Oklahoma

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.”



"Confined and Costly," and the news in criminal justice this week

“Many states have made recidivism reduction a public safety priority, but the harsh reality is that supervision fails nearly as often as it succeeds.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report this week called “Confined and Costly,” examining how parole and probation violations contribute to state prison populations. They found that 45% of state prison admissions are due to violations of probation or parole, costing more than $9.3 billion annually. The report includes state-by-state analysis of supervision violations and budget impacts. More than half of people in prison on any given day in Idaho, Arkansas, Missouri and Wisconsin are there for a supervision violation, compared to fewer than 5% in Maryland, Michigan, Alabama and Massachusetts.

“It’s the talk of the prison yard in a lot of prisons statewide.”

Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board received nearly 750 applications for commutations in the first four months of the year, almost twice as many as in the same period in 2018. House Bill 1269, signed into law this year, created a single-stage commutation docket for people whose convictions are for felonies now reclassified as misdemeanors, but the law doesn’t take effect until November 1. Until then, the board conducts a two-stage review and sends recommendations to the governor. More than 560 applications were submitted in May alone. “We’re doing our best to keep afloat,” Interim Executive Director Melinda Romero told the Oklahoman. “We’re processing them as fast as we can.”

“The assumption is often made that people with mental illness end up in the justice system because they refuse healthcare interventions. In these cases, the opposite was true; the healthcare system refused them.”

Between 2017 and 2018, 142 people were arrested for trespassing at five Portland hospitals and a psychiatric emergency department, and 109 of them were seeking or being discharged from care, according to a new report from Disability Rights Oregon. The authors urge hospitals to create better discharge plans for patients, and seek funding for diversion programs for people with mental illness. Officials from Legacy and OHSU defended their practices, but Providence Medical Group’s chief executive of behavioral health said they had “significantly reviewed and revised [their] processes and procedures” based on the report.

“It’s tough to go around without teeth.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s denture clinic delivered its first sets of 3D-printed teeth this week. A Houston Chronicle investigation last year revealed dentures were only being provided in cases of “medical necessity,” and chewing was not considered a necessity. The number of dentures distributed to incarcerated people had dropped sharply, going from 1,295 in 2004 to only 71 in 2016. After the investigation, corrections officials pledged to update policies, hire a denture specialist and start a denture clinic. Texas is now the first prison system to 3D-print dentures on-site, and can produce four sets of teeth per day at a cost of $60-70 each.

“Florida’s sentencing policy has not changed for decades despite research indicating it may not be providing the public safety benefits envisioned, and, in fact, its emphasis on punishment may be in conflict with best practices for recidivism reduction.”  

Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code contributes to sentencing disparities across the state and results in the overincarceration of low-level offenders, according to a new report by the Crime and Justice Institute. The authors recommend considering six policy changes, including shortening sentence lengths, creating a meaningful right of appeal for sentences that exceed specified ranges, and implementing post-release supervision for some defendants. Previous reports by the Crime and Justice Institute focused on Florida’s persistently high prison population, and data-driven recommendations to improve the state’s justice system.

White House Withdraws Expanded Background Check Plan, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The sentiment against this was overwhelming.” 

After a bipartisan outcry, the White House withdrew a plan to require federal job applicants to disclose their participation in diversion programs. Applicants would have been asked whether they had “been subject to judge or court specified conditions requiring satisfactory completion before a criminal charge has been or will be dismissed.” Nearly 4,000 comments were submitted to the Federal Register against the proposed change, which was first posted in late February by the Office of Personnel Management.

“We need a public safety system that holds youth accountable for crimes but just as importantly ensures they can grow and change for the better.”

Senate Bill 1008, which would end the practice of automatically referring youths accused of certain crimes to adult court, passed in the Oregon House by a vote of 40-18, narrowly meeting the 2/3 majority required to amend a voter-approved initiative. In addition to requiring a hearing for referrals, the bill allows for a “second look” hearing halfway through a sentence, and eliminates life without parole sentences for juveniles. Governor Kate Brown has indicated that she will sign the bill. We are sad to note that Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters, who helped lead the fight for SB 1008, passed away this week. “Justice reform has been my passion for many years,” Winters said in one of her final public statements, “and I am so pleased that we got this bill across the finish line.”

“If resources are limited, are there still ways to optimize programming’s beneficial effects?”

A new report from the American Enterprise Institute, “Optimizing the Effectiveness of Correctional Programming: The Importance of Dosage, Timing and Sequencing,” offers an evidence-based framework for policymakers and practitioners to design effective interventions. Suggestions include providing longer, more intensive programming for high risk individuals, offering multiple interventions, and back-loading programming closer to a release date. Author Grant Duwe also recommends addressing recidivism factors in a thoughtful sequence, by focusing on the most influential risk factors before attending to more moderate factors like education, employment, and substance abuse.

“Tens of thousands of Oklahomans will be eligible to apply to have their felony taken off their record, which will open up new and hopefully more fruitful employment opportunities for them.”

Oklahoma House Bill 1269 was signed into law this week by Governor Kevin Stitt, making the reforms of State Question 780 retroactive. It establishes an expedited commutation process for individuals serving a felony sentence for crimes that are now misdemeanors, and simplifies expungement for low-level drug possession and property convictions. Up to 60,000 people could be eligible for expungement, and 500-800 people who are currently serving felony prison sentences could be released. The law takes effect on November 1, 2019.

“Asking hard questions and demanding evidence-based answers can protect both the public’s pocket book and its safety – on our streets, in our courtrooms, in our jails and prisons and in our communities.”

The Arizona Town Hall Association conducted 16 public meetings around the state and produced a report with recommendations for official action and personal commitments to improve the state’s justice system. Participants in the town halls included elected officials, community and business leaders, reform advocates, law enforcement, students, and people who are incarcerated—two of the town halls took place inside correctional facilities. In addition to detailing the results of the community meetings, the report includes background research from the Arizona State University Morrison Institute for Public Policy on elements of Arizona’s criminal justice system.

 

Occupational Licensing Reform in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This is a huge deal.”

Legislators in Oklahoma voted to create more specific use of criminal records in state occupational licensing decisions, and remove “good character” requirements from those laws with nearly unanimous, bipartisan support. House Bill 1373 was approved in the House by vote of 90-2 and in the Senate by a vote of 42-0, and Governor Stitt is expected to sign it into law. The Institute of Justice previously ranked Oklahoma as the 11th most burdensome state for occupational licensing, noting that 29 of 102 low-to-moderate income occupations required certification, and data from the  University of Tulsa showed Oklahomans with criminal records had an unemployment rate almost five times as high as the general population.   

“We look forward to working with leaders of both parties in the Legislature and with the administration to help us grow the economy, improve our criminal justice system and keep Pennsylvania No. 1 for second chances.” 

Pennsylvania’s business community and groups from the right and left came together to call for prioritizing justice reforms that help returning citizens find jobs in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris and leaders from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation and Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania encouraged legislators to adopt reforms to the state’s occupational licensing and probation systems, and access to expungement.

“No one should profit from criminal activity. But to take somebody’s goods and deprive them before there’s been due process delivered is an injustice.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of bills this week that will significantly reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. House Bills 4001 and 4002 and Senate Bill 2 will require the government to notify a person that their property has been seized, return unjustified forfeited property within 14 days, delay forfeiture in cases involving controlled substances, and obtain a conviction before property can be permanently forfeited to the state in most cases. These reforms, championed by Senator Peter Lucido, follow a 2015 change to requirements for evidence and transparency, and a 2016 law that removed a bond requirement for people challenging a forfeiture.

“This report shows that judges are respecting the rights of the accused by releasing eligible pretrial defendants from jail without increasing the threat to public safety.” 

Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, released a report this week on the effects of pretrial reforms instituted in 2017. The Cook County Jail population dropped by more than 1,600 and the average bound amount fell from $5,000 to $1,000. At the same time, violent crime in Chicago decreased by 8% and nearly 90% of those released had not been charged with a new crime during the 15-month period covered by the study. 

“This is a great opportunity for individuals to get training of a skill for employment, not in a low level or entry level type job, but one where their training and certification opens up new opportunities at a much higher level for them.”

The Culinary Academy, a partnership between the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board, the Sawyer County Jail, Hayward Senior Resource Center, and the Sawyer County Criminal Justice Programs, provides training for incarcerated people in a variety of skills related to the culinary industry. Participants learn about food preparation, nutrition, hospitality, customer service, and menu preparation, and receive their ServSafe certification.

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.