Oklahoma is set to give approval to several bills that will alleviate the state’s prison population and support state drug courts, one-third of low-income inmates in Mississippi spend 90 or more consecutive days in jail before trial, and Governor Phil Bryant blocks effort to give drug courts medication to combat opioid addiction. These stories and more in the latest edition of the Friday News Roundup.
Criminal Justice News
Governor Vetoes Opioid, Crime Reforms After Signing Reentry Law – Gov. Phil Bryant has blocked an effort to help wean those addicted to opioids off the drugs with medication, as well as assist indigent prisoners. SB 2841, which he vetoed on April 13 citing financial concerns at the Mississippi Department of Corrections, would have enabled drug courts to make medication available to addicts. Senate Bill 2841 also would have required MDOC to determine the indigence of Mississippians on parole, probation or supervision before assessing monthly community corrections fees. The governor took issue with this part of the bill. (Jackson Free Press, MA, 4/19/18).
Drug Treatment Courts
Oklahoma lawmakers OK criminal justice reform bills – Oklahoma lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to several bills that could alleviate the state’s burgeoning prison population, but the effects might not happen as soon as some advocates hope. The Senate voted 40-0 on HB 2881, which allows prosecutors and judges to send offenders through the drug court process at any time. Previously, they could only do so within four days of an arrest. It also ends a provision that made offenders ineligible for drug courts if they had been admitted to a drug court program during the previous five years. (News OK, OK, 4/25/18).
Marion County Drug Court graduates: Life is worth fighting for – Jennifer Tiller-Blevins was serving time for a drug offense, when she found out that her granddaughter was being placed into foster care. The long time Marion resident had battled with her addiction to opioids for four years, often trying to quit but to no avail. But it was different now. “I knew I had to do something,” she said. “I needed to get myself together, I had to do it for her.” “I thought I would manipulate my way through it. But, I realized early on that wasn’t going to be the case,” she said. ” The most challenging part was admitting that I needed this.” (The Marion Star, OH, 4/23/18).
Lawrence County implements new drug court – Lawrence County is hoping to turn the lives around for drug offenders in their community. The county’s first-ever drug court began on Thursday and joins more than one hundred others in the state of Ohio. The newly-developed drug court, called the Nexus Recovery Docket, is a specialized docket that is recognized by the Ohio Supreme Court. The goal is to offer a therapeutic alternative to normal court proceedings for people struggling with drug abuse. (WOWK13, OH, 4/20/18).
Drug courts, Safe Stations at risk if Medicaid expansion is repealed – Advocates for the state’s Medicaid expansion program are highlighting the program’s role in helping to combat the opioid crisis. Supporters said that without Medicaid expansion, popular and successful programs like county drug courts and Safe Stations would not have the underlying resources to provide help to people struggling with addiction. The Medicaid expansion bill continues to undergo work in the House Finance Committee and is likely to face a vote on the House floor at the beginning of May. (WMUR9, NH, 4/19/18).
Senators consider DWI impact panels, revising treatment courts – House Bill 2562, which now heads to the Senate, would modify the system used to provide alternative sentencing courts. The bill seeks to establish treatment court divisions, which were formerly called “drug courts” as well as Adult Treatment Court, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Court, Family Treatment Court, Juvenile Treatment Court and Veterans Treatment Court. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, said the bill would help all treatment courts in the state become more effective by establishing best practices. The bill would also allow, under court approval, some defendants to enter treatment court programs outside their jurisdiction if the program that they need is unavailable in the district where they live. (Missourian, MO, 4/23/18).
Stuck in Jail: Low Income Inmates in Mississippi Wait Long for Trial – Jerry Sanders has been sitting in a jail cell on a relatively minor charge of methamphetamine possession for more than a year—longer than the sentence he could get if he’s convicted. And with no money to post bail or hire his own lawyer, he may be sitting there for weeks or months more. A recent survey of Mississippi jails conducted by the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law—released exclusively to The Associated Press—shows that 2,500 defendants—more than one-third of all of those jailed before trial—have been in jail 90 or more consecutive days. More than 600 have been in jail longer than a year. (Daily Report, MS, 4/24/18).
Lawyers Seek to Reform ‘Ethical Minefield’ of Public Defender’s Office Controlled by Texas Prison System – Last week, David O’Neil stood before the Texas Board of Criminal Justice with an awkward request: He asked nine governor-appointed board members to relinquish their control over the Texas prison system’s little-known public defender’s office. O’Neil and other attorneys claim that prison officials who had a hand in prosecuting their clients influenced and sometimes outright interfered with their defense work. O’Neil says that when he was at SCFO, he asked a prison official for money to pay for training for one of his attorneys who was about to try his first capital murder case. (The Texas Observer, TX, 4/24/18).
County mulls changes to indigent defense – With public defense across Idaho under fire in the courts, the Blaine County commissioners are considering whether to establish an in-house office of attorneys to represent indigent defendants. In January, a state court certified Tucker v. Idaho as a class-action lawsuit spearheaded by the ACLU testing just that. As lawyers build the case, Blaine County wants to be ready whichever way it rules.“The whole state is lacking in how it provides indigent defense,” Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said during a commissioners meeting Tuesday. “There’s no guarantee that a system like ours—one without monitoring or supervision—will survive judicial scrutiny.” (Idaho Mountain Press, ID, 4/20/18).
A Louisiana Bill Would Give Public Defenders More Funding. Public Defenders Aren’t Happy. – Lawmakers are now considering a bill to pad their budgets with cash. The only problem? Public defenders hate the proposal. The bill, which is currently awaiting debate in the Louisiana House, would increase the amount of money allocated to the state’s public defender offices by the Louisiana Public Defender Board, their umbrella organization. That’s where the bill comes in. Legal groups worry that the proposal, which they say is likely to pass, would simply move money from legal aid groups to the public defenders instead of actually increasing resources for public defense. (Mother Jones, LA, 4/19/18).
Bill Aimed at Indigent Defense Funding Could Imperil Library, Advocates Say – Last year, the First Judicial District raised rates for indigent defense attorneys for the first time in nearly 20 years. Now, more than 10 months later, there is still no agreement to cover the increased costs, and the latest effort to fill the funding gap is facing a mounting pushback. That pushback is powered by advocates for Jenkins Law Library who see the measure as jeopardizing the viability of the venerable Philadelphia legal institution. (The Legal Intelligencer, PA, 4/18/18).
Benjamin Marchman is a student associate in the Justice Programs Office.