Alternatives to Incarceration

Reentry Court in Oregon, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Right now, these guys are not gaining the tools or assistance that allows them to be successful. Reentry Court takes a holistic approach to those barriers.”

In Oregon, Lane County’s Reentry Court provides people returning from federal prison with support to achieve sobriety, gain employment, and develop coping and problem-solving skills. Those who complete the 12-month program without a violation receive a one-year reduction of their probation term. Reentry team members seek to address the main barriers to successful transition from prison: substance abuse, mental health issues, inadequate housing, and a lack of peer support and guided programming. The revocation rate for participants is 26% lower than the rest of the state’s supervised release programs.

“The benefits of Clean Slate are clear: lower crime rates, taxpayer money saved as a result of reduced incarceration, and a stronger economy that allows more qualified job seekers to participate.”

Writing in the Hartford Courant, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin and the Center for American Progress’s Rebecca Vallas urged Connecticut lawmakers to pass the Clean Slate Act pending in the legislature. The Clean Slate Act would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records for those who have completed their sentence and remained crime free for five years after a non-violent felony, or three years after a misdemeanor. Clean Slate laws have gained traction across the country—Pennsylvania and Utah both passed automatic expungement laws, and Kentucky and New Mexico expanded opportunities for expungement this year.

“It should be more open. It shouldn’t be so closed that we don’t know what their decisions are based on.”

The Ohio Parole Board is under scrutiny from a wide array of critics, including crime victims, incarcerated people, lawyers and lawmakers. Much of the criticism focuses on a lack of transparency: hearings are not open to the public, records are kept secret, and board debate and votes are conducted behind closed doors. Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Annette Chambers-Smith expressed confidence in the current board, but said she planned to appoint four new members with more diverse backgrounds, ask outside experts to recommend reforms, and look for ways they can be more transparent.

“The city has a reputation as liberal, but these data evidence quite authoritarian policing practices compared to other large Texas jurisdictions.”

Researcher Scott Henson analyzed data from 4.6 million traffic stops conducted across 38 of the largest jurisdictions in Texas, found wide disparities in the use of force and arrests for minor misdemeanors, and identified the Austin Police Department as “among the worst in each category.” Police in Austin were more likely to use injury-causing force against drivers than any other large jurisdiction—four times more often than state troopers and twenty times the rate of the San Antonio Police Department. Austin was also in the top ten for arresting drivers for Class C misdemeanor charges, and in the top five on arrests for outstanding warrants.

“To have to be shackled with chains around their ankles, wrists and waist, even when they’re in the delivery room—it’s humiliating.”

Georgia House Bill 345, which would ban the shackling of pregnant women in jails and prisons, and prohibit placing them in solitary confinement during their postpartum recovery, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 52-1. The legislation would also mandate that vaginal exams of pregnant incarcerated women be conducted by licensed medical professionals. A similar version of the bill was approved by the House earlier this year. Legislators have until Tuesday, when the General Assembly adjourns, to iron out differences between the two versions.

How to Classify Violent Crimes, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Rethinking whether these kinds of crimes should be considered violent would change the conversation about what must be done to cut the incarcerated population…”

The Marshall Project conducted a nationwide survey of statutes and found that many people being classified as “violent” criminals have committed offenses most would not consider violent. In Kentucky, possession of anhydrous ammonia with intent to manufacture methamphetamines is classified as a violent crime, and carries a potential sentence of 20-50 years. In Minnesota, possession of marijuana can be considered a violent offense. And in North Carolina, trafficking a stolen identify is classified as a violent crime.

“HB 1352 is an important bill that will help remove barriers to success for thousands of Mississippians.”

Mississippi’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, signed by Governor Phil Bryant this week, includes wide-ranging reforms to the state’s justice system. The bill would expand Mississippi’s drug courts to a system of intervention courts that include mental health courts, veterans’ courts, and other specializations; allow people charged with misdemeanors to avoid pretrial incarceration; end driver’s license suspensions for non-driving related offenses; expand expungement opportunities; and allow individuals with drug-related convictions to receive workforce training and nutrition assistance, among other changes.

“…We will responsibly take steps to assist our friends and neighbors who deserve a second chance to contribute to our society.”

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 370 into law this week, allowing New Mexicans to ask the courts to seal records of arrest or conviction. Expungements will not be allowed for crimes against children, sex offenses, drunk driving, embezzlement and some other serious crimes. Regrettably, occupational licensing reforms and data-driven probation reforms were not signed into law.

“The [New] Jersey results are exciting, because they hopefully will add fuel to that forward motion in states that are resistant to making change, out of fear that it will increase violent crime.”

The New Jersey Judiciary released a report this week on the aftermath of the state’s near-elimination of cash bail, and found that the state’s jail population dropped by 44%,while rates of recidivism and failure to appear saw only slight increases. The report concluded that the reforms have “reduced unnecessary detention of low-risk defendants, assured community safety, upheld constitutional principles and preserved the integrity of the criminal justice process.” The Administrative Office of the Courts is continuing to study the policy and its results, with a focus on reducing racial disparities and addressing concerns related to domestic violence.

“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result.”

The Department of Justice found that Alabama’s prisons were overcrowded and understaffed, and that officials had shown a “flagrant disregard” to the rights of prisoners. Major prisons were operating at 182% of capacity, and some facilities had only 20% of their staff positions filled. The report also described “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.” The Department of Justice gave Alabama officials 49 days to address the concerns in the report.

Minnesota's Proposed Parole Board, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Deciding whether an inmate has changed and merits the opportunity to be returned to society shouldn’t rest with one person.” 

The Minnesota Legislature is considering resurrecting a parole board similar to the one the state had in the early 1980s. Under current law, Minnesota’s commissioner of the Department of Corrections is the only person authorized to grant or deny parole requests for individuals serving a term of life in prison. The proposed board would consist of five panelists recommended by leaders of both political parties, each of whom have at least five years of criminal-justice related experience. Paul Schnell, who was recently appointed to head the Department of Corrections, has endorsed the reform.

“This is a perfect opportunity for our partners and stakeholders to come to the table with us, and look at ways of streamlining and improving our system of releasing eligible state offenders in a timely manner.”

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has put forward a proposal to bring the DOC, county clerks and sheriffs together to ensure that people are not held in jails and prisons past their official release dates. The proposal comes after a NOLA.com and Times-Picayune investigation found that hundreds and possibly thousands of people had been incarcerated longer than their sentences required.  In a review of 200 cases in which people were eligible for immediate release, the DOC found they had to wait an average of 49 additional days beyond their official release date, at an annual taxpayer expense of $2.8 million.

“For a lot of people, once you get into this cycle, you don’t get out.”

A new study from the Duke University School of Law found 1,225,000 active driver’s license suspensions for non-driving related reasons in North Carolina, comprising nearly 15% of all adult drivers in the state. Overall, 67.5% of those suspensions were for failure to appear in court, 21.4% were for failure to pay traffic costs, fines or fees, and 11% were for both. The researchers also found a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic drivers, who made up 29% of driving-age North Carolinians, and 58% of suspensions for failure to pay fines and costs.

“The time has come for us to engage in a deep and critical reflection on the fairness of our juvenile justice system.”

Oregon lawmakers heard testimony this week about a series of reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system, including removing the mandate that juveniles aged 15 or older be tried as adults for some serious crimes. The bills have garnered support from Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Department of Corrections Director Colette Peters, and Oregon Youth Authority Director Joe O’Leary. Recent polling by GBAO showed 88% of Oregonians want the youth justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation, rather than punishment and incarceration.  

“Before considering what additional reforms are needed to fix a severely broken criminal justice system, U.S. elected leaders must first stop supporting the very mechanisms that cause the failure in the first place.”

The Center for American Progress released a report this week on the legacy of the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, arguing that the law’s effects—particularly financial incentives for stricter state laws—continue to undercut reform efforts. The authors point to several areas of concern, including the expansion of federal offenses and criminal penalties and the funding of jail and prison construction.

Broad Support for Justice Reform in Tennessee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“There is incredible support with very little opposition.”

According to new polling from the Justice Action Network, the ACLU of Tennessee and Right on Crime, 69% of Tennesseans believe the state’s criminal justice system “needs significant improvements,” 90% favored reducing prison time for nonviolent offenders and 89% favored getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences. Support for the reforms was strong across demographic and partisan categories. The promising poll numbers came just as Governor Bill Lee unveiled his criminal justice agenda, including eliminating the state’s $180 expungement fee, broadening  educational programming for incarcerated people, and expanding recovery courts.

“This investment offers a path to self-sufficiency for impacted people and a rightful level of dignity in society.”

The Coalition for Public Safety announced a partnership with Covington, Kentucky’s Life Learning Center (LLC) and Kenton County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders at an event on Thursday. As part of a new diversion program, prosecutors will identify at-risk defendants, and the LLC will provide recidivism-reduction programming and access to social services, and help participants find employment or enroll in continuing education. Upon completion of the LLC’s 12-week curriculum, individuals will be eligible for reduced or even dismissed charges. Senator Rand Paul and Kelley Paul were on-hand for the event, along with FAMM justice reform fellow Matthew Charles.

“I believe that early and open discovery is just and fair, and I look forward to publicly endorsing a discovery reform bill and seeing it signed into law.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called for reforms to New York’s discovery rules, calling the current system “trial by ambush.” Gonzalez noted that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office has employed an “open file discovery” practice for years, while protecting the safety of victims and witnesses. In a departure from their previous stance, the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York also endorsed changes to the system. “For the first time in the history of our organization,” said DAASNY President and Albany County DA David Soares, “we are openly calling on our lawmakers to take action and enact criminal justice reform.”

“There are people in every community who don’t need to be back out during the pendency of their cases. But the great majority of people do.”  

Judges in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County have replaced monetary bail schedules with individualized assessments based on a defendant’s likelihood of fleeing, reoffending, or tampering with witnesses. In their announcement of the new policy, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell and Chief District Court Judge Regan Miller also said that they plan to review their bail policies on a biennial basis. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told the Charlotte Observer she was studying the data and may change their bail policy, noting that “we certainly don’t want to be in the business of criminalizing poverty.”

“It’s an economic development tool for folks to get better jobs as well as public safety. Folks know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and won’t go back to criminal behavior.”

New Mexico House Bill 370, which allow people to petition a court to have their criminal records sealed from public view, is heading to the full Senate for consideration. Expungement would be available not just to those with criminal convictions, but also people who were wrongfully arrested, whose charges were dismissed, or who were acquitted at trial. Under the new law, judges, prosecutors and police would still have access to sealed records. HB 370 garnered broad, bipartisan support and passed in the house by a vote of 52-17.

Commutations in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s been a transformation, and we’re moving in the right direction.”

In fiscal year 2019, Oklahoma has a more than fivefold increase in commutations granted by the Parole and Pardon Board, due in part to a change in the mindset of the board members. “We are beginning to understand and make better decisions based on facts, data and research rather than emotion, fear and anger,” said board member and former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele. Governor Kevin Stitt announced new appointments to the Pardon and Parole Board this week, including Adam Luck, who previously served as Oklahoma State Director for Right on Crime.  

“If you are a dealer, this does not protect you. This protects the addicted.”

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha proposed legislation this week that would classify the possession of small amounts of narcotics as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Possession of small amounts of marijuana is already classified as a misdemeanor in the state. Neronha’s proposal would also lower the maximum sentence for simple possession from three years to one year in prison. Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey agreed to sponsor the legislation.

“It is very upsetting that defendants are in jail and are not able to access our resources as timely as the court requires and, more importantly, as is appropriate for their needs and their rights.”

According to analysis by the Oregonian, state courts, corrections and hospital officials routinely fail to get people with mental illness into treatment within a court-ordered seven day timeline. Researchers found more than 200 incidents of delay, some lasting more than a month. The reporting revealed that 63% of those experiencing extended delays had been charged with misdemeanors and faced little to no jail time if convicted.  

“Social media has the potential to help agencies manage their own reputation and contact community members directly to bolster community-police relations.”

The Urban Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Policed partnered on a national collection of social media engagement from law enforcement agencies and social media postings that mentioned police. In addition, 539 agencies across 48 states also participated in a survey on their use of social media. Using this data, researchers created a social media guidebook and model policies for law enforcement.

“With the efforts of the criminal justice reform community pushing from all sides of the political aisle, Congress finally broke the logjam and passed meaningful reform.”

In an essay for the Yale Law Journal, Georgetown University Law Center Professor Shon Hopwood described the effort to pass the First Step Act, crediting a wide variety of groups on the right and left, including the NAACP, FAMM, Prison Fellowship, #cut50, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union. Hopwood also lays out a set of principles for evaluating future reforms, suggesting advocates evaluate whether the bill would increase fairness and public safety, whether it is supported by those who would be directly affected, and whether there is a realistic chance of better alternatives in the near future, among other factors.

Probation Reform in Pennsylvania, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’ll save us money and it will provide a higher quality of justice to each and every Pennsylvanian.”

Democratic Senator Anthony Williams and Republican Senator Camera Bartolotta introduced legislation that would set a maximum term of probation of three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies, as well as provide a system of graduated sanctions for technical violations. Pennsylvania spends nearly $200 million per year incarcerating people for probation violations. Bartolotta noted that 30 other states limit the length of probation sentences, and said the reform was needed “to ensure that minor probation violations do not result in new sentences not matching the crime.”

“We need as much transparency as possible when the government seizes someone’s property. It has to be done properly and for just cause.”

Following a multi-part investigation by the Greenville News, a bipartisan group of South Carolina legislators announced plans to introduce significant reforms to the state’s civil asset forfeiture law. Reporters analyzed more than 3,200 cases, involving more than 4,000 people, and showed police had seized more than $17 million in cash. Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Horry), said the proposed changes would give South Carolina some of the strongest forfeiture laws in the country. The TAKEN series is available here.

“Thank you, Matthew. Welcome home.”

Matthew Charles, one of the first people released from prison as a result of the First Step Act, was a guest of President Trump at the State of the Union this week. President Trump cited the First Step Act as an example of bipartisan cooperation, saying “when we are united, we can make astonishing strides for our country.” Edward Douglas, who was also released as a result of the First Step Act, attended as a guest of Senator Cory Booker.

“These numbers confirm there is strong consensus behind…transitioning the system to focus on the offense and offender, rather than on their financial means.”

New polling from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce shows widespread support for reforming the Commonwealth’s bail system. Overall, 76% of those surveyed supported the elimination of cash bail for people charged with non-violent, non-sexual crimes. Support for the change is consistently high across the state, ranging from 70% in Western Kentucky to 79% in the Louisville metro area. According to previous analysis from the Pegasus Institute, in 2016. there were more than 64,000 Kentuckians accused on non-violent, non-sexual offenses detained because they could not afford their bail.

“I’m certainly not going to send someone to jail at that point because I realize that just putting someone in jail is not going to help someone with an addiction problem.”

For six hours on Wednesdays, Ohio’s Franklin County Courthouse is the site of a medically assisted treatment clinic. Judge Eileen Paley said the majority of cases she sees are tied to addiction, and that having a clinic inside the building helps connect people to treatment. In addition to providing relapse prevention drugs, Franklin County officials help people access social services, visit behavioral health counselors and check in with probation officers.

Nashville's Crisis Treatment Center, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Tennessee caregivers, law enforcement officers and state officials have come to agree—when it comes to mental illness, incarceration is not always the best option.”

Nashville’s new Crisis Treatment Center includes a stabilization unit, a walk-in center, and the headquarters for Davidson County’s mobile crisis response team. Funding for the center came from a $2.6 million grant from the state’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, $427,537 from the city of Nashville, and $900,000 from the Mental Health Cooperative. The Crisis Treatment Center will provide 24-hour services and treat patients regardless of their insurance status.

“Lack of legal counsel is problematic not just as a matter of formal procedure, appearing without a defense attorney holds real and serious consequences for children in court.”

A joint report by Voices for Utah Children and the University of Utah School of Law released this week shows that many children, particularly in rural areas, do not have access to counsel while navigating the state’s juvenile justice system. The report found that 29% of young people did not have an attorney present in the 200 hearings researchers observed last year. Senator Todd Weiler and Representative Mike McKell have sponsored legislation that would assign a public defender for each minor defendant, even in misdemeanor cases. Only Delaware, North Carolina and Pennsylvania currently automatically appoint public defenders for juveniles.

“…Although arrest volumes have dropped by more than 25 percent since 2006, an arrest is made every three seconds. Fewer than 5 percent of these are for serious violent crimes.”  

Arrest Trends, a new data platform from the Vera Institute of Justice, allows users to access, customize and analyze publicly available policing data. Users can examine trends in arrests, demographics, clearance rates, and victimizations, and see how they vary by time, location and offense type. The platform also points to the need for better data collection—in 2016, nearly a third of all police agencies in the United States did not report any of their arrest data to the FBI.  

“Treating this as a structured opportunity to provide people connections to the services in the community that they need in order to be successful is much better than a law enforcement-focused model.”

Since 2016, more than 11,000 people have entered New York City’s supervised release program. Participants are required to meet regularly with case managers who can help connect them with social services and assist them in making their court appearances. In the first three years, 89% of defendants made all of their court appearances, and only 8% were rearrested for a felony while completing the program.

“Addiction is a medical problem. We just need to change the paradigm in New Mexico.”

Senate Bill 408, introduced by Senator Jacob Candelaria and Representative Andrea Romero, would reduce the penalty for possession of any illegal drug from a felony to a misdemeanor. Under the new proposal, those convicted of misdemeanor drug possession would be subject to a fine between $500 and $1,000 and imprisonment of less than one year. Since 2014, five states, including Utah and Oklahoma, have reclassified simple drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors.

Restorative Justice for Veterans, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I’ve been able to continue to be a husband to my wife and father to my children. If it wasn’t for these intervention options, I know exactly where I’d be: I’d be in jail.” 

Minnesota’s Veterans Defense Project unveiled new legislation at a forum this week to create a restorative justice program for veterans across the state. The Veterans Restorative Justice Act would allow participants in the program enter a plea, but have charges dismissed after completion of the terms of their probation. Governor Tim Walz made a surprise appearance at the forum to endorse the legislation, telling attendees “I want to make it very clear that we stand 100 percent with you. The governor’s office is here to make sure this gets done.”   

“Research shows that if a person has stable housing, they are less likely to commit a new crime and end up behind bars.”

“Hope for Success: Returning Home,” a new report from Connecticut’s Commission on Equity and Opportunity Reentry Working Group, analyzed housing challenges for returning citizens and proposed both legislative and administrative remedies. The group found that stable housing would increase public safety, save money, and strengthen family reunification. Suggestions included reducing restrictions for public housing for those with criminal records, creating stronger coordination and data integration policies between corrections and housing authorities, and adopting Clean Slate legislation.

“Every day is hard, very hard. I wake up and I look around and I don’t understand why I am here.”

A lawsuit filed this week by the Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York alleges that incarcerated people with mental illness are being held for months past their release dates because of a lack of mental health-focused housing facilities. The state labels the men seeking class-action status in the lawsuit as ‘releasees,’ and claims that they are in residential treatment facilities, but the lawsuit says the men are still housed in prisons, held in cells, required to wear inmate uniforms, and “remain prisoners in every respect.” Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers have allocated funds to create 6,000 new units by 2021, but advocates say there is a need for tens of thousands of additional supportive housing units, and existing facilities are struggling to stay open.   

“Mississippians want to combat drug trafficking. But we also respect the property rights of innocent owners, and we expect our government to as well.”

In the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi Justice Institute Director Aaron Rice argued against reauthorizing administrative forfeiture, which the legislature allowed to expire last year. While proponents claimed that forfeited assets were critical in combatting drug trafficking, a review of the state’s forfeiture database found trivial personal valuables, including an Apple watch, a power drill, and as little as $50 in cash. Earlier this week, representatives from conservative organizations including FreedomWorks, Right on Crime, and the American Conservative Union wrote to Governor Phil Bryant urging him to oppose the reinstatement of administrative forfeiture.

“In Wisconsin, mass supervision drives mass incarceration.”

Wisconsin’s parole supervision rate is 1.5 times higher than the national average, and according to analysis from the Columbia University Justice Lab, the state’s probation and parole systems are a significant driver of the state’s incarceration rate. Conditions of supervision are often vague, and the fees associated with electronic monitoring can add up to more than $700 per month. More than 36% of the state’s prison admissions in 2017 were people incarcerated for technical revocations. Researchers recommended closing the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, which houses people with parole and probation violations, and emphasizing community corrections.



Bipartisan Sentencing Reform in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I look forward to working with members of both parties to find not Democratic or Republic solutions, but Oklahoma solutions to the issues facing this state. This bill will be a great step in that direction.”
 
Oklahoma House Bill 1269, which would allow recently-passed sentencing reforms to be applied retroactively, was introduced this week by Representatives Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). State Question 780 reclassified several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, but only applied to those charged after July 1, 2017. According to an estimate from Open Justice Oklahoma, 2,500-3,000 people could be immediately eligible for reduced sentences if HB 1269 is adopted.
 
“There are still grave concerns. This just emphasizes to us that the state of Wisconsin has to move these kids out (of the facilities).”
 
The first report from court-appointed monitor Teresa Abreu shows Wisconsin’s juvenile facilities continue to face “serious, chronic, and dangerous” staffing shortages. Abreu reported that guards at Lincoln Hills School (LHS) and Copper Lake School (CLS) continue to use pepper spray to subdue people when lesser means could have been used, and individuals are sometimes placed in solitary confinement for more than seven days. The report does point to some areas of improvement, including the decreased use of physical restraints and strip searches. Abreu also noted that the Wisconsin Division of Juvenile Corrections Director and LHS/CLS Superintendent were both receptive to her recommendations. 
 
“The historic decline demonstrates that common-sense criminal justice reforms work and bolsters the case for expanding reforms while ensuring the safety of all citizens.”
 
From 2017 to 2018, Pennsylvania’s state corrections population saw its biggest-ever decrease, dropping from 48,438 to 47,370. 617 fewer people were newly admitted to state prisons, while 575 fewer were returned for parole violations. Since the state passed a Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2012, the prison population has declined by more than 7.4%. “We are locking up fewer people while crime rates continue to decline,” noted the Commonwealth Foundation’s Nathan Benefield. “It’s time for lawmakers to build on this momentum and advance reforms that improve sentencing and parole.” 
 
“It will make Harris County safer and more equal and provide more efficient processing of people accused of misdemeanors.”

Newly-elected judges in Harris County have approved a plan that would allow 85% of those arrested for misdemeanors to be automatically released on no-cash bonds. The new court protocols are a proposed foundation for the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the county’s bail practices, and must be reviewed by a federal judge. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, a defendant in the lawsuit, welcomed the proposed settlement, saying “too many jail beds are occupied by nonviolent people who can be safely released to return home to support their families while they await trial.”  
 
“I want to add to my portfolio of programs that are sustainable…do justice and serve the community. That’s the essence of criminal justice reform.”
 
Pima County’s Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program was highlighted at this week’s winter meeting of the Major County Prosecutor’s Council. The program, in place since 2011, allows people to opt into an intensive supervision, treatment and support program rather than being sentenced to prison. The University of Arizona estimated that the program had saved $6 million over the course of four years, and that the program cost less than half as much as sending a person to prison. Attendees, including district and county attorneys from Baltimore, New York, Seattle, and Denver, met to discuss strategies to assist in criminal justice reform at the local level.  

Debt and Incarceration, and the news in criminal justice this week

“But what we’re seeing in these situations is that not only are the poor in the United States treated differently than people with means, but that the courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty.”

Corinth, Mississippi is the subject of a New York Times investigation into the cycle of debt and incarceration, and the ways fines and fees are used to finance the justice system. Prior to a settlement last fall, defendants who were unable to pay fines and fees could reduce their debt by $25 for each day they spent in the Alcorn County Jail. The settlement grants additional time for people to pay fines and fees, and does not allow imprisonment for people who are unable to pay. The problem is not limited to Mississippi, or to criminal infractions—Oregon courts have issued significant fines to parents whose children are truant, and Louisiana’s pretrial diversion laws allow people with traffic offenses to pay quickly and avoid a record, while those who cannot pay may end up with additional court fees.

“There’s really no guidance for future courts, for future clemency request, for future governors making requests, as to why certain ones might get blocked and certain ones won’t.”

The California Supreme Court blocked ten clemency actions from then-Governor Jerry Brown, the first time since 1930 that it had rejected executive pardons or commutation requests. Those individuals will now have to reapply for clemency from Governor Gavin Newsom. And in The New Republic, Matt Ford looks at grants of clemency and questions why certain governors aren’t pardoning more incarcerated people. Ford suggests that governors could fast-track pardons and commutations for elderly prisoners, who are expected to comprise 30% of state prison populations by 2030.

“We could do all this punishment all day. But then they’re still going to come out into the neighborhood. We’re just trying to prepare somebody to re-enter society.”

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden closed the county jail’s disciplinary detention unit, which had been used to keep juvenile offenders in solitary confinement. Incarcerated youth are now let out of the cells for at least seven hours per day; have access to phones, television, the library, and family visits; and can attend classes. Sheriff McFadden also said he plans to restore in-person visits with family members and friends, which the previous sheriff had restricted to video monitors.

“It was in this context that Dayton waded in: innovating, trying, failing, and trying again. And while nobody will tell you that the problem is solved, our community has made enormous strides.”

One of the cities hardest hit by the opioid crisis, Dayton, Ohio has become a model for its creative, collaborative, and compassionate response.Since 2011, Dayton’s Montgomery County has had one of the highest rates of overdose fatalities in the state; but fatalities were down 65% in 2018 as compared to the same time period in 2017. A report from the Center for American Progress analyzed key elements of the city’s response, including rapid and targeted data collection and use, increased access to treatment, and a law enforcement strategy focused on support and prevention rather than criminalization.

“It raises the spirit of the community as its residents strengthen their opportunities for better jobs and better housing.”

Leavenworth, Kansas Mayor Jermaine Wilson and Leavenworth County Attorney announced a new 60-day expungement assistance program this week. Prosecutors and volunteer attorneys will review cases, answer questions about eligibility, and help people apply for fee waivers. Wilson, who was incarcerated for three years, had his record expunged in 2015, was elected to the city commission in 2017, and was unanimously chosen by the commission to serve as mayor on Tuesday.