Cash Bail System

  • What happened when New Jersey stopped relying on cash bail, By Maddie Hanna, February 16, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “One year into New Jersey’s nationally watched overhaul of its bail system, the state’s pretrial jail population has dropped 20 percent as courts have all but stopped setting cash bail…”
  • Philadelphia DA drops cash bail for ‘low-level’ crimes, By Anthony Izaguirre (AP), February 21, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Philadelphia’s top prosecutor said Wednesday his office will stop jailing people who cannot afford to pay cash bail in minor criminal cases, affirming the commitment of the country’s fifth-largest city to a national movement that argues the practice targets poor Americans…”

Renters and Eviction

  • Landlord battles haunt Twin Cities low-income renters, By Max Nesterak, February 22, 2018, Minnesota Public Radio: “Lakesha Davis and her fiance Steven Perkins thought they’d finally landed a home, a house in St. Paul that offered a fresh start for them and four of their kids. Years earlier, they’d been forced from their north Minneapolis home after a grandson’s blood tests came back showing elevated lead levels. The landlord evicted them, Davis said, after the child’s pediatrician alerted a city housing inspector…”
  • When faced with eviction, African-American women in Madison struggle to find rent help, By Lisa Speckhard Pasque, February 17, 2018, Cap Times: “Last December when Brandice Hatcher was eight months pregnant, she came home to an eviction notice…”

Public Defender System – Missouri

Some Missouri lawmakers want to privatize the public defender system. For one county, it starts March 1., By Sky Chadde, February 20, 2018, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Next month, when poor people are charged with crimes in one southern Missouri county, a private attorney will represent them — even if they can’t afford it. That’s because the Missouri State Public Defender has decided to completely privatize Texas County. Starting March 1, if a defendant is deemed indigent, judges there will contract with private lawyers, with the state footing the bill, according to Michael Barrett, director for the public defender office…”

Bail Reform

  • New Jersey claims bail-reform a success, cites huge drop in jail population, By Peter Krouse, February 13, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One year after sweeping criminal-justice reforms became law in New Jersey, the state has “successfully transformed an antiquated money bail system into a modern risk-based system,” the state’s courts reported Tuesday…”
  • Could Dallas’ bail system be deemed an ‘instrument of oppression’ after Houston ruling?, By Naomi Martin, February 16, 2018, Dallas News: “On the one hand, it was a kick in the gut.  But it was also a roadmap. That’s how Dallas County officials see a much-anticipated ruling by a federal appeals court on bail reform. For years, county leaders and judges have been in talks to overhaul the criminal bail system to make it easier for poor arrestees who aren’t dangerous to be released from jail while they await trial…”

Bail Reform

  • Atlanta mayor signs new ordinance changing cash bail system in a nod to the needy, By Rhonda Cook, February 5, 2018, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an ordinance Tuesday that eliminates the Municipal Court’s cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders who otherwise would sit in jail because they can’t afford bail…”
  • Delaware strengthens bail reform movement, By J. B. Wogan, January 29, 2018, Governing: “Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill late last week that places the state among a small group that has moved away from cash bail. ‘You have poor people who pose no risk of flight or no risk to the community incarcerated on a full-time basis before trial,’ says Delaware state Sen. Bryan Townsend, a co-sponsor of the bill. ‘That’s not at all what the criminal justice system is supposed to be about.’ On any given day, jails across the country house some 700,000 people — many of whom are there because they can’t afford to pay bail…”

Criminal Justice Reform – Georgia

Number of African-Americans sent to Georgia prisons hits historic lows, By Bill Rankin, January 25, 2018, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The number of African-Americans being locked up in Georgia’s prison system has dropped to historic lows, reflecting a monumental shift in the way Georgia is punishing nonviolent offenders. While prison admissions have dropped almost 19 percent in the past eight years, the incarceration of black inmates fell by 30 percent. And the number of black inmates entering the prison system last year was at its lowest level in decades, Department of Corrections records show…”

Access to Legal Aid

Justice Dept. office to make legal aid more accessible is quietly closed, By Katie Benner, February 1, 2018, New York Times: “The Justice Department has effectively shuttered an Obama-era office dedicated to making legal aid accessible to all citizens, according to two people familiar with the situation. The division, the Office for Access to Justice, began as an initiative in 2010 under former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to increase and improve legal resources for indigent litigants in civil, criminal and tribal courts. Though the head of the office reports directly to the associate attorney general, it never gained much visibility within the Justice Department because it did not oversee a large staff of prosecutors…”

Cash Bail System – Dallas, TX

Poor people locked up longer than the rich, violating Constitution in Dallas, lawsuit alleges, By Cary Aspinwall and Naomi Martin, January 21, 2018, Dallas Morning News: “The day that Dallas County leaders have been dreading for years finally arrived on Sunday: four nonprofits filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the jail’s cash bail system unfairly harms poor people and violates the Texas and U.S. constitutions. The lawsuit, which officials feared due to its potentially hefty price tag, alleges Dallas County’s cash bail system fails to consider a jailed defendant’s ability to pay to post bond, resulting in disparate treatment in the criminal justice system…”

Juvenile Court Fines and Fees

Movement against juvenile court fees runs into resistance, By Teresa Wiltz, January 17, 2018, Stateline: “California this month became the first state to eliminate court costs, fees and fines for young offenders. But court officials and legislators wary of forfeiting a key source of revenue have raised roadblocks in states and localities that have tried to follow suit. The Trump administration has further blunted momentum by scrapping an Obama-era warning against imposing excessive fees and fines on juveniles. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the move as part of a broader effort to overhaul regulatory procedures at the Department of Justice. The administration declined to comment on whether it supports the imposition of such fees…”

Bail Reform – New York

Cuomo, in bid to help poor, proposes ending cash bail for minor crimes, By James C. McKinley Jr., January 2, 2018, New York Times: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask the New York State Legislature to eliminate cash bail for many crimes and to speed up the disclosure of evidence in trials as part of a package of proposals intended make the criminal justice system fairer for indigent defendants, his aides said…”

Driver’s License Suspensions

  • Changes sought as driver suspensions pile up, By Lynn Hulsey, December 5, 2017, Dayton Daily News: “Drivers in Ohio can lose their license for actions that have nothing to do with driving. Failing to pay child support. Dropping out of high school. Getting caught smoking as a juvenile. Skipping a court date or failing to pay fines on misdemeanor charges…”
  • Bill would let some D.C. drivers keep licenses despite unpaid parking tickets, By Justin Wm. Moyer, December 5, 2017, Washington Post: “A bill introduced Tuesday in the D.C. Council would prevent the city from suspending low-income residents’ driver’s licenses because they have unpaid parking fines and traffic tickets, a practice some say unfairly punishes the poor…”

Public Defense System

Public defenders fight back against budget cuts, growing caseloads, By Teresa Wiltz, November 21, 2017, Stateline: “Public defenders have complained for decades they’ve got too many cases and not enough money — or time — to do their clients justice. Now, more public defense advocates are suing states for more funding. Overwhelmed public defenders also are increasingly trying other tactics: refusing to take on new cases, raising money through crowdfunding, even trying to assign a case to a sitting governor…”

State Licensing and Employment

  • When unpaid student loan bills mean you can no longer work, By Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Stacy Cowley and Natalie Kitroeff, November 18, 2017, New York Times: “Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job. Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work. As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans…”
  • The disappearing right to earn a living, By Conor Friedersdorf, November 17, 2017, The Atlantic: “In most states, a person who desires to install home-entertainment systems for a living, or as a part-time gig for extra cash, faces relatively few barriers to entry. This is work teenagers routinely do for grandparents after they make a technology purchase. But in Connecticut, a home-entertainment installer is required to obtain a license from the state before serving customers. It costs applicants $185. To qualify, they must have a 12th-grade education, complete a test, and accumulate one year of apprenticeship experience in the field. A typical aspirant can expect the licensing process to delay them 575 days…”

Legal Counsel for Eviction

How free legal help can prevent evictions, By Teresa Wiltz, October 27, 2017, Stateline: “In much of the country, more and more renters are devoting larger and larger portions of their income to rent. For low-income families, this can push them further into poverty and put them at risk for being evicted — and becoming homeless. Evictions destabilize families, forcing them into poorer neighborhoods with higher crime rates. And evictions cost cities money: After a family is evicted, a city can end up losing thousands of dollars in property taxes and unpaid utility bills, and may have to bear increased costs from homeless shelters and hospitals…”

Incarceration and Recidivism – Montana

Montana agencies, volunteers work to reintegrate citizens after incarceration, By David Erickson, October 30, 2017, The Missoulian: “Montana’s prison population has grown faster than the national average, and last year 15,000 people in the state were either behind bars or under criminal justice supervision. The state spent $182 million on corrections in fiscal year 2014, and jails and prisons suffer from overcrowding while taxpayers foot the bill…”

Bail System – California

California’s bail system is ‘unsafe and unfair,’ study finds, By Eric Westervelt, October 25, 2017, National Public Radio: “The national effort to get states to move away from a bail system based on money — something detractors call unjust and antiquated — got a big boost this week: A yearlong study backed by California’s chief justice recommended money bail be abolished and replaced with a system that includes robust safety assessments and expanded pretrial services. Calling the state’s commercial bail system ‘unsafe and unfair,’ a working group created by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye argues that the state’s bail system bases a defendant’s liberty too much on his or her finances, rather than an assessment of whether the defendant is a flight or safety risk…”

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…”

Public Defender System – Tennessee

TN high court urges change, better funding to protect legal rights of the poor, By Jamie Satterfield, October 9, 2017, Knoxville News Sentinel: “The Tennessee Supreme Court announced last week it is going to try to ratchet down the costs of providing attorneys for poor people, recommend a boost in pay for those lawyers, and lend its voice to a push for money to reform a broken system. The high court in a news release detailed changes it wants to see in ensuring poor people are afforded legal representation that pass constitutional muster. Nearly all require buy-in from Tennessee lawmakers, who hold the purse strings…”

Prison Diversion Programs for Mothers

Breaking the  cycle of incarceration by keeping mothers and children together, By Rebecca Beitsch, September 13, 2017, Stateline: “When Stephanie Petitt was arrested for violating probation for prior drug and robbery convictions, she learned two things: She was 16 weeks pregnant, and she would probably deliver her baby while incarcerated at an Oklahoma prison. In most places, an incarcerated woman who gives birth almost immediately hands over her newborn to a social worker, who places the child with a relative or with foster parents. Petitt said she was told she would have an hour to hold her newborn. Just a few states offer alternatives that allow mother and child to stay together longer. At least eight states have so-called prison nurseries where nonviolent female offenders live with their children for a few months to several years…”

Legal Representation in Evictions

Denver landlords tried to evict nearly 8,000 households last year. The success rate largely depended on one factor: attorneys., By Jennifer Brown, September 13, 2017, Denver Post: “Denver landlords tried to evict nearly 8,000 households last year. Their success depended largely on one factor: whether their tenants hired an attorney. And they almost never did. In Denver County eviction court, landlords have an attorney about 90 percent of the time. Tenants, on the other hand, are represented by counsel about 1 percent of the time, according to new research by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, which reviewed 93,000 eviction filings from 2001 through last year…”