1. California — (The San Diego Union-Tribune) San Diego County will invest $7.2 million in a program that stresses services for homelessness, mental illness and addiction rather than jail. The program, called Safety Through Services, is the result of a proposal from County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer. “Our current system [stressing incarceration] is expensive, it’s failing, it’s costing taxpayers billions and it’s not working,” said Lawson-Remer. The funds will pay for 20 actions the County plans to implement in the coming year. The actions are from the Sequential Intercept Model, “a numerical system that helps identify the best point in the criminal justice system at which to ‘intercept’ and divert a person into service,” reported the Union-Tribune.
2. California — (The Marin Independent Journal) A new California law will give people the opportunity to permanently seal convictions from their criminal record. The individual must be conviction-free for at least four years since completing the terms of their sentence. SB 731 will go into effect July 1.
3. Colorado — (TheCollegeFix) The state’s General Assembly has voted 61-1 to approve a bill that would reduce prison sentences of nonviolent felons upon completion of specific educational requirements. The sentence reductions could range from six months to two years. “The relationship between higher education and recidivism is inversely proportional,” said Bryan Hall, an academic dean at the state’s Regis University. Hall oversees educational programs for incarcerated people. Under the bill, the state’s corrections department and its higher education institutions would split money saved due to reduced imprisonment. While the bill provides incentive to achieve educational goals, it does not fund the program. “There is no additional cost to the people of Colorado,” said Republican Rep. Rose Pugliese.
4. Louisiana — (AP) In 2020, a 6-3 majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous criminal jury convictions are unconstitutional and a vestige of Jim Crow racism. As a result, Evangelisto Ramos, who was serving a life sentence for murder after a 10-2 jury conviction, walked free on March 9 of this year after a retrial resulted in a unanimous acquittal. “I knew my case was important because a lot of people were going to get their freedom back,” said Ramos. But the ruling is not retroactive, say both the U.S. and Louisiana Supreme Courts. The AP reports “prospects for freedom remain murky for hundreds of people convicted … whose appeals were exhausted before the Ramos case was decided.”
5. Alabama — (AP) Alabamans serving life without parole sentences for crimes where nobody was physically injured may have their sentences reviewed under legislation that advanced through the state’s Judiciary Committee in May. The review process would be temporary and only apply to sentences dated before May 26, 2000. The bill’s author, Democratic Rep. Chris England, estimates that the reviews would affect 300 to 400 inmates. The sentences were for crimes such as robbery and burglary under the state’s habitual offender law. “I think you’re going to see that these folks were not defined by their worst moments,” said England. Frederick Spight is policy director of Alabama Appleseed, a nonprofit that promotes criminal justice reform. “All of these individuals were destined to die in prison. So now, at least, they have a pathway,” said Spight.
6. Massachusetts — (The Boston Globe) A row between the ACLU of Massachusetts and state auditor Diana DiZoglio over information redacted from public reports on deaths and healthcare of incarcerated people has ended up in court. DiZiglio says that the redacted information was not about healthcare but rather about cyber-security, that the suit was unnecessary, and that she would have explained the nature of the redactions if ACLU had asked. Her staff cited “confidential information” and an exemption to the public records law that “shields records that a terrorist would find useful to maximize damage” as the reason for the redactions from both the body of the report and the table of contents. The suit requests an order to release the redacted information and an explanation for withholding it.
7. New York — (The New York Times) Rampant violence continues unabated in the Rikers Island jail system and officials have closed off information channels about events and conditions at the facility, said a report from the system’s monitor, Steve J. Martin. The report was part of a federal district court filing. Louis A. Molina has been the Rikers commissioner for a year and a half. During his tenure, he has resisted calls for a federal takeover of the system by promising to enact a series of reforms. But as scrutiny has intensified, Molina has reversed a policy allowing an oversight panel unrestricted access to video footage and ended a policy of providing public notification of deaths in custody.
8. Maryland — (Bloomberg Law) Jail inmates who worked offsite in a Baltimore County recycling center do not qualify as employees of the county under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Therefore, they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay, ruled U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher. The workers claimed that they were employees of the county because, among other factors, the purpose of the work program was not rehabilitative, but rather intended to provide an inexpensive labor force for the recycling center. Gallagher ruled that because the work program allowed prisoners to earn credits to reduce their sentences, provided structure to their days, and “provided pay (albeit very little),” it “served both economic and rehabilitative purposes.” All of these factors weighed against employee status for the workers.
9. North Carolina — (The News & Observer) Seventy-seven inmates died in the state’s county jail facilities in 2022, marking the sixth straight year of record-breaking levels of fatalities in the system. In more than half of the deaths, inspectors found that the jails were not in compliance with state standards for staff supervision of inmates. Suicide accounted for 23 of the deaths and opioid abuse contributed to 18 others. Sheriffs cite staff shortages and a growing trend of people coming into their facilities suffering from mental illness and addictions. Melissa Efird’s son, held in the Rockingham County jail for failure to appear on a traffic violation, was one of the year’s deaths by suicide. “I know there are hardened criminals that need to be put somewhere,” she said. “But it’s not a death-row prison, and their lives shouldn’t be put in jeopardy.”