Friday News Roundup: February 1, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news – criminal justice reform is classified as a humanitarian issue in West Virginia, Purdue Pharma and several top executives are named in a lawsuit as profiteers of the opioid crisis, and a federal bill to support the expansion of veterans treatment courts nationwide is introduced in Congress. All these stories and more in this week’s news roundup.

Criminal Justice News

Judiciary chairman: Criminal justice reform ‘humanitarian’ and ‘economic’ issue – From letting certain nonviolent offenders clear their records after years of good behavior, to allowing the dismissal of drug offenses after people complete drug court programs, to helping released inmates obtain state identification, lawmakers are trying to reduce recidivism rates in West Virginia. “I would call it both a humanitarian as well as an economic issue, certainly, we’re learning that there are people in our correctional system that maybe we’re mad at but shouldn’t be afraid of,” said House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, speaking on the various reform bills. (The Herald-Dispatch, WV, January 28, 2019)

House Seeks Baby Criminal Justice Steps; Senate Seeks Leap – Lawmakers in Mississippi’s House are proposing modest steps to ease penalties on some people accused or convicted of crimes, but some senators seek much broader changes. Rep. Jason White discussed House Bill 1352 in a hearing before the House Judiciary B committee. The measure seeks to divert people living with a mental illness away from criminal court, would stop suspending driver’s licenses in some cases and allow people to wipe more crimes from their record. “Though these are meaningful steps, maybe they are baby steps in this reform,” White said. “And maybe that’s where we need to be.” But a measure in the other chamber, Senate Bill 2927 sponsored by Pascagoula Republican Brice Wiggins, would tackle a much more ambitious set of reforms. White said he considered many of those proposals for his bill, but concluded that they would stir too much political opposition from prosecutors and others. (U.S. News Civic Report, MS, January 30, 2019)

Opioid News

One of America’s richest families is accused of profiting from the nation’s opioid crisis – The Sacklers and members of their company Purdue Pharma have been named in a lawsuit that accuses them of profiting from the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing OxyContin, claims denied by attorneys for the family and Purdue. “For many years, Purdue, its executives, and members of the Sackler family have tried to shift the blame and hide their role in creating the opioid epidemic. We are grateful to the court for lifting the impoundment on our complaint so that the public and families so deeply impacted by this crisis can see the allegations of the misconduct that has harmed so many,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. (CNN, MA, January 29, 2019)

Opioids: Boston trial opens what could be year of reckoning for executives – Drug company executives appearing in court in Boston this week have been accused of running “a criminal enterprise” and putting greed before patient safety as they pushed prescription narcotics during the opioids crisis, blighting the health of America. The defendants are the first painkiller manufacturing bosses to stand trial over conduct authorities say contributed to an overdose epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past 20 years, regardless of region, age, race, and income. (The Guardian, MA, January 31, 2019)

Drug Treatment Courts

This local drug court cut rate of new felonies by more than half – Ohio looks to expand program proponents say cuts down on crime, saves lives and money. Local drug courts reduced the number of convicted criminals who committed new felonies by more than half in at least one local court examined by the Dayton Daily News. The Dayton Daily News Path Forward team examined the most pressing issues facing Ohio and dug into possible solutions, including how the community can change its image as the center of the drug overdose crisis. (Dayton Daily News, OH, January 27, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Proposed Changes to Juvenile Justice System Generate Praise, Skepticism – Advocates for juvenile justice reform are both optimistic and wary of a proposal to put the California Health and Human Services Agency in charge of the state’s juvenile justice system. Last week, new California Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to work with the legislature on shifting the Division of Juvenile Justice from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Health and Human Services Agency. He said the change would be part of restructuring juvenile detention in the state to focus on helping youth work through trauma and obtain educational and vocational skills, rather than punishing them. (California Health Report, CA, January 28, 2019)

Public Defense

Public defender raises funds for holistic defense – Every day, indigent residents of Yolo County (Davis, CA) have essential needs that are unsupported, often leading to involvement in the criminal justice system. Once entangled in the system, these needs compound and are exacerbated. Vulnerable residents face myriad challenges and barriers as they navigate the criminal justice system and attempt to transition back into the community. For instance, indigent adult clients who find themselves released from jail on a weekend must wait to reinstate their CalFresh (food stamp) benefits, leaving them without resources to purchase food for days. Many clients also have no means to pay for transportation to court or co-pays on essential medication. Indigent youth involved with the criminal justice system struggle with consequences, such as isolation and depression, without the supports necessary to combat a downward spiral or encourage growth and better outcomes. Currently, there are no dedicated funds in the county to help bridge these gaps. (Enterprise Community News, CA, January 31, 2019)

County’s new public defender deal creates controversy – Local attorneys criticized Davison County’s decision to enter into a new public defender contract without hearing public input and voiced concerns at the county commission meeting on Tuesday, January 29. As reported by The Daily Republic, the commissioners unanimously approved a three-year agreement exclusively with two local law firms, Alvine and Weidenaar, and Stiles and Papendick, last week after meeting several times behind closed doors. About six weeks ago, the commission was presented with a new proposal for public defense work for consideration. “Each individual has to assess their own position and the clients they serve,” Bode said of the public defenders’ responsibility. “They get to choose who they represent; how active they are. That’s an individual choice.” (The Daily Republic, SD, January 30, 2019)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Crist renews push to support and fund Veterans Treatment Courts –  U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, has been joined by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, in reintroducing the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act. This bipartisan bill would enhance state and local veteran treatment court programs that support the unique needs of veterans who find themselves in the criminal justice system. “I have seen firsthand the life-changing impact veteran treatment court programs can have…Unfortunately, veterans in too many communities do not have access to the same support. Our bill will help expand and bolster such programs nationwide – providing the counseling, care, and support our veterans need to help transition into civilian life more successfully,” Crist said. “With overwhelming support from members of Congress and veterans organizations, I hope we can quickly move this legislation forward to better support our veterans. It’s what they have earned, and what they deserve.