Friday News Roundup: March 1, 2019

Friday News Roundup

University of Texas law students form a necessary Indigent Defense group; The FDA responds to criticisms of their role in the opioid crisis with a plan to curb addiction; and California’s juvenile justice facilities see a spike in violence. Read about these stories and more with JPO’s Friday News Roundup.

Criminal Justice News

The new criminal justice law will modestly shrink prison populations. Should we go further? – The recently enacted First Step Act reduces criminal sentences and promotes rehabilitative programs within the federal justice system. Combined with earlier reforms, implemented during the Obama administration, the law should return the federal imprisonment rate back to what it was a generation ago. But that would still leave the federal prison system with about seven times as many inmates as it had in 1980. Could the United States ever return to a federal prison population that small, or would that unleash a horrific crime wave? (The Washington Post, USA, February 25, 2019)

Seattle businesses, neighborhood groups push Durkan to fix criminal justice ‘failure’ – Groups representing Seattle businesses and residents Monday pressured Mayor Jenny Durkan to address “failure” in the justice system that doesn’t deal adequately with repeat criminal offenders, making the city less safe. Offenders with a pattern of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness often fail to appear in court and ignore court orders, making it difficult to hold them accountable, according to the study of 100 repeat offenders released Monday. Seattle has struggled for years to find a consistent approach to deal with habitual street crime, most recently amid an influx of affluent residents attracted to its technology companies and booming economy contrasting with a growth in homelessness and drug abuse in part due to a decline in affordable housing. (The Seattle Times, WA, February 25, 2019)

Kansas lawmakers call for a commission to consider changes in criminal justice system – As Kansas grapples with over-crowded prisons and a shortage of corrections officers, the legislature is considering formation of a panel to study and recommend changes to the state’s criminal justice system. HB 2018 would create a Criminal Justice Reform Commission, charged with analyzing sentencing guidelines, placement of prisoners, and other processes. Its 20 members, appointed by the state attorney general, the governor, or other state officials, would include lawmakers, public defenders, district attorneys, judges, law professors, mental health professionals, and corrections officials. A key provision of the legislation empowers the commission to study all matters that it determines to be “appropriate and necessary” to complete a thorough review of the criminal justice system. (Kansas City Star, MO, February 26, 2019)

Opioid News

FDA Plans Multifaceted Response to Opioid-Abuse Epidemic –  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans new steps to combat the abuse of opioid painkillers, ranging from new dosage forms, to small-quantity packaging, and new research requirements on drug-makers. The new FDA measures are a further effort to stem the opioid-addiction crisis that has led to an estimated 47,000 opioid-painkiller overdose deaths in 2017 alone. The agency plans, for the first time, to require makers of opioid pain pills to conduct long-term studies of their drugs’ long-term effectiveness. (The Wall Street Journal, USA, February 26, 2019)

The Opioid Crisis Isn’t White – Contrary to media portrayals, overdose deaths are ravaging communities of color. It seems the majority of the victims whose stories have been told in recent years are white. This has led to journalists and others pointing out the stark contrast between the kind of compassionate treatment opioid users receive now and the contempt that dominated reports about the largely black victims of the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. “The Gentrification of Addiction” read one headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer; “Why Is the Opioid Epidemic Overwhelmingly White?” asked NPR. Teen Vogue pointed out that “The Opioid Crisis Only Became a Crisis When It Affected White People.” But the opioid epidemic is not entirely white — and it’s a mistake to characterize it that way, given how opioids are harming nonwhite communities. (The New York Times, USA, February 26, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Youth Justice Milwaukee: We Must Move With a Sense of Urgency – In response to Governor Tony Eversplan to delay the closure of Lincoln Hills, Youth Justice Milwaukee co-founders Sharlen Moore released the following statement: “Youth Justice Milwaukee applauds Governor Evers for his support to return 17-year-old children to the youth justice system, but our coalition partners strongly object to any delay to the closure of Lincoln Hills. Wisconsin should close this abusive prison immediately, and, instead, implement and scale more effective and fiscally responsible community-based options. We know that Governor Evers believes that closing Lincoln Hills and investing in children and families is the right thing to do – and the time to do it is now.” (Urban Milwaukee, WI, February 27, 2019)

As Governor Considers Reforms, Violence Rising at California’s Juvenile Justice Facilities – California’s state juvenile justice facilities have become more violent again, and one advocacy group said it is time to start setting them on a path to extinction. A report by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), chronicling the recent troubles at youth prisons run by the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), comes at a time when the agency’s future is already in flux following legislative action and special scrutiny from California Governor Gavin Newsom (D). After unveiling his first budget in January, Newsom vowed to “end the juvenile justice system as we know it.” But more drastic changes need to be made to DJJ to realize this vision, according to San Francisco-based CJCJ. (The Chronicle of Social Change, CA, February 26, 2019)

Public Defense

‘Brain drain’: UT law grads leave Austin to pursue public defense – About three dozen University of Texas at Austin School of Law students will meet Friday for the first official meeting of their new student organization, Indigent Defense Group. The purpose of the group is to share resources and advice among a growing number of law students interested in providing legal services to defendants who can’t afford to hire an attorney. Without a public defender’s office in Travis County, graduates are leaving central Texas to pursue that passion. It comes as a deadline draws near to take the first step toward establishing a public defender’s office. Travis County is one of the largest jurisdictions in the country without a dedicated office for indigent defense, and a study last year found defendants who rely on the current appointment system get consistently worse outcomes at trial than those who can afford to hire a private attorney. (KXAN, TX, February 28, 2019)

Veterans Treatment Courts

Bill would, again, allow Nevada veterans in court program – A Nevada bill would allow veterans charged with violent crimes to, again, participate in a specialty treatment court. Assembly Bill 222 — brought Wednesday before the Assembly Judiciary Committee by Chairman Steve Yeager, Las Vegas (D) — would modify the Veterans Treatment Court, which provides an alternative to incarceration and offers services to veterans. (The Las Vegas Review Journal, NV, February 27, 2019)