This week in the news: Michigan treatment courts focus on rehabilitation, not retribution, two congresspeople think Medicaid should be available inside prisons, Harris County’s historic bail reform lawsuit is still awaiting a final settlement, and more.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday for the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, the 17-year old partner in the 2002 DC Sniper shooting spree. This could lead to the resentencing of scores of individuals sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as juveniles. In 2012 during Miller v. Alabama, the court ruled that automatic life sentences for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment and in 2016 during Montgomery v. Louisiana the court made the Miller decision retroactive. This decision could expand the ban of life imprisonment for juveniles to discretionary sentences. (Liptak, The New York Times, October 16, 2019)
The nation’s three largest drug distributors and two manufacturers have agreed with multiple states on a framework to resolve thousands of opioid cases with a settlement worth nearly $50 billion in cash and addiction treatments. The pressure is on to settle before Monday, when opening statements are set to begin in Cleveland in the first federal trial to determine responsibility for the opioid epidemic, which has led to 400,000 deaths in the United States over the past two decades. States have agreed in principle, but cities and counties have logistical questions. (Hoffman, The New York Times, Cleveland, October 17, 2019)
Efforts to reduce incarceration by providing treatment to offenders have been underway in Michigan for a quarter century. The Detroit News reported on Michigan’s 188 problem-solving courts, designed to help veterans or those charged with offenses who also struggle with drug, alcohol, or mental health issues, that have been operating for approximately 25 years. They also have juvenile treatment courts and family dependency treatment courts for parents in danger of losing their children. (Bouffard, The Detroit News, October 11, 2019)
The City Council in New York on Thursday was expected to approve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s second largest jail network, pledging within seven years to rebuild the corrections system with safer, smaller, and more humane jails that officials say could become a model for the rest of the United States. The $8 billion plan would close Rikers by 2026, which has been plagued by levels of abuse, neglect, and mismanagement that have turned it into one of the country’s most notorious correctional facilities. But the plan still faces major obstacles. (Haag, The New York Times, October 16, 2019).
Congressperson Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) want to repeal the Medicaid exclusion of those who are incarcerated which could help to ensure they get much needed care, especially for issues like substance use. Read their full argument here. (McLane Kuster & Booker, The Washington Post, October 11, 2019)
Harris County’s historic bail reform lawsuit is still awaiting a final settlement; but county criminal court judges are already putting some of the expected reforms into practice in their courtrooms. Judges are making it much easier for indigent misdemeanor defendants to bond out on their own recognizance, rather than awaiting trial in jail simply because they can’t afford bail. (Scheider, Houston Public Media, October 11, 2019)
Thirty individuals incarcerated in Colorado staged One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for nearby prisons. For the prison staff, the logistics of transporting a complicated set and 30 prisoners were daunting. For the cast and crew, the six-month journey into the play, through rehearsals and character studies and improv games, and then out beyond the prison walls, was transformative and surreal. It was the first time in years some had been outside 20-foot walls and razor fences. (Healy, The New York Times, Sterling, October 11, 2019)
A federal judge in Charleston, South Carolina, has approved a $250,000 settlement that also ensures the right to a lawyer for some municipal court defendants. It requires the city of Beaufort and the town of Bluffton to inform municipal court defendants facing possible jail time of their right to a lawyer and to provide them with free representation when they can’t afford it. The Greenville News and the Charlotte Observer have additional coverage. (Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal, October 11, 2019)