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LWOP Kids


West Virginia Eliminates Juvie LWOP….Deputy Clique Sexually Harasses LASD Women, Candidate’s Gag Call Criticized

March 31st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: LIGHT POSTING TODAY….as I’m a bit under the weather. More news coming tomorrow.


WEST VIRGINIA ELIMINATES JUVIE SENTENCES OF LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

The state of West Virginia voted on Friday to make all those sentenced as juveniles in adult court to be eligible for parole after 15 years, a decision that lawmakers hailed as maintaining public safety as well as being sound policy.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth has the story:

Here’s a clip:

West Virginia has eliminated the practice of sentencing children to die in prison. Every child convicted and sentenced in adult court will be eligible for parole no later than after serving 15 years. With this new law, West Virginia is among a growing number of U.S. states that have either abandoned this sentence or severely limited its use. The U.S. is the only country in the world that imposes this sentence upon children.

“We applaud West Virginia for responding in a meaningful way to the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that children are ‘constitutionally different’ from adults and should not be subject to our nation’s harshest punishments,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director & national coordinator of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “This new law ensures young people are held accountable for harm they have caused in a way that accounts for their unique characteristics as children and offers them hope of a second chance.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed HB 4210 into law on Friday. The bill passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in the House of Delegates and unanimously in the Senate.

“This bill demonstrates that we take seriously our responsibility of caring for young people and for making sure our communities are safe,” said Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Under HB 4210, children who are convicted of serious crimes will be held accountable for their actions. However, they will also be given a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate later in life that they have been rehabilitated and deserve a second chance. This bill represents our understanding that children are different from adults and that our courts need to take these differences into account when dealing with children. It is also sound fiscal policy for West Virginia, allowing us to maintain public safety while ensuring that we make the best use of our state’s limited financial resources.”


LA SHERIFF’S DEPUTY CLIQUE DEMANDED SEX FROM FEMALE TRAINEES, SAYS LAWSUIT

In a lawsuit filed last week, Guadalupe Lopez, a ten year veteran of the force who is now getting her law degree, describes how members of an 80 member deputy clique who called themselves the Banditos sexually harassed, threatened and demanded sex from her as part of “training” when she was transferred to the department’s East LA station in 2011, according to a story first broken by NBC’s Andrew Blankstein.

Here is a clip:

Guadalupe Lopez, who was assigned to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station in Boyle Heights beginning in 2011, is seeking unspecified damages for alleged sexual harassment, hazing and retaliation that included being run off the road by another deputy, being slammed into a wall while she held a loaded shotgun, and having a dead rat placed under her car after she reported objectionable behavior, according to the lawsuit.

There were about 80 deputies associated with the Banditos, whose full members sported numbered tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bullet sash and pistol, the suit alleges. Probationary deputies, meaning trainees, were allegedly described as “prospects” or “puppies.”

Female trainees were expected to “submit” and “provide sexual favors for male training officers and their associates,” according to the 33-page suit filed by attorney Jason M. Wymond. The suggestion was that if a trainee provided these favors, she would become a full-fledged patrol deputy rather than being forced to work at a Los Angeles County jail, where most deputies begin their careers.

“Plaintiff was made to understand that she was expected to be ‘One of the Girls,’ which included drinking, partying, and the fulfillment of the ‘sexual needs’ of her male training officers and their associates,” the complaint alleges.

Several other lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by superiors have been filed in the last two years against the sheriff’s department, as have other lawsuits reporting threats and repeated retaliation aimed at department members who attempt to report wrongdoing in the LASD.


SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE CRITICIZED FOR GAG CALL

Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, who is one of seven candidates running for sheriff, is in the news for using what sounds like an attempt at an east Indian accent in a 2010 faux complaint call that the Los Angeles Times reports was part of a prearranged skit recorded for a watch commander’s retirement party.

LAT’s Robert Faturechi reports:

The gag call starts out with Hellmold asking for “the watching commander,” a play on the traditional title of watch commander. In accented English, Hellmold says: “Deputy sheriff don’t care about the community….That’s why I call now.”

Back in 2010, when The Times first inquired about the call, a sheriff’s spokesman mostly defended the incident, calling it a “prearranged sound bite” that “did not influence public safety.”
But records reviewed by The Times show that after the newspaper’s inquiry, Hellmold received “documented counseling” in connection with the joke. Hellmold’s boss at the time wrote “you disguised your voice in a manner that sounded representative of another ethnic group.”

WLA obtained the recording as well, and learned from LASD sources that the call was criticized by department members at the time as immature and showing less than ideal judgement for someone of Hellmold’s then rank of captain.

On Friday, Hellmold’s campaign spokesman told the LA Times that the “candidate ‘certainly meant no disrespect” with the gag, ‘and regrets if anyone may have taken offense.’”


Posted in 2014 election, LASD, LWOP Kids, Sentencing | 13 Comments »

Proposal to Keep Kilpatrick Sports Program Alive…..Judge Nash Plans New Order to Open Family Courts to Media…Does the LASD IG Need Greater Independence?….& More

March 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NEXT CHAPTER ON THE ONGOING CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM STORY


According to a motion sponsored at last Tuesday’s board meeting
by Supervisor Don Knabe, Probation Chief Jerry Powers was going to deliver a report on Tuesday of this week detailing exactly where and how he thought he could relocate the popular sports program that is right now in residence at Camp Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is the aging LA County juvenile probation facility that will be shuttered and torn down starting at the end of this month in order to make way for a brand new rehabilitation-centric juvenile probation camp that it is intended to be a model for future camps that help kids rather than simply punish them.

However, as much as California juvenile advocates are in favor of the new Kilpatrick project, the many fans of the sports program don’t want to lose one good thing, in order to get another.

(For the back story on the Kilpatrick sports issue, see our post of last week.)

It was everyone’s assumption that Powers’ report would be presented publicly at Tuesday’s meeting. But a few days ago, that plan changed and Powers said he would simply deliver his report to the supervisors on Tuesday, without a public presentation.

The report in question was finally delivered to all the Supes Wednesday, and we have obtained a copy.

There’s lots of good news in what Powers has proposed, like the fact that Powers has set a firm timeline for the sports program reopening for the fall season. However, some of the details may produce complications—particularly the fact that the proposed location for the sports program is Challenger Memorial Youth Camp in the Lancaster area, more than an hour away from where Kilpatrick is now located in Malibu.

Yet, the proposal also describes the advantages that Camp Challenger has to offer, like two gymnasiums, multiple areas for practice fields, and others. It also helps that moving the sports program there will not displace any existing programs.

But it’s complicated.

Hopefully, all parties can come together in good faith to work out any rough spots so that the sports program can resume for the Fall 2014 season with even more support than it has had in the past—which is what Powers has made clear he wants.

We also hope that this new plan will continue to support the work of the extraordinarily dedicated Kilpatrick coaches who continue to give so much of themselves to the kids who have been under their care.

We’ll keep you up to date as this story unfolds further.

Here’s a copy of Wednesday’s report. Garfield sports proposal


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH’S EXCELLENT & LEGALLY TWEAKED PLAN TO RE OPEN CHILD CUSTODY COURTS TO THE PRESS

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this month, in a 2-1 decision a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

Undeterred, Judge Nash will soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

Journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has more on the story in the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip:

Today, Presiding Judge Michael Nash continued his campaign to encourage media access to Los Angeles County’s historically closed juvenile dependency court, after a California appeals court had invalidated a similar, earlier order only this month.

While Nash had called the changes a “a distinction without a difference,” in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change last week, it appears that his new order will thread the needle on this highly contentious issue: by offering the press a way in, but forcing reporters to be conscious of the potential harm their coverage could cause to vulnerable children.

Nash sent a revision of his controversial 2012 order easing press access to a clutch of judges, journalists, child advocates and other stakeholders for comment. They have until April 14th, after which Nash intends on issuing a new order that will once again allow press into the courts.

Read the draft order HERE:

A key reason why two out of three judges in California’s Second Appellate District ruled against the 2012 order was because they believed it stripped individual judges and court referees of discretion in excluding the press from sensitive hearings involving child victims of maltreatment.

Nash’s rewritten order fixes all that.


DOES THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL HAVE THE NECESSARY POWER AND INDEPENDENCE?

The LA Times Editorial Board thinks new IG Max Huntsman needs more independence if he is to be effective. Here’s a clip from the editorial:

It was no surprise last week when Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended against renewing contracts with two agencies monitoring the Sheriff’s Department. The same citizens commission that called for the creation of Huntsman’s office also suggested that it absorb the functions of those other agencies, one of them established 22 years ago to report on excessive force and lax discipline, the other created nine years later to monitor the sheriff’s handling of deputy misconduct allegations.

One lesson arising from the commission’s hearings was that the county’s existing oversight and reporting agencies were insufficient to end a pattern of abuse in the jails; the implication was that a differently constructed and empowered office would be better suited to the task.

That lesson and that implication could stand some scrutiny. Without it, the county could find itself with new titles and offices but the same problems it failed to solve a decade ago and a decade before that.

Just why, for example, were the special counsel and the Office of Independent Review inadequate? The citizens commission noted that both did their investigations and reports but both met with a “lack of meaningful or timely action” by the Sheriff’s Department. And why did the department not respond? Because it didn’t have to. Criticism and critiques were filed by both monitors with the Board of Supervisors, which too often failed to use the political power at its disposal to develop sufficient public pressure to get the sheriff to act.

Read on.


A COOK COUNTY, ILL, JUDGE SENTENCED A KID TO DIE IN PRISON IN 1988 AND HATED THAT THE LAW MADE HIM DO IT

The Chicago Tribune’s Duaa Eldeib and Steve Mills report about how judges are glad that the US Supreme Court ordered an end to mandatory life for kids. Now various state courts are stepping in to put the Supremes ruling into motion.

Here’s a clip:

The Cook County judge made it quite clear he did not want to sentence Gerald Rice to life in prison without possibility of parole.

At the sentencing hearing in 1988, Judge Richard Neville noted that Rice was mildly mentally disabled and that evidence showed the 16-year-old had been coaxed by an older man into throwing a Molotov cocktail into a West Side house on a summer night two years earlier, killing a woman and three children. The co-defendant was acquitted.

Neville criticized state legislators for tying his hands and making a life sentence mandatory. Doing so, he said, stripped him of his discretion. He could not weigh Rice’s age, maturity level, lack of a criminal record or his role in the murders. Urging Rice’s attorney to appeal, the judge said he hoped that such mandatory sentences would be outlawed someday.

“I think it is outrageous that I cannot take that into consideration in determining what an appropriate sentence is for Mr. Rice,” a transcript quoted Neville as saying about Rice’s fate compared with his co-defendant’s. “It is with total reluctance that I enter the sentence, and it is only because I believe I have no authority to do anything else that I enter this sentence.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled the judge’s hopes, ruling that mandatory life sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week the state’s highest court weighed in, ruling that inmates in Illinois who received mandatory life sentences for murders that they committed as juveniles should receive new sentencing hearings.

“It’s a judge’s job and usually they’re the best qualified to decide what kind of sentence is appropriate,” Neville said last week. “I’ve got the most information and the best view of what happened and of the defendant’s background.”

Neville retired from the bench in 1999 and now is a mediator.

The ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday affects about 100 inmates who were under 18 at the time of their offenses, according to state prison officials. The youngest four were 14, while about half were 17. The vast majority were sentenced in Cook County. Most were convicted of more than one murder.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Probation, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Does a Newly Surfaced E-Mail Tie Paul Tanaka to the FBI’s Obstruction of Justice Case….& More

February 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


An internal sheriff’s department email
that has recently surfaced appears to link former undersheriff Paul Tanaka to the operation to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Thus far, seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted for their alleged part in the hiding Brown in the summer and early fall of 2011.

In all, 20 from the department have been charged as part of the still widening federal investigation into corruption in the LASD.

But it is the indictment of two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies around the Brown issue that has triggered the most speculation about whether or not the indictment list will travel farther up the line and, if so, how far up.

Department members who have spoken to us on the subject have maintained that the two teams involved with the twinned schemes to keep informant Brown away from any and all federal agents—and then to question him about what he told the feds—could not have assigned themselves to those tasks. The idea that a couple of lieutenants would order and execute such actions on their own is simply not credible, said LASD sources.

(Go here for our previous reporting on the Brown-hiding strategy that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box.)

Then around three weeks ago, WitnessLA obtained the internal sheriff’s department email that mentions Paul Tanaka in relationship to Brown.

NOTE: Both the LA Times and ABC-7 obtained the same email, and have each come out with their own stories on Sunday and Monday, respectively. More on that in a minute.

The email was written by Deputy Gerard Smith and addressed to the members of the fourteen-man team tasked with hiding Brown, plus two department supervisors.

It reads in part:

If you are getting this Email, you have been signed up to work this very important detail. I am in charge of security and scheduling for this detail. Please don’t let me or the unit down. …. There will be no other movement [of Anthony Brown], without the presence of the following people: US Tanaka, ICIB Cpt. Tom Carey, ICIB LT. Leavins, LT. G. Thompson, Dep. G. Smith or Dep. M. Manzo.

Of the six people listed, the last four people— Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith, and Deputy Mickey Manzo—have all been indicted. The remaining two—Captain Tom Carey and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have not.

Farther down in the email, Smith writes:

To keep yourself free of any controversy don’t talk to him [Brown], let the approved, above listed people deal with Browns [sic] issues

By “the approved, above listed people” he clearly means Tanaka and the other three.

And then Smith writes this:

It has been expressed to me (several times now) that this is one of the most important investigations involving The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in its 160 year history. No joke……

None of our sources seem to know who would have been most likely to have made the statement to Smith about the Brown matter being so terribly important.

But whatever its provenance, such a pronouncement would likely have had a strong effect on those who received the email, said our sources, especially given the inference that it came from someone much further up the line.

“This kind of thing would have placed tremendous pressure on these young jail deputies,” an LASD supervisor who works the jails now told me. “When their superiors tell them something is important, they don’t want to stumble. They don’t want fail.”

Here’s a clip from Robert Faturechi’s LA Times article on the email in which Paul Tanaka talks about his reaction to the information contained in the email.

Tanaka said in a statement to The Times that he had a minimal role in the Brown matter — known inside the department as “Operation Pandora’s Box” — and that he did nothing improper or illegal. He also said he does not recall being made aware of the contents of the email before it was sent.

“While I was involved in some aspects of the implementation of these orders, I was not involved in or had knowledge of other aspects and my name was sometimes used without my knowledge or consent because of my position,” he said in the statement.

Here’s a clip from the ABC 7 story:

Multiple sources who were directly involved in the Brown operation told Eyewitness News they were told by the indicted Lt. Greg Thompson that if anyone questioned what they were doing with inmate Brown, they should instruct that person to call then-undersheriff Tanaka.

A similar story comes in sworn deposition testimony from Lieutenant Katherine Voyer. She was working at the downtown jail complex in the summer of 2011 and testified about the orders she received: “No federal agents were allowed in the facility and if they came with the writ, call Mr. Tanaka’s cell phone, personal cell phone.”

“Mr. Tanaka was very hands-on in how he handled this department,” said Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association. “So he knew pretty much everything that was going on in this department.”

Moriguchi’s union represents some of those indicted.

The email is supported by some of the reports we’ve heard from sources who worked on the team that hid Brown. For instance, one recalled an instance in which Brown was moved to a cell in the out-of-the-way the San Dimas station, at which time the deputies present were confronted by a watch commander who wanted to know what they hell they were doing bringing this mystery inmate in so late at night. According to our source, the deputies told the watch commander that they should check with Undersheriff Tanaka if they had a problem.

The watch commander stalked off for a few minutes then reappeared and reportedly everything was fine.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

AN ANN ARBOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WRITES A LEGAL BRIEF ARGUING THAT JUVENILE LIFERS DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE

The Detroit Free Press ran the story on their front page. Here’s a clip from the opening. But her actual brief is worth reading.

Sixteen-year-old Matilyn Sarosi spent the recent spate of snow days off school writing an 18-page paper for which she will get no academic credit.

Instead of the paper being graded by a teacher at Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Ann Arbor, Sarosi hopes the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court will give her brief thoughtful consideration.

Sarosi’s amicus, or friend of the court brief, argues that Michigan prison inmates who were sentenced to life for crimes, such as murder, committed when they were younger than 18 now deserve a chance at parole. The legal brief was submitted Friday to the state Supreme Court, which is to hold a hearing on the issue March 6.

“I was really kind of shocked at the issue, the injustice of it all, and the magnitude,” said Sarosi, an honor student and public speaking events competitor. “I’m a teenager and I know my peers. We make impulsive, immature decisions. We make dangerous decisions. But if you give up hope on our youth and kids, you’re giving away our future.”


LA POLICE COMMISSION MAY REVISE THE WAY OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS ARE JUDGED

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Police Commission is poised to adopt a major shift in the way it judges police shootings, tying an officer’s decision to pull the trigger to his actions in the moments leading up to the incident.

The rule change, which will be taken up Tuesday, would settle years of debate over whether the commission can make a determination that a shooting violated department policy if the officer created a situation in which deadly force was necessary. Until now, the commission has generally focused on the narrow question of whether an officer faced a deadly threat at the moment he opened fire.
“This is one of the most significant policy decisions we’ve made in my seven years on the commission,” Robert Saltzman said.

Although only a few words would be added to the existing policy, Saltzman said, “the clarification is significant. Some have interpreted our current policy to suggest the commission should ignore all the officer’s pre-force activity, no matter how relevant those earlier actions are.”

The proposal was submitted by the commission’s inspector general, who reviews officer shootings and makes recommendations to the commission on whether they fall in or outside department policy. Along with Saltzman, it has won the support of commission President Steve Soboroff.

Really, the clip is only an opener. Read the whole story to see the logic involved in the decision the commission is considering.

Wherever you personally come down on this issue, I guarantee you’ll find it interesting.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, LWOP Kids | 21 Comments »

Kids Still Locked Up for Life Despite SCOTUS Rulings…Youth Justice Grant $$ Cut from Federal Budget….Obama on Marijuana Policy…and the US Immigration Lock-Up Quota

January 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STATES’ RESPONSES TO SUPREME COURT RULINGS ON LIFE SENTENCES FOR JUVENILES

The United States Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life sentences for kids via the 2010 Graham v. Florida and the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decisions. In Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS ruled that juveniles cannot serve life without the possibility of parole where no murder was involved—kids must be given a chance to seek parole based on their level of rehabilitation. The Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for children was unconstitutional (but did not strike down LWOP for youth altogether).

Many states are dragging their feet, only partially complying with the landmark rulings. (See clip below for how California’s efforts rate.)

The NY Times’ Eric Eckholm has the story. Here are some clips:

In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.

But most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings, which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts…

Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in nonhomicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing…

The plaintiff in one of the Florida lawsuits, Shimeek Gridine, was 14 when he and a 12-year-old partner made a clumsy attempt to rob a man in 2009 here in Jacksonville. As the disbelieving victim turned away, Shimeek fired a shotgun, pelting the side of the man’s head and shoulder.

The man was not seriously wounded, but Shimeek was prosecuted as an adult. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery, hoping for leniency as a young offender with no record of violence. The judge called his conduct “heinous” and sentenced him to 70 years without parole.

Under Florida law, he cannot be released until he turns 77, at least, several years beyond the life expectancy for a black man his age, noted his public defender, who called the sentence “de facto life without parole” in an appeal to Florida’s high court.

[SNIP]

Among the handful of states with large numbers of juvenile offenders serving life terms, California is singled out by advocates for acting in the spirit of the Supreme Court rules.

“California has led the way in scaling back some of the extreme sentencing policies it imposed on children,” said Jody Kent Lavy, the director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which has campaigned against juvenile life sentences and called on states to reconsider mandatory terms dispensed before the Miller ruling. Too many states, she said, are “reacting with knee-jerk, narrow efforts at compliance.”

California is allowing juvenile offenders who were condemned to life without parole to seek a resentencing hearing. The State Supreme Court also addressed the issue of de facto life sentences, voiding a 110-year sentence that had been imposed for attempted murder.


SUBSTANTIAL FEDERAL JUVENILE JUSTICE GRANT CUT FROM BUDGET

Funding for the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JAGB) was cut from the 2014 budget Congress sent to the president’s desk late last week. The grant provided money for important programs across the country, including a restorative justice program in California that was successful in keeping kids out of the system. At the same time, the budget reserves $10M for building and expanding corrections facilities. Advocates are dismayed, saying the lost juvenile justice dollars indicate misplaced governmental priorities. (We agree.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Gary Gately has the story. Here’s a clip:

Juvenile offenders and their parents in California signed contracts agreeing to school attendance, curfews, drug testing and counseling – and the agreements prevented the youths from being incarcerated.

New York state funded programs in Syracuse and Utica to divert from arrest youths who had committed non-serious illegal acts at school.

Georgia made funds available to 159 county juvenile courts to find community-based services as alternatives to detention.

The efforts in the three states were funded in part by the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program, which gives states resources to improve juvenile justice systems.

But the JABG funding has been eliminated in a fiscal year 2014 spending bill released this week by House and Senate negotiators.

[SNIP]

[Executive Director of the Coalition for Youth Justice, Marie] Williams, told JJIE that the JABG funding “does a lot of really, really good things that I think states are going to be missing the funding for,” including prosecutors, drug courts, risk-assessment tools and school safety.

[SNIP]

While eliminating the JABG grant funding, the spending bill allows states to spend up to $10 million of the $55.5 million in Title II grants for “building, expanding, renovating, or operating temporary or permanent juvenile correction, detention or community corrections facilities.” (The Title II grants are based on formulas in which the federal government and states contribute to juvenile justice initiatives.)

Williams said singling out such facilities for funding reflects misplaced priorities on Capitol Hill.

“To us, it’s a clear indication they’re out step with the trend in juvenile justice, which is de-incarceration,” Williams said. “Why on the one hand is Congress defunding things like juvenile courts, restorative justice programs, improving juvenile justice systems, but making a point to include $10 million for juvenile corrections facilities?”


OBAMA ON MARIJUANA POLICY

In David Remnick’s interesting (and extensive) new profile of President Barack Obama for the New Yorker, the president shares his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana and the racial and social class sentencing disparity.

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion — the legalization of marijuana — he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked.

[SNIP]

Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.”


CONSEQUENCES OF THE US IMMIGRATION INCARCERATION QUOTA

For the last six years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been forced to fill a quota of 34,000 immigrants in lock-up at all times.

The NY Daily News’ Robert Morgenthau rightly points out that setting a numerical quotas when it comes to incarceration policy—for immigration or otherwise—-completely undermines the notion of justice in any court process. Here are some clips:

The detention quota is unprecedented and unique to the immigration context. As Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, explained to Bloomberg News in June 2013: “No other law enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people that they must keep in jail.”

But hard-liners in Congress fight tirelessly to keep it in place. Last year, when the prisoner population dipped to 30,773, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul wrote a pointed public letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, informing him that he was “in clear violation of the statute” and its 34,000 prisoner requirement.

Notice that’s not the number of immigrants Congress wants to deport; it’s the number Congress insists on incarcerating while they await their fate.

[SNIP]

Such a rigid number cannot help but have a corrupting influence on the entire process. Imagine trying to get a fair trial in criminal court if your state legislature mandated that judges had to fill a certain number of prison cells each day. It would be impossible.

How can lawyers representing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement do their job dispassionately — seeking incarceration only of those who truly represent a danger to society or a risk of flight — if they know their funding is dependent upon hitting a number?

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Obama, racial justice, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

The LASD Latest, the Problem with Plea Bargains, and New Sentences Under CA’s Fair Sentencing for Youth Act

January 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


ADVICE FOR THE FUTURE LASD INTERIM SHERIFF…AND MORE

One of the next big questions, following Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement announcement last week, is who the LA County Board of Supervisors will choose as interim sheriff to take over the department until a permanent sheriff is elected 10 months from now.

A Sunday LA Times editorial calls for that temporary sheriff to use that time to gut the sheriff’s department of dishonest officers and to create a culture of openness and accountability.

The Board of Supervisors should appoint an interim sheriff for the next 10 months who embraces not just the marching orders of reform but the underlying need for real change. Such a person must be prepared to root out an entrenched attitude of resistance. He or she must be prepared to face and overcome deputies and supervisors who believe they can wait out any departmental revamp.

If the Sheriff’s Department needs a housecleaning — and it does — now is the time. Proven dishonesty should result in discharge, and supervisors uncomfortable with scrutiny and new structures of accountability should be moved aside. An interim sheriff who fires and demotes as the situation requires may well be unpopular, but that’s the point: As a short-term appointee, he or she can and should take steps that might give pause to someone seeking election or reelection.

The interim sheriff should make clear in both word and deed that dishonesty — as opposed to personal disloyalty — will be punished. Honest deputies must see that deceit will be found out and punished. If there is a jailhouse code of silence meant to protect deputies and enable the abuse of inmates, it must be eliminated. An unyielding stance against secretive conduct and deception should be adopted by the interim sheriff and should be considered nonnegotiable by the time the elected sheriff takes office.

Mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability that will transcend and outlast any single person’s leadership must be put in place. There is already an inspector general to monitor and report on jail conditions and the use of force, and to conduct its own investigations, and that’s a good start, but more is needed.

(There’s more, so make sure to read the rest.)

As a demonstration of just how urgently the LA County Sheriff’s Department is in need of reform, here are the numbers on how much the LASD is costing the county in terms of legal settlements in 2013: accounting for nearly half of the county’s total litigation costs, the sheriff’s dept. spent $43M. That’s $6M up from last year, in spite of LA County’s total expenditure being at a seven-year low. (You can find the rest of the spending report on LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s website.)


AND IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: BACA ASKS BISHOP TURNER TO RESIGN

In an interview with Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday, ABC 7 learned that Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner will be resigning at the behest of the sheriff, pending investigation into a list of questionable issues, including the fact that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across from his church. (A previous WLA post on the Bishop Turner story can be found here.)

Here’s a clip from ABC 7′s story:

On Friday, the sheriff appeared for an Eyewitness Newsmakers interview, where I asked whether he felt betrayed by Turner.

“I feel like he should have told me that this is going on so I didn’t catch it in a difference source. But that didn’t happen. So we are doing an investigation, but I also informed the bishop yesterday that it’d be best if he resigned from the program. We will still continue the investigation, however, and he’s indicating he will resign,” said Baca.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore later told Eyewitness News that Turner is resigning from his appointed position, along with two other appointed field deputies, because the sheriff is retiring, and the investigation continues as a separate matter.


PLEA BARGAINS SUPERSEDING TRIAL BY JURY

In an article for the Crime Report, Matthew Mangino, former district attorney for Lawrence County, PA, explains why plea bargains—which represents how 97% of federal criminal cases are closed—are undermining the nation’s criminal justice system by rendering trial-by-jury nearly nonexistent. Here are some clips:

Ninety-seven percent of federal criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain. In state courts the numbers are comparable. The plea bargain may be the grease that keeps the criminal justice system churning, but it may also be a sign of a system in need of repair.

Judge John Gleeson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently wrote, “An excessively high rate of guilty pleas is unhealthy for our justice system.”

Why? The only scrutiny a case may receive in federal court is that afforded by a grand jury and, as long-time Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau once said, he could get a grand jury to indict a “ham sandwich.”

At trial the government must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government must firmly convince the jury of every element of the offense and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime.

But, as Gleeson observed, “Our [grand jury] system permits indictment to be returned on an ex parte presentation consisting entirely of inadmissible evidence.”

Much of the evidence presented to a grand jury would never see the light of day in a jury trial. The burden of proof before a grand jury requires merely a showing of probable cause; it does not require showing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and does not need unanimity of the grand jurors.

[SNIP]

What this means is that an insignificant number of offenders heading off to state or federal prison were proven guilty of anything…For 97 out of 100 people accused of a crime in federal court, all that has been proven against them is that a crime has been committed and that they “probably” committed it—the same standard that permits a police officer or federal agent to make an arrest.


FIRST JUVENILE OFFENDER TO GAIN POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE UNDER CALIFORNIA’S FAIR SENTENCING FOR YOUTH ACT

At 16-years-old, Edel Gonzalez was given life without parole (LWOP) for his involvement in the death of a woman during a carjacking. A controversial and important California law (SB 9) that went into effect last year, gives some juveniles, who were tried as adults and sentenced to LWOP, a chance of a chance at parole, if signed off by a judge. This past December, Gonzalez was the first person resentenced to life with the possibility of parole. (For backstory on the passage of SB 9, go here.)

Elizabeth Calvin, a senior children’s advocate at Human Rights Watch, tells Gonzalez’ story and explains the significance of this new law. Here are some clips:

I first met Edel in 2007. Seated at a visiting room table in a maximum security prison, he was a somber 32-year-old. I was investigating California’s use of life-without-parole sentences for teens. Before his crime, he had been solidly ensconced in a gang since age 11. He had also been suppressing childhood abuse and loss, and dealt with his pain by drinking. He’d never met his father, so older gang members provided his only adult male role models. He was thoroughly drunk when he and two adult codefendants attempted to steal a car. One of the men — not Edel — unexpectedly shot the driver. Edel was convicted of murder for his role and sentenced to life without parole.

When we met, he had been in prison 16 years, and a coffin would be his only way out. He was a man with no reason to hope. Yet he had reflected deeply on why he had been so lost at 16, and described his efforts to be a good person since that time. His virtually pristine prison record supported his claim.

“I am a different person than I was then,” he said. “I wish I could change the things I did. But I can try to live an upright life now, even here.” When he spoke about his victim, he became overwhelmed. He turned away, hiding tears and shame. “I’d tell her, if I could … I’m sorry. I don’t know how to give you my life. I would give you my heart if I could.”

[SNIP]

A few weeks before Edel’s December hearing, I got a call from a jail chaplain in another county. He said that a youth had just been sentenced to life without parole and that during sentencing, the judge turned to the boy and said, “You are a monster.” His crime was a murder with depressing similarities to Edel’s case. A monstrous act, yes — a truth about any murder.

But a child is not a monster. And that is what this law is about. Science and law compel a court to consider the fact that a young person still is developing. No one can know who a 16-year-old will be in 22 years.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LWOP Kids, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 6 Comments »

California Freeing Woman Who Killed Pimp at 16, Teen’s Death Points Back to Defeated Bill…and More

October 28th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SARA KRUZAN, WOMAN WHO WAS SENTENCED TO LWOP FOR KILLING HER PIMP AT 16, RELEASED ON PAROLE

Late Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown chose not to block a parole board’s decision to release Sara Kruzan. At age seventeen, Kruzan received 25-to-life without the possibility of parole for killing her pimp—a man who began grooming her for child prostitution when she was just eleven years old.

The Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 shooting death of George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She contended that he sexually abused her and had groomed her since she was 11 to work for him as a child prostitute.

Her case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to soften harsh life sentences for juveniles.

“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”

Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube [above].

The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.

“Given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive,” the governor wrote in his commutation message, “it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age.”

This January, a Riverside judge further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.


TRAGIC DEATH OF 13-YEAR-OLD CALLS ATTENTION TO FAILED REPLICA GUN LEGISLATION

Last Tuesday, a Sonoma County deputy fatally shot thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez who was holding a pellet gun that the officer mistook for an assault rifle. This heartbreaking death is calling attention to failed a California bill that would have required replica guns like the one Andy was holding to be made of transparent or neon plastic. The bill, supported by LA Police Chief Charlie Beck, was defeated with help from the National Rifle Association and pellet and paintball gun vendors.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper has detailed emotional protests alleging excessive force by Sonoma County law enforcement after a sheriff’s deputy on Tuesday fired at teenager Andy Lopez, killing him. Deputies came across the boy in his “wine country” community around 3:15 p.m. as he was walking down a road, on his way home, carrying a pellet gun fashioned to closely resemble an AK-47. The pellet gun belonged to a friend.

Taking cover behind vehicle doors, deputies told the boy, whose back was to them, to drop what they believed was a real gun. Andy began to turn toward them, according to law enforcement officials. A deputy reportedly thought the boy was raising the gun and fired. Andy was hit seven times, according to reports.

In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity reported on how pressure from retail stores and the National Rifle Association helped defeat a bill by Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, who came up with the proposal in response to similar police shootings of boys playing with replica guns.

The bill would have required replica guns like the one Andy was carrying be made with transparent bodies or in certain neon colors. The measure had the support of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who invoked the tragic 2010 shooting of another 13-year-old boy who was paralyzed when L.A. police officers came upon boys playing with toy guns and ended up shooting one.

“Backers said the measure (de Leon’s) was designed to try to prevent shootings of innocent young people by police officers who have to make split-second decisions,” the Center’s story said.


LA TIMES READERS DISTURBED BY TOP CALIFORNIA PRISON PSYCHIATRIST’S CLAIMS

In a story last Wednesday on impending policy changes regarding the use of pepper spray on mentally ill prisoners in California, the LA Times’ Paige St. John noted that California’s senior prison psychiatrist Dr. John Lindgren testified in front of a federal judge that he thought mentally ill inmates would have no memory of being pepper sprayed and likely have a higher pain tolerance than other prisoners. (We linked to St. John’s earlier story on the issue, here.)

On Sunday, the LA Times published several letters from readers outraged by the prison psychiatrists claims. Here is the first:

It is distressing to read a correctional psychiatrist’s assertion that psychotic prisoners “would have no memory” of being repeatedly pepper-sprayed and “have a higher than average threshold for pain or noxious stimuli.”

The claim that psychotic illness would prevent a person from remembering physical pain has no basis in science. Regarding pain thresholds, a growing body of literature documents post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in psychotic people subjected to excessive force.

Since the defunding of public psychiatry in the 1980s, prisons have increasingly played a custodial role for people who are severely mentally ill. As a society, we have chosen to treat such people as criminals first and patients second. The results: huge bills, little healing and the brutality The Times describes.

Thomas R. Blair, MD

Los Angeles


CALIFORNIA STARTS MOVING INMATES TO PRIVATE PRISONS

The state has begun the transfer of prisoners to private prison facilities in an effort to comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population by about 9000 inmates before a now twice-extended deadline. (Backstory: here.)

(We are unclear on why there is a need to start moving prisoners this far in advance of the deadline and a decision on the part of the judges as to whether California will ultimately be given a three-year extension.)

Katie Orr has the story over on KPBS. Here’s a small clip:

James Black, with the GEO group that operates the facilities said GEO’s prisons must meet the same standards required for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“All of our facilities are ACA accredited, American Correctional Association accredited. We still operate under the oversight of the entity that we are contracted with. So we still operate under, basically, CDCR oversight,” Black said.

Black said California is paying GEO $60 per inmate per day. He expects all 2,100 transfers to be complete by the beginning of December. The inmates require medium-level security.


BY THE WAY…

Jack Leonard of the LA Times has an interesting story about inmates falsely claiming homelessness to avoid home detention that is worth checking out. (We’re looking into the issue ourselves, and will likely have something on the topic soon, so stay tuned.)

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LWOP Kids, Mental Illness, prison policy | 1 Comment »

15 Reasons Why We’re Thankful This Year

November 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker

As we near the end of 2012, we at WitnessLA believe there is quite a bit to be thankful for within the social justice sphere–breakthroughs, big wins (and smaller wins), opened doors, and steps in the right direction. Here are fifteen items on our list, in no particular order:


1. We’re thankful to Senator Leland Yee for drafting SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and to Gov. Brown for having the good sense to sign the bill that gives certain juvies serving life-without-parole the possibility of a second chance.


2. We’re thankful that Californians passed Prop 36, the three-strikes reform legislation.


3. We’re thankful that California’s education system will not have to find out what would have happened if Prop 30 had not passed.


4. We’re thankful for the rigor with which the members and staff of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence approached their task, which led to a strong set of findings, and a thorough list of recommendations.


5. We’re also thankful for the many LASD people—present and former— who have courageously come forward: to us, to the LA Times, to the commission and to those guys and girls on Wilshire Blvd.


6. We’re thankful to Judge Michael Nash for shining light on Child Dependency Court proceedings by allowing media access, and to the 2nd District of the California Court of Appeals for denying petitions against Judge Nash’s decision.


7. We’re thankful for the passage of marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado as steps toward rectifying the harm done by a failed drug war.


8. We’re thankful for SCOTUS’ ban of mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentencing. (It’s one step in the direction of banning juvie LWOP altogether.)


9. We’re also thankful to SCOTUS for ruling preposterously long sentences for youth unconstitutional.


10. We’re thankful for the wise and important findings of the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color created by Assembly speaker John Perez, and chaired by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.


11. We’re thankful that, slowly but surely, the US is making progress toward equal rights for the LGBT community (shout out to Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota).


12. We’re also thankful to Gov. Brown for making CA the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for youth.


13. We’re thankful for all those who are pushing for zero-tolerance reform in LAUSD schools and across the nation.


14. We’re thankful to SCOTUS for striking down most of the harsh AZ immigration law, SB 1070.


15. We’re thankful that, a year after the program commenced on Oct. 1, 2011, people are finally starting to talk sense about California’s prison realignment process—rather than painting it counter-factually as a plot to endanger public safety by releasing prisoners early. (We are particularly grateful to the LA Times Rob Greene for snapping some of the worst fact-offenders out of their stupor.) We’re also thankful for the programs that are starting to spring up in various counties that see realignment as an opportunity, rather than a burden.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LASD, LAUSD, LGBT, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Realignment, Uncategorized, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

Public Records Act at Risk, Anti-Bullying Program Slammed as Gay Plot, Juvie LWOP from 2 POVs

October 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



A CALIF JUDGE’S DECISION THREATENS THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

The LA Times’ Jim Newton has a column that is an absolutely essential read —unless you trust every single one of our government agencies and public officials to scrupulously and without fail behave in a right and good and true manner all of the time.

The column relates the experience of Tim Crews, the editor/publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County. Evidently Crews believed that the local school district had used public funds to improperly influence an election. So to look further into the matter, he attempted to obtain certain documents under the Public Records Act, which is what most reporters would do under the same circumstances. The district predictably dragged its feet. Eventually, the paper and the district wound up in court over some of the documentation, and the judge decided against Crews.

Now here’s where the whole thing gets worrisome. Here are some clips from Newton’s column that explain the heart of the matter:

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews’ case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews’ request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. “It would wipe us out,” Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews’ case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California’s public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.

[BIG SNIP]

All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

This issue has direct application to such things as the reporting that WitnessLA has been doing on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Take Matt Fleischer’s recent story about Pay-to-Play in the LASD: without the donations information and other documentation obtained through the Public Records Act, that story and others like it, could not have existed.

And because WLA and other smaller publications like it—and private individuals, for that matter—are operating without the benefit of big staffs and big budgets (and funds set aside for just such legal issues), the threat of having to pay tens of thousands in legal bills if a judge happens to whimsically decide that a government agency doesn’t have to fork over certain paperwork, cannot help to have a cooling effect. Plus, it gives public agencies who’d like to withhold documents for less than stellar reasons a nasty little tool to use against pesky reporters and members of the public who try to hold them accountable, but who don’t have deep pockets.

In any case, stay tuned. We’ll let you know when we know more.


ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM DEEMED GAY-PROMOTING PLOT”

First the good news: 77 LA County Schools are participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the most schools of any area of the nation. Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which will take place October 30, is a national pro-tolerance, anti-bullying school program that was started over a decade ago by the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s how their website explains it:

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

.

Around 2500 schools participate nationally

But then here’s the bad news: A conservative evangelical group called American Family Association, has whipped itself into a frenzy over Mix-It-Up-at Lunch Day, which it calls a “nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.”

Naturally AFA has told its followers to inform school administrators that they will be keeping their kids home on Oct. 30 in the hope of getting schools to cancel all this ghastly Mixing-it-up.

According to a New York Times story by Kim Severson, after the AFA began pressuring, 200 schools cancelled the program,. Here’s a clip from Severson’s story:

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”


WHEN KILLERs ARE KIDS, A CASE FROM THE POV OF A VICTIM’S FAMILY

Sunday’s NY Times features a story by Ethan Bronner that looks at a case in which a 15-year-old boy killed his 15-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. The article explores the point of view of the once-young killer and also looks at the tragedy from the perspective of the sister of the victim, each of whom could be affected by the SCOTUS decision handed down this past June that found the mandatory sentencing of juvenile murderers to term of Life without the possiblity of parole to be unconstitutional. To be clear, the Suprmes didn’t find Juvie LWOP to be cruel and unusual as a whole, only the mandatory handing down of the sentence without considering the individual killer and his or her circumstances, state of mind, et al.

The decision, which is being treated as retroactive by some states, could mean that a lot of LWOP cases will be reconsidered to see if there should have been an examination of the murderer’s actions, background and circumstances, rather than having a sentence simply applied automatically.

Here’s a clip from the story, which talks about how painful opening such cases could be for families of the victims.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I found it a bit distressing that the reporter wrote that the Supremes outlawed Juvenile LWOP altogether and no editor managed to catch the fairly large error, which would seem to be something one might fact check if one is writing about the affect of the freaking case. The story is still worth reading, but really, New York times.


Posted in Education, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, journalism, juvenile justice, LGBT, LWOP Kids, media | 7 Comments »

Jerry Signs SB9, Giving Kids Sentenced to Die in Prison a Chance at a Chance….Vetoes Media Access to CA Lock-ups

October 1st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Yes, the governor signed the bill at the last possible minute.
(Today was the cutoff.) But sign it, he did. We are grateful.

Rather than ramble on about the importance of SB9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, yet again, I’ve reprinted in its entirety, the statement from the office of bill’s sponsor, Senator Leeland Yee.

And, for those of you who are going to start shrieking about social justice advocates caring only about “criminals” and not about the victims, here’s the deal:

Fortunately for all of us, the application of compassion and simply decency to a situation isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not an either/or proposition. Thankfully, toughness and compassion are not mutually exclusive.

Okay, enough said. I’m climbing off my soapbox. Here’s the story:

Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senator Leland Yee’s Senate Bill 9 – the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act – which will give youth serving life without parole an opportunity to earn a second chance.

Approximately 300 youth offenders have been sentenced to die in California’s prisons for crimes committed when they were teenagers. SB 9 will give some youth sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) a chance to earn parole after serving at least 25 years in prison.

“I commend Governor Brown for having the courage, understanding, and leadership to sign SB 9,” said Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), who is a child psychologist. “The Governor’s signature of SB 9 is emotional for both the supporters and the opposition, but I am proud that today California said we believe all kids, even those we had given up on in the past, are deserving of a second chance.”

The United States is the only country in the world where people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime serve sentences of life without parole.

Under Senate Bill 9, courts could review cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole after 15 years, potentially allowing some individuals to receive a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life. The bill would require the offender to show remorse and be working towards rehabilitation in order to submit a petition for consideration of the new sentence.

“SB 9 is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; it is an incredibly modest proposal that respects victims, international law, and the fact that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults,” said Yee. “The neuroscience is clear – brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed. SB 9 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors.”

“SB 9 becoming law speaks volumes for who we are as a society – that we value our children,” said Yee.

Supporters of SB 9 included child advocates, mental health experts, medical organizations, faith communities, and civil rights groups. In recent weeks, SB 9 also gained high level support from the Democratic Leader of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, as well as a number of law enforcement leaders including San Francisco’s police chief, sheriff, and district attorney.

“In California, a sentence of life without parole is a sentence to die in prison,” said Elizabeth Calvin, children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Teenagers are still developing. No one – not a judge, a psychologist, or a doctor – can look at a sixteen year old and be sure how that young person will turn out as an adult. It makes sense to re-examine these cases when the individual has grown up and becomes an adult. There’s no question that we can keep the public safe without locking youth up forever for crimes committed when they were still considered too young to have the judgment to vote or drive.”

In California, prosecutors and judges have some discretion on whether to pursue LWOP for juveniles. However, several cases call such discretion into question.

One such case involves Christian Bracamontes, who was 16 and had never before been in trouble with the law. One day when Christian’s friend said, “Hey do you want to rob this guy?” Christian replied in what can only be described as a quintessential adolescent response, “I don’t care.” When the victim refused to comply with his friend’s demand, Christian said he thought the bluff was called, and he remembered turning away and bending down to pick up his bike and leave, when he heard a gunshot.

The prosecutor offered a lower sentence, but in Christian’s teenage mind he could not see how he would be responsible for the other person’s actions and he turned down that deal. The DA was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “It’s hard for teenagers to understand concepts like aiding and abetting.” Christian was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A report published by Human Rights Watch found that in many cases where juveniles were prosecuted with an adult for the same offense, the youth received heavier sentences than their adult codefendants.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, Human Rights Watch found that life without parole is not reserved for children who commit the worst crimes or who show signs of being irredeemable criminals. Nationally, it is estimated that 59% of youth sentenced to life without parole had no prior criminal convictions. Forty-five percent of California youth sentenced to life without parole for involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim. Many were convicted of felony murder, or for aiding and abetting the murder, because they acted as lookouts or were participating in another felony, such as a robbery, when the murder took place.

One prosecutor who has publically supported Yee’s bill, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said, “I recognize the ability of young people to reform their behavior and be rehabilitated as they mature. SB 9 holds youth responsible for their actions. It creates a rigorous system of checks and balances, and provides a limited chance for young offenders to prove they have changed – both to a judge and to a parole board.”

California also has the worst record in the nation for racial disparity in the imposition of life without parole for juveniles. African American youth are serving the sentence at a rate that is eighteen times higher than the rate for white youth, and the rate for Latino youth is five times higher.

Each new youth offender given this sentence will cost the state upwards of $2.5 million. To continue incarcerating the current population of youth offenders already sentenced to life without parole until their deaths in prison will cost the state close to $700 million.


BROWN SAYS AB1270, THE PRESS ACCESS TO PRISONS BILL, WOULD GIVE CELEBRITY STATUS TO CRIMINALS

In vetoing AB1279, the sunshine law that would have allowed greater press access to Californi’s state prisons, Jerry Brown used the same rationale that a list of previous governors have used in axing similar bills.

They say that if reporters are allowed to request interviews with specific prisoners, this inevitably means that high profile bad guys like Charlie Manson will quickly become media stars.

It is a rationale that has perplexed most of the journalists who would be those actually going into the prisons to report had the governor signed the bill on Sunday. The last thing most of us would wish to do is to rush to interview the Charlie Mansons of the world.

Regrettably, however, there is a small group of reporters who would.

In any case, it’s back to the drawing board on the necessary concept of bringing more light and thus more accountability to California’s prisons

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, media, prison, prison policy | 2 Comments »

The Outrageous Costs of Inmate Calls to Families….Conservative Voices Call for Jerry to Sign SB9….and More

September 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


A PUSH TO REIN IN THE HIGH COST OF INMATE CALLS

Because of the type of reporting I do, for over two decades, I have gotten occasional collect calls from prison and jail inmates.

With the exception of maybe the cost of using certain satillite phones, these are the most expensive phone calls in the world.

I can call China less expensively than the cost of accepting the average call from a California state prison.

And even with the already usurious per minute rates in place, the phone companies seem to find ever more devious ways to levy additional charges.

Take, for example, the experience I had last week when I wanted to be able accept a collect call on my cell phone while I was out of state in Montana.. The call was coming from inmate in the LA County Jail system whom I’d heard wanted to talk to me.

In order to accept the call, the Globel Tell Link operator cheerily informed me I had to prepay a minimum of $25 just to have the possibility of accepting a single call on my cell, no matter how short that call might end up being. (My landline is set up to accept collect calls on a normal basis, with a extra charges tacked on to my monthly phone bill for any collect calls I might receive. However, my cell phone isn’t. But since I was away from my home office, the cell was the only alternative if I wanted to accept this guy’s call.)

I explained to the operator that I only would be accepting a single call on a single occasion, and that it was unlikely to be long. And I wasn’t 100 percent sure, that the call in question would come through at all anyway. Plus I was already a Globel Tel Link customer on my home phone. Surely, I said, I could buy maybe $10 worth of prepaid minutes, instead of $25?

Nope, said the operator. It was $25 or nothing. She further informed me that if I failed to use up that $25 credit in, I think it was 90 days, the credit went dead and could no longer be used to cover calls at all. Globel Tel Link would simply keep the money.

Part of the problem is that, since each county or state contracts with a single phone company, there is no competition; it’s a take it or leave it situation for mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters hoping to keep in touch with their incarcerated family members, but for whom the cost of accepting calls quickly becomes prohibitive.

(Did I mention that the states and counties are getting multimillion dollar legal kick backs from the phone companies that have these big bucks contracts?)

Now, however, there is finally some real movement to change all that.

Sunday’s NY Times has an editorial calling for those changes in clear, no-nonsense terms.

Here’s a clip:

Members of Congress and civil rights groups are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to rein in telephone companies that, in many states, charge inmates spectacularly high rates that can force their families to choose between keeping in touch with a relative behind bars and, in some cases, putting food on the table.

The time is long past for the F.C.C. — which has been weighing this issue for nearly a decade — to break up what amount to monopolies and ensure that prisoners across the country have access to reasonably priced interstate telephone service.

The calls are expensive because they are placed through independent telephone companies that pay the state a “commission” — essentially a legalized kickback — that ranges from 15 percent to 60 percent either as a portion of revenue, a fixed upfront fee or a combination of both. According to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research group based in Massachusetts, depending on the size of the kickback, a 15-minute call can cost the family as little as $2.36 or as much as $17.

Prison officials and phone companies that defend the system of commissions say that extra charges are necessary to pay for the security screening required when inmates make calls. But this presents no problem in New York State, which banned the kickbacks several years ago and required its prison telephone vendor to provide service at the lowest possible cost to the inmates and their families…..

Read the rest. It’s ridiculous that these policies are still in place—punishing the families in our communities who can least afford it.


NEWT GINGRICH AND OTHER CONSERVATIVES URGE JERRY BROWN TO SIGN SB9, THE JUVIE LWOP BILL

As the clock ticks down on the bills that remain on Governor Brown’s desk, late-ish last week one piece of legislation got some welcome support from some unexpected sources when the San Diego Union Tribune ran an op ed by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan, a former Republican leader of the California State Assembly, and president of Justice Fellowship, urging the governor to sign SB9, the bill that would allow the possibility of eventual parole after 25 years for some of those inmates who’ve been locked up for life for a crime committed when they were kids as young as 14 years old.

The governor has until the end of this month to sign—or not.

Here’s a clip from Newt and Pat’s excellent essay:

…Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways: We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they can’t sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.

But there is one area in which we ignore teens’ youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole (LWOP). Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions: A teen sentenced to LWOP will die in prison as an old man or woman. No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period. No hope.

You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case. A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from a convenience store. None of them is armed, and there is no plan for violence. Then it all goes haywire. The clerk pulls a gun, and one of the kids tries to grab it away. In the struggle that ensues, the gun goes off and the clerk dies.

Under California’s “felony murder” rule, every person involved in that crime, no matter how minor their role, is equally guilty of murder, even if they did not plan or expect a murder to occur. According to the fiction of our law, the lookout is as much to blame as the person who pulled the trigger. About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for a teenage crime were not the person who caused the death. Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release.

But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?

We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for. But sometimes we overuse our institutions. California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration. It denies the reality that young people often change for the better. And it denies hope to those sentenced under it…..

Such common sense is refreshing. Let’s hope that the governor sides with facts rather than the fact-challenged diatribes of those lobbying against this bill that is a long time coming.


AND IN A RELATED STORY, MONTANA CONSERVATIVES WORK FOR THE END OF THE DEATH PENALTY

The Great Falls Tribune has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A conservative political group opposed to the death penalty is calling for an end to capital punishment in the wake of a recent court ruling that found the state’s method of execution unconstitutional.

“Conservatives dislike waste and inefficiency. That is why we should cast a critical eye when the state is involved with the business of executing people,” said former Republican state Sen. Roy Brown of Billings.

Brown is on the advisory committee of Montana Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

“When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process is full of waste and inefficiency,” Brown said.

Brown worked across the aisle with Democrats in the state Senate in past legislative sessions to try to end the death penalty in Montana.


Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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