I was an intern once. It even led to a job at my hometown newspaper. But I was hardly as well-credentialed as our superintern class of 2020 from the EMERGE Fellowship program. They hail from Georgetown, Yale, Colby, Tulane, and Harvard. They like badminton, data analysis, painting, coding, and photography. They’re majoring in international business, government and psychology, computer science, economics, and political economy — and one is pre-med. (For the record, I went to the University of Texas and majored in journalism. I came close to having a minor in history, but I did marry a historian.)
EMERGE is a highly innovative program that gives high-achieving students from underserved communities in the Houston area the resources to apply to (this is critical), attend, and graduate from elite and top-tier universities across the nation. Ninety-percent are first-generation college students.
Their energy and fresh perspectives have been a highlight of our summer at AV. And because their work is fully remote this year, our interns were given the chance to introduce themselves virtually. Check out the video below, and learn more about them here.
Editor’s note: Our talented Communications intern, Rachel Racicot, wrote the story linked above and produced the video. We couldn’t be more proud. Comms folks are always a bit behind the scenes, but Rachel deserves her credit.
At the start of 2020, unemployment in California was at its lowest point in 50 years and the state was poised to increase spending on K-12 and higher education, invest in early childhood education and housing supports, and expand access to state-supplied health care for undocumented residents and all seniors.
Then COVID hit. Unemployment spiked. Revenue fell. This is the environment in which policymakers would have to draft a budget that addressed growing health care and other spending needs in response to the pandemic. “What policymakers produced was a document of guesses, difficult choices, and a bit of hope,” writes Patrick Murphy, AV’s Vice President of Public Finance.
Murphy provides insight into the tough decisions California made and what other policymakers may face this year as the recession’s impact on revenues and services hits all states hard and as questions linger on whether Congress will provide more aid.
COVID-19 has led to “the most dramatic shift in pretrial practice I’ve ever seen,” says AV’s Kristin Bechtel, Director of Criminal Justice Research, in response to a new study from the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) and Arnold Ventures. It surveyed 197 jurisdictions in 40 states and Washington, D.C., to learn how they were responding to the pandemic. And while anecdotal, the results provide an important look into real-time pretrial reforms, says Jim Sawyer, NAPSA’s Executive Director.
The situation: People in jails and prisons are five times as likely to become infected and three times as likely to die from COVID-19. Knowing this, jurisdictions appear to have taken steps to reduce the numbers of those incarcerated while awaiting trial in the U.S.
The good news: Of jurisdictions surveyed, between April 16 and June 1:
81% increased the release of persons awaiting trial
65% percent increased use of citations instead of arrests
Almost 60% reduced bail amounts
>53% reduced the overall number of criminal complaint filings.
>84% decreased the number of custodial arrests, drastically reducing police-civilian contact.
What’s more, the jurisdictions have not seen dramatic increases in crime rates or recidivism, both of which are common arguments against reform.
What’s next: “Now we need to have a national dialogue,” says Sawyer. “We need to have a large-scale conversation and talk about how if you could do this during a pandemic and not have terrible things happen — people are not going out and having new criminal activity, people aren’t going out and absconding — if you can do that, why can’t you do that when there’s not a pandemic?”
There is a lot of opportunity to take advantage of families seeking treatment for loved ones with substance use disorder. “It’s like the Wild West out there. Buyer beware,” says Anne Seaman, whose experience looking for addiction services for her son is common in America. “Families are often doing this in a crisis, which is never a good time to make a decision.” A new database piloted by Shatterproof is hoping to change that.
The problem: Only 1 in 10 Americans with opioid use disorder receives evidence-based specialty treatment, and less than half of U.S. treatment facilities offer FDA-approved medications — considered the “gold standard” for opioid use disorder treatment.
What’s next: Shatterproof’s ATLAS project, being piloted in 6 states, will use health care rating best practices and look at the so-called “metrics that matter,” such as insurance claims, provider surveys, and consumer experience. “People have been sold expensive out-of-state programs that don’t have good stabilization treatment or an aftercare plan,” says Anne Constantino, CEO and President of Horizon Health Services. “For many families, it means starting over again.”
His response is a reflection of the massive changes that have occurred within youth justice systems across the country. The story of how we got here offers a lesson to the rest of the criminal justice reform movement. By pushing back against fear-based narratives, demonstrating the harm inflicted by incarceration, and successfully redirecting resources into an alternative system, the campaign to eliminate youth prisons shows what a true reimagining of criminal justice can look like.
Exciting news that the New York Legislature has sent a bill to the governor to end driver’s license suspension for unpaid traffic debt, a practice that disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx people.
CityLab writing that San Quentin’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak has intensified a national debate over releasing inmates and dramatically reducing the U.S. prison population — the largest in the world.
This Washington Examiner op-ed urging nonpartisan organ donation reform. It’s written by those closest to the issue: the director of one of the largest transplant centers in the country and a mother of a young girl with cystic fibrosis.
NPR reporting that surprise billing by surgical assistants has been identified as another tactic by private equity to generate profit — and yet Congress still has not passed federal legislation to protect patients from such predatory behavior.
Not that we need more things to worry about, but the Medicare trust fund is now rapidly running out of money. To keep the fund solvent, policymakers must start thinking about cost containment strategies soon.
A new post from Straight Talk on Evidence arguing that in a well-conducted RCT of the federal Job Corps program, the abstract reports only positive results and omits other primary study findings that cast doubt on the program’s long-term effectiveness.
This bipartisan op-ed on the importance of redistricting reform in Virginia, penned by Democrat Bobby Vassar and Republican Wyatt Durrette. "Politicians have free rein to pick their voters, rather than the other way around. There is no transparency as they make these decisions and there is no significant input from citizens at any point in the process."
Politico's take on the pandemic's potential transformation of higher education.
What We're Listening To
This excellent MDRC podcast about CUNY’s successful ASAP program, which we’ve touted in this space before. Katie Beal speaks with Christine Brongniart, CUNY ASAP’s University Executive Director, and Camielle Headlam, a Research Associate at MDRC, about what it took to replicate the model at three community colleges in Ohio.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
By Stuart Buck, Arnold Ventures Vice President of Research
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that a universal mask policy at a Massachusetts health system led to a “significantly lower rate of [COVID] positivity” test rates among health care workers.
While masks likely do have substantial benefit, this study doesn’t show it. It’s important to maintain standards of high-quality science, even if the conclusion is something that seems obviously true.
The study merely looks at COVID tests given to the health care workers, and plots out the positivity rate — that is, the percent of COVID tests that return a positive result — from March 6 to April 29. It finds that the positivity rate started at zero (at the outset of COVID), escalated rapidly in March, and then when masking went into effect at the health system, the rate thereafter “decreased linearly from 14.65% to 11.46%.”
That’s it. There is no actual comparison group, except for one sentence mentioning that “the case number continued to increase in Massachusetts throughout the study period.” But that was obviously true of the health system itself as well (or else the positivity rate would have dropped to zero again).
Worse, the citation for that claim is a state report that plots the positivity rate for the entire state, which would have been a much more useful comparison. It turns out that between April 11 and April 29, the statewide positivity rate dropped from 29-33% to 17-19%. That’s a more substantial drop than occurred at the health system in question. Given other statewide interventions at the same time (such as a stay-home order), it’s impossible to attribute a modest decline at one health system to the mask policy there.
Some Final Inspiration
A Virginia man asked strangers to share good things that happened to them because of the pandemic. The responses are both revealing and comforting.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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