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Unexplored CA Prison Overcrowding Remedies, Potential LA Jails Inmate Shift, Appeals Court Approves Warrantless Cell Tracking…and More

August 15th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


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.


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.)


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 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.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, business, CDCR, LA County Jail, Realignment, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Can Raves Be Made Safe Enough?

July 7th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to create a multi-agency
task force in order to investigate the health and safety issues surrounding raves—in particular raves that are held in public venues.

The measure was proposed by Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe. Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested that some kind of young person or persons should be added to the task force that would be made up of law enforcement agencies, medical and health professionals, music business types and so on.

(Heck, it’s nice to see the Sups get along over an issue for a change. Last week, they voted unanimously to send a sternly-worded collective letter to the loathsome Sam Zell about the LA Times’ faux front page, so maybe they’re on a roll)

The vote came in response to the death of 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez who evidently drank from a water bottle laced with Ecstasy—a drug that had dropped in popularity around a decade ago but now has spiked again.

The LA Times covered the story here, KPPC covered it here.

Then, for Neon Tommy, Annenberg journalism student, Paresh Dave, has done an excellent job of giving a comprehensive overview of the many complex issues swirling around Rodriguez’s death and the subsequent temporary ban on raves at the Coliseum and now the Board of Sups new task force.

Read it.

What do you think LA County should do about raves?

Photo by Winnie Jaing

Posted in Board of Supervisors, business, Los Angeles County | 3 Comments »

The Miracle of & the Betrayal of….NUMMI

April 2nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


After 25 years and 7.7 million cars,
Toyota Motors closed its manufacturing plant in Fremont on Thursday, tossing 4700 Californians out of work and into the worst job market since the great depression, imperiling, according to the NY Times approximately 20,000 collateral jobs.

The last car the factory made was a bright red Toyota Corolla. Dozens of workers walked the Corolla reverently through the assembly line.

The plant, originally opened in 1984 as a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors, was called the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.—otherwise known as NUMMI.

NUMMI’s purpose was to allow Toyota to establish its first manufacturing beachhead in the U.S. and, in turn, the Japanese car maker taught the American unionized employees the secret to its amazing efficiency and what was, for many years, stellar quality conrol—all of which GM badly needed. But, in an astonishing and irrational display of pigheadedness, it took a stubborn GM management nearly 20 years to learn the lesson, too late to stave off its bankruptcy. Last year GM announced it was pulling out.

Although, at the end the GM cars represented only around 10 percent of those coming off the NUMMI line, Toyota said it was shutting down the plant.

Many tried to talk the Japanese company out of it. Why close the plant now? they argued. It had a stellar production record and, after all, this was a time when Toyota most needed to mend its PR profile—particularly in California, which according to the NY Times Bob Herbert, accounts for 18 percent of all Toyotas sold, worldwide.

NPR has this:

Toyota officials say NUMMI simply wasn’t economically viable, but many workers suspect that [the closing] may have something to do with their union. This was Toyota’s only unionized workforce.

“Toyota has never shut a plant down in 73 years, and we were the only plant to get a zero-defect audit, ever, in the Toyota history,” said Ann Ezra, who worked for NUMMI for more than two decades. “Only another Lexus plant has ever done it, and they’re going to shut us down? Why? So yeah, it’s because of the union

Whatever the real reason for the shutdown, NUMMI’s joint venture history is unique. This past week, This American Life, did a full show on NUMMI—the opportunity that the NUMMI plant once represented, and how General motors squandered it.

A car plant in Fremont California that might have saved the U.S. car industry. In 1984, General Motors and Toyota opened NUMMI as a joint venture. Toyota showed GM the secrets of its production system: how it made cars of much higher quality and much lower cost than GM achieved. Frank Langfitt explains why GM didn’t learn the lessons — until it was too late.

It is a remarkable victory story of one factory utterly transforming it’s way of working (and its attitude toward the work itself), and a tale of a stupendous opportunity lost by the whole of the American car industry, at a time when it needed it most.

And it is great hour of radio—brilliant, really—made all the more poignant now that the very last car has rolled off NUMMI’s line.

Posted in business, Economy | 53 Comments »

Justice for Wendy McCaw’s Victims

June 15th, 2008 by

    A gathering of Southern California newspaper publishers and their peers. See Wendy, Sam and Dean?

The odious Wendy McCaw and her evil efforts to silence critics of her reign of oppression at the Santa Barbara News-Press took a beating in an appellate court Friday.

Or, in legal parlance, the justices handed her ass to her. If only she and equally toxic Sam Zell could open up some high-end taco stands with tablecloths and fancy wine with deposed Fabian Núñez and leave journalism and public service to people who know better.

The case stems from the hard-hitting story that Susan Paterno wrote for the American Journalism Review in 2006, under the headline, “Santa Barbara Smackdown.” As Justice J. Aronson put it, “The article offered a ‘behind-the-scenes look’ at the ‘turmoil’ engulfing the News-Press, including the dismissal or resignation of more than half of its 50-member newsroom, leaving others to work in a ‘climate of fear and paranoia ripped from the pages of Kafka’s ‘The Trial,’ . . . . The article described McCaw’s efforts to “silence” criticism by filing or threatening to file libel lawsuits.”

Paterno, who is head of the journalism department at Chapman University in Orange County, fought back by filing an anti-SLAPP lawsuit. SLAPP actions (the catchy phrase stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation) are often filed by journalists who have fallen prey to legal actions filed by obnoxious, unethical people. Rarely must a journalist resort to filing one against a newspaper publisher.

A sweet side effect: McCaw is on the hook to pay the tab for legal fees run up by Paterno and AJR. Belligerence and arrogance carry a price. The ruling disemboweled the libel suit of anything remotely actionable, so the case likely will be tossed on the trash heap of SoCal’s recent troubled history. Check out the Santa Barbara Independent’s account of the ruling here.

The 18-page opinion, issued by three-judge panel of the 4th Appellate District of the state appeals court in Orange County, contains a few gems for journalists who embrace the mission to seek the truth and expose bad behavior wherever they find it. Consider this wisdom:

There is no constitutional mandate requiring the press to adopt a “he said, she said” style of reporting. Indeed, the actual malice standard is not measured by what an objectively reasonable reporter would have written. “Fair and objective reporting may be a worthy ideal, but there is also room, within the protection of the First Amendment, for writing which seeks to expose wrongdoing and arouse righteous anger; clearly such writing is typically less than objective in its presentation.” (Reader’s Digest, supra, 37 Cal.3d at p. 259.)

The appellate seemed incredulous that McCaw and the company that owns the Santa Barbara News-Press, Ampersand, would file the lawsuit in the first place. After all, don’t they get a pretty good price on ink and couldn’t they have settled their scores by publishing stories on their own?

If Paterno’s statements require further explanation, Ampersand, McCaw, its lawyers, public relations experts, and crisis managers, are free to provide them. Ampersand, as the publisher of Santa Barbara’s largest circulation daily newspaper, has ample “‘access to channels of effective communication.’” (Christian Research, supra, 148 Cal.App.4th at p. 92.) “The marketplace of ideas, not the tort system, is the means by which our society evaluates those opinions.” (Grillo v. Smith (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 868, 872.)

Oh, here the justices remind us of just how ridiculous it is of McCaw to file the suit and try to undermine a key protection for journalists everywhere.

It is ironic that Ampersand, itself a newspaper publisher, seeks to weaken legal protections that are intended to secure the role of the press in a free society. Newspapers and publishers, who regularly face libel litigation, were intended to be one of the “‘prime beneficiaries’” of the anti-SLAPP legislation. (Lafayette Morehouse, supra, 37 Cal.App.4th at p. 863.)

Of the 32 statements that McCaw alleged were libelous in Paterno’s story, the lower court found only three held any possible merit. The appellate court found none warranted further inquiry. Two of them dealt with management’s ordering then-editor Jerry Roberts to kill a story about editorial page editor Travis Armstrong’s drunken driving sentence.

From the ruling:

The trial court permitted discovery into whether Paterno harbored actual malice when her article stated that (1) former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts “was ordered to kill a story about the editorial page editor’s drunk-driving sentence” and (2) when reporter Dawn Hobbs returned from court with a report on Armstrong’s drunk driving sentence, “[O]rders ‘from on high’ forced Roberts to kill Hobbs’ story, says then Deputy Managing Editor Murphy . . . .” Ampersand never contested the literal truth of these statements. McCaw herself wrote a letter to the Society of Professional Journalists stating that management decided to “kill” the story about the drunk driving sentence imposed on Travis Armstrong, the newspaper’s editorial page editor. Ampersand nevertheless argues, and the trial court apparently agreed, that Paterno’s article could be deemed false because she “omitted material facts available to her . . . .” Ampersand contends Paterno’s statements about killing a story, while true, are actionable because the “‘gist and sting’” of the article “was that the story was killed because the publishers were directing the news content to protect favored employees, such as Armstrong. This is not true.” Ampersand specifically takes Paterno to task for failing to mention that the newspaper had previously published an article concerning Armstrong’s arrest for drunk driving on May 7, 2006. In a declaration filed in Ampersand’s anti-SLAPP opposition, Armstrong described his complaints to senior management about the unfairness of this story given Roberts’s “open animosity” to him.
As Reader’s Digest holds, Paterno had no constitutional obligation to incorporate Ampersand’s press releases or its talking points into her magazine article.

Wendy, it sounds like it’s high time to write a fat check and join the rest of your ilk back in the barnyard.

Posted in business, journalism, media | 6 Comments »

The Great USC-UCLA…..POKER Game????

March 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


As a break from my recent rants
, I thought perhaps y’all would like to see a few sample stories from my USC students. Those in my two SC classes are mostly sophomores and this is their very first reporting course. Bu, they’re smart cookies, so I figured you’d enjoy a look.

The first story is from an intelligent, energetic broadcast major named MAT MENDEZ.
Each of the students is assigned to a city in which to report, and to a beat. Mat’s city is Bell Gardens, his beat is business.

This story about a local charity-related
event that sparked some controversy.

Continuing their storied rivalry, USC battled UCLA recently in what can only be described as a tight, hard-fought match.

We’re not talking about football or basketball, though. And forget the peanuts and Cracker Jacks – it’s not baseball either.

Anyone for poker?

On February 23, 2008, The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens hosted a USC vs. UCLA “Texas Hold ‘Em” tournament, in an effort to raise money on behalf each school’s chapter of the “Challenge for Charity” student organization. Fifteen percent of the prize pool – an amount of money not yet released- was donated to the Special Olympics, with the amount of each group’s donation depending on students’ poker performance.

The price to play: students – age 21 and older – had to fork over a $48 buy-in, $2 service charge, and $10 entry fee, most of which went toward the prize money on the table. Casino management emphasizes that the social experience, and the charity, are both well worth the money.

“You can play this game from cradle to grave,”
said Kelley O’Hara, Director of Marketing for the casino. “You can play this with your family, you can play this with your friends.”

There seems to be one problem with that rosy picture.
There are many skeptics both within and outside the community who are not so sure that poker is the best way to instill family values, or for that matter, raise money for charity, especially when it means introducing college students to the world of gambling.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Rafael Casillas, a Bell Gardens resident. “They’re too young to do that, and I don’t think it’s fair to them.”

Casillas may have a point,
at least according to University of Southern California psychology professor Robert Gore.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in business | 12 Comments »