Friday News Roundup: February 22, 2019

Friday News Roundup

The Marshall Project unveils a study on Veterans Treatment Courts around the country; youth in Utah await the right to a defense attorney; and Google steps up to combat the opioid crisis. Read about these stories and more with JPO’s news roundup.

Criminal Justice News

Missouri bill on minimum prison sentences heads to Senate – Judges could ignore mandatory minimum sentencing laws for some nonviolent offenders under a bill passed Thursday (February 21) by Missouri’s House, a move that’s part of a broader push to revamp the state’s criminal justice system. The bill, which passed the House 140-17, wouldn’t allow for reduced sentences in cases of violent crimes, sexual crimes against minors or crimes involving guns. But the sponsor, Rep. Cody Smith, told colleagues on the House floor that it could reduce the state’s prison population and would give judges the flexibility to differentiate between “the folks we’re scared of and the folks we’re mad at.””There’s a tremendous appetite for criminal justice reform in our state and in our nation right now,” said Smith. (The Kansas City Star, MO, February 21, 2019)

New Hampshire marijuana legalization bill clears House Criminal Justice committee – An effort to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire racked up its first legislative victory of 2019, passing the House Criminal Justice committee Thursday in a narrow 10-9 vote. House Bill 481, sponsored by Hampton Rep. Renny Cushing, would legalize the use and personal growth of marijuana for those 21 and older, and would create a tax and regulation structure to allow retail sales in New Hampshire. The bill could pull in as much as $31 million a year in tax revenue, according to a rough estimate by the Department of Revenue Administration. But supporters have largely framed the effort as criminal justice reform, pointing to fines and misdemeanor offenses that they say burden low-income people and minorities. Critics have countered that legalizing could exacerbate the state’s opioid epidemic, increase the risk to children, and put New Hampshire at odds with federal laws prohibiting the use or sale of cannabis. (The Concord Monitor, NH, February 21, 2019)

Wyoming Legislature Tackles Criminal Justice Reinvestment – The Wyoming Legislature passed a slate of bills aimed at tackling criminal justice reinvestment in Wyoming. Based on recommendations from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, formed after a nearly year-long study, the bills offer science-based solutions to the pressures on the state’s prison system. “The fact is, if we do nothing, Wyoming will need an additional 200 beds in our state facilities by 2023, resulting in an additional $51 million in construction and operating costs for the Department of Corrections,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Dan Kirkbride. “We owe it to the people of Wyoming to get this right. We must address the growing pressure on our prison system while making sure the victims and their families get the justice they deserve.” (KULR, WY, February 21, 2019)

Opioid News

Google combats opioid epidemic through providing disposal locations on Google Maps – Google is launching a new effort in the fight against the nation’s opioid crisis. The tech giant is partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, CVS, Walgreens, and state governments to display local drug disposal locations in Google Maps. By entering searches such as “drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me,” users will be able to find permanent disposal spots at local pharmacies, hospitals, or government buildings to dispatch of unneeded medication. The program will start with 3,500 locations nationwide. “By bringing opioid disposal site information to Google Maps, Americans are only a search away from helping to address the opioid crisis,” HHS Chief Technology Officer Ed Simcox said in a statement. “This type of consumer empowerment – providing easily accessible data – is the kind of innovation needed to improve healthcare.” (USA Today, USA, February 21, 2019)

Research Shows Nation’s Opioid Epidemic Is Far From Over – For family physicians who grapple with the effects of the opioid epidemic on a daily basis, there’s new evidence that things may, unfortunately, get worse before they start to get better. Although the number of opioid-related deaths may be decreasing in some states, overall, they continue to increase nationwide. The good news is that some research has shown that regulatory and legislative efforts introduced earlier this decade have succeeded in driving down prescription opioid dosage volume. And, in turn, some evidence indicates that these efforts have contributed to a decline in mortality rates from prescription opioid overdose. The bad news, however, is that overdose deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids have spiked during the same period. (The American Academy of Family Physicians, USA, February 20, 2019)

Report: Expanding Medicaid Improves Access to Opioid Addiction Treatment – Medicaid expansion draws a clear divide along state lines in terms of who has access to opioid use disorder treatment and who does not – despite some federal action in recent years to try to make treatment more accessible to all Americans, according to the report, published Thursday by the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy think tank based in the nation’s capital. Between 2013 – the year before major Affordable Care Act provisions went into effect – and 2017, Medicaid spending on opioid treatment prescriptions climbed 171 percent in states that had expanded the federal health program, compared with 72 percent in states that had not expanded Medicaid by 2017, the analysis shows. The study’s authors also cited previous research that found “no evidence of large-scale substitution from cash or other payers to Medicaid” – indicating most of the gains were among patients who previously had no access to treatment. (U.S. News, USA, February 21, 2019)


Juvenile Justice

Fixing our broken juvenile justice system – Approximately 60,000 children are currently confined in juvenile detention and correctional facilities in this country, with hundreds of thousands more on probation. Los Angeles County is home to the largest probation department in the nation. Many young people who’ve been confined face a myriad of challenges when they return home, including difficulty re-enrolling in school and finding jobs. Many of these young people are returning to an unstructured or unstable family environment where the household is low-income, the parent(s) are under-employed, at-risk of homelessness and food instability and located in a low-income high-crime community. A high percentage of kids are faced with the usual challenges in their adolescence, as well as having been victims of crime, experienced trauma, gang exposure, health and mental health challenges, substance use disorders and discrimination due to race, ethnicity, sexual/gender orientation and/or immigration status. (Los Angeles Daily News, CA, February 21, 2019)

Teens demand reform in juvenile justice system, education, eviction, and jobs – About a hundred young people rallied on Boston Common and at the State House Thursday to demand an increase in funding for youth jobs and education. They also advocated to seal eviction records that include the names of minors and raise the age limit on those treated as juveniles in the justice system from 18 to 21. The young people marched in the streets running along the Common before heading to the State House at 1 p.m. for speeches and to meet with elected officials. Many at the rally said they live in lower-income neighborhoods that are heavily affected by gentrification. They supported the HOMES bill, also known as SD.526, which would remove eviction notices from the public records of minors. (The Boston Globe, MA, February 21, 2019)

Public Defense

In search of the best ‘yes’ for indigent defense – Travis County, Texas, is at risk of losing momentum toward better indigent defense if the various interested parties can’t find a middle ground. The county’s Indigent Legal Services work group has composed a draft letter indicating their intent to apply for a Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant in May, but the Commissioners Court is concerned that moving too fast could be a mistake. In a briefing by work group Chair Amanda Woog Tuesday afternoon, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that the county needs to prioritize building trust and partnership over the short-term hope of an application for a grant submitted before its upcoming deadline. “We have a lot of opportunity here and I don’t want to slow your roll, but we also need to build some trust,” Eckhardt said. “We have a lot of good people who are really trying to get us to yes, the only argument is over which yes, how fast, and what the details are.” (The Austin Monitor, TX, February 20, 2019)

Bill to expand Utah youths’ right to defense attorneys awaits House vote – More than one in four minor defendants in Utah represented themselves in court without a lawyer in 2018, a fact that could have serious implications for their criminal charges later in life. A bill in the Utah Legislature, SB32 Indigent Act Amendments, would make receiving legal counsel more accessible to minors by assigning public defenders to all youth facing charges. A report by the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in conjunction with Voices for Utah Children analyzed how and why 29 percent of Utah minors fail to use legal counsel when representing themselves in a court of law. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, sponsors SB32. He said many Utah youth do not receive their Sixth Amendment rights to a fair and speedy trial. (The Daily Universe, UT, February 21, 2019)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Special Courts for Veterans Languish – While almost all of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. have established specialized courts for drug addicts and the mentally ill, veterans courts have languished because of a lack of financial support, reliance on volunteer judges and low usage. Only about 500 counties have opened vet courts since the first ones in 2008. The Marshall Project contacted 35 courts in counties with large concentrations of veterans and found that few see more than a couple dozen cases a year. One Iowa veterans court has tried 10 cases since 2015. “In order for this to work, there needs to be a combination of several different things: primarily a judge who’s interested and a county attorney who’s open-minded,” said Jeffrey Paulson, the presiding judge who volunteers once a week to oversee the veterans treatment court in Woodbury, Iowa. “It’s got to be a labor of love.” (The Marshall Project, USA, February 19, 2019)