Annual observation created to raise awareness of mental illness and mental health offers a catalyst for making changes in the criminal justice system.

Vermonters whose driver’s licenses have been suspended for failure to pay fines and fees may find a reprieve this fall following the May passage of a bill by the state Legislature. The bill, H. 571, aims to alleviate some of the financial burden that outstanding traffic tickets and resulting license suspensions can pose, particularly for low-income residents in the rural state, where there are few public transit options and people rely on driving to get to work or school.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state prison populations have grown significantly over the last few decades and in 36 states, the prison population has more than tripled as a share of the state population since 1978.  Spending on corrections has also increased in states: state corrections spending more than doubled between 1986 and 2013 (after adjusting for inflation), from $20 billion to over $47 billion.   

The past few years – particularly following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent investigations – have brought increased attention to a mounting problem: jailing the poor when they can’t pay fines and fees ordered by courts. This practice has been called the “criminalization of poverty”.

CSG Midwest
During the first year of a statewide system to help sexually exploited children, 163 youths in Minnesota received services and support. The state’s Safe Harbor program is the result of laws passed in 2011 and 2014. With these measures in place, Minnesota is taking a different view of youths (those under the age of 18) who engage in prostitution — they are seen as victims, rather than as criminals.

The Uniform Electronic Recordation of Custodial Interrogations Act requires that law enforcement electronically record the entirety of a custodial interrogation. The Act leaves it to the individual states to decide where and for what types of crimes this mandate applies, as well as the means by which recording must be done. The Act also includes a number of exceptions that excuse non-recording.

Like many cases involving the death penalty, Williams v. Pennsylvania is a long story.

Terrance Williams was sentenced to death for killing Amos Norwood during a 1984 robbery in Philadelphia when Williams was eighteen. Williams claimed at trial he did not know Norwood, who was fifty-six.

In 2012 Williams’ co-conspirator Marc Draper revealed, among other things, that the prosecutor urged him to falsely testify that the motive for the murder was robbery, not that Norwood had sexually abused Williams, and the prosecutor wrote an undisclosed letter to the parole board on behalf of Draper. A hearing revealed the prosecutor failed to disclose extensive evidence of Norwood’s homosexual ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers).

After the passage of Megan's Law in 1994, state governments began imposing residency restrictions on registered sex offenders. Most of these statutes prohibit sex offenders from living within a set distance of schools or daycare centers. Some states impose additional restrictions, such as prohibiting sex offenders from living near public parks, youth centers, churches, or other places youth may congregate. Some states lack residency restriction statutes, allowing local governments to determine their own restrictions.

CSG Midwest
In less than a decade’s time, national public opinion on marijuana legalization has changed dramatically, with the rate of people in support of such a change jumping from 32 percent in 2006 to 53 percent today. Will this shift lead to changes in state laws in the Midwest?
Thus far, the answer has been a clear-cut “no.” Legalization bills have not come close to passing in any of the region’s 11 state legislatures, and this November, Ohio voters rejected by a wide margin a plan to legalize marijuana via a constitutional amendment.
But state legislatures in this region continue to re-examine their laws on marijuana, as evidenced by laws and legislative proposals in this region to decriminalize possession or allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Even as partisan tension increases in advance of the 2016 elections, national policymakers on both sides of the aisle can cite one area where many find broad agreement: The need for comprehensive criminal justice reform. In Washington, D.C., growing momentum behind efforts to reform the criminal justice system has pushed the issue to the forefront of lawmakers’ agendas for the fall. For example, pressure has intensified to reauthorize federal funding for programs that support successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals. This momentum for change to the federal system reflects lessons learned from states where system innovations and improvements have made an impact on recidivism and other criminal justice outcomes over the past decade.

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