New Video Breaks Down “Zero-Tolerance” with Sitcoms…Realignment Study Part 2…Trauma Lingers Long After Release from Solitary…Supes to Interview Contenders for IG over LASDNovember 12th, 2013 by Taylor Walker
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE AS TOLD BY WILL SMITH, FERRIS BUELLER, ZACK MORRIS
On Monday, the Advancement Project’s program, “Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” released a video (along with some complementary animated GIFs) using clips from TV shows like the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Saved By the Bell” to illustrate the absurdity of harsh “zero-tolerance” discipline in schools. (You can check out some of our previous posts on “zero-tolerance” policies and the “school-to-prison-pipeline” here.)
MORE ON STANFORD’S REALIGNMENT STUDY
The San Jose Mercury’s Tracey Kaplan has a worthwhile and informative take on the recent realignment report by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (see post above).
Here are a few of the meaningful takeaways Kaplan pointed out:
More than 100,000 felons have been diverted to counties for punishment and post-release supervision since October 2011, when the state began a hurried retreat from its costly, tough-on-crime, approach.
Jail conditions could well turn out to be the ”dark side” of realignment — and not just in the more than 30 counties with overcrowded lockups. Jails across the state weren’t designed for long-term stays so other problems crop up: they offer substandard health care that might spawn another wave of prisoner-rights litigation. Yet such problems may prompt counties to eventually adopt more rehabilitative sentencing structures, including the use of post-release supervision, services and programming.
In the meantime, as jails fill up with more serious offenders who would have gone to prison under the old system, some counties have stopped prosecuting people for low-level crimes. In Sacramento, for instance, suspects who commit certain theft crimes and low-level drug offenses aren’t charged, raising concerns about public safety. But in Santa Clara County, a new diversion program run by the District Attorney’s Office still aims to hold low-level offenders accountable. Instead of facing charges, they pay a program fee and restitution, perform community service and attend rehabilitative classes.
In a “perverse” effect of realignment, many offenders actually manage to dodge drug treatment and other rehabilitation programs by choosing to do “straight time” behind bars. That’s because unlike the old prison/parole system, the new system doesn’t require a period of post-release supervision and the new rehabilitation programs and services that often come along with it. Now, everyone who opts only for jail, serves a maximum of half their sentence. Others are released even sooner because of overcrowding, particularly in Los Angeles County. Without post-release supervision, there are fewer opportunities for the authorities to detect new crime, including the loss of the ability to conduct warrantless searches and seizures of former inmates.
FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO UC BERKELEY, BUT NOT WITHOUT RESIDUAL PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS
Here’s something from Friday that we didn’t want you to miss…
LA Times’ Geoffrey Mohan has an excellent narrative piece about Steven Czifra, a former Pelican Bay inmate who spent eight years in isolation units. Czifra is now a student at UC Berkeley, and has his life on track, but says he struggles to shake the psychological damage caused by prolonged solitary confinement.
Here are some clips:
Czifra is 38. He has spent more time in prison than the typical undergraduate of English 45C has spent in school. He was in juvenile hall before many of his fellow students were born…
A little more than a decade ago, Czifra was dubbed “the worst of the worst,” a moniker reserved for the 1,200 or so inmates isolated in the Security Housing Unit of Pelican Bay State Prison, a concrete and wire compound in the redwood forests near the Oregon border.
Today, he carries anxiety, fear and vigilance into the lecture halls of UC Berkeley.
“I was aware of everybody that was sitting around me and all of their facial features,” Czifra said as he strolled off campus after class. “I know that nothing bad is going to happen … but I still feel like there is an imminent threat to my safety and security.”
Even on a campus noted for its tolerance and tranquility, Czifra can’t bridle a sense of doom: He will lose his scholarship, jeopardize his partner and their 5-year-old son, lapse from sobriety. Sometimes, his heart races and he is sure he’s going to die. Right here. Right now.
His short-term memory is weak. Those 12 lines of Yeats? Czifra had to read them over and over. James Joyce’s “The Dead” will bog him down for days. On this particular day, he’ll forget two appointments.
The fear, anxiety and memory loss are some of the symptoms commonly found among people kept in extreme isolation. They lie at the heart of a policy and scientific debate that was renewed this summer after prisoners statewide went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in high-security lockups. State legislators have begun to question whether a system primarily designed to isolate gang members is standing in the way of rehabilitation.
Czifra, who traveled to Sacramento last month to give his view from inside the isolation cells, called them torture chambers that left him “a fractured human being.”
Yet Czifra is at peace with the past. He is amiable, voluble — a man making up for lost connection. On Center Street, he chats with a fellow student he knew from Folsom Lake College, where he earned good enough grades to get accepted last year to UC Berkeley…
Czifra had a complicated childhood, including a drug-addicted father who beat the left-handedness out of him. He had his first brush with the law at age 7, for burglarizing a garage. He smoked crack at age 10.
He soon graduated to carjacking. He wasn’t very good at it. His life became a blur of juvenile hall, prison camps, group homes and, eventually, the adult state prison system. Four times, he was sentenced to isolation, serving a total of eight years at four institutions.
Czifra is sure some of his symptoms come from the corrosive, sometimes terrifying boredom of having no meaningful human contact during those years of isolation. Science appears to be on his side, though not unanimously…
(Go read the rest.)
BY THE WAY…
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will have a closed-session meeting to interview candidates for the independent Inspector General for oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. (We will be reporting on it as we know more.)