Justice System

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when a prisoner wins a civil rights case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy” his or her attorney’s fees award.

In Murphy v. Smith the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that this statute means “the court must pay the attorney’s entire fee award from the [prisoner’s] judgment until it reaches the 25% cap and only then turn to the [prison guards].” In other words, the court may not exercise its discretion and take any amount it wishes from the prisoner’s judgment to pay the attorney “from 25% down to a penny.”

CSG Midwest
Minnesota Rep. Marion O’Neill first became aware of the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in the state’s prisons while serving on the Legislature’s Prison Population Task Force in 2015.
CSG Midwest
Minnesota Rep. Marion O’Neill first became aware of the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in the state’s prisons while serving on the Legislature’s Prison Population Task Force in 2015.
State corrections officials told the task force that 85 percent to 90 percent of inmates had a chemical dependency, 60 percent had mental health issues, and 11 percent were severely mentally ill.
“It was clear we needed to address these individuals’ underlying issues, not just the criminal behavior,” O’Neill says.
She also learned that the majority of prison admissions — 64 percent in 2016 — were people whose parole or probation was revoked due to technical violations such as missing a meeting or failing a drug test, as opposed to individuals who had committed new crimes.
This year, O’Neill sponsored legislation that requires parole and probation agents to consider community-based alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders who violate the conditions of their probation or parole.
Under the new law, before revoking an offender’s probation or parole for a technical violation, agents must identify “options to address and correct the violation,” such as inpatient substance abuse treatment.

The Judges and Psychiatrists Leadership Initiative released Practical Considerations Related to Release and Sentencing for Defendants Who Have Behavioral Health Needs: A Judicial Guide and an accompanying bench card, which were developed with the support of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the CSG Justice Center. The resources are designed to assist judges in making informed connections to treatment for people with behavioral health needs who enter their courts.

Echoing his 2015 dissenting opinion in Glossip v. Gross, where the Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug lethal injection protocol, Justice Breyer asked the Court to reconsider the constitutionality of capital punishment in his concurring opinion in Dunn v. Madison.

Vernon Madison was sentenced to the death for the 1985 murder of a police officer. In 2016 he argued he was no longer competent to be executed due to a series of strokes. His psychologist and the state’s psychologist agree that Madison understands that he is being executed in retribution for murder. But he doesn’t remember killing anyone.

Supporting People with Serious Mental Illnesses and Reducing Their Risk of Contact with the Criminal Justice System

This primer highlights how critical it is for psychiatrists to better identify and address the clinical and forensic needs of these patients and incorporate interventions that address their criminogenic risks and needs into patient treatment plans.

CSG Midwest
Nebraska lawmakers are hoping a new law will reduce the number of individuals being housed in county jails due to the financial inability to pay bail bonds or court-ordered fines and fees.
Sen. Matt Hansen says he initially became concerned about the increasing jail population when he heard that the county jail built in his district in 2013 was already approaching capacity. He learned that many of the individuals being held hadn’t actually been sentenced to jail time — they either couldn’t make their bail and were awaiting trial, or couldn’t pay a fine or fee.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when an inmate recovers money damages in a confinement conditions case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent)” shall be applied to his or her attorney’s fees award. The question the Supreme Court will decide in Murphy v. Smith is whether “not to exceed 25 percent” means up to 25 percent or exactly 25 percent.   

CSG Midwest
In April, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law a suite of bills that aims to curb the state’s correctional costs, reform its probation and parole systems, and increase access to community-based behavioral health programs. The enacted legislation (SB 2015HB 1041 and HB 1269) was the product of a justice reinvestment study authorized two years ago by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly in response to the state’s rapidly growing prison population.
Between 2005 and 2015, federal data show, North Dakota’s prison population increased 34 percent — the second-largest rise, behind Indiana, among the 11 Midwestern states (see map). Without action, North Dakota’s prison population was projected to grow by 36 percent between 2016 and 2022, at a cost of more than $100 million for the state.
Last year, The Council of State Governments Justice Center and a bipartisan committee of North Dakota legislators and justice system officials conducted a comprehensive review of state data to determine the causes of this trend. Two populations, the study found, were driving nearly three-quarters of the state’s prison admissions: 1) people convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes, and 2) individuals whose probation or parole had been revoked. Within these populations, drug abuse was a driving factor behind their imprisonment.
CSG Midwest
The practice of jailing people who cannot post cash bail or pay even minor fines is being revised in Nebraska and Illinois. 
Under LB 259, signed into law by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in May, people who fail to pay a fine in time will appear before a judge instead of automatically “sitting out” the fine in jail. Judges can choose to dismiss the fine or assign up to 20 hours of community service instead, and the rate for sitting out a fine would increase from $90 to $150 a day. The law also requires judges to consider a person’s ability to pay as one of several factors in setting bond.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Bail Reform Act (SB 2034) into law in June.

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