Arkansas

"Confined and Costly," and the news in criminal justice this week

“Many states have made recidivism reduction a public safety priority, but the harsh reality is that supervision fails nearly as often as it succeeds.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report this week called “Confined and Costly,” examining how parole and probation violations contribute to state prison populations. They found that 45% of state prison admissions are due to violations of probation or parole, costing more than $9.3 billion annually. The report includes state-by-state analysis of supervision violations and budget impacts. More than half of people in prison on any given day in Idaho, Arkansas, Missouri and Wisconsin are there for a supervision violation, compared to fewer than 5% in Maryland, Michigan, Alabama and Massachusetts.

“It’s the talk of the prison yard in a lot of prisons statewide.”

Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board received nearly 750 applications for commutations in the first four months of the year, almost twice as many as in the same period in 2018. House Bill 1269, signed into law this year, created a single-stage commutation docket for people whose convictions are for felonies now reclassified as misdemeanors, but the law doesn’t take effect until November 1. Until then, the board conducts a two-stage review and sends recommendations to the governor. More than 560 applications were submitted in May alone. “We’re doing our best to keep afloat,” Interim Executive Director Melinda Romero told the Oklahoman. “We’re processing them as fast as we can.”

“The assumption is often made that people with mental illness end up in the justice system because they refuse healthcare interventions. In these cases, the opposite was true; the healthcare system refused them.”

Between 2017 and 2018, 142 people were arrested for trespassing at five Portland hospitals and a psychiatric emergency department, and 109 of them were seeking or being discharged from care, according to a new report from Disability Rights Oregon. The authors urge hospitals to create better discharge plans for patients, and seek funding for diversion programs for people with mental illness. Officials from Legacy and OHSU defended their practices, but Providence Medical Group’s chief executive of behavioral health said they had “significantly reviewed and revised [their] processes and procedures” based on the report.

“It’s tough to go around without teeth.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s denture clinic delivered its first sets of 3D-printed teeth this week. A Houston Chronicle investigation last year revealed dentures were only being provided in cases of “medical necessity,” and chewing was not considered a necessity. The number of dentures distributed to incarcerated people had dropped sharply, going from 1,295 in 2004 to only 71 in 2016. After the investigation, corrections officials pledged to update policies, hire a denture specialist and start a denture clinic. Texas is now the first prison system to 3D-print dentures on-site, and can produce four sets of teeth per day at a cost of $60-70 each.

“Florida’s sentencing policy has not changed for decades despite research indicating it may not be providing the public safety benefits envisioned, and, in fact, its emphasis on punishment may be in conflict with best practices for recidivism reduction.”  

Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code contributes to sentencing disparities across the state and results in the overincarceration of low-level offenders, according to a new report by the Crime and Justice Institute. The authors recommend considering six policy changes, including shortening sentence lengths, creating a meaningful right of appeal for sentences that exceed specified ranges, and implementing post-release supervision for some defendants. Previous reports by the Crime and Justice Institute focused on Florida’s persistently high prison population, and data-driven recommendations to improve the state’s justice system.

The Next Step Act in Ohio, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Our broken system failed Alex, and countless other Ohioans, but we can start to make it right with Senate Bill 3.”

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio State Senators John Eklund (R-Munson) and Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta) urged their fellow legislators to support Senate Bill 3, which would make some simple drug possession charges a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. The “Next Step Act” follows the federal First Step in embracing “bipartisan, commonsense, data-driven reforms.” Eklund and O’Brien cited polling from the Justice Action Network showing 87% of Ohio voters supported sentencing reforms for low-level nonviolent offenders.

“The same crime in two different counties can have very different results when it comes to your freedom, if you’re given financial bail, if you’re held pretrial—even sentencing.”

A new study from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found vast disparities between counties in pretrial release and financial conditions of bail. Their reportanalyzed 217,273 cases from 2018. Stark differences applied in financial bail—individuals were released without financial conditions in 68% of cases in Martin County and only 5% of cases in McCracken County. And the affordability of set bail amounts varied widely across the state: in Hopkins County, 99% of those offered cash bail were able to pay it, while only 17% were able to pay in Wolfe County.

“New data about the effects of the Frist Step Act…is showing that past injustices can be corrected, even in the most politically polarized of times.”

According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than 1,000 people have received sentence reductions as a result of the First Step Act. The average sentence reduction has been 73 months and more than 91% of those whose sentences were reduced were African American. The New York Times editorial board lauded the releases, and encouraged President Trump to fill vacancies at the Sentencing Commission to ensure proper application of elements of the First Step Act, including compassionate release.

“Simply put, increased forfeiture funds had no meaningful effect on crime fighting. However, forfeiture was strongly linked to worsening economic conditions.”

The Institute for Justice examined more than ten years of data from the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program to determine whether asset forfeiture helped fight crime. They found that equitable sharing funds did not increase the number of crimes solved, and did not reduce drug use. Instead, they found greater use of forfeiture when departments are under fiscal stress—when unemployment increased by 1%, equitable sharing seizures increased 9%.

“I’m not trying to justify anything. But there is more than one way to pay for a crime, and I have overpaid for mine.”

Legislators in Maine are debating a bill that would allow courts to reduce juvenile restitution based on financial circumstances or allow some of the debt to be paid off with community service. While many states have moved to reduce or eliminate juvenile fines and fees, only six states (Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia place a limit on juvenile restitution obligations. These debts are not consistently collected—Connecticut recovered 87% of the amount owed, while Mississippi recovered only 28%. 

Asset Forfeiture in Texas, and the news in criminal justice this week

“There is a principle of being innocent until proven guilty, and forfeiture just takes that and flips it on its head.”

The Texas Tribune reviewed thousands of pages of court records related to asset forfeiture in four counties: Harris, Reeves, Smith and Webb. The 560 cases reviewed resulted in the seizure of nearly $10 million and 100 cars. In approximately 40% of cases, the person whose property was seized was not found guilty of a crime related to the seizure. In the first half of 2016 alone, police in Harris County seized $8 million in cash and 67 vehicles, and 15% of cases had no related criminal charge.

“By reducing the burden our occupational licensing laws have on those with criminal records, we will strengthen our communities by lowering crime rates as well.”
 
Pennsylvania State Senators John DiSanto (R-15) and Judy Schwank (D-11) and Representatives Sheryl Delozier (R-88) and Jordan Harris (D-186) wrote a joint op-ed in PennLive about the need for reform to the state’s occupational licensing requirements. They’ve introduced Senate Bill 637 and House Bill 1477, which would prevent licensing boards from denying or revoking a license based solely on one’s criminal history unless the conviction is directly related to the licensed occupation. Both bills would also allow individuals to find out if they are eligible for licensing before they go through the training and educational requirements for the particular profession. 

“…Many of the broader challenges that probation departments face can be traced to the way that they are funded—usually based upon the number of people being supervised at any given time.”
 
In The Hill, Right on Crime’s Michael Haugen reviewed a report finding that performance-based funding has contributed to reduced caseloads, lower costs, and fewer probation revocations. Successful models include Ohio’s “Reclaim” Program, which incentivizes community-based programming for juvenile offenders and at-risk youth, and Illinois’ “Redeploy” Program, which provides financial incentives to jurisdictions that expand evidence-based interventions focused on addressing underlying drivers of crime. 
 
“Barriers to communication from high inmate calling rates interfere with inmates’ ability to consult with their attorneys, impede family contact that can make prisons and jails safer spaces, and foster recidivism.”
 
In Iowa, the average cost of a 15-minute call from prison or jail was $7.03, with some counties charging as much as $11. The state utility board, tasked with ensuring that reasonable rates are charged by state service providers, has asked the 11 companies who provide calling services for more information about their pricing. Iowa’s prices are $1.29 higher than the national average of $5.74, and are the 13th-highest in the country. Arkansas has the most expensive rates, charging an average of $14.49 for 15 minutes.
 
“How do you find meaning in a life where you may never see the outside world?”
 
Photographer Sara Bennett photographed women serving prison sentences of 18 years or longer at New York’s Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities. The women, who were all convicted of murder, were photographed at their workplaces, including the library, gym, and infant center. “The lifers all know each other,” Bennett said. “…It’s a society. Sometimes it feels like a secluded community.”

Automatic Expungement in Utah, and the news in criminal justice this week

“If you do everything you’re asked to do, and jump through all the hoops, there ought to be a mechanism that allows you to get your life back on track.”

With unanimous votes in both the House and Senate, Utah legislators passed House Bill 431, The Expungement Act of 2019. The bill would allow for automatic expungement of certain criminal records after a set period of five to seven years, depending on the offense. H.B. 431 is expected to be signed by Governor Gary Herbert, making Utah the second state in the country to pass automatic expungement legislation.  “When we equip individuals with the tools they need to turn their lives around,” argued former U.S. Attorney and Utahn Brett Tolman, “we are smarter and safer as a state and a country.”

“The Fair Chance Act allows qualified people with criminal records to get their foot in the door and be judged by their merit, not a past conviction.”

At a joint hearing of House Oversight and Reform subcommittees this week, lawmakers heard from the sponsors of H.R. 1076, The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act. The bill would prohibit agencies and their contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until a conditional offer of employment has been extended. Thirty-three states and nearly 150 cities and counties have implemented some version of ban-the-box policies. House sponsors Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Doug Collins (R-GA) were joined at the hearing by Senate sponsors Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), as well as the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris and Teresa Hodge, Co-Founder and CEO of R3 Score Technologies.

“This bill is a testament to finding agreement, talking through practical challenges, and raising the standard to ensure our citizens have more protections in place.”

Arkansas Senate Bill 308, which requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited by the state, passed unanimously in both chambers. Senator Majority Leader Bart Hester and Representative Austin McCollum championed the issue, and Governor Asa Hutchinson is expected to sign the bill into law. With his signature, Arkansas will join the ranks of states like New Mexico, Ohio, and Connecticut to dramatically restrict civil asset forfeiture. Meanwhile, in Michigan, MLive.com broke down the state police’s asset forfeiture report, detailing what was seized, how property was disposed, and how the income from assets was spent.

“It appears that the same bureaucrats that fought the First Step Act at every opportunity are trying to starve it to death through the budget process...”  

President Trump’s 2020 budget request contained $14 million for the development of pilot programs for people who are incarcerated, well short of the $75 million annual expenditure described in the First Step Act. The White House did not indicate how the administration planned to implement the law’s expansion of programs for education, career and technical training, substance abuse treatment or halfway houses. While Congress is responsible for allocating funding, and both houses have generally ignored presidential budget requests, advocates were concerned that the proposal fell short of a full-throated implementation of the law.

“It’s obviously an equity issue. They’re stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty.”

Legislators in Oregon are debating House Bill 2614, which would end the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid court fees and traffic tickets. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles issued more than 76,000 license suspensions in 2017 alone. Representative Jeff Barker, who is sponsoring the bill with House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, said the current system impacts those who can’t afford to pay fines, and “they get into a downward spiral that they can’t get out of.”