Friday News Roundup: What Tuesday’s Elections Mean for Criminal Justice…

Friday News Roundup latest news

This week in the news: What this week’s elections mean for criminal justice, the largest single-day commutation in US history, the war on drugs isn’t over, and more. 

Drugs and Treatment Courts

Is the ‘War on Drugs’ Over? Arrest Statistics Say No

Despite the legalization of marijuana in many states and bipartisan calls to treat drug addiction as a public health issue rather than as a crime, arrests for drugs have increased every year since 2015, after declining over the previous decade. According to crime statistics released by the FBI in September, there were 1,654,282 arrests for drugs in 2018, continuing to disproportionately affect African-Americans and Hispanics. Drugs have been the top reason people have been arrested in the US for the past 10 years, if not longer, and marijuana is the top drug involved in those arrests. Over 80 percent are for possession, inching up when compared to arrests for sale or manufacturing. (Stellin, The New York Times, November 5, 2019)

Legislation in Senate Aims to Expand Veteran Treatment Courts

A bipartisan bill, called the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019, creates a program in coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help state, local, and tribal governments develop and maintain veteran treatment courts. The release says the bill would provide grants, training, and technical assistance for such courts and communities that are interested in starting such a program. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martha McSally (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the legislation after it passed in the House last week. (News Staff, CBS19, Washington, November 5, 2019)


Andy Beshear’s Win in Kentucky is Also a Win for Ex-Felon Voting Rights

New governor-elect Andy Beshear (D) is poised to sign an executive order that restores voting rights to at least some people with felony records after they’ve served their sentences, potentially increasing the voter rolls by more than 100,000. Kentucky has one of the strictest laws disenfranchising people with felony records, banning them from voting for life, unless they get a special reprieve from the state, even after they serve out their prison sentences, parole, or probation. It is only one of two states with such a strict lifetime ban. (Lopez, Vox, November 6, 2019)

‘A Sea Change’ for Prosecutors in Northern Virginia a Liberal Democratic Candidates Sweep Races

Candidates who labeled themselves progressives won races for top prosecutor in four Northern Virginia counties Tuesday, giving a nationwide movement for bold criminal justice reform a major foothold in Virginia for the first time. The candidates promised sweeping changes such as moving away from the death penalty, dropping prosecutions for marijuana possession, ending cash bail, and limiting cooperation with immigration authorities. The counties are Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William. (Jouvenal, The Washington Post, November 5, 2019)

We Cannot Afford to Squander This Chance for Criminal Justice Reform

With two recent presidential forums focused exclusively on criminal justice reform and the candidates for president releasing detailed plans for justice reform, The Hill wrote an OpEd about why this unprecedented attention is so critical. (Rooks, The Hill, November 5, 2019)

Criminal Justice 

Illinois Department of Corrections Revises Book Ban Policy 

On Friday, the Illinois Department of Corrections adopted new rules on how books, magazines, and other publications entering the prison will be reviewed. The directive comes after months of public outcry following one Illinois prison’s removal of about 200 books, many of which dealt with issues of race. The department was sued last year after some prisons prohibited publications from the Human Rights Defense Center, which produces Prison Legal News, and mail from the Chicago chapter of Black and Pink, a prison abolitionist organization that supports incarcerated LGBTQ people. Under the new rules, the department still has wide discretion in determining what it can ban. (Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal, November 4, 2019)

Oklahoma Approves Largest Single-Day Commutation in US History

On Monday afternoon, nearly 500 people serving low-level drug and nonviolent offenses were released in what Oklahoma lawmakers are calling the largest single-day commutation in both state and US history. This is a success for criminal justice reform efforts in a state that has a long history of harsh sentencing practices and high incarceration rates. Read more for how this came about and what advocates say still needs to be done. (Bellware, The Washington Post, November 3, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Arizona Prosecutor Commissions Report That Argues against Leniency for Teen Who Commit Crimes

Prosecutors in Maricopa County, Arizona, are using a controversial report to discredit research on the differences between teenage and adult brains. The report argues that some young people are capable of understanding their offenses, especially murder, and should be judged individually, in the same way as adults because teenagers are not “meaningfully different from adults” when it comes to judgment, reasoning, planning, impulse management, self-control, and other cognitive functions. The report is an attack on pivotal decisions by the Supreme Court that prohibited extreme sentences for children and teenagers. (Lerner, The Appeal, November 1, 2019)

Public Defense

Massachusetts’ Highest Court is Urged to Address a Crisis in Indigent Defense

Yesterday, the state Supreme Judicial Court for Massachusetts heard arguments on pay rates and workloads for defense counsel. In honor of these hearings, The Appeal recorded and discussed the important history of public defenders and assigned counsel in the state of Massachusetts. Read the spotlight here. (Gullapalli, The Appeal, November 7, 2019)