Bail Reform – Alabama

Too poor to make bail: Alabama forced to reform ‘two-tiered’ jail system, By Anna Claire Vollers, October 11, 2017, Al.com: “In May, Kandace Edwards had hit rock bottom. She was 29 years old and homeless, the mother of two toddlers. They lived in rural Randolph County on the Alabama-Georgia line, staying with a variety of friends – some of whom did not have electricity or running water – since her eviction five months previously. Edwards was also 7 months pregnant and had just lost her waitressing job, she said, after the restaurant let her go because her high-risk pregnancy prevented her from working in certain conditions. She had no income, relying on food stamps and Medicaid for support. She’d granted temporary custody of her children to her mother-in-law. Then Edwards was arrested for forging a $75 check. It was a felony charge, and bail was set at $7,500…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

‘Ban the Box’ laws may be harming young black men seeking jobs, By Rebecca Beitsch, August 22, 2017, Stateline: “‘Ban the box’ laws, which bar employers from asking job applicants whether they have a criminal record, may be harming some of the people they are intended to help.  Twenty-nine states prevent state and sometimes city and county employers from including a criminal history box on job applications. Nine states have extended the ban to private employers as well…”

Bail Reform

Post bail, By Jon Schuppe, August 20, 2017, NBC News: “On the ground floor of a deteriorating county courthouse, in a room outfitted with temporary office furniture and tangles of electrical wires, a cornerstone of America’s criminal justice system is crumbling. A 20-year-old man in a green jail jumpsuit appears on a video monitor that faces a judge. It is early June, and he has been arrested for driving a car with a gun locked in the glove compartment.  If he were in almost any other courtroom in the country, he’d be ordered to stay behind bars until he posted bail — if he could afford it. This is what millions of people charged with crimes from shoplifting to shootings have done for more than two centuries. The bail system, enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is meant to ensure that all defendants, presumed innocent before trial, get a shot at freedom and return to court. But allowing people to pay for their release has proved unfair to people who don’t have much money…”

Bail System – Illinois

Rauner signs law to change rules for paying cash to get out of jail, By Kim Geiger, June 9, 2017, Chicago Tribune: “Low-level offenders who have been arrested and can’t come up with enough money to get out of jail can get a rehearing of their bail amount, under a plan signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner…”

Age of Criminal Responsibility in States

How ‘Raise the Age’ laws might reduce recidivism, By Teresa Wiltz, May 31, 2017, Stateline: “You have to be 18 to vote in a general election or join the military without your parents’ consent — and you’ve got to be 21 before you can belly up to the bar. But in some states, if you’re under 18 and you break the law, you’ll be treated as an adult, no matter how slight the crime — even if it’s just jumping a subway turnstile or shoplifting…”

Public Defender System – Louisiana

Class-action status sought for Louisiana indigent defense lawsuit, By Ken Daley, May 4, 2017, New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Civil rights advocates hoping to force a rebuild of Louisiana’s indigent defense system on Thursday (May 4) sought class-action status for a lawsuit filed in February against Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state’s Public Defender Board. The motion for class certification argues that Louisiana has allowed the system meant to provide constitutionally mandated legal aid for poor criminal defendants to buckle under excessive caseloads, inadequate staffing and deficient funding mechanisms. Supporters said that if the class action request is certified, rulings in the case would apply to nearly 20,000 indigent defendants in the state, likely making it the largest indigent-defense case of its kind…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

Matching ex-offenders with hard-to-fill health care jobs, By Sophie Quinton, April 19, 2017, Stateline: “Collie Thomas sat in the courtyard outside the Johns Hopkins Hospital and marveled at her luck. She works as an orderly in one of the most prestigious hospitals in the country. She was promoted about a year ago. She just moved into a snug new row house. ‘I stayed 10 years in prison, and I worked hard in prison for like a dollar, dollar fifty — for so little,’ said Thomas, 51, her bedazzled pink smartphone glinting in the April sunshine. ‘So when you get these kinds of jobs here, you work your best.’  With unemployment falling and workers hard to find, a growing number of health care employers are following Johns Hopkins’ lead and giving people with criminal records a second chance — hiring them mainly into entry-level jobs in food service, janitorial services and housekeeping. Studies show that employees with records stay in their jobs longer and are no more likely to commit workplace crimes than hires without them…”

Bail System – California

Here’s how state lawmakers plan to reform the bail system in CaliforniaBy Jazmine Ulloa, March 26, 2017, Los Angeles Times: “State lawmakers have unveiled an ambitious plan to reform how counties in California set bail for defendants while they wait for their cases to be resolved or go to trial.  New language added Friday to bills by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) would prevent criminal defendants from having to post money as a condition of release from jail and would shift some power from judges to pretrial services agencies to assess the risks they would pose if allowed out in the community…”

Prison Diversion Programs and the Poor

  • After a crime, the price of a second chance, By Shaila Dewan and Andrew W. Lehren, December 12, 2016, New York Times: “During the tough financial times of 2011, Marcy Willis, a single mother who raised five children in Atlanta, used her credit card to rent a car for an acquaintance in exchange for cash. But the man — and the car — disappeared, she said. Four months later, when Ms. Willis finally recovered the car and returned it, she was charged with felony theft.  As a first-time offender, Ms. Willis, 52, qualified for a big break: a program called pretrial intervention, also known as diversion. If she took 12 weeks of classes, performed 24 hours of community service and stayed out of trouble, her case would be dismissed and her arrest could be expunged, leaving her record clean…”
  • Alabama prosecutor sets the penalties and fills the coffers, By Shaila Dewan and Andrew W. Lehren, December 13, 2016, New York Times: “It was a run-of-the-mill keg party in an open field, until one guest, Harvey Drayton Burch III, objected to paying for his beer. Witnesses said Mr. Burch fired a gun over the crowd and began spraying Mace. With partyers fleeing, Mr. Burch jumped into the back seat of a car as it drove away.  The driver had a name well known in Henry County: Douglas A. Valeska II, the son of the local district attorney. When the car was stopped, a deputy found a loaded magazine and knife in Mr. Burch’s pocket, a gun and pepper spray in a backpack, and a pink pill on the floorboard. After Mr. Burch admitted to firing his weapon, he was arrested. The district attorney arrived to take his son and two other passengers home…”

Incarceration in Rural Areas

This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined. Why?, By Josh Keller and Adam Pearce, September 2, 2016, New York Times: “Donnie Gaddis picked the wrong county to sell 15 oxycodone pills to an undercover officer.  If Mr. Gaddis had been caught 20 miles to the east, in Cincinnati, he would have received a maximum of six months in prison, court records show. In San Francisco or Brooklyn, he would probably have received drug treatment or probation, lawyers say.  But Mr. Gaddis lived in Dearborn County, Ind., which sends more people to prison per capita than nearly any other county in the United States. After agreeing to a plea deal, he was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison…”

Court Fines and the Poor

Court costs entrap nonwhite, poor juvenile offenders, By Erik Eckholm, August 31, 2016, New York Times: “When Dequan Jackson had his only brush with the law, at 13, he tried to do everything right.  Charged with battery for banging into a teacher while horsing around in a hallway, he pleaded guilty with the promise that after one year of successful probation, the conviction would be reduced to a misdemeanor.  He worked 40 hours in a food bank. He met with an anger management counselor. He kept to an 8 p.m. curfew except when returning from football practice or church.  And he kept out of trouble. But Dequan and his mother, who is struggling to raise two sons here on wisps of income, were unable to meet one final condition: payment of $200 in court and public defender fees. For that reason alone, his probation was extended for what turned out to be 14 more months, until they pulled together the money at a time when they had trouble finding quarters for the laundromat…”

US Bail System and the Poor

  • Obama’s lawyers challenge the money bail system: Can people be kept in jail just because they are poor?, By David Savage, August 25, 2016, Chicago Tribune: “President Obama’s civil rights lawyers are seeking a potentially far-reaching ruling to hold that the Constitution forbids the common practice of keeping people in jail prior to a trial, even for minor offenses, just because they are too poor to pay for bail.  Every day, about 450,000 people are held under arrest in city and county jails because they cannot afford bail, according to the Southern Center for Human Rights and Equal Justice Under Law, a small Washington-based civil rights group…”
  • Justice department steps in against jailing practices that target poor people, By Jamiles Lartey, August 24, 2016, The Guardian: “Maurice Walker’s case is far from exceptional.  Arrested on 3 September 2015 for public intoxication, Walker, a 54-year-old black man with a serious mental disorder that leaves him unable to work, was faced with two options: pay a $160 cash bond and leave jail that day, or remain in jail over a holiday weekend. Walker told officials that he couldn’t afford the standard bond required by the city for the misdemeanor and wound up spending six days in jail, only being allowed out of his cell for an hour a day. Walker said he was also denied daily medication he took for his disorder…”

SNAP Program – Georgia

Georgia may soon lift ban on food stamps for drug felons, By Ryan Phillips (AP), April 26, 2016, ABC News: “Georgia may soon lift a ban on food stamps for convicted drug offenders after they are released, in an effort to keep them from returning to prison. Gov. Nathan Deal plans to sign legislation Wednesday making the state opt out of a federal lifetime ban on food stamps for those convicted of a drug-related felony. While the federal program calls for stiff restrictions on felons, states are allowed to opt out of the ban. The post-release assistance is supposed help prevent recidivism. The initiative under Deal’s legislative agenda is part of a more comprehensive bill aimed at reforming the state’s criminal justice system…”

Bail System – Connecticut

Gov. Malloy proposes elimination of bail for some offenders, By Daniela Altimari, January 28, 2016, Hartford Courant: “Standing in a church in the North End Thursday afternoon, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy outlined his plan to take on a bail system that dates from medieval England. The Democratic governor is proposing an end to bail for low-risk defendants charged with low-level crimes. In cases where bond is set as a condition of release, Malloy is calling for a new system that would permit defendants to sidestep bail bondsmen and put up a cash deposit directly with the court in order to secure their freedom…”

Stateline’s State of the States Report

State of the States 2016, January 25, 2016, Stateline: “Stateline’s annual State of the States series looks at some of the pressing issues state lawmakers are facing as they begin their work this month. The five-part series includes analytical articles, infographics and interactives…”

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

States grapple with girls in the juvenile justice system, By Teresa Wiltz, November 25, 2015, Stateline: “When she was 11, KiAmber was arrested for defacing school property—a misdemeanor the Tallahassee, Florida, girl insists she did not commit. That experience scared her.  By the time she turned 12, she was pregnant. School wasn’t safe—fights broke out all the time. So KiAmber asked to enroll in a program for at-risk girls, funded by the state, where she receives intensive counseling and tutoring. Now, the ninth-grader said, she’s matured and is looking forward to creating a stable life for herself and her 3-year-old daughter. Without early intervention, ‘I don’t know where I’d be,’ said KiAmber, who at 15 is still a juvenile and asked that her last name not be used.  Male juvenile offenders still greatly outnumber females. But while the arrest rate for juveniles has declined over the past two decades, it has not fallen as sharply for girls as it has for boys. And minority girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated…”

US Bail System and the Poor

Court by court, lawyers fight policies that fall heavily on the poor, By Shaila Dewan, October 23, 2015, New York Times: “In January, Christy Dawn Varden was arrested in a Walmart parking lot, charged with shoplifting and three other misdemeanors, and taken to jail. There, she was told that if she had $2,000, she could post bail and leave. If she did not, she would wait a week before seeing a judge. Ms. Varden, who lived with her mother and two children, had serious mental and physical health problems; her only income was her monthly food stamp allotment.  Two days later, a civil rights lawyer named Alec Karakatsanis sued on behalf of Ms. Varden, alleging that bail policies in Clanton, a city of 8,619, discriminated against the poor by imprisoning them while allowing those with money to go free…”

US Bail System

When bail is out of defendant’s reach, other costs mount, By Shaila Dewan, June 10, 2015, New York Times: “Dominick Torrence, who has lived in this city all his life, has a long rap sheet for dealing drugs but no history of violence. So when he was charged with disorderly conduct and rioting on April 28, a night of unrest after Freddie Gray was fatally injured in police custody, he was shocked to learn the amount he would need to make bail: $250,000, the same amount as two of the officers facing charges over Mr. Gray’s death.  Although a bail bondsman would charge only a fraction of that, normally 10 percent, for many defendants $25,000 is as impossible a sum as $250,000. ‘That’s something you get for murder or attempted murder,’ Mr. Torrence, 29, said from Baltimore Central Booking. ‘You’re telling me I have to take food out of my kid’s mouth so I can get out of jail.’  He spent a month in jail on charges that would later be dropped…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

Out of prison, out of work: Ex-inmates face struggles after release, By Rick Barrett, March 29, 2015, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Finding a job is hard enough these days, but finding one when you have a criminal record can be all but impossible.  James Daniels knows. After spending nearly three years in prison for a drug crime — possession of marijuana with intent to deliver — he was released March 31, 2012, only to learn that some potential employers couldn’t see past the felony…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

Our criminal justice system is making it really hard for people to find jobs, By Jonathan Blanks, September 30, 2014, Washington Post: “Although the American economy has rebounded from the Great Recession, many people still struggle to find jobs. Politicians blame taxation, trade policies and automation. Some have even singled out the current welfare system. Often overlooked? The many punitive effects of the criminal justice system. Nearly 65 million Americans have a criminal record. This black mark carries with it potentially mandatory restrictions on jobs, housing, education and public assistance. As detailed in a National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers study, the federal government and every state imposes some sort of ‘collateral consequence’ to arrests or convictions…”