DID YOU CONTACT YOUR SENATOR ABOUT THESE AMENDMENTS? We want to know! Report your outreach here.

The Senate Criminal Justice Reform Bill: Amendments, Analysis, Action

UPDATE FROM OUR ACTION ALERTThe senate Criminal Justice Reform bill s2185 passed. This is a positive step forward for the Commonwealth. The results of the amendments we were watching are enumerated at the end of this post. It is available as a PDF (last update, 2017 OCT 28) here.

The Senate CJR Bill: Analysis and Next Steps


1- This bill is a big win for progressives--and it happened only because of advocacy. Making your voices heard, organizing in your communities, reaching out consistently and continually, from bill cosponsorship to amendments, gives our progressive legislators the support push for the most progressive reforms that they can. Your advocacy pushes those who would not otherwise be with us to take a hard stance--or at least not go unnoticed when she/he fails to lead. 

Let's take a moment to thank the progressive leaders on the Hill who made this victory possible, and recognize the tremendous role that all of our activism played in making it so. BIG rounds of applause!! 

When our legislators take risks, we need to show we have their backs and appreciate them: reach out to your Senator and express your gratitude for the Senate adoption of a strong, progressive bill* that reduces mass incarceration and moves our whole system towards more justice. (We'll have some template/draft language to make it easier, but in the meantime, a quick heartfelt "thanks" email or call is simple and can go a long way).

(*FWIW: not every legislator worked for this outcome--10 senators voted against the final bill--and many, many more voted to weaken the bill or even worsen the status quo (see: the noxious "#BlueLivesMatter" super-penalty provision (which we'll address in subsequent follow-up posts). Still: expressing your happiness with the outcome -- regardless of how the senator voted-- is itself important: it shows that their constituents value progressive steps forward (and they know how they voted in opposition to those aims). That said, be sure to extra-thank our progressive leaders. We'll have a fuller analysis and vote breakdown soon.)

2- This is not yet law; this is one chamber (Senate) that has acted. The MA House will pass its own CJR bill. The House is less progressive than the Senate: ongoing advocacy with your State Reps continues to be important, and, like yesterday, during amendment time--critical and urgent. 

3- Advocacy around Amendments are where the differences are made between a decent bill and a boldly progressive bill. Engagement during these moments is crucial.

Unfortunately--the process is very difficult to organize and mobilize advocacy/action around: amendments are drafted in a short turnaround, the list can be extraordinarily dense, and the actual window of advocacy unfolds rapidly. 

Though the Senate bill passing is a truly positive step forward, we must be attentive to the fight over amendments, for every legislative battle for progressive advancement in Massachusetts. Now that it has passed the Senate chamber, it is easy enough for your Senator to take credit for voting for this historic advancement. But,

  • ...did she or he ALSO try to weaken the bill by voting for poisonous, regressive amendments like weaponizing drug overdoses (amendment 28, adopted without a roll call) or reducing the felony threshhold (amendment 5, voted down but with 5 Dems voting for it)? 
  • ...did she or he stand up for progressive advancements like eliminating minimum mandatory sentencing? Did she or he vote down the peacocking "tough on crime" (and terrible for communities!) provisions like creating a "superpenalty" for shooting a law enforcement officer? 
    (again: we'll have a fuller vote breakdown soon)

These amendment votes don't carry headlines or even make much notice beyond a very brief window in aftermath. But these inflection points are exactly where we must take the measure of our lawmakers: when it comes time to do the harder things, to make the real reforms, do they stand up? Do they fight for us and our communities? Or, do they only go along with the easiest route toward the minimal standard of progress (and are happy to take the credit for the larger victory, nevertheless)?

4- Lack of Sunlight is a democracy-jammer; it makes our work together harder--and more important. It is really difficult to get at these important distinctions. We'd argue that the abysmal transparency of the MA Legislature as a whole is likely a feature, not a bug, and serves to keep these distinctions as obscured as possible. 

For the progressive citizen-advocate, we'd like to reiterate some of our motivations and goals as an organization of, by and for progressive citizen-activists/advocates:

  • - We're trying to make this process less opaque, and to make the moments where your advocacy really does shape important policy (the difference between bad, meh, good and ground-breaking), as easy to access and engage as we can.
  • - Keeping track is important and difficult, but we're building tools (see our scorecard) and providing information (see below) for all of us to not only see/assess these important distinctions, but to more easily refer to them, create a history of them, and therefore more readily keep legislators accountable.
  • - When Progressive Mass makes these calls to actions on amendments -- we need your help in encouraging others to understand the critical importance of acting. It's all dense and complicated; we need to build the community of citizen-activists who 'get it' so we can be louder, faster, and at a moment's notice.
  • - All of this work is takes intensive labor, hours, and dedication by our all-volunteer Issues Committee (affectionately known as the PMIC). It can be exhausting!

Our vision is that someday we have the resources to do all of this even better.

Member engagement and contributions are critical to getting there.

If you have found this work, our tools, and our analyses helpful, please consider making it official by becoming a member, or convert to a monthly member investment, or make an additional contribution to show your support. (THANK YOU: for your support and for your commitment to take the actions, ongoing, to make the change we want to see).

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Review the vote results in the spreadsheet below for these amendments (see original action alert: here)


  • Amendment 1 (Cyr), which would guarantee equal protections for LGBTQ prisoners
  • Amendment 8 (Barrett), which would protects the ability of prisoners to have in-person visitations
  • Amendment 76 (Keenan), which calls for treatment for imprisoned drug addicts
  • Amendment 100 (Hinds), which would require police to undergo implicit bias training
  • Amendments 114 and 124 (Creem) and Amendments 134 and 135 (Eldridge), which would curb the abusive practice of solitary confinement
  • Amendment 129 (Creem), which would repeal mandatory minimum sentences
  • Amendment 149 (Creem), which would allow current prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences for crimes for which mandatory minimums have been repealed to be eligible for good conduct credits earned on and after the effective date of the law.
  • Amendment 152 (McGee), which would create a Justice Reinvestment Trust Fund to allow the savings from the decrease in incarceration to be redirected towards job training and programming for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration.


  • Amendments 5 (Tarr) and 25 (Moore), which would reduce the felony theft threshold to $1,000
  • Amendments 18 (Rush), 60 (Tarr), and 121 (Tarr), which would re-impose mandatory minimum sentences that take discretion away from judges, where it belongs
  • Amendments 24 (Moore) and 87 (O’Connor), which would expand the use of invasive surveillance technologies
  • Amendment 29 (Moore), which would eliminate valuable juvenile justice improvements
  • Amendments 28 and 37 (Tarr), which would make anyone who shares drugs that result in death guilty of manslaughter, thereby creating the possibility that, in the event of an overdose, people sharing drugs would be hesitant to call for help
  • Amendment 40 (Tarr), which would leave in place a harsh 1980 law that denies prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes all possibility of participating in programs aimed at reducing recidivism while they are incarcerated
  • Amendments 42 and 80 (Tarr), which would retain current parole fees
DID YOU CONTACT YOUR SENATOR ABOUT THESE AMENDMENTS? We want to know! Report your outreach here.

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DID YOU CONTACT YOUR SENATOR ABOUT THESE AMENDMENTS? We want to know! Report your outreach here.
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