Justice Brief: The Biggest Justice Reform Stories You Missed Last Week, Explained

Jack Duran Former Creative Associate
Mar 26, 2018
1. A new city mobilizes to defend immigrants

On Monday, Denver city officials announced the launch of a legal defense fund, called the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund, to provide legal representation to immigrants facing detention and deportation. Denver’s decision makes it the 12th U.S. jurisdiction to join Vera’s SAFE (Safety And Fairness For Everyone) Cities Initiative alongside Oakland/Alameda County, CA; Sacramento, CA; Santa Ana, CA; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Baltimore, MD; Prince George's County, MD; Columbus, OH; Austin, TX; San Antonio, TX; and Dane County, WI. 

  • Why it matters:

    Studies show that immigrants facing removal proceedings who have legal representation are up to ten times more likely to establish a right to remain in the United States than those who are unrepresented. However, almost no non-citizens are legally entitled to government-funded legal representation in immigration court.

    As a result, most non-citizens facing detention and deportation go unrepresented, facing permanent separation from their loved ones, their livelihoods, and their communities if deported. Local governments, such as the city of Denver, are now the laboratories that create new policies and programs that are serving as national models for innovation and reform. 

2. Public health-first policing gains new ground

Modeled after a similar effort in Baltimore, Philadelphia officials are expanding a new diversion program—called Police-Assisted Diversion—that trains law enforcement to treat and connect people struggling with addiction to social services instead of arresting them. Participants are offered two opportunities to participate in the program, after which a third offense will be prosecuted.  The program is partly funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to help the city’s efforts to reduce its jail incarceration rates. 

  • Why it matters:

    Our report, Minimizing Harm, shows that tough enforcement against drug use does not reduce drug use or improve public safety. In fact, these practices have led to more incarceration and exacerbated racial disparities in the justice system, negatively impacting communities of color.

    In its decision to launch the Police-Assisted Diversion program, Philadelphia joins a national wave of jurisdictions who are increasingly adopting evi­dence-based public health approaches to stem the effects of drug use. More than 50 cities across the country have set up or are developing community-based law enforcement  programs, such as Philadelphia’s, that divert people away from the justice system who would otherwise be arrested for low-level crimes.

3. Nationwide support emerges for voting rights restoration

A new poll from YouGov/Huffington Post shows that 63 percent of Americansbelieve that people with felony conviction histories should have their voting rights restored as soon as they’ve completed their sentences.

  • Why it matters:

    At least 48 states have some kind of felony disenfranchisement law. These laws effectively strip an estimated 6 million people with prior convictions of their voting rights. The impact of these laws is felt disproportionately by black Americans, roughly one in 13 of whom do not have the right to vote due to past convictions—four times the national rate.

4. A groundbreaking response to the opioid crisis

A New York State initiative is training people who are soon to be released from prison to use the life-saving drug, naloxone, in their communities upon release—proving an effective public health intervention to the opioid crisis. By involving three key actors in the program—corrections and parole staff, incarcerated individuals, and their family members—the program provides a comprehensive response to the opioid crisis that invests in high-risk communities.

  • Why it matters:

    In the two weeks following release, formerly incarcerated people are at risk of fatal overdose 129X that of the general population. State corrections departments are well-positioned to implement interventions that curb the risks of overdose-related mortality. Given the heightened risk of overdose death upon release from incarceration, it is essential that jurisdictions make a broader commitment to ensuring that people who are incarcerated have naloxone on hand when they return to the community.