Friday News Roundup: January 11, 2019

Friday News Roundup

Happy New Year! This week in news – two notable individuals were released from prison after the First Step Act took effect, and on the basis of clemency; the opioid crisis strikes Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria; and changes to juvenile justice systems across the country are in the works. All of these stories and more in this week’s news roundup.

Criminal Justice News

Ruth Bader Ginsburg not on bench for Supreme Court’s first day of arguments in 2019, court says – The court’s public information officer said Ginsburg, who is still recovering from surgery last month to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung, would still be able to vote on the cases by reviewing the transcripts of oral arguments. Ginsburg’s absence came midway through the term as the justices will consider petitions concerning some of President Donald Trump’s most controversial policies, including the phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and his ban on most transgender individuals from serving in the military. (CNN, Washington D.C., January 7, 2019)

Criminal justice groups slam de Blasio’s push for tougher bail restrictions – A coalition of 12 criminal justice reform groups, including the Legal Aid Society, are slamming Mayor de Blasio’s push for tougher bail restrictions. In addition to Legal Aid, the coalition includes Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Bronx Defenders, Citizen Action of New York, JustLeadershipUSA, LatinoJustice, Metro Justice, New York Communities for Change, Parole Preparation Project, the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign and VOCAL-NY. People on parole were tied to 19% of the 289 murders in 2018, NYPD records show, while the coalition members pointed out that violent crime rates are lower than ever in the city. (New York Daily News, NY, January 7, 2019)  

Released From Prison Again, After Criminal Justice Reform Became Law – One of the first prisoners to be released under [the First Step Act] a new criminal justice reform law is Matthew Charles, a Tennessee man who made national headlines last year after he was resentenced and ordered back to prison two years after his release. A number of public figures, including celebrities and politicians from both political parties, have advocated for his freedom. (NPR, Washington D.C., January 3, 2019)

Cyntoia Brown, sentenced to life for murder as teen, is granted clemency – “Transformation should be accompanied by hope.” Brown’s story spread widely in the fall of 2017 amid the #MeToo movement. Supporters rallied around her case with the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown, calling it an example of unjust incarceration of children and victims of sex trafficking, particularly young women of color. (The Washington Post, TN, January 7, 2019)

Opioid News

Despite an opioid crisis, most ERs don’t offer addiction treatment. California is changing that. – At the core of this work is a straightforward idea: treating addiction like any other medical condition, and building treatment for addiction into the rest of the healthcare system. If done right, this idea could dramatically expand access to addiction treatment across the US. Instead of relying on expensive, infrequent, and siloed addiction treatment facilities, people with addiction could go to their doctor or local hospital to get help. They could pay for that treatment not out-of-pocket — as remains common — but with health insurance, making treatment much more affordable. (Vox, CA, January 8, 2019)

In Puerto Rico, growing opioid crisis adds to island’s post-hurricane issues – Puerto Rico is hasn’t been spared from the opioid crisis that has plagued the U.S. mainland— a problem that seems to have grown as a result of a devastating hurricane. The government is struggling to keep up, and failed to apply for a multimillion dollar U.S. grant that advocates say could have helped save lives. Many patients lacked access to basic health care for weeks after the hurricane hit.  In addition, mental disorders were exacerbated after Maria, with some people waiting up to a year for water and power to be reconnected. “There was a boom in anxiety disorders and suicide. All these things led to fentanyl and other drugs becoming much more fashionable.” (NBC News, USA, January 7, 2019)

Opioid epidemic still rages in Pa., but state officials say death toll is dropping – Pennsylvania’s year-old opioid disaster declaration and related efforts are cutting into the number of people who are dying from overdoses from heroin and other opioids. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency cited progress including treating about 12,000 people who came to 45 state-run treatment centers, saving about 20,000 lives as the result of naloxone administered by police and medical first responders, and greatly expanding the availability of “warm handoffs” into treatment to overdose survivors brought to emergencies rooms. (Penn Live, PA, January 7, 2019)

Drug Treatment Courts

Report: Most Montanans don’t have access to drug courts – A new report touts the effectiveness of drug treatment courts but says most Montanans with a drug conviction don’t have access to them. The report, commissioned by the Montana Healthcare Foundation, calls for an expansion of the state’s treatment court programs. It also calls for an extension of the state’s Medicaid Expansion to continue funding the programs, and other investments by the state. (Bristol Herald Courier, MT, January 7, 2019)

High court ruling makes it easier for drug-court grads to wipe slate clean – All those who successfully complete drug court in New Jersey are eligible for an immediate expungement of prior minor criminal offenses, the state Supreme Court has ruled — clarifying a two-year old law that offers a clean slate to non-violent former drug addicts looking to rebuild their lives. The 2016 law gives those who complete the drug-court program a presumptive automatic expungement of their entire criminal record as long as that record does not include major violent crimes like murder or kidnapping, or serious drug offenses including possession of larger quantities of marijuana or any amount of heroin or cocaine. In a unanimous opinion released Tuesday, the Supreme Court reversed and held that all those convicted of third- and fourth-degree drug offenses “are entitled to a presumption that expungement of those offenses is consistent with the public interest.” (New Jersey Spotlight, NJ, January 9, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Public, leaders, talk juvenile justice – Perry, R-Gainesville, is chairman of the Senate’s criminal justice committee and met with the task force to discuss ideas for new legislation and programs, particularly regarding children who get caught up in the legal system. More programs to help prison inmates transition out of incarceration, to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s lives and to try to keep youth offenders from committing more crime were some of the suggestions to state. “My goal, as we move forward, is to learn and understand,” Perry said. “If you change the environment, you can change the outcome. We want to encourage positive, good behavior.” (Ocala News, FL, January 3, 2019)

Engaging the Families of Youth in Custody: An Essential Goal for Juvenile Justice Practitioners – In the past few decades, juvenile justice staff and partners have increasingly recognized that engaging families in the juvenile justice system leads to better outcomes for youth. These effects are especially significant for youth held in juvenile detention and correctional facilities, as studies have shown that engaging families can improve youth’s behavior and academic performance at the facility and reduce the prevalence and severity of reoffending in the community. (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, USA, January 9, 2018)

Public Defense

The TN Social Work in Public Defense Study Has Launched! – Support for a holistic approach to public defense has been growing across the United States, grounded in the recognition that indigent clients have a wide range of pressing needs that go beyond the legal case. The types of problems that many public defense clients face – such as drug addiction, poverty, and homelessness – cannot be adequately addressed by a lawyer alone. Holistic defense implements a multidisciplinary approach to improve client outcomes and reduce recidivism by addressing contributing factors that keep people in or cycling through the criminal justice system. (Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School, TN, December 21, 2018)

Oregon’s Public Defense System ‘Is Not Constitutional’ Report Finds – State public defense systems are supposed to provide effective counsel for indigent clients — a requirement of the U.S. Constitution. But a draft report obtained by OPB concludes that Oregon’s system is so bureaucratic and structurally flawed that it can’t guarantee clients are getting the defense they’re owed. (Oregon Public Broadcasting, OR, December 12, 2018)