Rhode Island

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.

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.

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

“People who make mistakes, but turn their lives around, deserve a fresh start. And automatic record sealing ensures a fresh start opportunity is available to all Pennsylvanians, regardless of their economic circumstances.” 
 
Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to pass Clean Slate legislation, automatically sealing the records of people convicted of second- and third-degree misdemeanors who had completed their sentences and gone ten years without a subsequent arrest, prosecution or conviction. The bill was backed by a bipartisan coalition including the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks, and was championed by Representatives Sheryl Delozier and Jordan Harris, and Senators Anthony Williams and Scott Wagner.
 
“We believe that shedding light on state compassionate release programs is the first step to improving them.”
 
Families Against Mandatory Minimums released a report this week on the state of compassionate release programs across the country. They found a patchwork of policies, with incomplete, inconsistent and incoherent guidelines and rules. 25 states, including ArizonaIowaKentuckyMichiganMinnesotaNew YorkOhioPennsylvaniaRhode Island and Tennessee, have unclear or insufficient guidance surrounding their compassionate release programs for elderly incarcerated people, and Iowa has no formal compassionate release program at all. The report includes 21 policy recommendations to expand, improve, and publicize programs.  
 
“Battleground Ohio has proven yet again that lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle can still come together to pass meaningful criminal justice reforms that will save the state money and make Ohioans safer.” 
 
Legislators in Ohio passed Senate Bill 66, which promotes alternatives to incarceration and expands access to record sealing and drug and alcohol treatment programs. The bill, sponsored by Senators John Eklund and Charletta Tavares and backed by Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary Mohr, passed this week with overwhelming bipartisan support and awaits Governor Kasich’s signature.
 
“We are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. It isn’t easy, but it’s sure worth it.”
 
Officials in Louisiana announced this week that the state has seen significant decreases in prison population, prison admissions, and parole and probation caseloads. The number of people imprisoned for nonviolent crimes has decreased by 20%, and the number sent to prison for drug possession decreased by 42%. Governor John Bel Edwards and Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc also reported that the reforms have saved $14 million, more than twice the predicted $6 million.
 
“We treat too many affected individuals as criminals instead of getting them the treatment they need.”
 
A Nashville grand jury recommended increased training for law enforcement, teachers, and others who may interact with people in need of mental health treatment, to provide alternatives to incarceration. Metro Nashville police officers receive mental health crisis training, but rely heavily on mobile crisis response teams dispatched when a person exhibiting signs of mental illness poses a risk to themselves or others. To facilitate treatment and diversion, officials in Nashville are creating an inpatient facility for people experiencing a mental health crisis, set to open in the fall of 2019. 

The FIRST STEP Act passes in committee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I’m looking at this from a practical purpose of looking at families and saying let’s help them now.”

The House Judiciary Committee passed the First Step Act by a vote of 25-5, with support from both Republicans and Democrats. The bill includes an increase in earned time credits, expanded eligibility for compassionate release, increased spending on job training and education programs, and a ban on the use of physical restraints on women during pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period.

“[B]ut the issue of bail bond reform has drawn support from a wide range of groups and organizations...”

Starting in July, Google will no longer allow bail bond companies to advertise on its platforms. Google said the decision was based on their commitment to protect users from deceptive and harmful products, and that they came to the decision after consultation with groups including the Essie Justice Group, Koch Industries, and Color of Change. Facebook quickly followed with a statement that the platform would also stop taking ads from the bail bond industry.

“What is needed for this youth and family to be in a better place in life than when they entered our system?”

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for juvenile probation reforms that would divert more youth from the juvenile justice system to community resources, and transform probation into a more effective intervention for those who remain in the system. The report highlighted the successes of the City of St. Louis’s juvenile probation programs, which have contributed to a 59% drop in new charges for young people on probation, and pointed to diversion programs in Summit County, Ohio and Restorative Justice programs in Davidson County, Tennessee as potential models for reform.

“Though many more men are in prison than women, the rate of growth for female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980.”

The Sentencing Project analyzed data from 1980 to 2016 and found that the number of incarcerated women and girls had increased by more than 700%, going from 26,378 to 213,722. The incarceration rate varied greatly from state to state, with Oklahoma incarcerating the most (149 of every 100,000 women) and Rhode Island and Massachusetts incarcerating the least (13 of every 100,000 women.)

“She’s not been charged with a crime…She’s been deprived of that money. She’s been unable to open her clinic. She’s been living a nightmare.”

Customs and Border Protection Agents seized more than $40,000 in cash from a registered nurse who planned to open a medical clinic in Nigeria, and have refused to return the money unless she gives up her right to sue the federal government. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not even bring a civil asset forfeiture case against her, and she has not been charged with any crime. Her lawsuit, filed with the assistance of the Institute for Justice, also seeks information about how often CBP requires individuals to sign hold-harmless agreements.

Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act passes in committee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system.”

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-5, despite opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley along with Senators Dick Durbin and Mike Lee crafted a carefully balanced bill, which includes individualized sentencing for certain nonviolent drug offenders, new federal reentry programs, and enhanced sentencing for interstate domestic violence offenses resulting in death and fentanyl-related drug offenses.

“It is mind-boggling that this issue is controversial in Washington.”

Polling by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Justice Action Network was highlighted in an op-ed in The Hill by our own Holly Harris in advance of this week’s vote on SRCA. It showed a dramatic shift in public opinion from the tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, including 87% of voters supporting judicial discretion during sentencing, and 85% supporting a focus on rehabilitation as the primary goal of the justice system.

“If we move these services up, you’re striking when the iron’s hot.”

After continued concerns over flaws in the juvenile justice system in Cleveland, officials are looking to Montgomery County as a model for reform. The Montgomery County Juvenile Court’s Intervention Center assesses juveniles immediately after arrest for mental health, substance abuse, and domestic or behavioral issues that could be addressed through specialized services. Assessments also help determine if the case can be resolved through diversion, counseling, treatment or mediation, rather than being referred to juvenile court. This model has helped Montgomery County cut juvenile crime and pricey detention bed stays concurrently.

“We wanted to see if that intervention could impact state overdose mortality, and the answer is a resounding yes.”

A new study out of Rhode Island showed a more than 60% reduction in opioid overdose deaths among those who had access to medication-assisted treatment behind bars. The state’s treatment program, started as a pilot program in 2016 and expanded statewide in early 2017, provided buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone to incarcerated individuals and referred them to additional treatment programs upon release. The number of overdose deaths dropped from 26 in the first half of 2016 to 9 in the first half of 2017; statewide overdose deaths in the general population also dropped from 179 to 157 in the same period.

“State parole violators represent the only subgroup of offenders that is growing.”

In response to a Columbia University study on New York’s population of people jailed for parole violations, the New York Times Editorial Board called for the state to adopt a host of reforms which have shown promise in other states. Recommendations included graduated sanctions and rewards, judicial review of revocations for technical violations, and expansion of education, substance abuse treatment and housing support for parolees.

A call for prison reform in the State of the Union, and the news in criminal justice this week

"This year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Trump called for prison reform—the latest sign that there is bipartisan consensus around the issue. The speech came on the heels of indications that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on board with prison reform, and optimism from GOP lawmakers about the path to passage. 

“The path we find ourselves on is neither fiscally nor practically sustainable.”

Kentucky’s 2017 Police Chief of the Year makes the case for smart, sustainable criminal justice reform in the Commonwealth. The system is clogged, he says, “with people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses often driven by substance-abuse, addiction, or mental illness.” Money spent on incarceration would be better spent on treatment, supervision and community services, and the kind of meaningful rehabilitation that will prevent recidivism. 

“This is a win-win for every stakeholder involved—the court, the police, and the public itself.”

In an effort to reduce failure-to-appear rates, New York’s criminal justice agencies partnered with the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Ideas42 to redesign the summons and use text messages to remind defendants of their court dates. The paperwork redesign reduced the rate of failures-to-appear by 13% and, when combined with text message reminders, led to a 36%. 

“An examination of the 'statehouse-to-prison pipeline’ is long overdue.”

A new report from the Rhode Island ACLU examined how over-criminalization plagues their state’s justice system. Between 2000 and 2017, the General Assembly created more than 170 new crimes, and increased dozens of criminal sentences for existing offenses. The report’s recommendations include a comprehensive review and recodification of the state’s criminal laws, and requirements for more information on the exact impact any new sentencing bill would have before lawmakers take a vote.

“Courts are centers of justice, not automatic teller machines whose purpose is to generate revenue for governments…”

In a letter to more than 650 Ohio judges, state Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor reminded them to abide by the standards of Bearden v. Georgia, which declared that suspects can’t be jailed because of an inability to pay court-imposed fines and fees when they’ve made good efforts to do so. She acknowledged that many face pressure to generate revenue, but urged them to remember their abiding role as centers as justice.