Iowa

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.

 

Kentucky led the way on the First Step Act, and the news in criminal justice this week

 “While Democratic and Republican senators pressured him to bring up the legislation in Washington, he listened to friends in Kentucky who adopted a strategy of flooding him with information, but not pressuring too obviously or too hard.” 
 
A behind-the-scenes look at The First Step Act’s path to passage highlighted the effectiveness of a serious, sustained, and local effort to persuade Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to give the bill a vote in the Senate. Proponents, including Senator Rand Paul, Representative John Yarmuth, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, and Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds helped make the case for data-driven reforms with a record of success at the state level. As the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris noted, “ultimately the voices that are going to matter to him most are the ones back at home.”   
 
“All you have to do is consult the numbers…New Jersey’s crime rates have plummeted across the board.”
 
New Jersey eliminated most cash bail in January 2017, despite predictions from opponents that crime would increase and communities would be less safe. Since then, violent crime rates have dropped more than 30%, with 32% fewer homicides, 37% fewer robberies, and 30% fewer burglaries. The state’s pretrial jail population has decreased nearly 40% over the past two years. After reviewing the data, the New Jersey Star Ledger editorial board said the reforms had “transformed our state into a model of justice reform for the entire nation.”
 
“There are other options, such as industry accreditation or simpler registries, that could offer an appropriate level of oversight without creating obstacles for workers attempting to enter the field.”
 
According to data from the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma licenses 41 lower-income professions, requiring an average of $234 in fees, two exams, and 399 days of education and experience. This week, a bipartisan coalition of state leaders recommended several changes to Oklahoma’s occupational licensing requirements, including expanding the list of boards that are banned from prohibiting the licensing of people with felony convictions unless their crimes were substantially related to the industry, and narrowing the scope of government licensure to work. The alarm and locksmith board, for example, currently requires that all salespeople, managers and security system technicians be licensed. The board recommended that managers and salespeople, who do not have access to peoples’ homes and valuables, should not be required to be licensed. 
 
“So what are we proudest of? Working together to develop outcomes that are far better for the broader society and far better for the individual as well.”

At the final meeting of his criminal justice reform commission, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor pointed to their successes—including overall reductions in violent crime, arrests and prison populations—but noted that there was much more work to be done. Governor-Elect Ned Lamont has pledged to continue the state’s justice reforms, and announced this week that he would appoint Rollin Cook, the former executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, to serve as corrections commissioner.  
 
“Instead of just taking (juvenile offenders) to the jail, you take them to the center, they get an assessment and find out what that child needs…”
 
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch suggested several steps to reduce youth violence and involvement in the justice system, including better information sharing, easier connections with social services, and the establishment of an assessment center for youth who have come in contact with law enforcement. The recommendations come from a community-wide study that included input from law enforcement leaders, juvenile justice experts and social service providers. “A cycle of punitive accountability without any intervention is just a cycle of incarceration, release, re-offense,” said juvenile court officer Scott Hobart. “We’ve got to intervene.”

 

Rights of incarcerated parents, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The right to your children is the most fundamental one you have, but we strip it from incarcerated parents so casually.”

Since 2006, at least 32,000 incarcerated parents have had their children permanently taken from them without being accused of physical or sexual abuse. In 5,000 of those cases, parental rights appear to have been stripped because of imprisonment alone. The Adoption and Safe Families Act, passed in 1997, required federally funded child welfare programs to begin to terminate parental rights in most cases where children had been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months. States that facilitated adoptions received more than $639 million in incentive payments. A small number of states, including New York, Washington and Illinois have passed legislation to protect the parental rights of incarcerated people, and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has indicated that she plans to introduce federal protections for parents who maintain a role in their kids’ lives.

“The reality is states have been doing this. It has been successful. It has been a bipartisan issue…this is the one issue that is bringing people together right now.”

Justice Action Network partnered with the Washington Post and the University of Virginia on Criminal Justice Reform: The Road Ahead, bringing together elected officials and advocates from around the country. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley discussed the outlook for The First Step Act and committed to working across party lines to move forward. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Representative Sheryl Delozier and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel discussed the commonwealth’s recent justice reforms, including this year’s Clean Slate bill. JAN’s Holly Harris talked with FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye and #cut50’s Jessica Jackson about justice reform’s bipartisan coalitions.  Additional panels featured Senator Mike Lee, Leadership Conference’s Vanita Gupta, FAMM’s Kevin Ring, and Brittany Barnett and Sharanda Jones of the Buried Alive project.

“We need politicians more concerned about the rising taxpayer and human cost of our growing prison system than about what will be printed on direct mailers during the next election cycle; and a public that places more value on reduced crime than increased convictions.”

Two new reports from the Iowa Department of Human Rights highlight the cost of the current justice system and areas that could be ripe for reform in the coming legislative session. The Correctional Policy Project’s Prison Population Forecastpredicts a more than 20% increase in the total prison population over the next ten years, going from the current 8,447 to 10,144. The state’s prisons, already at 116% of capacity, are projected to be at 139% of capacity if no policy changes are made. In its Legislative Recommendations to the General Assemblythe state’s Public Safety Advisory Board suggested changes to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and the implementation of a results-driven approach to corrections and juvenile justice with a consistent cost analysis formula for evaluating programs. Additional recommendations included eliminating driving sanctions for the failure to pay fines and fees. The Iowa Legislature is widely expected to tackle many of these reforms during the 2019 session.

This signals we understand there is a better way to address issues of addiction and mental illness rather than incarceration.”

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of 21 people serving time for crimes that now carry no prison term or significantly reduced sentences. Collectively, the clemency recipients had been sentenced to 349 years in prison for drug possession or other nonviolent offenses. The push for commutation was driven by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, with assistance from groups including the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and students from the University of Tulsa School of Law.

“What we heard from employers in the nonprofit and government sectors who want to hire people who were involved in the justice system is that a lot of times, there’s a gap in technology skills.”

At John Jay College’s Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI), returning citizens can catch up on technological developments they may have missed while they were incarcerated. Students in Tech 101 learn to set up Google accounts and use Microsoft Office suite, get an overview of digital privacy issues, and see how employers use social media when making hiring decisions. Elena Sigman, PRI’s director of collaborative learning, credits partnerships between educational institutions, the justice system, affiliated nonprofits and the city for Tech 101’s success, and hopes it will lead to replicas in other cities and counties.

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.”

Albuquerque's forfeitures ruled unconstitutional, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The Court concludes that the City of Albuquerque’s forfeiture officials have an unconstitutional institutional incentive to prosecute forfeiture cases…”

A U.S. District Court ruled that Albuquerque’s asset forfeiture program violated the constitution both by depriving owners of their property without due process, and by injecting the city’s financial interest into the law enforcement process. Albuquerque’s program raised nearly $12 million in forfeitures, settlements and fees between 2009 and 2016, and until recently, the city had refused to comply with state law that required a criminal conviction to forfeit property.  Sixteen states, including New Mexico, Iowa, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah, require the government to bear the burden of proof in innocent-owner claims; only seven have closed the equitable sharing loophole created by federal law.

“We looked at the evidence and decided it was time to discard the curfew law.”

Austin, Texas, has seen a 12 percent decrease in juvenile victimization since it rescinded its juvenile curfew law. Curfew violations and truancy had been classified as Class B misdemeanors, bringing youths into adult courts where they were forced to pay fines and fees, and had no right to counsel. Austin’s Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay suggested a link between the policy and the victimization rate: “…youth aren’t hiding from the police anymore, in places they weren’t supposed to be. Now they can be in a public place and not fear the police, and maybe that makes everyone safer.”

“These challenges may appear overwhelming, but many states are using innovative approaches to tackle them and are achieving results.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center introduced a new website, the 50-State Report on Public Safety, which features more than 300 data visualizations comparing crime, recidivism and state correctional practices. Highlighted innovations come from all 50 states, including Ohio’s  Crisis Intervention Teams, Pennsylvania’s use of performance-based contracts for halfway houses, and New Mexico’s first-in-the-nation requirement that all local and state law enforcement officers carry naloxone.

“We took up the mantle in 2016 because businesses need to tap these ready and willing employees, and we can get tens of thousands of our fellow South Carolinians back into the workforce.”

According to the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, South Carolina finally enacted a "major jobs bill that the business community believes will expand the state’s economy, increase labor force participation, and lower recidivism rates.” That bill? A significant expansion of expungement opportunities designed to get those with a criminal record back to work. With thousands of unfilled positions across South Carolina, the business community partnered with policymakers and advocates to “clean up the records of tens of thousands of low-level, non-violent offenders so they can get back to work."

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

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

A nation of second chances, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We are a nation of second chances”

President Trump issued his first sentence commutation, to an Iowa slaughterhouse executive serving 27 years for bank fraud and money laundering. This step, with bipartisan support, may further open the door to federal reform legislation, while the Nation of Second Chances project profiles some of the 1715 men and women whose petitions were granted in the last few years. 

“A minor criminal offense should not lead to a lifetime of punishment”

In New Jersey, Governor Christie signed three bills intended to help with reentry—expanding existing ban the box legislation, reducing waiting time periods for expungement, and making more crimes eligible for expungement. In New Orleans, The First 72+—an organization designed and run by men who have been incarcerated—eases reentry with housing, meals, clothes, transportation, job resources and legal services, 

“The sheriffs are so desperate to try something

In the face of an opioid epidemic, police and prosecutors are going back to a tactic from the ‘90s and treating overdoses as homicides, but the line between users and dealers is increasingly hard to define. 

"More than 27 percent in Nashville and more than 38 percent in Memphis are covered by such zones."

Reason Magazine takes a deep dive into drug free school zones in Tennessee, questioning whether these policies are having their intended effect. One finding: in Johnson City, Tennessee, “[o]verlapping drug-free zones leave only tiny areas—in this case, 472 square feet—uncovered in some neighborhoods."

“These recommendations are not about being soft on crime; they are about holding people accountable in a way that enhances public safety”

Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative’s Annual Report found that reforms had reduced the projected prison population by 18% while focusing on more serious and violent offenders, held offenders accountable through community supervision, and expanded mental health and substance abuse treatments to historically high levels. Heading into the upcoming legislative sessions, Kentucky’s CJPAC Justice Reinvestment Work Group recommended 22 data-driven policy recommendations that would avert 79% of projected prison population growth and save nearly $340 million over the next ten years. The Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force reached consensus on 48 policy recommendations to promote safety and accountability, control costs and improve outcomes. 

Governors Justice Series, and the news in criminal justice this week

Governors gathered to talk about opportunities for reform

The Justice Action Network continued its Governors Justice Series in Austin this week, in partnership with Google, Right on Crime, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. You can watch the full event here, or watch profiles of the speakers, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. Governor Bevin also wrote an op-ed on the conservative approach to justice reform. 

 

Justice reform initiatives continue to attract major philanthropy

Agnes Gund’s Art for Justice Fund announced $22 million in grants  to address the crisis of mass incarceration, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is funding reformers and helping them use social media and targeting to enhance educational efforts. 

 

Good policies can be good politics 

New polling from the ACLU showed strong support for justice reform across the board. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats, 67% of Independents and 57% of Republicans all agreed we should reduce our prison population. See more from the poll here

 

Justice reinvestment has support from law enforcement

Jake Lilly, from Law Enforcement Action Partnership shows how justice reinvestment has worked in Georgia and Texas, and will work in Louisiana.

 

Coast to coast, new reports are bridging the gap between scholarship on the books and reform on the ground

Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law released a four volume report featuring the work of dozens of researchers on criminalization, policing, pretrial and trial processes, punishment, incarceration and release. Across the country, the Project on Accountable Justice took a hard look at Florida’s criminal justice system, and the need for reform.