4 bills you should know about if you support criminal justice reform in Massachusetts

These four bills relate to decarceration in response to COVID-19, making phone calls from prison and jail free, strengthening visitation, and "raising the age."

by Jenny Landon, July 17, 2020

Uprisings for racial justice across the country have called for a long-overdue reckoning with the ways we police and punish. In Massachusetts, where the Prison Policy Initiative is based, there are a number of reform bills currently being considered (some better than others). In particular, there are four bills pending that relate directly to our current and past work, including decarceration in response to COVID-19, making phone calls from prison and jail free, strengthening visitation, and “raising the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction.

  • H.4652: An Act regarding decarceration and COVID-19, which proposes to release people who are held pretrial or who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19. As of July 2020, nine of the ten largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country are in prisons and jails, and people in prison are dying from COVID-19 at a rate 3 times higher than the general population. In Massachusetts, thousands of people are held pretrial while legally innocent, and 15% of the prison population is over 55. The state must act now to prevent further tragedy inside our prisons and jails. See our letter of support here.
  • S.2846 (previously S.1372): An Act relative to inmate telephone calls, which would make phone calls free for people in prisons and jails. In Massachusetts, phone calls from jail are almost 3 times more expensive than from state prisons, making it difficult for the thousands of pretrial defendants to prepare a successful defense while detained. Meanwhile, prison phone rates continue to strain the pocketbooks of many of our Commonwealth’s poorest residents.For more information, check out our past work on phone justice. See our letter of support here.
  • H.2047: An Act to strengthen inmate visitation, which would loosen restrictions on visits, including irrational practices like turning away visitors based on dress code violations that pose no threat to security, refusing visitors solely because of their status as formerly incarcerated, or prohibiting incarcerated people from holding their children. As we have argued before, these unnecessary restrictions actually diminish public safety and punish family members— face-to-face visits with loved ones are shown to reduce recidivism. Incarcerated people who successfully maintain strong bonds with community members are more likely to succeed upon reentry. See our letter of support here.
  • H.3420: An Act to promote public safety and better outcomes for young adults, which would shift young adults between the ages of 18-20 into the juvenile system, rather than the adult criminal justice system. Because juvenile courts are more likely to hand down sentences other than incarceration, the passage of this reform bill would reduce the number of people held in jail or prison. Moreover, brain development research shows that people in this age bracket (emerging adults) are still maturing, and are more effectively served by the more rehabilitation-oriented juvenile system. Young people in Massachusetts deserve a chance to develop into full adulthood without the additional trauma of incarceration or the stigma of a public criminal record. See our letter of support here.

Are you in Massachusetts and want to support the passage of these bills? Check out this guide for calling your legislators from the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition.

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