Action AlertJanuary 22, 2018
Dear Fellow Massachusetts Vincentian -
After years of hard work, Massachusetts lawmakers are in the last phase critical phase of Criminal Justice Reform legislation to lessen mass incarceration, reduce racial disparities in the system, and increase access to treatment and help for returning citizens.
Please take action by sending the suggested message to the side to your State Representative to ask him or her to talk to the two House members on the Conference Committee now engaged in working out differences between the two different bills passed by the Senate and the House. Their decisions are key to the final outcome of this bill.
The four key priority area where the Senate-passed provisions are preferable are listed below and summarized in the sample message.
♦ Reducing mandatory minimum drug sentences to allow for judicial discretion
Mandatory Minimums establish automatic long sentences, allowing no judicial discretion based on the specific circumstances of an individual's case. This conflicts directly with our belief as Catholics that each individual is unique, created in the image of God with inherent self-dignity that cannot be stripped away, and should be treated as such, even in judicial proceedings. Repealing mandatory minimums does not mean drug charges can't be prosecuted, but instead returns sentencing decisions to judges based on the facts and circumstances of each case and individual.
♦ Increasing the threshold for felony theft from $250 to $1,500
Massachusetts has the third lowest felony threshold of the 50 states. It hasn't been raised in 30 years and is far too low. It unnecessary saddles individuals, often young persons making youthful, unthinking mistakes, with the severe stigma of a felony conviction, thus seriously harming their ability to resume a productive life. The restorative criminal justice principles of Catholic Social Teaching stress rehabilitation and accountability, not retribution or revenge.
♦ Reinvesting savings from reduced incarceration into programs to help returning citizens
About 90% of individuals in prison return to society, often ill-prepared to resume life due to lack of proper funding of rehabilitation and retraining programs. Across the country and here in Massachusetts, Vincentians are often engaged in direct services to ex-offenders and their families, so we know first-hand the need for more funding of these vital re-entry programs.
♦ Raising the Age from 18 years old to 19 years old for the Juvenile Justice System
Scientific research shows full brain development doesn't happen until a person is 25 years old, so it makes sense to keep 18 year-olds, who are more prone to recidivism, out of adult prisons and in the Juvenile Justice system which has more resources than the adult system. Again, our Catholic Social Teaching principles remind us that a just criminal justice system is to be focused on rebuilding lives and providing second chances.
President, Fall River SVdP Diocesan Council
Chair, Attleboro, MA SVdP District Voice of the Poor Committee
President, Attleboro, MA SVdP District