Friday News Roundup: March 29, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in news: Read about the need to focus on women when considering criminal justice reform and the benefits of expunging records for those who have served their time, hear from JPO Director Ball on treatment courts, find out about Ohio’s new sentencing proposals for drug possession, and more.

Criminal Justice News
Criminal Justice reform must include pregnant women
This opinion piece focuses on the need to include pregnant women in the justice reform conversation as the US considers its next steps in reforming its criminal justice system. The author states that “most of the over 110,000 women in US prisons are younger than 45. Some of them will be pregnant when they enter prison.” The piece cites one year of data, collected from 22 state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, on pregnant prisoners in the US prison system. The data shows “there were nearly 1400 admissions of pregnant women, over 750 live births, 46 miscarriages, 11 abortions and four stillbirths” and other troubling trends. (Sufrin, The Hill, Washington, DC, March 21, 2019)

The Case for Expunging Criminal Records
This article presents University of Michigan Law School research on the benefits of giving people a clean slate after serving their time. “The consequences of a run-in with the law can persist for decades after the formal sentence has been served. People with records face major barriers to employment, housing and education, effectively condemning them to second-class citizenship.” The study found that, prisoners with expunged records have “their wages go up by more than 20 percent” within a year, on average. “People with expunged records break the law again at very low rates.” However, hardly anyone receives expungements and, among those who are qualified for expungement, “only 6.5 percent received expungements within five years of becoming eligible.” (Prescott, NY Times, NY, March 20, 2019)

Drug Courts
Problem-solving courts not new
Implementation of family courts is a growing trend, and the National Drug Court Resource Center at American University in Washington, D.C., estimates 272 of about 3,450 problem-solving courts in the U.S. are family courts. “(The) programs are widely recognized for reducing recidivism compared to traditional case processing,” Kim Ball, director of the Justice Programs Office for the American University School of Public Affairs, said in an email. “The most successful courts reduce recidivism by as much as 35 to 40 percent.” (Matthew LeBlanc, The Journal Gazette, March 17, 2019)

New court for families affected by addiction
In Indiana this article tells the story of how one woman and her family benefited from a Family Preservation Court and how problem-solving (or treatment courts) overall can help families. Felicia Patrick is “among thousands in Indiana who have transitioned from unhealthy and dangerous situations with the help of specialized courts designed to steer families from bad behavior and toward stability. She credits her faith and Noble Superior Court’s Family Preservation Court with providing her with therapy and the life skills necessary to stay sober and regain custody of her son.” (Matthew LeBlanc, The Journal Gazette, March 17, 2019)

Opioid News
Drug sentencing bill puts focus on traffickers, softens penalties for users
A group of new drug-sentencing proposals in Ohio focuses on prison time for drug traffickers, and on reduction of prison time for the drug users who require rehabilitation for their addictions. One of the bills, Senate Bill 3, would “create harsher penalties for drug trafficking, classifying it as either aggravated trafficking, major trafficking, or trafficking, depending on the amount of drugs.” The bill would “reduce possession of small amounts of drugs to misdemeanors,” and the “state would no longer prosecute for “trace” amounts of drugs.” (Siegel, The Columbus Dispatch, March 6, 2019)

Purdue Pharma, Oklahoma reaches settlement in landmark opioid lawsuit
Purdue Pharma and the state of Oklahoma agreed to a $270 million out-of-court settlement this past Tuesday. Purdue, and dozens of other drug companies, face more than 1,600 other lawsuits by those seeking reparations for the “two decades of death and addiction sparked by prescription opioids.” According to the terms of the settlement, Purdue will donate $102.5 million for an addiction treatment research facility at the Oklahoma State University. (Bernstein, The Washington Post, March 26, 2019)

Juvenile Justice
Lawmakers propose bills to help human trafficking victims
Democratic lawmakers in Delaware propose legislation with the intent to help victims of human trafficking in the state. One of the bills introduced Tuesday “prohibits the conviction of anyone younger than age 18 for prostitution.” Another bill proposed “allows someone arrested or convicted for a crime other than a violent felony as a direct result of being a victim of human trafficking to pursue a pardon or expungement of that criminal record.” These bills are based on recommendations given by the Delaware Human Trafficking Interagency Coordinating Council. (Associated Press, March 25, 2019)

Public Defense
Poor criminal defendants need better legal counsel to achieve a just society
Last Monday marked the 56th anniversary of the Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) Supreme Court decision. The opinion piece speaks to the decision that allowed poor criminal defendants the right to a lawyer to represent them in a state court, even if they could not afford one. The decision catalyzed the growth of public defenders in the US. However, today “while all defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel, public defenders tend to have too-high caseloads and not enough time for each client.” ( Hassett-Walker, Washington Post, March 18, 2019)

NYC evictions down thanks to legal aid program for tenants
Seven months ago, New York City passed a law “guaranteeing universal access to legal counsel for low-income tenants facing evictions” and the effects have been evident. More than 8,000 people have kept their homes “in the face of unjust legal proceedings” that were filed by their landlords. Since 2013, the amount of evictions in the city have “fallen by 37 percent” and legal representation available for tenants has more than doubled. Though, the “Right the Counsel Law” leaves out the poorest New Yorkers who need representation when trying to keep their homes. (Drickey, Metro, February 4, 2019)