Alice Johnson is released from prison, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I’m feeling no handcuffs on me. I’m free to hug my family.”
 
Alice Johnson’s sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, and she was released from prison the same day. Johnson had served 22 years of a life sentence without parole for federal drug and money laundering charges. Her cause was championed by groups including #cut50 and CAN-DO, and by Kim Kardashian, who met with the President last week to discuss the case.
 
“The MPD wishes to be a partner with our community stakeholders in these efforts that reduce the number of African-American males entering our criminal justice system.”
 
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced Thursday that city police officers would no longer conduct stings targeting low-level marijuana sales with felony charges, and dismissed charges against 47 people arrested in 2018. City officials were alerted to racial disparities in arrests by the county’s chief public defender, who noted that 46 of the 47 people arrested were black. In his announcement, Chief Arradondo said they would seek alternatives to incarceration, including treatment, counseling and diversion.
 
“The people who served time in prison and work with families of the incarcerated every day understand that we should not wait to fix anything until we can fix everything.”
 
Forty bipartisan and formerly incarcerated advocates sent a letter to Senate leaders in support of the First Step Act, arguing that the bill would “provide some long overdue relief and hope to more than 180,000 people in federal prison and millions of their family members and loved ones on the outside.” Signatories included Georgetown University Law Professor Shon Hopwood, #cut50’s Topeka Sam, Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ Kevin Ring, and American Conservative Union’s Pat Nolan.
 
“Amid all the algebra and essay-writing, this is ultimately the core curriculum at Travis Hill: demonstrating that it is a real school, and its hope is real hope.”
 
New Orleans is one of only three cities in the U.S. whose jail has a full-day high school offering real credits. Travis Hill High School is housed in the Orleans Parish jail, and offers classes in math, science, social studies, English and art with a chance to earn a diploma, rather than a G.E.D. The profile of the school, a joint multimedia production from The Marshall Project and This American Life, will be broadcast on public radio stations this weekend.
 
“’[We should] scale fines and fees so that they’re fair and people are punished, but do it in a way that doesn’t further exacerbate inequality in society.”
 
A new law took effect this week in Washington that helps formerly incarcerated people lower their debt burden. Passed earlier this year, the reform eliminates the 12% interest added to balances owed and lifts some debt obligations for those who qualify as indigent. In addition to the statewide changes, cities are experimenting with local reforms—Tukwila has a local program to help former offenders regain their drivers’ licenses, and Edmonds is working with Microsoft to develop a calculator to help judges assess appropriate fines and fees.