Criminal Punishment System

Criminal Punishment System

This post is the third of a twelve-part series to publicize candidate answers to our Electoral Questionnaire. Candidates were required to answer all questions to be eligible for Boston DSA’s endorsement.

Boston DSA will vote on endorsements at the July 21st General Meeting.

This section asks candidates about the abolition of prisons and police; ending solitary confinement, cash bail, life without parole, and mandatory minimums; civilian oversight boards for police and prisons; making police, prison, and prosecutorial data publicly available; closing prisons; candidate visits to prisoners; accepting money from police and correctional officer unions; increased funding for police; prisoner unions; and protecting undocumented people.

When you are in office, will you support the complete abolition of prisons and police? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • No. But I support radical changes to policing and criminal justice reform that reserves incarceration for violent offenders only.

Darryn Remillard

  • I support a criminal justice system that is more akin to those of Scandanavian countries- orders of magnitude ahead of our own. I aspire to a future in which we have dismantled our carceral state, but envisioning the complete elimination of prisons and police is something that I find challenging. For example: might we be able to “eliminate” prisons and replace them with mass surveillance and something like China’s emerging “Social Credit Score” as a means for imprisoning people? What I want is a system that can account for the fact that people DO in fact commit crimes (sometimes very serious crimes!) but deserve a restorative justice system that allows them be held accountable and atone for their crimes.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. I fully support moving toward a more communal approach in dealing with community issues. However, I am for abolition with a clear plan as opposed to abolishing these institutions and then filling in the blanks. There are tough questions to answer and new societal norms to institute to make this notion possible. I will work with DSA, other criminal justice advocacy organizations, and the community to envision a neighborhood-specific plan to make such a move possible.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes—I support the abolition of prisons. Prisons are modernized slavery. Their proliferation benefits corporations and the state by creating a class of reserve labor beyond the scope of most labor laws, and it ensures that it will always exist by enforcing racist and anti-poor laws. I am inspired by the work of abolitionists and am truly committed to transformative justice. We must end the system of mass incarceration and stop dumping money into police, prisons, and punishment and instead invest that money in the community directly for social programs and community support. The fact is that even in “liberal” Massachusetts, we haven’t taken some of the basic steps needed to imagine a world without prison: We haven’t ended cash bail, we haven’t ended mandatory minimums, we haven’t ended solitary confinement. Built into our criminal justice system are racial and class biases that grind our people down. We haven’t stood up for immigrants by blocking collaboration with ICE; I want to abolish ICE now. I do not support the complete abolition of the police. I do think that significant reform is needed to make community policing a true reflection of the diversity and desires of the community. If I were to say today, “Let’s abolish the police,” I wouldn’t have the support of the community, because they cannot imagine such a world. I want to work quickly and diligently, with your help, to take the steps needed to shift the realm of the possible so that people stop thinking about punishment but instead think about how we can invest and build our communities so we don’t need policing. Police should not carry weapons, and they need to be trained as community champions instead of warriors. This model is gaining community support and creating positive outcomes in other cities. The role of the DA in prosecuting police is also critical. The standards for “feeling threatened” are wrong and result in not only injustice but death.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. Our criminal justice system is criminal, in that it violates essential human rights. Militarization of the police, criminalization of races and religions and the lack of accountability of “”enforcement”” officers, are all driving the narrative that police are meant to punish the population, instead of protect and serve them. This is why I believe that we need to start from scratch and create a coalition of residents, drug programs, educators, parents, etc. to begin resolving our issues from the root instead of locking people away for profit.
    With that being said, I understand that the abolition of the police tomorrow wouldn’t be effective and we need to try our best to make it manageable for the time being, as we build the replacement. I’m willing to work on these current issues, but always with a vision of a future in which these pathologies of power can be eliminated.

Darrin Howell

  • As I said earlier, I have my share of experiences with the police and prison system. So I have a lot more thoughts here than a form can handle. But I definitely think we need to get to a place where police forces — and certainly human warehouses — are no longer a part of everyday life. There’s so much that goes into that equation, but we have to start with ensuring everyone has the essential resources they need to be healthy and happy. Once people feel that security, watch the crime rates plummet. Watch the community violence slow to a stop.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation to abolish solitary confinement? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes. It is cruel, inhumane, and constitutes torture.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. I do believe that solitary confinement has been used as a form of cruel (though unfortunately not too unusual) punishment. Our prisons need to be used more sparingly, and for those who are in them, we need to focus where we can on rehabilitation. We also need to invest more in jobs and housing programs for the formerly incarcerated to give them more opportunities to build a life without turning back to crime.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes, there’s ample evidence that solitary confinement constitutes torture and inhumane treatment. There should be no use of this in our criminal justice system.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. Simply put, solitary confinement is torture and a violation of human rights.

Darrin Howell

  • YES. Again, it’s about human rights. This type of treatment can amount to psychological torture…in a country where cruel and unusual punishment are barred by our constitution.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation to end life without parole? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • No. Some violent offenders should never be paroled. I support limiting this option to the most heinous crimes, but not abolishing it altogether.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes, but I acknowledge how challenging this is. We’re fighting off efforts to re-instate capital punishment. I would life criminal sentences that are evidence-based rather than retribution-based. While life without parole is inherently more appealing than capital punishment there is no evidence that it results in any net decrease in crime.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. I believe parole should be an option for all incarcerated persons, provided that our parole review board has the expertise and resources with which to properly assess parole eligibility.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes. Life without parole (LWOP) is dehumanizing—it is a sentence to death within the inhumane walls of prison. LWOP makes the false assumption that people can’t change and return to society to make a difference. It also leaves us with prisons that become de facto nursing homes inadequately caring for incarcerated elders.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. Criminal justice policies that state “lock him up and throw away the key,” are blanket statements that don’t take into consideration the individual charged or the crime committed. While some crimes may warrant a life sentence, the addition of “without parole,” gives no incentive for the individual incarcerated to strive to become a better person. A conscientious society doesn’t throw people away.

Darrin Howell

  • Yes. If the goal of our prison system is what it claims to be — rehabilitation so that individuals can return to their communities and contribute to society — then there is no reason to warehouse humans for their entire lives.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation to end cash bail? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes, a thousand times yes! If you read the case law (which I do) the legal presumption is that a person who is charged with a crime should be free until conviction, and then free until appeals are exhausted, unless there’s a danger of flight or the person poses a danger to the community. Cash bail means that poor people are denied this presumption and it is wrong — both to the person who can’t afford to post bail, and to the rest of us, who are paying to jail someone for absolutely no reason. This must change.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes. Cash bail is a discriminatory, class-based system that disproportionately affects poor people.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. Cash bail is a fundamentally classist system that allows the wealthy to walk free while leaving the poor to either languish in jail while awaiting trial or putting them at the mercy of predatory lenders.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes. Cash bail punishes those who are poor and low-income while unnecessarily incarcerating many. Ending cash bail is not only the ethical thing to do but also makes financial sense. Research shows it causes more harm than good—if there was any question of that. We should not be “investing” in the prison-industrial complex; we should be investing in public education, healthcare for all, affordable housing, and so many other things.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. The right of “innocent until proven guilty” should not be determined by income bracket.

Darrin Howell

  • Yes. Plenty of studies have shown that cash bail only harms those who are lower-income, meaning it disproportionately affects communities of color. People who conspire with foreign governments to rig our elections or stole the livelihoods of millions of people through fraud, or have killed dozens of people through their blatant disregard for safety and environmental regulations…they all walk free or get to chill in their homes while they wait for a court date. Meanwhile a single mother who works three jobs just to put food on the table is sitting in jail for a non-violent offense and likely faces losing her children in the process. It’s crazy.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation to end all mandatory minimum sentences? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes. This has been part of my platform from the beginning. I served as Special Law Clerk to Judge David Mazzone when he was Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and I know first hand how mandatory minimum sentences have distorted the entire criminal justice system and have put people of color in prison at unconscionable rates. This system is broken and it must be changed.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. Mandatory minimum sentences are a failed social experiment which has undermined the authority of an independent judiciary to make fair and just decisions on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the law and facts of each case. It was a slap in the face for Gov. Baker to create new mandatory minimums (thus repeating the mistakes of the past we were attempting to correct) at the signing of landmark criminal justice reform.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes. The recently passed Criminal Justice Reform bill didn’t go far enough and, in fact, created new mandatory minimums—including our own version of a “blue lives matter” bill. Additionally, mandatory minimums place too much power in the hands of prosecutors.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. Mandatory minimums were created to suppress targeted populations to create felons and repress the voting rights of these populations. This directly violates my vision for a fair and open democracy.

Darrin Howell

  • Yes. See above. Different issue, same outcome.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation to create elected civilian oversight boards for the police and prisons with the power to investigate, discipline, and fire police and prison officers and administrators? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes. All publicly-funded agencies should be accountable to the public like this, but particularly law enforcement, which has such an over-sized impact on the quality of life in our communities. Before we can fix any problem, we have to understand it and in order to understand it, we need accurate and complete information. This is the first step.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes. If we incorporate individual liberty concerns then I support this idea.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. These types of public records should be readily – and freely – available to the public. I am particularly concerned with the unavailability of data detailing the use/misuse of the broad discretion afforded prosecutors, and data regarding police interactions with civilians. So long as public resources are used by law enforcement and prosecutors to carry out their duties, data they accrue should be publicly available.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes. We must implement research-driven, best-practice solutions that create a system of accountability. I will need to do more research to know exactly what kind of legislation I would initiate and support, but the current organizational culture of police and prisons is unhealthy, lacks transparency, and causes harm, including death. Civilian oversight boards are an important tool in changing the culture of punishment, but it remains somewhat unclear to me how exactly they should be structured, resourced, and empowered.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. As has become more and more apparent over these past few years, the criminal punishment system protects itself and can’t be trusted to hold themselves accountable. Civilians can be the “thin blue line” that we’ve needed for some time.

Darrin Howell

  • Yes. In fact, I’ve done a lot of work within and outside of the prison system to help set up systems of communication and oversight. At one point I was banned from the Houses of Correction for this work (I can only assume it was because the administration was fearful of how effective our work would be). Happy to share more on that if you’re interested.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation that will make police, prison, and prosecutorial data affirmatively and publicly available for free? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes. All publicly-funded agencies should be accountable to the public like this, but particularly law enforcement, which has such an over-sized impact on the quality of life in our communities. Before we can fix any problem, we have to understand it and in order to understand it, we need accurate and complete information. This is the first step.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes. We need to ensure that our public sector, unionized corrections officers and staff are supported, BUT I suppor the underlying intent of this question.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. I am committed to using excess prison capacity in support of public services. However, I would want such services to include those dedicated to rehabilitation (job training and placement, housing advocacy and support, health services,, etc.) for incarcerated persons and their families.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes, we need to ensure that we have good access to data to understand the trends. This data should also be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, age, gender, and (where available) zip code without compromising the privacy of those who are subject to the systems of policing and punishment. We need to more prominently publish the data on the abuses of prison as well as the industrial-complex nature of the machine. People would not support prisons if they understood what was going on in them and how our tax dollars are enriching corporations—not to mention the torture, injustice, and destruction of lives and families. We should have data on the impact of incarceration on children of incarcerated persons.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. As has become more and more apparent over these past few years, the criminal punishment system protects itself and can’t be trusted to hold themselves accountable. Civilians can be the “thin blue line” that we’ve needed for some time.

Darrin Howell

  • Yes. This is another issue I’ve worked on extensively. The old saying is true: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. A few years back, I partnered with a colleagues to produce the Boston 20-year Homicide Report. These are stories that are almost never told in our community, data and information that never reaches the public. People have a right to know both what has happened and what our leaders are doing to address those issues. You can check it out at http://20yrhomicide.blackstonian.org/.

When you are in office, will you propose and support legislation to close prisons, tagged to the decreasing prison population, and repurpose them for use for public services that are not prison or policing related? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes. We must do everything in our power to make prisons unnecessary. I support the repurposing of all kinds of unused structures for libraries, schools, health centers, community centers, small business incubators, museums, art galleries, apprenticeship programs, etc. — in other words, all of the things we don’t have enough of today!

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes. We need to ensure that our public sector, unionized corrections officers and staff are supported, BUT I suppor the underlying intent of this question.

Segun Idowu

  • Yes. I am committed to using excess prison capacity in support of public services. However, I would want such services to include those dedicated to rehabilitation (job training and placement, housing advocacy and support, health services,, etc.) for incarcerated persons and their families.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes. We should take action to ensure that we have fewer people who are incarcerated. With fewer people in prison, we will be able to repurpose land and upgrade/build state- of-the art green facilities for the public good. That “public good” should be defined by local communities but could include anything from vocational schools to childcare to green space.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes. The only purpose for keeping these prisons open is to make money for private interests. This feeds the cycle of throwing people in prison for inane reasons simply to keep them full and make the rich, richer. Instead we should be focused on using the momentum generated from the declining prison population and use it to creatively accelerate the process through repurposing these facilities in meaningful ways.

Darrin Howell

  • Yes. My previous answers should indicate exactly why I believe this is important. But I can’t think of a better use for a former jail than to house a new school or community center!

When you are in office, will you commit to visiting prisoners at least once a month to discuss their needs and how you can serve them? This commitment would mean, at a minimum, spending an eight hour day at the facility you visit and spreading your visits out among security levels, prioritizing meeting with prisoners in solitary confinement units, long term medical units, residential treatment units, and secure treatment units. Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • I intend to introduce legislation mandating such visits and I have thought it should be a requirement since I was in high school, when I first visited a prison. No one should be voting to imprison people or build more prisons unless they have seen it and experienced it in person. In my law practice, I visited many prisons and jails, including Bridgewater. My partner is a former corrections program officer. We know the prison system well and believe that all elected officials should.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes. Specifically: I am especially fond of Middlesex Sherrif Peter Kotoujian’s Veterans Housing Unit program. This is a model for restorative justice: I would like to be a part of this intitiative as a state representative as a symbol of solidarity and support to my fellow veterans.

Segun Idowu

  • My commitment to justice – and true criminal justice reform – will most certainly see me, as an elected official, meeting with incarcerated persons and their families/loved ones/supporters. I can commit to spending as much time as needed at any facility to understand the concerns and needs of those who are confined. That may be 8 hours or 3 or 12, but what I am more committed to is acting on what I hear. To me, that is where most of my time should and will be spent: enacting policies and practices that build on the listening sessions at various facilities.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes. I’m absolutely willing to meet with prisoners regularly. This type of self-education and listening is as critical as listening to any other members of the population.

Ture Turnbull

  • I can commit to visiting prisoners throughout my term, but am unable to pledge to once a month. There aren’t any prison facilities in my district and I feel that traveling outside this often would detract from my ability to be present and accountable to my constituents as often as possible. With that being said, I support the legislative issues that have come out of this application and will remain accountable to the pledges I have made here when voting on the floor.

Darrin Howell

  • I already do this! I have devoted more hours than I can count to working within the prison system, meeting with men and women who are incarcerated, offering mentorship and support services to help them get through this and find the path to going home. I’ve been in those exact rooms myself. I served a year of hard time. I’ve dealt with the consequences of that time away from my family and my community. So I know exactly what these folks are going through, and I speak to them as someone who has been able to overcome those challenges. No one should be defined by their worst day. No one should have their future determined by their toughest moments. I’ve produced two documentaries and educational curricula to match this work, and I run an annual toy drive (http://DRIVEboston.org) devoted to children and families of incarcerated individuals. I’d love to share more information with you if you’re interested — and I’d be happy to connect folks with resources on how to get involved in programs that support those who are incarcerated.

 

Will you accept any money donations from police or correctional officer unions or their union members? Please answer yes or no, and then explain your answer.

Gretchen Van Ness

  • I will not accept donations from police or correctional officer unions. I have been a civil rights attorney for too long. However, the 14th Suffolk District is home to many city employees, including teachers, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, and corrections officers. They are my constituents. No police or correctional officers have donated to my campaign. If an individual police or correctional officer were to donate, I would consider whether to keep or return the donation on a case-by-case basis. For example, I would be honored to have the support of some of the men and women of color and LGBT officers that I know.

Darryn Remillard

  • No. With that said I did have a candidate interview with SEIU 509 and some of their members are corrections officers/staff. I would accept the endorsement of SEIU 509 and any financial support that they might be willing to provide (the overwhelming majority of SEIU 509 is not at all connected with corrections).

Segun Idowu

  • No, I will not accept money donations from police or correctional officer unions, nor do I think it is likely that they will offer any support. I have been a staunch advocate of applying more oversight to the Boston Police Department, and have been a leading advocate in the body camera program that is about to be implemented citywide. As such, financial support from that particular a police/correctional officer union is unlikely. However, I will not dismiss the support of individual officers. There are many officers and first responders who live in my district who support my views and share my values, and are just as concerned about access to public transportation, quality schools, and affordable housing as all the other voters and residents of the 14th Suffolk.

Nika Elugardo

  • No. I pledge to reject contributions from police unions. I don’t want my fight for truly progressive and comprehensive criminal justice reform to be compromised by pressure or even the appearance of a conflict of interest. My work will center the community and not organizations who are in the business of preserving an unjust criminal justice system through over-policing, over-criminalization, and mass incarceration. I won’t rule out contributions from individuals regardless of their union affiliation, though I will imagine it would be the very rare insider working for justice who would make the decision to support me through a monetary donation.

Ture Turnbull

  • No. This is not part of my campaign strategy.

Darrin Howell

  • As a union member (1199SEIU) and longtime union, workers’ rights and community organizer, I have been endorsed by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and Greater Boston Labor Council. Given my outspoken work on criminal justice reform and within the prison system, I certainly don’t expect any political contributions from law enforcement organizations. But I can say from experience that some local unions follow the recommendations of their city/county/state labor federations without much additional screening. I share this in a spirit of transparency. I honestly don’t know if any one union local might say “Let’s support all the AFL-CIO endorsed candidates.”

Do you support the right of prisoners to form unions, and will you support meaningful engagement by the state with organizations of prisoners making collective demands?

Gretchen Van Ness

  • Yes. This is absolutely a common-sense thing to do.

Darryn Remillard

  • Yes.

Segun Idowu

  • This is an interesting idea, and while I am not familiar with the concept of prisoner unions, I am interested in learning more about it. Given the dire state of prisoners’ rights in our country, I believe we have to aggressively explore all options that would counter the power imbalance inherent in our present culture of punishment.

Nika Elugardo

  • Yes, I support people who are incarcerated being able to organize. There are examples of prisoners’ unions in other countries that have successfully ensured that prisoners’ voices are heard and that conditions are better than they would be without this organization. Additionally, people who are incarcerated should be able to organize now—and not be subject to disciplinary hearings and consequences as they are currently for doing very basic organizing for basic rights such as clean water at Norfolk.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes

Darrin Howell

  • Yes! I’ve worked with incarcerated individuals within the system specifically to ensure their collective voices are heard. It’s that work that earned me a ban from the prison system, in fact. Locked up or not, people are people. They have human rights. They deserve a voice, and our elected leaders and everyone else involved in our criminal justice system need to listen.

Would you vote against any bargained agreement with a police association that would result in more funding for police?

Gretchen Van Ness

  • I can’t make that blanket promise to you. Police should not be better paid than our teachers, for example, but the solution there is to increase teacher’s pay, not necessarily decrease police officer’s pay.

Darryn Remillard

  • For the most part, No: as a state representative I would support state legislation that converts all police cars into fully-electric vehicles. I would oppose legislation that does not de-militarize our police.

Segun Idowu

  • I would need more information on how such funding would be used and would vote against any unreasonable increase in funding.

Nika Elugardo

  • I am strongly in favor of restorative justice, and I don’t think the answer to society’s problems lies in militarizing the police. I would carefully scrutinize any request for more police funding. More likely, that funding would be better spent on schools and social programs to build a strong community.

Ture Turnbull

  • Yes

Darrin Howell

  • Law enforcement collective bargaining agreements are almost exclusively the domain of local municipalities, so I don’t expect to vote on many of these as a State Representative. One of the primary exceptions to that rule would be the State Police. And as anyone who reads the news knows, they’re a mess and need real scrutiny applied to their budgets, contracts and overall operations.

How do you resolve the need to protect undocumented people from the federal authorities with the potential risk of exposing them to increased contact with state and local authorities?

Gretchen Van Ness

  • I have been advocating for the passage of the Safe Communities Act since before I hit the campaign and I talk about it everywhere I go. It is astonishing to me that Massachusetts hasn’t yet done this.

Darryn Remillard

  • Pass The Safe Communities Act!

Segun Idowu

  • We have to pass the Safe Communities Act, a piece of legislation that would help protect our undocumented neighbors and help shield their identities. We also need to provide undocumented peoples with identification while not storing their information. I know there are other ways of protecting undocumented people, and I am looking forward to working with advocacy groups and my future colleagues in the Legislature to build on those ideas. I believe strongly in keeping our neighbors from harm, and know that elected officials need more than words to do this. As I have done as a civilian, I am also willing to put my own body on the line to stand between federal forces and undocumented peoples to prevent the abuse of the federal government’s authority in carrying out immoral policy.

Nika Elugardo

  • I strongly support Safe Communities protections in order to limit federal involvement in immigrant cases. But we also must support immigrant organizations that provide a crucial element of mutual aid and support within the immigrant community. In many cases, the best way to support someone in crisis is for them to have strong organic social supports. For example, public buildings in sanctuary cities and the buildings of faith-based organizations should be available as sanctuary spaces, and the communities associated with these spaces should be encouraged and supported in their ability to provide sanctuary. When crafting legislation, we need to be very cautious about creating required contact with the police when other options are available. Ultimately, immigrants may not feel safer talking to a member of local or state law enforcement given previous cooperation with ICE and federal authorities.

Ture Turnbull

  • I support the Safe Communities Act. We aren’t employed by ICE and should not be held hostage by the threat of losing Federal funding. We have to protect humans, regardless of documentation status and I believe future generations will judge our inaction as cruel and inhumane.

Darrin Howell

  • Our first step is to immediately pass the Safe Communities Act. There’s no excuse for this important and overwhelmingly-popular legislation to sit waiting for a vote. The House needs to pass this bill now. From there, we must explore any and all means to protect local families from the massive overreach and inhumane treatment of the federal government.

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