“Justice prevailed here. It gives you hope that it can happen again."
Matthew Charles, whose case was used to advocate for the First Step Act, became one of the law’s first beneficiaries when a judge ruled Thursday that he was entitled to immediate release. Charles, who was serving a 35-year sentence, was previously released from prison in 2015 but ordered back after federal prosecutors argued he was considered a habitual offender. Former Federal Judge Kevin Sharp approved Charles’ release in 2015 and mentioned the case to President Trump in a meeting discussing inequality in the justice system. He said this case was not unique: “There are thousands of them out there. We can’t quit.”
“It has given me hope and confidence that there is common ground where we all want this community to be as healthy and successful as possible.”
The Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston is part of a pilot programaimed at lowering the jail population, reducing racial disparities, providing resources for courts and people with mental illness, and collecting data to make more informed decisions. In 2015, confronted with overcrowding, high recidivism rates, and a lack of diversion options, officials formed the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC). The Council includes representatives from law enforcement, social workers, mental health professionals and veterans’ advocates. Since the CJCC started their work, the Cannon Detention Center has seen an 18% drop in locally arrested inmates, and a 51% drop in single-charge bookings for low-level offenses like simple marijuana possession, misdemeanor shoplifting, and public intoxication.
“A mistake you might have made 10 years ago is not going to stand in the way of a good job, building a family, a career, a loan, going to college, getting a job.”
Pennsylvania officials announced a new program, “My Clean Slate,” which offers free legal counsel to help people determine if they are eligible for record-sealing. In the initial phase of the new law, applicants for record sealing must file a petition with the court and county where the original offense took place. Once the law is fully implemented this summer, eligible records will be sealed automatically. Since the Clean Slate Act went into effect in December, more than 700 people have applied to have their records sealed.
“We started actively cooperating in the community post-release to get them engaged; that had a significant effect.”
Thanks to a nearly $750,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, Louisiana’s New Beginnings program will return after a two-year hiatus. In its previous run, the New Beginnings program worked with 400 incarcerated people with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders to provide peer mentorship, increase support from probation and parole officers, and connect individuals with local service providers. Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc was optimistic that the program could be funded in the future with savings from the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiatives.
“…You are not ever going to arrest your way out of addiction. And so that’s what the community is going to have to decide here, and that’s what our system is going to have to decide. Do we have the courage to do something different and a little cheaper?”
At a community forum in Florida’s Sarasota County, criminal justice officials said serious reforms were needed to avoid building a new $100 million jail. The local jail is over operational capacity and has been cited for violations of the Florida Model Jail Standards. Proposed reforms included expediting probation violation cases; reducing bond amounts; and creating a DUI, drug, and mental health court. “We have to distinguish what are criminal justice matters and what are public health matters, and I can’t help but look at mental health and mental illness falling under the area of public health,” said Twelfth Circuit Public Defender Larry Eger. “The same with drug addiction.”