1. Alabama—The Department of Justice issued a report that showed how overcrowding, poor conditions, inadequate staffing, and deliberate indifference from prison officials contributed to a rise in violence, sexual abuse, and extortion, The Appeal reports. The problem became known after prisoners held hunger strikes and posted videos showing abuse on the internet. Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband and three U.S. attorneys wrote a letter to Governor Kay Ivey that said, “In particular we have reasonable cause to believe that Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in Alabama prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner- on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe conditions.”
2. Louisiana—The Louisiana House Criminal Justice Committee voted 9-6 last May to permit people once convicted of felonies to be included in jury pools, Nola. com reports. Under the current law, the only way those with felony convictions can serve on a jury if the governor pardons them. The bill would allow convicted felons to be called for jury duty once they have been off parole or probation for five years.
3. New York City—Under a new law jail detainees no longer have to pay to make calls from the City Jail, the New York Post reports. The move will cost taxpayers $8 million a year, according to city officials. All detainees receive 21 minutes of free phone privileges every three hours. Individual calls can last up to 15 minutes each. The free calls can be made “during all lock-out periods” — when inmates are allowed out of their cells — and during an established “emergency” basis if a Department of Correction captain approves. The policy permits calls to anywhere in the US and its territories, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Island and American Samoa.
4. Frackville, Pa—A jobs fair held inside a maximum- security prison allows in- mates nearing their release date a chance to talk face-to- face with potential employ- ers, as well as representatives from community colleges, religious organizations and self-help groups, The Edwardsville Intelligencer reports. The event was part of a state Department of Corrections effort to get inmates ready to return to their communities. More than 90% of the estimated 46,000 people in state correctional facilities return home after serving their sentences. The job fairs, which began last year, and are held annually at each of the state’s 24 prisons. Nationwide, nearly 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Around 19,000 people are release annually from the state’s prisons.
5. Florida—After voters approved last year a constitutional amendment restoring formerly incarcerated felons’ voting rights, Republicans in both chambers have passed a provision requiring they pay any outstanding court fees and fines before they can vote, according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida report. The amendment, which excludes those convicted of murder and felony sexual assault, would give up to 1.5 million people with felony convictions the ability to vote. The bill approved by the Statehouse gives felons who owe three options: pay in full; obtain a court’s dis- missal of the financial obligation, if the person who is owed agrees; or convert the obligation to community service and complete those hours.
6. Ohio—Gov. Mike DeWine announced last May a number of reforms to the state’s parole board. For the first time, offenders eligible for parole will be allowed to take part in their hearings before the full board, and such meetings will soon be live streamed online to the public cleveland.com reports. In addition, all parole board members will be required to undergo training on legal updates, interviewing skills, and effective communication. Before an inmate’s parole hearing, board members will have to meet with prison agency staff for “first-hand feedback” on the inmate’s conduct and re- habilitation progress. The parole board will also do more to weigh the seriousness of any infractions a potential parolee has on their prison record. Another reform simplifies the parole process where there are no objections to an inmate’s release. Inmates recommended for parole by the board will no longer automatically head to a full board hearing, though a full hearing will still take place if requested by the victim, the victim’s family, victims’ services staff or the board chair. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will create a program to offer volunteer “navigators” to help guide inmates through their parole hearing process. The DRC will also set up a new reentry program to offer parolees appropriate life skills, based on the age of the inmate.