Friday News Roundup: March 15, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: the companies responsible for creating the opioid epidemic are under intense scrutiny to make depositions and documents of their activities public; lawmakers in Delaware announce major reforms; and more states join the Raise the Age movement.

Criminal Justice News

Lawmakers announce major criminal justice reformsDemocratic lawmakers and criminal justice officials announced an ambitious package of bills Thursday aimed at reshaping the criminal justice and prison systems to make them fairer and more equitable. The “boldest package of criminal justice reforms in modern Delaware history,” as Attorney General Kathy Jennings described it, consists of 19 separate bills that would lessen the prison population, reduce sentences, and make it easier for offenders to reintegrate back into society. “It’s difficult, it’s bold, but it’s necessary,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said at a news conference detailing the legislation. “What we are proposing, lays out a vision for a better future for our state. (Delaware State News, DE, March 14, 2019)

Rapper Meek Mill honored for criminal justice reform work –  In January, Mill joined Jay-Z and others to form a coalition that lobbies for changes to state probation and parole laws called the Reform Alliance. Mill became a symbol for criminal justice reform activists after a judge in Pennsylvania sentenced him to two to four years in prison for minor violations of his probation conditions in a decade-old gun and drug possession case. He spent months in prison before a court ordered him released. (USA Today, PA, March 14, 2019)

Opioid News

Opioid Litigation Brings Company Secrets into the Public Eye America’s big drugmakers and pharmacy chains are scrambling to respond to hundreds of lawsuits tied to the deadly opioid epidemic. Billions of dollars are at stake if the companies are found liable for fueling the crisis. Even before judgments are rendered, companies like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, and CVS are already suffering damage to their reputations as evidence in civil suits reveals more about their internal workings. “Our next battle is to get the depositions and the documents that are being produced made available to the public, instead of everything being filed under confidentiality agreements,” said Joe Rice, one of the lead attorneys bringing lawsuits against drug companies on behalf of local governments in Ohio. (NPR, USA, March 13, 2019)

OxyContin’s maker is accused of fueling the opioid epidemic. Its new overdose antidote was just fast-tracked by the FDA The US Food and Drug Administration granted Purdue Pharma’s experimental opioid overdose drug fast-track designation. According to Purdue, its drug, nalmefene hydrochloride injection, has a longer effect than naloxone, another opioid antagonist that is approved to reverse overdoses. The FDA’s fast-track designation facilitates the development and expedites the review of drugs that treat serious conditions and fill an unmet medical need. “If approved, the duration of effect of nalmefene HCl injection has the potential to serve as an important alternative for the treatment of opioid overdose,” Purdue said in a statement. (CNN, USA, March 14, 2019)

Michigan receives $10 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to fight opioid crisis “State governments have already been out front on this issue in ways the federal government hasn’t – coming up with real, practical solutions and passing legislation that helps people addicted to opioids, and helps prevent addiction in the first place. But states need more support,” Governor Whitmer and Michael Bloomberg wrote. Bloomberg Philanthropies aims to create state-level models to build a better response to the opioid crisis. The foundation has pledged to invest $50 million in states greatly affected by the crisis. Michigan is the second state it has chosen as part of that effort. (Michigan Radio, MI, March 14, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Several States Ponder Expansion of Juvenile Justice Beyond 18 The movement to raise the age of juvenile justice systems around the country is continuing, with several states considering a move beyond the age of 18. At least nine states are expected to consider proposals that would expand the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system during the current legislative season, according to a press briefing held last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois and Arizona have all seen legislation introduced this year that would include more older teens and young adults in their juvenile justice system. And Colorado may pass a law to create a study group to consider the feasibility of raising the age of their system. (The Chronicle of Social Change, USA, March 11, 2019)

Texas senator proposes moving all youth in state lockups to shuttered adult jail After shrinking the population at state-run juvenile lockups, state Sen. John Whitmire wants to move the remaining youth at five facilities to one recently closed adult jail. Sen. John Whitmire said agency and state leaders need to reconsider the existing model for detaining what he called “a very tough population,” calling youth lockups an emergency that needs to be fixed. Extensive reforms sparked after 2007 reports of sexual abuse at the lockups included shifting most juveniles who commit nonviolent offenses from the state-run facilities to local probation departments, which he said left the state facilities home to mostly youths accused of violent crimes whom local communities gave up on. The state juvenile justice system has routinely been embroiled in scandal for more than a decade. In 2017, after another sexual abuse scandal led to the arrest of four guards, Whitmire said in a legislative hearing that the juvenile justice department was “the worst-performing agency by any measure.” (The Texas Tribune, TX, March 12, 2019)

Public Defense

New Public Defense Unit to Help People Vacate Convictions, Expunge Records The department started its new unit this month, a pilot project funded by King County’s recently passed 2019-2020 operating budget. One paralegal and the equivalent of one full-time attorney will provide the legal help eligible clients need to get convictions vacated. The pilot project also provides funding to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to vacate convictions. “A criminal conviction is like a scarlet letter. It keeps someone entangled in the criminal legal system for years and years, long after they’ve completed their sentence,” said Anita Khandelwal, director of the Department of Public Defense. (The Seattle Medium, WA, March 13, 2019)