A call for prison reform in the State of the Union, and the news in criminal justice this week

"This year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Trump called for prison reform—the latest sign that there is bipartisan consensus around the issue. The speech came on the heels of indications that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on board with prison reform, and optimism from GOP lawmakers about the path to passage. 

“The path we find ourselves on is neither fiscally nor practically sustainable.”

Kentucky’s 2017 Police Chief of the Year makes the case for smart, sustainable criminal justice reform in the Commonwealth. The system is clogged, he says, “with people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses often driven by substance-abuse, addiction, or mental illness.” Money spent on incarceration would be better spent on treatment, supervision and community services, and the kind of meaningful rehabilitation that will prevent recidivism. 

“This is a win-win for every stakeholder involved—the court, the police, and the public itself.”

In an effort to reduce failure-to-appear rates, New York’s criminal justice agencies partnered with the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Ideas42 to redesign the summons and use text messages to remind defendants of their court dates. The paperwork redesign reduced the rate of failures-to-appear by 13% and, when combined with text message reminders, led to a 36%. 

“An examination of the 'statehouse-to-prison pipeline’ is long overdue.”

A new report from the Rhode Island ACLU examined how over-criminalization plagues their state’s justice system. Between 2000 and 2017, the General Assembly created more than 170 new crimes, and increased dozens of criminal sentences for existing offenses. The report’s recommendations include a comprehensive review and recodification of the state’s criminal laws, and requirements for more information on the exact impact any new sentencing bill would have before lawmakers take a vote.

“Courts are centers of justice, not automatic teller machines whose purpose is to generate revenue for governments…”

In a letter to more than 650 Ohio judges, state Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor reminded them to abide by the standards of Bearden v. Georgia, which declared that suspects can’t be jailed because of an inability to pay court-imposed fines and fees when they’ve made good efforts to do so. She acknowledged that many face pressure to generate revenue, but urged them to remember their abiding role as centers as justice.