Nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the news in criminal justice this week

“When we have more prison, we have less crime. And when we have less prison, we have more crime.”

President Trump announced four nominees for the U.S. Sentencing Commission this week, including Georgetown University Law Professor William Otis, a prominent defender of debunked sentencing practices and critic of bipartisan criminal justice reform. Otis also previously called for the Sentencing Commission to be disbanded. Two of the other nominees, Judge William Pryor and Judge Henry Hudson, are allies of Attorney  General Sessions.  The fourth nominee, Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, was appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court by President Obama, and began his career as a law clerk at the ACLU National Prison Project.

“A Watershed Year for Criminal Justice.”

The Vera Institute of Justice released The State of Justice Reform 2017, an interactive report identifying major trends and developments across the country. The report highlights topics from policing to reentry, and examines the state of justice reform through multiple lenses including bipartisan support, women and girls, public health.

“It was just shockingly different to see the needs, the risk.”

At ACU’s Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, panelists discussed the need for policies specifically designed for women in the corrections system. While women can benefit from broader efforts like the push to reform one-size-fits-all sentencing for non-violent crimes, those efforts do not address other issues women face, including a lack of prenatal care and nutrition, access to feminine hygiene products, and supervision by male guards during medical care and in the shower. Panelists pointed to some signs of progress—Arizona increased access to hygiene products, and bills that would improve prison conditions for women are pending in California, Georgia, and Kentucky.   

“This legislation has the potential to benefit society as a whole and be life changing to many individuals and families throughout this great Commonwealth.”

The Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts sent a letter to Governor Baker and the members of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee of Conference, supporting a wide range of reforms. The letter asked them to consider judicial discretion in sentencing; alternatives to incarceration for offenders suffering from substance abuse; raising the felony larceny threshold; reducing roadblocks to employment; and increasing funding for in-prison and reentry programs for job training, drug treatment, mental health and housing.

“The most incarcerated state changes course.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ brief on Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment package provides a roadmap for other states working on comprehensive justice reform. The report gives background information on the need for reform, factors that contributed to Louisiana’s extraordinarily high imprisonment rate, and the bipartisan task force which developed recommendations and sponsored reforms.  It also explains how the legislative package addressed four primary objectives: prioritizing prison space for those who pose a public safety threat, strengthening community supervision, eliminating barriers to reentry, and reinvesting prison savings to reduce recidivism and support victims. This overview comes as states like South Carolina and Nebraska seek to drive further reforms in their system.