I’ve seen the system’s injustices firsthand and its potential to recognize that people can grow beyond their worst mistakes. My mother is one of those people.
Courts Media Clips
A federal judge ordered Harris County to overhaul our unconstitutional misdemeanor bail system in 2017, and last year Houston saw violent crime decline by 10 percent.
Franklin County Municipal Court judges say most misdemeanor crime cases they see can be tied to the opioid epidemic. Those judges, the City Attorney, and probation officers all hope the treatment clinic can help.
“Participatory defense has provided a platform, actually, a stage and a mic for communities to amplify and advocate [for] solutions that they have been talking about for decades—probably centuries,” said Isis Misdary, an attorney at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
The first Veterans Treatment Court docket in Tulsa County District Court was on December 7, 2008. Since then, the court has seen the graduation of nearly 250 veterans from all branches of the military.
Sending someone to prison in Pennsylvania costs around $42,000 a year by conservative estimates. So if a prosecutor is requesting a five-year sentence, they would have to justify not only an approximate $210,000 cost to taxpayers but also the decision to interrupt the convicted person’s connection to family, employment, and access to public benefits.
When diversion is done well its results can be significant. Cook County’s diversion program (in Illinois), which is widely recognized as a model, is an example: a year after finishing felony diversion, 97 percent of graduates have no new felony arrests, and 86 percent have no new arrests of any kind.
“Practically speaking, this is going to be a huge benefit to the low-income people of Tennessee who are going to be able to drive to work, take their kids to school, go to the grocery store, visit the doctor, without fear of being arrested and prosecuted for driving without a license,” Claudia Wilner, a senior attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, said.
A growing number of cities and states have taken significant steps to alter their cash bail systems. But Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and, a month earlier, the Manhattan district attorney, appear to be the first DAs in major cities to attempt reform through the prosecutor’s office.
“Money doesn’t guarantee that people won’t engage in new criminal activity,” says Insha Rahman, an expert on bail reform at the Vera Institute of Justice, “and it doesn’t guarantee that people will come back to court.”
People lacking a permanent address often don’t know when they are supposed to appear in court. And they don’t have the money to pay the fines that follow.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Brian J. Back, a co-chair of the group, said requiring defendants to post money bail unfairly punishes the poor. “Thousands of Californians who pose no risk to the public are held in jail before trial, while others charged with serious or violent offenses may pose a high risk and can buy their freedom simply by bailing out,” Back said.
Our nation’s more than 300 mental-health courts advance justice. A 2009 study by the MacArthur Foundation and the Council of State Governments found they cut criminal recidivism of participants by 20 percent to 25 percent and provide better links to mental-health treatment that lead to productive lives.
The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear a challenge to Ramsey County, Minnesota’s fund-raising efforts, which are part of a national trend to extract fees and fines from people who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system.
At the National Mental Health Court Summit earlier this month, Logan Police Sgt. Louise Speth shared a story that has been burned into her memory since the night it happened eight years ago.
A Bexar County specialty court that deals with the mental health needs of girls has received a national award for its innovation and effectiveness serving adolescents in the justice system.
The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is addressing mental health in the county with the creation of a Mental Health Treatment Court to offer intervention for those who suffer from chronic mental health issues that end up in the court system and to reduce recidivism rates.
Mental health courts are popular in many communities, and it’s easy to understand why. But research is still scanty on the courts’ effectiveness at addressing offenders’ mental health problems or discouraging offenders from relapsing into criminal behavior.
Miami-Dade County has long had a more acute problem than most. By one estimate, more than 9 percent of Miami residents suffer from a mental illness–a rate that is approximately three times higher than the national average. Yet over the course of the past decade, Miami-Dade County has emerged as a national model for how a county can develop strategies to combat the criminalization of mental illness.
Claims of mental incompetence in criminal cases are so infrequent that trial judges and prosecutors often are caught re-inventing the wheel to handle them.