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The Push for Clemency for Former Radical Judy Clark….and Related Topics

January 17th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The cover story in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is a profile of Judy Clark,
one of a group of militant radicals who, in 1981, tried to rob a Brinks truck and ended up killing two police officers, and one of the Brinks guards, before getting caught. Clark was one of the getaway drivers for the group. As it turned out, she was an inexperienced and untalented driver and so managed to smash the car in which she and two of her crimeys were escaping into a concrete wall, at which point she and they were arrested.

Clark compounded her mistakes by insisting upon representing herself in trial and hectoring the jury with phrases like “Revolutionary violence is necessary, and it is a liberating force.”

As a consequence, she was sentenced to 75 years in prison—more than several of her co-defendants, most famously, Kathy Boudin, who let her private attorney do the talking. Boudin got 20 to life, and is already out, while Clark has thus far done 30 of her 75-year sentence.

The NYT Mag story on Clark and her subsequent “transformation,” written by former Village Voice investigative reporter, Tom Robbins (not to be confused with the novelist), is clearly intent on making the case for Clark’s release, without actually saying as much. Robbins, who knew Clark in her pre-Brinks robbing days, is much too smart a journalist to be that obvious (even if the NY Times editors would go along with it, which they wouldn’t). Instead, he makes the case that she has changed profoundly. And certainly by all accounts Clark seems to be a very positive force at Bedford Hills, the maximum security women’s prison where she has been for the past three decades.

(Read the article for the details.)

As Robbins notes, Clark has drawn to herself a long list of people pleading for clemency in her behalf, several of whom are very persuasive.

Speaking personally, however, I find I have a slew of mixed feelings about this matter.

Sure, I believe the warm looking, grey-haired, school-teacherish white lady has likely done enough time. Moreover, many of the prison officials who know her well describe her potential as a positive force who could better contribute to society on the outside, rather than being locked up on the public’s dime.

And the truth is, we incarcerate way too many people in this country for way too long. It is a practice is corroding our collective soul as well as our state budgets.

But—again just speaking personally—there are quite a number of people I’d put on the clemency list ahead of Clark. Yet none of them happens to be a cozy-smiled, well-educated, white woman.

They are instead former gang members whom we are content to put on the throwaway list.

(I’d wager that most working public defenders have their own special shortlist of former clients they’d put on the clemency list. Ditto prison chaplains, and so on.)

One more thing: I’d have felt a lot more comfortable with Robbins’ article if he and the Times’ editors thought to spend just a paragraph or two on the three victims: Edward O’Grady, Waverly Brown, and Peter Paige—all of whom had kids.

I’m just sayin’.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF RACIAL DISPARITIES IN INCARCERATION….LEGAL SCHOLAR MICHELLE ALEXANDER EXPLAINS THE NEW JIM CROW

In the last two years, Michelle Alexander’s important book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has been the #1 must read for criminal justice advocates.

Monday, NPR’S Fresh Air ran an interview with Alexander for Martin Luther King Day. The broadcast is worth listening to in its own right. And, by happy coincidence, it is also a good contextual framework with which to view the NY Times Judith Clark story.

Here’s a clip from Fresh Air’s write up on the show.

Under Jim Crow laws, black Americans were relegated to a subordinate status for decades. Things like literacy tests for voters and laws designed to prevent blacks from serving on juries were commonplace in nearly a dozen Southern states.

In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes that many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

Just listen.


…THEN ON THE ISSUE OF PEOPLE GETTING OUT OF PRISON IN GENERAL…..

Former Daily News editor of the Daily News, Ron Kaye, wrote an Op Ed for the Glendale News Press about his friend Nyabingi Kuti, a community organizer and activist with the MLK Coalition, who is working to bring together reentry services and programs for those getting out of prison.

Here’s a clip:

…..the governor’s “realignment” plan that started Oct. 1,…has a lot of people worried that it will trigger a huge surge in crime after years of decline. After all, without effective rehabilitation programs re-entry into society is tough, which is why we have a 70% recidivism rate.

Many local politicians and law enforcement officials figure are howling for more money to hire more cops and build more county jails.

But others like Nyabingi {Kuti] are working hard to develop alternatives to jail and tough policing to actually turn realignment into a creative opportunity to bring resources together to help the “formerly incarcerated” — a preferred term for ex-convicts — stay out of trouble and lead productive lives.

Right—which is exactly what realignment can be—a creative opportunity. Let us hope more people in the city and county see fit to similarly rise to that challenge.


AND…LAST BUT NOT LEAST: THE LA TIMES CALLS FOR A CHRISTOPHER COMMISSION FOR THE COUNTY JAILS

It’s good that an LA Times editorial calls for a thorough review of the situation in the LA County Jails by the new Citizen’s Commission—a la the Christopher Commission.

(I believe that’s what WitnessLA called for early last March, but okay, why quibble?)

But then the Times editorial goes on to say….nothing new. They say that the commission “….could determine whether the deputy culture inside the lockups is part of the problem. It could consider whether rookie deputies, whose first job out of the academy is as jailers, receive appropriate supervision. And it could identify the shortcomings that allow excessive use of force to go unpunished….”

Y’think??? What the Times fails to mention, and what WitnessLA has repeatedly pointed out, is that the root elements that have allowed all of the above problems to flourish begin well upstream of the symptomatic issues that the Times ticks off.

Fortunately, I think there are at least a couple of people on the commission who know where and how to look beyond the symptoms.


Photos of Judith Clark: (right) Nan Goldin for The New York Times. (left) Associated Press.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, parole policy, prison policy, Realignment, Reentry, Sentencing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Lifelong Price of a Felony Conviction—& the Cost to the Rest of Us

January 13th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

For vast numbers of Americans who have been convicted of a felony, the punishment has no end point.

This essay in the New York Times by Carnegie Mellon professor, Alfred Blumstein, and University of Maryland criminologist, Kiminori Nakamura, gets to the heart of this issue that we as a nation can simply no longer afford to ignore.

Here’s a clip from their story:

IN 2010, the Chicago Public Schools declined to hire Darrell Langdon for a job as a boiler-room engineer, because he had been convicted of possessing a half-gram of cocaine in 1985, a felony for which he received probation. It didn’t matter that Mr. Langdon, a single parent of two sons, had been clean since 1988 and hadn’t run into further trouble with the law. Only after The Chicago Tribune wrote about his case did the school system reverse its decision and offer him the job.

A stunning number of young people are arrested for crimes in this country, and those crimes can haunt them for the rest of their lives. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Crime Commission found that about half of American males could expect to be arrested for a nontraffic offense some time in their lives, mostly in their late teens and early 20s. An article just published in the journal Pediatrics shows how the arrest rate has grown — by age 23, 30 percent of Americans have been arrested, compared with 22 percent in 1967. The increase reflects in part the considerable growth in arrests for drug offenses and domestic violence.

The impact of these arrests is felt for years. The ubiquity of criminal-background checks and the efficiency of information technology in maintaining those records and making them widely available, have meant that millions of Americans — even those who served probation or parole but were never incarcerated — continue to pay a price long after the crime. In November the American Bar Association released a database identifying more than 38,000 punitive provisions that apply to people convicted of crimes, pertaining to everything from public housing to welfare assistance to occupational licenses. More than two-thirds of the states allow hiring and professional-licensing decisions to be made on the basis of an arrest alone.

Employers understandably want to protect their employees and customers from risk. Yet at the same time, there is a growing public interest in facilitating job opportunities for those who have stayed crime-free for a reasonable period of time. The weak economy and a rethinking of the logic of mass incarceration — driven in large part by budget pressures — have also brought attention to the situations of ex-offenders like Mr. Langdon, who face the collateral consequences of conviction long after their involvement with the criminal justice system has ended. Federal authorities are beginning to pay attention. Last April, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urged state attorneys general to review laws and policies “to determine whether those that impose burdens on individuals convicted of crimes without increasing public safety should be eliminated.”

Read the rest. to find out what Blumstein and Nakamura suggest as solutions.

PS: A former California prison warden friend of mine who originally drew my attention to this story, pointed out that the one aspect of this issue that the authors don’t mention is voting rights. “The United States is the only country that permits permanent disenfranchisement of felons even after completion of their sentences,” he wrote in an email.

This causes around two million Americans to be forever disenfranchised. However, each state has different rules. In California, thankfully, while voting rights are not restored upon release from prison, once someone is off parole or probation, they may register to vote again.

Posted in crime and punishment, parole policy, prison, prison policy, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

A Former Deputy Tells Another Jail Abuse Story, A View of Realignment, More Probation Chief Blevins’ Exit

October 7th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



In the last few weeks, the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi
has been doing some fine and very welcome reporting on the issue of deputy abuse of inmates in the Los Angeles County Jails—which is important.

In Friday’s paper Faturechi tells of a young Sheriff’s deputy who says he was forced by his supervisor to beat a mentally disabled inmate in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown L.A.

Here’s how the story opens:

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s rookie who graduated at the top of his recruit class resigned after only a few weeks on the job, alleging that a supervisor made him beat up a mentally ill jail inmate, according to interviews and law enforcement records.

The deputy, Joshua Sather, said that shortly before the inmate’s beating his supervisor said, “We’re gonna go in and teach this guy a lesson,” according to the records. The attack, Sather said, was then covered up.

Law enforcement records reveal that the incident caused tensions in the Sheriff’s Department. Sather’s uncle, a veteran sheriff’s detective, angrily confronted the supervisor about making his nephew “beat up ‘dings,’ ” slang for the mentally disabled. He then allegedly threatened to “put a bullet” in the supervisor’s head.

Sather’s case was pieced together by The Times from department sources as well as district attorney’s documents in which Sather’s uncle revealed his nephew’s allegations to investigators.

Sheriff’s officials launched an investigation and determined that an uncooperative inmate had been subdued by force, but concluded that no misconduct had occurred. They also asked the district attorney to review the uncle’s alleged threat, but prosecutors declined to file charges.

Sather’s allegation is among several first-hand accounts of unwarranted deputy violence against inmates in the nation’s largest jail system. Last week, two chaplains and a movie producer released sworn statements that they witnessed deputies abusing inmates. But Sather’s allegations are unusual because they come from within the department’s own ranks, from the point of view of a deputy.


AND WHILE WE’RE PRAISING THE LA TIMES, GEORGE SKELTON HAS A GOOD ESSAY ON ALL THE COMPLAINING OVER REALIGNMENT.

Here’s how it opens:

The boring, bureaucratic word “realignment” masks the truly dramatic change in locking up California criminals that Gov. Jerry Brown just pulled off.

“A lot of people say, ‘Hey, what’s new in Sacramento?’” Brown told a news conference last week. “Well, this is new. It’s bold. It’s difficult. And it will continuously change as we learn from experience.
But we can’t sit still and let the courts release 30,000 serious prisoners. We have to do something.”

In truth, the change was inevitable.

Either the state began to dump thousands of its lower-risk prisoners onto local custody or it would have been forced by federal courts to dump them on the streets.

“We’ve either got to reduce the prison population or release 10,000 inmates by Christmas Eve,” says Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “That’s [equal to] two prisons.”

Complainers — such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — are being disingenuous, at best.

Villaraigosa called a news conference Monday to denounce the state for not providing “a single dollar to help with the burden” of incarcerating and monitoring more criminals. “That is not alignment. That is political malpractice.”

Not quite. The state is sending financial help to the counties, including $124 million to Los Angeles County. It’s up to the cities to request a share. The mayor has privately told people that he won’t “go begging” to county supervisors for money, according to one state official who requested anonymity because he was reporting a private conversation.

My favorite hyperbole, however, comes from Republican State Sen. Sharon Runner of the Antelope Valley: “Now is the time for Californians to get a dog, buy a gun and install an alarm system. The state of California is no longer going to protect you.”

Let’s be honest: The politicians and the voters simply could not continue their decades-long insistence on increasing criminal sentences and enlarging the prison population without raising the money to pay for more cells and guards.


PROBATION CHIEF DON BLEVINS SAYS DEPARTURE IS VOLUNTARY

Chief Blevins told KPCC’s Larry Mantle on Thursday’s Air Talk show that he is leaving Probation to…spend more time with his family.

The Daily News has a story on Blevins’ and his remarks. But you can also listen to the show, which included Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Among other things, Blevins said that he expects Probation to meet—or to nearly meet—all of the 41 reforms in the County’s juvenile camps required by the Department of Justice by October 31, whereas sources who work in an around the camps say this is simply not true, that the County won’t come close.

We’ll know which point of view was more factual very soon.

Zev Yaroslavsky said bluntly and quite rightly that kids in the Probation camps are simply not being given the mental health care or the education that they need.

Yaroslavsky also mentioned that probation needs a large cultural change “so that people [in probation] are expected to work for the hours that they are paid.

Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.


SCREENING FOR REALIGNMENT PAROLEES MAY NOT BE ALL THAT ACCURATE SAYS ZEV’S BLOG

Zev’s blog reports that cases are coming through where the so-called Non, Non, Nons
—people who have committed non serious, non violent, non sexual crimes—have larger crimes in their background, or inmates who should not be in the category are being accidentally sent through for county supervision when in reality they should be high control parolees.

The blog reports that the Probation Department is doing it’s own screening.

Let’s hope so. The realignment strategy is a necessary change, but to avoid problems there has to be quality control in the screening process. Otherwise we got trouble.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Jail, LASD, parole policy, Probation | 3 Comments »

Country Redistricting….Jails, FBI & Cell Phones…and the State Parolee Handover

September 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


RESHAPING LA COUNTY’S DISTRICTS – WHO WILL WIN THE POLITICAL BATTLE?

The final hearing on the topic of how and how much the county ought to be redistricted will be held at Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ meeting, at which time the three possible redistricting plans for LA will be discussed. Two of the plans aim to substantially re-carve the boundaries of the county’s supervisory districts in order to create a second Latino district—which may (or may not) be required to satisfy the legal parameters of the Voting Rights Act.

Theoretically the Supes will vote on all three plans on Tuesday—one proposed by Gloria Molina, one by Mark Ridley-Thomas, one by Don Knabe—and will select one of the three. But to pass a redistricting plan, a supermajority of four votes is required, not the usual three. And none of the plans has four supporters among the Supes.

If the Supervisors cannot agree, then the decision will be made by the LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley and LA County Assessor John R. Noguez—and the Supervisors are not fond of that option either.

If you’re confused about what all this means and want to acquire some kind of working knowledge of the politics at play with this decision, start by reading Monday’s column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton, which is pretty good, (except that I think that Newton has the boundaries of Mark-Ridley Thomas plan a little screwed up, but otherwise it’s quite informative).

After that, you should turn your attention to the analysis by LA Weekly’s Gene Maddeus who did a very savvy job of explaining the possible political implications of the decision with his column: The Politics of The L.A. County Redistricting Fight Explained — With Venn Diagrams!

If you want still more, the LAT also has an informative Op Ed in Tuesday’s paper.

And, of course, you can look at WLA’s report for yet another take.

I should have more from the meeting as the day wears on—that is if anything actually happens.


MORE ON THE FBI INVESTIGATION OF THE JAILS—AND THE NOW ESCALATING CELL PHONE CAPER

When we last left off, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca was mighty unhappy because FBI agents probing abuse of inmates by deputies and other misconduct at the LA County jails managed to get an illegal cell phone to a jail inmate in a sting operation. Now LAT reporter Robert Faturechi has more on the cell-phone kerfuffle.

Here’s a clip:

FBI agents probing misconduct allegations in the L.A. County Jail orchestrated an undercover sting in which they paid about $1,500 to a sheriff’s deputy to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate, sources said.

The revelation is the first public indication that the FBI’s investigations into allegations of inmate beatings and other deputy misconduct in the jails have uncovered possible criminal wrongdoing.

The FBI conducted the cellphone sting without notifying top Sheriff’s Department brass, enraging Sheriff Lee Baca and causing a rift between the two law enforcement agencies.

Baca, who is scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. to discuss the escalating tensions, went on television Monday to slam the FBI, saying smuggling a cellphone inside a secured lockup created a serious safety breach. Baca suggested that the FBI committed a crime by doing so.

“It’s illegal,” he said. “It’s a misdemeanor and then there’s a conspiracy law that goes along with it.

Yeah, that works. Federal law enforcement officers ran a successful sting and a dirty LASD deputy allegedly committed a criminal act and got stung. So the Sheriff wants to go after the Feds instead of cleaning up his own house? Really??

There’s more coming this week on the jails/abuse story, so stay tuned.


THE COMING PAROLEE HANDOVER

And as if those stories weren’t enough….

….Beginning this Saturday, Oct 1, a pile of state parolees will be handed over to LA County Probation for supervision (instead of being supervised by the state parole officers), and there is no telling how ready the county is for the handover.

I’ll have more on this too as the week progresses. But here’s a link to the LA Times Op Ed on the topic in the meantime. Read it as it provides excellent background for the news that will be coming.

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, parole policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

Predictive Policing: Good Idea or Bad idea?

August 18th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Wednesday, Larry Mantle’s AirTalk on KPCC focused on a new strategy that the LAPD plans
to take for a test drive as a experimental program. The strategy is called predictive policing and it is already being tried out by the Santa Cruz PD, reportedly with some success. Now Los Angeles wants to give it a try—at least in the form of a pilot program.

Here are some clips from the show:

Police departments have been providing years of historic crime data to mathematicians, who’ve created algorithms to analyze and determine crime patterns. The results are predictions of where and when similar crimes are likely to occur.

Zach Friend, a crime analyst for the Santa Cruz Police Department, says the crime-fighting system is modeled on methods for predicting earthquake aftershocks. The tool comes from Santa Clara University Professor George Mohler who believes crimes follow similar patterns. Friend, who helped to launch the program in Santa Cruz, says the system works because crimes tend to occur in time and place-based patterns. Santa Cruz officials became interested in the program after the success of a similar pilot by the LAPD.

“You have a crime and there will be after-crimes that occur after that,” said Friend. The technology, he says, has helped Santa Cruz prevent crimes before they happen. Thus far his department has focused on burglaries and vehicle theft.

“The arrests are not the goal here,” says Friend, of how the program is working in Santa Cruz. Preventing crime is the goal.

In L.A., LAPD Captain Sean Malinowski says he’d like to push the envelope further; and next year use the technology to predict violent crimes. Each morning officers using the program enter crime reports into the system, which is already packed with eight years worth of data. The program then predicts 10 potential crime hot spots.

Malinowski says the technology represents a vast improvement to what the department currently uses.

“The instruments we are using seem blunt now, in terms of the kind of specificity we can get with data analysis,” he says. Malinowski says he believes the computer model helps to remove biases.

Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law at Thomas Jefferson School of law, worried that the program would lead to additional profiling and would provide an excuse for harassment.

My pal George Tita, criminologist from UC Irvine countered Professor Cohn’s concerns with down to earth information.

And, yes, Cohn’s fears could come to pass, but it would be up to LAPD management to keep an eye out for any such Minority Report-like problems.

In truth, on first bounce, the model sounds very promising.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Listen and see what you think.


DEAR SUPERVISORS: YOU’RE WORRYING ABOUT THE WRONG THING

The LA Times’ Rong-Gong Lin II has a story about the LA County Supervisors opining that crime will go up if, as Governor Brown intends, short-timer offenders (people given months-long sentences) serve out their time at the various county jails, rather than being sent to state prison for, say, 3 or 6 months, which is grossly inefficient and needlessly expensive.

The Sups also say that crime will go up if the lower-level offenders who are paroled from prison report, not to a state parole officer, but to a county probation officer (as it was decided would happen last month).

This last, especially, is ridiculous.

Currently, when inmates are released from state prison and transferred to the state parole system, they are given $200 so they can buy themselves a bus ticket home with instructions to contact a state parole officer within two business days.

But county authorities say that system [requiring them to instead contact a probation officer] could allow just-released prisoners to flee without making contact with a county probation officer.


Huh???

Lin notes that the supervisors also expressed some concern that the state won’t fork over enough money to pay for the County’s added responsibility with the short time prisoners and the parolees.

That, my dears, is the one legit worry out of this whole The Sky is Falling and Criminals are Coming to Get Us! routine.. Heck, if the state fails to pay up, we should all march on Sacramento, then plant ourselves outside the governor’s office and refuse to leave until he gets out his metaphorical wallet.

But until and unless we find out that Jerry plans to welsh on his promise to pay the cost incurred by the 58 counties when they shoulder the burden of some of the state’s prisoners and parolees, how about we dial back the crime wave scare tactics.


THE SISTER OF A MURDER VICTIM WORKS FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM

Rebecca Weiker’s essay on the Juvenile Justice Exchange speaks eloquently for itself. Here’s how it opens:

A few months ago I spent the day meeting with a group of family members who have had their lives changed forever by acts of violence. Nobody there would have chosen to be a member of this group — all of us had either lost a loved one to murder, or had lost a loved one in an entirely different way. Many brothers, sisters, sons and daughters were sentenced to die in prison for a crime committed in their youth.

My sister Wendy was a therapist who was passionate about supporting young people with mental health problems. Almost 20 years ago she was murdered by one of her patients. All these years later, I only now am at a place where I can consider this crime from a position of empathy. I understand that I can choose what meaning to make of this experience.

I will never “get over” her death nor do I expect to shed the feeling of loss and deep sadness that comes from not having her in the world. She was truly a bright light in the world. She was my big sister and I looked up to her. I admired her commitment to justice, her warmth, her seemingly endless energy.

But, I believe it dishonors my sister’s memory every time a young person is sentenced to die in prison. In California prisons, nearly 300 youth have been sentenced to life in prison without parole. How can we decide that a young person’s life is entirely without worth when they are still unformed and immature?

Our broken system is far from offering real justice to either victims or offenders…

Note: Weiker is strongly in favor of passing Senate Bill 9, a California law that would give young people sentenced to life without parole the possibility of a hearing to determine if they deserve to be re-sentenced to a minimum sentence of 25-years-to-life.


Photo by Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times prognosticate

Posted in Board of Supervisors, California budget, crime and punishment, juvenile justice, LAPD, law enforcement, parole policy, Probation | No Comments »

The Sheriff Backs Off LASD’s Parolee Proposal

July 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Tuesday’s Board Of Supervisor’s meeting involved much drama,
lots of side players, gobs of backroom gossip, weeks of lobbying and finally two presentations—one by Sheriff Lee Baca, the other by Probation Chief Don Blevins— both aimed at gaining LA County’s new state parolee contract. The meeting also featured the revelation that the Sheriff’s plan costs quite a bit more money than that of Probation.

Now, however, everything has changed.

Thursday afternoon the word floated around that the Sheriff had backed off on his proposal and said he was willing to share the contract with Probation. It isn’t clear whether the LASD mainly means they want to share the money that accompanies the contract. In any case, they are willing to step aside and let Probation do what it is clearly better equipped to do than law enforcement, meanly to oversee and aide parolees as they attempt to reenter law-abiding life.

I’m up in the wilds of West Glacier cadging WiFi from a cafe, so I’ll turn the rest of the story over to Robert Faturechi of the LA Times:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has backed down in his bid for the department to take on sole supervision of state parolees, an official confirmed Thursday evening, opting instead for a hybrid plan that would leave his deputies out of rehabilitation.

Baca’s initial proposal was an unprecedented attempt to handle the thousands of parolees being passed from the state to the local level instead of the county’s probation officers, who already do that sort of work.

No law enforcement agency in the nation, officials say, handles parole or probation supervision, a task decidedly more oriented toward social work.

Critics blasted Baca’s plan, saying that it presented potential conflicts of interest because the same deputies who were arresting and jailing criminals would have also been serving as caseworkers after the inmates were released.

Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo said Baca decided to allow the county’s Probation Department to handle reentry and case management, while sheriff’s deputies and possibly LAPD officers do traditional suppression work and compliance checks.

“I don’t know that it was a back-down,” Rhambo said. “At the executive meeting today, listening to all the nuts and bolts as to what it takes to manage this, as people were throwing out the labor-intensity of it all, [Baca] thought what might work better is a hybrid version…..”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy | No Comments »

Who Will Supervise LA’s Newly Aquired Parolees? Probation? Or the Sheriff? UPDATED

July 12th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, July 12, the LA County Board of Supervisors
will prepare to decide who will supervise the approximately 13,000 parolees yearly who will now be LA County’s responsibility starting on October 1.

In the past all parolees—felons coming out of prison— have been supervised by the state. But, as part of the strategy to balance California’s budget, while also reducing the number of inmates who cycle in and out of the state’s benighted and overcrowded prisons by better helping them reenter our communities, all state parolees who are the so-called non-non-nons—non-violent offenders, non-sex offenders, non-serious offenders—will be supervised by California’s 58 counties.

In Los Angeles, the matter of who exactly will do the supervising is an open question. In 57 out of California’s 58 counties, the answer is simple: that job will fall to the logical agency already equipped to supervise and help rehabilitate lawbreakers—namely each county’s probation department.

However, in LA—which incidentally has by far the largest number of these “realigned” parolees—there are two agencies bidding for the job, and for the pile of funds that goes along with it.

Those agencies are LA County Probation, headed by Donald Blevins—and the LA County Sheriff’s Department, with Sheriff Lee Baca doing everything he can to get the nod.


WHO IS VOTING FOR WHOM?

Right now the Sups are reportedly leaning toward handing the responsibility to Lee Baca and the LASD. If the Sups go Baca’s direction, they will be agreeing to a system that exists no where else in the U.S.. (The folks who arrest parolees for stepping outside the law are generally not also the one’s who help advise, oversee and rehabilitate them. It’s—how to put it?—a very weird conflict of interest.)

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina are reportedly voting for Baca’s plan (with Ridley-Thomas wishing to give the Sheriff a tryout period, not an indefinite commitment). Mike Antonovich is the only one of the Sups who is thought to be leaning toward giving the responsibility and the money to Probation and Blevins. Don Knabe is thought to be in the Sheriff’s column. Zev Yaroslavsky was leaning toward the Sheriff, but may be wobbling still has yet to decide. [<---NOTE: My initial info had Zev somewhat in the Sheriff's column, but looks like I had it wrong. His vote is reportedly still in play.]

Interestingly, although the majority of the Supervisors are considered likely to vote in favor of the Sheriff, the majority of the Sups most knowledgeable deputies are reportedly pushing for Probation to be given the 13,000 parolees to oversee.

This latter fact is very telling.


WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

I realize for many of you, this entire decision sounds like a colossal yawn. But bear with me.

As I mentioned above, part of the idea for the statewide switchover, is that local agencies can do the supervision for less money than the state can. But even more importantly, the locals can do it more effectively—which is crucial. A huge portion of the state’s unmanageable and intolerably expensive prison population is made up of repeat visitors. The majority of those who return to our locked hotels, do so not for new crimes, but for technical violations of their parole.

Since the state’s parole agencies have, for a variety of reasons, done a consistently hideous job of helping parolees get back on their respective feet—as our ghastly recidivism numbers reflect—the fact that a new agency in California’s largest county will have an opportunity to rethink parole policy using the best practices from other states who are doing a better job that we are….well, it’s a genuinely significant opportunity.

And we’re in danger of blowing it.


THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

The most hellish part of the decision the Sups must make, is that both Probation and the Sheriff’s Department are agencies with humungous problems. So there is no really great choice.

Probation is still frighteningly inept at reforming its deeply troubled juvenile probation facilities, places that in too many cases are actively doing harm to kids. Yet, Probation’s adult services, while far from perfect, are generally reasonably functional. Plus they are the services most directly analogous to those required in overseeing parolees.

As for the Sheriff’s Department, despite Lee Baca’s popularity and his genuine belief in rehabilitation, his jails are such a mess they have attracted a brand new federal investigation. (Problems at the LASD facilities will be further evidenced by WitnessLA’s two-part investigation into the LA County Jails that will run later this summer).

Most importantly, law enforcement is not, for a thousand reasons, the right agency to run a parole system.

The LA Times has an unsigned editorial in Tuesday’s paper (written by Rob Greene and Sandra Hernandez) and it gets to the crux of the matter very, very well. Here’s a clip:

The tragedy of the county’s predicament is that the arrival of new state parolees ought to be an opportunity to focus on the reentry of these ex-prisoners into society. It should fall to churches, mosques and synagogues, to nonprofit organizations, to schools, but above all to county government to ensure that those leaving institutions and reentering their neighborhoods do so in a way that maximizes their chance to become productive and law-abiding citizens.

Even the parolees expected to come to Los Angeles County — those whose crimes were nonviolent, non-sexual and relatively low-level — are more likely than the state’s population at large to be sick, addicted, mentally ill, poorly educated and unemployable. Given that California’s state prison system has disinvested in prisoner care and rehabilitation, the parolees are unlikely to come home any better prepared to lead productive lives than when they went in. Indeed, the failure of the state’s parole efforts is one of the best arguments for turning this responsibility over to local governments, which at least have a fighting chance.

Los Angeles County has done little to prepare for this opportunity, and it must now suffer the consequences of its past mismanagement. Forced to pick between two troubled agencies, it should take the one that at least encompasses the mission. The county employees best experienced and oriented toward that task are probation workers.

Sheriff’s deputies are not.


IF PROBATION WANTS THE GIG IT NEEDS TO FIGHT FOR IT

It hardly helped Probation’s case that while Sheriff Baca was making doing one more round of enthusiastic pitches to explain why he should be given the parolees, making it clear to all concerned that he really, really wanted the job, Probation Chief Blevins spent last week in San Diego at a conference for Chief Probation Officers, no doubt a worthy event, but not when so much is at stake.

When I talked to Blevins last month about the soon-to-be-reassigned parolees, he was clear, persuasive and articulate about the ways in which Probation could potentially make a difference in the lives of thousands of released prisoners. It is perplexing that he has not been aggressive in making a strong case to those who actually vote on the matter.

Frank Stoltze at KPCC and Dennis Romero at the LA Weekly and Robert Faturechi of the LA Times have also reported on the issue so read and listen.


NOTE: I’M MOSTLY TWEETING, AND BARELY DOING ANY BLOGGING WHILE I’M AWAY IN MT (BACK JULY 25), BUT THIS ISSUE WAS TOO IMPORTANT TO LET SLIDE BY


UPDATE: It appears that the Sups won’t vote today as there is a brand new 37-page analysis from the County CEO’s office on the competing plans and it shows that the Sheriff’s plan will cost substantively more (in the tens of millions of $$) than that of Probation, a wrinkle that the Supervisors need time to consider.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Times, parole policy, Probation | No Comments »

Was a Visitor to LA County Jail Viciously Beaten by Guards?

May 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This week’s LA Weekly’ cover story about LA County’s Men’s Central Jail
paints a discouragingly familiar picture of brutal behavior on the part of a cadre of sheriff’s deputies—use of force which seems always to be officially portrayed by the sheriff’s department as a justified response to a violent inmate.

However, in this case, it wasn’t an inmate. The guy beat up—Gabriel Carrillo— was not residing inside jail, but was a civilian just visiting his brother, his girlfriend along with him.

However as in cases of inmates who have ended up beat up and inured, without video tapes, neutral witnesses, or someone inside the LASD willing to break ranks, it is inevitably the word of the beat up jailbird against multiple sworn officers of the law.

Even when there was a neutral witness earlier this year in the person of the ACLU’s Esther Lim, LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore suggested that Lim probably didn’t see what she said she saw in a sworn affidavit.

I mean, who are you gonna believe? Her lying eyes? Or the guys with the badges? [See here and here for Lim backstory.]

The LA Weekly cover package by Chris Vogel is full of excellent reporting.

By the way, it is also in many ways, a preview of the series on the LA County Jails bu Matt Fleischer that is coming this summer from WitnessLA in partnership with Spot.Us.

Here’s a long opening clip from Vogel’s terrific story.

But there’s much, much more. Read the whole thing, or you’ll miss out.

And there is far more still coming right here at WLA very, very soon.

Shackled in handcuffs, Gabriel Carrillo was being detained in a small break room near the visitors’ lobby in Men’s Central Jail when, he says, a Sheriff’s deputy knocked him to the floor with an uppercut.

Carrillo, 5 feet 6 and 160 pounds, doubled over in pain. Three deputies began kicking and punching the baby-faced 23-year-old in his head and thigh, tearing his white T-shirt while blood splattered on his blue jeans and Air Jordans.

With each blow, Carrillo felt his body jerk as his head bounced up and down on the cold, county building floor. He briefly lost consciousness, only to wake to the sting of punches to his head and face.

Through eyes purple with bruises and nearly swollen shut, Carrillo could see blood pouring out of his head onto the floor.

“I’m not fucking resisting,” he cried out.

Suddenly, Carrillo felt a blast of chemical spray. He was blinded and gasping for air as more punches pummeled his increasingly numb legs and torso. It was like being caught in a violent ocean wave, Carrillo recalls. Every time he tried to come up for air, another blow drove him back under.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Carrillo wheezed.

“Shut the fuck up,” Carrillo claims a deputy said. “If you can talk, you can breathe.”

Finally, Carrillo lay motionless, watching officers wipe his blood off the floor with clean towels, thinking to himself, “How did this happen? All I was trying to do was visit my brother in jail.”

Carrillo arrived at Men’s Central Jail, a dungeonlike fortress near downtown Los Angeles, around noon on Feb. 26 with his girlfriend, Grace Torres, to visit his younger brother, who was locked up on charges of carrying a concealed weapon.

It was a Saturday, and Torres was on call for her job at an employment agency. She says she was afraid of being fired if she missed a call, so she tucked her cellphone into her boot and sneaked it into the visitors’ lobby, despite the signs prohibiting it. Carrillo, a general laborer who helped build a stage for an Academy Awards after-party next to the El Capitan Theater, says he forgot he had a phone in his pocket.

While they waited, Torres moved to scratch her foot and her phone fell onto the floor. Within minutes, she claims, deputies had confiscated the phones, handcuffed Carrillo and taken the two of them into the break room, where a deputy pushed Carrillo into the side of a refrigerator.

Carrillo admits that he mouthed off, telling the officer, “If I weren’t in these handcuffs, it’d be a different situation and I wouldn’t let myself get thrown around like this.” He says he was trying to compensate for being scared.

The deputy, however, called for backup....


MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL IS OVERCROWDED, LA COUNTY’S NORTH FACILITY JAIL, NOT SO MUCH

Actually there are two inmates at the North Facility. Two. One, two.

Robert Faturechi has the story—and the county’s rationale for this preposterous situation.

Admittedly, the two jails have separate functions. But surely there’s a better system.

In any case, read it!


CAN A TEST DIAGNOSE A PSYCHOPATH?

The California Department of Corrections is using a test that theoretically can screen for psychopathy when determining if a man or woman will ever be eligible for parole. But is it accurate?

NPR’s All Thing Considered reports that even the test’s creator, Robert Hare, is having his doubts.

“I’m very concerned about the inappropriate use of this instrument for purposes that have serious implications for individuals and for society,” Hare says. “It shouldn’t work that way.”

In fact, Hare says, he is so disturbed by some of what he has seen as he has traveled through America training psychologists in use of the PCL-R, that he sometimes has trouble focusing on the way his test could be affecting people’s lives.

“I think about this periodically, and I probably try to suppress it,” Hare says. “I do disassociate myself from it. I mean, if I thought about every potential use or misuse of the instrument, I probably wouldn’t sleep at all.”

Be sure to read or listen to this fascinating and troubling story.

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, criminal justice, jail, parole policy | 5 Comments »

Thursday Must Reads

May 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



COMPUTER ERRORS MAY HAVE DESIGNATED POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS PAROLEES FOR NON-REVOCABLE PAROLE, SAYS CALIFORNIA INSPECTOR GENERAL

Dear CDCR,

If the LA Times’ Jack Dolan has his story right, you’ve done a lousy job of sorting out who can be paroled without supervision and who needs high control parole supervision. If true, it means you’ve compromised public safety and betrayed those of us who have pushed hard for much needed parole reform.

And “Ooops, our computer programs need a little work,” is not an adequate response.

Please advise. Immediately.


FORMER PROSECUTOR SAYS “EVERY CHILD DESERVES A SECOND CHANCE”

More and more people who are veterans of many sides of the justice system are saying that we should reconsider putting kids away for life without the possibility of parole—LWOP kids, they call them.

A recent voice on the matter if Anthony Barkow whose essay on the topic appeared this week’s Huffington Post.

Barkow was a decorated federal prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office for 12 years before he became the Executive Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU School of Law.

Here is a clip from his essay:

I was a prosecutor for 12 years. During that time, I prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, ranging from international terrorism to securities fraud, from domestic violence and sexual abuse to homicide. I prosecuted cases in which offenders received very substantial sentences. I am proud of my work as a prosecutor and I have no doubt that criminal punishment is critical to keeping communities safe.

One of the defendants I prosecuted committed murder when he was 17-years-old. He gunned down his victim and shot him 17 times in cold blood in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street. The same defendant had committed another murder before he turned 18. For these crimes, he was sentenced to consecutive terms of years that were so long as to be tantamount to life imprisonment, and he will never be released. And, in that case, that was a just result.

But at the same time, there are other youthful defendants who have been sentenced to unjust sentences of life without the opportunity for parole. For example, a 15-year-old boy in Chicago, “Peter A,” on instructions from his older brother, helped steal a van so that his brother could drive to the home of two individuals who stole drugs and money from the brother’s apartment. Peter stayed in the van while two others went inside. While Peter waited in the van, one of the men who had gone into the home shot and killed two people. Peter was sentenced to life without parole, even though the judge said at sentencing that he wished he could impose a lower sentence and described Peter as “a bright lad” with “rehabilitative potential.” But the sentence was mandatory and the judge had no discretion or choice to sentence Peter otherwise. Peter is now 29 and has spent nearly half of his life in prison. During that time, he has obtained his G.E.D. and completed a correspondence paralegal course. He has an exemplary record in prison, receiving a disciplinary ticket only once in the past six years (for possessing an extra pillow and extra cereal in his cell). But no matter how much Peter changes in prison, he will serve the rest of his life in prison without having even the possibility of asking to be released, much less getting out.

That is the critical fact to keep in mind about those seeking to end life without parole for juveniles. No one is arguing that any particular individual should be let out of prison. Ending juvenile life without parole merely leaves open the possibility that a child who commits a crime can petition for release later in life, if he can demonstrate that he is remorseful, has rehabilitated, and will not reoffend. Parole authorities can and should be trusted to make informed, reasoned decisions regarding the release and continued incarceration of inmates petitioning for parole…..

Read the rest.


STRAY DOGS, SAINTS AND SAVIORS: FIGHTING FOR THE SOUL OF AMERICA’S TOUGHEST HIGH SCHOOL

Madeleine Brand interviews ,education wonk and commentator Alexander Russo, about his new book, Stay Dogs, Saints and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America’s Toughest High School chronicles the transformation of very troubled Locke High School—what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.
I’ve been looking forward to the book’s release for months, and will have more it once I’ve finished reading. In the meantime, listen to the interview. Russo’s a smart guy and has a bracingly clear-eyed view of why the “Locke experiment,” as he calls it, is important.


WHY THE CRENSHAW-TO-LAX TRAIN NEEDS TO STOP IN LEIMERT PARK

WLA doesn’t usually cover transportation issues but, seriously, this is a no brainer. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board votes on this issue today. Let’s hope they understand how important a station at historic and iconic Leimert Park station is, not just to South LA, but to the rest of the city.

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas has an op ed in Thursday’s LA Times explaining very clearly why there can be only one possible answer to the Leimert Park station question.

Metro board, please get this one right.

Posted in Books, Education, Green Dot, LGBT, LWOP Kids, parole policy | No Comments »

Was an Alleged Double Murderer Paroled Years Early from Prison?

May 13th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



Wednesday night the LA Weekly posted a story with the headline:
Zachariah Timothy Lehnen, Accused in Double Murder of Culver City Pair, Could Have Been in Prison Until 2013 But Was Released Early

The story, which was written by Dennis Romero, opened like this:

The transient accused of killing two people in Culver City this month was let out of prison late last year — with three years cut off his time — via a controversial early-release program.

Thirty-one-year-old Zachariah Lehnen’s parolee information sheet, obtained by the Weekly, shows that he could have remained in prison until November of 2013 but was let out under California’s “non-revocable parole” law, which went into effect last year as an attempt to save taxpayer money by letting low-level, nonviolent offenders out early.

Romero is a good reporter and the story was well-sourced with law enforcement types, including a retired parole officer. And surely those sources must know what they’re talking about, right?

Well, apparently not.

“Early release” is the new bogey man that, of late, so-called public safety advocates—many of them law enforcement professionals—trot around with a staggering disregard for…..you know….facts.

Here’s the deal:

According to his parole paperwork, Lehnen, the alleged murderer, was a transient who had served time for drug possession, probably possession of crystal meth. He had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He was also likely supposed to be on medication since his report specified “Psychiatric outpatient clinic,” and he was forbidden to have alcohol.

Lehnen was paroled from prison on November 9. 2010. His official prison term (and thus the end of his parole), terminates on November 9, 2013.

Lehnen was not, however, released from prison three years early as part of some new program. There is no such new years-early program.

Here’s what is true:

Everyone in the state of California who is convicted of a nonviolent, non serious, non-sex-related felony—like this guy—does half their time. If you are sentenced to six years, you do three. For the remaining three you are on parole.

If a crime is violent and/or serious, you will do 85 percent of of your sentence.

Again, this is not some new program.

The “half-time” (or 85 %) structure has been built into California’s sentencing and parole policy for years and years. The notion that Lehnen got some kind special treatment and that the state should or could have held him for another three years is simply nonsense.

Nonviolent, non-serious lawbreakers know at the time of their sentencing that, as long as they aren’t written up for disciplinary infractions when they’re locked up, with rare exceptions, they’ll do half their sentences.

What is new for California is the idea of non revokable parole.

Up until last year, much of California’s nearly 70 percent recidivism rate (the highest in the nation) was caused, not by people committing new crimes, but by parolees violating the technical terms of their parole. If they tested dirty, or they missed an appointment with their parole officer, or strayed into a forbidden neighborhood, or left town to visit grandparents without permission—or any number of other infractions—they’d go back to prison. Nearly two thirds of the thousands who returned to prison each year in California, did so for technical violations.

These parole revocations were costing the state a fortune with no appreciable gain in public safety.

In 2009, in effort to slow down this revolving door—and its attendant cost to the taxpayer— and still protect public safety, the CDCR decided that a certain class of low-level prisoner would be eligible for non-revokable parole. The parolee would still get out of prison at the same time, and still be on parole, which means they could be searched at any time by law enforcement, but they could not be hauled back to prison unless they actually committed a new crime. Part of the idea was that parole supervision would be reserved for those who need it most, and that those “high control” cases would get better supervision since parole officers’ case loads would be lightened up to more manageable levels. (You can read more details here.)

The program kicked in last year.

None of this, however, has anything to do with “early release.” And, yes, the state does have a new early release program unrelated to its parole reform, but unlike what the alarmists are saying, “early” is a matter of a few weeks ahead of schedule, not years. (To put it another way, this means if someone who turns out to be a bad guy up-to-no-good gets early release, he’ll be committing his post release bank robbery in, say, May instead of July.)

What is a legitimate question—what we should be talking about-–is whether, due to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Lehnen should have been excluded from the non-revokable parole program and made more high control. We ought to be asking if someone—a parole officer— should have made certain that he stayed on his meds (if, indeed he was on bi-polar medication).

I’m betting—as is the very experienced criminal attorney I consulted as I was writing this—that the alleged killer went off his medication and had what amounts to a psychotic episode. And two people are dead as a consequence.

So, yes, there’s something important to talk about with this case. But please, let’s use actual facts when we have the discussion.


PS: IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT ROMERO has updated his story several times on Thursday evening to reflect some of what I’m talking about, as he continues to check on the facts of the matter. In other words, he too is trying to get to the bottom of things. But the supposedly expert sources who repeatedly misrepresent the facts….are not helping.

Posted in parole policy, prison policy, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

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