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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


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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 »

Peter Matthiessen: May 22, 1927 – April 5, 2014…Into the Mystery

April 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Impassioned non-fiction-writer, novelist, naturalist Peter Matthiessen
died on Saturday at 86 of leukemia.

For those of you unfamiliar with the man, or his work, a few facts:

Called a “shaman of literature,” Matthiessen has written 33 books, most of which were greeted with some kind of acclaim or other. He is, however, best known for such books as his cultural critique/thriller novel set in the Amazonian jungle, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and his account of a stone-age culture, Under the Mountain Wall, which Truman Capote would credit with influencing his conception of his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. Matthiessen’s meditational account of a 250-mile trek across the Himalayas, The Snow Leopard,” was his biggest seller, and his 900-plus-page novel Shadow Country, took 30-years of rewriting before he felt he’d gotten it right.

His nonfiction account of the rise of the American Indian Movement, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, got him sued by an FBI agent and the former governor of North Dakota for libel, and caused the book to be yanked entirely from sale for nine years. Finally, after three different courts told both plaintiffs to pound sand, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the matter on appeal, the paperback edition of the book was, at last, published in 1992.

Matthiessen co-founded one of the most famous literary magazine’s in historyThe Paris Review—as a cover for his brief career as an undercover agent for the CIA. (His politics swung to the left shortly after that.)

After winning two National Book Awards for the same nonfiction book, the The Snow Leopard, he won the award again a few years later, this time in fiction for Shadow Country. And, yes, he is the only writer ever to have pulled off such a triple play.

(Oh, yeah, and his novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord was a finalist for the award.)

Readers often credit his books with having changed their lives. (I would fall into that category.)

A generation or two of naturalist writers were clearly influenced by his writing.

His final novel, In Paradise, which he told interviewers would probably be his last word, will be published on Tuesday.

If you want to know more, the LAT’s David Ulin has written a lovely appreciation.

And here’s a bit of Matthiessen in his own words.

Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”

― Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born

The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one sees that there is a source fro this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home … The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is so overgrown with thorns and thickets of “ideas”, of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own “true nature”; each man is his own savior after all.

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions – such as merit, such as past, present, and future – our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment.

― Peter Matthiessen

Photo by Linda Gavin/Courtesy of Riverhead Books

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, literature, writers and writing | No Comments »

Steinbeck’s Son Joined Effort to Halt Execution of Disabled Man, a New Report on the Last Decade of Juvenile Justice…and More

August 9th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with an I.Q. of 61 was executed Tuesday after SCOTUS denied him a stay of execution. A TX judge referenced Of Mice and Men to illustrate the difficulty of knowing the level of mental disability one must have to be exempt from the death penalty under the 8th Amendment. Upon reading an account of the death penalty ruling, John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, joined the fight to stop Wilson’s execution.

The NY Times’ Robert Mackey has the story. Here are some clips:

As the legal analyst Andrew Cohen explains on The Atlantic’s Web site, the execution of a 54-year-old man “who could not handle money or navigate a phone book, a man who sucked his thumb and could not always tell the difference between left and right, a man who, as a child, could not match his socks, tie his shoes or button his clothes,” seemed to “directly contradict the spirit, if not the letter,” of a Supreme Court ruling in 2002 that appeared to bar the execution of mentally retarded inmates.

Mr. Wilson’s lawyers argued that the court should intervene because Texas uses criteria to determine whether someone can be fairly classified as mentally retarded that “lack any scientific foundation,” The Texas Tribune reported. As The Atlantic Wire notes, in a 2004 ruling that paved the way for Mr. Wilson’s execution, a state court judge turned instead to literature, invoking John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” to describe the difficulties of defining “that level and degree of mental retardation at which a consensus of Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty.”


After Thomas Steinbeck, the writer’s son, read a Guardian article on how his father’s novel had been used in a Texas court to argue for the execution of the mentally retarded, he joined the effort to halt the killing of Mr. Wilson, The Beaumont Enterprise reported. In a statement released on Tuesday, just before Mr. Wilson was put to death for a fatal shooting in 1992, Mr. Steinbeck wrote:

On behalf of the family of John Steinbeck, I am deeply troubled by today’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with an I.Q. of 61. Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case, I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, i.e., Lennie Small from “Of Mice and Men,” as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die.

My father was a highly gifted writer who won the Nobel Prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic. I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way. And the last thing you ever wanted to do, was to make John Steinbeck angry.

(Be sure to also check out Andrew Cohen’s article for The Atlantic on the subject, as it is well worth reading.)


A report released Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures examines juvenile justice trends between the states over the past decade. The report reviews state policies distinguishing juvies from adults, the disproportionate representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system, and advances in mental health and rehabilitation policies.

Here’s a clip from the NCSL press release on the report:

Between 65 and 70 percent of the two million youth arrested each year in the United States have some type of mental health disorder. With this in mind, states have focused on providing proper screening, assessment, and treatment services for young offenders with mental health needs. As just one example, a Colorado law now allows a 90-day suspended sentence, during which treatment is provided to juveniles with behavior disorders or mental health issues.

Minority youth come into contact with the juvenile justice system at every stage at a higher rate than their white peers. Between 2005 and 2007, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee established committees or commissions to address the overrepresentation of minorities in their juvenile justice systems. And in 2008, Iowa became the first state to require a “minority impact statement,” which is required for proposed legislation related to crimes, sentencing, parole and probation.


The Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that a Burbank detective, who blew the whistle on fellow detectives whom he reportedly saw abusing suspects, was not shielded against departmental sanctions as his did not constitute protected speech. (Not sure what kind of precedent this sets—we’ll let you know more as we find out more.)

Courthouse News Service’s Annie Youderian has the story. Here are some clips:

Angelo Dahlia claimed he saw a fellow detective in the Burbank Police Department squeeze a suspect’s throat and stick a gun in his face, saying, “How does it feel to have a gun in your face motherfucker?”
Dahlia said he heard yelling and the sound of people being hit as the detective continued to interview suspects.
He said he told Burbank Police Lt. John Murphy that “things were getting out of hand, the interviews were getting too physical, and too many people were doing their own thing and were out of control.”
Murphy allegedly told Dahlia to “stop his sniveling.”


Dahlia was interviewed by investigators at least three times. After each interview, Dahlia said he was harassed and threatened.

In May 2009, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department interviewed Dahlia, who said he disclosed his colleagues’ abusive interrogation tactics. Four days later, Burbank Police Chief Tim Stehr placed Dahlia on administrative leave.

Dahlia sued the city of Burbank and several officers, claiming the disciplinary action constituted retaliation for his protected speech.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Dahlia’s speech was not protected because the “disclosure of incriminating facts” fell within his official duties as a police officer. The federal appeals panel in Pasadena agreed.

Posted in Death Penalty, Free Speech, juvenile justice, literature, mental health | 1 Comment »

Springsteen at 15,000 Words & Dave Eggers’ Global Parable

July 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

THE BOSS @ 15,000

As a respite from the hard news of the day, two stories about artists—one musical, the other literary.

The first story may already be on your radar, which is the fact that, on Monday, the New Yorker posted David Remnick’s novella-length and revelatory profile of Bruce Springsteen. And, on the off chance you don’t want to immediately read the full 15,000 words in the New Yorker, you can read about Remnick’s portrait of The Boss—whom he succeeds in never referring to as “The Boss”—just about everywhere else (like Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Fuse and the Washington Post, for starters.)

(As a happy Bruce cultist, I read the full 15,000 words Monday morning before coffee, and will likely read it again.)


Dave Eggers is the guy who, when he was 30, published A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his memoir about raising his kid brother after the death of both of his parents from cancer—a book that was shortlisted for a Pulitzer and was enough of a literary phenom that it made Eggers both famous and relatively rich. If you read the thing, it probably either enchanted you because of Eggers’ obvious, edge-walking talent, or irritated you because of the literary party tricks he employed—or a little of both.

In the dozen years since the publication of HWSG, Eggers has started a book publishing house, two magazines, a string of nonprofit writing and tutorial centers for kids, and has written a pile of books, both nonfiction and fiction, each one seeming to build on the other in terms of strength, grace and relevance.

And the party tricks are long gone.

Eggers latest book, A Hologram for the King, is both bracingly original and weirdly classic, a sort of “Death of a Salesman” for the global economy— and easily the best novel I’ve read thus far in 2012.

Hologram was also the book I’ve read of late that I felt the most mournful about finishing. I wanted to linger a bit longer in the characters’—and Eggers’—company.

That’s why it was so heartening to read the lengthy review of Eggers’ Hologram on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Book section. Written by travel essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer, it hits every right mark in explaining why the book and the author matter.

Here are some clips from the review’s opening:

Where is our new-millennium Norman Mailer? It’s startling, 50 years on, to look back at the work of Mailer in the 1960s — from “The Presidential Papers” to “The Armies of the Night” — and see such unabashed ambition, such reckless audacity and such a stubborn American readiness to try to save the Republic from itself and bring it back to its original promise. Mailer’s very titles — “Advertisements for Myself,” “An American Dream” — told us he was on a mission, committed to the transformation of country and self, and even as he gave himself over to unremittingly private (and epic) meditations on God, the Devil, cancer and plastics, he was also determined to remake the civic order. He ran for mayor of New York City, he tried his hand at directing movies and in 1955 he helped start an alternative weekly known as The Village Voice. Part of the exhilaration of Mailer was that he cared so ravenously even when he failed; he was shooting for the moon even when he shot himself in the foot.

Dave Eggers comes from a much more sober, humbled, craft-­loving time, and his latest novel is the opposite of a failure: it’s a clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad. But for all the difference between their generations, you can feel in Eggers some of the hunger, the range and the unembarrassedly serious engagement with America and its ideals that gave Mailer’s work such force.


Like Mailer, he’s almost underrated precisely because he’s so ubiquitous and dares us to mock him with his unapologetic ambitions. Yet where Mailer was consciously working in a deeply American grain, with his talk of revolution and transcendence, Eggers speaks for a new America that has to think globally and can’t be sure where the country fits on the planetary screen. And where Mailer was bent on showing us how America could remake the world, Eggers, with ferocious energy and versatility, has been studying how the world is remaking America. Most of our great contemporary examinations of cultural sampling and bipolar belonging come from writers with immigrant backgrounds. It’s invigorating, in that context, to see how Dave Eggers, born in Boston to classic fifth-generation Irish stock (his mother was a McSweeney) and raised in Lake Forest, Ill., has devoted himself to chronicling the shifting melting pot, seeming to tell others’ stories more than his own.

If you’re interested in literature, read the rest of the review. But if you’re just interested in a very, very good book that tells a quirky, dark-ish, funny, spare, discomforting and wildly insightful tale that will stay with you, read A Hologram for the King.

And if you want more Eggers after that, go down the list. (I particularly recommend Zeitoun.)

OKAY, NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING.… which you’ll find in Taylor’s post below.

Photo of Springsteen by manu_gt 500, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Dave Eggers by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, literature, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Mosley Comes Back to LA, WA State’s Public Defender Crisis & George Will on Juvie LWOP

June 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Walter Mosley’s best novels have always woven strong threads of social justice commentary into the fabric of the pure literary entertainment. This has been especially true of Mosley’s books featuring the character of Easy Rawlins, a couple of which were set during and just after the Watt’s riots. Taken as a whole, the Easy Rawlins series explores race relations in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the end of the 1960′s, but does so through consummate storytelling.

It appeared that Mosley had left Rawlins behind when the author moved to New York and launched a whole new series set on the east coast.

But in this LA Times interview with Mosley, Patt Morrison suggests that we’re going to see more of Easy Rawlins, and more of Mosley’s social justice communiques embedded in his deliciously distinctive prose.

Here’s how the interview opens:

You can take Walter Mosley out of Los Angeles — in fact, Mosley did so himself, moving to New York decades ago — but you can’t take L.A. out of Walter Mosley. The master of several genres keeps the city present, from his Easy Rawlins detective novels set in black postwar Los Angeles to the Greek-myths-in-South-Central elements in one of the two novellas in his latest volume. Mosley appeared to wrap it up with Rawlins in “Blonde Faith” in 2007, but five years later, he’s found more for his most famous detective to do, just as Mosley has for himself. He has a fledgling production company, B.O.B. (for “Best of Brooklyn”) Filmhouse, and still writes with one foot in 212 and another here in 213.

Read on.


In ruling handed down earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court took a look at the absurdly large caseloads
that many criminal public defenders were carrying, and quite logically concluded that the PD’s couldn’t possibly give their clients anything resembling an adequate defense.

Thus the WA Court set down strict limits on the public defenders’ caseloads.

Now Gene Johnson of the AP has a story about how the the counties simply don’t have the money to pay for extra PDs to lower those caseload numbers.

Here are some clips from the AP story:

By a 7-2 vote this month, the justices adopted new case limits for public defenders — lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The standards say that beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney.

The caseloads have been especially high in city courts that handle misdemeanors, with public defenders sometimes taking on 1,000 or more cases annually. Now, city officials busy preparing next year’s budgets basically have two options: Provide more money to law firms that represent poor defendants or charge fewer people with crimes.


The high court acknowledged the financial burden the ruling would place on cities and counties but said the move is essential in guaranteeing that everyone has adequate legal representation.

The workloads of public defenders have long been an issue. The cities of Burlington and Mount Vernon are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which says the two lawyers hired to handle misdemeanor cases took on more than 2,100 cases in 2010 alone, and rarely if ever met with their clients or investigated cases.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said evidence suggests that the appointment of public defenders in those cities is “little more than a sham.”

The cities deny that the plaintiffs’ rights were violated and said that even if the public defenders were incompetent or overworked, the cities aren’t liable.

Wow. (And not in a good way.)


Conservative columnist George Will had a very thoughtful column in the Wa PO about this week’s juvenile LWOP ruling. Here’s how it opens:

In the 1790s, a Tennessee man convicted of horse theft got off easy. Instead of being hanged, as horse thieves often were, he was sentenced to “stand in the pillory one hour, receive thirty-nine lashes upon his bareback well laid on, have his ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, and that he should be branded upon one cheek with the letter H and on the other with the letter T, in a plain and visible manner.” Tennessee could not do that today because of what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The Eighth Amendment, ratified in 1791, forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, a Supreme Court ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John G. Roberts Jr., Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment.

In 1999, Kuntrell Jackson, 14, and two others, 14 and 15, robbed a video store in Blytheville, Ark. The 15-year-old fatally shot the store clerk. Jackson, who had a juvenile arrest record, was tried as an adult for aggravated robbery and felony capital murder. He was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

By 2002, Evan Miller, 14, a victim of serious domestic abuse, had tried to kill himself five times. He and another youth, after drinking and smoking marijuana with a 52-year-old man whose trailer was next door to the Millers’ in Lawrence County, Ala., tried to rob him while he slept. He awoke, they beat him with a baseball bat, set fire to his trailer and he burned to death. Miller was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

Because of their offenses, both Jackson and Miller were automatically tried as adults. Both were sentenced under mandatory sentencing laws.

On Monday, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits such sentences when they are mandatory. Previously, the court had held that, regarding children, such sentences are akin to the death penalty, which the court said requires individuation — consideration by sentencing authorities of each defendant’s characteristics and crime.

This ruling extends two others, one holding that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children under 18, the other that it bars life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense…

Photo of Walter Mosley in 2007 at the Brooklyn Book Festival by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in criminal justice, literature, LWOP Kids, Public Defender, writers and writing | No Comments »

Finalists for LA Times Book Awards Announced

February 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Tuesday.
(The full list is here.)

This year, I was one of the three judges for the Mystery Thriller category, along with Dick Lochte and Michele Slung. (for the last two years, I’ve judged Current Interest in nonfiction, so this year it was fun to leap into genre fiction.) Frankly, our main challenge was selecting between a lot of worthy books. Once we narrowed the choices down to ten—twice the number of finalists the contest permitted—it was hard to want to lose any of them off our list.

Yet, when the winnowing was completed, we were quite pleased with our final selections:

“Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)

“Plugged” by Eoin Colfer (Overlook Press)

“11/22/63” by Stephen King (Scribner)

“Snowdrops: A Novel” by A.D. Miller (Doubleday)

“The End of Wasp Season” by Denise Mina (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)

By the way, since I’m a reading fool, I’ve read quite a number of the finalists in the other categories, thus I can assure you that there are some terrific books in there. (The Art of Fielding, The Cat’s Table, Leaving the Atocha Station, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Malcom X biography….and lots more.)

So take a look. Lots of stuff to put on your reading list.

The LA Times Book Awards will be presented on Friday night, April 20, and the LA Times Festival of Books follows on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, at USC.

Mark it on your calendar now. I’ll be on a panel, so I’ll see you there!

Posted in American artists, literature, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Throws a Book Party for Connie Rice

January 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

It wasn’t your usual book party.

For one thing, Monday night’s book launching event for civil rights lawyer Connie Rice’s new memoir, Power Concedes Nothing, was held at the LAPD’s headquarters, in the over-lit Compstat room, no less—i.e. the room where the cops go to hear a rundown on the latest crime statistics and ‘crime mapping.”

Moreover, the party was hosted by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck—who seemed mildly surprised to find himself in the book party hosting business. (Can you think of another instance where LA’s Chief of Police threw a book party? I can’t either. Go, Chief Charlie! Perhaps this could be the start of a new LA event trend: Law enforcement and literature.)

And then, of course, there’s the fact that the book details, among other things, the years that Rice spent suing the Los Angeles Police Department on a regular basis—and usually winning.

Still, Connie’s suing-the-LAPD days are now mostly in the past, and the mood in the Compstat room on Monday night was so upbeat it sometimes bordered on love fest-y. (As you’ll see from the rough snippets of iPhone videos above.)

Those in attendance were a mix of law enforcement and city government types, plus a smattering of criminal justice-leaning authors and journalists—nearly all of whom passed up the red and white wine for glasses of fizzy water. (Helpful party tip: Always drink less than the cops in the room.) U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, showed up, as did City Controller Wendy Greuel, and LAPD command staff types like Deputy Chief Pat Gannon of South Bureau, and department spokesperson, Commander Andrew Smith (who was the LAPD guy you saw most often on TV throughout the whole LAPD/Occupy thingy.)

Journalist/authors Joe Domanick, Jesse Katz, and Jon Weiner, made appearances, as did Christine Pelisek from the Daily Beast, KPCC’s Frank Stoltz, KCET’s Judy Muller, the LA Times’ Pat Morrison, Sue Horton, Susan Brenneman and Deborah Vankin.

Among the others who stood around book-buying, appetizer-munching and gossiping were Police Commission head, John Mack, LA Gang Czar Guillermo Cespedes, Gerry Chaleff, who used to administer the federal consent decree for the LAPD but now has been appointed by Chief Beck as the Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing—meaning he’s supposed to be the guy tasked with making sure that LAPD officers don’t go around violating anybody’s Constitutional rights, and community activists, like Alfred Lomas, of LA Gang Tours.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge offered the night’s weirdest compliment to Rice, when in a moment of unchecked effusiveness after presenting her with an honorific city proclamation, he leaned into a microphone and told her, “You remind me of William Mulholland!”

(In case you’ve forgotten, Mulholland was the ultra powerful 1920′s era head of the Department of Water and Power on whom the John Huston-played villain of the movie Chinatown, Noah Cross Hollis Mulwray, was supposed to have been, in part, based.*) After Police Commission head John Mack began looking meaningfully at the City Councilman, and making subtle “cut it” motions, LaBonge tried to clarify things by shouting, “Forget Chinatown! Everybody drinks water.” Or something to that effect. Then he wisely divested himself of the microphone.

Still, everyone seemed to take LaBonge’s outburst as a quirky representation of the pleasant ebullience that characterized the night.

The cheery mood may have, in some ways, had to do with the fact that, unlike many book parties, where the point is to support (or meet) the writer, on Monday night, in addition to coming to support Connie, most everyone seemed to be really anxious to read Rice’s book—if they hadn’t already.

It is, as the subtitle says, “one woman’s quest for social justice in America….”—meaning it is a personal account, told through the lens of Rice’s specific experience and perceptions. Yet, much of it is also a book about certain events in Los Angeles in the last few years that many of those in the room felt they had, in some way had a part, or at the very least lived through and cared very much about—things like the battle to transform the LAPD and the struggle to get a handle on the gang violence that was corroding the emotional health of many LA neighborhoods.

In other words, they—we—think and hope that Connie’s book will add a new valuable puzzle piece to the communal puzzle that is the unfolding history of Los Angeles—a history that all of us get to claim.

PS: I’ve not yet read Connie’s book (as I just got it Monday night) but, like the rest, I’m looking forward to doing so. I’ll report back to you here when I do.


NOTE 2: I hopelessly bollixed up the Chinatown characters when I first posted this. According to the zillion essays analyzing Robert Towne’s amazing script, Huston’s character Noah Cross plus Cross’s business partner in the film, Hollis Mulwray, collectively represented William Mulholland. (And many of us have eyed the DWP with suspicion ever since.)

Posted in American voices, Civil Rights, LA City Council, LAPD, law enforcement, literature, Los Angeles writers, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

7 Tips 4 Getting the Most Out of the LA Times Festival of Books

April 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

This weekend the glorious LA Times Festival of Books will be held at its new location on the USC campus,
after 15 years at UCLA.

The line up of authors and other intriguing panelists is, as usual, excellent. (You can find the Saturday and Sunday schedules here.)

Both days are filled with more great events than you can possibly fit in.

So to help you with this pesky dilemma, I’ve devised 7 TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE LATFOB

In no particular order they are:

TIP #1: GO TO SEE MY PANEL (Yes, this is a self-serving pitch, but it’s also a really good panel). Specifically, I am moderating a panel on Sunday, at 2 pm at Taper Hall 101. It’s called History: Democracy and Its Discontents, and the LATFOB folks gave me a GREAT threesome to interview: Barry Siegel, Scott Martelle, and Thaddeus Russell—all of whom have written books that tell of crucial yet unreported times in American history that have deep resonances for the health of our democracy now.

For instance, I’ll be asking my brilliant pal Barry (Siegel) about his book, Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets, which reads with the depth and pacing of a novel as it relates how the American government began its obsession with state secrets—starting with the Supreme Court case that jump started the now, it seems, ever-expanding habit of hiding away any paperwork that might prove inconvenient to those in power.

And then there is Scott Martelle and his book, The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial, which just came out this month and tells the story of the 1949 trial of 11 of the mouthpieces of the then minuscule American Communist Party.

The third panel member is Thaddeus Russell, who I’ll ask about his outrageously original A Renegade History of the United States, a book that tells of many of the unlikely people who affected the course of American cultural and political development, but whose tales of influence rarely seem to turn up in most history books.

It’ll be a dynamic exchange, I promise. So y’all come on down.

Okay, now that the personal pitch is out of the way, here are the other six tips:

TIP # 2: GO TO SEE ANY AND ALL PANELS THAT INVOLVE TOD GOLDBERG. Tod is moderating two on Sunday, and he’s on a third one on Saturday. I don’t think anybody except for LAT book reviewer David Ulin is on that many panels. There’s a reason for this. Tod is fantastically entertaining. By “entertaining” I mean, eye-leakingly funny. Plus he’s really, really smart and…really, really….you know…. literary.

TIP #3: GO TO SEE FATHER GREG BOYLE on Sunday at 11 am at Bovard Auditorium being interviewed by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. Father Greg is really as good as it gets as speaker. Last year at the FOB, Warren Olney interviewed him and, during one of Greg’s stories, Warren started to tear up, with a quiver in the voice, and all. Most of those in the audience were teary too. But Warren Olney’s a pro’s pro, so you’ve got to really have something unusually moving to say to get Warren to cry.

TIP# 4: GO TO SEE EGGARS AND SMITH—TOGETHER AT LAST. On Saturday, David Ulin will interview musician Patti Smith and writer/novelist/publisher Dave Eggars. at 12:30 at Bovard. No, I have no idea why in the world those two are being interviewed together, but it’s a weirdly inspired idea. I’m betting the combo will alchemize something that you will miss at your own peril. (Yes, I know alchemize isn’t a verb.)

TIP #5: IF YOU’RE A DAVID FOSTER WALLACE FAN (or even if you’re not), GO TO SEE Ulin again at 4 pm on Saturday, this time moderating a panel on DFW and The Pale King with Bonnie Nadell, Wallace’s longtime agent, DT Max, the guy who is writing a book about Wallace (and who wrote that heartbreaking New Yorker piece), and Michael Pietsch, DFW’s editor and the guy who had to knit together the piles of incomplete and fragmented manuscript pages that Wallace left after his suicide, into a….book. (This will be sold out, so get a ticket now, or show up on Wednesday and just camp out for three days. I really don’t think this is too extreme a plan.)

TIP #6: GO TO ANY PANEL FEATURING SOMEONE NAMED AMY. It’s a good basic rule. The Amy strategy will, for example, get you to a couple of panels with the fabulous Advice Goddess and author, Amy Alkon, or with witty Texas grrrll novelist, Amy Wallen, or with the soulful and gifted nonfiction writer, Amy Wilentz, or with the incandescently talented poet, Amy Gerstler.

Alternately, I recommend going to any panel with the word MYSTERY in its title. So Cal has produced some fine mystery writers from Raymond Chandler forward, a vein of literary genre gold that continues to get richer, and the array at this year’s LATFOB is a satisfyingly bright and shiny one—Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, T. Jefferson Parker, and more.

TIP # 7. WALK INTO ANY PANEL RANDOMLY. Seriously. I’ve done this many times over the years and never been disappointed. There are so many wonderful conversations that will take place in front of microphones over that two day period, it’s hard to go wrong.

On Saturday Janet Fitch talks to T.C. Boyle; Robin Abcarian interviews Andrew Breitbart; Garrett Graff of the Washingtonian, Eric Alterman of the Daily Beast and the Nation, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the Nation’s editor/publisher all talk about Obama; Jennifer Egan and other fictionistas talk about breaking boundaries in fiction—and I have only slightly dented the surface,

On Sunday, the LA Times’ Carolyn Kellogg moderates
Publishing: the New Shape of the Book. featuring Tom Lutz, the editor/publisher of the about-to-launch Los Angeles Review of Books, along with Ethan Nosowsky, editor-at-large, Graywolf Press, …..and…. Oh, you get the picture.

Just plan to go, whatever you do.

We can talk about non-literary news tomorrow.

Posted in American artists, art and culture, arts, literature, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Thinking of Japan, the Blocked California Budget and More

March 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The frightening news out of Japan cannot help but hold our attention, as heroic engineers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station continue to try to save the plant’s crippled nuclear reactors from meltdown.

But, in addition to the devastating TV news reports, please do yourself a favor and read Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s essay on her memories and reflections as the terrifying and heartbreaking news from Japan continues to unfold. It will be in Tuesday’s New York Times. Here is how it opens:

ON Aug. 9, 1945, my great-uncle was out fishing in the Pacific, far enough away from Nagasaki, Japan, that he missed the immediate impact of the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans that day. My great-aunt was in their new house outside Nagasaki; the entire family had only a few days earlier fled the city because my great-uncle feared a repeat of the bombing of Hiroshima.

I heard this story many times during my childhood. Back then, it made me feel that my great-uncle was a clever man. As an adult, I realized he was also very lucky, because cleverness alone cannot keep you safe.

For 36 hours after the earthquake and tsunami that eviscerated the east coast of Japan on Friday, I was unable to get any word from my relatives who oversee and live in our family’s Buddhist temple in Iwaki City, south of Sendai, the biggest city near the epicenter. I wondered if they too were lucky and smart.

I wanted to know, and I did not want to know. I dipped into the world of the Internet, with its videos of water raging over the farmland and crushed ferries, and then quickly backed out. Not looking at the videos kept reality at bay, because the images of the coastline do not match the Japan that I know….


Madeleine Brand had Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters on her show Monday to talk about how bleak the chances are that any Republican legislators will vote for Brown’s proposed budget.

According to Cal Buzz, it is not so much that certain moderate Republicans wouldn’t cross over party lines, as it is the fact that the California Republican Party is out-and-out threatening any Repubs who vote with the governor. Specifically, if they do the California Republican Assembly has proposed a resolution that…..

“….censures these traitorous Republicans-in-Name-Only, ask(s) for their resignation(s) from their positions within the California Republican Party, pledges to endorse and support efforts to recall them from office, and directs the California Republican Party staff, agents and officers to refuse to provide them with funding or assistance in future elections.”

Nice. That’s really putting the good of the state first. Well done, guys.


Both of these stories were linked by Kevin Roderick at LA Observed:

First there is LAPD crime analyst and fellow Bennington MFA graduate, Ellen Collett, who has written a delicious piece that appears in the Utne Reader about the art of writing a good crime report, and a South LA cop named Martinez who is her favorite practitioner.

Roderick also links to the “correction” run by the LA Weekly’s Simon Wilson pursuant to her creepy, insensitive and marginally assaultive coverage of the February Tahrir Square attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan, coverage that was criticized by a number of other women journalists, myself included.

Not only does Wilson fail to apologize (which was what was called for), but her correction, such as it is, also manages to be creepy and vaguely assaultive.

To wit:

The LA Weekly reported earlier in the day on February 15 that Logan had been raped, based on language in a press release from CBS. The CBS release said Logan had suffered a “brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.”

But did the attack constitute rape? The legal definition of rape is penetration with any object, to any extent — the most extreme form of sexual assault. Experts on legal language have since informed us that CBS’ description of the incident implies repeated rape, but the Weekly has not been able to determine what occurred. CBS declines all further comment.

Therefore, we conclude that we erroneously interpreted CBS’ report of what happened to Logan on February 11, 2011.

Gee, thanks Simone, for the graphic “legal definition.” Very helpful.

Next time you have the desire to make things better, please don’t.

The photo of Sutter Brown, the state’s official First Dog, contemplating budgetary matters with the governor, was taken by Brown political adviser, Steve Glazer.

Posted in California budget, criminal justice, environment, LAPD, literature, media, Natural Disasters | 2 Comments »

The California Supremes and Prop 8, Lara Logan and More

February 16th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times has the story.

The California Supreme Court will decide Wednesday whether to plunge back into the legal battle over same-sex marriage.

The state high court, meeting in closed session, will review a request by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether Proposition 8’s sponsors have legal authority to defend the ballot measure.

Depending on the court’s ruling, the 9th Circuit could either dismiss the Proposition 8 appeal on procedural grounds — limiting the case’s effect to California — or rule on federal constitutional questions that would affect same-sex marriage throughout the country.



Could the LA Weekly’s reporting on Lara Logan’s beating and horrific sexual assault possibly be any more staggeringly insensitive?

This is not the time for a hip, snappy tone, people. Good lord. The post felt creepily assaultive itself.


Go and quickly tweet your answer to @GOOD, aka Good Magazine, and they’ll post the best of the answers later today.


Torture comes in many forms, some of it legal.

Democracy Now has the story.


Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes:

It took the death of a poet for me to sit up and wonder what the hell is going on in Ciudad Juarez. I’d talked to the L.A. painter Victoria Delgadillo at length over the years about the unsolved murders of women in Juarez. She’d told me about the local artist she’d taken to Juarez and the art they’d created to memorialize the women and to stop the killings.

About a month ago a friend from San Diego emailed me a Mexican newspaper article detailing that Susana Chavez – the 36 year old Ciudad Juarez poet and activist who’d coined the phrase “Not one more death!” in outrage at the unsolved murders – had been found dead, her hand severed and a plastic bag around her head. That’s one of the signatures left in drug killings.

….They’re killing poets in Juarez???!!! WTF! It reminded me of the maddening story in Murder City by Charles Bowden. The cartels begin dumping bodies in a neighborhood park. A resident puts up a sign urging the killers to stop dumping bodies in the park. That resident is killed. The drug dealers know fear works.

What can we do? I asked the writer Gloria Alvarez when I ran into her a few days after hearing of the poet’s killing. Let’s organize a reading, we agreed. Eastside Café, the 8-year old El Sereno storefront community center hosted it last Saturday night….

Click here to read the rest—including much of the poetry presented Saturday night.

Photo by Raquel Salinas

Posted in American artists, California Supreme Court, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LGBT, Life in general, literature, media, writers and writing | 10 Comments »

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