Prison and Sentencing Reform in the Senate, and the news in criminal justice this week

“These governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.”

Senators are finalizing a federal prison and sentencing reform bill, likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. The reforms are modeled on those implemented at the state level, which have safely cut incarceration rates, improved reentry programs, and lowered crime and recidivism. In USA Today, Governors Ralph Northam (D-VA), Mary Fallin (R-OK), John Bel Edwards, (D-LA) and Matt Bevin (R-KY) encouraged Congress to follow their lead, and pass reforms that promote rehabilitation and workforce participation.

“Our overburdened corrections system cannot continue to divert funds from our state’s necessary educational, healthcare, and economic development programs.”

Nevada has partnered with the Crime and Justice Institute to study the state’s justice system in an effort to reduce incarceration rates and costs. The state spends $347 million on prisons each year, and the prison population has grown by 900% in the past 40 years. Analysts revealed an early finding this month—52% of Nevada’s total correctional control population was incarcerated rather than being under community supervision, well above the national average of 31%. The review is expected to be completed this fall, with recommendations for the 2019 legislative session.

“As jurisdictions strive to increase efficiency, transparency, and accountability within government operations, performance management systems provide an accessible platform to monitor outcomes and inform policymaking statewide.”

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts examines how states used performance management systems to ensure data-driven policy reforms are working. Minnesota created the Dashboard, a public website that tracks and reports performance, with detailed data that is regularly updated. New Mexico’s Agency Report Cards provide public accounting of performance ratings and scores within agencies, as well as information on whether the performance is getting better or worse. Pew’s report includes recommendations for states looking to implement performance review systems and create a culture of data-driven accountability.

“I don’t know how we explain to those people sitting in prison that if somebody got caught now, they’d only get a year but you should be in prison for 15 years when you did the exact same thing.”

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board advanced 23 applicants to the second stage of the commutation review process this week. Following recent changes to drug possession sentencing guidelines, low-level possession with intent to distribute is now a misdemeanor. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform is working with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and the University of Tulsa College of Law, seeking sentence reductions for people who were sentenced under the previous guidelines.

“As more jails and prisons charge fees for people behind bars, it really undermines re-entry prospects and starts to pave the way back to prison or jail.”

For people in Colorado’s La Plata County Jail, costs start at the door, with a $30 booking fee. Adding money to their jail accounts comes with a transfer fee of $2.95-$5.95. Local calls cost $3 for the first minute, and listening to a voicemail costs $1.99. The La Plata County Sheriff’s receives commissions from the external service providers, and described the prices as “above average” but necessary to help provide basic hygiene products.