Primary Caretakers Bill, H.307

Reposted from June 16th, 2017
RE: Support of S.770 and H.3072, “Primary Caretakers Bill

Dear Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary,

We strongly encourage you to report favorably on both Senator Brownsberger’s S.770 and Representative Holmes’ H.3072, “An Act providing community-based sentencing alternatives for primary caretakers of dependent children convicted of non-violent crimes,” also known as the “Primary Caretaker Bill.”

We are the Moishe Kavod House, a vibrant Jewish community of over 150 active members in their 20s and 30s dedicated to Jewish learning, spiritual practice, and social justice work.

The goal of the bill is to alleviate harm to children and their parents or caretakers caused by separation during incarceration, and to strengthen families’ connections to their communities. The bill would give judges the opportunity to sentence parents of dependent children convicted of nonviolent offenses to community-based alternatives so that they can advance their own lives while continuing to care for their children. This is the type of compassionate criminal justice reform that is overdue in Massachusetts, so we urge the Committee to report favorably on S.770 and H.3072.

Families go through immeasurable pain and face generations of trauma when parents are separated from their children due to incarceration. When parents are convicted, their children are punished too. Moishe Kavod supports this bill, drafted by formerly incarcerated women, because:

  • When a parent is incarcerated, families lose needed income and often struggle to meet their basic needs. This bill would prevent that kind of de-stabilization. Alternatives to incarceration allow parents to continue loving, caring, and providing for their children.
  • A network of alternatives to incarceration, including non-profits and treatment programs, already exist in Massachusetts.
  • Alternative sentences are cheaper and reduce recidivism. We can reinvest money spent on incarceration toward even more alternatives. Instead of jail and prison, parents could receive drug and alcohol treatment; vocational training and job placement; parenting classes; and affordable and safe housing assistance.

Our community’s support for this bill is rooted in Jewish tradition, which teaches as a core value that all human beings are made in the image of the Divine. The bill provides one path towards affirmation of that inherent dignity. Ethical practice with regard to those convicted of crimes is an important aspect of the Jewish legal tradition. For example, the scholar Maimonides teaches,

“The release of prisoners receives priority over sustaining the poor and providing them with clothing. There is no greater mitzvah (commandment) than the release of prisoners. For a captive is among those who are hungry, thirsty, and unclothed and he (she) is in mortal peril. If someone pays no attention to his (her) redemption, he (she) violates the negative commandments: ‘Do not harden your heart or close your hand’ (Deuteronomy 15:7).”

As heirs of these texts, our community regards it to be an honor to use what we have received to motivate us to support legislation, such as this bill, that advances restorative criminal justice practices.

We urge you to take all of the above reasons into consideration regarding S.770 and H.3072 and would be glad to further discuss the issue further with you and your staff. We urge you to favorably report out the “Primary Caretakers” bill.

Sincerely,

Moishe Kavod House

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