Friday News Roundup: August 16, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about restoring voting rights in Louisiana and Florida, a prosecutor sends her staff to #VisitAPrison, Sacramento bail reform, a mother who is penalized for seeking drug treatment while pregnant, and more. 

Trafficking News

Jeffrey Epstein’s Death and America’s Jail Suicide Problem

Suicide is the leading cause of death in jails. Following the reported suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with sex trafficking, Vox is taking part in larger conversations about how individuals struggling with mental illness are treated in jail, the rate of suicide in jail, and what is being called the ‘culture of indifference’ that allows this to happen. (Kim, Vox, August 14, 2019)

More Than 400 Lawsuits Filed in New York Courts as Part of New Child Sex Abuse Law

Over 400 lawsuits have been filed in New York as part of a new child sex abuse law that expands the ways that survivors can use the legal system to address the damage. The New York Child Victims Act, which was signed into law on February 14, created a one-year period when any adult survivors of child sexual abuse can sue an abuser or a negligent institution, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. One high-profile case is the lawsuit brought by Jennifer Araoz as part of the Epstein Scandal. (Levenson, CNN, August 14, 2019)

Criminal Justice News

Prosecutor Sends Staff to Prison, in a Bid to Counter Their Reflex to Incarcerate

Sarah Fair George, the state’s attorney of Chittenden County in Vermont, has instructed all staff and prosecutors who work in her office to visit the St. Albans prison. “Most prosecutors have never stepped foot in the buildings that they sentence people to spend years in,” George tweeted. She thinks it could help prosecutors avoid treating prison time as something abstract. (Daniel Nichanian, The Appeal, August 14, 2019)

State Laws Punish Pregnant People Just For Seeking Drug Treatment

Using medications, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to treat substance use problems while pregnant can result in criminal charges. Mandy, for example, was charged with neglect and placed on a statewide child maltreatment registry when a child services case was opened upon her giving birth and reporting taking buprenorphine as part of a comprehensive, high-risk pregnancy program geared toward people in recovery from substance use disorders. Similar laws and practices exist in states across the country. (Brico, Talk Poverty, August 14, 2019)

Ohio Governor Wants to Detain Fewer Mentally Ill People Before Trial

Governor Mike DeWine announced a proposal that could overhaul how people with mental illness who are accused of nonviolent misdemeanors and court-ordered to state psychiatric facilities, are treated. These hospitals are often filled to capacity, and DeWine said this is partly with people who do not need to be there, leaving little room for people who might pose a danger to their communities. This is a part of steps to address gun violence and mental health issues in Ohio following a mass shooting in Dayton earlier this month. (Lerner, The Appeal, August 14, 2019)

Each Night, Philly Jails Release Scores of Inmates Without Returning Their ID’s, Cash, or Phones

73 percent of all people who were released from Philadelphia jails between April 2017 and April 2018 (more than 16,000 individuals), were discharged after the cashier’s offices had closed. This often leaves them without any identification, cash, phone, or other possessions for hours, or even days if it is the weekend. The first 72 hours after release are critical, and this creates barriers to simple things such as buying food, getting prescriptions, and putting a cell phone number down for a job interview or a landlord. (Verma, The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 12, 2019)

In SC’s Tight Labor Market, Job Seekers with Criminal Records Finding More Opportunities

Workers with criminal records have historically experienced some of the highest rates of unemployment, but labor shortages in states like South Carolina are opening up more opportunities for second chances. Organizations like Fresh Start Visions, a program with housing in North Charleston that helps formerly incarcerated men transition to life outside of prison, are reporting businesses coming to them as a solution to turnover, eager to hire the people they work with. (Williams, The Post and Courier, August 11, 2019)

Voting Rights News

They Got Their Voting Rights Back, But Will They Go to the Polls?

Nearly 37,000 Louisianians have recently had their voting rights restored by the state legislature, and are joining a potential wave of new voters from across the country. However, The Marshall Project takes an in-depth look at what barriers still exist, who some of these Louisianians are, and how likely they are to exercise their newfound rights. (Lewis, The Marshall Project, August 13, 2019)

Florida Governor Asks State’s Highest Court to Rule on Felon Voting

Governor Ron DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on Friday regarding the new law affecting felon voting rights and Amendment 4, specifically whether formerly convicted people who have paid their debt to society (completed all terms of their sentence including parole or probation), must pay all fines and fees before having their voting rights restored. (Schneider, Tampa Bay Times, Orlando, August 9, 2019)

Bail Reform 

Sacramento Will Release Some Defendants Without Bail in Test of New California System

Sacramento will start releasing some defendants from jail without posting bond as part of a pilot program aimed at helping California courts end reliance on bail for suspects awaiting trial. This is a trial of a two-year risk-assessment program to evaluate whether suspects should be released from jail before trial, and the funding was approved Friday. The county will use a tool called the Public Safety Assessment to score defendants on how likely they are to show up for their court dates, their probability of committing a crime if they’re released pending trial, and whether that crime might be violent. (Bollag, The Sacramento Bee, August 9, 2019)