This week in the news: Missouri’s new Supreme Court chief justice says our public defender system needs to be sufficiently funded and staffed for the system to work; bail reform in New York; a look at problem-solving and veterans treatment courts; and more.
In New York, since the bail reform law went into effect at the beginning of 2020, politicians, law enforcement, and others have been concerned about what it could mean for safety and justice. Among other changes, the new bail law eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the law will significantly reduce the number of people held in jail prior to their trial, as much as 90% of cases. However, the new changes are being met with opposition. (Stone, The Oneida Daily Dispatch, January 21, 2020).
Several state leaders are taking actions to implement justice reforms. In Michigan, a special task force on jails and pretrial incarceration released 18 policy recommendations to the state Legislature, recommendations which included diverting people with behavioral health and substance abuse problems from prisons and shortening maximum probation terms for felonies. Read more about what states are doing to reform the system. (Head, The Hill, January 22, 2020).
Political activist and academic Angela Davis once famously said: “Walls turned sideways are bridges.” That phrase is the starting point for “Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System,” an exhibit at the Tufts Aidekman Arts Center. The show includes 51 works by 34 artists who in the past 40 years have examined aspects of a sprawling system that now imprisons nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated. (Reynolds, WBUR, January 20, 2020).
Missouri’s new Supreme Court chief justice implored lawmakers Wednesday to pay more attention to funding the state’s public defender system. Judge George Draper III, delivering the judiciary’s annual address, said “Speaking from the perspective of both a former prosecutor and a former trial judge, I can tell you the system simply does not work without a sufficiently funded and staffed public defender system,” said Draper, who began presiding over the state’s highest court last July. (Thomas, Kansas City Star, January 22, 2020).
Housing rights advocates in Philadelphia scored a major victory last November with the passage of a municipal law guaranteeing low-income tenants facing eviction the right to an attorney. The law requires the city to provide “full legal representation” to any tenant facing eviction whose income is no greater than 200 percent of the poverty line. Income-eligible tenants are also guaranteed an attorney in non-eviction-related proceedings involving the termination of housing benefits or violations of the city’s housing code, as well as the first appeal of any covered proceeding. The city will contract with non-profit legal service organizations to provide the now guaranteed services. (Whillans, The Regulatory Review, January 22, 2020).
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush emphasized the importance of community collaboration in her review of the judiciary’s previous year to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Eric Holcomb during her annual address on Jan. 15 in the Indiana House of Representatives chamber. Rush said: “Problem-solving courts are only possible with strong judicial leadership.” In her address she focused on: Pretrial, criminal justice reform, civil legal aid funding, court modernization and civic engagement, and the need for community focus. (Stancombe, The Indiana Lawyer, January 22, 2020).
The Boston court is one of six voluntary, specialized courts in Massachusetts meant to reduce the incarceration and re-offense, or recidivism, rates of veterans while helping them address issues including substance abuse and mental health problems, court officials say. More than 100 veterans have graduated from the program since it opened, court officials said, and the recidivism rate is about 30%–half that of other people in this high risk population. Court officials acknowledge the numbers are small, but say the signs are positive. (BU News Service, January 20, 2020).