BOSTON – With criminal justice reforms being debated in the halls of Congress and the State House, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy stood before Suffolk County inmates on Tuesday to share their thoughts on how to reform a system that both agreed puts too many people behind bars, and doesn’t do enough to help people before or after they’re incarcerated.
Markey and Kennedy, who are running against each other in a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, visited the Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston on Tuesday to answer the questions of inmates.
Invited by Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, the candidates answered questions about everything from post-release housing and transportation to reparations for slavery.
Tompkins, who has endorsed Kennedy, moderated the discussion. “We are an over-incarcerated society. We have too many people behind bars who shouldn’t be there,” Markey said.
Kennedy has criticized Markey for his vote for the 1994 crime bill signed by President Bill Clinton that has been blamed for the disproportionate incarceration of people of color through mandatory sentencing for drug crimes and other offenses.
“Let’s make sure fewer people come into jails and prisons in the first place,” Kennedy told the inmates about his approach to recidivism and rehabilitation.
Kennedy and Markey also said mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines must be revisited, and discussed the need to refocus the criminal justice system to better support people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, and to provide more housing and career placement services after their release.
Voters decide the Democratic contest between Kennedy and Markey on Sept. 1, and Tompkins called it “asininely stupid” that people with felony convictions cannot vote.
Both Kennedy and Markey said it was still important to hear from those involved in the criminal justice system even if they can’t vote.
This is a developing story.