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.
Criminal Justice News
Justice Department Seeks Role in Opioid Settlement Talks – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday sought court permission to participate in settlement negotiations aimed at resolving lawsuits by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The Justice Department said in a brief it wanted to participate in talks overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland as a “friend of the court” that would provide information to help craft non-monetary remedies to combat the opioid crisis. “We are determined to see that justice is done in this case and that ultimately we end this nation’s unprecedented drug crisis,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. (U.S. News and World Report, 4/2/18).
Drug Treatment Courts
Bipartisan Alternative Drug Treatment Program Signed Into Law – Today, Gov. Walker signed Wisconsin Act 203, legislation that will pave the way for counties across the state to implement family drug treatment court programs. The legislation, authored by Representatives Jessie Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek) and Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), create the infrastructure for an alternative drug rehabilitation program that focuses on developing sober households. Milwaukee County was the first in Wisconsin to use the program. Since its inception in 2011 it has yielded tremendous success providing treatment to more than 260 families in need. (Urban Milwaukee, WI, 4/3/18).
Westmoreland drug court graduate: ‘My family trusts me again’ – J.R. Minniti is counting his sobriety by the months now. The Monessen man is two months short of being two years sober. “It means everything to me; my family trusts me again,” Minniti, 32, said Thursday after graduating from Westmoreland County Drug Treatment Court. Minniti was one of nine people who recently graduated from the intensive program that was initiated to handle a surge in criminal court cases and addicted inmates as a result of the opioid epidemic. Thursday’s courthouse ceremony marked the fourth graduating class from the program since it began in 2015. (Trib Live, PA, 3/29/18).
Attorney in recovery addresses drug treatment court – An attorney afflicted with addiction hit rock bottom, but is now back on top. She addressed addicts who are on their road to recovery. “I felt like I put a superwoman cape on and literally I could save the world. Simultaneously I missed the memo that said I would need these pills like oxygen,” said Laurie Besden. “I’m proof if someone’s given, well in my case a sixth chance, but if they’re given another chance, that sometimes you just never know when that miracle’s going to happen,” said Besden. Drug treatment court wasn’t around to help Laurie, but it’s here to help today. Drug court supervisors say they bring speakers in to give participants proof that it does get better. (PA Homepage, PA, 3/29/18).
Walker signs bill to close troubled Wisconsin youth prison – Gov. Scott Walker has signed legislation to close a troubled youth prison in Wisconsin and authorize funding for new facilities across the state. Walker signed the bill in Milwaukee on Friday. The legislation allows the state to borrow $80 million for building facilities to house juvenile offenders when the Lincoln Hills prison shuts down by 2021. Counties willing to accommodate the less serious offenders will receive some of the funding. (KARE 11, WI, 3/31/18).
More Second Chances for Washington Youth with New Juvenile Justice Diversion Law – Advocates in Washington state are cheering the recent passage of a newly signed bill that aims to bolster the state’s efforts to divert youth from the juvenile justice system by broadening the types of cases eligible for diversion and strengthening the network of community-based service providers. [Senate Bill 6550] revises Washington’s Juvenile Justice Act of 1977, which offered very narrow parameters for which offenses could be kept out of the court. SB 6550 eliminates many of those restrictions, and the language of the law explicitly encourages prosecutors to direct offending youth to supportive services rather than adjudicating whenever possible. (The Chronicle of Social Change, WA, 3/29/18).
New court option planned to keep families together – When the idea of establishing a problem-solving treatment court for families torn apart by addiction and substance abuse materialized, Ward knew she needed to be a part of it. “The opioid crisis has taken its toll on all the agencies, especially Children and Youth with placement numbers,” Gownley said. “We wanted to come up with a preventative service that keeps families together and provides with support. We acknowledge there is a huge crisis, and we have to start somewhere. It’s not getting better.” The two-year program is for Northumberland County residents who are not sexual or violent offenders. The parents do not necessarily have to be facing criminal charges, but they must admit they have a problem with alcohol or addiction and must admit their children are at risk. At that point, Rosini will evaluate their case and determine whether family court is the right fit for their family. (The Daily Item, PA, 3/30/18).
City’s public defenders urge lawmakers to pass ‘critical’ criminal justice reforms – The city’s five primary public defender organizations have teamed up to put pressure on the state legislature to pass meaningful criminal justice reforms after the measures were left out of the state budget. The proposals include the elimination of pretrial detention for low-level offenses; setting a speedy trial requirement to keep people from being held in jail for months awaiting trial, and changing discovery rules to allow defendants access to all evidence before making a plea. “For decades, New York State’s antiquated and outmoded laws on these key issues have undermined the presumption of innocence, led to mass incarceration, allowed intolerable court delays, and enabled wrongful convictions.” (AM New York, NY, 4/3/18).
Public Defender Pay At Issue – Federal officials just gave private attorneys appointed to represent indigent defendants in federal court a raise to $140 per hour, $100 per hour more than their colleagues doing the same job in Wisconsin state courts are paid. The $40 per hour the State of Wisconsin pays private lawyers to defend indigent clients is the lowest rate in the nation. Defense lawyers have been seeking a pay hike for years, and both lawyers and judges say the low pay is making it harder to find lawyers willing to take the cases. The State Supreme Court is expected to hold a public hearing in May on a petition filed last year seeking a private bar pay increase. (Urban Milwaukee, WI, 3/30/18).
Editorial: Improved justice for the poor as St. Louis County public defenders get help from private attorneys – Overburdened public defenders in St. Louis County are going to get some help from private attorneys courtesy of an order from Presiding Circuit Court Judge Douglas R. Beach. Beach’s order also aims to keep more nonviolent offenders out of jail through a screening process and establishes a lower-priority wait list for public defenders’ clients who are not in jail. Beach’s order was in response to district public defender Stephen Reynolds’ request for help with the office’s extensive workload. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office objected, saying the court should hold separate hearings to consider each defender’s caseload. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MO, 3/29/18).
State denies Oakland County’s $8.5 million criminal defense plan for a second time – The State of Michigan has rejected a $8.5 million plan by Oakland County to comply with new standards to provide criminal defense services for low-income residents. Keith Lerminiaux, the county’s chief legal officer, said the county will continue to request money because the MIDC still requires public defenders to be present at the first appearance for low-income defendants. He claims this will require additional prosecutors to be present as well, an additional cost. (Oakland Press News, MI, 3/28/18).
Veterans Treatment Courts
A Judge Sentenced a Fellow Vet to Jail—Then Joined Him in His Cell for the Night – The minute Joe Serna walked into the Veterans Treatment Court in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he could feel his shoulders tense up, hear his stomach growling. He had come to turn himself in. Six months earlier, Serna had been arrested for impaired driving. As part of his sentence, he was required to report to Judge Lou Olivera’s court every two weeks to take a urine test and prove he hadn’t been drinking. He listened to Serna’s confession that day and decided on the punishment: one night in the Cumberland County jail. The judge, a fellow veteran, realizing that this cell was no better than the first one, had decided to spend the night with a comrade in arms. (Reader’s Digest, 4/2/18).
Yet Another State Is Pushing To Bring Back Special Courts For Veterans – Veterans accused of crimes often share similar trauma from their time in the service. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Military sexual assault. Brain injuries. Special courts are gaining traction nationwide to help these veterans avoid being repeatedly arrested by combining treatment with accountability. That’s why Benton Country, Washington, prosecutor Andy Miller and a team of court officials and veterans advocates plan to ask county commissioners to tap a public safety fund to recreate Spokane County’s Veterans Treatment Court in Benton and possibly Franklin counties. (Task & Purpose, WA, 4/2/18).
Benjamin Marchman is a student assistant in the Justice Programs Office.