Friday News Roundup: February 15, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in news – North Carolina’s juvenile justice system comes under question; researchers predict that the opioid crisis will continue to grow and take lives; and the Governor of Illinois progresses the state’s criminal justice reform initiatives. Check out this week’s news roundup!

Criminal Justice News

For criminal justice reform, the First Step Act is just the start – “The law does mark real progress, but as its name implies, it is only a step.” Truly fixing America’s broken criminal system means addressing several major problems. Mass incarceration remains one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with more than 2.1 million people locked up in prisons and jails across the country, including a disproportionate number of black and brown Americans. Since the First Step Act only applies to those held in federal prisons, it didn’t help the nearly 90 percent of the incarcerated population in state and local facilities. (The Washington Post, USA, February 12, 2019)

Pritzker unveils justice reform initiative – Saying Illinois’ justice system is broken, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Monday that he hopes is a first step toward “restorative justice” statewide. The Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative is expected to be a broad-ranging effort that looks at criminal sentencing, education, poverty, and the link among the three, officials said. “It’s time to modernize sentencing, especially for low-level drug offenses,” Pritzker said. “It’s time to reduce the recidivism rate and re-entry through a holistic approach that addresses opportunity both inside and outside of our prisons.” (Chicago Sun-Times, IL, February 11, 2019)

The case for capping all prison sentences at 20 years – America’s prison sentences are far too long. It’s time to do something about it. Given the impact that mass incarceration has had, there’s a strong case that the U.S. should take steps to ensure that it doesn’t ever lock up so many people again. Looking at the length of our prison sentences is one approach to reverse mass incarceration. Empirical research has consistently found that locking up people for very long periods of time does little to nothing to combat crime, and may actually lead to more crime as people spend more time in prison — missing big life opportunities for legitimate careers, and being incarcerated with others who have ties to the criminal world. (Vox, USA, February 12, 2019)

Opioid News

Researchers Predict Opioid Epidemic Will Grow – Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Technology Assessments (MGH-ITA) estimate that restricting access to prescription opioids will have minimal effects on the opioid overdose epidemic, which they project to increase in the future. In a study published in JAMA Open Network, the authors predict that the changing nature of the epidemic, driven by the illegal use of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, has reduced the potential impact of programs that target prescription opioids. (The Pharmacy Times, USA, February 10, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Lawmakers see more room for juvenile justice improvements – In a crowded room that perhaps reflected the level of interest in the problem, advocates, legislators, and state officials outlined ideas to help state government develop a more cohesive and unified approach to help children in the juvenile justice system and their families. Judge Baker Children’s Center, a Boston-based nonprofit and affiliate of Harvard Medical School, hosted the forum last week to discuss the juvenile justice system and the organization’s report, “Promoting Positive Outcomes for Justice-Involved Youth: Implications for Policy, Systems and Practice.” The center focuses on the mental health needs of children and evidence-based practices and treatments. The report found children who have adverse childhood experiences, like having an unstable home or abuse, are more likely to end up in the justice system. (The Worcester Telegram, MA, February 12, 2019)

Dozens of NC juvenile offenders are serving life terms in prison. Should they get another chance? – The number of North Carolina juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole has declined significantly in recent years, but a new report from Duke University calls for lesser sentences for the roughly 50 juveniles serving the punishment. North Carolina is one of nine states that has imposed the bulk of life-without-parole sentence for juvenile offenders, according to the report from the university’s law school. N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat who sat on a panel that discussed the report at Duke’s School of Law on Monday, said there “are enormous societal costs” to such sentences. Research indicates that it costs about $2.25 million to to jail a juvenile offender for life, the report says. That compares to a $1 million contribution a juvenile could make as a productive member of society, Harrison said. (The Charlotte Observer, NC, February 12, 2019)

Public Defense

Public Defenders, Unfunded – The ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project cites dereliction of duty by state and local governments. Without effective public defenders, critical efforts to end mass incarceration, reform bail procedures, and improve prosecutorial practices cannot be fully realized. In response to the dilapidated state of public defense in America, the ACLU has brought litigation in numerous states, from California to Missouri to Louisiana. The Supreme Court has made clear that an accused’s “right to be represented by counsel is a fundamental component of our criminal justice system” and that lawyers are “necessities, not luxuries.” (The New York Times, USA, February 7, 2019)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Judge inspires with story of Veterans Treatment Court – “We evaluate these veterans and if we see they have an issue connected to their service, that is connected to their crime, we will bring them into this program,” Judge Thomason said. After successfully completing the program, their charges are dismissed. “We’ve had great success,” Judge Thomason said, adding nationwide that such courts have a 92 to 93 percent success rate. Each participant is paired with a veteran who volunteers to serve as a mentor, a factor to which Thomason attributes to the success of the program. (The Cullman Times, AL, February 3, 2019)

Lawmaker wants to see more veterans treatment courts in the state – Hal J. Dulle, a former U.S. Marine, was exposed to drugs for the first time when he was serving in Vietnam. “It was a way to deal with the trauma,” said Dulle. “It became a common thing to lean on to adjust to life after war.” Dulle said that when coming back from the battlefield, many veterans struggled to adapt to their new life, with many committing suicide and struggling with mental illnesses. One in 5 veterans has post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Justice for Vets, and when left untreated, mental health issues can lead to a veteran’s involvement in the criminal justice system. Members of the House Judiciary Committee discussed a bill on Tuesday evening that would require the establishment of more veterans treatment courts in Missouri. (The Missourian, MS, February 12, 2019)