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Lawmakers Sign on to End War on Drugs in Massachusetts

Quarter of legislature sponsors sweeping reform of criminal justice system

For immediate release: February 5, 2015

Contact: Steve O’Neill, EPOCA – (508) 410-7676 –  steve@exprisoners.org

and Caroline Sherrard in Rep.Keefe’s office (617) 722-2210, Mary.Keefe@mahouse.gov

 

Lawmakers Sign on to End War on Drugs in Massachusetts

Quarter of legislature sponsors sweeping reform of criminal justice system

 

BOSTON – Tuesday marked the deadline for lawmakers to sponsor a new spate of bills before the Legislature. Of those bills, Representative Mary Keefe’s Justice Reinvestment Act garnered unexpectedly broad support, with 57 lawmakers signing onto a sweeping reform of the state’s criminal justice system.

The Justice Reinvestment Act (fact sheet attached) proposes a departure from Nixon- and Reagan-era policies that defined the War On Drugs, which researchers say have proven costly for the state and ineffective in making our communities safer.

Massachusetts spends more than a billion of taxpayers’ dollars each year on a growing number of prisoners at a time when the crime rate is falling, according to a 2013 report by the Boston research group MassINC, cited by the Globe.

Jobs Not Jails, a coalition of community, faith, and union organizations, wrote the legislation, saying it makes more sense to shore up schools and employment as a means of deterring crime.

“My brother is working so hard to replace his old hustle with his own painting company, but he can’t even get his driver’s license the way the law is now,” said Wesley Bradwell of Worcester, at a recent meeting with law-makers.

If passed, the measure will repeal long mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, end an automatic driver’s license suspension for non-driving offenses, reduce certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors and transfer some elderly, terminally ill prisoners to medical settings.

With the savings from such steps, a fund would be established to create opportunities for self-sustaining, productive employment serving the common good.

Massachusetts now spends $47,000 a year to keep a single man or woman behind bars, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz told the Boston Globe. “I hear constant frustration from my constituents about why we are spending so much on jails,” she told the paper. “And there are fewer things that infuriate me more than inefficient spending.”

“The Massachusetts criminal justice system has become a huge maze, with fines and fees on top of long jail terms,” said Steve O’Neill, an executive director at Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing For Community Advancement. “We need to offer people a way out – not just more of the maze.”

War On Drugs policies have come under fire in popular culture in recent years with the publication of Michelle Alexander’s bestseller The New Jim Crow and the popular film The House I Live In.  Recent protests in response to the killings of Michael Brown and Erin Garner have also criticized police practices that issued from the War On Drugs and have disproportionately targeted people of color.

Jobs Not Jails is the largest campaign against mass incarceration in Massachusetts history.

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