Friday News Roundup: August 2, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about historic bail reform in Texas, how New York homelessness reform might not be what it seems, a public defender who has worked nearly 4,000 cases in the last five years, an opinion piece on how the justice system mistreats survivors of trafficking, and more. 

Criminal Justice News

Biden, Harris Field Attacks on Criminal Justice Records

Former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) faced tough questions about their criminal justice records during the Wednesday night debate. For Harris, the attacks focused on her time as attorney general of California, and a truancy policy that allowed for the arrest of parents whose child missed school. For Biden, rivals zeroed in on his role passing tough-on-crime legislation as a Delaware senator in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, specifically the 1994 crime bill that has been linked to mass incarceration. (Vieback, The Washington Post, August 1, 2019)

NAACP, ACLU, and Allies Demand Congress Pass Marijuana Bill with Justice Focus

A coalition of more than 100 organizations, including NAACP, ACLU, and Human Rights Watch, is calling on Congress to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that would federally decriminalize marijuana and take additional steps towards addressing social justice and criminal justice reform to repair the damage resulting from the war on drugs. (Angell, Forbes, August 1, 2019)

The Deadly Link between Incarceration and Opioids

Mass incarceration is linked to the high numbers of drug-related deaths, according to The Lancet Public Health journal study, because individuals who are incarcerated often return to their communities to face bleak economic or social environments with an even greater risk of falling into circumstances that lead to substance use and the risk of fatal overdose. Widespread prescriptions and economic misfortunes are key factors in the opioid crisis, but incarceration is another driving force. (TCR Staff, The Crime Report, July 31, 2019)

Harris County Approves Historic Bail Deal, Ends ‘Irreparable Harm’

Harris County Commissioners Court approved a historic settlement Tuesday fixing a bail system a federal judge found unconstitutional, ushering in a new era for criminal justice.  Indigent misdemeanor defendants sued for the change of a discriminatory, two-tiered system that jailed people prior to trial if they couldn’t pay cash bail up front but allowed people with similar backgrounds and charges to resume their lives by awaiting trial at home. (Banks, Houston Chronicle, July 30, 2019)

In Florida, Modified Sentences and ‘Rocket Dockets’ Aim to Ensure Felons Can Still Register to Vote

Florida judges and prosecutors are working to find ways to register individuals formerly incarcerated to vote, a process approved by voters last year that current legislators have made more difficult. To work around a law passed this spring that requires individuals to pay all fines, fees, and restitution before registering, court officials are modifying sentences and allowing some debts to be converted to community service. In small towns, volunteers are holding fundraisers to pay off penalties for residents. But activists are worried that this patchwork of changes may confound hundreds of thousands of potential voters. (Rozsa, The Washington Post, July 30, 2019)

Trump Grants Clemency to 7 Men in Cases Dating Back Decades

The president commuted the sentences of two men and pardoned five others of several crimes, such as drug trafficking. Including Monday’s announcement, President Trump has granted 15 pardons and six commutations, according to Justice Department statistics(Chokshi, Murphy, The New York Times, July 29, 2019)

New York City’s Homeless Diversion Program is ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ Reform, Advocates Say

This opinion piece from The Appeal discusses the New York City pilot initiative for people experiencing homelessness who are arrested or given summonses in the subway, arguing this does not fix the criminalization of homelessness and fails to build trust. Currently, offenses like fare evasion, taking up two seats on the subway, and having your feet on a subway seat can result in a court summons and, sometimes, arrest. Under the new Subway Diversion Project, people without shelter who agree to participate will be connected to HOME-STAT, a homeless outreach program, and the summons will be cleared. (Rakia, The Appeal, July 26, 2019)

Public Defense News

One Lawyer. Five Years. 3,802 Cases.

Read about the public defense system in Detroit, where court-appointed lawyers for people experiencing poverty are encouraged to take on large caseloads at the expense of their clients, a new report says. Melinda S. Cameron is one of these attorneys, taking on more than one felony case a day, meaning it would be impossible for her to put in the hours of research, witness questioning, and strategizing with her clients that legal experts agree are needed in such serious cases. Since 2014, for example, she has only visited one client in jail, according to court receipts. (Hager, The Marshall Project, August 1, 2019)

Elderly Defendant Spends Over Two Years in Spokane County Jail Waiting for Trial as His Public Defenders Keep Quitting

William Mitchell, 72, has been locked up in Spokane since early 2017 when he was booked on charges of first degree robbery and second degree assault. It’s been 30 months and his case still hasn’t gone to trial because of systemic turnover issues in the county’s public defense system. His past three public defenders have quit their jobs. Mitchell’s current attorney is requesting someone outside the office be appointed to his case as she also prepares to leave, blaming the turnover on office issues like increasing caseloads and chronic mismanagement. (Kelety, Inlander, July 26, 2019)

Trafficking News

How Harsher Enforcement Punishes Victims of Sex Trafficking—Not Abusers Like Jeffrey Epstein

This opinion piece written by two senior attorneys at the Victims of Trafficking Defense Unit at Brooklyn Defender Services, highlights the need for change with how survivors of trafficking are treated in the justice system in the context of the high-profile Epstein case. People who have been trafficked are not just neglected; they are also surveilled, arrested, prosecuted, coerced, and jailed for conduct committed under the duress of their traffickers. (Modzeleski, Hechinger, GQ, July 30, 2019)

Drug Court News

How Opioid Courts Can Help Addicts Begin the ‘Long Road to Recovery’

Suspending prosecution and making an early assessment of the treatment needs of those struggling with substance use disorders are among the critical measures for success in drug treatment courts, according to a review put out by the Center for Court Innovation that covers ten essential elements of opioid-intervention courts. The CCI defines the courts as “specialized programs designed to save lives by offering immediate linkage to evidence-based treatment and intensive supervision and support.” (TCR Staff, The Crime Report, July 29, 2019)

Region’s Only Juvenile Drug Court Marks 10 Years of Seeking to ‘Break That Cycle’

A Franklin County treatment court just celebrated its 10 year anniversary of working towards breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol use for youth in their community. The juvenile drug court, one of only seven in the state, has had funding challenges as the bills authorizing the program explicitly stated that it be supported only by existing funds, so the program is small but impactful. The graduation rate is estimated at 70 percent, with youth saying goodbye to their drug of choice. (Fabris, The Roanoke Times, July 27, 2019)

Judge Seeks Funding for Hybrid Domestic Violence and Drug Court

Texas lawmakers unanimously approved a pilot program for a hybrid domestic violence and drug court in Bexar County. The intention is for the court to provide education and trauma-informed services to address the root causes of domestic violence because over 96 percent of those charged with domestic violence-related crimes were also involved in drug- or alcohol-related crimes. The judge spearheading the project is still searching for the funds needed for the program to operate over the next two years. (Donaldson, Rivard Report, July 27, 2019)