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It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend: Be There! (My “Guns in America” Panel Is Sunday)

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend—Saturday and Sunday—on the USC campus. If you’re a book person of any kind, this is the happiest of events—and it’s all free.

At 10:30 am on Sunday, you can see me moderate a panel on Guns in America with three stellar authors: Adam Winkler, who wrote Gun Fight: the Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, and Paul Barrett who wrote GLock: the Rise of America’s Gun, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine’s law school, Constitutional scholar, and the author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.

These are all very bright people with a lot to say on the topic, and I promise we will have a lively and informative time.

But there’s something for absolutely everyone at this two day event.

There are panels featuring fiction writers, political writers of al leanings, poets, wildly funny book authors, deadly serious noirish mystery writers, graphic novelists…..and so on.

There’s even a panel at 12:30 on Sunday about why you should care about the mayor’s race.

It’s hard to go wrong.

For instance, there are back-to-back panels on Sunday in Mudd hall at 1:30 and 3 pm. One features such persons as my pal Tod Goldberg, plus the wildly talented authors Hector Tober, Laila Lalami, and Nina Revoyr. (Rule of thumb for the LAT FOB, if the panel has Tod Goldberg on it, you should automatically go. It doesn’t matter the topic, just go. Trust me on this. Otherwise it will be the panel you wish you’d seen.)

The other panel is moderated by David Ulin, who—along with Patt Morrison is the absolute best at the whole moderater thingy, and features my pal Tom Bissell, who is one of the smartest people I know and a great prose stylist and he designs video games. With them is D.T. Max, author of the riveting and heartbreaking book about David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and deliciously talented travel writer and essayist, Pico Iyer.

But these are just two of many. Right after our Sunday 10:30 a.m. Guns panel at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, Henry Wienstein is moderating a panel called Today’s Dangerous World, that includes terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins (who in his photos has an impressively intense stare), Pulitzer winner, Mark Mazzetti, who writes about the CIA (and not comfortingly), and Jess Bravin, whose book “Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, is not calming either. In short, the panel sounds like it will be terrific!

The schedule is here. And if you happen to attend my Sunday panel, stop by and say hi.

But if you’re a reader at all, go to the festival. Just go.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

The NY Times on CA’s Trust Act, the Fiscal Incentives for ICE Enforcement….the MacDonald Murders… and More

September 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The Trust Act is one of the bills that are sitting on Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting a signature. This weekend the NY Times features an editorial explaining why he should sign it.
Here is how the NYT opinion piece opens:

There is a significant and immediate step Gov. Jerry Brown of California can take to protect community safety and civil liberties in his state.

He can sign the Trust Act, a recently passed state bill that prevents local police departments from turning their jails into immigration holding cells for noncriminals or minor offenders whose sentences are up or who should otherwise be out on bail. The act would require the police to let such people go, even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have issued voluntary requests, known as detainers, that they be held until they can be picked up for deportation. Only those who have been convicted of or charged with serious or violent felonies would continue to be detained at ICE’s request.

The purpose of the act is to bring state enforcement in line with federal deportation priorities — which is to focus on dangerous criminals, national-security threats and repeat offenders. It was prompted by a troubled ICE program called Secure Communities, which enlists local authorities in immigration enforcement by doing checks on everyone they fingerprint. The program has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of minor offenders or those with no criminal records. The Trust Act is one state’s way to prevent such overkill.

Most of the state’s sheriffs, LA’s Sheriff Lee Baca most prominently included, oppose the Trust Act saying that it would force them to decide whether to violate State law or federal law.

Baca has gone so far as to say he won’t enforce the thing, even if it is signed by the governor.

Only Santa Clara Sheriff, Laurie Smith, has broken from the pack to announce that she is fine with the Trust Act. In fact she took the same stance that the LAPD has long taken with Special Order 40, maintaining that forcing local police to engage in immigration enforcement to makes immigrants less likely to report the kind of serious crimes that are a genuine threat public safety, simply because they’re fearful of being deported.

And about the claim that the Trust Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will force local law enforcement to break either federal or state law, according to more than 30 legal scholars, this either-or interpretation of the law’s potential affect is utter nonsense. Here’s the letter the profs from such schools as Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, NYU, Penn State, Davis, Georgetown, UC Irvine, Hastings, Brandeis, and more, sent to the governor on the issue.

The letter is 8-pages of legal language, which you may find interesting, but it’s bottom line may be found in the following two statements:

The Constitution does not allow the federal government to command that local sheriffs enforce a federal regulatory regime. The regulation of immigration is no exception to this rule.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that local participation in immigration can only take place with the consent of localities.


Interestingly, while most of the state’s sheriffs oppose the Trust Act and embrace Secure Communities or S-Comm, many police chiefs, like San Francisco’s and Oakland’s— are in favor of the Trust Act.

LA’s Charlie Beck has long expressed concern about the potential negative effects of enforcing S-Comm while, as mentioned above, Lee Baca is an ardent S-Comm supporter and says, if the Trust Act is passed, he won’t enforce it.

So what could cause such a difference in perspective between county and city law enforcement agencies?

Perhaps Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff has the key. Sniff, who wrote an letter urging Brown to veto the Trust Act, told David Olson of the Press-Enterprise that the bill would “… jeopardize federal funding to help pay the cost to house illegal immigrants.” Riverside, he said, has received up to $1.8 million annually for S-Comm enforcement. In other words, not locking up as many immigrants would make most or all of those nice dollars vanish.

So maybe the Trust Act isn’t a legal problem for the sheriffs as much as it is a fiscal one.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to jump one way or the other on the bill.


On Tuesday, Sept 4, the third major book on the Jeffery MacDonald murder case is being released. It is called A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and in it, author Errol Morris, pretty much decides MacDonald is innocent of the murders of his wife and two young daughters, although Morris concedes he cannot prove MacDonald’s innocence to a certaintly.

When I say Morris’s is the third major book, I mean there have been several lessor volumes other than the two well-known examinations of the case, Fatal Vision, the monster best seller by The Selling of the President author, Joe McGinnis, and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, a book that—love it or hate it—is now a staple in non-fiction literature courses.

The author of the newest book is, of course, the highly regarded writer/director of such stellar documentaries as The Thin Blue Line, which actually exonerated a man after it was released, and The Fog of War, which completely reframed the reputation of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara while winning Morris an Academy Award.

Sunday’s NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and others have features on the new book.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Atlantic:

It was not quite the case of the century, but Americans of a certain age are likely to remember the savage, 1970 murders of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and daughters and his subsequent convictions on first and second degree homicide. Or, they remember the story of the case popularized by Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and, perhaps, the story of McGinniss and MacDonald, told by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer.

Now comes documentary filmmaker Errol Morris with his new book A Wilderness of Error, a devastating expose of the incompetence and corruption that enabled MacDonald’s conviction and continues to obstruct his appeals. MacDonald, now 68, has been imprisoned for 30 years, denied parole because he continues to deny his guilt, as his efforts at exoneration continue, decades after conviction. Last April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in his case, scheduled in September 2012.

As Morris observes, it’s impossible to know “with absolute certainty” whether MacDonald is guilty or innocent. But evidence of innocence wrongly excluded from his trial, including multiple confessions from other suspects, seems considerably stronger than evidence of guilt, and Morris, a dogged, discerning investigator, makes clear that MacDonald was “railroaded.” Personally, I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that in a fair trial, a relatively unbiased jury would not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (and I’ve contributed to his defense fund).

What went wrong in this case? The short answer, Morris suggests, is that military police and, eventually, civilian prosecutors assumed a conclusion and selected evidence to support it. “When police arrive at a scene, like any of us, they try to formulate an idea of what happened … they take the seeming chaos of a crime scene and interpret it. Often the explanation is based on convenience. It’s easier to pick one narrative about an explanation than another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to be clear, we aren’t taking a side in this. We’re just noting that the case continues to fascinate and frustrate a bunch of smart people, each of whom seems to read a different answer in the facts available.


In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak takes a look behind the metaphorical curtain to find out what kind of process the Supremes and their respective staffs go through when they deal with requests to stay executions.

This isn’t a news story but rather a peek backstage to look at one small part of the way SCOTUS works and it’s quite intriguing. Here’s a clip:

John Balentine was an hour away from being put to death in Texas last month when the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution.

The unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline, with the condemned inmate waiting for word of his fate just outside the death chamber, may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.

But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that’s where I come in.”

Mr. Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work at a hotel here last month, Mr. Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

It starts with a weekly update…..

Posted in American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, LAPD, LASD, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Springsteen at 15,000 Words & Dave Eggers’ Global Parable

July 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

THE BOSS @ 15,000

As a respite from the hard news of the day, two stories about artists—one musical, the other literary.

The first story may already be on your radar, which is the fact that, on Monday, the New Yorker posted David Remnick’s novella-length and revelatory profile of Bruce Springsteen. And, on the off chance you don’t want to immediately read the full 15,000 words in the New Yorker, you can read about Remnick’s portrait of The Boss—whom he succeeds in never referring to as “The Boss”—just about everywhere else (like Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Fuse and the Washington Post, for starters.)

(As a happy Bruce cultist, I read the full 15,000 words Monday morning before coffee, and will likely read it again.)


Dave Eggers is the guy who, when he was 30, published A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his memoir about raising his kid brother after the death of both of his parents from cancer—a book that was shortlisted for a Pulitzer and was enough of a literary phenom that it made Eggers both famous and relatively rich. If you read the thing, it probably either enchanted you because of Eggers’ obvious, edge-walking talent, or irritated you because of the literary party tricks he employed—or a little of both.

In the dozen years since the publication of HWSG, Eggers has started a book publishing house, two magazines, a string of nonprofit writing and tutorial centers for kids, and has written a pile of books, both nonfiction and fiction, each one seeming to build on the other in terms of strength, grace and relevance.

And the party tricks are long gone.

Eggers latest book, A Hologram for the King, is both bracingly original and weirdly classic, a sort of “Death of a Salesman” for the global economy— and easily the best novel I’ve read thus far in 2012.

Hologram was also the book I’ve read of late that I felt the most mournful about finishing. I wanted to linger a bit longer in the characters’—and Eggers’—company.

That’s why it was so heartening to read the lengthy review of Eggers’ Hologram on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Book section. Written by travel essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer, it hits every right mark in explaining why the book and the author matter.

Here are some clips from the review’s opening:

Where is our new-millennium Norman Mailer? It’s startling, 50 years on, to look back at the work of Mailer in the 1960s — from “The Presidential Papers” to “The Armies of the Night” — and see such unabashed ambition, such reckless audacity and such a stubborn American readiness to try to save the Republic from itself and bring it back to its original promise. Mailer’s very titles — “Advertisements for Myself,” “An American Dream” — told us he was on a mission, committed to the transformation of country and self, and even as he gave himself over to unremittingly private (and epic) meditations on God, the Devil, cancer and plastics, he was also determined to remake the civic order. He ran for mayor of New York City, he tried his hand at directing movies and in 1955 he helped start an alternative weekly known as The Village Voice. Part of the exhilaration of Mailer was that he cared so ravenously even when he failed; he was shooting for the moon even when he shot himself in the foot.

Dave Eggers comes from a much more sober, humbled, craft-­loving time, and his latest novel is the opposite of a failure: it’s a clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad. But for all the difference between their generations, you can feel in Eggers some of the hunger, the range and the unembarrassedly serious engagement with America and its ideals that gave Mailer’s work such force.


Like Mailer, he’s almost underrated precisely because he’s so ubiquitous and dares us to mock him with his unapologetic ambitions. Yet where Mailer was consciously working in a deeply American grain, with his talk of revolution and transcendence, Eggers speaks for a new America that has to think globally and can’t be sure where the country fits on the planetary screen. And where Mailer was bent on showing us how America could remake the world, Eggers, with ferocious energy and versatility, has been studying how the world is remaking America. Most of our great contemporary examinations of cultural sampling and bipolar belonging come from writers with immigrant backgrounds. It’s invigorating, in that context, to see how Dave Eggers, born in Boston to classic fifth-generation Irish stock (his mother was a McSweeney) and raised in Lake Forest, Ill., has devoted himself to chronicling the shifting melting pot, seeming to tell others’ stories more than his own.

If you’re interested in literature, read the rest of the review. But if you’re just interested in a very, very good book that tells a quirky, dark-ish, funny, spare, discomforting and wildly insightful tale that will stay with you, read A Hologram for the King.

And if you want more Eggers after that, go down the list. (I particularly recommend Zeitoun.)

OKAY, NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING.… which you’ll find in Taylor’s post below.

Photo of Springsteen by manu_gt 500, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Dave Eggers by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, literature, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Happy (Day After) Birthday, Woody

July 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old on July 14.

Posted in American artists, American voices | 1 Comment »

Chaka Khan’s Juvenile Reentry Program, Four State Parks Are Safe for Now…and More

July 2nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


“Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan recently launched the “No Excuses National Initiative” in an effort to fight juvenile recidivism through community business mentors. The program partners with Avis Ridley-Thomas (wife of LA Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) whose program “Days of Dialogue” helps youth recently released from detention facilities reenter the work force.

You can read about No Excuses on the NC WFJA radio station website. Here’s a clip:

“In Los Angeles County, more than 60 percent of all incarcerated youth return to custody after their release,” Khan says in a statement. “These kids need our help.”

As part of the No Excuses National Initiative, local business leaders mentor youngsters upon their release from juvenile detention. A handful of businesses have stepped up to provide support, so now young people throughout Los Angeles will have an opportunity to learn basic skills that will help them land jobs and move ahead.


Four CA State parks that were expected to be shut down Sunday have gotten a reprieve, although not likely for long.

LA Times’ Chris Megerian has the story. Here’s a clip:

But the revised plan means four sites expected to close on Sunday — Benicia State Recreation Area, the California Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach and Zmudowski State Beach — will keep operating for the time being.

“We had the time over the last 24 hours to review operations and were able to determine they could stay open in the very short term, likely a few weeks,” said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Stapler said lawmakers created some breathing room by appropriating an additional $10 million in the budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday.


A Maine law student, illegally stopped by an officer for carrying a firearm, videotaped the incident and quoted his rights until he was told he was free to go.

The Police State Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a remarkable exchange that shows exactly why it pays to know your rights, a law student in Portland, Maine backed down a police officer who had stopped him for no reason other than he was carrying a gun.

After clearly stating that he did not consent to any searches or seizures, the student asked the officer what crime he had been suspected of committing.

The officer stated that he had received calls about a man carrying a gun.

“That is not illegal. Can I have my gun back and be on my way?” the student notes during the incident while filming it on his phone. “In order to stop me you have to suspect me of a crime.” the man notes.

As Maine is a traditional open carry state, it is perfectly legal and acceptable to carry a firearm openly.

Photo courtesy: Dwight McCann/Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, California budget, Civil Rights, environment, juvenile justice, Reentry | 3 Comments »

RIP Nora Ephron….and A Few Words About Breasts

June 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Nora Ephron was a gifted essayist, novelist, and humorist, a wildly talented screenwriter and film director. And she was a brilliant avocational chef, a devoted mother and wife, who also happened once to be famously married to Carl Bernstein and even more famously divorced from him, and she was a glorious wit—among other worthy occupations.

Ephron died Tuesday of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, according to the New York Times.

She was 71.

It is preposterously and painfully soon to lose her talent.

I met Nora Ephron once, only briefly, but I liked her right away. Despite her double, triple, quadruple threat talent (writer, screenwriter, director, etc.), she seem grounded and present. Somebody you’d want as a neighbor. Mostly, of course, like the majority grieving her today, I knew her through her work—her movies, naturally, and her books.

Her books more than anything.

Like many American women who happened to pick up Ephron’s writing at a formative age, I was fascinated and inspired by her gutsy girl voice. Most particularly I loved her early essays—written when she was young, vulnerable, sassy, and impressively fearless. Since I first read them when I was also young and vulnerable without the sass, and wishing very much to be far more fearless—they were fantasically permission-giving.

For those of you who only know Nora Ephron from her screenplays (like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally) and the films she wrote and directed (like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie and Julia) please allow me to introduce you to at least one piece of her prose writing.

And if you’re going to read only one, it should really probably be the 1972 essay Ephron wrote for Esquire Magazine (for which she then penned a regular column).

The essay, which was later reprinted in her 1975 collection, Crazy Salad, is titled: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

(I’ve just excerpted the opening, but there are links to the full piece and, trust me, you’d be foolish  to start and not read to her final line, which is:  ”I think they’re full of shit.”  Happy reading.)


by Nora Ephron

I have to begin with a few words about androgyny. In grammar school, in the fifth and sixth grades, we were all tyrannized by a rigid set of rules that supposedly determined whether we were boys or girls. The episode in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is disguised as a girl and gives himself away by the way he threads a needle and catches a ball — that kind of thing. We learned that the way you sit, crossed your legs, held a cigarette and looked at your nails, your wristwatch, the way you did these things instinctively was absolute proof of your sex.. Now obviously most children did not take this literally, but I did. I thought that just one slip, just one incorrect cross of my legs or flick of an imaginary, cigarette ash would turn me from whatever I was into the other thing; that would be all it took, really. Even though I was outwardly a girl and had many of the trappings generally associated with the field of girldom — a girl’s name, for example, and dresses, my own telephone, an autograph book — I spent the years of my adolescence absolutely certain that I might at any point gum it up. I did not feel at all like a girl. I was boyish. I was athletic, ambitious, outspoken, competitive, noisy, rambunctious. I had scabs on my knees and my socks slid into my loafers and I could throw a football. I wanted desperately not to be that way, not to be a mixture of both things but instead just one, a girl, a definite indisputable girl. As soft and as pink as a nursery. And nothing would do that for me, I felt, but breasts.

I was about six months younger than everyone in my class, and so for about six months after it began, for six months after my friends had begun to develop — that was the word we used, develop — I was not particularly worried. I would sit in the bathtub and look down at breasts and know that any day now, in second now, they would start growing like everyone else’s. They didn’t. “I want to buy a bra,” I said to my mother one night. “What for?” she said……

You can find the rest here…..or here.

Or better yet, buy the book. It has aged well. (As did she.)

Photo of Ephron with her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, women's issues, writers and writing | No Comments »

Realignment Dangers, LA Taggers Reach Settlement…and More

June 22nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The City Attorney’s office brought suit against 11 members of the LA tagging crew, Metro Transit Assassins, which could have resulted in the taggers paying upwards of four million dollars for multiple acts of vandalism, including a ginormous, 3-story high tag on the LA River walls. Both parties agreed to a deal that eliminates fiscal responsibility, but requires 100 hours of graffiti clean-up per crew member, an adult curfew, and a ban on associating with each other in public–a condition usually reserved for gang members.

(City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been eager to use legal sanctions like gang injunctions on taggers, a move that, thus far, has largely been blocked by the ACLU among others.)

By the way, one of the more famous of the MTA crew, artist Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear, says he was not present for the creation of the monster tag.

You can peruse Gheorghiu’s online art gallery here.

LA Times’ Richard Winton has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The settlement was announced Wednesday, the resolution of a landmark lawsuit against the taggers that sought to restrict their behavior and force them to pay $1.2 million in penalties and $3.7 million in damages for “500 documented incidents of graffiti vandalism.”

The lawsuit against 11 alleged members of the crew was filed in June 2010 in response to a quarter-mile-long graffiti “bomb” of its acronym along the Los Angeles River.

Initially, city lawyers also sought to prevent the individuals — including artist Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear — from profiting from the sale of any related art.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged the proposed injunction on 1st Amendment grounds, but a judge found that the constitution “does not protect destruction of public or private property by graffiti vandalism, trespass and illegal activities.”

Under the deal, defendants are prohibited from associating with other members of the tagging crew in public and possessing graffiti tools. They must also obey an adult curfew, according to Deputy City Atty. Jim McDougal.


As most American states struggle to reduce the giant bite that prisons take out of cash strapped state budgets, all eyes are on California where a Supreme Court-mandated reduction in our prison population has resulted in the massively consequential strategy known as realignment, in which the counties are being handed the oversight of many of the state’s lower level law-breakers—the “non-non-nons, as they have come to be called. (They are those convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual crimes.) Much of the rationale behind, realignment, is the idea that the county structure is better suited to rehabilitation than the state prison system, which has generally failed miserably (hence, California’s awful recidivism rate).

This week, in a keynote address to the National Institute of Justice’s annual conference in Arlington VA, Stanford law criminologist, Joan Petersilia, perhaps the leading national expert on parole and reentry, talks about the necessity of effective ex-inmate rehabilitation programs if California is to successfully meet the huge challenges and opportunities that our realignment experiment brings.

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

Even many Californians are not aware that in the last 18 months, the state’s prison population has dropped from 172,000 to 135,000, and the number of parolees has plummeted even more sharply, from 132,000 to 60,000.

While this sounds promising to corrections reformers, Petersilia says it is happening so fast that officials and offenders alike are just beginning to understand the impact.

Many former inmates complain that they have been taken off the parole rolls so quickly that they are losing government benefits that are reserved for parolees. Some are being asked to get back on parole as a result, she says.

In addition, many prosecutors and law enforcement officials oppose aspects of realignment, contending that it will lead to rising crime rates.

One big problem is that government agencies are not pouring sufficient funding into ex-inmate rehabilitation.

Petersilia’s Stanford Criminal Justice Center, which is receiving a federal grant to evaluate the California prisoner realignment program of Gov. Jerry Brown, is building a database of how the state’s 58 counties are spending the $2 billion they are getting from the state to perform corrections-sytem functions that the state formerly did.

So far, only 10 percent of that money is going to treatment programs, with the bulk going to sheriff’s office, local jails, probations staff, and court services. That bodes ill for keeping ex-inmates from returning to crime, Petersilia says.

“We can’t just sit and watch this go off the train track,” she told fellow researchers at the NIJ conference.


America extensively compiles data for sports, the health care, schools, and many more industries, but there is a large gap in data collection and analysis between the different branches of the criminal justice system. Collecting, processing, and studying that data would provide a substantial sketch of the parts of the system that work–and those that don’t work–and might create more direct routes to a better justice system, eliminating some of the guesswork and trial and error in corrections reform.

The Atlantic’s Anne Milgram has the story. Here’s a clip:

One area in which the potential of data analysis is still not adequately realized, however, is criminal justice. This is somewhat surprising given the success of CompStat, a law enforcement management tool that uses data to figure out how police resources can be used to reduce crime and hold law enforcement officials accountable for results. CompStat is widely credited with contributing to New York City’s dramatic reduction in serious crime over the past two decades. Yet data-driven decision-making has not expanded to the whole of the criminal justice system.

But it could. And, in this respect, the front end of the system — the part of the process that runs from arrest through sentencing — is particularly important. At this stage, police, prosecutors, defenders, and courts make key choices about how to deal with offenders — choices that, taken together, have an enormous impact on crime. Yet most jurisdictions do not collect or analyze the data necessary to know whether these decisions are being made in a way that accomplishes the most important goals of the criminal justice system: increased public safety, decreased recidivism, reduced cost, and the fair, efficient administration of justice.

Even in jurisdictions where good data exists, a lack of technology is often an obstacle to using it effectively. Police, jails, courts, district attorneys, and public defenders each keep separate information systems, the data from which is almost never pulled together and analyzed in a way that could answer the questions that matter most: Who is in our criminal justice system? What crimes have been charged? What risks do individual offenders pose? And which option would best protect the public and make the best use of our limited resources?

Posted in ACLU, American artists, crime and punishment, Realignment, Reentry | 1 Comment »

Three Great (Social Justice-y) Things to Do for Father’s Day Weekend

June 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


G-Dog, the wonderful new documentary film about Father Greg Boyle by Academy Award winning doc director, Freida Mock, will have it’s US premiere on Sunday, Father’s Day, at 4:20 p.m. at the LA Film Festival downtown,

Father Greg and some of the guys from Homeboy Industries will be on hand to do a Q & A session after the film.

(And, yes, I’m definitely going to be there with a passel of friends and family.)

(But if you go, go early as it will sell out fast, if it hasn’t already.)


Each month in LA County, more than 800 hurt, frightened and confused children enter the Family Dependency Court, and thus the foster care, system, having been removed from their parent’s custody because of s abuse, neglect or abandonment.

A judge must quickly make all of the important decisions about each foster child’s life and, more often than not, he or she must do so in the context of a system that is overburdened and seems disinterested.

However, a judge can appoint what is called a CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, for the child. This trained and supervised volunteer is charged with advocating for a foster child who is under the court’s protection because of abuse or neglect.

But here’s the deal: only 16% of the volunteers at CASA/LA are male, while 49.8% of the kids in the system are boys. Even more than the girls, the male foster children are too often left with no solid male role models in their lives.

As a consequence, this Father’s Day there is a strong push to get more men involved in volunteering for CASA.

For more info, check the CASALA website.

Spread the word.


Today, Friday, at 7:20 p.m., the Loyola Law School Center for Restorative Justice will co-host a screening of the new documentary, Music From the Big House, in which Rita Chiarelli, Canada’s “Queen of the Blues,” makes a musical pilgrimage to Louisiana State Maximum Security Penitentiary at Angola, a place that used to be the bloodiest prison in America, but has always been a place where the some of the deepest, truest blues have been played.

The screening will be held at the Laemmle Theater at 9036 Wilshire Boulevard, in Beverly Hills.

Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, Homeboy Industries, prison | 7 Comments »

1st Annual LA Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention Conference, May 21/22.

May 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

<—-Click to en-biggen

An important 2-day conference to discuss effective and innovative community-based programs
aimed at reducing gang violence in Los Angeles, takes place next Monday and Tuesday, May 21 and 22.

The event, sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, Hospitals Against Violence Empowering Neighborhoods and Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations will bring together gang interventionists, prevention experts, researchers, elected officials, and policymakers (plus a few journalists, like myself.)

The two days include a list of hot shot keynote speakers who include Father Greg Boyle, Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith (Harvard School of Public Health, U.N.I.T.Y.), Connie Rice—and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,

Plus the schedule is loaded with excellent panels and stellar panelists.

I’ll be reporting from the conference both days. (So if you come by, say hello.)

Here’s the rest of the salient info:

Los Angeles Gang Violence Prevention & Intervention Conference
MAY 21 & 22, 20128:30 AM-5:00 PM
1000 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90012

Cost: $150

(NOTE: The event is full, I’m told, but you may email Kristin Bray at if you would like to be added to the waiting list.)

Posted in American artists, Gangs, Public Health, Violence Prevention | 1 Comment »

Friday’s Juvenile Justice Must Reads (Plus Bear & Wolf Stories)

May 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Taylor Walker


The Juvenile-in-Justice project, created by Photographer Richard Ross, documents the conditions youths live in within the juvenile justice system. The project is intended to raise awareness and will include traveling exhibit and a book–both due Fall 2012. The Juvenile-in-Justice book will include over 1000 photos of incarcerated juveniles and over 200 photos of staff and essays from This American Life’s Ira Glass and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Bart Lubow. The website and blog about the project features amazing images and interviews and is absolutely worth visiting.

Here’s what Ross has to say about the project in a personal statement:

In the past I have photographed for major magazines, newspapers and institutions. At this phase in my career I am turning my lens towards the juvenile justice system and using what I have learned in 40+ years of photography to create a body of work of compelling images to instigate policy reform. My medium is a conscience. My products are photographic and textual evidence of a system that houses, on any given day, over 90,000 kids.


A 14-year-old was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of shooting and killing his father, a Los Angeles-based ICE agent. Authorities say the boy shot his father, Myron Chism, in the back of the head with Myron’s federal-issued handgun.

AP’s Greg Risling has the story. Here’s a clip:

The father was found dead after the boy called 911 late Wednesday and said the man had been shot in the back of the head by a bullet fired through a window from the backyard of their home in Carson, near Los Angeles, sheriff’s officials said.

“Evidence gained from the scene and statements made by the suspect” led to the arrest, sheriff’s Lt. Holly Francisco said.

The boy was taken into custody at the home and booked for investigation of murder.

No motive for the killing was released.

LA Times’ Matt Stevens and Kim Christensen also covered the story.

Larry Altman of the Long Beach Press-Telegram too has a lengthy report.

Let us hope that prosecutors don’t compound this tragedy by racing to try the boy who killed his dad as an adult so they can give him the usual LWOP sentence.


In a 2-1 split decision this week, a California appeals court upheld a 50-to-life sentence given to a 16-year-old. Quochuy “Tony” Tran was charged in 2007 with killing 15-year-old Ichinkhorloo “Iko” Bayarsaikhan at an Alameda park after two groups of kids yelled insults at each other. Tran’s five friends, who were with him the night of the shooting, were also tried for murder, but in juvenile court, while Tran was tried as an adult for the killing, which appeared to be the result of an angry impulse and a single shot. As a result, a girl is dead and a young man will live out most of his life in prison.

Here’s a clip from the story by Bob Egelko from the SF Chron:

Tran’s sentence was “proportional to his crime,” said Presiding Justice William McGuiness in the ruling by the First District Court of Appeal. He said Tran was the instigator of the killing and an attempted robbery that preceded it. And under legal precedent, McGuiness said, the U.S. Supreme Court has only shielded minors from sentences of death or, in non-homicide cases, of life without the possibility of parole. The high court is considering whether to extend those rulings to a ban against all life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, but McGuiness said that wouldn’t apply to Tran because it’s possible he will be paroled within his lifetime.

But dissenting Justice Stuart Pollak said the logic of the previous rulings should also apply to a youth like Tran whose crime, while “horrible and tragic,” was the result of “a single sudden and impulsive act.”

Pollak said a counselor who worked with Tran after he was jailed described him as ”a child … angry, impulsive, and dangerous,” who matured into “an admirable, independent-minded young man.” Although the crime deserves severe punishment, the justice said, Tran is capable of rehabilitation and should have a chance to live some portion of his adult life outside prison.

The state Supreme Court has already agreed to decide whether another 16-year-old, who was sentenced to 110 years in prison for three attempted murders, is constitutionally entitled to a realistic chance at parole. Tran’s lawyer, Frank McCabe, said he’ll ask the court to review his case as well.

You can read the Bay City story on his conviction here.


Okay, admittedly not a juvenile justice story, although there were bear cubs involved…

However, after the often painful stories we deal with here, we figured perhaps some cool bear footage was called for.

And while we’re on the general topic, it looks like OR7, the young male wolf who’s been wandering between Oregon and northern edge of California, is back in our fair state again as of May 1.

For those interested who live in No Cal, wolf biologist Carter Niemeyer (whose work I know from the state of Montana) will be in the Bay area talking about wolfish topics in a four event tour that kicks off on May 6.

Posted in American artists, American voices, bears and alligators, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids | No Comments »

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