Meek Mill becomes a symbol of criminal justice reform after he is released from jail this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that provisions of Megan’s Law barring juveniles from seeking relief in their community reporting requirements is unconstitutional, and public defenders in New York continue to protest the courthouse arrests of undocumented clients by ICE. These stories and more in the latest edition of the Friday News Roundup.
Criminal Justice News
How Meek Mill Became the Face of Criminal Justice Reform – When Meek Mill walked out of prison this week, it was much more than just a victory for the rapper and his legal team. His months-long legal battle, which included star-studded endorsements and a #FreeMeekMill social media campaign, has turned the 30-year-old into a symbol of what activists say is systemic racism and abuse in the criminal justice system, in the U.S. in general and in Philadelphia in particular. Judges and parole boards often order that those convicted of crimes must undergo years of court-ordered supervision, and even small violations can result in lengthy sentences. In Mill’s case, it was five minor, non-violent violations, including an arrest last August for performing a motorcycle stunt in a music video in New York, his advocates say. (Time Magazine, PA, 4/27/18).
Drug Treatment Courts
Atlantic City’s Incoming Casino Expands Employee Pool To Drug Court – Atlantic and Cape May County Drug Court is getting a new name and offering new opportunities. Now known as Recovery Court, the program is partnering with the city’s casino union to train participants for work in the casino industry. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be the first resort casino to open its employment up to Drug Court participants. “If you’re sober and living a sober life, why wouldn’t we hire you in our industry?” asked Joseph Jingoli, one of the partners who bought the former Taj Mahal that will soon open as the Hard Rock. “And what better way than to change the name of Drug Court to Recovery Court to promote the idea so people won’t carry the stigma of their past into their new life.” (Breaking AC, NJ, 5/1/18).
Brown reaches across aisle to help people overcome substance abuse – Brown has been a leader on one of the hottest topics in opioid crisis — compelling addicts to take at least the initial steps to recovery. He introduced a bill in 2014 to permit involuntary commitment for substance abuse, before the seriousness of the crisis became obvious to everyone. Brown also a month ago introduced, again with Democratic partners, three other anti-addiction bills. One would extend eligibility for drug court — which focuses on treatment rather than punishment for non-violent crimes — to addicts convicted of low-level aggravated assaults or with convictions more than 5 years old. (Press of Atlantic City, NJ, 4/26/18).
UTEC youth led the charge for expungement in justice reform legislation – As a teenager, Jefferson Alvarez had a hard time staying away from fights. One thing led to another and in 2011, he was arrested for the first time. He kicked a student with his shoe and was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was committed to the Department of Youth Services, the commonwealth’s juvenile detention center. Alvarez was part of a team of young people from Lowell-based UTEC who fought for expungement to be part of a new criminal-justice reform bill. That bill was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month. (Lowell Sun, MA, 4/28/18).
Justices Say Megan’s Law Bar to Juvenile Appeals Is Unconstitutional – The New Jersey Supreme Court has held unconstitutional a provision in Megan’s Law that forever bars juveniles found delinquent from seeking to have themselves relieved of their community registration and notification requirements. Juvenile offenders are the least likely to commit another sex offense if they have spent years undergoing rehabilitation, said Maynard, of Maynard & Sumner in Morristown. “Juveniles are highly amenable to rehabilitation,” he said. (New Jersey Law Journal, NJ, 4/25/18).
Most Kentuckians favor court-mandated treatment programs for drug offenders – A new Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) reveals that eight out of 10 Kentucky adults favor court-mandated treatment programs for individuals with first or second drug offenses. Those with higher levels of education were more likely to support treatment programs, as opposed to incarceration. The number of those who support mandatory treatment programs was higher among adults who believe that addiction is a disease, according to the KHIP report. Political party did not play a role in the support for these programs. (Spectrum News, KY, 5/2/18).
Specialty courts’ underuse questioned – Prosecutors, public defenders and court officials all tout the benefits of specialty courts and pre-prosecution diversion programs. They often keep suspects who successfully complete a program from becoming convicted felons, help free up an overloaded court system, and studies have shown that defendants who are successful at completing the programs are less likely to reoffend. But in the 2nd Judicial District Court, specialty courts are not at capacity. More than half of pre-prosecution diversion offers are turned down, and an early plea program that for years ended felony cases has stopped. (Albuquerque Journal, NM, 4/29/18).
Public Defender Board Reaches Fund Distribution Compromise – The Louisiana Public Defender Board has reached a compromise on a new plan intended to more fairly distribute state funds used to pay lawyers who represent indigent defendants. East Baton Rouge Parish District Defender Mike Mitchell says the compromise is an improvement, but it is impossible to be satisfied as the funds public defenders receive from the state are insufficient. (U.S. News and World Report, LA, 4/29/18).
Public defenders in Wayne County underfunded and overworked – Stateside’s Cynthia Canty recently spoke with David Carroll of the 6th Amendment Center about its new report, which concludes that public defenders in Wayne County are overworked, underpaid, and under-resourced. He says there are only 16 public defenders for Wayne County when there should be 30. Carroll says the situation violates the right of indigent defendants to get effective legal help. Wayne County has hired Dawn Van Hoek as its head public defense consultant to help restructure the public defense system in Wayne County. She says she is optimistic that changes, including more public defenders, can be made in the next year. (Michigan Radio, MI, 4/26/18).
Group calls for end of cash bail in some cases; DA Flynn is listening – Judges impose money bail too often in Buffalo and the use of cash bail unfairly affects poor defendants who end up spending more time in jail simply they cannot afford to pay up, according to a new study by the Partnership for the Public Good being released today. The organization is calling for an end to money bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies in the Buffalo area and wants the justice system to try alternatives, such as unsecured bonds and a text-messaging system that reminds defendants of their court dates. The DA’s office does not set bail – judges do – but it’s the assistant district attorneys who ask for an amount. Flynn said he’s already directed his ADAs to not ask for monetary bail in cases of most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. (The Buffalo News, NY, 4/26/18).
ICE Breakers: Public Defenders are Standing Up for their Undocumented Clients in More Ways than One – The increasing detention of undocumented immigrants inside New York City courthouses is spurring protests from the public defenders who represent them. Immigrants make up a large percentage of public defender clients and their attorneys say Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is violating their clients’ rights by preventing them from attending court hearings without fear of apprehension. On April 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would sign an executive order requiring ICE to obtain a court order before making arrests in the state’s courthouses but immigration advocates remain skeptical the order will stem the tide of detentions. (The Indypendent, NY, 4/26/18).
Veterans Treatment Courts
Smith County set to begin veterans treatment court for felony offenders – Smith County is ready to implement a veterans treatment court for honorably discharged veterans facing felony charges. The Council of Judges voted last week to have the 241st District Court hear the cases that qualify for the felony specialty court. To be a candidate for the court, the veteran must be evaluated for psychological, chemical dependency and other issues that can be addressed through treatment and supportive services. If veterans successfully complete the programs and treatments for the court an expunction is granted. The Smith County Veterans Court coordinator works in cooperation with Veterans Affairs and the Smith County District Attorney’s Office with the veteran to determine eligibility. (Tyler Morning Telegraph, TX, 4/27/18).
19th Judicial Circuit honors VTAC mentors – On April 20, in honor of National Volunteer Week, the 12 Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court mentors were honored with handmade quilts by Quilts of Valor, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts. Justice-involved veterans are assigned veteran mentors because it is more likely that they will respond positively to someone with shared or similar experiences. The accepted veterans have individualized case and treatment services set up promptly with collaborating partners. (Lake County Journal, IL, 4/26/18).
Benjamin Marchman is a student associate in the Justice Programs Office.