In full transparency, the following is a press release submitted to SOURCE media for publication. (Source file photo of Ryan speaking at a press conference in Framingham in 2021.)
FRAMINGHAM – As elected officials across the Commonwealth begin their new terms this week, Families for Justice as Healing, The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls delivered a letter to Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan asking her to use her power to reduce the number of women incarcerated at MCI-Framingham.
The petition was signed by 20 organizations and more than 800 residents of Middlesex County, including local elected officials.
Volunteers collected signatures for the petition at local events across Middlesex County and talked with people about what else is possible for women and families besides more prosecutions and incarceration. Residents shared the petition with their neighbors and community, including at their churches and synagogues, and received enthusiastic support for a different way forward in Middlesex.
“The letter we delivered to District Attorney Ryan is an impassioned call for her to rise to her commitment to be an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform,” said Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Dorshei Tzedek congregation in Newton. “As constituents, I and my congregants hope to see her take swift action to immediately lessen the incarceration of women and girls in Middlesex County and make our county a model for the rest of the state. We know she can be a leader in bringing healing and compassion to our communities, rather than furthering the harm and trauma caused by incarceration.” Rabbi Spitzer was part of the multi-faith coalition who delivered the letter to District Attorney Ryan’s office. The coalition includes clergy from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Unitarian Universalists Mass Action.
The call on DA Ryan to shift her policies to reduce the incarceration of women is especially pressing as the state continues its plans for a $50 million women’s prison construction project. MCI-Framingham has been the subject of scrutiny for it’s terrible environmental conditions and rampant sexual abuse of women.
“There is no such thing as a safe prison for women. We must not build another prison for women now or ever,” said Mallory Hanora, Director of Families for Justice as Healing. “DA Ryan holds a lot of power. So we’re calling on her to recognize that incarcerating women and mothers is always harmful, and immediately implement meaningful and measurable policy shifts to stop sending women to prison.” Families for Justice as Healing and The National Council are leading work on the ground to create healing, safety, and wellbeing through community-led initiatives called Reimagining Communities.
These organizations have also led a widely supported statewide movement to establish a 5 year Jail and Prison Construction Moratorium. Pausing jail and prison construction for five years would allow time to focus on implementing real alternatives to incarceration and releasing women.
The bill was vetoed by former Governor Baker in August 2022. Formerly incarcerated women and supporters are calling on the legislature to pass the Prison Moratorium into law as soon as possible in 2023, so the state can prioritize investing in what communities need to thrive like housing, healthcare, and daycare.
About one third of the almost 200 women incarcerated in MCI-Framingham are currently being prosecuted by the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office or were convicted in the county. A substantial percentage of those women are being held in prison before their trial – 39 women as of August 2022, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Many women are likely being held on bail they cannot afford. MCI-Framingham is currently locked again due to COVID19 after repeated lockdowns in 2022.
The petition– signed by a broad range of residents, congregations, and community groups– asks District Attorney Ryan to decline to prosecute charges which are frequently the result of poverty; to decline to request bail for women; to divert women from convictions and prosecutions using policies like the Primary Caretakers statute; and to support pathways to release, including parole, for women serving long sentences.
Reverend Becky Binns Gettel, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Natick supports the petition. “Our sisters deserve care and liberation,” she said. ‘Not new walls of oppression, punishment, and containment.”