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LA Jail Settlement over Disabilities Law, Drunk CA Prison Guards with Guns, Recording Studio in Juvie Lock-up, and Gradual Reentry

March 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US DISTRICT JUDGE OKAYS LA COUNTY SETTLEMENT OVER NONCOMPLIANCE WITH AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson gave the final approval for an LA Sheriff’s Department settlement of a federal class action lawsuit alleging jail conditions that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Peter Johnson, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was arrested for petty theft in 2007. Johnson was shot in the spine when he was fifteen, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down and wheelchair-bound. There were no accessible toilets in the inmate reception center, so for more than 8 hours while being booked into jail, Johnson had to sit in his own waste. Neither were there accessible drinking fountains. Jail officials took Johnson’s personal wheelchair and replaced it with a broken jail-issued wheelchair. The seat was falling out, and there were no foot rests, so Johnson’s feet dragged on the floor. And because there were no brakes, Johnson would fall onto the floor when he tried to move from the chair to the bed or toilet.

Although, the battle over the lawsuit raged for the last seven years, the suit has, nonetheless, stimulated the county to make recent major changes to jail facilities’ accessibility for inmates with mobility disabilities.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell told ABC7 on a recent jail visit, “You’ve got to provide a location that is humane. You’ve got to treat people as well as you can treat them. When you look at the environment we’re in–ADA compliance, all of those issues–these facilities were built before any of those rules were in place.”

Here’s a clip from the Disability Rights Legal Center’s announcement detailing the progress:

The settlement has already resulted in significant changes in the massive jail system, including the construction of wheelchair accessible toilets in the Inmate Reception Center, new housing for inmates with disabilities in the jail’s Twin Towers complex, nearly doubling the jail’s capacity to accommodate inmates with mobility impairments, and a new system to deliver working wheelchairs to inmates. The County has also agreed to provide equal access to employment, educational and vocational programs, offer physical therapy in the jail, appoint an ADA coordinator to address complaints from inmates or family members, and create a new ADA complaint system that will allow secondary review of wheelchair accommodations.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the sheriff’s department said, “As exemplified by the settlement and its approval by the Court, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is committed to complying with the American’s with Disabilities Act, which includes housing mobility impaired inmates in accessible locations in the jails.”

Melinda Bird, Litigation Director for Disability Rights California, talked about the settlement as a “tribute to the persistence and courage of people like Mr. Johnson, who spoke out for the rights of people with disabilities…”

The ACLU SoCal’s Jessica Price said, “This settlement is a huge step in the right direction towards ensuring that inmates with mobility disabilities receive basic accommodations, but it is just the beginning. Now inmates, their family members, the Office of the Inspector General, and the lawyers must be vigilant to ensure these important protections are enforced.”


CDCR’S INSPECTOR GENERAL SEZ DEPT. NEEDS TO REVOKE CONCEALED CARRY PERMITS FOR DRUNKEN, GUN-WEILDING PRISON GUARDS

In a recent report, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Inspector General Robert Barton said many California prison guards are having trouble refraining from drunkenly brandishing their weapons in public, shooting them, and leaving them in their kids’ toy chests (yes, really).

This is the third time Barton has called on the CDCR to put a policy in place to revoke prison guards’ concealed carry permits when they are found to be carrying firearms while drunk.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Such behavior is not only dangerous to the public but brings discredit to the department,” Inspector General Robert Barton wrote in a report that tracks departmental and criminal investigations of Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees…

It’s the third time Barton has made the recommendation in the last 18 months, but the department said in its response that it is still working on “a statewide, comprehensive policy to address the issues surrounding concealed weapons permits.”

Meanwhile, Barton said the incidents keep piling up:

— A correctional officer was found to have a handgun in his pants pocket when he was arrested for being drunk and urinating outside a business.

— An officer was arrested for child endangerment after he drunkenly left guns scattered around his house where his three children could find them, including a loaded firearm in a toy box…


RECORDING STUDIO AN EMOTIONAL OUTLET FOR KIDS IN SF JUVENILE LOCK-UP

The San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department and the nonprofit Sunset Youth Services have teamed up to bring music recording equipment to kids in juvenile detention.

Through the unique program, locked-up kids record their own songs using one of Sunset’s mobile recording studios. The non-profit’s record label, UpStar, is run by at-risk kids and young adults, and has recently expanded into SF’s Juvenile Justice Center. UpStar provides a therapeutic outlet for kids behind bars, as well as those on the outside, to work through their emotions and past traumas.

The San Francisco Examiner’s Laura Dudnick has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Luis Recinos, director of the Juvenile Justice Center, said the partnership aligns with the center’s goal to give kids as many opportunities as possible while in custody. “Sometimes it takes a program such as this to spark something in them that changes the way that they want to live their lives,” Recinos said.

The recording equipment kept at the Juvenile Justice Center is one of Sunset Youth Services’ two mobile recording studios, which includes a portable sound booth and computer.

The mobile studios are also brought to San Francisco high schools for students to record music on their lunch breaks.
But professional-quality recording studios at the Sunset Youth Services center on Judah Street at 44th Avenue is where much of the music magic happens. There, in the brightly decorated facility, at-risk youths and young adults are offered hands-on experience recording, mixing, mastering, releasing, distributing and promoting their own music and videos.

Sunset Youth Services’ youth-run label UpStar Studios has even produced five albums that are annual compilations of the best work created by musically inclined, at-risk youths.

Through speaking with teens at the Sunset district center — many of whom are on probation — Dawn and Ron Stueckle, who co-founded what would become Sunset Youth Services in 1992, moved forward last year to bring the music to the juvenile inmates.

The program at juvenile hall allows inmates to use the recording equipment three days a week.

“Kids from different units on different days [gather] to record with staff,” Dawn Stueckle said. “What we’re doing right now is giving kids an opportunity to just write their own songs and learn the gear.”

Another male inmate at the Juvenile Justice Center, age 16, has been using the mobile recording studio since it arrived late last year. Before he was in custody, the youth first learned of Sunset Youth Services at age 14 through a friend.

“I grew up kind of troubled, but I always tried to make it better,” the Mission native said. “I didn’t find an outlet up until I came to Sunset Youth Services, where I could finally express all my anger.”

The 16-year-old participated in an internship at Sunset Youth Services before being hired as a studio technician, specializing in beat production.

His lyrics chronicle his personal experiences leading up to his life at the juvenile facility.
“Even tho I’m looked down my name is said thru all my fans / Shot at but never ran and I made another year / three bullets hit my body but I still ain’t got a fear.”

“We want the kids to make music they’re proud of ... but our goal is bigger than music,” Dawn Stueckle explained. “Music is the vehicle by which we can gain entry into their lives and begin to earn trust, and earn the right to journey with them and support them over the long haul.”


MERITS OF CAREFULLY LEADING OFFENDERS THROUGH GRADUAL REENTRY HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT

Vox’ Mark Kleiman, Angela Hawken, and Ross Halperin have a lengthy, but worthwhile essay exploring graduated reentry services (incremental freedom through housing and employment) as a way to greatly reduce mass incarceration and the seemingly neverending cycle of recidivism.

Here’s a clip:

Start with housing. A substantial fraction of prison releasees go from a cellblock to living under a bridge: not a good way to start free life. Spend some of the money that would otherwise have financed a prison cell to rent a small, sparsely furnished efficiency apartment. In some ways, that apartment is still a cell and the offender still a prisoner. He can’t leave it or have visitors except as specifically permitted. The unit has cameras inside and is subject to search. But he doesn’t need guards, and doesn’t have to worry about prison gangs or inmate-on-inmate assault.

Drug testing and sanctions can avoid relapse to problem drug use; GPS monitoring can show where the re-entrant is all the time, which in turn makes it easy to know whether he’s at work when he’s supposed to be at work and at home when he’s supposed to be at home. This makes curfews enforceable and keeps him away from personal “no-go” zones (the street corner where he used to deal, the vicinity of his victim’s residence). GPS would also place him at the scene of any new crime he might commit, thus drastically reducing his chances of getting away with it and therefore his willingness to take the gamble.

The apartment functions as a prison without bars.

In some ways, it’s a fairly grim existence, especially at the beginning: the offender starts off under a strict curfew, allowed out only for work, job hunting, and necessary personal business (food shopping, medical care, service appointments), as well as to meet the correctional officer in charge of his supervision. And he’s required to work full-time at a public-service job, earning a little less than the minimum wage. On top of that, he has to spend time looking for an ordinary paying job (being supplied with appropriate clothing and some coaching in how to do a job search). He never touches money except for small change; he makes purchases as needed with an EBT or debit card, and only for approved items. The “no-cash” rule both makes it harder to buy drugs or a gun and reduces the benefits of criminal activity. Since he’s eating at home, he needs food, some minimal kitchen equipment, and perhaps some simple cooking lessons. (Whether groceries are delivered or whether he’s expected to shop for his own food right away is another detail to work out.)

Minor violations — staying out beyond curfew, using alcohol or other drugs, missing work or misbehaving at work, missing appointments — can be sanctioned by temporary tightening of restrictions, or even a couple of days back behind bars, in addition to slowing the offender’s progress toward liberty. Major violations — serious new offenses, attempts to avoid supervision by removing position-monitoring gear — lead to immediate termination from the program and return to prison. Not, on the whole, an easy life. But it’s much simpler than the challenge of a sudden transition from prison to the street.

Moreover, if you were to ask a prisoner who has now served two years of a five-year sentence (for drug dealing, say, or burglary), “Would you like to get out of prison right now and into the situation I just described?” the odds of his saying “Yes” would be excellent. And if he didn’t, his cellmate would. Indeed, entry to the program could be offered as a reward for good behavior in prison, improving matters for those still “inside” — and those guarding them — as well as those released.

And — this is the central point — the offender’s freedom increases over time, as long as he does what he’s supposed to do.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, guns, Inspector General, LA County Jail, LASD | No Comments »

Homeboy’s New Digs, Appealing Compassionate Release Denials, Today’s Faces of Civil Rights…and More

March 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY SPREADS INTO NEW BUILDING TO RAMP UP SERVICES FOR FORMER GANG MEMBERS

Homeboy Industries—the gang recovery program founded by Father Greg Boyle that, for over 25 years, has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—has bought a much-needed new building that will add 6,000 square feet of space in which to provide employment, job training, and other crucial services.

Homeboy’s financial situation is on the upswing after a drastic downsizing in 2010, but the program still only receives 2% of their budget from government money.

The LA Times’ Brittny Mejia has the story. Here are some clips:

The desperately needed new space will provide welcome relief and allow Homeboy to provide better services to existing clients, said Thomas Vozzo, Homeboy’s chief executive. In addition to job training and counseling, Homeboy provides mental health services as well as job placement, tattoo removal and educational services.

“With that steady financial footing we’ve been on over the last couple of years, it’s time to take on a little bit of an expansion,” Vozzo said.

For all the praise Homeboy Industries has received for its work, it has struggled to raise revenue. The recession saw private donations drop, and the number of jobs available for graduates of Homeboy’s various programs declined.

Boyle conceded that he had to think more like a businessman.

Homeboy’s board of directors has raised $10 million in each of the last two years through individual donors and foundations and has even managed to build up a reserve. Homeboy also has received a $600,000 line of credit and a $700,000 loan for the new building acquisition through Wells Fargo.

But the expansion doesn’t reduce the need for funds — the program receives less than 2% in government funding, Vozzo said. More space, for example, doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to serve more trainees.

“By getting that one building there, it’s not going to allow us to have more people in our program, it’s just going to allow us to do a better job of providing them services in a better environment,” Vozzo said.

Homeboy Industries is planning a grand opening for the new building in April, with the full facility occupied in May. The goal is to eventually take over a whole city block in Chinatown, where the organization can construct a larger building and provide more services to more people, Vozzo added.

For now, employees and volunteers are forced to get creative with space…


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT SEZ INMATES CAN APPEAL WHEN THEY ARE DENIED COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

Late last week, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state prisoners with terminal illnesses could appeal a judge’s decision to deny them compassionate release. The decision overturned a lower court decision that only the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could appeal a denial of the state parole board’s recommendation of a prisoner for medical parole.

The Associated Press has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

A few dozen inmates were recommended for a release annually between 1991 and 2009, according to statistics filed with the court by the prisoner advocacy group Justice Now. In an effort to ease prison overcrowding and cut costs, state lawmakers have made more incapacitated and ill inmates eligible for early release.

The ruling was made in the case of James Alden Loper, a San Diego man sentenced to six years in prison for insurance fraud in 2011. The next year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recommended he be released because of health reasons, including incurable heart disease.

But a San Diego judge refused to let the agency release Loper after a prison doctor testified that it was unclear how long Loper had left to live…


FIFTY YEARS LATER, THE CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATES FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY STILL MISSING IN THE UNITED STATES

Here are three things out of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights that we didn’t want you to miss…

The LA Times’ Matt Pearce and Kurtis Lee have a group of profiles on this era’s newly emerging civil rights leaders. The list includes Michelle Alexander, the author of the New Jim Crow, Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life, Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now (and #BlackLivesMatter), Bryan Stevenson, MacAurthur “Genius” and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Fania Davis, founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, as well as heavy hitters in immigration reform and LGBTQ rights.

Here are clips from two of the profiles, but do go read the rest:

Patrisse Cullors
CO-FOUNDER OF #BLACKLIVESMATTER
AGE: 31
LOS ANGELES

A self-described “freedom fighter” and “wife of Harriet Tubman,” Cullors founded the group Dignity and Power Now in 2012 to battle for law enforcement reform in Los Angeles County. Cullors came up with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in 2013 of criminal charges for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. The #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign she helped foster caught on in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in 2014 at the hands of a police officer.

“This post-racial Obama era has sort of bamboozled a lot of us into thinking that we’ve come much further than we actually have,” Cullors told California Sunday recently, explaining the significance of the #BlackLivesMatter message. “Obviously we haven’t had enough both talk and practice around what it means to save black lives, because we keep dying. We need to stop being fearful of talking about ourselves.”

Bryan Stevenson
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
AGE: 55
MONTGOMERY, ALA.

Stevenson belongs to a wave of civil rights advocates who focus on prison reform. A MacArthur “genius” grant winner and a Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate, Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative represent death-row prisoners in the Deep South and advocate on behalf of young or poor prisoners. His 2012 TED talk in Long Beach, titled, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice,” has been watched more than 2 million times.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” Stevenson said in the talk. “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”


WHY BLACK AMERICANS ARE AFRAID OF THE POLICE

Nikole Hannah-Jones has a thought-provoking essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine illustrating the rift between black Americans and white Americans on the subject of the cops who are supposed to “protect and serve,” but often instead stop-and-frisk, harass and detain, and even kill black Americans at highly disproportionate rates.

Here’s how it opens:

Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.

Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.

I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.

The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.

“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.

Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.

“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”

My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.

We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.

As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS TWEETS HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND PHOTOS OF BLOODY SUNDAY

By the way, Congressman John Lewis live-tweeted Bloody Sunday anniversary with his own memories and photos from the march. We highly recommend reading through them.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, Civil Rights, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, racial justice | No Comments »

Prison Tech, Prez Nominates Deputy Mayor for US Attorney, Disabled in Isolation, Public Defenders’ Unconscious Bias

February 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SMUGGLED CELL PHONES CONNECT PRISONERS WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD…PLUS SAN QUENTIN’S CODING CLASS

A three part series for Fusion by Kevin Roose and Pendarvis Harshaw explores digital tech issues in the criminal justice system.

Part one takes a look at the seemingly limitless flow of contraband cell phones, which inmates use for everything from to coordinating hunger strikes between prisons, to checking in with loved ones, to recording comedic vine videos. Here are some clips:

A month-long Fusion investigation turned up dozens of social media profiles of inmates currently serving time in several states, many of whom were frequent users of the services in question. Some inmates appeared to be accessing the Internet through proxies – a family member who had the inmate’s Facebook password, for example, and was using the account to relay messages – while other inmates appeared to be accessing the sites directly from their cells.

“Been on lock down for two weeks…going into the third week. Letters would be great. Money would be a blessing. If I have to choke down one more bologna sandwich I think I might snap….,” wrote one Facebook user last October. The user, whose name matches that of a current federal prisoner in West Virginia, appears to have posted to his Facebook profile from two other prisons where he was previously housed.

“Hello everyone, wanted to say hi and let u know I’m currently on an extended lock-down,” wrote another federal inmate, who is serving time for armed robbery at a high-security facility in Texas. “Dont worry I’m nit [sic] in trouble the lock-down is due to a big incident that happened between two gangs at my location,” the inmate wrote….

Other social networks, too, are filled with evidence of contraband activity. One Vine user, who goes by “Acie Bandage,” has posted dozens of six-second videos of himself and his fellow inmates dancing, goofing off, and doing impersonations from their prison cells. (The user wraps a bandage around his face during the videos to disguise his identity — click here to see more of his videos, which are really quite something.)

[SNIP]

Beyond the pragmatic safety issues, there are philosophical questions about the role digital culture should play in the criminal justice system. In 2015, as technology forms the base layer of culture, communication, and education, is it cruel and unusual to cut prisoners off from the entire online universe? What’s the role of technology in rehabilitation? If the purpose of a prison is to restrict an offender’s movement and keep him from causing further harm to the general population, should those restrictions apply just to the physical body? Or should his virtual self be imprisoned, too?

The second story explores the issue of teaching inmates technology in prison, for job seeking purposes, and also so that they can more easily reenter their digitally-connected communities.

Roose and Harshaw focus on Code 7370, a coding program put on by the Last Mile, in partnership with Hack Reactor and the California Prison Industry Authority. While the vocational program at San Quentin State Prison does not directly connect participants to the internet, their completed coursework is tested on an administrator’s computer and projected onto a screen. And although there do not seem to be many pre-release programs to teach inmates the basic tech skills they will need to thrive on the outside, yet, the calls for such training are growing louder. Here’s a clip:

For former inmates, the transition out of prison and into the 21st century can be jarring. Many newly paroled inmates, especially those who served long sentences, have never sent an e-mail, used a smartphone, or filled out an online form. The unfamiliarity of these systems can create hurdles when it comes to mundane tasks, such as buying groceries from the self-checkout aisle at the store or using an electronic subway pass. And when it comes to applying for jobs, small hurdles can turn into huge obstacles.

The post-prison lives of inmates are rarely easy, technology problems or no. 77 percent of ex-convicts are arrested again within a 5 year period of being released, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice. But numerous studies have shown that vocational training and educational opportunities, like those offered by The Last Mile, can help keep ex-inmates from returning to prison. A 2010 study by The Rand Corporation showed that fewer than half of incarcerated people receive academic instruction while behind bars. Those who do receive educational or vocational training, though, are 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders, and 28 percent more likely to land a job.

One graduate of The Last Mile, Kenyatta Leal, got his first smartphone shortly after being released from San Quentin, where he served the last part of a 19-year sentence for firearms possession. Leal, 46, was no stranger to technology – years before, he’d been given 40 days of isolation in “the hole” as punishment for having a cell phone in prison – but he’d never had a phone capable of downloading apps, streaming music, and sending e-mail. In his new job at RocketSpace, a San Francisco tech co-working space whose founder hired Leal after meeting him in Code 7370, he realized he would need to catch up.

“I didn’t have any tech skills, but I had bust-my-ass skills,” says Leal. “My boss gave me a Galaxy III on my first day, and I took it home, figured out YouTube, and watched, like, four different videos on how to send an e-mail.”


LA DEPUTY MAYOR, EILEEN MAURA DECKER, TAPPED TO BE NEXT US ATTORNEY FOR CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CA

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama nominated Eileen Maura Decker to be US Attorney of California’s Central District. Decker is a former federal prosecutor and currently serves as Los Angeles’ deputy mayor on law enforcement and public safety.

Decker would take the place former US Attorney André Birotte Jr., who was sworn in as the newest judge of the federal District Court in Los Angeles in October.

The Associated Press’ Brian Melley has more on Decker’s nomination and background. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Eric Garcetti credited Decker’s leadership with bringing crime to a historic low in the city, overhauling the fire department and making the city a model for disaster preparedness.

“Our office will miss her work and I will personally miss her, but I am glad that her new position keeps her in the business of keeping L.A. safe,” Garcetti said.

Decker was recommended for the post by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she was highly qualified to work with federal, state and local law enforcement in a region of 19 million people that spans from Orange County to San Luis Obispo and the Inland Empire.

Decker, 54, who earned her undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, started her legal career in private practice in 1990.

She worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor for two years, returned to private practice and then became an assistant U.S. attorney in 1995, where she prosecuted cases involving national security, fraud and organized crime. She also has a master’s degree from the Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey.


FED. JUDGE SEZ STOP WAREHOUSING DISABLED CALIFORNIA PRISONERS IN ISOLATION

An Oakland federal judge has ordered California prisons to discontinue sticking disabled inmates in solitary confinement due to lack of space elsewhere in the facility. Judge Claudia Wilken says a number of state prisons are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that San Diego’s R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the most egregious violator. Wilken is currently hearing a class-action lawsuit against California’s solitary confinement practices.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lawyers for prisoners and the state in 2012 had agreed on a plan to find more suitable housing within the state’s crowded prison system. Even so, Wilken found, prison logs showed 211 disabled inmates had been put in the isolation cells in the past year, spending from one day to one month in the units. Most of those cases were at one prison — R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the corrections department, said the agency was reviewing the court’s order but otherwise did not comment.

Lawyers for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, representing the corrections department, argued in court that the problems at the San Diego prison would best be resolved internally by state policy changes.

A corrections department administrator said the housing assignments were temporary as the state copes with unplanned need to move 400 to 600 inmates between prisons every week, some the result of other court orders to relocate prisoners at risk of contracting valley fever or to receive mental health care.


WHEN PUBLIC DEFENDERS GIVE LESS THAN ADEQUATE REPRESENTATION BECAUSE OF THEIR UNCONSCIOUS BIASES

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll interviews Tigran Eldred, New England Law Professor and former public defender, about what he calls “ethical blindness,” which the prof. says is what happens when well-meaning public defenders are too overloaded to detect when they are giving poor clients subpar representation.

Elgred names three components: confirmation bias—preferring information that validates prior beliefs, motivated reasoning—seeking information that brings preferable answers, and overconfidence bias—misjudging the power to give effective counsel in the face of extreme adversity.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

DC: Okay – let’s try to unpack this for our readers. Are you saying that the demands of excessive caseloads force public defenders into making quick decisions about cases everyday that that they themselves may not be consciously aware of?

TE: That’s basically it. And, the scientific support for this comes from the world of “behavioral ethics.” In particular, three psychological factors are relevant to the excessive caseload discussion. First, we all experience what is known as “confirmation bias.” This is the tendency in all of us to seek out, interpret and remember information in a manner that supports our pre-existing beliefs. The second and related concept is “motivated reasoning.” Not only do we seek to confirm our pre-existing beliefs, but also we do so to reach conclusions that we prefer. Third, because of our general desire to think well of ourselves, we tend to experience an “overconfidence bias,” including the tendency to overestimate our abilities to act competently and ethically when confronted with difficult dilemmas.

All of three of these factors occur unconsciously. We are tricked into believing that our choices are reasoned, even when often they are not. Our brains convince us our quickest decisions are solely the result of conscious and rational deliberation. But all the while we are blissfully unaware of how our pre-existing views, desires and self-conception can influence the judgments and decisions that we make.

DC: So, we need some context here. Can you explain these theories within the specific debate of how public defenders respond to excessive caseloads?

TE: Certainly. I agree with Professor Gross that defenders who have too much work often have only one option: to triage cases. Structurally, they are forced into focusing limited resources on a percentage of cases at the expense of many others – and on those cases that don’t get the same level of focus or resources, you wind up with an assembly line of quick plea dispositions. When this type of triage occurs, the psychological phenomena I have described can be expected to exert significant influence.

For example, by starting with the premise that most cases will need to be disposed of quickly, lawyers will likely engage in confirmatory and motivated reasoning, unconsciously seeking reasons to justify this pre-determined conclusion. This can happen in a number of ways. For example, the lawyer might overestimate the strength of the evidence against the client or underestimate the value of additional investigation. Acts of omission, as Professor Gross notes, can have a profound effect on a case. When the lawyer fails to seek exculpatory material, to interview witnesses or to visit a crime scene – or fails to engage in many other forms of advocacy for a client – the lawyer is essentially confirming the pre-existing belief that no additional work for the client will be helpful.

DC: In studying indigent defense services all across the country, I continually encounter public defenders that tell me that I should not be so dismissive of early resolution courts because they often result in favorable decisions to defendants.

TE: Right, they’re playing the percentages. While in many instances it may be true that the best course of action is a quick plea bargain, it is also true that in many instances it is not. There is a significant chance that the decision to forgo additional work for the client is the product of the type of fast thinking I have described. And then, after the fact the process become self-fulfilling. The lawyer has decided that a quick plea is appropriate without further investigation. So the client is advised to take the plea quickly and the lawyer, laboring under the illusion that the decision was solely the product of rational deliberation, remains convinced of the propriety of the decision — unaware of the subtle psychological forces that conspire to influence the lawyer’s behavior.

Tilgard goes on to explain how to reform indigent defense in a way that will effectively combat these unconscious biases:

TE: This is where the latest post by Mr. Vitale is so critical to the discussion. He suggests that indigent defense reform must occur on three fronts: system-building, public advocacy and culture change. I agree all three are critical to overcoming ethical blindness. Public defenders must work in systems that insulate them from undue political and judicial interference. Without structural independence there is little hope that public defenders can overcome these issues alone.

Posted in CDCR, Obama, prison policy, Public Defender, Reentry, solitary, U.S. Attorney | 1 Comment »

Richmond PD Chief Improves Cop Morale….DOJ Calls Albuquerque Police “Reckless” ….Prop 47 Lowers Jail Pop….Luis Rodriguez’s Words Save Lives…..Saying Goodby to Rick Orlov

February 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



RICHMOND, CA, POLICE CHIEF STRESSES COMMUNITY POLICING OVER SHOW OF FORCE

When Richmond CA hired Chris Magnus, an openly gay white guy from Fargo, North Dakota, to take over its scandal ridden police department, local cops and members of Richmond’s primarily minority communities were….how to put it?….skeptical.

But Magnus didn’t blink at the initially less-than-enthusiastic reception. He immediately disbanded the department’s “street teams,” units of heavily armed officers deployed in high-crime areas. He didn’t like the impression that the the street teams gave of being an occupying army that arrested people for small amounts of drugs and other minor crimes. Instead, he asked his officers to attend community meetings and employed a system he called a “Neighborhood Beat Policing” model. “Our goal is to build continuity of presence and the strongest possible relationships between officers and the public in every area of the city, he wrote on the Richmond PD website.

Now crime is down and morale in the Richmond PD is up.

Aron Pero of the Associated Press has more. Here are some clips:

Magnus also eliminated the seniority system that allowed officers to choose the areas they would patrol. He required officers to take on more responsibilities on their beats beyond responding to calls. Beat officers are required to attend neighborhood meetings and to maintain a high profile at churches, schools and businesses. They’re encouraged to hand out their mobile phone numbers and email addresses to residents.

“A lot of people were skeptical at first … I know I was skeptical. I mean, not only was he coming from outside the department, he was coming from Fargo, of all places,” said Officer Virgil Thomas, a 19-year veteran of the force and the newly installed president of the police union. “But he came in with a plan and stuck to it, and the image of the city and of the police has changed dramatically. Morale has improved greatly.”

Controversy erupted in December, however, when at a local protest over events at Ferguson and in New York City, Magnus held up a sign reading “#blacklivesmatter.” But even that criticism dissolved quickly.

The [police] union initially objected to the police chief’s participation in the Dec. 9 demonstration. The association’s lawyer said Magnus’ appearance in uniform “dishonored the department” and violated a law barring political activity on duty. But Thomas said the union backed away from those claims after sitting down and talking with Magnus about the demonstration.

“We talked about it, and I understand what he was trying to do,” Thomas said. “He’s trying to bridge the gap, like we all are.”

It helped, of course, that policing in Richmond is effective under Magnus’ stewardship.

The city in 2014 recorded 11 murders, the lowest rate per capita in recent decades. It was the fifth straight year the murder rate declined in Richmond. Violent crimes and property crimes alike have plummeted, as have officer-involved shootings. The U.S. Department of Justice recently added Magnus to a panel of experts investigating police relations with the community in Ferguson, Missouri.


ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: A RASH OF KILLINGS

While the relationship between members of the Richmond PD and those it serves has blossomed, in Albuquerque matters appear to be going in a less positive direction.

In 2007, crime was higher than the national average in Albuquerque, NM, and the city’s police department was having trouble recruiting police officers, despite the perks the APD offered to those who signed up. Pressured, the department higher-ups started cutting corners. They stopped consistently using psych exams for applicants, and began taking men and women who had washed out of other departments, and others whom the department’s training officers warned had….issues.

By 2011, the rate of fatal shootings by police in this city of five hundred and fifty thousand, was eight times that of New York City. More half of those killed were mentally ill. No officer had ever been charged, and few were disciplined.

Writing for the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv tells the story of one of those fatal shootings. It’s a tale that involves threats, intimidation, the DOJ and one more shooting last March. But this time the shooting of a homeless mentally ill man named James Boyd was caught on video and, in January, resulted in charges.

Here’s a clip from Aviv’s story:

Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.

Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said.

Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself.

When Stephen asked the police what had happened to Christopher, he was told only that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Stephen offered to let the officers inside the house, but they refused. Stephen called a close friend on the force, who said that a person had been taken off in an ambulance earlier in the afternoon, at around two o’clock. Stephen called the three main hospitals in Albuquerque, but Christopher hadn’t been admitted to any of them.

Stephen called a neighbor, Val Aubol, who lived across the street, to find out what she could see. Aubol peeked through the shutters of her front window and saw ten officers lined up against a neighbor’s garage, next to the Torreses’ house. The SWAT team’s Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck was parked in front of them. When Aubol went into her back yard, she saw a rope dangling from her roof. An officer had climbed up and was pointing his gun at the Torreses’ house. Another officer was crouching behind the gate at the side of her house. She told the officers that she’d spoken with Christopher’s father, but an officer waved her back inside. “Stay in the house!” he shouted.

At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene.


RECKLESSNESS & DEADLY FORCE

Nick Pinto at RollingStone has another feature on the Albuquerque police, which has the details on the James Boyd shooting.

Here are some clips from Pinto’s story:

…On the afternoon of March 16th, 2014, Albuquerque police received a 911 call from this part of town, a man complaining that someone was illegally camping in the foothills. Two Albuquerque officers responded and, sure enough, encountered James Matthew Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia. Boyd was clearly not well, ranting, telling police that he was an agent for the Defense Department.

Unauthorized camping is a petty misdemeanor. The officers could have told Boyd to move along and left it at that. But as Officer John McDaniel approached, Boyd wouldn’t show his hands and McDaniel drew his gun. When the officers moved to pat him down, Boyd pulled out two small knives; the cops stepped back and called for backup, setting off a spectacular circus, with as many as 40 police officers reportedly joining the standoff. Among them were uniformed cops and members of the SWAT team, the tactical K-9 unit and the Repeat Offender Project squad.

Not present, Boyd’s family would later allege in a complaint, was anyone clearly in charge. Keeping Boyd surrounded, often with guns drawn, officers tried to get him to surrender his knives. Finally, after three hours, Boyd prepared to come down from the hills. “Don’t worry about safety,” he told the police. “I’m not a fucking murderer.” But as Boyd packed his stuff, both hands full of possessions, Detective Keith Sandy — who hours before, on arriving at the scene, boasted on tape that he was going to shoot “this fucking lunatic” with a Taser shotgun — tossed a flash-bang grenade, a nonlethal weapon designed to disorient and distract. Another officer fired a Taser at Boyd, and a third released a police dog on him. Boyd drew his knives again. Advancing on him, officers ordered Boyd to get down on the ground. Boyd began to turn away, and Detective Sandy of the ROP squad and Officer Dominique Perez of the SWAT team each fired three live rounds at him, hitting him once in the back and twice in his arms. Boyd collapsed, face down, crying out that he was unable to move. “Please don’t hurt me,” he said. Another officer fired three beanbag rounds from a shotgun at Boyd’s prone body. The K-9 officer again loosed his German shepherd on Boyd, and the dog tore into his legs. Finally, officers approached and handcuffed him.

After roughly 20 minutes, Boyd was transported in an ambulance to the University of New Mexico hospital. In the final hours of his life, Boyd had his right arm amputated and his spleen, a section of his lung and a length of his intestines removed. At 2:55 a.m., he was pronounced dead. He was the 22nd person killed by the Albuquerque police in just more than four years.

Boyd’s death conformed to many of the patterns governing deadly police violence in Albuquerque. Living with mental illness, Boyd fit the profile of the marginal Albuquerqueans most likely to find themselves shot to death by the city’s police. The escalation of a low-level encounter to a standoff involving numerous heavily armed officers wasn’t anything new, either. Few were surprised when footage from the lapel camera that Officer Sandy was required to keep running was inexplicably absent. And, as in so many previous officer-involved shootings, Boyd’s death was followed by a press conference by the chief of police, who declared the shooting justified and painted Boyd as a dangerous criminal….

Finally, a group of families whose loved ones had bend killed by members of the APD persuaded the Department of Justice to take a look at what was going on with the high number of deadly shootings.

Reviewing 20 fatal police shootings from 2009 to 2012, the [DOJ] report found a majority of them to be unconstitutional. “Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an imminent threat,” the report found, noting that “Albuquerque police officers’ own recklessness sometimes led to their use of deadly force.”


PROP 47 ALREADY BRINGING DROPS IN JAIL POPS ACROSS CALIFORNIA

It’s early still, but the effect of Prop 47 on the state’s jail populations, thus far, has been to lower them. This drop is particularly welcome after jail numbers had been driven higher due to the state’s 2011 AB 109 realignment strategy that shifted the incarceration burden for certain low level offenders to the various counties.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmate populations are falling in once-overcrowded California county jails since voters decided in November that certain drug and property crimes should be treated as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

While some are avoiding jail, many of those who are sent to county lock-ups for crimes not covered by the ballot initiative dubbed Proposition 47 are spending more time there because jail officials no longer must release them early due to overcrowding.

Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties are among those with fewer early releases, according to an Associated Press survey of the 10 counties that together account for about 70 percent of California’s total jail population.


LUIS RODRIGUEZ & THE POWER OF WORDS

KCET’s So Cal Connected is doing a story on Los Angeles poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, on Wednesday at 8 pm. If you’re around, be sure to tune in. Rodriquez is the best known for his classic memoir Always Running– La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, about how he escaped Los Angeles gang life in the 1960′s. It’s a wonderful book, and one that dozens of disaffected kids I’ve met over the years told me was the first book they’d ever read, cover to cover, a book that introduced them to the joys of reading ever after.

Rodriguez has also published poetry, fiction, and other works of nonfiction, along with acting as the publisher for Southern California poets and writers. If that was not enough, he founded and runs Tia Chucha’s, a bookstore and cultural center in Sylmar, teaches writing inside California’s prisons, and mentors at risk young men and women looking to get out or to stay away from gang membership. He changes lives. I’ve seen it happen.

“Luis is a great man,” Father Greg Boyle once said to me, summing the matter up with simplicity.

Yes, He is. And we’re so lucky to have him here in LA. So, check out So Cal Connected Wednesday evening, and get to know him.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF ICONIC LA WRITERS…WE ARE GOING TO MISS REPORTER/COLUMNIST RICK ORLOV, R.I.P

Respected LA Daily News city hall reporter Rick Orlov died on Monday of complications of diabetes and the city’s reporting community is completely in shock.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had this to say about Orlov on Twitter:

Posted in American artists, American voices, CDCR, jail, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Los Angeles writers, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Keeping Kids in Communities, Victim-Focused Violent Crime Reform, CA Makes it Under Prison Pop. Limit, and Justice in Sweden

January 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: FAR BETTER OUTCOMES FOR KIDS SUPERVISED IN THEIR COMMUNITIES THAN IN DETENTION

A remarkable new report commissioned by the state of Texas found that kids housed in state detention facilities were 21% more likely to be arrested again within one year of release than kids under community supervision. And, when kids did recidivate, the kids who had been locked up were three times more likely to commit a felony than the kids kept in their communities.

The report collected and analyzed data from more than 1.3 million juvenile records, taken from 466,000 kids who had been in contact with the Texas’ juvenile justice system between 2004 and 2011.

The far-reaching report, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M, aimed to gauge the efficacy of a series of important state juvenile justice reforms. (Faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis around 2007, the state built up rehabilitation and reentry programs and incarceration alternatives spearheaded by the conservative criminal justice reform group, Right on Crime. These reforms so greatly reduced the prison population that Texas has been able to actually close state prisons.)

Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and Xavier McElrath-Bey of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth appeared on PBS Newshour to discuss the report’s findings and implications. You can watch the segment in the video above, but here’s a small clip from the transcript:

[MICHAEL THOMPSON:] We found that they were saving the state a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, by closing these facilities and really putting the emphasis on community supervision. Very few states could conduct an analysis like, this yet it’s the kind of analysis that states everywhere should be conducting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was — what was so different about the community incarceration care for these young men and women that was from the state-run facilities?

MICHAEL THOMPSON: Right.

I mean, when you hear it and you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, what we have been doing is we have been pulling kids away from their community, sending them to a facility hundreds or thousands of miles away, interacting with staff who don’t look like them, don’t necessarily speak their language, uprooted from any kinds of ties they had in the community, further away from positive influences they had, like maybe family members or a pastor or a sibling.

And we expect there to be some tremendous corrective action when we’re putting them with a bunch of kids who maybe will have a negative influence on them because they’re a higher risk of reoffending. So, really, when we talk about it that way, we shouldn’t be surprised that those kids actually end up doing better when they’re closer to home.

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, lays out ten meaningful takeaways for the rest of the nation. Here are the first two (but be sure to read the rest):

1. The report shows that dramatically decreasing the population of youth confined in state juvenile corrections facilities is good public policy.

CSG found that Texas youth released from state institutions were: 21 percent more likely to be arrested within 12 months than comparable youth who remained under the supervision of county probation departments and three times more likely to face felony charges if arrested. These findings were controlled for offending history, demographics and other relevant factors. CSG reports that the average cost of a stay in state custody exceeded $200,000.

Texas is not an anomaly. These results confirm the already overwhelming evidence that in virtually every recidivism study, the vast majority of youth released from large, state-run correctional institutions are rearrested within two or three years of release, and one-third or more are reincarcerated in a juvenile facility or adult prison.

Research also consistently finds that state-funded youth corrections facilities are dangerous, unnecessary, obsolete and inadequate for the serious mental health, educational and social service needs faced by many court-involved youth.

2. The CSG report shows that contrary to commonly held fears, there is not a substantial population of superdangerous youth beyond the capacity of counties to supervise.

CSG found no difference statistically between the population of youth committed to state-run secure facilities and those placed under the supervision of their county juvenile probation departments. Youth committed to state custody “look no different than many of those who are kept in their communities,” CSG commented. “This tends to suggest that many more of the committed youth could just as successfully be rehabilitated under the supervision of the county juvenile probation department.”


CONSIDERING THE VICTIM MAY BE ANOTHER STEP TOWARD SOLVING THE US’ OVERINCARCERATION CRISIS

Seattle Weekly’s current cover story introduces the ACLU’s Alison Holcomb, who is heading a $50 million political campaign to end mass incarceration. Holcomb, who used her new position to back the Californians for Safety and Justice’s Proposition 47 campaign, says she feels pulled to focus future efforts on developing victim-centered approaches to dealing with violent crime issues.

And Holcomb is coming from a place of devastating personal experience. When her husband, Gregg, was 24, his father was murdered by a 17-year-old at an ATM.

Here are some clips from Nina Shapiro’s story for Seattle Weekly:

Holcomb is beginning to focus on a rather revolutionary approach to criminal-justice reform—one that views the tremendous resources put into prosecutions and prisons as misguided, and that aims to siphon some of those resources instead to victims. “I’m just spit-balling,” she says, “but it seems to me that we could be a lot more creative and have a much more victims-centered approach to violent crime than we do right now.”

[BIG SNIP]

“It’s funny,” she begins. “The last month, I had an opportunity to talk with people thinking about violent crime.” They included Bass from the North Carolina group and a Brooklyn woman named Danielle Sered, who directs an organization that, as its website puts it, facilitates “a dialogue process designed to recognize the harm done, identify the needs and interests of those harmed, and develop appropriate sanctions to hold the responsible party accountable.”

“So how would the last 22 years have looked if that opportunity had been presented to Gregg?” she wonders. “Even if he wasn’t ready to take anybody up on the offer until year six or seven or 12 or 13. What might have changed if there had been a kind of support, if our criminal-justice system actually focused on the victims instead of . . . ”

She trails off into what she calls her “floating hypotheses”—that the fear of “vigilante justice” of the sort entertained in her husband’s darker moments has led the state into an outsized role. “We knights in shining armor, we prosecutors, we are going to step in and take care of this . . . on behalf of the victim.

“I think for a surprising number of victims that’s not what they want, not what they need…


CALIFORNIA FALLS BELOW FEDERAL JUDGES’ ORDERED PRISON POPULATION LIMIT

After several missed and extended deadlines, California has finally brought its prison population below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The number of inmates in state prisons dipped below the 113,722 limit by 259 inmates, hitting the marker more than a year in advance of the most recent deadline.

But the state must continue to take meaningful steps toward easing overcrowding through the final February 2016 deadline.

Contributing efforts to reduce the population average include realignment (AB 109), moving inmates to private and out-of-state prisons, early release programs for the elderly, the three-strikes reform law, and the recent passage of Proposition 47, which reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has more on the new numbers. Here’s a clip:

After years of legal battles that went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, the state’s prison population has been decreasing steadily, and a report posted online Thursday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation puts the latest inmate population at 113,463, below the court-ordered cap of 137.5 percent of capacity for the first time. The prisons’ design capacity is 82,707 inmates, and the population as of midnight was 137.2 percent of capacity.

The latest population figure is merely a snapshot and may fluctuate, and the corrections department did not have an immediate comment on the development.

But one of the lead attorneys in the effort to force the inmate population reductions said the announcement is a “significant moment.”

“We should all acknowledge it’s an important, significant and historic moment,” attorney Michael Bien said, but he added that the state must show that it can maintain the reductions over time.

Head over to the SacBee for more statistics and the backstory on California’s prison population saga, if you’re unfamiliar.


SWEDEN: LOW INCARCERATION RATES, LOW CRIME RATES, FOCUSED ON REHABILITATING OFFENDERS

Policy Mic’s Zeeshan Aleem has an interesting story comparing the oppressive and dehumanizing mass incarceration mechanism in the United States to Sweden’s rehabilitation-centric “open” prison system.

Sweden’s methods are geared toward releasing inmates back into the world as improved versions of themselves than when they arrived. And, while Sweden and the United States have different populations, Sweden’s results are certainly worth noting. Here’s a clip:

…in the past decade, the number of Swedish prisoners has dropped from 5,722 to 4,500 out of a population of 9.5 million. The country has closed a number of prisons, and the recidivism rate is around 40%, which is far less than in the U.S. and most European countries.

Öberg believes that the way Sweden treats its prisoners is partly responsible for keeping incarceration and recidivism rates so low…

While high-security prisons in the U.S. often involve caging and dehumanizing a prisoner, prisons in Nordic countries are designed to treat them as people with psychosocial needs that are to be carefully attended to. Prison workers fulfill a dual role of enforcer and social worker, balancing behavioral regulation with preparation for re-entry into society.

“Open” prisons: Even more remarkable than this is the use of “open prisons” in the region. Prisoners at open prisons stay in housing that often resembles college dorms, have access to accessories such as televisions and sound systems and are able to commute to a job and visit families while electronically monitored. Prisoners and staff eat together in the community spaces built throughout the prison. None are expected to wear uniforms.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, juvenile justice, Right on Crime, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

Political Words & the Murder of NY Cops….Unequal Justice?…Strip Searching Kids

December 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



AN ARRAY OF REACTIONS TO THE MURDERS OF NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICERS RAMOS AND WENJIAN

The terrible and heartbreaking news of the murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Saturday continues to produce grief around the nation. We all now know that 32-year-old Liu was married three months ago, and that he was passionate about his choice to be a cop. We also know that Officer Ramos, 40, left behind two sons, and that the youngest is 13 years old. We know too that Officer Ramos loved the Mets, and was a chaplain-in-training.

In addition to sorrow, the execution of Ramos and Liu by the clearly disturbed 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley has released a storm of commentary about—among other things—who other than Brinsley is at fault for the murders. Here is some of the latest, along with clips:

Former NYPD Police Commissioner Howard Safir wrote in TIME that police bashing is the worst he’s seen it in 45 years.

When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will never know what was in the mind of Brinsley when he shot officers Ramos and Liu. However we do know that he has seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest officials in the land.

We should all be concerned about the reaction our police officers will have. I have seen times when police bashing has resulted in officers doing the minimum necessary to complete their tours and go home safely to their families.

At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes about the importance of treating police officers as individuals:

Following an outrageous murder of two policemen who seem to have been good cops, it’s emotionally understandable that most people nod along to statements about NYPD officers being “New York’s Finest.” There are a lot of good cops in New York City. There are, as well, a lot of bad cops in the force of 34,500. People who hate all police officers because some act badly are being prejudiced and irrational. It is also irrational to extol everyone who wears an NYPD uniform despite the fact that some of them abandon whistleblowing colleagues when they need backup, accost an innocent kid with racial slurs and physical threats, retaliate against a fellow officer who exposes systemic misbehavior by trying to have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or assault women with pepper spray for no reason. Unions that fight to keep even misbehaving officers from being fired bear some responsibility for the reputation that the NYPD has among its critics, as does every cop that observes misbehavior by colleagues but stays silent. Only by distinguishing among police officers—praising the ones who do their jobs honorably and capably, and disciplining or firing the ones who fall short—can the proposition that the profession is worthy of respect be rationally defended.

At the Washington Post Eugene Robinson writes that protesters against police brutality did not cause the shooting of Officers Ramos and Liu.

It is absurd to have to say this, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, activist Al Sharpton and President Obama are in no way responsible for the coldblooded assassination of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday. Nor do the tens of thousands of Americans who have demonstrated against police brutality in recent weeks bear any measure of blame.

A disturbed career criminal named Ismaaiyl Brinsley committed this unspeakable atrocity by himself, amid a spree of insane mayhem: Earlier in the day, he shot and critically wounded a woman he had been seeing; later, on a subway platform, he shot and killed himself.

[SNIP]

Not for the first time, one of the loudest and least temperate voices has been that of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said on Fox News. “I don’t care how you want to describe it, that’s what those protests are all about.”

No, no, no. The demonstrations sparked by the exoneration of the officers who killed Brown and Garner were pro-accountability, not anti-police. As I’ve pointed out many times, no one better appreciates the need for an active, engaged police presence than residents of high-crime neighborhoods. But nobody should be expected to welcome policing that treats whole communities as guilty until proved innocent — or a justice system that considers black and brown lives disposable.

New York police officials and union leaders should explain this to the officers who bitterly turned their backs on de Blasio — their commander in chief — as he arrived to pay his respects to slain policemen Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Yet Ed Mullins, president of the police sergeants’ union, made this inflammatory charge: “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.” And Ray Kelly, a former New York police commissioner, accused de Blasio of running an “anti-police” mayoral campaign and said there was a “firestorm” of anger within the department over remarks de Blasio made regarding Garner’s death.

Jesse Walker at libertarian-leaning Reason Magazine expresses a similar point but from a different angle.

Pat Lynch, the combative chief of the city’s biggest police union, blamed Liu and Ramos’ deaths on “those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest,” then declared that the “blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”

I don’t think the mayor’s office is actually on the steps. But you get what the man is saying.

[SNIP]

Where exactly do you draw the line? If you’re really intent on blaming other people for Brinsley’s crimes, how far are you going to take that? If any piece of speech played a role in directing Brinsley’s anger, it was the cell phone video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner. If it weren’t for that recording, hardly anyone would know Garner’s name. But much as Pat Lynch might love to blame that video for last weekend’s killings, he probably knows that any argument to that effect would open a can of worms. The videographer, after all, was simply recording events; the man whose actions made the video newsworthy was Pantaleo. Since Lynch is intent on arguing that Pantaleo isn’t even responsible for the slaying he did commit, I doubt he’d want to risk linking him to any slayings committed by someone else.

No: People like Lynch want to keep our focus on their foes. Their baseless accusations are tools in a political war, and they’re a tool we’ve seen politicians use before. As I once wrote, it lets them discredit mainstream as well as radical political opponents….

Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway is not hopeful that the murders of the officers will bring productive debate.

Unfortunately, I can already see from much of the online reaction to yesterday’s tragedy that meaningful debate is the exact opposite of what is likely to occur. Much like the Brown shooting and the Garner death, and the Grand Jury proceedings that occurred in their wake, quickly became politicized, the deaths of these two officers shot in cold blood will be exploited by people with their own political and power agendas. It is, sadly, the way things work in this country any more.

Before that starts, though, I hope that someone stops to remember the families of these two men, as well as the tens of thousands of members of the NYPD and other officers around the country who will be impacted by this horrible tragedy. They didn’t deserve to die, and they don’t deserve to be turned into political symbols either.


THE MURDER, THE SENTENCE & THE POLITICIAN’S KID
On Saturday Oct 4, 2008, four San Diego State University students were jumped and stabbed by four strangers. One of the four, Luis Santos, was stabbed in the chest. The knife pierced Santos’ left lung and cut the left ventricle of his heart. Santos died of his wounds.

The four who started the fight fled the scene and drove north. Two of the four eventually dumped two knives in the Sacramento River. Those same two stripped off their bloody clothes, stuffed them in a bag, poured on kerosine and set the bundle on fire.

On December 2, 2008, two months after Santos’ death, the young men who had tossed the knives and burned the clothes were arrested. One of them was named Esteban Nuñez, the nineteen-year-old son of Fabian Nuñez, the powerful former California assembly speaker.

In May of 2010, the younger Nuñez pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea deal. In June 2010, Nuñez was sentenced to 16 years in state prison.

On January 2, 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last day in office, the then governor announced that he had commuted Nuñez’s sentence down to seven years. Nuñez is expected to be paroled in 2016.

So, was justice done? Did a good young man get a break? Or did the son of a powerful politician with powerful friends get a very different kind of justice than that which would be visited on most any other 19-year-old in this state who participated in a murder.

In a fascinating 2-part longread for the LA Times, Christopher Goffard lays out the facts of the matter so that the reader may draw his or her own conclusions.

Here is a clip:

At 5:29 p.m. that day, a surveillance camera captured Nuñez, Jett and Garcia at a 7-Eleven near Nuñez’s Sacramento apartment. Jett left the store with an empty Big Gulp cup. He carried it back to the car with $1.30 worth of gasoline from the Union 76 station next door.

News of the stabbing had been online since that morning, and they were determined to sever their ties to the crime. They drove a little ways and parked near Interstate 5 along the Sacramento River. They got out and climbed down to the water. It is a broad river, the banks thick with foliage, its shores sometimes populated by transients.

Jett carried the clothes he and Nuñez had worn in the fight. He dumped them in a pile, doused them with gas and set them ablaze. He said he watched Nuñez throw the knives in the river.

The clothes burned; the knives sank; the friends would keep quiet. What could link them to a stabbing 500 miles away?

Detectives made the connection within hours.

A young woman had approached them at the crime scene, hoping to help. Her cellphone held text messages from a friend named John Murray. He’d had to leave town fast, he wrote to her, because his buddies had been in a stabbing.

Reluctantly, Murray, 19, told detectives what he knew. He admitted that he’d partied with the Nuñez group that night, then drank himself to sleep, missed the fight and joined the group for the hasty car ride north. He had been at the river during the destruction of the evidence, and said he’d overheard Nuñez and Jett agree not to speak of this again. It would be a secret among friends.

Another tip came from Brianna Perez, 19, a cousin of Nuñez’s friend Rafael Garcia. The Nuñez group had stopped by her apartment near Fraternity Row before the stabbing. They had backpacks full of beer and a large bottle of Captain Morgan rum.

They were angry that they had been rebuffed when they tried to get into a frat party earlier, she said. They were cursing the frat boys. Some of them used knives to open their beer cans. She remembered some of them talking about burning down the frat house, about finding a fight.

“They were going to show them how they did it in Sac-town,” she would say. When they left her apartment, she worried that they were looking for “drama…”


STRIP SEARCHING CA KIDS BY THE CDCR?

Contraband—from drugs to cell phones—is a huge problem that the California prison system is struggling to control—without much success.

Dinky Manek Enty reports for the Chronicle of Social Change on a newly proposed policy aimed at the CDCR’s contraband dilemma that, while sensible on the surface, may need to be rethought, in that it involves kids.

Here’s a clip:

For the more than 2.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent, the holiday season brings a poignant mixture of torment and joy. On the one hand, it may mean a rare opportunity to visit a parent behind bars—for some, the only visit of the year. But the love and connection a visit can bring are tempered by the fear of driving past razor wire, passing through metal detectors, and being subjected to the scrutiny of uniformed guards.

This holiday season, some children may face an even more disturbing intrusion. Under new regulations recently proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), visitors will be subjected to canine searches in an effort to prevent the flow of contraband such as drugs and cell phones into the state’s prisons. Should the search result in a positive alert (even a false positive, which research has shown comprise as many as 80 percent of all positive identifications), the visitor in question must submit to a strip search or else forgo the visit. The regulations make no exception for children, and existing CDCR paperwork regarding unclothed searches explicitly includes accompanying minors.

Statistics show clearly that kids of incarcerated parents already have a tough path to navigate. Let’s not add the trauma of possible strip searches to the mix.

Posted in CDCR, law enforcement, Police, race | 2 Comments »

Are Inmate Fire Camps in Danger Due to Prop 47?…and Thoughts on Obama’s Immigration Speech

November 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


COULD PROP 47 KILL CALIFORNIA’S INMATE FIRE CAMPS?

As it was when California’s Realignment strategy ushered in sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system in 2011, there is now is much speculation about what collateral effects will result from Proposition 47.

There are worries about spiking crime, of course. (More about that at a later date.) And some officials have expressed serious concern that the state’s well-regarded inmate fire program will be deeply wounded by the newly passed ballot measure.

Earlier this month, the LA Times went so far as to write a story claiming that the future of California’s inmate fire crews was “now in doubt” after the passage of Proposition 47.

It is good news, therefore, to learn that, according to sources inside both the California Department of Corrections and the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the fears for the inmate fire camps, at least, are reportedly groundless.

“We’re not worried about Prop. 47 harming the program,” said CDCR spokesman Bill Sessa, although he admitted that the initiative targeted the same general inmate group that the camps drew from, so there might be some changes. “We have approximately 4300 inmates in the program right now. And, the bottom line is, post Prop. 47, we’ll still be able to find 4300 inmates to fight fires.”

At present, those 4300 are deployed from 42 adult fire camps, and one juvenile fire camp. In case of a wildland fire, the inmate firefighters work side by side with crews from the U.S. Forest Service and CALFIRE crews, saving state and county taxpayers an estimated $80-100 million a year.

Sessa said that while most of the inmate fire crews come from state facilities, 200-250 come out of various counties. LA County provides the most, with San Bernardino a close second.

As for the qualifications inmate firefighters need, Sessa explained that, in general, candidates must be physically fit, and their most recent offense must be non-serious and non violent. “We take no sex offenders,” he said, “and obviously no arsonists.”

Lifers are also excluded because the temptation to try to escape is deemed too great. And anyone with chronic behavior issues is quickly axed from the list.

“The fire teams can’t have people who question authority or are still involved in gang rivalries,” said Sessa, “because everybody’s life depends on the others on the crew—literally. They have to be able to work as a team.”

Despite the stringent qualifications, Sessa said, there are still plenty of candidates.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official who works with LA County’s fire camp program agreed. “From what we gather,” he said, “we’re not going to take as big a hit as we originally thought because a lot of the Prop. 47 people are first time offenders, and our people usually have multiple offenses. They’re drawn from the group we call the non-non-nons.” (Non violent, non serious, non sexual offenders.) “But those are all the people we got sent by realignment, and there are a lot of them.”

At present, LA County has 122 inmates in their program, which has been operational for three years. “I’ve seen it change plenty of lives,” said the official (who asked not to be quoted by name). “I even know of one guy who was part of the CDCR’s program who is now a Battalion Chief for the Forest Service. We always tell his story during our training program because it inspires everybody.”

While there are other instances of former inmates going on to careers in firefighting, according to Sessa, most of the men and women in the program do not plan to become wildland firefighters. “It’s more that they learn discipline, about working with others, and they learn to see something through to the end.” Plus the inmate crew members gain a sense of self worth by providing tangible help to people and communities, he said. “And all that helps them when they get out.”

(Indeed, the fire camps have a recidivism rate that is 18 percent lower than the system as a whole.)

As the fire camp program is prized by inmates, the inmate crews provide help to California counties that can be crucial.

“Most of us are flatlanders,” LA Fire Inspector Steve Zermeno told WitnessLA in 2009 after the huge and deadly Station fire, the largest in recorded LA County history. “We’re the ones who are going to be used for structure protection. These guys, the inmates, are the people who are trained in wildland firefighting, which is a whole different thing. So when we get a big fire like the Station fire, we really count on them.”

As it is with all those who battle wildland fires, the CDCR’s inmate firefighters do a truly dangerous job. This fact became tragically clear during the worst of the Station Fire when two veteran firefighters who had, for years, trained inmate crews, were killed trying to save 55 of their CDCR crew members plus three CDCR staffers, who nearly didn’t survive the inferno that descended on Camp 16, which was then located on Mt. Gleason. (WLA reported on the heartbreaking deaths of Captain Ted Hall and Specialist Arnie Quinones here and here.)

Despite such dangers, the number of inmates who want to enter the fire camp program still greatly exceeds the number that can be accepted, said Sessa.

A California prison inmate named Danny Cabral, who is a lifer thus ineligible for fire camp, told me why. “A lot of guys I know have been to those fire camps, and risked their own lives to fight fires,” he said. “And they were glad to do it. Really glad. It makes them feel like they’re doing something that matters.”

For this and other reasons it is heartening to hear that the state’s inmate firefighter program itself—for the moment at least—appears to be in no real danger.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..

….OBAMA GOES BIG ON IMMIGRATION

Obviously the biggest news of the last 24 hours—criminal justice-related or otherwise—is Obama’s plan to offer deportation relief for as many as 5 million immigrants—the majority of them parents. Yet, since nearly every other news outlet is covering the matter rather extensively, we’ll confine ourselves to pointing out a few commentaries that you might otherwise miss.


THE NEW YORKER TALKS STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

New Yorker columnist Jon Cassidy reviews the style of the president’s speech as well as the content.

Here’s a clip:

For a two-term President whom his critics used to call “the speechifier,” Barack Obama has given surprisingly few memorable speeches, and none for quite a while. Sometimes his speechwriters over-egg it, and his language seems a bit stilted. On other occasions, he goes on for too long and his delivery is flat. Thursday night’s much-anticipated address on immigration, which he delivered from the East Room of the White House, was an extended statement rather than a full-blown speech, and it was much better for it. It was direct and to the point; it had some uplifting moments, particularly at the end; and it was relatively short—about fifteen minutes.

With a crowd of immigration-reform supporters gathered across the street, in Washington’s Lafayette Square, and with Univision interrupting its coverage of the Latin Grammys to show the speech live, there had been suggestions on conservative Web sites that Obama would be preaching to the converted rather than to the country at large. As soon as he started talking, though, it was clear that he was making his pitch to the mass of voters who, opinion polls suggest, are in favor of some sort of path to citizenship for the undocumented but also have concerns about the President going it alone.

After a hat tip to immigration’s historical role in keeping America “youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial,” and a quick reminder that he has beefed up border security, deported a lot of uninvited foreigners, and overseen a decline in illegal border crossings of more than fifty per cent, Obama put the blame for what he was about to do squarely on his adversaries: the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives who had refused to allow a vote on a bipartisan immigration-reform bill. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common-sense law,” Obama said. “But, until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President—the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me—that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

If there had been any hecklers, or Fox News reporters, on hand, one of them might well have shouted that no previous President has taken executive action on the scale that Obama is proposing, which will remove the threat of deportation for perhaps as many as five million illegal immigrants. But the President had the stage to himself, and he used it to appeal to the better nature of his countrymen and countrywomen. “Most of these immigrants have been here a long time,” he said. “They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours. As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: ‘They are a part of American life.’ ”

Mentioning George W. was another not so subtle reminder of how the G.O.P. has drifted to the dark side on this issue….


THE WSJ HAS 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM OBAMA’S SPEECH

The Wall Street Journal lists “5 Things to Note on Obama’s Immigration Overhaul. (So far this is not hidden behind the paywall. Let’s hope it stays that way.)

They are:

1. Broadcast blackout.
2. Protecting Parents
3. More Dreamers
4. Obama’s Backtrack
5. Timing.

Now that we’ve given you the teaser, for details go to the WSJ and read the rest.


LA TIMES SAYS PROBLEM MUST ULTIMATELY BE SOLVED LEGISLATIVELY

The LA Times Editorial Board liked most of what Obama had to say, but felt the problem of immigration reform must ultimately be solved by Congress. Here’s how their editorial opens:

After years of debate and division, President Obama announced Thursday that he would use his executive powers to revamp the nation’s immigration system. But wait, you say, isn’t that Congress’ responsibility? Well, yes, it is, and if Congress had done its job, the nation wouldn’t be at this juncture. But here we are.

On the substance, the president is absolutely right. The immigration system is broken and unfair; it has resulted in a permanent class of illegal workers, it separates families and it denies a place in society to immigrants who work hard, pay taxes and have deep ties to the country. There are 11 million immigrants living in the United States without authorization — more than 3 million in California alone — and it makes practical and moral sense to legalize their status and offer them a path to citizenship.

But even though Congress has been discussing these issues for more than a decade, it has repeatedly failed, for reasons both political and substantive, to move a bill through both houses. A frustrated Obama finally announced — after initially saying he lacked the legal authority — that he would act on his own. His decision will, we hope, offer some breathing room to millions of immigrant families who have been living under the threat of deportation. But it also raises serious questions about the limits of executive authority.


WHO ARE THE WINNERS & LOSERS OF OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ACTION?

Mother Jones’s Erika Eichelberger lists those who benefit from the president’s executive action and those who lose out. Below you’ll find the two bare bones lists, but—as with the WSJ takeaways—you’ll have to go to Mother Jones to read the details and the analysis.

Winners

Undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or permanent residents

DREAMers

Families

Noncriminal undocumented immigrants

Highly skilled workers

Immigrants with pending cases

Immigrant victims of crime

The Border Patrol

Entrepreneurs

Losers
Undocumented immigrants who have been here since 2011

Undocumented agricultural workers

Ag workers with papers

Other types of legal immigrants

Foreigners attending American universities

Immigrant detainees

Read the meat of the story here.



NOTE: The inmate firefight photo at the top of the page is courtesy of the CDCR. The second photo taken in Malibu is by WitnessLA.

Posted in CDCR, Fire, LASD | 1 Comment »

CA Prisons Halt Race-based Lockdowns, Inequality for San Bernardino Gay and Trans Inmates, LAPD Fires Detective, and LA Jails Use-of-force #s

October 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR TO STOP LOCKING INMATES DOWN BASED UPON RACE, AND WILL ALLOW EXERCISE DURING LONG LOCKDOWNS

On Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to stop race-determined prisoner lockdowns, settling a 2008 lawsuit on behalf of male inmates.

The settlement says lockdowns will now apply to everyone “in the affected area” after a riot or violent incident, or will be conducted by assessing individual threat. The CDCR also agreed to give outdoor recreation time to inmates in the event of a lockdown lasting more than 14 days.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s how it opens:

When a group of prisoners attacked two guards at California’s High Desert State Prison in 2006, the warden declared a full lockdown that confined African Americans in one wing of the prison to their cells, and kept them there for 14 months.

No outdoor exercise. No rehabilitation programs or prison jobs.

This week, California agreed to give up its unique use of race-based punishment as a tool to control violence in its crowded prisons. Corrections chief Jeffrey Beard and lawyers for inmates have settled a six-year-long civil rights lawsuit, filed in 2008, over the High Desert lockdown.

The case was eventually widened to cover all prisoners and lockdown practices that had become common statewide. The agreement now goes to a federal judge for expected approval.


ACLU SUES SAN BERNARDINO FOR CONFINING GAY AND TRANSGENDER PEOPLE, DENYING THEM AVAILABLE PROGRAMS

A new ACLU class action lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses San Bernardino County of refusing gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates education, work and rehabilitation programs to which other inmates have access. According to the suit, GBT inmates at West Valley Detention Center are locked in their cells for 22 hours per day, unable to participate available programs. Jail officials say GBT inmates are segregated for their protection, but the ACLU says there’s no excuse for denying access to programs that may help inmates shave off lockup time or help them prepare for successfully returning to their communities.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s site:

The denials of education, work and rehabilitation are particularly galling, as participation in these programs can not only reduce the time they serve, but can also facilitate their integration back into society, reducing recidivism rates and the strain on our already overburdened criminal justice system.

Although in most instances WVDC staff have claimed that this harsh treatment is for their “protection,” protective custody and equal protection are not mutually exclusive. Jails and prisons cannot justify discriminatory treatment of LGBT prisoners under the guise of keeping them “safe.”

While there can be no doubt that LGBT prisoners are often vulnerable to harassment and assaults by other prisoners and many need protection, it is both possible and imperative that our correctional facilities ensure the safety of their charges while providing equal access to programs, privileges and facilities, as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act and our constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Jails are simply not Constitution-free zones.

For further reading, the San Bernardino Sun’s Ryan Hagen has some good reporting on the alleged inequality (and harassment from deputies) faced by West Valley inmates.


FRANK LYGA FIRED FROM LAPD FOR CONTROVERSIAL COMMENTS

On Wednesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed paperwork to fire detective Frank Lyga, who was accused of making inappropriate and racist remarks during a department training session. (Backstory: here.) Lyga is reportedly considering appealing or filing a lawsuit.

ABC7′s Elex Michaelson has the story. Here are some clips:

Ira Salzman, Lyga’s attorney, confirmed on Wednesday that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed paperwork to fire Lyga, who had been on home duty with pay since June.

“We didn’t get an opportunity to present our appeal,” Salzman said, adding that the firing was unfair. “Horribly disappointed.”

[SNIP]

In a letter to LAPD investigators, Lyga said he deeply regretted his poor judgment. He said there’s no excuse for what he did, but he learned valuable lessons.

“By no means does Frank, to his everlasting credit, or I say it’s OK what he said. It wasn’t OK,” Salzman said. “But that doesn’t at all justify a termination over words.”

Community activist Jasmyne Cannick, the blogger who first posted the recording online, disagreed with Salzman, saying in a statement, “Detective Frank Lyga wrote his own termination when he said what he said.”


YEAR-TO-DATE LOS ANGELES JAILS USE-OF-FORCE STATISTICS

New LA County Sheriff’s Department statistics show use-oF-force in county jails rose 11% so far this year. It’s not yet clear that this number is significant. The numbers were reported to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. According to LASD officials, the spike may be attributed to a number of things, including more thorough use-of-force reporting.

The jail that reported the highest percentage jump in use-of-force incidents, 40%, was at Castaic’s North County Correctional Facility, while Twin Towers actually saw a reduction of 12% over last year’s numbers. You can view the rest of the statistics here (on page five).

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the numbers. Here are some clips:

The biggest increase occurred at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, where Sheriff’s deputies used force against inmates 65 times – a 40 percent increase compared to the same period last year. The jail holds about 3,900 inmates.

“I’m not sure if the actual use of force is up, or if we’re doing a better job reporting it,” said Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the county’s sprawling jail system. “But I’m concerned it’s up.”

[SNIP]

In all, deputies used force 512 times during the first nine months of the year. Most of the incidents — 352 — involved “control holds” or the use of chemical agents like Mace. Punches, kicks, the use of Tasers or batons, “and/or any use of force which results in an injury or lasting pain” accounted for 157 incidents.

Three incidents involved shootings, strikes to the head, “and/or any force which results in skeletal fractures and/or hospitalization.”

In 53 cases, inmates accused deputies of using excessive force. The department determined 42 allegations were unfounded, ten remain under review, and one was determined to be true.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, LAPD, LASD, LGBT, prison policy, solitary | 46 Comments »

Rigid New Screening Process for Visiting CA Prisoners, Black Girls Face Harsher Discipline at School, Risk Assessment in Sentencing…and More

September 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR ANNOUNCES MORE RIGOROUS SCREENING PROCESS FOR CALIFORNIA PRISON STAFF AND VISITORS, IN ATTEMPT TO CURB DRUGS ENTERING PRISONS

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced that, starting mid-October, state prison staff and visitors will be subject to much tougher screenings, in an effort to cut off prisoners’ access to illegal drugs. Both staff and visitors will be randomly chosen to submit to hand swabs and drug-sniffing dogs. Visitors will be strip-searched if either test suggests contact with drugs. While visitors would be allowed to walk away without submitting to a strip-search, anyone found to have drugs on them would be referred for possible prosecution.

Inmate advocates say the significantly more invasive screening process will rely on methods that are often faulty, and will also likely dissuade inmates’ loved ones from visiting them. This is of particular concern, since visits from family and friends have shown to produce better outcomes for inmates, both during the time they are behind bars, and once they are released back into their communities.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here are some clips:

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition said in a statement.

Corrections officials say they are taking the steps to control a growing problem in California’s 34 adult prisons.

“The whole point is to deter and detect trafficking into our prisons,” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said. “It’s a serious issue.”

Drug-sniffing dogs discovered 404 pounds of illicit drugs last year and another 29 pounds through the first half of this year, prison officials said. Since July 1, another 26 pounds was discovered without the use of dogs. Each time, marijuana accounted for most of it.

So far this year, the department has had 546 visitors arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs and cellphones into prisons.

The state plans to spend at least $30,000 for each of the ion scanners that will be used to test the hand swabs. The machines are identical to those used by airport security to detect traces of explosive materials, but in this case will be programmed to scan for traces of the four drugs: marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

California plans to install at least two of the detectors at each state prison if funding permits, starting with 11 where illicit drugs are the biggest problem. The emergency regulations are expected to go into effect on a test basis in October.

[SNIP]

Prison advocacy groups criticized the new policy, saying it relies on two methods that sometimes provide false-positive test results. They said the Federal Bureau of Prisons abandoned its use of the ion-detector hand-swabbing machines in 2008 because of complaints about unreliability.

Representatives of national associations representing state prison and county jail officials and state legislators said they were unaware of any other state or local jail currently using the ion scanners.


BLACK FEMALE STUDENTS FACE EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE DISPARITIES

Black girls frequently receive more severe punishments than white girls for the same offenses at school, despite not being any more likely to act out than their white counterparts, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

According to the Dept. of Education, black girls make up 17% of enrolled female students, but receive 31% of girls’ referrals to law enforcement, and comprise 43% of school arrests of all female students.

The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Klein has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

When Georgia high school student Tiambrya Jenkins was in ninth grade, the teen, who is black, got into a fight with a white classmate. Both girls were transferred to an alternative high school as a result, but the white student returned to regular school after 90 days. Jenkins had to stay in the alternative school for a year.

“It was like being in prison,” Jenkins, now 16, said in a press release for the National Women’s Law Center. “The classrooms had no windows. There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang. A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school. But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me.”

Jenkins’ experience isn’t unusual for black female students, who are routinely given harsher punishments than white students — even though no evidence shows black students are more likely to misbehave, according to a report Tuesday from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report outlines the discipline disparities for African-American girls, and notes that pervasive racial and gender biases in education often prevent students from succeeding.

While black male students are the most frequently suspended, African-American girls also disproportionately receive harsh punishments, the report says. The discipline disparities for black girls are likely related to racial and gender stereotypes that portray African-American females as “loud, confrontational, assertive, and provocative,” the report says.


TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT RISING USE OF RISK ASSESSMENT IN SENTENCING

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo has an intriguing story about the complexities of judges’ increasing use of risk assessment tools to aid in sentencing rulings.

Risk assessment efforts have been touted as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by estimating an offender’s risk of reoffending. Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using risk assessment look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives. But while risk assessments are potentially useful, they are also extremely controversial because of a number of possible pitfalls.

In August, in response to a risk assessment bill making its way to Obama’s desk, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against using risk assessment to calculate drug sentences, saying that a number of the criteria (like education and location) may have an adverse effect on minorities and the poor. (California, for instance, uses a misguided form of risk assessment to tack on extra time behind bars via “sentence enhancements.”)

Palazzolo’s WSJ story is behind a paywall. Here’s a relevant clip, for those who don’t subscribe:

Many parole boards now weigh risk scores when considering early release, and prison officials use them to determine the level of security offenders need during their stay. But the adoption of such tools has sparked a debate over which factors are acceptable. Attributes such as age or sex, which employers are generally forbidden from including in hiring decisions, are considered by criminal-justice experts to be strong predictors of whether an offender is likely to commit a crime in the future.

The measures vary widely but generally are based on an offender’s criminal history and, in addition to age and sex, may include marital status, employment and education, according to Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Pennsylvania, one of the latest states to turn to actuarial tools in sentencing, is building a test that weighs the nature of offense, criminal history, age, sex and county of residence. The last factor is the most controversial as it could be considered a proxy for socioeconomic status. Missouri takes into account current offense and criminal history, age, whether the offender has a history of substance abuse, education level and employment.

Judges aren’t bound by the evaluations, but there is evidence they are taking them into account. Virginia officials attribute a more than 25% drop in the number of nonviolent offenders sent to prison annually to the assessments, used to score felons convicted of fraud, larceny and drug crimes since 2003. In the past decade, the percentage of offenders serving prison terms for violent crime has risen to 74% from 61%, said Chief Judge Bradley B. Cavedo of Richmond Circuit Court. “It doesn’t really control the outcome, but it is useful information,” he said of the measures.

The efforts have drawn skepticism from Attorney General Eric Holder, who told a group of defense lawyers in Philadelphia last month that basing sentencing on factors such as a defendant’s education level “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities.”

There is no research yet on whether the use of risk evaluations in sentencing has aggravated, for example, the gap between sentences for black and white men for similar crimes. Ms. Starr said the disparities created by risk measures are evident. “When it comes down to it, these assessments stand for the proposition that judges should sentence people longer because they were in foster care as children or had too many bouts of unemployment,” she said.

Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University law professor, said the alternative was potentially worse. “At least these risk-assessment instruments don’t explicitly focus on race or poverty, unlike what might occur in a sentencing regime where judges are making risk assessments based on seat-of-the-pants evaluations,” he said.


UNDOCUMENTED AT HARVARD

Dario Guerrero found out he was an undocumented immigrant at age 16. All at once, he learned that he could not obtain a California driver’s license, legally work, visit his family in Mexico, or receive financial aid to attend most US colleges. But a few private colleges, and all Ivy League schools, did offer assistance and full-rides to students in need, and Guerrero found himself accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship.

Here’s a clip from his story for the Washington Post:

A few weeks later, Oscar and I sat down, college applications in hand, to share what we had learned on our travels. We created a Web site for other undocumented students with everything we had learned by e-mail, phone, and in person. We got to work on our applications. Although we were undocumented applicants, most schools still asked to see some proof of income so they could determine our financial-aid award. Thankfully, my parents had filed taxes since the year we arrived; I sent our latest returns.

I applied to every Ivy League school, the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Wesleyan, Washington and Lee, and College of the Atlantic. On Jan. 11, as I sat in the library doing research for a government class project, I got a call from a Massachusetts area code. The Harvard Admissions Committee had voted to send me a likely letter of admission. (Oscar later got a call from Cornell.) And they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard’s dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I’d finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have.

I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different. But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity — as an undocumented Chicano — that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have.

Posted in CDCR, Education, prison policy, race and class, Sentencing | No Comments »

More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | 7 Comments »

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