Ending the "no-touch" policy at Shakopee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s incumbent upon us to be mindful of the environment we’re creating. We’ve learned that having basic human contact is part of the human experience.”

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the department would change the “no-touch” policy enforced at the Shakopee women’s prison. According to Shakopee Warden Tracy Beltz, the policy was intended to be temporary, and was instituted after a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed high rates of sexual misconduct between women incarcerated at Shakopee. Beltz circulated proposed changes to the rules last month, including allowing fist-bumps, hand-shakes and high-fives, but not hugs. During visitation, women at Shakopee are limited to a brief hug and kiss on the cheek from family members and can hold children under 9 on their laps.

“Between counties, high rates of incarceration were associated with a more than 50% increase in drug-related deaths.”

New research published in The Lancet Public Health Journal provides evidence that increased imprisonment has contributed to higher overdose deaths. Even when controlling for opioid prescription rates, crime rates, and socioeconomic and demographic factors, counties with higher jail and prison incarceration rates had higher drug-mortality rates. The research team analyzed records from 2,640 counties, with data from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Vital Statistics System, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the National Center for Health Statistics, and county-level incarceration data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice.

“Left with few options but to arrest, disperse, or issue a citation, many officers experience frustration at what amounts to a revolving door between homelessness and the criminal justice system—a cycle that disproportionately affects people of color.”

The Council of State Governments and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released a report this week, “Strengthening Partnerships Between Law Enforcement and Homelessness Service Systems.” Their recommendations came out of a 2018 convening that brought together teams from 10 cities, including Tupelo, Mississippi; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon. Recommendations include developing shared goals and involving critical stakeholders, reviewing and aligning local laws with the goals of the partnership, and equipping law enforcement and homelessness services with training and protocols.

“Despite recent criminal justice reform, new criminal court rules, and successful litigation…thousands of people continue to languish in Mississippi’s county and regional jails awaiting indictment and trial.”  

Students at the University of Mississippi collected jail census reports from sheriffs covering 5,700 people being held before trial and found half had been confined for more than 90 days, and 800 had been confined for more than a year. Under guidelines adopted by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2017, “a defendant should be released pending trial whenever possible,” and indigent defendants may be released on “non-financial conditions that make it reasonably likely that the defendant will appear.” But Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said “automatic money bail” has become accepted practice, leaving advocates to address violations case-by-case in the state’s 82 counties and 300 cities and towns.

“Youth-driven collaboration is an essential component of increasing trust in law enforcement and confidence in the fairness of our system.”

The Justice Ambassadors Youth Council provides a platform for formerly incarcerated youth to create justice reform proposals with leaders from courts, police, corrections, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. At a graduation ceremony last month, ambassadors presented proposals to incorporate social workers into the court process to provide emotional support, include contextual information and experiences of trauma in crime reporting, and implement restorative justice programs in schools. Patrick Edge, part of the first class of ambassadors, said he was initially resistant to the project. “But then when I thought about it more, I thought it was important for law enforcement to hear the idea I had about creating an opportunity for youth.”