Friday News Roundup: May 31, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about the bill to prohibit ‘prison gerrymandering’ and increase Census Bureau accuracy, North Carolina’s move to better an individual’s accessibility to record expungement, a study that looks at court reporters’ accuracy when it comes to African American English, reform in Oregon’s ‘historic’ juvenile justice system, and more.

Criminal Justice News

States Move to Outlaw ‘Prison Gerrymandering:’ Where do inmates really live?

Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to make his state the latest to require that prisoners be counted at their pre-incarceration addresses — instead of where they’re serving time — to end the practice of what critics call “prison gerrymandering.” The Census Bureau currently counts prisoners as residents of the locations where they’re imprisoned, and states use the census data to draw their legislative maps. While a significant number of correctional facilities are located in comparatively rural areas that are largely Republican and predominantly white, prisoners tend to hail from urban, often Democratic communities and are disproportionately minorities. Advocates of change say it’s unfair to count prisoners as residents of communities whose demographic makeup and needs differ from the places the inmates call home; arguing that inflating the power of residents in districts with prisons violates the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. (Hurtado, NBC News, May 26, 2019)

White House Kills Plan for Expanded Criminal Background Checks for Federal Jobs

After receiving bipartisan criticism, The White House has withdrawn a plan to require applicants for federal jobs to divulge whether they went through a pretrial diversion program that helped them avoid prison. The proposed expanded criminal background checks appeared to conflict with president Trump’s support for criminal justice reform, an effort championed by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that has become an early issue in the 2020 presidential race. The update to hiring requirements was posted for public comment in late February by the Office of Personnel Management. The change would have required applicants who receive a conditional job offer to note on a form any participation in a diversion program. The answer could lead a hiring manager to rescind the offer. (Rein, The Washington Post, Washington, DC, May 29, 2019)

North Carolina Moves to Help Offenders Clear Their Records

The North Carolina Senate recently passed legislation loosening the requirements to expunge a criminal record. Offenders could wipe out multiple non-violent misdemeanor or low level felony convictions, regardless of age, and the bill expands expunctions for misdemeanors and minor felonies committed by 16 and 17-year-olds. Currently, only nonviolent, first-time convictions qualify. The bill also automatically wipes away charges that resulted in a not guilty verdict or were dismissed. Countering decades of tough-on-crime legislation, North Carolina is among a growing number of states making it easier to expunge records. (The Associated Press, The New York Times, Raleigh, NC, May 26, 2019)

2,000 Florida Ex-Felons Registered to Vote in First 3 Months of Amendment 4, Study Finds

An analysis by the Brennan Center is offering insight on the impact of Amendment 4 in Florida, finding a huge jump in ex-felons registering to vote in the first three months of 2019. But at the same time, a bill approved by the legislature restricting those eligible to get their voting rights restored will have a huge impact on a population of new voters that is largely African American and lower income, according to the report released May 9. About 2,000 people previously convicted registered to vote in the first three months after Amendment 4 took effect. The study found an eight fold increase in voter registration, from the previous average of 250 registering per year when individuals had to wait to be granted clemency by the Cabinet. In addition, the Brennan Center found, more than 44 percent of individuals registering between January and March identified themselves in their voter registration forms as black, compared to just 13 percent of the overall voter population. (Lemongello and Chen, Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, FL, May 24, 2019)

New Hampshire Abolishes Death Penalty as Lawmakers Override Governor’s Veto

New Hampshire is now the twenty-first US state to have abolished capital punishment, after its legislature voted to override a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. The state’s Senate voted 16-8 Thursday making it official. The rejection of Sununu’s veto had been expected even before the governor took that step on May 3, as both the Senate and House overwhelmingly had approved a bill last month changing New Hampshire’s penalty for capital murder. (Chappel, National Public Radio, Concord, NH, May 30, 2019)

An Ignored and Unseen Crisis in American Prisons and Jails

This articles suggests that there is currently a humanitarian crisis in our nation’s prisons and jails. A recent report showed that half of all American adults has had an immediate family member serve time in prison or jail; a statistic making harmful prison conditions hard to ignore. The article provides two main reasons as to why the conditions of our nation’s prisons and jails might be so poor; one being, that “many people believe that those who commit crime deserve whatever happens to them,” including anything that may happen to you while in prison or jail. The second being, ignorance. The article shares that, “unlike almost every other area of government action, there is very little oversight of these government institutions and employees.” Read more on the subject of current prison conditions here. (Ring, Washington Examiner, May 29, 2019)

African American English Often Misunderstood in Court

A new study finds that court reporters, whose transcriptions constitute official court records, fall significantly below their required levels of accuracy when recording speakers of African American English. It documents that the court reporters tested were only able to transcribe 82.9 percent of words accurately when asked to record everyday sentences in African American English, although they are required to be certified at a 95 percent accuracy. This lack of awareness of the potential for miscomprehension has significant potential to impact the outcomes of both criminal and civil trials where witness testimony is evaluated by jurors, judges, and attorneys. Read more here. (Glorfeld, Cosmos: The Science of Everything, May 27, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

De Blasio Wants Teens Charged with Robbery, Assault Freed without Bail

Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to “more than triple” the number of youth who are released from city jails with no bail on charges as serious as armed robbery, assault, and burglary. New guidelines from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice will also “significantly” expand the number of adults eligible for de Blasio’s no-bail Supervised Release Program, according to a memo sent to top city judges this month and obtained by The Post. The policy changes — which take effect on Saturday — will let defendants between ages 16 and 19 qualify for the program’s Youth Engagement Track, which is now capped at age 17, except in Brooklyn. It primarily covers “high-risk” youth charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies but will be expanded to include first and second-degree robbery, assault, and burglary. (Rosenberg and Golding, New York Post, May 27, 2019)

‘Historic’ Bill that Changes Oregon’s Juvenile Justice System Heads to Governor’s Desk

Lawmakers late Thursday approved a series of significant changes to Oregon’s juvenile justice system that mean the end of a decades-old practice of automatically sending youths accused of serious crimes to adult court. Senate Bill 1008 passed the Oregon House by a 40-to-18 vote, with four Republicans who represent rural areas of the state — Reps. Lynn Findley, Greg Smith, E. Werner Reschke and David Brock Smith — joining Democrats in voting yes. The bill now heads to Gov. Kate Brown, who is expected to sign it. (Crombie, The Oregonian, Salem, OR, May 24, 2019)