Pennsylvania

Federal Clean Slate Legislation, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The Clean Slate Act would ensure that people who pay their debt to society and stay on the straight and narrow can earn a second shot at a better life.”

Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) introduced the Clean Slate Act this week, which would automatically seal the federal records of people convicted of drug possession or any nonviolent offense involving marijuana. The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and FreedomWorks. CAP’s Rebecca Vallas said the Clean Slate Act “would help people get back to work, lift families out of poverty and interrupt the cycle of economic instability and recidivism trapping countless individuals and families in the justice system today.”  Expungement also gained steam in Wisconsin: Assembly Bill 33, the “Pathways to Employment” legislation, advanced through House and Senate committees and is expected to be scheduled for floor votes in both chambers in May.

“There is more work to be done, but this is a great sign that we are on the right path.”

New numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed a continued decline in prison populations, down to 1.49 million from a peak in 2009 of 1.62 million. Five states—New York, New Jersey, Alaska, Connecticut and Vermont—have reduced their prison population by at least 30% in the past twenty years. Not all states have seen declines—Kentucky’s state inmate population increased by 2.3% between 2016 and 2017, and Utah saw an increase of 4.3% in that time frame.

“If our policies make a second chance harder, especially in a way that is disproportional by economic status, they need to change.”

Starting this month, New York and Pennsylvania will no longer automatically suspend driver’s licenses for people convicted of drug crimes. Pennsylvania suspended nearly 20,000 licenses each year for non-driving offenses, and between 2009 and 2015, New York suspended nearly 180,000 licenses for drug crimes unrelated to driving. In their resolution opposing federal license suspension requirements, New York legislatures said the policy imposed “an undue barrier in the ability of individuals convicted of such crimes to find and maintain employment and take part in the activities of daily living.”

“This is the first step of turning the Department of Warehousing back into the Department of Corrections.”

State economists estimated this week that the Florida First Step Act, sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), could result in $860.4 million in savings in its first five years. The most significant cost savings would come from a decrease in mandatory time-served threshold from 85% to 65% of sentences for certain first-time, non-violent offenses. Crime in Florida is at a 55-year low, but the state’s prison population is at an all-time high of 96,000 people, and costs $2.4 billion per year.

“If people don’t have stable housing when they get out, they’re much more likely to go back. Housing is the key to understanding the recidivism puzzle.”

Atlanta’s Metro Reentry Facility is believed to be the first transitional state prison for those slated for release within 18 months. To date, 350 men have been enrolled in the program, which provides intensive counseling, vocational training and housing support. Officials from the Georgia Department of Corrections also work with soon-to-be-released people to reconnect with family members, find housing, get a driver’s license and open a bank account.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.  

Matthew Charles is Released from Prison, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Justice prevailed here. It gives you hope that it can happen again."

Matthew Charles, whose case was used to advocate for the First Step Act, became one of the law’s first beneficiaries when a judge ruled Thursday that he was entitled to immediate release. Charles, who was serving a 35-year sentence, was previously released from prison in 2015 but ordered back after federal prosecutors argued he was considered a habitual offender. Former Federal Judge Kevin Sharp approved Charles’ release in 2015 and mentioned the case to President Trump in a meeting discussing inequality in the justice system. He said this case was not unique: “There are thousands of them out there. We can’t quit.”

 

“It has given me hope and confidence that there is common ground where we all want this community to be as healthy and successful as possible.”

The Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston is part of a pilot programaimed at lowering the jail population, reducing racial disparities, providing resources for courts and people with mental illness, and collecting data to make more informed decisions. In 2015, confronted with overcrowding, high recidivism rates, and a lack of diversion options, officials formed the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC). The Council includes representatives from law enforcement, social workers, mental health professionals and veterans’ advocates. Since the CJCC started their work, the Cannon Detention Center has seen an 18% drop in locally arrested inmates, and a 51% drop in single-charge bookings for low-level offenses like simple marijuana possession, misdemeanor shoplifting, and public intoxication.  

 

“A mistake you might have made 10 years ago is not going to stand in the way of a good job, building a family, a career, a loan, going to college, getting a job.”

Pennsylvania officials announced a new program, “My Clean Slate,” which offers free legal counsel to help people determine if they are eligible for record-sealing. In the initial phase of the new law, applicants for record sealing must file a petition with the court and county where the original offense took place. Once the law is fully implemented this summer, eligible records will be sealed automatically. Since the Clean Slate Act went into effect in December, more than 700 people have applied to have their records sealed.

 

“We started actively cooperating in the community post-release to get them engaged; that had a significant effect.”

Thanks to a nearly $750,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, Louisiana’s New Beginnings program will return after a two-year hiatus. In its previous run, the New Beginnings program worked with 400 incarcerated people with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders to provide peer mentorship, increase support from probation and parole officers, and connect individuals with local service providers. Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc was optimistic that the program could be funded in the future with savings from the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiatives.

 

“…You are not ever going to arrest your way out of addiction. And so that’s what the community is going to have to decide here, and that’s what our system is going to have to decide. Do we have the courage to do something different and a little cheaper?”

At a community forum in Florida’s Sarasota County, criminal justice officials said serious reforms were needed to avoid building a new $100 million jail. The local jail is over operational capacity and has been cited for violations of the Florida Model Jail Standards. Proposed reforms included expediting probation violation cases; reducing bond amounts; and creating a DUI, drug, and mental health court. “We have to distinguish what are criminal justice matters and what are public health matters, and I can’t help but look at mental health and mental illness falling under the area of public health,” said Twelfth Circuit Public Defender Larry Eger. “The same with drug addiction.”

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.

Women in Prison Disciplined More Often than Men, and the news in criminal justice reform

“Women right now are being punished for coping with their trauma by a workforce that doesn’t understand them.”

An investigation by NPR and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism found that women in prison are disciplined at higher rates and for smaller infractions than men. Infractions can be small or vague, including “reckless eye-balling,” “insolence,” and “disrespect,” but the consequences are significant. Women can lose good time credits, be placed in solitary confinement, lose visitation privileges and be denied access to feminine hygiene products. Experts consulted in the investigation recommended “gender responsive” training to deal with higher rates of substance abuse and trauma for women who are imprisoned, and to facilitate communication between the women and mostly male prison staff.

“The notion that we’re delivering behavioral health services and mental health services in the criminal justice system more than any other system is a national embarrassment. We have to have the courage to start by saying that we’re doing a terrible job.”

Pennsylvania’s Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center provides counties with support and resources to help reduce the number of people with mental illness in county jails, and ensure those who are incarcerated receive the treatment they need. The center is a partnership between the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and will use in-person and distance-based training to improve screenings and assessments and establish a baseline to track progress. To date, 29 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have committed to reducing prison populations with mental illness, and officials are optimistic that Stepping Up’s resources and information-sharing will help achieve that goal.

“I hope it gives them hope for the future, a reason to be a good role model, a reason to make tough decisions.”

Colorado’s Division of Youth Services is implementing a “two-gen” approach for incarcerated youth and their children, in an effort to maintain family relationships and reduce recidivism. Officials surveyed youth in their detention facilities in August and found 25 were parents, with children ranging from infants to 5 years old. Between 2010 and 2017, the division held 111 girls who were pregnant, and two who gave birth while incarcerated. Changes made under the new approach include expanded visiting hours, more welcoming spaces for family visits, and the development of parenting classes for incarcerated teen parents.

“We are deeply concerned that those charged with enforcing our laws are instead breaking them. No one is above the law – this includes Alabama’s sheriffs.”

The American Conservative Union Foundation, FreedomWorks, Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and the Adelante Alabama Worker Center wrote to Alabama’s U.S. attorneys this week asking for an investigation into the continued use of jail food funds by county sheriffs. Earlier this year, reporting by AL.com exposed insufficient or spoiled food served to people jailed in Etowah County, while Sheriff Todd Entrekin kept $750,000 of jail food money for his personal use. SCHR and Alabama Appleseed have also sued to obtain public records in 49 counties to determine whether, and by how much, sheriffs have personally profited from jail food funds.  

“What’s refreshing with these dashboards is that before no one understood the basis of their efforts or the impact of their efforts. No one knew how their decisions impacted the jail population, and now we do.”

The Urban Institute conducted an examination of data dashboards in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and the City and County of San Francisco California, and released a report on model structures and lessons learned for other jurisdictions looking to increase data-driven decision-making. Officials have created dashboards “to guide high-level decisions across agencies, and to support program and line-staff in their daily responsibilities,” and were able to monitor real-time effects of decisions on outcomes including jail populations and probation-related detainers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Problems in Parole and Community Supervision, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Community corrections is marked by considerable growth and scale, disproportionate representation of men and people of color, and a majority of people who committed nonviolent offenses.”

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation found significant problems in the country’s parole and community supervision programs. One in 55 adults in the U.S. were on probation or parole in 2016, and rates vary widely by state, from 1 in 18 in Georgia to 1 in 168 in New Hampshire. The growth in community supervision has outpaced public safety indicators, and 78% of people on probation and parole were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The report suggests policy changes to improve outcomes and points to 37 states that have improved public safety while reducing their supervision population.

“It’s cruel and unusual punishment for individuals trying to turn their lives around and innocent children and other family members who depend on them.”

In 2017, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation suspended nearly 40,000 licenses for nonviolent, non-driving offenses. Maxwell King, CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Matt Smith, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, say these suspensions trap low-income people in cycles of debt and poverty and increase the costs of enforcement and incarceration. They are collaborating on the Driven to Work campaign, pushing for the passage of House Bill 163 and House Resolution 76, which would remove license suspension as a penalty for nonviolent offenses that are not connected to driving. The reforms passed by a vote of 193-3 in the House in April and supporters anticipate a Senate vote soon.

“It now looks possible — though we’ll need more years of data to confirm — that 2015 and 2016 were replays of 2005 and 2006.”

According to new data from the FBI, rates of murder, violent crime and property crime all fell in 2017. Compared to 2016 data, the violent crime rate fell by .9% and the murder rate decreased 1.4%. Rates of aggravated assault and rape showed slight increases. The recent numbers follow long-term trends of declining crime rates, and suggest a stabilization after increases in violent crime and murder in 2015 and 2016. In a statement, FBI Director Christopher Wray noted that the data would allow law enforcement to “more easily identify crime patterns and trends, understand how and why certain crimes are happening, and find the best way to prevent them.” The underlying data is available here.

“Reforming institutions so that municipal governments rely less on fines and fees may also help improve police effectiveness and improve public safety.”

Researchers from Harvard, the University of Memphis and New York University analyzed data from the Census of Governments and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and found that “police departments in cities that collect a greater share of their revenues from fees, fines and civilly forfeited assets have significantly lower rates of solving violent and property crimes.” The authors suggested this was due to a shift in resources, where police departments focus on revenue collection rather than investigatory work.

“Georgia has profoundly reshaped its adult and juvenile correctional systems, earning widespread acclaim…”

As Georgia prepares to elect a new governor, the Augusta Chronicle examined the impact of Governor Nathan Deal’s signature criminal justice reforms. Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform found a decrease in the total prison population, a reduction in racial disparity, and a steep decline in new commitments to the juvenile justice system. In addition, the recidivism rate dropped from 30 percent to 28 percent, and the share of those behind bars who were convicted of violent crimes rose from 57 percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2017. The commission recommended additional reforms to the state’s bail system, and the expansion of record-sealing and expungement for those who have completed their sentences.