Forfeiture Reforms

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.”



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%. 

Occupational Licensing Reform in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This is a huge deal.”

Legislators in Oklahoma voted to create more specific use of criminal records in state occupational licensing decisions, and remove “good character” requirements from those laws with nearly unanimous, bipartisan support. House Bill 1373 was approved in the House by vote of 90-2 and in the Senate by a vote of 42-0, and Governor Stitt is expected to sign it into law. The Institute of Justice previously ranked Oklahoma as the 11th most burdensome state for occupational licensing, noting that 29 of 102 low-to-moderate income occupations required certification, and data from the  University of Tulsa showed Oklahomans with criminal records had an unemployment rate almost five times as high as the general population.   

“We look forward to working with leaders of both parties in the Legislature and with the administration to help us grow the economy, improve our criminal justice system and keep Pennsylvania No. 1 for second chances.” 

Pennsylvania’s business community and groups from the right and left came together to call for prioritizing justice reforms that help returning citizens find jobs in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris and leaders from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation and Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania encouraged legislators to adopt reforms to the state’s occupational licensing and probation systems, and access to expungement.

“No one should profit from criminal activity. But to take somebody’s goods and deprive them before there’s been due process delivered is an injustice.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of bills this week that will significantly reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. House Bills 4001 and 4002 and Senate Bill 2 will require the government to notify a person that their property has been seized, return unjustified forfeited property within 14 days, delay forfeiture in cases involving controlled substances, and obtain a conviction before property can be permanently forfeited to the state in most cases. These reforms, championed by Senator Peter Lucido, follow a 2015 change to requirements for evidence and transparency, and a 2016 law that removed a bond requirement for people challenging a forfeiture.

“This report shows that judges are respecting the rights of the accused by releasing eligible pretrial defendants from jail without increasing the threat to public safety.” 

Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, released a report this week on the effects of pretrial reforms instituted in 2017. The Cook County Jail population dropped by more than 1,600 and the average bound amount fell from $5,000 to $1,000. At the same time, violent crime in Chicago decreased by 8% and nearly 90% of those released had not been charged with a new crime during the 15-month period covered by the study. 

“This is a great opportunity for individuals to get training of a skill for employment, not in a low level or entry level type job, but one where their training and certification opens up new opportunities at a much higher level for them.”

The Culinary Academy, a partnership between the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board, the Sawyer County Jail, Hayward Senior Resource Center, and the Sawyer County Criminal Justice Programs, provides training for incarcerated people in a variety of skills related to the culinary industry. Participants learn about food preparation, nutrition, hospitality, customer service, and menu preparation, and receive their ServSafe certification.

The Supreme Court Rules on Asset Forfeiture, and the news in criminal justice this week

“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.”

 In a unanimous ruling announced Wednesday, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines applies to state governments. The ruling came in the case of Tyson Timbs, whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by the state Indiana in connection to a crime that carried a maximum fine of $10,000. While the court ruled that the excessive fines clause was incorporated to local and state governments, the ruling was narrow and did not take a position on the seizure of Timbs’ vehicle, or address concerns about the use of forfeited funds by law enforcement agencies.

“…With bipartisan support and increased momentum to adopt criminal justice reforms, the 2019 Legislature should act to bring more fairness and effectiveness to Minnesota’s probation system.”

New polling from the Justice Action Network showed that 82% of Minnesotans supported standardizing probation guidelines, and 61% favored a five-year cap on felony probation. The Star Tribune editorial board cited the polling in an editorial in favor of recently-introduced probation reforms, as well as measures to encourage alternatives to incarceration. In addition to support for changes to the probation system, the poll showed that 74% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a county prosecutor who backed the reforms.  

“Oklahoma’s occupational licensing laws have grown beyond that is necessary to ensure the safety of our communities.”

In an op-ed in The Oklahoman, Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Tim Head, the American Conservative Union Foundation’s David Safavian and FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye urged lawmakers to reduce barriers to employment for people with criminal records. More than 40 lower-income occupations require a license in Oklahoma and, on average, the license costs $234 in fees and requires 399 days of education. Legislators are currently considering House Bills 1373 and 2134, which would reform the state’s occupation licensing laws. 

“…Open and transparent discovery promotes the interests of the criminal justice community, from the prosecutors and police to the accused.”

 New Yorkers United for Justice released a new ad aimed at educating people on the need for discovery reform. The ad features Michael Morton, whose wrongful conviction helped spur Texas to change its discovery process to prevent prosecutors from withholding evidence. New York’s current law allows prosecutors to restrict access to information, including police reports, witness statements and grand jury testimony until just before a trial begins. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal included language backing the expansion of pretrial file-sharing.

“We can take a cue from policymakers in states around the country, as well as those in the federal government, who have shown that rethinking mandatory minimum policies can result in reductions in both crime and prison populations.”

A study from the James Madison Institute examines how Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which were designed to target traffickers, have ensnared low-level dealers. Trafficking thresholds include the weight of non-controlled substances included in prescription pills, and create wide disparities in the length of mandatory sentences: a fifteen-year minimum sentence is mandated for possession of the equivalent of 9,066,667 marijuana joints, 1,607,143 lines of cocaine, or 22 hydrocodone pills. According to the report, Florida spends more than $100 million annually to incarcerate drug offenders who are serving mandatory minimum sentences.

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.

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.



Poll finds strong support for pretrial reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Support for limiting pretrial use of jail extended across party lines and was consistently high among households with crime victims or members of law enforcement.”

Polling from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows broad support for reforms that prioritize release over detention and use a wide range of options to manage risk during the pretrial period. The poll, conducted by the conservative GS Strategy Group and progressive Benenson Strategy Group, found 9 in 10 respondents favored releasing people pretrial if they are facing nonviolent charges. The poll also found strong support for speedy trials, with 81% saying detained individuals should not have to wait longer than a week for a trial to start.

“It’s high time the country got smarter on crime and punishment, lowering mandatory sentences for first-time drug offenders and giving judges more latitude in their decisions.”

Momentum continued to build for the FIRST STEP Act, now awaiting a vote in the Senate. Editorial boards across the country, including the Washington PostChristian Science MonitorDeseret News and the Louisville Courier-Journal all pushed for the Senate to pass the legislation. In their endorsement, the Christian Science Monitor board noted that the FIRST STEP Act would “[take] a little sting out of an era of hyperpartisan politics by proving that working across party lines is still possible.” The bill was also endorsed this week by the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

“So what is to happen if a state needing revenue says anyone who speeds has to forfeit the Bugatti, Mercedes, or a special Ferrari or even jalopy?”

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case of Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. A majority of the justices, led by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor, appeared deeply skeptical of Indiana’s claim that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines did not apply to the states. During questioning by Justice Breyer, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher asserted that a vehicle driven even five miles over the speed limit could be forfeited. Amicus briefs in support of Timbs were filed by a broad range of groups, including the NAACP, the Cato Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Simply removing the stigma of a felony conviction from people with addiction is a positive step, and for this alone, SQ 780 has been a resounding success.”

Analysis from the Oklahoma Policy Institute showed that State Question 780 reversed a long trend of increasing felony filings, reducing filings by more than 28% in the first year since it took effect. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and many minor property crimes as misdemeanors. Effects varied by county, with felony filings dropping by more than 50% in Cotton and Harper counties, while Haskell, Logan, Payne, Johnston and Atoka counties all appeared to show a shift toward harsher charges to avoid SQ 780’s reforms.

“Sentencing is something that is an exclusive parameter of the judges…That is, in my opinion, the most important thing that judges do.”

Prosecutors in Orleans Parish invoked the state’s habitual offender statute in 6% of cases this year in which defendants were eligible, down from 13% in 2017. Those sentenced under the habitual offender statute are subject to mandatory minimum sentences without the possibility of parole or early release. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro attributed part of the decrease to the Justice Reinvestment Package passed in 2017, which shortened the time limit for past crimes to be considered for habitual offender status.  According to the Department of Corrections, nearly 75% of those sentenced under the habitual offender law in 2015 were convicted of drug or property crimes, not violent crimes.

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.

Bipartisan Leadership on Reform, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Kentucky has been a model for bipartisan state-level reforms. Now we have the chance to take the lead at the federal level, too.”

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Fox News contributor and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds urged action on bipartisan criminal justice reform at a symposium at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. Mukasey said law enforcement was open to changing the current system, telling the crowd “if the criminal justice system is supposed to have any kind of transformative effect, it ain’t working.” In advance of Wednesday’s event, American Constitution Society chapter president David Woolums and Federalist Society chapter president Shannon Marie Keene co-authored an op-ed calling for bipartisan leadership on criminal justice reform.

“What we’ll do after the election is take a whip count and if there are more than 60 senators who want to go forward on that bill, we’ll find time to address it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed this week to taking a whip count on the FIRST STEP Act during the lame duck session, saying he would schedule a vote if there is sufficient support. President Trump reaffirmed his support for criminal justice reform, and said Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not represent the administration on criminal justice reform. “I make the decision,” Trump told Fox and Friends, “he doesn’t.”

“We understand that officer safety must be considered in any actions the state takes. But, we believe that can be accomplished without the debilitating use of solitary confinement.”

Isaiah Trinity Cabrales committed suicide after being held in solitary confinement for seven months at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. He was told he wouldn’t be allowed phone calls, visitors or trips to the commissary until May 2019, two years after he started serving his sentence. Reforms to the state’s solitary confinement system failed in the legislature in 2015, and were vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez in 2017. In response to the investigation of Cabrales’ death, the editorial board of the Las Cruces Sun News called for reform to the state’s “widespread use” of solitary confinement.

“The important thing is that all came together to pass good policy reform. At least in the area of criminal justice reform, Washington, D.C. could learn a big lesson from Michigan.”

In the Detroit News, the Mackinac Center’s Jarret Skorup pointed to Michigan’s bipartisan consensus on criminal justice as a model for national reform. Groups from across the political spectrum have worked together to improve the state’s bail system, raise the age at which juveniles are tried as adults, address overcriminalization, reform civil asset forfeiture, and increase access to expungements. Earlier this month, a package of bills to reform the state’s occupational licensing was passed with nearly unanimous support in the House and awaits action in the Senate. If passed, the legislation would target the “good moral character” provision of licensing laws, and allow people with criminal records to pursue the nearly 200 professions that are licensed by the state.

“If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever?”

Twenty states have created or expanded record-sealing programs, some with the full-throated support of prosecutors, since the beginning of 2017, and many are looking at Indiana’s Second Chance law as a model. The law, signed by then-Governor Mike Pence in 2013, created an expungement review process in which the seriousness of the offense and the outcome of the case determine the waiting period and form of record-sealing. Victims of crime are also given an opportunity to be heard before any relief is granted. Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry is an enthusiastic supporter, telling The New York Times “it’s just a matter of trying to remove obstacles that would make it more difficult for someone to become a productive member of the community.”  

Wrongly Seized Property Returned in Mississippi, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We are glad to see that the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is not only following the law, but is taking corrective action in cases where administrative forfeiture procedures were incorrectly used.”

The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has begun sending notifications allowing retrieval of stolen property to individuals whose assets were seized improperly. New rules governing asset forfeiture went into effect on July 1 of this year, but representatives of the Mississippi Justice Institute noted that MBN seizures had continued after the effective date. Reforms passed by the state legislature in 2017 require agencies to obtain a warrant within 72 hours of seizing property, and to post all forfeitures on a publicly accessible website. Prior to the reforms, there was no requirement that asset forfeiture be tracked or reported, and an investigation by Reason found forfeitures of cash, cars, electronic equipment, power tools and one comic book collection.

“One of the biggest problems is, they don’t have the money to hire more public defenders. So as a result, their caseload is way too high. And they’re excellent lawyers—but you can only handle so many cases.”

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not provide state-level funding for public defense. Instead, public defense is funded at the county level, and there is no consistent oversight of the system. Most counties do not track caseloads and outcomes comprehensively, and one third of counties were unable to provide full budget, salary and staffing information in response to public records requests. State Senator Stewart Greenleaf has long been a champion of public defense reform, but is unsure whether anyone will take up the cause when he retires in January.

“As former federal and state prosecutors, we understand more than most that there are smart ways to reform the system that lead to better outcomes. You can be pro-public safety, pro-law enforcement and pro-reform simultaneously.”

In the Albuquerque Journal, former U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias and Brett Tolman argued that New Mexico’s bail reforms are working, and the state should continue on the path started by 2016’s Amendment 1. They note that both pretrial detention and crime have both declined since bail reform was implemented, and that the state’s pretrial system is now driven by public safety, rather than access to cash.  

“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that incarceration is an ineffective response to drug abuse and that treatment in the community produces better public safety results.”

A new report from the Urban Institute looks at five states that have reclassified drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and makes recommendations for other states looking toward reform. Utah’s prison population has declined 9% since HB 348 was enacted, driven in part by a 74% drop in new commitments for drug possession. The number of people in prison for drug possession in Connecticut has declined by 74%, and the Department of Corrections projects cost savings of $9.8 million in fiscal 2017. In addition to reclassification, the report recommends investment in substance abuse treatment and behavioral health programs.

“For more than 20 years, the program’s solid track record has convinced leaders in state government, along with local judges, prosecutors and treatment providers, that Drug Court is an essential part of the Kentucky court system.”

Looking to rein in their jail budget and inmate population, Kentucky’s Boyle and Mercer Counties are considering creating certified drug courts. 113 of the state’s 120 counties already have state-certified drug courts, which provide comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services, frequent non-adversarial judicial interaction, and community supervision. A report commissioned by the counties also recommended refining the use of graduated sanctions, and using discretionary detention for those who have violated a probation or parole condition.