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Criminal Justice



Powerful Day of Action Leads to GBIO Victories on Criminal Justice Reform, Healthcare, Affordable Housing and a Continued Fight for Education Funding.


GBIO’s Criminal Justice Reform Chair, Beverly Williams, poses questions to the candidates for District Attorney at GBIO’s Primary Accountability Action.
 
On August 23rd, dubbed a “GBIO Day of Action,” GBIO leaders ran multiple actions within a 6-hour period, pushing forward the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s priorities on Criminal Justice Reform, Healthcare, Affordable Housing, and Education.
 
At a Primary Accountability Action, 537 GBIO leaders secured commitments from both Democratic candidates for Governor, Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie, to contribute $50 Million to a Homeownership fund and to stop a healthcare merger estimated to cost taxpayers $230 million annually.
 
The merger, between healthcare giants Beth Israel Deaconess, Lahey and others was announced in 2017. Earlier this year, the MA Health Policy Commission came out with a report concluding that the merger would conservatively cost the state’s citizens $230 million per year.  
 
The two candidates were asked: “Will you direct the Public Health Commissioner and Council Members to oppose and stop any mergers or other market transactions that are found by the HPC to increase costs for consumers?” Both Massie and Gonzalez answered Yes.
 
The two candidates also agreed to increase funding for home ownership by at least $10 million per year for at least 5 years, for a total of $50 million and (if elected Governor) to attend a 2000 person action in the fall. Jay Gonzalez won the primary and will face off against Governor Charlie Baker in November. 
 
GBIO leaders also engaged candidates for District Attorney from Suffolk and Middlesex counties in a series of questions about Bail Reform, Sentencing Reform with a focus on mandatory minimums, and Data Transparency, securing public commitments of Yes on all questions from both candidates vying for Suffolk County DA in November. 
 
7 candidates for DA attended the GBIO event, including Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Mike Maloney, Shannon McAuliffe, and Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County (in the first contested race in decades) and Donna Patalano and incumbent Marian Ryan of Middlesex County. The candidates were asked to provide yes/no answers to a series of questions and were also given time to present their views in an open format. 
 
Greg Henning, the frontrunner in the race, had committed to attend the event in April, but changed his mind just days before the event, objecting to the “yes/no” format. On September 4th, Henning lost the race 20,719 to 35,188 to Rachael Rollins, who answered YES to all of GBIO’s questions. 
 
GBIO’s questions included:
 
Bail
Will you institute a policy prohibiting every prosecutor from seeking bail unless it carries the possibility of a state prison sentence?
 
Mandatory Minimums
  1. Will you institute a policy requiring every prosecutor in your office NOT to charge Mandatory Minimum sentences for any drug offense, and instead to seek charges that can be overseen by a judge?
  2. Will you institute a policy requiring every prosecutor to seek diversion, including restorative justice practices, before arraignment, when a diversion alternative exists?
  3. Will you publicly support elimination of ALL mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses?
  4. Will you institute a policy mandating racial bias training within the first six months, and within the first six months of every subsequent Asst. DA and lawyer hire, as a step to eliminating racial disparities?
 
Data Transparency
  1. Will you institute a policy mandating the collection and recording of race and ethnicity data for all offenders in your existing and future database systems?
  2. Will you institute a policy to report, and make publicly available, data showing:
    • Disposition (diversion, plea deal, trial, dismissal, CWOF, sentence imposed)
    • Plea bargain deals offered
    • Initial charging offense
    • Length of time defendants are held pretrial
    • Age, Gender, and Race and Ethnicity of offender
  3. Will you commit to holding public forums each year where you present this data to the public?
 
Earlier that same day, at Mayor Marty Walsh’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $73 million Dearborn School, which GBIO fought to create, nearly 200 GBIO leaders demanded full funding for the STEM school’s staffing.
 
GBIO had hoped that the Dearborn ribbon-cutting ceremony would be an opportunity to celebrate the school’s opening, the culmination of an almost decade long effort. GBIO leaders, including then-President Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, fought to replace the Dearborn’s deteriorating middle school building with a state-of-the-art grade 6-12 STEM Academy that could provide a top-notch education to students in its under-served Roxbury neighborhood.
 
Rev. Hamilton returned to Boston from California to attend the ceremony, but the celebration became a demand for action when, just a few days prior to the school’s Sept opening, many key staff positions remained unfunded. “It’s really an abomination to have this amazing STEM building and not have adequate staffing,” said the Rev. Burns Stanfield, current president of GBIO. “It really sets kids up in this neighborhood for failure.”



GBIO Fights for Criminal Justice Reforms – and Wins – as Governor Baker Signs Historic Massachusetts Bill


GBIO Criminal Justice Reform team co-chairs Beverly Williams and Alan Epstein at the end of the day, but on to another chapter. 
 
 “When We Fight, We Win!”
 
Leaders from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and allies, chanted in victory at the Massachusetts Statehouse on April 13th as Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping criminal justice bill into law – the first of its kind in decades. Since 2015, GBIO has fought for strong reforms by targeting four issues designed to reduce barriers to a fair criminal justice system that have disproportionately affected poor people and people of color. All four of GBIO’s priority issues were included in the recent law.
 
GBIO’s priority issues include:
  • Reduction in the use of Mandatory Minimums for drug sentencing
  • Reduction of fines and fees for probation and parole
  • Changing bail requirements for those unable to pay
  • Regulation and reduction in the use of Solitary Confinement
 
Beverly Williams, co-chair of GBIO’s Criminal Justice Team said, “The new law is not perfect, but it is meaningful legislation for Massachusetts. Reform leaders worked tirelessly for 3 years to make this happen.”  Through legislator meetings, relationship building, and a series of large actions, GBIO helped shape comprehensive Criminal Justice reform bills that, despite early resistance, passed the House and Senate by veto-proof majorities in late 2017. A reconciliation bill proceeded behind closed doors for 4 months. 
 
The ultimate bill still included GBIO’s four issues, as well as many other issues of interest to GBIO and other allies including: CORI reform, raising the felony threshold from $250 to $1200, decriminalizing youth below 12 years of age, allowing juvenile records to be expunged after a period of time, medical release, and most importantly, data collection and reporting for more transparency. The final bill passed unanimously in the Senate (37-0) and nearly unanimously in the House (148-5) and was signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. 
 
Co-Chair Alan Epstein said, “It is a huge step forward for the state in our efforts to reduce mass incarceration, eliminate racial disparities, reduce costs and introduce fairness, compassion and intelligence into our criminal legal system. Everyone in Massachusetts will benefit from what we did.”
 
 



Lake County United Builds Strong Support to Win Approval of 146-bed behavioral hospital in Waukegan


Vista Medical Center West in Waukegan, IL will be transformed into a 146-bed psychiatric hospital

Lake County United continues the fight to prevent those who are mentally ill from unjustly entering the criminal justice system and instead, helping those individuals get the treatment they need. Towards that effort, LCU has established a relationship with the CEO of U.S. HealthVest to continue to work together on broader mental health needs such as affordable housing and long-term treatment. In January, U.S. HealthVest was given unanimous approval to purchase a Waukegan, IL medical center and transform it into a state-of-the-art 146-bed psychiatric hospital that will provide services ranging from children to seniors as well as substance abuse treatment. Having all the elements of a crisis stabilization unit, this hospital is a key component to diverting mentally ill from jail.



FRVI’s Work on Crisis Intervention Leads to First Countywide Police Officers Crisis Intervention Training in Kane County


Kane County State's Attorney completed its first Crisis Intervention Team training for police officers.
 
For the past three years the Fox River Valley Initiative (FRVI) in Kane County, Illinois has been working with the Sheriff and State's Attorney to create a countywide Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. In the summer of 2017, the States Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department submitted a proposed curriculum for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training to the state agency responsible for certifying law enforcement training. 
 
The County-developed curriculum allows CIT classes to be scheduled as needed in the county and in closer proximity for the officers participating. In October 2017, 26 officers from a variety of County law enforcement agencies completed their 40-hour training experience. Another class was scheduled for November and six classes are planned for 2018.
 
These 8 classes represent training for approximately 20% of the law enforcement personnel in the county, and it’s possible that nearly all of the 1,200 police officers in the Kane County jurisdictions will receive CIT training within the next five years. This victory is part of IL Metro IAF’s 3-part strategy for criminal justice reform in Illinois by overhauling CIT training, creating Crisis Stabilization Units, and expanding affordable permanent supportive housing.



United Power Wins Commitment from Evanston Chief of Police, Department of Health & Human Services to Help Move Forward on Creation of a Crisis Stabilization Center


Leaders of United Power join to announce results of the annual Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) review of four local police departments.
 
156 leaders from five United Power member organizations in the northern Cook County region gathered to announce the results of the annual Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) review of four local police departments and to align key allies to advance a crisis stabilization site in the northern Cook County region. 
 
As a result, The Evanston Department of Health & Human Services committed to co-convene a strategy with key players to create a crisis stabilization center, especially engaging the two major hospitals in the region. The Chief of Police in Evanston and Glenview agreed to participate in strategy sessions and announced their support for a crisis center. Turning Point, a local community mental health center, also announced their willingness to help establish a demonstration project to get the crisis center started. These commitments were made to United Power members and two key people from the two area hospitals who have yet to commit to advance the crisis stabilization ahead.
 
This effort is part of United Power and IL Metro IAF's overall fight to reduce incarceration for people with mental illness by seeking to increase CIT training of local police departments, improve access to crisis stabilization and increase affordable and supportive housing for long-term stability.



A Win for GBIO: Expanded Massachusetts Senate Bill Includes All of GBIO Criminal Justice Reform Priorities


On May 18th, GBIO celebrates the leaders of the Criminal Justice Team’s
In-District Meeting campaign

The Senate bill, introduced September 29 by State Senator William Brownsberger, addresses all four of GBIO’s issues: repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, pretrial and bail reform, reducing/eliminating fees and fines, and shortening length of time spent in solitary confinement — the result of 9 in-district meetings with 23 State Representatives and Senators by over 60 GBIO Leaders. GBIO wants to see the Senate bill do more on mandatory minimums, and will continue to fight for deeper reforms.



In Boston, GBIO Leaders Secure New Ally on Criminal Justice Reform

Mardi Fuller, of GBIO, leads Dorchester and South Boston district meeting with State Senator Forry at 4th Presbyterian Church

On June 28th, GBIO leaders completed a city-wide In-District Meeting with State Senator Linda Doreen Forry, securing her commitment to support reform around solitary confinement, an issue she did not formerly support.

When Forry argued that local county sheriffs think the reform would threaten the safety of inmates, constituents won Forry’s support by countering that, in fact, the use of solitary confinement itself represented a threat to inmates’ safety and mental health, by keeping inmates locked up 23 hours a day for extended periods, in cells the size of a parking spot.

The meeting with Senator Forry was the 8th of 9 In-District meetings organized since May 2017 as part of GBIO’s Criminal Justice Reform Campaign. The campaign builds support for 4 legislative priorities: Repeal of Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses, Pretrial and Bail Reform, Reduction/Elimination of Excessive Fees and Fines for Returning Citizens, and Elimination of Excessive Use of Solitary Confinement without Oversight and Data Collection.

Since May, GBIO has trained 60 congregational leaders, who have planned and organized meetings with over 15 legislators. Following the success of these In-District meetings, 30 leaders have been trained to extend GBIO’s efforts outside of Boston districts.

Representative Russell Holmes (far left) at 4th Presbyterian Church In-District Meeting lead by GBIO team

In-District Meeting at 4th Presbyterian Church with Representative Russell Holmes and the staff of Representative Dan Cullinane

In the News


GCC’s Action on Criminal Justice Yields Recognition and Continued Commitment from County Prosecutor and Presiding Judge to Fight for Reforms

Monday, May 21, 2018
Greater Cleveland Congregations

GCC packs leaders at St. John AME Church in fight for additional criminal justice reforms.
 
On April 24th Greater Cleveland Congregations held an action with 435 of its members at the historic St. John AME Church in Cleveland.  Present at the action were Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley and Administrative and Presiding Judge John Russo, who reiterated their plans and commitments to fight for additional criminal justice reforms that address mass incarceration, such as expanding opportunities for drug court for those suffering from addiction, new second chance diversion initiatives, and policies to end the practice of over-charging.  GCC leaders also heard compelling testimony from a member of our community who was victimized by over-charging and served a 10-year prison sentence for stealing 10 packs of batteries.
 
Prosecutor O’Malley also highlighted two major policy initiatives that GCC fought for over the past two years.  First, his office's policy of utilizing agencies outside of the prosecutors office to investigate police use of lethal force cases in our county.  Second, the establishment of the county's first ever Civil Rights Unit, run out of the prosecutors office. This is one of only three such Civil Rights Units in the nation, and it has already been responsible for reviews of cases that have resulted in the overturning of three wrongful convictions and counting. 
 
An article summarizing the action may be found HERE.

GBIO leader Beverly Williams Receives JALSA’s Community Champion Award for her Work on Criminal Justice Reform

Thursday, March 29, 2018
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization
In January 2018, Beverly Williams was honored as a recipient of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action’s Community Champion Award. Beverly, along with Alan Epstein, Co-Chairs the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization's Criminal Justice Reform team has led the organization's 40+ congregations in the pursuit of meaningful criminal justice reform legislation.
 
After GBIO committed to a four point Criminal Justice Reform platform in 2016, Beverly and her team began bringing these issues directly to legislators.  GBIO’s platform included (1) Repealing Mandatory minimums for drug offenses, (2) pretrial and bail reform, (3) eliminating excessive post-release fees and fines, and (4) eliminating excessive time in solitary confinement. GBIO leaders held face-to-face in-district actions with State Senators and Representatives throughout Greater Boston, then built networks of allies, including Reform Jewish Congregations and African Methodist Episcopal leaders throughout Massachusetts, who could meet with legislators in vital swing-districts.
 
As a result, all four of GBIO’s issues were addressed in October’s ground-breaking Senate Bill, as well as the House’s slightly more conservative November bill, described by the Boston Globe as the house’s  "most sweeping criminal justice bill in years.” Details are now being worked out in conference committee.
 
Beverly is most proud of GBIO’s success on mandatory minimums. “Nothing had moved on this issue for 18 years,” says Beverly. “When the Council of State Government did a study of our MA criminal justice system, back in 2016, mandatory minimums were not even under review. For us to have pushed it, and now it’s in conference, that’s a big deal!”
 
Beverly’s passion for this issue is deeply personal.  “In my community, the reality is most young men between 18 and 25 are locked up. I could see that locking people up and punishing them, especially in low-level crimes, was not the answer.” She was determined to change a system that left many low-income people and people of color locked in a cycle of incarceration and poverty.
 
As Beverly became more involved in the fight for justice, she realized, “It wasn’t just about investing in the issue but about investing in myself. For me to have an impact, I had to develop my own leadership skills.” She attended an IAF regional training and built new skills by diving into the work, taking on new roles, even when she wasn’t sure she was ready. “I had to build relationships with powerful people, with people in the streets,with people I hadn’t had relationships with before. In having these relationships, in listening to other peoples’ stories and impressions and thoughts, I learned more about myself. I learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
 
Although she is honored to receive the Community Champion Award, Beverly is clear that there is “still much more work to be done.” Of the House and Senate bills, she says, “if we get a major win out of this, there are going to be more people out of prisons and we need to keep fighting for them. We need to make sure they get much-needed services. We need to get them into jobs.”
 

LCU’s Fight for Crisis Intervention Leads to Invitation to Present Mental Health Strategy to Waukegan Police Officers

Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Lake County United


LCU leaders, Sheriff, County Board member, Mayor of Waukegan and Waukegan School District Superintendent

As a result of hundreds of Lake County United leaders gathering to meet with the Sheriff, Mayor of Waukegan, County Board Members, and Waukegan Superintendent of Schools, LCU was invited to present their mental health strategy to Waukegan Police Officers during a training on December 15th. The action with Waukegan officials that prompted the invitation to present the strategy pressed for the need to increase training for police to deescalate in a crisis and divert from jail, support affordable housing, and improve and expand college and career counseling.


GBIO Clergy Show Up in Force Hours Before Massachusetts State House Vote on Criminal Justice Bill

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization


GBIO clergy leaders push for criminal justice reform at the Massachusetts State House

GBIO clergy showed up in force in a rally pushing for changes in Massachusetts criminal justice laws. In the final hours before a House vote on criminal justice reform, close to 200 clergy stood together with Retired Judge Nancy Gertner and several House representatives, calling for a criminal justice system that addresses racial and income disparities in sentencing, removing fees and penalties that keep people trapped in the prison system, and urging the state to spend tax dollars on treating, rather than punishing low level drug offenders with addictions and/or mental health issues.

Majority Whip Byron Rushing thanked GBIO for the work they’ve done so far, and urged GBIO to keep the pressure on during the last hours of debate. The bill passed by a vote of 144-9 on November 14th and now sets up a potential compromise between the state House and Senate to iron out differences in their two respective criminal justice reform bills before sending a bill to the desk of Governor Charlie Baker. Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg fulfilled his February 2017 commitment to push through GBIO’s platform on criminal justice, and if the House and Senate find a compromise, it could be the first major effort to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in many years.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KwJ1aK3JYg&sns=em


Hudson County, NJ Prosecutor Commits to Two-day On-Site Warrant Reconciliation Event with Jersey City Together

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Jersey City Together


Rev. Willie Keaton Jr. of Claremont-Lafayette United Presbyterian Church and Hudson County
Prosecutor Esther Suarez

At Jersey City Together's Fall action, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez committed to a two-day warrant reconciliation event that would help individuals with low-level offenses reconcile warrants. This event has come after months of working with the prosecutor and is modeled after Metro IAF sister affiliate East Brooklyn Congregation's work with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson on a similar event at St. Paul's Community Baptist Church. Press coverage can be found here & here


Metro IAF NY Convenes Mental Health and Criminal Justice Experts, Hosts Forum to End Mis-Incarceration of People with Mental Illness

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Metro IAF NYC

On October 3rd, over 250 leaders from SBC, EBC, MT, and LICAN gathered at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan to learn more about steps taken across the country to end the mis-incarceration of people with mental illness who require treatment. Speakers included: Judge Matthew D'Emic, Brooklyn Administrative and Mental Health Court, Judge Steven Leifman, Miami-Dade Mental Health Court, and Leon Evans, behavioral health expert from San Antonio. As New York City embarks on a path to close Rikers prison and reform its criminal justice system, this forum worked to highlight innovative and successful criminal justice diversion programs in Brooklyn, New York, Miami-Dade, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas. This was an internal action to build a team of Metro IAF leaders capable of engaging with local District Attorneys and other key power players to begin making change in this area.


In Massachusetts, Jewish Leaders Call for Criminal Justice Reform

Friday, September 22, 2017
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

42 rabbis and 6 cantors called on top Massachusetts leaders to support criminal justice reforms including: repeal of mandatory minimums, bail reform, reduction in fines and fees, and limits on solitary confinement. The religious leaders sent a September letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, calling for a “criminal justice system that reflects the dignity of every human being.”

The Jewish leaders are backing bills on: bail reform by Rep. Dave Rogers (H 3120) and late Sen. Ken Donnelly (S 834); repeal of mandatory minimums by Sen. Cynthia Creem (S 819) and Rep. Evandro Carvalho (H 741); reduction in fines and fees by Rep. Mary Keefe (H 3077) and Sen. Michael Barrett  (S 755); limits on solitary confinement by Creem (S 1296) and Rep. Ruth Balser (H 2248), and collecting/reporting data on use of solitary confinement by Rep. Chris Markey (H 3092) and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (S 1286). 


GCC Gets Encouraging Updates on Reform from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor

Thursday, August 31, 2017
Greater Cleveland Congregations

 

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley provided written updates to Greater Cleveland Congregations about commitments made during the 2016 prosecutors election to reform the county's criminal justice system.  

Highlights of the report include:

1. Police Use of Deadly Force Policy - in all cases of police use of deadly force against civilians, Mr. O'Malley will request an independent prosecutor and investigation team to handle such cases.  This will minimize the chances of conflict of interest with the County Prosecutor attempting to investigate officers with whom his office has regular contact. 

2. Civil Rights Unit - in recent years, Ohio has seen a steep rise in the number of hate crimes.  The Civil Rights Unit, the first in the County's history, was established to review allegations of civil rights violations, including allegations of hate crimes and acts by public employees.  The Unit, which was set up in March, has already handled several cases.  One case involved the prosecution of an East Cleveland Police Officer for violating two women's civil rights during a traffic stop.  Another case involved the prosecution of a man for targeting another racial group.     

3. Drug Court/Diversion - Mr. O'Malley has submitted proposed changes to the courts that would significantly change eligibility requirements for Drug Courts and establish a new diversion program that would allow hundreds of new people to benefit from these programs, which upon completion vacate felony convictions, giving them a second chance at life.