Georgia

Bipartisan Reforms in Missouri, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…The system needed to change over the years because just locking people up was not always the answer.”

Governor Mike Parson signed a series of bills he said would “bring bipartisan reform to Missouri’s criminal justice system while also promoting public safety and supporting our local prosecutors.” The bills covered a wide range of criminal justice issues, including eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent offenses, expanding the list of crimes eligible for expungement, prohibiting imprisonment due to an inability to pay jail board bill, and ensuring that each judicial circuit has a veterans’ treatment court. Legislative researchers estimated that the sentencing reforms in House Bill 192 alone could save the state up to $5.8 million once they are fully implemented in 2023.

“States such as Kansas and Georgia are learning that people benefit from community-based punishments that offer character building and skills development without sacrificing safety.”

Juvenile incarceration has dropped 60% since 2000, and Prison Fellowship’s Kate Trammell points to state-level reforms as a major driver of that reduction. Kansas, which focused on diversion programs that provided community-based alternatives to incarceration, saw a 31% drop in juvenile correctional placements between 2015 and 2018, and was able to fund evidence-based programs with $30 million in cost savings. Similarly, Georgia has seen a 46% decline in commitments to the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice since reforms were passed in 2013.

“This is a great opportunity for a real career outside of here. It’s not just one of those jobs to get by.”

Federal Correction Institute Englewood hosts a variety of job-training programs that Justice Department officials are touting as models for the First Step Act’s reentry programs. The Colorado prison’s architectural drafting program is assisting the Port Authority of New York in a flood prevention project, the culinary arts program trains aspiring chefs, and a roofing and road paving crew works on repairs and new construction at federal facilities across the country. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen toured Englewood this week, while Attorney General William Barr and South Carolina Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham reviewed training programs at FCI Edgefield. 

“We need to get people into good-paying jobs and get them into housing … These things become pipe dreams for many people with criminal records.”

North Carolina’s Second Chance Act, which would expand and simplify expungement, was advanced by the House Judiciary Committee this week. It was unanimously approved by the Senate in May, and has support from groups across the ideological spectrum including the state Conference of District Attorneys. Senate Bill 562 would allow people with nonviolent misdemeanor convictions to have their public record cleared after seven years. And starting in 2020, records of charges for which a person was not convicted will be automatically removed.

“Families with incarcerated loved ones believe lawmakers would support smarter justice reforms if they took the time to visit a prison or jail, and see what it is like.”

FAMM’s #VisitAPrison challenge launched this week, encouraging state and federal policymakers to pledge to visit a prison or jail in the next 12 months. Legislators from across the country have taken the pledge, including Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), Arizona State Representative Lorenzo Sierra, Georgia State Representative Gregg Kennard, New York Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Oregon State Senator Sara Geiser, and Pennsylvania Senators Camera Bartolotta and Sharif Street. More information about the #VisitAPrison challenge is available here.


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.

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.

Problems in Parole and Community Supervision, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Community corrections is marked by considerable growth and scale, disproportionate representation of men and people of color, and a majority of people who committed nonviolent offenses.”

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation found significant problems in the country’s parole and community supervision programs. One in 55 adults in the U.S. were on probation or parole in 2016, and rates vary widely by state, from 1 in 18 in Georgia to 1 in 168 in New Hampshire. The growth in community supervision has outpaced public safety indicators, and 78% of people on probation and parole were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The report suggests policy changes to improve outcomes and points to 37 states that have improved public safety while reducing their supervision population.

“It’s cruel and unusual punishment for individuals trying to turn their lives around and innocent children and other family members who depend on them.”

In 2017, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation suspended nearly 40,000 licenses for nonviolent, non-driving offenses. Maxwell King, CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Matt Smith, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, say these suspensions trap low-income people in cycles of debt and poverty and increase the costs of enforcement and incarceration. They are collaborating on the Driven to Work campaign, pushing for the passage of House Bill 163 and House Resolution 76, which would remove license suspension as a penalty for nonviolent offenses that are not connected to driving. The reforms passed by a vote of 193-3 in the House in April and supporters anticipate a Senate vote soon.

“It now looks possible — though we’ll need more years of data to confirm — that 2015 and 2016 were replays of 2005 and 2006.”

According to new data from the FBI, rates of murder, violent crime and property crime all fell in 2017. Compared to 2016 data, the violent crime rate fell by .9% and the murder rate decreased 1.4%. Rates of aggravated assault and rape showed slight increases. The recent numbers follow long-term trends of declining crime rates, and suggest a stabilization after increases in violent crime and murder in 2015 and 2016. In a statement, FBI Director Christopher Wray noted that the data would allow law enforcement to “more easily identify crime patterns and trends, understand how and why certain crimes are happening, and find the best way to prevent them.” The underlying data is available here.

“Reforming institutions so that municipal governments rely less on fines and fees may also help improve police effectiveness and improve public safety.”

Researchers from Harvard, the University of Memphis and New York University analyzed data from the Census of Governments and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and found that “police departments in cities that collect a greater share of their revenues from fees, fines and civilly forfeited assets have significantly lower rates of solving violent and property crimes.” The authors suggested this was due to a shift in resources, where police departments focus on revenue collection rather than investigatory work.

“Georgia has profoundly reshaped its adult and juvenile correctional systems, earning widespread acclaim…”

As Georgia prepares to elect a new governor, the Augusta Chronicle examined the impact of Governor Nathan Deal’s signature criminal justice reforms. Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform found a decrease in the total prison population, a reduction in racial disparity, and a steep decline in new commitments to the juvenile justice system. In addition, the recidivism rate dropped from 30 percent to 28 percent, and the share of those behind bars who were convicted of violent crimes rose from 57 percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2017. The commission recommended additional reforms to the state’s bail system, and the expansion of record-sealing and expungement for those who have completed their sentences.  

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

“We want to allow people a clean slate and to move forward with their lives after they’ve done what they were supposed to do.”

Representatives Rod Blum (R-IA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) introduced the “Clean Slate Act,” which would allow people convicted of low-level drug offenses to have their records automatically sealed, and allow people convicted of other nonviolent offenses to petition to have their records sealed. The bill is modeled after Pennsylvania’s landmark Clean Slate legislation, passed earlier this year, and backed by the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks.

“The results of the poll really show this is not a red state issue or a blue state issue, this is a real issue that Americans want to see advanced and they want to see politicians in Washington make progress.”

New polling from the Justice Action Network showed widespread support among Kentuckians for the prison reforms in the FIRST STEP Act and the proposed sentencing reforms that may be added. On a call unveiling the poll results, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner said the bill will “keep our communities safer, which is a big priority of the president.” Senator Rand Paul pushed for a vote on the bill, predicting that more than 2/3 of the Senate would support the prison and sentencing reforms. 74% of those polled approved of a safety valve to allow judges to divert from mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and 70% believed Senator McConnell should allow the prison and sentencing reform bill to get a vote in the Senate.

“Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety.”

This week, California became the first state to eliminate cash bail, as Governor Brown signed legislation that goes into effect in October 2019.  The state’s cash bail system was declared unconstitutional by an appellate court earlier this year. In lieu of posting bail, people will receive a risk assessment that factors in the seriousness of their accused crime, how likely they are to show up for their court dates, and the likelihood of reoffending. Most people accused of nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours.

“No single approach is going to work for every jurisdiction or jail, but jurisdictions can take advantage of the experiences of other states to craft an approach suited to their local conditions.”

A new report from the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at UCLA Law School, “Getting to Zero,” looks at the progress made in reducing the numbers of juveniles housed in adult jails, and strategies to further reduce that number. Twenty states have passed laws since 2009 to limit juveniles in adult jails, but there are still at least 32,000 youth entering adult jails each year. Adult jails have struggled to provide appropriate health and mental health treatment for juveniles, and youth in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile detention. The report makes several recommendations to remove youth from adult jails, including raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, and modifying state transfer laws to minimize youth tried as adults.

“But at what point is it necessary to keep an ex-offender on a list? This guy for the last 12 years has lived an ideal life, but his name continues to be on a list that serves no purpose for society.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Torpy profiled Benjamin Paul, whose job offer from Georgia Tech was rescinded after a background check turned up Paul’s criminal record from when he was 17 and 18 years old. In the intervening 12 years, Paul earned his GED, as well as an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree, became an ordained minister, and worked as a career adviser at Miami-Dade College. Torpy interviewed Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske, who said records like Paul’s “create a very heavy yoke around ex-offenders” and encouraged lawmakers to follow their faith: “[they] go to church and read the scripture that says, ‘Forgive seven times 70 times.’ But they don’t live it.”

Governors share state-level success stories, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We’ve seen firsthand how this changes lives, how it gives people second chances, how it puts communities back together, and keeps families together.”

As part of a renewed push for federal justice reform, President Trump met with a bipartisan group of governors this week to talk about state-level successes. In remarks before their closed-door session, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal noted that the recidivism rate for people in prison who learned a blue-collar job skill dropped by 24%, and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant credited his state’s reforms for saving $40 million since 2014. Following the meeting, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards invited the President to tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and see vocational, victim-reconciliation and faith-based programs in action.

“This ruling ensures that people can no longer be thrown in jail in New Orleans Parish for their poverty alone.”  

In New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that the 14th Amendment prohibits jailing defendants for nonpayment of court-ordered fines and fees without providing a neutral forum for determining their ability to pay. In addition, Judge Vance ruled that the use of fees collected by the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court for judges’ benefits and salaries created an impermissible conflict of interest. Her order granted class-action status to anyone who owes court-issued fines in the Parish now or in the future.

“One of the things that’s really important to us in terms of hospice is ensuring that we are allowing the patient to die with dignity.”

As America’s prison population grows older, facilities around the country are forced to look for models in end-of-life care and many are looking to Angola. Their innovative volunteer hospice program is housed in rooms formerly used for solitary confinement, now outfitted with air conditioning, televisions and private bathrooms. Patients are cared for by their fellow inmates, who receive more than 40 hours of training in the physical and psychological needs of hospice care.  More than 80 programs are modeled on Angola’s, and California and Nevada have used a volunteer model for additional non-hospice medical programs.

“Even if you have work training programs and drug treatment programs, all efforts will be moot if they can’t get into the workforce.”

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering reforms to the state’s occupational licensing procedure, to ensure that people with criminal records are not presumed to have poor moral character. Michigan currently requires licenses for 15 professions, including barbers, builders and landscape architects. The new bills would require the state to document a reason for rejection beyond a felony conviction, or a connection between a previous fraud conviction and the occupation being sought.  

“It is critical to remove barriers to education for those with criminal records, as education has a proven record of reducing recidivism and rearrests among these individuals and helping them reenter society successfully.”

The Common App, a streamlined college application form used by more than 700 member colleges and universities, announced it will remove a question that asks applicants whether they have a criminal record. Individual colleges maintain the right to ask about criminal records on supplemental and subsequent applications. In a letter sent earlier this year, 18 U.S. Senators urged the Common App to make the change, arguing that such questions “deter exceptional applicants from completing their applications and accessing critical pathways to opportunity.”

The FIRST STEP Act passes in the house, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This bill will transform lives by providing access to the mental health counseling, education, vocational services and substance abuse treatment needed to help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and become productive members of society.”

The FIRST STEP Act passed in the U.S. House with overwhelming bipartisan support this week; 99% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats voted in favor. The bill includes an increase in recidivism reduction program funding, expanded access to compassionate release programs, an increase in good time credits, broad new requirements for data collection, and a ban on shackling pregnant women.

“Without that support then we are just simply setting them up to fail.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill called for reforms to the state’s probation and parole systems, including offering early discharge for those who follow the program, and limiting supervision fees. James Hudspeth, the Director of Utah Adult Probation and Parole, agreed that some reforms are necessary, and cited large caseloads and a need to better prepare individuals for release.

“…Drug treatment courts provide a range of services and support that aid recovery. But it’s not just treatment that benefits participants. It’s learning how to live a clean and sober life.”

A report from the Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Center for Law and Policy Solutions examined drug treatment courts, using New York’s 3rd Judicial District as a case study. Despite the court’s initial success, they found lingering challenges with accessibility, cost, and stigma for participants. Their recommendations include an increase in data transparency, expanded access, and increased funding for substance abuse treatment, education, and prevention services.

“…The collection of revenue, and not the pursuit of justice or protecting the public, has become the driving force for civil and criminal enforcement.”

A lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice alleges that Doraville, Georgia has turned the local justice system into a cash machine for the city’s budget. Fines, fees, and forfeitures accounted for 19 to 30 percent of Doraville’s budget over the past five years, and residents face steep fines for chipped paint, cracked concrete, and improperly stacked firewood. The practice is not limited to Georgia—fines and fees provided 30.4% of the budget in Saint Ann, Missouri, 25.6% in North Hills, New York, and 14.5% in Sunset, Utah.

“…Addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.”

The AP’s Sharon Cohen visited women in jail in Campbell County, Tennessee, where opioids are prescribed at five times the national average, and the local prosecutor says as much as 90 percent of crime in the area is connected to drugs. The county jail, which houses an average of 60 women per day, offers a high school equivalency diploma program, but no addiction treatment, mental health counseling, or vocational training for women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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