Pressley goes ginormous on criminal justice reform

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley released a plan to reform the criminal legal system that she’s calling “bold and progressive,” dubbing it the “People’s Justice Guarantee.” The wide-ranging resolution calls for reducing jail and prison populations, ending solitary confinement, a cap on prison sentences for all crimes, expanding mental and substance abuse treatment, improving reentry services, prohibiting company profits off of immigrant detention, and limiting firearm sales. The list of initiatives goes on and on.

“The criminal legal system is racist, xenophobic, rogue, and fundamentally flawed beyond reform,” Pressley told reporters on a call Wednesday. “It must be dismantled and radically transformed through a large-scale decarceration effort.” 

Pressley’s sweeping resolution begins with 11 pages of statements describing the criminal justice system as she sees it. It says the United States has an “incarceration crisis” and describes “mass decarceration” as a “moral and societal imperative.” It also says the American legal system “duplicates and maintains systems of oppression that can be traced back to slavery, as and as a result disporportionately harms Black communities throughout the United States.”

Boston.com is calling Pressley’s resolution the Green New Deal for criminal justice reform. Money bail would be ended. Border crossings would be decriminalized. Reminiscent of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s policy memo from last spring, Pressley would also direct law enforcement to decline to criminally prosecute some low-level offenses, such as loitering and theft of “necessary goods.” She also wants to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, backs the federal legalization of marijuana, and favors the decriminalization of consensual sex work, border crossings, and truancy.

Rollins’s recommendations faced significant blowback from police officials, who feared public safety would be compromised by letting offenders off the hook. Rollins is a supporter of the Pressley plan.

Pressley recommends focusing police resources on solving shootings, homicides, and sexual assaults, along with eliminating rape kit backlogs nationwide. The tough-on-crime protocols stemming from the enforcement crackdown of the 1980s, when elected officials were fearful of the drugs flooding their districts, would be significantly revised by her measures. The congresswoman backs the expungement of records of individuals convicted for drug-related offenses.

In addition to dramatically reducing the size of inmate populations, Pressley also wants to revamp prisons themselves. Her resolution calls for inmates to have free phone calls, video conferencing sessions, and frequent visitors. She wants inmates and visiting parents, partners, and children to have physical contact in a place with some privacy. She also wants prisons to have a space where children and parents can play together in facilities that are accessible for families with disabilities and staffed with American Sign Language interpreters.

Pressley also has ambitious plans for societal change, attacking barriers that exist to accessing healthcare, housing, and jobs. She weaves in gun control measures, including a limit on the production and sale of guns and a permanent ban on assault-style weapons, arguing that limiting access to firearms would reduce crime and recidivism. The price tags for her proposals are high — a $1 trillion investment in housing, for instance.

She calls for reparations to the descendants of slaves, including monetary compensation and large-scale social investments such as “debt-free college,” homeownership assistance, guaranteed health care, and business financing support,.

One thing known to reduce recidivism, civic engagement, is embodied in Pressley’s push to allow all incarcerated individuals the right to vote. Massachusetts currently bars anyone convicted of a felony from doing so.

On a state level, Massachusetts enacted a much-lauded criminal justice reform bill last year that eliminated several mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, allowed criminal records to be expunged for some offenses committed when an individual is younger than 21, and created diversion programs for low-level offenders. The Massachusetts reforms stack up as tiny baby steps when compared to Pressley’s resolution.

On the federal side, President Trump‘s First Step Act has led to the release from prison of more than 3,000 inmates who were serving harsh sentences for low-level and nonviolent crimes. 

Pressley was joined on her Wednesday press call by former prisoner Shujaa Graham, who spent three years on death row in California following a wrongful conviction for murder. During his trial, prosecutors worked to exclude all African-American jurors. “I’m not here because of the system; I’m here today in spite of the system,” Graham said, according to Boston.com.

 SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

On the eve of what is expected to be a major transportation funding debate, House Speaker Robert DeLeo suddenly says he is uncertain of the timeline and whether a bill will actually be considered next week. He promises more clarification soon. (CommonWealth) Meanwhile, the beat goes on. Three coalitions of mayors and town managers urge a 15-cent hike in the state’s gas tax to fund transportation needs. (Boston Globe) The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce joins other business groups in supporting a tax and fee package, but the organization also demands a three-year test of eliminating fares on buses operated by the Worcester Regional Transit Authority. (CommonWealth)

The House votes to ban all flavored vaping and tobacco cigarettes, including menthol brands. The chamber also backs a stiff 75 percent excise tax on vaping products. (State House News) A Globe editorial applauds the House vote. (Boston Globe

Christopher Mason was promoted from lieutenant colonel to superintendent of the State Police, taking the reins of the scandal-wracked agency from Kerry Gilpin. (WBUR)

Former rep Jay Kaufman continues his critique of DeLeo, saying there is no diversity of opinion in his inner circle. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Worcester mourns Lt. Jason Menard, a firefighter who was killed trying to rescue his colleagues and the inhabitants of a burning home. (Telegram & Gazette)

The case of the City Council v. Jasiel Correia, an unsuccessful bid to remove the city’s beleaguered mayor from office last month, cost taxpayers $77,000. (Herald News) 

The chair of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee demands an apology from a former colleague for a comment suggesting he and others with the school system condone sexual assault. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Jeff Christiansen, of internet service provider EntryPoint Networks, spoke to Quincy city councilors about what exactly a city-run internet would look like. (Patriot Ledger) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The first day of open impeachment hearings further implicated President Trump in efforts focused on securing Ukrainian help discrediting political rival Joe Biden, but Republicans showed no sign of backing away from their defense of the president. (New York Times)

The Department of Homeland Security proposes tougher work permit rules on asylum seekers. (CommonWealth)

ELECTIONS

Deval Patrick will make a late-entry bid for president, acknowledging that it’s not just a Hail Mary, as any run for the White House is, but “a Hail Mary from two stadiums over,” and setting out the same campaign themes of hope and unity that carried him to two terms as Massachusetts governor. (Boston Globe) Politico delved into Patrick’s time as a commentator for CBS News and notes he critiqued the front-runners and mused about what type of person he would like to see in the White House. Here’s his Twitter announcement.

A retabulation of results in Boston’s at-large city council race has narrowed Julia Mejia’s 10-vote lead over Alejandra St. Guillen to 5 votes, with a full recount still to come. (Boston Globe

The Telegram & Gazette does a deep dive on Massachusetts Majority, the super PAC affiliated with Gov. Charlie Baker.

Thomas Hoye Jr. steps down as mayor of Taunton and is sworn in as register of probate in Bristol County. (Taunton Daily Gazette)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Judith Judson, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, is leaving her post to take a job with the renewable energy company Ameresco. (MassLive)

American Outdoor Brands splits apart, putting Smith & Wesson back on its own. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Brockton School Committee members voted unanimously Tuesday to begin contract negotiations with Interim Superintendent Mike Thomas, a 26-year veteran of the district, to step into the position on a permanent basis. (The Enterprise)

A third case of pertussis (widely known as whooping cough) has been confirmed at Freetown-Lakeville Middle School, according to Superintendent Richard Medeiros. (Standard Times) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Boston University-affiliated Boston Medical Center fell in the most recent national safety rankings compiled by the hospital safety rating agency The Leapfrog Group. (Daily Free Press) 

TRANSPORTATION 

The Registry of Motor Vehicles now offers an option of non-binary gender classification. (WBUR) 

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Conservation Law Foundation threatened to sue Wynn Resorts unless the shuttle buses to its Everett casino stop alleged excessive idling at various pick-up spots in Greater Boston. (Boston Globe

The two wind turbines at Falmouth’s wastewater treatment plant were a source of a long debate Wednesday, when town meeting was asked to pay $2.5 million to dismantle them. (Cape Cod Times) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Tewksbury Selectman Mark Kratman, who was arrested for drunk driving in Wilmington Monday, allegedly drove over a curb, ran a stop sign, then gestured to police as though he had passengers in his car, and seemed confused about where he was. (Lowell Sun

Salem District Court Judge Robert Brennan sentenced Lisa Tillman to house arrest after the former pharmacy tech pled guilty to pilfering 18,000 commonly-abused prescription pills – one of the largest thefts of that kind. (Gloucester Daily Times

MEDIA

Student journalists at campus newspapers are facing heat from some fellow students who don’t accept certain basic norms of the field, including seeking comment from opposing sides on stories or freely publishing photos of those engaged in public protest demonstrations. (Boston Globe

WBUR takes a look at how DigBoston, the city’s last alt-weekly, has survived for two decades. 

DigBoston’s Jason Pramas takes on the continuing Harvard Crimson boycott by immigration advocates, and suggests solutions for the issue. 

Media Nation’s Dan Kennedy talks about Kristin Grady Gilger and Julia Wallace, two pioneering women editors who have written a book about gender inequity in the newsroom.