Friday News Roundup: January 25, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news – representatives in the House look to build on the success of the First Step Act; people imprisoned in New York protest facility conditions during the government shutdown; and the Indiana General Assembly moves toward a restructure of public defense in the state.  All of these stories and more in this week’s news roundup.

Criminal Justice News

Next step in criminal justice reform could target jobs for ex-convicts, marijuana law – The bipartisan team that rallied House support for last year’s federal sentencing changes is drafting new legislation to clean up the existing criminal records of nonviolent drug offenders, a centerpiece of their efforts to pass further reforms. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) are discussing how to potentially expunge the records of people who were convicted of drug crimes before minimum sentencing requirements were reduced and to restore their eligibility to apply for certain jobs. Even in cases where people have served their time, criminal records can often keep them from rejoining the workforce, and the change could let people “really reset and restart their lives,” Jeffries said. (The Washington Post, USA, January 17, 2019)

Shutdown Prompts Hunger Strike at Manhattan Jail as Family Visits Are Canceled– The government shutdown is causing turmoil at the high-security federal jail in Manhattan, where some prisoners went on a hunger strike on Monday after family visits were canceled for a second week because of staffing shortages, defense lawyers said. (The New York Times, January 14, 2019)

In California, Criminal Justice Reform Offers a Lesson for the Nation – California’s reform effort began in earnest in 2011, with a law that shifted many state prison inmates to county jails, and was followed by other measures approved by voters that reduced penalties for certain crimes and allowed for more inmates to be released early for good behavior. “We all want to live in a society where you can walk from your house to work or the bus station or the subway and feel and be safe,” said Mr. Smith of the Justice Collaborative. “And the reality is across California and across the country we are safer than almost at any time in history.” As California moves toward referendums in 2020 on sentencing laws and bail, scholars worry that opponents will be successful in stoking fear among the public about runaway crime. (The New York Times, CA, January 21, 2019)

Criminal justice reform strategies developed in Tucson may gain traction across U.S. – Association of Prosecuting Attorney’s Major County Prosecutor’s Council, which is made up of prosecuting attorneys from the 35 most populated jurisdictions in the U.S., meets twice a year to discuss and identify model protocols that can be implemented in other large counties and cities. The programming developed in Tucson was touted during a meeting of more than 20 district and county attorneys from across the U.S. to discuss strategies to assist in criminal-justice reform on a local level. (Tucson News, AZ, January 18, 2019)

Opioid News

Study Links Drug Maker Gifts for Doctors to More Overdose Deaths – The study, published by JAMA Network Open, said the industry spent about $40 million promoting opioid medications to nearly 68,000 doctors from 2013 through 2015, including by paying for meals, trips and consulting fees. And it found that for every three additional payments that companies made to doctors per 100,000 people in a county, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids there a year later were 18 percent higher. (The New York Times, D.C., January 18, 2019)

Chico’s mass overdose highlights severe new phase of opioid epidemic – On this sleepy Saturday morning this month, 13 people at the same small party had overdosed all at once. Half of them had stopped breathing and needed CPR and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone to be revived. One man died before paramedics could get him to a hospital. The incident is among the worst mass overdose events in Northern California since the opioid epidemic hit the state a decade or so ago. It offers a window into a still-new phase of that epidemic, as the ultra-potent drug fentanyl snakes into the supply of not just heroin and other opiates, but recreational drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. (The San Francisco Chronicle, CA, January 21, 2019)

‘I’m trying not to die right now’: Why opioid-addicted patients are still searching for help – Access and accountability are still huge barriers in the growing treatment industry. Interviews with patients in recovery and nearly two dozen advocates, officials and public health and addiction experts in and out of government reveal a fragmented addiction care industry, with a patchwork of state regulations and spotty oversight. There are few tools to help patients navigate a complex maze of treatment options that include both inpatient and outpatient medical facilities — as well as “sober living” or “recovery homes,” which have roots in abstinence and faith. And it’s immensely more complicated for patients with little money. The hurdles to safe, affordable care, accompanied by persistent fatalities across the country, show just how pervasive the problem has become in America, even as the government pours billions into treatment and both political parties search for solutions. (POLITICO, USA, January 20, 2019)

Drug Treatment Courts

Proposed bill aims to lower charges for people participating in drug court program – House Bill 1164 gives an opportunity for defendants sentenced to the drug court program and successfully finish it to bring down their charges. Representative Shannon Roers Jones says the drug courts have reduced cost for the state and it’s a better investment than prison. “Working on making it easier for people to get themselves out of the criminal justice system and reset their lives, reform their lives and kind of get reintegrated into society.” (KYFR, ND, January 21, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Gov. Gavin Newsom Seeks To Transform California’s Youth Prisons – Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed Tuesday (Jan. 22) to change the way California’s juvenile prisons are overseen, eventually closing facilities to cut what he called the “ludicrous” cost. “If we’re going to get serious about changing the trajectory of the lives of these young children, I think we need to do it through a different lens and not the traditional corrections lens,” Newsom said at one of the state’s four remaining juvenile detention centers. The Democratic governor is asking state lawmakers to put youth prisons under California’s Health and Human Services Agency. Youthful offenders currently are overseen by the same agency that runs adult prisons. (Capital Public Radio, CA, January 23, 2019)

Dallas’ juvenile curfew does more harm than good – The juvenile curfew in Dallas has been renewed every three years for almost 30 years. At this point supporters of the ordinance struggle to point to evidence to support the ordinance’s efficacy. The ordinance is kept alive by sheer inertia rather than any evidence-based policy making. Even worse, there is data showing that juvenile curfew ordinances harm kids, put youth in contact with the adult court system, destroy community trust in police and disproportionately affect youth of color. (The Dallas Morning News, TX, January 22, 2019)

Shelby County, Juvenile Court hire top juvenile justice statistician to find possible problem areas – Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris have hired the nation’s leading juvenile justice statistician to help find potential problem areas of inequality and disproportionate minority contact within Juvenile Court. This comes after Shelby County hired a nationally-known consultant to continue focusing on juvenile justice reform in 2018. Her data will give Juvenile Court and Shelby County government a chance to respond to real data concerning disproportionate minority contact rather than generalized assumptions. (WMC News, TN, January 22, 2019)

Public Defense

Legislature takes first step toward regional public defender offices – The Indiana General Assembly has taken the first step toward allowing Indiana counties to create regional public defenders’ offices, a change that has been championed as a means of reducing public defender caseloads and eliminating the appearance of judicial impropriety when appointing indigent defense. The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday unanimously endorsed Senate Bill 488, which would allow the Indiana Public Defender Commission to develop guidelines and requirements for multi-county public defenders’ offices. (The Indiana Lawyer, IN, January 22, 2019)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Minnesota governor backs expanded court option for veterans – Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has pledged to support efforts aimed at improving the treatment of veterans within the state’s criminal justice system. Walz, an Army veteran, told advocates Tuesday that he supports their proposed legislation that would create a statewide restorative justice program for veterans who are charged with certain crimes. The measure being proposed by the nonprofit Veterans Defense Project could be introduced in the Legislature this month. Minnesota became one of the first states in 2008 to set up veterans courts. The state now has roughly 12 specialty treatment courts that allow some veteran offenders to avoid convictions if they go through treatment, said Brock Hunter, president of the Veterans Defense Project. (Star Tribune Media Company, MN, January 23, 2019)