Oklahoma

Commutations in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s been a transformation, and we’re moving in the right direction.”

In fiscal year 2019, Oklahoma has a more than fivefold increase in commutations granted by the Parole and Pardon Board, due in part to a change in the mindset of the board members. “We are beginning to understand and make better decisions based on facts, data and research rather than emotion, fear and anger,” said board member and former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele. Governor Kevin Stitt announced new appointments to the Pardon and Parole Board this week, including Adam Luck, who previously served as Oklahoma State Director for Right on Crime.  

“If you are a dealer, this does not protect you. This protects the addicted.”

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha proposed legislation this week that would classify the possession of small amounts of narcotics as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Possession of small amounts of marijuana is already classified as a misdemeanor in the state. Neronha’s proposal would also lower the maximum sentence for simple possession from three years to one year in prison. Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey agreed to sponsor the legislation.

“It is very upsetting that defendants are in jail and are not able to access our resources as timely as the court requires and, more importantly, as is appropriate for their needs and their rights.”

According to analysis by the Oregonian, state courts, corrections and hospital officials routinely fail to get people with mental illness into treatment within a court-ordered seven day timeline. Researchers found more than 200 incidents of delay, some lasting more than a month. The reporting revealed that 63% of those experiencing extended delays had been charged with misdemeanors and faced little to no jail time if convicted.  

“Social media has the potential to help agencies manage their own reputation and contact community members directly to bolster community-police relations.”

The Urban Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Policed partnered on a national collection of social media engagement from law enforcement agencies and social media postings that mentioned police. In addition, 539 agencies across 48 states also participated in a survey on their use of social media. Using this data, researchers created a social media guidebook and model policies for law enforcement.

“With the efforts of the criminal justice reform community pushing from all sides of the political aisle, Congress finally broke the logjam and passed meaningful reform.”

In an essay for the Yale Law Journal, Georgetown University Law Center Professor Shon Hopwood described the effort to pass the First Step Act, crediting a wide variety of groups on the right and left, including the NAACP, FAMM, Prison Fellowship, #cut50, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union. Hopwood also lays out a set of principles for evaluating future reforms, suggesting advocates evaluate whether the bill would increase fairness and public safety, whether it is supported by those who would be directly affected, and whether there is a realistic chance of better alternatives in the near future, among other factors.

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.

Bipartisan Sentencing Reform in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I look forward to working with members of both parties to find not Democratic or Republic solutions, but Oklahoma solutions to the issues facing this state. This bill will be a great step in that direction.”
 
Oklahoma House Bill 1269, which would allow recently-passed sentencing reforms to be applied retroactively, was introduced this week by Representatives Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). State Question 780 reclassified several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, but only applied to those charged after July 1, 2017. According to an estimate from Open Justice Oklahoma, 2,500-3,000 people could be immediately eligible for reduced sentences if HB 1269 is adopted.
 
“There are still grave concerns. This just emphasizes to us that the state of Wisconsin has to move these kids out (of the facilities).”
 
The first report from court-appointed monitor Teresa Abreu shows Wisconsin’s juvenile facilities continue to face “serious, chronic, and dangerous” staffing shortages. Abreu reported that guards at Lincoln Hills School (LHS) and Copper Lake School (CLS) continue to use pepper spray to subdue people when lesser means could have been used, and individuals are sometimes placed in solitary confinement for more than seven days. The report does point to some areas of improvement, including the decreased use of physical restraints and strip searches. Abreu also noted that the Wisconsin Division of Juvenile Corrections Director and LHS/CLS Superintendent were both receptive to her recommendations. 
 
“The historic decline demonstrates that common-sense criminal justice reforms work and bolsters the case for expanding reforms while ensuring the safety of all citizens.”
 
From 2017 to 2018, Pennsylvania’s state corrections population saw its biggest-ever decrease, dropping from 48,438 to 47,370. 617 fewer people were newly admitted to state prisons, while 575 fewer were returned for parole violations. Since the state passed a Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2012, the prison population has declined by more than 7.4%. “We are locking up fewer people while crime rates continue to decline,” noted the Commonwealth Foundation’s Nathan Benefield. “It’s time for lawmakers to build on this momentum and advance reforms that improve sentencing and parole.” 
 
“It will make Harris County safer and more equal and provide more efficient processing of people accused of misdemeanors.”

Newly-elected judges in Harris County have approved a plan that would allow 85% of those arrested for misdemeanors to be automatically released on no-cash bonds. The new court protocols are a proposed foundation for the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the county’s bail practices, and must be reviewed by a federal judge. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, a defendant in the lawsuit, welcomed the proposed settlement, saying “too many jail beds are occupied by nonviolent people who can be safely released to return home to support their families while they await trial.”  
 
“I want to add to my portfolio of programs that are sustainable…do justice and serve the community. That’s the essence of criminal justice reform.”
 
Pima County’s Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program was highlighted at this week’s winter meeting of the Major County Prosecutor’s Council. The program, in place since 2011, allows people to opt into an intensive supervision, treatment and support program rather than being sentenced to prison. The University of Arizona estimated that the program had saved $6 million over the course of four years, and that the program cost less than half as much as sending a person to prison. Attendees, including district and county attorneys from Baltimore, New York, Seattle, and Denver, met to discuss strategies to assist in criminal justice reform at the local level.  

Kentucky led the way on the First Step Act, and the news in criminal justice this week

 “While Democratic and Republican senators pressured him to bring up the legislation in Washington, he listened to friends in Kentucky who adopted a strategy of flooding him with information, but not pressuring too obviously or too hard.” 
 
A behind-the-scenes look at The First Step Act’s path to passage highlighted the effectiveness of a serious, sustained, and local effort to persuade Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to give the bill a vote in the Senate. Proponents, including Senator Rand Paul, Representative John Yarmuth, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, and Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds helped make the case for data-driven reforms with a record of success at the state level. As the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris noted, “ultimately the voices that are going to matter to him most are the ones back at home.”   
 
“All you have to do is consult the numbers…New Jersey’s crime rates have plummeted across the board.”
 
New Jersey eliminated most cash bail in January 2017, despite predictions from opponents that crime would increase and communities would be less safe. Since then, violent crime rates have dropped more than 30%, with 32% fewer homicides, 37% fewer robberies, and 30% fewer burglaries. The state’s pretrial jail population has decreased nearly 40% over the past two years. After reviewing the data, the New Jersey Star Ledger editorial board said the reforms had “transformed our state into a model of justice reform for the entire nation.”
 
“There are other options, such as industry accreditation or simpler registries, that could offer an appropriate level of oversight without creating obstacles for workers attempting to enter the field.”
 
According to data from the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma licenses 41 lower-income professions, requiring an average of $234 in fees, two exams, and 399 days of education and experience. This week, a bipartisan coalition of state leaders recommended several changes to Oklahoma’s occupational licensing requirements, including expanding the list of boards that are banned from prohibiting the licensing of people with felony convictions unless their crimes were substantially related to the industry, and narrowing the scope of government licensure to work. The alarm and locksmith board, for example, currently requires that all salespeople, managers and security system technicians be licensed. The board recommended that managers and salespeople, who do not have access to peoples’ homes and valuables, should not be required to be licensed. 
 
“So what are we proudest of? Working together to develop outcomes that are far better for the broader society and far better for the individual as well.”

At the final meeting of his criminal justice reform commission, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor pointed to their successes—including overall reductions in violent crime, arrests and prison populations—but noted that there was much more work to be done. Governor-Elect Ned Lamont has pledged to continue the state’s justice reforms, and announced this week that he would appoint Rollin Cook, the former executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, to serve as corrections commissioner.  
 
“Instead of just taking (juvenile offenders) to the jail, you take them to the center, they get an assessment and find out what that child needs…”
 
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch suggested several steps to reduce youth violence and involvement in the justice system, including better information sharing, easier connections with social services, and the establishment of an assessment center for youth who have come in contact with law enforcement. The recommendations come from a community-wide study that included input from law enforcement leaders, juvenile justice experts and social service providers. “A cycle of punitive accountability without any intervention is just a cycle of incarceration, release, re-offense,” said juvenile court officer Scott Hobart. “We’ve got to intervene.”

 

Rights of incarcerated parents, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The right to your children is the most fundamental one you have, but we strip it from incarcerated parents so casually.”

Since 2006, at least 32,000 incarcerated parents have had their children permanently taken from them without being accused of physical or sexual abuse. In 5,000 of those cases, parental rights appear to have been stripped because of imprisonment alone. The Adoption and Safe Families Act, passed in 1997, required federally funded child welfare programs to begin to terminate parental rights in most cases where children had been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months. States that facilitated adoptions received more than $639 million in incentive payments. A small number of states, including New York, Washington and Illinois have passed legislation to protect the parental rights of incarcerated people, and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has indicated that she plans to introduce federal protections for parents who maintain a role in their kids’ lives.

“The reality is states have been doing this. It has been successful. It has been a bipartisan issue…this is the one issue that is bringing people together right now.”

Justice Action Network partnered with the Washington Post and the University of Virginia on Criminal Justice Reform: The Road Ahead, bringing together elected officials and advocates from around the country. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley discussed the outlook for The First Step Act and committed to working across party lines to move forward. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Representative Sheryl Delozier and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel discussed the commonwealth’s recent justice reforms, including this year’s Clean Slate bill. JAN’s Holly Harris talked with FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye and #cut50’s Jessica Jackson about justice reform’s bipartisan coalitions.  Additional panels featured Senator Mike Lee, Leadership Conference’s Vanita Gupta, FAMM’s Kevin Ring, and Brittany Barnett and Sharanda Jones of the Buried Alive project.

“We need politicians more concerned about the rising taxpayer and human cost of our growing prison system than about what will be printed on direct mailers during the next election cycle; and a public that places more value on reduced crime than increased convictions.”

Two new reports from the Iowa Department of Human Rights highlight the cost of the current justice system and areas that could be ripe for reform in the coming legislative session. The Correctional Policy Project’s Prison Population Forecastpredicts a more than 20% increase in the total prison population over the next ten years, going from the current 8,447 to 10,144. The state’s prisons, already at 116% of capacity, are projected to be at 139% of capacity if no policy changes are made. In its Legislative Recommendations to the General Assemblythe state’s Public Safety Advisory Board suggested changes to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and the implementation of a results-driven approach to corrections and juvenile justice with a consistent cost analysis formula for evaluating programs. Additional recommendations included eliminating driving sanctions for the failure to pay fines and fees. The Iowa Legislature is widely expected to tackle many of these reforms during the 2019 session.

This signals we understand there is a better way to address issues of addiction and mental illness rather than incarceration.”

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of 21 people serving time for crimes that now carry no prison term or significantly reduced sentences. Collectively, the clemency recipients had been sentenced to 349 years in prison for drug possession or other nonviolent offenses. The push for commutation was driven by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, with assistance from groups including the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and students from the University of Tulsa School of Law.

“What we heard from employers in the nonprofit and government sectors who want to hire people who were involved in the justice system is that a lot of times, there’s a gap in technology skills.”

At John Jay College’s Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI), returning citizens can catch up on technological developments they may have missed while they were incarcerated. Students in Tech 101 learn to set up Google accounts and use Microsoft Office suite, get an overview of digital privacy issues, and see how employers use social media when making hiring decisions. Elena Sigman, PRI’s director of collaborative learning, credits partnerships between educational institutions, the justice system, affiliated nonprofits and the city for Tech 101’s success, and hopes it will lead to replicas in other cities and counties.

Poll finds strong support for pretrial reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Support for limiting pretrial use of jail extended across party lines and was consistently high among households with crime victims or members of law enforcement.”

Polling from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows broad support for reforms that prioritize release over detention and use a wide range of options to manage risk during the pretrial period. The poll, conducted by the conservative GS Strategy Group and progressive Benenson Strategy Group, found 9 in 10 respondents favored releasing people pretrial if they are facing nonviolent charges. The poll also found strong support for speedy trials, with 81% saying detained individuals should not have to wait longer than a week for a trial to start.

“It’s high time the country got smarter on crime and punishment, lowering mandatory sentences for first-time drug offenders and giving judges more latitude in their decisions.”

Momentum continued to build for the FIRST STEP Act, now awaiting a vote in the Senate. Editorial boards across the country, including the Washington PostChristian Science MonitorDeseret News and the Louisville Courier-Journal all pushed for the Senate to pass the legislation. In their endorsement, the Christian Science Monitor board noted that the FIRST STEP Act would “[take] a little sting out of an era of hyperpartisan politics by proving that working across party lines is still possible.” The bill was also endorsed this week by the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

“So what is to happen if a state needing revenue says anyone who speeds has to forfeit the Bugatti, Mercedes, or a special Ferrari or even jalopy?”

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case of Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. A majority of the justices, led by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor, appeared deeply skeptical of Indiana’s claim that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines did not apply to the states. During questioning by Justice Breyer, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher asserted that a vehicle driven even five miles over the speed limit could be forfeited. Amicus briefs in support of Timbs were filed by a broad range of groups, including the NAACP, the Cato Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Simply removing the stigma of a felony conviction from people with addiction is a positive step, and for this alone, SQ 780 has been a resounding success.”

Analysis from the Oklahoma Policy Institute showed that State Question 780 reversed a long trend of increasing felony filings, reducing filings by more than 28% in the first year since it took effect. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and many minor property crimes as misdemeanors. Effects varied by county, with felony filings dropping by more than 50% in Cotton and Harper counties, while Haskell, Logan, Payne, Johnston and Atoka counties all appeared to show a shift toward harsher charges to avoid SQ 780’s reforms.

“Sentencing is something that is an exclusive parameter of the judges…That is, in my opinion, the most important thing that judges do.”

Prosecutors in Orleans Parish invoked the state’s habitual offender statute in 6% of cases this year in which defendants were eligible, down from 13% in 2017. Those sentenced under the habitual offender statute are subject to mandatory minimum sentences without the possibility of parole or early release. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro attributed part of the decrease to the Justice Reinvestment Package passed in 2017, which shortened the time limit for past crimes to be considered for habitual offender status.  According to the Department of Corrections, nearly 75% of those sentenced under the habitual offender law in 2015 were convicted of drug or property crimes, not violent crimes.

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.

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."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.