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Markey, Kennedy Make Their Pitch To Suffolk County Inmates03:25
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Sen. Ed Markey talks with a group of inmates and detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Sen. Ed Markey talks with a group of inmates and detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

With less than eight weeks to go before the primary, the two Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate are making pitches wherever they can potentially pick up votes.

Incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and challenger Congressman Joe Kennedy took part in yet another forum Tuesday, but this one was in an unusual location.

The audience members came prepared, having researched the candidates and the issues beforehand.

They've had plenty of time for that.

The 10 men and 10 women are all currently inmates at the South Bay House of Correction.

Rep. Joe Kennedy talks with inmates and detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Rep. Joe Kennedy talks with inmates and detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Sen. Ed Markey talks with inmates and detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Sen. Ed Markey talks with inmates and detainees at the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The candidates appeared separately, each using the venue to call for criminal justice reform.

"We can see from the George Floyd murder that we have a need to overhaul our criminal justice system in our country," said Markey, who sat on a swivel stool and referred to handwritten notes. "No family should have to watch their loved one be murdered and to think that there is no recourse whatsoever."

Later, Kennedy told the audience the country is in the midst of a massive cry for change.

"I tell you that, as somebody that spent a couple years as a prosecutor in our district courts, one of my big lessons was that ... the way in which we view our system of justice does not comport with — does not line up with — the challenges that we see across our society," Kennedy said.

Both candidates agreed that mandatory minimum sentences should be reviewed, and both also called for better support for inmates with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Markey highlighted legislation he filed with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker that would provide needed resources.

Kennedy said he wants to make sure fewer people come into jails and prisons in the first place.

The forum was moderated by Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins.

He has backed Kennedy and is a senior adviser on his campaign, but worked to remain neutral during the forum and did not share his endorsement with the inmates. Tompkins says it's important the inmates' voices are heard.

"From the standpoint of having people that are incarcerated having an opportunity to listen to and talk to candidates, they can't get out to go to a town hall forum," Tompkins said. "So why not bring the candidates inside? And so, that's what this is all about. And this is just kind of a civics — and I want to call it experiment, but it's it's a civics project, you see."

Throughout this Senate race, observers have said there's little difference between Markey and Kennedy when it comes to the issues.

Verenisa Valdez asks Sen. Ed Markey at the Suffolk House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Verenisa Valdez asks Sen. Ed Markey at the Suffolk House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

After listening to both, inmate Verenisa Valdez remains on the fence.

"As of right now, they both gave me good answers. I would love to keep the conversation going with them and see what else is accessible to us right now," said Valdez.

But for inmate Jason Thompson, the forum helped him make up his mind.

"I was more impressed with Markey's direct responses and also his proof of what he's doing in the legislation and the bills that he's trying to pass right now," he said. "He actually answered a lot of the questions that we asked. Joe, I believe in his character and what he's trying to do, but he's not quite there yet with the specifics of what he's trying to do."

Inmates serving time for misdemeanors remain eligible to vote, and will be able to cast a ballot by mail.

Jason Thompson, a peace mentor, at a gathering to meet Senate race candidates Markey and Kennedy at the Suffolk House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Jason Thompson, a peace mentor, at a gathering to meet Senate race candidates Markey and Kennedy at the Suffolk House of Correction. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

This segment aired on July 8, 2020.

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Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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