Friday News Roundup: March 9, 2018

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

Rehab pay suit moved to Oklahoma – A lawsuit involving clients of a rehabilitation program who claim they weren’t paid for their work at an Arkansas chicken plant was moved last week to an Oklahoma federal court where similar cases are awaiting trial. The lawsuit, filed Oct. 23, accused chicken producer Simmons Foods and Oklahoma-based rehab programs of not paying wages to drug court participants in violation of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act, protections against involuntary servitude outlined in the Arkansas Constitution, and individual rights outlined in the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. (Arkansas Online, AR, 3/7/18).

This Town Is At The Center Of The US Opioid Crisis. Here’s The Story Of An Average Day In Its “Drug Court.” – Nothing is simple in drug court. Here, in a beat-up downtown, sandwiched between a noisy railroad and the brown waters of the Ohio River, is the US opioid epidemic’s ground zero — the drug court for this city of 47,000 with an overdose rate 10 times the national average. But on the ground in Huntington, the reality of the government’s response is far less dramatic, and focused on treating addiction as a disease instead of a crime. Drug courts are a way of chipping away at the problem, with about half of their participants graduating, and the majority of graduates staying clean for years. They work by essentially treating addiction with courtroom theater, a mixture of sternness and kindness. (Buzzfeed News, WV, 3/3/18).

Meet a tough judge who takes a tender approach with drug-addicted moms – Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Duane Slone couldn’t comprehend what would drive someone to do drugs – until an event in his own life made him rethink. He joins Megyn Kelly TODAY along with Raven Mason, whom the judge helped when she was a drug-addicted teenage mom. “My life was in his hands,” she says. (TODAY, NY, 3/2/18).

Maine chief justice proposes new drug court in response to opioid crisis – During her address, she provided an update on efforts to put court records online, talked about courthouse security and proposed a “full wrap-around drug court.” Lawmakers gave announcement of the drug court a standing ovation. Saufley said the pilot program, which has the blessing of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, would include addiction treatment, mental health services, job training, sober housing and other services. She asked for funding for the pilot program. “Significant resources are needed in the communities for treatment, case management, testing and all of the needed services. That is where your focus and funding efforts should go. Please, help us expand our response to this heartbreaking crisis,” she said. (Portland Press Herald, ME, 2/27/18).

Juvenile Justice

Ringing the Bell on Kids Charged as Adults – McDaniels’ job requires him to repair broken children, especially those who have been charged as adults. Many of them sit in his facility for the better part of a year awaiting court dates, convictions and indictments. “It is constitutionally suspect to me that a 16-year-old or a 14-year-old charged with a serious offense, which they could get life in jail for, will sit un-indicted for 178 days,” McDaniels told the Jackson Free Press. “But, I think we have to ring the bell at this point and say that the current system is simply not working, and we’ve got to do some things different in Hinds County.” (Jackson Free Press, MS, 3/7/18)

Concerns raised over juvenile justice changes – Kansas officials dealing with youth in the local court system are concerned about trends in mental health treatment following a drastic change last year in state juvenile justice laws. The Hutchinson News reports that a pressing issue for officials is the often months-long wait to get care for youth needing inpatient psychiatric treatment. The growing wait times are a result of a 2017 law meant to divert the costs of keeping juveniles locked up to pay for treatment they need to stay out of jail. But community mental health officials say they aren’t seeing much of the savings coming back from the state to pay for services. (Today’s KFDI FM 101.3, KS, 3/5/18).

Judges and prosecutors fear juvenile justice system could collapse – Beginning in July, the juvenile court system in Baton Rouge is expecting to see a massive influx of the cases it typically handles. That’s because the state will begin prosecuting teens who commit crimes as juveniles if they are 17. Currently, 16-year-olds are prosecuted as a juvenile. All of this stems from a state law that was passed in 2016 and is set to take effect in four months. “Our detention center is over capacity, every day,” Haney said. “So that means we will have to make a decision as to who is going to be released to the community because we can’t house them.” (WBRZ ABC 2, LA, 3/5/18).

Arkansas schools accused of using youth court as discipline – In southeast Arkansas, school officials threatened to withdraw money for juvenile probation officers’ salaries as leverage for desired outcomes in juvenile court cases, a report found. The 10th Judicial Circuit — Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Desha and Drew counties — doesn’t have enough money to pay the officers, so school districts chip in. Some schools pushed officers to arrest kids and have judges sentence them for the sake of convenience, according to the report by the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice. (Arkansas Online, AR, 3/4/18).

Utah House passes resolution backing restorative justice practices in schools – The Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution that urges the state’s school system to implement restorative justice programs to better address student discipline. Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, sponsor of HR1, said restorative justice programs help students stay in school and deal with their challenges in healthy, constructive ways. Suspension and expulsion remain as tools for schools to use, but the resolution encourages approaches that address the underlying causes of students’ conduct. (Deseret News, UT, 2/27/18).

Public Defense

SPLC, Gardendale settle lawsuit over private probation company – The Southern Poverty Law Center and the city of Gardendale and its municipal court have filed a joint motion to dismiss a lawsuit relating to the northern Birmingham suburb’s use of a private probation company. Gardendale and Municipal Judge Kenneth Gomany cut ties with Private Probation Services (PPS) in November, a week after the SPLC filed a lawsuit claiming PPS was exploiting low-income defendants by piling monthly fees on people who can’t pay fines and court costs. (AL.com, AL, 3/7/18).

Public defenders make union push – Public defenders and union organizers are pushing for a bill that would give Committee for Public Counsel Services employees collective bargaining rights like other state employees. The starting salary for a public defender in Massachusetts is about $40,000, Cronin said. Rogers said he started out at less than that, around $38,000 or $39,000. In addition to low pay, Cronin and Rogers said many public defenders have high student loans to pay off. Many have a second job to make ends meet, they said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette, MA, 3/7/18).

Judge: Shortage of public defenders causing backlogs, cost to counties – Washburn County Circuit Court, and other circuit courts in northern Wisconsin, are experiencing a backlog in criminal cases due to a significant shortage of public defender lawyers, according to Washburn County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Harrington. “This is a state issue. The state government needs to be providing lawyers to poor people. There isn’t any question about that, that’s been a long-established policy of the state of Wisconsin and the Legislature. The state government is shirking their responsibility by not providing public defender lawyers and having counties pick up that cost,” (The Leader Register, WI, 3/7/18).

Sonia Sotomayor Faults SCOTUS for Failing to Protect Right to Effective Counsel in Death Row Case – Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a death row inmate whose state-appointed attorneys failed to discover and present mitigating evidence that might have altered the outcome of his jury trial. Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor faulted her colleagues for refusing to review this “deeply unjust and unfair” case. The Court’s inaction, Sotomayor declared, “belies the ‘bedrock principle in our justice system’ that a defendant has a right to effective assistance of trial counsel, and undermines the protections this Court has recognized are necessary to protect that right.” (Reason, D.C., 3/5/18).

In court, majority seek public defenders regardless of income – While public defenders were supposed to be a last resort for those with limited funding, they are requested by almost 80 percent of defendants. Pace’s case is one of many in which defendants have claimed $0 in assets in order to receive legal counsel funded by taxpayers, and one of the few officials actually investigated. The volume of people asking for, and receiving, public defenders has reached a point that some private defense attorneys are calling foul on those responsible for the investigation into assets and the appointment of public defenders. While the incentive for private attorneys to complain about the system is obvious, the cost to the public has yet to be revealed. (Panama City News Herald, FL, 3/4/18).

Montco commissioners hear tourism update, honor public defenders – n appreciation of National Public Defense Week, March 12 – 17, celebrating the 55th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright which guaranteed the universal right to legal representation for those charged with a crime, the commissioner’s acknowledged the Montgomery County Public Defender’s office for the work they do both in and out of the courtroom. Following Beers remarks, the commissioners presented Carol Sweeney, Chief of the Public Defender’s Trial Unit, with the first Kate Taxis Public Defense Award. (The Times Herald, PA, 3/2/18).

Criminal Justice News

Conviction overturned for man electrified by Texas judge – A Texas appeals court has overturned a man’s conviction after finding a judge had inappropriately electrified him in court, US media report. Judge George Gallagher ordered the bailiff to activate a stun belt sending 50,000 volts through Morris when he allegedly refused to answer questions. The higher court found that stun belts cannot be used as punishment in court. Mr Morris appealed his 2014 conviction alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when the judge used the belt as punishment for not answering questions properly. (BBC World News, UK, 3/7/18).

Governor Cuomo Announces Comprehensive Reforms To Improve The Re-Entry Process For Formerly Incarcerated Individuals – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced he is advancing comprehensive reforms to streamline the process for incarcerated individuals to return to the community upon release from prison. The reforms will help improve access to jobs and licenses, expand eligibility for merit release and limited credit time allowances, create a new “geriatric parole” provision, and reduce financial burdens after release. The proposal is part of the Governor’s five-pronged reform package to overhaul the State’s criminal justice system as part of the FY 2019 Budget. (LongIsland.com, NY, 3/5/18).

Justice Department to target opioid manufacturers, distributors to curb epidemic –  Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the creation of a new task force focused specifically on targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors, and holding them accountable for unlawful practices. The Justice Department also filed a statement of interest in a case involving hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Sessions said the Justice Department will argue that the federal government has borne substantial costs from the opioid epidemic and it seeks reimbursement. The case includes numerous cities, municipalities and medical institutions. (The Denver Post, CO, 2/27/18).

Benjamin Marchman is a student assistant in the Justice Programs Office.

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