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Social Justice Roundup

February 9th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The best research (and my own anecdotal observation) suggests that one of the essential components to transforming one’s life away from gangs and/or a similar law-breaking past requires that one face squarely the harm that one has caused and then give back in some way to one’s community.

Here’s a story from the Fresno Bee about women who are taking a step in that direction.

They’ve robbed. They’ve stolen. They’ve murdered.

But despite their past crimes, nearly 100 women gathered in a prison gym Wednesday to hear how they can help victims of serious crimes. Some wanted to know how they could help the very people they hurt.

The inmates are part of a club at Valley State Prison for Women that focuses on raising money for charitable groups and, as they describe it, repay their debt to society. One of the women in the club, called the Long Termers Organization, sent a three-page letter in August to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board — a state agency that distributes about $100 million a year in funds to crime victims in need of health care, therapy or other services as a result of the crimes committed against them. The inmate, Crystal Potter, wanted to know whether the board would be willing to let her club know how they could help.

“We may never gain the trust or the forgiveness of our victims, but to do now what we should have been doing from the very beginning in providing community services would teach us further the morals and values so necessary as a productive member of society,” Potter wrote.

Read the rest.


Much was made last week over the early release of a 22-year-old man named Kevin Peterson from Sacramento County Jail. Peterson was supposed to serve a four month sentence for whacking a family member in the face with a broom. Instead he was released 18 days early as part of the budget-cutting measures that California counties have put into place since January 1st. (Many counties, however, most notably Los Angeles County, had been shaving time of short jail sentences for the last several years in order to reduce overcrowding at a county level.)

Anyway, within hours after his release, Petersen allegedly attacked a female counselor and attempted to rape her.

And within minutes of Peterson’s rearrest, commentators and partisans were shrieking about the crime wave to come that he represented.

However one enterprising TV station—FOX40 News—bothered to look a little deeper into the story. Most notably, they interviewed Peterson in jail. And guess what? Even Peterson admitted he should be locked up—but not in a jail. He needs to be in a psychiatric facility, he said..

(On the right side of this page, you’ll find a longer version of the video.)

A confused Peterson says he doesn’t remember attacking anyone. He does however remember hearing voices.

“I’m a paranoid schizophrenic,” he said to the TV reporter.
. He was hoping to get taken to the Sacramento Mental Health Evaluation Center so that he could get some help. He should be off the street, he said—but in a mental institution, not in jail.

Bottom line: Peterson’s alleged near rape has everything to do with the inadequate mental health screening and treatment inmates receive in county jails.

…But exactly zero to do with the issue of early release.

PS: On the issue of prison population reduction, the Press-Enterprise had a remarkably sane Op Ed on the matter.


Annenberg grad student Chris Pisar of Neon Tommy reports that the much ridiculed rush last year by the LA City Council to pass a cat declawing ordinance wasn’t so ridiculous after all. The rush had to do with getting the damn thing passed before a brand new state law went into effect that would have prevented cities and counties from passing their own such regulations.

The California Veterinary Medical Association, which provided the main opposition to the LA ordinance, still wants to do away with the ban. Critics say the vets opposition to the ban is for monetary reasons not for moral ones. (Declawing is a pricey procedure.)

Here’s the rest.


In Tuesday’s New York Times Adam Liptak has a story of a mediocre bank robber
who, during his decade in prison, made good use of the prison library and transformed himself into a stellar jail house lawyer.

Here’s how it begins:

Shon R. Hopwood was not a particularly sophisticated bank robber.

“We would walk into a bank with firearms, tell people to get down, take the money and run,” he said the other day, recalling five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998 that yielded some $200,000 and more than a decade in federal prison.

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars: an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner.

Read the rest.


Try Jane Mayer’s excellent article on the controversy in next week’s New Yorker.

Photo of jailhouse lawyer Shon Hopwood by Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Posted in bears and alligators, jail, prison policy, Social Justice Shorts | 6 Comments »

6 Responses

  1. Sure Fire Says:

    Let’s see, Peterson doesn’t remember attacking anyone but remembers being restrained by other counselors and being brought back into the facility until police arrived at the end of the attack. That’s pretty convenient isn’t it?

    He was on meds during the attack, and according to him, the entire time he was in custody so how is it possible Celeste that the..”Bottom line” as you put it is: Peterson’s alleged near rape has everything to do with the inadequate mental health screening and treatment inmates receive in county jails?

    He was screened and treated up until his release so how can you make that claim? Having worked as a psych counselor and having to deal for the last 25 years with a PS brother-in-law I don’t remember many, if any times where the PS forgets what they’ve done during an episode.

  2. Woody Says:

    Celeste, you and Marc are getting lazier and lazier, as evidenced by your depending upon students to prepare posts for you. And, to think that the students are paying for the privilege of working for free! As one seriously concerned about social justice, I must protest.

  3. Woody Says:

    You missed this social justice article: Prop 8 Trial Judge: Yep, He’s Gay (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

  4. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Woody, I considered linking to the Prop 8 judge article but it seemed too old.

    SureFire, I wasn’t intending to let the guy off the hook in the least. It certainly seems like he attacked the woman.

    But you bring up good points. It may not have been anything that went wrong at the jail. But the guy was specifically trying to get a psych eval so he could get into a mental facility because he was feeling so unstable. That’s why he was meeting with the counselor (whom he ended up attacking) in the first place. And he didn’t wait to try to get help. He did it right away. So he knew he shouldn’t be walking around.

    So what are we to do? The jails aren’t equipped to treat all these people. So this guy’s dumped on to the street, and even he knows he shouldn’t be there.

    Anyway, I’m running off, but I appreciate the addition to the conversation. It ain’t an easy problem to solve.

  5. Sure Fire Says:

    Celeste you wouldn’t believe the amount of patients I dealt with that had obviously scammed the system into getting SSI and thus room and board in a facility at the expense of the taxpayer.

    These “high functioning” patients played sports, went on outings, had sex (we provided condoms and other forms of birth control) and went to minimal counselling because many times they’d claim they were too ill or were having a “moment”.

    The truly ill were in a certain area of the facility which is where most of our problems took place but in the “general population” it was pretty much anything goes for the patients, except they could only leave under certain conditions.

    Many of them had been to jail and found this a way to beat the system. For those people it wasn’t about being sick, it was about being too lazy to provide for themselves.

  6. Woody Says:

    In the South, we have fun with “social justice types” who get upset over the smallest things.

    Asian-American activists offended that MARTA re-named the train to Atlanta’s Asian community the “yellow line”

    Just helping them find their way back out of the city.

    Judging from the ridership, there won’t be a “white line.”

    Man. Some people just have to get upset over everything.

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