Tennessee

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.

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.

Nashville's Crisis Treatment Center, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Tennessee caregivers, law enforcement officers and state officials have come to agree—when it comes to mental illness, incarceration is not always the best option.”

Nashville’s new Crisis Treatment Center includes a stabilization unit, a walk-in center, and the headquarters for Davidson County’s mobile crisis response team. Funding for the center came from a $2.6 million grant from the state’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, $427,537 from the city of Nashville, and $900,000 from the Mental Health Cooperative. The Crisis Treatment Center will provide 24-hour services and treat patients regardless of their insurance status.

“Lack of legal counsel is problematic not just as a matter of formal procedure, appearing without a defense attorney holds real and serious consequences for children in court.”

A joint report by Voices for Utah Children and the University of Utah School of Law released this week shows that many children, particularly in rural areas, do not have access to counsel while navigating the state’s juvenile justice system. The report found that 29% of young people did not have an attorney present in the 200 hearings researchers observed last year. Senator Todd Weiler and Representative Mike McKell have sponsored legislation that would assign a public defender for each minor defendant, even in misdemeanor cases. Only Delaware, North Carolina and Pennsylvania currently automatically appoint public defenders for juveniles.

“…Although arrest volumes have dropped by more than 25 percent since 2006, an arrest is made every three seconds. Fewer than 5 percent of these are for serious violent crimes.”  

Arrest Trends, a new data platform from the Vera Institute of Justice, allows users to access, customize and analyze publicly available policing data. Users can examine trends in arrests, demographics, clearance rates, and victimizations, and see how they vary by time, location and offense type. The platform also points to the need for better data collection—in 2016, nearly a third of all police agencies in the United States did not report any of their arrest data to the FBI.  

“Treating this as a structured opportunity to provide people connections to the services in the community that they need in order to be successful is much better than a law enforcement-focused model.”

Since 2016, more than 11,000 people have entered New York City’s supervised release program. Participants are required to meet regularly with case managers who can help connect them with social services and assist them in making their court appearances. In the first three years, 89% of defendants made all of their court appearances, and only 8% were rearrested for a felony while completing the program.

“Addiction is a medical problem. We just need to change the paradigm in New Mexico.”

Senate Bill 408, introduced by Senator Jacob Candelaria and Representative Andrea Romero, would reduce the penalty for possession of any illegal drug from a felony to a misdemeanor. Under the new proposal, those convicted of misdemeanor drug possession would be subject to a fine between $500 and $1,000 and imprisonment of less than one year. Since 2014, five states, including Utah and Oklahoma, have reclassified simple drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors.

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.”

An Inventory of Collateral Consequences, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…There are more than 40,000 provisions in state and federal law that stand in their way right out of the gate. The first step to making meaningful change is understanding these barriers.”

The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction, launched this week by the National Reentry Resource Center and the Council of State Governments Justice Center and supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is a searchable database that identifies barriers to reentry. Collateral consequences can include restricted access to education and housing, limits on occupational licenses, and the restriction of political participation. The NICCC, which allows individuals to search based on keywords, jurisdictions and consequence type, will also provide news and resources related to reentry.

“Wealthy people can pay these fees and vote immediately, while poor people could spend the rest of their lives in a cycle of debt that denies them the ability to cast a ballot."

In seven states—Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida—people with unpaid court fines and fees are prohibited from voting. Other states require that all conditions of probation and parole, including the payment of debt, are completed prior to the restoration of voting rights. Individuals can be charged the for the use of a public defender, room and board while incarcerated, and conditions of probation and parole supervision, and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that nearly 10 million people owed more than $50 billion from contact with the criminal justice system.


“You’re seeing these people who have had a long history of not being able to complete probation have a successful recovery.”

In Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish, the behavioral health court provides support and alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness who are on probation. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that nearly 2 million people with mental illness enter U.S. jails each year. In the 18-month program, officials praise and reward compliance with conditions of release, and help individuals get to appointments and stay on prescribed medication. District Judge Peter Garcia, pushes for treatment rather than court sanctions, and says he’s “there to look out for families and individuals with mental illness…and give suggestions and viable options.”

“The findings show the problem with forfeiture, in that law enforcement has an incentive to focus on crime that pays.”

An investigation spurred by the Gwinnett County, Georgia Sheriff’s purchase of a 707-horsepower muscle car found nearly $100,000 in misused forfeiture funds, and additional expenditures are under review. Auditors have determined that the Sheriff Butch Conway’s purchase of the Dodge Charger Hellcat and a $25,000 donation to a faith-based nonprofit were improper uses of forfeiture funds. The purchase of a $175,000 bus, $16,150 spent on leadership seminars, and $7,758 spent on rifles later given to the Georgia State Patrol are still being evaluated. Gwinnett County’s federal forfeiture accounts held more than $827,000 in 2017, the result of participation in joint investigations with the DEA, FBI and ICE.

“We believe that we have the city’s next leaders in this room. They’re not felons, they’re fellows.”

At Minneapolis’ All Square restaurant, every employee has a criminal record. While working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, owner Emily Turner was frustrated by the obstacles faced by formerly incarcerated people, which she calls “one of the biggest civil rights issues of [her] generation.” Turner and the restaurant’s board created a 13-month fellowship program to help returning citizens and people with criminal records study marketing and finance, connect with mental health caseworkers, and get help with transportation and financial planning. Fellows start at $14 per hour, and are paid for 10 hours of structured coursework per week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tennessee's license suspensions ruled unconstitutional, and the news in criminal justice this week

“If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it…”

A federal judge in Nashville has ruled that Tennessee’s policy of revoking drivers licenses over unpaid court fees is unconstitutional. In her ruling, Judge Aleta Trauger noted that driving was “a virtual necessity for most Americans,” and that suspensions made it more difficult for individuals to earn the money needed to pay court debts. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 146,000 people had their licenses suspended under the policy, and only 10,750 have had their licenses reinstated. 

“[T]he debate is happening for a supremely conservative reason: because states have demonstrated it can work.”

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson highlights justice reform as a ‘trans-partisan’ issue, which can unite liberals, libertarians, fiscal conservatives and religious activists. Gerson points to successes in Texas, Georgia and Louisiana, which have limited mandatory minimums, promoted alternatives to incarceration for people with addiction and mental health issues, and made better use of parole. Arthur Rizer and Lars Trautman’s review of red-state reforms, which informs Gerson’s column, was published in the current issue of National Affairs.

“Are we incarcerating the right number of folks for the right crimes?”

As they deal with prison overcrowding and the prospect of $500 million in prison expansions, Idaho officials are looking to Utah as a model of criminal justice reform. Utah reformed drug laws and invested in substance abuse treatment programs, and saw a decline in the prison population and the rate of crime. Idaho law currently allows a sentence of up to seven years in prison for the first-time possession of illegal drugs in any amount, and 49 percent of newly sentenced inmates in the past year were imprisoned for drug crimes.

“Having a conviction, even a minor one, it puts up another hurdle. We’re trying to give people a leg up.”

The New York Times profiles advocates and people with criminal records who are trying to navigate the state’s complicated record-sealing system. A new law, which took effect in October, allows New Yorkers with no more than two misdemeanor convictions or one non-violent felony and one misdemeanor conviction to apply for record sealing after 10 years. As of the end of May, only 346 people had had their convictions sealed. For a deeper dive into reentry and collateral consequences, June’s Federal Sentencing Reporter"Managing Collateral Consequences in the Information Age,” includes studies from Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee and California, as well as a state-by-state guide to expungement.  

“Offering intensive support through reentry services is a well-tested solution that can break the cycle of re-incarceration.”

Legislators in Massachusetts are considering allocating $3 million for community-based, residential reentry programs for fiscal 2019, 33 times more than the current $90,000 budget allocation. Current programs largely rely on grants and donations, and several reentry service providers have closed or scaled back in the last 18 months. The increase in funding would still leave Massachusetts well behind similar states—Ohio spent $66 million on reentry programs in 2017, and New Jersey spent $65 million on state-contracted halfway houses.

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. 

Alice Johnson is released from prison, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I’m feeling no handcuffs on me. I’m free to hug my family.”
 
Alice Johnson’s sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, and she was released from prison the same day. Johnson had served 22 years of a life sentence without parole for federal drug and money laundering charges. Her cause was championed by groups including #cut50 and CAN-DO, and by Kim Kardashian, who met with the President last week to discuss the case.
 
“The MPD wishes to be a partner with our community stakeholders in these efforts that reduce the number of African-American males entering our criminal justice system.”
 
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced Thursday that city police officers would no longer conduct stings targeting low-level marijuana sales with felony charges, and dismissed charges against 47 people arrested in 2018. City officials were alerted to racial disparities in arrests by the county’s chief public defender, who noted that 46 of the 47 people arrested were black. In his announcement, Chief Arradondo said they would seek alternatives to incarceration, including treatment, counseling and diversion.
 
“The people who served time in prison and work with families of the incarcerated every day understand that we should not wait to fix anything until we can fix everything.”
 
Forty bipartisan and formerly incarcerated advocates sent a letter to Senate leaders in support of the First Step Act, arguing that the bill would “provide some long overdue relief and hope to more than 180,000 people in federal prison and millions of their family members and loved ones on the outside.” Signatories included Georgetown University Law Professor Shon Hopwood, #cut50’s Topeka Sam, Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ Kevin Ring, and American Conservative Union’s Pat Nolan.
 
“Amid all the algebra and essay-writing, this is ultimately the core curriculum at Travis Hill: demonstrating that it is a real school, and its hope is real hope.”
 
New Orleans is one of only three cities in the U.S. whose jail has a full-day high school offering real credits. Travis Hill High School is housed in the Orleans Parish jail, and offers classes in math, science, social studies, English and art with a chance to earn a diploma, rather than a G.E.D. The profile of the school, a joint multimedia production from The Marshall Project and This American Life, will be broadcast on public radio stations this weekend.
 
“’[We should] scale fines and fees so that they’re fair and people are punished, but do it in a way that doesn’t further exacerbate inequality in society.”
 
A new law took effect this week in Washington that helps formerly incarcerated people lower their debt burden. Passed earlier this year, the reform eliminates the 12% interest added to balances owed and lifts some debt obligations for those who qualify as indigent. In addition to the statewide changes, cities are experimenting with local reforms—Tukwila has a local program to help former offenders regain their drivers’ licenses, and Edmonds is working with Microsoft to develop a calculator to help judges assess appropriate fines and fees.

The case of Matthew Charles, and the news in criminal justice this week

"This terrible tragedy has deprived a woman of her boyfriend, a food pantry of a reliable volunteer, and many of a beloved friend and family member."

The case of Matthew Charles dominated social media for much of this week, and for good reason. It exposes the nonsensical and at times jaw-dropping results of an inflexible, one-size-fits all justice system. After being released from federal prison two years ago, Charles became gainfully employed, reestablished ties with his family and community, began volunteering his time at a food pantry, and stayed out of trouble. This is everything we want from someone returning from prison. Unfortunately, federal prosecutors fought to bring him back to prison because sentencing modifications were erroneously applied to his sentence. He’s now behind bars once more because the federal justice system was unable to recognize the strides he had made. Thousands have signed a petition urging President Donald Trump to grant Charles clemency.

“…Changes to current policies and practices can better protect constitutional principles, improve public safety outcomes, and reduce overall costs to taxpayers through lower jail costs.”

A new report from Right on Crime examined the stubbornly high rates of pretrial detention, particularly in rural communities. The report lays out principles that should guide pretrial justice policy and makes several recommendations, including reducing jailable offenses, expanding diversion programs, using validated risk-assessment tools, and revising state bail laws.

“We have done something today that was very important, because we righted a wrong.”

Donald Trump issued a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, whose conviction under the Mann Act was widely believed to be racially motivated. Days later, he pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of campaign finance violations in 2014. President Trump also met with Kim Kardashian, who advocated for a pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who received a life sentence without parole for first-time, nonviolent drug offenses.

“Professional treatment is a necessity, not a luxury.”

We mentioned this issue a few weeks back, but this powerful editorial from the Sun-Sentinel is worth a read and a reminder of this unfortunate reality in Florida. Their Department of Corrections closed dozens of substance-abuse and offender reentry programs this week, a move the editorial board called “indefensible and intolerable.” Officials said 70% of new inmates have substance abuse problems that required medical attention, and the eliminated programs had reduced recidivism rates. The drastic program cuts came after the governor and legislators were unable to design an emergency solution, despite an increase in state revenue.

“Despite these tremendous strides, data and experience indicates that juvenile justice systems are still not operating as effectively as possible.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University interviewed nearly 50 researchers, experts and leaders in the juvenile justice system to find ways to improve public safety and youth outcomes. Their new publication presents six strategies to advance those goals, including decriminalizing status offenses, eliminating technical violations, and using analytics to hold agencies, courts, and service providers accountable for improved outcomes.