The Massachusetts House of Representatives released their version of the CJ Reform Omnibus Bill with Amendments last week. We wanted to update you on the work we've been doing and and will continue to do to oppose the disastrous bail "reform" proposed by the Senate and to work to ensure the House version doesn't include any of the same "reforms".
There are specific asks below, scroll down iff you want to get there quickly.
Summary of where we are:
The Senate passed H 2185, which included substantial changes to the bail laws in Massachusetts which we oppose. There is nothing in this bill which prevents the current practice of holding people on bails they cannot afford, and a lot in this bill that expands the reach of probation and pretrial conditions. You can find our specific positions here.
We did not want the House to make the same decisions made by the Senate. To that end, the Mass Bail Fund and 21 other advocacy and legal services organizations signed on to a joint letter urging Representatives to make no changes to existing bail law at this time. On behalf of the group, the Massachusetts Bail Fund the letter to every member of the House of Representative. You can read the letter here.
The House made no substantial changes to the bail laws!! The language introduced in the House version of the bill is a restatement of our current bail laws including the newer language from the Brangan Decision. However, a few amendments were filed that would make changes; three of which we oppose and one we support.
Here are our positions on the amendments for you to use when calling your Representatives:
Find your legislators here: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator
Amendment 187 – Mandates the creation and usage of Risk Assessment Instruments (RAIs) when setting bail
We continue to oppose the creation and usage of RAIs. Our data shows that all people, including those with serious structural challenges like homelessness, come to court. We believe that profiling, no matter how scientific, still forces people to be evaluated based on their affiliation with a certain group rather than as individuals. These tools are not service evaluation tools, their function is to advise probation and judges on risk of flight based on an algorithm. The RAI mandated in this amendment profiles people using factors such as their history before the court, history of mental illness, financial resources, and length of residence in the community to dictate whether someone would be considered a “flight risk”. These factors are proxies for race and class, and would further codify racism and classism into our criminal legal system. Last week a group of researchers, professors, and staff from MIT & Harvard echoed our concerns in an open letter to the Massachusetts Legislature criticizing the creation of these instruments. You can read the full letter here:
Amendment 181 and Amendment 150 - Calls for a "Standing Bail Commission" to review our bail policies and practices and report data related to bail.
We oppose the creation of any commission which fails to include the people directly affected by its work. The overwhelming majority of the people on these two commissions are legislators or law enforcement. Formerly or currently court involved people are not invited to the table. When the people most affected are ignored, change cannot happen. We have been working to understand the scope of pre-trial imprisonment and supervision in Massachusetts for six years. Reliable, accessible, and accurate data on bail and pre-trial imprisonment and supervision does not exist in our state. This amendment would not make the criminal legal system in Massachusetts more transparent but it would further exclude those most affected by the conversation from the conversation.
Amendment 43 – Extends the period of time a person can be imprisoned without bail after a bail revocation for both juveniles and adults
We oppose lengthening the amount of time anyone can be imprisoned without recourse. Currently adults can be imprisoned for 60 days and juveniles for 30 days. This amendment lengthens the time for adults to 90 days and 60 days for juveniles. This amendment takes an already unjust system and makes it worse. It has no place in a criminal justice reform bill.
Amendment 67 - Eliminates cash bail for juveniles, and imposes significant restrictions on imprisoning juveniles pre-trial.
We support the elimination of cash bail both for juveniles and for adults and we support the creation of significant restrictions on holding anyone pre-trial. We echo the position of our friends at Citizens for Juvenile Justice: “Massachusetts is one of very few states which still imposes cash bail on children. Almost 30% of children in detention are there for failure to pay bail…Incarcerating children should not be an acceptable alternative to placement when they simply lack a home or safe place to live.”