ONE COMMONWEALTH AGENDA
Reimagining Justice and Safety for All
Imagine a Commonwealth where we focus on delivering help, not handcuffs, whenever possible. Where we draw on the best ideas and evidence from all over the world so we don’t have to choose between safety and fairness. Where we invest in systems that better connect residents to needed support, including behavioral health services, so our overburdened law enforcement can reorient around responses to violence and criminal wrong-doing. Where regardless of your ethnicity, income, or zip code, you receive equal treatment before the law. Where communities and police partner productively to work toward the safety of all. Where police officers can be held accountable for acts of violence they do commit.
While Massachusetts has reduced levels of incarceration over the last twenty years and has the lowest levels of incarceration in the country, we still have far higher rates of incarceration than other developed nations and we also have some of the worst racial disparities in the country in our justice system, especially in our juvenile justice system. Massachusetts also has one of the highest proportions of any state in the nation of prisoners serving life sentences or sentences of fifty years or more. And we have significant distrust between communities and municipal and state police, lower homicide clearance rates than many states, and weak supports for reentry. The job of securing justice and safety for all is far from done. “Justice is the end [i.e. purpose] of government; it is the end [i.e. purpose] of civil society,” said that fiery-eyed radical, James Madison. Until we get justice right, we aren’t fulfilling our most fundamental and sacred responsibility to one another.
As governor, Danielle will focus on: Reducing unnecessary incarceration and punishment through alternative solutions; building out substance use recovery resources and ending the criminalization of addiction; establishing a culture in the State Police and Department of Corrections that starts from respect for the human dignity of all who come into contact with the justice system; supporting policing everyone can be proud of; and investing in the building blocks of justice, health and safety for all.
The agenda below is the outcome of initial rounds of community engagement at all levels — we talked to those advocating for loved ones in prison; to those working to advance restorative justice work; and to those working with or in police departments. We are grateful for their input to the development of our justice agenda, which we believe will allow us to reimagine safety for all in Our Commonwealth. Work remains — we are committed to continuing to listen to, and engage with, communities across the Commonwealth to ensure all voices are heard and represented in our efforts to knit the Commonwealth together.
This agenda is just the beginning of a process. As we seek stakeholder engagement across the Commonwealth in the months ahead, the next critical ingredient we need is YOU.
Life hasn’t been about business as usual for me for a while now. Ever since 2009 when I lost my younger cousin Michael. Michael was probably the first baby I ever held when he was born in 1979. I was a lonely kid that year, being bullied on the school playground, and my aunt delivered a ready-made new best friend. I lost Michael to a combination of mass incarceration and gun violence. I had a deep sense of personal failure about Michael’s death. But I also started beating my head against the question, “Why are we so bad at helping young people transition to a healthy adulthood?” It’s young people from all backgrounds. Just look at the opioid epidemic. And especially young men of color. The world is broken for people.
Because of this I have been using every tool at my disposal working for young people, with young people, for all of us, with all of us. Working to put the world to rights. What’s always brought me hope is jumping in and working as a part of a big team of guts and grit, heart and hustle, to turn the tide on something wrong. That spirit is strong here in Massachusetts, and we can get justice right together.
Reduce unnecessary incarceration and punishment through alternative solutions
Incarceration is the central tool we have been using to tackle hard human challenges – from mental health issues to homelessness and substance use disorder to violence and criminal offenses. Yet one of the best predictors of long-term failure to achieve recovery, move beyond participation in criminal activity, or achieve a stable life with economic security is exposure to the experience of incarceration.
We have many tools other than incarceration available to tackle the challenges listed above. It’s time to put these alternative solutions at the center of our work – meaningfully supporting second chances for those who have committed criminal offenses, emphasizing rehabilitation and recovery for substance use issues, and allowing our strained criminal justice system to reorient its work around responses to violence and criminal wrong-doing.
- We will advance sentencing reform to increase reliance on alternatives to incarceration, as well as support connections with communities, life planning processes, proactive planning for a network of reentry supports, and restorative justice. We can get started with the Justice Reinvestment Act: https://thelawmakernetwork.org/policy/5b/criminal-justice-reinvestment/#policy
- We will expand alternative first-response supports for mental health events and other crises that don’t warrant an armed response. There are good models to draw on in Oregon and Texas. To build successful alternative dispatch infrastructure and practices, we will work with the legislature to remove the legal requirements for overburdened police to respond to situations where health or social service responses are better equipped to offer needed support, such as behavioral health services and harm reduction resources.
- We will transform our juvenile justice system, the highest frequency entry point into the criminal justice system by advancing the five policy reforms recommended by Citizens for Juvenile Justice (JJ System Overview Policy Reforms — CfJJ): (1) address racial disparities in our system through strategies such as training, policy assessment, links to poverty reduction, data collection and transparency, and the incorporation of the voices and guidance of those most impacted by the system; (2) increase opportunities for ‘off-ramps’ for kids such as diversion programs run by police and District Attorneys and pre-arraignment diversion by judges; (3) improve data collection, public reporting, and use for policy improvement; achieve access to data at the Court and District Attorney level, and secure success for the newly formed Juvenile Justice Policy and Data board; (4) raise the upper age for our juvenile justice system to 21; (5) focus on positive outcomes for children, not just recidivism. Examples of such measures include educational outcomes, health outcomes, and other long-term trajectory indicators. Building outcome goals of these kinds is what it means to organize work around human dignity. In addition (6) we will invest in after-school programming that can reduce juvenile offending in the first place.
- We will introduce a three-year moratorium on the construction of new prisons and develop a strategic plan for ending incarceration of women in Massachusetts, seeking to shift to alternative community-based sanctioning options and taking both public safety and rehabilitation as guiding goals. Our women’s prison currently houses fewer than 200 women. We were the first state to end the use of incarceration for juvenile offenders, and now Massachusetts should lead again.
Build out substance use recovery resources & end criminalization of addiction
One in three Americans say their family has been impacted by substance use. Since the start of the opioid epidemic, more than a million Americans have died in the overdose crisis — and in recent years, Massachusetts’ opioid-related death rate has been more than twice the national average. Throughout the Baker-Polito administration, five people have died every day of opioid overdoses, and the crisis appears to be worsening by the day. But across our Commonwealth, people who need treatment and support for substance use issues of all kinds are getting jail time instead.
For too long, we’ve treated addiction as a crime — and the results have been devastating. The War on Drugs is a key driver of the mass incarceration of Black and Brown Americans — destroying lives, harming families, and perpetuating racial injustice. And as the opioid epidemic ravages communities everywhere, criminalization makes it harder for people to get help and directly contributes to the overdose crisis. The criminalization of addiction has also come at a huge cost to our national and state budgets — money that can be better invested in recovery resources.
One of the biggest barriers to recovery is stigma. As long as substance use is seen as a crime, stigmatization will continue, and so will the overdose crisis. Treating addiction as a crime doesn’t work — and we need to start treating it like the public health issue it is.
An Allen administration will save lives, support communities, and help people recover by building out extensive resources to support people dealing with substance use — and by reclassifying personal-use drug violations as a civil, not criminal, offense to end the criminalization of addiction.
- We will work with lawmakers to eliminate criminal penalties for personal-use drug possession and implement a harm reduction approach to substance use, taking Oregon’s work as a model. In line with legislation put forward by Rep. Mike Connolly and Rep. Liz Miranda, we will replace the current criminal penalties for personal drug use and possession with a limited civil fine — which will be waived if an individual participates in a screening to identify possible treatment needs and provide support for accessing resources.
- We will expand support and treatment resources so that we’re meaningfully replacing a criminalization system with better access to low-barrier treatment and supportive housing, destigmatization, and broader support for health and recovery — as outlined in our Health Agenda.
- This includes expanding access to in-patient substance use disorder treatment beds and to community-based, peer-support centers and healing communities, investing in community health centers, making telemedicine accessible for opioid use treatment, fully integrating behavioral health across our health systems, and more.
- Building off Massachusetts’ leadership to this end, will also increase availability of overdose-reversing medication like Naloxone, tackle stigma around the use of this medication, and promote education on its use. We will also take steps to ensure these medications are covered by all insurances, using federal funds available to support these types of programs.
- In addition to the quality of life and community benefits, this proposal will save Massachusetts tax dollars by removing high human and economic costs of unnecessary incarceration. These funds can be redirected toward the treatment programs discussed in these plans.
- We will not take a strike system approach. Truly transitioning from a criminalization to a harm reduction model means that there’s no third possession offense that eventually funnels people to prison. As part of this, under the new reclassification, failure to pay a fine for a violation will not be the cause of further penalties (e.g. license suspension).
- We will develop these policies in partnership with people in the recovery community, harm reduction advocates, behavioral health practitioners and experts, state and local lawmakers, and police partners like the PAARI network, using stakeholder input to build this out right for Massachusetts communities.
- Taking cues from the success of needle exchanges, we will support innovative approaches to justice and health at the municipal level, like overdose prevention centers and alternative 911 dispatches, as discussed above.
- We will implement the 2018 legislative requirement for the expungement of criminal records for nonviolent, personal-use drug offenses. In addition, building off of ‘ban the box’ laws, we will move to protect those seeking employment by preventing employers from seeking information on whether an applicant is in treatment or recovery during a job application process.
SET OUR HOUSE IN ORDER
Across our justice system, we have a collection of injustices that require us to put our house in order — from failures to respond to corruption in the State Police, to violence in our jails and prisons, to our largely inactive commutation system and restrictions on visitation and telephone access for incarcerated people.
We need an approach to policing and corrections that starts from human dignity and where the work of key agencies is measured in terms of safety for all — including victims, first responders, and incarcerated people.
- We will start by ensuring that those in leadership positions for the Department of Corrections and State Police are committed to running agencies that respect and reinforce human dignity, root out corrupt payroll practices, and end institutional violence.
- We will move to establish a permanent, independent Inspector General for Corrections.
- We will establish an external review process for our Massachusetts State Police Academy and the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) Police Academies and drive forward a revamp of the academy curricula, organized around a servant-leader model, not a paramilitary warrior model, and incorporating training in trauma-informed care.
- We will establish an independent investigation of the Massachusetts State Police Commonwealth Fusion Center, to determine whether it has engaged in investigations of protected First Amendment activity or otherwise improperly used its investigative powers in relation to people not suspected of engaging in criminal activity. We will partner as necessary with the federal government to act on findings that might emerge from any such investigation.
- We will restore access to visitation rights to levels that support the healthy relationships that incarcerated people need to achieve successful re-entry and crack down on abusive practices like charging incarcerated people staggering fees to make calls to loved ones.
- We will ensure that the commutation process operates routinely, and appoint judges and members of the parole board who have exemplified commitments to protecting human dignity, supporting healthy social connections and second chances, and working toward the safety of all involved in our criminal justice system — victims, first responders, and those under the custodial care of the state.
SUPPORT POLICING EVERYONE CAN BE PROUD OF
Corruption scandals, racial profiling, and excessive use of force in the State Police, Boston Police Department, Springfield Police Department and other police departments across the state have eroded public trust in policing for many Massachusetts residents. Erosion of trust undermines the ability of police investigators to solve homicides, and slipping homicide clearance rates is a driver of violence. Law enforcement is a dangerous and highly stressful job, and overburdened police often report stress with having to answer calls — about mental health and homelessness — for which they are not appropriately trained or resourced.
It seems that few of us are currently satisfied with policing as we know it. This presents an opportunity to reimagine the profession of policing so that it might be one everyone can be proud of. This requires ensuring police aren’t called in inappropriate circumstances, that training is improved, that forces are diverse and recruitment draws from the communities served, and that all of our departments put integrity and professional ethics at the top of the priority list, that accountability is strengthened, and that community-police partnerships can function effectively in support of diversion, violence reduction, and re-entry.
- As per above, we will work with the legislature to remove any unnecessary call requirements for police and we will work with municipalities around the Commonwealth to develop pilot programs to expand and strengthen alternative dispatch resources. For years, we have unfairly asked police officers to deal with some of society’s most challenging problems, including mental health and homelessness crises. We need a broader set of organizations and professionals involved if we are going to effectively deal with these problems and simultaneously improve public safety in our communities.
- To support recruitment and diversification, ensure good working conditions for police jobs, and improve morale, we will develop a statewide Police Career Incentive Pay Program to support police recruits in attaining associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees and link use of the program to force diversification goals and practices.
- We will raise homicide clearance rates by strengthening the professional development of homicide investigators and building a community of practice Commonwealth-wide to share best practices.
- We will support law enforcement’s work with requirements that new semi-automatic pistols manufactured and/or sold in Massachusetts be equipped with microstamping technology to improve forensics. This legislation should ensure that manufacturers cannot avoid the microstamping requirements through grandfather clauses or exemptions on the continued manufacture of existing models of firearms. We will take recent legislation in New York as the model.
- We will support legislation to regulate or ban “Ghost Guns,” 3D-printed guns, and gun kits that can circumvent state laws and be difficult for law enforcement to track.
- We will support a requirement that those applying for a firearms license must undergo live fire practice before obtaining final approval for a new license.
- We will accelerate the languishing implementation of the 2020 Police Reform Bill.
- We will also work with the legislature to pass the Safe Communities Act, which limits how local and state police can collaborate with federal immigration officers and bars inquiries about immigration status.
- We will support the restrictions on government use of face surveillance like those initially enacted by the House and Senate in 2020 but vetoed by Governor Baker.
- We will ensure that victims of police violence can have their day in court by ending qualified immunity for police and simultaneously working to achieve regulation of insurance for police liability policies in order to drive reform. We can get started with the Justice Data Act which provides communities with the visibility they need into police practices to achieve reform: https://thelawmakernetwork.org/policy/5c/criminal-justice-data/#policy.
- We will seek to identify needs and assets in the communities where violence is at the highest levels and to track improvements to meeting needs and activating assets over time. We will ask communities to partner with state agencies to develop the core metrics and goals defining the healthy, resilient community toward which we should all be steering.
- Finally, we will bring community stakeholders and police together for routine brainstorming of interventions for families and individuals that are generating multiple police calls, strengthening and disseminating the successful Hub model currently operated by MassHousing. The success of the model lies in the origins of the work and collaboration with people and organizations already trusted in the communities where the Hub operates. We will bring that trust-first orientation toward the effort to extend the model to other parts of the Commonwealth.
INVESTING IN THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF JUSTICE, HEALTH, AND SAFETY FOR ALL
Justice, health and safety for all ultimately require not merely just forms of response to crisis and criminal offending but also an effort to reduce the likelihood of crisis or criminal wrong-doing to begin with. This requires laying a foundation for healthy communities and healthy lives that focuses on basic building blocks: housing, transportation, good schools and good jobs, and climate justice.
Across our agendas and the policy domains of state government, we will be working to connect the dots and to make sure that all of our policies are combining to deliver a strong foundation for healthy communities across our Commonwealth, including:
- Advancing modernization of our public health infrastructure to support violence interruption and harm reduction approaches to substance use disorder, per our Health Agenda.
- Creating a better foundation for recovery by focusing on the social determinants of health, like good jobs and housing, including low-barrier supportive housing — as outlined in our Good Jobs and Housing Agendas.
- Ensuring incarcerated people who are eligible to vote have meaningful access to the ballot to support full participation by historically marginalized populations, in line with our Democracy Agenda.
- Providing every student with access to behavioral health supports – including mental health and substance use disorder resources, as well as violence prevention and disruption resources – as part of our Education Agenda.
- And centering the resilience of environmental justice communities in our Climate Agenda to ensure access for all to a healthy environment.
Housing, health, transportation, schools, jobs, justice, community, sustainability, and empowerment. These are the building blocks of a livable life, and they have to fit together for life throughout our Commonwealth to be livable. These are the building blocks every single one of us needs in order to have a foundation to stand on and live a healthy life. What’s more, every person in Massachusetts deserves not just a livable life but opportunities to create their best life. Our overarching societal goals of delivering safety and wellbeing for all require securing the foundations of mental and physical health, freedom from violence, freedom of movement, housing security, food security, access to opportunity, and undistorted recognition of one’s full personhood. We need a system for the administration of justice that focuses on the safety of all.