March 2017 News Briefs

1. Alaska — Lawmakers adopted a measure to limit prison growth and reduce recidivism, The Sentencing Project reports. The legislation expands alternatives to incarceration, reduces jail terms for misdemeanors, reclassifies drug possession as a misdemeanor, reduces felony-sentence ranges, expanded parole eligibility, streamlines releases for persons sentenced for first-time nonviolent offenses, and caps incarceration for technical violations of probation and paroles.

2.  Louisiana — State lawmakers raised the age for criminal responsibility from 17 to 18, The Sentencing Project reports.

3.  Arkansas — Legal problems with disclosing where lethal drugs come from have stalled the state’s use of capital punishment, RT America reports. In 2005, nine inmates challenged the state’s secrecy law, arguing that failure to disclose manufacturers violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

4.  Augusta, Ga.  — Nearly a year after Richard Strickland, 31, and Cody Lee Vestal, 37, died after being pulled out of smoke-filled prison cells, there is no explanation as to how the fire started, The Augusta Chronicle reports. It is difficult to determine what happened from the incident reports submitted. But it is important for prison officials to conduct a thorough investigation and determine what policy or procedure changes are needed, a representative of the Southern Center for Human Rights said. Complaints about stabbings, beatings and gang activity in the prisons continue to be reported to the Center.

5.  Missouri — Last year, state prisoners participating in the Restorative Justice Garden Program donated nearly 137 tons of fresh produce to pantries, shelters, churches, nursing homes and other organizations, television station KFVS-12 reports. George A. Lombardi, director of corrections, said, “It is truly amazing that so many food pantries and individuals all across the state have come to depend on the produce that comes from these gardens. Restorative Justice Programs like this one provide offenders the means to help repay their debt to society, while teaching them the value of compassion, a quality many of them lack in their lives.”

6.  Illinois — Lawmakers enacted a measure that would report racial information when people are arrested but not charged with a crime and in cases when diversion from prosecution is applied, The Sentencing Project reports.

7.  Lansing, Mich. — The state’s prison food contractor, Trinity Services Group, has to pay penalties of $905,750 for unauthorized meal substitutions, $357,000 for delays serving meals, $356,000 for inadequate staffing levels, and $294,500 for sanitation violations, among other penalties, Detroit Free Press reports.

8. Pennsylvania — Prison Policy Initiative issued a report advising the state to stop automatically suspending driver’s licenses for drug convictions not related to driving, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The law makes it harder for those with such convictions to access jobs, according to the report. Only Virginia, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey suspend more licenses annually than Pennsylvania.

9. Virginia — Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued several executive orders automatically restoring voting rights to persons who had completed their sentence including probation or parole, The Sentencing Project reports.

10. Massachusetts —Prisoners’ Legal Services says the state’s use of solitary confinement is inhumane and ineffective, especially for people with mental illness. The state’s mental healthcare system was examined, including care provided in the state’s prisons, where at least 30 percent of inmates suffer from mental illness.

11. New Hampshire — New visitation room policies have been implemented that are intended to curb drug smuggling into the state’s prisons, prison officials revealed in a Concord Monitor report. At all facilities, hugs are limited to three seconds. Inmates and their loved ones cannot kiss. Those inmates who fail to comply with the new policy will have their visits immediately terminated and risk missing future visits. Prisoners can hold hands with their visitors, but only on top of a table where visible. They also must maintain physical space between each other during visits, although young children are still permitted to sit on their incarcerated father’s or mother’s lap. All vending machines and board games have been removed from visiting rooms.

12.  Baltimore, Md. — While the city is on target for more than 300 shootings for the second consecutive year, deadly shootings in Park Heights are on the  decline. The drop is credited to Safe Streets, a program run by the city’s Health Department that hires ex-offenders to help resolve potentially deadly confrontations, reported Detroit Free Press in a series examining innovative policies in other cities.

13. Maryland — Lawmakers passed a measure repealing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, establishing graduated sanctions short of re-imprisonment for parole and probation violators, allowing geriatric and medical parole at earlier ages for certain offenses, and increasing credits earned toward release for completion of educational programs in prison, The Sentencing Project reports.

14. Delaware — The state scaled back its “Three Strikes” Law by increasing the number of prior convictions for certain offenses before a defendant would be classified as a habitual offender, The Sentencing Project reports. Prior to the law change, the criminal code required a mandatory life sentence upon a third conviction for a violent offense and required persons with three prior non-violent felonies and then a violent felony conviction to receive the maximum allowable sentence for the violent felony. The legislation is retroactive and allows for sentence modification for persons convicted under the old law.

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