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What Does a Trump Presidency Mean for Criminal Justice Reform?

November 14th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


We can fairly assume that a Department of Justice under president-elect Donald Trump will function differently from the way the DOJ operated under President Barak Obama.

But what exactly will some of those differences mean in practical terms? More specifically, what effect will the changes under Trump have on the reforms in the justice system that have already occurred, and those reforms that are hoped for in the future?

Answers will become clearer over the next few months and beyond. And we hardly need say that we will track the these issues closely. In the meantime, here is some of what we know, along with what we and others can deduce, surmise, and prognosticate.


Nine months after taking office, then-Attorney General Eric Holder revivified and strengthened the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which meant, during Obama’s first and second terms, a jump in the number of federal consent decrees and memoranda of understanding entered into with law enforcement agencies. In the case of Los Angeles, this meant two such agreements with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the extension of the MOU with the LA County Department of Probation, having to do with the way probation treated the kids in its care.

As the LA Times noted in 2015, George W. Bush didn’t like pushing police departments into court.

The Obama administration, in contrast, felt such legal tools were useful. Like any tool, consent decrees at the like can been misused, of course. Yet in recent decades in California counties, they have been helpful.


California’s most famous agreement in recent years between the police and the feds is, of course, the post Rampart scandal federal consent decree negotiated by the feds with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2000, near the end of Bill Clinton’s second term as president. While onerous at moments, the LAPD’s consent decree was,according to LAPD higher-ups we have spoken to over the years, including Bill Bratton, characterized it as a tool without which much needed departmental reform would have been far more difficult, particularly changes in training that were regarded as universally positive.

Similarly, albeit smaller in scope, the settlement announced in August 2015 between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment, including “adequate mental health services,” for the mentally ill in the LA County’s long-troubled jails, was lauded by both sides as useful and non adversarial. In fact, Sheriff Jim McDonnell explained to reporters at the time that the agreement would provide the needed leverage “to get the resources necessary,” to accomplish long lasting reform.

So will Mr. Trump keep using such investigations and legal tools? His campaign rhetoric suggests otherwise. Yet, when the rubber of campaign rhetoric meets the reality of the road, often things change.

Still San Francisco Examiner’s Jonah Owen Lamb wrote of reform advocates who worry about whether or not the new administration will follow through with its involvement in the reform of agencies like San Francisco’s troubled police department.

The federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office recently issued a blistering review of the San Francisco Police Department, which offered a series of recommendations that will be implemented in the coming year with federal oversight.

But the Justice Department’s pressure on The City to follow through with those reforms may not be very strenuous after Trump is sworn into office in January, according to some police watchdogs.

In the past year, the SFPD has been put in the spotlight by activists, reformers and city politics. During that time, former Chief Greg Suhr resigned — Acting Chief Toney Chaplin has headed the department since May — and there were three high-profile fatal police shootings.

Additionally, new revelations about racist text messages among officers and several scathing inquiries have painted the department as mismanaged and culturally retrograde.

But Trump’s pro-enforcement message may not come as bad news to some in the department who are resistant to change.

In a YouTube video from February, for instance, Trump said law enforcement is not respected enough and should be given more authority.

“Sure, there’ll be a bad apple. There’ll be a bad thing happen. And it ends up on the news for two weeks and everybody hates the police,” Trump said. “The fact is, they do an incredible job.”


The trend under Obama for the feds to proactively investigate suspected wrongdoing by local law enforcement made room for the multi-year investigation of abuse and corruption inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that was carried out, over the last six plus years, by the FBI with the support and active involvement of offices of the two U.S. Attorneys appointed by President Obama, namely former U.S. Attorney, now judge, Andre Birotte, and current U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

The string of indictments and convictions that have resulted, plus the trial to come of former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, are all the result of that emphasis. At one time, behind closed doors sources told us that Baca was likely untouchable. But that turned out not to be so.

The Marshall Project’s Bill Keller wrote on Friday, that a Trump administration is likely to take a more hands off approach to police reform, as suggested by Trump’s repeated calls for more aggressive “law and order.”

Had the complaints against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department surfaced during the Trump administration to come would things have been different?


When it comes to other kinds of criminal justice reform, justice advocates are concerned by Mr. Trump’s statements about his plans to roll back a great many of President Obama’s executive orders. Whether those orders the new president has in his sights relate to justice reform or not is not clear. But there are a number of executive orders that, if wiped away, would represent a major step backward.

He could, for example, spike the newly instituted limits on keeping kids in federal solitary confinement. Trump could similarly roll back Obama’s order to “ban the box” on federal employment applications, the “box” that has, in the past, forced job applicants to disclose any kind of felony record, thus creating a huge impediment to getting jobs for those trying to get on their feet after a prison. Obama’s “ban the box” order was a welcome step toward lowering the nation’s long-awful recidivism rates. It would be damaging to see that step obliterated.

Yet, as several advocates have pointed out, most of the reforms having to do with such pressing issues as incarceration policy, bail policy, sentencing, and juvenile justice systems occur at a state or county level.

Both California and Los Angeles County have banned juvenile solitary except in limited instances. Vaporizing one of Obama’s executive orders won’t change that.

Moreover, the trend in criminal justice and public safety, as demonstrated by various ballot propositions passed in states around the nation, is in the direction of reform.


Writing for the Crime Report, Ted Gest points out that Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s closest supporters, and someone likely to be a part of his administration, has been an active member of the Right on Crime movement.

One of Trump’s key supporters, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has endorsed Right on Crime’s program of “reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money,” but there is no certainty that Trump will go along.

Gest also notes that people like Marc Mauer of the D.C.-based Sentencing Project, worry that Trump’s “record on criminal justice policy is not encouraging, to say the least….During this campaign Trump has issued a call for ‘law and order’ without offering any details of what that might entail, and has seriously misrepresented data on crime trends. One can only hope that he might come to appreciate the complexity of these issues when he takes office, and recognize that liberals and conservatives alike have largely moved beyond the ‘tough on crime’ era.”

In addition, Gest writes about moves by the Obama administration to find ways to lower the federal prison population, and to curtail the use of private prison facilities, both trends that Trump may not favor.

The federal prison population steadily rose in recent years under mandatory minimum terms set by Congress for drug cases and other categories to a high 219,298 in 2013. The total has dropped to 191,579 as of last week, including about 22,000 in private facilities that the Obama administration wants to stop using but Trump may continue.

With the latter issue in mind, it was interesting to note that while many stocks tanked last week, after Trump’s victory, two stocks in particular shot through the roof. They were the pair of private prison stocks. Corrections Corp. of America (CXW) (recently rebranded as CoreCivic) surged 36.22% to $19.33, on Nov, 9, and closed at $20.80 on Monday.

The Geo Group (GEO), climbed 17.25% to $28.00 on Nov. 9, then went still higher to close on Monday at $31.14

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice | 5 Comments »

Field Poll Show’s Many Californians Lack Faith in Justice System & Strongly Favor Community Intervention Programs

October 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


According to a Field Poll released last week, 39 percent of California voters view the justice system as “generally unfair.” That means, of course, that over sixty percent of those questioned saw the American justice system as “generally fair.”

Yet, among certain demographics, those generally fair/generally unfair numbers reversed themselves. For instance, the majority of African Americans chose the more pessimistic of the justice, as did nearly half of young voters ages 18-29.

When asked about specific concerns regarding the unfairness of the justice system, 41% of all voters surveyed, and 54% of those under age 30, felt the system unfairly penalizes people of color more than whites.

But a larger segment of California voters (53%) agreed that their primary concerns when it came to the justice system centered around the system’s treatment of the innocent—specifically that “too many innocent people, regardless of their race and ethnicity, are arrested unfairly, mistreated by police, wrongly convicted for crimes, or given overly harsh punishments.”


Interestingly, when it came to programs and strategies to make their communities safer, a hefty majority of those polled said they strongly supported community-based prevention strategies for promoting community safety over strategies that mandated spending more money on police and prisons.

Then when asked about specifically what methods they felt might improve community safety, two thirds of the state’s voters said they “strongly support” having their local governments spend funds to increase access to mental health services (66%). The same percentage of voters (66%) favored providing more job training programs (66%). Increasing support programs for young people also drew 66%, while slightly less—56%—wanted to increase access to substance abuse treatment.

Still, a healthy 39% were strongly supportive of increasing the number of police, however just 11% favored building more jails and prisons as a strategy to make their communities safer.


Voters seemed to have the most agreement when it came to the need for programs to keep kids in school and out of the justice system.

For instance, greater than eight in ten voters (86%) agreed that suspending or expelling students from school for misbehaviors ranging, from minor misconduct to violent offenses, should only be employed as a last resort after other approaches have been tried “to hold students accountable while keeping them in school.”

This view was shared by the majorities of voter across all age, ethnic and party lines—although Democrats, Latinos, African Americans, and voters under age 30 expressed the strongest agreement for taking this no-expulsion approach.

Similarly, greater than two in three polled said they believed the government’s education and health care systems are better suited than the juvenile justice system to oversee the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders

And by a two to one margin, California voters surveyed told Field that they believed the justice system should treat juvenile offenders differently than adult offenders.


In the last topic area that the survey covered, pollsters found the majority of Californians would make changes in how undocumented immigrant detainees are treated.

Most California voters (68%) favored a policy of releasing undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers into the community under supervision or electronic monitoring rather than holding the immigrants in a jail or detention center (31%) while they wait to go to court to determine their residency status.

The numbers on this topic are most dramatic with voters under age 30, where close to nine in ten favored community-based supervision.

And if undocumented immigrants are locked awaiting their court appearances, three in four Californians (73%) said these immigrants should be held in government-run facilities rather than in the private, for-profit jails or detention centers (25%) that currently house the majority of immigrant detainees.


It is not clear whether or not these poll numbers are indicative of how voters will vote on the ballot propositions relating to justice issues, like Propositions 66 and 62, which both deal with the death penalty, pro and con, and Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give that control back to judges, along with increasing parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense, and boosting access to early release credits.

Yet representatives from the California Endowment, which requested the Field poll, said they were pleased by the what the numbers suggested about Californians’ evolving views and perceptions.

“As a health foundation, we believe it’s time for a new vision of community safety centered on health, education and investing in young people,” said Mary Lou Fulton, Program Director for the Endowment. “It’s encouraging to see that a majority of California voters support moving our tax dollars and policies from punishment to prevention.”

Posted in Civil Rights, Community Health, criminal justice | 5 Comments »

It’s Bill-Signing Season in Sacramento

September 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Over the last few days (and certainly for the next several days) California Governor Jerry Brown has been a bill-signing powerhouse. While our list is by no means exhaustive, we’ve gathered many of the most consequential bills either signed or vetoed that relate to juvenile and criminal justice, foster care, and sex trafficking.


On Wednesday, Governor Brown signed an important bill that will drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

SB 1143 will block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids. “Room confinement,” which will now be limited to four hours at a time, will only become an option after other, less restrictive options have been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), received support from both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union. A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year.

“This bill has been years in the making, and is a huge victory for all of the young people locked up in California and their families,” said Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have required jails to provide in-person visits for inmates and their families. Brown said the bill, SB 1157 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), didn’t allow for enough flexibility for corrections facilities.

“Without this, it means we will have incarcerated people in our jails who are not able to bond with children or family members for years,” said Senator Mitchell. According to Mitchell, as many as 11 counties have either already eliminated in-person visits, or are in the process of getting rid of visits, replacing them with often expensive video calls.

In his veto message, Brown said that he was concerned about the increased use of video visitation in place of in-person visits. “This practice could have an adverse impact on achieving rehabilitative goals and might affect in a negative way the families and loved ones of those incarcerated,” Brown said. The governor said he will direct the Board of State and Community Corrections to look for solutions to the problem.

Another bill that received the governor’s stamp of approval, AB 1843, will block employers from asking job candidates about any juvenile arrests or detention or participation in a diversion program that did not result in a conviction.


Another newly signed bill, SB 1060, aims to reduce the number of siblings separated during adoptions. Far too often, siblings are split up in foster care and during adoptions and lose contact with each other, despite research showing that placing siblings together during their time in foster care improved academic and adoption outcomes. The bill authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) will require pre-adoption meetings between children being adopted, the prospective parents, the sibling(s) and facilitators to try to increase the number of voluntary visitation agreements to keep separated siblings connected after adoption.

AB 1299, also signed by Brown this week, will ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties. Under current law, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county, leaving kids to face months-long interruptions in treatment.


The newly signed SB 1322 by Sen. Mitchell–the “No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute” bill—aims to shield trafficked children from prosecution and criminalization.

“The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet ‘P’ and leave them subject to shame and prosecution,” Mitchell said.

Last year in LA County, Sheriff Jim McDonnell instructed department members to treat the “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, not as lawbreakers and “prostitutes,” and that the department would be going after traffickers and johns who victimize kids.

SB 1129 by Senator William W. Monning (D-Carmel) will get rid of some mandatory minimum sentences for prostitution-related crimes, giving judges discretion in sentencing people taking part in or soliciting prostitution. Existing law requires mandatory minimum sentences of 45 or 90 days in jail for repeat offenders.

Brown also signed SB 420, a bill that will create a legal distinction between adult buyers and sellers of commercial sexual acts, as well as solicitors of sex from minors. The bill will improve data collection on sex trafficking with the intent of helping legislators and policymakers make data-informed decisions, and aiding law enforcement in better directing their resources.

“By US State Department estimates, sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry in this country and 50 percent of trafficking victims are minors,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas). “Yet according to the 2007 Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, California lacks comprehensive statistics on human trafficking. SB 420 will help collect the statistics that law enforcement needs.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s AB 1276, will make it possible for kids under 15 to testify against exploiters in a separate location via closed circuit tv, away from the defendant(s), jury, attorneys, or judge.

Posted in criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Freedom For Sale: An Important San Francisco Bail Lawsuit Hits a Bump in the Road

January 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

In the past year, Equal Justice Under Law,
a Washington DC based civil rights group, has filed nine class action challenges in seven states hoping against cities’ money bail systems that, in the simplest terms, allow the affluent to go free when charged with the same crimes that keep poor defendants in jail when awaiting trial.

With their filings, the group has, thus far, gotten cities in Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana to reform their practices of using of secured money bail for new arrestees.

The organization’s most recent battle site is in San Francisco, CA, where, on Tuesday, the class action lawsuit hit an unexpected snag in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of Oakland, who denied the lawsuit class action status and gave the plaintiffs and their lawyers 30 days to “think of a legal avenue” to continue their efforts to force reform of the SF bail system.

The plaintiffs filed the suit with the help of San Francisco’s refreshingly reform-minded public defender, Jeff Adachi, who also filed a court declaration in support of the suit, writing, “A fair system of pretrial justice would not rely on monetary conditions, as such conditions penalize arrestees solely based on their wealth status.”

Bail reform supporters call the judge’s ruling “discouraging,” since the class action lawsuit has produced tangible results, with no such judicial roadblocks in at least four other states.

Meanwhile, Zachary Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland and Mary Lou Fulton, a senior program manager at the California Endowment, have written an excellent Op-Ed for the LA Times detailing exactly why this lawsuit is so important.

Here’s a clip:

On any given day, two-thirds of the people sitting in California jails haven’t been convicted of anything. These 42,000 people are simply awaiting their day in court, many of them incarcerated for no reason other than being too poor to post bail.

That fundamental unfairness is at the center of a federal case getting underway Tuesday in San Francisco. The class action suit asserts that California’s bail system allows rich people to buy their freedom while awaiting trial, but assumes poor people endanger community safety and can’t be trusted to show up on their court date.

The Washington D.C. group was helped with its local filing by the SF Public Defender’s Office and public defender Jeff Adachi who, in the declaration he filed in support of the class action suit wrote, “A fair system of pretrial justice would not rely on monetary conditions, as such conditions penalize arrestees solely based on their wealth status.”

One of the lead plaintiffs is Riana Buffin, who was arrested in San Francisco on suspicion of theft and conspiracy, and jailed when she couldn’t produce $30,000 in bail money. The 19-year-old Oakland resident was given no opportunity to tell a court officer that she had a job, lived with her mom and three younger brothers, and posed no flight risk or danger to the community. A few days later, the charges against her were dropped. But because Buffin missed work while being jailed for a crime she didn’t commit, she lost her job as an airport baggage handler.

In California, the bail process varies depending on where you’re arrested. In some counties, judges can quickly release people to await their court date at home. But in others, like San Francisco County where Buffin was arrested, those without bail money are stuck.

Bail isn’t pocket change either. The median amount in California is $50,000 — five times higher than the national median. Most people don’t have anything close to that kind of cash available; a survey last year found 37% of Americans couldn’t cover even a $500 car repair bill. Many wind up turning to a bond company to get released. But bail bondsmen charge about 10% of the bail amount, money people don’t get back if charges are dropped. Still, people agree to that debt because a short stay in jail can cause major struggles, such as losing a job or custody of children.

Bail compounds the already substantial race and class discrimination problems rampant in the justice system. People of color experience higher arrest rates to begin with. Then they are charged with crimes that carry heavier sentences and in turn face higher bail amounts. Finally, those who can’t afford bail are more likely to give in to pressure to plead guilty. Research shows that those jailed while awaiting trial end up receiving longer sentences than people facing similar charges who are able to wait for their court dates at home.

Norris and Fulton point out that the County of Napa has already instituted a well-thought-out system of bail reform and amazingly the sky hasn’t fallen. “In Napa County,” they write, “more than 90% of those released pending trial show up for court and stay out of trouble in the meantime.”

Posted in criminal justice | 1 Comment »

Active Shooters Take Over Building in San Bernardino, 14 Wounded, 17 Dead

December 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Wednesday morning at around 11:30 AM, news of an active shooter situation began leaking out of San Bernardino. By noon, the San Bernardino Police Department confirmed from 1 to 3 suspects in an active shooter situation inside San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center, with 20 believed injured, and an unclear number of dead.

The Inland Regional Center provides services to the disabled, and other high needs people.

By 2 PM Wednesday, the numbers had risen to 14 dead, another 17 wounded.

At an afternoon news conference, SBPD officials said the motive for the attack remains unclear, and investigators were not sure at all about the motive for the shooting. Sources told reporters that the assailants were dressed in camouflage and wearing masks and police think the attackers were carrying rifles or other long guns, not handguns.

By the afternoon, it was also believed that three or more suspects had fled the building in a dark colored SUV.

Hours later still, police found the SUV they believed to be the getaway car. SWAT team members exchanged in gunfire with the suspects. Two suspects were killed, a man and a woman. Authorities believe a third suspect may be on the run.

Wednesday night, the SB Sheriff announced that a person of interest had been detained.

Posted in criminal justice | 1 Comment »

Reports on Body Cams and Education in Juvie Detention….Who’s Right About Whether Prop. 47 Increased Crime?…and John Oliver Talks Re-Entry

November 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Law enforcement agencies across the nation are rolling out new body camera programs to increase transparency and accountability to the public. And as the debate about the positives and negatives of officer-worn body cameras heats up, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn, have released an examination of 25 police departments’ body cam policies that looks at whether those policies are adequately protecting citizens’ civil rights.

Included on the scorecard were the Los Angeles Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Oakland Police Department. Researchers evaluated the departments on eight criteria, including whether the body cam policy was made available to the public, whether officers could view video before filing reports or statements, and whether officers were given discretion on when to start recording.

The LAPD received positive marks for limiting officers’ discretion, and releasing the body-worn camera policy to the public, but negative marks in other areas. For instance, the department requires officers to review footage before writing reports. (In contrast, the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. requires the officers to provide statements before viewing footage.) The LAPD does not generally make footage available to people filing complaints and has not publicly addressed how long the department will retain footage.

Back in July, WLA attended a panel at KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum to discuss these very issues, with particular emphasis on how much access the public should have to the body cam videos. And in September, the US Department of Justice gave $1.1 million to the LAPD to purchase the cameras, despite ACLU of Southern California protests about the department’s policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.

In absence of comprehensive civil rights safeguards sewn into body cam policies, “these devices could become instruments of injustice, rather than tools of accountability,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We hope that our scorecard will encourage reform and help departments develop body camera policies that promote accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”


Only thirteen states actually provide education services (including credit recovery programs, GED preparation, and postsecondary classes) for incarcerated kids that equal the quality of education-related services that kids receive at public schools in their communities, according to a first-of-its-kind study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

“Educationally, these kids have fallen way behind their peers,” said Kent McGuire, head of the Southern Education Foundation. “It’s hard to think of a group of youth more acutely in need of educational services.”

Even fewer states—just nine—ensure locked-up kids have access to the same quality vocational services as their peers on the outside.

And states generally don’t collect enough data on education in juvenile detention facilities, either, according to the report. Less than a third of states were tracking how many kids released from detention facilities went on to finish high school.

In nearly half of states, kids were not automatically enrolled at a public school, once released, the re-enrollment responsibility was left up to parents. Kids were enrolled in (generally underperforming) alternative schools upon their release, in a third of states.

One particularly interesting recommendation to fix some of these issues, was to designate a single entity to oversee kids’ transition back into public schools or into vocational programs, once they exit lock-up.

The study data came from a survey of agencies in all 50 states.


In a video message that was part of a series of Prop. 47-related editorials in the LA Times, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the year-old California law is responsible for higher crime rates. (link) Many law enforcement officials agree.

Just a few days before McDonnell’s video editorial messages, Stanford released a controversial report suggesting that because there was only a 5% recidivism rate among those who were released under Prop. 47, rising crime rates in California should not be attributed to the 2014 law. (link)

Who is right about the outcome (so far) of Prop. 47? Maybe both, or maybe neither.

LA Times editorial board member Rob Greene says that the opposing arguments are missing key components and some context. Here’s a clip:

Of the 4,454 state prisoners who were able to leave prison early because they had felonies reclassified as misdemeanors, 159 have returned to prison for committing new crimes in the last year. That’s a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%. And yes, that’s incredibly low, especially when compared with the pre-Proposition 47 general return-to-prison rate of 42%.

And that’s important, because much of the criticism of Proposition 47, as with many criminal justice reform measures, is that it endangers the public by releasing serious and violent criminals “early” – or at least earlier than they would have been released without the reform. These numbers point to a weakness in that argument. The more serious and violent offenders often have a fairly low recidivism rate compared with the general jail and prison population.

As the report notes, though, recidivism has necessarily been measured only for the one year since Proposition 47 passed, not the three years that’s become the standard for recidivism measurements.

And it counts only offenders who left prison within the last year because of Proposition 47 and already have gone back – to prison — after having committed new crimes. It doesn’t count new convictions that might have resulted in jail or probation. Nor does it count arrests. That’s a big deal, because if a meth addict who got out of prison continues to take meth and steals in increments of less than $950 to support his habit, now he’s not going to be arrested for it. Or else he’s going to go to jail — but because he’s not going to state prison, this study doesn’t include him as a recidivist. More time and more study will be needed for a fuller picture.

McDonnell says Proposition 47 has increased crime, but he’s not blaming those people referred to in the Stanford study. He’s got a different population on his mind — the drug and theft offenders who used to get arrested and held in jail pending trial. Instead of getting arrested, those people are now just getting citations and orders to appear in court. Few actually show up for their court dates…

Since the measure passed a year ago, up to the time when these videos were shot in mid-October, according to the sheriff’s numbers, 43,062 people in Los Angeles County were arrested for crimes that used to be felonies but now, because of Proposition 47, are misdemeanors. Of those, 21,030, or nearly half, have been arrested again for an additional 39,939 crimes, including 26 murders, 14 rapes and 83 robberies.

Those numbers would appear to support the critics’ basic argument: When you don’t jail these people on drug and other relatively minor charges, they are free to commit all manner of more serious crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, and they do.

But there are some problems with that argument. Before Proposition 47, many of those accused criminals would have been arrested and jailed, but then would have bailed out — so they’d have been on the street anyway, still able to commit those more serious crimes. A complete study would compare McDonnell’s numbers with a similar group that got arrested, jailed and bailed out.


John Oliver has been on a roll on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, featuring areas of the criminal justice system desperately in need of reform, from cash bail to civil asset forfeiture to mandatory minimums.

This Sunday, Oliver shined a light on the incredible odds stacked against people exiting prison and re-entering their communities. Former felony offenders face tons of roadblocks to education, housing, employment, public assistance, and more. And many former offenders are carted right back into the prison system because of minor parole violations.

Oliver ends the show in conversation with Bilal Chatman, a man who beat the odds after being released from prison, landing a good job and starting a new life. “I’m not that prisoner today,” Bilal told Oliver. “I’m a taxpayer. I work. I’m a citizen. I’m a voter. That’s who I want to be. Those are the things that define me today.”

Watch the full segment above.

Posted in criminal justice | 1 Comment »

Mark Zuckerberg Goes to Prison…..Koch Brothers Explain Criminal Justice in 60 Secs….Dems Debate Justice Reform…SCOTUS Looks Again at Juvie Life

October 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Since its release in 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has been one of the go to texts for those interested in criminal justice reform. In her book, Alexander, a former litigator-turned-legal-scholar, uses a blizzard of statistics and legal citations to argue that we have not ended Jim Crow in America, we have simply redesigned it. Alexander goes on to describe how the tough on crime legislation of the last fifty years, along with the war on drugs, has had a calamitous effect on black America.

We have just learned, via Facebook, that Mark Zuckerberg is one of the latest converts to Alexander’s thesis. At the beginning of the year, it seems that Zuckerberg challenged himself to read a new book every other week; The New Jim Crow wound up on his list and ignited an interest in criminal justice.

This week the new-found interest precipitated a visit by Zuckerberg and his wife to California’s San Quentin prison. The couple was particularly interested in the 1852-built San Quentin in that, while it is the oldest lock-up in the state, it is also often an incubator for model programs that later are franchised elsewhere in the system. There is, for instance, a program in which selected inmates spend a four-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day for six months learning to write computer code, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The code class is part of a broader program called The Last Mile (that we reported on here), which aims to prepare prisoners for a successful reentry through training and instruction in business and tech.

Naturally Zuckerberg made a point of visiting the coding prisoners.

Here’s a clip from what he wrote after his visit to the Q.

US jails hold around 2.4 million people — about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to be arrested for possession and sale of marijuana and to receive a conviction and criminal record, even though the majority of marijuana users are non-Hispanic whites. Almost 40 percent of prisoners are black. More than half the people entering prison live below the poverty line. Our entire society pays the price for an unfair, broken system.

San Quentin has one of the best track records of people not returning to jail in the country. They run programs to teach valuable skills to help inmates find jobs and avoid criminal activity.

In this photo [see above], I’m talking with inmates who are taking a coding course. I was impressed by their spirit to return to their communities and provide for their families, as well as the dedication of the staff to help them reclaim their lives.

Making our criminal justice system fairer and more effective is a huge challenge for our country. I’m going to keep learning about this topic, but some things are already clear. We can’t jail our way to a just society, and our current system isn’t working….

Welcome aboard, Mark. It’s good to see you. We hope you stick around awhile.


The Charles Koch Institute has produced a series of six one-minute videos to explain different aspects of the world of criminal justice that the Kochs think could use some reform. And, while brief, the videos are really remarkably good.

There’s one each on the topics of:

Collateral Consequence in 60 Sec.

The Role of Policing in 60 Seconds

Civil Asset Forfeiture in 60 Seconds

Overcriminalization in 60 Seconds

Mandatory Minimums in 60 Seconds

Mens Rea in 60 Seconds

In the past, the Koch brothers have been best known for donating gargantuan amounts of money to conservative political candidates and causes, claiming, for example, that they will spend nearly a billion dollars to elect conservatives to office during the 2016 election season But, more recently, (as we’ve reported in several instances) they have also thrown some of their considerable funds behind the growing effort to take a long hard look at the pattern of what they describe as an over criminalization, which results in the over-incarceration for which the U.S. has become infamous.

The Kochs now donate money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to combat prosecutorial abuses, and to help make sure that lower income defendants have adequate legal representation. They have teamed with the ACLU and other liberal leaning organizations like George Soros’s Open Society Foundation on such topics as mass incarceration and a “Ban the Box” push, which aims to eliminate the dreaded box that job applicants must check on if they have a criminal record.

And now the one-minute video explainer videos.



The Republican presidential candidates danced only briefly around marijuana use and the war on drugs in their 2nd debate. On Tuesday night the Democratic candidates talked more about the issue but, as Reason Magazine points out, they didn’t have much in the way of solutions for the problems they brought up.

The Washington Examiner helpfully lays out who said what on various justice topics.

They observed that Bernie Sanders talked most about the issue, noting that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. He also said “that instead of building more jails and providing more incarceration, maybe — just maybe — we should be putting money into education and jobs for our kids.”

As for Hillary:

Clinton raised criminal justice reform a couple of times, noting that she has talked at length about tackling mass incarceration. She spoke out in support of police officers using body cameras and was the only candidate to note that criminal justice reform is a bipartisan issue.

(Advocates, however, are not quick to forgive Hil and Bill’s support of catastrophically damaging tough-on-crime legislation in the 1990s.)

Neither Chafee nor O’Malley talked much about the issue, but Webb rightly touted himself as an early champion of criminal justice reform, which he made one of his signature issues as early as 2008.


In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an historic ruling in the case of Miller v. Alabama, which held that issuing mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger convicted of homicide is unconstitutional, and that the kids’ mitigating circumstances must be considered.

What the court did not do, however, is to make clear whether Miller (which, by the way, was argued by lawyer/author Bryan Stevenson) was retroactive. In other words, if juveniles had the bad fortune to be sentenced before the 2012 decision, were they simply out of luck?

One of SCOTUS’s most closely watched cases for this term takes on precisely that question with a case known as Montgomery v. Louisiana, which was argued before the court on Tuesday.

The case in some ways is less than ideal due to the emotions attached to it. It involves Henry Montgomery, who was seventeen, and reportedly a young man coping with mental disabilities, when he shot and killed a well-liked Baton Rouge police officer whom Montgomery thought was going to arrest him for truancy.

Yet, from a legal perspective, the emotions should not matter if Miller is found to be retroactive.

On Wednesday, the LA Times editorial board wrote about Tuesday’s SCOTUS hearing and its hope that the Supremes will face the issue of retroactivity squarely, and rule in Montgomery’s favor.

We at WLA agree.

Here’s a clip from the Times’ editorial:

Montgomery vs. Louisiana involves the question of whether the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling was “substantive” (in which case it can be applied retroactively) or merely “procedural.” It is complicated by an even more technical dispute over whether the Supreme Court even has jurisdiction over this state court issue. We hope the court focuses on the big picture: that its 2012 ruling is indeed a substantive change in the law that must be applied retroactively in all proceedings.

There is no doubt, as Justice Elena Kagan put it Tuesday, that the 2012 ruling “fits on the substantive side.” Although the court in that decision stopped short of holding that juveniles could never be sentenced to life in prison without parole, it required judges and juries to consider “youth and attendant characteristics” as possible extenuating factors before imposing such a sentence. As a result, the court suggested, life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles in the future would be “uncommon.”

That was almost as significant a change in legal doctrine as the court’s 2005 decision holding that states couldn’t execute murderers who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes. Both rulings were based on the court’s recognition that juveniles have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform” — an insight that reflects recent research on how adolescent brains function. It would be an injustice if prisoners such as Montgomery were kept behind bars simply because they committed their crimes before the court saw the light.

Posted in criminal justice | 2 Comments »

Crime Victims Work to Cure for Both Grief & Violence in Los Angeles….and Beyond

September 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Legal Affairs journalist Mark Obbie, writing for Slate,
is on Part 5 of his exceptional series on victims of crime.

In this fifth installment, Obbie looks at a different side to victim advocacy in Los Angeles, one in which violence prevention, intervention, and treating trauma are the priority, rather than the traditional get-tough on crime movement that held sway in the state of California for decades.

But before we get to the latest chapter, here’s a rundown of Obbie’s first four installments.


Part 1 tells the story of a mother named Linda White whose daughter was raped and murdered by a pair of 15-year-olds. When White and her husband were first reeling with shock and grief at their daughters horrific death, they found some solace in groups like Parents of Murdered Children, which pushed for—among other things—tougher sentencing laws.

“Soon, though,” Obbie writes, “the meetings’ emphasis on punishment started feeling to White like a hollow promise. ‘I didn’t feel like anyone was talking to me about healing, about moving forward. It was just about getting even,’ she says.”

Obbie details how the groups the Whites joined initially were a part of the California victims’ rights movement that emerged in the 1970s and ’80s, which worked for more respect for victims, but also joined with law and order advocates to lobby for more retribution when it came to sentencing.

But being a crime victim isn’t a one-size-fits all experience. Over the next few decades, many victims of crime became uncomfortable with the traditional approach, and looked for other forms of healing and reform.

In the beginning, Obbie writes, the traditional crime victim lobbying organizations pretty much marginalized anyone who didn’t toe the party line. But, in the last decade, all that has begun to change.

Linda White representative of that wave of change. Along with her husband, she pulled away from the traditional route. Instead, White finished her college degree, got a master’s degree in psychology, and found the concept of restorative justice. This, in turn, led to her decide she wanted to meet her daughter’s killer….


In Part 2, Obbie tells of the daughter and brother of a murder victim, killed in a home break in. Both the daughter, Kelly Watts, and her uncle, John Sage, struggled painfully for years, like White, to find a method for dealing with their wounds.

Kelly got a doctorate in psychology, and now counsels patients coping with grief and trauma, including veterans.

John Sage found his own way of giving his grief purpose by starting a program called Bridges to Life, in which volunteers go into prisons and talk to inmates convicted of violent crimes to tell them of the effect of their actions, in an attempt to “awake in prisoners a sense of empathy for and accountability to their victims.”

What sets Bridges to Life apart from other inmate educational programs, writes Obbie, is its volunteer teaching staff, made up of many crime victims or, like Sage, murder victims’ survivors.

“These victim-counselors deliver a message of redemption through apology and atonement, using their own painful stories to drive home the devastating effects of crime on others.”

Bridges to Life is now one of the largest inmate program providers inside Texas’ huge prison system.


Part 3 is a story about William Otis, the very influential criminal justice expert who thinks that sentencing reform of any kind is a terrible idea. While conservatives with last names like Meese, Gingrich, and Koch are pushing hard to “pull back from the extremes that gave America its distinction as the world’s prison warden,” Otis, Obbie writes, has a simple but powerful message, “one that has held sway for four decades now.” It is this: Any retreat on harsh sentencing would be a threat to safety and an insult to victims….


In Part 4 we learn that New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has created a new executive-level post inside the NYPD that he hopes will repair the department’s broken relationship with black New Yorkers. The position is deputy commissioner for collaborative policing, and its first hand-picked occupant is Susan Herman, a longtime advocate for crime victims with a progressive approach to policing.

“Solving police departments’ race problems, Bratton has declared, is ‘the issue of our times,’ especially among citizens feeling ‘overpoliced and underprotected’—those citizens, in other words, at greatest risk of both imprisonment and victimization.”

One way to get an idea of Bratton’s view of changing police culture and making peace with citizens in a racially divided city, writes Obbie, is to revisit what he accomplished at the Los Angeles Police Department. “His experience there also hints at what Herman might accomplish in her role under Bratton….”


Finally, in Part 5 of his series on crime victims, Mark Obbie begins by telling the story of Laura Sanchez, a 34-year-old mother of four, who was killed in a drive-by gang shooting in 2007. The gangsters were aiming at somebody else. Actually, they had intended to shoot her eldest son, a 17-year-old honors student. The shooters were black, and were looking for Latino rivals. They didn’t know Sanchez’ son, but decided he would do.

Sanchez’s death had a fearful symmetry. Her own mother had been shot and killed nine years earlier in a drive-by shooting while waiting on the front porch for Sanchez and her family to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner.

Adela Barajas, Sanchez sister-in-law, a single mother, stepped in to help raise Sanchez’ children. (Barajas brother—Sanchez’ husband—was shot in yet another drive-by, but non-fatally.)

Barajas was the family member who fought with the city bureaucracy to get Sanchez’ kids and her husband family grief and trauma counseling. The services on offer were minimal—not even close to what the kids needed, especially the 17-year-old who’d watched his mother get shot in his sted.

In the hope of helping other victims get better treatment, Barajas started a community organization where she counsels grieving family members, and guides them in learning how to wrestle what they need from the victim services system, and gives teens a safe place to go after school. (At 5 a.m., Barajas goes to work in an office job. When she comes home in the afternoon, she does her volunteer work.)

She calls her organization Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts—--LAURA.

In the eight years since the murder of her sister-in-law, Barajas has focused her work for LAURA on two realities of her community’s condition: trauma and danger.

Trauma, she has learned, devastates families if they fail to overcome a natural reluctance to confront their traumatic losses and fears—a process that is often difficult to do without help. The second reality, which is a twin to the first, is the “relentless conveyer belt” delivering children to gangs, drugs, hopelessness and violence unless someone intervenes.

Barajas and her fellow volunteers attempt to help traumatized families toward healing, while also being that “someone else” who intervenes with neighborhood kids in whatever way is needed.

Barajas is one of a growing number in Los Angeles who are working toward those twinned endeavors.

There is, for example, Aqeela Sherrills, a former Grape Street Crip who was one of the architects of the Blood-Crip truce of 1992. Sherrells was well-known for his violence prevention work by the time his son, Terrell Sherrills, who was home on vacation from college, was murdered in 2004 in a minor dispute at a party, where some young gangsters showed up unexpectedly. (WLA NOTE: A lot of people claim to have helped broker the 1992 truce. Aqeela is the real deal.)

Now Sherrills works for Californians for Safety and Justice, trying to bring additional intervention and prevention resources to Watts….

Along with Barajas and Sherills, Obbie profiles, The Southern California Cease Fire Committee, longtime gang interventionists who work, at times uneasily, with law enforcement; Karl Cruz, an activist in a faith-based program called Victory Outreach whose past as a gang member helps him connect with youth in his San Fernando Valley community; and Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries (who, obviously, we at WLA know very well, and value beyond measure).

Obbie describes how Boyle started the jobs and intervention program that would eventually turn into Homeboy Industries when, as a young paster at Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights he had to bury so many kids who were victims of gang violence.

According to Obbie, Father Greg says that one of his biggest frustrations is explaining to skeptics why he’s making such an investment in rehabilitating gang members, when there are so many victims of their violence that need help, too. “Boyle points out that gang violence itself is the product of victimization. ‘You look at those ASPCA commercials,” he says, “and they’ll have a picture of a dog who’s quite shaken and trembling and beaten up, and it will say, “Abandoned, tortured, abused.” And there isn’t a single gang member who’s ever walked through these doors—not one in 26 years—about whom you couldn’t say all three. Abandoned, beaten, and abused. And so that’s the profile of why somebody joins a gang: trauma, despair, and mental health issues.’

Obbie also writes that Boyle has little patience for politicians who proclaim, that they “stand with the victims.”

“It’s so dumb,” Boyle says. “How is this at odds with that? It just isn’t. It’s just the least sophisticated take on crime at its sources….”

“Americans are conditioned to see the harsh punishment of offenders as the best form of justice for crime victims,” writes Obbie near the end of Chapter 5. But Barajas, Sherrills, Boyle and their allies see things differently. They focus on both victims and offenders, addressing trauma care, crime prevention, and rehabilitation of former prisoners—-instead of police crackdowns and long sentences. And more and more they work with police, not at odds with them. They “wade into the messy consequences of violence, drugs, imprisonment, and chronic poverty resolved to replace a war on crime with a quest for peace….”

Read the story.

Posted in criminal justice | 2 Comments »

What Happens When Predictive Analytics Enters the World of Child Protection?….How Do You Define a Gang Member?……The LAPD & the Guardian’s Count

June 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Much has rightly been made of the unbearably tragic child deaths in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state, at the hands of those who should have kept them safe, deaths like that of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez. To refresh your memory, when paramedics showed up at Gabriel’s mother’s home in May 2013, they found the little boy with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, bruises and burns in too many places to count, and his mouth absent two of his teeth. BB pellets were embedded in his lungs and his groin.

Both LA County’s Department of Children Services and the LA County Sheriff’s Department had received complaints that Gabriel was being abused. But somehow nobody acted. And the two-agency non-action resulted in the torture and violent death of an eight-year-old.

Yet, there are other documented cases where DCFS seems to act too quickly, yanking kids out of less-than-ideal but non-dangerous homes and putting them through encounters with the foster care system that were, at best, traumatic and, at worst, deeply damaging.

So how does one tell the difference? Certainly, in some cases, it seems that a modicum of caring attention and common sense would have helped. But in others, the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

Some counties and states around the nation think they might have found at least part of the answer in the realm of what numbers geeks call predictive analytics.

Take for example, the case of Florida’s Department of Children & Families, which had nine child deaths in the state’s Hillsborough County area between 2009 and 2012. All of the kids were under three years old, and all but one were killed by either a parent or paramour.

At the time, the region’s child protective services were contracted out, at a cost of $65.5 million a year, to private youth services agency called Hillsborough Kids.

Florida dumped Hillsborough Kids, bumped up the budget for social workers and, perhaps most significantly, Florida officials contracted to use a new decision-making tool to help the agency prioritize calls of suspected child abuse. It is called Rapid Safety Feedback.

Darian Woods, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at where predictive analytics has entered the world of child protection, who is involved, and what that entry could mean in terms of the future safety of kids.

Here’s a clip:

So in 2012, the department made changes. It commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the data behind the child deaths that were concentrated in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough Kids lost out on the $65.5 million contract and went into liquidation. A private youth services agency, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, was selected by the department to take care of approximately 2,900 abused children in Hillsborough County. The next year, Florida Governor Rick Scott boosted funding for new social workers. Perhaps most radically, a new decision-making tool called Rapid Safety Feedback was introduced in the county.

Rapid Safety Feedback uses — in the parlance of big data crunchers and, increasingly, social scientists — predictive analytics to prioritize calls of suspected child abuse.

Predictive analytics in child protective services means assigning suspected abuse cases to different risk levels based on characteristics that have been found to be linked with child abuse. These risk levels can automatically revise as administrative data is updated. Administrative data may be as simple as school reports or could delve deeper into other information that the state holds: the parents’ welfare checks, new criminal offenses or changing marital status.

Combining predictive analytics with more investigators seems to be producing results in Hillsborough County. According to Eckerd, who also holds contracts in Pasco and Pinellas counties, since it took over the contract in 2012, the quality of reviews has improved 30 percent. There is a significant increase in completed documentation by caseworkers. There have also been zero child homicides in the county since the handover.

LA County is one of the counties that is looking hard at the use of predictive analytics, but they are less positive that big data can solve the problem.


Holden Slattery, also writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, looks further into what LA County is doing as it “struggles to strike the right balance between human judgement and increasingly sophisticated predictive tools when determining the risk that a child will be abused.”

Here’s how Slattery’s story opens:

On weekdays, calls to Los Angeles County’s child abuse hotline reach their peak between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.—right after school. On average, 70 to 80 calls about child maltreatment in Los Angeles County reach the hotline per hour during that span, according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the agency charged with responding to alleged abuse.

There are about 85 social workers manning the phones at any given time. They ask callers to explain how child abuse or neglect took place.

The number of calls made to the largest child welfare system in the United States creeps up each year, said Carlos Torres, an assistant regional manager for the DCFS hotline. In 2014, the hotline received 220,000 calls, he said.

After listening and marking down answers on a computer program, the social workers decide whether a situation meets the criteria for an in-person response. They also decide whether DCFS should respond by the end of their current shift, within 24 hours, or within five days, Torres said.

These decisions, based on small bits of information shared by a caller, determine where DCFS directs its limited human resources. DCFS responds with an in-person investigation to 35 percent of the calls, Torres said. In these cases, a social worker drives to the home, interviews the family, gathers information, and enters his or her findings into a web-based decision-making tool, which, like a questionnaire that an insurance company gives to prospective clients, estimates risk; in this case, risk that a child will be abused.

When everything goes right, DCFS can save a child from harm. When something goes wrong, the result can be heartbreaking. A 2011 report on recurring systemic issues that led to child deaths in Los Angeles County put the onus largely on flawed investigations and problems with the decision-making tool employed. In the search for solutions, public officials have looked toward new technologies, such as analytics software used primarily by private companies, to see if that can keep more children out of harm’s way. As public officials make these kinds of inquiries, in Los Angeles County and across the globe, they confront the conundrum of human judgement versus machine. Some say technological advances hold the answers, while others say that only savvy people are up to the task.

Slattery notes that a number of experts cite research that suggests all this predictive analytics isn’t particularly effective when it comes to assessing if a kid is safe or not.

In any case, read on.


One night in January 1988, rival gang members were shooting each other on the streets of Westwood and mistakenly hit and killed a young woman named Karen Toshiba.

The murder of Karen Toshiba became a flashpoint, as such tragic deaths often do, and 1988 became the year the so-called war on gangs was declared in Los Angeles and, in Sacramento, the state legislature passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act (STEP Act), Statute 186.22 of the penal code.

Among its other functions, the the STEP Act imposed greater punishment for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a criminal street gang. In the beginning, the sentencing “enhancements” were no more than a few years. But it 2000, crimes that were “serious” or “violent,” as defined by the California Penal Code, could be enhanced by five or ten or, in certain cases, a life sentence.

The STEP Act can be brought to bear even when a young man or woman is at the periphery of a gang, with a relationship that has more to do with where he or she lives, than any kind of actively committed or formalized association.

It has resulted in multi-decade sentences for juveniles tried as adults as a consequence of their proximity to violent acts in which they did not participate, even in cases when no one was injured.

If a so-called gang expert can successfully label a defendant as a gang member, even if he or she is not, then the enhancement can kick in, and conviction is also much more likely.

In a story by Daniel Alarcón in this week’s New York Times Magazine called “How Do You Define a Gang Member?” Alarcón
describes a case that shows the STEP Act in action.

The story has to do with a case in Modesto, California, where the primary gangs are variation on the theme of Norteño, or northerners, or Sureños—southerners.

Here’s a clip:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

But this time the defense has a gang expert of its own, a former gang member turned PhD named Jesse De La Cruz…

In any case, read on.


The Guardian newspaper has launched a project it is calling The Counted, the purpose of which is to count people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015.

It’s an interactive project, which you can find here.

Over at KPCC, Aaron Mendelson writes that, according to the Guardian’s database, the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more people (10), than any other law enforcement agency in the United States this year, that’s twice as many as the four law enforcement agencies, one of which is the LASD, that are in second place.

Anyway, it’s interesting so take a look, both at what KPCC has isolated from the database, and at the Guardian database itself.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, families, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 17 Comments »

Manifesting Justice This Week in Los Angeles

May 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


As events in Baltimore and elsewhere continue to unreel, on Saturday in Los Angeles, a unique combination pop-up art show and public discussion launched at the Baldwin Hills Theater to promote dialogue about civil rights, social and criminal justice, and activism in order to “build a healthier and more just future.”

The 10-day event, called Manifest Justice, put on by Yosi Sergant of TaskForce PR, along with the California Endowment and Amnesty International, features the work of more than 190 artists, discussions with criminal justice leaders and activists, as well as music, poetry, plays, workshops, and a lot more.

Manifest Justice opened Saturday morning with a Prop 47 Record Change Fair, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice. Attendees with felonies that qualified for reclassification under Prop 47 were offered free legal advice from LA County public defenders and volunteer attorneys, along with help in filling out required court forms. (We’ll have more on the Record Change Fair later this week.)

At 10:00a.m., US Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) chaired a community dialogue in which an array of panelists told of their personal experiences with the justice system.

There was, for example, Charity Chandler, a woman who now works as an activist at Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), founded by former film producer Scott Budnick.

Chandler’s first encounter with LA County’s juvenile justice system began in her early teens with a six-month stint in Juvenile Hall for petty theft after she stole a pack of underwear and a t-shirt.

From that point on, Chandler said she went through things “no child should have to experience,” cycling in and out of juvenile detention and foster care.

When she found out she was pregnant at 18 with a little boy, Chandler had to convince herself that she was not worthless. Chandler made a vow to herself, “I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to bring a black man into this world…and have him suffer like me and so many countless others.”

That decision sent Chandler down a path of transformation and redemption. Chandler became an advocate, and enrolled in school while she was pregnant. She said she finished graduate school this week.

(For more of Chandler’s story, watch her TEDx talk at Ironwood State Prison.)

Other panelists discussed their efforts toward policy change.

Dr. Paul Song, head of, Courage Campaign, spoke about the importance of funding universal pre-kindergarten as a force against poverty and crime.

Dr. Song pointed to stats indicating that kids in poor communities who didn’t participate in government-funded pre-K were 70% more likely than their peers to get arrested for violent crime by the age of 18, and that career criminals can cost the state as much as $1.3 million.

Song argues that while Governor Jerry Brown is intent on storing surplus budget money in a rainy day fund, “for many communities at risk…it has never stopped raining.”

Another panel member, Winston Peters, an LA County Assistant Public Defender, told his story of transformation. Peters said he focused only on the legal aspects of his cases, until he worked at a now-defunct juvenile center in South Los Angeles where, Peters said, he realized that, while he was a good a lawyer, his young clients faced a list of daunting issues that the law failed to adequately cover, abuse, trauma, and mental illness among them.

Peters also noted that LA’s public defender’s office has made efforts to bridge the gap he witnessed all those years ago, by creating a multidisciplinary approach that includes hiring social workers to team up with the attorneys in the juvenile justice division.

Elsewhere in the Baldwin Theater, a massive cardboard Lady Liberty holds her head in her hands. Across the room, a Ferguson police car has been turned into a garden.

Here are photos of a handful of the art installations on display (but really must be seen in person).

“The Talk,” by Michael D’Antuono:

Jordan Weber:

Yolanda Guerra:

Scheduled for later in the week are workshops, discussions, performing arts, and other not-to-be-missed experiences.

But, if you only choose one day to visit the Manifest Justice exhibit, consider making it Wednesday, May 6. At 6:30p.m., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom, and Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, will discuss “resilience,” followed by a play from Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now and #BlackLivesMatter.

There are a ton of other great events and reasons to take in Manifest Justice before it’s over, so check out the website and calendar for yourself.

Note: Watch artist Max Rippon paint overlapping NY Times headlines to create “The True Is a Moment of the False” in the above video.

Posted in American artists, American voices, art and culture, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 15 Comments »

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