News Roundup

The legislature is in session and a bill to make the Moravian cookie the official state cookie was introduced this week. According to my admittedly casual research, only a few states have official cookies. The first was New Mexico, which adopted the biscochito/bizcochito as the state cookie in 1989. Judging from this recipe, it seems to be sort of a cinnamon sugar concoction made with brandy. Read on for even more impactful news.

eCourts pilot rollout: like passing a kidney stone. In other words, painful in the short run but necessary in the long run, at least according to one court official quoted in this WRAL story on the rollout. The new system went live this week in four pilot counties. Hiccups? Yes. Learning curve? Yes. Disaster? Doesn’t sound like it. Chief Justice Newby asked court officials to pray for success, and perhaps any prayers offered may have been answered as the rollout seems to have gone as well as could reasonably be expected. Mecklenburg County is scheduled to be next, in May.

Civilian crash investigators. A handful of cities in the state have authorization from the General Assembly to use civilian crash investigators to respond to minor collisions in lieu of a law enforcement officer. This week, a bill was introduced to expand Wilmington’s program by allowing civilian crash investigators to issue citations for infractions, and to allow Asheville to use civilian investigators for the first time. Two different bills would expand the authority to all cities, one with and one seemingly without citation authority. [Editor’s note: The preceding sentence was edited shortly after initial publication thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who noticed a bill I hadn’t seen and helped me get complete and correct links to both bills.]  The use of civilian crash investigators is part of a trend towards the civilianization of law enforcement, about which I wrote here.

BOP closing high-security prison unit after media investigation into multiple deaths. This week, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced that it will be closing the Special Management Unit at USP Thomson, a federal prison in Illinois. The New York Times reports here that the BOP had “significant concerns with respect to institutional culture and compliance with . . . policies.” The 350 inmates in the unit will be moved elsewhere. The BOP’s decision follows an investigation by NPR and the Marshall Project into dangerous conditions at the prison, including five homicides and two suicides over a three-year period.

Nonprofit reports recommend sentencing reforms. Two significant reports on sentencing have been released recently, both seeking major changes to sentencing practices across the country. The Sentencing Project issued this paper arguing that “[t]o end mass incarceration, the United States must dramatically shorten sentences,” including by “[c]apping sentences for the most serious offenses at 20 years and shifting sentences for all other offenses proportionately downward.” Meanwhile, the Vera Institute for Justice has this new report contending that “dismantling [mass incarceration] in favor of a narrowly tailored sentencing response to unlawful behavior can produce more safety, repair harm, and reduce incarceration by close to 80 percent.” The report argues specifically that there should be a strong legal presumption for community-based sentences rather than incarceration in all but very limited circumstances.

Come work at the School of Government. We are currently recruiting for two faculty positions, one to work in criminal and motor vehicle law, including working with magistrates, and the other working in local government law with a focus on municipal law. Both can be found here.