South Carolina Closes 2nd Prison

South Carolina just closed their second minimum security prison in the last three years, saving more than 450,000 dollars. Corrections Director Bryan Stirling cites conservative sentencing reforms and lower recidivism rates as what opened the door for this move.

Read more here.

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Mike Klein: Next Move for Georgia Justice Reform Belongs to Legislators

Georgia legislators will soon have the opportunity to reconfigure the state’s troubled adult misdemeanor private probation industry, redesign juvenile justice technology information tools and with some urging from their governor, create a new state agency to manage the tangled web of services to help released inmates transition back into their communities. Given the General Assembly’s track record of overwhelming support for previous justice reforms the ideas that you see discussed here are quite likely to happen.

The vision for these changes is contained in the 2014–2015 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) report that was unanimously approved by its members late last week. More than just a reflection of new policy ideas, the 72-page document fully chronicles the history of Georgia’s current justice reform that began with Governor Nathan Deal’s inauguration in January 2011.

Dozens of CCJR recommendations are contained in the report. A few are game-changers:

Adult Misdemeanor Probation

Last spring Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because it would have exempted providers from the Open Records Act. An official state audit was highly critical of the financial practices of some providers and it said some exceeded their legal authorities. Then in December the state Supreme Court overturned “tolling,” the long-standing practice under which arrest warrants were issued and sentences were paused when offenders failed to report or fulfill their court-ordered obligations. Justices said the state has no legal authority for those actions.

The Council said private probation providers should be placed under tighter financial scrutiny including strict disclosure rules. The Council recommended the adoption of community service options for misdemeanor probationers when they are delinquent paying fines or fees because of financial insolvency. At the same time, delinquent probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before new discipline. Further, the Council said that “tolling” should be enacted into law.

Juvenile Justice Information Sharing

Players in the adult criminal justice system have access to deep data that is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Players in the juvenile justice system have nothing remotely close to the sophisticated adult system. The Council recommendation is to create a very sophisticated juvenile justice information system.

Under the CJRC proposal the Council of Juvenile Court Judges would create a “dictionary” of common terms for the purposes of statewide reporting. A data exchange would be created to share the information and a data depository would be updated daily by individual courts for use by all juvenile courts statewide and for purposes of statewide reporting. This project would bring together several entities and it would carefully comply with federal laws about juvenile records.

Department of Community Supervision

Last month Deal used his State of the State address to propose creation of DCS to assist released offenders toward a successful transition back to the free world. The big idea here is to coordinate the tools to help reduce recidivism. DCS would likely have up to 2,000 employees drawn from adult corrections, juvenile justice and pardons and parole. The Council recommended that the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry should move from adult corrections to DCS. It also recommended moving the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council that oversees probation officers and private entities.

The three ideas discussed here are just a small portion of the CJRC report. There is a link below to the complete document. The Council will reconvene in late spring after the 2015 General Assembly concludes.

The agenda will likely include whether cases that involve 17-year-olds should be heard in adult courts – that is current Georgia law – or in juvenile courts, which is where you will find age 17 cases in more than 40 states. This year’s Council heard testimony but concluded it needs more information before making any recommendation. Mandatory minimum sentencing options and new discussions about community-based mental health services could also work their way onto the 2015 – 2016 agenda.

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Juvenile Bills Promise New Future in West Virginia

Bills have just been introduced into the West Virginia House and Senate that will significantly affect their juvenile justice system.

Despite the juvenile incarceration rate dropping in almost every state in the past several years, West Virginia is still seeing enormous numbers of youth come through their system. Currently their juvenile incarceration rate is 42 percent higher than any other state in the nation.

These new bills, HB 2641 and SB 393 look at diversion policies for juveniles who have been involved in status offenses – an crime that is classified as such because of the age of the offender i.e. truancy – or misdemeanor offenses. They strengthen alternatives to incarceration such as probation and community service. They introduce a restorative justice program as well. These new innovations show serious promise that West Virginia may eventually turn their juvenile justice system around.

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“Conservatives Are Still Trouncing Liberals on Prison Reform” – Greene

After the passage of Proposition 47 in California, liberals are beginning to recognize the leadership of conservatives in the area. Giving credit where credit is due, an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times acknowledged Right on Crime’s successes in Texas, as well as the national movement by conservatives to apply fiscally conservative policies to criminal justice.

These policies have resulted in the first dent in an incarceration rate that has risen steadily for decades. Given that they have actually moved the needle, some appreciation shown to conservatives is not at all misplaced.

Read the op-ed here.

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Gingrich: Remaking South Dakota’s Juvenile Justice System

Right on Crime signatory Newt Gingrich takes to the South Dakota press to promote reform for that state’s juvenile corrections system. His piece appeared in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, and comes on the heels of Senate Bill 73, bipartisan state legislation that would, in the words of Governor Dennis Daugaard, lead to “fewer youth incarcerated, with a greater emphasis on community support and accountability for the offender.”

Speaker Gingrich writes:

Think of a teenager that you love very much. It could be your child, grandchild, niece or nephew. Basically a good kid, but like most teenagers, having a tough time adjusting to the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. He or she makes a bad decision — skips school, runs away from home, violates curfew or sneaks some alcohol.

How should the government handle these violations? Certainly there should be consequences. Young people have to learn that they need to follow the rules. But how should we teach them to follow the rules? Should we ship them away from their families to teach them a lesson, or should we try to treat them in their homes, in their communities, and teach them to become better citizens where they live?

Continue reading…

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