Wrongly Seized Property Returned in Mississippi, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We are glad to see that the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is not only following the law, but is taking corrective action in cases where administrative forfeiture procedures were incorrectly used.”

The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has begun sending notifications allowing retrieval of stolen property to individuals whose assets were seized improperly. New rules governing asset forfeiture went into effect on July 1 of this year, but representatives of the Mississippi Justice Institute noted that MBN seizures had continued after the effective date. Reforms passed by the state legislature in 2017 require agencies to obtain a warrant within 72 hours of seizing property, and to post all forfeitures on a publicly accessible website. Prior to the reforms, there was no requirement that asset forfeiture be tracked or reported, and an investigation by Reason found forfeitures of cash, cars, electronic equipment, power tools and one comic book collection.

“One of the biggest problems is, they don’t have the money to hire more public defenders. So as a result, their caseload is way too high. And they’re excellent lawyers—but you can only handle so many cases.”

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not provide state-level funding for public defense. Instead, public defense is funded at the county level, and there is no consistent oversight of the system. Most counties do not track caseloads and outcomes comprehensively, and one third of counties were unable to provide full budget, salary and staffing information in response to public records requests. State Senator Stewart Greenleaf has long been a champion of public defense reform, but is unsure whether anyone will take up the cause when he retires in January.

“As former federal and state prosecutors, we understand more than most that there are smart ways to reform the system that lead to better outcomes. You can be pro-public safety, pro-law enforcement and pro-reform simultaneously.”

In the Albuquerque Journal, former U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias and Brett Tolman argued that New Mexico’s bail reforms are working, and the state should continue on the path started by 2016’s Amendment 1. They note that both pretrial detention and crime have both declined since bail reform was implemented, and that the state’s pretrial system is now driven by public safety, rather than access to cash.  

“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that incarceration is an ineffective response to drug abuse and that treatment in the community produces better public safety results.”

A new report from the Urban Institute looks at five states that have reclassified drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and makes recommendations for other states looking toward reform. Utah’s prison population has declined 9% since HB 348 was enacted, driven in part by a 74% drop in new commitments for drug possession. The number of people in prison for drug possession in Connecticut has declined by 74%, and the Department of Corrections projects cost savings of $9.8 million in fiscal 2017. In addition to reclassification, the report recommends investment in substance abuse treatment and behavioral health programs.

“For more than 20 years, the program’s solid track record has convinced leaders in state government, along with local judges, prosecutors and treatment providers, that Drug Court is an essential part of the Kentucky court system.”

Looking to rein in their jail budget and inmate population, Kentucky’s Boyle and Mercer Counties are considering creating certified drug courts. 113 of the state’s 120 counties already have state-certified drug courts, which provide comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services, frequent non-adversarial judicial interaction, and community supervision. A report commissioned by the counties also recommended refining the use of graduated sanctions, and using discretionary detention for those who have violated a probation or parole condition.