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Dear California, Chill. The Scary Criminals R NOT Coming to Get You

May 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


A week after the US Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Plata in which SCOTUS
affirmed that the 3 judge panel did, in fact, have the legal right to tell our state that it had to reduce its prison population to sane and manageable levels (AKA by about 33,000 inmates over 2 years), there is starting to be some calm, smart, fact based writing on the topic. (As opposed to the screaming, alarmist, fact-free headlines of last Monday.)

One story of note is the Op Ed in the Los Angeles Times, jointly written by former CDCR head (and former San Quentin warden), Jeanne Woodford, and the Barry Krisberg is research and policy director of the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the UC Berkeley School of Law—both very intelligent people with a combined breadth of experience on the topic that would be hard to equal.

Here are a couple of clips from their essay:

In his dissent from the majority in the recent Supreme Court decision requiring California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that “terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order.”

But Californians shouldn’t panic. The state won’t have to throw open the prison doors to meet the court’s order if it embraces very modest sentencing reforms.

[SNIP]

It is worth noting that a number of states, including Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan, Ohio and Washington, have reduced their prison populations over the last 25 years, and independent research has found that not one of these states experienced an increase in crime or recidivism following the reductions. In fact, if drug treatment and other reentry services were provided, the rate of repeat offenses often went down.

California has had its own success story in reducing incarceration numbers without ill effect. Faced with serious overcrowding in state prisons for youth, California reduced its youth prison population from more than 10,000 in 1996 to about 1,000 today. This was the largest decline in juvenile incarceration in American history. Yet during this period, serious youth crime dropped throughout the state, and felony arrests for juveniles and young adults also decreased dramatically.

Read the whole thing and then tell everyone around you to chill. on this topic.


COULD IT BE THAT JUSTICE KENNEDY VOTED FOR THE PLATA DECISION…BECAUSE HE UNDERSTANDS PRISON POLICY?

At least that’s what Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee has pointed out in an interesting column that talks about Kennedy’s relationship with Clark Kelso and how it may have affected his thinking on the California prison population decision. Here are some clips:

J. Clark Kelso wasn’t the least bit surprised by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion directing that California cut prison population by roughly 30,000 inmates.

Kelso is the court-appointed receiver who oversees health care in the state prison system, documents its many failures, and pushes for improvements.

More than that, Kelso has a personal bond with Kennedy. He was Kennedy’s law clerk in 1983 and 1984 when Kennedy was on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

[SNIP]

Yes, Kennedy usually sides with prosecutors.

But there are nuances, as evidenced by Kennedy’s majority opinion in Brown v. Plata, the landmark prison overcrowding case decided by a 5-4 margin last week.

“He has a fundamental respect and believes the Constitution has fundamental respect for the individual,” Kelso said. “It was not about criminal law. It was about human dignity.”

[SNIP]

Justice Antonin Scalia got worked up in his dissent to the majority decision affirming a lower court order that California reduce its prison population.

He writes that about 46,000 inmates would be “generously rewarded” by a release order. Of those freed, he write, “many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.” Nice turns of phrases, though they’re not grounded in fact…..


COULD A REVISION OF THE OLD BAIL SYSTEM LOWER CALIFORNIA’S INCARCERATION NUMBERS—AND COSTS?

And then on Monday, the New York Times had a provocative Op Ed by Shima Baradaran, an associate professor of law at Brigham Young University and the chairwoman of the American Bar Association Pretrial Release Task Force, that explores the idea of reform of the bail system, as a much needed way to reduce incarceration rates in first in California’s jail and, upstream of them, its overcrowded prisons.

Here’s a clip:

Every year America spends close to $66 billion to keep people behind bars. But almost 500,000 of the 2.3 million prisoners aren’t convicts; rather, they are accused individuals awaiting trial.

While some defendants are able to pay their bail and go free, most cannot, because many judges, lacking firm insight into what types of prisoners are too dangerous to release, set high bail amounts knowing the accused can’t afford them. Though some of these defendants will eventually be found not guilty and go free, keeping them incarcerated before their trials creates a burden on the prison system.

What’s more, detention begets more detention. Defendants detained before trial are more likely to be convicted if they go to trial, more likely to receive prison sentences rather than probation when sentenced, and, given their weak bargaining power with prosecutors while locked up, are more likely to have longer sentences.

A few jurisdictions, however, have begun to think outside the prison cell. In line with recommendations endorsed by the American Bar Association, Miami-Dade County cut costs associated with detention by supervising defendants outside jail at a total cost of around $400 per defendant per year, compared with $20,000 for incarcerated defendants. In Iowa, alternatives to pretrial detention saved the state’s Southern District $1.7 million in 2009.

These and other jurisdictions have also cut costs using technology, like G.P.S. trackers and ankle bracelets, that allow defendants to remain at home — with supervision — while awaiting trial.

Posted in prison, prison policy, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Memorial Day: Thinking About Wounded Warriors

May 30th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



If you want to do something concrete today for the American service men and women,
I recommend a donation—small or large— to these excellent folks.

Posted in War | 2 Comments »

Was a Visitor to LA County Jail Viciously Beaten by Guards?

May 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This week’s LA Weekly’ cover story about LA County’s Men’s Central Jail
paints a discouragingly familiar picture of brutal behavior on the part of a cadre of sheriff’s deputies—use of force which seems always to be officially portrayed by the sheriff’s department as a justified response to a violent inmate.

However, in this case, it wasn’t an inmate. The guy beat up—Gabriel Carrillo— was not residing inside jail, but was a civilian just visiting his brother, his girlfriend along with him.

However as in cases of inmates who have ended up beat up and inured, without video tapes, neutral witnesses, or someone inside the LASD willing to break ranks, it is inevitably the word of the beat up jailbird against multiple sworn officers of the law.

Even when there was a neutral witness earlier this year in the person of the ACLU’s Esther Lim, LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore suggested that Lim probably didn’t see what she said she saw in a sworn affidavit.

I mean, who are you gonna believe? Her lying eyes? Or the guys with the badges? [See here and here for Lim backstory.]

The LA Weekly cover package by Chris Vogel is full of excellent reporting.

By the way, it is also in many ways, a preview of the series on the LA County Jails bu Matt Fleischer that is coming this summer from WitnessLA in partnership with Spot.Us.

Here’s a long opening clip from Vogel’s terrific story.

But there’s much, much more. Read the whole thing, or you’ll miss out.

And there is far more still coming right here at WLA very, very soon.

Shackled in handcuffs, Gabriel Carrillo was being detained in a small break room near the visitors’ lobby in Men’s Central Jail when, he says, a Sheriff’s deputy knocked him to the floor with an uppercut.

Carrillo, 5 feet 6 and 160 pounds, doubled over in pain. Three deputies began kicking and punching the baby-faced 23-year-old in his head and thigh, tearing his white T-shirt while blood splattered on his blue jeans and Air Jordans.

With each blow, Carrillo felt his body jerk as his head bounced up and down on the cold, county building floor. He briefly lost consciousness, only to wake to the sting of punches to his head and face.

Through eyes purple with bruises and nearly swollen shut, Carrillo could see blood pouring out of his head onto the floor.

“I’m not fucking resisting,” he cried out.

Suddenly, Carrillo felt a blast of chemical spray. He was blinded and gasping for air as more punches pummeled his increasingly numb legs and torso. It was like being caught in a violent ocean wave, Carrillo recalls. Every time he tried to come up for air, another blow drove him back under.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Carrillo wheezed.

“Shut the fuck up,” Carrillo claims a deputy said. “If you can talk, you can breathe.”

Finally, Carrillo lay motionless, watching officers wipe his blood off the floor with clean towels, thinking to himself, “How did this happen? All I was trying to do was visit my brother in jail.”

Carrillo arrived at Men’s Central Jail, a dungeonlike fortress near downtown Los Angeles, around noon on Feb. 26 with his girlfriend, Grace Torres, to visit his younger brother, who was locked up on charges of carrying a concealed weapon.

It was a Saturday, and Torres was on call for her job at an employment agency. She says she was afraid of being fired if she missed a call, so she tucked her cellphone into her boot and sneaked it into the visitors’ lobby, despite the signs prohibiting it. Carrillo, a general laborer who helped build a stage for an Academy Awards after-party next to the El Capitan Theater, says he forgot he had a phone in his pocket.

While they waited, Torres moved to scratch her foot and her phone fell onto the floor. Within minutes, she claims, deputies had confiscated the phones, handcuffed Carrillo and taken the two of them into the break room, where a deputy pushed Carrillo into the side of a refrigerator.

Carrillo admits that he mouthed off, telling the officer, “If I weren’t in these handcuffs, it’d be a different situation and I wouldn’t let myself get thrown around like this.” He says he was trying to compensate for being scared.

The deputy, however, called for backup....


MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL IS OVERCROWDED, LA COUNTY’S NORTH FACILITY JAIL, NOT SO MUCH

Actually there are two inmates at the North Facility. Two. One, two.

Robert Faturechi has the story—and the county’s rationale for this preposterous situation.

Admittedly, the two jails have separate functions. But surely there’s a better system.

In any case, read it!


CAN A TEST DIAGNOSE A PSYCHOPATH?

The California Department of Corrections is using a test that theoretically can screen for psychopathy when determining if a man or woman will ever be eligible for parole. But is it accurate?

NPR’s All Thing Considered reports that even the test’s creator, Robert Hare, is having his doubts.

“I’m very concerned about the inappropriate use of this instrument for purposes that have serious implications for individuals and for society,” Hare says. “It shouldn’t work that way.”

In fact, Hare says, he is so disturbed by some of what he has seen as he has traveled through America training psychologists in use of the PCL-R, that he sometimes has trouble focusing on the way his test could be affecting people’s lives.

“I think about this periodically, and I probably try to suppress it,” Hare says. “I do disassociate myself from it. I mean, if I thought about every potential use or misuse of the instrument, I probably wouldn’t sleep at all.”

Be sure to read or listen to this fascinating and troubling story.

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, criminal justice, jail, parole policy | 5 Comments »

Supreme Court Says AZ Can Punish Companies Who Employ Illegal Workers

May 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

The WaPo has the story:

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Arizona may revoke the business licenses of companies that knowingly employ illegal immigrants, rejecting arguments that the state’s law intrudes on the federal government’s power to control immigration.

The court ruled 5 to 3 that Congress specifically allowed states such an option, and dismissed the objections of an unusual coalition that challenged the state law: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, civil rights groups, labor unions and the Obama administration.

The 1986 federal Immigration Reform and Control Act generally preempts states from using employer sanctions to control immigration. But Arizona took advantage of a parenthetical clause in the statute — “other than through licensing and similar laws” — to go after companies that knowingly and intentionally hired undocumented workers.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. agreed with the state’s reading
of the federal law.

“It makes little sense to preserve state authority to impose sanctions through licensing, but not allow states to revoke licenses when appropriate as one of those sanctions,” he wrote.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy,
Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. agreed with the outcome.

Kagan recused herself because she’d worked on the case as Solicitor General.

[More on this later.]

Posted in immigration | No Comments »

Thursday Must Reads

May 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



COMPUTER ERRORS MAY HAVE DESIGNATED POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS PAROLEES FOR NON-REVOCABLE PAROLE, SAYS CALIFORNIA INSPECTOR GENERAL

Dear CDCR,

If the LA Times’ Jack Dolan has his story right, you’ve done a lousy job of sorting out who can be paroled without supervision and who needs high control parole supervision. If true, it means you’ve compromised public safety and betrayed those of us who have pushed hard for much needed parole reform.

And “Ooops, our computer programs need a little work,” is not an adequate response.

Please advise. Immediately.


FORMER PROSECUTOR SAYS “EVERY CHILD DESERVES A SECOND CHANCE”

More and more people who are veterans of many sides of the justice system are saying that we should reconsider putting kids away for life without the possibility of parole—LWOP kids, they call them.

A recent voice on the matter if Anthony Barkow whose essay on the topic appeared this week’s Huffington Post.

Barkow was a decorated federal prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office for 12 years before he became the Executive Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU School of Law.

Here is a clip from his essay:

I was a prosecutor for 12 years. During that time, I prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, ranging from international terrorism to securities fraud, from domestic violence and sexual abuse to homicide. I prosecuted cases in which offenders received very substantial sentences. I am proud of my work as a prosecutor and I have no doubt that criminal punishment is critical to keeping communities safe.

One of the defendants I prosecuted committed murder when he was 17-years-old. He gunned down his victim and shot him 17 times in cold blood in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street. The same defendant had committed another murder before he turned 18. For these crimes, he was sentenced to consecutive terms of years that were so long as to be tantamount to life imprisonment, and he will never be released. And, in that case, that was a just result.

But at the same time, there are other youthful defendants who have been sentenced to unjust sentences of life without the opportunity for parole. For example, a 15-year-old boy in Chicago, “Peter A,” on instructions from his older brother, helped steal a van so that his brother could drive to the home of two individuals who stole drugs and money from the brother’s apartment. Peter stayed in the van while two others went inside. While Peter waited in the van, one of the men who had gone into the home shot and killed two people. Peter was sentenced to life without parole, even though the judge said at sentencing that he wished he could impose a lower sentence and described Peter as “a bright lad” with “rehabilitative potential.” But the sentence was mandatory and the judge had no discretion or choice to sentence Peter otherwise. Peter is now 29 and has spent nearly half of his life in prison. During that time, he has obtained his G.E.D. and completed a correspondence paralegal course. He has an exemplary record in prison, receiving a disciplinary ticket only once in the past six years (for possessing an extra pillow and extra cereal in his cell). But no matter how much Peter changes in prison, he will serve the rest of his life in prison without having even the possibility of asking to be released, much less getting out.

That is the critical fact to keep in mind about those seeking to end life without parole for juveniles. No one is arguing that any particular individual should be let out of prison. Ending juvenile life without parole merely leaves open the possibility that a child who commits a crime can petition for release later in life, if he can demonstrate that he is remorseful, has rehabilitated, and will not reoffend. Parole authorities can and should be trusted to make informed, reasoned decisions regarding the release and continued incarceration of inmates petitioning for parole…..

Read the rest.


STRAY DOGS, SAINTS AND SAVIORS: FIGHTING FOR THE SOUL OF AMERICA’S TOUGHEST HIGH SCHOOL

Madeleine Brand interviews ,education wonk and commentator Alexander Russo, about his new book, Stay Dogs, Saints and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America’s Toughest High School chronicles the transformation of very troubled Locke High School—what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.
I’ve been looking forward to the book’s release for months, and will have more it once I’ve finished reading. In the meantime, listen to the interview. Russo’s a smart guy and has a bracingly clear-eyed view of why the “Locke experiment,” as he calls it, is important.


WHY THE CRENSHAW-TO-LAX TRAIN NEEDS TO STOP IN LEIMERT PARK

WLA doesn’t usually cover transportation issues but, seriously, this is a no brainer. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board votes on this issue today. Let’s hope they understand how important a station at historic and iconic Leimert Park station is, not just to South LA, but to the rest of the city.

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas has an op ed in Thursday’s LA Times explaining very clearly why there can be only one possible answer to the Leimert Park station question.

Metro board, please get this one right.

Posted in Books, Education, Green Dot, LGBT, LWOP Kids, parole policy | No Comments »

WitnessLA is a Finalist for 4 LA Press Club Awards! Wooo-Hooo!

May 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA is a finalist for LA Press Club Awards in these four categories:

BEST ONLINE NEWS/INVESTIGATIVE - for Part 2 of the LA Justice Report/Follow the Gang Money series, by Matt Fleisher, Sponsored by WitnessLA & Spot.Us

BEST ADVOCACY JOURNALISM – for the LA Justice Report/Follow the Gang Money series, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, sponsored by WitnessLA & Spot.Us

BEST WEBLOG, INDIVIDUAL

BEST WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE TO THE INTERNET

The big gala awards dinner is in June 26, at the downtown Biltmore hotel, my favorite LA awards banquet venue.

Posted in media | 6 Comments »

California Crime Rate Drops, Plus More Views on the Supreme’s Prison Ruling

May 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



I saw LAPD Chief Charlie Beck on Tuesday
when I was having lunch at the Homegirl Cafe. We talked briefly about Monday’s Supreme Court decision. He wasn’t worried, the chief said, or words to that effect. We were just chatting amiably in the noisy luncheon crowd, thus I took no notes. “I think it’ll be fine,” he said. In other words, the sky wasn’t falling, like the plethora of headlines and news broadcasts would have had us believe on Monday.

Now that there’s been a day to reflect, both Steve Lopez and Tim Rutten wrote excellent columns on the issue.

Here is a clip from Lopez’s essay:

On Monday, the way we jam inmates into prisons was found to meet the constitutional definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

California worked at it, worked at it, worked at it, and finally, we did it.

Our achievement here in the Golden State was to incarcerate nearly twice as many people as the prisons were designed to hold, and the amazing thing is that we pulled this off despite building a new prison every year or so. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, has ordered us to thin the herd by 33,000 or so.

The majority opinion called the conditions “appalling” and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cited “telephone booth-sized cages” and inmates dying of cancer without medical care.

But others warned of disastrous results if inmates are freed, rather than shifted to county facilities, as Gov. Jerry Brown has recommended.

“Terrible things are sure to happen,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia.

Guess what, Mr. Scalia. Terrible things already did happen. That’s how we got to this point.

Read the rest:

Did I mention that California’s crime is lower than it’s been in decades?

Consider it mentioned.

Posted in LAPD, prison, prison policy, Supreme Court, Uncategorized | No Comments »

FYI: The Supremes’ Ruling IS NOT a Demand for Prisoner Release

May 24th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



On Monday morning the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled in the case known as Brown v. Plata that California has to reduce its prison population to manageable levels because overcrowding had created a large scale and ongoing violation of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Upon news of the ruling, the expected objections from those on the right began immediately.

“By flooding our neighborhoods with criminals, the court will make one of highest taxed states in the nation among the most dangerous as well,” howled former state senator George Runner.

Justice Alito, who had voted against the ruling, said something similar in a verbal dissent given from the bench: “The three-judge court ordered the premature release of approximately 46,000 criminals — the equivalent of three Army divisions.”

The vision of tens of thousands of felons about to be dumped into our communities is indeed a disturbing notion.

Except that it’s not true .

Yet, surprisingly many in the news media unwittingly reinforced the same unsettling misconception.

For example, here is the headline from the LA Times story that followed the ruling:

Supreme Court upholds order for California to release 46,000 inmates

And there was this:

California scrambles after Supreme Court orders the release of thousands of inmates

The LA Weekly’s headline was even more alarming:

Los Angeles Should Brace For Thousands of Released Prisoners Following Supreme Court Ruling

The article that follows opens with the news that, “The U.S. Supreme Court today ordered California to open the floodgates at its state prisons and unleash 37,000 of its 140,000 or so inmates…..”

Even the Wall Street Journal, led with the message that California was going to open the floodgates and disgorge armies worth of incarcerated felons on to the streets.

My personal favorite is Channel 5, KTLA news which reports that:

“The United States Supreme Court is handing out a “Get Out of Jail Free Card to Thousands of Inmates…..It’s about the largest jailbreak in California history…. The Supreme Court itself ordering 32,000 California inmates back on the street.” Then after hearing the heartrending, stomach-churning fears of a mother whose daughter has been murdered about the terrible consequences of this (non-existent) “jailbreak” the reporter has described, KTLA’s Chris Burroughs estimates with bright graphics that the decision will mean 22,400 new crimes committed within the year.

Responsible journalism at its best.


OKAY SO LETS GO OVER WHAT THE RULING DOES MEAN

In practical terms, Monday’s SCOTUS ruling means that that, over the next two years, the CDC needs to cut the inmate count from its existing 143,435, to approximately 109,805 prisoners—AKA 137.5 percent of the maximum capacity that the prison system was built to hold.

Applying simple math to the problem, this means that within 24 months, the California department of Corrections is required to lower the inmate population by 33,630 inmates.

However, the demand to lower the population is not an order to release prisoners.

No one, at the California Department of Corrections or in the Governor’s office, has ever suggested that they will release a massive bunch of prisoners early.

Instead, there are are a number of strategies being discussed that could accomplish the needed population reduction.

The primary of these is something called realignment , which—if implemented— would, by itself, take care of the population reduction.

In very brief terms, realignment would send parole violators and others with very short sentences, to jail instead of prison.

For instance, last year, according to the CDC’s Terry Thornton, 47,000 inmates served 90 days or less in state prison.

Sending people to state prison for less than six months is an inefficient and costly endeavor.

So, if, say 34,000 of those 47,000 were instead kept in the various county jails around the state for their 90 day terms—(rather than going through the very costly process of being carted up to one of the state prison reception centers for testing for a couple of months, and then assigned to a prison for a month or less, then released)—the court-ordered population reduction would be accomplished, without any kind of sentence reduction or risk to public safety.

Realignment is Jerry Brown’s chosen strategy, as it is the preference of CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate.

The only fly in the ointment is the fact that, although realignment will save the CDCR $$$, it also costs the state money because the various counties will have to be reimbursed for taking all those extra inmates. Given the state’s dismal budget status, funding the realignment would require that the voters approve the extension of the 2009 temporary tax hikes—-that is if Brown can manage to get the matter of the tax cut extension to the voters.

Plus, for LA County in particular, keeping all those inmates here is likely to simply transfer the overcrowding problem from the state to the county.

Sheriff Baca told KPCC’s Frank Stolze on Monday, that he worried about realignment.

Yet the California State Sheriff’s Association sent out a statement strongly supporting it:

The California State Sheriffs’ Association (CSSA) believes that fully funded, constitutionally protected and enacted at the proper time, realignment (AB 109) is a credible vehicle to mitigate the impacts of this ruling. Taken together with the recently passed legislation to assist counties with their correctional facility needs, we have a chance to lessen this impact. Simply saying no, as many have done, is no longer a credible answer. We will continue to work closely with the Governor, CDCR and the Legislature to do all we can to ensure we mitigate against the action taken by the court. Funding for front line law enforcement, jail operations and construction, community supervision, and evidence-based programs such as day reporting centers, will give Sheriffs and our public safety partners the best opportunity to protect public safety.

And, again, realignment is not he only strategy. It is simply the one many seem to favor at the moment.

However, whatever the strategy chosen, if the state is going to find the best solution to the need for prison population reduction, it would help if we could all start from a basis in facts—not fear.


SUPREME COURT RULING IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SENTENCING REFORM

Speaking of other strategies, the LA Times put up a very good editorial following Monday’s ruling. Here’s a clip:

….The truth is that experts have been suggesting responsible ways to ease prison overcrowding for years. One way is to create an independent panel to revise the state’s haphazard sentencing guidelines, which all too often result in excessive terms that worsen overcrowding. In other states, sentencing commissions have lengthened penalties for truly dangerous felons while finding alternative punishments for minor offenders.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed such a commission, but he couldn’t get the Legislature to go along. Maybe the threat of wide-scale prisoner releases can finally scare our lawmakers straight.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, prison, prison policy, Supreme Court | 6 Comments »

Supremes Say Calif. has “Serious Constitutional Violations” With Prison Overcrowding

May 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Amazing. It was a 5-4 ruling—as we guessed it likely would be.
Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote and he also wrote for the majority:

“This case arises from serious constitutional violations in California’s prison system. The violations have persisted for years. They remain uncorrected.”

The case, which stemmed from the order of a panel of three federal judges which ordered California to reduce the chronic and catastrophic overcrowding in the state’s prison system down to manageable levels, which means a reduction of the inmate population by about 33,000 prisoners.

California challenged the ruling contending that the judges- were overstepping their bounds and that it set a bad precedent.

Here’s a clip from the story by Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury News, which appears to have one of the more temperate and factual takes on Monday morning’s ruling:

The Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument that the three-judge panel overstepped its authority and went too far in demanding such a dramatic release of prisoners. The federal court order required California to reduce its inmate population to about 137 percent of prison capacity, which would call for ridding nearly a quarter of the inmates from prisons.

The Supreme Court found that the order was reasonable, given the state’s inability to rectify the overcrowding in a case that has stretched back decades. The justices also upheld the demand that the state reduce the overcrowding within two years, but instructed the three-judge panel to give the prison system flexibility if it is justified.

In a statement, Gov. Jerry Brown appeared ready to drop the state’s fight against the court order and press ahead with his proposed legislation to reduce the prison population primarily by shifting inmates to county jails. He also suggested he’ll push the Legislature to provide the funding to the counties that will be needed to transfer as many as 30,000 prisoners to the local level.

“As we work to carry out the court’s ruling, I will take all steps necessary to protect public safety,” the governor said.

California Republicans have already strongly criticized Brown’s prison plan, which was introduced earlier this spring.

Governor Brown, who was after all the person whose office brought the cast to SCOTUS—both as attorney general and now governor—thus the literal loser this morning, responded with a practical plan as to how the overcrowding problem may be solved. [More on that in a separate story.}

However, in other quarters, there was the predictably hysterical and fact free reaction about tens of thousands of dangerous felons being released to run rife through the countryside.


Photo by Patrick Tehan/Mercury News archive

Posted in prison, prison policy, Supreme Court | No Comments »

UTLA Is Once Again Putting Job Security Ahead of LAUSD’s Kids

May 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



On Friday, the Los Angeles teachers union—UTLA—filed papers
with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board in the hope that the board will file an injunction to prevent the district from moving forward on two fronts—trying out teacher evaluations, and turning over aClay middle school and more than half of Jordan High school to charter school operators, the main charter group being Green Dot public schools.

Here’s a clip of what the LA Times’ Howard Bloom reported:

The Los Angeles teachers union is seeking a court order to halt key initiatives favored by the new L.A. schools superintendent, the Board of Education and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

If successful, the legal action would suspend pilot testing of a new evaluation system that would use students’ scores on standardized tests as one measure of teacher effectiveness.

The legal action also would thwart plans to hand over all or part of two South Los Angeles campuses to a charter school organization. Los Angeles Unified School District officials want Green Dot Public Schools to take over all of Clay Middle School and about half of Jordan High School.

Throwing a monkey wrench into the district’s small foray into teacher evaluation is bad enough (Jason song has more here). But to stop the reconstitution of the two schools is an act that, once again, disregards the urgent educational needs and futures of students in favor of jobs security for Jordan’s teachers.

Jordan High in particular is a complete mess. It has a 35 percent graduation rate. Less than 2 percent of its student scored proficient in math. Only 12 percent scored proficient in English.

Jordan suspends nearly 300 students per year.

In other words, Jordan is a very troubled school in an emergency situation. So, the district, to its credit decided to make some big changes. Jordan would be divided into three mini schools, each of which would be run by either Green Dot Public Schools, the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, or Mayor Villaraisgosa’s public education group.

Outgoing LAUSD superintendent, Ray Cortines, gave Jordan’s teachers a chance to come up with their own makeover plan for the school but, as GOOD magazine reported, Cortines rejected the plan because, among other things, “it blamed the students.”

School reform blogger Whitney Tilson has excerpts from Cortines’ letter. And it’s clear that he’s furious at the faculty’s plan.

Here’s a snippet.

.…I must be honest and state that I am extremely disappointed that beginning in your second paragraph on the summary page you begin to set up the straw man of blame and excuses. The Watts community is not the only school community within LAUSD that is surrounded by community issues.

It is hard for me to be sympathetic regarding your needs identified in the plan when the school has
had additional money in the form of the Quality Education Investment Act grant, and support from
Talent Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As you know, I had to notify you of
the loss of the generous and valuable QEIA grant because you did not meet your own benchmarks.
These were not benchmarks set by the state or LAUSD, but by your own staff. Everyone bears
responsibility—administrators, school staff and union leadership.

I agree with the words you use when you say, “The transformation of Jordan High School will be built upon Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor so that by the 12th grade, every student will have
developed as an independent learner.” Let me remind you that graduation begins in pre-school.
There is no evidence in your plan of ongoing outreach to teachers, students and parents that feed
into Jordan. The school is not an island unto itself but a place of learning that should move students
forward in their educational journey. In addition, we need to be mindful that there is a fourth element to the “Relationships, Relevance and Rigor” framework that helps move schools forward: results.

Green Dot, the Alliance and the mayor’s partnership group all did come up with workable proposals—and all have applicable track records to suggest that they can put their proposals successfully in motion. Green Dot in particular can point to the progress they have made since their takeover of once-very troubled Locke High School.

Now any progress that might have been made for Jordan’s students is imperiled while the adults jockey for control.


TWO LAPD COPS INTERVIEW TARGETS OF SWAT STANDOFFS AFTER THE FACT TO FIND BETTER WAYS TO DEFUSE TENSION

I love these kinds of stories. Good for the NY Times for doing this one about our department. Read it. It’s a nice little glimpse of two police pros doing a job well.


A DISTURBING TALE FROM THE PALM BEACH POST: HUGE DOSES OF ANTI PSYCHOTIC DRUGS BEING LIBERALLY DOLED OUT IN JAILS FOR TROUBLED KIDS

Here’s the opening of the Palm Beach Post investigation:

Florida has plied children in state juvenile jails with heavy doses of powerful antipsychotic medications.

The pills, widely viewed as the “big guns” of psychiatry, can cause suicidal thoughts and other dangerous side effects.

Yet, in state-run jails and residential programs, antipsychotics were among the top drugs bought for kids – and they routinely were doled out for reasons that never were approved by federal regulators, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.

Reacting to the newspaper’s findings, the head of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice ordered a sweeping review of the department’s use of antipsychotic medications. As it stands now, DJJ doesn’t track prescriptions and has no way of telling whether doctors are putting kids on pills simply to make them easier to control.

“This is a very important issue,” said Broward County Public Defender Howard Fink­elstein, whose office represents children in juvenile court. “If kids are being given these drugs without proper diagnosis, and it is being used as a ‘chemical restraint,’ I would characterize it as a crime. A battery – a battery of the brain each and every time it is given.”

In some cases, the drugs are prescribed by contract doctors who have taken huge speaker fees and other gifts from makers of antipsychotic pills, companies that reap staggering profits selling medications, The Post found.


Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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