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2012 Election


Why Voters Liked Prop 36, Media Ethics in Child Dependency Court…and More

November 15th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SURVEY LOOKS AT WHY VOTERS PASSED PROP 36

A new survey from Californians for Safety and Justice asked over 1,300 California voters how they voted on Prop 36 (Three Strikes reform), why they voted for or against, and what their thoughts were on other CA criminal justice issues.

Here are just a handful of the survey statistics:

Who Voted for Prop 36

Across political lines: In addition to strong support from Democrats (81 percent) and independent voters (74 percent), a slight majority (51 percent) of Republicans also voted for Prop 36.

All races and ethnicities: Even more than the two-to-one support from whites, Prop 36 garnered high numbers of votes from Latinos (76 percent), African Americans (84 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (89 percent).

Women: 74 percent of female voters (compared to 66 of males) voted for Prop 36.

Why Voters Changed Three Strikes

Of those who voted yes, major factors for doing so were because Prop 36 will:

75 percent – Eliminate unnecessary and ineffective life sentences currently imposed for non-violent, non-serious crimes.

70 percent – Save California millions of dollars every year by reducing the amount of prison resources devoted to warehousing non-violent offenders.

52 percent – Reduces the negative impact of unnecessarily long sentences on people and their families.

Be sure to read on, as there are many other interesting findings regarding Realignment and looking beyond Three Strikes reform.


EXAMINING THE IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA PRESENCE IN CHILDREN’S COURT

Later today, Thursday, Fostering Media Connections (FMC) and the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy are holding a public forum at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall to talk about how to take advantage of the openness of the Los Angeles dependency court without compromising the privacy of the vulnerable kids within the system.

The discussion starts at 1:00p.m., and will be streaming live here.

Here’s a clip from the director of Fostering Media Connections, Daniel Heimpel’s blog:

Journalists, judges, attorneys and foster youths themselves will examine the costs and benefits of increased transparency with examples from Los Angeles County, where a controversial court order issued earlier this year increased media access to traditionally closed courts.

On the state and national level, attempts to open the courts to journalists through legislation have repeatedly failed – largely driven by understandable fears that the confidentiality of vulnerable children will be compromised. But, through this forum, FMC will insert a clear ethical framework into the debate offering the opportunity of eased access while protecting the best interests of children.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  When in late January of this year Judge Michael Nash ordered that Los Angeles County’s juvenile dependency courts be open to the press, thereby allowing fresh air into the workings of the hyper-secretive foster care system, those advocates and officials who had worked energetically against opening of the children’s courts predicted that insensitive and sensation seeking reporters would rush to invade the courts thus doing damage to kids who were already emotionally tempest tossed by being in the system I the first place. 
Those of us who had covered aspects of the foster care system in the past laughed sadly at the fear of hordes of reporters.

There would be no hordes. Covering the complexities of the foster care system and watch-dogging cases that go disastrously wrong for kids and families in the system is a time consuming affair that is unsuited to the headline and sound-bite-driven 24-hour news cycle.

And as we’d predicted, since the courts have been open, only a handful of LA reporters or news teams have produced stories, most notably KCET’s So Cal Connected, and LA Times columnist Jim Newton.
Therefore it was heartening to hear from advocate/journalist Daniel Heimpel that he was organizingThursday’s forum, in part, to discuss how LA can be a model for ethical media coverage of the system, but also to promote more coverage of children’s’ court in general by discussing exactly what is at stake, and how much the media’s presence can sometimes matter in the life of a child and/or a family when the system is doing them wrong.


VOTERS LEANING AWAY FROM TOUGH ON CRIME STANCE

Huffington Post’s Radley Balko takes a look at outcomes of controversial criminal justice ballot initiatives this year and whether they point to a trend of voters rethinking the tough-on-crime position. Here are some clips:

In California, voters reined in the state’s infamous “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, passing a measure that now requires the third offense to be a serious or violent felony before the automatic life sentence kicks in. The results don’t negate the law, but they do take some of the teeth out of it. And the margin — the reform passed by more than a 2-to-1 margin — has significant symbolic value. Three Strikes was arguably the most high-profile and highly touted of the get-tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s. It epitomized the slogan-based approach to criminal justice policy that politicians tended to take during the prison boom.

Eric Sterling served on the House Subcommittee on Crime in the 1980s. Today, as president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, he works to reform many of the laws he helped create. Sterling is encouraged by what he saw last week. “I definitely think we’re seeing a shift in the public opinion,” he says. “This election was really a game changing event.”

[SNIP]

The recent results seem to indicate that at least in some parts of the country, the electorate is paying more attention to criminal justice issues, is more willing to hold law enforcement officials accountable and is less credulous when it comes to tough-on-crime posturing.

Posted in 2012 Election, Foster Care | No Comments »

DA Jackie Lacey Post-Election, Obama and SCOTUS, the Aftermath of Prop 34 Defeat and Prop 36 Victory

November 8th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES DISTRICT ATTORNEY-ELECT JACKIE LACEY’S HISTORIC WIN (AND WHAT’S NEXT)

Newly elected LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney Wednesday night to discuss the significance of her win, both as the first African American and first woman LA DA, and what made her the most qualified contender for the position.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze also has a great piece on Lacey’s first press conference after the election. Here’s a clip:

At her first news conference the day after her historic election as L.A.’s top prosecutor, District Attorney-elect Jackie Lacey was asked about becoming the county’s first female and first African-American D.A. But before she could answer, her boss suggested a response.

“Tell ‘em it was on the merits,” said L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley as he stood next to Lacey on the 18th floor of the downtown criminal courts building. It was kind of a whisper, but everyone in the D.A.’s conference room could hear him.

“I’m sorry Steve, I think I’ve got this one,” Lacey retorted. Everyone laughed. Lacey and Cooley are friends, and his endorsement was key to her election. She serves as his second-in-command.

It’s probably not the first time Lacey’s wrangled a white man butting into her business. And Cooley did not shut up when Lacey indicated she was prepared to give her own answer about why voters elected her.

“Its not about race or gender,” Cooley said. “This was the best candidate.”

“I could not have said it better,” Lacey said, chuckling at her soon-to-be ex-boss. “I have worked hard to get where I am today. I’ve tried a tremendous amount of cases. I never turned down an assignment.”


CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: THE BATTLE’S NOT OVER YET, SAY PROP 34 SUPPORTERS

Prop 34 advocates say the fact that Prop. 34 did not lose in a landslide shows that death penalty repeal is steadily gaining ground. Alternately, the measure’s defeat means that the current appeals and execution processes may now be accelerated.

The San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here’s a clip:

“A lot of things slowed down with this initiative on the horizon,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor [and editor of WLA's favorite Sentencing Law & Policy]. “The pregnant question going forward in California is, OK, with (Proposition 34) cleared out, do we get a serious progression toward executions and, then, what’s the public response to that going to be?”

Death penalty foes may not wait. In their view, the 53-47 percent vote against Proposition 34 showed that California is moving toward abolition, given the fact more than 70 percent of the voters put the law on the books in 1978. While not pinpointing when the issue could return to the ballot, they made it clear Wednesday there could be a repeat campaign — and this one raised more than $7 million compared to a few hundred thousand Proposition 34 opponents gathered.

“Fifty-three percent is not a mandate for carrying out executions,” said Natasha Minsker, Proposition 34′s campaign manager.

Law enforcement officials and victims’ rights groups disagree. They say the vote shows the public wants executions and that they may push for a ballot measure to streamline the appeals process as soon as 2014.


OBAMA WIN MAY CHANGE SHAPE OF SCOTUS

With four justices past seventy years old and eligible for full-salary retirement, SCOTUS watchers contemplate the ways in which President Obama might change the face of the sharply divided US Supreme Court during his second term.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin has the story. Here’s how it opens:

With the incoming leadership of the executive and legislative branches nearly a carbon copy of the current versions, Tuesday’s election could have the biggest effect on the sole unelected branch of government: the federal judiciary.

President Barack Obama will need help from the Republican-controlled House to enact legislation, but he needs only the Senate, where Democrats strengthened their majority, to approve judicial nominations. Should vacancies arise on the narrowly divided Supreme Court, Mr. Obama, who appointed two justices during his first term, could leave a lasting imprint on constitutional law.

No current justice has indicated a desire to surrender his or her lifetime post. But with four justices older than 70 and eligible to retire at full salary, a single departure could buttress the court’s liberal wing—or end the tenuous conservative majority that Republicans have labored to build since the Nixon administration.

(Forbes’ Daniel Fisher also assesses the impact Obama’s reelection could have on the U.S. Supreme Court.)


PASSAGE OF PROP 36 BRINGS HOPE TO CALIF. INMATES SERVING LIFE TERMS FOR MINOR THIRD STRIKES

Potentially thousands of 3-strikes cases could be up for review following the passage of Proposition 36. The LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Maura Dolan have the story.

Here’s how it opens:

A day after California voted to soften its three-strikes sentencing law, defense lawyers around the state Wednesday prepared to seek reduced punishments for thousands of offenders serving up to life in prison for relatively minor crimes.

The process of asking courts to revisit old sentences could take as long as two years and benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners. They represent about a third of incarcerated third-strikers.

Proposition 36 garnered about 69% of the vote. The initiative won in all 58 counties, amending one of the nation’s toughest three-strikes laws, one that had overwhelming voter support when it was approved in 1994 amid heightened anxiety over violent crime.

“People want a fair and just criminal justice system,” said Michael Romano, who helped write the proposition and runs a Stanford Law School project that represents inmates convicted of minor third strikes. “The passage of Proposition 36, especially by its margin, has given some hope … to people behind bars who have been forsaken by their families and society.”

Courts can reject a request to reduce a sentence if they determine the prisoner is a danger to public safety. Inmates with prior convictions for rape, murder and child molestation cannot be released under the measure.

“This is not going to open the prison floodgates,” said Garrick Byers, a senior attorney with the Fresno County public defender’s office.

Read the rest here.

Posted in 2012 Election, Death Penalty, District Attorney | 3 Comments »

Three-Strikes Reform, Former Inmates & The Joy of the Right to Vote

November 7th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Norman Williams, who is in the photo above, was voting for the first time when the picture was snapped.
Williams is a former 3-striker who was sentenced to life in prison for a third strike of petty theft. (He stole a floor jack out of a tow truck.) Williams’s other two strikes were not as minor as jacking a jack. But nor did they signal he was a man who so threatened public safety that he needed to be removed from our midst forever and post haste, as the 3-strikes law—passed in 1994– had dictated.

As the NY Times reported in 2010:

In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled

Fortunately for Williams, in 2005 when Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley had instructed his office to look for 3-strikes cases for whom a 25-to-life sentence clearly didn’t fit, they found Williams, and the Stanford 3-strikes Project at Stanford Law School subsequently agreed to take him on as a client and eventually gained his release.

And so it was that he cast his first vote on Tuesday, and thus was able to vote YES on Proposition 36, the state ballot measure to reform the over-broad law that had once put him behind bars for life. (As it happens, the Stanford 3-Strikes Project co-sponsored the measure.)

On Tuesday night, Prop 36 passed handily, gaining support in both conservative and liberal California counties.


I don’t know Williams personally, but I do know Wil Lopez, a bright, personable man and a former inmate who is now on staff for Homeboy Industries. While not a three-striker, on Tuesday Lopez was another joy-filled first time voter who marked his ballot for Prop 36 with a strong sense of purpose.

Here’s what Lopez wrote about the matter on Facebook on Monday of this week.

“I remember being in the ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit] in Corcoran state prison in 2005 and my cell mate from El monte was telling me how he had received a third strike for possession of burglary tools, which were regular tools in his car, and now he’s sentenced to life. I sat there and said I wish people would change the laws by voting. Wow, it’s been over five years and I never thought this day will come but I can honestly say I’m doing my part. I’m voting tomorrow, first time in my life, I’m f***ing voting tomorrow. Please, friends, go out and vote. Help make a change.”

Above is a photo of a euphoric Lopez taken on Tuesday after his own voting experience.


Luis Aguilar is another man I know who, like Lopez, was never a 3-striker himself, but who, through his own stints in prison, got to know people who were.

“Some guys deserved to be there, but for other guys I saw, it was just a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Luis told me when he called on Tuesday night from his job site to ask if I knew how the various ballot propositions were faring. Aguilar is former gang member who is now married with a family and a good union career working massive construction projects for LA County. Luis works the night shift so he and his wife had voted before he left for the job. He was relieved when I told him it looked like 36 was winning.

“I had this cellie one time when I was locked up who got struck out for stealing three pairs of Levis from Sears,” he said. “His other strikes weren’t nothing violent either. He was just an addict, and when he was using he did stupid stuff.”

Luis first voted in 2004 when he was still on parole and I was writing a series of articles for the LA Weekly about him and his family during his first year out of prison. I remember the seriousness with which he took his newly acquired enfranchisement then, a seriousness that appeared now to have only deepened—as demonstrated when he called multiple times to ask for updates.

He was most interested in Prop. 36, but wanted to know about rest too, especially the union-hobbling Prop. 32 (He was against it), and Prop. 30, Gov. Brown’s sales tax raise to benefit education, which Luis strongly favored. “I voted against everything else that the voting pamphlet said would cost the state more money,” he said. “But on 30 I voted yes, because schools are important.”

In terms of candidates, he voted a straight Democratic ticket, Luis said. “The only time I didn’t look at parties was for DA, then I voted for the lady—I don’t remember her name…”

“Jackie Lacey.”

“Yeah. That’s right. Because I liked the way she talked better than the guy, who looked like he mostly wanted to show he was all tough.”

Luis rang me for the last time Tuesday night just as Obama was beginning his victory speech. He said the radio in the county truck he was driving was broken. I told him CNN had just called a victory for Prop 36, then put him on speaker phone so he could hear the president talk. We listened silently for the duration:

….I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions…

“He was good, right?” Luis asked when Obama had finished and the pundits were beginning their commentary.

I took the phone off speaker and put it back to my ear, muting the TV as I did so. “I thought he was really good,” I said.

There was a pause.

“It feels good to vote,” I said, “It matters.”

“Yep,” he replied. And with that I heard his county-issued walkie-talkie squawk in the background. He thanked me for my help, and he had to go.

Posted in 2012 Election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, elections, Homeboy Industries, Propositions, Sentencing | No Comments »

Voting, Voting Consequences…and Pandas

November 6th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


With Celeste Fremon


TAKE TO THE POLLS LIST OF QUICKIE RECS FOR PROP VOTING:

(We posted our full-length recommendations list on Friday.)

30: YES! – Jerry Brown’s must pass initiative that raises essential funds for CA schools and public safety.


31: NO. – Hideously written attempt at legislative reform.


32: NO WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE – Out of state millionaires and corporate interests attempt to cripple influence of labor unions, while handily exempting themselves.


33: NO! – Creepy auto insurance bait and switch. Run!


34: YES – Replaces the death penalty in California with life without the possibility of parole.


35: NO – Good issue (lock up sex traffickers), very bad law.


36: YES – Reforms 3-Strikes to make it effective, not overbroad.


37: YES – Labeling genetically engineered foods (GMOs).

EDITOR’S NOTE: We were wobbly about this for about ten minutes, on Sunday. I mean, after all the LA Times and many of the state’s newspapers have come out against it. And, hey, we’re not experts on these matters. So we doubled down on our research and continued to find compelling reasons to vote in favor, and a lot of inaccuracies on the NO side. Finally, we wondered: WWBMD? What would Bill Moyers do? Moyers has an excellent team of researchers, is still one of the brightest reporters in the business, and the least swayed by partisanship. So did Bill have a stand on the GMO labeling issue in general, and Prop. 37 in particular. Yes Bill did. And he urges a YES vote.

There’s a lot of disinformation out there. Don’t buy it.


38: NO – Molly Munger’s water-muddying and problematic tax alternative to Prop. 30.


39: YES – Closes loophole for multistate, non-CA companies, raises an extra $1 billion for the state.


40: YES – Re-approves California’s newly redrawn state Senate districts.



PROP 30: WHAT IS SCHEDULED TO HAPPEN IF IT IS DEFEATED

(And, no, these aren’t scare tactics. These are the cuts that are already voted on and enshrined in the budget to balance the state’s ailing cashflow. To reverse them would require a vote of the legislature and the signature of the governor.)

*THE UC SYSTEM BRACES ITSELF

The Daily Californian’s Jamie Applegate describes in no unclear terms what will happen to UC schools if Prop 30 doesn’t pass. Here’s a clip:

If voters reject Prop. 30 at the polls Tuesday, the state budget dictates that the University of California will be dealt a $250 million cut this fiscal year and another $125 million cut in 2013-14.

Though UC officials have said that if the cuts go into effect the university would be forced to implement a mid-year tuition hike of around 20 percent, other possible courses of action have been discussed to deal with longer term funding shortfalls.

At their Sept. 12 meeting, The UC Board of Regents discussed the possibility of bringing in additional funding by increasing the number of out of state students admitted to the system, charging differential tuition based on campus or course of study and restructuring the UC’s revenue, investments and endowments.

*OC SCHOOLS STRUGGLE FOR FUNDS WHILE OC CONSTITUENTS ARE IN AN ANTI-TAX MOOD

KPCC’s Tami Abdollah gives an expert run-down on the current OC conflict over Prop 30. Here’s how it opens:

During the last few months, California school districts have scrambled to prepare budgets and contingency plans for Prop. 30 — in some cases, walking a tightrope between advocacy and education.

But school officials in Orange County have been trying to balance the case for their survival with the fact that their conservative constituents are often ideologically opposed to tax hikes that would stave off more cuts.

This difficult balance is evident at the Capistrano Unified School District, the county’s second-largest school district. The district, known locally as “Capo Unified,” is located in relatively affluent, majority white, mostly Republican south Orange County. Its student population is 61 percent white and less than 25 percent Hispanic.

The district’s students have already lost a week of instruction this year and stand to lose two more weeks if Prop. 30 does not pass. But Capo Unified administrators don’t talk about that.

At least, not comfortably or openly.

Read on.

*COMMUNITY COLLEGES LOOK AT SCARY SLASHES TO COURSES AND STUDENTS

If the above stories weren’t enough, Peninsula Press’ Ileana Najarro gives us a clear picture of the extreme budget slashing CA community colleges would see sans Prop 30. Here’s a clip:

California’s 112 community colleges face a $338-million, mid-year, collective budget cut should the proposition fail. The new cuts would come on the heels of more than $800 million in cuts to the state’s community colleges over the past four years.

Foothill College and De Anza College – which together serve the most secondary education students in Santa Clara County—face a $9.8-million mid-year cut if Prop 30 fails.

Foothill and De Anza colleges would need to eliminate 800 courses and accept 4,485 fewer students annually, effective Jan. 1, 2013, school officials said. The schools are in the midst of discussing which positions would be cut.

“The process for deciding which positions to eliminate is taking place at the colleges and the district office, and those recommendations will subsequently come to the Board of Trustees,” Becky Bartindale, coordinator of public affairs and communications at the Foothill-De Anza district wrote in an email.



THOSE PESKY RED STATE/BLUE STATE DIVISIONS

This American Life’s brilliant election show (once again doing what mainstream cable news would do if it had any interest in substance). Host Ira Glass delves into the effect political divisions have on families and friendships.



UNBEARABLE PANDA CUTENESS

AND for those who need a short break from all things election-related….. the San Diego Zoo’s latest baby Panda, which KPCC rightly says, “Like 1,ooo cotton balls squished together with eyes and claws, the San Diego Zoo’s new baby panda video is cuter than whatever you are doing at this moment.”

Plus there’s…yes….you guessed itA PANDA CAM!

Posted in 2012 Election | 1 Comment »

LA Times Questions Baca’s Immigrant Jailing Policy….The Un-Tapped 10 Percent of Voters (Felons)…& When Bad Science Produces Bad Evidence

October 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


LA TIMES SAYS BACA OWES US A BETTER EXPLANATION ABOUT HIS JAILING OF IMMIGRANTS

Thursday’s LA Times has an unsigned editorial (likely written by the very smart Sandra Hernandez) that holds Sheriff Lee Baca’s feet to the metaphorical fire on the issue of jailing immigrants with ICE holds reportedly longer than the law—or the feds—require.

Here’s a clip (but you really need to read the whole thing):

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is once again confronting questions about problems in the nation’s largest jail system. The latest allegations center on whether deputies in his department routinely denied bail to people arrested for minor offenses — even after they were ordered released by a judge — solely because of pending immigration investigations.

The sheriff’s office denies that such a policy exists, although it acknowledges that the department holds immigrants under a federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities. Baca says that program requires him to hold someone suspected of being in the country illegally, if called upon to do so by federal immigration officials, while the arrestee’s immigration status is confirmed.

But Secure Communities only allows the sheriff to hold people for up to 48 hours; it does not provide him with a free pass to ignore individuals’ constitutional right to due process or grant him the authority to deny immigrants bail after the 48-hour clock has run out….

Read on, because there’s lots more—including the $26 mil per anum to do this excessive jailing in our already overcrowded system.


COULD FELONS TIP THE ELECTION? (IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE.)

Obama and Romney are reaching out to the many specialized constituencies some of which could, under the right circumstances, push things one way or the other, especially in battle ground states. But, in this close race, there is one constituency that, according to Reuters, may amount to as much as 10 percent of likely voters. And yet its a demographic that both parties have kinda….well…avoided.

Of course, men and women with felony records are defined by many other aspects of their lives and selves than the simple fact of a felony conviction.

Still Thomas Ferraro writing for Reuters has a bunch of interesting points.

Here’s a big clip from the story:

Felons could account for up to 10 percent of the roughly 130 million Americans expected to vote in the November 6 election, more than enough to affect the razor-thin margins that could determine the outcome.

But as in years past, neither Democrats nor Republicans are doing much to reach out to them.

“Criminals are not a popular constituency,” says James Hamm, 64, who spent 17 years in prison in Arizona for a drug-related homicide and now heads an inmate advocacy group with his wife, a retired judge. “Politicians don’t want to say, ‘Hey, I have the backing of people who committed crimes.’”

Still, both presidential campaigns have reason to be attentive to the estimated 13.4 million felons who are eligible to vote.

Felons traditionally vote Democratic, says Christopher Uggen, a University of Minnesota sociologist, who co-authored a 2006 book, “Locked Out: Felony Disenfranchisement and American Democracy.”

Ferraro says that the Obama camp has quietly reached out to felons in that swing state of all swing states, Ohio, where there are an estimated 784,0000 felons, only around 52,000 of them in prison thus prohibited from voting. However, he offers no additional details about this reported outreach so it’s difficult to know what exactly we’re talking about here.

And yet, it bears noting that in 1976, Jimmy Carter took Ohio from Gerald Ford by just 11,116 votes….so….


BAD SCIENCE AND BAD CRIMINAL CASE EVIDENCE

The Crime Report’s Graham Cates interviews David Harris, author of “Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

Both book and interview are worth our attention. Here’s a clip:

strong>On March 11, 2004, powerful bombs set by terrorists on four Madrid commuter trains killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. Two months later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer, after fingerprints found on a bag near the explosion site allegedly matched his.

Mayfield had not been to Spain. Nor had he been outside the U.S. for over a decade. But the FBI kept insisting the fingerprints were a “100 percent match”—until Spanish police tied another suspect to the fingerprints. And even after Mayfield was released two weeks later, the FBI continued to insist that their fingerprint-matching process was infallible.

It was a costly mistake. Mayfield eventually received a $2 million settlement from the U.S. government. But to David A. Harris, it also was—or should have been—a teachable moment. Harris, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, believes the FBI’s insistence on the accuracy of their analysis, even when the evidence failed to bear it out, reflects a law enforcement culture that relies too much on quasi-scientific forensic evidence—even while it resists the application of genuine advances in science-based investigative techniques…

Read on.

Posted in 2012 Election, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Innocence, Obama, Presidential race | No Comments »

Democrats and Republicans on Criminal Justice Policy, CA Corrections Spending Vs. Higher Education…and More

September 7th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

THE REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRATIC COMPARISON ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICY

While the Democratic and Republican parties have an especially large divide on most issues this election year, there are heartening parallels in the realm of criminal justice policy. With both conventions at an end, the Sentencing Project has released a report including a side-by-side comparison of what both parties have to say. Here’s a clip from their report:

Though the United States remains the world’s leader in incarceration — with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — and maintains harsh penalties with intolerable racial disparities, the recently approved Democratic and Republican party platforms indicate ways to make progress on criminal justice reform while increasing public safety. In a number of areas, from reducing recidivism, to enhancing reentry program and drug treatment alternatives to incarceration, the two major parties have taken positions that offer hope for bipartisan reform. Though there is much more progress to be made, we welcome this opportunity to compare each party’s position on criminal justice policy. We hope this memo is helpful for voters and policymakers alike as we forge a path to bipartisan criminal justice reform.

(You can check out the full report here. Also, be sure to check out WitnessLA’s previous post on the GOP platform’s call for better inmate rehabilitation.)


PRISON SPENDING SOARS AS HIGHER EDUCATION CONTINUES ITS STEADY DECLINE

According to a new report by California Common Sense, CA spends about 1,370% more on prisons now than was spent in 1980 due to a soaring inmate population and prison guard salary hikes. In contrast to the steady growth of the prison budget, spending on higher education has dropped consistently over the last 30 years. If the Democratic and Republican parties don’t get their respective acts together to repair our criminal justice system, we will continue to see the prison budget eat away at the education budget.

NBC’s Stephanie Chuang has the story. Here’s a clip:

It’s the first time a group has looked at 30 years worth of data and crunched the numbers to show a long-term trend between state spending on prisons and on higher education, according to Director of Research Mike Polyakov.

California spent $592 million on corrections in 1980, Polyakov said. That spending has jumped to $9.2 billion in 2011.

Meanwhile, higher education spending has decreased. Researchers found that there is a trend to pay University of California and California State University faculty less money than in the past.

“What we found is faculty salaries have decreased about 10 percent since 1990,” Polyakov said.

At the same time, Polyakov said prison guard salaries reached a record high in 2006.

“The average salary we calculated was somewhere in area of $100,000,” he said. “Today, it’s closer to $75,000.”

So even though the officers’ pay has come down in the last few years, CACS researchers found that correctional officers are still making anywhere from 50 to 90 percent above market rate compared to the rest of the country.

Here’s a clip of some of the report‘s key points:

Corrections’ growing slice of the State budget, High Education’s shrinking slice. As CDCR’s share of the State General Fund budget increased steadily through most of the last three decades, higher education’s share declined consistently.

Corrections inmate population explosion driving higher costs. Over the last 30 years, the number of people California incarcerates grew more than eight times faster than the general population. Our calculations show that 55% of the increase in the cost of the state prison system between 1980 and 2012 (after adjusting for inflation) can be traced to this rapid growth.


COMMON ERRORS THAT PAVE THE ROAD TO WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

The second story in an ongoing series by crime author Sue Russell exploring the hows, whys, and solutions to the issue of wrongful convictions takes a look at investigators’ use of misleading specialized knowledge to coerce a confession. (You can find our post about the first story in Sue’s series here.) Here’s a clip:

… ‘Contamination,’ takes place when investigators feed a suspect ‘misleading specialized knowledge’: non-public details of a crime. Later, for a suspect or defendant to merely possess such “insider” information can be misread as highly incriminating.

Presuming the innocent guilty, says Drizin, often stems from flawed interrogation training. Much of law enforcement personnel’s training convinces them that they are tantamount to human lie detectors (see more on this in this series’ next installment) with superior abilities to “read” guilt or innocence from a suspect’s emotional affect or body language. Deception research by social scientists like Bella DePaulo, however, show otherwise.

If detectives lock in on a suspect too early, cautions Itiel Dror of the University College of London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, tunnel vision kicks in along with “escalation of commitment” to their conclusions. And through confirmation bias, the brain seeks facts that confirm existing beliefs while it discounts or disregards information that conflicts.

Meanwhile, many errors in an investigation are effectively buried before a case goes to trial, says Drizin [co-founder of Northwestern University of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth]. They’re simply invisible to the types and level of scrutiny a case typically receives as it works its way through the system.

“Trial prosecutors,” he says, “who are often different than the ones who screen the cases, believe that somebody would not be innocent if they had gotten this far in the system.”

And once a suspect falsely confesses after a coercive interrogation, they’re in deep because post-confession any presumption of innocence simply dies.

When studying DNA exonerations involving false confessions, University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon L. Garrett, author of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, looked at 32 cases that went to trial and found that ‘misleading specialized knowledge’ was used to help convict innocents in 31 cases.


CEREMONIAL BELLS TOLL FOR FALLEN CHP OFFICER KENYON YOUNGSTROM

CHP Officer Kenyon Youngstrom died Wednesday evening following a Tuesday shootout during a routine traffic stop. It is a painful reminder that law officers risk their lives daily to protect and serve the rest of us.

San Jose Mercury’s Catherine Bowen details the bell-ringing ceremony held for the fallen CHP officer. Here’s a clip:

As part of the statewide flood of support for slain California Highway Patrol Officer Kenyon Youngstrom, hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered Thursday in West Sacramento for a bell-ringing ceremony to honor their fallen brother.

Youngstrom died at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday after being taken off life support at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where he had been listed in critical condition following a Tuesday morning shooting on Interstate 680 in Alamo, according to CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow.

Flanked by hundreds of uniformed CHP officers, cadets and other employees, Youngstrom’s wife, parents and children looked on at the CHP Academy as his name was read and the knelling of a memorial bell rang out across the quad.

The 5 p.m. ceremony was part of a tradition that began several years ago in which the bell is tolled at the end of the first business day after an officer is killed in the line of duty, and is a way for employees to honor the officer’s sacrifice and pay their respects, said Fran Clader, CHP director of communications.

Posted in 2012 Election, California budget | No Comments »

Update On the Fate of LA Juvenile Probation’s Sports Program, GOP Platform Calls for More Inmate Rehabilitation…and More

August 30th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISORS DISCUSS THE FUTURE OF CAMP KILPATRICK’S SPORTS PROGRAM

There are concerns that Camp Kilpatrick, an aging LA County juvenile probation camp scheduled to undergo a $41M renovation, will not resume its well-known sports program once the facility is rebuilt. Kilpatrick is the only juvie detention facility that has a sports program for the kids. (You can read WitnessLA’s previous post on Kilpatrick here.) The issue was discussed Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Zev Yaroslavsky, who coauthored a motion with Mark Ridley-Thomas, urged the board to proceed with a motion that would have Probation Chief Jerry Powers commission a study gauging the benefits of sports programs for incarcerated youth. (Apparently there are few, if any, studies on the ability of inter-mural sports programs to lower recidivism in incarcerated kids.) All members seemed to agree that the sports program should resume once Kilpatrick reopens. Ridley-Thomas had this to say:

“The sports program at Camp Kilpatrick has already been widely acknowledged… The work that is happening at Camp Kilpatrick to make it a better environment is essentially the principle cause for the temporary—and I want to underscore ‘temporary’—termination of the sports program there… I think it’s fair to suggest that there is no intention on the part of this board to terminate the sports program…”

Sup. Knabe suggested looking at another evaluation of a different program that the Supervisors had previously ordered up a couple of years ago, this one of the outcomes for probationers who, after they were released, went through a program at Homeboy industries. “…If I could make a friendly amendment to include that comparison,” he said.

The question seems to be whether or not a study is necessary to include sports programs in the “evidence-based” treatment programs that the DOJ requires. (We at WitnessLA think that including money for program evaluation in funding is a good thing! These studies and evaluations allow us to see what works, what doesn’t, and give us an idea of what might work better.)

Here’s a clip from Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas’ motion:

The County Probation Department is under ongoing U.S. Department of Justice scrutiny of the facilities and programming it provides for its young wards. The U.S. DOJ requires that the county offer “evidence-based integrated treatment programs.” While such activities as group therapy sessions and mental health counseling have been proven through rigorous study to help the plight of these teenagers and reduce recidivism, intermural sports programs have not been similarly studied. There is apparently no “evidence” to show that participation in team sports can play a positive role in rehabilitating these young people.

Recent history, however, suggests otherwise. The 2006 film “Gridiron Gang” portrayed real-life Camp Kilpatrick wards learning to play football and win together despite coming from rival gangs. In 2010, the Camp Kilpatrick basketball team made the state play-offs, failed to advance to the championship game but nonetheless won its league Sportsmanship Award. In 2011, a team from neighboring Camp David Gonzalez competed successfully in an intermural contest to design, build and race a solar-powered boat. While these small triumphs may not speak to long-term therapeutic advancement or reductions in recidivism, they do seem to provide concrete “evidence” of pro-social behavior among these troubled youth.

Also, if you feel so inclined, you can read Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting transcript here.


GOP PLATFORM CALLS FOR BETTER REHABILITATION STRATEGIES…AMONG OTHER THINGS

While the newly adopted Republican platform supports capital punishment, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Arizona’s immigration laws, it also called for better inmate rehabilitation and recidivism reduction strategies—which is one thing that both parties can agree upon.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest has the story. Here’s a clip:

The platform endorsed “new approaches, often called accountability courts,” and said, “government at all levels should work with faithbased institutions that have proven track records in diverting young and first time, non-violent offenders from criminal careers.” Republicans back state and local initiatives “trying new approaches to curbing drug abuse and diverting firsttime offenders to rehabilitation.” The platform assailed federal “overcriminalization,” noting that the number of U.S. criminal offenses has jumped from 3,000 in the early 1980s to 4,450 in 2008. It says Congress “should withdraw from federal departments and agencies the power to criminalize behavior, a practice which, according to the Congressional Research Service, has created tens of thousands of criminal offenses.”

You can access the complete GOP platform here.


NY PRISONS USE NEW VIDEO VISITATION FOR INMATES

New York prisons are implementing a new video conference visitation system for those prisoners who are locked up in facilities far away from their families. This would be great to see instituted in CA, where most prisons are in remote locations, making visits for working family members and kids extremely difficult.

The New York Daily News’ Oren Yaniv has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Tayshona McDuffie used to meet her inmate mother only twice a year after making a grueling, 400-mile journey to a prison near the Canadian border.

These days, the daughter gets to see her mom twice each month while sitting in a videoconference room in downtown Brooklyn.

“It improves our relationship,” said McDuffie, 19, whose mother is nearing the end of a 12-year sentence for an assault conviction. “I look forward to it every month.”

The fledging program of prison visits via closed-circuit TV — the first one in the state — is set to more than quadruple in size this fall, the Daily News has learned.

“The research shows that people will do better when they’re released if they stay connected with their families,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that has been conducting the meetings known as televisits for the past two years.

Posted in 2012 Election, Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison | 1 Comment »