Friday News Roundup: February 8, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in news – major criminal justice reform may be coming to Florida this year; Philadelphia’s juvenile justice reform initiatives takeover the spotlight; and Louisiana’s public defense system is crippled by the sheer number of cases assigned to public defenders. Stay tuned with JPO’s news roundup!

Criminal Justice News

Criminal justice reform may be coming in 2019 – Florida’s criminal justice system might see some major changes this legislative session. Some top Florida officials have expressed support for some reforms that have been shot down in years past. State Senator Jeff Brandes says the time for criminal justice reform in Florida is now. “As bad as the criminal justice system and the prison system was last year, it’s worse this year as far as funding, budget, and personnel,” said Brandes. Part of Brandes’ and other criminal justice reformers’ approach to reducing the strain on the system, is to reduce sentences for certain low-level crimes and find alternatives to prison for some offenders. (NBC 7 News, FL, February 1, 2019)

Community conversation on criminal justice reform – Birmingham’s police chief, Jefferson County’s district attorney and sheriff are all participating in a community discussion about race relations in Birmingham and beyond. It is a conversation that comes in the midst of the controversy surrounding Attorney General Steve Marshall’s conclusion of the E.J. Bradford case. A case where Bradford’s family and attorney have claimed racial bias was a factor. (CBS, AL, February 7, 2019)

DAs push back against criminal justice reform bill – District attorneys have raised concerns that a bipartisan bill to make criminal justice reforms Oklahoma voters approved in 2016 retroactive could clog the courts with people asking for lighter prison sentences. Not even a week in to the legislative session, there’s already talk of amending the bill — potentially impacting the sentences of thousands of people in Oklahoma prisons for drug-related convictions. State Question 780 changed simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor in Oklahoma. House Bill 1269 would make that change retroactive. (McAlester News-Capital, OK, February 6, 2019)

Opioid News

U.S. Prosecutors Sue To Stop Nation’s First Supervised Injection Site For Opioids – After months of threats, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia launched a legal challenge on Wednesday against the nonprofit Safehouse, which is hoping to open what could be the nation’s first site where people with opioid addiction can use drugs under medical supervision. The civil lawsuit, which is jointly being pursued by Pennsylvania-based prosecutors and the Department of Justice in Washington, is the first time the federal government has intervened in the hotly debated issue of supervised injection sites. The lawsuit could become an important legal test case as about a dozen cities across the country consider similar proposals. (NPR, PA, February 6, 2019)

Opioid Addicts Are Overdosing on Diarrhea Drug – A popular anti-diarrheal drug is fast becoming another dangerous byproduct of the opioid crisis, as more addicts take huge quantities of it to ease withdrawal symptoms or get dangerously high. Investigators found that the number of patients who were reported to the U.S. National Poison Data System after taking toxic doses of loperamide (one over-the-counter brand is Imodium) skyrocketed by more than 90 percent between 2010 and 2016. Why the jump? The primary appeal of loperamide is that while it has an opioid-like effect on bowel movements and doesn’t produce a high in recommended doses, it can make someone high in huge quantities. On top of that, it’s both cheap and accessible for addicts looking for ways to self-medicate the withdrawal symptoms that typically kick in when they try to stop taking powerful opioids. (U.S. News, USA, February 7, 2019)

Drug Treatment Courts

House of Delegates votes 98-0 for family drug court pilot program – A bill in the House of Delegates looks at drug recovery as a family issue through a new family drug court pilot program. House Bill 2686 passed in the House of Delegates today. A family drug court pilot program seeks to untangle the drug crisis and family issues by treating them at the same time. One of the bill’s sponsors Del. Joe Ellington (R – Mercer) said, “It’s something that would potentially go throughout the state. Almost like our drug court program but it’s family court, where they start working with the family and try and get into the details of what’s affecting them.” (WVVA News, WV, February 7, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Philly DA Larry Krasner unveils plan to shrink juvenile justice system. Does it go far enough? – The Philadelphia juvenile justice system could shift away from incarcerating and heavily supervising young people and toward opportunities for diversion under new policies District Attorney Larry Krasner outlined Wednesday. “The policies set forth here seek to shrink the footprint of the juvenile justice system by decreasing the number of youth sent to juvenile placement and limiting the use of unnecessary supervision,” Krasner said at a news conference, flanked by advocates from the Juvenile Law Center who said it was the first time a DA had given them a seat at the table. (The Inquirer Daily News, PA, February 6, 2019)

Committee backs juvenile-justice bill – Legislation aimed at restructuring Arkansas’ juvenile courts and justice system sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a voice vote Wednesday, sending the bill to the full Senate. In the committee Wednesday to speak for the “Restore Arkansas Families” Act — officially Senate Bill 152 — was Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, chairman of the judiciary’s Commission on Children, Youth and Families. SB152 would direct juvenile courts to implement a standard validated risk assessment tool as part of an attempt to divert kids away from youth lockups. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, AK, February 7, 2019)

County Attorney Seeks Full Release of Juvenile Justice Reports – Shelby County attorney Marlinee Iverson said Tuesday (February 5) morning that she has secured authorization from all of the parties related to the probe to submit their work. Iverson said the DOJ has agreed to not object if the reports are completed and released to the public. “We continue to take proactive measures to make sure that fewer kids are arrested and detained and that, when kids do interact with the system, their constitutional rights are absolutely protected,” Iverson said in a statement Tuesday. “We think these reports will help. Furthermore, given the high level of public interest in these issues, these reports will absolutely be immediately released to the public.” (Memphis Flyer, TN, February 7, 2019)

Public Defense

One Lawyer, 194 Felony Cases, and No Time – In total, Mr. Talaska needed to do the work of five full-time lawyers to serve all of his clients. Mr. Talaska was not outside the norm. Of the public defenders in Louisiana handling felony caseloads at that time, there were two dozen with even more clients. One had 413. The numbers alone might seem to violate the Constitution. Poor defendants in the United States have the right to a competent lawyer, and hundreds of thousands of defendants rest their hopes on someone like Mr. Talaska. But there has never been any guarantee that those lawyers would have enough time to handle their cases. That’s why the study cited above, which looked at the workloads of public defenders, is significant. (The New York Times, LA, January 31, 2019)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Treatment court puts focus on aiding veterans in justice system – When John Fossum got the call asking him to join other Third Judicial District leaders in launching a Veterans Treatment Court, the Rice County Attorney was anxious to sign on. “There is a need we need to meet,” he said, adding that Rice County alone has 31 veterans on probation. The new court, which will cover the 11-county Third District that includes Rice, Steele and Waseca counties, is expected to launch in July. It’s one of six types of treatment courts supported by the Minnesota Judicial System, and serves veterans and some active-duty personnel. (Lonsdale News, MN, February 6, 2019)