The FIRST STEP Act passes in the house, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This bill will transform lives by providing access to the mental health counseling, education, vocational services and substance abuse treatment needed to help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and become productive members of society.”

The FIRST STEP Act passed in the U.S. House with overwhelming bipartisan support this week; 99% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats voted in favor. The bill includes an increase in recidivism reduction program funding, expanded access to compassionate release programs, an increase in good time credits, broad new requirements for data collection, and a ban on shackling pregnant women.

“Without that support then we are just simply setting them up to fail.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill called for reforms to the state’s probation and parole systems, including offering early discharge for those who follow the program, and limiting supervision fees. James Hudspeth, the Director of Utah Adult Probation and Parole, agreed that some reforms are necessary, and cited large caseloads and a need to better prepare individuals for release.

“…Drug treatment courts provide a range of services and support that aid recovery. But it’s not just treatment that benefits participants. It’s learning how to live a clean and sober life.”

A report from the Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Center for Law and Policy Solutions examined drug treatment courts, using New York’s 3rd Judicial District as a case study. Despite the court’s initial success, they found lingering challenges with accessibility, cost, and stigma for participants. Their recommendations include an increase in data transparency, expanded access, and increased funding for substance abuse treatment, education, and prevention services.

“…The collection of revenue, and not the pursuit of justice or protecting the public, has become the driving force for civil and criminal enforcement.”

A lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice alleges that Doraville, Georgia has turned the local justice system into a cash machine for the city’s budget. Fines, fees, and forfeitures accounted for 19 to 30 percent of Doraville’s budget over the past five years, and residents face steep fines for chipped paint, cracked concrete, and improperly stacked firewood. The practice is not limited to Georgia—fines and fees provided 30.4% of the budget in Saint Ann, Missouri, 25.6% in North Hills, New York, and 14.5% in Sunset, Utah.

“…Addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.”

The AP’s Sharon Cohen visited women in jail in Campbell County, Tennessee, where opioids are prescribed at five times the national average, and the local prosecutor says as much as 90 percent of crime in the area is connected to drugs. The county jail, which houses an average of 60 women per day, offers a high school equivalency diploma program, but no addiction treatment, mental health counseling, or vocational training for women.