Friday News Roundup: July 19, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about the alarming rates of LGBTQ people of color who are being incarcerated, Sen. Cory Booker’s latest reform proposal, new developments in the opioid crisis, a case of wrongful conviction, and more. 

Criminal Justice News 

Your Arrest Was Dismissed. But It’s Still in a Police Database.

Twenty-five states allow law enforcement full access to criminal records, even those that were dismissed or expunged. This human interest piece follows a story in New York, where records that shouldn’t be are partially accessible. Bronx prosecutors insisted that J.J., who had never been convicted of a crime, serve prison time instead of receive the usual leniency for persons without a record. But the NYPD had a file on him with printouts of a handful of minor nonviolent arrests he’d sustained back in the stop-and-frisk era, which was used to justify seeking harsher punishment. J.J. is currently part of a lawsuit against the city. (Hager, The Marshall Project, July 18, 2019)

Rape Case Judge Resigns Over ‘Good Family’ Remark; State Orders Training

The Supreme Court of New Jersey, responding to a nationwide backlash over insensitive comments made by several judges in sexual assault cases, announced new mandatory training on Wednesday for judges across the entire system. The move came as one judge, who recommended leniency for a 16-year-old boy accused of rape because the boy was from a “good family,” resigned. The comments, made in a 2018 ruling, were seen by advocates for sexual assault survivors as emblematic of a legal system that is mired in bias and privilege, and has deterred assault reporting. (Ferré-Sadurní, Corasaniti, The New York Times, July 17, 2019)

Maryland Prison Population Continues to Shrink as Officials Consider Releasing More Elderly Inmates

Maryland’s state prison population has declined since passing the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016, and officials are working to continue the trend. The act aimed at reducing the state prison population by more than 1,000 inmates while plowing millions of dollars into crime prevention; levels have dropped as low as the 1980’s. New reform legislation will be discussed in January, and will expand the criteria for releasing elderly people who are incarcerated on “geriatric parole.” (Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun, July 17, 2019)

In an Apparent First, Genetic Genealogy Aids a Wrongful Conviction Case

On Wednesday, an Idaho judge dismissed all charges against Christopher Tapp, who was wrongfully convicted in a 1996 rape and murder, thanks to a genetic geneologist re-examining the DNA evidence. The hearing follows years of effort by legal advocacy groups that investigate potential wrongful convictions, including the Idaho Innocence Project. “I’m thankful I’ve been given this second chance at life,” Tapp said during the hearing, according to the East Idaho News. (Armstrong, The Marshall Project, July 17, 2019)

LGBTQ People of Color Are Incarcerated and Abused in Jail at Alarming Rates

LGBTQ people are three times as likely to be incarcerated compared to the general US population, and are more likely to experience violence and abuse while incarcerated. People of color are also disproportionately targeted by police and the justice system. When these identities overlap, the repercussions for those individuals can be particularly devastating. Read more about individual stories and trans women in the justice system here. (Anspach, MIC, July 16, 2019)

Cory Booker’s Latest Criminal Justice Reform Bill Takes Aim at Life Imprisonment

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) unveiled a proposal over the weekend that makes it easier for people to get an early release from federal prison. The Second Look Act would let people who have served more than 10 years in prison petition a court for early release, and those 50 or older would get the presumption of release if they petitioned, therefore judges need to show that the person is an actual threat to society to keep them incarcerated. The proposal is part of a long history of supporting criminal justice reform for Booker. (Lopez, Vox, July 16, 2019)

How Some Florida Prosecutors are Pushing Back Against GOP Voter Suppression Efforts

In January, an amendment to Florida’s constitution came into force, restoring voting rights to more than a million people with past felony convictions. Since then, the state government has pushed to erect obstacles to the re-enfranchisement. Late last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that restricted the restoration of civil rights to people with past felony convictions who did not owe any court fines or fees — a move that many have likened to a poll tax. Now, prosecutors across the state of Florida are contemplating ways to work around the new restrictions. (Saleh, The Intercept, July 15, 2019)

Illinois Puts Ankle Monitors on Thousands. Now it Has to Figure Out Who Gets Tracked—and Why

The Illinois Legislature has passed a bill requiring corrections officials to maintain and publish an annual report on electronic monitoring individuals who were incarcerated, including their racial makeup and how many commit new crimes. The legislation comes after a heated state judiciary hearing during which advocates and legislators criticized the misuse of electronic monitoring, and an independent report that showed how little data the Prisoner Review Board and Department of Corrections kept on those they placed on tracking devices(Jaafari, The Marshall Project, July 15, 2019)

NYC Jail Admissions Down Almost 50 Percent Since 2014 in Major Achievement for Criminal Justice Reform

The safest big city in the US is on track to become the city with the fewest people in jail with a 20 percent drop since the last fiscal year and an estimated 50 percent drop over the last five. This reflects a major achievement for criminal justice reform, according to statistics from the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice, shared exclusively with The Daily News. The rate of incarceration in New York City jails is the lowest since 1978. Director Liz Glazer from the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice attributed the decline to a citywide decrease in crime, decriminalization of marijuana leading to fewer arrests, and progressive policy changes such as bail reform. (Crane-Newman, New York Daily News, July 15, 2019)

How a Criminal Justice Reform Became an Enrichment Scheme

Bruce Kelly started asking ‘where’s the money?’ when the DA’s office for Rapides Parish, of which he’s the treasurer, bought new cars for the office and put in a request for over $2.5 million in funds. This was more than ever before, and the budget was facing a shortfall. Kelly discovered that elected DA Terrell was diverting cases—which had the effect of depriving the parish of fine money—and keeping the fees for the DA’s office. Diversion programs, which exist in almost every state in the country, are a popular criminal-justice reform, often used to keep people accused of nonviolent crimes out of jail, and to prevent their cases from clogging the courts. Typically, the fees go into a general parish fund, just like fines levied in a courtroom. But in Rapides, as Terrel’s department got more money, the parish got less. (Pishko, Politico Magazine, July 14, 2019)

Opioid News

Number of US Overdose Deaths Appears to be Falling

US overdose deaths last year likely fell for the first time in nearly three decades, preliminary numbers suggest. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention posted data Wednesday showing less than 68,000 drug overdose deaths were reported last year. The number may go up, but the agency expects the tally will end up below 69,000. Overdose deaths had been climbing each year since 1990, topping 70,000 in 2017. But the overdose death rate is still about seven times higher than it was a generation ago. (Stobbe, AP, New York, July 18, 2019)

Opioid Death Rates Soared in Communities Where Pain Pills Flowed

A Washington Post investigation into the 76 billion opioid pills that flooded the country between 2006 and 2012, revealed that death rates from opioids soared in the towns, cities, and counties (particularly rural areas) that were received a disproportionate share of that 76 billion, according to government death data and a previously undisclosed database of opioid shipments made public this week. (Horitz, et al., The Washington Post, July 17, 2019)

States Are Making Progress on Opioids. Now the Money That’s Helping Them May Dry Up

Bryan Garner, who was experiencing homelessness and a substance use disorder with fentanyl, has been in recovery since January thanks to free treatment via a federally-funded community center. But treatment for Garner, and countless others, could disappear. The center exists thanks to $3.3 billion in opioid crisis grants that has been allotted to states since 2017, when a record 47,600 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids. The money for treatment, prevention and recovery is the Trump administration’s most tangible contribution to addressing the opioid epidemic, but there is no public talk of extending the funding beyond next year, when it is scheduled to run out. (Goodnough, The New York Times, St. Louis, July 16, 2019)

Drug Court News

Wind River tribes re-establish program to help those battling drug and alcohol problems

Wind River Reservation tribes are restarting a program meant to address participants’ substance use disorders while keeping them out of jail. Wind River, Wyoming previously had a wellness court system for youth and adults, but the disbanding of the reservation’s tribal court forced the program to end. With the establishment of a new tribal court last year, the program will start up again, possibly this month, after a successful test run last winter into the spring. (Aadland, KPVI, July 17, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Colorado Abuse Hotline Emails Went Unchecked for Four Years

A Colorado state email account that was created to report suspected child abuse and neglect went unchecked for over four years, and five possible cases that were undiscovered until May are now being investigated, officials said. The account was set up in 2015, but it included an incorrect format and a new email was created soon after. But the original account was not deleted, no one monitored it, and there were 321 unchecked emails in the inbox. (AP, Denver, July 12, 2019)