The First Step Act is signed into law, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We’re giving a first step to many who have not had that in the past. The first step will get us to many others.”

The First Step Act was signed into law this week. Years in the making, this bill is the most comprehensive criminal justice reform ever passed by both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The First Step Act received overwhelming support in both houses of congress, passing the Senate by a vote of 87-12 and the House by a vote of 358-36. This landmark legislation was championed by the bipartisan partnerships of Congressmen Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and received support from groups across the political spectrum.

“The path to sobriety and stability is often crooked, and case managers have to be willing to follow its many turns.”

In New Orleans, officials with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)program work to divert people who are frequently arrested to social workers instead of jail. The program currently has 20 enrollees who receive assistance in finding housing, health care and food stamps. Only misdemeanor offenses are eligible, individuals who are physically combative with officers cannot enroll in the program, and a victim can insist on charges even if officials recommend diversion. The model program in Seattle costs an average of $10,787 per year, but researchers found costs were partially offset by fewer jail stays and court appearances. The Vera Institute, which began working with the city to design the program in 2015, will collect statistics to evaluate the program’s results in New Orleans.

“It’s time we take the next step to seek a safer and more just system. It’s time to eliminate our wealth-based pretrial detention policy in favor of non-monetary release conditions.”

Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, co-authored an op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader pushing for significant bail reform in the commonwealth. Adkisson and Bailey pointed to a study showing that 64,123 non-violent, non-sexual defendants were detained in 2016, with an average stay of 109 days. They also cited a state panel report that showed defendants at similar risk levels were just as likely to appear in court and refrain from new criminal activity whether they were released on unsecured or secured bail.

“This approach will help us identify tailored solutions that address New Mexico’s distinct challenges and maximize the impact of every dollar we spend.”

New Mexico’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group met this week, working on a data-driven approach to identify and address issues in the state’s justice system. Amid more recent declines, as of 2017, New Mexico had the highest rates of property crime and violent crime in the country, and its violent crime rate was at a 10-year high for the state. Officials are working with the Council of State Governments to enact a Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program that has led to policies in 30 other states that collectively have saved or avoided costs of more than $1.1 billion.

“All of the people coming in have injuries. The job of the court is to screen, assess and refer. Because we’re never going to get a behavior change if we don’t address what’s bringing them in.”

In 2011, officials in San Joaquin County were in the midst of a financial crisis, dealing with a spike in the homicide rate, and concerned that state prison-population reduction measures would result in increased crime. They established programs to provide mental health and addiction treatment, set up collaborative courts, adopted pretrial risk assessments, and implemented programs to build community trust in law enforcement and mentor and incentivize young people who are considered likely to be involved in gun-related crimes.  Since then, crime in San Joaquin Country dropped 20 percent, to a decades-old low, and there are empty beds in the jail that had been considered dangerously overcrowded. Representatives from around the state have come to San Joaquin County to study their programs in an attempt to emulate them statewide.