In a closely watched shift, New Jersey has effectively eliminated cash bail for people accused of low-level crimes and replaced it with a system that weighs detainment after a crime based upon risk assessments. Under the traditional bail system, low-income defendants can get stuck in the equivalent of a debtor’s prison as they await trial, which can create a spiraling effect whereby they lose their job, then their housing, and potentially contact with their family. A 2013 study found that nearly 40 percent of people in New Jersey jails were only there because they could not afford to pay their bail. Judges will be guided by a risk-assessment tool to decide if a potentially dangerous defendant is likely to flee or commit another crime, and will have the discretion to hold them without bail, or to place them under curfew or with a GPS monitor.
On the heels of estimates that only one out of 400 cups in the UK is being recycled, London will establish dedicated stations for disposable coffee cups in the hopes of boosting recycling efforts within the Square Mile area of the city. To address the tricky problem of separating the plastic and paper parts of a coffee cup, the city will be partnering with a specialized disposable-cup recycling company. Free pick-up services will be available to the first 30 businesses that sign up and all others will be eligible for a discount. If the pilot is successful in this small section of London, it may be expanded to rest of the city.
This autumn, San Francisco will become the first large city in the US to offer free community college to all of its residents. Under the plan, tuition will be free for all city dwellers to the City College of San Francisco, regardless of social class, and low-income students will be eligible to receive a $500 stipend annually in order to help cover the cost of textbooks. To qualify, residents must have lived in the city for at least a full year and a day. The program is expected to cost around $5.4 million annually, and may benefit nearly 30,000 people. Other programs that reduce the financial burdens of higher education are being seriously considered in cities and states around the country.
New digital tools are helping to make the urban planning process more transparent, inclusive, and interactive for citizens. Santa Monica, California, is testing out a Tinder-like app that allows pieces of its forthcoming urban plan, from murals to street furniture, to be evaluated by the public by allowing them to swipe left if they oppose it or swipe right if they support it. Manchester, UK, has developed an interactive online map to inform potential development sites across the city, combining data on water and transport networks, brownfield land, and property prices. Startups also continue to evolve, offering services such as a one-stop shop for planning policies or exploring the potential for augmented reality solutions that provide local residents with the ability to “step into” a proposed development and gauge its true impact.
The Netherlands has the unusual “problem” of a surplus of empty prison cells, and it has used this excess capacity to help other members of society. In recent years, the country has turned around a dozen former prisons as housing for asylum seekers and refugees, converting cellblocks into apartments for families, and adding gymnasiums, kitchen facilities, and outdoor gardens. Other prisons have been “outsourced” to other countries, such as Norway and Belgium, for them to place their prisoners. Observers note that the declining prison population is due to the Dutch rehabilitative approach to prison, its more liberal approach to less serious crimes, and a young generation more focused on a technology and online pursuits than petty street crime.
The Lecce Penitentiary in Italy has embarked upon a unique effort to teach its inmates how to be sommeliers, or wine stewards. During the lessons, male and female students learn how to taste, choose, and serve local wines. The program, which is part of a general effort to impart professional skills, such as learning to cultivate tomatoes or to be painters or tailors, is geared toward giving the inmates the opportunity to choose a different path once they are released. Italy has been the site of other unusual rehabilitation programs, including a restaurant inside a medium-security prison near Milan in which the waiters and cooks are inmates.