CA Supreme Court Eases Three Strikes Law….Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Kids….the Case for Creating an LASD Citizens Commission Immediately…and MoreJuly 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
IMPORTANT CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT RULING LOOSENS INTERPRETATION OF THREE-STRIKES LAW
Late last week, the California Supreme Court eased the interpretation of the Three Strikes law, ruling that two strikes cannot come from a single offense carrying two felony convictions. In this particular case, a woman received her first and second (of three) strikes for stealing a car, for which she was convicted of carjacking and robbery.
Reuters has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:
The judges made their ruling in the case of a woman who had been charged with two felonies – carjacking and robbery – for the same offense of stealing a car, saying that the legislature and the voters clearly intended for defendants to have three chances to redeem themselves before they are put away for life.
“The voting public would reasonably have understood the ‘Three Strikes’ baseball metaphor to mean that a person would have three chances – three swings of the bat if you will – before the harshest penalty could be imposed,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the court’s opinion, released late on Thursday. “The public also would have understood that no one can be called for two strikes on just one swing.”
The ruling is a significant one, as it has the potential to change the fate of other third-striker inmates who are locked up for life after having picked up multiple strikes for the same offense.
Melanie Dorian, the criminal defense lawyer who represented defendant Darlene A. Vargas in the case, said the ruling could lead to the release of numerous inmates convicted of more than one felony for the same act.
“This is a great case because it clarifies what the ‘Three Strikes’ law means,” Dorian said. “A single criminal act that can technically violate two statutes of the penal code cannot later be used as two strikes.”
CALIFORNIA TO TRACK FOSTER STUDENTS ATTENDANCE AND PROGRESS FOR DISTRICT FUNDING FORMULA
Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, California school districts will count and track foster and low-income students (as well as those learning English as a second language), as part of a new budget formula to give school districts funds to provide better learning experiences to disadvantaged kids. Schools will begin reporting foster kids’ attendance, test scores, and graduation progress—a crucial step toward improving outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable population.
The Associated Press’ Lisa Leff has the story. Here’s a clip:
Until now, no state has attempted to identify every foster child in its public schools or to systematically track their progress, much less funnel funds toward those students or require school districts to show they are spending the money effectively.
That changed in California this month as part of a new school funding formula that will direct billions of extra dollars to districts based on how many students they have with low family incomes, learning to speak English or in foster care.
The state’s 1,043 school systems had to submit plans by July 1 for how they intend to use the funds, a pot projected to reach at least $9.3 billion by 2021, to increase or improve services for those specific student groups.
During the next school year, districts also will have to report on their foster children’s absences, progress toward graduation, standardized test scores and other measures they already maintain for the other two target groups.
The moves are significant for an estimated 42,000 school-age foster children, less than 1 percent of the state’s 6.2 million public school students, said Molly Dunn, a lawyer with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.
It means educators and elected officials have recognized the group is facing unique educational hardships from abuse or neglect, frequent moves and experiences in foster or group homes, Dunn said.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…
The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a heartening story about Jamilah Sims and her sisters, three resilient foster children who are all heading to college in the fall, and United Friends of the Children, the nonprofit that is helping the Sims sisters and other foster kids go to (and finish) college. Here’s how it opens:
Jamilah Sims became a mother at 14 — just as she was entering foster care for the third time, because of her own mother’s instability.
She and two sisters — the girls are triplets — have grown accustomed to packing up, moving in with strangers, leaving friends, changing schools. They lived in five different foster homes over the years.
But they’re also growing accustomed to a measure of success that’s absent in the typical narrative of foster system teens.
All three graduated from high school last month and are headed for college, with advice, support and financial help from United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that’s been helping foster children complete college for more than 25 years.
One sister will attend New Mexico State University to study communications. Another will begin working toward a business degree at Santa Monica City College. And Jamilah will be toting her 3-year-old son Carter to Cal State Bakersfield, where she will study to become an anesthesiologist.
The girls were among 187 high school grads from the foster care system whose hard work and good grades were celebrated last month at a ceremony at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dozens received college scholarships from a pot that totaled more than $1 million.
The graduates’ personal stories reflect parental stumbles, teenage resilience and the collective efforts of families, friends and foster parents, who helped them battle their demons, nurture their talents and endure whatever hardships they could not outrun.
One young woman spent part of her adolescence squatting in abandoned houses; she’s attending Yale this fall. Another was abused by her stepfather and wound up addicted to drugs; she’ll be majoring in psychology at UC Santa Cruz. A young man who never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother will be moving to Spain to study dance at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona.
Their scholarships will pay for the sorts of things most freshmen take for granted: a suitcase for a student who has never traveled, clothes warm enough for a winter at a Snow Belt college, and, for Jamilah, college textbooks and her very first computer.
No more rushing through homework on the library computer, so she could race to day care in time to pick up her son…
WHY A CITIZENS COMMISSION SHOULD BE CREATED RIGHT AWAY, AND WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE
In November, the LA County Board of Supervisors chose Max Huntsman to fill the new role of Inspector General for the sheriff’s department. The Supes haven’t yet figured out what kind of access to confidential department documents Hunstman will have. (More about that here.)
At the same time, the Supervisors are considering forming a separate citizens commission to watch over the department. Both IG Huntsman and interim Sheriff John Scott have advised the board against forming the commission before a new sheriff takes control of the sheriff’s dept. in November. (We at WLA are glad that sheriff-frontrunner Jim McDonnell is in favor of establishing a citizen’s commission.)
An LA Times editorial says the commission should be created immediately, in combination with the Office of Inspector General—not as an “afterthought,” so that the two work together to oversee the department. Here are some clips:
…in creating the IG position, the supervisors withheld two vital features: a set term of office and protection from being fired without good cause.
It is now clear that the board should set up the commission right away, even as it completes the build-out of the inspector general’s office. To do otherwise — to determine the inspector general’s scope of access to internal sheriff’s department documents and to decide whether the IG will have something tantamount to an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, the board or the county — would be senseless without first knowing whether the IG will report to an oversight body. A commission would become an afterthought to an inspector general who already would have established protocols and privileges. Those properly should be hammered out in cooperation with the commission.
The board should make it clear now that it will establish a citizens oversight commission to work in tandem with the inspector general, with both parts and the Board of Supervisors being interlinked gears in an integrated oversight mechanism.
The citizens oversight commission should instead have nine members, with five board appointees supplemented by four either picked by the first five from a pool of names assembled, perhaps, by Superior Court judges or mayors from the county’s contract cities in consultation with community advocates, or directly appointed by authorities outside the ambit of either the sheriff or the Board of Supervisors.
Members should serve staggered, non-renewable terms, much like the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. They should be exempt from removal — and therefore from political pressure — by the appointing authority or anyone else absent a showing of good cause. The number of appointees, the diversity of the appointing authorities and restrictions on tenure and removal would allow the commission to operate with necessary independence without becoming a runaway jury. It would keep commissioners from being either puppets or persecutors.
HAWAII PASSES JUVENILE ANTI-RECIDIVISM BILL, IS ALREADY REINVESTING EXPECTED SAVINGS ON REHABILITATION
Earlier this month, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed two meaningful juvenile justice bills into law. One bill ended life without parole sentences for kids. The other is an anti-recidivism bill that will require corrections officers to write “reentry plans” before releasing incarcerated kids, and also changes juvenile probation requirements.
The state is so optimistic that the legislation will successfully lower recidivism, that it has already begun spending a portion of estimated savings on rehabilitative programs.
The Washington Post’s Hunter Schwarz has the story. Here’s a clip:
Hawaii, where 75 percent of youths released from the state’s juvenile correctional facility are sentenced or convicted again within three years, is trying to crack down on recidivism.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing the state’s juvenile facility population by over half in five years. HB2490 calls for justice system officials to write “reentry plans” before juveniles are released from correctional facilities and revises probation requirements.
Should the plan successfully lower recidivism rates, Hawaii could save an estimated $11 million, the governor’s office said. The state is already betting on it, investing $1.26 million from its anticipated savings in “proven programs” like mental health and substance abuse treatment.