The Criminal Justice Shared Interest Group works proactively on practice and policy levels to address the inequities and injustices that currently exist in the criminal justice system. We organize social work resources to work against the problems of excessive incarceration and excessive criminalization of those with mental illness and addiction. For more information or if you would like to attend one of our monthly meetings please contact one of our co-chairs.
Our meeting day is changing. Meetings will now be held on Mondays, typically the third Monday of the month. Meetings take place from 5:30 - 7:00 pm at One Beacon Street, 6th Floor, Boston in the office of Mass Housing. Our meetings for the fall are as follows: 10/19/15, 11/16/15 and 12/14/15. All are welcome to attend. Please confirm meeting dates and receive more detailed directions by contacting Cheryl Azza at cazzalicsw(at)gmail.com or Sarah Coughlin at scoughlin1(at)partners.org.
If you are unable to attend meetings but would like to be actively involved in the work of the CJ SIG, please contact one of the co-chairs to express your interest.
Massachusetts Bail Fund Program:
In 2010 the Criminal Justice Shared Interest Group solicited the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition (CJPC) as lead sponsor for the creation of a bail fund program for Massachusetts. This fund attacks the inequities involved when poor people who cannot afford even small bail amounts must pursue their cases from jail and suffer more disruption of work and family lives than those who meet bail, while public costs for incarceration increase. The bail fund is “revolving,” so donations would be useful over and over again. For more information on how to be involved in this effort visit www.cjpc.org/bailfund.
CJ SIG members are actively working toward passage of three criminal justice bills that have been prioritized by NASW -MA for this legislative session:
- Bail Reform and Pre-Trial Diversion (SD 1491; HD 3156)
Bail Reform is about creating a system based on Evidenced Based Practices that assesses risk and develops pre-trial services, rather than keeping low-risk offenders in jail prior to trial due solely to their inability to pay low amounts of bail. This legislation seeks to reform bail practices and introduce pre-trial services, similar to reforms that have already been enacted in other states. There is growing initiative across the political spectrum to reform bail, as it is a cost saving as well as social justice issue.
- Repeal Mandatory Minimum Sentences for non-violent Drug Offenses (SD 1770; HD 1921)
Mandatory Minimums for drug offenses are pre-determined prison sentences for drug crimes. The length of the sentence is often based solely on the weight of the drugs, regardless of other facts of the case. This legislation would allow judges to impose sentences that fit the crime for non-violent drug offenses, and make all drug offenders now in prison eligible for parole, work release, and earned “good time" credits.
- Solitary Confinement (SD 1065; HD 2592)
Massachusetts is one of two states (the other is Arkansas) where an inmate can be sentenced to solitary confinement for up to 10 years. This legislation calls for appropriate standards in the use of segregation. These standards include the following:
- Creation of an oversight committee to collect data on the use of segregation and make recommendations to limit its use
- Divert vulnerable populations from segregation
- End the practice of releasing prisoners directly from segregation into the community
- Limit the length of stay in segregation through imposing a legally mandated time limit to segregation
- Improve access to treatment for and curb the use of Non-Disciplinary Administrative Segregation.
Please see the Legislative Agenda section on the NASW-MA website for more information including fact sheets on these bills.
In addition, we are also working toward passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act (SD 1874; HD 3425), an omnibus criminal justice reform bill backed by the Jobs Not Jails Coalition of which we are a member. Please visit www.cjpc.org for more information on this bill.
We are also a member of the Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Justice Reform and are supporting the omnibus juvenile justice bill that they have filed, An Act to Promote Transparency, Best Practices, and Better Outcomes for Children and Communities (SD 1620; HD 1436). Please visit www.cfjj.org for more information on this bill.
Education / Training
The CJ SIG is planning education/training events this year on the issue of Solitary Confinement, including submitting a proposal to present on this issue at NASW Symposium 2016. Volunteers to help plan these trainings are welcome!
At least twice a year, in June and December, we hold a "Social", an informal gathering of members and those interested in social work and criminal justice to network, foster connections and support each other in our work. Invites to our Socials are sent out to all those on our email list.
NASW CRIMINAL JUSTICE SHARED INTEREST GROUP ACCOMPLISHMENTS SINCE JUNE 2013
- Actively supported the Massachusetts Bail Fund which has started to give bails and has been instrumental in arranging research on and widening concern about the state’s bail system and high level of pre-trail incarceration. SIG members initiated the Fund, serve on its Steering Committee, volunteer to review bail requests, do leg work to post bails, and supervise MSW interns who have been crucial help to the Fund. Those wanting to support the Fund financially can give tax exempt donations at www.cjpc.org.
- Worked with NASW-MA staff in testifying, educating others about, and gaining legislators’ support for the priority bill, An Act Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in MA to 18 (H450, S697). This bill passed with overwhelming support in both houses and was signed by the Governor in September 2013
- Members of the CJ SIG represented NASW-MA in coalitions to end Life Without Parole Sentencing for Juveniles (JLWOP), a Working Group to impact how Massachusetts handles sex offenders, and the Jobs not Jails Coalition which is circulating petitions and plans a Jobs not Jails Rally on the Boston Common on April 26, 2014. Three FOCUS articles written by SIG members were published.
- NASW-MA co-sponsored, with CJ SIG members key organizers, a November 2013 visit by the director of the Pretrial Justice Institute in Washington DC and director of Maine Pretrial Services. Over two days, session were held with members of the legislature, the Commission on Criminal Justice, the Pretrial Task Force of the MA Trial Court, and the public on models that eliminate cash bail systems and replace them with evidence based assessment and community based services. CJ SIG members then helped found a Pretrial Working Group to pursue adoption of these models in our state.
- In November of 2013, a CJ SIG member testified for NASW-MA in favor of An Act Relative to Creation of a Sex Offender Management Board, a bill officially adopted as a supported bill by the Chapter. CJ SIG members are following and are prepared to testify as individuals on other bills which are favored by the SIG. Included are bills to restrict the use of solitary confinement, to stop automatic revocation of car licenses for anyone with a drug conviction, to permit compassionate parole for aged and terminally ill persons, and to expand diversion to substance abuse treatment.
- The CJ SIG organized the Criminal Justice Workshop for the March 25th LEAD (Legislative Education and Advocacy Day). CJ SIG members will present a session for the 2014 NASW-MA Symposium entitled, Massachusetts’ Mass Incarceration on Friday, April 4 at 10:15 a.m.
September 2012 EVENT: Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness", a Discussion of This Important Book on the Criminal Justice System
Co-Sponsored by the MA NASW CJ Shared Interest Group and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2012
6:30 - 8:30 PM (registration 6:00 pm)
Free and Open to the Public
Harvard Law School
Wasserstein Hall, 2nd floor at the Millstein Conference Center
1585 Mass. Ave., Cambridge MA (corner of Everett St.)
*Participants are requested to read this book prior to the event*
Marguerite G. Rosenthal, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita, School of Social Work Salem State University
and Co-Book Editor, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare
This NY Times best seller addresses the unequal enforcement of America's drug war laws and its impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, particularly African American men. The US has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized country in the world and this unequal enforcement of drug laws is claimed by the auther to be akin to Jim Crow laws of the past, resulting in life-long exclusion from employment, voting, juy service, and many public entitlements.
Come discuss this important book and learn to take a proactive stance to combat these inequities.
2 CE's available ($5.00 for NASW members registered before Sept 8/$10 at the door and for non-members)
September 2012 EVENT: A Reception to Honor Dorothy Weitzman, former co-chair of the CJ Shared Interest Group
Monday, September 24, 2012
14 Beacon St., Suite 409, Boston, MA
NASW CRIMINAL JUSTICE SHARED INTEREST GROUP ACTIVITY REPORT, July 2011 - June 2012
During the 2011-2012 year, the group:
- Supported implementation of the new Massachusetts Bail Fund that the Shared Interest Group helped create, with Shared Interest Group members volunteering to play crucial roles. The Fund receives tax-exempt donations at www.cjpc.org/bailfund where information on it can be found
- Worked with NASWMA staff in testifying, educating others about, and gaining legislators’ support for the Chapter priority bill, An Act Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in MA to 18 (H450, S697).
- Represented NASWMA in the coalition formed to pass The Youth Fair Sentencing Act (h2346/S672) which would end Life Without Parole Sentencing for Juveniles (JLWOP) in Massachusetts. NASWMA decided to become a supporter of this bill.
- Offered an educational program, What You Need To Know If Your Client is Arrested, which was attended by 70 people on November 4, 2011 at Suffolk Law School.
- The Shared Interest Group committed to representing NASWMA in a Working Group organized by Rep. Kay Kahn to advance legislation and take other steps to impact how Massachusetts handles sex offenders and implements the federal Adam Walsh Act. NASWMA became a supporter of An Act Relative to Creation of a Sex Offender Management Board (h3406) which originated in this Task Force.
- Represented NASW-MA in the Coalition to Stop 3 Strikes, organized social work participation in a March 15th rally at the State House, and circulated action alerts and informational fliers to encourage lobbying by NASW members.
- Played an active role in the March 20th Legislative Action and Education Day’s (LEAD’s) Criminal Justice and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Workshop, suggesting panelists, lining up and circulating informational fliers, and talking to attendees. CJ Shared Interest Group member, Hope Haff, served as a panelist
- Assisted Shared Interest Group member, Norma Wassel, with a session presented at the 2012 NASW Symposium a session, Advocates for Justice, on how the social work advocacy role can benefit clients who are involved in the criminal justice and family court systems
- Set up and staffed a Criminal Justice Shared Interest Group table at the NASW Symposium, preparing a two-sided Shared Interest Group flier and creating a poster display to gain more attention. Result: the Shared Interest Group garnered a list of twenty persons who wanted to be contacted about the Shared Interest Group. By June, the Shared Interest Group had four new members who can attend Shared Interest Group meetings and more who want to be on the Shared Interest Group email list.
NASW CRIMINAL JUSTICE SHARED INTEREST GROUP ACTIVITY REPORT, July 2010 - June 2011
During the 2010 - 2011 year, the group:
- Assisted in the creation of the Massachusetts Bail Fund. The fund provides bail on an individual basis and advocates for bail reform. It now receives tax exempt donations at www.cjpc.org/bailfund. Those who cannot afford bail not only face losing their jobs, children, housing, and public benefits, but also suffer worse case outcomes than those who spend their pretrial period in the community.
- Researched and networked to recommend bills for NASW advocacy in the 2011-2012 legislative session. The Chapter chose as a priority bill, An Act Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in MA to 18 (H450, S697), and the Shared Interest Group helped with the workshop at LEAD which covered that bill.
- Worked with the Legislative Advocacy Committee on the decision for NASW to become a supportive organization for a bill to end Life Without Parole Sentencing for Juveniles (JLWOP) in Massachusetts (h2346).
- Created a CJ Shared Interest Group page on www.naswma.org.
- Assisted Shared Interest Group member, Norma Wassel, with a proposal to present at the 2012 NASW Symposium on how social workers can, in advocacy roles, benefit their clients who are in the adult and juvenile criminal justice and family court systems.
- Began planning for a CE program for 2011-12 which would cover, for both juveniles and adults,"What every social worker needs to know when your client gets arrested."
NASW CRIMINAL JUSTICE SHARED INTEREST GROUP ACTIVITY REPORT, June 09–June 2010
During the 2009-2010 year, the group:
- Took the lead in presenting a CE program, Understanding CORI Basics for Human Service Workers, attended by close to 50 persons on March 25 at Suffolk Law School.
- Organized a well-attended Symposium 2010 session entitled Juvenile Justice in Mass: Problems and Possibilities, designed and moderated by Marguerite Rosenthal.
- Prepared a CJ Shared Interest Group flier and had Shared Interest Group members recruit for new members at the CORI training, Symposium session, and at Legislative Advocacy and Education Day (LEAD).
- Began in early 2010 to strategize and in April solicited the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition (CJPC) as lead sponsor for the creation of a bail fund program for Massachusetts similar to the three-year old Bronx Freedom Fund that Shared Interest Group member Norma Wassel studied and visited. Such a fund would attack the inequities involved when poor people who cannot afford even small bail amounts must pursue their cases from jail - this increases conviction rates - and suffer more disruption of work and family lives than those who meet bail, while public costs for incarceration increase. The envisioned bail fund would be “revolving,” so donations would be useful over and over again.
- Continued regular Shared Interest Group emails to help members advocate for legislation, follow other policy developments, participate in community educational events, and get timely access to state and national reports.
- Began planning for the Shared Interest Group web page in order to make information about the Shared Interest Group more widely available.
- With NASW staff, numerous partner organizations and energetic grass-roots action, the Shared Interest Group joined in the CORI reform movement which, by May, achieved passage of NASW Priority Bill HB 3523, An Act to Reform CORI, Restore Economic Opportunity, and Improve Public Safety, in both the state Senate and House.
- With Kate Audette, NASW Government Relations and Political Action Associate, in attendance, held a special meeting with Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) to build relationships and become familiar with FAMM’s priorities: gaining parole eligibility for drug mandatory sentences and modifying the Commonwealth’s harsh school zone law.
Cheryl Azza: cherylazza66 (at) gmail.com
- Sarah Coughlin: sarahcoughlinlicsw (at) gmail.com