Resolution on Sentencing Reform and Diversion

Petitioner: Neil Gordon, TMM1

Speicial Town Meeting, November 2017

These issues are complex, timely, indeed urgent. The legislative session ending in July 2018 might be the last Criminal Justice reforms for a while. See "whereas" clauses in article text

Official Town Meeting Vote Select Board Advisory Board

Favorable Action

Favorable Action

Favorable Action




Final Result:

Favorable Action

Community Organization Recommendations
PAX Green Caucus
Official Text of the Article

Advisory Committee's Substitute Motion

VOTED: To substitute the Main Motion with the following:

A Resolution Regarding Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform

1. WHEREAS: Beginning in the 1970's, the United States experienced a steadily progressing rate of 16 incarceration. With 5% of the world's population, the US has 25% of the world's inmates, and many consider mass incarceration the most important civil rights issue of our generation; and

2. WHEREAS: Massachusetts incarcerates about 20,000 inmates- five times the 1970's rate, averaging $50,000 per inmate per year (even more for aging inmates), costing in total over $1 billion a year; and

3. WHEREAS: The Massachusetts incarceration rate is 2.5 times Spain's, 3 times Canada's, 5 times Germany's, and 7 times Japan's; with only 6 countries -- Cuba, Russia, Thailand, Panama, Azerbaijan, and El Salvador having higher incarceration rates. Meanwhile, our state and local governments' crime prevention social services (including jails and prisons), remain seriously underfunded; and

4. WHEREAS: While some Massachusetts District Attorneys have broken ranks to support a few of the recent Senate proposals, almost all DAs have for decades supported the foregoing "tough-on-crime" trends, and opposed almost all meaningful sentencing reform; instead, they, like Gov. Baker, often tout Massachusetts' lesser (than most states') incarceration rate as justification, and

5. WHEREAS: US Criminal Justice racial disparities impose disproportionate consequences on individuals, families and communities of color, with Massachusetts' incarceration rate for Blacks and Hispanics being eight times and five times respectively that of Whites, and

6. WHEREAS: Across the country, both "blue" and "red" states have embraced a "Smart on Crime" paradigm shift of resources, prioritizing crime prevention over purely punitive incarceration, for example: Texas by 2014 closed three prisons, reducing by 6% its 2009 jail rate; Connecticut by 2016 closed 3 prisons, lowering inmate totals from near 20,000 in 2008 to under 15,600; and Louisiana will soon reduce inmate totals by 10%, saving $262 million over the next decade; and

7. WHEREAS: Mandatory minimum sentences, which have proliferated for four decades despite little evidence that they deter crime, (which is one stated purpose), impede in-prison and post-release treatment and shift discretion from judges in open court to prosecutors who, behind closed doors, decide charges and attempt to coerce defendants to enter into plea bargains and trial waivers; and

8. WHEREAS: Despite many good proposed reforms of specific problem areas at the federal and state levels, such as loosening many drug mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and making 19 the age of adulthood, and Gov. Baker's bill based on the Council on State Governments "Justice ReInvestment" project, few efforts address big picture issues like non-drug mandatory minimum sentencing, overall sentencing reform, or wider diversion options for misdemeanor offenses that would keep defendants out of court and without CORI records, and would save court resources; and

9. WHEREAS: Only about 8% of Massachusetts inmates are serving mandatory minimums for drug crimes, and the worst racial disparities for sentencing are related to guns, with about 80% of these inmates being minorities, and

10. WHEREAS: State and national polls show strong preference for rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment, and community policing over jails and prisons; and a burgeoning grassroots-community movement, has been pushing for sentencing reform, racial justice, diversion, and smartness-on-crime practices; and

11. WHEREAS: The Sentencing Commission, reconstituted by Gov. Patrick in 2014 should propose sentencing guidelines by legislation and other reforms like diversion, and should propose bills circumventing mandatory minimum sentencing beyond drugs, e.g. Safety Valves (criteria for judges to selectively depart downward from mandatory minimums) instead of merely changing the (c. 1996) administrative guidelines, which are only sometimes consulted and only in superior court, thereby lacking broad systemic impact,

Therefore, Be It Resolved That Brookline, By Vote of Its Elected Town Meeting Urges:

The State to enact substantial sentencing reform and diversion that is much broader than the now pending state house bills, with appropriate procedures for prosecutors' and defense attorneys' input, with appeals when dissatisfied, and including:

1. reallocating funds to meaningful, evidence-based, safety-focused prevention initiatives from our over $1 billion annual incarceration spending which warehouses many minorities, still-formative youths, and aging inmates;

2. allowing deserving defendants charged with misdemeanors and lesser felonies to avoid court, get needed treatment, and retain clean CORI's;

3. establishing mandatory minimum Safety Valves for more than just drug crimes, allowing DA's and defense lawyers to then appeal; and

4. comprehensive sentencing guidelines legislation proposed by the Sentencing Commission for broad but tightly-defined mandatory minimum Safety Valves and significant "diversion";

And that The Board of Selectmen (1) convey this Resolution to our legislators, statewide elected officers, the Norfolk County District Attorney; and (2) request our state Senator and Representatives to update them on significant General Court developments relative to criminal justice reform.…