The First Step Act goes to the Senate, and the news in criminal justice this week

“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised Criminal Justice Bill this month.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed for cloture on The First Step ActThursday, with a vote expected early next week. The legislation is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, including law enforcement and civil rights groups, and is expected to receive at least 70 votes in the Senate. President Trump also endorsed the bill, urging Leader McConnell to allow a vote in the Senate. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris told the Louisville Courier-Journal obstacles remained, including amendments from opponents in the Senate, “but I’d put your money on our side.”  

“We hope that new governors will learn what most of those who have held the office know: that good ideas don’t come wrapped up in Democratic or Republican labels.”

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and former Delaware Governor Jack Markell urged incoming governors to embrace bipartisan criminal justice reform. They emphasized the need to meaningfully reform sentencing and corrections, expand alternatives to jail and prison, and ensure that people leaving prison have access to support services and employment. “We are convinced that the reforms our states have instituted will make our communities safer, provide a second chance to many who made mistakes early in life and save our taxpayers money,” they wrote in Governing. “That’s a win-win-win.”

“There is no limit in Mississippi on how long a person can be held prior to indictment, so detainees can wait up to a year or more before even being formally charged with a crime.”

A new survey from the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi showed almost half of those jailed had a stay of 90 or more consecutive days. The state’s long pretrial detentions are the result of myriad factors, including delays in appointing public defenders, slow evidence processing, infrequent court meetings in rural areas, and high levels of poverty. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mississippi had the sixth-longest average pretrial stay in the country, with defendants detained for an average of 40 days.

“That actually has potential to open up additional funding for people who are incarcerated or leaving jails or getting continued treatment once they leave prisons.”

Reforms intended to keep nonviolent offenders out of Utah’s prisons have led to a 12% drop in prison population, but shifted many people with addiction into county jails that currently lack drug-treatment programs. A new report from the Utah Foundation examined the state’s treatment and rehabilitation programs, and found significant savings to taxpayers in the long term, but underscored the need to expand access to pre-booking diversion and treatment programs in county jails.

“When it comes to how we treat these people when they get out, we turn our back on them and let them down a second time.”

Monday, December 17th is the deadline to apply for relief under the Wrongful Conviction Tax Relief Act for claims prior to 2014. Passed in 2015, the law exempts civil damages, restitution or other financial awards exonerees have received from taxes in 33 states and the federal government. Jon Eldan works to identify those who may qualify and has helped 13 people recover $1.6 million and eliminate $500,000 in tax liability, collectively. His nonprofit group, After Innocence, also works with exonerees to apply for government and social services.