Every day we are bombarded with news and information on our feeds, social media accounts, on television, and in our email inboxes. It can be hard to decide between all of our obligations what is truly newsworthy and what is just noise. This weekly roundup pulls from across the internet to find the best and most interesting stories about treatment courts, juvenile justice, public defense, the right to counsel, and big news in the criminal justice world.
Drug Treatment Courts
Drug court approved on White Earth Indian reservation – After more than a year of planning, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has approved a new drug court on the White Earth Indian reservation. Tribal and county officials hope the program will help ease longstanding drug problems in the area. Late last year, the tribal government declared a public health crises, after seven drug overdoses were reported in just 48 hours. In the new drug court — officially called the White Earth Tribal and Mahnomen County Healing to Wellness Drug Court — district court and tribal judges will work with prosecutors, public defenders, and social workers to keep felony offenders from the drugs that got them in trouble to begin with. (MPR News, MN, 2/22/18).
Locals work on national panel for MAT implementation – Summit County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joy Malek Oldfield, who is one of two presiding judges of Turning Point, a problem-solving adult drug court, recently participated along with Summit County Juvenile Court Special Programs Administrator Lisa DiSabato-Moore and Turning Point probation officer Ronya Habash in a national expert panel. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) national expert panel aimed to develop guidance for implementing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for individuals with substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system. The conference, held Jan. 29-30, included stakeholder groups working to identify common MAT implementation challenges and obstacles and develop core checklist elements for implementation. (Akron.com, OH, 2/22/18)
Local juvenile court taking new approaches with youth – A new initiative in Stark County Family Court is designed to limit the use of detention for youth, continuing a trend dating to the 1990s. The approach has been effective in other counties. Stark County is now participating in the Ohio Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a data-driven reform process designed to safely reduce the reliance on secure detention, promote efficient use of resources and support public safety. At the heart of JDAI is “heavily data-driven decision-making” to determine what kids are put in detention, Lurry said. In some cases, substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling are more helpful than detention. (CantonRep.com, OH, 2/26/18).
69% Less Recidivism in NY Community Mentoring Program, Report Finds – Youths on probation who participated in a community mentorship program run through the New York City Department of Probation had a lesser chance of recidivism than those who didn’t, according to a study published this week. Youths between the ages of 16 and 24 who went through the Arches Transformative Mentoring Program while on probation had a 69 percent lower recidivism rate within 12 months of starting their probation than youths who did not participate in the program, the study said. After 24 months, it was 57 percent. The strongest impact was seen with participants ages 16 and 17. (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, 2/22/18).
Alabama legislators seek changes to juvenile justice system – Alabama lawmakers this session will consider an overhaul of the state’s juvenile justice system, which advocates contend locks up too many kids for low-level offenses. The bill, which seeks an emphasis on intervention and to limit which juvenile offenders get sent to lock-up or moved to adult court, is expected to get a joint hearing by the House and Senate judiciary committees later this month. (Tuscaloosa News, AL, 2/20/18)
State panel seeks to improve court funding system – A commission created last year aims to review court funding statewide and come up with suggestions on ways to fairly institute court costs and fund the justice system. Gov. Rick Snyder appointed 14 members to the state Trial Court Funding Commission last fall after lawmakers passed a law to establish the commission “to review and recommend changes to the trial court funding system,” says a governor’s office press release. (Daily Tribune News, MI, 2/24/18).
Paying for justice: Public defenders and prosecutors flee for better salaries – In Florida, in the last fiscal year, about one in five public defenders and prosecutors left their jobs, a Times-Union analysis of state employment data found. That was the highest turnover rate in at least the last six years. State attorney’s offices and public defender’s offices across the state are grappling with high turnover rates, and the leaders of those offices blame low salaries. Public defenders make less than almost any other government attorney in the state, an analysis found, and while prosecutors do slightly better, they’re still starting out in Jacksonville with just $44,000 a year. (The Florida Times-Union, FL, 2/23/18)
Boone County public defender waiting list approaches 400 – Court cases involving almost 400 misdemeanor and felony defendants are on hold in Boone County because they have been put on a waiting list for public defender services, the latest sign that state funding issues are delaying justice for the indigent. After Wallis informed Presiding Judge Kevin Crane in September that the office could not handle the full volume of cases in Boone County, Crane appointed private attorneys to represent 37 clients. After one of the attorneys protested it would create a financial burden to handle the case at no charge, Crane allowed the waiting list to be created, Wallis said. (Columbia Daily Tribune, MO, 2/21/18)
California’s attorney general pushes state bail system toward major overhaul – The bail system in California is set to undergo a major shakeup, starting next week, after state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday that he would not appeal a court ruling that prohibits holding criminal defendants in jail because they can’t afford to pay their way out. The ruling does not prohibit monetary bail, but says it must at least be set at levels a defendant can afford, unless the judge cites evidence that the defendant is too dangerous to release before trial. (Laredo Morning Times, TX, 2/20/18)
Veterans Treatment Courts
‘The Stars Aligned:’ DUI Arrest Leads Veteran to Treatment in Fairfax County Court Program – United States Marine Corps veteran Chris Rios says he was in a very dark place in December of 2014, as he left a bar after drinking. “I remember being at a bar. Having one too many drinks. And making the worst decision of my life,” he said. He got into a car, and was pulled over by officer Sameer Kahn. The arrest could have resulted in a $250 fine or time in jail under Virginia law. But thanks to a special Fairfax County court focused on addressing mental health and substance abuse issues among veterans, the arrest led to Rios finding treatment. “That night, as awkward as it might sound, the stars aligned. This was meant to happen.” (NBC 4 Washington, D.C., 2/20/18)
Criminal Justice News
Around 8,000 Massachusetts drug cases touched by Sonja Farak could be dismissed next week – Approximately 8,000 drug defendants whose cases were touched by former Amherst state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak are expected to have their convictions dismissed within a week. Farak was arrested in 2013 for stealing samples from the Amherst state drug lab to feed her own addiction. She pleaded guilty to evidence tampering and drug charges. District attorneys have agreed to dismiss around 8,000 drug cases, which include most of the cases Farak touched. The ACLU and public defenders have asked for every case touched by Farak to be dismissed. (Mass Live, MA, 2/22/18).
Benjamin Marchman is a student assistant in the Justice Programs Office.