California “Lifers” and Parole, Sex Trafficking in LA, Kids Unrepresented in Court, Sheriff Candidate Updates, and Oregon Legalizes Gay MarriageMay 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE FOR FORMER “LIFERS” ON PAROLE IN CALIFORNIA
Over the last six years, California has seen a considerable increase in “lifers” winning parole. This is largely due to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that changed how the parole board and the governor handled parole decisions.
In the latest installment of the KQED California Report series “Second Chance: Lifers and Parole in California,” reporter Scott Shafer looks at the positive environmental shifts this significantly increased chance of parole is creating inside prisons, and speaks with former “lifers” now paroled and living on the outside.
Here’s a clip from the transcript:
For decades, California inmates serving sentences like 25-years-to-life had very little chance of being released. Parole was routinely denied by the Board of Parole Hearings, or blocked by the governor.
But in the past few years, there’s been a dramatic change. Since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008, the number of so-called “lifers” winning parole has steadily climbed. Since then, more than 1,700 lifers have been released.
The change is being felt on both sides of the prison walls. At a recent graduation day at San Quentin State Prison, about 50 inmates — most of them lifers — collected their diplomas from a course in leadership.
After the ceremony, Associate Warden Jeff Lawson said that as more and more lifers are granted parole and leave prison, the inmates are taking notice.
“Most of these guys understand there is light at the end of the tunnel now,” Lawson says. “So it just helps improve the overall environment for them. And it gets the ones who were maybe straddling the fence to get off the fence and get on the right side.”
Inmate Duane Reynolds just completed the leadership course. On the way back to his cellblock, he describes the crime that sent him away more than 25 years ago.
“As a matter of fact, what I did was, I murdered my uh, my supervisor,” Reynolds says. “High on drugs. So my life was out of control.”
Reynolds was 30 at the time. His sentence: 26 years to life. He’s now 54. Despite being denied parole three times, Reynolds is hopeful. Next month, he says, the parole board will decide — once again — if he’s suitable for parole and no longer a risk to society. I ask him if he thinks he’s suitable?
“That’s a very difficult question for me,” he answers. “I will say this: I’m a changed individual. But the fact that I took another human being’s life, that’s a hard question for me.”
Reynolds says he and his fellow San Quentin inmates are very aware that after years of routine denials of parole, word is out: If you do the work, complete the programs and stay in line, release is a very real possibility.
“The fact that people are going home is really encouraging to a lot of individuals,” he notes.
Since 2009, more than twice as many lifers have been paroled than in the previous two decades combined. There are several reasons for that. State Supreme Court rulings that made it tougher to deny parole to inmates who are no longer a threat to public safety.
Also Gov. Jerry Brown’s 12 appointees on the parole board are granting parole at a much higher rate than previous commissioners.
And unlike his predecessors, who usually blocked parole for murderers, Brown is allowing 80 percent of the parole recommendations to go forward.
While you might think that freedom after decades in prison is all upside, the reality is more complicated…
Listen to/read the rest.
LA DAILY NEWS TAKES AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT SEX TRAFFICKING IN LOS ANGELES
The LA Daily News has a compelling new series on sex trafficking in Los Angeles, who the real victims of the trafficking are, and new ways city officials and law enforcement agencies are combatting the problem.
A particularly good story in the series, this one by Christina Villacorte, explores programs created to help teen girls escape sexual exploitation and start their lives over, through relocation, education and job training, and other crucial services. Here’s how it opens:
Her face marred by a tattoo that a pimp had used to mark her as his property, the teenage girl told the judge in a plaintive voice, “I just want to go home.”
Later, another teen girl wearing too much makeup and too little clothing admitted running away from a group home for juvenile delinquents after attacking someone there for insulting her.
“Someone called me a prostitute and I lost it,” she explained to the judge. “I blacked out.”
Her bravado faded, however, when a probation officer explained that she was found wandering the streets afterwards, having gotten lost while looking for her mother, who had abandoned her.
When she cried, she revealed the child she still was, underneath the makeup, sheer top and short skirt, with high heels and matching red purse.
This is the STAR Court in Compton, a pilot program that specializes in cases involving commercially sexually exploited girls, and Commissioner Catherine Pratt presides with a focus on rehabilitation over punishment. The acronym stands for Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience.
Pratt does not immediately dismiss the prostitution-related charges against the girls so they can remain eligible for wraparound services offered by Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system. These include placement in a group home or juvenile hall — a safe place away from pimps — gang intervention programs, educational opportunities, job training, and even family reunification services.
“Most of these kids have experienced betrayal, if not worse, from people in positions of authority throughout their whole lives that skews their view of the world,” Pratt said. “What we’re trying to do for these kids is to show them there are people in positions of authority who do care.”
When the girls are ready and able to leave the life, she can order their juvenile criminal records sealed, allowing them to start over.
DENYING CHILDREN THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY
Rolling Stone Magazine has an interesting story by Molly Knefel that looks at the reasons indigent kids often go unrepresented by an attorney in courts across the nation and what one state is doing to remedy the issue. Here’s a clip:
…In juvenile courts across the country, children often face the full weight of the criminal justice system without the protection of a defense attorney. According to a report from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “Some systems ensure that every child in the system is represented, while others allow 80-90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” Children may be unrepresented for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to a public defender or pressure from judges or prosecutors to waive their constitutional right to an attorney.
Earlier this month, Colorado scored a victory for juveniles in criminal proceedings by passing House Bill 1032, a law that will ensure that all children will be represented by counsel when they appear in court. The Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) found in 2012 that at least 45 percent of juveniles did not have a defense lawyer at any point throughout their case, with many more receiving counsel late in proceedings. Kim Dvorchak, CJDC’s executive director, says that early advocacy is crucial for children who have been arrested. “There are many places statewide where kids are showing up in a jumpsuit and shackles and the judge is deciding whether they get to go home,” she says, “and no one is there making an argument for them.”
Dvorchak says there’s a similar problem for children who receive summonses and have to appear in court. Those are called “first appearances,” and many children face them with literally no defense attorney in the room. “You’ll have a busload of kids and families in the room,” she says. “There will be a prosecutor there who calls out their names, talks to them right there in open court in front of all the families, let’s them know, ‘I’ve reviewed your case and I’m offering you a plea bargain.’” Without a lawyer, she says, those families have no one to tell them the potential impact of accepting a plea – and they may feel pressure to plead guilty even if their child is innocent. “They may think, ‘Oh probation, that sounds good, you’re not putting my kid in jail.’ But they’re not understanding what probation will mean for their lives.”
LOS ANGELES SHERIFF CANDIDATES’ NEW AD CAMPAIGNS
Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has recorded a radio advertisement in support of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Paul Tanaka also has a new radio ad, and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold had a glossy insert in the Sunday LA Times last week.
OREGON BECOMES 18TH STATE TO LEGALIZE GAY MARRIAGE
On Monday, a U.S. District Judge Michael McShane tossed Oregon’s ban on gay marriage. His ruling will likely not be challenged. (Hooray!)
The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes has more on the ruling (in addition to some lovely photos of gay couples finally allowed to get marrried). Here are some clips:
Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down Monday by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who ruled that the prohibition violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.
Jubilant couples who anticipated a favorable decision from the judge began the rush to officially wed at locations around the state. McShane ordered that his ruling take immediate effect.
“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest,” McShane wrote in his decision, “the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were the first couple to marry in Multnomah County following the ruling.
Oregon becomes the seventh state where a federal judge has struck down a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court last year invalidated key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Unlike in the other states — Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas — there was no one with the immediate standing to appeal the decision.
The judge said gay and lesbian families and their children were harmed by Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in “a myriad of ways,” including adoption rights, tax laws and spousal benefits granted by employers.
McShane said that preserving the traditional definition of marriage was not a strong enough argument for Oregon’s law to stand. If that were the case, he wrote, tradition could be used as a “rubber stamp condoning discrimination against longstanding, traditionally oppressed minority classes everywhere.