New “incarcerate less” bills filed last week

Massachusetts has a growing group of legislators focused on how the state can incarcerate less of its population. The Boston Globe reported a few days ago about a bill called “Jobs not Jails” that would expand job training and overhaul sentencing laws. It is sponsored by state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Democrat of Boston, and state Representative Mary S. Keefe, a Worcester Democrat. The Globe reports the bill would “repeal mandatory drug sentences, reduce some low-level felonies to misdemeanors, and change other laws, such as taking away driver’s licenses from drug offenders for years after the crime, making it difficult for them to get jobs.”

Meanwhile, also recently filed with support from Andrea James of Families for Justice as Healing, and by Representative Russell Holmes, Senator Pat Jehlen and co­-sponsored by Representative Dave Roger, is legislation called the Primary Caretaker bill. The idea is to establish “community-­based sentencing alternatives for people who are primary caretakers of dependent children, and convicted of non-­violent crimes, with the goal of alleviating the harm to children and primary caretaker parents caused by separation due to incarceration of the parents, while reducing recidivism and strengthening family unity and communities,” according to a fact sheet supplied by James.

These bills matter because incarceration experts generally agree that three-fourths of women who are in jail or prison have children, and the majority of them are the primary caretakers of their children. If a mother goes to jail, the chances increase of her children going eventually, too. It’s a cycle that needs to end.

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