Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act passes in committee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system.”

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-5, despite opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley along with Senators Dick Durbin and Mike Lee crafted a carefully balanced bill, which includes individualized sentencing for certain nonviolent drug offenders, new federal reentry programs, and enhanced sentencing for interstate domestic violence offenses resulting in death and fentanyl-related drug offenses.

“It is mind-boggling that this issue is controversial in Washington.”

Polling by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Justice Action Network was highlighted in an op-ed in The Hill by our own Holly Harris in advance of this week’s vote on SRCA. It showed a dramatic shift in public opinion from the tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, including 87% of voters supporting judicial discretion during sentencing, and 85% supporting a focus on rehabilitation as the primary goal of the justice system.

“If we move these services up, you’re striking when the iron’s hot.”

After continued concerns over flaws in the juvenile justice system in Cleveland, officials are looking to Montgomery County as a model for reform. The Montgomery County Juvenile Court’s Intervention Center assesses juveniles immediately after arrest for mental health, substance abuse, and domestic or behavioral issues that could be addressed through specialized services. Assessments also help determine if the case can be resolved through diversion, counseling, treatment or mediation, rather than being referred to juvenile court. This model has helped Montgomery County cut juvenile crime and pricey detention bed stays concurrently.

“We wanted to see if that intervention could impact state overdose mortality, and the answer is a resounding yes.”

A new study out of Rhode Island showed a more than 60% reduction in opioid overdose deaths among those who had access to medication-assisted treatment behind bars. The state’s treatment program, started as a pilot program in 2016 and expanded statewide in early 2017, provided buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone to incarcerated individuals and referred them to additional treatment programs upon release. The number of overdose deaths dropped from 26 in the first half of 2016 to 9 in the first half of 2017; statewide overdose deaths in the general population also dropped from 179 to 157 in the same period.

“State parole violators represent the only subgroup of offenders that is growing.”

In response to a Columbia University study on New York’s population of people jailed for parole violations, the New York Times Editorial Board called for the state to adopt a host of reforms which have shown promise in other states. Recommendations included graduated sanctions and rewards, judicial review of revocations for technical violations, and expansion of education, substance abuse treatment and housing support for parolees.