After Massachusetts lawmakers passed a landmark criminal justice reform bill in spring of 2018, Jeffrey Sánchez felt confident that months of grueling debate and compromise in the Legislature had forged a bill that improved the most glaring shortfalls in the system.
Then he got a call from a former colleague in the House of Representatives, who told him the bill had a blind spot.
The sweeping reforms eliminated some minimum mandatory sentences for drug crimes, refocused bail decisions to prevent defendants from being held simply because they can’t afford to pay, and much more. But, the former state representative said, it hadn’t budged the state’s nearly non-existent funding for reentry programs designed to help break the cycle of incarceration and improve outcomes for individuals, their families, and whole communities.
It was an “aha moment,” Sánchez told a group of CRJ managers during a recent gathering.
Kathie Mainzer, a government relations specialist who also owns a business in Sánchez’s district, then introduced Sanchez to Community Resources for Justice. The organization was among the leaders of a push for Massachusetts to increase its investment in community-based residential reentry and reverse a trend of programs being forced to close due to lack of funding.
Sánchez took up the cause and helped shepherd a new $5 million line item through the lengthy FY2019 budget process, providing a critical lifeline to reentry services in Massachusetts.
What made the difference in the end, Sanchez told the CRJ crowd, was the voices of advocates.
“You folks have the stories, the emotion, the passion, and the purpose behind a movement,” he said. “The value you folks have as advocates is monumental because you can tell the stories.”
It wasn’t the first time dogged advocacy made an important impression on Sánchez, who served in the state Legislature from 2003 to 2019.
Growing up, it was his mother, a community activist in the Jamaica Plain housing project where they lived, who laid the groundwork for his career in public service. Years later, it was a meeting with Boston’s then-Mayor Tom Menino as the city was preparing to renovate the housing project that prompted him to switch from a career in investment banking to advocacy and eventually government.
CRJ executives applauded Sánchez for his unwavering support for reentry funding.
“You listened and we trusted you,” CRJ President and CEO John Larivee said.
CRJ Vice President for Justice Services Ellen Donnarumma thanked Sánchez on behalf of staff at CRJ’s reentry programs.
“There are people in this room who have jobs because of that funding, so thank you,” she said.
Sánchez told the crowd never to forget the power they have to influence positive change by speaking directly with elected officials.
“There’s a lot happening on the ground, and you guys have that power,” he said.