CRIMINAL JUSTICE

State Sen. William Brownsberger, at right, has proposed a criminal justice bill that he says is about "lifting people up."
Sam Doran / State House News Service

The Massachusetts Senate begins debate Thursday on a wide-ranging criminal justice bill

John H Gray / Creative Commons

This week on Beacon Hill, lawmakers hear from western Massachusetts residents who say the region needs to be connected to Boston and Worcester by high-speed rail. 

Massachusetts State House.
AlexiusHoratius / Creative Commons

Before the end of the month, leaders in the Massachusetts Senate are hoping to pass sweeping changes to the state's criminal justice laws. 

Protesters block access to Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, Mass. where a natural gas pipeline is being built.
Mary Serreze / MassLive

Eighteen demonstrators were arrested Tuesday in southern Berkshire County at the construction site of a natural gas pipeline in Otis State Forest.

State police say the protesters blocked access roads to the job site in an effort to keep construction workers away. Police spokesperson Dave Procopio said those arrested will be charged with trespassing.

Billy Alicea, 22, stands in a back office of Roca's headquarters in Springfield. Alicea is currently in a pre-release program in Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, where he was incarcerated for multiple vehicle breaking and entering charges.
Leah Willingham / NEPR

Massachusetts lawmakers are still working on this session's criminal justice reform package. One proposal -- among many -- would allow offenders to stay in the juvenile court system longer -- until they turn 21. But not all juvenile justice advocates support it.

The Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield, Mass.
Henry Epp / NEPR

Earlier this week, a federal judge blocked President Donald Trump's executive order to withhold funding from so-called sanctuary cities. These cities, including some in our region, have explicitly said they won't comply with requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold detainees.

At the same time, some local prisons are holding inmates on behalf of ICE, including the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield, Massachusetts. 

In November 2016, Damien Johnson was one of several people who painted a solvent on rocks atop Mount Tom to get rid of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic messages.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPR

Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by more than a third in 2016 over the year before, according to an annual audit from the Anti--Defamation League. The jump was especially steep in Massachusetts, with a 150 percent increase.

Compared to other states, Massachusetts had the fifth highest number of anti-Semitic incidents last year, with a total of 125 episodes -- topped by only California, New Jersey, New York and Florida.

Aaron Hernandez, in 2010.
Karen Cardoza / Creative Commons

Following the suicide of former New England Patriot player Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murder at the state's maximum security prison in Shirley, Gov. Charlie Baker said he has faith in his Department of Correction commissioner.

The governor said the number of prison suicides in Massachusetts has declined over the past decade, but said, "Anytime anybody kills themselves in a prison, something clearly went wrong."

A syringe.
ZaldyImg / Creative Commons

There's legal uncertainty at this hour about whether Arkansas will be allowed to go ahead with a pair of executions Thursday night. Eight executions had been scheduled to begin on Monday -- and there have been conflicting court decisions since then.

While this has been playing out in court, a western Massachusetts folk singer has been playing a song he wrote called "Eight Men Dying."

Tom Neilson of Greenfield, Mass., is on tour now. He said he played a few gigs in Arkansas earlier this month.

Exterior of Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow, Mass.
File photo / The Republican

New legislation filed Tuesday by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker would allow those fined by a court a chance to work off the debt through community service, instead being thrown in jail.

In a statement, Baker said the hope is to keep more people from going behind bars just because of their inability to pay.

Richard Dohoney, president of the Berkshire County Bar Association, said the bill would have some positive impacts beyond that.

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