The CONTEXT of the campaign – why now?
While the JOBS picture is grim for a growing segment of Massachusetts residents, and while the Legislature’s default policy option continues to be to spend more on JAILS, there is a window of opportunity to shift policy-makers’ focus away from prison-construction and toward job-creation. The following factors contribute to this opportunity:
- For months, a Special Commission on Criminal Justice has been working to analyze Massachusetts’ criminal justice system from top to bottom, and recommend systemic reforms aimed at lowering recidivism and cost. Although this group, made up of legislators and representatives of the Patrick Administration, sheriffs, district attorneys, public defenders and others, may lack the creativity or the political will to recommend the dramatic reforms needed to reverse the past 30 years’ prison boom, they are shining a light on the problem and proposing some solutions.
- Unusual political actors are calling for a complete moratorium on prison expansion. MassINC, a think-tank whose mission is to defend the interests of the middle class, recently authored the report, “Crime, Cost and Consequences”. The report highlights many of the factors that have driven up Massachusetts’ prison census and cost, and recommends a thorough overhaul of the system. Former U.S. Attorney Wayne Budd and former Secretary of Public Safety and Security Kevin Burke are among the leaders who spearheaded the initiative, and who are calling for a prison construction freeze.
- In seeking to bring the Pew Centers for Research to Massachusetts, all three of Massachusetts’ top policy-makers – Governor Deval Patrick, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray – all pledged to act on the kind of recommendations that Pew has made in other states. These recommendations have included repeal or reform of mandatory minimum drug sentences, repeal of collateral sanctions such as the RMV license suspension for non-driving offenses, and other important reforms.
- Powerful grassroots forces have coalesced in recent years, to fight for CORI reform and more recently to stop the “3-strikes” law that was passed last year. The Jobs NOT Jails campaignpulls all these groups together, along with people who are concerned about long-term unemployment and the future of jobs in the Commonwealth, to demand a wholesale shift of focus and resources away from Mass Incarceration and toward full employment.
- July 31, 2014 marks the end of Governor Patrick’s term in office, as well as Therese Murray’s term as Senate President. This is the window in which they must secure their legacies, and help orient Massachusetts in a new and better direction. Meanwhile, other top political leaders will be vying to take their place. We must take this opportunity to change the terms of both our public discourse and our legislative action: JOBS, NOT JAILS!