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Former Boston Prosecutor Gets Self Arrested in NY to Examine System…..Sheriff Admits to 80 Bad Hires, Talks Reform….LA County Plans to Lobby CA for Realignment $$$.

December 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Former Boston prosecutor Bobby Constantino decided to find out first hand what New York’s criminal justice system looked like from the perspective of a lawbreaker, and if he—as an upscale-looking white guy—would be treated differently than someone who looked less affluent and/or was non-white.

The answers Constantino got are both interesting to read and disturbing.

Here are some clips from Constantino’s story, written for the Atlantic.

Ten years ago, when I started my career as an assistant district attorney in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, I viewed the American criminal justice system as a vital institution that protected society from dangerous people. I once prosecuted a man for brutally attacking his wife with a flashlight, and another for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub. I believed in the system for good reason.

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.


I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me” on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.

As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.

I woke up the next morning and Fox News was reporting that unknown suspects had vandalized City Hall. I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done…


In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge—in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him—went over the prosecutor’s head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.

At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.

“Wait, what?” I blurted out. “This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?”

“Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.”

After the orientation, I went straight to my probation officer and requested permission to spend Christmas with my family in Massachusetts. I listened in disbelief as she denied my request—I’d worked with probation departments in several states, and I knew that regular family contact has been shown to reduce recidivism. My probation officer also refused to let me go home for Easter and birthdays……

Read the whole thing.


In a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca explained to the board members the broad strokes of the hiring practices that resulted in a list of questionable hires three years ago when the department merged with LA County’s Office of Public Safely—or OPS—and was asked to absorb what officers it could from that small county police force.

According to an LA Times investigation into the matter, out of 290 new hires, around 100 were inappropriate candidates for law enforcement. Some were droppingly inappropriate. like, for example, the woman who had a fight with her husband then, in a fit of pique, blasted away at the man with her service weapon as he frantically ran a zig-zag-pattern in order to dodge her bullets.

The supervisors were not at all thrilled with Baca’s one-and-a-quarter-page letter, which did not answer many of the question that the board deemed pertinent—namely how in the world did this happen? The letter mostly blamed the hires on retired undersheriff Larry Waldie. This was not an explanation that the board members appeared to find satisfying, particularly Supervisor Antonovich who made a motion that Baca be required to report again to the board in two weeks.

In the meantime, LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston talked to Assistant Sheriff Todd Rodgers about the matter and Rogers said that he and the sheriff admit that there had been 80 bad hires, but that reforms were being put into place to prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore reiterated to WitnessLA that former undersheriff Larry Waldie had been an extra layer in addition to the usual hiring protocols, and it was he who made the improper hiring selections.

“The sheriff takes full responsibility, and has decreed that we will do what is necessary to reform the system,” said Whitmore. “But it was Undersheriff Waldie who was in charge of that project.”

Former LASD commander Bob Olmsted, who is running against Baca in the 2014 sheriff’s race, said that from what he knows of the situation, the problems with department hiring practices are “systemic,” and not limited to merely those 80-100 problem hires from the OPS.

Olmsted also said he’d spoken to another retired undersheriff who told him that the sheriff would have had to sign off any and all people hired from the county police.

“All the paperwork absolutely would have gone straight to the sheriff,” Olmsted said.


In an LA Times editorial about the bad hires that ran on Tuesday morning before the board meeting, editorial board member Rob Greene writes that the hiring issues point to other problems in the department.

Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca had his hands full last week responding to the arrests of 18 of his current and former deputies amid a continuing investigation into abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County’s jails, so let’s hope he hasn’t forgotten that he is due to report today on the previous week’s scandal: the hiring of dozens of deputies with personnel records that showed lying, cheating, excessive force and irresponsible use of firearms.

The two matters aren’t related in any formal sense; none of those arrested Dec. 9 was among the group that moved over to the Sheriff’s Department in 2010 when the county’s public safety police force was dissolved. But it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to recognize a link between bad hiring practices and bad deputy conduct, especially if the sheriff’s hiring of those 280 public safety officers three years ago followed standard policy….


The serendipitously-named Luke Money of the Santa Clarita Signal reports about LA County’s determination to get a larger slice of California’s realignment dollars. Here’s a clip:

With state savings likely totaling more than $2 billion and county resources strained to provide adequate services for thousands of offenders, county supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to dole out more dough to fund the cost of the controversial state prison realignment program.

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided during their meeting Tuesday to request more funding from the state to help supplement services that have been strained by an influx of inmates under the 2011 law, which shifted responsibility for some criminals from the state to counties.

“Realignment resulted in a 25 percent increase in the jail population over the first two years of the program,” reads a board report. “The population count was 15,463 on Sept. 30, 2011, and 19,225 on Sept. 30, 2013.”

The state will likely save in excess of $2 billion as a result of realignment, according to Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, while sending out less than $1 billion to California’s 58 counties to help offset the cost of the prisoner shift.


On Tuesday, Probation Chief Jerry Powers presented an extensive two-year report on how realignment is going in LA County, which Powers said, gets 30 percent of the realignment prisoners. Among his points, Powers outlined some parts of the county’s approaches to the realignment challenges that are beginning to succeed, such as the use of “flash incarceration,” short jail terms of around 10 days, that are used for small infractions instead of parole revocation.

Allison Pari of KHTS AM Radio has more on Powers’ lengthy and comprehensive report:

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers opened the report by explaining that L.A. County is currently the only county in the state that has created a year two report on the results of AB 109.

He and the other presenters also emphasized that some of the data from year two is not complete, because those offenders released during 2013 may not have completed their probation or treatment.

During the first two years, more than 18,000 prisoners were released into the county under the Post-Release Community Supervision program, but the active probation population peaked at 10,300, according to the Probation Department’s full report, available here.

Powers said that of those 18,000 who have gone through the program so far, 1,900 have outstanding warrants, a similar ratio to other counties in the state.

He also said that flash incarcerations have significantly increased between years one and two–from more than 2,500 to more than 9,700–primarily because the Probation Department has become more comfortable with using this method of dealing with probation violators.

Flash incarcerations are seven to 10 day sentences given to AB 109 offenders for technical violations, such as failing to report to their probation officer.

Concerning recidivism, Powers said that the percentage of rearrests has been cut in half between years one and two– 43 percent rearrested vs. 21 percent rearrested…

Posted in Board of Supervisors, CDCR, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy, Realignment | 9 Comments »

Are Californians on Probation or Parole Committing the Majority of the State’s New Crimes?

January 23rd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


It has long been assumed by many law enforcement and corrections officials, politicians and pundits, that people on parole and probation are the biggest contributors to the overall crime rate. To put it another way, those under state or county supervision for a previous crime, account for a big, bad chunk of all new arrests.

We hear some version of this assumption whenever the topic of state prison realignment comes into the conversation.

But is it true?

The Chiefs of Police for Los Angeles, Redlands, Sacramento, and San Francisco (this list obviously includes the LAPD’s Charlie Beck), along with some other criminal justice experts and leading law enforcement officials in California, decided they’d like to find out. So in 2010 they commissioned a rigorous study to learn the reality of the matter.

Between then and now, researchers at the Council for State Governments Justice Center collected and matched more than 2.5 million arrest, parole, and probation records generated between January 1, 2008 and June 11, 2011, in those four different areas. Along with the four police forces, data and help was provided by four matching probation departments, the California Department of Corrections, and two sheriff’s department, most notably Lee Baca and the LASD.

The resulting report, which was released Tuesday afternoon, had some surprising results:


It turns out that a startling 78 percent of those arrested for a crime in these four California areas, between Jan. 2008 and June 2011, were not on either parole or probation.

And 62 percent of those arrested had no parole or local probation history at all.

That, of course, left 22 percent—or one out of every five arrestees—that came out of the parole/probation pool. Interestingly, the majority were on probation, not parole. And the crime those probationers or parolees were most likely to commit was drug related.

The time period covered by the 52-page study [which you can access here], stopped just short of when California’s prison realignment kicked in during October 2011, opening the door for a similar study to be done a year or two years from now, using this one as a baseline.


The percentages were even more dramatic when it came to adult violent felony arrests.
In Los Angeles, out of 51,749 violent felony arrests, 6,001—or 11.5 percent—of those arrested were on probation.

A far lower amount 3,653—or 7 percent—of those arrested for violent felonies in LA were on parole.

The remaining 42,095—or 81 percent—were not under any supervision.


The report has a lot more in the way of intriguing information for those who take the time to read it closely.

For instance, obviously, there is a “subset” of probationers and parolees who do commit more crimes and get rearrested—for drug, property and/or violent crimes.

So the question is, how successful are we in picking which people are the most likely to go off the legal rails again—and thus who needs the most supervision and help.

The answer turns out to be mixed. Weirdly, the systems in place for parole classification—designating the high risk people who need lots more controls, and those who are generally low risk, and all in between—turn out to be fairly accurate most of the time:

Of those on parole, the people who were labeled high risk were more likely to offend than lower risk people. Specifically, 51 percent of those parolees who were arrested were in the high risk category. The moderate risk category made up 33 percent of the parole re-arrests. Those labeled “low risk” accounted for 13 percent.

However when it came to those on probation in the various counties, all predictive powers and effective assessment tools seemed to go out the window. Only 5 percent of those probationers who were arrested for new crimes had been classified as high risk, 38 percent of the new arrestees were labeled medium risk, while 37 percent were labeled low risk.

San Francisco was the one exception. Their risk assessment methods paid off. Their arrestees were: 73 percent from the high risk category, 11 percent moderate, only 2 percent were labeled “low risk.”


In January 2010, CDCR instituted a parole supervision policy known as Non Revocable Parole.
The strategy was, to a large degree designed to lower the prison population because, for years, approximately 40 percent of those coming into California prisons were not coming in because they had been convicted of new crimes, but because they had violated a technical condition of their parole. These “conditions” were strictures that varied from testing dirty on a required drug test to showing up in the area of town where you weren’t allowed to be because it’s where your former gang hung out, never mind that your mom and your girlfriend also lived on those same blocks—plus a list of other infractions.

The idea of Non-Revocable Parole (or NRP) was to reserve that laundry list of ways that you could land back in prison for the high risk people who needed the structure the most, and lift it from the low-risk people who were then, it was hoped, were more likely to start just living their lives.

To be eligible for NRP, the parolee could not have a criminal conviction for any one of various serious offenses (sex offenses, murder, voluntary manslaughter, robbery, 1st degree burglary), and had to be assessed as low risk.

Releases of prisoners to NRP began in earnest in March 2010 and by October 2010 there were nearly 17,000 NRP parolees in California communities.

So, how did the NRPs do? Obviously, more study is needed, but contrary to The Sky Is Falling pronouncements from many, of the 170,336 adult arrests that occurred in the four jurisdictions during the 15-month period of the study that overlapped with the implementation of NRP, 216 arrests involved people on NRP. That’s under 2 percent.

Surely there is much room for improvement when it comes to screening for risk. And we need to become more effective at helping people successfully reroute the trajectories of their lives so as to avoid returning to prison.

But this study—The Impact of Probation and Parole Populations on Arrests in Four California Cities— is a good, smart, informative place to begin the next stage of work.

So a round of applause for the 4 Chiefs of Police and 2 Sheriffs who made it possible.


Here’s a clip from the column:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, parole policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 2 Comments »

Sen. Ted Lieu Says It Should Be a Felony if Parolees Cut Off GBS Devices

December 12th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

According to State Senator Ted Lieu,
around 800 California parolees who were assigned GBS monitoring have either cut off their devices, or never kept their appointments to get the things put on the first place.

With these GPS scofflaws in mind, Lieu told KPCC’s Rina Palta, that there needs to be a bigger, badder consequence for not wearing your GPS on when you’ve been assigned one. In January, Lieu plans to introduce a bill to fix the matter.

Here’s a clip from Palta’s story in which Lieu explains the problem:

“It is not a crime, it is a parole violation, and you will get up to 180 days in county jail,” Lieu said. He notes: “when you count in the overcrowded county jails and good time, sometimes they don’t serve any time or sometimes it’s just a few days.”

Under California’s realignment policy, most parole violations are no longer punished with prison time, to avoid overcrowding. But Senator Lieu wants to change the law in this case. He plans to introduce legislation next month to make it a felony to cut off a GPS monitor. Lieu says the threat of serious prison time would be a powerful deterrent.

Frankly, I completely agree. As we’ve made clear here at WLA, we believe that realignment is a positive step forward in much needed corrections and parole reform. BUT, there are parts of realignment that are going to need a lot of fine tuning, this business with the GBS devices being a prime example.

(Non-revokable parole is another important reform that still needs some rejiggering as this new proposal from the LA County Board of Supervisors indicates. But lets us hope that we do it with a scalpel, not a meat cleaver wielded in response to the latest crime. More on that soon. In the meantime, the Daily News has this report)

TUESDAY MORNING I WAS ON AIRTALK WITH LARRY MANTLE, briefly discussing Senator Lieu’s proposed bill.

You can find the podcast here. I’m in the second half of the segment, after my pal Frank Stoltze.

(However, as you will note, I was so stuffy-headed and miserably cold ridden that, at one point, I suddenly called Larry Mantle “Warren”—as in Olney. Note to self: Avoid doing live radio after taking large doses of over-the-counter cold medicine.)

Posted in parole policy, Realignment, Reentry | 5 Comments »

Continued LGBT Military Inequalities, Money Incentives for Corrections Facilities, and Dismissing Parole Violations

November 13th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A year after the landmark repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (and a day after Veteran’s Day), the LGBT military community—and their partners—are still faced with the harsh discrimination of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the continued ban on transgender servicemembers serving openly.

The above video was recently released by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Freedom To Marry.

Think Progress’ Zack Ford has the story. Here’s how it opens:

It has been more than a year since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented, ending a legacy of blatant discrimination in the U.S. military. Unfortunately, it did not mark the end of inequality. As the nation honors Veterans Day, various other policies continue to treat the LGBT community second-class citizens. For example, though gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers can now serve openly, the Defense of Marriage Act still prevents them and their families from receiving the same protections and benefits as their straight military brethren.

…In addition, the military still does not allow transgender individuals to serve openly, deeming them “disordered.” Given the American Psychiatric Association is declassifying trans identities as a disorder in the coming year, this could be an important opportunity to advocate for change within the military.


A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice takes a look at a new concept to help reduce prison recidivism called Performance Incentive Funding programs or (PIF)s. These PIFs provide funding incentives to local jurisdictions—in other words, cities and counties—to persuade them to provide services that keep men and women from going back to prison. The fewer inmates that return from any given county, the larger their PIF reward.

As it stands now, perversely, local jurisdictions have fiscal and political incentives to allow parolees to return to the state’s care, rather than the reverse. Vera charts how this new system can benefit public safety, both state and local budgets, and the actual human beings who would have otherwise been caught in the revolving prison door cycle.

Here are some clips from the Vera report:

America’s tough-on-crime sentencing policies are often cited as the primary reason the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Yet there is another contributing factor that is often overlooked: a structural flaw in the way most states fund their criminal justice systems that discourages local decision makers from supervising offenders in the community and makes it easier to send them to prison.

It is the state corrections agency that bears the cost of incarcerating people in prison. However, both the decision to send an offender to prison and the cost of keeping an offender in the community almost always rest with a different state agency or a local jurisdiction. This is true for either a new conviction or a revocation from probation or parole. In the eyes of local decision makers and in cases involving low-level offenders, sending someone to prison is all too often the preferred option because it saves the actual expense of supervision and avoids the political cost should an offender commit a serious crime while in the community.


PIF programs are premised on the idea that if the supervision agency or locality sends fewer low-level offenders to prison—thereby causing the state to incur fewer costs—some portion of the state savings should be shared with the agency or locality. With PIF, agencies or localities receive a financial reward for delivering fewer prison commitments through reduced recidivism and revocations that, in turn, must be reinvested into evidence-based programs in the community.

Here’s a clip from what the report has to say about the California PIF program:

In the first year of its PIF program, California experienced a 23-percent drop in prison commitments of felony probationers and a savings of almost $180 million. Nearly $88 million of the savings was distributed to county probation agencies to fund new or expanded supervision programs.


In an effort to combat the severe overcrowding in CA correctional facilities, next week, state corrections officials will consider releasing certain parole violators from state supervision.

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

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation intends to begin a massive review next week of more than 9,200 outstanding warrants, starting with individuals who were convicted of nonviolent crimes and absconded from supervision. Over the next eight months, parole field offices across the state will be given lists of missing felons, 200 at a time, to review and determine if retaining them on parole “would not be in the interest of justice.”

The mass purge is an attempt to ease the burden on counties in July, when the state hands off responsibility for parole revocations to local courts, said agency spokesman Jeffrey Callison. Weeding out cases that are years old, or of parolees nobody is looking for, will make it easier to focus on those who pose a threat, he said.

“It will not,” Callison said, “allow some parolees to ‘get off the hook.’”

“I have been told that discharging people is not the point of the exercise,” he said Friday.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While this program is potentially a good idea, the key to its success is wise triage—aka looking clearly at parolees’ entire records to determine who should be relieved from these warrants, and who still needs close supervision. In other words, the guy who has no violent convictions anywhere in his (or her) past, but who fails to report to his parole officer because he knows he’s going to test dirty for weed, might not be the guy we need to lock up for another 6 to 10 months. There are more productive approaches.

Nor do we really need to lock up the guy who failed to report because his brother-in-law offered him a job in Riverside, after he could find nothing in South LA where he grew up. Then when he couldn’t get his parole transferred from LA County to Riverside, he stopped reporting. (We’ve seen multiple cases like the two we just describe. Most parole officers have seen a lot more.) However, if a PO thinks the guy on his caseload is truly a danger to public safety, so should be kept under supervision, it would likely behoove us to listen.

Posted in LGBT, parole policy, prison | 1 Comment »

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’.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 »

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