Friday News Roundup: December 14, 2018

Friday News Roundup

The First Step Act, Congress’ criminal justice reform bill, will go up for a vote, cocaine overdoses add another dimension to a crisis of fatal overdoses in the ongoing opioid epidemic, and the Vera Institute of Justice shares a report stating that women are the fastest-growing prison population. All of these stories and more in this week’s news roundup.

Criminal Justice News

GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill -Supporters are circulating draft legislation that includes changes intended to win over more Republicans, and they are expected to roll out a revised bill as soon as Friday. The changes are expected to include expanding the list of crimes that exclude an individual from the bill’s “earned time” credits, which shave time off a prison sentence. Senators are also discussing eliminating a “safety valve” portion of the bill which gives judges some discretion in going around mandatory minimums. (The Hill, D.C., December 9, 2018)

Voices That Resonate on Criminal Justice Know About Life Behind Bars – Some of the most effective lobbyists for the criminal justice bill now before Congress know the prison system intimately — because they have been locked up themselves, or have had loved ones behind bars. Their pitches are replete with details grounded in reality, from the scarcity of tampons in prison to the hardships of visiting a parent incarcerated hundreds of miles from home. Their lobbying helped win President Trump’s endorsement for the bill, which would reduce some sentences, expand anti-recidivism programs and improve conditions for inmates. And they have pressed Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, to allow a vote. (The New York Times, USA, December 13, 2018)

Getting Past the Barriers: When a Mother Is in Prison – Allowing incarcerated mothers to interact and play with their children during visits helps maintain a sense of family connection and may reduce the trauma of separation. A program started in April allows mothers incarcerated at Rikers Island to play with their children at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan when it is closed to the public. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research organization, women are the country’s fastest-growing prison population, and 80 percent of them are mothers. The overwhelming majority were the primary caregivers of their children. (The New York Times, NY, December 6, 2018)

Opioid News

Michael Bloomberg: Here Is $50 Million To Address The Opioid Crisis  – Bloomberg announced that Bloomberg Philanthropies will invest $50 million to help up to 10 states over the next three years tackle the opioid crisis. “We are experiencing a national crisis: For the first time since World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined over the past three years—and opioids are a big reason why. We cannot sit by and allow this alarming trend to continue—not when so many Americans are being killed in what should be the prime of their lives,” said Bloomberg, who is also the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, in a statement. “We are launching a groundbreaking new partnership with state and local leaders that aims to expand treatment for those who need it and save lives.” (Forbes Magazine, D.C., December 9, 2018)

Cocaine deaths increase amid ongoing national opioid crisis – Deaths from cocaine sharply increased from 2011 to 2016 across the United States, adding another dimension to a crisis of fatal overdoses that has primarily been driven by opioids, according to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Overdose deaths from cocaine increased by about 18 percent each year during the five-year period. The data also showed a staggering rise in the number of deaths from fentanyl, with deaths from the powerful synthetic opioid increasing about 113 percent each year from 2013 to 2016. (The Washington Post, USA, December 12, 2018)

Drug Treatment Courts

Massachusetts Sheriffs to Expand Medication Assisted Treatment in Corrections -The establishment of a statewide pilot program is to provide medication assisted treatment (MAT) at five county correctional facilities in the Commonwealth: Middlesex, Franklin, Norfolk, Hampden and Hampshire. The goal of this cutting edge initiative, contained in the state’s latest opioid legislation, is to foster innovation in corrections in an effort to increase public safety, improve public health, and save lives. (Framingham Source, MA, December 10, 2018)

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice advocates say harsher penalties aren’t the answer for repeat offenders – Chief of police James Cetran said juvenile crimes in Wethersfield are rising and attributed the increase to changes in Connecticut’s juvenile justice laws. Juvenile justice advocates say that the real problem is that Connecticut passed laws to reform the juvenile system without committing the necessary funding to implement the solutions. (The Hartford Courant, CT, December 10, 2018)

NY lawmakers consider reforming mental health services for young offenders – Two committees of the New York state legislature are looking into the level of mental health services available within the state’s juvenile justice system. The meetings will focus on the care provided to youthful offenders who struggle with mental health challenges. Experts, advocates and relatives of offenders are expected to participate. (CNY Central, NY, December 10, 2018)

Public Defense

Public Defenders Are Part of the Solution – Opinion- The Bronx Defenders says these lawyers are a powerful weapon in the fight against mass incarceration. In a just-released study, the Bronx Defenders’ model of representation, called holistic defense, was found to reduce pretrial detention by 9 percent, incarceration rates by 16 percent and incarceration length by 24 percent. Over a 10-year period, representation by the Bronx Defenders saved our clients 1.1 million days in jail. (The New York Times, NY, December 7, 2018)

Veterans Treatment Courts

19th District Court awarded Michigan Veterans Treatment Court Grant – The Court, is one of 24 Michigan Courts awarded a grant for the state’s fiscal year that runs October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. Grants were made available to courts that have completed a planning phase of their treatment court program. The planning phase for the Dearborn Court started a while back and the process to implementation was accelerated when Judge Gene Hunt took the necessary steps to facilitate meetings and coordinate with community partners to establish this problem solving court. (Press & Guide, MI, December 7 2018)

Tulsa County Veterans Court marks 10 years with nearly 90 percent success rate – The first Veterans Treatment Court docket in Tulsa County District Court was on Dec. 7, 2008. Since then, the court has seen the graduation of nearly 250 veterans from all branches of the military. “We are very fortunate that in Tulsa County, someone asked the question in 2008, ‘What are we doing for veterans who bear the scars and wounds of war to keep them out of our criminal justice system? If we did not have treatment providers who care, we would not make it.” said Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale. (Tulsa World, OK, December 10, 2018)

West Virginia Sen. Ryan Weld Will Push for Return Of Veterans Court – West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld believes a court that addresses the issues faced by veterans and those with mental illness is again needed in the state. When the Legislature convenes in January, he said he plans to introduce a measure re-establishing a Mental Health, Veteran and Service Members Court within the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. He described the Mental Health, Veteran and Service Members Court as having worked similar to the drug courts in West Virginia. (The Intelligencer, WV, December 13, 2018)