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Innocence


What Does CA’s Use of Juvie Isolation Look Like?…..Stop Locking Up Truant Kids in CA! ….The Lousy State of Education in Juvie Lock-Ups, CA’ s included….North Carolina Sheriff Takes On Wrongful Convictions….Farewell to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

April 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING LOOKS HARD AT CA’S JUVIE SOLITARY

In addition to the shock and perplexity felt by many over California State Senator Leeland Yee’s arrest for what is alleged to be extravagant corruption and wrongdoing, the even larger disappointment is over the loss of his extremely valuable work in the arena of juvenile justice now that he’s been disgraced.

A case in point is, the legislation Yee (Dem-San Francisco) introduced earlier this year to ban solitary confinement as a form of punishment for juvenile inmates in California. Now, sadly, bill appears to have nearly zip chance of passing after Yee’s indictment last month on corruption charges.

Trey Bundy reporting for the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a look at the way California juvie lock-ups are still using solitary confinement. Here is what he found in one of the state’s most progressive juvenile facilities in Santa Cruz, CA.

Although solitary confinement for extended periods is considered one of the most psychologically damaging forms of punishment – particularly for teenagers – no one knows how many juveniles are held alone in cells in California.

Neither the state nor the federal government requires juvenile halls to report their use of isolation for minors – and no laws prohibit them from locking down youth for 23 hours a day.

One thing is clear: Even the county considered one of the most progressive in the state sometimes resorts to solitary confinement to control adolescents.

The Center for Investigative Reporting was given a rare glimpse inside juvenile isolation cells at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. Considered a model youth detention facility by many juvenile justice experts, Santa Cruz still places youth in 23-hour isolation, sometimes for days on end.

But amid a growing national debate over juvenile solitary confinement, the way Santa Cruz manages its youth population could serve as a guide for lawmakers as they attempt reform in various states.

The cells at Santa Cruz look like what you would find in a prison: gray concrete floors, cinderblock walls, a bunk, a window, a heavy green door and a metal sink-toilet combo.

When isolation is used at the hall, teenagers usually are kept in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. Guards check on them every 15 minutes, and they can receive visits from nurses, lawyers, pastors and administrators. Officials refer to the practice as room confinement. In extreme cases, inmates can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows that sit behind two sets of doors off the main hall. It’s clear by talking with youth here that even a few days alone in a cell can take a toll.

Sitting on a bunk in his 8-by-10-foot cell, one 15-year-old boy described throwing a fit when he thought he was unfairly locked inside for several days.

“I started, like, banging on my wall all day,” he said. “I got all kinds of toilet paper and I covered my light and was throwing up on my walls and making a big old mess.”

Santa Cruz probation officials allowed CIR to interview juvenile inmates on the condition that their names not be revealed.

The boy, who is now 16, has been detained at the hall nine times since April of last year on charges ranging from gun possession to auto theft. His stays lasted between two days and three weeks. This time, he was in room confinement for trying to pick a fight with an inmate from a rival neighborhood.

His mother has had drug problems and doesn’t always have a fixed address, so he couch-surfs a lot. He sometimes has to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of release. Occasionally, he said, life becomes so draining and chaotic and that he violates the monitor on purpose to get back here.

“I kind of feel safe here,” he said. “I come here back and forth, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be back in here.”

The boy was released a week after speaking with CIR and, as he predicted, was back 14 days later. “I’m probably my own worst problem when I’m in here,” he said.


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA

It doesn’t happen in every county, but the locking up of kids for so called status offenses like truancy has to stop says head Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash, explaining that kids are just made worse by this kind of incarceration, and that most often truancy is a symptom of a family situation or an emotional issue that the kid is dealing with.

The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.

Here’s a clip:

With all the talk about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, many people may be surprised to learn that California still, in the year 2014, allows kids to be locked up for not going to school. On its face, state law prohibits this, but court decisions have created a loophole that allows incarceration when truants are deemed to be in contempt based on their truancy. Although a majority of California counties do not use this practice, a few persist in locking up truants. Senate Bill 1296 — the Decriminalization of Truancy Act, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, would close the loophole. It deserves widespread support.

The loophole stems from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which originally prohibited the incarceration of “status offenders” — including truants, runaways and incorrigible youth — because Congress didn’t want youth who had committed no crime to be treated like criminals. Unfortunately, the law was later amended to allow confinement if the young person continued to violate court orders. A few California courts have used that amendment to justify locking up truants.

Over the past decade, there has been increasing opposition to the needless incarceration of truants through loopholes in state law. Fourteen states have changed their laws already, and elimination of the federal exception has been a central part of efforts to reauthorize the law. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles has introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act aimed at eliminating the exception once and for all.


HOW BAD ARE THE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN AMERICA’S JUVENILE LOCK UPS? VERY, VERY BAD.

A new study by the Southern Education Foundation looks at how well or poorly various states are doing in getting kids who are locked up to the goal line of a high school diploma. The answer in most states—California prominently included—we are doing very, very badly.

Here’s a clip from the report’s introduction:

There is every reason to predict that today most of these students, like those who came before them in the juvenile justice systems, will never receive a high school diploma or a college degree, will be arrested and confined again as a juvenile or adult, and will rarely, if ever, become self-supporting, law-abiding citizens during most of their lives. Yet, substantial evidence shows that, if these children improve their education and start to become successful students in the juvenile justice systems, they will have a far greater chance of finding a turning point in their lives and becoming independent, contributing adults. The cost savings for states and state governments could be enormous.


NC SHERIFF BECOMES INNOCENCE CHAMPION—AND SAYS ITS GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

One day, after reading a nonfiction novel by popular author John Grisham, North Carolina Sheriff Chip Harding arrived at a blinding conclusion; one of the best ways to convict the right person for a serious crime, he concluded, is to avoid convicting an innocent.

Lisa Provence has the story for C-Ville.com Here’s a clip:

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has always approached his work as a cop through his background as a social worker and through his Baptist faith. But after a four-decade law enforcement career that includes nearly 30 years putting criminals behind bars as a Charlottesville Police Department investigator, he had a come-to-Jesus moment reading John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. The true story of a once major-league baseball player named Ron Williamson who spent 11 years on death row for a brutal Oklahoma rape and murder before being cleared by DNA evidence hit Harding like a punch to the stomach.

“It embarrassed me, that I’m part of law enforcement that did that,” he said.

Last month, Harding sent a rallying letter to the 123 sheriffs and 247 police chiefs in Virginia asking for their support in forming a justice commission to help prevent wrongful convictions like Williamson’s in the Commonwealth.

“I think we can change practices to lessen the likelihood of convicting the innocent while strengthening our chances of convicting the actual offender,” Harding wrote. “If police chiefs and sheriffs were to propose and or support reform—we would be taken seriously.”

That Harding would be the one leading the charge to overhaul the criminal justice system, one known for its resistance to change, shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s long been on the cutting edge of investigative work as the guy who pushed for the General Assembly to fund Virginia’s DNA databank in the 1990s. And while he aggressively—and successfully—pursued hundreds of felony cases during his years as a detective, he also serves as the vice chair of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which provides Bible classes and counseling services to inmates at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Realizing he was part of a system that put innocent people behind bars—or worse, to death—was “humbling and shameful,” Harding said. “And it induced a rage. From there I started wondering how often that was going on.”

Here’s a hint at how often: Nationwide, 1,342 people have been exonerated, often after spending decades in jail, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools. In Virginia, 36 people have been cleared of committing heinous crimes, 17 of those thanks to DNA evidence.

“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding, who went on to read UVA law professor Brandon Garrett’s Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, an examination of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA.


FAREWELL TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, LATIN AMERICA’S MYTHO POETIC TRUTH TELLER, COLUMBIAN ALCHEMIST WITH WORDS, IRREPLACEABLE GENIUS

Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at age 87. He had been ill for a long time.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Garcia Marquez to literature in general, and to Latin American writing specifically.

And of course to his legions of entranced readers. (Your editor included.)

To glimpse the power of the man referred to in the Spanish speaking world as Gabo, one has only to read the opening sentence to Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, long considered one of the best first line’s in literature:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

(What book lover with any sense would not wish to read on after that?)

Each of his ten novels produces its own kind of revelation. But for me, after One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book of his I most treasure is Love in the Time of Cholera Gabo’s novel about lovers whose story takes fifty years, nine months, and four days to finally entirely bloom.

It has its own great opening line as well:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

NPR’s Mandalit del Barco has more in a wonderful appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez here.

Gabo, rest in peace. We will miss your light, of course. But we are grateful beyond words that you left so much of it behind for us.

Posted in art and culture, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Life in general, literature, solitary, Trauma, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Fixing the “Truancy Crisis,” NYC Art Program Diverts Teen Taggers, Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row…and More

March 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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KEEPING CALIFORNIA KIDS IN SCHOOL AND ON TRACK

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and state lawmakers proposed a group of bills targeting elementary school truancy, which they describe as having reached crisis-level.

Harris’ office put together a report on the issue of “chronic” absence and truancy across California. The report found, for instance, that an alarming one out of five elementary school kids were reported as truant during the 2011-12 school year. Here’s a clip from the executive summary:

…In the 2012-2013 school year, approximately one million elementary school children in California were truant and almost 83,000 were chronically truant (missing 10% or more of the school year – calculated from the date of enrollment to the current date – due to unexcused absences).

The same sample reveals that hundreds of thousands of students in California are chronically absent from school. Over 250,000 elementary school students missed more than 10% of the school year (over 18 school days); and a shocking 20,000 elementary school children missed 36 days or more of school in a single school year.

Given these disturbing statistics, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris commissioned a study to examine the scope, causes and effects of truancy and absenteeism in California. The study also focused on what law enforcement, parents, educators, non-profits, public agencies and concerned community members can and must do about this problem. The findings are stark. We are failing our children.

Truancy, especially among elementary school students, has long-term negative effects. Students who miss school at an early age are more likely to struggle academically and, in later years, to drop out entirely. One study found that for low-income elementary students who have already missed five days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%. Lacking an education, these children are more likely to end up unemployed and at risk of becoming involved in crime, both as victims and as offenders.

The five bills proposed by Harris and lawmakers address some of the report’s recommendations, with an overall goal of keeping kids in class without turning to harsh school discipline. Several of the bills focus on attendance data-gathering by the AG’s office, the Department of Education, and county School Attendance Review Boards (which would be made mandatory by one of the five proposed bills).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Harris said California needs to better collect student attendance data and put it to use instead of waiting for that person to be deemed a menace to society and pouring billions into the criminal justice system.

[SNIP]

“We need to try to get ahold of our young people early and make sure they end up in the classroom and not the courtroom,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who authored one of the bills.

“With this slate of bills, we are not putting more students in the juvenile justice system, but inviting communities to intervene before they end up in the penal system.”

Harris’ report was the first statewide assessment of the truancy crisis, specifically examining elementary schools in each county and relaying the financial impact.


NEW YORK CITY NON PROFIT PARTNERS WITH PROBATION DEPT. TO GIVE YOUNG TAGGERS FORMAL ART LESSONS

In partnership with NYC Dept. of Probation, a nonprofit, “Paint Straight,” takes kids arrested for tagging and redirects them with formal painting lessons and mentorship. At the end of the 8-week program, parents, friends, and probation officers attend Paint Straight’s art show where the kids’ paintings are sold through a silent auction.

We at WLA think this is a much better way to address the issue of young people tagging, than former city attorney Carmen Trutanich’s push for gang injunctions against taggers back in 2009.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Laura Bult has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Elijah Henriques, 15, always loved to draw. He began drawing on paper, then on his schoolbooks and eventually he started making graffiti. After a neighbor witnessed Henriques tagging mailboxes in his Ozone Park, Queens, neighborhood, police officers pulled him off a city bus and arrested him and his friends.

Two months later on a Saturday afternoon, his graffiti was exhibited at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the East Village in Manhattan. His artwork was part of a show organized by the “Paint Straight” program, a nonprofit that’s designed to encourage teenagers who have been arrested for vandalism to express their art in safe and legal ways.

“It helps you understand that doing it illegally is a waste of time. That you can do it on canvas, too,” Henriques said at the “All-City Paint Straight Program Finale.”

Eighteen other young artists who had been arrested for graffiti displayed their work alongside Henriques. Colorful 18-by-21 canvases rested on easels throughout the small dark bar. A DJ spun hip-hop records as probation officers and family and friends of the artists streamed in to view and bid on the art in a silent auction.

Ralph Perez, 49, founded “Paint Straight” five years ago in collaboration with the New York City Department of Probation for teens who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes. The program lasts eight weeks and is often a requirement of probation or offered as an alternative to community service.

“Paint Straight” participants meet once a week at their respective borough’s family court facilities and receive art education and mentorship. Perez said that, out of the 111 kids whom he has helped in the last year, only four have been re-arrested for vandalism…

(Read the rest.)


LOUISIANA MAN EXONERATED AND FREED AFTER A STAGGERING 30 YEARS ON DEATH ROW

Glenn Ford, a man who spent 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit, was exonerated and released Tuesday afternoon. Through a massive miscarriage of justice—by police, prosecutors, judges, “experts,” and the defense attorneys—Ford was convicted by an all-white jury in 1984. His release makes him one of the longest-serving death row exonerees, to date.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has the story. Here’s a clip:

Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.

Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.

There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.

Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.

During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).

After Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts…


LA TIMES SEZ SUPE. MOLINA IS -MOSTLY- RIGHT TO BE FRUSTRATED BY COUNTY COUNSEL DENYING ACCESS TO LASD INTERNAL INVESTIGATION DOCS

Last week, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina insisted county counsel should grant the board access to LASD internal investigation documents on questionable use of force incidents that wind up triggering lawsuits against the county. For instance, Molina wanted access to documents on one investigation in particular, regarding a deputy’s seventh shooting (after which he was placed back on patrol). Molina said, without being able to look at the files, the board could not hold the sheriff’s department accountable to the county, which last year had to pay $89 million in judgments and settlements. (We pointed to the story—here.)

An LA Times’ editorial says Molina is right to be frustrated by the county counsel’s withholding, but there’s more to it. Here are two clips:

She is correct that the county counsel prevents too much information from coming to people who need it to do their jobs. That’s in part because he must obey canons of legal ethics requiring him to protect the interests of his client — which is not simply the Board of Supervisors.

Like all municipal lawyers, the county counsel’s position is curious. His client is the county, a governmental entity consisting of elected officials such as the sheriff and the district attorney as well as the Board of Supervisors; thousands of workers; and in the case of Los Angeles County, 10 million constituents. With so many people who claim to be the client, and with so many competing legal interests to balance, the county’s lawyer can take on enormous power. He sometimes seems to be on both sides of the attorney-client privilege, directing the supervisors’ actions instead of taking directions.

The Times then points to the Supervisors’ own tendency towards secrecy in these cases:

But the supervisors have rarely hesitated to make that awkward relationship work in their favor. They frequently withhold information from the public or meet behind closed doors, then seek to excuse their actions by hiding behind legal advice that they are perfectly free to reject. The county counsel is their tool at least as often as he is their obstacle.

When it comes to obtaining confidential reports on the actions of sheriff’s deputies, members of the Board of Supervisors may have their hands tied by the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, a state law that, in the name of privacy, keeps far too much information about deputies’ use of force out of the hands not just of the supervisors but of the public. If the supervisors wanted to, they could put their not inconsiderable clout behind a legislative measure to modify that law.


REMINDER: SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

The first debate among Los Angeles County Sheriff candidates (save for Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold) is scheduled for tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 pm, at the Van Nuys Civic Center (6262 Van Nuys Blvd.).

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Big Problems With Idaho’s Private Prison…. A New Sheriff Candidate Debate!….CA Needs Sentencing Reform…Out of Control Prosecutors…..& Paul Tanaka Has a Plan – UPDATED

March 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FEDS INVESTIGATE AWFUL PRIVATE IDAHO PRISON (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA??)

The FBI has launched an investigation into Idaho’s largest and most violent prison, a for profit facility run by the private prison behemoth, Corrections Corporation of America—or CCA. The chronically understaffed prison has a reputation for being so out of control that inmates reportedly call it “Gladiator School.”

The facility got bad enough under CCA’s management that, in January of this year, Idaho decided to take back oversight of the place.

And now the FBI is stepping in.

It is sobering to note that California also contracts with CCA. Right now they house approximately 8000 of our state’s inmates, with that number scheduled to rise, making us CCA’s second largest customer.

Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press has the story on this latest CCA scandal Here’s a clip:

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA has operated Idaho’s largest prison for more than a decade, but last year, CCA officials acknowledged it had understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center by thousands of hours in violation of the state contract. CCA also said employees falsified reports to cover up the vacancies. The announcement came after an Associated Press investigation showed CCA sometimes listed guards as working 48 hours straight to meet minimum staffing requirements.

[BIG SNIP]

The understaffing has been the subject of federal lawsuits and a contempt of court action against CCA. The ACLU sued on behalf of inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center in 2010, saying the facility was so violent that inmates called it “Gladiator School” and that understaffing contributed to the high levels of violence there.

In 2012, a Boise law firm sued on behalf of inmates contending that CCA had ceded control to prison gangs so that they could understaff the prison and save money on employee wages, and that the understaffing led to an attack by one prison gang on another group of inmates that left some of them badly injured.

The Department of Justice requested a copy of a forensic audit done for the Idaho Department of Correction earlier this year. That audit showed that CCA understaffed the prison by as much as 26,000 hours in 2012 alone; CCA is strongly contesting those findings. CCA’s Owen has said the company believes the audit overestimates the staffing issues by more than a third.


VAN NUYS HOSTS FIRST SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE’S DEBATE ON WED. NIGHT, MARCH 12

The debate will take place this Wednesday night starting at 7:00 pm.

It will be held at the Van Nuys Civic Center, at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., on the ground floor of the building.

The only candidates for LA County Sheriff who are, at the moment, not coming are Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Perhaps that will change. Let us hope so.

UPDATE: Paul Tanaka is now confirmed and, with luck, they’ll also get Hellmold. (Note to Jim: Call these people back. Now!)

PS: THIS NEWLY ANNOUNCED VAN NUYS DEBATE IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ACLU/LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTORS DEBATE that will take place next week on March 20. We’ll remind you again when we’re closer to the date.


CALIFORNIA NEEDS A SENTENCING COMMISSION SEZ THE NY TIMES

We may have modified our Three Strikes statute, and that’s a welcome step, but California still has a great many laws on the books that are not in the best interest of public safety, and which have much to do with why we have been struggling with overcrowded prisons.

The NY Times weighs in on the topic of our need for sentencing reform.

Here’s a clip:

California should move quickly to set up a commission. Over the past few decades, the federal government and about one-third of the states, from Alabama to Washington, have established commissions to address overcrowding and other issues. By using data-based assessments of who is more or less likely to re-offend, they help correctional systems both protect public safety and save money. A 2010 report by the California state auditor estimated that the longer sentences imposed under the three-strikes law will cost the state an additional $19.2 billion.

As important as reducing prison populations is making sure that people don’t go right back in. That will require postprison programs focusing on jobs, housing, and treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. California has budgeted for this as part of a statewide reform initiative, but the money needs to be spent wisely. (A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to move prisoners to county jails and private prisons. It said the state should focus on longer-term solutions, like reducing sentences for some crimes and diverting more offenders away from prison.)

Governor Brown, who has thwarted meaningful reform in the past, has begun to show some openness to change — for example, in signing off on parole releases at a far higher rate than any governor in decades…


PROSECUTORS SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW? A NOVEL CONCEPT?

It is fairly well established that American prosecutors have too much power, and too little accountability.

A 2009 study that looked at the primary causes for wrongful convictions overturned based on DNA evidence found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in from 36% to 42% of the convictions. And what happens to those prosecutors whose shaving of the legal dice has resulted in someone doing time for something he or she didn’t do?

For the most part, nothing.

Finally, however, a few judges in various areas of the country are starting to speak out against prosecutorial misconduct. Last year, Alex Kozinski of California’s 9th Circuit did so memorably.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about other judges who have also spoken up—basically saying that prosecutors have to abide by the law.

And how have prosecutors reacted to this criticism? Not well, writes Balko.

Here’s a clip:

….Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.

The state’s prosecutors didn’t see it that way.


CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF PAUL TANAKA RELEASES HIS “POSITIVE VISION” FOR THE LASD

On Monday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka released his eight topic plan for “changing the direction of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The plan divides its recommendations into eight categories: executive staff, accountability, transparency, budget, officer training, patrol, jail operations and crime.

Among its notable points, Tanaka pledges “100% cooperative effort with the Inspector General.” If elected, he also intends to “establish a promotional testing process, which will ensure that only the highest qualified employees are considered – based on experience, knowledge and effort,”

There’s lots more so read the details here.

Posted in 2014 election, Innocence, Paul Tanaka, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

More on the NY Mag Prisoner Hunger Strike Story, LASD Inspector General Wants Town Hall Meetings, a Rundown on Sheriff Candidates…and More

March 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR’S FRESH AIR: HOW CALIFORNIA’S LARGEST PRISON HUNGER STRIKE WAS COORDINATED

On Tuesday, we pointed to an NY Magazine story by Benjamin Wallace-Wells about how an unusual foursome of California prison gang leaders in solitary confinement coordinated a hunger strike over isolation conditions that more than 30,000 prisoners participated in.

NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross speaks with Wallace-Wells about the NY Mag article. Gross also talks with UC Santa Cruz professor of psychology Craig Haney, who has been studying the psychological effects of solitary for decades (and is cited in the NY Mag story).

Here’s a clip of the transcript (but definitely take a listen, especially if you missed the NY Mag piece):

Wallace-Wells: In 2006, prison officials at Pelican Bay reorganized the SHU; they reallocated the prisoners into different spots in the Security Housing Unit. They thought that the gangs had found ways to work even within these extremely isolated environments. Gang leaders ended up next to gang lieutenants and they wanted to break that up.

So what they did, effectively, was they took all the people who they thought were the most influential, of whom they were the most scared, and they put them all together in one small part of the SHU — it’s called the Short Corridor. The theory was you would separate the guys who were very heavily monitored … from the guys who had become accustomed to doing their bidding, the more junior players. One thing that this did, effectively, was it brought all of the most senior and most influential men in the prison system into physical proximity with one another …

Every cell in solitary is part of a pod of eight cells, and though the prisoners don’t see each other, they can shout to the people in those other seven cells. Also, prisoners are ingenious, and they have figured out how to shout through toilet drains in their own cell to people in other cells and nearby parts of the prison. They figured out how those drain networks go.

On how long it took for the strike leaders to come together:

Wallace-Wells: I think it took a long time. These four men who led the hunger strike — Todd Ashker, [allegedly] of the Aryan Brotherhood, had the initial idea; Sitawa Jamaa, who is allegedly from the Black Guerilla Family; and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly a senior leader of the Mexican Mafia; and Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of the three “generals” of Nuestra Familia — they were put together in basically the same space years ago, in 2006, and it took five years for them come together.

That was a long process. They were very wary around one another at first, but they are each in their own way political and both Ashker and Sitawa Jamaa in particular had been reading revolutionary texts for years. In their own way, each of them had come to see their fight as fundamentally with the system itself rather than fundamentally with each other.

They also are all about the same age. They’re now in their late 40s and early 50s and they had a ton of time in the pod and they had nothing to do but talk. So what they will say is that they first came together, they first developed some intimacy, not by talking about the abuses that they believed they were suffering and not by talking about gang politics, but by talking about their families. The kind of catalyst, after all, of that was Ashker and the other white inmate on the pod … had become a kind of revolutionary book club and they would talk about these books by shouting through the pod. The impact for Ashker was to kind of highlight that they were members of a prisoner class, that the racial divisions among them were artificial and had been coached along by the guards.


LASD IG MAX HUNTSMAN WANTS INPUT FROM COMMUNITY REGARDING DEPARTMENT ISSUES

Inspector General for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, says he wants to hold town hall meetings to give LA County residents a voice regarding the Sheriff’s Dept. matters. Hunstman, who was hired in December to provide oversight of the LASD, says he wants to build a stronger connection between the department and the community it serves.

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I view my job to be, in part, reaching out to the community and getting input from them over to the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll act as a buffer because there are certainly some people in the community who have very extreme views, and you can’t just vomit out that whole collection of thoughts on the Sheriff’s Department.”

Patrisse Cullors, who founded the community organization Dignity and Power Now after accusing deputies of assaulting her mentally ill brother in jail, believes town hall meetings are critical to restoring public trust. She even offered to help host and organize them.

“People who have been impacted by deputy violence are extremely angry,” she said. “They expect to get answers at these town hall meetings about what happened to their loved ones, who may have been beaten, shot, brutalized.”

American Civil Liberties Union legal director Peter Eliasberg said town hall meetings could indicate the seriousness of problems at the LASD.

“If people are coming in routinely angry, it doesn’t mean everything they say is true, but it’s a form of early warning.”

A Sheriff’s Department representative pointed out town hall meetings have been held at various stations for years. Those, however, suffered from a lack of public trust.

Huntsman wants his town hall meetings to create a bridge between the people and the LASD.

“It certainly has its limitations, but it’s very helpful,” he said. “I’d like to create something like that, because my job is to bring the community and the Sheriff’s Department together, try to get them to the same place as much as possible about what they want policing to look like.”


A GUIDE TO THE SEVEN LA SHERIFF HOPEFULS

WLA’s editor put together a comprehensive LA County Sheriff candidate rundown for LA Magazine. Here’s the intro:

In the March issue of Los Angeles, Celeste Fremon details the jaw-dropping details about the breakdown in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Sheriff Lee Baca. This June, L.A. County voters have an opportunity to cast their vote for a new sheriff and, hopefully, a new approach to policing within the LASD. You can’t complain if you don’t vote, but how to vote if you don’t know much about the candidates? Here, Fremon provides a rundown of each of the men who want to run the fourth largest police force in the country.


STATE BAR OF TEXAS TO INVESTIGATE PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT CLAIMS MADE BY EXONERATED DEATH ROW INMATE

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has a worthwhile story about Texas death row exoneree Anthony Graves, who is taking on the prosecutor in his case, after being wrongly imprisoned for 18 years (where he faced scheduled execution twice). Graves announced on Wednesday that the State Bar of Texas would be investigating the grievance he filed against Charles Sebesta, a former Burleson County district attorney.

Here’s a clip:

Graves was convicted in 1994 of killing a 45-year-old woman, her 16-year-old daughter and four grandchildren in a single stoplight town about 90 miles northwest of Houston in 1992. The victims were variously beaten, stabbed, strangled and shot.

The sole witness to the crime, Robert Carter, was also charged and initially implicated Graves, but later recanted.

Sebesta said he did not withhold a statement from Carter, and that it was the job of Graves’ attorney to question Carter more closely.

Both Carter and Graves were convicted. Carter was executed in 2000. Sebesta retired the same year.

Graves appealed. In 2006, his conviction was set aside by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the prosecutor not only withheld evidence that would have helped Graves, but that he also encouraged witnesses to commit perjury. Four years later, the new district attorney dismissed the charges and declared Graves innocent…

Graves’ attorney filed a grievance with the state bar against Sebesta in 2007, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, he said (Sebesta disputes this). This year, Texas lawmakers extended the deadline for filing.


Above photo courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Posted in CDCR, Innocence, LASD, solitary | 1 Comment »

LASD News Roundup, the Post-Release Life of the Exonerated, Solitary Confinement Debate Gains Steam…And More

February 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AN LASD CAMPAIGN WEBSITE PRANK

When Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, both candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff, tried to set up campaign websites, they found most of their viable options were already purchased. Not only that, the bought up sites (JimHellmoldforSheriff.com, for instance) redirected to a site for former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s campaign denied any involvement when contacted, and asked the web hosting company to shut down the redirecting sites shortly thereafter.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

When Jim Hellmold decided to run for sheriff of Los Angeles County last month, he knew that one of the first things his campaign needed was a website. He figured JimHellmoldForSheriff.com would make the most sense.

Except when he typed the address into his browser it took him to an already established site promoting one of his competitors: former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

So he tried another: JimHellmold2014.com.

Again, he was directed to a site boosting Tanaka.

“I was left with ‘Hellmold-the-number-four-sheriff-dot-com,” the assistant sheriff said. “I look rinky-dink.”

Across town, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who decided to run for sheriff around the same time, was having a similar experience. Basic domain names with his name were already taken and leading him to a site for Tanaka…

“Apparently he bought everything he thought I wanted,” McDonnell said. “I was disappointed. I thought, you know what, we’re all cops trying to run for a job and hopefully we respect each other.


AN ASSEMBLY BILL TO CREATE INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT OF THE LASD

A new California bill, introduced by Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would create a permanent civilian oversight committee for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

For months, the LA County Board of Supervisors have been discussing the possibility of an oversight commission. On Tuesday, the Supes voted to have IG Max Huntsman, (interim) Sheriff John Scott, and county counsel to look into what kind of oversight would work for the department. (Read about it here, if you’ve missed it.)


THE PLIGHT OF EXONEREES IN THE UNITED STATES

People who are exonerated after spending time in prison rarely receive monetary compensation, and when they do, it takes years to travel through the court system. Exonerees given the assistance that everyone else released from prison receives.

In 2013 alone, 87 people were freed after wrongful incarceration.

Over the weekend, the NY Times’ Alan Feuer had a worthwhile story (we didn’t want you to miss) about the lack of support offered to the unjustly imprisoned upon their release. Jeffrey Deskovic, a fellow exoneree who is working to bridge that gap. Here are some clips:

A sprawling literature exists describing the challenges of re-entering society after serving time in prison, an experience that is marked by depression and disorientation, and is hard enough for those who have been rightfully punished for their crimes. But what about those who are wrongly sent away as the victims of mistaken identity or prosecutorial error? The justly incarcerated are likely to have access to a battery of post-release services like health care, housing aid and social-work assistance, but those who should not have been locked up in the first place are rarely given treatment to address their special needs, and are often left to fend for themselves, finding the cure for their “disease” in one another’s company.

“There was a gap for men like us and I wanted to fill it,” said Mr. Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and a murder he did not commit. After his release in 2006, he filled that gap with the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, a product of a settlement with his jailers that is focused on helping the innocent who found themselves imprisoned to manage the financial and emotional results of their own release.

A combination of advocacy organization and support group, the Deskovic Foundation, since its creation in 2012, has collected a small, tightknit brotherhood of exonerated inmates, a society of the wronged whose members have been forced to come together and assist one another in the absence of assistance from anyone else.

When Eric Glisson, improperly imprisoned on a murder charge for 17 years, was recently planning at age 40 to open Fresh Take, his juice bar in the Bronx, Mr. Deskovic offered him marketing advice and bolstered his credit by co-signing the lease. When Mr. Lopez, convicted of a killing he did not commit, was freed from prison last winter after serving more than 23 years, Mr. Deskovic replaced the clothes he was arrested in with an outfit from Macy’s and put him up for six months — rent free — in the foundation’s apartment in Washington Heights.

[SNIP]

“People who have been wrongly convicted don’t have any reason to trust authority,” said Karen Wolff, a social worker with the Innocence Project. “The irony is it impacts their ability to deal with the people there to help them — with their lawyers, the social-service agencies they go to, even with potential bosses down the line.”

Then, of course, there are “bitterness issues,” Ms. Wolff said.

“The first year out is critical in their ability to transition back to life,” she added, “and there is no central place, no single institution that can tell them, ‘O.K., this is what we took from you, now here’s what we’re going to give you back.’ ”

It is widely assumed that exonerated inmates can simply make a claim against their jailers and walk away, like Mr. Deskovic, financially set for life. But only 29 states have laws that permit the wrongfully imprisoned to sue for compensation, and even in those states, the cases often languish in court for years.


JAM-PACKED CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HAS TO FIND A BIGGER ROOM

The debate about solitary confinement, an issue we often point to on WLA, has really been heating up, at both the congressional and state levels.

On Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue had so many attendees that the committee had to move to a larger room.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson talks about the hearing with Melissa Block on All Things Considered. Here’s a clip:

BLOCK: And it was just last week that we saw New York announce sweeping changes to solitary confinement for inmates in state prisons there. Why are we hearing so much about this practice right now?

JOHNSON: In the last couple of years, a lot of different factors have come together. There have been efforts by states to save a lot of money and reduce violence in prisons and also a critical massive advocacy by the ACLU and some researchers. And now, today, we saw some bipartisan interest in the U.S. Senate.

One fact that came out today was that it cost about $78,000 a year to house somebody in the federal prison system in solitary. That’s three times as much as it cost to put somebody in a regular prison unit. And, Melissa, here, as in so many areas of law and order around the country, states are leading the way. Mississippi and Maine have been early adopters of reforms in this area. And even in Texas, state lawmakers last year have passed legislation to study solitary confinement.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO END USE OF “GAY PANIC” AND “TRANS PANIC” AS CRIMINAL DEFENSE STRATEGIES

Another new California bill, AB 2501, would ban the use of “gay panic” or “trans panic” as a defense strategy in criminal cases. Under the bill (to be introduced by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla in partnership with Equality California), a defendant would no longer be able to blame an alleged crime against another person as having occurred due to fear caused by the victim’s orientation or gender identity.

Here’s a clip from Assemblymember Bonilla’s website:

“It is reprehensible to learn that criminal defendants are encouraged by their defense counsel to employ a ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in an attempt to receive a possible lesser charge or avoid conviction,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla. “A panic attack defense allows a criminal defendant to claim that violence against the LGBT community is somehow understandable or acceptable due to the victim’s orientation or gender identity. With this bill, we are making it very clear that it is never acceptable, and that there is no place for prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

AB 2501, sponsored by Equality California, a statewide advocacy organization for the LGBT community, would prohibit the use of a “panic defense” to qualify for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter instead. Current law calls for the jury to be instructed that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.

(And a quick shout out to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for vetoing the bill that would have allowed businesses to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to refuse service to the LGBT community.)

Posted in Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LGBT, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, solitary | 24 Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

More on the LASD Hiring Story, False Confessions via the “Reid Technique,” and LAUSD’s Vanishing Libraries

December 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISOR YAROSLAVSKY SAYS NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL SHOULD EXAMINE LASD HIRING

On Monday, we shared the LA Times story about disturbing LASD hiring practices in 2010.

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that Max Huntsman, the incoming inspector general for the sheriff’s dept., should make taking a deeper look at this hiring issue one of his first priorities.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston have the update on the controversial story. Here’s a clip:

“I think the Sheriff’s Department needs to take a look at each and every one of these hires to see what remedies they have,” Yaroslavsky said, “and they need to do it immediately.”…

He said he would meet with Max Huntsman, who is expected to start soon as the Sheriff Department’s new inspector general, and ask him to look at the 2010 mass hire and the sheriff’s hiring in general.

“This should be one of the first things he looks at,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is a very frustrating situation. There’s a rigorous vetting process that goes with hiring any law enforcement employees, and corners should not be cut.… The sheriff needs to be sure this kind of situation does not reoccur.”

In an interview earlier Monday, Huntsman said he was particularly troubled by the finding that dozens of officers who had showed evidence of dishonesty were hired. Investigators noted that some of the new hires had made untrue statements or falsified police records.

“The hiring of people who have not been honest is a dangerous thing to do,” said Huntsman, who is expected to start work as the agency’s inspector general early next year. “Dishonesty is a particularly dangerous area. A use of force can be placed in context … it may or may not reoccur. But dishonesty, that’s always going to be a problem.”

[SNIP]

“At a minimum we would ask questions, gather information and hopefully make suggestions on how to avoid this in the future. Even though I think some of those suggestions are pretty obvious: Don’t do this,” he said. “Hopefully, if we would have existed at the time, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Another county supervisor, Michael D. Antonovich, said in a statement that the Board of Supervisors “was assured that full background investigations would be conducted and only those qualified would be hired by the Sheriff’s Department.”
“Those who breached that process should be held accountable,” he said.


MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE: COMMON INVESTIGATION METHOD INDUCES FALSE CONFESSIONS

The New Yorker has an fascinating story about how an oft-used law enforcement interrogation tactic called the “Reid Technique” can (and does) elicit false confessions. The technique involves a series of steps on the part of investigators, including assessing whether the suspect is lying, to pretending to have evidence and minimizing the consequences of the alleged crime.

Unfortunately, the article is hidden behind the New Yorker’s usual paywall. Here’s a small clip from the beginning of the piece (do go read the rest if you have a subscription):

On December 14, 1955, Darrel Parker came home for lunch from his job as a forester in Lincoln, Nebraska. A recent graduate of Iowa State, he had moved to Lincoln with his wife, Nancy, who worked as a dietician for a flour-and-noodle company and had a cooking show on the local television station. He found her dead in their bedroom. Her face was battered, her hands and feet were bound, and a cord had been knotted around her neck. The medical examiner later determined that she had been raped before the murder.

Parker called the police and spent the next several days in a fog of grief and sedation. After the officers questioned him, he took his wife’s body home to Iowa for burial. Several days later, while mourning with her family, he got a call from the attorney for Lancaster County, Nebraska. There was some new information, the attorney said, and he asked if Parker could come in and help with the investigation. When Parker arrived, he was led into a windowless room and introduced to a large, well-dressed man named John Reid.

Reid was a former Chicago street cop who had become a consultant and polygraph expert. He had developed a reputation as someone who could get criminals to confess. Rather than brutalize suspects, as police often did in those days, he used modern science, combining his polygraphic skills with an understanding of human psychology…

The author, Douglas Starr, is co-director of the graduate Program in Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University. (Business Insider’s Erin Fuchs also wrote about the New Yorker piece—you can read it here.)


MANY LAUSD SCHOOL LIBRARIES HAVE GONE DARK WITHOUT $$$

Approximately 145 LAUSD schools may have been forced to shut down their libraries due to lack of funding, according to staffing information obtained by KPCC this week. Because the district no longer pays for school library workers, and state law says that the libraries cannot be run by volunteers, many LAUSD schools (especially middle schools) have lost a crucial tool to help shrink the learning gap between students from lower and higher income families.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has the story. Here’s a clip:

The district has 457 elementary schools, but only 380 schools have at least a part time library aide, according to statistics provided by L.A. Unified. That translates into about one in five schools that can’t open their libraries.

Shortages have hit middle schools the hardest — 83 percent of them are without a librarian, according to district staffing numbers.

Some schools are working around the district the same way they’ve gotten around insufficient arts instruction — with parents chipping in to pay for it.

That’s what parents at Wonderland Avenue Elementary, in Canyon Hills, did.

“We can allocate $40,000 to have our library opened,” said parent Stacey Gonsalves. “I don’t know how many schools in LAUSD are sitting with their doors locked and the lights turned out” because they can’t.

The shuttered libraries are a legacy of years of budget constraints. The district used to pay for library workers directly, but cut them from the budget in 2011. Schools that wanted them had to find room in their discretionary funds, which can create difficult choices.

“You have to make the choice between a school nurse, an office tech, the library aide, counselors, everything – because you can only afford one,” said Franny Perish, a library aide at Dixie Canyon Community Charter School and a member of the The California School Employees Association.

Posted in Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

California DOJ’s New Recidivism Branch, New Report on Juvenile Isolation, and Ohio’s False Confession Saga

November 22nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA AG HARRIS LAUNCHES INITIATIVE TO FIGHT RECIDIVISM

California AG Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that she will be spearheading a new division of the California DOJ to research the state’s sky-high recidivism rates and to bring in grant money to expand effective programs across county lines. (Way to go, Kamala!)

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

Her overall message was that, thus far, the system has been more focused on tradition than outcomes. She pointed out the state’s notoriously high incidence of former prisoners committing new crimes within three years of release – referred to as the “recidivism” rate. Recidivism in California has hovered above 60 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 67 percent in recent years.

“If we were talking about a business that had a failure rate of that number, we would reorganize, we would reexamine and we would guide our approach by a well proven method which asks us to think about what is the return on our investment,” Harris said.

Instead, she said, the system’s been all about “business as usual,” meaning that it is dependent on imprisoning repeat wrongdoers, at a cost of about $47,000-per-year, per prison inmate. Harris said cutting the recidivism rate by just 10 percent could save the state $233 million annually.

The attorney general said that a new division of the state’s DOJ – which will be paid for with current resources – will act as a clearing house for aggregating data and reports on innovative, successful programs around the state. DOJ staff will also help local law enforcement agencies find grants to fund such projects and develop technology to bring law enforcement into the digital age.

“You’d be shocked at how obsolete we are,” Harris said.

Rina Palta also reported Harris’ new initiative in Thursday’s California Report episode, linking it to realignment. Here’s a clip from the transcript:

When realignment rolled out two years ago, the hope was that counties would develop innovative ways of handling such offenders. The problem, Harris said, is no one’s been tracking any of that progress.

[Harris:] Why not take advantage of what we can do—look at the issues statewide, and then highlight the best practices capable of replication?

Harris said her first task will be creating a way of measuring recidivism rates in each county.

Even the seemingly minor task of establishing a state-wide definition of recidivism will be an important undertaking for the division. Here’s a small clip from the Associated Press:

“We have a huge state with 58 counties with 58 different ways of doing things,” said Dean Flippo, president of the California District Attorneys Association, who added there may be 58 definitions of recidivism.

“How do we measure if every one of us are measuring under something different?” he asked.


YOUTH SOLITARY IS NOT A TRIP TO THE “REFLECTION COTTAGE” OR A “TIME OUT,” SAYS ACLU

The ACLU released a new report on juvenile solitary confinement this week detailing the crushing mental, physical, and developmental effects isolation has on young people, in particular. Here’s a clip from the report’s accompanying article:

“I developed techniques to survive. I’ve learned to play chess with other [kids] through a six-inch wall to keep myself occupied. But for others, it breaks them, makes them either violent or suicidal.”

These are the words of Lino Silva, who had been incarcerated in a juvenile facility for over seven years when she wrote them. The “it” she mentions is solitary confinement, a practice that juvenile facilities routinely use on the approximately 70,000 kids in this country who are in their care on any given day.

For Lino, the conditions of solitary were so devastating she believes many of the kids subjected to it will not be able to “function anywhere other than adult prison.” She writes:

Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag.

For children, a short time alone may sometimes be necessary to defuse a moment of crisis. But this does not give license to juvenile facilities to hide their practice of subjecting kids to prolonged isolation behind seemingly innocuous euphemisms like “time out,” “room confinement,” “restricted engagement,” or a trip to the “reflection cottage.” These terms mask the fact that hours of isolation can be extremely damaging to young people.

The report also calls on lawmakers and detention facilities to ban solitary confinement of minors and to collect meaningful data on use of isolation practices. Here’s a clip from the report:

Solitary confinement of children under 18 should be banned. This practice can be ended by state legislators, local officials, and juvenile facility administrators. Other, shorter-term isolation practices should be strictly limited and regulated because of their harmful and traumatic effect on children and because they are often accompanied by other serious deprivations (like denial of education).Children should never be subjected to any practice that involves significant levels or durations of physical or social isolation. Isolation should only be used as an emergency measure and for as short a duration as necessary. Separation practices to protect, manage, or discipline youth should be used sparingly and should never rise to the level of solitary confinement…

Governments rarely systematically collect data on the use of solitary confinement or other isolation on young people in juvenile detention facilities—or make public what is available. Reforms to solitary confinement and isolation practices must be accompanied by monitoring of isolation practices, recording of data, and public reporting about policies and practices as well as data about their use. Such transparency is necessary to give public and elected officials, and the general public, the information required to meaningfully engage in debate and appropriate oversight.


CHICAGO’S HISTORY OF KIDS’ NIGHTMARISH FALSE CONFESSIONS

Cook County, Illinois—Chicago, in particular—has the most proven false confessions in the entire United States. (For our previous post on 60 Minutes’ “false confession capital” story, go here.)

Steve Drizen, a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern, and his colleagues, turned up 18 shockingly detailed contaminated confessions from juveniles from 1986 to 1999 in Cook County. In a story for the Huffington Post, Drizen says his prior assumption that all false confessions were accidental, resulting from shoddy police-work, is long-gone. Here are some clips:

Many of Cook County’s false confessions have involved juvenile offenders. My colleagues and I at Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth have documented at least 18 false confessions from children under the age of 18 between 1986 and 1999. All of these false confessions were to murders, rape-murders, or rapes. All of the false confessors were black.

Most of these false confessions were highly detailed, often containing facts of the crime that had not been released to the public and thus could only have been known by the true perpetrators. The fact that these juveniles supposedly knew this “inside information” became the centerpiece of the State’s cases and the main reason why most of the defendants who took their cases to trial were wrongfully convicted.

Because DNA and other evidence has proven them innocent, we now know that these defendants did not have specialized knowledge of the crimes to which they confessed. Police officers and prosecutors contaminated their confessions by feeding the details to them.

Law professors who have studied false confession cases, including me, have suggested that contamination is inadvertent, the result of sloppy police interrogation practices like using leading questions, showing suspects crime scene photos, or taking them to visit crime scenes. Such tactics leak details to innocent suspects who use them to cobble together seemingly credible confessions after their wills have been broken by hours of coercive questioning. But after reviewing the content of some of Cook County’s juvenile false confessions, I am no longer persuaded that all such contamination is accidental.

In Cook County’s juvenile false confession cases, police officers and prosecutors have taken confession contamination to a new level. Not only did they feed facts to suspects, they scripted entire narratives for them. These story lines often contained false characterizations of the crimes, the defendants and their motives and even made-up bits of dialogue between the defendants that were clearly designed to demonize the juvenile defendants, inflame the passions of jurors, and ensure that jurors would convict them.

And here are two disturbing accounts of kids’ contaminated confessions (but do go read the others):

In April 1997, 14-year-old Don Olmetti confessed to shooting to death a Chicago school teacher in the school’s parking lot — a confession later proven false when evidence showed that Olmetti was sitting in class at the time of the crime. At Olmetti’s bond hearing, a Cook County prosecutor, pointing to Olmetti’s confession, urged the court to deny him bond, arguing that Olmetti lacked remorse because he “took the bus home afterward to take a nap and watch cartoons.”

This same cartoon-watching callousness appeared again a year or so later in August 1998 in perhaps Chicago’s most infamous juvenile false confession case. In that case, a Chicago detective obtained a confession from a 7-year-old boy in which implicated himself and his 8-year-old friend in the murder and sexual assault of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. According to the detective, the boy said that after killing her, he “rode his bike home and watched cartoons.”

But Illinois is working to prevent future false confessions:

The good news is that Illinois has taken steps to fix the problem of confession contamination. Laws requiring the electronic recording of the entire interrogation of all homicides and other serious felonies will now expose contamination if it exists and allow judges and jurors to see what, if any, details were fed to unknowing suspects.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Innocence, juvenile justice, Realignment, Reentry, solitary | 1 Comment »

New Approach to Juvie Crime is Working in Red Hook….Should Taxpayers Pay the LASD’s Punitive Damages?…..Paul Tanaka Says Sheriff Baca Shut Down Narco Investigation…..Insane Justice ….and More

November 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A HUMANE, COMMUNITY-ORIENTED APPROACH TO JUVIE & ADULT CRIME IS WORKING IN RED HOOK, SAYS NEW REPORT

In April 2000, a new courthouse called the Red Hook Community Justice Center opened its doors in a vacant schoolhouse in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Over the previous few decades, Red Hook had declined from a vibrant, working-class waterfront community into crime and drug-ridden place that residents fled when they could.

The Justice Center hoped to change all that by “halting the revolving door” of the traditional criminal justice system. Justice Center planners believed that “community courts foster stronger relationships between courts and communities and restore public confidence in the justice system.”

It was a bravely optimistic concept.

Yet, according to a fascinating report released last Tuesday by the National Center for State Courts, evaluating the program’s outcomes, the approach that launched 13 years ago, is working impressively well.

The report found, among other things, that juvenile defendants were 20 percent less likely to re-offend when their cases had been heard at the Justice Center—instead of at the Kings County Family Court, where cases would have normally been heard.

After reading the report, the New York Daily News described the Center as “a success for defendants and taxpayers.”

(The Center hears adult cases as well. For adults, thus far recidivism has dropped by 10 percent.)

Roxanna Asgarian of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the Justice Center-–and the report. Here’re some clips:

On a recent afternoon in a Red Hook courtroom, a disheveled young woman in a baggy blue sweatshirt was being sentenced for a drug-related offense. The judge had seen her in court before, always for arrests related to her heroin addiction.

Judge Alex Calabrese, a paternal-looking middle-aged man, asked her to approach the bench.

“Are you ready?” he asked her, looking into her eyes. “Yes,” she responded.

He reached out and took her hand.

“Are you gonna get on the bus? Are you gonna stay on the bus?” he asked, and she nodded. “Yes.”

Calabrese signed the paperwork for her to enter a mandatory detox and rehabilitation center, and she was to leave on a bus from the courtroom to the rehab facility in ten minutes.

“She got picked up last night at 6:30 p.m., and she’ll be on a bus to rehab at 3:30 today,” Calabrese said. “That’s good work.”

[SNIP]

Where in traditional courts, the defendant may meet with their public attorney just minutes before their trial, at the Justice Center, onsite social workers can meet with the defendant and come up with alternatives to incarceration, like mandated community service or treatment, before the offender meets with a judge.

For young residents of Red Hook, where 70 percent of the neighborhood lives in public housing, the chance to keep their record clean, or clear it, can make a world of difference in the opportunities they’ll have for their future.

“It’s not that complicated an idea,” said Julian Adler, the Justice Center’s director. “It’s just something that you don’t typically see in the criminal justice system.”


THE LA TIMES ASKS IF COUNTY TAXPAYERS SHOULD HAVE TO PAY FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SUPERVISORS

In Monday’s editorial, the LA Times asks what a lot of people have been asking of late: Should Sheriff Baca and others in the department have to personally pay injured inmates?

It’s a question that has two sides to it, as the Times points out.

The arguments on indemnification can cut both ways. On the one hand, if those held liable were just doing their jobs, or if they had no way of knowing they behaved wrongly or if they were following orders, perhaps they shouldn’t have to pay. It doesn’t make sense to punish a few rank-and-file deputies if the culture of the department is what’s really to blame. Nor does it make sense to create a environment in which officers feel they must act with excessive caution….

On the other hand…..

Here’s another snip from the end of the editorial:

….at the very least, we’d like to see the county Board of Supervisors hold a public discussion and a public vote on the subject. No doubt some on the board will argue that they need to make such decisions behind closed doors, because they will require confidential advice from their lawyers as they consider whether to pay the awards and whether to appeal the verdicts. But the truth is that the supervisors routinely get legal advice in closed session on matters such as whether to transfer inmates out of the county, and then go on to hold a robust public debate on the same subject.

The decision of whether to indemnify these defendants isn’t merely a legal matter. It’s a public policy issue that requires the supervisors to explain why taxpayers should continue to pay out millions of dollars for public officials who break the law. Perhaps declining to indemnify the deputies and the sheriff who leads the department would help reform this deeply troubled agency.

Oh, Board of Supes…? Are you listening…?


FORMER UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA ACCUSES SHERIFF LEE BACA OF SQUASHING A NARCOTICS INVESTIGATION AIMED AT BACA’S FRIEND BISHOP TURNER

On Thursday of last week, KABC-TV reported on LA County Sheriff Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner—who was making $105,000, per year plus percs—but who had recently been relieved of duty by the sheriff in response to a series of decidedly curious issues that the ABC-TV folks uncovered in their reporting.

The most startling of those issues had to do with a mystery package addressed to Turner’s church that was intercepted in 2005 by an LASD narcotics squad. After the squad’s drug-and-money sniffing dog (whose name was Jake) did everything but point a paw at the package in question, investigators opened the thing and found, among other things, more than $84,000 in shrink wrapped cash inside. The narcotics squad believed the cash was part of a drug transaction.

An investigation ensued but went nowhere, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Then on Friday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, put out a statement saying that back in 2005, while he had personally pressed for the Turner/cash incident to be vigorously investigated, the sheriff had ordered the probe to be squashed.

“In 2005, I was made aware that detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Bureau had intercepted a parcel package destined for Bishop Edward Turner’s church. The package contained in excess of $80,000 in cash. The detectives believed that the money was a direct result of selling and distributing illegal narcotics,” said former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. “Although I did not have chain-of-command responsibility for Detective Division in 2005, I directed my aide to advise the detectives that they needed to conduct a full investigation, despite the fact that Bishop Turner was a Field Deputy to Sheriff Lee Baca. Subsequent to this direction, I was advised that Sheriff Baca had personally ordered the investigation terminated. This is appalling, unacceptable, and just another reason why the Sheriff’s Department needs new leadership.”

On Friday night, Tanaka appeared on KABC to reiterate these charges. However, Steve Whitmore—who was also interviewed—asked why Tanaka, as a law enforcement officer, had not made sure the investigation went forward anyway.

Reporter Marc Brown posed that very question to the former undersheriff—at which time Mr. Tanaka paused conspicuously, then phumphered something about how “you won’t last long” if you go against the sheriff.

Meanwhile, knowledgeable sources inside the department told us that someone at the LASD squashed the investigation.

There is also much speculation among department members about who might have leaked the internal LASD documents showing the existence of the narcotics investigation against Turner, to KABC, and why? (The suggestion is that there may have been a political agenda behind the leak.)

With all this competitive finger-pointing going on, one cannot help but hope that some outside law enforcement agency—like, say, the FBI—has taken an interest in the case of Bishop Turner, the mystery box-of-cash, and the possibly-aborted narcotics investigation.


SPEAKING OF THE LASD & ELECTIONS….

We reported a few weeks ago on the battle for control of the board of one of the LASD unions, PPOA. On Friday, the ballots were counted and it appears that the slate of candidates rumored to be aligned with Paul Tanaka were defeated by the incumbent board members.


INSANE JUSTICE: DO WE REALLY WANT THESE PEOPLE TO BE SERVING LIFE SENTENCES?

As we noted last week, the ACLU has released a new and devastating report about Americans serving life sentences without the possible of parole for non-serious crimes, very often drug related, nearly all people with no violent crimes in their backgrounds.

Over the weekend the New York Times published an impassioned editorial that points out the utter madness of such sentencing.

Here are some clips:

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.

As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.

The report relies on data from the federal prison system and nine states. Four out of five prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes like possessing a crack pipe or acting as a go-between in a street drug sale. Most of the rest were sentenced for property crimes like trying to cash a stolen check or shoplifting. In more than 83 percent of the cases, the judge had no choice: federal or state law mandated a sentence of life without parole, usually under a mandatory-minimum or habitual offender statute.

[SNIP]]

It is difficult to find anyone who defends such sentencing. Even Burl Cain, the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds the most nonviolent lifers in the country, calls these sentences “ridiculous.” “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior,” Mr. Cain told the A.C.L.U. “If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again,” he asked, why spend the money to keep him in prison? “I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men…..”

There are two bills before congress that, if passed, would give judges a bit more discretion.

But as the NY Times notes, this gesture toward reform isn’t close to enough—either on a federal or a state level.

Let us remember, we incarcerate more of our fellow Americans per capita than any other country in the world. No one else even comes close. These kind of sentencing policies are a large part of why.


THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, THE SUPREME COURT, & LOCKING UP THE INNOCENT

Michael Kirkland, UPI’s Senior Legal Affairs Writer takes a look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s complicated and often troubling relationship with the concept of innocence.

Here’s how his report opens:

The case of Ryan Ferguson, the Missouri man freed after spending 10 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit, shows the nation’s justice system, one of the fairest in the world, occasionally convicts the innocent, puts them in prison and throws away the key.
Does the U.S. Supreme Court give a damn?

Ferguson improbably was convicted on the “repressed memories” of a friend for the 2001 killing of Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune Sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper parking lot as Heitholt was leaving work early in the morning.

The friend recanted at trial and another witness putting Ferguson at the scene also recanted. He was not connected to fingerprints, bloody footprints and hair found at the crime scene.

Ferguson, now 29, was sentenced to 40 years. He was finally freed last week.

So far the Innocence Project has freed more than 300 people based on DNA evidence, Kirkland notes.

Still other people have been freed by the dogged work of attorneys who believed that an injustice had been done, and find the evidence to prove it.

But in some of those cases, even when new evidence surfaces that indicates those convicted are likely factually innocent, lower courts fail to act. At those times, SCOTUS is split about whether innocence is a legal reason for the high court to wade in.

Here’s what Kirkland writes:

On one side, Roberts and his fellow conservatives warn at some point, judicial proceedings have to be final, and opening the floodgates of judicial review might return the justice system to the days when death row inmates and others delayed their sentences for decades with claim after claim, despite the overwhelming evidence that convicted them.

After all, Congress, fed up with endless federal appeals, enacted the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 to limit habeas review.

On the other side, Stevens and his fellow liberals made the practical argument: If a DNA test or rape kit test can make a conviction even more certain, or expose a miscarriage of justice, why not do it?

Such divisions probably will continue. How do you effectively punish the great mass of the guilty without damning the innocent few?


And then Kirkland notes this statement from Antonin Scalia who said in his dissent in a 2009 case
in which the majority of the Supremes granted a new evidence hearing for a Georgia death row inmate.

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a [constitutional] court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

As is often the case, Scalia makes a distressing—but legally interesting—point.


Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, DNA, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

LA County Losing Track of Parolees…..The Woeful State of Juvenile Defense… An Innocent Man…..Paying for LASD’s Problems

November 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY PROBATION LOSES TRACK OF MORE AB 109 PAROLEES THAN OTHER CA COUNTIES – UPDATED

Beatriz Valenzuela at the Daily Breeze has an interesting story on the fact that LA County Probation is losing track around 16 percent of its realignment probationers, a higher rate than many other California counties.

Here’s a clip from her story:

Los Angeles County has lost track of about 2,000 prison realignment probationers under its supervision, which is a higher rate than most nearby counties.

High recidivism rates among this population of offenders, coupled with the sheer number of those under supervision, may have led to 1,844 criminals, or slightly more than 18 percent, of 10,142 being lost from the system, Los Angeles County Probation officials said last month. San Bernardino County, by comparison, has one of the lowest rates, with 489, or about 6 percent, of its 7,485 prison realignment offenders having warrants out for their arrest.

Under the 2011 Assembly Bill 109, or prison realignment, the responsibility of monitoring lower-level offenders shifted from the state to county agencies to comply with a court order to reduce the state prison population and improve health conditions for inmates. These special type of probationers are classified as “post-release community supervision,” or PRCS.


UPDATE: As you can see, I have deleted the quotes below from LA County Probation spokesperson Carol Lin as, after a conversation with Lin, I’ve learned that she was misquoted, and her statements taken out of context.

As Lin said when we spoke, the issue of revision is complicated, as is the matter of absconders. To put it another way, there is a lot more to this story than can be adequately told by the simple numbers you see here. The topic is something WLA will assuredly delve into in the future.


The majority of these criminals came to Los Angeles County, said Carol Lin, spokeswoman for the probation department.

“You can expect they’re going to recidivate,” she said.

The Daily Breeze report also explores possible reasons that LA (along with a few other counties like Riverside) has such a high rate of disappearing PRCS probationers.

For instance, San Bernardino County, which has a much lower rate seems to have a program in which the contact with the PRCS probationers is more frequent, creative, and rigorous.

San Bernardino County Probation regularly conducts compliance check sweeps in various cities with the assistance of local law enforcement.

Chris Condon, spokesman for San Bernardino County Probation, credits that partnership as well a number of initiatives for keeping their number of lost PRCS probationers low, including a process for immediately contacting all probationers in a day-reporting center, making early referrals to treatment, vocational and other support programs, classifying them with an assessment tool to determine who is most likely to reoffend, coupled with in-field and home contacts.

Los Angeles County officials say they also use some of those programs, but since Los Angeles County receives the highest number of PRCS probationers of any county, that can mean a higher potential number of people who will abscond.

That in LA County we use “some” of the programs, is not as encouraging as it might be.) This a topic we’ll be exploring further.


THE WORRISOME STATE OF JUVENILE DEFENSE

This week, the Juvenile Justice Exchange is launching a series on the state of Juvenile Defense in the U.S.. Here are some clips from their opening story, which gives an overview of the state of legal representation for kids who can’t afford to hire private lawyers:

“Due process is the primary and indispensable foundation of individual freedom,” Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the majority opinion of the Court’s landmark 1967 juvenile justice decision, In re Gault — a decision that established that under the Constitution, juveniles in delinquency proceedings are guaranteed many of the same due process rights as adults in criminal trials

But today, nearly a half-century after the Gault case began, due process rights remain elusive for thousands of juvenile defendants facing felony charges that could lead to years of incarceration. Attempting to fill the void when possible are the often over-worked juvenile public defenders. But in many jurisdictions, juveniles are not even appointed a defense attorney until after their first hearing — a hearing in which a judge will decide if the youth will be held in detention or released.

[BIG SNIP]

“The idea that a kid can be in front of a judge and could be locked up with no lawyer there to defend him – I think most people are shocked by that notion,” said Timothy Curry, NJDC’s managing attorney. “The fact that that happens every day in courtrooms around the country is just the reality.”

And research has shown that defendants held pending trial are far more likely to be convicted than those who aren’t held, and, if convicted, those who had been held pending trial are far more likely to be incarcerated than those who were not held.

In some jurisdictions, it’s permissible for a prosecutor, in the absence of a defense attorney, to make a plea offer at the initial hearing, and if the child does not accept the plea, he or she may be detained.

“So you have kids around the country pleading guilty to crimes without ever seeing a lawyer, having no real understanding of the consequences involved with that or whether there was a defense or whether they were actually guilty of what they’re being charged with,” Curry said.

[BIG SNIP]

Juvenile defenders are often paid less than other defense attorneys, with juvenile defense seen as a steppingstone to a better-paying position.

Nonetheless, many juvenile defenders choose juvenile defense as a career and are renowned for their passionate dedication to defending children against the power of the state.

And quality representation is essential to indigent children facing serious charges.

In the Gault decision, the Supreme Court said: “The child requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him.”

But today, Casey’s Bart Lubow said, “We fall woefully short of that ideal. … We are nowhere near where we need to be, certainly nowhere near where we need to be if the standard that’s going to apply is the ‘my-child’ test. And the my-child test would ask: What would you want and have for your kid if it was your kid facing the power of the state?”


WRONGLY CONVICTED, KASH REGISTER EXPERIENCES HIS FIRST DAYS OUT AFTER 34 YEARS IN PRISON

When 53-year old Kash Register walked out of LA’s Twin Towers’ jail at around 4:30 on Friday afternoon after spending 34 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, he was wearing a brown Popeye t-shirt and blue jeans, clothes that the jail staff had rustled up for him.

“When he was here, he just had his jail jumpsuit,” said one the various LASD supervisors and deputies who had contact with Register on the afternoon he was released. “His other clothes were probably sent home to his family from state prison.”

Just the day before, Thursday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge had tossed his 1979 murder conviction, and now suddenly he was free to go.

One department member remarked later on how sweet-natured and lacking in anger or bitterness Register seemed when any of the jail personnel happened to speak to him—despite the horrific miscarriage of justice that had put him behind bars for nearly three and a half decades.

“The only reason he was convicted was that some witnesses lied, and the police and the prosecution hid some valuable evidence,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who is part of the school’s Project for the Innocent, which provided the team of lawyers and law students who worked to get Register out.

The LA Times’ Ashley Powers has a good story on the circumstances behind Register’s 1979 conviction and his release on Friday. Here’s a clip:

In 1979, Brenda Anderson testified that a young man with whom she had gone to high school shot her elderly neighbor to death.

Thirty-four years later, Anderson’s sister Sharon took the stand and said the account, which helped send the young man to prison, was a lie.

On Thursday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge sided with Sharon Anderson and threw out the conviction of Kash Delano Register, who maintained his innocence during more than three decades as inmate No. C11693.

Judge Katherine Mader’s ruling eviscerated the case against Register, 53, who was convicted mainly on eyewitness testimony that his attorneys say was false. They also said police and prosecutors suppressed evidence that would have helped Register’s defense, accusations that Mader found credible.

Frank Stoltze of KPCC also reported on Register’s release. Here’s a clip:

“What really broke this case were the sisters of the first witness, Brenda Anderson, coming forward, saying, ‘she lied,’” said Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson, who worked with the school’s Project for the Innocent on Register’s case.

“Prosecutors and police did not play by the rules in this case,” said Levenson. “One of the rules is, if there’s evidence in the prosecution file that helps the defendant, they’ve got to turn it over.”

Levenson said there were two eyewitnesses to the murder who could not identify Register, but that evidence was never presented to the jury. Register was convicted mainly on eyewitness testimony. None of the seven fingerprints found on Sasson’s car matched Register’s, and police never recovered the murder weapon….

And then the LA Times Kate Linthicum has a narrative report on Kash Register’s first days out this past weekend—which is a nice read.

Prosecutors said they would decide next month whether or not they would refile on Register.


SHOULD LA COUNTY TAXPAYERS BE INFINITELY ON THE HOOK FOR THE LASD’S HIGH TICKET LAWSUITS?

LA Times Editorial Board member, Sandra Hernandez raises the question in the wake of the $740,000 damages awarded on Friday for a “cell extraction” in Men’s Central Jail, which resulted in 19 inmates being hospitalized. Since more punitive damages in that trial are expected to be announced on Tuesday.


Photo courtesy of the LAPD

Posted in Innocence, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation, Realignment | 19 Comments »

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