FEBRUARY: Policy Updates

Image: FirstStepAct.org

by PINAR GOKTAS                                                                                                             Policy Reporter

  1. New Police Regulations Limit Discrimination Against Undocumented Immigrants
    • Last week, regulations addressing unlawful searches and seizures and racial profiling of undocumented immigrants by state police were instituted in Pennsylvania. Before the implementation of these new regulations, police officers would regularly pull someone over for a traffic violation and then detain them if they didn’t have documentation. Now, ICE will be notified of the person’s undocumented status after the stopping instead of immediate detainment during the stopping. Additionally, the police officer must fill a report on why the person was pulled over in order to mitigate racial profiling. The new regulations follow the Supreme Court’s stance that criminal justice and civil legal concerns should remain separate. The ACLU, who were consulted on the regulations, believe that more could be done but that nonetheless this a step in the right direction (Surana 2019, n.p.).
  2. Federal Prison Reform for Drug-Related Convicts in Effect
    • Last December, Congress passed the First Step Act, a federal prison reform bill that will lighten charges for drug-related crimes and reduce sentences for currently incarcerated people. The multifaceted law includes reforms like reducing the automatic sentences of third strike offenders from life to 25 years and increasing the cap on credits that allow early release or completion of the sentence in rehabilitation programs (Lopez 2019a, n.p.). The bill had bipartisan support and presidential backing. 50,000 federal prisoners are expected to be released early once the law is fully carried out (Stallone 2019, n.p.). Unfortunately, the majority of incarcerated individuals are in state prisons (see graph), so the reforms will only impact a small percentage of convicts (Lopez 2019a, n.p.). Fortunately, the law has inspired similar bills to be drafted at the state level in Florida and Ohio. The Ohio State Senate President believes other states will follow suit (Stallone 2019, n.p.).
  3. Philadelphia’s Bail-Free Policy Decreasing Jail Time
    • Last year, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner removed the requirement for money bail for charges that currently represent 61 percent of all cases in the Philadelphia criminal justice system, such as prostitution and driving under the influence. On account of this reform, 1,750 defendants were released in 2018 with no increase in recidivism and continued attendance at future court appointments. Additionally, according to a study published by a University of Pennsylvania professor, there was a 22 percent decrease in one-night stays in jail. However, bail is still assigned for two-thirds of cases that qualify to be bail-free (Melamed 2019, n.p.).
  4. New Supreme Court Ruling Protects Property Rights at State Level
    • On February 20th, the Supreme Court passed a unanimous ruling against excessive police fines in Timbs v. Indiana. Although it was a federal court decision, the ruling applies to current federal standards that limit excessive fines at the state level, primarily regarding civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture is a policy that allows police to seize goods and keep them for profit if they can find probable cause that the material goods were used in facilitating a crime. The policy is most commonly used in drug trafficking cases. Several stories had broken out recently about people who were pulled over by state police and then seized of their cash with no probable cause. The cash then was only returned after lengthy court cases. Interestingly, the Supreme Court left the decision to lower courts on whether Timbs had sufficient probable cause to have his Land Rover seized, which was used for heroin dealing (Lopez 2019b, n.p.). Timbs had purchased the $42,000 vehicle through an inheritance from his father. When he was arrested for heroin trafficking, civil forfeiture of the vehicle was part of the conditional fines, despite the fact that the Land Rover’s purchase value was four times the $10,000 maximum fine for his charges.


[1] Lopez, German. “The First Step Act, Explained.” Vox.com. February 06, 2019a. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/12/18/18140973/state-of-the-union-trump-first-step-act-criminal-justice-reform.

[2] “Why the US Supreme Court’s New Ruling on Excessive Fines Is a Big Deal.” Vox.com. February 20, 2019b. Accessed February 24, 2019. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/2/20/18233245/supreme-court-timbs-v-indiana-ruling-excessive-fines-civil-forfeiture.

[3] Melamed, Samantha. “Philly DA Larry Krasner Stopped Seeking Bail for Low-level Crimes. Here’s What Happened Next.” Philly.com. February 19, 2019. https://www.philly.com/news/philly-district-attorney-larry-krasner-money-bail-criminal-justice-reform-incarceration-20190219.html

[4] Stallone, Dane. “First Step Act Will Spur Nationwide Bipartisan Justice Reform, Panel Says.” The Crime Report. February 23, 2019. Accessed February 24, 2019. https://thecrimereport.org/2019/02/22/first-step-act-will-spur-nationwide-bipartisan-justice-reform-panel-says/.

[5] Surana, Kavitha. “Pennsylvania Police Now Limited in Flagging Undocumented Immigrants to ICE.” ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/pennsylvaniapolice-now-limited-in-flagging-undocumented-immigrants-to-ice.

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