Utah

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.

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.”



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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reentry Court in Oregon, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Right now, these guys are not gaining the tools or assistance that allows them to be successful. Reentry Court takes a holistic approach to those barriers.”

In Oregon, Lane County’s Reentry Court provides people returning from federal prison with support to achieve sobriety, gain employment, and develop coping and problem-solving skills. Those who complete the 12-month program without a violation receive a one-year reduction of their probation term. Reentry team members seek to address the main barriers to successful transition from prison: substance abuse, mental health issues, inadequate housing, and a lack of peer support and guided programming. The revocation rate for participants is 26% lower than the rest of the state’s supervised release programs.

“The benefits of Clean Slate are clear: lower crime rates, taxpayer money saved as a result of reduced incarceration, and a stronger economy that allows more qualified job seekers to participate.”

Writing in the Hartford Courant, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin and the Center for American Progress’s Rebecca Vallas urged Connecticut lawmakers to pass the Clean Slate Act pending in the legislature. The Clean Slate Act would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records for those who have completed their sentence and remained crime free for five years after a non-violent felony, or three years after a misdemeanor. Clean Slate laws have gained traction across the country—Pennsylvania and Utah both passed automatic expungement laws, and Kentucky and New Mexico expanded opportunities for expungement this year.

“It should be more open. It shouldn’t be so closed that we don’t know what their decisions are based on.”

The Ohio Parole Board is under scrutiny from a wide array of critics, including crime victims, incarcerated people, lawyers and lawmakers. Much of the criticism focuses on a lack of transparency: hearings are not open to the public, records are kept secret, and board debate and votes are conducted behind closed doors. Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Annette Chambers-Smith expressed confidence in the current board, but said she planned to appoint four new members with more diverse backgrounds, ask outside experts to recommend reforms, and look for ways they can be more transparent.

“The city has a reputation as liberal, but these data evidence quite authoritarian policing practices compared to other large Texas jurisdictions.”

Researcher Scott Henson analyzed data from 4.6 million traffic stops conducted across 38 of the largest jurisdictions in Texas, found wide disparities in the use of force and arrests for minor misdemeanors, and identified the Austin Police Department as “among the worst in each category.” Police in Austin were more likely to use injury-causing force against drivers than any other large jurisdiction—four times more often than state troopers and twenty times the rate of the San Antonio Police Department. Austin was also in the top ten for arresting drivers for Class C misdemeanor charges, and in the top five on arrests for outstanding warrants.

“To have to be shackled with chains around their ankles, wrists and waist, even when they’re in the delivery room—it’s humiliating.”

Georgia House Bill 345, which would ban the shackling of pregnant women in jails and prisons, and prohibit placing them in solitary confinement during their postpartum recovery, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 52-1. The legislation would also mandate that vaginal exams of pregnant incarcerated women be conducted by licensed medical professionals. A similar version of the bill was approved by the House earlier this year. Legislators have until Tuesday, when the General Assembly adjourns, to iron out differences between the two versions.

Automatic Expungement in Utah, and the news in criminal justice this week

“If you do everything you’re asked to do, and jump through all the hoops, there ought to be a mechanism that allows you to get your life back on track.”

With unanimous votes in both the House and Senate, Utah legislators passed House Bill 431, The Expungement Act of 2019. The bill would allow for automatic expungement of certain criminal records after a set period of five to seven years, depending on the offense. H.B. 431 is expected to be signed by Governor Gary Herbert, making Utah the second state in the country to pass automatic expungement legislation.  “When we equip individuals with the tools they need to turn their lives around,” argued former U.S. Attorney and Utahn Brett Tolman, “we are smarter and safer as a state and a country.”

“The Fair Chance Act allows qualified people with criminal records to get their foot in the door and be judged by their merit, not a past conviction.”

At a joint hearing of House Oversight and Reform subcommittees this week, lawmakers heard from the sponsors of H.R. 1076, The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act. The bill would prohibit agencies and their contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until a conditional offer of employment has been extended. Thirty-three states and nearly 150 cities and counties have implemented some version of ban-the-box policies. House sponsors Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Doug Collins (R-GA) were joined at the hearing by Senate sponsors Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), as well as the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris and Teresa Hodge, Co-Founder and CEO of R3 Score Technologies.

“This bill is a testament to finding agreement, talking through practical challenges, and raising the standard to ensure our citizens have more protections in place.”

Arkansas Senate Bill 308, which requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited by the state, passed unanimously in both chambers. Senator Majority Leader Bart Hester and Representative Austin McCollum championed the issue, and Governor Asa Hutchinson is expected to sign the bill into law. With his signature, Arkansas will join the ranks of states like New Mexico, Ohio, and Connecticut to dramatically restrict civil asset forfeiture. Meanwhile, in Michigan, MLive.com broke down the state police’s asset forfeiture report, detailing what was seized, how property was disposed, and how the income from assets was spent.

“It appears that the same bureaucrats that fought the First Step Act at every opportunity are trying to starve it to death through the budget process...”  

President Trump’s 2020 budget request contained $14 million for the development of pilot programs for people who are incarcerated, well short of the $75 million annual expenditure described in the First Step Act. The White House did not indicate how the administration planned to implement the law’s expansion of programs for education, career and technical training, substance abuse treatment or halfway houses. While Congress is responsible for allocating funding, and both houses have generally ignored presidential budget requests, advocates were concerned that the proposal fell short of a full-throated implementation of the law.

“It’s obviously an equity issue. They’re stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty.”

Legislators in Oregon are debating House Bill 2614, which would end the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid court fees and traffic tickets. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles issued more than 76,000 license suspensions in 2017 alone. Representative Jeff Barker, who is sponsoring the bill with House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, said the current system impacts those who can’t afford to pay fines, and “they get into a downward spiral that they can’t get out of.”

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.

The First Step Act goes to the Senate, and the news in criminal justice this week

“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised Criminal Justice Bill this month.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed for cloture on The First Step ActThursday, with a vote expected early next week. The legislation is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, including law enforcement and civil rights groups, and is expected to receive at least 70 votes in the Senate. President Trump also endorsed the bill, urging Leader McConnell to allow a vote in the Senate. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris told the Louisville Courier-Journal obstacles remained, including amendments from opponents in the Senate, “but I’d put your money on our side.”  

“We hope that new governors will learn what most of those who have held the office know: that good ideas don’t come wrapped up in Democratic or Republican labels.”

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and former Delaware Governor Jack Markell urged incoming governors to embrace bipartisan criminal justice reform. They emphasized the need to meaningfully reform sentencing and corrections, expand alternatives to jail and prison, and ensure that people leaving prison have access to support services and employment. “We are convinced that the reforms our states have instituted will make our communities safer, provide a second chance to many who made mistakes early in life and save our taxpayers money,” they wrote in Governing. “That’s a win-win-win.”

“There is no limit in Mississippi on how long a person can be held prior to indictment, so detainees can wait up to a year or more before even being formally charged with a crime.”

A new survey from the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi showed almost half of those jailed had a stay of 90 or more consecutive days. The state’s long pretrial detentions are the result of myriad factors, including delays in appointing public defenders, slow evidence processing, infrequent court meetings in rural areas, and high levels of poverty. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mississippi had the sixth-longest average pretrial stay in the country, with defendants detained for an average of 40 days.

“That actually has potential to open up additional funding for people who are incarcerated or leaving jails or getting continued treatment once they leave prisons.”

Reforms intended to keep nonviolent offenders out of Utah’s prisons have led to a 12% drop in prison population, but shifted many people with addiction into county jails that currently lack drug-treatment programs. A new report from the Utah Foundation examined the state’s treatment and rehabilitation programs, and found significant savings to taxpayers in the long term, but underscored the need to expand access to pre-booking diversion and treatment programs in county jails.

“When it comes to how we treat these people when they get out, we turn our back on them and let them down a second time.”

Monday, December 17th is the deadline to apply for relief under the Wrongful Conviction Tax Relief Act for claims prior to 2014. Passed in 2015, the law exempts civil damages, restitution or other financial awards exonerees have received from taxes in 33 states and the federal government. Jon Eldan works to identify those who may qualify and has helped 13 people recover $1.6 million and eliminate $500,000 in tax liability, collectively. His nonprofit group, After Innocence, also works with exonerees to apply for government and social services.

 

 

Behind the scenes on the First Step Act, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We had worked so darned hard and got such an overwhelming vote to get the bill out of committee, why should we settle for less than the whole package we had been working on for two years?”
 
The New York Times’  Carl Hulse went behind the scenes of the fight to add sentencing reforms to the FIRST STEP Act.  The bill, shepherded by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), was introduced Thursday night with the support of Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tim Scott (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Chris Coons (D-DE). The proposed package of prison and sentencing reforms was also backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, and received a strong endorsement from President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has committed to bringing the FIRST STEP Act to the floor if it has the support of at least 60 senators.
 
“When veterans court says this is a second chance for veterans to be successful in life, we really mean it.”
 
Salt Lake City’s veterans court, now in its third year, allows servicemen and women to have their convictions cleared or reduced after successfully completing a program tailored to their needs and experiences. Participants meet with judges and case managers, complete recommended mental health or addiction treatment programs, and are matched with mentors who also served in the military. Most of the program’s participants served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  
 
“These persistent, horrific wildfires year after year make this human rights issue even more pressing for the men and women fighting these fires every day who cannot do so once released.”
 
California’s inmate firefighters are on the front lines battling wildfires across the state, but most are ineligible to become professional firefighters once they are released from prison. The state’s occupational licensing boards block anyone with a criminal record from being certified as an Emergency Medical Technician, a requirement for most professional firefighters. Legislation passed earlier this year would allow some former inmate firefighters to be certified as Emergency Medical Responders, qualifying them for jobs with the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. They will still be blocked from employment with local fire departments.
 
“This imprisonment crisis is not felt equally across the state—some communities bear the burden far more than others.”
 
A new report from FWD.us examines the impact of the criminal justice system to communities in Arizona. Researchers analyzed individual-level data on admissions to the state’s prisons, and found significant geographic disparity in admissions, sentence lengths and the use of diversion programs. They also compared Maricopa County to Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which has similar demographics and crime rates, and found that Maricopa County sent six times as many people to prison. Since 2000, both counties have seen reduced crime rates, but Maricopa County has increased its prison admissions by 33%, while Miami-Dade decreased theirs by 46%.               

“The Second Chance Act helps break the cycle of incarceration through drug treatment and job training programs and makes our community safer, saves taxpayer dollars, and most importantly, helps former inmates live up to their God-given potential.” 
 
The Council of State Governments Justice Center marked the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Second Chance Act with a new report, Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees. Since 2009, Second Chance programs aimed at reducing recidivism have impacted more than 164,000 people, through 900 grants across 49 states. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Second Chance Reauthorization Act this week. 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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