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.  

Behind the scenes on the First Step Act, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We had worked so darned hard and got such an overwhelming vote to get the bill out of committee, why should we settle for less than the whole package we had been working on for two years?”
The New York Times’  Carl Hulse went behind the scenes of the fight to add sentencing reforms to the FIRST STEP Act.  The bill, shepherded by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), was introduced Thursday night with the support of Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tim Scott (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Chris Coons (D-DE). The proposed package of prison and sentencing reforms was also backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, and received a strong endorsement from President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has committed to bringing the FIRST STEP Act to the floor if it has the support of at least 60 senators.
“When veterans court says this is a second chance for veterans to be successful in life, we really mean it.”
Salt Lake City’s veterans court, now in its third year, allows servicemen and women to have their convictions cleared or reduced after successfully completing a program tailored to their needs and experiences. Participants meet with judges and case managers, complete recommended mental health or addiction treatment programs, and are matched with mentors who also served in the military. Most of the program’s participants served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  
“These persistent, horrific wildfires year after year make this human rights issue even more pressing for the men and women fighting these fires every day who cannot do so once released.”
California’s inmate firefighters are on the front lines battling wildfires across the state, but most are ineligible to become professional firefighters once they are released from prison. The state’s occupational licensing boards block anyone with a criminal record from being certified as an Emergency Medical Technician, a requirement for most professional firefighters. Legislation passed earlier this year would allow some former inmate firefighters to be certified as Emergency Medical Responders, qualifying them for jobs with the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. They will still be blocked from employment with local fire departments.
“This imprisonment crisis is not felt equally across the state—some communities bear the burden far more than others.”
A new report from examines the impact of the criminal justice system to communities in Arizona. Researchers analyzed individual-level data on admissions to the state’s prisons, and found significant geographic disparity in admissions, sentence lengths and the use of diversion programs. They also compared Maricopa County to Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which has similar demographics and crime rates, and found that Maricopa County sent six times as many people to prison. Since 2000, both counties have seen reduced crime rates, but Maricopa County has increased its prison admissions by 33%, while Miami-Dade decreased theirs by 46%.               

“The Second Chance Act helps break the cycle of incarceration through drug treatment and job training programs and makes our community safer, saves taxpayer dollars, and most importantly, helps former inmates live up to their God-given potential.” 
The Council of State Governments Justice Center marked the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Second Chance Act with a new report, Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees. Since 2009, Second Chance programs aimed at reducing recidivism have impacted more than 164,000 people, through 900 grants across 49 states. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Second Chance Reauthorization Act this week. 

An Inventory of Collateral Consequences, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…There are more than 40,000 provisions in state and federal law that stand in their way right out of the gate. The first step to making meaningful change is understanding these barriers.”

The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction, launched this week by the National Reentry Resource Center and the Council of State Governments Justice Center and supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is a searchable database that identifies barriers to reentry. Collateral consequences can include restricted access to education and housing, limits on occupational licenses, and the restriction of political participation. The NICCC, which allows individuals to search based on keywords, jurisdictions and consequence type, will also provide news and resources related to reentry.

“Wealthy people can pay these fees and vote immediately, while poor people could spend the rest of their lives in a cycle of debt that denies them the ability to cast a ballot."

In seven states—Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida—people with unpaid court fines and fees are prohibited from voting. Other states require that all conditions of probation and parole, including the payment of debt, are completed prior to the restoration of voting rights. Individuals can be charged the for the use of a public defender, room and board while incarcerated, and conditions of probation and parole supervision, and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that nearly 10 million people owed more than $50 billion from contact with the criminal justice system.

“You’re seeing these people who have had a long history of not being able to complete probation have a successful recovery.”

In Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish, the behavioral health court provides support and alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness who are on probation. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that nearly 2 million people with mental illness enter U.S. jails each year. In the 18-month program, officials praise and reward compliance with conditions of release, and help individuals get to appointments and stay on prescribed medication. District Judge Peter Garcia, pushes for treatment rather than court sanctions, and says he’s “there to look out for families and individuals with mental illness…and give suggestions and viable options.”

“The findings show the problem with forfeiture, in that law enforcement has an incentive to focus on crime that pays.”

An investigation spurred by the Gwinnett County, Georgia Sheriff’s purchase of a 707-horsepower muscle car found nearly $100,000 in misused forfeiture funds, and additional expenditures are under review. Auditors have determined that the Sheriff Butch Conway’s purchase of the Dodge Charger Hellcat and a $25,000 donation to a faith-based nonprofit were improper uses of forfeiture funds. The purchase of a $175,000 bus, $16,150 spent on leadership seminars, and $7,758 spent on rifles later given to the Georgia State Patrol are still being evaluated. Gwinnett County’s federal forfeiture accounts held more than $827,000 in 2017, the result of participation in joint investigations with the DEA, FBI and ICE.

“We believe that we have the city’s next leaders in this room. They’re not felons, they’re fellows.”

At Minneapolis’ All Square restaurant, every employee has a criminal record. While working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, owner Emily Turner was frustrated by the obstacles faced by formerly incarcerated people, which she calls “one of the biggest civil rights issues of [her] generation.” Turner and the restaurant’s board created a 13-month fellowship program to help returning citizens and people with criminal records study marketing and finance, connect with mental health caseworkers, and get help with transportation and financial planning. Fellows start at $14 per hour, and are paid for 10 hours of structured coursework per week.

Curtailing the Use of Halfway Houses, and the news in criminal justice this week

“These changes, particularly in the absence of a justification, threaten to make our communities less safe while increasing BOP operating costs over time.”

For decades, halfway houses have been useful in helping prisoners safely transition back to their communities before release. Recently, the Justice Department has severely curtailed the use of halfway houses and home confinement, and no longer requires halfway houses to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment. In 2015, more than 10,000 people were in federal halfway houses, and 4,600 were in home confinement. Now only 7,670 are in halfway houses, and 1,822 are in home confinement. Officials at the Bureau of Prisons claimed the “fiscal environment” had led the bureau to look for ways to “most effectively use [their] resources.” The federal government spends more than $36,000 per year to imprison a person, while placement in a halfway house costs just over $32,000 and monitoring a person on home confinement costs only $4,392.

“There are 42,090 men and women in Arizona state prisons. Nearly all of them will be released. We’re working from the state perspective to make sure they’re prepared.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwell, and players Antoine Bethea and Corey Peters met with participants in the Second Chance initiative, an eight-week reentry program created last year. Nearly 60% of participants in the Second Chance program leave prison with a job, and the recidivism rate among graduates has dropped by 30%. The group visited participants in an addiction treatment program, a computer lab, a job fair, and a skills-training area, which simulates work schedules and teaches masonry and drywall installation. After the tour, Bidwell promised the team would help publicize the program, provide grass for the complex’s football team, and donate tickets for program graduates.

“Regardless of the cause, former state prisoners in North Carolina are experiencing worse employment outcomes now than they did during earlier periods of economic growth.”

The North Carolina Department of Commerce found that post-release employment rates of people who have been incarcerated are much lower than in the 1990s, and have not returned to pre-recession levels. In 1998, 62% of formerly incarcerated people were employed one year after their release; in 2014 that number was only 39%. The authors suggested a variety of contributing factors, including an overall decline in job-finding, reduced numbers of manufacturing jobs, a decline in education levels among incarcerated people, and the increased use of criminal background checks for job applicants.

“We are beginning to see what success looks like with criminal justice reform. I’m proud of what we have accomplished but acknowledge there’s a long way to go.”

Officials in Louisiana have begun the justice reinvestment promised as part of 2017’s criminal justice reform package. The state has saved $12.2 million and announced plans to spend $8.54 million in the five parishes—Orleans, Jefferson, Caddo, East Baton Rouge and St. Tammany—that have the highest number of people in prison. Nearly half of the reinvestment funds will go to local corrections programming focused on getting incarcerated people closer to their homes and families. In addition to investments in local corrections, reentry support programs, and drug courts, $1.7 million will be spent on victim services.

“It is now clear that on the whole, juvenile-justice schools do not serve kids as well as local school districts, and they should not be considered sufficient substitutes for attending a community school.”

Analysis by Bellwether Education Partners, published in Education Week, found that students in juvenile justice facilities have less access to high-level math classes and are less likely succeed in those courses. In traditional high schools, 96% of students have access to Algebra 1, and 95% of those who take it will pass. In juvenile facility schools, only 82% have access to Algebra 1, and only 61% of those who take it will pass. In addition to greater programmatic support and better qualified teachers, the analysts also pointed to the need for the collection and sharing of more reliable data about school quality and student achievement.

Philadelphia reforms its civil asset forfeiture program, and the news in criminal justice this week

“For too long, Philadelphia treated its citizens like ATMs, ensnaring thousands of people in a system designed to strip people of their property and their rights…”

In a settlement, the city of Philadelphia has agreed to reform its civil asset forfeiture program, and pay $3 million to people whose property had been unfairly seized. The lawsuit was filed by the Institute for Justice, which called the city’s program “one of the worst civil forfeiture schemes in America.” Officials agreed to increased judicial supervision, stronger notification procedures for defendants and limits on the seizure of cash and property. The settlement also bans the district attorney’s office and police department from using forfeiture revenue to fund payroll. But the reforms aren’t universal: District Attorney Larry Krasner said future forfeitures would “generally” require a conviction, and would be targeted toward assets that were used as instruments of the crime or were profits of committing the crime.

“The average person would think, well we have a lot of people in prison, that must mean there’s a lot of crime in Arizona. That’s absolutely not true.”

A report from, the first in a series examining Arizona’s imprisonment crisis, blamed poor policy choices, not rising crime, for the state’s growing prison population. The growth in prison population has outpaced residential growth, and the imprisonment rate has grown during a period of declining crime. Arizona has the 4th highest rate of imprisonment in the country, which costs taxpayers more than $1 billion each year. The authors note that the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually if its imprisonment rate was similar to neighboring states.

“BOP’s approach to managing female inmates has not been strategic, resulting in weaknesses in its ability to meet their specific needs.” 

new report from the Department of Justice concluded that staffing shortages in the Federal Bureau of Prisons were restricting access to care and services for female inmates. The Inspector General’s report makes ten recommendations to improve BOP performance, including additional training, expanded trauma treatment programs, better communication about pregnancy programs, and clearer guidelines on the distribution of feminine hygiene products. Acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz agreed with the recommendations and pledged to improve staffing and training.

“I am excited about the people who have gone through it, that are staying clean and sober, that are not resorting to crime.”

Cache Achieve, a diversion program created by officials in Utah’s Cache County, allows people accused of low-level offenses to pursue education and job-training rather than being sentenced to jail time. Qualified defendants must complete a program at Bridgerland Technical College, and maintain an 80% attendance rate and a B average. Upon successful completion of the program, charges may be dismissed. Thirteen people completed the program in 2017, saving the county an estimated $50,000.

“This is going to eliminate subjective decision making in low-risk cases while preserving the Parole Board’s ability to deny parole to low risk prisoners based on legitimate safety concerns.”

In Michigan, a new law created a list of 11 “substantial and compelling reasons” the State Parole board may use to depart from guidelines and deny parole. The reasons include a refusal to participate in risk-reduction programming, major misconduct while incarcerated, and pending felony charges or detainer requests. In addition to the codified guidelines, the parole board must give individuals a reason why their parole was denied. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer said the explanation would give people a clearer understanding of “what they need to do to work toward parole going forward.”

Clean Slate in Pennsylvania, and the news in criminal justice this week

“People who make mistakes, but turn their lives around, deserve a fresh start. And automatic record sealing ensures a fresh start opportunity is available to all Pennsylvanians, regardless of their economic circumstances.” 
Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to pass Clean Slate legislation, automatically sealing the records of people convicted of second- and third-degree misdemeanors who had completed their sentences and gone ten years without a subsequent arrest, prosecution or conviction. The bill was backed by a bipartisan coalition including the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks, and was championed by Representatives Sheryl Delozier and Jordan Harris, and Senators Anthony Williams and Scott Wagner.
“We believe that shedding light on state compassionate release programs is the first step to improving them.”
Families Against Mandatory Minimums released a report this week on the state of compassionate release programs across the country. They found a patchwork of policies, with incomplete, inconsistent and incoherent guidelines and rules. 25 states, including ArizonaIowaKentuckyMichiganMinnesotaNew YorkOhioPennsylvaniaRhode Island and Tennessee, have unclear or insufficient guidance surrounding their compassionate release programs for elderly incarcerated people, and Iowa has no formal compassionate release program at all. The report includes 21 policy recommendations to expand, improve, and publicize programs.  
“Battleground Ohio has proven yet again that lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle can still come together to pass meaningful criminal justice reforms that will save the state money and make Ohioans safer.” 
Legislators in Ohio passed Senate Bill 66, which promotes alternatives to incarceration and expands access to record sealing and drug and alcohol treatment programs. The bill, sponsored by Senators John Eklund and Charletta Tavares and backed by Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary Mohr, passed this week with overwhelming bipartisan support and awaits Governor Kasich’s signature.
“We are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. It isn’t easy, but it’s sure worth it.”
Officials in Louisiana announced this week that the state has seen significant decreases in prison population, prison admissions, and parole and probation caseloads. The number of people imprisoned for nonviolent crimes has decreased by 20%, and the number sent to prison for drug possession decreased by 42%. Governor John Bel Edwards and Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc also reported that the reforms have saved $14 million, more than twice the predicted $6 million.
“We treat too many affected individuals as criminals instead of getting them the treatment they need.”
A Nashville grand jury recommended increased training for law enforcement, teachers, and others who may interact with people in need of mental health treatment, to provide alternatives to incarceration. Metro Nashville police officers receive mental health crisis training, but rely heavily on mobile crisis response teams dispatched when a person exhibiting signs of mental illness poses a risk to themselves or others. To facilitate treatment and diversion, officials in Nashville are creating an inpatient facility for people experiencing a mental health crisis, set to open in the fall of 2019. 

Civil forfeiture reform in Minnesota, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Innocent people are losing their property without a meaningful requirement that prosecutors prove wrongdoing.”

Minnesota State Senator Scott Newman and Representative Jim Knoblach wrote about the need to abolish civil forfeiture and strengthen the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Their bill, which would require a conviction before property could be seized, was passed by a House committee on Tuesday and awaits action by the full House.

“When it comes to kids, public safety and rehabilitation are kind of inextricably linked.”

Virginia has dramatically decreased its juvenile incarcerated population, but still struggles with high rates of recidivism—more than 70% of juveniles are rearrested within three years of their release. In a multimedia story for The Atlantic, Nicolas Pollock examines the state’s last remaining youth detention facility and the factors that hinder successful reentry.

"If we want strong families, a thriving economy and a more robust workforce, we need to reduce our dependence on incarceration and protracted sentencing while maintaining public safety."

The chorus of voices supporting justice reforms, including more effective sentencing practices for nonviolent crimes and proven approaches to cut recidivism and prison populations, continues to grow. The influential State Chamber of Oklahoma is working to turn around the corrections system in their state, which regrettably continues to be home to the largest female incarceration rate in the country and the second-highest male incarceration rate, all while Oklahoma’s Legislature continues to consider a raft of measures that would begin to right-size their prison system.

“If you break the law and illegally peddle these deadly poisons, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will hold you accountable.”

President Trump announced a new strategy for fighting the opioid crisis, including increased education and treatment funding, longer sentences for drug offenses, and pursuing the death penalty in drug trafficking cases. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently found that increased imprisonment had no statistically significant relationship with self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.

“The cycle of crime and punishment doesn’t create better citizens and safer communities. It creates better criminals.”

In The Hill, Young Republican National Federation Chairman Jason Emert and CPS’s Jenna Moll argued that corrections systems need to be more focused on reducing recidivism, including the federal government. In recent years, Arizona and Louisiana have taken steps to provide education, mentoring, substance abuse treatment, vocational training to people who are incarcerated, and Tennessee has reduced barriers to employment for those who have been released. These states have undertaken these reforms within a conservative framework: achieving lower crime rates while spending fewer tax dollars on broken approaches to criminal justice.

Dignity for incarcerated women, and the news in criminal justice this week

“America is home to only about 5% of the world’s female population, but we house in our prisons about 30% of all the women incarcerated in the world.”

On Sunday, #cut50’s Van Jones talked with Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay about the Dignity Campaign for incarcerated women. Jones and Topeka Sam also wrote about the need to include women in the conversation about criminal justice reform and the progress being made on dignity-related bills in Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and Connecticut.

“Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day.”

The Prison Policy Initiative pieced together data from nearly 7000 correctional facilities across the country and in U.S. territories to build a full picture of our current correctional system. They found that the United States has more people detained pre-trial than most countries have in their prisons and jails combined, and that 1 in 5 incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense.

“We should all want our communities to be safer, but filling jail beds or prison beds has never proven to do that.”

Attorney General Sessions spoke to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Nashville this week, where he pledged to pursue longer sentences, and “reverse a trend that suggested that criminals won’t be confronted seriously with their crimes.” Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall pushed back, arguing that focusing on the underlying causes of crime will have a better long-term effect on the city. He is working with the district attorney, Nashville judges, and the public defender to shrink the jail population and provide treatment for mental illness and addiction.

“The Institution of Criminal Justice largely ignores the context of these women’s lives and the reality of their needs."

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition released the first of two in-depth reports about the state of women in the Texas’ criminal justice system. They found that 82% of women experienced domestic violence prior to incarceration, and 52% had an income of less than $10,000 per year. Their recommendations to improve public safety and reduce costs associated with incarceration included investing in community-level support that accounts for trauma histories, using pretrial diversion, and reforming the bail system to stop punishing poverty.

“Boys born into the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution were about 20 times as likely to end up incarcerated as boys born into the top 10 percent."

A study from the Brookings Institution found a strong correlation between childhood family income and adult incarceration. Family structure was a strong driver—children from single-parent families were twice as likely to end up incarcerated as the children of married parents, regardless of family income. The researchers also looked at prisoners’ places of birth, and found that they were more likely to have grown up in “socially isolated and segregated neighborhoods” and in predominantly African American or American Indian neighborhoods.

Nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the news in criminal justice this week

“When we have more prison, we have less crime. And when we have less prison, we have more crime.”

President Trump announced four nominees for the U.S. Sentencing Commission this week, including Georgetown University Law Professor William Otis, a prominent defender of debunked sentencing practices and critic of bipartisan criminal justice reform. Otis also previously called for the Sentencing Commission to be disbanded. Two of the other nominees, Judge William Pryor and Judge Henry Hudson, are allies of Attorney  General Sessions.  The fourth nominee, Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, was appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court by President Obama, and began his career as a law clerk at the ACLU National Prison Project.

“A Watershed Year for Criminal Justice.”

The Vera Institute of Justice released The State of Justice Reform 2017, an interactive report identifying major trends and developments across the country. The report highlights topics from policing to reentry, and examines the state of justice reform through multiple lenses including bipartisan support, women and girls, public health.

“It was just shockingly different to see the needs, the risk.”

At ACU’s Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, panelists discussed the need for policies specifically designed for women in the corrections system. While women can benefit from broader efforts like the push to reform one-size-fits-all sentencing for non-violent crimes, those efforts do not address other issues women face, including a lack of prenatal care and nutrition, access to feminine hygiene products, and supervision by male guards during medical care and in the shower. Panelists pointed to some signs of progress—Arizona increased access to hygiene products, and bills that would improve prison conditions for women are pending in California, Georgia, and Kentucky.   

“This legislation has the potential to benefit society as a whole and be life changing to many individuals and families throughout this great Commonwealth.”

The Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts sent a letter to Governor Baker and the members of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee of Conference, supporting a wide range of reforms. The letter asked them to consider judicial discretion in sentencing; alternatives to incarceration for offenders suffering from substance abuse; raising the felony larceny threshold; reducing roadblocks to employment; and increasing funding for in-prison and reentry programs for job training, drug treatment, mental health and housing.

“The most incarcerated state changes course.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ brief on Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment package provides a roadmap for other states working on comprehensive justice reform. The report gives background information on the need for reform, factors that contributed to Louisiana’s extraordinarily high imprisonment rate, and the bipartisan task force which developed recommendations and sponsored reforms.  It also explains how the legislative package addressed four primary objectives: prioritizing prison space for those who pose a public safety threat, strengthening community supervision, eliminating barriers to reentry, and reinvesting prison savings to reduce recidivism and support victims. This overview comes as states like South Carolina and Nebraska seek to drive further reforms in their system.

Oklahoma advances reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This is a prime example of an area where we can reform our system, reduce our prison population, rehabilitate offenders and keep families together.”

Oklahoma House Bill 2281, which would reduce penalties for low-level property offenses, passed in the house on Tuesday and heads to the Senate for final approval. State Representative Terry O’Donnell, who sponsored the legislation, said it would help reduce the number of women in Oklahoma prisons: “Many women in our prison system have been convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes like larceny, forgery, and writing bad checks. In fact, convictions for those crimes are where we are seeing some of the greatest growth in our corrections system.” This is the first of several measures Oklahoma will be considering this year as they work to reform a bloated and ineffective corrections system.

“We’re the foot soldiers of the Constitution and sometimes we forget that.”

Former Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Ted Nelson, who helped develop the civil asset forfeiture curriculum for the state police, testified this week that the practice is being misused, and told reporters he’d seen the state seize items for use in department offices or to be sold for a profit.  He testified in support of HB 4158, which would require a conviction before law enforcement can seize assets under $50,000.

“It is unjust that a theft of something like a pair of shoes or a phone could send someone to prison with a felony conviction on their record for life.”

Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam and Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox announced a bipartisan deal to increase the felony threshold from $200 to $500 and require that defendants pay restitution before getting off of probation or court supervision. Even with this increase, the Commonwealth’s felony theft threshold will still be among the lowest in the nation—34 states have a threshold of $1000 or higher.

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence, and divorce.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates released an issue brief this week with recommendations on minimizing the impact of parental incarceration on children. Nearly 15% of Kentucky children have been separated from their parent due to incarceration, and the study found this, as an “adverse childhood experience," had a serious impact on short-term health and well-being, as well as increased risk of adult disease, disability, unhealthy behaviors and early death.

“The humiliation is really something you carry with you forever.”

A legislative committee in Arizona voted to increase funding for feminine hygiene products after hearing testimony from formerly incarcerated women about the “bloodstained pants, begging and bartering” at Perryville State Prison. Under current policy, women are provided with twelve pads per month, and have to pay for any additional pads or tampons. Similar legislation is being considered in Maryland and Virginia, and has already become law in Colorado.