Two Extra Years to Ease California Prison Overcrowding, More Than a Child Welfare Czar, and DOJ Sez: Equal Rights for Same-Sex CouplesFebruary 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
JUDGES GRANT GOV. BROWN TWO MORE YEARS TO REDUCE PRISON POPULATION
On Monday, the federal three-judge panel agreed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a two year extension on the state’s deadline for reducing the California prison population to 137% capacity. The judges’ order calls on the state to begin Gov. Brown’s proposed parole expansion and early release credit program immediately. Among other stipulations, the order says that Brown cannot increase the number of inmates in out-of-state facilities, and says the state should try to bring the current number (8,900) down.
The state’s final deadline will be Feb. 28, 2016, but there will be two smaller targets to hit—the first is a 1000-inmate reduction by June 30, 2014.
The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, has more on the judges’ decision. Here’s a clip:
Monday’s ruling comes with new conditions: The judges will appoint a compliance officer with the power to release inmates if the state misses interim deadlines for easing the overcrowding. And even as they granted more time to comply with the court order, they criticized the state’s efforts to delay the release of inmates, who remain packed into prisons at more than 144 percent of capacity.
Had the judges refused to extend the deadline, Mr. Brown had planned to spend about $20 million this fiscal year and up to $50 million in the next to house prisoners in out-of-state facilities. California currently houses about 8,900 inmates in other states, and Monday’s order prohibits the state from adding to that number.
Now, instead, Mr. Brown has proposed spending $81 million in the next fiscal year for the rehabilitation programs intended to reduce the recidivism rate and help bring the prison population down over time. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” Mr. Brown said.
“This extension means two more years of suffering for inmates that should not have been granted,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for some inmates.
Mr. Bien said that to keep the prison population from continuing to rise, California would have to reform its sentencing laws. The state has agreed to consider establishing a commission to recommend reforms of state penal and sentencing laws, according to Monday’s court order…
CREATING LASTING FOSTER CARE REFORMS
In December, the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection handed the Board of Supervisors a set of preliminary recommendations for reforming DCFS. While the final recommendations will be issued in April, the commission urged the board to implement the early recommendations immediately, including choosing a lead agency (or child welfare czar) to oversee the suggested DCFS reforms.
During last week’s meeting, the Supervisors moved forward with just two of the recommendations, citing a lack of extra funds. The board requested a fiscal analysis for the other recommendations, and will wait until April to make their next move.
In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has some insightful suggestions for both the commission and the Board of Supervisors, moving forward:
As the Board of Supervisors and the commission moves forward, they should consider four key elements to success. These are:
Lessons from child welfare reform initiatives that hinge on cross-agency collaboration.
The value of putting front-line workers from various child-serving departments in the same building.
The power and necessity of incorporating youth in the process.
The role of the news media in ensuring that all the players involved are getting the job done.
And here’s a clip expanding upon the third and fourth ideas in Heimpel’s list (but do go read the rest):
Youth as Part of the Solution
This is not the first time Los Angeles has seen a Blue Ribbon Commission and unless we finally get it right, it won’t be the last. As far as I see it, there has to be a fundamental change in the strategy for protecting children.
Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is the point of doing any of this if it is not guided by the young people who experience the system? The commission should recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay for youth to be a part of the decision-making process under any eventual czar. It can’t only be a bunch of grayhairs calling the shots.
The very existence of the Blue Ribbon Commission is attributable to the press’ role in compelling the Board of Supervisors to act. And it wasn’t until the press took notice of the commission’s preliminary recommendations that the debate about spending money or designating a czar became real. The commissioners shouldn’t forget this when laying out their final recommendations.
They should recommend that press coverage of child welfare is expanded. The commission should advocate for the easing of confidentiality laws on the state level, the continuance of Judge Michael Nash’s blanket order giving greater access to the media in juvenile dependency courts after he steps down next year, and the creation of a fund to support journalism projects that cover the system and the Board of Supervisors independently.
US AG ERIC HOLDER ANNOUNCES NEW JUSTICE DEPT. POLICY: EQUAL PROTECTION FOR SAME-SEX MARRIED COUPLES
On Saturday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice will extend equal protection to same-sex married couples who encounter the criminal justice system. (Woohoo!) For instance, couples will now have the right to refuse to testify against their spouse, the federally incarcerated will receive the same visitation and furlough rights as heterosexual married couples, and death benefits for surviving spouses of peace officers will be extended to same-sex couples.
The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:
Under the Justice Department policy, federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in heterosexual marriages, including visitation by a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.
In addition, an inmate in a same-sex marriage can be furloughed to be present during a crisis involving a spouse. In bankruptcy cases, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly. Domestic support obligations will include debts, such as alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse. Certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses should be excepted from discharge.
“This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where he announced the new policy.
“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”