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After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

A Good Prison Turns Bad…..Why Doesn’t CA Collect Usable Criminal Justice Data?….How Solano County Helps Lawbreaking Kids….and More.

November 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WHEN A “MODEL” PRISON BREAKS BAD

What has caused so many of our nation’s prisons to abandon any attempt at rehabilitation in order to keep large numbers of prisoners in isolation, or near isolation, in “Special Housing Units” (SHUs} or in “Special Management Units,” (SMUs)?

Justin Peters, writing for Slate, looks at that question with an analysis of what happened to the the prison at Lewisburg, PA, that in the 1930s started out as a model of innovation, and that now typifies the trend toward SHUs and SMUs.

Here’s a clip:

Last month, I wrote about Marion, the notorious federal prison that helped pave the way for all the supermax-style facilities that are so popular today. Though Marion was under lockdown for an astounding 23 years, the prison itself became a medium-security facility in 2006, and is no longer a repository for the most troublesome prisoners in the federal system. That honor arguably now belongs to USP Lewisburg, a Pennsylvania facility where violent or obstreperous federal inmates get sent for ostensibly short-term “attitude adjustment” stints. (Before transferring out, inmates are expected to complete a four-stage, 18-to-24-month resocialization program that can actually last much longer than that.) USP Lewisburg might be the worst place in the federal prison system, so bad that some inmates there actually dream of being transferred to the famously isolating Supermax facility in Florence, Colo.

A recent article from the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space helps explain how Lewisburg got that way. The article, by Bucknell University geography professor Karen M. Morin, recounts the transformation of USP Lewisburg from a progressive facility to an isolating and restrictive “Special Management Unit,” or SMU—a shift that mirrors the evolution of the U.S. prison system in general. (Morin is also a member of the Lewisburg Prison Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for prisoners’ rights.) Whereas model prisons 75 years ago were designed to rehabilitate prisoners, the best-known prisons today seem specifically designed to drive their inmates mad.

Read on.

Also read Peters’ October 23 story in Slate about how, in 1983, two horrific murders at the United States Penitentiary near Marion, Ill, ushered in America’s infatuation with Supermax prisons.

In addition, take a look at the report released earlier this year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of a Congressional committee that wanted to know more about why the US Bureau of Prisons was making increasing use of SHUs and SMUs, and whether all this isolation made the prisons safer.

In their report, the GAO stated it wasn’t at all sure that widespread use of isolation did increase institutional safety and pointed to the five states that had reduced their reliance on the segregated units.

“While these states have not completed formal assessments of the impact of their segregated housing reforms, officials from all five states told us there had been no increase in violence after they moved inmates from segregated housing to less restrictive housing. In addition, Mississippi and Colorado reported cost savings from closing segregated housing units and reducing the administrative segregation population.”


WHY BIG DATA MATTERS FOR CALIFORNIA’S CRIMINAL AND JUVENILE JUSTICE POLICIES

This is one of those issues that one would hope would be obvious:: In order to make good criminal and juvenile justice policy (or any kind of policy, for that matter) we need good numbers—specifically, we need stats that tell us which policies work, and which do not.

Yet, incredibly, all too often, lawmakers and others fail to bother.

Take, for instance, the matter of realignment. For all the money, stress and time spent on the state’s two-year-old prison realignment policy, there was no provision in the law for any kind of evaluation to determine what part of realignment worked—either on a statewide level, or in the individual counties—and what did not.

Yes, some federal dollars and foundation money has found its way to Stanford, allowing Joan Petersilia and company to do limited research. But it isn’t the kind of money needed for meaningful programatic evaluation. So, in its most recent report, Stanford was left to make do by asking various “stakeholders’ around the state—law enforcement, probation, district attorneys and such—for their opinions of how things were going with realignment. (And we wrote about the resulting report earlier this month.] All very well and good. But—as Petersilia would be the first to point out—opinions are not numbers.

Brian Goldstein (of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) elaborates further on the numbers issue in his short but must read essay.

Here’s a clip:

Data analysis is the basic metric to measure the success or failure of public policy. Absent useable data, researchers, policymakers, and the general public cannot accurately judge whether an approach is working and must make uneducated guesses. For example, national polling finds that people often mistakenly exacerbate crime trends. In 2011 a majority of Americans believed crime was getting worse as the country was experiencing a steady 15-year decline. Crime data is the only way to fight the undue influence of misperception and anecdotal evidence.

Corporate America recognizes the need to develop long-term strategies for collection and utilization of data. Books on “Big Data” top bestseller lists and statisticians, such as Nate Silver, have well-deserved influence over electoral politics, business, and health practices. Unfortunately, government has been slow to use data analysis for decision-making.

Data collection standards remain a central issue in California-albeit one that rarely gets the attention it certainly deserves. California’s data collection systems, specifically in the criminal and juvenile justice field, demands continued attention and resources to best serve our state.

Specifically, Goldstein points out the failure to collect usable data that plagues California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC)—AKA the board that is specifically tasked by state law with such data gathering. To wit:

“The [BSCC] board shall seek to collect and make publicly available up-to-date data and information reflecting the impact of state and community correctional, juvenile justice, and gang-related policies and practices enacted in the state…” California Penal Code Section 6024-6031.6.

So do they?

Goldstein says, No. Not really.

In March 2013, the BSCC released the Third Annual Report to the Legislature on the Youthful Offender Block Grant. The report tracks YOBG expenditures, with a total $93.4 million given to California counties in FY 2011-12. However, with the release of the report, the BSCC admits significant challenges in tracking performance outcomes. They note,

The nature of the data collected precludes our ability to draw inferences about cause and effect relationships between services and outcomes….

Collecting unusable data is unacceptable. Governor Brown, state legislators, and policy advocates must ensure that the BSCC has the staffing, resources, and leadership necessary to meet its mandate on data collection.

Yep. What he said.


INNOVATIVE SOLANO COUNTY FINDS SMART WAYS TO HELP HIGH RISK LAW BREAKING KIDS

Speaking of numbers: The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) has just released a new report that looks at the innovative juvenile programs in Solano County that specifically address high risk youth.

In the report, CJCJ analyzes seven years of data to determine how Solano’s programs have affected the post lock-up outcomes of the kids they served. The report also compares Solano’s cost per kid with those of the state.

Here’s a clip from a story on Solano’s programs by Selena Teji, CJCJ’s Communications and Policy Analyst:

…In 1959, Solano County dedicated itself to taking responsibility for its high-risk youth. Fouts Springs Youth Facility was built as a regional alternative to reliance on the state youth correctional system, and it accepted youth who had serious, violent delinquent histories and who had failed to successfully complete other placements. The decision to create a local custody option for high-risk youth was developed out of a recognition that youth eventually return to their communities, which made reentry planning and aftercare essential components of effective juvenile justice programming. Unfortunately, the state has not been able to provide adequate reentry services to the youth in its care due to the sparsity of its facilities and parole services.

A new study of youth served by Fouts Springs from 2005 to 2011 shows that not only was the program more successful than the state facilities, with a 35 percent recidivism rate compared to the state’s 75 percent recidivism rate, but it was also significantly cheaper to operate. Fouts Springs cost approximately $32,100 per youth for its average length of stay, whereas an average placement in the state youth correctional facilities costs around $778,500. While counties paid a nominal $213 per month to commit youth to the state facilities until 2012 (when a larger flat rate fee was introduced), a commitment to Fouts Springs would set a county back $4,200 per month. The fiscal disincentive paired with the decrease of youth crime statewide lessened the demand for a regional program and resulted in the closure of Fouts Springs in 2011.

Yet, Solano County has continued to aggressively pursue adaptable, individually-focused, holistic approaches to serving justice-involved youth…

Read the rest of the story at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


$50,000 REWARD GOES TO $100K FOR INFORMATION REGARDING HIT & RUN DEATH OF POPULAR LA COUNTY PROBATION OFFICER

The Los Angeles City Council put up the first $50,000 and now LA County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina pushed for another $50,000 to be added to the pot, in the hope of uncovering information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver who caused the death of a well-like LA County Probation officer, high school coach, and father of three, Kenneth Hamilton last month.

CBS-2 News has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Kenneth Hamilton, 54, was leaving his job at the Eastlake Juvenile Facility around 6 a.m. on Oct. 28 when he was hit at the intersection of Soto Street and Lancaster Avenue in Boyle Heights.

He died instantly, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

“Someone out there knows something, saw something or may even know the driver who fled,” Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said. “The reward money is a reminder that Los Angeles has not forgotten, the LAPD has not forgotten and that this crime must be solved and the driver brought to justice.”

Police identified the suspect vehicle as a late 1990s silver four-door Honda Civic DX from a side mirror that was sheared off in the crash.

“This is like losing one of our own,” LAPD Det. Michael Kaden said.

Anyone with information was asked to contact Det. Kaden at (213) 972-1837.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation, solitary | 1 Comment »

Much Awaited Stanford Study Recommends 4 Important Realignment Fixes

November 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


NEW STANFORD STUDY HAS 4 RECOMMENDED FIXES FOR REALIGNMENT

The passage of California’s Public Safety Realignment Act—AB 109—triggered what criminal justice experts describe as the most sweeping correctional experiment in recent history. Put into place just over two years ago, realignment transferred responsibility for the majority of our lower-level offenders from the state to California’s 58 counties.

By and large, realignment is a good and necessary idea. The previous system was costly, inefficient, and staggeringly ineffective when it came to fulfilling the task of returning people back to their communities better able to be law abiding residents.

Plus there was the matter of the federal court mandate to reduce the population of the state’s drastically overcrowded prisons by roughly 25% within two years.

However—and this is a big however—when the law was passed, it was, to a great degree, rushed into being in reaction to pressure from those federal judges. This meant that some parts of AB 109 were designed a lot better and more thoughtfully than other parts.

In other words, it is a system that is need of some improvement.

Regrettably, the state legislature has been unable to stop its political posturing along enough agree on what those improvements should look like.

That is why many were glad to see the newly released study examining the “intended and unintended effects” of realignment, conducted by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, the research team led by the exceptionally smart Dr. Joan Petersilia.

In the course of the study—called Voices From the Field: How California Stakeholders View Public Safety Realignment— researchers interviewed police, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and parole agents, victim advocates, offenders and social service representatives.

And then they used that information to formulate 4 very sensible recommendations that will go a long way in fixing the most obvious problems that have surfaced in the realignment system.

The recommendations are as follows:

1. Allow criminal history to be considered when determining if the county or the state will supervise a parolee.

This is a no brainer. As it is, for state parolees leaving prison, only their current conviction offense is considered when determining if they will be placed in supervision with county probation, or whether they will stay with state parole. This means that certain people have been classified as non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenders—the N3′s, as they are called—and thus handed over to the various counties for supervision, even when they have convictions for serious violent crimes in their past.

We need a law that allows for more accurate triage.

2. County jail sentences should be capped at a maximum of three years.

County jails were constructed to house inmates for a maximum stay of one year. Putting people in jail with sentences of five, six, seven years is inappropriate and helps nobody.

It overcrowds jails, and it means that the inmates don’t have access to programming that prisons typically provide and jails, in general, do not—things like job training, exercise yard, classes, drug rehab and the like. In short, it defeats one of primary purposes of realignment—namely rehabilitation.

3. Certain repeated, technical violations should warrant a prison sentence.

We agree, within reason. However we emphatically do not want the state to return to the bad old days when most people returning to prison were being sent back for penny ante technical violations of their parole. That’s one of the things that got us into into the overpopulation mess in the first place.

However, sex offenders who merrily snip off their electronic monitors and abscond from supervision need to know that actions have consequences. They should go back to prison, not be given a few days in jail.

4. Create a statewide tracking database for offenders under supervision in the community.

This is a practical matter. It used to be that people released from state prison into the oversight of parole were all tracked by the same state database. Now all the realignment folks released into the care of country probation are no longer tracked by the state but are, instead, tracked by the various counties—which leads to a general mess.

Bottom line, all in all these are good recommendations if done correctly (and not regressively)—particularly the first three.

But they are only part of the picture. What the report also emphasizes is the necessity for each county to step up right now and use realignment as an opportunity to put into operation smart rehabilitative programs that can help lower the state’s awful recidivism rates:

The Legislature is giving California’s 58 counties more than $1 billion annually to support Realignment, and encouraging them to invest in locally run, evidence-based rehabilitation programs. Given California’s recent inability to control recidivism despite its enormous investment in imprisonment, policymakers are banking on counties to do a better job.

For a nation seeking new correctional approaches after the costly and arguably unproductive era of mass incarceration, California represents a high-stakes test kitchen. Realignment is anchored in the theory that by managing lower-level offenders in locally run, community-based programs using evidence-based practices, the state will achieve improved public safety outcomes by helping more former felons lead crime-free lives. Will Realignment help the state reduce its 67% recidivism rate, nearly twice the national average?

This is a critical question that has yet to be answered.


NOTE: This study is one in a series by Petersilia and her researchers. We’ll have a report on a second Stanford study later this week.)


Posted in prison policy, Realignment | No Comments »

California Freeing Woman Who Killed Pimp at 16, Teen’s Death Points Back to Defeated Bill…and More

October 28th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SARA KRUZAN, WOMAN WHO WAS SENTENCED TO LWOP FOR KILLING HER PIMP AT 16, RELEASED ON PAROLE

Late Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown chose not to block a parole board’s decision to release Sara Kruzan. At age seventeen, Kruzan received 25-to-life without the possibility of parole for killing her pimp—a man who began grooming her for child prostitution when she was just eleven years old.

The Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 shooting death of George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She contended that he sexually abused her and had groomed her since she was 11 to work for him as a child prostitute.

Her case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to soften harsh life sentences for juveniles.

“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”

Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube [above].

The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.

“Given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive,” the governor wrote in his commutation message, “it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age.”

This January, a Riverside judge further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.


TRAGIC DEATH OF 13-YEAR-OLD CALLS ATTENTION TO FAILED REPLICA GUN LEGISLATION

Last Tuesday, a Sonoma County deputy fatally shot thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez who was holding a pellet gun that the officer mistook for an assault rifle. This heartbreaking death is calling attention to failed a California bill that would have required replica guns like the one Andy was holding to be made of transparent or neon plastic. The bill, supported by LA Police Chief Charlie Beck, was defeated with help from the National Rifle Association and pellet and paintball gun vendors.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper has detailed emotional protests alleging excessive force by Sonoma County law enforcement after a sheriff’s deputy on Tuesday fired at teenager Andy Lopez, killing him. Deputies came across the boy in his “wine country” community around 3:15 p.m. as he was walking down a road, on his way home, carrying a pellet gun fashioned to closely resemble an AK-47. The pellet gun belonged to a friend.

Taking cover behind vehicle doors, deputies told the boy, whose back was to them, to drop what they believed was a real gun. Andy began to turn toward them, according to law enforcement officials. A deputy reportedly thought the boy was raising the gun and fired. Andy was hit seven times, according to reports.

In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity reported on how pressure from retail stores and the National Rifle Association helped defeat a bill by Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, who came up with the proposal in response to similar police shootings of boys playing with replica guns.

The bill would have required replica guns like the one Andy was carrying be made with transparent bodies or in certain neon colors. The measure had the support of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who invoked the tragic 2010 shooting of another 13-year-old boy who was paralyzed when L.A. police officers came upon boys playing with toy guns and ended up shooting one.

“Backers said the measure (de Leon’s) was designed to try to prevent shootings of innocent young people by police officers who have to make split-second decisions,” the Center’s story said.


LA TIMES READERS DISTURBED BY TOP CALIFORNIA PRISON PSYCHIATRIST’S CLAIMS

In a story last Wednesday on impending policy changes regarding the use of pepper spray on mentally ill prisoners in California, the LA Times’ Paige St. John noted that California’s senior prison psychiatrist Dr. John Lindgren testified in front of a federal judge that he thought mentally ill inmates would have no memory of being pepper sprayed and likely have a higher pain tolerance than other prisoners. (We linked to St. John’s earlier story on the issue, here.)

On Sunday, the LA Times published several letters from readers outraged by the prison psychiatrists claims. Here is the first:

It is distressing to read a correctional psychiatrist’s assertion that psychotic prisoners “would have no memory” of being repeatedly pepper-sprayed and “have a higher than average threshold for pain or noxious stimuli.”

The claim that psychotic illness would prevent a person from remembering physical pain has no basis in science. Regarding pain thresholds, a growing body of literature documents post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in psychotic people subjected to excessive force.

Since the defunding of public psychiatry in the 1980s, prisons have increasingly played a custodial role for people who are severely mentally ill. As a society, we have chosen to treat such people as criminals first and patients second. The results: huge bills, little healing and the brutality The Times describes.

Thomas R. Blair, MD

Los Angeles


CALIFORNIA STARTS MOVING INMATES TO PRIVATE PRISONS

The state has begun the transfer of prisoners to private prison facilities in an effort to comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population by about 9000 inmates before a now twice-extended deadline. (Backstory: here.)

(We are unclear on why there is a need to start moving prisoners this far in advance of the deadline and a decision on the part of the judges as to whether California will ultimately be given a three-year extension.)

Katie Orr has the story over on KPBS. Here’s a small clip:

James Black, with the GEO group that operates the facilities said GEO’s prisons must meet the same standards required for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“All of our facilities are ACA accredited, American Correctional Association accredited. We still operate under the oversight of the entity that we are contracted with. So we still operate under, basically, CDCR oversight,” Black said.

Black said California is paying GEO $60 per inmate per day. He expects all 2,100 transfers to be complete by the beginning of December. The inmates require medium-level security.


BY THE WAY…

Jack Leonard of the LA Times has an interesting story about inmates falsely claiming homelessness to avoid home detention that is worth checking out. (We’re looking into the issue ourselves, and will likely have something on the topic soon, so stay tuned.)

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LWOP Kids, Mental Illness, prison policy | 1 Comment »

ABC 7 to Report Sheriff Baca Acts as Pitchman for Health Supplement Company….and More

September 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



According to an upcoming report on ABC 7 (appearing Monday at 11 pm) Sheriff Lee Baca has been acting as a pitchman
for a health supplement company called Yor Health.

(NOTE: The videos that were posted here and here, suddenly vanished during the day on Monday after this story ran, and more reporters began inquiring. They showed Baca as a keynote speaker addressing thousands of Yor Life devotees and sales people at the company’s 2010 annual conference. ABC 7 also reports on Baca’s most recent go round at the company’s September 2013 sales conference earlier this month. Videos from that conference, that had been posted on Yor Health’s site, have also been blocked from public view.)

We understand that ABC 7 has been digging deeply into various aspects of the sheriff’s pitchman activities at Yor Health,—including the question of what if any financial arrangements may have been made in return for Baca’s hawking of the company’s products.

We suspect that the report will also look into the ethics of an elected official pitching for a profit making concern such as Yor Health.

We’ll link to the network’s online report after the segment with Marc Brown airs.

In the meantime, it is interesting to note that the Yor Life sales strategy is described by its founder Dennis Wong as “network marketing.”

Yet, according to other reports, like this one by Bradley Cooper for the NY Sun, Wong has displayed a liking for multilevel marketing and that, around ten years ago, Wong was charged by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly engaging in an illegal pyramid scheme. Wong and his partner settled with the FTC, and the settlement, among other strictures, “bars them from participating in any prohibited marketing scheme, including any business that operates as a pyramid scheme.”

While we’ve seen no indication that Wong and Yor Life’s business strategy is in any way illegal, complaints about the company’s multi-level marketing efforts have surfaced on various sites the web (such as this one and this one).

In any case, be sure to tune in at 11 pm for ABC 7′s full story on Sheriff Lee Baca as pitchman.


UPDATE: Here’s a link to the broadcast, for those who didn’t get a chance to see it. Plus we have a fuller rundown in WLA’s Monday post by Taylor Walker.


ONE MILLION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KIDS ABSENT EACH YEAR IN CALIFORNIA SAYS CA AG

In an alarming report released Monday by California Attorney General, Kamala Harris outlines a truancy crisis that is costing the state a fortune in funding, and creating a damaging achievement gap for many of the state’s children.

The AP’s Robert Jablon has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

California must act to reduce rampant truancy that saw an estimated 1 million elementary students absent in the last school year and may cost the state billions of dollars through increased crime and poverty, according to a study released Monday by the state attorney general’s office.

“The empty desks in our public elementary school classrooms come at a great cost to California,” the report said.

The report, scheduled for release at an anti-truancy symposium in Los Angeles, said children have unexcused absences from school for a number of reasons, including family issues, neighborhood safety concerns and bullying. It called for a sweeping battle against absenteeism that brings together parents, educators, lawmakers, law enforcement and community groups.

“The findings are stark. We are failing our children,” the report’s executive summary concluded….


LA’S CITY ATTORNEY GOES AHEAD WITH ECHO PARK GANG INJUNCTION

There has been strong advocacy pro and con about the new gang injunction in Echo Park that has just received court approval.

The LA Times Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Los Angeles County court last week granted a permanent injunction against six gangs in Echo Park and its surrounding neighborhoods, according to the city attorney’s office.

The injunction prohibits known members of the gangs from associating with each other in public, possessing firearms or narcotics, or possessing alcohol in public, officials said. It also prohibits gang members from possessing aerosol paint containers, felt-tip markers and other items that can be used to apply graffiti.

The gangs named in the injunction are the Big Top Locos, Crazys, Diamond Street Locos, Echo Park Locos, Frogtowns and Head Hunters.

“We’ve got to be tough on violent gang activity, and gang injunctions such as this one … are an important step,” Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a statement.

The city has 45 other active gang injunctions, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The city’s lawyers filed the Echo Park injunction in June. It creates a 3.8-square-mile “safety zone” in Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Historic Filipinotown and portions of Silver Lake, court documents say.

The injunction — a civil suit that seeks a court ruling declaring a gang a public nuisance — also includes Echo Park Lake and Dodger Stadium


AND MORE ON THE STATE’S PRISON OVERCROWDING CRISIS

We didn’t want you to miss the LA Times editorial on the latest wrinkle in the state’s prison overcrowding crisis and what to do about it. Here’s a clip:

The three federal judges who have ordered California to dramatically reduce its prison population have now pushed back their deadline by 30 days. The delay is both less and more than it seems.

It’s less, because it’s nothing close to the three extra years that Gov. Jerry Brown said he would need to reduce overcrowding and to keep the number of inmates capped. Instead of facing a Dec. 31 compliance date, the governor and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation now have until late January. That’s not enough time to reduce crowding by attrition, or even by assigning newly convicted felons to leased cells in and outside of California.

But it’s also more, or at least it could be. It’s a signal from the judges that they believe, perhaps for the first time since the reduction order was handed down four years ago, that California may be ready to devote considerable thought and resources to reducing the flow of felons into the system….

We agree. And may we step up to the plate.

Posted in CDCR, City Attorney, Civil Liberties, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Gangs, LASD, prison, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca | 19 Comments »

LA Supes Vote $75 Mil for Kern County Jail….Brown Gets a Mini-Extension on Prison Problem…. More on the LASD Deputy & the 7 Shootings…

September 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS VOTE TO GIVE BACA $75 MILLION TO SEND INMATES TO KERN COUNTY LOCK-UP

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to give Sheriff Lee Baca $75 million over a 5-year period in order for him to ship 500 county jail inmates to a jail facility in the town of Taft in Kern County.

Speaking for the LASD, Chief Eric Parra presented the need for the money and the out-of-county jail contract as answering a pressing need for more jail space to prevent dangerous inmates from being released after serving only a fraction of their sentences—a policy that the sheriff has been employing for around a decade, but that now has quite rightly attracted notice and concern.

The vote came after last week’s approval of another $25 million to send 500 jail inmates to fire camps—a strategy that at least has rehabilitative and job training elements.

Some of those experts and advocates who opposed the Taft jail plan brought up the fact that the sheriff and the board of supervisors have declined to push for the use of pretrial release and the strategy known as split sentencing-—both of which have been used in other California counties to lower their jail populations in the wake of AB109.

ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg reminded the board about the county-funded Vera Institute report on jail overcrowding, which found that, with the use of judicious pretrial release of certain inmates waiting for their cases to be adjudicated, the department could immediately lower the jail population substantially.

“One of the reports by Vera was that the pretrial system in LA was broken,” said Eliasberg, “and that there were 700 or more low-level offenders in the jail who would present little risk to community but who could not make bail. This board,” he said, “with one stroke of the pen could give the sheriff’s department the authority to release those pretrial inmates to electronic monitoring. You’re getting 500 beds at Taft. You could get 700 beds with one stroke of the pen, one motion of this board.”

Eliasberg also pointed out that this pre-trial strategy was already being used successfully in San Diego and Riverside along with seven other California counties.

Additional speakers pointed to the fact that, unlike most other California counties, LA County is making almost no use of “split-sentencing,” the newly instituted incarceration and reentry strategy where the inmate serves part of his or her sentence in jail, and the remainder in the community under close supervision by the probation department with the goal to reintegrate successfully into their lives, and not end up reoffending. (Split-sentencing also requires participation in certain rehabilitative programs.)

In the end, the requisite three supes voted for the $75 million/Taft Jail plan, with Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky abstaining in the hope that they could delay the vote for a week or four in order to more fully consider other options. But no luck.

Worry about dangerous inmates being released to the countryside prevailed, and the purse strings were opened—nevermind that there were far better alternatives available than those presented in the false choice between more jail cells or the ridiculously early release of prisoners by the sheriff.

An opportunity sadly missed.


JERRY BROWN GETS 30 DAYS BREATHING SPACE TO TRY TO WORK OUT A PRISON POP REDUCTION DEAL WITH ALL THE PLAYERS

The federal judges overseeing California’s requirement to lower the state’s prison population just gave Governor Jerry Brown 30 more days after the December 31 deadline in order to try to hammer out a long term solution.

Here’s a clip from Paige St. John’s story for the LA Times:

Three federal judges have given California Gov. Jerry Brown a 30-day extension on their order to reduce prison crowding, buying time for confidential talks between lawyers for the state and those representing inmates.

The order, delivered Tuesday afternoon, was well-received by prisoners’ lawyers, who had largely been left out of negotiations between Brown and the Legislature over prison-crowding solutions.

“We’re always willing to try and negotiate an agreement that will benefit the state and the prisoners,” said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office. He said he did not believe a one-month delay in reducing prison crowding would make a big difference in the 23-year-old litigation.

Brown’s lawyers had asked the federal courts for a three-year delay in the Dec. 31 deadline to remove roughly 9,600 inmates from California’s overcrowded prison system, where medical and psychiatric care is so poor that incarceration has been deemed unconstitutionally cruel. The governor offered to use that time to invest in community probation and rehabilitation programs, with the aim of reducing the number of repeat offenders being sent to prison.


MORE ON THAT SHERIFF’S DEPUTY, HIS SEVEN SHOOTINGS AND HOW HE GOT BACK ON PATROL

As readers likely remember, in a startling story last week, the LA Times reported that Michael Gennaco of the Office of Independent Review wrote the LA County Board of Supervisors about his concern over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who had just been involved in his seventh shooting, this time a fatal one.

According to Gennaco, Deputy Anthony Forlano, who had been put on desk duty for two years after his 2011 shooting number six, was returned to field duty by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in April of this year. A few months later, the deputy and his partner shot a seventh suspect, this time fatally.

Gennaco noted that, of the deputies first six shootings, three involved unarmed suspects.

But, whether or not all Forlano’s shootings were righteous, the sheer number of shootings is alarmingly unprecedented, at least according to the collective institutional memories of all the members of law enforcement—LASD AND LAPD, both—-with whom we’ve thus far spoken in the last few days. “At least I can’t think of anyone with that kind of number,” said a knowledgable LAPD source.

Mr. Tanaka repeatedly denied to the press that he’d been the one to send the deputy back into the field, but said he gave the decision to Forlano’s supervisor, Captain Robert Tubbs.

(Tanaka also said he’d been the person to initially bench Forlano, which according to department spokesman Steve Whitmore, was not the case. Whitmore said that the deputy had been taken out of the field by a panel of command staffers. )

Sheriff Baca, meanwhile, said he knew nothing of the decision to return Forlano to patrol.

It turns out, however, that Tanaka reportedly did unilaterally give the order for Forlano to go back to patrol.

In fact, we have learned of the existence of two emails sent between Forlano and Tanaka on April 26 of this year, both referring to a meeting the day before (April 25) between the deputy and the then-undersheriff.

The first email sent in the morning of the 26th, is from Forlano thanking Tanaka for meeting with him and getting him off the desk duty and back to work in the field—-or words to that effect.

Tanaka answers a few hours later, and gives the deputy a verbal slap on the back, writing, in essence, that he believes that Forlano will make the department proud.

The emails reveal several interesting things.

First there is the timing.

If you remember, Tanaka was forced into retirement by the sheriff on March 6, 2013. Although Tanaka was still technically employed by the department until August first, his falling out with Baca was reportedly severe enough that he was rarely in the LASD’s headquarters after the first couple of weeks of March.

Moreover, in the fall of 2012, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence recommended that Baca removed Tanaka from any oversight of the jails or of patrol, the sheriff assured the board of supervisors that his undersheriff was now only overseeing the budget.

Clearly this was not the case—as evidenced by Tanaka’s actions with Anthony Forlano in April.

It is alarming that neither the sheriff, nor anyone else, seemed to know that Mr. Tanaka was still taking upon himself such significant decisions—despite assurances to the contrary—and doing so, as has been his pattern, by stepping outside the chain of command, without employing any rigorous protocol or process whatsoever.

“So it was determined that he was field ready, based on no objective criteria other than a conversation,” said Mike Gennaco.

One wonders in what other ways the former undersheriff, now candidate for LA County Sheriff, selected himself as the decider, with no one able or willing to stop him.

We are thankful that the sheriff’s department, with the OIR’s urging, plans to create a sensible system for dealing with such situations as Forlano’s. It is in the best interest of the deputy and the community that such protections be put into place.

Had they existed last April, it is possible a man would be locked up, but not dead and a deputy’s career would be recalibrated, but not be shattered.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD SAYS THAT A STRONG INSPECTOR GENERAL MAY DO BETTER IN OVERSEEING THE LASD THAN A STANDING COMMISSION

The LA Times editorial board argues that now is not the time for a new commission to oversee the sheriff’s department, that an independent inspector general could have a much stronger effect.

We’re still debating the matter, but editorial board writer, Sandra Hernandez makes many points well worth considering.

Here’s clip:

….The fact is, there are already a number of people and offices overseeing the Sheriff’s Department, but they lack authority. The supervisors have a special counsel who has repeatedly issued reports but who does not have the power to force a discussion. There’s an Office of Independent Review, but it too often serves as an advisor to the sheriff. And the ombudsman, created to handle citizens’ complaints, fails to regularly perform that job. The jails commission noted that too often the Sheriff’s Department has only “paid lip-service to those oversight bodies.” The proposed inspector general’s office would consolidate the functions of those other offices.

No doubt, some of the supervisors will argue that any watchdog agency will have only limited influence over Sheriff Lee Baca because he is a directly elected official. It’s true that it is the voters, not the supervisors or any other overseer, who ultimately decide whether Baca stays or goes. But a strong inspector general, whose office is adequately funded and staffed, could have a profound impact on the sheriff by maintaining a public spotlight on the problems in his office….

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Los Angeles County, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

After 59 Days, California’s Historic Prison Hunger Strike Has Officially Ended

September 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The hunger strike that has taken place for nearly two months inside California’s state prisons
was declared officially over on Thursday morning.

The strike, which began on July 8 with approximately 30,000 inmates participating had dwindled down to about a hundred core strikers who had refused solid food for 59 days to protest the conditions in which inmates were held in solitary confinement for years, and in certain cases decades, at a time. Some of the inmates in isolation were known gang leaders, but in other cases the reasons for being sent to the SHU (as these segregated l Security Housing Units were called) seemed whimsical at best.

At 8:25 a.m., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sent out this statement:

As of this morning, all participants of the prison hunger strike have started taking state-issued meals or have otherwise begun the process of re-feeding. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard issued the following statement today regarding the end of the strike:

“We are pleased this dangerous strike has been called off before any inmates became seriously ill. I’d like to commend my staff and the staff with the federal Receiver’s Office for working together to ensure the health and safety of all employees and inmates was a top priority. CDCR will continue to implement the substantive reforms in California’s Security Housing Units that we initiated two years ago.”

So how did the approximately 100 strikers who lasted until the end get by without….you know….dying?

According to KQED’s Michael Montgomery, the key was Gatorade, plus vitamins. Here’s a clip from Montgomery’s story filed over the weekend. Montgomery has reported extensively on the use of isolation in California’s prison and is one of the small cluster of journalists who followed the strike the most intensively.

Officials monitoring the protest report that, as of Wednesday, the men had body mass indexes in the 20s, well above a danger zone established by the court-appointed receiver overseeing prison medical care. Only two of the prisoners had lost more than 15 percent of their body weight, another critical measure.

While the inmates are clearly suffering as a result of the extended fast, and report bouts of extreme nausea and dizziness, there are “no imminent health emergencies and no prisoners in critical condition,” said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokesperson for receiver Clark Kelso.

So what’s keeping the hunger strikers from more severe starvation? The answer, it turns out, could be mass quantities of Gatorade, the ubiquitous sports drink.

Under state rules, inmates are considered on hunger strike if they refuse all state meals for more than three days and have no other food items in their cells, such as snacks from the prison commissary.

However, Hayhoe said each day the hunger strikers are receiving five powder packets of Gatorade that deliver a total of 600-625 calories. That’s in addition to supplies of vitamins.

Hayhoe said the electrolytes in Gatorade are not considered “nutrition,” which would otherwise cancel inmates’ participation in a hunger strike.

While the CDCR refused to negotiate with the strikers—at least in any public way—two state legislators have called for hearings in October on the strikers demands, writes Alex Dobuzinskis of Reuters.

“I am gratified that the hunger strike has ended without further sacrifice or risk of human life,” state Senator Loni Hancock, a Democrat and one of the two legislators who called for the hearings, said in a statement.

“The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – and can no longer be ignored,” she said.

Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the other legislator who called for the hearings, said in a statement, “I’m happy that no one had to die in order to bring attention to these conditions.”

As we’ve noted in the past, some of the best reports on the conditions in California’s solitary units and why we should care about this issue is the series of articles by Shane Bauer for Mother Jones. (If you’ll remember, Bauer is a journalist who spent 26 months in isolation in an Iranian prison.)

We will, of course, continue to report on the issue as the hearings commence.


FYI: Yes, this qualifies as breaking news.

Posted in CDCR, prison, prison policy, solitary | No Comments »

WitnessLA Taking a Break for the Rest of the Week

September 3rd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Due to a looming project that absolutely must be completed, we’re taking a break until Monday, September 9—unless, of course, there’s breaking news or something so pressing that it would be a clear dereliction of journalistic duty not to give you the heads up.

We will return next Monday in full force.

In the meantime, as we go out the door, here are a few links that you might want to check out:


WHY IS JERRY BROWN SO OBSTINATE ON THE PRISON PLAN ISSUE? asks the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters. Good question. As Walters points out, State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg’s plan is FAR less expensive and far more creative—and potentially a route to reform. So why is Jerry digging in his heels? Calling all FOJs—Friends of Jerry. Talk to the man!


SHERIFF’S CHALLENGER PAUL TANAKA talks to the Los Cerritos News.


A bunch of EARLY RELEASES FROM LA COUNTY JAIL to free-up space, writes the LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Abby Sewell. WLA wants to know why the Sheriff hasn’t taken a leadership position on pre-trial release (See VERA Institute report) instead of all this early releasing.

(Sheriff challenger, Bob Olmsted comments on the matter on his Facebook page, and challenger Lou Vince tweets about it.)


PS: Did we mention that DIANA NYAD is a goddess? Consider it mentioned. For this summer at least, the toughest athlete in the world is a 64-year-old woman.

Posted in 2014 election, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LA County Jail, LASD, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy | 2 Comments »

The Robber v. the Judge’s Gut…. 2 LASD Deputies Camp & Draw Guns …..Gov. Jerry Offers “No Promise, No Hope”….Prison Hunger Strike: How Will It End?

August 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



BETTING WRONG ON AN ARMED ROBBER WHO CHOSE TO DO RIGHT

In 1999 Judge Richard Kopf sentenced a young bank robber to 147 months in prison after the armed law-breaker, a 23-year-old named Shon Hopwood, pleaded guilty to five counts of bank robbery, and one count of “using a firearm during a crime of violence.” In addition, the judge ordered Hopwood to pay $134,544.22 in restitution.

The judge glumly assumed that the sentence would not be enough to keep the armed robber from a future life of crime.

“My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk–—all mouth, and very little else,” wrote Kopf on his blog, “Hercules and the Umpire,” earlier this month.

As it turned out, Kopf’s gut feeling did not dictate the rest of the story.

Adam Liptak writes about the tale of the judge and the “punk” armed robber in Tuesday’s New York Times. Here’s a clip:

A 23-year-old bank robber named Shon R. Hopwood stood before a federal judge in Lincoln, Neb. He asked for leniency, vowing to change.

Judge Richard G. Kopf had no patience for promises. “We’ll know in about 13 years if you mean what you say,” he said. It was 1999.

Judge Kopf reflected on the exchange this month. “When I sent him to prison, I would have bet the farm and all the animals that Hopwood would fail miserably as a productive citizen when he finally got out of prison,” he wrote on his blog. “My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk — all mouth, and very little else.”

“My viscera was wrong,” Judge Kopf went on. “Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck.”

Judge Kopf had just heard the news that Mr. Hopwood, now a law student, had won a glittering distinction: a clerkship for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is generally considered the second most important court in the nation, after the Supreme Court.

Mr. Hopwood’s remarkable ascent began in the prison law library, where he became not only a good jailhouse lawyer but also a successful Supreme Court practitioner. Persuading the justices to hear a case is a roughly 100-to-1 proposition, but the court granted the first petition Mr. Hopwood filed….

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m partial to tales like this one because, in the course of my reporting, I’ve been privileged to know a remarkable number of men and women whom others have written off for their early mistakes, and who had nearly written themselves off out of terrible childhood wounds, yet who somehow found the needed courage to transform the trajectory of their lives.


TWO SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ARRESTED AFTER MULTIPLE SHOTS FIRED AT POPULAR CAMPGROUND

Two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies have been arrested and relieved of duty (with pay) after the deputies each allegedly angrily brandished, then fired their guns while staying at a popular family campground in Prado Regional Park. The incident, which occurred at around 1:30 Sunday morning, is thought to have started as a verbal conflict over loud music.

Prado is a 2000-acre regional park in San Bernardino County, well-liked for its camp facilities, fishing lake, hiking, biking and nature trails, and activities such as disc golf.

The shots were reportedly fired in the air and not aimed at anyone, according to Chino police.  

It should be noted, however, that shots fired into the air can be deadly, as has occasionally been the case on New Year’s Eves past when revelers fired guns skyward with unintentionally tragic results.

LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore was particularly emphatic on the topic.  “Firing a gun into the air is absolutely one of the most negligent and dangerous things a person can do because when the bullet comes down people can be injured or killed. And for law enforcement to do that makes this more reprehensible!” he said. 

Whitmore was quick to add that the investigation was in progress, and that the allegations against the deputies were just that, allegations.

“But, on the surface of it,” he continued, “this is an event that is going to be career changing.”

Robert Faturechi of the LA Times broke the story and reported that neither of the deputies—one of whom works at the county courts, the other for the LASD’s transit services— knew that the other was law enforcement until after the reported weapons brandishing and shot firing.  

According to Whitmore, the two deputies, DeJay Barber, 44, and Matthew Rincon, 24, joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in November 2001, and November 2007, respectively.


JERRY BROWN PUSHES $315 MILLION PLAN TO EASE PRISON POPULATION, SOME LEGISLATORS BALK BIGTIME

Dan Whitcom from Reuters has this story about the resistance from some prominent state legislators to Governor Jerry Brown’s latest shockingly expensive and regressive plan to address the state’s ongoing prison overcrowding problem. Here’s the relevant clip:

…Though Brown’s joint appearance with Republican leaders and Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez suggested bipartisan support for his plan, Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg took immediate issue with the bill.

‘NO PROMISE, NO HOPE’

“The governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope. As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again,” Steinberg said in a written statement.

“More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution; it is not a fiscally responsible solution; and it is not a safe solution,” he said. “We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”

According to the governor’s office, his plan would allocate $315 million for the state to “expeditiously” lease in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including at county jails and private facilities.

Brown’s proposal comes as new attention is being focused on California prisons during a hunger strike by inmates to protest conditions in special housing units where some prisoners are held for prolonged periods in isolation.


THE HUNGER STRIKE: HOW WILL IT END?

Tuesday marks the 51st day of the California prison hunger strike that is being run out of the Security Housing Unit—or SHU—at Pelican Bay.

With approximately 43 people still continuing to strike (out of what was originally thousands), force feeding is about to start. However, the Governor and the CDCR higher-ups insist that they won’t negotiate until the striking stops.

The strikers, however, feel that if they stop, they will lose their only leverage.

So how to break the stalemate?

Writing for the Nation Magazine, former California State Senator Tom Hayden suggests some alternatives to the all or nothing stance of the Brown administration. Here’s a clip from the middle Hayden’s column:

…So what options do the hunger strikers have now? With the governor taking a fundamentalist line, only a fast-track restoration of checks and balances by the courts and legislature, propelled by public questioning, might yield a breakthrough.

• The first track to a solution is the legal one. A federal judge upheld a class action suit by ten hunger strikers, most of them in solitary confinement for two decades, that they have been subject to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment and denial of a meaningful process to challenge their indefinite confinement. But Governor Brown has adopted a defiant stance towards court monitoring, and the case will not be resolved before it is too late for the fasting inmates.

• The second track is a possible emergency hearing by state legislators worried about a massive state prison system on which they spend billions but which is beyond their control. The hearing could give voice to the inmates demands, send a message to Brown, and draw the crisis into the light of public debate. It might convince the isolated inmates to live to fight in another forum. It would take an immediate signal from the legislature, which has yet to make a decision.

• The third track is the mobilization of public questioning and protest. While the public has no love for prison gangs, there is increased questioning of the costs of the governor’s continual quarrels with the courts…

NOTE: Earlier this month, the CDCR’s new head guy, Jeffrey Beard, wrote an op ed for the LA Times saying that the strike’s organizers are all leaders in the various prison gangs, who are and are asking for more privileges by “putting lives at risk to advance their own agenda of violence.”

There is no question that the power wielded by California’s prison gangs is a deeply corrosive problem that has proved extremely difficult to combat.

Yet, many of the changes these “bad guy” leaders are requesting are just quality of life improvements…like wall calendars, the right to wear watch caps and sweats, no more group punishment, and the chance to occasionally see the sunlight. Perhaps we are missing something, but it is hard for us to see how occasional access to sunlight, and the like, will strengthen the power of EME and/or AB shot callers.

Here, by the way, is an essay in LA Progressive by CUNY Sociology professor Denis O’Hearn, who got to know the hunger strike’s most notorious organizer, Todd Ashker. What O’Hearn has to say about his experiences with Ashker and some of the other strike leaders in the so-called Short Corridor Collective, is interesting and challenges much of what has been uncritically accepted in the media.


Posted in LASD, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, solitary | 30 Comments »

Crisis in LA Foster Care Placements……Jerry Brown’s For-Profit Prison Plan…. Another “Right on Crime” Surprise

August 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



KIDS TAKEN INTO FOSTER CARE OFTEN PUT IN OFFICE CONFERENCE ROOMS WHILE AWAITING PLACEMENT

In an increasingly nightmarish situation that youth advocates say has been building over some years, due to a chronic lack of adequate foster care beds, LA children taken into the county’s care are languishing in what amount to holding rooms for longer than state regulations allow, after they are already struggling with the trauma of being yanked from their homes.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reports. Here are some clips:

…Between May 28 and July 5, nearly 600 children were diverted to holding rooms as social workers scrambled unsuccessfully to find them homes, according to data obtained under the California Public Records Act.

Stays exceeded a state-imposed 24-hour legal limit in 117 cases, and dozens of children spent multiple nights in the holding centers before being placed in foster homes. By comparison, last August only one child remained in a holding room longer than 24 hours, and overall about a third fewer children were diverted to the centers.

Typically, children who become stuck in the government-run way stations are the hardest to place: infants, large groups of siblings, children returning from failed placements and the mentally ill or those afflicted with lice, ringworm, chickenpox, respiratory problems and other infectious diseases. Placing a child often requires more than 100 calls by social workers, records showed.

California regulators have given the county until Wednesday to fix the problem or face possible daily financial penalties.

[SNIP]

Children younger than 12 typically go to the Children’s Welcome Center on the campus of the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. A large open space with cribs for infants and cots for other children, it can have as many as 29 children sleeping over on some nights.

Officials acknowledged they don’t always have enough personnel to promptly feed children or change diapers. The department recently issued an emergency plea for community volunteers to help in the holding rooms.

Older children who can’t be quickly placed in foster homes typically are sent to a conference room in a high-rise building south of downtown Los Angeles, where they sleep on the floor or cots, according to social workers staffing the facility.


JERRY BROWN PLANS BIG BUCKS DEAL WITH COMMERCIAL PRISON INDUSTRY & CCPOA POPULATION REDUCTION

Yes, yes, we all understand that the governor’s in a bind because he has to somehow lower the state’s prison population by another 9400 inmates by the end of the year.

And for the moment we will forgo harping on the fact that Jerry and the state legislature had every opportunity to engage in intelligent sentencing reform, say, 4 years ago, when everyone knew this crisis was looming and could have taken additional steps to address it, thus avoiding the mess we’re in now.

But, of the various options open to Brown at this juncture, does he really want to choose getting in bed with the for-profit prison business, at the same time, expanding the state’s already massive system—particularly when it is so costly? And how much of this for-profit prison partnership is being done to placate the CCPOA, the prison guards’ union? We know the union will be facing layoffs if the governor puts into place some of the suggested formulas involving a certain number of early releases, and some additional prisoners sent out of state. But surely those concerns, while understandable, cannot be allowed to drive decisions here.

Saki Knafo from the Huffington Post reports on the issue. Here’s a clip:

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has no intention of releasing state prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, despite a federal court order requiring the state to reduce its prison population by the end of the year, sources told HuffPost.

Instead, Brown and legislative leaders are discussing a proposal to create an unconventional partnership between the state’s powerful prison guard union and the nation’s largest private prison corporation — an alliance that may permanently expand California’s prison system while curbing nascent efforts to reduce the state’s mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders.

Under the plan, one of several the governor has proposed in conversations with legislative leaders in recent weeks, the for-profit prison giant Corrections Corporation of America would lease one or more of its prisons to the state, which would in turn use California prison guards and other public employees to staff the company’s facilities.

By transferring state prisoners to these privately owned structures, the state would have enough space to comply with an order by a panel of federal judges in 2009 that said overcrowded state prisons were jeopardizing the health and safety of inmates. The order, which the U.S. Supreme Court this month refused to review, requires the state to reduce the population of state prisons by about 10,000 inmates by Dec. 31.

Critics of Brown’s proposal include prison reform advocates and champions of the state’s beleaguered social safety net programs, who may lose funding as state payments for the prison expansion rise. The governor’s proposals, which also include sending California inmates to out-of-state prisons and county jails, could cost the state $300 million to $800 million each year, by various estimates.

“We’re gonna basically blow our whole reserve fund in the budget on fixing the prison problem,” said Mike Herald, a legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a California group. “It just seems like the numbers keep getting bigger and bigger, and the bigger that number gets, the more difficult it is going to be for us to get money for people who are on welfare, childcare for working moms and things like that.”

About those exorbitant costs: We spent quite a while on the phone last week with a CDCR spokeswoman, doing the math on the cost of sending prisoners out of state—which, as it turns out, is about the same price or less than the cost of keeping inmates where they are. So why are we planning to do something that will cost, to quote the governor, “hundreds of millions of dollars” extra? What’s the deal?

Naturally, we’re going to continue to track this issue.


RIGHT ON CRIME SUPPORTS CALIFORNIA’S PROPOSED BILL TO GIVE JUVIE’S WITH BIG SENTENCES A CHANCE AT PAROLE

While many of California’s legislative Democrats again dither over whether or not to do the right thing on sentencing reform, the high profile and very effective Right on Crime movement weighs in with clarity and facts on an issue that their fellow conservatives would traditionally oppose.

In this case the weigh-in comes in the form of an op ed by Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan for the Fresno Bee on the topic of SB 260, the bill [tk]

(Gingrich was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999 and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Pat Nolan was Republican leader of the California Assembly from 1984 to 1988 and was president of Justice Fellowship from 1996-2012.)

Here’s a clip from their essay:

…Scientific studies show that teenagers’ abilities to understand the consequences of their actions are not fully developed until they are young adults. Parents don’t need studies to understand this; and our laws take this into account. We don’t let young people drink until they are 21; they can’t sign contracts, marry without their parents’ permission, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.

However, there is one area in which we don’t consider teens’ youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters commit serious crimes and are sent to prison for so many years that they end up serving what are, in effect, life sentences. Currently, if a juvenile commits a serious crime and is prosecuted as an adult, he or she has no opportunity for judicial review outside of the ordinary appeals. This provides no opportunity for rehabilitation.

The California Assembly will soon vote on SB 260, a bill that takes the potential for change into account by providing the opportunity for review hearings.

In order to be eligible for such a hearing, offenders must pay their debt to their victims by serving 15-25 years of their sentence (depending on the gravity of the offense). That is no “easy stretch.” In fact, it is more than half of their lives….

Go, Right on Crime!


Posted in children and adolescents, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Right on Crime | No Comments »

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