Governors share state-level success stories, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We’ve seen firsthand how this changes lives, how it gives people second chances, how it puts communities back together, and keeps families together.”

As part of a renewed push for federal justice reform, President Trump met with a bipartisan group of governors this week to talk about state-level successes. In remarks before their closed-door session, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal noted that the recidivism rate for people in prison who learned a blue-collar job skill dropped by 24%, and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant credited his state’s reforms for saving $40 million since 2014. Following the meeting, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards invited the President to tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and see vocational, victim-reconciliation and faith-based programs in action.

“This ruling ensures that people can no longer be thrown in jail in New Orleans Parish for their poverty alone.”  

In New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that the 14th Amendment prohibits jailing defendants for nonpayment of court-ordered fines and fees without providing a neutral forum for determining their ability to pay. In addition, Judge Vance ruled that the use of fees collected by the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court for judges’ benefits and salaries created an impermissible conflict of interest. Her order granted class-action status to anyone who owes court-issued fines in the Parish now or in the future.

“One of the things that’s really important to us in terms of hospice is ensuring that we are allowing the patient to die with dignity.”

As America’s prison population grows older, facilities around the country are forced to look for models in end-of-life care and many are looking to Angola. Their innovative volunteer hospice program is housed in rooms formerly used for solitary confinement, now outfitted with air conditioning, televisions and private bathrooms. Patients are cared for by their fellow inmates, who receive more than 40 hours of training in the physical and psychological needs of hospice care.  More than 80 programs are modeled on Angola’s, and California and Nevada have used a volunteer model for additional non-hospice medical programs.

“Even if you have work training programs and drug treatment programs, all efforts will be moot if they can’t get into the workforce.”

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering reforms to the state’s occupational licensing procedure, to ensure that people with criminal records are not presumed to have poor moral character. Michigan currently requires licenses for 15 professions, including barbers, builders and landscape architects. The new bills would require the state to document a reason for rejection beyond a felony conviction, or a connection between a previous fraud conviction and the occupation being sought.  

“It is critical to remove barriers to education for those with criminal records, as education has a proven record of reducing recidivism and rearrests among these individuals and helping them reenter society successfully.”

The Common App, a streamlined college application form used by more than 700 member colleges and universities, announced it will remove a question that asks applicants whether they have a criminal record. Individual colleges maintain the right to ask about criminal records on supplemental and subsequent applications. In a letter sent earlier this year, 18 U.S. Senators urged the Common App to make the change, arguing that such questions “deter exceptional applicants from completing their applications and accessing critical pathways to opportunity.”