Friday News Roundup: Bail Reform Continues Making Headlines

Friday News Roundup latest news

This week in the news: Bail reform from New York to Michigan, who gets charged for an overdose, calls for more funding in the public defense system, and more. 

Bail Reform

As Bail Reform Takes Hold Across New York State, A Rural County Wrestles with the Future of Its Aging Jail

New York’s bail reform debate is centered on consequences for the 7,000 people jailed on New York City’s Rikers Island, but the bigger impact may be upstate, where almost two-thirds of New York’s jail capacity is located, and where half the jails have 190 or fewer beds. This story follows one such county, Cortland, where Undersheriff Budd Rigg oversees a county jail that “is effectively the county’s largest detox center.” There have been serious overcrowding issues. However, Rigg argues that the facility has also been the best chance at receiving treatment services for many in an area struggling with substance-use, which includes his daughter. The reform is a potential opportunity and a potential crisis as the community grapples with taking intentional steps to adjust. (Alcorn, The Appeal, February 4, 2020)

Michigan Task Force Calls on State to Significantly Reduce Mass Incarceration in County Jails

In a report that cites 18 areas that should be considered for reforms, one idea that had “broad appeal” among task force members was Michigan’s cash bail system. The task force proposes those who are arrested should be released on their own recognizance or an unsecured bond, unless the court has made a determination of risk danger to themself or others. Michigan’s legislature has been addressing criminal justice reform on an issues basis, but the task force, created in April by an executive order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, was charged with taking a holistic approach to solving the problem of mass incarceration in county jails. (Wolfe, The Appeal, February 3, 2020)


The Wrong Way to Fight the Opioid Crisis

Read about Jamie Maynard, of Ohio, who became dependent on opioids and sometimes purchased drugs for other users. When one overdosed, she became the subject of a homicide investigation. The laws, which exist in more than two dozen states, allow prosecutors to bring felony charges against anyone who provides drugs that prove fatal. The article is critical of how low-level offenders are actually the individuals targeted in these cases, categorized as “drug-induced homicide,” “murder by overdose,” “drug delivery resulting in death,” and “overdose homicide.” (Williams, The New Yorker, February 3, 2020)

Justice System

A Cancer Patient Stole Groceries Worth $109.63. She Was Sentenced to 10 Months

Last week, a judge sentenced a woman, Ashley Menser, to at least 10 months in prison after being convicted of stealing just over $100 in groceries. Menser’s lawyer said the sentence was in line with someone who has her criminal record, which includes a history of minor theft and drug crimes and one third-degree felony shoplifting charge, but Menser is concerned about her health prospects going forward. Lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman is calling the situation overly harsh and emblematic of a flawed criminal justice system. (Oppel Jr., The New York Times, February 2, 2020)

Voting Rights

Iowa Still Bars Ex-Felons From Voting, Frustrating Democratic Caucus-goers

With nominating contests underway, Iowa is looked at as the last state to ban voting rights for individuals convicted of a felony. Under Iowa law, people who have completed their prison sentences cannot vote unless they apply directly to the governor for the right to be restored. The number of individuals qualifying is 24,000, but with access to that information, the resources, and the ability to go through the application process minimal, only a fraction have applied. Governor Kim Reynolds supports an amendment to the state constitution and has not supported signing an executive order that might restore those rights immediately. However, the last proposal was stalled in the state senate. (Edelman, NBCNews, Des Moines, February 2, 2020)

Public Defense

Summit County Boosting Salaries for Public Defenders, Among Lowest Paid in the State

Thanks to an increase in state funding, multiple counties in Ohio will be putting more money towards indigent defense. Summit County and Akron together plan to provide an additional $450,000 to the Summit County Legal Defender’s Office, an increase of nearly 42 percent over last year. Joe Kodish, director of the county’s public defender’s office, plans to use the influx of funds to hire more staff and boost salaries, improvements he’s long been seeking. (Warsmith, Beacon Journal, February 3, 2020)

Public Defenders Face Funding Crisis for Sixth Year in a Row, Report Says

Exactly one week ago, an annual report by the Louisiana Public Defender Board declared the state’s public defense system in crisis for the sixth year in a row. This is more evidence of a crisis, where 13 defendants accused of a capital crime do not have a lawyer. The uncertain funding model has stakeholders worried that even if defendants outside death penalty cases are not waitlisted, the quality of their defense is not secure. (DeRoberts, The Advocate, February 1, 2020)


Documenting and Addressing the Health Impacts of Carceral Systems

The January 2020 edition of American Public Health Association is devoted entirely to the public health concerns surrounding the justice system. It features research and perspectives on improving health outcomes for justice-involved populations, psychological distress in solitary confinement, the links between mass incarceration and climate change, the public health implications of criminal justice reform, and more. (American Public Health Association, January 2020)