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California Supreme Court


Holder’s Reforms for California, Moving Female Inmates Far Away from Their Families, Hunger Strike, Prop 8, and the LASD’s Missing M-16

August 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.

[SNIP]

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.

[SNIP]

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.

(Read on…)


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.

[SNIP]

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.

[SNIP]

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.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, guns, LASD, LGBT | No Comments »

15 Reasons Why We’re Thankful This Year

November 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker

As we near the end of 2012, we at WitnessLA believe there is quite a bit to be thankful for within the social justice sphere–breakthroughs, big wins (and smaller wins), opened doors, and steps in the right direction. Here are fifteen items on our list, in no particular order:


1. We’re thankful to Senator Leland Yee for drafting SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and to Gov. Brown for having the good sense to sign the bill that gives certain juvies serving life-without-parole the possibility of a second chance.


2. We’re thankful that Californians passed Prop 36, the three-strikes reform legislation.


3. We’re thankful that California’s education system will not have to find out what would have happened if Prop 30 had not passed.


4. We’re thankful for the rigor with which the members and staff of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence approached their task, which led to a strong set of findings, and a thorough list of recommendations.


5. We’re also thankful for the many LASD people—present and former— who have courageously come forward: to us, to the LA Times, to the commission and to those guys and girls on Wilshire Blvd.


6. We’re thankful to Judge Michael Nash for shining light on Child Dependency Court proceedings by allowing media access, and to the 2nd District of the California Court of Appeals for denying petitions against Judge Nash’s decision.


7. We’re thankful for the passage of marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado as steps toward rectifying the harm done by a failed drug war.


8. We’re thankful for SCOTUS’ ban of mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentencing. (It’s one step in the direction of banning juvie LWOP altogether.)


9. We’re also thankful to SCOTUS for ruling preposterously long sentences for youth unconstitutional.


10. We’re thankful for the wise and important findings of the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color created by Assembly speaker John Perez, and chaired by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.


11. We’re thankful that, slowly but surely, the US is making progress toward equal rights for the LGBT community (shout out to Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota).


12. We’re also thankful to Gov. Brown for making CA the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for youth.


13. We’re thankful for all those who are pushing for zero-tolerance reform in LAUSD schools and across the nation.


14. We’re thankful to SCOTUS for striking down most of the harsh AZ immigration law, SB 1070.


15. We’re thankful that, a year after the program commenced on Oct. 1, 2011, people are finally starting to talk sense about California’s prison realignment process—rather than painting it counter-factually as a plot to endanger public safety by releasing prisoners early. (We are particularly grateful to the LA Times Rob Greene for snapping some of the worst fact-offenders out of their stupor.) We’re also thankful for the programs that are starting to spring up in various counties that see realignment as an opportunity, rather than a burden.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LASD, LAUSD, LGBT, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Realignment, Uncategorized, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

Unmasking Out of State Elections Donors, Voter Disenfranchisement…and More – UPDATED

November 5th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SECRET OUT OF STATE DONORS POURING $$ MILLIONS INTO CA ELECTIONS ARE ORDERED TO ID THEMSELVES (NOTE: UPDATE AT END)

A large last minute elections drama continues to unfold after the California Supreme Court ordered an Arizona group attempting to influence the outcome of two of the state’s ballot proposition races to hand over its donor records. The group has funneled $11 million into campaigns to defeat Governor Jerry Brown’s Prop. 30, and to pass Prop. 32, both ballot propositions that could have a large effect on the state’s future. In the hope of stalling any such revelations until after Tuesday’s election, the AZ group has appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The LA Times’ Chris Megerian and Maura Dolan are following this still-developing story. Here’s a clip from their report:

An Arizona group was scrambling late Sunday to keep secret the individuals behind its $11-million donation to a California campaign fund after California’s Supreme Court, in a rare and dramatic weekend action, ordered it to turn over records that could identify the donors.

The order followed days of frenzied legal battles between California regulators, who have tried to get documents related to the anonymous contribution before election day, and attorneys for the Arizona nonprofit who have resisted delivering them.

The showdown continued into the night Sunday, with no records produced nearly seven hours after the justices’ late-afternoon deadline. Lawyers for the nonprofit said they were trying to comply even as they rushed to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to halt to the audit.

The $11 million went to a committee that is fighting tax increases proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in Proposition 30 and promoting an initiative that could limit political spending by unions, Proposition 32. The donation has been among the most controversial moves of this election season, with Brown railing against the “shadowy” contributors at campaign appearances.

The case, which has the potential to reshape a growing sector of political giving, has put California at the forefront of a national debate over concealed political donations. Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which initially sued the Arizona group, called the California high court’s decision historic.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: This morning, there was a whip-lash-producing about face by Americans for Responsible Leadership, the nobody’s-ever-heard-of-them AZ nonprofit that had funneled $11 million into what are arguably CA’s two most important ballot proposition races—32 (they wanted YES) and 30 (pushing for NO votes). Surprising everyone, this morning the nonprofit dropped its move of last night to try to get a stay from SCOTUS in order to avoid having to reveal its secret donors.

Now that the secret has been revealed, we see one of the two reasons the AZ folks likely stopped fighting. (The first reason was probably that their lawyers advised them that they were not going to win the battle, since—as corporation-friendly though SCOTUS might at times seem to be—even the court’s most conservative justices are loath to trample on state laws when they differ from federal laws, which is the case here. [See above clip.])

However, reason number 2 was perhaps more to the point. By revealing their list of donors, Americans for Responsible Leadership, looked like they were cooperating but….revealed exactly NOTHING. Zero. Zip. Nada.

As with a set of nesting Russian dolls, when one opens doll number one and looks inside one finds…..more dolls. (Another analogy might be a series of secret offshore bank accounts that some types of….um….investors use when they want to launder obscure the provenance of large piles of money. But I digress.)

Anyway, the donors to the nonprofits are—ta da!—more nonprofits (as the LA Times story on the topic points out).

KPCC’s Julie Small reports that, to be specific, the AZ money came from Virginia-based Americans for Job Security (after first passing through yet another AZ nonprofit called the Center to Protect Patient Rights). Americans for Job Security, Small learned, is headed up by Stephen DeMaura, “a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.”

Then with a bit more searching Small found this:

An online search reveals that Americans for Job Security shares an address in Alexandria with Crossroads Media, which is a top media buyer for Republican candidates and causes. Its clients include Americans for Job Security and American Crossroads, a political action committee co-founded by Karl Rove.

Just so you know.


UPCOMING ELECTION DAY AND FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Almost six million Americans convicted of felonies—half of whom have served their sentences—will be banned from voting on Tuesday. That number is made even higher by eligible voters that are sometimes turned away by election officials who have misinterpreted the law.

The NY Times editorial thinks we should take another look at this outdated practice. Here’s how it opens:

The United States maintains a shortsighted and punitive set of laws, some of them dating back to Reconstruction, denying the vote to people who have committed felonies. They will bar about 5.85 million people from voting in this year’s election.

In the states with the most draconian policies — including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia — more than 7 percent of the adult population is barred from the polls, sometimes for life.

Nationally, nearly half of those affected have completed their sentences, including parole or probation.

Policies that deny voting rights to people who have paid their debt to society offend fundamental tenets of democracy. But the problem is made even worse by state and local election officials so poorly informed about the law that they misinform or turn away people who have a legal right to vote.


LAUSD AND PARTNERS RECEIVE GRANT MONEY TO HELP KIDS DEALING WITH TRAUMA

The LAUSD, together with UCLA, USC, the Rand Corp. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, recently received a grant of $2.4 million to further their work with students who have been exposed to trauma.

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has the story. Here’s a clip:

The grant is the latest in an ongoing partnership among the district, UCLA, USC, the Rand Corp. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a group of trauma centers funded within the Department of Health and Human Services.

L.A. Unified and its partners used the first chunk of money from the network in 2003 to do exploratory work about students and trauma.

A study that year found that more than 60% of local sixth-graders had witnessed more than one event that exposed them to trauma, said Pia Escudero, who directs L.A. Unified’s mental health and crisis counseling services.


ENDORSEMENTS 2012

By the way, look for our take-to-the-poll voting recommendation list Tuesday morning (full list of endorsements here).


Photo by: 401K 2012 / Flickr – licensed through Creative Commons

Posted in California Supreme Court, Education, elections, LAUSD, mental health | No Comments »

The Push to Make PTSD a Qualifier for OR Medical Marijuana, the Dangers of Being a Confidential Informant in the War on Drugs…and More

August 28th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

VETERANS’ PTSD NOT YET A QUALIFIER FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA USE

Right now, Oregon veterans seeking to use medical marijuana to treat their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder must have a different qualifying condition to legally receive the drug. Veterans and advocates of medical marijuana are pushing to get PTSD on the list of approved conditions, but are being met with political opposition.

The Oregonian’s Noelle Crombie has the story. Here are some clips:

As with virtually all marijuana-related matters in the United States, the debate over expanding Oregon’s program to include PTSD is politically charged. The drug’s outlaw status under federal law makes it a lightning rod for controversy. Two previous attempts to add PTSD to Oregon’s program have failed, and Colorado and Arizona officials recently rejected efforts to add the condition to their medical marijuana programs.

Law enforcement in Oregon generally opposes the expansion of the program. Some drug treatment providers caution against treating PTSD sufferers with what they view as an addictive drug.

Oregon is home to an estimated 300,000 veterans, including more than 20,000 from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, according to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. A 2008 Rand Corporation study found nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets reported PTSD symptoms.

Jason Hansman, senior program manager for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said medical marijuana’s potential to help sick veterans deserves serious examination.

“We treat it like any other new treatment technique: We want to see it studied. We want to see increased research to see if it’s a viable solution,” said Hansman, whose group represents 145,000 veterans.

[SNIP]

States considering whether to add PTSD to their medical marijuana programs face a lack of research on the topic, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Dr. John H. Halpern, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and researcher at McLean Hospital outside Boston, one of the country’s leading psychiatric hospitals, said there’s an “overabundance of case reports” suggesting marijuana aids PTSD sufferers. In a recently published paper, Halpern presented a case study he helped conduct on a PTSD sufferer whose marijuana use dramatically eased his symptoms.

But the politics of marijuana bogs down any meaningful examination of its benefits, Halpern said.


CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS OFTEN REPLACE UNDERCOVER OFFICERS IN DANGEROUS DRUG OPERATIONS

Sarah Stillman has an excellent article for The New Yorker called “The Throwaways” on the unchecked use young confidential informants in the war on drugs and the life-threatening situations they are often put in. Even if you don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, find a way to get a hold of this article (found in the Sept. 3rd issue). Here is a clip from the abstract:

On the evening of May 7, 2008, a twenty-three-year-old recent Florida State graduate named Rachel Hoffman got into her Volvo sedan and headed north to a public park in Tallahassee, Florida. On the passenger seat beside her was a handbag that contained thirteen thousand dollars in marked bills.

She was not a trained narcotics operative. Perhaps what put her at ease was the knowledge that nineteen law-enforcement agents were tracking her every move, and that a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance plane was circling overhead.

Three weeks earlier, police officers had arrived at the door of her apartment after someone complained about the smell of marijuana. The cops seized slightly more than five ounces of pot and several Ecstasy and Valium pills. Hoffman could face serious prison time for felony charges.

The officer in charge, Ryan Pender, told her that she might be able to help herself if she provided “substantial assistance” to the city’s narcotics team. She believed that any charges against her could be reduced, or even dropped.

The operation did not go as planned. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. By the evening of her disappearance, Rachel Morningstar Hoffman had been working for the Tallahassee Police Department for almost three weeks. In bureaucratic terms, she was Confidential Informant No. 1129. In legal parlance, she was a “coöperator,” one of thousands of people who, each year, help the police build cases against others, often for the promise of leniency in the U.S. criminal-justice system.

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s are an inexpensive way of outsourcing the work of undercover officers.

Unlike wiretaps and other highly regulated investigative techniques, informants can be deployed without a warrant. Often, their efforts involve no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny. Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, sometimes as young as fourteen or fifteen. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used with striking disregard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.


CA DEATH SENTENCE OVERTURNED

The CA Supreme Court overturned Miguel Bacigalupo’s death sentence Monday due to unearthed evidence that the prosecution failed to present to the defense during the double murder trial. The court determined that there was a probability that the jury would have recommended life in prison without parole had the jurors heard the missing evidence.

The San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here are some clips:

In a unanimous ruling, the seven-member court, which seldom overturns California death sentences, ordered a new penalty phase trial for Miguel Bacigalupo, who was sent to death row for the 1983 slayings of two brothers in their San Jose jewelry store. The Supreme Court left Bacigalupo’s murder convictions intact, but concluded that prosecutorial misconduct could have altered the jury’s death sentence recommendation.

The Supreme Court largely followed the findings of a superior court judge assigned to explore allegations that the lead prosecutor, current Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joyce Allegro, and her lead investigator decades ago did not reveal crucial evidence to the defense that a Colombian drug cartel was involved in the crime.

“Substantial evidence supports the (lower court’s) determination and it is reasonably probable that petitioner’s penalty phase jury would have returned a verdict of life in prison without parole had it heard the evidence withheld by the prosecution,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote for the court.

[SNIP]

As with most of California’s more than 720 death row inmates, Bacigalupo’s appeal has languished in the state Supreme Court for more than 20 years, and his case has never even reached the federal courts, where cases typically take another decade to resolve.

Proposition 34 backers say this bogged-down system has become too costly for California to maintain. But death penalty supporters argue the punishment is still justified for the state’s most heinous murderers, and that the system would cost less if the courts processed appeals more swiftly.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Marijuana laws, PTSD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

LA Juvenile Probation Camp to Drop Well-known Sports Program, CA Supreme Court Rules Against Overlong Juvie Sentences, and More

August 20th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


EDITOR’S NOTE: For decades, LA County’s juvenile probation camp system has catastrophically failed most of the kids it took into its care, as demonstrated by the system’s lousy recidivism rate, its repeated scandals and multiple civil rights lawsuits, and the fact that the camps have been under Department of Justice scrutiny for more than a decade.

Now, however, LA County Probation (with the approval of the LA County Board of Supervisors) plans to completely redesign and rebuild one of its juvenile facilitates, Camp Kilpatrick, to the tune of $41 million. The idea is to transform the 50-year-old Malibu facility from its present dilapidated prison barracks-like atmosphere into a cluster of homey cottages, which will house therapeutic programs that borrow from the famed “Missouri Model”—developed by the State of Missouri, and hailed as the most widely respected juvenile justice system for rehabilitating kids in residential facilities.

The Missouri Model has already been replicated successfully in other locations including Washington, D.C. and Santa Clara, California.

The fact that LA County Probation plans to embrace some version of Missouri’s system is, of course, wonderful news—presuming that the County really follows through and, rather than make cosmetic changes, truly embraces a transformative model.

There is one other worry: Kilpatrick has offered one of the few bright spots in LA County’s otherwise dismal record with its juvenile facilities, and that is the camp’s sports program, which has been life-saving for many kids over the years, but is now slated for cancellation, as you’ll see from the story below.

We at WitnessLA applaud the proposed Kilpatrick transformation, and hope that LA County Probation, and related county agencies, find a way to stay faithful to their stated aspirations without killing Kirkpatrick’s sports program, which could be transferred to one of the other juvenile camps, at the very least.

We will, of course, continue to track this important story.


CAMP KILPATRICK RENOVATIONS DO NOT INCLUDE SPORTS PROGRAM

Camp Kilpatrick’s sports program will see it’s last season this fall before the facility undergoes rebuilding. Kilpatrick, currently the only juvenile detention facility in the county with a sports progam, will see renovations that provide more therapeutic conditions for the kids, but leave out the sports.

LA Times’ Sandy Banks has the story. Here’s a clip:

The sports program is simply collateral damage in a long-overdue campaign to make the troubled probation camps more responsive to delinquent teenagers’ needs.

“If we can get them to think in a more positive logical manner, in the long run they’ll make better decisions and won’t get themselves in trouble again,” Remington said.

But can’t a sports program teach those lessons, too? A bad attitude can get a player benched; a bad choice can get him dropped from the team.

Sports has plenty to offer wayward kids. Even probation honchos agree. “We certainly see the value in discipline, in learning to be a team member,” Remington said. “But no one has studied the sports program” to quantify its impact on delinquent kids.

So maybe it’s time they did — before they turn their camps into sports-free zones on the misguided notion that athletics don’t count and only “therapeutic” things make a difference.

It’s common sense that teenage boys need an outlet for their energy; a place to shine, a mandate to cooperate, a chance to see their teammates as comrades, not gang rivals.

The lessons camp therapists aim to teach — identifying strengths and weaknesses, setting and reaching goals, learning to say no to a short-term indulgence for the better long-term reward — are lessons teams learn through hours of practice, in the gym or on the field.

The probation department has made a mess of its calling over the years; mired in scandals and allegations of abuse, accused of doing nothing but warehousing kids.

This turn toward treatment is admirable, but the one-size-fits-all approach isn’t.

It’s the same sort of single-minded focus that’s hamstrung L.A. Unified schools, where the preoccupation with high-stakes testing has indeed improved academic performance. But in the process, it’s squeezed out other choices — art, music, vocational programs — that have been a lifeline for struggling kids.


CA SUPREME COURT RULES EXCESSIVE JUVIE SENTENCES UNCONSTITUTIONAL

The CA Supreme Court ruled last week that sentencing a juvenile to an excessive term of years that sets them up for a parole eligibility date past their life expectancy violates the Eight Amendment.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

That issue came up in a case out of Los Angeles County, in which a 16-year-old shot at three rival gang members, wounding one in the shoulder.

Rodrigo Caballero was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to three consecutive terms. That meant Caballero would first become eligible for parole after 110 years in prison. Caballero appealed his sentence, arguing it violated the Graham ruling, which “holds that the Eighth Amendment requires the state to afford the juvenile offender a ‘meaningful opportunity to obtain release.’”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the Graham ruling was not intended to apply to attempted murder cases, and technically, Caballero would eventually, should he live long enough, have the chance to get out.

California’s Supreme Court justices sided with Caballero, conlcluding that “sentencing a juvenile offender for a nonhomicide offense to a term of years with a parole eligibility date that falls outside the juvenile offender’s natural life expectancy constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

(The Caballero ruling can be found directly beneath the article text.)

SF Weekly’s Albert Samaha has an interesting take on both the CA Supreme Court decision and the Assembly’s passage of SB 9. Here’s a clip:

…The California Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional, ordering that juveniles guilty of non-homicide crimes get an opportunity for parole in their lifetime.

The ruling came the same day the state Assembly passed a bill, first proposed by state Senator Leland Yee, that would allow juveniles serving life without parole to request a court to bump the sentence down to 25-to-life.

Both events appear part of a gradual transformation of the California prison system, which already look much different than it did 10, even five, years ago.

Since October 2011 — two years after the U.S. Supreme Court found California prisons unconstitutionally overcrowded -- the state inmate population has dropped by more than 26,000, making the system now only 60 percent overcapacity. While that pace might not be fast enough for the state to hit its goal — 37.5 percent overcapacity by June 2013 — at least we now have fewer prisoners than Texas, to which we have passed the highest prison population crown. Those numbers don’t, however, account for the fact that the state simply shifted much of the overcrowding problem to county jails.


UPDATE ON CA PRISON OVERCROWDING

CA officials evaded a federal request for an prison population reduction schedule, and instead requested more time to meet the current June 2013 deadline of 137.5% capacity. (For those of you who haven’t been following the overcrowding situation, you can read the back-story here.)

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

In a legal brief filed late Friday, lawyers for the state called the threat of an inmate release order “unwarranted” and said it oversteps the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding population caps intended to correct horrific conditions within what was then the nation’s largest prison system.

The state ignores the court’s most recent order to provide information on how quickly it could begin releasing inmates. Instead, California asked a three-judge panel to suspend enforcement of crowding limits it now says it can’t meet.

The federal court’s goal is 137.5%, or no more than 112,000 inmates in prisons built to house 82,500 people. Lawyers for the state have warned jurists they do not expect to meet the June 30, 2013, deadline and will file a motion early next year seeking a higher cap.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, juvenile justice, Realignment, Sentencing | No Comments »

SCOTUS DNA Ruling, Clean Slate Day for Probationers, and More on the Life and Death of Rodney King

June 19th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


SCOTUS UPHOLDS CONVICTION OF MAN QUESTIONING DNA RELIABILITY

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the prosecuter’s crime lab analysts are not required to give live testimony as part of a defendant’s right to confront his accusers.

The LA Time’s David G. Savage has the story. Here’s a clip:

By a splintered 5-4 vote, the justices upheld the conviction of a Chicago rapist who was found guilty based on a DNA match done by a crime lab in Maryland. The majority said the expert testimony provided by an Illinois police lab analyst was sufficient.

The ruling came as the court entered the last two weeks of its term. Major rulings on healthcare, immigration and broadcast indecency are still pending. The justices will hand down decisions Thursday and again on several days next week. The court’s partial retreat in Williams vs. Illinois is a victory for prosecutors and state lawyers.

The 6th Amendment says the accused “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Justice Antonin Scalia had led a revival of this right and said it applied not just to the eyewitnesses of a crime, but to all people who provided crucial testimony for the prosecution.


PROBATIONERS GET A NEW START WITH CLEAN SLATE DAY

California lawbreakers have to deal with the stigma of their criminal history in a multitude of ways. One of the biggest is the difficulties that a criminal record creates where the job market is concerned. Last week in the Bay area, some of those convicted of low level crimes and given probation had a chance to partially clean up their records through a program called Clean Slate Day, which—in addition to expungement—offers those attending a bunch of resources designed to help them reintegrate more successfully back into society.

SF Gate’s Carolyn Said has the story. Here’s a clip:

Advocates say the need for a fresh start is more acute than ever, as most major employers now require background checks, even as the number of people convicted of crimes continues to rise, in part spurred by stringent drug-sentencing laws.

A quarter of all adult Americans have an arrest or conviction that could show up on a background check, said Jessie Warner, director of re-entry legal services and policy for Rubicon Programs, a social-service agency that helps low-income people achieve financial independence.

No longer being stigmatized by past convictions “can make a huge difference between low-wage work and career development,” she said. “It’s a life-changing moment for a lot of clients.”

Thursday’s Clean Slate Day – run by Rubicon, the East Bay Community Law Center, Bay Area Legal Aid and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights – was part of a larger Homeless Connect event at the Willow Pass Community Center that offered a range of services for low-income people – free haircuts and dental care, a DMV counter, wheelchair/bicycle repairs and meetings with social-service providers. The event, which drew more than 700 people, had a county fair feel with free barbecue and rows of tents where agencies met with people and handed out brochures.


LA MAGAZINE’S ED LEIBOWITZ ON KING’S LIFE AND DEATH

Ed Leibowitz wrote a controversial yet definitive profile on Rodney King for LA Magazine in 1999.. He writes again on King for LA Mag. giving his take on the life AND death of King. Although we wrote on King’ death last night, we felt Leibowitz’s piece demanded another round. Here’s how it opens:

For a long time after I’d written a profile about Rodney King for the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1999, I kept a message he’d left on my answering machine. I erased it accidentally about four years after it was recorded, but I still remember it—how earnest, gentle and hesitant his voice sounded, such a contrast to the PCP-crazed inner-city monster that the jurors bought at the 1992 Simi Valley trial. “Hey, Ed. It’s Rodney, a little late. Yeah, I think I am going surfing this morning. I’m not going as early as I thought I was, but if you want to come, give me a call.”

Read the rest.


Photo by Charles Dharapak for AP

Posted in California Supreme Court, crime and punishment, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Probation, Reentry, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

The California Supremes and Prop 8, Lara Logan and More

February 16th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT WILL CONSIDER WHETHER TO RULE ON CRUCIAL PROP 8 ISSUE ON WEDNESDAY

The LA Times has the story.

The California Supreme Court will decide Wednesday whether to plunge back into the legal battle over same-sex marriage.

The state high court, meeting in closed session, will review a request by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether Proposition 8’s sponsors have legal authority to defend the ballot measure.

Depending on the court’s ruling, the 9th Circuit could either dismiss the Proposition 8 appeal on procedural grounds — limiting the case’s effect to California — or rule on federal constitutional questions that would affect same-sex marriage throughout the country.

UPDATE: THE SUPREMES SAID YES, THEY’RE GOING FOR IT.


LARA LOGAN IS BEATEN AND SEXUALLY ASSAULTED IN CAIRO & THE LA WEEKLY REPORTS BADLY

Could the LA Weekly’s reporting on Lara Logan’s beating and horrific sexual assault possibly be any more staggeringly insensitive?

This is not the time for a hip, snappy tone, people. Good lord. The post felt creepily assaultive itself.


@GOOD ASKS WHAT THE ROLE OF THE PRISON SYSTEM SHOULD BE

Go and quickly tweet your answer to @GOOD, aka Good Magazine, and they’ll post the best of the answers later today.


A FRIEND OF BRADLY MANNING, SUSPECTED WIKILEAKS SOURCE, ALLEGES TORTURE

Torture comes in many forms, some of it legal.

Democracy Now has the story.


AFTER CUIDAD JUAREZ POET IS HERSELF FOUND DEAD, POETS RESPOND

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes:

It took the death of a poet for me to sit up and wonder what the hell is going on in Ciudad Juarez. I’d talked to the L.A. painter Victoria Delgadillo at length over the years about the unsolved murders of women in Juarez. She’d told me about the local artist she’d taken to Juarez and the art they’d created to memorialize the women and to stop the killings.

About a month ago a friend from San Diego emailed me a Mexican newspaper article detailing that Susana Chavez – the 36 year old Ciudad Juarez poet and activist who’d coined the phrase “Not one more death!” in outrage at the unsolved murders – had been found dead, her hand severed and a plastic bag around her head. That’s one of the signatures left in drug killings.

….They’re killing poets in Juarez???!!! WTF! It reminded me of the maddening story in Murder City by Charles Bowden. The cartels begin dumping bodies in a neighborhood park. A resident puts up a sign urging the killers to stop dumping bodies in the park. That resident is killed. The drug dealers know fear works.

What can we do? I asked the writer Gloria Alvarez when I ran into her a few days after hearing of the poet’s killing. Let’s organize a reading, we agreed. Eastside Café, the 8-year old El Sereno storefront community center hosted it last Saturday night….

Click here to read the rest—including much of the poetry presented Saturday night.


Photo by Raquel Salinas

Posted in American artists, California Supreme Court, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LGBT, Life in general, literature, media, writers and writing | 10 Comments »

The Filter: Immigration and Tuition, and Moral Insanity of Senators

October 7th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Here is the video for Wednesday night’s segment of The Filter with Fred Roggin.

On this show, Fred asked me about two issues:

1. The first topic had to do with a case that reached the California Supreme Court on Tuesday in which 42 out-of-state students challenged the right of undocumented California kids to attend the state’s public universities—not for free—but to pay only in-state tuition as opposed to out-of-state tuition, which those who live OUT-OF-STATE have to pay. (Duh.) (For more background see the report by the SF Chronicle.)

For me this is a no-brainer. (Among other things, denying smart, high achieving California kids—legal or illegal—the possibility of affordable entry to college, is—as my mother would say—penny wise and pound foolish to the max. (Okay, she wouldn’t say “to the max.”)

But even if the 42 out-of-staters do not prevail with the California Supremes, the case will likely go to SCOTUS, which is more conservative than the California high court.

Anyway, watch the segment.


2. The second topic was a set of remarks that South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint made six years ago in which he said that gays and unmarried pregnant women should not be allowed to teach in public schools.

At a rally on Friday he was confronted with the remarks, and rather than walking them back, astonishingly, he reaffirmed them. (Fox news has a story on the incident.)

Everything one needs to know about DeMint’s vile and arrogant bigotry can be summed up by the fact that at least 6–possibly as many as 9—American teenage boys killed themselves in the month of September because they had been harassed and bullied for their sexual preferences. Two of those boys were 13-years old.

How are boys and girls struggling to come to terms with their sexuality supposed to react when US senators are unapologetically vocal about their belief that gays and lesbians are somehow less than fully human?

So what do I think of what Jim DeMint said? I think he has blood on his hands. And the blood belongs to American kids. Our kids.

What do you think?


AND IN OTHER NEWS……THE FUNERAL PROTESTERS CASE/FREE SPEECH CASE BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT

Nearly everyone who could pack into the SCOTUS courtroom was busy reporting on Wednesday’s hearing involving the hate-mongering funeral protesters.

But for my money, if you have to read only one bout of coverage on yesterday’s hearing (in which the court seemed to be siding, at least to some degree, against the Westboro Baptist Church), I’d opt for Dahlia Lithwick’s in Slate.

(And, if you have time for more than one report, there’s also Adam Liptak of the NY Times and David Savage of the LA Times.

Here are some clips from Lithwick:

Quick constitutional pop quiz: What do you hate? (And by you, I mean you.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in California Supreme Court, Education, immigration, LGBT, The Filter | 5 Comments »

Wednesday Must Reads

October 6th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



THIS WEEK SCOTUS DECIDES WHETHER A MAN EXONERATED OF CAPITAL MURDER CAN SUE THE PROSECUTOR WHO HID EVIDENCE TO CONVICT HIM

John Holloway at Slate has the sobering tale behind the case involving John Thompson, who was nearly executed for the crime of capital murder, his conviction based on paid-off “witnesses,” and evidence made to vanish, all under the watch of a dapper New Orleans district attorney and sometimes singer named Harry Connick Sr. (And, yes, the DA’s son is that other Harry Connick.)


Here’s one of the better paragraphs from the Holloway story.

How is new evidence uncovered? This is how: a private investigator hired by lawyers looking for a miracle charms her way into a lab and flips through thousands of pieces of microfiche looking for a blood test whose existence has been repeatedly denied by the DA’s office. She doesn’t blink, or wander, or doze off at the wrong time. And when she finds it, she makes several copies of it and gets the hell out of Dodge to call the lawyers.

Tenacity, boobs, and luck.

The Supremes will hear arguments in Connick v. Thompson, on Wednesday.


SECOND SUICIDE IN LA COUNTY JAIL IN TWO DAYS

What in the worlds is going on? Here’s a link to the LA Times story.

An inmate killed himself Tuesday at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, the second suicide at the facility in as many days.

In Tuesday’s incident, the 29-year-old was pronounced dead at the jail after he was discovered around 5:20 a.m., the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.

The man, described as a gang member, pleaded guilty last year to assault with a deadly weapon and received a 21-year sentence. He was also found guilty of robberies and carjacking and was scheduled to be sentenced Friday for those crimes, the department said. His name was not released…..


These back-to-back jail suicides call to mind
a July 2010 report by the Office of Independent Review, which noted there was an uptick in suicides in the county’s jail system and, while many suicides were prevented by deputy vigilance, the OIR documented a terrible case of neglect and falsified records that arguably allowed a young man named John Horton to kill himself last year, when it was well known he was at risk.

It is hard to know what if anything these two suicides signify. But the issue bears watching.


LA TIMES ENDORSES COOLEY FOR AG AND MAKES AN INTERESTING CASE AS TO WHY.

The endorsement is here.
As much as have disagreed with Cooley on certain issues, I think they have a point.


NY TIMES’ DAVID CARR WRITES ABOUT A “BANKRUPT CULTURE” AT ZELL’S TRIBUNE CO, AND BOOB-GAWKER, RANDY MICHAELS, FIRES BACK WILDLY AT THE MESSENGER

Okay, first the opening of David Carr’s devastating story about the Tribune Co, which runs in Wednesday’s NY Times (and which many say shows only the tip o’ the iceberg in terms of the cringe-making craziness of Zellworld):

In January 2008, soon after the venerable Tribune Company was sold for $8.2 billion, Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel next to the Tribune Tower in Chicago, David Carr writes in The New York Times.

Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.

After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.

“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”…

Now read Randy Michaels’ whacked-out preemptive memo about the Carr story, courtesy of LA Observed.


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES HEAR FIGHT OVER UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS AND STATE TUITION

The SF Chronicle has the story:

The issue of benefits for illegal immigrants landed at the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, as out-of-state students challenged a law allowing anyone who has graduated from a California high school to pay in-state tuition at a public university, regardless of immigration status.

The 2002 law, intended to encourage youngsters to attend college, enables undocumented students to pay the same lower fees as other state residents – at the University of California, $11,300 instead of $34,000 a year.

A lawyer for 42 non-Californians who pay the higher fees at UC, state university and community college campuses argued that the statute is discriminatory and violates federal immigration law…..


LA MAG HOSTS LAW & ORDER’S DICK WOLF FOR EARLY MORNING SALON/CHAT

I meant to be at this event but was horridly cold ridden so didn’t go at the last minute. Fortunately, Kevin Roderick has a report.

Los Angeles moved its periodic breakfast series to Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills for this morning’s session with the creator of “Law and Order: Los Angeles.” Wolf regaled the likes of City Council president Eric Garcetti, exiting Bon Appetit editor Barbara Fairchild and NBC correspondent Josh Mankiewicz with behind-the-scenes stories from the show….


DOES TEA PARTY = POT PARTY?

Josh Harkinson from Mother Jones says it does.

Here’s a clip:

Last month in the nation’s capital, Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico and outspoken critic of big government, took the podium at Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally to talk up economic issues. He warmed up the crowd of tea partiers with tales of how he’d fended off unnecessary state spending through liberal use of the veto stamp, and how he’d boosted educational competition through charter schools. Then Johnson dropped a bomb. “Half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons is drug related,” he proclaimed. “I suggest that legalizing marijuana will make this country a better place.”

The crowd erupted in a clash of boos and applause—evidence, Johnson told me later, that the tea party is ripe for debate on the issue. “What the tea party talks about is wise spending,” he said, adding that the war on drugs was certainly no better a deal than Social Security or Medicare. The tea party’s libertarian elements, he noted, have already led to the unthinkable: “You find more Republican candidates right now espousing legalization of marijuana than you do Democrats.”


Posted in California Supreme Court, crime and punishment, criminal justice, immigration, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, Marijuana laws, media | 4 Comments »

Til Cowardly Ruling Do We Part

June 14th, 2009 by

george

    Should voters toss the chief justice in 2010?

It doesn’t take a legal scholar to point out the obvious reason why the California Supreme Court, led by Ron George, got it so wrong in their ruling that denied gays the right to marry. They saw the ghost of Rose Bird and feared the anti-gay-rights mob would recall them.

George et al continues to fool some of my better-informed friends and colleagues, including the editorial writers at the L.A. Times. For amusement — and motivation to act — check out today’s solo editorial, which seeks to draw lessons of a corrupt West Virginia high court jurist for California. We’re advised, of course, not to recall George in 2010 because it’s not like he was on the take from corporate interests when he bungled the gay-marriage ruling. Nice logic if you believe money trumps rights.

The cowardly George takes hero status in the editorial for bowing to the will of the people only months after upholding the legal foundation of same-sex unions. Maybe we should induct him into the Flip Floppers Hall of Fame when we vote to keep him on the high court next year.

In the gay-marriage cases, George’s votes demonstrated conscience, professionalism and restraint. He voted to uphold same-sex unions out of the strong conviction — which this page shares — that the Constitution does not allow society to deny the protection of marriage to gay couples any more than it once denied it to those united across race. The ruling was right on the law, and will certainly be validated over the long march of history.

Months later, voters tacked in the other direction, narrowly rejecting gay marriage and amending the Constitution to allow California to recognize only the unions of heterosexual couples… George subordinated his politics — as evidenced by his writing — to the weight of constitutional opinion. He voted to uphold the proposition, even though it undid his own work. Permitted latitude within the strictures of the Constitution in the first case, George was able to vote his conscience; bound by the Constitution in the second case, he yielded…

This is not West Virginia. Corporate interests are not knocking off justices who disagree with them and seating more accommodating replacements. But intimidation has no place in our judicial life any more than it does in Appalachia. The 1986 campaign against Bird and her colleagues now stands for many as a reminder that well-intentioned systems of accountability may be hijacked by special interests, a lesson learned too often and at great cost in California. It was misguided in its first iteration; it would be regrettable in its second.

In fact, maybe it’s worse — or at least as bad — as in West Virginia.

Posted in California Supreme Court, Los Angeles Times | 22 Comments »

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