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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 »

US AG Holder Announces Criminal Justice Reforms, Judge Rules NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Violates Rights, Gov. Brown Signs Transgender Student Bill

August 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

HOLDER REVEALS FED. SENTENCING REFORMS AND OTHER CHANGES AIMED AT REDUCING THE PRISON POP.

Monday morning Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a much-anticipated criminal justice reform package to the American Bar Association. Among many important changes, Holder announced that federal prosecutors would be instructed to stop seeking often-excessive mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no gang-ties.

(The entirety of Holder’s speech can be viewed here or read here.)

San Jose Mercury’s Josh Richman and Thomas Peele have the story. Here are a few clips:

In a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, Holder said the Justice Department would promote drug-treatment and community-service programs as alternatives to prison for many low-level offenders who for years have been caught up in the same strict federal sentencing laws aimed at gang members and drug kingpins.

“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” Holder said.

The new strategy would only apply in the federal justice system – where 47 percent of prisoners are being held on drug convictions — but drug policy experts said the symbolism is far-reaching. As Holder pointed out, states across the country, including Texas and California, have re-examined drug enforcement and tough sentencing standards to thin out bulging prison populations.

Holder can make some policy changes, but a number of these reforms will require legislation to bring about real change.

Many drug offenses violate both federal and state law, leaving federal and state prosecutors to work out their own policies about who’ll prosecute which cases; the Justice Department typically has had little or no role in pursuing those accused of simple possession or even small possession-for-sale cases.

Drug-policy reform advocates have been calling for Congress to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for years, but said Holder’s move was a good first step.

While most people praised Holder’s news, Slate’s Emily Bazelon said that the reforms aren’t enough. Here’s why:

Holder’s policy is not a new law: He’s the boss, so the U.S. attorneys around the country are supposed to do what he says, but if they don’t, they’re not lawbreakers.

The experts I consulted said that the attorney general is merely centralizing the decision-making that already occurs. There’s a recent precedent: In 2003, under President George W. Bush, former Attorney General John Ashcroft directed all federal prosecutors to charge the “most serious, readily provable offense” available. In other words, Ashcroft too recognized that prosecutors have choices at charging, and he told them to go with the biggest crime they can make stick without too much trouble. Then as now, the idea is to rein in disparities, so that like offenders receive like sentences. (Though the research showing that black men do more time than other defendants who commit the same crimes suggests that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.) The difference between Holder and Ashcroft is that he’s moving the needle of prosecutorial discretion in the direction of mercy rather than stiffer punishment.

I’m left with a different question about Holder’s announcement: How big a shift does it actually represent? Let’s go back to his description of the kind of defendants who may now escape an automatic mandatory minimum: nonviolent drug offenders without ties to big gangs or cartels. According to the Times article previewing the speech, a DoJ memo being sent to all U.S. attorney offices decrees that the defendants they’re supposed to save from mandatory minimums must have no “significant criminal history.” That phrase has a particular meaning in federal sentencing law, and it’s not reassuring. If you have a marijuana possession in your past, or you got caught jumping a turnstile a couple of times, you have a significant criminal history. In other words, it doesn’t take much. Also, how many drug offenders really have no ties at all to big gangs or cartels, since they all have to get their product from somewhere?


JUDGE SEZ NYPD’S CONTROVERSIAL “STOP-AND-FRISK” TACTICS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Monday that NYC’s stop-and-frisk practice is racially discriminatory, unfairly targeting blacks and Hispanics, and appointed an independent monitor to make sure changes are implemented. Mayor Bloomberg said that he will appeal the ruling.

The Associated Press has the story. Here are some clips:

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her ruling. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory.”

Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades in some form, but recorded stops increased dramatically under the Bloomberg administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by four men, all minorities, and became a class-action case.

About half the people who are stopped are subject only to questioning. Others have their bag or backpack searched, and sometimes police conduct a full pat-down. Only 10 percent of all stops result in arrest, and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time.

Scheindlin noted she was not putting an end to the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.

[SNIP]

Scheindlin did not give many specifics for how to correct such practices but instead directed the monitor to develop reforms to policies, training, supervision and discipline with input from the communities most affected. She also ordered a pilot program in which officers test body-worn cameras in the one precinct per borough where most stops occurred. The idea came up inadvertently during testimony, but Scheindlin seized on it as a way to provide objective records of the encounters.

(The NY Times’ Joseph Goldstein also has good coverage of the ruling.)


A WIN FOR CALIFORNIA TRANSGENDER YOUTH

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday allowing transgender students across California to participate in sports and use facilities based on their gender identity, not the gender listed on their school records.

SF Gate’s Ellen Huet has the story. Here’s a clip:

AB 1266 would ensure that schools respect students’ gender identity with respect to sports teams, locker rooms, restrooms and all other programs and facilities. The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, was introduced by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

State law already prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of gender identity, but backers of the measure say the extra clarity in the law will go a long way in making a growing population of transgender students feel comfortable and safe at school.

“Being accepted or not accepted at school makes all the difference in the world for these kids,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a San Francisco organization that sponsored the bill. “That’s in terms of both their abilities to succeed in school in the short term and their long-term health and well-being.”

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LGBT, prison policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | No Comments »

SCOTUS Sez No to Jerry Brown’s Request to Delay Prisoner Release to Fix Overcrowding

August 2nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


With no real comment, and with three justices dissenting,
the U.S. Supreme Court refused the appeal by Governor Jerry Brown and AG Kamala Harris to delay the demand to release prisoners, or whatever it takes, to lower the population numbers inside California’s still crowded lock-ups to what a panel of federal judges deems acceptable and safe.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News has more. Here’s a clip:

Gov. Jerry Brown and his top prison officials may be running out of options to avoid having to remove another 10,000 inmates from the state’s prisons by the end of the year.

In a brief but significant order, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected the Brown administration’s bid to stall a federal court demand that the state shed the inmates to resolve California’s prison overcrowding crisis. It was the latest setback in a long-running case that has stirred fears of thousands of criminals walking free, although the state would likely seek to place many of the prisoners in other facilities, including county jails.

The Supreme Court without explanation denied California’s attempt to stay the orders while the justices consider whether to take up the state’s broader appeal, an ominous sign for the governor. Three justices dissented and voted to put the inmate release order on hold, including Justice Antonin Scalia, who labeled it a “terrible injunction.”

The Supreme Court did not indicate whether it will accept the full appeal of the order for its upcoming term, but with six justices refusing to put it on hold, the odds appear to weigh against the governor and his top prison aides.

Nevertheless, state officials vowed to press forward with their legal fight. The governor did not respond to the Supreme Court’s order, but Jeffrey Beard, head of the state prison system, issued a brief statement saying the state now hopes to get the justices to consider the heart of the appeal.

We’ll have more at the beginning of the week as additional people weigh in.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, prison policy, Supreme Court | No Comments »

TWO MANY WOMEN: the Hidden Overcrowding in California’s Prisons – by Matthew Fleischer

July 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

TOO MANY WOMEN: Are California’s female inmates bearing the brunt of the state’s overcrowding problem?

by
Matthew Fleischer


California’s 2011 prison realignment plan, has rerouted thousands of inmates into the county jails who, in past years, would have landed in the state’s overcrowded prisons. In the first year of the state’s massive corrections reform strategy, no group benefitted more from the new policies than women in the system.

In particular, female inmates profited from newly devised alternative custody programs, like the one that allowed certain “primary caregiver” mothers, convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses, to complete their sentences at home or in community facilities. Plus, since the core of the AB109 reforms was to keep all future non-non-non offenders in their respective counties, the fact that nearly a full third of California’s female inmates were locked up on drug offences meant that the women’s population numbers plunged faster than those of the men. From 2011 to 2012, California’s female inmate population dropped from 9,038 to 6,142, while the number of inmates in female prisons, compared with the design capacity of those facilities, plummeted from to 170% to 116.9%.

For context, the Supreme Court ruling that forced California’s hand in pushing forward with realignment determined that prisons functioning above 137.5% capacity produced conditions that far too often violated the 8th Amendment and constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision, “The medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons falls below the standard of decency that inheres in the Eighth Amendment. This extensive and ongoing constitutional violation requires a remedy, and a remedy will not be achieved without a reduction in overcrowding.”


POPULATION DROPS, INMATES GAIN

Even in its first months, the population decline began producing positive collateral effects for female inmates. By February 22 of 2012, women’s facilities in California had already dropped below the 137.5% marker – and continued declining from there. An April 2012 San Francisco Chronicle feature on the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) outside Chowchilla praised the “quiet hallways” and increased “access to the handful of successful vocational programs this facility still offers, including a cosmetology school, a dental lab and a flag-making factory.”

What a difference a year makes.

After those tremendous gains of 2012, however, California women’s correctional facilities are once again among the most crowded in the state’s 33-prison system. The reason is not difficult to determine: last year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation converted Valley State Prison women’s facility into a men’s facility, in order to ease overcrowding elsewhere. The two remaining female prisons, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) outside Chowchilla, and the California Institute for Women in Chino, were forced to absorb VSP’s population.

As a result, overall numbers in women’s facilities shot up to 153.5% of capacity — now officially higher than the infamously crowded men’s facilities, which are operating at 145.7% capacity.

CCWF, in particular, is suffering. According to the most recent population report from the CDCR, CCWF is operating at nearly 175% capacity, second only to North Kern State men’s prison as the most packed in California.

It seems the Supreme Court ruling that ordered drastic population reductions made no stipulations about capacity numbers in individual facilities – only that the overall system had to come below the 137.5% borderline. So, legally speaking there is nothing wrong with raising capacity in women’s facilities to ease overcrowding for men.


WOMEN TAKE THE HIT

But does this mean women are shouldering the brunt of California’s population reduction efforts?

“Absolutely,” says Courtney Hooks, communications director for the prisoners’ rights organization Justice Now. “Historically, people in women’s prisons have tended to self-harm instead of riot. So CDCR probably felt like it was OK to overcrowd there because they can keep the repercussions quieter.”

Not only are women packed in, sometimes eight to a room meant for four inmates, but the population demographics of the facility have changed, making the facilities more dangerous than they were two years ago, when capacity was at similar rates, say advocates. Because those convicted of drug crimes and other lower level offenses are now being sent to county jails, the women who are suddenly jammed on top of each other are far more likely to be serious offenders.

Justice Now pays routine legal visits to California’s female prisons to monitor conditions and provide legal aid for inmates. This past May, they received testimonials from various inmates about what they described as dangerous conditions inside CCWF.

“I have never experienced this amount of violence and unsafe environment as I have since being transferred to CCWF,” wrote one inmate who asked to remain anonymous, for fear of retribution from guards. “I have encountered more violence at CCWF in five months than in 15 years at VSPW…Rehabilitation is not even an option anymore.”

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations spokesperson Dana Simas concedes that realignment has affected female inmates much more than it has their male counterparts. “Lower level offenders no longer come to state prison. To say that tensions are running high, however…I haven’t seen any incidents that would indicate that to be the case. No female institution has been on lockdown in over 2 years.”

Yet advocates for female prisoners say that overcrowding inherently produces precisely the kind of problems that the Supreme Court designated as cruel and unusual punishment, hence its sharply written order to the state to reduce numbers or face unpleasant consequences.

“What causes medical neglect, illness and [unnecessary] death –the conditions that led to lawsuits and federal oversight–is how overcrowded individual prisons are,” says Justice Now’s Hooks.


COLLATERAL DAMAGE REPORTED TO PROGRAMS AND SERVICES

Misty Rojo, program coordinator for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and a former inmate herself, has seen first hand what overcrowding does to a prison.

“The system can’t accommodate the number of women they’re trying to service. A shortage of staff leaves women [functionally]* locked down. They want to learn vocational skills, but are [prevented] because of lack of staff [to handle the logistics of classes for such a large population]. So women are losing out on any possibility of rehabilitation.”

Rojo’s organization works with women on the inside, who tell her that the woeful medical care that prompted the Supreme Court’s decision has resurfaced inside CCWF.

“We’re getting reports that women transferred to CCWF from Valley State are no longer getting the medications they were used to getting,” she says.

Aside from the health concerns and lack of access to rehabilitative programs that can help the women’s chances of succeeding when they’re released, there are reports that even the little things that make life bearable for women are being adversely affected.

“Mail is not running the same,” she says. “Inmates we spoke with [at CCWF] who work recycling tell us they found bags of undelivered mail that were just thrown away. We get letters all the time asking why we haven’t written back. We have. The inmates are just not getting them. That’s because of overcrowding.”

The CDCR’s Simas says that these concerns about overcrowding in relation to capacity are overstated.

“100 percent capacity would mean everyone is housed in a single cell,” she tells WitnessLA. “By our definition, there is no overcrowding like you saw before realignment. There is no one being housed in triple bunks, or gyms and day rooms. All the inmates are able to access programs. If you were to go in to a male prison, or female prison, you would not see any disparate treatment between the two.”

Simas says that any capacity concerns should ease when the newly opened Folsom Women’s Facility becomes fully operational.

“CCWF is high right now,” she admits. “Folsom, however, isn’t at capacity yet. There are 186 women there now, but the facility can hold over 400.”

Once more inmates are transferred to Folsom by fall of 2013, Simas estimates capacity at CCWF should likely drop to around the mid-160’s.

That fractional drop, however, will do little to appease advocates like Rojo.

“Everything that’s happening is only happening for the men. None of that focus has been brought to women. Based on our conversations with the CDCR, we see no sustainable plan to reduce overcrowding [in women’s prisons].”


FOR WOMEN, SLO-MO RELIEF ONLY

Last Monday, California petitioned the Supreme Court to block the pending order that calls for releasing 9,600 more inmates by the end of the year.

“California has now diverted tens of thousands of low-risk inmates from state prison to local authorities…, expanded good time credits for certain classes of inmates …, and eliminated any need to use gymnasiums and day rooms for anything other than their intended purposes,” Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote in a joint letter to the court.

Realignment is working to ease crowding, Brown seems to be arguing, and that process can’t be rushed by arbitrary deadlines.

Indeed, progress has been made in substantially reducing California’s prison population. The CDCR, however, as indicated by Simas, has made it clear it sees no problem with the remaining overcrowding inside California’s women’s correctional facilities. If realignment continues on its current course, system-wide numbers should continue to drop. But given that the low hanging fruit of non-violent, non-serious female offenders have already been mostly channeled out of the prison system, the state’s two women’s prisons will get the least relief.

Thus, it seems it will be the women remaining in lock-up who will have to endure the indignities and the outright harm of overcrowding while the larger system slowly eases into compliance with the Supreme Court’s mandate.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, prison policy, Realignment, Supreme Court | 4 Comments »

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