving life without parole has increased by 328%!

How are we doing in Massachusetts? We have 1,084 inmates serving life without parole as of 2018, which comprises 13% of our state prison inmates. That percentage is the second highest in the nation! In Massachusetts we don’t kill people, we put them in prison and throw away the key.

The life without parole bills are both named “An Act to Reduce Mass Incarceration”. The senate bill has been introduced by Senator Joseph Boncore and can be found at malegislature.gov/Bills/191/SD533. The house bill has been introduced by Representative Jay Livingstone, and can be found at malegislature.gov/Bills/191/HD154. The bill numbers listed above are temporary. They are docket numbers, and will be changed. The titles will remain the same.

The Actual Justice Task Team urges your support for these bills. The legislators who want to hear from you are your own senator and representative. You may already know who they are, but if you are not sure, go to malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator . You may discover your representative, and very likely your senator, do not live in your city or town, but that is the person you should contact.

Cosigning is a way for legislators to show support for their colleagues’ bills. The time has expired for cosigning house bills. HD154 has a very respectable 27 cosigners. There is still time for senate bills to be cosigned, so ask your representative and senator to cosign SD1677 and SD533.

As of February 13, no assignments have been made to the Joint Judiciary Committee where all three bills will be heard. You may check the status of that committee at malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J19. If your senator or representative becomes a member, you are especially encouraged to speak to them; but anyone’s opinion is respected.

Every bill in the legislature gets a hearing. To find out the hearing date for each of these bills, click on “hearings and events” on the bill page, and then “Joint committee hearings”.

Our task team has been working with the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and End Mass Incarceration Together (EMIT) regarding these bills. To learn more about other criminal justice bills this session, go to the EMIT website here.

Contact by constituents is very important. Please express your support with your legislators!  

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