Friday News Roundup: April 26, 2019

Friday News Roundup graphic.

This week in the news: Read about the new studies said to be shaping justice system reform, how Congress is considering a new bipartisan bill that would allow individuals who are incarcerated access to Pell Grants, additional roadblocks to the First Step Act, racial disparities in Baltimore’s justice system, and more.

Criminal Justice News

Prison Population Continues to Decline: Vera Study

Vera Institute of Justice released a visualization tool and evidence brief on the 2018 prison population. The brief shows the number of people in prison nationally has continued its gradual annual decline since its 2009 peak. The authors of the study noted that a fixation on the national trendline obscures a more nuanced picture of state-level change. The falling national incarceration rate in 2018—20,000 fewer people, a 1.8 percent decline relative to the population—was driven mainly by a substantial drop-off in the federal Bureau of Prisons and a handful of key states, including the incarceration heavyweights New York, Missouri, and the Carolinas. (Gressier, The Crime Report, April 24, 2019)

Congress Considers Making College More Accessible to People in Prison

Congress is considering a new bipartisan bill that would allow individuals who are incarcerated access to Pell Grants; a grant designed for low-income students trying to pay for higher education and workforce training. The idea to reintroduce Pell Grants to prison populations came from the Obama administration in 2015 and, according to the Department of Education, the pilot initiative has involved more than 10,000 inmates across 64 institutions. The most comprehensive look at the program, a report held by the Vera Institute of Justice, showed a majority are eligible, that education in prison means better job opportunity after, and that access to education will lower recidivism rates, saving states a projected $365.8 million per year. (Nadworny, National Public Radio, April 20, 2019)

Florida House Approves Requiring People to Repay Criminal Fines, Fees Before They Can Vote

The Florida House approved, 71-45, a measure that would require people with felony convictions to pay all financial requirements before regaining the right to vote. Many in the justice system accumulate huge fines and fees, and requiring payment of those sums before they can vote will effectively continue to disenfranchise them. While the State House bill would require people to repay any restitution, in addition to fines and fees ordered by a judge ― even if those obligations are converted to a civil lien — the bill does not require payment of fines and fees not imposed as part of a judge’s sentence in order to vote. (Levine, The Huffington Post, April 24, 2019)

Trump Administration’s Proposed Hiring Requirement Alarms Criminal Justice Reform Advocates on Left and Right

Under a proposed update to hiring requirements, another roadblock surfaced for the First Step Act. When those accused of low-level felonies or misdemeanors get a job offer from the federal government or its contractors they will have to disclose whether they went through a pretrial diversion program, such as a treatment court, that allowed them to avoid prison, and therefore, a criminal record. The answer could lead an agency to rescind the job offer. (Rein, The Washington Post, April 21, 2019)

Drug Court News

Massachusetts’ Contentious Tactic to Fight Its Opioid Crisis: Jailing Addicts

The Section 35 process, by which persons with substance use disorders can be involuntarily committed to treatment for up to 90 days after a petition is submitted to a judge, is currently being debated in Massachusetts; a state that implements the process thousands of times a year. The treatment is held within jails and Section 35 can be implemented even if no charges have been levied against the person, producing the controversy over whether this helps or harms people. (Wood, The Guardian, Ludlow, MA, April 23, 2019)

Judges Take on Extra Work to Give Offenders a Second Chance

Several judges in Indiana are voluntarily leading treatment courts as they find it “particularly satisfying, especially when [they are] later approached by court graduates voicing their appreciation.” The state’s longest-serving adult drug court has seen over 600 graduates through their program over the past two decades. Ninety percent of their adult court graduates have also obtained a high school or GED diploma since going through the program, a positive step towards reentry. (Kasarda, NWI Times, April 23, 2019)

Opioid News

Drug Distributor and Former Execs Face First Criminal Charges in Opioid Crisis

A major pharmaceutical distribution company, the Rochester Drug Co-Operative, and two of its former executives are facing criminal charges for their roles in advancing the nation’s opioid crisis and profiting from it. The company is one of the nation’s 10 largest pharmaceutical distributors in the United States. Between May 2012 and November 2016, the company received and filled more than 1.5 million orders for controlled substances from its pharmacy customers. However, it reported only four suspicious orders to the DEA. According to the complaint, the company failed to report at least 2,000 suspicious orders. (Gonzales, National Public Radio, April 23, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Michigan Senate Votes to Try 17-Year-Olds as Juveniles

“Raise the age” measures have been overwhelmingly passed in Michigan so that 17-year-old defendants will no longer be automatically treated as adults in the justice system. Though, prosecutors could still automatically try 14 to 17-year-olds as adults for certain violent offenses. Supporters of the legislation also argue that 17-year-olds could receive age-appropriate rehabilitation services if not immediately admitted into adult court systems. (Eggert, US News, April 24, 2019)

Youth Arrests in Baltimore Down 55% but Report Finds Racial Disparities and Other Problems in Justice System

Juvenile arrests in Baltimore have plummeted in recent years, but African-American youth in the city are disproportionately likely to face charges. While arrests have fallen by 55 percent, 90 percent are black, but only 64 percent of the city’s youth population is black. It also found that police might not be following the law when transporting youth who are eligible for diversion programs. A 57-page report identifying these statistics also shares ways more youth could be diverted from the juvenile system at each stage of the process — from the initial interaction with a police officer, to an arrest, to the Department of Juvenile Services’ determination whether the court has jurisdiction over the matter, to detention. (Anderson, The Baltimore Sun, April 24, 2019)

Public Defense News

Sullivan Bringing ‘Choose Respect’ to D.C.

Former Attorney General, Dan Sullivan, founded the Choose Respect Initiative that is now coming to the national stage. The initiative’s purpose is to bring awareness to crime victims’ 6th amendment right to counsel. Now as a Senator, Sullivan is introducing three new bills this session; one being a national campaign ad meant to focus on young men to choose respect in their relationships, one to provide a statutory right to counsel for survivors of domestic violence, and one focused on improving the service of process, such as with protective orders. (Tewksbury, WebCenter 11, April 23, 2019)