Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia reforms its civil asset forfeiture program, and the news in criminal justice this week

“For too long, Philadelphia treated its citizens like ATMs, ensnaring thousands of people in a system designed to strip people of their property and their rights…”

In a settlement, the city of Philadelphia has agreed to reform its civil asset forfeiture program, and pay $3 million to people whose property had been unfairly seized. The lawsuit was filed by the Institute for Justice, which called the city’s program “one of the worst civil forfeiture schemes in America.” Officials agreed to increased judicial supervision, stronger notification procedures for defendants and limits on the seizure of cash and property. The settlement also bans the district attorney’s office and police department from using forfeiture revenue to fund payroll. But the reforms aren’t universal: District Attorney Larry Krasner said future forfeitures would “generally” require a conviction, and would be targeted toward assets that were used as instruments of the crime or were profits of committing the crime.

“The average person would think, well we have a lot of people in prison, that must mean there’s a lot of crime in Arizona. That’s absolutely not true.”

A report from FWD.us, the first in a series examining Arizona’s imprisonment crisis, blamed poor policy choices, not rising crime, for the state’s growing prison population. The growth in prison population has outpaced residential growth, and the imprisonment rate has grown during a period of declining crime. Arizona has the 4th highest rate of imprisonment in the country, which costs taxpayers more than $1 billion each year. The authors note that the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually if its imprisonment rate was similar to neighboring states.

“BOP’s approach to managing female inmates has not been strategic, resulting in weaknesses in its ability to meet their specific needs.” 

new report from the Department of Justice concluded that staffing shortages in the Federal Bureau of Prisons were restricting access to care and services for female inmates. The Inspector General’s report makes ten recommendations to improve BOP performance, including additional training, expanded trauma treatment programs, better communication about pregnancy programs, and clearer guidelines on the distribution of feminine hygiene products. Acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz agreed with the recommendations and pledged to improve staffing and training.

“I am excited about the people who have gone through it, that are staying clean and sober, that are not resorting to crime.”

Cache Achieve, a diversion program created by officials in Utah’s Cache County, allows people accused of low-level offenses to pursue education and job-training rather than being sentenced to jail time. Qualified defendants must complete a program at Bridgerland Technical College, and maintain an 80% attendance rate and a B average. Upon successful completion of the program, charges may be dismissed. Thirteen people completed the program in 2017, saving the county an estimated $50,000.

“This is going to eliminate subjective decision making in low-risk cases while preserving the Parole Board’s ability to deny parole to low risk prisoners based on legitimate safety concerns.”

In Michigan, a new law created a list of 11 “substantial and compelling reasons” the State Parole board may use to depart from guidelines and deny parole. The reasons include a refusal to participate in risk-reduction programming, major misconduct while incarcerated, and pending felony charges or detainer requests. In addition to the codified guidelines, the parole board must give individuals a reason why their parole was denied. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer said the explanation would give people a clearer understanding of “what they need to do to work toward parole going forward.”

Michigan bans the box, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I think it’s important to be a role model. If you’re going to advocate for others to do it, we should be doing it ourselves.”

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs had removed all criminal history questions from licensing applications, unless required by federal or state law. He also signed an executive directive that prevents state departments from asking job seekers about their criminal history on their initial applications. Snyder said he hoped the new policies would spur private employers to hire people with criminal records. The Mackinac Center’s Jarret Skorup predicted the policies “will increase economic opportunity and enhance public safety by encouraging dignified work.”

“We believe that a cornerstone of the effort to reduce recidivism rests upon ensuring that, upon their release, inmates have the tools they need to succeed as self-sufficient and independent citizens…”

The Pennsylvania State Agency Financial Exchange, or PA $AFE, is a partnership of the Department of Corrections and Department of Banking and Securities to help provide returning citizens with financial education. The pilot program is designed to be scalable and sustainable and provide up-to-date, real-world training. In evaluating the program, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Banking and Securities Secretary Robin Wiessmann said they were tracking outcome measurements, including differences in recidivism rates, successful employment, and financial engagement, including opening a bank account or starting a business.

“It’s absolutely appropriate for state government to put restraints on other governments, so they can’t take life, liberty, or property away from folks.”

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation this week that prohibits cities from charging residents for their own prosecutions. In a series written last year, the Desert Sun found the cities of Indio and Coachella had charged residents thousands of dollars in prosecution fees,  often for minor infractions. Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) called the practice “policing for profit,” and his cosponsor Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) said the fees imposed an undue burden on low-income residents.

“We lock up too many people for too long, and it’s about time that we change the dynamics. I apologize for that, I want to be on the front end for changing that.”

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson apologized for his role in what he called the “hysteria” of locking people up. Thompson was a lead sponsor of so-called “truth-in-sentencing” laws in 1997, and oversaw the expansion of the state’s prison system. Currently, 23,500 people are held in Wisconsin’s prisons, and the state is studying plans for a new $300 million facility.  Thompson voiced support for substance abuse treatment and job training for people who are incarcerated, saying it could also help the state’s worker shortage.

“These post-implementation analyses reveal that the CJRA had an immediate and sizeable impact on summons issuance in New York City. Further, the intended outcome of a dramatic reduction in the volume of warrants issued in criminal court was achieved.”

John Jay College’s Misdemeanor Justice Project released a report this week on the implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), which created the presumption that certain low-level offenses would result in a civil, rather than criminal, summons. In 2016, the year the CJRA was passed, the majority of criminal summonses in New York City were for public urination, public drinking, littering, noise offense or parks rules offenses. In the six months following implementation 89% of summonses for those five offenses were civil, and the city saw a 94% decrease in warrants for CJRA-eligible offenses.

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.”

Pardons in Tennessee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…I believe exercising the executive clemency power will helm further these individuals’ positive influence on their communities and the lives of fellow Tennesseans.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to four people this week, and said more pardons were in process. Three of the pardon recipients—Ralph Randall Reagan, Robert James Sheard, Jr., and Steven Lee Kennedy—were already out of prison; Michelle Lea Martin received a sentence commutation and will be released into supervised parole. Their convictions will remain on their records, but the Governor’s actions could facilitate expungement and help with employment, housing and certifications.

“Those old outstanding complaints and open warrants in minor matters raise questions of fairness…”

New Jersey’s State Supreme Court has initiated a process to dismiss nearly 800,000 open warrants for minor offenses that were issued more than 15 years ago. The warrants include 355,619 cases related to parking tickets and 348,631 moving violations. Chief Justice Rabner also issued an order limiting the number and amount of fines that can be imposed for failure to appear in court or failure to pay fines. The Supreme Court’s actions come after their report on municipal court operations, fines and fees, which recommended 49 reforms to ensure access, fairness, independence and confidence in the court system.

“Her profound belief is that answers to vexing criminal justice problems can be best assessed from the ground up.”

The Bail Project, a five-year, $52 million plan to bail out 160,000 people, started in New York and now operates in Tulsa, St. Louis, Detroit and Louisville. In the Bronx, the average bail posted was $768, and the project’s staff worked with clients to ensure that they showed up for court dates. More than half of their cases resulted in dismissal of all charges, and only 2% of clients were sentenced to jail for the original charges.

“I am hoping to go back to the Legislature this coming year and say, ‘So here’s what we’ve done, here are some preliminary results, it’s working. We need more money to expand across the state.’”

Missouri state officials have approved $5 million for a Justice Reinvestment Initiative treatment pilot program, aimed at creating more effective drug treatment and reducing recidivism. The appropriation is the first step towards the recommended 5-year, $133.5 million investment in recovery supports recommended by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe admitted the program was starting small, but described it as a blessing in the face of state budgetary constraints.

“When they’re in my class, they aren’t criminals. They’re beekeepers.”

The Georgia Department of Corrections works with the University of Georgia Master Beekeeping program, the Georgia Beekeepers Association, and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm to run programs in multiple facilities, including one for women at Arrendale State Prison. Participants work toward certification in beekeeping, and produce a monthly newsletter called the Nectar Collector. Honey collected by Arrendale beekeepers placed second in a special category of the 2016 Georgia Beekeepers Association honey contest.

Appellate panel finds no right to money bail, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We find no right to these forms of monetary bail in the Eighth Amendment’s proscription of excessive bail nor in the Fourteenth Amendment’s substantive and procedural due process components.” 

A federal appellate panel rejected a challenge to New Jersey’s bail reforms, finding that there was no constitutional right to monetary bail. The New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act has contributed to a 24% decrease in the non-sentenced pretrial jail population since 2017, and continues to face challenges from the bail industry. The opinion, written by U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Ambro, is available here.

“…a blueprint for treating addiction throughout the criminal justice system.”

In September, Kentucky’s Kenton County Detention Center will launch a first-in-the-nation jail-based treatment program for those with opioid addictions, offering medication and comprehensive therapy. Participants will undergo 90 days of intense addiction treatment, and receive job training and life skills education. Upon release, they will have the option of continuing medication-assisted treatment. The program, Start Strong, was created in partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the University of Kentucky, and the commonwealth’s Office of Drug Control Policy and cabinets for Health and Family Services and Justice and Public Safety.

“The reality of witness identification is that it is one of the least-reliable pieces of evidence, and yet we put great weight on it.”

In 25 states, including Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan, and New York, law enforcement agencies have implemented policies intended to improve police lineups. Reforms enacted this year require Louisiana police officers to conduct “double-blind’ lineups, in which the officer conducting the lineup doesn’t know who the suspect is. The National Registry of Exonerations found that mistaken identifications were a factor in 29% of 2,245 exonerations since 1989.

“The relationship between police and the communities they serve is at a crisis in many cities, and they have no way of measuring what success is right now.”

In a partnership with Elucd, the city of New York is offering residents the chance to give direct feedback on satisfaction with police performance and overall safety. More than 200,000 unique respondents have filled out the 10-question surveys, which come through pop-up ads on smartphones and robocalls to landlines, and responses are broken down into 297 precinct sectors. Weekly CompStat meetings now include monthly “trust score” feedback and rankings.

“The criminal justice system is not the right place—or it shouldn’t be the place of first resort to provide addiction or mental health services.”

Portland, Oregon is seeking a better understanding of arrest trends and causes after a report by the Oregonian showed that people experiencing homelessness accounted for 52% of arrests in 2017. 86% of those arrests were for non-violent crimes, and nearly a quarter were for procedural violations, including missing court dates or violating parole or probation. Amid this increased focus, Mayor Wheeler also noted that the city has increased funding for its Behavioral Health Unit, increased training on de-escalation, and added a homeless liaison position to the Portland Police Bureau.

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. 

Second Chance Month, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chance for those who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.”

President Trump designated April 2018 “Second Chance Month,” and urged federal, state and local corrections systems to implement evidence-based programs that focus on job training, mentoring, mental health treatment, and addiction treatment. Similar proclamations have been introduced in the Senate by Republican Rob Portman and in the house by Democrat Tony Cardenas, and April 2018 has been declared Second Chance Month in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, the District of Columbia, and the city of Minneapolis.

“The program humanizes incarcerated people and allows them to be seen—both by prison staff, and themselves—as valuable members of the communities to which they belong.”

A new pilot program in New York prisons trains incarcerated people to act as emergency responders for overdose victims. State correctional and public health authorities educate incarcerated people on the proper use of naloxone, and on their rights as “Good Samaritans,” and equip them with naloxone kits upon release.

“Tennesseans should not have their property seized without being charged with, or convicted of a crime.”

The Tennessee Senate unanimously passed a bill to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture system, requiring formal notice of a property seizure or forfeiture-warrant hearing, clarifying the legal process to seek the return of seized property, and holding agencies responsible for attorneys’ fees in cases where they are found to have wrongly seized assets. This is the latest in a series of civil asset forfeiture reforms undertaken at the state level, including those passed this year in Idaho, Wisconsin and Kansas. Lawmakers in Michigan are expected to take up reforms when they return from spring break.

“Everything about this unit is supposed to replicate life more on the outside than a jail does, to prepare them for reentry by giving them some of the skill sets they didn’t have.”

The Middlesex, Massachusetts House of Correction’s new initiative, supported by the Vera Institute, is focused on changing the trajectory for young adult offenders. Inside the People Achieving Change Together (“PACT”) Unit, young adult inmates have greater freedom and access to family members, meet with therapists and anger-management specialists, and report for work every day.

“They keep a close eye on their clients, but in many places, no one is keeping a close eye on them.”

In the New York Times, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Shaila Dewan examined the extraordinary powers and lax regulation of the $2 billion bail bond industry. They found complaints of kidnapping, extortion, forged property liens, theft and embezzlement that rarely resulted in meaningful punishment for the bail bond agents. This remarkable piece includes particularly shocking stories of people, families, and their liberty impacted by this industry, and don’t miss what happened to Christopher Franklin in North Carolina.

Oklahoma advances reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This is a prime example of an area where we can reform our system, reduce our prison population, rehabilitate offenders and keep families together.”

Oklahoma House Bill 2281, which would reduce penalties for low-level property offenses, passed in the house on Tuesday and heads to the Senate for final approval. State Representative Terry O’Donnell, who sponsored the legislation, said it would help reduce the number of women in Oklahoma prisons: “Many women in our prison system have been convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes like larceny, forgery, and writing bad checks. In fact, convictions for those crimes are where we are seeing some of the greatest growth in our corrections system.” This is the first of several measures Oklahoma will be considering this year as they work to reform a bloated and ineffective corrections system.

“We’re the foot soldiers of the Constitution and sometimes we forget that.”

Former Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Ted Nelson, who helped develop the civil asset forfeiture curriculum for the state police, testified this week that the practice is being misused, and told reporters he’d seen the state seize items for use in department offices or to be sold for a profit.  He testified in support of HB 4158, which would require a conviction before law enforcement can seize assets under $50,000.

“It is unjust that a theft of something like a pair of shoes or a phone could send someone to prison with a felony conviction on their record for life.”

Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam and Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox announced a bipartisan deal to increase the felony threshold from $200 to $500 and require that defendants pay restitution before getting off of probation or court supervision. Even with this increase, the Commonwealth’s felony theft threshold will still be among the lowest in the nation—34 states have a threshold of $1000 or higher.

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence, and divorce.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates released an issue brief this week with recommendations on minimizing the impact of parental incarceration on children. Nearly 15% of Kentucky children have been separated from their parent due to incarceration, and the study found this, as an “adverse childhood experience," had a serious impact on short-term health and well-being, as well as increased risk of adult disease, disability, unhealthy behaviors and early death.

“The humiliation is really something you carry with you forever.”

A legislative committee in Arizona voted to increase funding for feminine hygiene products after hearing testimony from formerly incarcerated women about the “bloodstained pants, begging and bartering” at Perryville State Prison. Under current policy, women are provided with twelve pads per month, and have to pay for any additional pads or tampons. Similar legislation is being considered in Maryland and Virginia, and has already become law in Colorado.