Friday News Roundup: August 24, 2018

Friday News Roundup

California bail reform heads to the governor’s desk, prison strikes spread across the nation, and the Department of Justice intensifies its fight against the American opioid epidemic. All of these stories and more in this week’s news roundup. 

Criminal Justice News

Cuomo Signs Bill Creating Watchdog Commission for Prosecutor Conduct – Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed and approved changes to a bill that will create a commission to investigate complaints of misconduct by county prosecutors who have already promised a constitutional challenge to the legislation. Cuomo’s approval was contingent on changes to the legislation, which lawmakers agreed to pass at their next earliest opportunity. They are scheduled to return to Albany in January. “Our criminal justice system must fairly convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent,” Cuomo said in a statement. “When any prosecutor consciously disregards that fundamental duty, communities suffer and loses faith in the system, and they must have a forum to be heard and seek justice. (New York Law Journal, NY, August 20, 2018)

Bail Reform Act on Governor’s Desk – Unless Senate Bill 10 is vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, starting on October 1 of next year, California will no longer have a cash bail system. On Tuesday, SB 10, authored by San Fernando Valley Senator Robert Hertzberg, passed the senate. The bill initially garnered strong support from Human Rights Watch (HRW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and public defenders. However, following amendments made to the bill on August 20, Human Rights Watch, along with many others, switched their position to strongly oppose the California Bail Reform Act. (Santa Barnara Independent, CA, August 23, 2018)

Major prison strike spreads across US and Canada as inmates refuse food – A prison strike has begun to take hold in custodial institutions across North America, with reports of sporadic protest action from California and Washington state to the eastern seaboard as far south as Florida and up to Nova Scotia in Canada. Details remain sketchy as information dribbles out through the porous walls of the country’s penitentiaries. Prison reform advocacy groups liaising with strike organisers said Wednesday that protests had been confirmed in three states, with further unconfirmed reports emerging from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. (The Guardian, UK, August 23, 2018)

Barracks Could Be A Solution For Jail Overcrowding Problem – An inmate overcrowding dilemma has sparked a proposal for new construction at the Hidalgo County jail. Sheriff Eddie Guerra says he is considering building barracks next to the jail to house an overflow of inmates. Guerra says, right now, Hidalgo County can’t move inmates to jails in surrounding counties it currently contracts with. Guerra says those jails are now filled with federal detainees as a result of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. (, TX, August 16, 2018)

Drug Treatment Courts

Rochester drug court amid opioid crisis: “It’s overwhelming” – “It’s the scary stuff that’s coming in now: fentanyl. People are dying left and right,” Elliot told 13 WHAM’s Jane Flasch. When Rochester’s drug court diversion program opened 23 years ago, there were only five other similar programs in the country and none in New York State. This court has long dealt with addictive drugs but seldom with drugs as deadly as what is being consumed in this opioid epidemic. The harshest drugs laced with fentanyl hit the streets in batches. “They hear people are dying from it and they think, ‘This must be the good stuff.’ It’s scary that people see this but still use,” said Elliott. It is not unusual to see people in this court fall into a relapse. But this drug continues to pull back many who have so much promise and have worked so hard to overcome its grip. (ABC Rochester local news, NY, August 22nd, 2018)

Washington County Circuit judge hopes drug court can ‘break the cycle’ – Many approaches have been tried to stem the tide of the opioid crisis swamping prisons and courts across the nation, and claiming tens of thousands of lives each year. In 2019, Washington County Circuit Court is expecting to add another tool to its toolbox for dealing with addiction-driven crime. “Drug court is the next best hope to fight the heroin epidemic,” Washington County Circuit Judge Brett R. Wilson said. “It’s for high-risk, high-substance-abuse people in the criminal milieu whose behavior is linked to their addiction.” (Herald Mail Media, MD, August 18, 2018)

Juvenile Justice

CWRU study shows juvenile justice diversion programs keep youth from repeating crimes – “This is the first time we’ve actually had access to the data,” Kretschmar said. That data shows what happens to children who complete a juvenile justice diversion program. “Instead of locking them up, these diversion programs are providing treatment,” Kretschmar said. “For most of them who complete successfully, they avoid the adult system.” Kretschmar said the findings prove most participants do not fall back into old habits. “We found that youth who did not complete the program were 60 percent more likely to have an adult charge, an early adult charge, than kids who did complete the program successfully.” (ABC Local News, OH, August 16, 2018)

Using outdated data to make decisions about juvenile offenders is unacceptable – Sadly, the Texas Department of Juvenile Justice has been making policy decisions about juvenile offenders with inaccurate data for more than two years. That’s because the department is using an outdated, faulty data system that was developed in-house more than 25 years ago. The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that these problems have led to compromised decisions regarding treatment costs, staffing ratios, re-incarceration rates and health care costs, to name a few. (Dallas News, TX, August 17, 2018)

How a Utah man went from juvenile court to military training with help from mentor – Ten years ago, 14-year-old Jesse Symonette, the youngest of nine kids, had boomeranged from Utah to Maine and back again in just a few years in the midst of his parents’ divorce. In a telephone interview with the Deseret News, Symonette, now a private in the United States Army 369th Adjutant General Battalion in training at Fort Benning in Georgia, discussed his journey from the court system to military training, and what helped him get there. (Deseret News, UT, August 21, 2018)

Public Defense

Commission told Legislature must fix rural criminal defense problems – The Nevada Legislature, not the rural counties, must provide the money to fix the problem of a lack of qualified lawyers to defend indigent criminal defendants, a consultant told a state commission Friday. The Nevada Right to Counsel Commission discussed ways to provide legal representation for low income criminal defendants in rural Nevada which have different systems. They range from having local public defenders’ offices to hiring private lawyers. David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment, said it was a complicated system in providing defense lawyers in rural Nevada. And a number of counties have pulled out of the State’s Public Defender’s office to run their own system. His report says Carson City and Storey County use the state’s defender office. (Nevada Appeal, NV, August 20, 2018)


Snaring Doctors and Drug Dealers, Justice Dept. Intensifies Opioid Fight – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced another crackdown on Wednesday on opioids, targeting doctors and drug dealers alike in cases that spanned physicians’ offices in Ohio, drugmakers in China and online black markets. “Today’s announcements are a warning to every trafficker, every crooked doctor or pharmacist, and every drug company, every chairman and foreign national and company that puts greed before the lives and health of the American people,” Mr. Sessions said at a news conference in Cleveland, a city at the heart of a national opioid epidemic that killed a record 72,000 Americans last year. (New York Times, August 22, 2018)

Poll: Most Americans Know About Opioid Antidote And Are Willing To Use It – U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams made a plea in April for more Americans to be prepared to administer naloxone, an opioid antidote, in case they or people close to them suffer an overdose. Nearly every state has made it easier for people to get naloxone by allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug without an individual prescription. Public health officials are able to write what are called standing orders, essentially prescriptions that cover everyone in their jurisdiction. (NPR, August 21, 2018)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Helping veterans with criminal offenses – According to the Bureau of Justice, about half of all veterans in prison or jail have a mental disorder. That’s where the Veteran Court Program comes in. It aims to keep veterans who have committed low-level criminal offenses out of the traditional criminal system. Right now, more than 180,000 U.S. veterans are locked up. “99% of our soldiers, sailors or marines should not be in the penal system. It’s just something that got away from them. If we can fix them, fine,” said Frank Minosky, Mentor Coordinator with Fort Hood Vets Court. “If there’s a medical nexus, if they already have TBI in their records, if they have PTSD in their records then it’s pretty much a wash that they are going to commit.” (Centexproud, TX, August 20, 2018)

Sexual trauma claims by veterans wrongly denied by VA, investigation finds – The Department of Veterans Affairs improperly denied hundreds of military sexual trauma claims in recent years, leaving potentially thousands of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder without benefits, a VA inspector general investigation found. Last year alone, the investigation found the agency mishandled as many as 1,300 sexual trauma claims. Some 12,000 veterans file for sexual trauma-related PTSD benefits each year. (USA Today, DC, August 21, 2018)