Philadelphia reforms its civil asset forfeiture program, and the news in criminal justice this week

“For too long, Philadelphia treated its citizens like ATMs, ensnaring thousands of people in a system designed to strip people of their property and their rights…”

In a settlement, the city of Philadelphia has agreed to reform its civil asset forfeiture program, and pay $3 million to people whose property had been unfairly seized. The lawsuit was filed by the Institute for Justice, which called the city’s program “one of the worst civil forfeiture schemes in America.” Officials agreed to increased judicial supervision, stronger notification procedures for defendants and limits on the seizure of cash and property. The settlement also bans the district attorney’s office and police department from using forfeiture revenue to fund payroll. But the reforms aren’t universal: District Attorney Larry Krasner said future forfeitures would “generally” require a conviction, and would be targeted toward assets that were used as instruments of the crime or were profits of committing the crime.

“The average person would think, well we have a lot of people in prison, that must mean there’s a lot of crime in Arizona. That’s absolutely not true.”

A report from FWD.us, the first in a series examining Arizona’s imprisonment crisis, blamed poor policy choices, not rising crime, for the state’s growing prison population. The growth in prison population has outpaced residential growth, and the imprisonment rate has grown during a period of declining crime. Arizona has the 4th highest rate of imprisonment in the country, which costs taxpayers more than $1 billion each year. The authors note that the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually if its imprisonment rate was similar to neighboring states.

“BOP’s approach to managing female inmates has not been strategic, resulting in weaknesses in its ability to meet their specific needs.” 

new report from the Department of Justice concluded that staffing shortages in the Federal Bureau of Prisons were restricting access to care and services for female inmates. The Inspector General’s report makes ten recommendations to improve BOP performance, including additional training, expanded trauma treatment programs, better communication about pregnancy programs, and clearer guidelines on the distribution of feminine hygiene products. Acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz agreed with the recommendations and pledged to improve staffing and training.

“I am excited about the people who have gone through it, that are staying clean and sober, that are not resorting to crime.”

Cache Achieve, a diversion program created by officials in Utah’s Cache County, allows people accused of low-level offenses to pursue education and job-training rather than being sentenced to jail time. Qualified defendants must complete a program at Bridgerland Technical College, and maintain an 80% attendance rate and a B average. Upon successful completion of the program, charges may be dismissed. Thirteen people completed the program in 2017, saving the county an estimated $50,000.

“This is going to eliminate subjective decision making in low-risk cases while preserving the Parole Board’s ability to deny parole to low risk prisoners based on legitimate safety concerns.”

In Michigan, a new law created a list of 11 “substantial and compelling reasons” the State Parole board may use to depart from guidelines and deny parole. The reasons include a refusal to participate in risk-reduction programming, major misconduct while incarcerated, and pending felony charges or detainer requests. In addition to the codified guidelines, the parole board must give individuals a reason why their parole was denied. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer said the explanation would give people a clearer understanding of “what they need to do to work toward parole going forward.”