A New Initiative at CPS, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s time to broaden the tent and grow this movement!” 
 
The Coalition for Public Safety is launching a new initiative that will offer 10 grants, of $100,000 each, to groups that are bringing innovative ideas and perspectives into the bipartisan conversation around justice reform. We’re looking for groups from the far right to the far left and everywhere in between, with unique experiences to share and novel approaches to make our justice system fairer, more effective, and more efficient. The application is available here
 
“Drug addicts need treatment and counseling, not interminable warehousing at taxpayer expense that fails to deliver the public-safety return taxpayers deserve.”
 
The North Carolina First Step Act, House Bill 511, would allow judges to reduce sentences and fines for certain people convicted of drug offenses. Current law does not adequately distinguish between drug traffickers and those in need of addiction treatment, and imposes minimum sentences ranging from 2 to 24 years. Under the new law, judges would be allowed to determine that the minimum sentence for the crime is not necessary to protect the public, and would result in a substantial injustice. Similar laws allowing judicial discretion in sentencing have been passed in Louisiana, Georgia, and Oklahoma. 
 
“Every time we look at this, there’s fewer and fewer kids there, which is a good thing.” 
 
Connecticut’s high-security Manson Youth Institution (MYI) admitted 1,491 teens in fiscal year 2007-2008, and only 105 in fiscal 2017-18. Experts attributed the decline to a range in factors, including diversion programs and a 2007 change in state law that kept some juvenile offenders out of the adult prison system. Members of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee were encouraged by the progress made in limiting exposure to the adult system. However, a report from the Office of the Child Advocate released earlier this year criticized MYI’s lack of access to education and mental health services, use of chemical agents, inadequate policies to prevent self-harm, and reliance on solitary confinement. 
 
“This mass enforcement of relatively minor law violations suggests that policing practices currently tend toward punitive approaches in ways that are often not necessary to achieve public safety.”
 
For every 100 arrests made in 2016, there were 99 jail admissions, up from 70 in 1994. A new report from the Vera Institute looks at ways to divert from this “expressway to jail,” which can lead to disruptions in employment and education, the imposition of court fines and fees, and declines in mental and physical health. The researchers highlight alternative-to-arrest programs, particularly for individuals in need of medical care, housing, counseling, or treatment for addiction or mental health issues. They also noted that a focus on punitive enforcement can have negative effects on police officers—more than 60,000 police officers were assaulted on the job in 2017, and rates of suicide among police officers are far higher than in the general population.
 
“…The use of solitary confinement appears to be going the opposite direction that a lot of advocates and legislators would like to see.” 
 
The Minnesota Department of Corrections used solitary confinement more than 8,000 times last year, a record-high for the state. Legislation passed in 2018 mandates regular reporting on the use of solitary confinement and requires that people placed in solitary be screened for mental health issues. The Department of Corrections implemented new regulations in June that would allow people to be held in segregation for a year, up from the previous maximum of 90 days.