Minnesota

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restorative Justice for Veterans, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I’ve been able to continue to be a husband to my wife and father to my children. If it wasn’t for these intervention options, I know exactly where I’d be: I’d be in jail.” 

Minnesota’s Veterans Defense Project unveiled new legislation at a forum this week to create a restorative justice program for veterans across the state. The Veterans Restorative Justice Act would allow participants in the program enter a plea, but have charges dismissed after completion of the terms of their probation. Governor Tim Walz made a surprise appearance at the forum to endorse the legislation, telling attendees “I want to make it very clear that we stand 100 percent with you. The governor’s office is here to make sure this gets done.”   

“Research shows that if a person has stable housing, they are less likely to commit a new crime and end up behind bars.”

“Hope for Success: Returning Home,” a new report from Connecticut’s Commission on Equity and Opportunity Reentry Working Group, analyzed housing challenges for returning citizens and proposed both legislative and administrative remedies. The group found that stable housing would increase public safety, save money, and strengthen family reunification. Suggestions included reducing restrictions for public housing for those with criminal records, creating stronger coordination and data integration policies between corrections and housing authorities, and adopting Clean Slate legislation.

“Every day is hard, very hard. I wake up and I look around and I don’t understand why I am here.”

A lawsuit filed this week by the Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York alleges that incarcerated people with mental illness are being held for months past their release dates because of a lack of mental health-focused housing facilities. The state labels the men seeking class-action status in the lawsuit as ‘releasees,’ and claims that they are in residential treatment facilities, but the lawsuit says the men are still housed in prisons, held in cells, required to wear inmate uniforms, and “remain prisoners in every respect.” Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers have allocated funds to create 6,000 new units by 2021, but advocates say there is a need for tens of thousands of additional supportive housing units, and existing facilities are struggling to stay open.   

“Mississippians want to combat drug trafficking. But we also respect the property rights of innocent owners, and we expect our government to as well.”

In the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi Justice Institute Director Aaron Rice argued against reauthorizing administrative forfeiture, which the legislature allowed to expire last year. While proponents claimed that forfeited assets were critical in combatting drug trafficking, a review of the state’s forfeiture database found trivial personal valuables, including an Apple watch, a power drill, and as little as $50 in cash. Earlier this week, representatives from conservative organizations including FreedomWorks, Right on Crime, and the American Conservative Union wrote to Governor Phil Bryant urging him to oppose the reinstatement of administrative forfeiture.

“In Wisconsin, mass supervision drives mass incarceration.”

Wisconsin’s parole supervision rate is 1.5 times higher than the national average, and according to analysis from the Columbia University Justice Lab, the state’s probation and parole systems are a significant driver of the state’s incarceration rate. Conditions of supervision are often vague, and the fees associated with electronic monitoring can add up to more than $700 per month. More than 36% of the state’s prison admissions in 2017 were people incarcerated for technical revocations. Researchers recommended closing the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, which houses people with parole and probation violations, and emphasizing community corrections.



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.

Minnesota's federal reentry court, and the news in criminal justice this week

“That interaction tells them that the justice system is not just about punishment; that it also is invested in helping former inmates when they leave prison.”

Minnesota’s federal re-entry court matches participants with community mentors and does away with the adversarial system of normal court proceedings. Returning citizens who are deemed to be at high risk of re-offending work with judges and federal law-enforcement officials to help find housing, employment and addiction treatment. Program participants have a 27% recidivism rate, well below the 73% rate for high-risk individuals outside the program. Chief U.S. Probation Officer Kevin Lowry said the re-entry court saved up to $30,000 per participant each year by reducing recidivism and allowing people to remain on community supervision.

“It is recovery, not incarceration, which allows people to become productive members of society—citizens with jobs and families who can contribute and make our communities better places to work, grow and live.”

In the Herald-Leader, author Kelley Paul recounted a visit to Lexington’s Hope Center, and pushed for an end to the cycle of trauma, addiction and incarceration. The Hope Center provides emergency shelter and addiction treatment services, and recently expanded its women’s recovery center.  Paul pointed to legislative solutions, including Kentucky’s Dignity Bill, the FIRST STEP Act, and federal bail reform sponsored by her husband Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“That’s where a text-messaging service helps. Defendants may not read a letter…but they will look at their cell phones.”

Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office has been using a text messaging service to remind some clients of upcoming court dates, and hopes to expand the program to include juvenile and municipal court defendants soon. Many defendants do not have stable addresses, or miss mailed notifications, but are more likely to see a notice on their cell phones. A similar program, run by Uptrust, is in use in counties in California, Maryland, Virginia, Washington and Pennsylvania. Uptrust’s CEO says failure-to-appear rates have gone from 15-20 percent to 5-6 percent in their service areas.


“The idea that a pregnant woman is going to escape anywhere when she can barely walk is ludicrous. Shackling women on the wrists, waist and legs is a dangerous practice and a cruel practice.”

Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mia Love (R-UT) introduced The Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act, which is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 57 congresswomen. The bill would create anational standard of care for women who are incarcerated during pregnancy, labor, delivery and the post-partum period. Representatives Love and Bass announced their intention to file the bill at the Coalition for Public Safety’s Women Unshackled: The Next Step, earlier this year. In The Hill, the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Kaitlin Owens and R Street’s Emily Mooney argued for the passage of the bill and similar reforms at the state level.

“Housing, education, job opportunities are all basic needs, and if the needs are met then the likelihood of someone engaging in criminal behavior is reduced.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Lisa Schencker looked at programs to help people with criminal records gain employment, and the businesses that are giving people a second chance. Chicago logistics provider C.H. Robinson doesn’t do background checks until the final stage of the hiring process, and considers the number of convictions, the nature of the offense, and the time elapsed when evaluating applicants. Illinois has passed several laws in the past four years that have reduced barriers to employment, including banning the box on initial applications, expanding convictions eligible for record sealing, and reforming state licensing requirements.

Prison and Sentencing Reform in the Senate, and the news in criminal justice this week

“These governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.”

Senators are finalizing a federal prison and sentencing reform bill, likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. The reforms are modeled on those implemented at the state level, which have safely cut incarceration rates, improved reentry programs, and lowered crime and recidivism. In USA Today, Governors Ralph Northam (D-VA), Mary Fallin (R-OK), John Bel Edwards, (D-LA) and Matt Bevin (R-KY) encouraged Congress to follow their lead, and pass reforms that promote rehabilitation and workforce participation.

“Our overburdened corrections system cannot continue to divert funds from our state’s necessary educational, healthcare, and economic development programs.”

Nevada has partnered with the Crime and Justice Institute to study the state’s justice system in an effort to reduce incarceration rates and costs. The state spends $347 million on prisons each year, and the prison population has grown by 900% in the past 40 years. Analysts revealed an early finding this month—52% of Nevada’s total correctional control population was incarcerated rather than being under community supervision, well above the national average of 31%. The review is expected to be completed this fall, with recommendations for the 2019 legislative session.

“As jurisdictions strive to increase efficiency, transparency, and accountability within government operations, performance management systems provide an accessible platform to monitor outcomes and inform policymaking statewide.”

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts examines how states used performance management systems to ensure data-driven policy reforms are working. Minnesota created the Dashboard, a public website that tracks and reports performance, with detailed data that is regularly updated. New Mexico’s Agency Report Cards provide public accounting of performance ratings and scores within agencies, as well as information on whether the performance is getting better or worse. Pew’s report includes recommendations for states looking to implement performance review systems and create a culture of data-driven accountability.

“I don’t know how we explain to those people sitting in prison that if somebody got caught now, they’d only get a year but you should be in prison for 15 years when you did the exact same thing.”

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board advanced 23 applicants to the second stage of the commutation review process this week. Following recent changes to drug possession sentencing guidelines, low-level possession with intent to distribute is now a misdemeanor. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform is working with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and the University of Tulsa College of Law, seeking sentence reductions for people who were sentenced under the previous guidelines.

“As more jails and prisons charge fees for people behind bars, it really undermines re-entry prospects and starts to pave the way back to prison or jail.”

For people in Colorado’s La Plata County Jail, costs start at the door, with a $30 booking fee. Adding money to their jail accounts comes with a transfer fee of $2.95-$5.95. Local calls cost $3 for the first minute, and listening to a voicemail costs $1.99. The La Plata County Sheriff’s receives commissions from the external service providers, and described the prices as “above average” but necessary to help provide basic hygiene products.

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. 

Ohio's high rate of license suspension and revocation, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…The practice of suspending licenses for failing to pay traffic tickets or to appear in court traps many low-income Ohioans in the criminal justice system.”

A new report reveals 5.62% of Ohio’s nearly 8 million licensed drivers have a suspended or revoked license, the second-highest rate in the country. In addition to punishing driving infractions, the state suspends licenses for people who are unable to provide proof of insurance, or who fail to pay court fees or child support. Previous reporting by the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed that neighborhood suspension rates were directly correlated with the percentage of residents making less than 200% of the poverty level. Other states with high rates of suspended or revoked licenses include Minnesota (4.88%) and Iowa (4.79%)

"Experts have warned Oklahoma policymakers for years of our criminal justice system’s impending disaster. We have made great progress, but we can’t rest now."

Joe Allbaugh, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, argued for continuing reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. While previous efforts have slowed the rate of growth, the prison population is still expected to grow by 2,367 by 2026. Allbaugh seeks to continue working with legislative leaders and the governor on additional reforms, and specifically cited the need for improved access to treatment for mental illness and addiction.

“This common-sense piece of legislation seeks to accomplish what we all want: safer communities.”

In the Houston Chronicle, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged legislators to follow Texas’ lead in criminal justice reform and pass the FIRST STEP Act.  And in Foreign Affairs, our own Holly Harris argues that prison reform legislation could be a political winner for both parties.

"They have experience, and that experience lessens the stigma of their criminal record."

In Pennsylvania’s Cambridge Springs women’s prison, incarcerated women make more than 15,000 pairs of eyeglasses per year, and can train to become certified opticians. Cambridge Springs is home to the only accredited prep course for optician certification in the commonwealth, and the program has a 200-person waiting list. Women in the program learn to use and repair every machine in the eyeglass-making process, perform prescription calculations in computers and by hand, and write a resume.

“…The widely heralded ‘era of reform’ seems never to have arrived in some jurisdictions, where growth has continued unchecked.”

Analysis from the Vera Institute showed that overall prison admissions have declined 24% since 2006, but the decline was concentrated in 10 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina and Vermont), with California accounting for 37% of the total national decline. The report includes state-by-state analysis of incarceration, including pretrial jail population, sentenced jail population, and prison population and admissions.

Alice Johnson is released from prison, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I’m feeling no handcuffs on me. I’m free to hug my family.”
 
Alice Johnson’s sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, and she was released from prison the same day. Johnson had served 22 years of a life sentence without parole for federal drug and money laundering charges. Her cause was championed by groups including #cut50 and CAN-DO, and by Kim Kardashian, who met with the President last week to discuss the case.
 
“The MPD wishes to be a partner with our community stakeholders in these efforts that reduce the number of African-American males entering our criminal justice system.”
 
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced Thursday that city police officers would no longer conduct stings targeting low-level marijuana sales with felony charges, and dismissed charges against 47 people arrested in 2018. City officials were alerted to racial disparities in arrests by the county’s chief public defender, who noted that 46 of the 47 people arrested were black. In his announcement, Chief Arradondo said they would seek alternatives to incarceration, including treatment, counseling and diversion.
 
“The people who served time in prison and work with families of the incarcerated every day understand that we should not wait to fix anything until we can fix everything.”
 
Forty bipartisan and formerly incarcerated advocates sent a letter to Senate leaders in support of the First Step Act, arguing that the bill would “provide some long overdue relief and hope to more than 180,000 people in federal prison and millions of their family members and loved ones on the outside.” Signatories included Georgetown University Law Professor Shon Hopwood, #cut50’s Topeka Sam, Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ Kevin Ring, and American Conservative Union’s Pat Nolan.
 
“Amid all the algebra and essay-writing, this is ultimately the core curriculum at Travis Hill: demonstrating that it is a real school, and its hope is real hope.”
 
New Orleans is one of only three cities in the U.S. whose jail has a full-day high school offering real credits. Travis Hill High School is housed in the Orleans Parish jail, and offers classes in math, science, social studies, English and art with a chance to earn a diploma, rather than a G.E.D. The profile of the school, a joint multimedia production from The Marshall Project and This American Life, will be broadcast on public radio stations this weekend.
 
“’[We should] scale fines and fees so that they’re fair and people are punished, but do it in a way that doesn’t further exacerbate inequality in society.”
 
A new law took effect this week in Washington that helps formerly incarcerated people lower their debt burden. Passed earlier this year, the reform eliminates the 12% interest added to balances owed and lifts some debt obligations for those who qualify as indigent. In addition to the statewide changes, cities are experimenting with local reforms—Tukwila has a local program to help former offenders regain their drivers’ licenses, and Edmonds is working with Microsoft to develop a calculator to help judges assess appropriate fines and fees.

Bail reform in Ohio could save $67 million, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Ohio’s cash bail system is broken and the reforms pending in the General Assembly could save hard-earned taxpayer dollars while keeping our communities safe.”

A new report from Ohio’s Buckeye Institute found that proposed bail reforms could save $67 million in jail costs. The average jail bed in Ohio costs nearly $65 per day, while supervised release costs only $5 per day.  House Bill 439 would provide a risk assessment tool for use in pretrial decision-making, and require courts to collect data on bail, pretrial release, and sentencing.

“There are mountains of evidence that show having a child can be a very powerful motivator for change, so when inmates can stay connected with their families, their risk of recidivism goes down.”

Bernalillo County, New Mexico, has approved a new policy that would allow jailed women to breast-feed a child, or use a breast pump and storage facility. A bill to allow women in all of New Mexico’s jails and prisons to breastfeed was passed by both chambers in 2017 but pocket-vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez. And in New York City, city leaders announced a pilot program to allow women at Rikers Island to spend time with their families outside of jail. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan will provide creative programming for incarcerated women, their children, and custodial caregivers when it is closed to the public.

“The numbers are actually staggering.”

A one-day snapshot of inmates at the Hennepin County, Minnesota jail in December showed that nearly 20% of inmates had a history of opioid use when they came into jail, nearly all were actively abusing opioids at the time of admission, and two-thirds of that proportion had previously overdosed on opioids. Only 18 of the jail’s 851 inmates had undergone inpatient addiction treatment. The jail now provides counseling for those leaving the jail, as well as two doses of naloxone and training on how to use it.

“You can’t have an opioid crisis and cut opioid funding. You can’t just let people out of prison without some type of transition back into society.”

The Florida Department of Corrections announced Tuesday that they are cutting funding for substance abuse services, transitional housing, and reentry programs. Cuts include $7.6 million from in-prison substance abuse services, $9.1 million from reentry substance abuse and mental health treatment, $2.3 million from basic education reentry centers, and $1.6 million from transitional housing services. Officials said services had to be cut to shift money to the health care program, which is facing a $28 million deficit.

“When you restrict reading materials, you’re contributing to lower literacy rates and it limits inmates’ connections with the community.”

Federal prison officials reversed a policy that had made it harder and more expensive for prisoners to receive books. The policy, which required inmates to order books only through a prison-approved vendor, was in place in Virginia and California, and set to start in Florida this month. Officials claimed the restriction was necessary to prevent attempts to smuggle in drugs and other contraband, but also banned orders from online retailers and publishers.