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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 »

“Conservatives” and Prison Cost, Poisoned Prison Water, the Ruben Salazar Files…and More

February 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



NOW THAT SHERIFF BACA IS GOING TO RELEASE THE SALAZAR FILES TO REPORTERS AND SCHOLARS, AND THE OFFICE OF INDEPENDENT REVIEW REPORT IS IN, LA TIMES’ ROBERT LOPEZ EXPLAINS WHY THE BIG QUESTIONS ARE FAR FROM SETTLED

The LA Times Robert Lopez is writing a book about Ruben Salazar and he is one of those who has been pushing hard for the release of the Salazer files that have been held by the LA Sheriff’s Department for four decades.

On Tuesday, Lopez and KPCC’ Franks Stoltz were on the Larry Mantel Show talking about the case and what those boxes might and might not contain.


GROVER NORQUIST WANTS TO TALK PRISONS AND MONEY

I rarely find myself cheering for something Grover Norquist has written, but this Op Ed from the Orange County Register is dead on.

Conservatives pride themselves on relentlessly questioning government agencies: Is this program producing results? Do the results justify the cost? Can the project be done less expensively? These are typical conservative questions about education, pensions, health care and dozens of other government functions – except one: criminal justice.

The size and cost of America’s prisons has quadrupled in the past three decades. In states like California, the annual cost of incarceration is around $50,000 per inmate. When looking for reasons why California is going bankrupt, just multiply that figure by the 170,000 inmates that live in the state. Moreover, 34,000 California prisoners are serving life sentences as a result of the “three strikes” law, for which the state prison guards’ union lobbied intensely. Certainly, some violent criminals should be out after the first strike, but the law applies to many low-level, nonviolent offenders, too.

Criminal justice expenses continue to grow – even during a recession. For instance, Delaware’s Department of Corrections is seeking a 5 percent budget increase, while other agencies are desperately looking for ways to cut costs.

The costs of incarceration is worthwhile to the extent that it is the most cost-effective means of protecting the public; however, research indicates we have reached the point of diminishing returns.

Further, more prison spending provides less safety per dollar than other approaches…


PROP 36 IS THE LAW….BUT HAS NO MORE FUNDING (AND THIS IS A PROBLEM)

The Oakland Tribune has the story:

County officials who administer the state’s treatment-not-jail program for certain drug offenders are struggling with a lack of funding that’s not likely to improve, but advocates say ignoring the mandate simply isn’t an option.

Instead, officials are trying to figure out how they’ll continue to provide the same treatment without the money to pay for it.

Enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000 as Proposition 36, the law says first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders must be given the opportunity to receive substance-abuse treatment instead of jail time.

That “must” isn’t a suggestion; it would take another voter-approved ballot measure to undo it.

But Prop. 36 allocated $120 million per year for only five years, and as the state’s budget crisis worsened, the Legislature and governor declined to ante up. They set aside $108 million in 2008-09 but just $18 million in 2009-10, and then zeroed it out for this current fiscal year. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes no money for it in 2011-12.

A $45 million infusion of federal economic stimulus funds in 2009 is now all but gone, and the coffers are empty.

So, it’s a mandate with no money, but a mandate nonetheless: Someone who’s eligible and demands treatment can’t just be sent to jail……


CALIFORNIA MOM ASKS FOR CLEAN WATER FOR PRISONS

It doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask. Yeah, it’s prison. But nobody’s asking for bottled water, just running water that won’t actively poison you when you drink it.

Change.org has the details:

Blanca Gonzalez’s son spent years at California’s Kern Valley State Prison, where she says he was sickened by the foul water he was forced to drink – water that the state knows is contaminated with arsenic, a carcinogen that can cause serious skin damage and circulatory system problems. And she wanted to do something about it.

But where to start? For years California officials have been promising to fix the facility’s water problem – promising to provide its more than 5,000 inhabitants water that meets the standards of the EPA and World Health Organization. And for years they have failed to deliver, extending and then extending again their self-imposed deadlines for when they “anticipate” resolving the issue; indeed, just this year the supposed deadline for installing water treatment equipment has been extended from October 2011 to February 2012 – and then again to August 2012.

After reading an article last fall about Kern Valley State Prison’s dirty water, Gonzalez contacted your humble criminal justice editor here at Change.org, asking that I write more about the problem. And for weeks … well, I didn’t – hey, I’m a busy guy, alright? But after a few more friendly reminders, her persistence paid off. And now her campaign is drawing the attention of California’s top prison officials.

Since her petition was first featured here a few weeks ago, more than 2,100 people have joined Gonzalez and other mothers of sickened, incarcerated men in California in demanding that the state stop poisoning its prisoners with arsenic-laced water.


LIBYAN JOURNALIST VANISHES AFTER DEMONSTRATIONS BEGIN

The Committee to Protect Journalists has posted about the disappearance of Libyan journalist Atef al-Atrash,. His absence has many worried.

The Committee to Protect Journalists
is alarmed by the ongoing deterioration of conditions for the media in the Middle East, including the disappearance of Atef al-Atrash, a critical Libyan journalist, since anti-Qaddafi demonstrations began February 17. The Internet has been intermittently down since Saturday in the country, according to international news reports, and foreign journalists continue to be denied entry. Al-Jazeera’s signal in Libya remains jammed, according to the network. In Yemen, security forces confiscated the print run of an independent newspaper and at least one reporter was injured as demonstrations turned violent. And in Iraq, 50 gunmen reportedly shot up an independent television station while the staff of a local newspaper was forced to evacuate their offices.

The Libyan authorities and their supporters should know that violence against journalists reporting on political turmoil will not be tolerated,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “We are concerned for the safety of all journalists, in particular Atef al-Atrash.”

Al-Atrash disappeared after reporting live on Al-Jazeera from demonstrations in Benghazi on Thursday, the network reported. He also reported that “several journalists” had been detained in the second largest city of Libya but did not provide names.


The painting above is Frank Romero’s 1986 work, the Death of Rubén Salazar. It is free of my usual…um…artwork, because I cannot possibly scribble on Frank Romero.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Economy, parole policy, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Mass Incarceration…Prison Strike in Georgia…LA’s Homeless

December 12th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The January/February issue of American Prospect magazine
contains a special report on what has become a system of mass incarceration in the US.

The report points out that, right now, nearly 1 percent of the American adult population is imprisoned—a rate unprecedented in American history. Between 1980 and 2008, the US population grew 34 percent, while the prison population grew 375 percent.

Most of those locked up will be released. And a high percentage of those reentering our communities will offend again because the rehabilitation and re-entry policies we’re using are inadequate, nonexistent or, in many cases, aggressively counterproductive.

For most of you reading WitnessLA, this is not exactly new news. But what is interesting about this report is that it focuses on a series of strategies that could help the US might reduce its prison and parole population while still keeping a strong focus on public safety.

Take a look for yourself.


PEACEFUL STRIKE AT 7 GEORGIA STATE PRISONS CONTINUES

Prisoners at up to seven Georgia prisons have organized a nonviolent demonstration to protest living conditions et al in the state’s correctional institutions.

The strike, which was into its third day on Sunday, is expected to continue into Monday. (It is being billed as the largest prison strike in American history although I’ve not been able to independently verify that claim.)

Curiously, there is almost zip media coverage of the strike inside Georgia, save some by alternative media.

Monday, however, the New York times is running an article about how the strike was coordinated though the use of contraband cell phones.


LA TALKS ABOUT 5-YEAR PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS

Monday’s NY Times also has an article on LA’s plan to end homelessness within 5-years. (Or at least that’s what the planners hope).

Here’s how the story opens:

At a time when cities across the country have made significant progress over the past decade in reducing the number of homeless, in no small part by building permanent housing, the problem seems intractable in the County of Los Angeles.

It has become a subject of acute embarrassment to some civic leaders, upset over the county’s faltering efforts, the glaring contrast of street poverty and mansion wealth, and any perception of a hardhearted Los Angeles unmoved by a problem that has motivated action in so many other cities.

For national organizations trying to eradicate homelessness, Los Angeles — with its 48,000 people living on the streets, including 6,000 veterans, according to one count — stands as a stubborn anomaly, an outlier at a time when there has been progress, albeit modest and at times fitful, in so many cities…

.

Posted in parole policy, prison, prison policy, Probation | 4 Comments »

Prison Without Walls

August 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The September issue of Atlantic Magazine contains an article
that every state legislator—particularly California lawmakers—ought to read.

It’s called Prison Without Walls by Atlantic contributing editor Graeme Wood, and it is about high tech corrections strategies like GPS tracking devices and others.

Here are a couple of clips from the opening:

Incarceration in America is a failure by almost any measure. But what if the prisons could be turned inside out, with convicts released into society under constant electronic surveillance? Radical though it may seem, early experiments suggest that such a science-fiction scenario might cut crime, reduce costs, and even prove more just.

[SNIP]

GPS devices … are looking like an appealing alternative to conventional incarceration, as it becomes ever clearer that, in the United States at least, traditional prison has become more or less synonymous with failed prison. By almost any metric, our practice of locking large numbers of people behind bars has proved at best ineffective and at worst a national disgrace. According to a recent Pew report, 2.3 million Americans are currently incarcerated — enough people to fill the city of Houston. Since 1983, the number of inmates has more than tripled and the total cost of corrections has jumped sixfold, from $10.4 billion to $68.7 billion. In California, the cost per inmate has kept pace with the cost of an Ivy League education, at just shy of $50,000 a year.

This might make some sense if crime rates had also tripled. But they haven’t: rather, even as crime has fallen, the sentences served by criminals have grown, thanks in large part to mandatory minimums and draconian three-strikes rules — politically popular measures that have shown little deterrent effect but have left the prison system overflowing with inmates. The vogue for incarceration might also make sense if the prisons repaid society’s investment by releasing reformed inmates who behaved better than before they were locked up. But that isn’t the case either: half of those released are back in prison within three years. Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be “scared straight,” is actively counterproductive. Such conditions — and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault — typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory. Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

Devices such as the ExacuTrack, along with other advances in both the ways we monitor criminals and the ways we punish them for their transgressions, suggest a revolutionary possibility: that we might turn the conventional prison system inside out for a substantial number of inmates, doing away with the current, expensive array of guards and cells and fences, in favor of a regimen of close, constant surveillance on the outside and swift, certain punishment for any deviations from an established, legally unobjectionable routine. The potential upside is enormous. Not only might such a system save billions of dollars annually, it could theoretically produce far better outcomes, training convicts to become law-abiders rather than more-ruthless lawbreakers. The ultimate result could be lower crime rates, at a reduced cost, and with considerably less inhumanity in the bargain.

Moreover, such a change would in fact be less radical than it might at first appear. An underappreciated fact of our penitentiary system is that of all Americans “serving time” at any given moment, only a third are actually behind bars. The rest — some 5 million of them — are circulating among the free on conditional supervised release either as parolees, who are freed from prison before their sentences conclude, or as probationers, who walk free in lieu of jail time. These prisoners-on-the-outside have in fact outnumbered the incarcerated for decades. And recent innovations, both technological and procedural, could enable such programs to advance to a stage where they put the traditional model of incarceration to shame.

In a number of experimental cases, they already have. Devices such as the one I wore on my leg already allow tens of thousands of convicts to walk the streets relatively freely, impeded only by the knowledge that if they loiter by a schoolyard, say, or near the house of the ex-girlfriend they threatened, or on a street corner known for its crack trade, the law will come to find them. Compared with incarceration, the cost of such surveillance is minuscule—mere dollars per day—and monitoring has few of the hardening effects of time behind bars. Nor do all the innovations being developed depend on technology. Similar efforts to control criminals in the wild are under way in pilot programs that demand adherence to onerous parole guidelines, such as frequent, random drug testing, and that provide for immediate punishment if the parolees fail. The result is the same: convicts who might once have been in prison now walk among us unrecognized—like pod people, or Canadians.

There are, of course, many thousands of dangerous felons who can’t be trusted on the loose. But if we extended this form of enhanced, supervised release even to just the nonviolent offenders currently behind bars, we would empty half our prison beds in one swoop…. [S]ome would offend again. But then, so too do those convicts released at the end of their brutal, hardening sentences under our current system. And even accepting a certain failure rate, by nearly any measure such “prisons without bars” would represent a giant step forward for justice, criminal rehabilitation, and society….

Read on. It’s worth it.


OLD GUY INMATES

Then, while you’re on a roll, read this piece from the AP about about aging prisoners.

Here’s a clip:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in parole policy, prison, prison policy | 10 Comments »

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