Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…States that have enacted justice reinvestment laws expect to save billions of dollars because of their reforms.”

In the past ten years, 35 states have enacted sentencing and corrections reforms through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, according to new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Many of the reforms have been broadly adopted—32 states have introduced or expanded data collection and 26 have introduced or improved risk/needs assessments. The total state imprisonment rate has dropped by 11 percent during this period of reform, and crime rates have continued to decline.

“If they get a bill passed, it goes to the White House and we are going to have people coming home.”

Families of incarcerated people from across the country spoke at a rally hosted by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Justice Action Network, FreedomWorks, #cut50, American Conservative Union Foundation, Prison Fellowship and the Can-Do Foundation. The rally also featured speeches from the bipartisan sponsors of the First Step Act.  Cassie Monaco, who came from Montana to attend the rally and Wednesday’s lobby day, was optimistic about the First Step Act’s chances, telling the Big Fork Eagle “if we can get a vote, it’ll pass.”

“The 851 enhancements were applied inconsistently, with wide geographic variations in the filing, withdrawal, and ultimate application…”

A new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that drug trafficking enhancements are inconsistently applied across geographic and demographic lines. For example, in five districts, an 851 enhancement was sought against more than 50 percent of eligible drug trafficking offenders, while in 19 districts, the enhancement was not sought against any of the eligible offenders. The commission reiterated its 2011 recommendations that mandatory minimums be applied consistently, be narrowly tailored and not be excessively severe.

“The checks perpetuate discrimination, without persuasive evidence that a criminal background predicts risky behavior on the job.”  

Since 2016, 14 states have revised licensing requirements for those with criminal records or started tracking licensing rejections that are based on criminal records. After the licensing board overseeing Pennsylvania barbers added a question about criminal history to their application, the number of barber and barber manager licenses granted dropped by almost 25%, and the number of certifications going to trainees in the Department of Correction’s training program dropped significantly.  In June, Governor Tom Wolf proposed abolishing 13 licensing boards, including those overseeing natural hair braiders and barbers.

“We are just providing the piece of the puzzle that is giving people a job right away when they are getting clean.”

DV8 Kitchen, in Lexington, Kentucky, works with local treatment centers to find employees, hires people with criminal records, and serves a dual purpose as a restaurant and recovery setting. Employees attend mandatory weekly workshops, focusing on record expungement, teamwork, and personal finance. Only 5 of the 25 recovering people hired by DV8 have left because of a relapse or firing, well under the industry average turnover of 70%.