Debt and Incarceration, and the news in criminal justice this week

“But what we’re seeing in these situations is that not only are the poor in the United States treated differently than people with means, but that the courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty.”

Corinth, Mississippi is the subject of a New York Times investigation into the cycle of debt and incarceration, and the ways fines and fees are used to finance the justice system. Prior to a settlement last fall, defendants who were unable to pay fines and fees could reduce their debt by $25 for each day they spent in the Alcorn County Jail. The settlement grants additional time for people to pay fines and fees, and does not allow imprisonment for people who are unable to pay. The problem is not limited to Mississippi, or to criminal infractions—Oregon courts have issued significant fines to parents whose children are truant, and Louisiana’s pretrial diversion laws allow people with traffic offenses to pay quickly and avoid a record, while those who cannot pay may end up with additional court fees.

“There’s really no guidance for future courts, for future clemency request, for future governors making requests, as to why certain ones might get blocked and certain ones won’t.”

The California Supreme Court blocked ten clemency actions from then-Governor Jerry Brown, the first time since 1930 that it had rejected executive pardons or commutation requests. Those individuals will now have to reapply for clemency from Governor Gavin Newsom. And in The New Republic, Matt Ford looks at grants of clemency and questions why certain governors aren’t pardoning more incarcerated people. Ford suggests that governors could fast-track pardons and commutations for elderly prisoners, who are expected to comprise 30% of state prison populations by 2030.

“We could do all this punishment all day. But then they’re still going to come out into the neighborhood. We’re just trying to prepare somebody to re-enter society.”

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden closed the county jail’s disciplinary detention unit, which had been used to keep juvenile offenders in solitary confinement. Incarcerated youth are now let out of the cells for at least seven hours per day; have access to phones, television, the library, and family visits; and can attend classes. Sheriff McFadden also said he plans to restore in-person visits with family members and friends, which the previous sheriff had restricted to video monitors.

“It was in this context that Dayton waded in: innovating, trying, failing, and trying again. And while nobody will tell you that the problem is solved, our community has made enormous strides.”

One of the cities hardest hit by the opioid crisis, Dayton, Ohio has become a model for its creative, collaborative, and compassionate response.Since 2011, Dayton’s Montgomery County has had one of the highest rates of overdose fatalities in the state; but fatalities were down 65% in 2018 as compared to the same time period in 2017. A report from the Center for American Progress analyzed key elements of the city’s response, including rapid and targeted data collection and use, increased access to treatment, and a law enforcement strategy focused on support and prevention rather than criminalization.

“It raises the spirit of the community as its residents strengthen their opportunities for better jobs and better housing.”

Leavenworth, Kansas Mayor Jermaine Wilson and Leavenworth County Attorney announced a new 60-day expungement assistance program this week. Prosecutors and volunteer attorneys will review cases, answer questions about eligibility, and help people apply for fee waivers. Wilson, who was incarcerated for three years, had his record expunged in 2015, was elected to the city commission in 2017, and was unanimously chosen by the commission to serve as mayor on Tuesday.