Unexplored CA Prison Overcrowding Remedies, Potential LA Jails Inmate Shift, Appeals Court Approves Warrantless Cell Tracking…and MoreAugust 15th, 2012 by Taylor Walker
CA PRISON OVERCROWDING PROBLEM AND UNTESTED POTENTIAL REMEDIES
Due to California’s slow headway on the Supreme Court order to reduce prison populations, a three judge panel has given the CDCR until Friday to produce a schedule for freeing inmates eligible for early release and a course of action to further reduce the population.
LA Times has a sharp editoral update on the overcrowding situation and untapped solutions. Here’s a clip:
Having already ruled that overcrowding has resulted in a prison healthcare system so shoddy that it represents unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, and that the higher cap of 145% of design capacity being sought by the Brown administration won’t go far enough, the judges are now ordering the state to report back Friday with a schedule for identifying inmates eligible for early release and a detailed plan on other ways of cutting the population. Does this mean pandemonium in the streets as dangerous criminals are let out early? Given how cautious the judges have been until now about issuing orders that would risk public safety, probably not. But it does present an opportunity for the Brown administration to stop stalling and come up with a serious plan for finishing the job.
As the state Legislative Analyst’s Office noted in a February report on prison overcrowding, there are measures to cut the population that the state hasn’t yet exhausted, such as changing rules on mandatory sentencing for certain crimes, increasing work furlough programs and bumping up the credits inmates can earn for good behavior; it’s a better idea to make inmates earn their way out of prison than to simply set them free because of crowding. If that’s not enough, the state could ask for more time to get into compliance, while specifying how it would use that time to reach the head-count goal. Although the judges don’t seem very open to the idea of raising the population cap, they may be amenable to pushing back their deadline.
LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS CONSIDER JAIL INMATE SHIFT TO TAFT
And while we’re on the topic of overcrowding, the LA County Supes are considering a plan crafted by Sheriff Baca to move 500 realignment inmates to the Taft Community Correctional Facility in Kern County.
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the story. Here’s a clip:
L.A. jails are handling thousands more lower-level inmates under realignment. Probation Chief Jerry Powers said the county needs more space.
“I’m hopeful that we can divert people out of jail,” Powers said. “But I think it’s prudent to have the resources available in case you do need the space.”
The board will consider a $75 million contract with the city of Taft that would allow the sheriff to house more than 500 L.A. County inmates at the Taft Community Correctional Facility.
(By the way, if you want to peruse the sheriff’s Taft plan—it’s positioned directly below the KPCC article.)
COURT OF APPEALS SIGNS OFF ON CELL TRACKING WITHOUT A WARRANT
A U.S. court of appeals ruled Wednesday that law enforcement officers can track suspects’ whereabouts via their cell phone signals without a warrant, saying that it is no different than visually tracking a suspect.
David Kravets of Wired’s Threat Level blog has the story. Here’s a clip:
The court of appeals ruling comes a month after a congressional inquiry found that law enforcement made 1.3 million requests for cellphone data last year alone while seeking out subscriber information like text messages, location data and calling records.
Judge John M. Rogers wrote for the majority:
If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen. The recent nature of cell phone location technology does not change this. If it did, then technology would help criminals but not the police.
The appeals court distinguished this case from a GPS case decided by the Supreme Court. The high court ruled that the physical act of installing a GPS device on a target’s vehicle amounted to a search, which usually necessitates a probable cause warrant under the Fourth Amendment.
“Here, the monitoring of the location of the contraband-carrying vehicle as it crossed the country is no more of a comprehensively invasive search than if instead the car was identified in Arizona and then tracked visually and the search handed off from one local authority to another as the vehicles progressed. That the officers were able to use less expensive and more efficient means to track the vehicles is only to their credit,” Rogers wrote.
Another appeals court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is also mulling a similar issue, one involving historical cell-site data. And the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that warrants were required to get cell-site location data. Split rulings generally leads the Supreme Court to step in and clear the conflicts.
In all of the cases, including the 5th Circuit case, the Obama administration maintains that Americans have no expectation of privacy in cell-site records because they are “in the possession of a third party” — the mobile phone companies. What’s more, the authorities maintain that the cell site data is not as precise as GPS tracking and “there is no trespass or physical intrusion on a customer’s cellphone when the government obtains historical cell-site records from a provider.”
JPAY THE APPLE OF THE U.S. CORRECTIONS SYSTEM
JPAY, the inmate money transfer company, is bringing the world of mp3 players, tablets, and video chat to the incarcerated community in a way that ensures the technology can’t be used in ways not approved by corrections facilities.
Bloomberg’s Nick Leiber has the story. Here’s how it opens:
The United States incarcerates more of its population than any other country. From 1990 to 2010, the number of people serving time in state and federal prisons more than doubled and is now nearly 2.3 million, according to a recent report (PDF) by the Pew Center on the States. Earlier this year, the New Yorker’s arresting article, “The Caging of America,” chronicled reasons for the accelerating incarceration rate.
The surge has been good for a constellation of corrections contractors, including JPay, which handles money transfers, e-mail communications, and video visitations for more than 1.4 million inmates in hundreds of prisons across about 35 states. So good that the decade-old business last year expanded into selling inmates its own line of “prison-proof” MP3 players—what it dubs the JP3. “We’re looking for products that an inmate would want to buy and a corrections facility would accept,” says founder and Chief Executive Officer Ryan Shapiro, 35. “Music was a no-brainer because inmates don’t have enough music and they all love music.”
Shapiro is aiming to make JPay, a 200-employee Miami business that became profitable in 2006, the Apple (AAPL) of the U.S. penal system. To understand why he thinks Apple or another tech behemoth can’t easily snuff him out, here’s a quick review of prison rules: Corrections facilities generally forbid devices that can be turned into weapons, be used to communicate freely with the outside, or conceal contraband. Hand a violent prisoner an iPad and the risks become fairly clear.