The Boston Bar Association recently released a set of recommendations earlier this week meant to help decrease the number of people entering the state's criminal justice system. The full report, titled "No Time to Wait," can be found on the Association's website here. Kathy Weinman of the Boston Bar Association joined WGBH's All Things Considered host Barbara Howard to further discuss these recommendations. Below is a transcript of their conversation. To listen to their conversation, click on the audio player above.
Barbara Howard: Incarceration rates for blacks and Hispanics in Massachusetts far exceed the rates for whites. That's according to the Boston Bar Association, which has joined the call for judicial reform.This, just as State Senate leaders introduce reform measures aimed at cutting back on the number of those who are entering the court system, including raising the age of majority from 18 to 19, and the so-called Romeo and Juliet law which decriminalized is consensual sex between minors. But the main focus is on mandatory drug sentencing. That leaves judges with no leeway when it comes to putting people — even addicts — in prison. Here is Kathy Weinman of the Boston Bar Association.
(SOUND CLIP OF INTERVIEW WITH KATHY WEINMAN)
Kathy Weinman: About 75 percent of those in state prison who are serving under these mandatory minimum laws are people of color.
Howard: Weinman says that giving sentencing discretion back to the judges is key, but that's just the start when it comes to the Boston Bar Association’s six-point judicial reform plan released earlier this week. Weinman says at the Boston Bar Association's recommendations are both cost-effective and promised better outcomes. She points to nonviolent offenders who often end up in prison because they cannot post bail. She says there's a better way.
(INTERVIEW WITH KATHY WEINMAN)
Kathy Weinman: Make an assessment about whether they pose a flight risk or are dangerous to their communities. If not, they would be released until they —
Howard: Have a court date.
Weinman: Have a court date —
Howard: Because it costs money to keep him behind bars.
Weinman: Exactly. It costs money and [it] also interferes with their daily lives, with their family lives. That's a big problem.
Howard: So you're not talking about people who are flight risks or dangers. You're talking about people who just can't afford to post bail.
Howard: You're also talking about putting in place pre-trial diversion to talk about that.
Weinman: Pre-trial diversion, which is in place in a number of our counties, permits people who have not committed violent crimes from going into the criminal justice system at all. They are charged with a crime, but they're not arraigned and they participate in programs.
Howard: These aren't violent criminals.
Weinman: These are not violent criminals.
Howard: So what kind of programs will they be doing?
Weinman: So it might be a drug abuse program, cognitive therapy — there is a wide variety.
Howard: And this is just for people who are found not to be in immediate danger you’re talking about.
Howard: OK, so that alleviates the courts, it alleviates the jails, and that part is done. Sometimes people who enter the system face fines, face fees that they just don't have the money to pay. And that can put them behind bars, as well.
Weinman: It certainly can. What we're asking is that before any fees or fines are assessed, that the judges determine whether in fact the person can afford to pay them.
Howard: You would like to see some of the re-entry programs expanded that already are in place. One is about the CORI laws that sometimes prevent people from getting meaningful employment. Talk about CORI. CORI, of course, is the Criminal Offender Record Information. Talk about that.
Weinman: So for 10 years after people have served felony sentences and for five years after misdemeanor sentences, employers may get access to records of convictions. That interferes with their ability to get jobs. And a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank confirmed it's much more difficult in Massachusetts for people to find employment because of these laws.
Howard: Now some would say though, 'Felony convictions, maybe they want to drive a school bus. I don't want that guy around my kids.' What kinds of people are we talking about here?
Weinman: So there certainly are special categories of employers. Schools generally would continue, under our proposal, to have the greatest access to that information.
Howard: So CORI standards make employment difficult, so for people who can't get jobs to support themselves, do they go back to the life of crime?
Weinman: Absolutely. If you can't support yourself lawfully then the alternative is crime. So our recommendation is simply to reduce those periods from 10 years and five years to five years and three years. And there are studies that demonstrate that someone who has been crime-free for those periods is no more likely to commit a crime than people who have never been involved in the criminal justice system at all.
Howard: That's Kathy Weinman of the Boston Bar Association.