Mississippi

Ending the "no-touch" policy at Shakopee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s incumbent upon us to be mindful of the environment we’re creating. We’ve learned that having basic human contact is part of the human experience.”

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the department would change the “no-touch” policy enforced at the Shakopee women’s prison. According to Shakopee Warden Tracy Beltz, the policy was intended to be temporary, and was instituted after a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed high rates of sexual misconduct between women incarcerated at Shakopee. Beltz circulated proposed changes to the rules last month, including allowing fist-bumps, hand-shakes and high-fives, but not hugs. During visitation, women at Shakopee are limited to a brief hug and kiss on the cheek from family members and can hold children under 9 on their laps.

“Between counties, high rates of incarceration were associated with a more than 50% increase in drug-related deaths.”

New research published in The Lancet Public Health Journal provides evidence that increased imprisonment has contributed to higher overdose deaths. Even when controlling for opioid prescription rates, crime rates, and socioeconomic and demographic factors, counties with higher jail and prison incarceration rates had higher drug-mortality rates. The research team analyzed records from 2,640 counties, with data from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Vital Statistics System, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the National Center for Health Statistics, and county-level incarceration data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice.

“Left with few options but to arrest, disperse, or issue a citation, many officers experience frustration at what amounts to a revolving door between homelessness and the criminal justice system—a cycle that disproportionately affects people of color.”

The Council of State Governments and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released a report this week, “Strengthening Partnerships Between Law Enforcement and Homelessness Service Systems.” Their recommendations came out of a 2018 convening that brought together teams from 10 cities, including Tupelo, Mississippi; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon. Recommendations include developing shared goals and involving critical stakeholders, reviewing and aligning local laws with the goals of the partnership, and equipping law enforcement and homelessness services with training and protocols.

“Despite recent criminal justice reform, new criminal court rules, and successful litigation…thousands of people continue to languish in Mississippi’s county and regional jails awaiting indictment and trial.”  

Students at the University of Mississippi collected jail census reports from sheriffs covering 5,700 people being held before trial and found half had been confined for more than 90 days, and 800 had been confined for more than a year. Under guidelines adopted by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2017, “a defendant should be released pending trial whenever possible,” and indigent defendants may be released on “non-financial conditions that make it reasonably likely that the defendant will appear.” But Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said “automatic money bail” has become accepted practice, leaving advocates to address violations case-by-case in the state’s 82 counties and 300 cities and towns.

“Youth-driven collaboration is an essential component of increasing trust in law enforcement and confidence in the fairness of our system.”

The Justice Ambassadors Youth Council provides a platform for formerly incarcerated youth to create justice reform proposals with leaders from courts, police, corrections, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. At a graduation ceremony last month, ambassadors presented proposals to incorporate social workers into the court process to provide emotional support, include contextual information and experiences of trauma in crime reporting, and implement restorative justice programs in schools. Patrick Edge, part of the first class of ambassadors, said he was initially resistant to the project. “But then when I thought about it more, I thought it was important for law enforcement to hear the idea I had about creating an opportunity for youth.”

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

“This Clean Slate law is really about preventing a criminal charge being a life sentence to poverty.”

Pennsylvania will begin automatically sealing 30 million criminal records today, thanks to the first-in-the-nation Clean Slate Act. The broad, bipartisan coalition that helped pass Clean Slate last year, including Governor Tom Wolf, Clean Slate Act co-sponsors Jordan Harris and Sheryl Delozier, and representatives from the Justice Action Network, Community Legal Services, the Center for American Progress, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce gathered for a press conference to mark the bill’s full implementation. Following Pennsylvania’s lead,  similar legislation has been passed in Utah and is pending in Michigan.  

“They need to be able to manage the demands of life. They need to have an education that prepares them for employment. They need to have positive relationships with others. They are not going to get any of that locked in a room somewhere.” 

“Not in Isolation,” a new report from the Center for Children’s Law and Policy and the Justice Policy Institute, looks at strategies for safely reducing the use of room confinement in juvenile detention facilities in Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Memphis, Tennessee. While approaches and tactics varied by jurisdiction, one common takeaway was the need for regular training on crisis intervention, adolescent development and de-escalating aggression. Each case study includes perspectives from facility and agency staff, program materials, examinations of challenges and lessons learned, and qualitative and quantitative results. 

“These regulations do not protect public safety. They bar people from employment, and too often the result of unemployment is homelessness, hunger, and re-incarceration.”

Rhode Island Senate Bill 610, which would reform the state’s occupational licensing requirements, was unanimously passed by the Senate this week with a vote of 37-0.  The bill would create a process to determine whether a prior conviction was relevant to the licensed occupation, and ensure a license could not be denied solely on the basis of a criminal record. More than 100 occupations in Rhode Island currently require a background check inclusive of non-related convictions and “crimes of moral turpitude,” and 40% of licensed occupations are in the state’s fastest-growing fields.

“The only way we’re going to move the needle…is to find common, middle ground that is good policy.”

Oklahoma’s new 15-member Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform (“RESTORE”) Task Force, hopes to advance criminal justice reform with an emphasis on compromise. Subcommittees will focus on six areas of concern: the “pipeline” of factors resulting in incarceration; “front end” issues including bail, bond, diversion and alternatives to incarceration; sentencing issues related to serious crimes, habitual offenders, and the impact of sentencing changes; “back end” concerns including re-entry, pardon and parole, commutations, supervision and occupational licensing; rural issues including access to treatment and effective counsel; and using data and research to improve oversight and reduce crime.

“The choice between civil asset forfeiture and fighting crime is a false dichotomy.”

Writing in the Clarion Ledger, Brett Kittredge of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy and Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice call for an end to civil asset forfeiture. “Mississippi law enforcement isn’t necessarily busting drug kingpins,” they argue, pointing to a review of the first 18 months of the state’s civil forfeiture database. Fewer than 10 seizures had a value of more than $60,000, and the vast majority were for $5,000 or less. Dismissing the argument that civil forfeiture is needed to fight crime, the authors say North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska, which have abolished civil forfeiture, haven’t seen spikes in crime or become “havens for drug dealers.”



The Next Step Act in Ohio, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Our broken system failed Alex, and countless other Ohioans, but we can start to make it right with Senate Bill 3.”

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio State Senators John Eklund (R-Munson) and Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta) urged their fellow legislators to support Senate Bill 3, which would make some simple drug possession charges a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. The “Next Step Act” follows the federal First Step in embracing “bipartisan, commonsense, data-driven reforms.” Eklund and O’Brien cited polling from the Justice Action Network showing 87% of Ohio voters supported sentencing reforms for low-level nonviolent offenders.

“The same crime in two different counties can have very different results when it comes to your freedom, if you’re given financial bail, if you’re held pretrial—even sentencing.”

A new study from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found vast disparities between counties in pretrial release and financial conditions of bail. Their reportanalyzed 217,273 cases from 2018. Stark differences applied in financial bail—individuals were released without financial conditions in 68% of cases in Martin County and only 5% of cases in McCracken County. And the affordability of set bail amounts varied widely across the state: in Hopkins County, 99% of those offered cash bail were able to pay it, while only 17% were able to pay in Wolfe County.

“New data about the effects of the Frist Step Act…is showing that past injustices can be corrected, even in the most politically polarized of times.”

According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than 1,000 people have received sentence reductions as a result of the First Step Act. The average sentence reduction has been 73 months and more than 91% of those whose sentences were reduced were African American. The New York Times editorial board lauded the releases, and encouraged President Trump to fill vacancies at the Sentencing Commission to ensure proper application of elements of the First Step Act, including compassionate release.

“Simply put, increased forfeiture funds had no meaningful effect on crime fighting. However, forfeiture was strongly linked to worsening economic conditions.”

The Institute for Justice examined more than ten years of data from the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program to determine whether asset forfeiture helped fight crime. They found that equitable sharing funds did not increase the number of crimes solved, and did not reduce drug use. Instead, they found greater use of forfeiture when departments are under fiscal stress—when unemployment increased by 1%, equitable sharing seizures increased 9%.

“I’m not trying to justify anything. But there is more than one way to pay for a crime, and I have overpaid for mine.”

Legislators in Maine are debating a bill that would allow courts to reduce juvenile restitution based on financial circumstances or allow some of the debt to be paid off with community service. While many states have moved to reduce or eliminate juvenile fines and fees, only six states (Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia place a limit on juvenile restitution obligations. These debts are not consistently collected—Connecticut recovered 87% of the amount owed, while Mississippi recovered only 28%. 

How to Classify Violent Crimes, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Rethinking whether these kinds of crimes should be considered violent would change the conversation about what must be done to cut the incarcerated population…”

The Marshall Project conducted a nationwide survey of statutes and found that many people being classified as “violent” criminals have committed offenses most would not consider violent. In Kentucky, possession of anhydrous ammonia with intent to manufacture methamphetamines is classified as a violent crime, and carries a potential sentence of 20-50 years. In Minnesota, possession of marijuana can be considered a violent offense. And in North Carolina, trafficking a stolen identify is classified as a violent crime.

“HB 1352 is an important bill that will help remove barriers to success for thousands of Mississippians.”

Mississippi’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, signed by Governor Phil Bryant this week, includes wide-ranging reforms to the state’s justice system. The bill would expand Mississippi’s drug courts to a system of intervention courts that include mental health courts, veterans’ courts, and other specializations; allow people charged with misdemeanors to avoid pretrial incarceration; end driver’s license suspensions for non-driving related offenses; expand expungement opportunities; and allow individuals with drug-related convictions to receive workforce training and nutrition assistance, among other changes.

“…We will responsibly take steps to assist our friends and neighbors who deserve a second chance to contribute to our society.”

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 370 into law this week, allowing New Mexicans to ask the courts to seal records of arrest or conviction. Expungements will not be allowed for crimes against children, sex offenses, drunk driving, embezzlement and some other serious crimes. Regrettably, occupational licensing reforms and data-driven probation reforms were not signed into law.

“The [New] Jersey results are exciting, because they hopefully will add fuel to that forward motion in states that are resistant to making change, out of fear that it will increase violent crime.”

The New Jersey Judiciary released a report this week on the aftermath of the state’s near-elimination of cash bail, and found that the state’s jail population dropped by 44%,while rates of recidivism and failure to appear saw only slight increases. The report concluded that the reforms have “reduced unnecessary detention of low-risk defendants, assured community safety, upheld constitutional principles and preserved the integrity of the criminal justice process.” The Administrative Office of the Courts is continuing to study the policy and its results, with a focus on reducing racial disparities and addressing concerns related to domestic violence.

“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result.”

The Department of Justice found that Alabama’s prisons were overcrowded and understaffed, and that officials had shown a “flagrant disregard” to the rights of prisoners. Major prisons were operating at 182% of capacity, and some facilities had only 20% of their staff positions filled. The report also described “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.” The Department of Justice gave Alabama officials 49 days to address the concerns in the report.

The Case for Expungement, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Our research suggests that expungement is a powerful tool for improving outcomes for people with records, without risk (and possibly with benefits) to public safety.”

Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Law analyzed data on expungement recipients and comparable non-recipients and found extremely low subsequent crime rates for those who have expunged their records. People who obtained expungement also saw their wages go up by 25% within two years when compared with their pre-expungement trajectory. The researchers also pointed to a serious “uptake gap”: only 6.5% of those legally eligible for expungement obtain it within their first five years of eligibility.

“Florida is locking up too many people for too long. It’s burdening taxpayers, and it’s doing little to rehabilitate offenders and make communities safer.”

Legislators in Florida are debating a wide range of reforms to the state’s justice system, including ending driver’s license suspensions for low-level crimes or unpaid court fees, limiting solitary confinement for inmates aged 19 or younger, among other reforms. Florida’s First Step Act would also allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for some drug cases, require people to be placed in prisons within 300 miles of their primary residence, and provide sentence reductions for people who complete an entrepreneurship program. The state’s correctional system has an annual budget of $2.4 billion, more than 96,000 people in state prisons and 166,000 under community supervision.  

“It is the most amazing feeling to work with the many lawyers who are filing and beginning to win compassionate release motions for prisoners who I know would never have made it to court, were it up to the BOP.”

Richard Evans became one of the first beneficiaries of the First Step Act’s reforms to the federal compassionate release program. Individuals whose release requests are denied now have the right to petition the courts for relief, and this week U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt reduced Evans’ sentence to time served and ordered three years of supervised release. Hoyt found that the Bureau of Prisons was not equipped to deal with Evans’s malignant melanoma. “Without the court process, our client would die in prison,” Evans’ lawyers said in a prepared statement. “Instead, we had an independent judge and fair-minded prosecutor, and the law worked.”

“It would just create a barrier where people would have to chase down a money order for $15 here, or this, or that—it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons voted unanimously to get rid of application fees as of March 18th. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who also chairs the Board of Pardons, said the previous fees—$8 to download the application, $20 for a background check, $10 for a driving record, and $25 for processing—were too small to be meaningful for the Commonwealth but too burdensome for applicants. Fetterman also announced plans to make the application available online, and proposed a series of changes that would need to be made legislatively, including changing the requirements for commutations of life or death sentences.

“Data from our study can be used to develop national standards of care for incarcerated pregnant women ...”

A survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that nearly 1,396 pregnant women were admitted to prisons in 22 state prisons and the federal prison system over a 12-month period from 2016 to 2017, nearly 4% of all new female admissions. Rates of pregnancy prevalence for women who were incarcerated varied widely by state—from 4.4% in Vermont and 3.8% in Rhode Island to 0.4% in Mississippi and 0.2% in Tennessee. There were 753 live births, 46 miscarriages, and no maternal deaths. The survey is believed to be the first systematic assessment of pregnancy outcomes for women who are incarcerated.

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.



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.  

The First Step Act goes to the Senate, and the news in criminal justice this week

“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised Criminal Justice Bill this month.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed for cloture on The First Step ActThursday, with a vote expected early next week. The legislation is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, including law enforcement and civil rights groups, and is expected to receive at least 70 votes in the Senate. President Trump also endorsed the bill, urging Leader McConnell to allow a vote in the Senate. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris told the Louisville Courier-Journal obstacles remained, including amendments from opponents in the Senate, “but I’d put your money on our side.”  

“We hope that new governors will learn what most of those who have held the office know: that good ideas don’t come wrapped up in Democratic or Republican labels.”

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and former Delaware Governor Jack Markell urged incoming governors to embrace bipartisan criminal justice reform. They emphasized the need to meaningfully reform sentencing and corrections, expand alternatives to jail and prison, and ensure that people leaving prison have access to support services and employment. “We are convinced that the reforms our states have instituted will make our communities safer, provide a second chance to many who made mistakes early in life and save our taxpayers money,” they wrote in Governing. “That’s a win-win-win.”

“There is no limit in Mississippi on how long a person can be held prior to indictment, so detainees can wait up to a year or more before even being formally charged with a crime.”

A new survey from the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi showed almost half of those jailed had a stay of 90 or more consecutive days. The state’s long pretrial detentions are the result of myriad factors, including delays in appointing public defenders, slow evidence processing, infrequent court meetings in rural areas, and high levels of poverty. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mississippi had the sixth-longest average pretrial stay in the country, with defendants detained for an average of 40 days.

“That actually has potential to open up additional funding for people who are incarcerated or leaving jails or getting continued treatment once they leave prisons.”

Reforms intended to keep nonviolent offenders out of Utah’s prisons have led to a 12% drop in prison population, but shifted many people with addiction into county jails that currently lack drug-treatment programs. A new report from the Utah Foundation examined the state’s treatment and rehabilitation programs, and found significant savings to taxpayers in the long term, but underscored the need to expand access to pre-booking diversion and treatment programs in county jails.

“When it comes to how we treat these people when they get out, we turn our back on them and let them down a second time.”

Monday, December 17th is the deadline to apply for relief under the Wrongful Conviction Tax Relief Act for claims prior to 2014. Passed in 2015, the law exempts civil damages, restitution or other financial awards exonerees have received from taxes in 33 states and the federal government. Jon Eldan works to identify those who may qualify and has helped 13 people recover $1.6 million and eliminate $500,000 in tax liability, collectively. His nonprofit group, After Innocence, also works with exonerees to apply for government and social services.

 

 

Wrongly Seized Property Returned in Mississippi, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We are glad to see that the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is not only following the law, but is taking corrective action in cases where administrative forfeiture procedures were incorrectly used.”

The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has begun sending notifications allowing retrieval of stolen property to individuals whose assets were seized improperly. New rules governing asset forfeiture went into effect on July 1 of this year, but representatives of the Mississippi Justice Institute noted that MBN seizures had continued after the effective date. Reforms passed by the state legislature in 2017 require agencies to obtain a warrant within 72 hours of seizing property, and to post all forfeitures on a publicly accessible website. Prior to the reforms, there was no requirement that asset forfeiture be tracked or reported, and an investigation by Reason found forfeitures of cash, cars, electronic equipment, power tools and one comic book collection.

“One of the biggest problems is, they don’t have the money to hire more public defenders. So as a result, their caseload is way too high. And they’re excellent lawyers—but you can only handle so many cases.”

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not provide state-level funding for public defense. Instead, public defense is funded at the county level, and there is no consistent oversight of the system. Most counties do not track caseloads and outcomes comprehensively, and one third of counties were unable to provide full budget, salary and staffing information in response to public records requests. State Senator Stewart Greenleaf has long been a champion of public defense reform, but is unsure whether anyone will take up the cause when he retires in January.

“As former federal and state prosecutors, we understand more than most that there are smart ways to reform the system that lead to better outcomes. You can be pro-public safety, pro-law enforcement and pro-reform simultaneously.”

In the Albuquerque Journal, former U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias and Brett Tolman argued that New Mexico’s bail reforms are working, and the state should continue on the path started by 2016’s Amendment 1. They note that both pretrial detention and crime have both declined since bail reform was implemented, and that the state’s pretrial system is now driven by public safety, rather than access to cash.  

“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that incarceration is an ineffective response to drug abuse and that treatment in the community produces better public safety results.”

A new report from the Urban Institute looks at five states that have reclassified drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and makes recommendations for other states looking toward reform. Utah’s prison population has declined 9% since HB 348 was enacted, driven in part by a 74% drop in new commitments for drug possession. The number of people in prison for drug possession in Connecticut has declined by 74%, and the Department of Corrections projects cost savings of $9.8 million in fiscal 2017. In addition to reclassification, the report recommends investment in substance abuse treatment and behavioral health programs.

“For more than 20 years, the program’s solid track record has convinced leaders in state government, along with local judges, prosecutors and treatment providers, that Drug Court is an essential part of the Kentucky court system.”

Looking to rein in their jail budget and inmate population, Kentucky’s Boyle and Mercer Counties are considering creating certified drug courts. 113 of the state’s 120 counties already have state-certified drug courts, which provide comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services, frequent non-adversarial judicial interaction, and community supervision. A report commissioned by the counties also recommended refining the use of graduated sanctions, and using discretionary detention for those who have violated a probation or parole condition.


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.”