Louisiana

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

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

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

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

“It’s a long overdue change.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Minnesota's Proposed Parole Board, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Deciding whether an inmate has changed and merits the opportunity to be returned to society shouldn’t rest with one person.” 

The Minnesota Legislature is considering resurrecting a parole board similar to the one the state had in the early 1980s. Under current law, Minnesota’s commissioner of the Department of Corrections is the only person authorized to grant or deny parole requests for individuals serving a term of life in prison. The proposed board would consist of five panelists recommended by leaders of both political parties, each of whom have at least five years of criminal-justice related experience. Paul Schnell, who was recently appointed to head the Department of Corrections, has endorsed the reform.

“This is a perfect opportunity for our partners and stakeholders to come to the table with us, and look at ways of streamlining and improving our system of releasing eligible state offenders in a timely manner.”

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has put forward a proposal to bring the DOC, county clerks and sheriffs together to ensure that people are not held in jails and prisons past their official release dates. The proposal comes after a NOLA.com and Times-Picayune investigation found that hundreds and possibly thousands of people had been incarcerated longer than their sentences required.  In a review of 200 cases in which people were eligible for immediate release, the DOC found they had to wait an average of 49 additional days beyond their official release date, at an annual taxpayer expense of $2.8 million.

“For a lot of people, once you get into this cycle, you don’t get out.”

A new study from the Duke University School of Law found 1,225,000 active driver’s license suspensions for non-driving related reasons in North Carolina, comprising nearly 15% of all adult drivers in the state. Overall, 67.5% of those suspensions were for failure to appear in court, 21.4% were for failure to pay traffic costs, fines or fees, and 11% were for both. The researchers also found a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic drivers, who made up 29% of driving-age North Carolinians, and 58% of suspensions for failure to pay fines and costs.

“The time has come for us to engage in a deep and critical reflection on the fairness of our juvenile justice system.”

Oregon lawmakers heard testimony this week about a series of reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system, including removing the mandate that juveniles aged 15 or older be tried as adults for some serious crimes. The bills have garnered support from Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Department of Corrections Director Colette Peters, and Oregon Youth Authority Director Joe O’Leary. Recent polling by GBAO showed 88% of Oregonians want the youth justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation, rather than punishment and incarceration.  

“Before considering what additional reforms are needed to fix a severely broken criminal justice system, U.S. elected leaders must first stop supporting the very mechanisms that cause the failure in the first place.”

The Center for American Progress released a report this week on the legacy of the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, arguing that the law’s effects—particularly financial incentives for stricter state laws—continue to undercut reform efforts. The authors point to several areas of concern, including the expansion of federal offenses and criminal penalties and the funding of jail and prison construction.

Debt and Incarceration, and the news in criminal justice this week

“But what we’re seeing in these situations is that not only are the poor in the United States treated differently than people with means, but that the courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty.”

Corinth, Mississippi is the subject of a New York Times investigation into the cycle of debt and incarceration, and the ways fines and fees are used to finance the justice system. Prior to a settlement last fall, defendants who were unable to pay fines and fees could reduce their debt by $25 for each day they spent in the Alcorn County Jail. The settlement grants additional time for people to pay fines and fees, and does not allow imprisonment for people who are unable to pay. The problem is not limited to Mississippi, or to criminal infractions—Oregon courts have issued significant fines to parents whose children are truant, and Louisiana’s pretrial diversion laws allow people with traffic offenses to pay quickly and avoid a record, while those who cannot pay may end up with additional court fees.

“There’s really no guidance for future courts, for future clemency request, for future governors making requests, as to why certain ones might get blocked and certain ones won’t.”

The California Supreme Court blocked ten clemency actions from then-Governor Jerry Brown, the first time since 1930 that it had rejected executive pardons or commutation requests. Those individuals will now have to reapply for clemency from Governor Gavin Newsom. And in The New Republic, Matt Ford looks at grants of clemency and questions why certain governors aren’t pardoning more incarcerated people. Ford suggests that governors could fast-track pardons and commutations for elderly prisoners, who are expected to comprise 30% of state prison populations by 2030.

“We could do all this punishment all day. But then they’re still going to come out into the neighborhood. We’re just trying to prepare somebody to re-enter society.”

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden closed the county jail’s disciplinary detention unit, which had been used to keep juvenile offenders in solitary confinement. Incarcerated youth are now let out of the cells for at least seven hours per day; have access to phones, television, the library, and family visits; and can attend classes. Sheriff McFadden also said he plans to restore in-person visits with family members and friends, which the previous sheriff had restricted to video monitors.

“It was in this context that Dayton waded in: innovating, trying, failing, and trying again. And while nobody will tell you that the problem is solved, our community has made enormous strides.”

One of the cities hardest hit by the opioid crisis, Dayton, Ohio has become a model for its creative, collaborative, and compassionate response.Since 2011, Dayton’s Montgomery County has had one of the highest rates of overdose fatalities in the state; but fatalities were down 65% in 2018 as compared to the same time period in 2017. A report from the Center for American Progress analyzed key elements of the city’s response, including rapid and targeted data collection and use, increased access to treatment, and a law enforcement strategy focused on support and prevention rather than criminalization.

“It raises the spirit of the community as its residents strengthen their opportunities for better jobs and better housing.”

Leavenworth, Kansas Mayor Jermaine Wilson and Leavenworth County Attorney announced a new 60-day expungement assistance program this week. Prosecutors and volunteer attorneys will review cases, answer questions about eligibility, and help people apply for fee waivers. Wilson, who was incarcerated for three years, had his record expunged in 2015, was elected to the city commission in 2017, and was unanimously chosen by the commission to serve as mayor on Tuesday.  

Matthew Charles is Released from Prison, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Justice prevailed here. It gives you hope that it can happen again."

Matthew Charles, whose case was used to advocate for the First Step Act, became one of the law’s first beneficiaries when a judge ruled Thursday that he was entitled to immediate release. Charles, who was serving a 35-year sentence, was previously released from prison in 2015 but ordered back after federal prosecutors argued he was considered a habitual offender. Former Federal Judge Kevin Sharp approved Charles’ release in 2015 and mentioned the case to President Trump in a meeting discussing inequality in the justice system. He said this case was not unique: “There are thousands of them out there. We can’t quit.”

 

“It has given me hope and confidence that there is common ground where we all want this community to be as healthy and successful as possible.”

The Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston is part of a pilot programaimed at lowering the jail population, reducing racial disparities, providing resources for courts and people with mental illness, and collecting data to make more informed decisions. In 2015, confronted with overcrowding, high recidivism rates, and a lack of diversion options, officials formed the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC). The Council includes representatives from law enforcement, social workers, mental health professionals and veterans’ advocates. Since the CJCC started their work, the Cannon Detention Center has seen an 18% drop in locally arrested inmates, and a 51% drop in single-charge bookings for low-level offenses like simple marijuana possession, misdemeanor shoplifting, and public intoxication.  

 

“A mistake you might have made 10 years ago is not going to stand in the way of a good job, building a family, a career, a loan, going to college, getting a job.”

Pennsylvania officials announced a new program, “My Clean Slate,” which offers free legal counsel to help people determine if they are eligible for record-sealing. In the initial phase of the new law, applicants for record sealing must file a petition with the court and county where the original offense took place. Once the law is fully implemented this summer, eligible records will be sealed automatically. Since the Clean Slate Act went into effect in December, more than 700 people have applied to have their records sealed.

 

“We started actively cooperating in the community post-release to get them engaged; that had a significant effect.”

Thanks to a nearly $750,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, Louisiana’s New Beginnings program will return after a two-year hiatus. In its previous run, the New Beginnings program worked with 400 incarcerated people with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders to provide peer mentorship, increase support from probation and parole officers, and connect individuals with local service providers. Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc was optimistic that the program could be funded in the future with savings from the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiatives.

 

“…You are not ever going to arrest your way out of addiction. And so that’s what the community is going to have to decide here, and that’s what our system is going to have to decide. Do we have the courage to do something different and a little cheaper?”

At a community forum in Florida’s Sarasota County, criminal justice officials said serious reforms were needed to avoid building a new $100 million jail. The local jail is over operational capacity and has been cited for violations of the Florida Model Jail Standards. Proposed reforms included expediting probation violation cases; reducing bond amounts; and creating a DUI, drug, and mental health court. “We have to distinguish what are criminal justice matters and what are public health matters, and I can’t help but look at mental health and mental illness falling under the area of public health,” said Twelfth Circuit Public Defender Larry Eger. “The same with drug addiction.”

The First Step Act is signed into law, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We’re giving a first step to many who have not had that in the past. The first step will get us to many others.”

The First Step Act was signed into law this week. Years in the making, this bill is the most comprehensive criminal justice reform ever passed by both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The First Step Act received overwhelming support in both houses of congress, passing the Senate by a vote of 87-12 and the House by a vote of 358-36. This landmark legislation was championed by the bipartisan partnerships of Congressmen Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and received support from groups across the political spectrum.

“The path to sobriety and stability is often crooked, and case managers have to be willing to follow its many turns.”

In New Orleans, officials with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)program work to divert people who are frequently arrested to social workers instead of jail. The program currently has 20 enrollees who receive assistance in finding housing, health care and food stamps. Only misdemeanor offenses are eligible, individuals who are physically combative with officers cannot enroll in the program, and a victim can insist on charges even if officials recommend diversion. The model program in Seattle costs an average of $10,787 per year, but researchers found costs were partially offset by fewer jail stays and court appearances. The Vera Institute, which began working with the city to design the program in 2015, will collect statistics to evaluate the program’s results in New Orleans.

“It’s time we take the next step to seek a safer and more just system. It’s time to eliminate our wealth-based pretrial detention policy in favor of non-monetary release conditions.”

Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, co-authored an op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader pushing for significant bail reform in the commonwealth. Adkisson and Bailey pointed to a study showing that 64,123 non-violent, non-sexual defendants were detained in 2016, with an average stay of 109 days. They also cited a state panel report that showed defendants at similar risk levels were just as likely to appear in court and refrain from new criminal activity whether they were released on unsecured or secured bail.

“This approach will help us identify tailored solutions that address New Mexico’s distinct challenges and maximize the impact of every dollar we spend.”

New Mexico’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group met this week, working on a data-driven approach to identify and address issues in the state’s justice system. Amid more recent declines, as of 2017, New Mexico had the highest rates of property crime and violent crime in the country, and its violent crime rate was at a 10-year high for the state. Officials are working with the Council of State Governments to enact a Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program that has led to policies in 30 other states that collectively have saved or avoided costs of more than $1.1 billion.

“All of the people coming in have injuries. The job of the court is to screen, assess and refer. Because we’re never going to get a behavior change if we don’t address what’s bringing them in.”

In 2011, officials in San Joaquin County were in the midst of a financial crisis, dealing with a spike in the homicide rate, and concerned that state prison-population reduction measures would result in increased crime. They established programs to provide mental health and addiction treatment, set up collaborative courts, adopted pretrial risk assessments, and implemented programs to build community trust in law enforcement and mentor and incentivize young people who are considered likely to be involved in gun-related crimes.  Since then, crime in San Joaquin Country dropped 20 percent, to a decades-old low, and there are empty beds in the jail that had been considered dangerously overcrowded. Representatives from around the state have come to San Joaquin County to study their programs in an attempt to emulate them statewide.

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.

Curtailing the Use of Halfway Houses, and the news in criminal justice this week

“These changes, particularly in the absence of a justification, threaten to make our communities less safe while increasing BOP operating costs over time.”

For decades, halfway houses have been useful in helping prisoners safely transition back to their communities before release. Recently, the Justice Department has severely curtailed the use of halfway houses and home confinement, and no longer requires halfway houses to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment. In 2015, more than 10,000 people were in federal halfway houses, and 4,600 were in home confinement. Now only 7,670 are in halfway houses, and 1,822 are in home confinement. Officials at the Bureau of Prisons claimed the “fiscal environment” had led the bureau to look for ways to “most effectively use [their] resources.” The federal government spends more than $36,000 per year to imprison a person, while placement in a halfway house costs just over $32,000 and monitoring a person on home confinement costs only $4,392.

“There are 42,090 men and women in Arizona state prisons. Nearly all of them will be released. We’re working from the state perspective to make sure they’re prepared.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwell, and players Antoine Bethea and Corey Peters met with participants in the Second Chance initiative, an eight-week reentry program created last year. Nearly 60% of participants in the Second Chance program leave prison with a job, and the recidivism rate among graduates has dropped by 30%. The group visited participants in an addiction treatment program, a computer lab, a job fair, and a skills-training area, which simulates work schedules and teaches masonry and drywall installation. After the tour, Bidwell promised the team would help publicize the program, provide grass for the complex’s football team, and donate tickets for program graduates.

“Regardless of the cause, former state prisoners in North Carolina are experiencing worse employment outcomes now than they did during earlier periods of economic growth.”

The North Carolina Department of Commerce found that post-release employment rates of people who have been incarcerated are much lower than in the 1990s, and have not returned to pre-recession levels. In 1998, 62% of formerly incarcerated people were employed one year after their release; in 2014 that number was only 39%. The authors suggested a variety of contributing factors, including an overall decline in job-finding, reduced numbers of manufacturing jobs, a decline in education levels among incarcerated people, and the increased use of criminal background checks for job applicants.

“We are beginning to see what success looks like with criminal justice reform. I’m proud of what we have accomplished but acknowledge there’s a long way to go.”

Officials in Louisiana have begun the justice reinvestment promised as part of 2017’s criminal justice reform package. The state has saved $12.2 million and announced plans to spend $8.54 million in the five parishes—Orleans, Jefferson, Caddo, East Baton Rouge and St. Tammany—that have the highest number of people in prison. Nearly half of the reinvestment funds will go to local corrections programming focused on getting incarcerated people closer to their homes and families. In addition to investments in local corrections, reentry support programs, and drug courts, $1.7 million will be spent on victim services.

“It is now clear that on the whole, juvenile-justice schools do not serve kids as well as local school districts, and they should not be considered sufficient substitutes for attending a community school.”

Analysis by Bellwether Education Partners, published in Education Week, found that students in juvenile justice facilities have less access to high-level math classes and are less likely succeed in those courses. In traditional high schools, 96% of students have access to Algebra 1, and 95% of those who take it will pass. In juvenile facility schools, only 82% have access to Algebra 1, and only 61% of those who take it will pass. In addition to greater programmatic support and better qualified teachers, the analysts also pointed to the need for the collection and sharing of more reliable data about school quality and student achievement.