I’m leaving for the North Shore of Oahu for the wedding of my wonderful, soulful, brilliant son, Will. Back after vows and kisses are exchanged (and champagne is consumed) and my kid is happily hitched to my beautiful daughter-in-law soon to be.
- Transforming Foster Care, Indigent Defense, and Malcolm Gladwell on School Shootings
- Once-Locked Up Kids Hope a New Culver City Reentry Center Can Help Them Become “UnStoppable”
- Sheriff McDonnell to Launch Anti-Corruption Policy Regarding Who Approves the LASD’s Long Controversial Tow Contracts
- Probe Launched Into Top LA County Sheriff’s Official Stolen Luxury Car—Bought at a Bargain Price From His Tow Company Pal
- Inmate Debate Team Beats Harvard, LAPD Transparency, Drugging Foster Kids, and CEO Sachi Hamai
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Marisa Taylor For McClatchy has done an excellent three-part series on the military’s use of the death penalty.
Here are clips from all three parts:
RACE AND THE DEATH PENALTY IN THE MILITARY
Interestingly, it seems that the racial disparities are the starkest when those killed are outside the military. Military on Military murders seem to be less affected to the st
Ten of the 16 men whom the military has sentenced to death in the last 27 years share another common characteristic: They’re all minorities.
The racial imbalance in the military’s death penalty isn’t new. As far back as the early 1970s, the military has acknowledged racial bias in its judicial system. The civilian court systems have similar disparities.
But one recent statistical analysis has found that the problem endures and is in some ways worse than on the civilian side.
A study by a group of law and statistics professors found that minorities in the military were twice as likely to be sentenced to death as their white counterparts, a statistic higher than is known to exist in most civilian court systems.
DEATH SENTENCES HANDLED SO POORLY THEY ARE FREQUENTLY OVERTURNED
It is rarely question of innocence at all when these military capital cases are overturned. It is a matter instead of hopeless bungling by the defense at trial, of evidence grossly mishandled by prosecutors, and more.
In December 2008, former Army Pvt. Ronald Gray was on the brink of becoming the first military execution in almost 50 years.
The rapist and murderer of four women had sat on death row for two decades by the time President George W. Bush approved his death warrant.
But the week before Gray was to receive a lethal injection, a federal judge halted the execution because of a new appeal.
Now, federal defenders who took over his case say they’ve found new evidence that his original military lawyers should have discovered. If they’re successful, Gray could join a growing number of soldiers, airman and marines who have been spared execution.
Of the 16 men sentenced to death since the military overhauled its system in 1984, 10 have been taken off death row. The military’s appeals courts have overturned most of the sentences, not because of a change in heart about the death penalty or questions about the men’s guilt, but because of mistakes made at every level of the military’s judicial system.
The problems included defense attorneys who bungled representation, judges who didn’t know how to properly instruct a jury and prosecutors who mishandled evidence.
In all of the cases, the men have been resentenced to life in prison. Eventually, they could be eligible for parole.
Yet by many measures, they’re the military’s worst of the worst. Convicted of crimes such as serial murder and rape, they’re the kinds of criminals that many people would agree the death penalty should be reserved for.
Then why have they been spared?
Critics say the military botched the cases because its judicial system lags behind civilian courts and isn’t equipped to handle the complex legal and moral questions that capital cases raise.
THE DETAILS OF A BAD DEFENSE
Nobody is suggesting Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan didn’t commit the horrific murders of which he was accused. “It’s not a whodunit, but a whydunit,” said Dwight Sullivan, senior appellate defense counsel for the Air Force.
When military jurors sentenced former Marine Lance Cpl. Ronnie Curtis to death, they had every reason to believe that he deserved to be executed. No one disputed that he’d stabbed and killed his superior officer and the officer’s wife inside their home. The only real question was why.
But what the jury learned at trial made the crime seem even more inexplicable. After all, he had a good Christian upbringing by caring parents. No one could have predicted the murders based on his background.
On appeal, his lawyers discovered a very different story. They found that Curtis’ adoptive father was frequently drunk, including during the lawyers’ visit to their client’s childhood home in Kansas. When questioned about his son, Curtis’ father showed off the horsewhip he’d used to beat him after adopting him at age 2.
In capital cases, such details could be enough to save a defendant from death row. Yet the realities of Curtis’ troubled childhood, along with evidence that he was drunk when he committed the murders, were never presented at his sentencing at Marine Corps Base
AND THERE’S THE LITTLE MATTER OF THE MILITARY CRIME LAB
AND IN OTHER NEWS: TWO SIDES CLASH OVER RELEASE OF PROP 8 TRIAL VIDEO
Adversaries in the legal battle over same-sex marriage in California clashed Monday over the release of courtroom videos, with gay-rights groups arguing for the public’s right to watch last year’s trial and their opponents saying the judge promised to keep the footage sealed.
The videos, whose live broadcast was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court, are still “the ultimate judicial record (that) will allow the public to see exactly what led Judge (Vaughn) Walker to strike down Proposition 8,” Theodore Boutrous, lawyer for two gay and lesbian couples and an advocacy group, said at a federal court hearing in San Francisco.
NOTE: LIGHT BLOGGING TODAY (WEDDING PREP AND ALL THAT)
As many of you may know, SB 9, went down to defeat in the California State Assembly last Thursday. SB 9 is the bill that would have given some juvenile lifers who qualify a vague chance to lower their sentences to 25-to-life, which even then wouldn’t guarantee they would ever be released. But it was, you might say, a chance at a chance.
The bill needed 41 Assembly votes to pass. The final tally was 36 to 36, with 8 spineless members abstaining altogether.
Over the weekend, I had several people ask me why I haven’t written about SB 9′s defeat. I told them that I was not at all sure I had anything to more say, that I was made weary by the idiocy, fear and illogic that continues to drive the discussion about the issue of juvenile life sentences. I mean really: this law is a no brainer.
For instance, during the floor discussion, one the Assembly members who opposed the bill got up and thundered “I stand with the victims!”
Yes, well, bully for you.
I wondered if the pontificating Assembly Member actually believed that those voting for SB 9 stood against the victims of murder and their families. If so, did he also believe that no other country in the world—save us— “stands with the victims,” since no other nation—save us— puts juveniles under the age of 18 in prison for life without the possibility of parole?
(Really, this sort of thing makes me believe that all state lawmakers should be tested for their ability to follow logical thought.)
I’ll try to post a list of who voted how before the end of the day.
In the meantime, Bryon Williams, in a column for the Oakland Tribune, had a take somewhat akin to mine. His headline was: ONCE AGAIN SANITY LOSES IN JUVENILE OFFENDER DEBATE
Here’s a clip:
Is it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole and without the possibility of sentence review? That was the legislative question considered this week in Sacramento.
But after lawmakers in the Assembly deadlocked at 36 votes for and against a bill to create such a review process, it became clear that once again in California’s corrections system common sense has become the sworn enemy of public policy?
Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was hardly an apologist for heinous crimes committed by youth. It merely would have given offenders sentenced as minors to life without parole a chance to request a parole hearing.
Beyond the cacophony, fear and emotion that drive so much of the state’s reactionary public policy, SB9 would have returned a small measure of sanity to the corrections system.
Supported by child advocates, mental-health professionals and civil-rights groups, the legislation would have provided an opportunity, after many years of incarceration, for review and resentencing for youths sentenced to life without parole.
It called for specific criteria and an intense, three-part review process that would result in the possibility of a lesser sentence for those offenders who have matured and proven themselves to have changed.
Moreover, it would have curbed the alarming trend of the state locking up minors and throwing away the key.
California is second only to Pennsylvania as the state with the most youth serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Under SB9, those sentenced to life without parole as minors could have petitioned a court to review his or her case after serving between 10 and 25 years in prison. If the offender met certain criteria, the court would review the case and decide, after listening to all sides, if a lower sentence should be imposed.
Not all petitioners would get a new sentencing hearing and those who did would have no guarantee of getting a lesser sentence. Even if resentenced, offenders must still face a parole board and must prove parole is merited.
The bill did not guarantee parole, only the opportunity to earn it.
State Senator Leland Yee plans to try to reintroduce the bill once more before in the next week or two.
NOTE: I’m flying to Hawaii on Wednesday for the wedding of my wonderful son. Blogging will be light until I leave, then WLA will go dark until after Labor Day (when I return from Hawaii after seeing my boy properly and joyfully married on the beach).
Photo by Bay Area News Group
This week the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice released a brand new report that shows, surprisingly, that Ventura and Orange counties are trying way, WAY more kids as adults than is LA County, particularly kids 15 and under. However, the real surprise came when the study’s researchers concluded that the impetus behind those outsized numbers may have more to do with fiscal incentives than public safety.
FIRST A BIT OF BACKGROUND
For much of the last century, California has had a provision that allows juveniles who commit extremely serious and violent crimes to be tried and sentenced it adult court. Yet the the power to decide what kid’s crime and state of mind merited being treated as an adult, not a juvenile, rested with a juvenile judge who, it was believed, was best suited to determine if a lawbreaking teenager was redeemable and what treatment would best suit his or her future as well as the common good.
However, when Proposition 21 passed in 2001, it created the prosecutorial power to “directly file” charges against juveniles in adult court under a variety of circumstances without first obtaining the permission of the juvenile court, as had always been required in the past.
The new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice investigates the adult criminal court direct filing (“direct-file”) practices of California’s 58 counties since the passage of Proposition 21.
The report produced a plethora of interesting findings, but one of the most unexpected was the discovery that Ventura County was direct-filing at a staggering rate when compared any other California region. (LA, by comparison, looks positively moderate.)
Here are some of the highlights of the report (if you can call these depressing stats highlights):
- During the years of 2003 to 2009 Ventura County accounted for just 1.3% of juvenile felony arrests that could have been direct filed, but 6.2% of all direct-files in the state of California.
- During that same period, LA’s rate of direct-files was 7.2 out of every 1,000 eligible juvenile felony arrests. Ventura’s rate of direct files was 122.1
- Orange and Santa Barbara Counties, which both have a much higher rate than the state average, were virtually tied in their enthusiasm for direct filings, with 70.1 and 70.7 respectively.)
- The researchers assumed that most of the direct-files would be older juveniles, ages 16 or 17 plus. But not so with champion direct-filers like Ventura. Not only did Ventura have the most direct files in the state, the majority of its filings were for kids 15 years and younger.
- In fact, during the 2003-09 period, Ventura direct filled on 77 kids 14 and younger while LA County, which had 24 times the number of qualifying felonies, only direct filed on less than half of Ventura’s number—30 kids in that 14 and under age group.
So, how did all that try-em-as-adults-to scare-em-straight strategy work? Did it reduce crime? According to the study, during and after the periods of high direct filing, “Ventura experienced a significantly worse trend in youth crime than other counties.” including for felonies involving youths age 14 and younger.
The above pattern held true for the rest of the high direct-file counties: From 2000 through 2009, the report found that the rate of arrests of juveniles for qualifying felonies per 100,000 juveniles age 10-17 declined faster in the low direct-filing counties (down 23%) than in the high direct-filing counties (down 16%). San Francisco, for example, rarely utilized direct-filing and had a greater than average juvenile crime decline. Further, the rate of arrests of juveniles for all other felonies (those not qualifying for direct-filing) also fell faster in the low direct-filing counties (down 13%) than in the high direct-filing counties (down 6%).
SO WHY DIRECT-FILE ON SO MANY KIDS IF IT DOESN’T LOWER CRIME?
In trying to figure out why certain counties filed so much more than others, the researchers noticed something interesting: a possible financial incentive. As noted earlier, counties like Ventura and Orange not only direct-filed at a much higher rate than their neighbors like LA and San Diego County, they direct-filed on the youngest kids who qualified—12, 13 and 14-year-olds—at an even higher rate.
But here’s the intriguing little secret: if you try a 13-year-old as a juvenile, he or she will be sentenced to a county juvenile facility—meaning the county will pay the kid’s hotel bills. However, if those same kids are tried and sentenced as adults, they are sent to a state youth facility—and the state taxpayers, not the county, picks up the tab—at a rate of $200,000 per year per kid.
Of course, with some of the most serious crimes, a juvenile will eventually get sent to adult prison. But it turns out that this isn’t the case with most direct filings—particularly in the high filing counties—and particularly with the youngest kids tried.
Furthermore, the report notes, those kids tried as adults and sent to state facilities did not, in all but certain more extreme cases, get longer sentences than kids who went through the juvenile system, according to a 2008 study.
The researchers began to conclude that the DA’s in high filing counties were using the post Prop 21 mechanism simply to pass on the cost of locking up kids to the state—regardless of whether trying the kid as an adult was really warranted.
In other words, to hell with the health and well being of the kid or the community. It’s all about the money.
Read the rest of the report. There’s lots lots more.
A TROUBLING STORY ABOUT KILLINGS AND SOME REPORTERS TIES TO MEXICAN DRUG GANGS
Tim Johnson for Maclatchy has this interesting but horrifying story. Here’s how it opens:
After decades of poking around crime scenes, digging into conspiracies and hanging out with cops and politicians, columnist Miguel Angel Lopez had earned his stripes as journalistic alpha dog of the crime and corruption beat in this steamy port on the Gulf of Mexico.
But even Lopez hardly could have imagined the speed with which hit men would take his life and those of his wife and 21-year-old son.
It was 6 a.m. on a June day when two vehicles arrived at the journalist’s custard-yellow two-story home. Hit men with assault weapons poured out. One punched through the lock on the front door. The squad rushed in and opened fire on the veteran columnist – who was descending the stairs in his nightclothes – then climbed to the second floor to kill the others. Each victim was given a coup de grace in the forehead.
In a nation where attacks on journalists are rampant, the killings were unprecedented. Gangsters in modern times had never targeted a reporter’s family. And the killing wasn’t over. Five weeks later, another appalling act occurred: They kidnapped and decapitated a co-worker of Lopez’s, also a veteran crime reporter
Illustration (pre-scribbling) by Katherine Streeter/NY Times
By now most of you likely know that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple. He’s not leaving completely. He still plans to stay on as Chairman of the Board. But he will no longer be the man at center stage in the second largest company in the world, in terms of market value, and certainly one of the most innovative.
There’s a bunch of reporting around about whether or not the resignation is for health reasons—presumably something to do with his battle with pancreatic cancer—however, his letter to the board, released Wednesday (see below), leaves little doubt that health, or more properly, illness, is at the heart of his announcement.
For all his control freaky faults, I would personally prefer that Steve Jobs be immortal. But that isn’t in the cards for any of us.
Thus, like many, I am deeply saddened by this turn of events.
To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:
I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.
I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.
As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.
I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.
I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.
TechCrunch continues to have the most timely updates, by the way. For instance, Tim Cook has indeed been named CEO—and, it is official, Jobs will stay on as Board Chair.
The best reporting thus far on the inmate hunger strike that originated in the Pelican Bay SHU—or Special Housing Unit—came from California Watch reporter Michael Montgomery, whose latest story ran on Tuesday in his series on the strike—what it meant, who is behind it, and whether it accomplished anything.
One thing you should know is that Montgomery knows this material. In past years, he has reported some deeply disturbing stories on the psychological effects wrought by these isolation units that confine inmates in windowless cells for 23 hours out of every day, separating them from nearly all human contact for years at a time.
In the course of this series, he discovered that many of the strikers’ demands already existed as recommendations that emerged from a year-long internal study commissioned by the CDCR then roundly ignore.
Below there’s a clip to give you a feel:
State corrections officials are moving forward with a major policy initiative that could improve conditions and reduce the length of time some inmates spend in controversial isolation units. The changes are being proposed amid threats of another hunger strike by inmates who spearheaded one last month at Pelican Bay State Prison.
The policy changes, which still are being worked out, are in line with proposals highlighted in an internal study completed in 2007 by a panel of experts appointed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, according to interviews and documents. The panel’s recommendations included:
***Moving to a conduct-based model that punishes inmates for tangible offenses, rather than for mere affiliation with a gang. This approach is widely used in other states and by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
*** Ending the practice of indefinite detention of alleged prison gang members and associates in the Security Housing Units
***Ending the practice of automatically sending validated prison gang members and associates to the Security Housing Units
***Creating a “step-down” program inside the Security Housing Units to encourage positive behavior by offering incentives, such as special programs
***Ending the distinction between prison gangs and other threat groups to give the department more flexibility in determining inmate placement in the Security Housing Units
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE JUSTICE GAP (YES, THERE IS A SOLUTION)
This Op Ed from the New York Times not only opines with deservedly righteous indignation, it offers a solution—or at least a good idea.
The clip below is self-explanatory:
Most low-income Americans cannot afford a lawyer to defend their legal interests, no matter how urgent the issue. Unless they are in a criminal case, most have no access to help from government-financed lawyers either.
In civil proceedings like divorces, child support cases, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and landlord-tenant disputes, the number of people representing themselves in court has soared since the economy soured. Experts estimate that four-fifths of low-income people have no access to a lawyer when they need one. Research shows that litigants representing themselves often fare less well than those with lawyers. This “justice gap” falls heavily on the poor, particularly in overburdened state courts.
There is plenty the government, the legal profession and others can do to improve this shameful state of affairs. With the economic downturn, only around two-thirds of law school graduates in 2010 got jobs for which a law degree is required, the lowest rate since 1996. That leaves the other third — close to 15,000 lawyers — who, with financial support from government and the legal profession, could be using their legal expertise to help some of those who need representation.
While the Constitution requires that defendants in criminal cases be provided a lawyer, there is no such guarantee in civil cases. The Legal Services Corporation, created by Congress, gives out federal grants that provide the bulk of support for legal aid to the poor. Over the decades, that budget has shrunk — it was $404 million in 2011, about one-third less than it was 15 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed reducing that to $300 million for 2012. The cut would be devastating; the budget should, instead, be increased.
Half of the people who seek help from legal aid offices are already turned away…
NOTE: There will be only light blogging today because I’m spending some time with my 25-year-old son who is going to get married over Labor Day weekend (!!!)
In the mid 1990′s, Parenting Magazine, which was then briefly trying its hand at more serious stories, asked me to do an article about how African American boys were faring in general in elementary school. All these years after Brown v. the Board of Education, did much racism still linger and, if so, how did it play out in the classroom?
After months of research, the answer I found was that a LOT of racism still lingered (in many cases, it was unintentional) and that much of it was to be found in the area of school discipline.
In fact I found so many instances of shriekingly discriminatory behavior being visited on elementary school children and doing damage to kids around the country that it freaked out the editors at Parenting to the point that they began to cut and rewrite large parts of my story so that it wasn’t so “scary.”
For example here’s how they rewrote the opening;
Imagine for a moment that you live in a land where a number of the citizens have purple hair. Now suppose that most non-purple-haired people feel a little uneasy about the grape-haired folk, especially the males. And what if the vague prejudice extended even to little boys in school, who, because of the color of their hair, were apt to hear both these messages regularly: Purple-haired boys aren’t as smart as normal-haired boys….
Large contractual fights resulted, over the above….um… purple prose, and the cuts. Eventually, in a compromise that pleased no one, some of the excised sections were put back in and the editor who authored grape hair part of the increasingly benighted article shared the by-line with me. (I wanted to yank the piece, and take it elsewhere, or failing that, take my name off it altogether.) I vowed huffily never to work with Parenting again. Yet, just this morning, I reread the story, and even with the editors’ relentless dumbing down, a plethora of startling facts came through about this new kind of Jim Crow in public schools—-as civil rights litigator and author, Michelle Alexander, might call it.
For instance, I found back then that, according to the Office of Civil Rights, in the early 1990′s African American males in primary and secondary schools were suspended more than twice as often as white males.
When I looked at big city stats, the numbers got worse. For example, in the Minneapolis school system, enrollment of black and white males is nearly the same, but 43 percent of all students suspended during the 1995-96 school year were black males-as opposed to 14 percent who were white males. Yet most of the suspensions of black boys were not for big things—fighting, profanity, verbal abuse or any kind of dangerous behavior. The majority were suspended for “lack of cooperation” and “disrespect”—infractions that went largely undisciplined in their white counterparts.
I bring this up because it has come to my attention that, although it’s been fifteen or so years since I wrote the story for Parenting, little has changed—even though, as you may have noticed, school discipline is a newly hot topic– namely the damage done by over disciplining kids, meaning school suspensions, expulsions, and the like.
(I even did a story on it the issue at WitnessLA in May of this year.)
The problem of kids being damaged by patterns of over discipline is nationwide. Yet the kids suffering most are African American children. Last month there was a six-year, million kid study released by the Council of State Governments regarding suspensions and expulsions in Texas schools. First of all they found that a ridiculous number of kids had been suspended, and that repeated suspensions predict later involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Then the study noted that African American kids were far more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts.
A study in 2000 by the Southern Poverty Law Center called the Color of Discipline the results were similar.
The point was brought home by an article that ran in LA Progressive over the weekend in which Sikivu Hutchinson ticked off the ways in which school discipline is affected by color in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Here’s a clip from some of what Hutchinson found:
In the LAUSD the numbers for the 2009-2010 school year speak for themselves.* At Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles (with a predominantly black faculty) black and Latino students are almost equal in number yet black students account for 62% of those suspended. At Venice High School on the Westside black students represent 9.5% of the population and 25% of those suspended. At Hamilton High they represented over half of the opportunity transfers despite being only 28.5% of the population. In 2008-09 they were 57% of those suspended at Hamilton; in 2009-10 they were 51% of those suspended. At Fairfax High School black students were 18.3% of the population yet represented 43.5% of suspensions. With the exception of Washington Prep, all of these schools had majority Latino populations.
And it goes on from there. Be sure to read it. At times, Hutchinson has a slightly over-the-top prose style, but her point and her facts are solid—and troubling.
ON ANOTHER TOPIC ALTOGETHER, READ THIS GREAT OP ED ON THE ROLL OF “COGNITIVE BIAS” IN WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS
In Tuesday’s LA Times, UCLA’s Jennifer L. Mnookin writes about a case that illustrates how cognitive bias can cause law enforcement and witnesses both to go disastrously down the wrong path. Here’s how she opens:
Last week, the “West Memphis Three” were released from prison, having spent half their lives — 18 years — behind bars for crimes they almost certainly didn’t commit. So what made prosecutors and investigators sure they had the right guys, and why were those beliefs, once established, so hard to reverse?
The crimes for which the three Memphis men were convicted were brutal. Three 8-year-old Cub Scouts were found dead, hogtied and apparently mutilated. The police decided early on that it was likely the boys had been victims of a satanic cult killing, which led them to consider self-described Wiccan teen Damien Echols, a young man with asymmetric black hair, a pale face and oddball taste in clothes and music. They hauled in an acquaintance of his, a minor named Jessie Misskelley, who had an IQ of 72, and interviewed him for hours without his parents or an attorney present. Finally, he confessed, implicating Echols and another friend, Jason Baldwin.
The confession confirmed what police expected to hear — that Echols was involved — which may be why they accepted it at face value. But Misskelley’s account contradicted the evidence in multiple ways. The time he initially gave for the murders was noon, an hour for which the other teens had an ironclad alibi (they were in school); he said that the other suspects raped the boys, but the medical evidence showed no physical trauma consistent with rape and no semen was found in any body cavity; he said the boys were tied up with a brown rope, when they were actually found tied with their own shoestrings.
An overarching problem, which this case illustrates perfectly, is that humans have a tendency to see what they expect to see.
The LA Times editorial board is rightly urging the California Democrats who sank the identical bill last time—for fear they would be labeled soft on crime—to “…look at the facts.” (What a novel idea!)
SB 9 is the proposed law that would give juvenile lifers a chance to be considered for a re-sentencing of 25-to-life, but only if they meet a pile of criteria and they couldn’t even apply for the possibility of re-sentencing until they’d served 15 years. Yet the bill, if passed, would, as the LA Times said, give some people who committed crimes when they were kids, a shot at getting paroled before they died.
There are several articles and/or editorials on the topic this weekend—CNN and the Ventura Star among them and a Sac Bee Op Ed by former speech writer Peggy Bangs (who dislikes the bill) among them—but the Times editorial is the best one. Here is a clip:
….California currently has 295 people serving non-parolable sentences for crimes they committed in their youth. Most were involved in homicides, but about 45% of them never pulled the trigger; they were convicted because they acted as lookouts or were involved in a concurrent crime when the homicide took place, usually at the hands of an adult accomplice. Underscoring the barbarity of the no-parole sentences is the fact that the actual killer often serves a shorter sentence or at least is eligible for parole.
Most other states [including Texas], and every other nation in the world, have rejected juvenile life-without-parole sentences because they recognize the basic truth that juveniles are fundamentally different from adults. Their brains are less developed. They are less able to control their impulses. They are less capable of moral reasoning. They have less emotional power to resist peer pressure. They have a greater capacity to be rehabilitated, if given the chance.
They still should be held responsible for heinous crimes, and even sentenced to life in prison if appropriate. But the chance to get out provides a sliver of hope and a reason for self-improvement. Prison culture often rewards bad behavior, and youths who are locked up for life have less incentive to rehabilitate if they know they’ll never be released. Giving these offenders hope for a future has the additional benefit of improving prison safety…..
Above you’ll find a list of the way California assemblypersons voted last time the bill came up for a vote. The Senate passed it, but the Assembly sank it 34 to 36. And a lot of the Assembly’s so-called progressives were among those responsible.
Like many who are sickened by low graduation rates and sub-basement test scores, I have been outraged at the way the teachers’ unions–both LA’s and the statewide union (and those in a lot of other states)—have been unforgivably obstructive when it comes to school reform.
Thus I was excited when I saw that Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools by Steven Brill, was featured on the cover of the NY York Times Book Review, knowing that it would bring a lot of buyers to what promised to be an important book on the utterly essential topic of what is standing in the way of fixing the nation’s schools.
But it was with a sinking heart that I finished the review by smart cookie writer Sara Mosle, who was also clearly excited by Brill’s book—until she read it.
Mosle’s disappointment is obvious as she points out Brill’s unwillingness to include pesky facts and inconvenient complexities that don’t support his one-villain thesis.
Here’s how the review opens:
Steven Brill is a graduate of Yale Law School and the founder of Court TV, and in his new book, “Class Warfare,” he brings a sharp legal mind to the world of education reform. Like a dogged prosecutor, he mounts a zealous case against America’s teachers’ unions. From more than 200 interviews, he collects the testimony of idealistic educators, charter school founders, policy gurus, crusading school superintendents and billionaire philanthropists. Through their vivid vignettes, which he pieces together in short chapters with titles like “ ‘Colorado Says Half of You Won’t Graduate’ ” and “A Shriek on Park Avenue,” Brill conveys the epiphanies, setbacks and triumphs of a national reform movement.
Some of his subjects, like Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, are by now household names; others, like Jon Schnur, an adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations, are more obscure. But in Brill’s telling, they have all come, over some two decades, to distrust or denounce the unions and to promote the same small set of reforms: increasing the number of charter schools and evaluating and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures that rely heavily on student test scores.
Throughout, Brill reminds us he’s just an objective reporter. Disinterested, however, is not how he comes across. He recounts an educator’s motto to “teach like your hair’s on fire.” For most of the book, Brill writes like his hair is on fire. His sympathies clearly lie with the unions’ most adamant critics, like Michelle Rhee, the controversial former superintendent of the District of Columbia public schools, and Joel Klein, the combative ex-chancellor of the New York City system.
I say this as someone whom Brill might pick for a jury pool. I taught for three years in New York as a charter member of Teach for America and had my own run-ins with the union. (An article I wrote, which praised Kopp’s then-fledgling organization and made some of the same criticisms Brill does, angered my union representative.) This fall, my daughter will be attending public school, and I’ll be teaching at a private, reform-minded urban academy in New Jersey…..
For those who are interested in school reform there is no question that Class Warfare is a must read. However, judging by what Mosle has written—which seems to ring sadly true—reading it may make many of us wish that Brill’s book was a better, less choir-preaching read.