Friday News Roundup: Second Chances, Voting Restoration, and more!

Friday News Roundup latest news

This week in the news: Art programs, JPMorgan, and Michigan all offer second chances, voting restoration wins in both Florida and Minnesota, how Kim Foxx has changed prosecutions in Cook County, and more. 

Second Chances

Why New York City DAs Offer Art Class In Lieu of Court

New York City is offering diversion programming to New Yorkers for certain offenses. Since Project Reset started, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said that prosecutions for low-level offenses have halved. Vance also said that 40,000 men and women, many or most of whom are people of color, are no longer coming into contact with the criminal justice system. The alternatives offered are arts or behavioral programs, several affiliated with the Center for Court Innovation, but specific options based on location of arrest. (Bellan, CityLab, October 22, 2019)

Why JPMorgan Chase Wants to Give More Former Criminals a Second Chance

JPMorgan Chase announced several major steps to encourage second-chance hiring for those with criminal records. The bank is officially “banning the box” from its job applications. It will steer more than $7 million toward organizations providing job- and life-skills training to formerly incarcerated individuals. The bank is also launching a new “policy center,” and the think tank’s first agenda item: reforming rules that effectively bar formerly incarcerated people from employment, in finance and elsewhere. In 2018, the company hired more than 20,000 people in the US and roughly 10 percent had a criminal history. (Heimer, Fortune, October 21, 2019)

Michigan Allows Prison Inmates to Seek College Financial Aid

Individuals in Michigan’s prisons are now allowed to apply for college financial aid through Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program (TIP). TIP is a state-funded program that reimburses tuition expenses for Medicaid-eligible students at participating public and private institutions. Michigan will now be one of eighteen states that do not prevent students who are incarcerated from receiving state financial aid. There will be $64.3 million allotted to TIP from the 2020 budget, reflecting the change. (AP, Detroit, October 20, 2019)

Drug Treatment

Major Drug Companies Agree to Last-Minute Settlement of Opioid Trial

The landmark first federal opioid trial was avoided this week as a last-minute $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties was reached. In the deal, the drug distributors (McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, which distribute about 90 percent of all the medicines to pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics) agreed to pay $215 million. Teva, the Israel-based manufacturer of generic drugs, agreed to pay $20 million in cash over three years and donate $25 million worth of addiction treatment drugs such as those that blunt cravings for opioids. The combination of cash payouts and donations of addiction treatments could become a model for settlement of thousands of similar cases brought in the wake of the opioid epidemic. (Hoffman, The New York Times, Cleveland, October 21, 2019)

Turning Over A New Leaf: The Push To Nix Old Pot Convictions

While more states have moved to legalize marijuana, many of them have failed to make provisions to help people who still carry convictions for behavior that’s now legal. Law 360 reports on how a criminal record impacts individual stories as well as on state trends, as at least 15 states have enacted laws providing for the expungement of some marijuana convictions since 2014. (Karp, Law 360, October 20, 2019)

Voting Rights

ACLU Sues Minnesota to Restore Voting Rights for Convicted Felons

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Minnesota Monday on behalf of four individuals with convictions who are seeking the restoration of their right to vote. The four plaintiffs have finished their incarceration and are currently on probation, parole, or supervised release. They automatically lost their right to vote until their sentences are completely extinguished. “Plaintiffs have been deemed safe to live in their communities where they raise their children, contribute to Minnesota’s economic, cultural, religious, civic and political life, pay taxes and bear the consequences of the decisions made by their governments,” the complaint states. (Gorman, Courthouse News, October 21, 2019)

Federal Judge: Florida Can’t Block Felons From Regaining Voting Rights For Inability to Pay Fines

Florida can’t bar residents with felony records from regaining their right to vote just because they’re unable to pay off their court fines and fees, a federal judge ruled last Friday night. Last November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4 by 64 percent and was supposed to restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million Floridians with felony records. But the language said that voting rights would be restored “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation,” and this ruling clarified that “all terms” does not include financial obligations imposed by courts. (Ciaramella, Reason, October 18, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

A Deadly Father-and-Son Bank Robbery Raises Questions About Culpability and the Adolescent Mind

Christopher Lay participated in a deadly armed robbery at age 19 with his father, who was mentally-ill and kept him extremely isolated. Since arriving to prison with “zero education,” Lay has realized later how his father was misguided, during his 14 years in prison where he also earned a GED and a bachelor’s degree. He is seeking commutation from the governor, and his case asks whether the Supreme Court decisions about sentencing reform for juveniles be expanded to include older teens. (Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal, October 18, 2019)

Criminal Justice 

The Kim Foxx Effect: How Prosecutions Have Changed in Cook County

The Marshall Project dived into the six years of data outlining what happened in every felony brought to Illinois State Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which offered an unprecedented view into the decision-making of prosecutors and its impact. More than 35,000 cases flow through Foxx’s office every year. Since taking office, Foxx turned away more than 5,000 cases that would have been pursued by previous State’s Attorney, mostly by declining to prosecute low-level shoplifting and drug offenses and by diverting more cases to alternative treatment programs. (Daniels, The Marshall Project, October 24, 2019)

Karen Lash on Finding Legal Aid Funding in High Places

Law 360 conducted an All Access interview with the Justice Programs Office’s Karen Lash, who helped launch our Justice in Government Project. Lash provides training and technical assistance to state and local stakeholders interested in using civil legal aid to make government more effective. Check out the interview to learn more about her work in the Department of Justice and more recent efforts to make civil legal aid a more integral part of executive branches around the country. (Vogt, Law 360, October 20, 2019)

Illinois Loosened Ankle-Monitor Restrictions But Advocates Say it’s too Soon to Celebrate

A Prisoner Review Board memo released in July requires a minimum of 12 hours of movement with ankle monitors, but some people say they’re still being given far less. For example, Isaac Young was told he was only allowed six and then later eight hours of movement, which was both a source of anxiety and a barrier to employment. This increased level of restriction needed approval by the PRB starting July 15, but Young was not informed of the change. (Lerner, The Appeal, October 18, 2019)