Women in the Justice System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture in Texas, and the news in criminal justice this week

“There is a principle of being innocent until proven guilty, and forfeiture just takes that and flips it on its head.”

The Texas Tribune reviewed thousands of pages of court records related to asset forfeiture in four counties: Harris, Reeves, Smith and Webb. The 560 cases reviewed resulted in the seizure of nearly $10 million and 100 cars. In approximately 40% of cases, the person whose property was seized was not found guilty of a crime related to the seizure. In the first half of 2016 alone, police in Harris County seized $8 million in cash and 67 vehicles, and 15% of cases had no related criminal charge.

“By reducing the burden our occupational licensing laws have on those with criminal records, we will strengthen our communities by lowering crime rates as well.”
 
Pennsylvania State Senators John DiSanto (R-15) and Judy Schwank (D-11) and Representatives Sheryl Delozier (R-88) and Jordan Harris (D-186) wrote a joint op-ed in PennLive about the need for reform to the state’s occupational licensing requirements. They’ve introduced Senate Bill 637 and House Bill 1477, which would prevent licensing boards from denying or revoking a license based solely on one’s criminal history unless the conviction is directly related to the licensed occupation. Both bills would also allow individuals to find out if they are eligible for licensing before they go through the training and educational requirements for the particular profession. 

“…Many of the broader challenges that probation departments face can be traced to the way that they are funded—usually based upon the number of people being supervised at any given time.”
 
In The Hill, Right on Crime’s Michael Haugen reviewed a report finding that performance-based funding has contributed to reduced caseloads, lower costs, and fewer probation revocations. Successful models include Ohio’s “Reclaim” Program, which incentivizes community-based programming for juvenile offenders and at-risk youth, and Illinois’ “Redeploy” Program, which provides financial incentives to jurisdictions that expand evidence-based interventions focused on addressing underlying drivers of crime. 
 
“Barriers to communication from high inmate calling rates interfere with inmates’ ability to consult with their attorneys, impede family contact that can make prisons and jails safer spaces, and foster recidivism.”
 
In Iowa, the average cost of a 15-minute call from prison or jail was $7.03, with some counties charging as much as $11. The state utility board, tasked with ensuring that reasonable rates are charged by state service providers, has asked the 11 companies who provide calling services for more information about their pricing. Iowa’s prices are $1.29 higher than the national average of $5.74, and are the 13th-highest in the country. Arkansas has the most expensive rates, charging an average of $14.49 for 15 minutes.
 
“How do you find meaning in a life where you may never see the outside world?”
 
Photographer Sara Bennett photographed women serving prison sentences of 18 years or longer at New York’s Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities. The women, who were all convicted of murder, were photographed at their workplaces, including the library, gym, and infant center. “The lifers all know each other,” Bennett said. “…It’s a society. Sometimes it feels like a secluded community.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia reforms its civil asset forfeiture program, and the news in criminal justice this week

“For too long, Philadelphia treated its citizens like ATMs, ensnaring thousands of people in a system designed to strip people of their property and their rights…”

In a settlement, the city of Philadelphia has agreed to reform its civil asset forfeiture program, and pay $3 million to people whose property had been unfairly seized. The lawsuit was filed by the Institute for Justice, which called the city’s program “one of the worst civil forfeiture schemes in America.” Officials agreed to increased judicial supervision, stronger notification procedures for defendants and limits on the seizure of cash and property. The settlement also bans the district attorney’s office and police department from using forfeiture revenue to fund payroll. But the reforms aren’t universal: District Attorney Larry Krasner said future forfeitures would “generally” require a conviction, and would be targeted toward assets that were used as instruments of the crime or were profits of committing the crime.

“The average person would think, well we have a lot of people in prison, that must mean there’s a lot of crime in Arizona. That’s absolutely not true.”

A report from FWD.us, the first in a series examining Arizona’s imprisonment crisis, blamed poor policy choices, not rising crime, for the state’s growing prison population. The growth in prison population has outpaced residential growth, and the imprisonment rate has grown during a period of declining crime. Arizona has the 4th highest rate of imprisonment in the country, which costs taxpayers more than $1 billion each year. The authors note that the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually if its imprisonment rate was similar to neighboring states.

“BOP’s approach to managing female inmates has not been strategic, resulting in weaknesses in its ability to meet their specific needs.” 

new report from the Department of Justice concluded that staffing shortages in the Federal Bureau of Prisons were restricting access to care and services for female inmates. The Inspector General’s report makes ten recommendations to improve BOP performance, including additional training, expanded trauma treatment programs, better communication about pregnancy programs, and clearer guidelines on the distribution of feminine hygiene products. Acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz agreed with the recommendations and pledged to improve staffing and training.

“I am excited about the people who have gone through it, that are staying clean and sober, that are not resorting to crime.”

Cache Achieve, a diversion program created by officials in Utah’s Cache County, allows people accused of low-level offenses to pursue education and job-training rather than being sentenced to jail time. Qualified defendants must complete a program at Bridgerland Technical College, and maintain an 80% attendance rate and a B average. Upon successful completion of the program, charges may be dismissed. Thirteen people completed the program in 2017, saving the county an estimated $50,000.

“This is going to eliminate subjective decision making in low-risk cases while preserving the Parole Board’s ability to deny parole to low risk prisoners based on legitimate safety concerns.”

In Michigan, a new law created a list of 11 “substantial and compelling reasons” the State Parole board may use to depart from guidelines and deny parole. The reasons include a refusal to participate in risk-reduction programming, major misconduct while incarcerated, and pending felony charges or detainer requests. In addition to the codified guidelines, the parole board must give individuals a reason why their parole was denied. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer said the explanation would give people a clearer understanding of “what they need to do to work toward parole going forward.”

Minnesota's federal reentry court, and the news in criminal justice this week

“That interaction tells them that the justice system is not just about punishment; that it also is invested in helping former inmates when they leave prison.”

Minnesota’s federal re-entry court matches participants with community mentors and does away with the adversarial system of normal court proceedings. Returning citizens who are deemed to be at high risk of re-offending work with judges and federal law-enforcement officials to help find housing, employment and addiction treatment. Program participants have a 27% recidivism rate, well below the 73% rate for high-risk individuals outside the program. Chief U.S. Probation Officer Kevin Lowry said the re-entry court saved up to $30,000 per participant each year by reducing recidivism and allowing people to remain on community supervision.

“It is recovery, not incarceration, which allows people to become productive members of society—citizens with jobs and families who can contribute and make our communities better places to work, grow and live.”

In the Herald-Leader, author Kelley Paul recounted a visit to Lexington’s Hope Center, and pushed for an end to the cycle of trauma, addiction and incarceration. The Hope Center provides emergency shelter and addiction treatment services, and recently expanded its women’s recovery center.  Paul pointed to legislative solutions, including Kentucky’s Dignity Bill, the FIRST STEP Act, and federal bail reform sponsored by her husband Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“That’s where a text-messaging service helps. Defendants may not read a letter…but they will look at their cell phones.”

Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office has been using a text messaging service to remind some clients of upcoming court dates, and hopes to expand the program to include juvenile and municipal court defendants soon. Many defendants do not have stable addresses, or miss mailed notifications, but are more likely to see a notice on their cell phones. A similar program, run by Uptrust, is in use in counties in California, Maryland, Virginia, Washington and Pennsylvania. Uptrust’s CEO says failure-to-appear rates have gone from 15-20 percent to 5-6 percent in their service areas.


“The idea that a pregnant woman is going to escape anywhere when she can barely walk is ludicrous. Shackling women on the wrists, waist and legs is a dangerous practice and a cruel practice.”

Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mia Love (R-UT) introduced The Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act, which is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 57 congresswomen. The bill would create anational standard of care for women who are incarcerated during pregnancy, labor, delivery and the post-partum period. Representatives Love and Bass announced their intention to file the bill at the Coalition for Public Safety’s Women Unshackled: The Next Step, earlier this year. In The Hill, the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Kaitlin Owens and R Street’s Emily Mooney argued for the passage of the bill and similar reforms at the state level.

“Housing, education, job opportunities are all basic needs, and if the needs are met then the likelihood of someone engaging in criminal behavior is reduced.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Lisa Schencker looked at programs to help people with criminal records gain employment, and the businesses that are giving people a second chance. Chicago logistics provider C.H. Robinson doesn’t do background checks until the final stage of the hiring process, and considers the number of convictions, the nature of the offense, and the time elapsed when evaluating applicants. Illinois has passed several laws in the past four years that have reduced barriers to employment, including banning the box on initial applications, expanding convictions eligible for record sealing, and reforming state licensing requirements.

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.

Women Unshackled, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Our prison system and our jail system are just not equipped to deal with all the issues women are facing right now.”

Lawmakers, advocates, judges, law enforcement, and formerly incarcerated women gathered in Austin on Wednesday for “Women Unshackled: The Next Step,” hosted by CPS and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. The forum, which was simulcast on Facebook and livestreamed into the Travis County Correctional Complex, focused on the unique challenges women face in our justice system, and potential reforms to better address their needs. As part of the event, Congresswomen Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mia Love (R-UT), announced upcoming federal dignity legislation. If you missed it, you can still watch the conference here:  https://www.facebook.com/coalitionforpublicsafety/.

“People who choose to learn from their mistakes and want to live productive lives should be able to do just that.”

Pennsylvania’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Clean Slate legislation that had previously been passed by the House. The bill would automatically seal the records of those who had committed certain misdemeanors and gone 10 years without another offense. The measure has strong bipartisan support in both chambers, and the backing of business, organized labor, and district attorneys from across the commonwealth.

“...If the audits are allowed to fail, the Prison Rape Elimination Act will fail, and the shameful scourge of prison rape will continue.”

Just Detention International’s Lovisa Stannow drew attention to the First Step Act’s strengthening of protections under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.  The First Step Act would establish stronger guidelines for conducting audits, harsher penalties for auditors who do not comply with the guidelines, and more transparency in the audit process. The bill, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House last month, awaits action in the Senate.

“Forfeiture only makes it more challenging for people in my position to clean up and become contributing members of society.”

The Supreme Court granted a cert petition in a civil asset forfeiture case, Timbs v. Indiana, which could determine whether the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause is incorporated against the states. Timbs’s case has attracted a broad range of supporters, with amicus briefs filed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Cato Institute, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“American voters are ready to move forward with this important legislation, and politicians should take their lead and bring clean slate to fruition...”

70% of voters support automatically sealing the records of nonviolent offenders, according to new polling from the Center for American Progress and GBA Strategies. Clean Slate legislation has the support of 75% of Democrats, 66% of Republicans, and 61% Independents.