SAMPLE CONSTITUENT LETTER TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
Subject: Juvenile Justice Reform Priorities
Dear Representative (or Senator),
As your constituent, I feel very strongly that the Criminal Justice conference committee report out comprehensive reform to improve outcomes for young people.
I ask that you ask the conference committee to:
1. Promote accountability through collection and reporting of juvenile justice data (House §28). Massachusetts currently fails to collect basic data on young people at major decision points. As a taxpayer, this lack of transparency means we are funding a system without knowing if it is fair and effective.
2. Authorize judges to offer pre-arraignment juvenile diversion opportunities so that young people may avoid formal processing in the court system and avoid a juvenile record. (Senate §136)
3. Improve youth outcomes upon re-entry by reducing time to seal juvenile records (Senate §299, subsection 100B, lines 3199-3204) and allow for expungement:
-of offenses committed prior to age 21 (House §87, subsection 100I)
-3 year waiting period for misdemeanors; 7 year waiting period for felonies (House §87, subsection 100I)
-no prior adjudication or conviction during the waiting period (Senate §303, subsection 100F); I do not agree with the House language limiting eligibility to young people with only one court appearanc
-of misdemeanor and felonies, with the exception of serious felonies (House §87, subsection 100J)
4. Raise the age of Juvenile Jurisdiction to exclude 10- and 11- year-old and include 18-year-olds as in the Senate bill.
-Ten and eleven year-old “tweens” bear the largest burden of the under 12 population with open delinquency cases, despite the fact that NO child under the age of 12 has been committed to DYS in the last six years. These children would be better and more immediately served by the juvenile court’s child welfare cases or Child Requiring Assistance cases.
-Massachusetts spends the most money locking up young people in the adult system and gets the worst outcomes, with the highest recidivism rate of any age group. The juvenile system is better situated to reduce the recidivism of this population with its upfront focus on education, job skills and treatment that is currently rarely accessed by young adults in the criminal justice system.
5. Create a parent-child privilege to ensure children can talk freely to their parents (Senate §202). Children cannot be forced to testify against their parents, but parents can compelled to testify against their children. This undermines the parent-child relationship, and parents’ critical role at all stages of the juvenile justice process.
6. Create a limited exception to criminal prosecution for close-in-age youth who engage in consensual sexual activity (Senate §224 and §232), to come into line with a majority of states to recognize the reality that young people have sexual contact with one another and criminalizing that contact and subjecting young people to arrest, incarceration or a lifetime on a sex offender registry is not the best way to respond to it.
7. Reduce school-based arrests by ensuring schools and police set guidelines on school discipline and arrest (Senate bill). Too many Massachusetts students – disproportionately students of color and those with disabilities. – are being handcuffed, booked, and sent to court for minor misbehavior that was once handled by schools and parents. This proposal would reduce school arrests for disorderly conduct or "disturbing lawful assembly" and set requirements on the role of school resource officers.
8. Set limits on solitary confinement of young people (Senate §167). DYS currently has a model policy to prohibit the use of involuntary room confinement for punishment or retaliation. The Senate bill – which is more appropriately drafted – replicates language in DYS’ current policy, prohibiting placing young people in solitary as punishment, retaliation or harassment.
9. Require notification to DCF when a child under the care and custody of DCF is arrested (Senate §147). Current law requires the notification of a parent or guardian when a child is arrested, leaving foster children vulnerable to overnight lock up because DCF is not notified of the arrest.
10. Create a civil infractions category of offenses for children and decriminalize certain low level offenses for which adults would not be subject to incarceration (Senate bill). Currently this category of offense is available to adults but not an option for young people.
11. Raise the felony threshold to $1,500 (Senate bill)
12. Allow courts to consider non-incarceration sanctions when imposing a sentence on individuals who are the primary caregivers of children (Senate §317). This provision allows courts to consider non-incarceration sanctions when imposing a sentence on individuals with primary caretaker responsibility to minor children, including teen and young adult parents in the juvenile system. Incarceration of a parent is strongly correlated with adverse outcomes for their children, with increased risk of: physical health problems; mental health problems; behavioral problems; poor academic outcomes; foster care placement; and the child being incarcerated themselves.