State, Local Justice Officials Predict Reform in Trump Era

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The Vera Institute of Justice ran a “National Prison Visiting Week,” with field trips to 29 facilities in 17 states, reports the Marshall Project. Vera welcomed an array of community members — from bankers to prosecutors to real estate agents to teachers, doctors, and clergy, on the journey. W. David Guice, the North Carolina commissioner of corrections, said the field trips came at an all-time-high for public interest in prison issues. “For someone who has been in this business for decades, believe me, these continue to be exciting times,” he says. “What I hear when I speak on this issue nationally is a clear desire to embrace the moment.” In the era of President-elect Donald Trump, Guice says, corrections officials like him will continue to pursue the solitary confinement reform and rehabilitative and reentry programming they believe will help keep their inmates from resuming a life of crime when they are released.

In Philadelphia, thanks to a $3.5 million grant the city won from the MacArthur Foundation, the jail population is down 13 percent since July. The city aims to reduce the population 34 percent in three years by developing more accurate risk-assessment tools to gauge whether offenders truly need to be in jail and putting them on house-arrest and GPS monitoring when they don’t, by initiating reviews of nonviolent cases to determine if bail could be set lower, and by opening a triage center and other treatment and housing options for mentally-ill people who get arrested. Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform for MacArthur, which has given similar grants to 19 other jurisdictions, says she surveyed all of them about whether the election will affect their efforts. “No,” was the unanimous response. “Counties recognize the importance of this,” she says. “City officials recognize it. The bench recognizes it. Increasingly, even DAs and sheriffs know there are smarter ways to use their money than to lock people up.”

 

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