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Jerry Brown Blocks Parole—Again—for former Mexican Mafia Hitman Rene “Boxer” Enriquez

July 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown blocked parole for self-described former shot-caller and hitman for the Mexican Mafia, Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, after a two person panel of California’s parole commissioners approved Enriquez’ release.

It is the second time Brown has reversed the parole board’s decision to free Enriquez.

For those unfamiliar with Rene Enriquez’ background, a brief reminder: In 1993, “Boxer” Enriquez was convicted of killing two people, and sentenced to 20-to-life. He has admitted to killing or attempting to kill others, one of whom he attacked when both were in jail awaiting trial, stabbing the man 26 times.

Earlier during that same period, when he was out on parole in December 1989, Enriquez ordered the killing of a 28-year-old mother of two. The woman, Cynthia Gavaldon, was allegedly selling drugs for the gangsters. Enriquez thought she might not be turning over her full earnings, so he ordered her death. (Gavaldon’s family comes to every parole hearing and pleads that he not be released.)

A few weeks later still, he personally pumped five bullets into another member of the Mexican Mafia, after first giving the man what was intended as a heroin overdose. The victim, Enriquez told an earlier probation board, was someone he was ordered to kill by higher-ups in the EME after the guy supposedly ran away from a fight.

Enrique also admits to being part of the gang rape of an 18-year-old girl, in his own teenage years. Moreover, according to his own account, he didn’t just kill people in anger, or because he was drunk or drugged up, or as part of a fight, but coldly, as a “business” decision, and/or to enhance his status in the notorious prison gang.

Nevertheless, in 2014, another parole panel also decided that it was time for Enriquez to be released.

In 2014, Governor Brown had affirmed around 82 percent of the parole commission’s decisions, according to the Associated Press. Yet, back then, as now, the governor declined to go along with the decision to let Enriquez out.

So why has Rene “Boxer” Enriquez been marked eligible for parole—-not once, but twice, in two years—-while men and women convicted of murder for one terrible act of lethal violence committed when they were young and troubled, get turned down repeatedly? Never mind that many of those same lesser known inmates have decades of blemish-free behavior in prison, have worked to make positive use of their time inside, and who have also worked to face the grievous harm that they did to others in their youth.

The primary reason that Enriquez gets a yes vote, while others a no, appears to be the fact that, in 2002, Enriquez became disenchanted with his relationship with the Mexican Mafia, wondering if he too might soon be marked for execution, and agreed to become a source for law enforcement officers eager for an inside look into the infamous, dangerous California prison gang, La EME. Enriquez, with his extravagant personality, and his former position of prominence in the organization, could provide genuine information—and has now done so for years, (although his information has reportedly become less and less useful, simply because it is dated).

In providing an insider look at the workings of the “Big Homies,” Enriquez morphed into more than just an informant, he became a star, and—most relevant to his bids for parole—the darling of many in law enforcement.

In fact, prior to his most recent hearing earlier this year, Enriquez received more than 60 letters from law enforcement agencies supporting his release.

Jerry Brown, however, does not share this infatuation. In his three-page letter explaining why he was again declining to okay Enriquez’ exit from lock-up, Brown acknowledged that the would-be parolee has “earned the appreciation of many prosecutors and law enforcement entities for his willingness to provide information and testify despite the risk to his personal safety.”

Yet, while Brown commended Enriquez for taking various positive steps, including participating in “a few self help programs” such as anger management classes, Jerry found “they are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate he remains unsuitable for parole.”

Brown’s reasons for the turn-down were specific and cogent.

“It is clear,” Brown wrote “that Mr. Enriquez is knowledgeable about the nature of the gang, and how it uses violence to achieve its goals. But he has not yet articulated what made him so eager to adopt such a violent lifestyle. He purported to take full responsibility for “promoting the philosophies of the organization” and “embracing the violence.” But when pressed to discuss the reasons behind his own actions, he responded in generalities, “That’s the nature of the Mexican Mafia….”

According to Brown, Enriquez told the parol panel that “he “‘gravitated toward the lifestyle’ because he had low self esteem, ‘liked being a rebel…’” And later, once he was in prison, was “‘flattered’ by the invitation to joint the very elite group’ of the Mexican Mafia and that he wanted the ‘mythic’ level of respect the members received from other inmates.”

Brown also noted that Enriquez “blames the gang for his own choices and for his many years of extremely violent gang leadership.” But his explanation,’gang members are violent because gangs are violent,’is a truism,” wrote Brown dryly, (presumably sending many readers of the letter scuttling for their dictionaries). “Mr. Enriquez did not participate in the violence just because it was expected of him. He personally molded and shaped the Mexican Mafia’s expectations of its members, and expanded the gang’s reach outside the prison.”

In other words, Boxer’s participation was not reluctant. Nor was a person who had taken a life, who was now tortured by the sorrow he had caused. He was an icy, calculating killer who, on multiple occasions, used violence with ambitious zeal in order to advance his status

“Over and over again,” Brown wrote, “he made an independent decision to turn away from his ‘normal,’ ‘upper-middle-class’ upbringing to become a leader of one of the most dangerous gangs in America. His claim that he knew ‘early on’ that he would leave the gang is absurd—he continued participating in violent gang activity for years and carried out these murders a decade into his membership…

Furthermore, Jerry wrote, “Mr. Enriquez has been disciplined many times for serious misconduct in prison, including for trafficking drugs…physical and sexual assault on an inmates, and stabbing and inmate. Mr. Enriquez trafficked large amounts of narcotics into prison and pioneered a way to use and control a vast network of violent drug dealers and gang members outside the prison walls.” And “athough he has not been convicted of additional murders, attempted murders, or criminal conspiracies, there is no doubt he is responsible for much more devastation….”

At WitnessLA we commend the governor for his wise, carefully reasoned and refreshingly factual reversal of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez’ bid for parole.

(You can read Brown’s letter here: Enriquez, Rene 2016 Reverse Decision)

Maybe there will come an appropriate time in the future for Boxer to rejoin the non-incarcerated world. Or maybe not. In any case, we would like to gently suggest that there are many less glamorous people who, while they have no authorized biographies written about them, are right this minute far more deserving of forgiveness and freedom that Rene “Boxer” Enriquez.


VIDEO NOTE: In order for the CDCR to recognize Enriquez’ separation from La Eme, and thus his need for protective housing within the prison, he was required to “debrief,” which meant to tell much of what he knew about the organization to prisons officials, sessions that were videotaped. The excerpts above, which are from one of his debrief tapes, are courtesy of RadioWorks.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), parole policy | 2 Comments »

Should ex-Mexican Mafia Hitman Rene “Boxer” Enriquez Be Paroled?

February 8th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, Rene “Boxer” Enriquez,
who by his own account is a former shot-caller and hitman for the Mexican Mafia, was granted parole by a two-person panel of California’s parole commissioners.

In 1993, Enriquez was convicted of killing two people, and sentenced to 20-to-life. He has admitted to killing or attempting to kill others, one of whom he attacked when both were in jail awaiting trial, stabbing the man 26 times.

Earlier during that same period, when he was out on parole in December 1989, Enriquez ordered the killing of a 28-year-old mother of two. The woman, Cynthia Gavaldon, it seems was allegedly selling drugs for the gangsters and Enriquez thought she might not be turning over her full earnings. So he ordered her death.

A few weeks later still, he personally pumped five bullets into another member of the Mexican Mafia, after first giving the man what was intended as a heroin overdose. The victim, Enriquez told an earlier probation board, was someone he was ordered to kill by higher-ups in the EME after the guy supposedly ran away from a fight.

Governor Jerry Brown has the power to veto the panel’s Friday decision. If he chooses not to do so, Enriquez will be a free man within five months, despite the pleas of the grown children of the woman he ordered killed more than two decades ago.

In 2014, another panel also decided that it was time for Enriquez to be released.

At the time, Brown had affirmed around 82 percent of the parole commission’s decisions, according to the Associated Press. Yet, the governor declined to go along with the decision to let Enriquez out.

Instead, Jerry explained in a carefully composed three-page letter why he did not feel “Boxer” was a suitable candidate for release.

“Mr. Enriquez presents a rather shallow understanding of how he came to perpetuate so many extremely violent crimes,” the governor wrote. “These explanations suggest that Mr. Enriquez has not yet deeply examined or forthrightly explained why he pursued for decades a life of violence.”

So why has Rene “Boxer” Enriquez been marked eligible for parole—not once, but twice, in two years—while men and women convicted of murder for one terrible act of lethal violence committed when they were young and troubled, get turned down repeatedly? Never mind that many of those same lesser known inmates have decades of blemish-free behavior in prison, have worked to make positive use of their time inside, and who have also worked to face the grievous harm that they did to others in their youth.

Yet, a man who admits to being part of the gang rape of an 18-year-old girl, in his own teenage years, who didn’t just kill people in anger, or because he was drunk or drugged up, or as part of a fight, but coldly, for business—he’s the guy whom two parole panels want to cheerfully wave out the door.

What’s the deal?

The primary reason that Enriquez gets a yes vote, while others a no, appears to be the fact that, in 2002, Enriquez became disenchanted with his relationship with the Mexican Mafia, wondering if he too might soon be marked for execution, and agreed to become a source for law enforcement officers eager for an inside look into the infamous, dangerous California prison gang, La EME. Enriquez, with his extravagant personality, and his former position of prominence in the organization, could provide genuine information—and has now done so for years.

In so doing he became, not just an informant, he became a star—and a useful star at that. Enriquez has been credited with providing information that was critical to a 2013 FBI round up of alleged Mexican Mafia members, along with providing other pieces of information that led to arrests.

All of this is, of course, a very good thing.

And, as a consequence, prior to his most recent hearing, Enriquez received more than 60 letters from law enforcement agencies supporting his parole.

It didn’t hurt that Enriquez has his own authorized biography,The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia, written by Peabody-winning journalist, Chris Blatchford, in 2009, with Enriquez’ enthusiastic cooperation.

Enriquez’ reached out to Blatchford through his mother after the journalist did a several reports on “Boxer” and other Mexican Mafia members as part of a week-long series produced during the height of the LA gang crisis in the 1990′s. While a bit overly sensational in its tone, the report also gives a sobering look at the crimes to which Enriquez has since admitted.

So should Jerry Brown say yes? Should Rene “Boxer” Enriquez be paroled?

We at WitnessLA don’t think so. At least not this time around.

We sincerely applaud the fact that Enriquez is using his life inside productively. (Although to be truthful, Enriquez is rarely ever inside prison these days. Instead, he seems to be semi-incarcerated at best. But that’s another discussion.)

But, let’s just say, we hope that the governor—and the parole board—will start looking first at the lives and records of other lifer inmates who have not repeatedly, and coldly, wreaked the kind of lethal havoc to which Enriquez has admitted.

Even if those other inmates aren’t quite as glamorous as the would-be parolee in question.

As mentioned earlier, Brown has five months to make up his mind.

In that time, we’ll be presenting a couple of profiles of some of the other people who have been locked up for decades, whom we happen to know, whose cases the governor might want to examine first before he decides whether or not it’s time to let Mr. Enriquez out.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Kate Mather, with Victory Kim, has written several informative stories on Enriquez and the issue of parole that you might want to check out here and here.

Posted in parole policy | 5 Comments »

Gov. Brown’s Justice Reform Ballot Initiative, TEDxSanQuentin, and Which Way, LA? on LAPD

January 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN’S NEW BALLOT INITIATIVE HANDS POWER TO CHARGE KIDS AS ADULTS BACK TO JUDGES AND INCREASES MERIT-BASED EARLY RELEASES

On Wednesday, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a November ballot initiative that would give judges sole discretion over whether a child defendant is transferred to adult court.

The initiative could have huge implications for teens who come into contact with the justice system. California is one of just 15 states in which prosecutors hold the power to decide whether a kid (as young as 14) will be tried as an adult. Human Rights Watch points out that since 2003, nearly 7,200 of the 10,000 transfers to adult court happened without oversight from a judge.

“A decision to try a youth as an adult is a decision to give up on that young person and deny them the education, treatment, and services the juvenile system provides to help turn their lives around,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, in response to Gov. Brown’s announcement.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in November, kids transferred to adult court have a 3.5 times higher risk of early death than the general population.

The measure would also make it easier for the prison officials to award credits toward early release to low-level offenders who have fulfilled their primary sentences. Inmates would earn credits through educational and rehabilitative efforts and good behavior.

Gov. Brown was joined in his announcement by law enforcement and religious leaders including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, San Diego County DA Bonnie Dumanis, Amador County Chief Probation Officer Mark Bonini, Napa County Chief Probation Officer Mary Butler, and California Catholic Conference of Bishops Deacon Clyde Davis.

When asked if he would finance the measure himself, Brown (who has a stockpile of $24 million in left-over campaign funds) said he would “do whatever it takes.”

The Sacramento Bee’s David Siders has a helpful explanation of the ballot initiative and the systems it seeks to reform. Here’s a clip:

Brown, announcing the measure in a conference call with reporters, said the “determinate sentencing” law he signed when he was governor before “had unintended consequences.”

“And one of the key unintended consequences was the removal of incentives for inmates to improve themselves,” he said, “because they had a certain date and there was nothing in their control that would give them a reward for turning their lives around.”

Though his measure would not change sentencing standards, Brown said “it does recognize the virtue of having a certain measure of indeterminacy in the prison system.”

“The driver of individual incentive, recognizing that there are credits to be earned and there’s parole to be attained, is quite a driver,” he said.

[SNIP]

Brown, who helped create the state’s “determinate sentencing” system when he was governor before, has said for years that it should be revisited. In a speech to judges in Sacramento in November, Brown said he didn’t foresee the dramatic impact determinate sentencing would have on the growth of California’s prison population. The policy scaled back judicial discretion in prison sentences.

“The more we can introduce some indeterminacy into the punishment, the more we can incentivize better behavior,” he said last year.

By 2003, when he was mayor of Oakland, prisons had become so crowded that Brown told the Little Hoover Commission the reform he signed turned into an “abysmal failure,” giving inmates facing long, fixed terms little incentive to reform themselves.

“The prisons started building up about the time I was leaving,” Brown said in an interview in 2010. “But they didn’t stop. They just kept on going. We see now that the determinate sentence, which I signed, needs substantial revision.”


THE MARSHALL PROJECT VISITS PROGRAM-RICH SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON FOR TEDX CONFERENCE

Reporters from the Marshall Project, including founder Neil Barsky, visited San Quentin State Prison for two days last week for a TEDxSanQuentin event. (Barsky was one of the outside speakers featured at TEDxSanQuentin.) The Marshall Project team met with locked-up members of the San Quentin News staff, and inmates participating in the progressive prison’s many other educational and rehabilitative programs.

(TEDxSanQuentin took place January 22. The videos of the event have not been posted online. We’ll keep you updated.)

Neil Barsky and TMP’s editor Bill Keller offer a sneak peek at the trip to San Quentin and the TEDx talks. Here are some clips:

What if, instead of building prisons in remote locations, we put them near cities, accessible to family members and to the resources — educational, vocational, therapeutic, recreational, cultural — that are scarce in most prison towns?

What if, instead of walling out the world, we invited in volunteers by the hundreds to help prepare inmates for life outside – to put the correction in “corrections?” What if we offered public tours, during which visitors could chat with prisoners beyond the earshot of guards?

What if we allowed the inmates to publish a newspaper and produce a radio program?

What you’ve just imagined is San Quentin, California’s oldest prison, housing the state’s felonious since 1852.

[SNIP]

Because San Quentin is embedded in affluent/liberal Marin Country, and because it has had some progressive wardens, it is rich in programs. The prison has 3,000 volunteers donating time to an incarcerated population of about 3,700. The men can sign up to do Shakespeare, therapy, yoga, meditation, music, newspaper and radio journalism, college courses — even a computer coding program aimed at generating contract work from nearby Silicon Valley and preparing the students for employment when they get out.

Most prisons, fearful of a political backlash if prison seems too comfortable, offer at most some high-school GED classes and manual-labor training. San Quentin, attentive to the reality that upwards of 90 percent of the incarcerated are eventually set free, makes an effort to prepare its residents for a civilized reentry to society. “Like I told my father,” one resident said, “this is like a men’s liberal arts college, except there’s less violence and less drinking.” Also bleaker food options; we shared the standard San Quentin lunch — plastic-wrapped slices of bread, squeeze sacks of peanut butter and jelly, cookies and a piece of fruit.

Research on the results is spotty, but studies of some programs in San Quentin indicate that participants have recidivism rates a fraction of the state average, which is around 60 percent.


WWLA?: WHERE IS THE LAPD ON THE ROAD AWAY FROM THE AGGRESSIVE POLICING OF THE 80′S AND 90′S?

Monday’s episode of Which Way, LA? takes a closer look at whether the Los Angeles Police Department’s shift toward community policing has been successful in winning the public’s trust back through efforts like community policing since the Rodney King era.

Producer David Weinberg starts the show with a visit to one of the LAPD’s community policing training sessions, where veteran officer Michael Carradine tells Weinberg that during his early days on the force, he patrolled the Nickerson Gardens housing project, and felt ostracized by fellow officers for treating the residents (including the gang members) like humans. The LAPD has come a long way since then, but there is still quite a bit of room for reform, experts say.

Warren Olney discusses the history and future of Los Angeles policing with author and UCLA professor of history and African American studies, Brenda Stevenson, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, and Joe Domanick, journalist and author of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.

Take a listen.


BIDDING FAREWELL TO WHICH WAY, LA?

After 23 years, this Thursday, KCRW’s Which Way, LA? will air its final episode. In an op-ed for the LA Times, David Lehrer, president of the non-profit Community Advocates, Inc., thanks WWLA? host Warren Olney for serving as an “extraordinary catalyst for our civic self-examination” by teaching “multiple generations of Angelenos how to honestly, civilly and fairly debate contentions issues — and in the process learn about what makes democracy work.” Here’s a clip:

Olney and the program have been a unique keeper of L.A.’s historical record — our triumphs, our crises, our travails and our failures. From gang warfare to the 1992 riots, from water shortages to traffic, from government boondoggles to elections analyses — Olney was there, discussing the issues with his guests thoroughly, fairly and civilly.

But it isn’t simply the chronicling of events that has made “Which Way L.A.?” so special. Even more importantly, the show has been an instrument for people of opposing viewpoints coming together as guests of the show and engaging in a dialogue. By virtue of the show’s format and Olney’s firm, friendly and thoughtful demeanor, they were compelled to express their views without rancor or bile — a true rarity in our era of partisan bickering.

Posted in Justice Reform, juvenile justice, parole policy | No Comments »

ACLU Sues LAUSD, Justice Breyer and the Death Penalty, Parole Bill for Juvie Offenders, and Leland Yee

July 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAUSD TAKING STATE FUNDS AWAY FROM KIDS WHO NEED IT MOST, SEZ LAWSUIT

In Mid June, a UC Berkeley and United Way report found that the Los Angeles Unified School District had misappropriated state funding set aside for kids who desperately need it.

In response, the ACLU of SoCal and others have filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging misuse of $126 million earmarked for foster students, English-learners, kids with disabilities, and kids from low-income households in the 2014-2015 school year, and if left unchecked, will deprive those kids of $2 billion in funding over the next decade.

According to the lawsuit, between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the school district is counting close to $450 million in separate special education funding (required by law) as funds that “increase or improve” services for those targeted high-needs students. That number will hit $2 billion by 2021, and add an additional $450 million every year thereafter.

Despite the school board planning out how best to spend a total of $145 million most of the money did not make it to those students. Instead, the LAUSD spent money re-hiring nurses, librarians, and other staff members at elementary and middle schools, according to the UC Berkeley and United Way report.

The suit was filed by the ACLU of Southern California, Public Advocates, and Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and an LAUSD parent, Reyna Frias.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU:

“LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future, with the services they need and the law says they should receive,” said Ms. Frias, whose children qualify for the funds targeted by LCFF.

The plaintiffs are represented by Public Advocates Inc., the ACLU of California and Covington & Burling LLP.

“Community Coalition has spent decades working to transform the social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles,” said Alberto Retana, president and CEO of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We want to ensure that our students aren’t short-changed by LAUSD’s budget process. We see too many students in our public schools struggling because they don’t receive the services they need to thrive academically.”

The law directs school districts to use state funds under LCFF to “increase or improve” services for the targeted students. Each district calculates what it will spend partly on what it has spent in the past on such services. The lawsuit alleges that by counting prior spending for “special education” — which the district is already required to provide — as spending on services for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, LAUSD has in effect reduced its specific legal obligation to those very students by over $400 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16 combined. Over time, if allowed to continue the practice, LAUSD will short-change these students by over $2 billion by 2021, and $450 million additionally every year after that.

“If every district uses its new LCFF funds to pay for things it’s already legally required to do like LAUSD, the promise of California’s new funding law will evaporate overnight,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney with Public Advocates. “LCFF requires that LAUSD use these hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver new and better services to targeted students.”


SCOTUS JUSTICE BREYER AND HIS 40-PAGE DEATH PENALTY DISSENT

On Monday, in a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug cocktail execution method challenged by three OK death row inmates after three lethal injections were botched last year.

Justice Stephen Breyer didn’t just disagree with the ruling. He wrote a colossal 40-page dissent focused on the constitutionality of the death penalty, even though the issue was not directly before the court.

The New Yorker’s David Cole has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Justice Breyer raised a still more profound question: Is the death penalty unconstitutional, as a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment? Capital punishment is expressly mentioned in the Fifth Amendment, which requires a grand-jury indictment for a capital crime, so the Court has never held the death penalty unconstitutional under all circumstances. But, in 1972, the Court did declare the death penalty—as it was then administered—unconstitutional, reasoning that the imposition of death, at the time left to the unfettered discretion of prosecutors and juries, rendered the sanction so arbitrary as to be cruel and unusual. As Justice Potter Stewart famously put it, “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” (Four years later, the Court restored the death penalty, concluding that new procedures and requirements were, in theory, sufficient to limit arbitrary decisions.)

[SNIP]

There are about fifteen thousand murders a year in the United States. Last year, we executed thirty-five people. Studies, Breyer notes, have consistently found that what determines who lives or dies is more likely to be race, geography, or the quality of one’s lawyer than the defendant’s culpability. In addition, DNA evidence has demonstrated that, no matter how many procedural safeguards we put in place, human error is inevitable. A hundred and fifteen people convicted and sentenced to die have subsequently been found innocent of the crime, and that number certainly will continue to rise. Last year alone, six death-row inmates were exonerated, but not before spending more than thirty years each on death row. Capital cases are notoriously beset by errors; from 1973 to 1995, state and federal courts found constitutional errors in nearly seventy per cent of all capital cases before them.

What’s more, Breyer noted, defendants today routinely spend decades on death row while their cases are reviewed. That lengthy period of intense uncertainty, nearly always spent in solitary confinement, adds to the cruel and unusual character of capital punishment. The thirty-five individuals executed in 2014 spent, on average, nearly eighteen years on death row. In 1960, the average delay between sentence and execution was two years. As Justice John Paul Stevens argued in 2009, such delays expose inmates to “decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement”—in particular, the solitary confinement that Kennedy finds so problematic. And the delays undermine whatever deterrent or retributive value death sentences are supposed to provide, as a penalty carried out several decades after the crime is unlikely to serve as a warning to others or to offer much solace to the victim’s family. “The upshot,” Breyer writes, “is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale.”

The problem, Breyer suggests, may be irresolvable. We can have executions without long delays, or we can have the procedural review necessary to avoid unfair executions, but we can’t have both. If the Constitution requires both, the death penalty may well be unconstitutional.


EXPANDING AGE ELIGIBILITY FOR LAW THAT GIVES LIFER INMATES WHO COMMITTED CRIMES AS KIDS A SECOND CHANCE AT PAROLE

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole. Now, a bill that is making its way through legislature, SB 261, would expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23.

The bill passed through the Senate in early June, and through the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday. Now, it heads to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

San Jose Inside’s Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The California legislature passed SB 260, a youth offender bill that set up a new parole process for those who were minors at the time of their crimes. These youth offenders could now visit the board of parole hearings ahead of schedule—after 15, 20 or 25 years, depending on their original sentence—and have their age at the time of the crime considered “with great weight.”

“I didn’t know there were people out there fighting for individuals like me,” Mendoza says. “As a young inmate, you spend so many years believing that you’re being thrown away, and now they’re picking you up, saying, ‘We see the potential that you have.’ After so many years, it started to make me realize that I should prove people right for a change.”

Mendoza went before the parole board, eager to show that he was “no longer that 15-year-old boy.” After 17 years—more than half of his life—Mendoza got his release.

Today, the 34-year-old lives in Oakland, works full-time for a marketing firm and is studying to get his bachelor’s degree in business marketing at San Francisco State. Mendoza’s story isn’t unusual—so far, there hasn’t been a single incident of recidivism among several hundred SB 260 parolees. With the success found in changing the law, California’s legislature is now deliberating SB 261, which would expand the young offender parole hearings by upping the age of eligibility to 23.

“SB 260 and 261 give young people hope, give them an incentive to change,” says state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), who authored both bills. “And really, it’s only an opportunity. The board of parole hearings is very tough, and they only grant parole in less than 15 percent of cases—but it’s an opportunity that means a lot to the individual human beings.”


FORMER CA SENATOR LELAND YEE PLEADS GUILTY

On Wednesday, Former CA Sen. Leland Yee pled guilty to one felony count of racketeering and faces up to a 20-year maximum sentence.

Leland Yee was arrested last March in an FBI corruption sting for alleged gun trafficking in exchange for donations to his campaign for California Secretary of State. A long-time associate of Yee’s and head of an international crime ring, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and 24 others were also picked up in the sting.

Before his indictment, Yee authored a number of important juvenile justice and foster care bills as senator (some of which we have pointed to here and here).

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has the update on the Yee corruption saga. Here’s a clip:

“Guilty,” Yee said, when asked by Judge Charles Breyer how he was pleading.

“Are you pleading guilty of your own free will, because you are guilty?” Breyer asked.

“I am,” Yee said.

As part of the agreement, Yee admitted to exchanging political favors for campaign contributions, including:

▪ $10,000 to help a business secure a contract with the California Department of Public Health. According to the revised indictment, Yee met with undercover agents representing a software consulting company client, Well Tech. One of the agents said he wanted to position Well Tech to compete for state grants and contracts.

▪ $6,800 to issue a proclamation honoring a community organization in Chinatown that prosecutors allege is connected to criminal activities. According to the indictment, Yee gave the proclamation to Chee Kung Tong at a celebration of the group’s anniversary.

▪ $11,000 to introduce an undercover FBI agent to another state senator with influence over medical marijuana legislation. Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff has said he thinks he was “State Senator 2” in the affidavit. He said he met with Yee and “some long-haired guy in plain clothes” to discuss Republicans’ views on the legislation.

Yee also admitted to conspiring to extort several individuals who, at the time, had an interest in pending legislation extending the state athletic commission and changing the workers’ compensation program for professional athletes.

And he acknowledged offering to facilitate a multimillion-dollar arms deal for shoulder-fired missiles and automatic weapons with a source tied to Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines – a particularly bizarre and damaging allegation for the staunch gun-control advocate.

[SNIP]

Donald Heller, a Sacramento defense attorney, estimated that Yee ultimately would be sentenced to 30 to 37 months in prison, much less than if he went to trial.

He said Yee could work with the prosecution to corroborate evidence against other defendants or target new ones, but there was no confirmation in the plea agreement either way.

“If he’s agreed to cooperate, I would expect there’s going to be a lot of soiled underwear at the Capitol,” said Heller, who represented lobbyist Clayton Jackson during a massive corruption scandal in the early 1990s that ensnared several members of the Legislature. “Political corruption cases are not usually isolated to one member.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Foster Care, LAUSD, LWOP Kids, parole policy | No Comments »

LA Supes End Ban on Parolee/Probationer Eligibility for Subsidized Housing….Steep Tickets Fund Courts and Bury CA’s Poor in Debt….Employment Barriers for Former Offenders…Town Hall Meetings on LASD Citizen’s Oversight Panel

April 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SOME LA PAROLEES AND PROBATIONERS WILL NOW BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE SECTION 8 VOUCHERS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of opening up Section 8 program eligibility to parolees and probationers whose low-level drug crime convictions are more than two years old. Supe. Hilda Solis voted alongside Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas who introduced the motion.

Until now, just one small drug crime, even from five or six years prior, excluded people on community supervision from accessing housing vouchers through the Section 8 program.

Although this is an important step toward reducing recidivism and equipping former offenders with the right tools to successfully reenter their communities, the current waitlist for housing vouchers has 43,000 names on it, and is expected to be closed to new applicants for at least the next few years. And the approximately 1,200 spots expected to open up over the next year will not make a dent.

To be clear, this decision does not change eligibility requirements for living in any of the 3000 public housing units managed by the county. Specifically, it allows people on probation and parole to apply for what are called “housing choice vouchers,” through which participants choose their own residence (as long as the housing meets certain program requirements).

While those on community supervision will no longer be blocked from the voucher program, landlords still have the right to perform background checks on prospective housing voucher tenants.

LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk before the board’s decision. Here are some clips of what Kuehl said about the particulars of the motion and why it’s so important.

[Regarding LA's homeless population]: We hear a lot about veterans, but we don’t hear a lot about people coming out of jail, or for that matter, young people coming out of our probation camps at the age of 18. We didn’t want to bar them if they qualified in every other way for housing vouchers.

[SNIP]

They haven’t shown any proof that public housing is safer because they’re barring people on probation or parole. As a matter of fact, if you ask any of the probation officers, their impression is that it would be safer, because these men and women have to report to them quite often… There’s much more checking-up than there is on any other kind of resident. And having people camping out in the homeless population nearby doesn’t make you any safer either.

The data shows that you’re far less likely to recidivate…if you have a permanent place to live. So it seems like we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face by barring people who have served their time.

Listen to the rest of Kuehl’s interview with Larry Mantle.


REPORT: “NOT JUST A FERGUSON PROBLEM — HOW TRAFFIC COURTS DRIVE INEQUALITY IN CALIFORNIA”

In a system that is not dissimilar to Ferguson, MO’s policing-for-profit strategy, California traffic courts frequently suspend drivers licenses of those who are unable to pay outsized fines for minor tickets, according to a report released Wednesday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s no surprise that the practice has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Californians, costing people their jobs when they can’t drive to work and creating an often insurmountable pile of debt via lost wages and late fees.

According to the report California is home to nearly four million people with suspended licenses (that’s 17% of the state’s licensed adults), and has racked up more than $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt.

The New York Times’ Timothy Williams has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In an Alameda County traffic court case, for example, a $25 ticket given to a motorist who had failed to update the home address on her driver’s license within the state law’s allotted 10 days led a traffic court judge to suspend her license when she was unable to pay the fine.

The accumulation of fees and penalties for late payment increased her fine to $2,900, and the woman — identified in the report only as “Alyssa” — was fired from her job as a bus driver because she no longer possessed a valid driver’s license and is now receiving public assistance, according to the report, which was prepared by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which worked in conjunction with other California legal aid groups.

“These suspensions make it harder for people to get and keep jobs, further impeding their ability to pay their debt,” the report said. “Ultimately, they keep people in long cycles of poverty that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome.”

[SNIP]

Ferguson’s policies, the Justice Department report said, resulted in a disproportionate number of arrests, citations and traffic stops of African-Americans and was among the factors in the public anger that led to weeks of demonstrations there after Mr. Brown’s death.

In California, a 2012 state analysis unrelated to the new report found that assessments tacked onto tickets by California lawmakers meant that a $500 traffic ticket actually cost $1,953 — even if it was paid on time. A $100 ticket for failure to have proof of auto insurance cost $490 — and increased to $815 if the motorist missed the initial deadline to appear in court or to pay the ticket.

Among the fees included in the cost of a traffic ticket were assessments for court operations, court construction and DNA collection.


YEARS AFTER THEIR RELEASE, FORMER OFFENDERS STILL FACE EXTREME HURDLES TO ENTERING (AND STAYING IN) THE WORKFORCE

Al Jazeera America’s Naureen Khan has some excellent reporting on the impenetrability of America’s workforce for former offenders seeking employment.

Khan’s story follows Jesse Killings who has spent years trying to land steady and stable work after fighting over his wife with another man. Jesse wins small victories over the stigma of his criminal record, but when a job or internship ends, he lands right back where he started. And his story is far from uncommon.

Here are some clips:

…on a March night in 2001, he drove to his mother-in-law’s house, he says, to see if he and his wife could work through their problems. Instead, he found another man under the same roof. Killings admits that he was the one to throw the first punch. “My emotions went through the roof,” he said. “I bee lined to where he was. We were two rams.”

In the flurry of fists that followed, Killings’ dreams were caving in around him. He was charged with felony counts of burglary — for entering his mother-in-law’s home — and assault.

“I did that, I’m guilty,” Killings said.

He served for only three months through a plea deal his public defender urged him to take, but Killings says the felony convictions have cast an immeasurably long shadow on his life since then. He lost his scholarship. He’s had to rely on homeless shelters and draw from food banks. In 2005, he was so desperate that he stole $200 from the till of a bookstore he was temporarily staffing after he says his employers did not pay him.

Killings says he accepts responsibility for the mistakes of his past and only wants to rebuild his life. But redemption is hard to find when his decade-old record stands in the way of a steady employment and a decent wage, even after he moved across the country to Fredericksburg for a fresh start.


TONIGHT: FIRST TOWN HALL MEETING TO GATHER INPUT ON CITIZEN’S OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the structure, power, and objective of a civilian oversight commission for the sheriff’s department are holding town hall meetings to gather community input on the issue. Over the next few weeks, in nine different locations across the county, citizens will be able to share comments and recommendations with the working group and thus take part (or take an active role) in the creation of the oversight panel.

Here’s the info for a few of the upcoming meetings (the first one is tonight):

April 9: Florence Firestone Service Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Community Room
7807 S. Compton Ave.
Los Angeles, 90001

April 14: El Cariso Community Regional Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
13100 Hubbard Street
Sylmar, 91342

April 15: Bassett Community Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
510 North Vineland Ave.
La Puente, 91746

For those who care about this oversight issue, find the location nearest to you and contribute to the discussion. Here’s the full list.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, parole policy, Probation, Reentry | 21 Comments »

Suit Against LASD Over Leaks to LA Times….White Privilege in the Justice System….Realignment Tweak….and More

January 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

FORMER LA OFFICERS SUE SHERIFF’S DEPT OVER PERSONAL RECORDS LEAKED TO LA TIMES INVESTIGATION

When the LA County Office of Public Safety was disbanded and absorbed the the sheriff’s department in 2010, OPS employees were authorized to apply for positions within the LASD. The sheriff’s dept. took on 280 from more than 400 applicants.

In December 2013, we pointed to an LA Times investigation that found an alarming number of those hired were previously rejected by other law enforcement agencies (or terminations), had been disciplined for serious misconduct, or had other troubling histories.

Now, a number of those singled out in the report are suing the sheriff’s department for leaking their names and confidential records to the LA Times. The plaintiffs say county officials know the identity of the employee who slipped the records to the Times, and have not held the person accountable.

Courthouse News Service’s Matt Reynolds has the story. Here’s a clip:

Named as problem applicants in the story were David F. McDonald, Ferdinand C. Salgado, Linda D. Bonner, and Niles L. Rose, all of whom were hired as jailers. They are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed this week.

The officers claim that with the help of county or Sheriff’s Department officials an unidentified county of department employee leaked their confidential records to the Times.

Calling the dim view of the Office of Public Safety “widespread and epidemic,” the officers say it is “no secret” that Sheriff’s Department officials treat them with disdain.

After the Office of Public Safety was shut down to cut costs in 2010, its officers were allowed to apply for transfers to the Sheriff’s Department.

In late 2013, the Times published a series of articles highlighting 280 of the 400 applicants to the department.

A Dec. 2, 2013 article was headlined: “Sheriff’s Department Hired Officers With Histories of Misconduct.”

The Times reported that 188 officers had been rejected for other law enforcement jobs; 29 successful applicants had been fired or asked to resign from their previous jobs; and 15 officers had attempted to manipulate the county polygraph examinations.

Others had been disciplined or had or exhibited signs of dishonesty, the Times reported.


A PRISON REFORM ADVOCATE’S JOURNEY FROM HEROINE ADDICTED PRISONER TO CORNELL GRADUATE

Writing for the Washington Post, Keri Blakinger, shares her story of rising up from a heroin addiction and years in prison to become a graduate of Cornell University. And Blakinger believes that the reason she was able to, relatively easily, reenter her community and return to her Ivy League school was because she is white. Here’s how it opens:

I was a senior at Cornell University when I was arrested for heroin possession. As an addict — a condition that began during a deep depression — I was muddling my way through classes and doing many things I would come to regret, including selling drugs to pay for my own habit. I even began dating a man with big-time drug connections that put me around large amounts of heroin. When police arrested me in 2010, I was carrying six ounces, an amount they valued at $50,000 — enough to put me in prison for up to 10 years. Cornell suspended me indefinitely and banned me from campus. I had descended from a Dean’s List student to a felon.

But instead of a decade behind bars and a life grasping for the puny opportunities America affords some ex-convicts, I got a second chance. In a plea deal, I received a sentence of 2½ years. After leaving prison, I soon got a job as a reporter at a local newspaper. Then Cornell allowed me to start taking classes again, and I graduated last month. What made my quick rebound possible?

I am white.

Second chances don’t come easily to people of color in the United States. But when you are white, society offers routes to rebuild your life. When found guilty of a drug crime, white people receive shorter sentences than black people. And even after prison, white men fare better in the job market than black men with identical criminal records.

It was prison that clued me in to just how much I benefit from systemic racism in our society. Until then, I hadn’t thought much about white privilege, which is exactly how privilege works – as a white person, I could ignore it. But sitting behind bars, I saw how privilege touches almost everything, especially the penal system.


JAILING LOW-LEVEL FELONS FOR DRUG POSSESSION PAROLE VIOLATIONS GOES AGAINST 3 STRIKES LAW

California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal has overturned a portion of California’s realignment law (AB 109) that sends former felons under county probation to jail for drug possession. According to the court ruling, this provision was in violation of California’s Three Strikes Law, Prop. 36, which says that non-serious drug offenders can be placed in treatment instead of lock-up.

The SF Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has more on the court’s decision. Here’s a clip:

Tuesday’s decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana does not affect the central provision of that “realignment” law, which sends lower-level felons to county jail rather than state prison. But the ruling, if it stands, would overturn a section of the law that allows some former inmates to be returned to jail for drug use.

Felons whose crimes were not classified as violent or sex offenses are now placed on local probation supervision rather than state parole after their sentences, and can be jailed for up to six months for violating the terms of their release. But the court said a 2000 ballot measure, Proposition 36, entitles nonviolent drug offenders to be placed in treatment rather than confinement, unless they have been shown to pose a danger to the public.

Prop. 36 can be amended only by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature, the court said.

“The Legislature cannot evade Proposition 36’s amendment requirements simply by passing legislation that purports to pare down the proposition’s coverage,” said Justice Raymond Ikola in the 3-0 ruling.


FURTHER READING (AND LISTENING) ON BUILDING STRONG BONDS BETWEEN COPS AND COMMUNITIES

Frank Stoltze has a good recap of the diverse opinions voiced at a KPCC panel moderated by Air Talk‘s Larry Mantle on the state of police-community relations and how to improve them.

Mantle’s panel included Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and other law enforcement officers, policy analyst Francisco Ortega, Robert Cristo of the Youth Justice Coalition, among others. (You can listen to the whole forum, here.)

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s accompanying story:

[LBPD Chief] Luna urged people to cooperate with police, even if they are mistreating you. “If you get into a negative encounter with a police officer, don’t fight or resist. Do exactly what they are telling you to do.”

File a complaint later, he said.

Henderson and Cristo said they wouldn’t trust police to discipline an officer involved in misconduct. Henderson also wondered why the burden rests with residents to submit to an officer’s demands, even if they are unreasonable. “Shouldn’t police empathize with me?”

Repeated interactions with criminals, particularly in South LA, can affect an officer’s attitude, said LAPD Lt. Al Labrada, who works in the community relations section of the department.

“You become involved in so much of the violence that occurs around you, you tend to have a negative perception of a lot of things,” he said. “For officers working in South LA, it’s sometimes not healthy.”

Labrada said that’s one reason he left the area after working there 14 years, including eight years as a gang sergeant.

“We have a long way to go” in building trust, he said. “But we also need to look at the fact (that) officers are making progress.” Labrada pointed to community policing programs in Watts as an example.

AND IN OTHER LA LAW ENFORCEMENT-RELATED NEWS…

In response to a report from LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman on transparency within the Sheriff’s Dept. in comparison to other law enforcement agencies, the LAPD has updated its annual use of force and officer discipline reports on the department website.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

The report by Inspector General Max Huntsman focused on transparency issues with the sheriff’s department, analyzing other agencies’ practices for comparison. Huntsman noted that the LAPD posts annual use of force reports and quarterly discipline reports on its website, whereas the sheriff’s department does not.

But the LAPD’s information was not current, Huntsman wrote. Only the 2009 and 2010 Annual Use of Force Reports were posted, and the quarterly discipline reports stopped in 2012.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, said the lapses were not intentional, and the department would be posting the latest reports.

As of midday Thursday, the quarterly discipline reports, which include the number of complaints against officers, the types of allegations and the penalties imposed, had been updated through 2013.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, parole policy, racial justice, Reentry | 54 Comments »

Juvenile Records, Paroled Despite Innocence Claims, Solving Mass Incarceration, and the Supervisors’ Decision-Making Haste

November 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MOST STATES FAILING TO PROTECT JUVENILE RECORDS AND PROVIDE REASONABLE ACCESS TO EXPUNGEMENT

While California does a reasonably good job of protecting kids’ juvenile records, many other states have harsh policies with regard to expungement and the privacy of juvenile records. And when states don’t protect records, they create massive roadblocks for kids and young adults trying to get jobs, go to college, and find housing.

A new study by the Juvenile Law Center gives states a performance score based on how well they protect kids’ sensitive records and how available expungement is for the kids. Here’s a clip from the JLC website (click over to the report to see each state’s score card):

Millions of youth are arrested each year in the United States; 95% of these youth are arrested for non-violent offenses. Arrests and court involvement leads to the creation of juvenile records – all containing details about a child’s family, social history, mental health history, substance abuse history, education. and involvement with the law.

While access to this information by law enforcement and youth-serving agencies is necessary to provide treatment and rehabilitative services to youth, many states also allow widespread access to media, employers, government agencies and victims or sell the data to for-profit companies. Once disclosed, this information is difficult, if not impossible, to recall and can permanently stigmatize youth – interfering with their ability to obtain a job, secure housing, pursue higher education, join the military, or access public benefits. To ensure that records do not limit future opportunities, sealing (closed to the public) and expungement (destruction) of juvenile records should be available to all youth.

“The juvenile justice system is intended to rehabilitate youth and prepare them for a productive future, yet our mishandling of juvenile records creates a paper trail that can lead to failure,” said Lourdes Rosado, Associate Director of Juvenile Law Center. “These records can follow children and youth into adulthood and often limit opportunities for success.”

Many youth and parents are completely unaware that they need to proactively seal or expunge their records until they run into a roadblock as adults. In many states, the process to seal or expunge a juvenile record is also lengthy, costly and may require the services of an attorney.

“There is a misperception that juvenile records are confidential and automatically destroyed when a youth is no longer under court supervision. The reality is that juvenile records are widely accessible long after a young person has become an adult,” said Riya Saha Shah, Author of Scorecard Report and Staff Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. “Retention of juvenile records does little to improve public safety but creates significant barriers to success for youth who are trying to move beyond the mistakes they made as a kid. Permanent, open records are like a ball and chain that prevents youth from becoming productive adults, reducing opportunities for employment, eroding the tax base and can lead to increased recidivism due to reduced job prospects.”

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Lynne Anderson tells the story of Dina Sarver, a young woman whose childhood offenses prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a nurse, or even chaperoning her kids’ field trips. Here’s a clip:

She was so determined to become a nurse that after this she sent 242 emails to different nursing schools, she said, hoping she could be admitted to a program without her juvenile record being held against her. As it turns out, she cannot even be a chaperone for her children’s field trips. Her juvenile offenses block her.

At age 12, Sarver became “defiant,” she said, about the time her parents divorced. She moved from a nice home in the suburbs into Section 8 housing with her mother and several of her brothers and sisters. Because her mother is Haitian and needed help translating complicated forms for vouchers and Medicaid, Sarver became her mother’s helper. It took a toll.

“I couldn’t concentrate in school,” she said. “I acted out.”

Her first arrest, she said, was for getting into a fight at school at age 12.

By age 15, she was serving time for auto theft. And, she was pregnant.

Having a baby was the best thing that ever happened to her, she said.

“I realized I had another life I was responsible for,” she recalled. “It was time to get my life together.”

She did. She got her GED, married and went to college…

Read the rest of Dina’s story.


SMALL TREND OF PEOPLE CLAIMING INNOCENCE BEING GRANTED PAROLE, WITHOUT HAVING TO EXPRESS REMORSE

Thanks to increased awareness about wrongful convictions via media attention and DNA testing, a small, but growing number of inmates—some in NY, California, and Alaska—are winning parole despite their continued claims of innocence, an outcome virtually unheard of until recently.

One New York man, Freddie Cox spent 28 years behind bars for second-degree murder. Cox went before the parole board three times, maintaining his innocence (backed by a co-defendant’s admittance of his own guilt and Cox’s innocence), and was turned down. Inmates have consistently had better chances of winning parole if they admit guilt and express remorse. But Cox was granted parole on his fourth try, with help from a petition by Exoneration Initiative lawyers.

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has more on the issue, as well as the rest of Cox’s story (and a lovely video). Here’s a clip:

The predicament that had confronted Mr. Cox is known as the parole paradox: Admitting guilt has historically given inmates a better shot at parole. “Claiming to be innocent was, in the past, considered to be denial,” said Daniel S. Medwed, a professor at Northeastern School of Law.

But now, as New York and other states confront a growing number of wrongful-conviction claims, lawyers, inmates and parole experts say the beginnings of a change are occurring.

On his fourth try, Mr. Cox’s request was granted. Lawyers from the Exoneration Initiative successfully petitioned this summer that there was enough evidence to cast Mr. Cox’s guilt in question, and that his claim of innocence should not be held against him.

Rebecca E. Freedman, one of his lawyers, said they would soon ask a review unit created by the Brooklyn district attorney to review his case.

At least three other men, convicted in Brooklyn courts, have won their freedom despite not admitting guilt: Derrick Hamilton, charged with a 1991 Bedford-Stuyvesant murder, got parole after 20 years in prison; Sundhe Moses, who was convicted in a 1995 shooting that killed a 4-year-old child, was granted parole last year; and Robert Hill, who was convicted of a 1988 murder, was granted parole in May.

“They’re considering actual innocence,” said Tom Grant, a New York State parole board member from 2004 to 2010. With DNA evidence and news media coverage of wrongful convictions, he added, “you can justify a release now.”

On the West Coast, men in California and Alaska who maintained their innocence were granted parole this fall; lawyers in those states said such decisions were exceedingly rare.

“Parole commissioners, like the rest of society, have come to recognize that there are far more innocent people in prison than we had ever imagined, so they’re more receptive to that argument,” said Ron Kuby, a civil rights lawyer who represents Mr. Moses.


DOES THE PRESIDENT ALONE HAVE THE POWER TO SOLVE AMERICA’S OVER-INCARCERATION CRISIS?

The Atlantic’s Stephen Lurie makes the argument that President Barack Obama has the ability to fix the nation’s mass incarceration dilemma, as neither Congress, nor courts, nor public movement can. Here’s how it opens, but do go read the rest of this provocative essay:

Today, like any other day, there are around 2.4 million people incarcerated in America’s federal, state, and local prisons and jails. Together, the nation’s inmates would constitute the fourth biggest city in the United States, knocking Houston down a notch. Expand that grouping to everyone under correctional control, including probation and parole, and you’d have a metropolis of nearly 7 million, second only to New York. Finally, reunite the number of people that see the inside of a jail cell in a given year, and you’d have a prison city with a population as big as New York and Los Angeles combined (11.6 million).

This is not because society is struck by criminality. Incarceration has increased by 700 percent in 40 years despite crime rates dropping. It is a result of deliberate choices. As it spends more than $50 billion each year on the War on Drugs, America still hands down life sentences for non-violent drug crimes, incarcerates African-American males at six times the rate of white males (Latino men 2.5 at times the rate of white males), and has a justice system with proven racial disparities in sentencing, death-penalty verdicts, the granting of probation or parole, and employment prospects after incarceration.

Mass incarceration cripples families and communities, perpetuates poverty, recreates conditions for crime, and institutionalizes a form of racial control. As a result about one in four American adults (65 million) now have a criminal record.

Consider that for a moment—even in the context of historically disastrous periods of American history. One quarter is also the proportion of Americans unemployed in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, which included the “worst month for joblessness in the history of the United States.” It’s the same proportion as the casualty rate for Civil War soldiers. It’s almost three times the percent of Americans enlisted in World War II.

The issue has been slow to enter public discourse, perhaps because the most affected populations are also the most marginalized. From scenes of armored vehicles and snipers in Ferguson to the totalitarianism of the prison system as presented in Orange is the New Black, that may slowly be changing. Various advocacy groups are organizing movements, some in Congress see an opportunity for bipartisan reform, and litigators continue to seek incremental victories against practices like stop-and-frisk.

But these efforts will not be enough to significantly affect a problem of this scale—at least not alone. Like the critical junctures of past generations, the Civil War or the Great Depression, this is a problem that requires presidential leadership. As the executive, Obama wields straightforward and fundamental power to reduce the scale of mass incarceration; as president, and in particular as a black male president, his ability to address the racial dimension of the system is significantly less clear. Nonetheless, with Attorney General Eric Holder stepping down, the Democrats’ loss of the Senate in the midterms, and and the end of Obama’s presidency looming ever closer, the time and space for action continue to shrink and all signs point in one direction.

It isn’t that presidential action is necessarily a great choice. It’s that other options are structurally impossible or temporarily unavailable. For most policy issues, change can come about three ways, besides from the executive: popular movement, Congress, or legal challenge in the courts. The nature of mass incarceration in the U.S., though, prevents serious change through these alternative routes—even despite some recent signs for hope.


LA TIMES: BOARD OF SUPERVISORS SHOULD WAIT TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS UNTIL TWO NEW SUPERVISORS TAKE OFFICE

An LA Times editorial (we didn’t want you to miss) urges the LA County Board of Supervisors to wait on key decisions until the two Supervisors-elect, Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, take office on December 1.

On Veteran’s Day, the current board met in a closed session to discuss appointments to two important positions, the child protection czar, and the director of public health. They are also looking for a new county CEO. (We would also like to point out that the Supes forged ahead in discussions of $2 billion plans to replace Men’s Central Jail, despite the fact that all sheriff candidates supported the board tabling the issue until the new sheriff was elected.) Here’s a clip:

…It is the incoming supervisors, and not the termed-out incumbents, who should select top staff.

These are not small decisions. The CEO virtually runs the county, preparing what was this year a $26.1-billion budget and overseeing thousands of employees delivering services to 10 million county residents. The successor to William T Fujioka must have the confidence of all five supervisors to whom he will report, not merely three of them plus two who will be gone.

There is a serious question as to whether the CEO position will even exist, given that two holdover supervisors, Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas, have called for eliminating the post and reverting to the pre-2007 model — a chief administrator with less authority. That decision, obviously, is also one that belongs to Kuehl and Solis and not Yaroslavsky or Molina.

As for the chief of the Office of Child Protection, it is a new position overseeing a still nonexistent office. Whoever is to hold the job will report directly to the Board of Supervisors and must deftly navigate through unexplored political territory. The new supervisors, clearly, should be in on that appointment too.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, parole policy | 4 Comments »

Peace Officer Unions Back McDonnell for Sheriff….CA Kids May Face Mandatory Minimums….State Starting Early Release of Elderly and Sick Inmates…and More

June 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GROUP OF LAW ENFORCEMENT UNIONS TO ANNOUNCE SUPPORT OF JIM MCDONNELL FOR LA SHERIFF

Today, a number of law enforcement unions will be announcing their unified endorsement of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for the office of Sheriff of LA County. Representatives from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), the LA County Professional Peace Officer Association (PPOA), Probation Officers, AFSCME Local 685, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), and the Long Beach Police Officers Association will gather at a press conference at 10:30a.m., at the ALADS offices in Monterey Park.

PPOA announced their endorsement last Thursday afternoon, and many were waiting to see what ALADS would do, as both PPOA and ALADS had declined to endorse anyone during the primary election. A source close to the unions said that the LAPPL and the Long Beach Police Officers Association had been interested in endorsing McDonnell during the primary, but due to something called “the hometown rule” they had to wait until the unions to which LASD personnel belong (ALADS and PPOA) made their moves.

Thus far, no one has announced that they will be giving money along with their endorsement, but that may (or may not) come later.


CALIFORNIA BILL WOULD INFLICT HARMFUL NEW MANDATORY MINIMUMS ON KIDS IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

A California bill that would impose the first ever mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, is currently making its way through California legislature. The bill, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), directed at kids convicted of certain sex offenses, would eliminate judges’ discretion and ability to choose community-based rehabilitative options, and replace it with mandatory incarceration.

The California Senate has unanimously passed the bill, and today (Tuesday), the Assembly Public Safety Committee will vote on the measure. (And we at WLA will be keeping an eye on it.)

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has more on the bill (and why they are opposing it). Here’s a clip:

Mandatory minimums violate the foundational principles of the juvenile justice system. If SB 838 becomes law and introduces mandatory minimum sentences into the juvenile justice system, the consequences would be significant for California’s youth. The bill would upend a system grounded in rehabilitation — and the understanding that young people can change — and replace it with one focused on retribution and punishment for California’s most troubled and vulnerable youth.

Mandatory minimums do not prevent crime. Research on mandatory minimum sentencing schemes across the nation has failed to find evidence that they have reduced crime — but substantial evidence that they have driven the nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rates, exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and dramatically increased the length of prison sentences. SB 838 would replicate these same failed policies for California’s youth, at great public expense.


STATE TO BEGIN EARLY RELEASE OF CERTAIN ELDERLY INMATES, TRANSFER OF SERIOUSLY ILL INMATES TO HEALTH CARE FACILITIES

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced the state will commence with the early release of elderly and seriously ill prisoners who meet certain requirements to either parole or nursing facilities. The move is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to comply with a federal order to ease prison overcrowding. (Backstory here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmates who are over 60 and have spent at least 25 years in prison will be eligible for release if they are not sentenced to death or serving life without parole sentences. Those hearings are to begin in October, board executives said.

Prisoners whose health conditions require they receive skilled nursing care will also be eligible to be moved to health care or nursing facilities — but if they recover they face a return trip to prison. Hearings under the new rules, which reflect an expansion of existing medical parole, are to begin by July 1, a board attorney said.


MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING FOR PEACE OFFICERS IS A BIG STEP, BUT NOT A CURE-ALL

Ventura County law enforcement officers have been receiving comprehensive training in how to deal with the mentally ill, and thus far, it’s making a big difference. Experts say that law enforcement mental health training offerings like Ventura County’s “Crisis Intervention Team” program can help officers prevent tense encounters with the mentally ill from escalating unnecessarily.

Currently, 72% of Ventura officers have received 40 hours of instruction in handling situations involving people with mental disorders. While this is a welcome step in the right direction, in Ventura and other counties (cough, Los Angeles, cough), often the training does not extend to jails, prisons, and other agencies where things can fall apart.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has the story. Here’s a clip:

Debbie is a Ventura County mother of a 23-year-old son diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At times his condition becomes so severe that he gets delusional and requires hospitalization.

“He doesn’t understand that he’s ill and that he needs help,” Debbie says. “He thinks he’s fine.”

Debbie, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, says when that happens, she calls the sheriff’s department for help – as she did earlier this year. Their response, she says, was heartening.

“The police officers…were so great, because they kept telling him, ‘You’re not in trouble, we’re here to help you,’ ” she says. “So they weren’t threatening; they didn’t scare him. It stayed really, really calm.”

And that allowed the deputies to take Debbie’s son to the county psychiatric hospital for emergency observation without incident.

“As far as a bad experience goes, it was as good a bad experience as was possible in this situation,” she says.

The responding deputies included several who had received 40 hours of training in handling the mentally ill through Ventura County’s “Crisis Intervention Team” program. The training is based on a renowned model started in Memphis, Tennessee in 1988 that is now taught worldwide.

Tragedies such as the Isla Vista massacre and the Kelly Thomas case in Orange County have highlighted the need for improved training for law enforcement personnel who come into contact with the mentally ill.

So far, 72 percent of all law enforcement officers have completed the Crisis Intervention Team training in Ventura County, says Kiran Sahota, who oversees the program for the county.

“The idea is to hopefully help to deescalate and slow down the situation,” Sahota says. “And sometimes by just knowing ahead of time that (law enforcement officers) are going to be listening and spending a little extra time, it really can defuse a situation.”

But even in Ventura County, breakdowns can happen…

Read the rest.

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, parole policy, Sentencing, Uncategorized | 29 Comments »

Isla Vista & the 2nd Amendment…..Paroling Lifers in CA…..LASD Opens Inmate Reentry Center….A One-of-a-Kind Sheriff’s Race….Next LASD/Fed Trial Begins Tuesday

May 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ISLA VISTA & THE SECOND AMENDMENT

Three days before Elliot Rodger went on his murderous rampage on May 23 in Isla Vista, a new non-fiction book called The Second Amendment: A Biography was published to generally good reviews.

In it, the book’s author, Michael Waldman, examines the Second Amendment and our nation’s history with this short (27 words) and weirdly punctuated clause in the Constitution that has become freighted with so much acrimonious controversy. (Walman is a former Bill Clinton speechwriter who now heads up NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to “improving the systems of democracy and justice.”)

The timing of the book’s release turns out be painfully serendipitous, in that the horror of a mass shooting, like the tragedy of a few days ago, inevitably brings up a discussion of guns and what legislation would or would not help prevent a the next Columbine or Sandy Hook or Isla Vista (or—if one is bothering to look at statistics—the everyday shootings that regularly tear irrevocable holes in America’s most violence-haunted communities).

It would be nice to think that Waldman’s scholarly, but lively in tone, “The Second Amendment” could bring some much-needed sanity, and perhaps some facts, into that discussion.

LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, reviewed Waldman’s book on Sunday. Here’s a clip from what Ulin wrote:

….Guns, after all, represent a microcosm of an America divided between left and right, urban and rural, collective and individual rights. It’s complicated further because it is encoded in the Bill of Rights — one of our foundational documents, to borrow a phrase from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who famously sparred with Dianne Feinstein at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013.

“[W]ould she consider it constitutional,” Cruz asked of Feinstein, “for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?”

Cruz’s showboating aside — Feinstein responded that she was “not a sixth-grader” and didn’t need a lecture on the Constitution — these are important questions, not so much for pro-gun advocates as for supporters of privacy and free speech rights. What happens if we unravel one amendment, regardless of the way we feel about it? What does it mean for those amendments we prefer?

This is the puzzle of the 2nd Amendment, which, Waldman admits, is a problematic text at best. “Let’s be clear,” he writes: “the eloquent men who wrote ‘we the people’ and the First Amendment did us no favors in the drafting of the Second Amendment.”


PAROLING LIFERS IN CALIFORNIA: JERRY BROWN & THE NEW NORMAL

Governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed nearly all of the parole recommendations for lifers that crossed their desks.

Governor Jerry Brown, in contrast, only reverses around 20 percent of the lifer parole approvals that he sees.

(And by lifers, in this case, we’re talking about people who got indeterminate sentences of, say 15-years-to-life, 25-to-life, 40-years-to-life—-or any such indeterminate sentence with with an “L” after it.)

When NPR’s Scott Shaffer asked Brown about the difference in reversal rates between him and his predecessors, Jerry said that his approach to the matter was “”to follow the law and evaluate very carefully each case, which I do every week.”

Although some suggest that Brown’s policy poses a risk to public safety, in fact, lifers have among the lowest recidivism rates of all released prisoners with less than 1 percent of paroled lifers winding up back in jail or prison.

Here’s a clip from Shaffer’s story:

….As for the difference between his rejection rate and those of previous governors, Brown says, “I don’t know what they did and whether they read the record or whether they looked at the law.” And, he points out, the law has changed.

He’s referring to the 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court that ruled that parole denials could not be based on the viciousness of a crime alone. Instead, the justices said, there must also be evidence that an inmate is still a threat.

The case involved Sandra Davis Lawrence, who fatally shot and killed a woman during a jealous rage. The parole board recommended her release four times, but it was reversed by three different governors. The state Supreme Court cited “overwhelming” evidence that Lawrence was rehabilitated and therefore no longer dangerous.

Jennifer Shaffer, executive director of the State Board of Parole Hearings, says that decision changed everything. “As you can imagine, if their crime alone could keep them from being paroled forever then that was really not life with the possibility of parole. So there had to be something else,” she explains.


WELCOME NEWS: THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT OPENS FIRST COMMUNITY REENTRY CENTER

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department formally took a much welcome step in opening the county’s first Community Reentry and Resource Center, or CRRC, that is designed to help inmates make the crucial transition out of lock-up and back into life in their respective communities.

Christina Villacorte at the Daily News has more. Here’s a clip:

For the first time, jail inmates who have served their time can walk out of their cells and go straight into a one-stop shop for finding a place to live, staying sober and getting a job.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Thursday opened the first-ever Community Reentry and Resource Center at its jail complex in downtown Los Angeles.

“One of the challenges for newly released inmates is avoiding a return to drug use and crime,” Sheriff John Scott said during the grand opening ceremony. “It can be a difficult road — their families may not accept them, finding a job may be difficult, and old friends may be eager to support bad habits — and that often contributes to an offender’s return to criminal behavior and, ultimately, to jail.”

Scott said the CRRC, located at the lobby of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street from Men’s Central Jail, would give newly released inmates a “better chance for a successful transition.”

“This is designed to give hope to people,” added Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

Read the rest here.

We look forward to giving you additional details once we’ve seen the CRRC for ourselves. But for now we are simply cheering this smart step by the sheriff’s department in helping combat offender recidivism.


A SHERIFF’S RACE LIKE NO OTHER (NO, REALLY!)

The LA Times Rob Greene explains why this particular 7-candidate race for LA County Sheriff is so unique.

Here’s a clip:

….We’re still digging to find a time when voters actually chose a new sheriff, with no incumbent or incumbent’s designee on the ballot.

You’d think this would be easy to nail down. But Los Angeles was so different then — before voters adopted the 1913 “home rule” charter, with its civil service protections and other progressive reforms. Candidates were anointed by political bosses and nominated at county party conventions instead of selected in primary elections. Sheriffs’ tenures were brief, deputies were openly hired and fired based on political support, and the sheriff was paid in part by the fees and fines he collected.

In the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, four men wrestled over the office — Cline, Hammel, John Burr and William White — along with their respective factions of job seekers and patrons. When Burr was elected in 1894, he went into hiding to avoid a throng of would-be deputies, and in so doing, he failed to show up at the proper time and place to take office. The job was declared vacant, and the Board of Supervisors ended up appointing him.

So when was the last time the choice was this wide open, with no incumbent and no front-runner, and with voters firmly in charge of who the next sheriff would be? In the era in which county politics were something we’d recognize today?…..


AND SPEAKING OF THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT….THE NEXT ANTHONY BROWN/OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIAL BEGINS TUESDAY

On Tuesday, attorneys for the prosecution and for the defense in the second of two obstruction of justice trials, involving federally indicted members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, will deliver opening statements at 8 a.m. sharp Tuesday morning in the courtroom of Judge Percy Anderson.

Now that the trial of Deputy James Sexton resulted in a mistrial last week, with the jury split six-six down the middle, it will be interesting to see how Sexton’s case affects the way defense attorneys and prosecutors reposition their arguments, and retool their witness lists.

Just to remind you, this second trial involves six defendants: Lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith.

We’ll keep you up to date on what happens.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, guns, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, parole policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney | 5 Comments »

California “Lifers” and Parole, Sex Trafficking in LA, Kids Unrepresented in Court, Sheriff Candidate Updates, and Oregon Legalizes Gay Marriage

May 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE FOR FORMER “LIFERS” ON PAROLE IN CALIFORNIA

Over the last six years, California has seen a considerable increase in “lifers” winning parole. This is largely due to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that changed how the parole board and the governor handled parole decisions.

In the latest installment of the KQED California Report series “Second Chance: Lifers and Parole in California,” reporter Scott Shafer looks at the positive environmental shifts this significantly increased chance of parole is creating inside prisons, and speaks with former “lifers” now paroled and living on the outside.

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

For decades, California inmates serving sentences like 25-years-to-life had very little chance of being released. Parole was routinely denied by the Board of Parole Hearings, or blocked by the governor.

But in the past few years, there’s been a dramatic change. Since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008, the number of so-called “lifers” winning parole has steadily climbed. Since then, more than 1,700 lifers have been released.

The change is being felt on both sides of the prison walls. At a recent graduation day at San Quentin State Prison, about 50 inmates — most of them lifers — collected their diplomas from a course in leadership.

After the ceremony, Associate Warden Jeff Lawson said that as more and more lifers are granted parole and leave prison, the inmates are taking notice.

“Most of these guys understand there is light at the end of the tunnel now,” Lawson says. “So it just helps improve the overall environment for them. And it gets the ones who were maybe straddling the fence to get off the fence and get on the right side.”

Inmate Duane Reynolds just completed the leadership course. On the way back to his cellblock, he describes the crime that sent him away more than 25 years ago.

“As a matter of fact, what I did was, I murdered my uh, my supervisor,” Reynolds says. “High on drugs. So my life was out of control.”

Reynolds was 30 at the time. His sentence: 26 years to life. He’s now 54. Despite being denied parole three times, Reynolds is hopeful. Next month, he says, the parole board will decide — once again — if he’s suitable for parole and no longer a risk to society. I ask him if he thinks he’s suitable?

“That’s a very difficult question for me,” he answers. “I will say this: I’m a changed individual. But the fact that I took another human being’s life, that’s a hard question for me.”

Reynolds says he and his fellow San Quentin inmates are very aware that after years of routine denials of parole, word is out: If you do the work, complete the programs and stay in line, release is a very real possibility.

“The fact that people are going home is really encouraging to a lot of individuals,” he notes.

Since 2009, more than twice as many lifers have been paroled than in the previous two decades combined. There are several reasons for that. State Supreme Court rulings that made it tougher to deny parole to inmates who are no longer a threat to public safety.

Also Gov. Jerry Brown’s 12 appointees on the parole board are granting parole at a much higher rate than previous commissioners.

And unlike his predecessors, who usually blocked parole for murderers, Brown is allowing 80 percent of the parole recommendations to go forward.

While you might think that freedom after decades in prison is all upside, the reality is more complicated…

Listen to/read the rest.


LA DAILY NEWS TAKES AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT SEX TRAFFICKING IN LOS ANGELES

http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20140518/prostitution-in-los-angeles-court-gives-girls-in-sex-trade-a-second-chance
The LA Daily News has a compelling new series on sex trafficking in Los Angeles,
who the real victims of the trafficking are, and new ways city officials and law enforcement agencies are combatting the problem.

A particularly good story in the series, this one by Christina Villacorte, explores programs created to help teen girls escape sexual exploitation and start their lives over, through relocation, education and job training, and other crucial services. Here’s how it opens:

Her face marred by a tattoo that a pimp had used to mark her as his property, the teenage girl told the judge in a plaintive voice, “I just want to go home.”

Later, another teen girl wearing too much makeup and too little clothing admitted running away from a group home for juvenile delinquents after attacking someone there for insulting her.

“Someone called me a prostitute and I lost it,” she explained to the judge. “I blacked out.”

Her bravado faded, however, when a probation officer explained that she was found wandering the streets afterwards, having gotten lost while looking for her mother, who had abandoned her.

When she cried, she revealed the child she still was, underneath the makeup, sheer top and short skirt, with high heels and matching red purse.

This is the STAR Court in Compton, a pilot program that specializes in cases involving commercially sexually exploited girls, and Commissioner Catherine Pratt presides with a focus on rehabilitation over punishment. The acronym stands for Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience.

Pratt does not immediately dismiss the prostitution-related charges against the girls so they can remain eligible for wraparound services offered by Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system. These include placement in a group home or juvenile hall — a safe place away from pimps — gang intervention programs, educational opportunities, job training, and even family reunification services.

“Most of these kids have experienced betrayal, if not worse, from people in positions of authority throughout their whole lives that skews their view of the world,” Pratt said. “What we’re trying to do for these kids is to show them there are people in positions of authority who do care.”

When the girls are ready and able to leave the life, she can order their juvenile criminal records sealed, allowing them to start over.


DENYING CHILDREN THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

Rolling Stone Magazine has an interesting story by Molly Knefel that looks at the reasons indigent kids often go unrepresented by an attorney in courts across the nation and what one state is doing to remedy the issue. Here’s a clip:

…In juvenile courts across the country, children often face the full weight of the criminal justice system without the protection of a defense attorney. According to a report from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “Some systems ensure that every child in the system is represented, while others allow 80-90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” Children may be unrepresented for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to a public defender or pressure from judges or prosecutors to waive their constitutional right to an attorney.

Earlier this month, Colorado scored a victory for juveniles in criminal proceedings by passing House Bill 1032, a law that will ensure that all children will be represented by counsel when they appear in court. The Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) found in 2012 that at least 45 percent of juveniles did not have a defense lawyer at any point throughout their case, with many more receiving counsel late in proceedings. Kim Dvorchak, CJDC’s executive director, says that early advocacy is crucial for children who have been arrested. “There are many places statewide where kids are showing up in a jumpsuit and shackles and the judge is deciding whether they get to go home,” she says, “and no one is there making an argument for them.”

Dvorchak says there’s a similar problem for children who receive summonses and have to appear in court. Those are called “first appearances,” and many children face them with literally no defense attorney in the room. “You’ll have a busload of kids and families in the room,” she says. “There will be a prosecutor there who calls out their names, talks to them right there in open court in front of all the families, let’s them know, ‘I’ve reviewed your case and I’m offering you a plea bargain.’” Without a lawyer, she says, those families have no one to tell them the potential impact of accepting a plea – and they may feel pressure to plead guilty even if their child is innocent. “They may think, ‘Oh probation, that sounds good, you’re not putting my kid in jail.’ But they’re not understanding what probation will mean for their lives.”

Read on.


LOS ANGELES SHERIFF CANDIDATES’ NEW AD CAMPAIGNS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has recorded a radio advertisement in support of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Paul Tanaka also has a new radio ad, and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold had a glossy insert in the Sunday LA Times last week.


OREGON BECOMES 18TH STATE TO LEGALIZE GAY MARRIAGE

On Monday, a U.S. District Judge Michael McShane tossed Oregon’s ban on gay marriage. His ruling will likely not be challenged. (Hooray!)

The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes has more on the ruling (in addition to some lovely photos of gay couples finally allowed to get marrried). Here are some clips:

Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down Monday by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who ruled that the prohibition violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

Jubilant couples who anticipated a favorable decision from the judge began the rush to officially wed at locations around the state. McShane ordered that his ruling take immediate effect.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest,” McShane wrote in his decision, “the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were the first couple to marry in Multnomah County following the ruling.

Oregon becomes the seventh state where a federal judge has struck down a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court last year invalidated key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Unlike in the other states — Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas — there was no one with the immediate standing to appeal the decision.

[SNIP]

The judge said gay and lesbian families and their children were harmed by Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in “a myriad of ways,” including adoption rights, tax laws and spousal benefits granted by employers.

McShane said that preserving the traditional definition of marriage was not a strong enough argument for Oregon’s law to stand. If that were the case, he wrote, tradition could be used as a “rubber stamp condoning discrimination against longstanding, traditionally oppressed minority classes everywhere.

Posted in juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, parole policy, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

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