By Jordan Frias
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz hosted her first district hours of 2016 at the Villa Victoria on Feb. 26 to get a sense of what is on the mind of her South End constituents.
Chang-Díaz represents the Second Suffolk District, which includes parts of the South End, Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Mission Hill and Roslindale.
There at Villa Victoria, she was met with questions about youth violence and ways she is working to combat the dropout rate head-on to steer youth in the right direction.
“Education is the single most important thing to get right,” she told the audience. “If we’re doing right by young people and put them on the right path, we can make sure they have the right options to envision a more prosperous future.”
She continued, “Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I want to be a gangster.’ We have to show them that there are other options. Prevention is really the best strategy.”
A question around gun violence and the effectiveness of the police department’s gun buyback program was brought up by a local resident.
“It’s something that we can do. It’s better than nothing at all,” Chang-Díaz said in defense of the program. “For some people it takes one more gun off the street, which is a good thing.”
Chang-Díaz said she is part of a team that filed a bill to that would ask surrounding states to join Massachusetts in tightening their laws to further prevent gun trafficking.
In terms of criminal records, Chang-Díaz was asked what she is doing to prevent discrimination against those who committed crimes in the past as identified in their Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) by potential employers.
She said sponsoring a CORI reform bill that reduced the amount of time that a criminal offense remains on someone’s record by five years was her “proudest accomplishment” in her first term in the legislature.
She is hoping to tackle criminal justice reform this term in office to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences for less serious offenses, something she called “wasted money.”
“We could use some of the that money to put into job training for those who come out of the system or for dropout [prevention] coaches to keep [youth] out of the criminal justice system in the first place,” she said.
A local resident asked Chang-Díaz what the status was on changing the legal age requirement for dropping out of high school after referring to an incident that happened three to four years ago where a high school dropout shot and murdered a teen in the South End.
She said she has filed a dropout prevention bill that would go beyond just raising the dropout age. It is currently in the Ways and Means Committee.
“The cost of [this bill] is a political block, so I get nervous that my colleagues would just want to take the cheap and easy way,” she said. “I don’t just want to raise the age…we won’t solve this issue unless we change the issues at school that cause the student to want to leave in the first place.”