The case of Matthew Charles, and the news in criminal justice this week

"This terrible tragedy has deprived a woman of her boyfriend, a food pantry of a reliable volunteer, and many of a beloved friend and family member."

The case of Matthew Charles dominated social media for much of this week, and for good reason. It exposes the nonsensical and at times jaw-dropping results of an inflexible, one-size-fits all justice system. After being released from federal prison two years ago, Charles became gainfully employed, reestablished ties with his family and community, began volunteering his time at a food pantry, and stayed out of trouble. This is everything we want from someone returning from prison. Unfortunately, federal prosecutors fought to bring him back to prison because sentencing modifications were erroneously applied to his sentence. He’s now behind bars once more because the federal justice system was unable to recognize the strides he had made. Thousands have signed a petition urging President Donald Trump to grant Charles clemency.

“…Changes to current policies and practices can better protect constitutional principles, improve public safety outcomes, and reduce overall costs to taxpayers through lower jail costs.”

A new report from Right on Crime examined the stubbornly high rates of pretrial detention, particularly in rural communities. The report lays out principles that should guide pretrial justice policy and makes several recommendations, including reducing jailable offenses, expanding diversion programs, using validated risk-assessment tools, and revising state bail laws.

“We have done something today that was very important, because we righted a wrong.”

Donald Trump issued a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, whose conviction under the Mann Act was widely believed to be racially motivated. Days later, he pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of campaign finance violations in 2014. President Trump also met with Kim Kardashian, who advocated for a pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who received a life sentence without parole for first-time, nonviolent drug offenses.

“Professional treatment is a necessity, not a luxury.”

We mentioned this issue a few weeks back, but this powerful editorial from the Sun-Sentinel is worth a read and a reminder of this unfortunate reality in Florida. Their Department of Corrections closed dozens of substance-abuse and offender reentry programs this week, a move the editorial board called “indefensible and intolerable.” Officials said 70% of new inmates have substance abuse problems that required medical attention, and the eliminated programs had reduced recidivism rates. The drastic program cuts came after the governor and legislators were unable to design an emergency solution, despite an increase in state revenue.

“Despite these tremendous strides, data and experience indicates that juvenile justice systems are still not operating as effectively as possible.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University interviewed nearly 50 researchers, experts and leaders in the juvenile justice system to find ways to improve public safety and youth outcomes. Their new publication presents six strategies to advance those goals, including decriminalizing status offenses, eliminating technical violations, and using analytics to hold agencies, courts, and service providers accountable for improved outcomes.