ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF LOCKING KIDS UP IN SOLITARY
While severe and overused in the adult justice system, solitary confinement is most destructive for still-developing youths. There have been numerous reports on the devastating effects of locking kids up for twenty-three hours a day (and WitnessLA has linked to them often), yet California still hasn’t defined what constitutes solitary, much less regulated it.
In an LA Times editorial, our pal Rob Greene lays out in unusually clear terms the consequences of putting kids in solitary confinement and what we need to do adequately address the issue. Here’s a clip (but be sure to read the whole thing):
Juvenile justice officials should at the very least have to certify that mental health evaluations were part of the decision-making process for each juvenile, and they should document all instances of solitary lockdown, under consistent standards and definitions. SB 61 by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would require such standards and documentation. It’s a bill that deserves to move forward.
The Senate has been wary, and appropriately so, of moving forward on any bill that could impose costs on counties — costs that would be passed along to the state. The budget has been cut year after year, and now, when there may be some funding available, lawmakers must decide carefully what to do with it.
In making that decision, they should keep in mind that the state’s failure to meet the mental health needs of so many Californians has led directly to the prison overcrowding crisis, and that the failure to meet the mental health needs of inmates for decades has resulted in the court order to beef up in-prison care (at enormous cost) and to release tens of thousands of prisoners. The juvenile justice system is inextricably linked to the adult system and must deal with a similar, although more vulnerable, population.
GOV. BROWN’S OFFICE BEGINS APPEAL PROCESS TO GET SUPREME COURT INTERVENTION ON PRISON POP. CAP
Monday, California officials appealed the federal court decision to uphold an order that, by the end of 2013, the CA prison population must be further reduced by 9,000 inmates.
KPCC’s Julie Small has the story. Here’s a clip:
Deborah Hoffman of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Monday the state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because the panel of federal judges “did not fully or fairly consider the evidence that with our greatly reduced prison population, prison health care now exceeds constitutional standards.”
In 2011, the legislature enacted California’s Criminal Justice Realignment law, which diverts lower level felons to the counties. Today the prisons hold 30,000 fewer inmates than they did when the federal judges ordered the state to reduce the prison population.
Monday’s filing is a notice of appeal to the district court stating California’s intention to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. It’s the first step in an appeals process that could take years — if the nation’s highest court decides to take up the case.
BRADY V. MARYLAND…FIFTY YEARS ON
Fifty years after Brady v. Maryland—the SCOTUS ruling that dictates prosecutors must present defendants with any and all known exculpatory evidence—there is little incentive and still no real accountability in place to keep prosecutors from breaking the Brady rule.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen breaks down why Brady is flawed, and what can be done to reinforce it. Here’s how it opens:
Last Thursday evening at a dinner in New Orleans, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson came together again to bestow an award on John Thompson, the noted death row exoneree, who was being feted by the Innocence Project New Orleans after nearly two decades of false imprisonment. The names of the presenters probably don’t ring a bell to you until you put them together and separate them with a “versus,” as in Plessy v. Ferguson. The descendants of the litigants of one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever wanted to pay homage to a litigant who had belatedly benefited from one of its best. Who says irony is dead?
The timing of the Project’s 12th anniversary “gala” was propitious. It came just four days before the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brady v. Maryland, decided on this day in 1963, in which the justices unanimously declared that prosecutors have a constitutional obligation to share with criminal defendants all “exculpatory” evidence officials may have. “Society wins not only when the guilty are convicted but when criminal trials are fair,” wrote Justice William O. Douglass, for the Warren Court, as it again sought in those progressive days to enhance individual rights at the expense of government power.
Thompson is a free man today because of the so-called “Brady” rule. But he likely would have been a free man all along — without spending 14 years on death row — had his prosecutors obeyed the law in the first place. That dichotomy is what makes Thompson such a poignant symbol of the Brady rule. He proves both that it works and that it is deeply flawed; that it saves innocent people from being railroaded by prosecutors and that countless others are wrongly convicted and imprisoned anyway. The sad truth is that 50 years after Brady, in an increasingly complex criminal justice system, too many prosecutors still hide exculpatory evidence, and too few judges do anything about it.
AND MINNESOTA MAKES TWELVE…
The Minnesota Senate voted Monday to legalize gay marriage, and Governor Mark Dayton immediately announced he would sign the bill, allowing gay couples to marry by August. Go Minnesota!
The NY Times’ Monica Davey has the story, if you missed it today.