Susan Tordella, a volunteer activist and Legislative Director of EMIT – Ending Mass Incarceration Together, in the Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network is working to form a Massachusetts statewide network of 40 liaisons – one for each senate district – to coordinate face-to-face visits with every single state senator and representative on ending mass incarceration.
They have 12 so far with 28 to go.  Please email susan.tordella@gmail.com if interested.
 
These senate districts have volunteers: 
Will Brownsberger
Ken Donnelly
Stan Rosenburg
Harriet Chandler
Chang-Diaz
Hedlund
Pat Jehlen
Jamie Eldridge
Karen Spilka
Michael Rush
Kathryn Clark’s seat- up for election 4/1
  •  
They have already started meeting with senators and reps with these goals;
1.  Find out your lawmakers’ positions on the pending bills and five policy areas below.

2. Determine if they need more information to consider other viewpoints from experts.

3. Record your findings on the master Google Doc to track 40 senators and 157 representatives.

Determine lawmakers’ positions on five key policy areas

a.     End mandatory minimum sentencing related to drugs;

b.     Treat drug and alcohol addiction as health problems not as crimes;

c.      Endorse pre-trial practices and procedures to avoid incarceration while awaiting trial;

d.     Halt construction of new county jails and state prisons;

e.     Legalize marijuana and possibly other drugs.

Their group is also hosting a series of briefings at the statehouse on issues related to criminal justice. On March 18, 80 + lawmakers and staffers attended to learn about treating addiciton as a health problem not a crime. 12 reps and senators were in attendance, our best showing ever.

Their next briefing in Room 437 is April 8, 11:30 am. Mass INC is speaking on the budget. The briefings are co-sponsored by Rep Tom Sannicandro [D-ashland] and Sen Eldridge, D Acton, who are leading the caucus on this issue. The joint caucus now has 60 members.

  • On March 10 at the Mass Organization for Addiction Recovery annual Drug Policy Meeting, Steve Grossman, candidate for MA governor, said he would freeze new jail construction on day 1, and promote bail reform and sentencing reform, and with the billion dollars saved, he would put money into wellness initiatives that those in the audience were asking for.
  • On March 13th at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute (Harvard Law) candidates forum, Don Berwick and Juliette Kayyem also stated that they are for stopping jail construction, and promoting bail and sentencing reform

There is lots going on with the Jobs Not Jails campaign! This is a really important campaign led by EPOCA in Worcester, but involves lots of people and groups around Massachusetts. See their new website at JobsNotJails.org for details.
This is a campaign to redirect money that would be spent warehousing more prisoners if current criminal justice policies continue into more productive and effective criminal justice policies that help society and make communities safer. The campaign involves many recommendations that have been studied and proven to be effective such as:

-Ending mandatory minimum drug sentences;
-Diversion of low-level drug offenders to treatment even before trial;
-Eliminating counter-productive “collateral sanctions” such as an automatic driver’s license suspension for drug offenses, and high fees for probation, parole, court costs, and telephone charges;
-Reforming the systems of parole and probation;
-Bail reform;
-Restoring educational programs including vocational education as well as college-level courses in prisons and jails
-a jobs bill that will create jobs in the poorest communities in Massachusetts

Everyone would benefit from these changes, as there are already too many people and families involved in the criminal justice system, and even those not directly involved in the criminal justice system have their tax dollars wasted on ineffective policies that often lead to more crime instead of less.

You can help by:
1. Sign the petition (it’s easy and only takes a minute)
2. Spread the word
3. Plan to come to the big rally at the statehouse in Boston in the spring of 2014 to support the campaign (date not set yet)
4. Get involved and help design policy recommendations. There will be a series of research meetings to clarify exactly what we want the legislature to do about jobs. Contact EPOCA for more details by calling (508) 410-7676, or emailing steve@exprisoners.org

By Mary Rock and Pam Teixeira

Sesame Street has been really great at reaching out to kids from all types of backgrounds to comfort them and educate them about a diverse range of real experiences kids are having.  Several years ago the South African version of the show introduced a character with HIV.  A couple years ago they came out with a special for kids whose fathers were overseas in the military.  Now they have introduced a new muppet named Alex whose father is incarcerated.

See the video to see how they explain incarceration to kids.  With approximately 1 in 100 Americans incarcerated at any given time, there are clearly many kids all over the country who can relate to Alex.   In fact, a growing number of kids may be able to relate to Alex; the number of children with an incarcerated parent has increased by 80% since 1991.  We applaud Sesame Street for reaching out to these kids, but can’t help but feel that it is really sad we are in a time when the population of children with fathers in prison is so large that it is becoming part of children’s programming.

There is a large disparity in incarceration rates between different communities (lower income, urban, minority communities especially tend to have much higher incarceration rates, to the point where a study found that 1 in 6 black men have been incarcerated).  We hope this new character can be a comfort to kids growing up facing these issues.  We wonder what impact will this have on kids watching the show that are in a community where few – if any – people are incarcerated?

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