Ohio

Reentry Court in Oregon, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Right now, these guys are not gaining the tools or assistance that allows them to be successful. Reentry Court takes a holistic approach to those barriers.”

In Oregon, Lane County’s Reentry Court provides people returning from federal prison with support to achieve sobriety, gain employment, and develop coping and problem-solving skills. Those who complete the 12-month program without a violation receive a one-year reduction of their probation term. Reentry team members seek to address the main barriers to successful transition from prison: substance abuse, mental health issues, inadequate housing, and a lack of peer support and guided programming. The revocation rate for participants is 26% lower than the rest of the state’s supervised release programs.

“The benefits of Clean Slate are clear: lower crime rates, taxpayer money saved as a result of reduced incarceration, and a stronger economy that allows more qualified job seekers to participate.”

Writing in the Hartford Courant, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin and the Center for American Progress’s Rebecca Vallas urged Connecticut lawmakers to pass the Clean Slate Act pending in the legislature. The Clean Slate Act would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records for those who have completed their sentence and remained crime free for five years after a non-violent felony, or three years after a misdemeanor. Clean Slate laws have gained traction across the country—Pennsylvania and Utah both passed automatic expungement laws, and Kentucky and New Mexico expanded opportunities for expungement this year.

“It should be more open. It shouldn’t be so closed that we don’t know what their decisions are based on.”

The Ohio Parole Board is under scrutiny from a wide array of critics, including crime victims, incarcerated people, lawyers and lawmakers. Much of the criticism focuses on a lack of transparency: hearings are not open to the public, records are kept secret, and board debate and votes are conducted behind closed doors. Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Annette Chambers-Smith expressed confidence in the current board, but said she planned to appoint four new members with more diverse backgrounds, ask outside experts to recommend reforms, and look for ways they can be more transparent.

“The city has a reputation as liberal, but these data evidence quite authoritarian policing practices compared to other large Texas jurisdictions.”

Researcher Scott Henson analyzed data from 4.6 million traffic stops conducted across 38 of the largest jurisdictions in Texas, found wide disparities in the use of force and arrests for minor misdemeanors, and identified the Austin Police Department as “among the worst in each category.” Police in Austin were more likely to use injury-causing force against drivers than any other large jurisdiction—four times more often than state troopers and twenty times the rate of the San Antonio Police Department. Austin was also in the top ten for arresting drivers for Class C misdemeanor charges, and in the top five on arrests for outstanding warrants.

“To have to be shackled with chains around their ankles, wrists and waist, even when they’re in the delivery room—it’s humiliating.”

Georgia House Bill 345, which would ban the shackling of pregnant women in jails and prisons, and prohibit placing them in solitary confinement during their postpartum recovery, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 52-1. The legislation would also mandate that vaginal exams of pregnant incarcerated women be conducted by licensed medical professionals. A similar version of the bill was approved by the House earlier this year. Legislators have until Tuesday, when the General Assembly adjourns, to iron out differences between the two versions.

Probation Reform in Pennsylvania, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’ll save us money and it will provide a higher quality of justice to each and every Pennsylvanian.”

Democratic Senator Anthony Williams and Republican Senator Camera Bartolotta introduced legislation that would set a maximum term of probation of three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies, as well as provide a system of graduated sanctions for technical violations. Pennsylvania spends nearly $200 million per year incarcerating people for probation violations. Bartolotta noted that 30 other states limit the length of probation sentences, and said the reform was needed “to ensure that minor probation violations do not result in new sentences not matching the crime.”

“We need as much transparency as possible when the government seizes someone’s property. It has to be done properly and for just cause.”

Following a multi-part investigation by the Greenville News, a bipartisan group of South Carolina legislators announced plans to introduce significant reforms to the state’s civil asset forfeiture law. Reporters analyzed more than 3,200 cases, involving more than 4,000 people, and showed police had seized more than $17 million in cash. Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Horry), said the proposed changes would give South Carolina some of the strongest forfeiture laws in the country. The TAKEN series is available here.

“Thank you, Matthew. Welcome home.”

Matthew Charles, one of the first people released from prison as a result of the First Step Act, was a guest of President Trump at the State of the Union this week. President Trump cited the First Step Act as an example of bipartisan cooperation, saying “when we are united, we can make astonishing strides for our country.” Edward Douglas, who was also released as a result of the First Step Act, attended as a guest of Senator Cory Booker.

“These numbers confirm there is strong consensus behind…transitioning the system to focus on the offense and offender, rather than on their financial means.”

New polling from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce shows widespread support for reforming the Commonwealth’s bail system. Overall, 76% of those surveyed supported the elimination of cash bail for people charged with non-violent, non-sexual crimes. Support for the change is consistently high across the state, ranging from 70% in Western Kentucky to 79% in the Louisville metro area. According to previous analysis from the Pegasus Institute, in 2016. there were more than 64,000 Kentuckians accused on non-violent, non-sexual offenses detained because they could not afford their bail.

“I’m certainly not going to send someone to jail at that point because I realize that just putting someone in jail is not going to help someone with an addiction problem.”

For six hours on Wednesdays, Ohio’s Franklin County Courthouse is the site of a medically assisted treatment clinic. Judge Eileen Paley said the majority of cases she sees are tied to addiction, and that having a clinic inside the building helps connect people to treatment. In addition to providing relapse prevention drugs, Franklin County officials help people access social services, visit behavioral health counselors and check in with probation officers.

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.  

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.

A fact-check on Louisiana's reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…We should unite around the opportunity, clarify the facts and bring logic and analysis to assessing success or failure. It is vital that the public keep everyone accountable to the truth.”

Daniel Erspamer, of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and James Lapeyre, Jr., of Smart on Crime Louisiana, fact-checked Senator John Kennedy’s criticism of Louisiana’s recent criminal justice reforms. Kennedy’s letter overstated re-arrest and recidivism rates for people who received a recalculated “good time” credit, and mischaracterized the process by which this process was carried out. Erspamer and Lapeyre said it was too early to draw conclusions about the reforms’ effects, but noted that the results so far are extremely promising, and that states implementing similar reforms had seen reductions in crime and recidivism.

“That practice also has reduced crowding in the Summit County Jail, and saved taxpayers millions of dollars a year in jail costs.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Justice for All series continued with an step-by-step review of Summit County, Ohio’s pretrial services. Spurred by overcrowding and rising costs, the county adopted a pretrial risk assessment system in 2006. Officials estimate savings of more than $7.3 million in 2016 alone. Akron Municipal Court judge said the pretrial services program was essential: “I’ve never had to do my job without the risk assessment and I don’t think that I would want to.”

“In many cases, people are dealing with mental illness or an emotional crisis of some kind, and if we want to be good cops, it’s up to us to engage them.”

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission trains police officers how to defuse encounters with people experiencing a mental health crisis. Sue Rahr, the commission’s executive director, emphasizes the need to recognize symptoms of mental illness and distress, slow down the action, and bring situations to peaceful resolutions. Along with training in de-escalation techniques, Rahr encourages officers to think of themselves as guardians rather than warriors, who are “going into communities, not war zones.”

“While more time is needed to measure the full impacts of the justice reinvestment legislation I signed last year, the decline in our prison population is certainly a step in the right direction.”

A new report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center predicted that recent reforms would result in a 20% reduction in North Dakota’s projected prison population by 2022, averting $64 million in costs. The justice reinvestment legislation funded behavioral health services, set probation as the presumptive sentence for certain offenses, and reclassified first-time drug possession from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor, among other reforms. The state’s prison population has dropped 6.5% since justice reinvestment policies took effect, a number which includes an 8.4% drop in admissions for drug and alcohol offenses in the past two fiscal years.

“Incarceration cannot be the only option for those struggling with addiction. We must find ways to divert people to treatment and stem the tide of drug-related crime.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, designed to divert people with opioid addiction away from the criminal justice system. Rather than being taken to jail, participants will go to a Volunteers of America triage center, where they will receive addiction treatment and wrap-around services. The program will focus on neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. Overdoses in Louisville are down from their peak in the first quarter of 2017, but first responders had given nearly 1500 naloxone doses in the first seven months of 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Tennessee's license suspensions ruled unconstitutional, and the news in criminal justice this week

“If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it…”

A federal judge in Nashville has ruled that Tennessee’s policy of revoking drivers licenses over unpaid court fees is unconstitutional. In her ruling, Judge Aleta Trauger noted that driving was “a virtual necessity for most Americans,” and that suspensions made it more difficult for individuals to earn the money needed to pay court debts. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 146,000 people had their licenses suspended under the policy, and only 10,750 have had their licenses reinstated. 

“[T]he debate is happening for a supremely conservative reason: because states have demonstrated it can work.”

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson highlights justice reform as a ‘trans-partisan’ issue, which can unite liberals, libertarians, fiscal conservatives and religious activists. Gerson points to successes in Texas, Georgia and Louisiana, which have limited mandatory minimums, promoted alternatives to incarceration for people with addiction and mental health issues, and made better use of parole. Arthur Rizer and Lars Trautman’s review of red-state reforms, which informs Gerson’s column, was published in the current issue of National Affairs.

“Are we incarcerating the right number of folks for the right crimes?”

As they deal with prison overcrowding and the prospect of $500 million in prison expansions, Idaho officials are looking to Utah as a model of criminal justice reform. Utah reformed drug laws and invested in substance abuse treatment programs, and saw a decline in the prison population and the rate of crime. Idaho law currently allows a sentence of up to seven years in prison for the first-time possession of illegal drugs in any amount, and 49 percent of newly sentenced inmates in the past year were imprisoned for drug crimes.

“Having a conviction, even a minor one, it puts up another hurdle. We’re trying to give people a leg up.”

The New York Times profiles advocates and people with criminal records who are trying to navigate the state’s complicated record-sealing system. A new law, which took effect in October, allows New Yorkers with no more than two misdemeanor convictions or one non-violent felony and one misdemeanor conviction to apply for record sealing after 10 years. As of the end of May, only 346 people had had their convictions sealed. For a deeper dive into reentry and collateral consequences, June’s Federal Sentencing Reporter"Managing Collateral Consequences in the Information Age,” includes studies from Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee and California, as well as a state-by-state guide to expungement.  

“Offering intensive support through reentry services is a well-tested solution that can break the cycle of re-incarceration.”

Legislators in Massachusetts are considering allocating $3 million for community-based, residential reentry programs for fiscal 2019, 33 times more than the current $90,000 budget allocation. Current programs largely rely on grants and donations, and several reentry service providers have closed or scaled back in the last 18 months. The increase in funding would still leave Massachusetts well behind similar states—Ohio spent $66 million on reentry programs in 2017, and New Jersey spent $65 million on state-contracted halfway houses.

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.