A 2014 juvenile justice reform bill in Kentucky sees big reductions in youth incarceration four years later, San Diego Homeless Court offers relief from fines for those least able to afford them, and Los Angeles public defenders continue to protest the new head of the public defender agency due to lack of experience. Continue below to read these stories and more in the latest edition of the JPO Friday News Roundup.
Criminal Justice News
Non-violent criminals could spend less time behind bars, saving the state $20-30 million – Pennsylvania is believed to have the highest incarceration rate in the northeast, and state lawmakers are trying to tackle that issue with new legislation. Senators on both sides of the aisle are passing legislation that would keep people convicted of non-violent crimes from staying behind bars longer than necessary. The State Senate unanimously passed three bills aimed at releasing nonviolent offenders more quickly and offering more resources to convicts. The legislation marks Phase Two of the PA Justice Reinvestment Initiative. (YourErie.com, PA, 5/2/18).
Drug Treatment Courts
Kasich signs bill to establish drug court – Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law today that is to pave the way for the first multi-jurisdictional drug court in the state to operate in Seneca County. The new law established the court, which consolidates drug court proceedings for Tiffn-Fostoria Municipal Court and Seneca County Common Pleas Court. The court handles only low-level drug cases and the only people who volunteer and meet certain requirements can join the program. Shuff said last December that participants must forfeit certain rights, such as due process, to join the program. He also said participants’ homes and vehicles may be searched at any time. (The Advertiser-Tribune, OH, 5/3/18).
Local Treatment Court finds success – Barry County Associate Circuit Court Judge Johnnie Cox said Treatment Court, the outgrowth of Barry County’s Drug Court now under a broader umbrella, continues to outpace state averages in percentages of completions and success as an alternative to incarceration. DWI Court numbers reflected even greater successes. Barry County’s program has had no recidivism, compared to 6 percent statewide. In having jobs, only 74 percent of DWI Court males subjects worked entering the program, and all had jobs at the end. Of the women, 48 percent had jobs at the start of the project, and 93 percent worked by the end. (The Cassville Democrat, MO, 5/2/18).
Juvenile Justice Reforms Yield Major Advances in Kentucky – Juvenile justice reforms enacted by Kentucky in 2014 are creating substantial benefits for youth, families, and communities throughout the state. Between fiscal years 2014 and 2017, the number of youths held in Department of Juvenile Justice facilities fell 34 percent, reflecting a reduction in detentions and commitments for lower-level offenses. In response to the reduced demand, state officials have closed or repurposed four juvenile facilities since 2016. New state policies prioritized out-of-home placements for youth who committed serious offenses rather than for those involved with low-level offenses. Between 2012 and 2017, the proportion of juvenile commitments resulting from nonfelonies—such as misdemeanors, probation violations, or status offenses like truancy and underage drinking—dropped from 53 to 24 percent. (Pew Charitable Trusts, KY, 5/3/18).
Juvenile detention officer charged in teenager’s death – An officer at a South Florida juvenile detention center was arrested Monday on federal civil rights charges after a 17-year-old died in a beating by other inmates that was allegedly encouraged by the officer using a bounty and reward system. Prosecutors said Revolte was fatally assaulted by other juveniles in August 2015 because of unspecified “statements and behavior” that challenged Johnson’s authority. The inmate rewards included extra recreation time, such as watching more television, and snacks. (The Sun Sentinel, FL, 5/1/18).
Homeless Court offers alternative to revolving door – The rotating homeless court, created 29 years ago and the first of its kind in the nation, is held monthly at either Veterans Village or Father Joe’s Village. The proceedings are largely a formality, with an understanding that clients who make it this far will have fines and charges against them dismissed. While the fines often are relatively small, they can be monumental for people with little or no income. Unpaid fines are turned over to collection agencies, adding an additional $300 fee, and failure to show up for court can result in arrests. The infractions can cause obstacles to finding work, housing and even a driver’s license, compounding the many challenges that already exist for the homeless. (The San Diego Union-Tribune, CA, 5/7/18).
N.J. bill calls for treatment over jail time for criminal defendants with mental illness – A bill set to be introduced in the N.J. Legislature this week would allow police officers to refer less serious criminal defendants with mental disorders to treatment instead of court or jail in an attempt to reduce the number of inmates experiencing mental illness. According to a draft of the bill shared with WHYY, the state’s Police Training Commission would conduct mandatory courses to help uniformed law enforcement officers recognize the signs of mental illness. A subset of those officers would also receive specialized crisis-intervention training. Police officers who suspect a defendant was mentally ill would be able to refer that individual for screening. (WHYY, NJ, 5/7/18).
Human Trafficking Court shut down, to be merged with other treatment courts in Delaware – Then, in December, Court of Common Pleas Chief Judge Alex Smalls shut down the court with no immediate replacement. Smalls’ decision to cut costs and consolidate the court into a new, multipurpose community court has riled trafficking victim advocates, who point to it as another example of Delaware turning its back on a 2014 state law that was supposed to help victims stop cycling through the criminal justice system and rebuild their lives. (Deleware Online, DE, 5/5/18)
Diversion Program Would Help Keep Mentally Ill Out Of Jail – Nonviolent offenders with mental illness could be diverted away from New Jersey’s mainstream criminal justice system and into a rehabilitation program designed to provide treatment for their psychiatric disorder, under an initiative envisioned by a longtime Democratic Senator that also reflects the goals of a growing national movement. Turner noted that the Garden State has had “exceptional success” with the drug-court system. “Just like drug courts, this diversion program for the mentally ill would provide treatment to effectively reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses,” she said. “The added benefit of tending to our citizens’ mental health is that we then enable the mainstream justice system and prisons to operate more efficiently for the larger criminal population.” (NJSpotlight, NJ, 5/4/18).
Did Outdated Laws in Louisiana Help Convict an Innocent Man? – In Louisiana, non-unanimous juries are able to convict someone of a felony, thanks to a law that legal experts call outdated and potentially dangerous. Such is the case of Troy Rhodes, a 37-year- old African-American man who was convicted by a 10-2 jury verdict in New Orleans for armed robbery and attempted murder and sent to prison for 149 years for two crimes he may not have committed. Consequently, Rhodes found himself in the middle of what Metzger calls “a perfect storm” of injustice due to laws in Louisiana that actively worked against him, as well as problems with witness identification, and an underfunded public defender. (The Crime Report, LA, 5/3/18).
L.A. Public Defenders Say Leader Must Have Criminal Defense Experience – More than a dozen Los Angeles County deputy public defenders went to the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday in a continuing protest against the woman temporarily leading their office. However, deputy public defenders say the job of running what one called “the people’s law office” requires more than knowledge of the law and strong management skills. It demands someone passionate about criminal defense and understands the struggle involved in representing some of the county’s most vulnerable residents in what can be life or death matters. (MyNews LA.com, CA, 5/1/18).