Pretrial

Fair Chance Hiring, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Right now, there are millions of Americans just like me waiting for their second chance. We need Congress to pass more criminal justice reforms.”

Writing in the New York Post, Matthew Charles called on President Trump and members of Congress to take the next step in justice reform and pass the Fair Chance Hiring Act. Sponsored by Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Doug Collins (R-GA), the bill would prohibit the federal government and federal contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment is extended.

“A lot of cases, I make less than $5 an hour, but I stopped calculating it because it’s so depressing.”

Indigent defense lawyers in Detroit are paid $40 for an arraignment, $110 for a plea-deal hearing, and $90 for a half-day of trial, regardless of how long or involved each hearing is, or how much out-of-court work is involved. Wayne County spends $5.5 million each year for indigent defense, and court fees paid to lawyers haven’t increased in more than 20 years. The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission created a set of new standards to ensure that defense lawyers are paid for out-of-court work and remain independent from judges. One of their first recommendations takes effect in October—rather than being individually appointed by judges, defense lawyers will be assigned by a computer, based on their relevant experience and training.

“It’s an incredibly significant day to make a decision on one of the key civil rights issues of our time.”

Harris County Commissioners agreed to a settlement this week in a lawsuit where plaintiffs claimed there was a two-tier system of justice, keeping poor defendants jailed while rich defendants were able to be released on bail. The settlement agreement calls for a monitor to oversee new bail protocols for seven years, creates safeguards to help defendants show up in court, provides comprehensive public defense services, and establishes a transparent data collection process to allow the county to make evidence-based adjustments. The new system will cost between $59 and $97 million, according to county estimates, but will save $18,250 per year for each person who is no longer detained before trial.

“… The bottom line is that our data show states are bearing a very high financial burden in the crisis.”

Researchers at Penn State looked at the various ways the opioid epidemic has impacted state budgets, and found $112 billion in Medicaid costs, $13 billion in reduced employment and tax revenue, and $2.8 billion in increased costs in the child welfare system. In Pennsylvania alone, researchers estimated that opioid-related criminal justice costs came to $526 million between 2007 and 2016. Collectively, the impacts are estimated at $130 billion, with $6-10 billion in additional spending each year.

“I love you, and I’ll see you soon, if I get there.”

When people are released from jail at night and in the early morning hours, many struggle to find transportation and shelter. Some jails have created policies to mitigate the risk—San Francisco distributes taxi vouchers to those released after 8 p.m., and Washington, D.C. ensures that people released after 10 p.m. have a ride, housing, and a week’s supply of their prescription medications. California lawmakers are considering the “Getting Home Safe Act,” which would allow those scheduled for late-night releases to choose to remain in jail until the morning, or have access to a safe place to wait for a ride.

Michigan's Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Is this a person we’re angry with? Afraid of? Or afraid for?”
 
The first public meeting of Michigan’s Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration was held this week at Wayne State University Law School. The bipartisan task force includes lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, law enforcement and reform advocates. “Anyone can identify a problem,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said in opening remarks. “But it takes real leaders to present solutions.” Future meetings have been scheduled in Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Lansing, and their final report is due January 10, 2020. 

“We have exceeded last year’s savings. This is good news.”
 
Louisiana officials announced this week that the state continues to see smaller prison populations and cost savings from 2017’s justice reforms. The prison population dropped to 31,756, a 4.2% decline from 2018, and the number of people on parole or probation supervision dropped to just under 60,000, a 9% reduction from 2018. Of the $17.8 million in reduced spending, an estimated $12.5 million will be reinvested into programs aimed at reducing crime and recidivism, providing alternatives to incarceration, and supporting victims. “It’s still early in this process and there are more lessons to learn and more challenges to meet,” said Governor John Bel Edwards, “but we are taking significant steps toward improving our criminal justice system.”
 
“Is it because people don’t want to pay? Or is it because they can’t?”
 
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Clerk Anna Valencia announced plans this week to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income residents. Revenue from parking, red light, and speeding tickets brought in more than $260 million in 2018, but more than two-thirds of tickets remain unpaid, and 59,000 people have had their driver’s license suspended for non-driving violations. The proposed reforms would end driver’s license suspensions for unpaid tickets related to non-driving violations and create payment plans with lower down payments and longer time periods.“Driven Into Debt,” a joint investigation by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ that highlighted the impact of city ticketing practices, particularly on communities of color, was credited with spurring the reforms.
 
“Now is the time to double down on the strategies that are working.”
 
According to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths fell 4.2% in 2018, to an estimated 68,500 nationwide. Deaths related to opioids declined slightly, from 49,000 to 47,600, while those related to cocaine and psychostimulants increased from 25,800 to 28,700.  Some of the steepest declines in overdose deaths came in Ohio, which saw a 22.1% decrease, and Pennsylvania, where 18.8% fewer deaths were reported. Eighteen states, including Arizona, Oregon, Tennessee and Louisiana, saw increases in fatal overdoses from 2017 to 2018.
 
“For the past few years, the population has been growing, and we’ve been trying to take steps to address it. And I think you’re seeing the result of those steps.”
 
Colorado’s prison population, once expected to surpass 24,000 by 2025, is now expected to stay level, according to revised estimates from the Department of Public Safety. Officials attributed the change in trajectory to a decline in incarceration for technical parole violations, fewer parole denials, and the reclassification of some drug felonies as misdemeanors. The reclassification is expected to result in 300 fewer prison commitments each year.

First Step Act Implementation, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’s a long overdue change.” 

Nearly 3,100 people are scheduled to be released from federal prisons, halfway houses or home confinement this week as a result of the First Step Act’s “good time” credit changes. Justice Department officials also unveiled a new risk and needs assessment to help assign recidivism reduction programming. And in the New York Times, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg wrote about the process of freeing Robert Clarence Potts III, who was sentenced to life in prison for drug and weapons charges. During his 20 years in prison, Potts overcame addiction, took courses in personal growth and responsible thinking, and studied software and the law. As a result of the First Step Act, Potts was able to seek a sentence reduction, and Rosenberg was able to order his release to a residential re-entry center. 

“It’s sort of a testament to the fact that we don’t need to rely on incarceration to live in a city that’s safe.” 

 According to new data from the New York City Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice, there were nearly 20% fewer jail admissions in fiscal 2019 than in 2018. City officials attributed the drop in jail admissions to decreased crime, the decriminalization of marijuana, and bail reform. The city’s jail incarceration rate is now the lowest since 1978, but there are still ongoing concerns: more people are being admitted to jail for violating state parole, and individuals on parole are staying in jail twice as long as those facing similar charges. Racial disparities in the city’s jail population have also persisted—86.3% of those in jail in 2018 were African-American or Hispanic. 

“Is it financially prudent and morally responsible to fund a co-equal branch of government on the backs of a few who are often the poorest and least fortunate members of our society?”

After a legislative audit found widespread irregularities in pretrial diversion programs and revenues, Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette Johnson asked prosecutors to report their income from diversion programs to the research arm of the state Supreme Court. The results showed variation across the state—a DWI dismissal, which isn’t offered in every jurisdiction, costs $2,100 in St. Tammany Parish and $1,000 in East Baton Rouge. And while some District Attorney’s offices showed little revenue from pretrial interventions, Rapides Parish brought in more than $2 million per year. Internal documents showed the Rapides Parish diversion fees paid for conferences, postage, office supplies, and nearly $90,000 in unitemized “fringe” expenditures.

“Technical violations account for almost 1 in 4 admissions to state prison and $2.8 billion in annual incarceration costs.”

An issue brief from the Pew Charitable Trusts examines reforms implemented through Justice Reinvestment Initiatives to address high rates of technical revocations for people on probation. The authors identified four categories of reform policies: tailoring supervision strategies toward behavioral change for high-risk supervisees, providing incentives for people on supervision, using administrative responses to violations, and capping or reducing jail or prison time for violations and limiting the use of incarceration for technical violations. They also highlighted model policies, including Utah’s earned credits toward discharge from parole or probation, and Georgia’s requirement of evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism.

“What we do is find athletes who are passionate about justice reform issues and work with them to help amplify their voices.”

The Justice Action Network partnered with University of Kentucky standout and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rookie Benny Snell, Jr. to host system-impacted children at a football camp in Westerville, Ohio this week. Nearly 200 kids, aged 6-16, participated in the camp, which was held at Snell’s alma mater, Westerville Central High School. The Justice Action Network worked with groups, including the Boys and Girls Club, to identify kids whose families had been involved in the criminal justice system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blanket prohibitions without considering the circumstances don’t just do the applicant a disservice, but our entire commonwealth in need of a talented workforce.”

bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced legislation this week to reform the state’s occupational licensing requirements. Senate Bill 637 is sponsored by Senators John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Lisa Baker, R-Dallas, and the companion legislation, House Bill 1477, is sponsored by Representatives Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, and Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland. Both bills would prohibit state boards, commissions or departments from denying or revoking a license based on unrelated criminal convictions, ensure that licensure boards apply fair and consistent approaches, and provide individuals with preliminary rulings about barriers to licensure before they pursue training programs.

“The full impact of H.B. 239 will take years to materialize as new policies and practices are phased in across the state. Still, in the initial years after the launch of system improvements, early signs indicate progress.”

An issue brief from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Utah’s Juvenile Justice Reforms have already produced positive outcomes, including a 23% decline in youth entering the juvenile justice system between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. In that same time period, court referrals that lead to nonjudicial adjustments reached 55% of all referrals, an increase of 224%. Detention admissions declined by 44%, allowing the Juvenile Justice Services to close units at the Salt Lake Valley Detention Center and Slate Canyon Youth Center.

“If one was going to design and implement a college program based on the two-years-inside/two-years-outside model, what went well and what might be done differently?”

Researchers from the RAND Corporation examined North Carolina’s Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project and made a series of recommendations to states looking to implement postsecondary education programs for people who are incarcerated. Suggestions include increasing the range of degree programs, allowing post-release participants to attend college part-time, funding full-time navigators and administrators, and ensuring long-term financing to sustain the program. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has continued to fund elements of the Pathways program after the demonstration project funding ended, and has added education to housing, employment and transportation as the pillars of reentry.

“They’re saying well, this is a brewing constitutional crisis. No. It already is one. It’s been one for a long time.”

Wisconsin pays just $40 an hour to private attorneys providing indigent defense, the lowest rate in the country, creating significant delays in appointing counsel. In Marathon County, it took an average of 80 phone calls and 17 days to find a willing attorney. In the case of Trequelle Vann-Marcouex, an 18-year-old who committed suicide after a preliminary hearing at which he went unrepresented by counsel, the state public defender’s office made more than 300 calls before they found an attorney who would take his case. A 2011 ruling from the state Supreme Court cautioned that the funding crisis “could compromise the integrity of our justice system,” but funding has not significantly increased in the ensuing eight years.

“…The conclusion was in the end that it really is a good investment to administer these programs, and Project MORE is doing a great job for the county, and we’re seeing really good results.”

An audit from the Dutchess County Comptroller showed that the county’s partnership with Project Model Offender Reintegration Experience, Inc. (“Project MORE”) has delivered a good return on investment. Program costs per participant ranged from $6.84 to $46.04 per day, compared with the average cost of $210 per day for people incarcerated at the county jail. In addition to continuing Project MORE funding, Comptroller Robin Lois recommended evaluating the possible expansion of gender-specific programming at the Women’s Center.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broad Support for Justice Reform in Tennessee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“There is incredible support with very little opposition.”

According to new polling from the Justice Action Network, the ACLU of Tennessee and Right on Crime, 69% of Tennesseans believe the state’s criminal justice system “needs significant improvements,” 90% favored reducing prison time for nonviolent offenders and 89% favored getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences. Support for the reforms was strong across demographic and partisan categories. The promising poll numbers came just as Governor Bill Lee unveiled his criminal justice agenda, including eliminating the state’s $180 expungement fee, broadening  educational programming for incarcerated people, and expanding recovery courts.

“This investment offers a path to self-sufficiency for impacted people and a rightful level of dignity in society.”

The Coalition for Public Safety announced a partnership with Covington, Kentucky’s Life Learning Center (LLC) and Kenton County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders at an event on Thursday. As part of a new diversion program, prosecutors will identify at-risk defendants, and the LLC will provide recidivism-reduction programming and access to social services, and help participants find employment or enroll in continuing education. Upon completion of the LLC’s 12-week curriculum, individuals will be eligible for reduced or even dismissed charges. Senator Rand Paul and Kelley Paul were on-hand for the event, along with FAMM justice reform fellow Matthew Charles.

“I believe that early and open discovery is just and fair, and I look forward to publicly endorsing a discovery reform bill and seeing it signed into law.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called for reforms to New York’s discovery rules, calling the current system “trial by ambush.” Gonzalez noted that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office has employed an “open file discovery” practice for years, while protecting the safety of victims and witnesses. In a departure from their previous stance, the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York also endorsed changes to the system. “For the first time in the history of our organization,” said DAASNY President and Albany County DA David Soares, “we are openly calling on our lawmakers to take action and enact criminal justice reform.”

“There are people in every community who don’t need to be back out during the pendency of their cases. But the great majority of people do.”  

Judges in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County have replaced monetary bail schedules with individualized assessments based on a defendant’s likelihood of fleeing, reoffending, or tampering with witnesses. In their announcement of the new policy, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell and Chief District Court Judge Regan Miller also said that they plan to review their bail policies on a biennial basis. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told the Charlotte Observer she was studying the data and may change their bail policy, noting that “we certainly don’t want to be in the business of criminalizing poverty.”

“It’s an economic development tool for folks to get better jobs as well as public safety. Folks know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and won’t go back to criminal behavior.”

New Mexico House Bill 370, which allow people to petition a court to have their criminal records sealed from public view, is heading to the full Senate for consideration. Expungement would be available not just to those with criminal convictions, but also people who were wrongfully arrested, whose charges were dismissed, or who were acquitted at trial. Under the new law, judges, prosecutors and police would still have access to sealed records. HB 370 garnered broad, bipartisan support and passed in the house by a vote of 52-17.