In The People's Blog

Written by Jared Freedman, Chief of Staff 

When Jo talks to groups of constituents or advocates, she always says “people power is what makes government work,” and “people most affected by any decision must be at the center of that decision.” That’s why, over the past five years in office, our team has focused intently on constituent engagement and on ensuring equal access to participation in our democracy.

During the pandemic, legislative committee hearings went fully remote via Teams or Zoom, and for the first time distance from Boston was not a factor in determining how easy it was for someone to testify before a State House committee. Similar to voting by mail, remote testimony at public hearings was an immediate and clear barrier-buster to democratic participation, and the Legislature moved to retain this accessibility measure.

This brings us to June 27, 2023. The Joint Committee for State Administration and Regulatory Oversight scheduled a hearing on legislation concerning public construction and state agencies. One of the bills on the docket was a bill filed by Jo to place a moratorium on the construction of new jails or prisons, which would prevent the state from spending millions of dollars to build a new prison to incarcerate women and girls to replace the aging MCI-Framingham facility.

Jo filed this bill in the previous legislative session as well. In fact, it passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Baker. But this session, there was now the option for remote testimony during the bill’s public hearing, and a bill’s public hearing is the primary opportunity for legislators to hear from people who would be affected by the legislation. 

Families for Justice as Healing, the tremendous advocates who lead the brain power and the people-power behind this legislation, asked if women currently incarcerated at MCI-Framingham could testify during the hearing. Jo agreed that this was an imperative.

Over the following weeks, working with Families for Justice as Healing, Representatives Erika Uyterhoeven and Chynah Tyler, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and MCI-Framingham, we figured out the logistics and timing.  

And when the legislation to place a moratorium on new prison construction came up before the Committee, for the first time in Massachusetts history, people currently incarcerated testified live at a Massachusetts legislative committee hearing. 

Everyone present in Gardner Auditorium, the State House’s largest hearing room, was silent and fixated on the testimony being delivered — except for spontaneous rounds of applause after testifiers concluded. 

Please take a moment to watch and listen to their testimony. It’s some of the most powerful testimony I’ve ever heard.

It would not have happened without the Chairs of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, their teams, Representatives Chynah Tyler and Erika Uyterhoeven, the staff of Legislative Information Services, the staff at the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and MCI Framingham Superintendent Kristie Marchand. 

Since the hearing, we have continued pushing for the legislation to pass again this session, and remained focused on ensuring equal access to the legislative process for everyone — because people power is what makes government work and people most affected by any decision must be at the center of that decision.

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