Data Collection

Michigan's Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Is this a person we’re angry with? Afraid of? Or afraid for?”
 
The first public meeting of Michigan’s Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration was held this week at Wayne State University Law School. The bipartisan task force includes lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, law enforcement and reform advocates. “Anyone can identify a problem,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said in opening remarks. “But it takes real leaders to present solutions.” Future meetings have been scheduled in Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Lansing, and their final report is due January 10, 2020. 

“We have exceeded last year’s savings. This is good news.”
 
Louisiana officials announced this week that the state continues to see smaller prison populations and cost savings from 2017’s justice reforms. The prison population dropped to 31,756, a 4.2% decline from 2018, and the number of people on parole or probation supervision dropped to just under 60,000, a 9% reduction from 2018. Of the $17.8 million in reduced spending, an estimated $12.5 million will be reinvested into programs aimed at reducing crime and recidivism, providing alternatives to incarceration, and supporting victims. “It’s still early in this process and there are more lessons to learn and more challenges to meet,” said Governor John Bel Edwards, “but we are taking significant steps toward improving our criminal justice system.”
 
“Is it because people don’t want to pay? Or is it because they can’t?”
 
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Clerk Anna Valencia announced plans this week to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income residents. Revenue from parking, red light, and speeding tickets brought in more than $260 million in 2018, but more than two-thirds of tickets remain unpaid, and 59,000 people have had their driver’s license suspended for non-driving violations. The proposed reforms would end driver’s license suspensions for unpaid tickets related to non-driving violations and create payment plans with lower down payments and longer time periods.“Driven Into Debt,” a joint investigation by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ that highlighted the impact of city ticketing practices, particularly on communities of color, was credited with spurring the reforms.
 
“Now is the time to double down on the strategies that are working.”
 
According to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths fell 4.2% in 2018, to an estimated 68,500 nationwide. Deaths related to opioids declined slightly, from 49,000 to 47,600, while those related to cocaine and psychostimulants increased from 25,800 to 28,700.  Some of the steepest declines in overdose deaths came in Ohio, which saw a 22.1% decrease, and Pennsylvania, where 18.8% fewer deaths were reported. Eighteen states, including Arizona, Oregon, Tennessee and Louisiana, saw increases in fatal overdoses from 2017 to 2018.
 
“For the past few years, the population has been growing, and we’ve been trying to take steps to address it. And I think you’re seeing the result of those steps.”
 
Colorado’s prison population, once expected to surpass 24,000 by 2025, is now expected to stay level, according to revised estimates from the Department of Public Safety. Officials attributed the change in trajectory to a decline in incarceration for technical parole violations, fewer parole denials, and the reclassification of some drug felonies as misdemeanors. The reclassification is expected to result in 300 fewer prison commitments each year.

First Step Act Implementation, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s a long overdue change.” 

Nearly 3,100 people are scheduled to be released from federal prisons, halfway houses or home confinement this week as a result of the First Step Act’s “good time” credit changes. Justice Department officials also unveiled a new risk and needs assessment to help assign recidivism reduction programming. And in the New York Times, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg wrote about the process of freeing Robert Clarence Potts III, who was sentenced to life in prison for drug and weapons charges. During his 20 years in prison, Potts overcame addiction, took courses in personal growth and responsible thinking, and studied software and the law. As a result of the First Step Act, Potts was able to seek a sentence reduction, and Rosenberg was able to order his release to a residential re-entry center. 

“It’s sort of a testament to the fact that we don’t need to rely on incarceration to live in a city that’s safe.” 

 According to new data from the New York City Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice, there were nearly 20% fewer jail admissions in fiscal 2019 than in 2018. City officials attributed the drop in jail admissions to decreased crime, the decriminalization of marijuana, and bail reform. The city’s jail incarceration rate is now the lowest since 1978, but there are still ongoing concerns: more people are being admitted to jail for violating state parole, and individuals on parole are staying in jail twice as long as those facing similar charges. Racial disparities in the city’s jail population have also persisted—86.3% of those in jail in 2018 were African-American or Hispanic. 

“Is it financially prudent and morally responsible to fund a co-equal branch of government on the backs of a few who are often the poorest and least fortunate members of our society?”

After a legislative audit found widespread irregularities in pretrial diversion programs and revenues, Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette Johnson asked prosecutors to report their income from diversion programs to the research arm of the state Supreme Court. The results showed variation across the state—a DWI dismissal, which isn’t offered in every jurisdiction, costs $2,100 in St. Tammany Parish and $1,000 in East Baton Rouge. And while some District Attorney’s offices showed little revenue from pretrial interventions, Rapides Parish brought in more than $2 million per year. Internal documents showed the Rapides Parish diversion fees paid for conferences, postage, office supplies, and nearly $90,000 in unitemized “fringe” expenditures.

“Technical violations account for almost 1 in 4 admissions to state prison and $2.8 billion in annual incarceration costs.”

An issue brief from the Pew Charitable Trusts examines reforms implemented through Justice Reinvestment Initiatives to address high rates of technical revocations for people on probation. The authors identified four categories of reform policies: tailoring supervision strategies toward behavioral change for high-risk supervisees, providing incentives for people on supervision, using administrative responses to violations, and capping or reducing jail or prison time for violations and limiting the use of incarceration for technical violations. They also highlighted model policies, including Utah’s earned credits toward discharge from parole or probation, and Georgia’s requirement of evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism.

“What we do is find athletes who are passionate about justice reform issues and work with them to help amplify their voices.”

The Justice Action Network partnered with University of Kentucky standout and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rookie Benny Snell, Jr. to host system-impacted children at a football camp in Westerville, Ohio this week. Nearly 200 kids, aged 6-16, participated in the camp, which was held at Snell’s alma mater, Westerville Central High School. The Justice Action Network worked with groups, including the Boys and Girls Club, to identify kids whose families had been involved in the criminal justice system.

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.”

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

“This Clean Slate law is really about preventing a criminal charge being a life sentence to poverty.”

Pennsylvania will begin automatically sealing 30 million criminal records today, thanks to the first-in-the-nation Clean Slate Act. The broad, bipartisan coalition that helped pass Clean Slate last year, including Governor Tom Wolf, Clean Slate Act co-sponsors Jordan Harris and Sheryl Delozier, and representatives from the Justice Action Network, Community Legal Services, the Center for American Progress, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce gathered for a press conference to mark the bill’s full implementation. Following Pennsylvania’s lead,  similar legislation has been passed in Utah and is pending in Michigan.  

“They need to be able to manage the demands of life. They need to have an education that prepares them for employment. They need to have positive relationships with others. They are not going to get any of that locked in a room somewhere.” 

“Not in Isolation,” a new report from the Center for Children’s Law and Policy and the Justice Policy Institute, looks at strategies for safely reducing the use of room confinement in juvenile detention facilities in Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Memphis, Tennessee. While approaches and tactics varied by jurisdiction, one common takeaway was the need for regular training on crisis intervention, adolescent development and de-escalating aggression. Each case study includes perspectives from facility and agency staff, program materials, examinations of challenges and lessons learned, and qualitative and quantitative results. 

“These regulations do not protect public safety. They bar people from employment, and too often the result of unemployment is homelessness, hunger, and re-incarceration.”

Rhode Island Senate Bill 610, which would reform the state’s occupational licensing requirements, was unanimously passed by the Senate this week with a vote of 37-0.  The bill would create a process to determine whether a prior conviction was relevant to the licensed occupation, and ensure a license could not be denied solely on the basis of a criminal record. More than 100 occupations in Rhode Island currently require a background check inclusive of non-related convictions and “crimes of moral turpitude,” and 40% of licensed occupations are in the state’s fastest-growing fields.

“The only way we’re going to move the needle…is to find common, middle ground that is good policy.”

Oklahoma’s new 15-member Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform (“RESTORE”) Task Force, hopes to advance criminal justice reform with an emphasis on compromise. Subcommittees will focus on six areas of concern: the “pipeline” of factors resulting in incarceration; “front end” issues including bail, bond, diversion and alternatives to incarceration; sentencing issues related to serious crimes, habitual offenders, and the impact of sentencing changes; “back end” concerns including re-entry, pardon and parole, commutations, supervision and occupational licensing; rural issues including access to treatment and effective counsel; and using data and research to improve oversight and reduce crime.

“The choice between civil asset forfeiture and fighting crime is a false dichotomy.”

Writing in the Clarion Ledger, Brett Kittredge of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy and Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice call for an end to civil asset forfeiture. “Mississippi law enforcement isn’t necessarily busting drug kingpins,” they argue, pointing to a review of the first 18 months of the state’s civil forfeiture database. Fewer than 10 seizures had a value of more than $60,000, and the vast majority were for $5,000 or less. Dismissing the argument that civil forfeiture is needed to fight crime, the authors say North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska, which have abolished civil forfeiture, haven’t seen spikes in crime or become “havens for drug dealers.”



"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.

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.”

A New Bipartisan Consensus, and the news in criminal justice this week

“There is a new bipartisan consensus on criminal justice, and it is that the old consensus was wrong.”  

The Brennan Center for Justice published Ending Mass Incarceration: Ideas from Today’s Leaders, featuring essays from presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris, NAACP’s Derrick Johnson, #cut50’s Van Jones, and Trump advisor Jared Kushner. The report is a follow-up from 2015’s Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice. “Four years later, I think it’s a very different landscape,” noted Brennan Center’s Inimai Chettiar, “..they are not only committing to ending mass incarceration but also coming forward with far bigger proposals and more specific proposals.”

“Being a drug addict should not be a crime in the State of Ohio. Period.”

The Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony this week on Senate Bill 3, which would reduce penalties for some low-level, non-violent offenses, particularly drug possession offenses. The bill’s sponsors, Senators John Eklund (R-Munson Township) and Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta), said current Ohio law too often “mandates ever-increasing prison terms for people who need treatment much more than they need punishment.” New polling from Public Opinion Strategies and the Justice Action Network showed that Ohio voters overwhelmingly support sentencing reform and second-chance policies.

“By utilizing MAT and improving access to this lifesaving treatment, communities and correctional agents can reduce the risk of overdose and death post-release.”

An estimated 58% of state prisoners and 63% of sentenced jail inmates have substance abuse disorders, and states are using more data-driven approaches to addressing their needs during incarceration and in the reentry period. Kentucky increased funding for naltrexone and substance abuse disorder programs in 2015 that provided structured environments, mentorship offerings and a sense of community. Pennsylvania’s Nonnarcotic Medication Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment Grant Pilot Program funded prison-based social workers and provided naltrexone to inmates upon release. And in Ohio, State Targeted Response funds were used to expand the number of doctors with buprenorphine waivers. 

“Most counties collect so little from the fees they do not even track what they bring in…”

Last year, Los Angeles County spent $3.9 million on collections and brought in $3.4 million in adult probation fees, losing $500,000 and only collecting fees on 4% of active probation cases. The cost of collections and the economic impact on returning citizens led San Francisco to eliminate all local justice system fees and write off $32 million in debt owed by 21,000 people.  State Senator Holly Mitchell introduced the Families Over Fees Act, which would eliminate administrative fees for people in the criminal justice system and “remove economic shackles on people who’ve already paid their debt to society.” 

“These people are our neighbors…It’s to all of our benefit to make sure that when they are released they are better prepared to be productive citizens.”

Rutherford County Correctional Work Center, partnered with local businesses to provide training in mechatronics, a mix of mechanical engineering and electronics. The center serves more than 180 incarcerated people, and works with outside employers on work release programs. As part of a request for $100,000 in additional funding, Superintendent William Cope predicted a reduction in the current recidivism rate of 32% for those released in the county.

Federal Clean Slate Legislation, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The Clean Slate Act would ensure that people who pay their debt to society and stay on the straight and narrow can earn a second shot at a better life.”

Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) introduced the Clean Slate Act this week, which would automatically seal the federal records of people convicted of drug possession or any nonviolent offense involving marijuana. The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and FreedomWorks. CAP’s Rebecca Vallas said the Clean Slate Act “would help people get back to work, lift families out of poverty and interrupt the cycle of economic instability and recidivism trapping countless individuals and families in the justice system today.”  Expungement also gained steam in Wisconsin: Assembly Bill 33, the “Pathways to Employment” legislation, advanced through House and Senate committees and is expected to be scheduled for floor votes in both chambers in May.

“There is more work to be done, but this is a great sign that we are on the right path.”

New numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed a continued decline in prison populations, down to 1.49 million from a peak in 2009 of 1.62 million. Five states—New York, New Jersey, Alaska, Connecticut and Vermont—have reduced their prison population by at least 30% in the past twenty years. Not all states have seen declines—Kentucky’s state inmate population increased by 2.3% between 2016 and 2017, and Utah saw an increase of 4.3% in that time frame.

“If our policies make a second chance harder, especially in a way that is disproportional by economic status, they need to change.”

Starting this month, New York and Pennsylvania will no longer automatically suspend driver’s licenses for people convicted of drug crimes. Pennsylvania suspended nearly 20,000 licenses each year for non-driving offenses, and between 2009 and 2015, New York suspended nearly 180,000 licenses for drug crimes unrelated to driving. In their resolution opposing federal license suspension requirements, New York legislatures said the policy imposed “an undue barrier in the ability of individuals convicted of such crimes to find and maintain employment and take part in the activities of daily living.”

“This is the first step of turning the Department of Warehousing back into the Department of Corrections.”

State economists estimated this week that the Florida First Step Act, sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), could result in $860.4 million in savings in its first five years. The most significant cost savings would come from a decrease in mandatory time-served threshold from 85% to 65% of sentences for certain first-time, non-violent offenses. Crime in Florida is at a 55-year low, but the state’s prison population is at an all-time high of 96,000 people, and costs $2.4 billion per year.

“If people don’t have stable housing when they get out, they’re much more likely to go back. Housing is the key to understanding the recidivism puzzle.”

Atlanta’s Metro Reentry Facility is believed to be the first transitional state prison for those slated for release within 18 months. To date, 350 men have been enrolled in the program, which provides intensive counseling, vocational training and housing support. Officials from the Georgia Department of Corrections also work with soon-to-be-released people to reconnect with family members, find housing, get a driver’s license and open a bank account.

Growing Support for Justice Reform in Louisiana, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Criminal justice reform is proof of the good that can happen when we come together and put people over politics.”

New polling from Louisiana State University shows growing support for criminal justice reform, particularly among Republicans and Independents. The results reveal that 70% of those surveyed approve of the state’s justice reforms, up from 61% in 2018. Support increased by 14 points for Republicans and by 12 points for Independents. The poll results point to continuing concerns among Louisianans—only 32% believe the current system is fair, or that it keeps communities safe. “Criminal justice reform is working in our state just as it has in other Southern state,” Governor John Bel Edwards noted in a response to the poll results, “and we have every reason to believe that the improvements will continue.” 

“In the end, citizens have a right to know how their county criminal justice system is performing, and the officials who operate it have a duty to ensure they’re making decisions based on objective data.” 

Measures for Justice Executive Director Amy Bach highlighted the difficulties in evaluating and reforming the justice system at the local level. Across more than 3,000 counties, there are no uniform expectations for collecting or reporting access to diversion programs, license suspensions and revocations, or racial and socioeconomic disparities. Bach suggests states follow Florida’s lead, and calls their recently-increased data collection requirements and establishment of a statewide searchable database “a huge win for transparency and informed policymaking.” And in the Marshall Project, Nicole Lewis looks at the process of implementation in Florida, where the law takes effect statewide on July 1.  

“We want to have folks that are able to come back into society and become productive family members, productive members of the community and even productive taxpayers.”

Iowa’s Newton Correctional Facility is partnering with the Iowa Association of Councils of Government and Homes for Iowa, Inc. to teach incarcerated people trade skills and create low-cost homes for rural Iowans. In the program, modeled on South Dakota’s Governor’s House Program, trainees will help construct two- to three-bedroom homes that can be shipped throughout the state. Newton Correctional Facility also offers computing skills courses and trade apprenticeships, and partners with Grinnell College on secondary education classes. 

“The only way to stop this rule from going into effect is to send the administration a clear message that their proposed changes to federal hiring are regressive, unacceptable, and will hurt families and communities across America.”

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management proposed a new rule that would require federal job applicants to reveal whether they have participated in a diversion program meant to avoid a criminal conviction. “The intention of using a diversionary program is just as it sounds: to divert individuals from the justice system and provide correctional measures without incurring the impact of a criminal conviction,” noted FreedomWorks’ Sarah Anderson. “Requiring disclosure of participation in such a program runs counter to its very intention.” The public comment period for the change runs through Tuesday, April 23; you can submit a comment here.

“I am voting yes because I have not given up on the young people, children of Oregon, my Oregon, who have gotten themselves into trouble.”

The Oregon State Senate voted this week to end the automatic referral of juveniles facing certain serious charges to adult court. The referrals were required under Measure 11, passed in 1994, which established mandatory minimum sentences and high bail for offenses including murder, robbery, and assault. Senate Bill 1008 would also bar life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders and establish “second look” hearings for juveniles convicted of Measure 11 crimes who have served at least half of their sentences. The bill passed by a vote of 20-10, narrowly meeting the requirement of 2/3 majority to amend a voter-approved law.

 

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.