Holder’s Reforms for California, Moving Female Inmates Far Away from Their Families, Hunger Strike, Prop 8, and the LASD’s Missing M-16August 15th, 2013 by Taylor Walker
CALIFORNIA NEEDS TO TAKE CUES FROM AG ERIC HOLDER’S REFORMS
In an Op-Ed for the Sacramento Bee, president of the Rosenberg Foundation Timothy P. Silard applauds Attorney General Eric Holder’s reform package announced Monday, and calls on California to follow Holder’s lead with some badly-needed reforms on the state-level. Here are some clips:
We can no longer turn a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, nor can we ignore any longer the pervasive racial bias that threatens the very legitimacy of the system itself. Holder laid out a set of promising reforms at the federal level. They include doing away with draconian mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes; increasing the use of diversion programs that can serve as effective alternatives to incarceration; and assisting victims and empowering survivors of crime.
While such federal reforms are long overdue, we know that fundamental changes are even more sorely needed at the state and local levels. California in particular is ground zero on this issue, and the state was conspicuously absent from the list of states that the attorney general lauded as models. Other states are pioneering a shift away from an “incarceration only” approach and toward evidence-based programs and services that are designed to reduce re-offending – all while improving public safety and saving precious taxpayer dollars.
First and foremost, we should stop over-incarcerating low-level drug offenders and the mentally ill, and instead mandate treatment programs and job training so they get on track and stop offending. Simple possession of tiny quantities of drugs is a felony in California; those offenses should be reduced to misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of a year in jail.
The state also needs a “sentencing commission” to overhaul the complex hodgepodge of our penal code, applying tough sentences for violent crime while reducing sentences for less serious offenses.
Finally, we can use the savings from reducing the number of people in prison and jail to invest in crime prevention, in proven alternatives to incarceration and re-entry services, and for programs that help heal children exposed to violence.
“ORANGE” AUTHOR SAYS FEDS’ IMPENDING TRANSFER OF FEMALE PRISONERS TO DISTANT FACILITIES A CRIPPLING BLOW FOR FAMILIES
Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” has written an excellent Op-Ed for the NY Times about the impending transfer of over 1,000 low-security female inmates from a federal prison in Connecticut to Alabama and other facilities across the country—far away from their children, spouses, and communities. Here are some clips:
Nine years ago, I served 11 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., for a decade-old nonviolent drug crime. Danbury is the sole women-only federal prison in the Northeast and is part of a complex that typically incarcerates low-security female offenders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The aging hulk of the facility dates from 1940 and has housed women for nearly 20 years.
Starting this month, the federal Bureau of Prisons will transfer the more than 1,000 women incarcerated in the main facility at Danbury to other prisons across the country to convert it to a men’s prison (the small satellite camp immediately adjacent, where I served my time, will still incarcerate approximately 210 women). The bureau says the plan will ease overcrowding in its men’s prisons.
This added geographic separation may as well be a second sentence for these women, who already have to make it through prison with limited visits from family, and for their children, who still need and want their moms. A mother’s incarceration has a devastating effect on her family, and experts say that maintaining contact with a parent in prison is critical to a child’s well-being. One in 28 children has a parent in prison today, and Danbury houses the mothers of at least 700 children.
The Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, plans to send most women from Danbury to a prison in Alabama, and possibly to other ones farther afield. For many families these new locations might as well be the moon.
HUNGER STRIKE AT AN IMPASSE?
The California prisoner hunger strike is now in its sixth week, and neither the striking inmates, nor the CDCR seem ready to give up their positions.
The LA Times’ Paige St. John has an update. Here’s a clip:
Although Gov. Jerry Brown has made no public comment on the protest, his corrections chief says it is controlled by violent prison gangs bent on increasing their power. Advocates for the inmates say spending 23 hours a day in a windowless cell for decades is a form of torture that must end.
Without visible progress on the issues that separate the two sides, the protest — launched July 8 when 30,000 inmates refused breakfast — has become largely a battle over public perception.
“Being rational seems to have left this debate,” said Jeanne Woodford, who ran California’s vast prison system under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and now teaches at UC Berkeley School of Law. “It’s people who have dug their heels in on both sides.”
The official tally of hunger strikers Tuesday was 287, including 133 who have refused prison meals for 36 days.
The next scheduled opportunity to negotiate is Friday, at a settlement conference ordered this week by a federal magistrate in the Pelican Bay litigation.
CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT REJECTS PROP. 8 PETITION
The California Supreme Court Tuesday denied a petition to revive Prop. 8, thus eliminating the state’s last legal road block for gay marriage. (Go, California!)
SF Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here are a couple of clips:
The court order came seven weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by sponsors of Proposition 8, the initiative defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, of a federal judge’s ruling declaring the measure unconstitutional.
The first weddings took place June 28, after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered all 58 county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But because the nation’s high court did not rule on Prop. 8′s constitutionality, sponsors of the 2008 measure urged the California court to step in and declare that only the two same-sex couples who sued to overturn the law should be allowed to marry.
State officials replied that the federal court ruling was binding statewide, and the state’s high court went along – in a July 15 order refusing to halt the weddings, and in Wednesday’s final order dismissing the case.
With no more legal actions pending, the issue appears settled, with California joining 12 other states and Washington, D.C. – with a total of 30 percent of the nation’s population – recognizing same-sex marriage. Another U.S. Supreme Court ruling entitles the couples to the same federal benefits as opposite-sex spouses.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who represented the city as a co-plaintiff in the suit challenging the ballot measure, was more cautious.
“By now, I suppose we know better than to predict that Prop. 8 proponents will actually give up their fight,” Herrera said in a statement. But he called any possible remaining legal options “absurd.”
(Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog also has a worthwhile article on the court’s decision.)
LASD ASSAULT RIFLE UNACCOUNTED FOR SINCE FEBRUARY
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. officials say that the department has lost one of its M-16 assault rifles. The firearm was only recently discovered missing, although it is believed to have disappeared back in February. LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore says policies will be changed to keep better track of weapons, both military and otherwise.
KPCC’S Rob Strauss has the story on the missing rifle. Here’s a clip:
The weapon was federal surplus given to the department by the state Office of Emergency Services, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told KPCC. Hundreds of them are given to the department every year, which Whitmore said is particularly helpful during tough budget times.
“This one we believe went missing around the first part of February of this year, and it’s obviously an embarrassment, and it obviously just shouldn’t happen,” Whitmore said.
The OES has suspended the department’s ability to receive surplus weapons until it can prove they know where all those weapons are at any given time, Whitmore said.