Friday News Roundup: June 21, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read more on the study that shed light on current and retired police officers’ Facebook posts, Booker’s (D-NJ) promise of clemency for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders if he becomes president, how the First Step Act continues to play out, the newly established pro bono effort, the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, and much more.

Criminal Justice News

Cory Booker Proposes Clemency for Thousands of Nonviolent Drug Offenders

On Thursday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced a plan to offer clemency to more than 17,000 inmates serving time for nonviolent drug-related offenses on the first day of his presidency, an expansive use of executive power that would be the broadest clemency initiative since the Civil War. The plan, which draws heavily on previous legislation he has introduced and passed as a senator, takes pains to address the vast racial inequalities wrought by the so-called war on drugs. It focuses on those serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses, as well as those with disparate sentences because of old distinctions between crack and powder cocaine. It also addresses inmates whose sentences would have been reduced had the First Step Act been applied retroactively. (Corasaniti, The New York Times, June 20, 2019)

First Step Act Offers Release for Some Prisoners – But Not Non-Citizens

President Trump convened a news conference last week to celebrate the release of 3,000 people in federal prison on July 19 as part of the First Step Act. But not all of those inmates will actually walk free: 750 non-citizens could well face deportation. The 750 non-citizens released from federal prisons will be held for transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody so ICE can start the deportation process, according to the Bureau of Prisons. (George, The Marshall Project, June 18, 2019)

Pennsylvania Legislator Praises Meek Mill for Rallying Support Behind State Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris (D) and a group of bipartisan lawmakers alongside rapper Meek Mill’s Reform Alliance, introduced a measure last month that aims to reduce recidivism and help former inmates avoid violations like failing to pay court fees or finding a job that can keep them trapped in the prison system. The bill also would remove parole violations like testing positive for legal medical marijuana and traveling outside the jurisdiction of the court. This is important, according to a recent study by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, because nearly one-third of prison beds there are occupied by people who had violated terms of their probation or parole. (Bonn, The Hill, June 17, 2019)

In Pennsylvania, Detention As a First Option

“[Jail] should be a last resort,” Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, told The Appeal. “When we cannot do anything else to protect the public or assure someone’s appearance in court…then and only then would we use the jail.” But in Berks County, incarceration—particularly incarceration before the person is convicted of a crime—is commonplace. In 2016, more than 2,700 people in Berks County, Pennsylvania, were detained in jail before their trials—nearly half of all the people charged with any crime that year. Of those people, more than 1,200 had only a misdemeanor as their lead charge. Among those cases was Troy Miller’s. Read his story here. (Vaughn, The Appeal, June 14, 2019)

Spotlight: When Police Spread Racism and Hate Online, It Says Something About How They Work

Two weeks ago, we released a story on the BuzzFeed and Injustice Watch reports, in partnership with Plain View Project, on the database that collected extensive amounts of racist, violent, and otherwise offensive public Facebook posts and comments by active and retired police officers. Since then, law enforcement has been grappling with the revelations that, in just eight departments, there are over 3,500 current and retired officers whose public statements warranted inclusion. This week, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner sent a letter to the public safety director and police chief letting them know that she is adding the twenty-two current officers whose posts were flagged by Plain View Project researchers to a “banned” list. Read more updates on this issue here. (Gullapalli, The Appeal, June 19, 2019)

Texas Prison Guards to Get a Small Raise, But Some Doubt It Will Help with Chronic Understaffing

State leaders have recently cheered record-low unemployment rates in Texas, but the economic success has made it that much harder for the state to run a crucial agency — it can’t keep its prisons staffed. It’s an ongoing problem for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which has struggled for years to hire and keep guards in about 100 state-run prisons, leading to safety and health concerns for both prisoners and staff. In April, the agency was short nearly 4,000 correctional officers, and almost one in three left the job last year. State officials and the agency have blamed the understaffing on low pay for a tough job that’s often in rural parts of the state. (Mccullough, The Texas Tribune, June 18, 2019)

Revised Marijuana Bill Could Erase 300,000 Criminal Convictions

As the end of the legislative session approaches, the revised marijuana and taxation act is back in the spotlight in Albany, New York. Part of the bill focuses on those who’d been convicted of low level marijuana crimes. This bill would erase, even seal, the records of 300,000 people. The bill has been in the legislature since 2013, was revised in 2017, and again after budget discussions in the last legislative session. (Errebhi, WKBW Buffalo, June 17, 2019)

Public Defense News

FAMM, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NACDL Launch Compassionate Release Clearinghouse

Thousands of people in federal prison who are sick, dying, or elderly who are eligible for early release will now have access to free legal representation in court through the newly established Compassionate Release Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse, a collaborative pro bono effort between FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), is designed to match people in prison who qualify with legal counsel should they need to fight a compassionate release denial or unanswered request in court. The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse recruits, trains, and provides resources to participating lawyers. The effort was made possible by the passage of the First Step Act, which addresses a well-documented, three-decades-long issue in which sick, elderly, and dying people in prison have been routinely denied early release. (Burks, FAMM, June 19, 2019)

LFD Urges US Supreme Court to Require Unanimous Jury Verdicts In All 50 States

On Tuesday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court urging it to find that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict applies to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The LDF submitted the brief in support of the petitioner in the upcoming Supreme Court case Evangelisto Ramos v. Louisiana. (Winkels, Jurist, June 19, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Time to Focus on Rehabilitation for Juvenile Offenders

The declining juvenile crime rate is an opportunity for California to transform the juvenile justice system with a larger focus on rehabilitating system-involved youth and lowering recidivism rates – an effective solution for state safety and the budget. To make this happen, they are transforming Camp David Gonzales, a former detention camp, into the first youth detention center in the world to be repurposed into an education enrichment center. (Grammar, Capitol Weekly, June 19, 2019)

Drug Treatment News

Ohio House Votes to Expand Drug Treatment Options for Offenders

The Ohio House voted 90-6 in favor of a criminal justice reform bill that would expand options for drug treatment rather than just responding with a conviction. The Ohio prison system incarcerates about 2,600 people for drug possession, including 1,600 for low-level amounts. House Bill 1 would assist people dealing with their substance use disorders that can lead to criminal behavior. If enacted, the bill would also expand options for sealing criminal records, making reentry an easier feat. (Bischoff, Dayton Daily News, June 19, 2019)

Cops Bring Addiction Counselor On Drug Raids to Fight Opioid Crisis

This human interest story shows how Police in Huntington, West Virginia, became so desperate to help the city’s opioid crisis that they began bringing an “addiction counselor” along when visiting people with substance use disorders. Krishawna Harless, the counselor, says she wasn’t accepted at first among members of the force’s drug unit. But today that has changed, as she is currently working with 300 people with substance use disorders; 73 percent of whom have gone into some form of a rehabilitation program. (Alfonsi, CBS News, June 16, 2019)