Friday, December 9, 2016
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Another Suicide at CIW, Photoshop Tattoo Removal, and LA “Bans the Box”

December 1st, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On November 10, 56-year-old Bong Chavez reportedly committed suicide in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Woman (CIW).

CIW has experienced a high number of suicides (7), and suicide attempts (73), since 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate among all 34 prisons—five times the state average.

Bong Chavez, a Korean immigrant reportedly suffering from mental illness and a brain tumor, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for voluntary manslaughter, after she stabbed her daughter, Quesi Chavez, to death.

According to witnesses within the prison, Chavez had been asking for more mental health services for two weeks before killing herself. Chavez also reportedly told a prison guard that she was suicidal the night she died.

The witnesses say the guards responded by sticking Chavez in an office to “calm down” for 45 minutes, then put her back in her cell. Once back in her cell, Chavez hung herself from the ceiling vent.

Chavez’s cellmate found the woman hanging and repeatedly screamed for help, as did inmates held in cells across from Chavez’s. Guards reportedly did not respond for 10 minutes, and then took another 8 minutes to come back with scissors. The correctional officer who cut Chavez down did not support her body as he did so. Instead, “they let her drop like she was nothing,” said an inmate across the hall named Elaine Leeon. “There was a pool of blood on the floor.” Chavez’s head reportedly cracked open upon impact with the ground.

“Make no mistake, CIW is directly responsible for Ms. Chavez’s death,” said Colby Lenz, an advocate at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “People are committing suicide because of the inhumane conditions at CIW, including forcing people into solitary confinement when they are the most vulnerable. Guards are indifferent to these deaths and blatantly refuse to follow CIW’s suicide prevention policy, with no repercussions.”

Back in April, 35-year-old Erika Rocha committed suicide in the mental health unit at CIW, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing. Rocha, like Chavez, hung herself from the vent in her cell.

In June, one month after Rocha’s death, 27-year-old Shaylene Graves was found hanging, with just six weeks left to go on an 8-year sentence. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said Graves’ death was a suicide, but the young woman’s loved ones are challenging that conclusion.

“We as families can never get timely and accurate information about what happened to our loved ones who died in custody,” said Shaylene Graves’ mother, Sheri Graves. “We demand full transparency and full accountability.”

Concerned by the flood of deaths at CIW, California Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) started pushing for an investigation into suicides in the troubled prison.
In August, Leyva announced that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee would examine suicide prevention and reduction policies, procedures and practices at state prisons across California.

While the results have not yet been released, the audit is expected to include evaluations of the following issues:

- CDCR’s policies and procedures for inmates that express suicidal behavior and/or tendencies

- Uniformity of policies and procedures implementation across CDCR

- Comparison of suicide rates and attempts across all California prisons (male and female)

- Availability, access and use of mental health care services for and by inmates

- Potential causes and factors contributing to high suicide rates and attempts at CIW

- Appropriate implementation of CDCR’s suicide prevention and related policies at CIW

- Medical treatment and housing options for suicidal inmates at CIW

- Previous and ongoing suicide prevention and reduction training for CIW staff

LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron (who has been doing an excellent job reporting on the recent deaths at CIW) has more on the story.


Seeking to humanize men and women recovering from gang involvement with the help of Homeboy Industries, Photographer Steven Burton launched a book photography project called “Skin Deep.”

Founded by Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries has helped thousands of people find healthy alternatives to gang life through mentoring, employment training and placement, mental health counseling, and more. (For those unfamiliar with the work Homeboy does—learn more here.)

One of the many free services Homeboy offers is tattoo removal.

Burton first took photos of 27 men and women, then spent hundreds of hours digitally removing their tattoos via photoshop. Burton videotaped the revealing of the final photos, which proved emotional for the photographer’s subjects, many of whom hadn’t seen themselves tattoo free since they were young teenagers. On KPCC’s Take Two, A. Martinez interviewed one of the men Burton photographed, Francisco Flores, who wants to be known as a good father to his five children, rather than the gang member he used to be. (We’ve included some of the must-see videos here, including one of Flores’ reveal, but you can watch the rest of the videos on Youtube—here.)


On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance barring employers from asking job seekers about their criminal background, at least in the first stages of the interview process.

The council approved the the ordinance 12-1 with Councilman Mitch Englander dissenting. The measure will have to go through a second vote because it was not unanimous, but the second vote only has to have majority approval to pass.

The ordinance will get rid of questions about criminal history from job applications for both public and private employers with more than 10 employees, as well as contractors within the city.

City News Service has more on the decision and what it means.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, LA City Council, prison | 1 Comment »

A Rikers Documentary, Rethinking the Meaning of Public Safety, and Voting After Disenfranchisement

November 8th, 2016 by witnessla


In a new documentary from journalist Bill Moyers, “RIKERS,” former inmates at the notorious Rikers Island Jail in New York tell their stories of prolonged solitary confinement, violence, and other dehumanizing conditions within the jail.

The documentary will debut at DOC NYC on November 12, and air on PBS station THIRTEEN on November 15.

“The result is a vivid arc of life on Rikers as told by the people who experienced it — from the trauma of entry, the conflicts with other inmates and corrections officers, the stabbings and beatings, and the torture of solitary confinement to the psychological challenges of returning to the outside world,” the veteran journalist said on his website

Back in 2014, a four-month investigation by the NY Times revealed that brutal attacks by staff on mentally ill inmates inside the jail were “common occurrences.”

And in 2015, 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide following a traumatizing three-year stint at Rikers Island—without ever being tried—for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder spent most of those three years, which started at age 16, in solitary confinement. Following the prolonged isolation in Rikers, Browder struggled for three years with mental illness. The tormented young man tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of last year. (Read more about Kalief’s story: here.)

THIRTEEN’s Christina Knight interviewed Moyers about the history of Rikers, the dangers inmates face on a regular basis, and how the documentary came into being. Here’s a clip:

Q: What are the risks one faces if brought to Rikers?

In talking to almost one hundred former detainees – some jailed there in the 90s and others who just got out last year – we heard similar stories that seem to echo through the years. Inmates intimidate each other. They steal from each other. Attack each other. Beat each other. Some corrections officers abuse their power. The noise is unsettling and disturbing. Remember, these people are housed in “cages”, as it were. Their psychological stress is major, they get depressed and experience incredible anxiety. How so many survive is difficult to grasp. I’m still wrestling with that one.

Q: How did the filmmakers find and approach those featured in the documentary?

Our team was led by Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin, two long-time colleagues of mine and terrific filmmakers who have a lot of experience filming inside jails and prisons. They were joined by a new member of the team, Rolake Bamgbose, who was relentless in tracking down former detainees and engaging them in opening up memories that as you will see in the film, remain very painful many years later. We got a lot of help from criminal justice organizations in the city as well as others that specialize in re-entry programs and transitional houses.

Q: How did you vet the stories of the former detainees featured in the film?

Once we had narrowed down the number of primary story-tellers in the film to about a dozen, we very carefully checked out their descriptions of what they experienced. There are “use of force” reports”, civil suit documentation and other public records that substantiate their memories of life at Rikers Island Jail. One former inmate who attended a private screening of the film said softly as the lights came back up in the room, “Everything in there is true.”

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Clarissa Sosin saw a preview screening of the film. Here’s a clip from her take on the documentary:

In the film, Gibbs described his first time going to Rikers and the reactions of the other inmates as he entered the jail. To him the looks on their faces said, “Oh, we got a victim. Fresh meat,” he said.

Through crisp and emotionally raw interview footage of Gibbs and the other former inmates, interwoven with the occasional surveillance footage, “RIKERS” vividly creates a bleak and violent image of the culture of violence inside the jail.

Event organizer Lisa Armstrong, visiting associate professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, said she was struck by the film.

“For some reason it impacted me in a way that I didn’t expect it to, given that I already knew how bad Rikers was, or is,” she said.

Ismael Nazario, a former inmate featured in the film, described being jumped by another inmate. He said that when a corrections officer broke up the fight, she said to him, “You going to hold it down?” a phrase he said he would come to realize meant, “Are you going to stay quiet?”

Candie Hailey-Means, one of only two women in the film, described screaming out for help while being sexually assaulted by corrections officers in her cell. Morse, the other woman, described being attacked and raped in the showers. Tears streamed down her face as she recalled the incident on camera.

Other experiences described in the film: feeling like a “roasted pig” while being hogtied and carried by corrections officers; watching an inmate throw scalding hot water onto another’s face, burning it so badly skin comes off in his hands; and playing with your own feces while in solitary because you don’t know what else to do.


In an op-ed for the LA Times, Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, says that while the national conversation regarding public safety is hyper-focused on racism in policing, the biggest dangers to youth and their families “have nothing to do with guns or badges.”

Beyond race relations, problems like absence of affordable child care, low reading levels among young boys of color, harsh school discipline, and a dearth of parks have considerable negative impacts on community safety, says Dr. Ross, a former public health official and pediatrician. And when community members feel neglected or abandoned, the results “can be harmful—even lethal,” as was the case in Ferguson, MO.

Ross also touches on the importance of improving police-community relations through increased transparency and training, as well as boosting crime prevention efforts—like mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and after-school programs—to make cities safer.

Here’s a clip:

Cities, starting with Los Angeles, should put these kinds of issues and needs at the center of our thinking on community safety.

Improving police-community relations is an essential safety strategy, as well as just the right thing to do. Many excellent police officers are doing their best for Los Angeles, but their effectiveness and security are compromised when community trust falters. To address this, Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck should provide greater transparency in police shooting investigations and hold Police Commission meetings in community locations to allow for more meaningful participation. The LAPD also should accelerate the training reforms it has been piloting with civil rights attorney Connie Rice and support research into racial and gender biases, such as the work of the Center for Policing Equity co-founded by UCLA professor Philip Goff.

But spending on law enforcement cannot be the only way we think about investing in improving community safety. Any shift certainly will entail difficult conversations about how L.A. city and county budgets are organized and allocated. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s and probation departments together have nearly 27,000 employee positions, compared to just 5,000 jobs in mental health and 1,600 in parks and recreation. We need to move public spending away from reacting to crime, and do more to prevent it in the first place.

Research can help us understand how to do that. If we examine data, such as that of UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project, which maps where arrestees live and calculates the cost of their incarceration, we can see where we need to target preventive resources. For instance, the top reasons for being booked in Los Angeles County Jail are drug possession, driving while under the influence and domestic violence, suggesting we need more investments in mental health and addiction treatment in affected neighborhoods. More importantly, we need to look upstream and provide these communities with more support for preschool, school-based health services, after-school programs and other services that keep kids in school and support families.


Around 6.1 million US citizens—1 out of every 40 voting-age men and women—are banned from voting due to felon disenfranchisement laws. In California, felony offenders cannot vote while in prison or on parole, but upon completion of a sentence, voting rights are restored. (There are many states with much harsher laws, as well as states that never remove the right to vote.)

Politico Magazine’s Rikha Sharma Rani spoke with four formerly incarcerated men and one woman from San Diego who have recently regained their right to vote. The San Diegans talk about how it feels to be able to vote after having their rights restored, what issues they value, and who and what they’re voting for on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:

De’Andre Cooper, 22

Three years ago, De’Andre Cooper was charged with conspiracy to commit eight murders and seven attempted murders. As it happens, Cooper was in juvenile hall for much of the period during which the murders took place. But he, along with more than a dozen other men, were charged under a never-before-used section of California’s penal code, which allows gang members to be charged for felonies committed by the gang. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in another state when the crime takes place; if you’re a documented gang member, you can be found guilty of conspiracy. Police convicted members of Cooper’s gang for the murders and then charged Cooper with conspiracy. He accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Cooper was released after two years, but the experience changed him. The penal code that had enabled him to be charged had been voted into law by Californians. If the 22-year old, who will be voting for the first time on November 8th, ever needed a lesson on why elections matter, this was it.

It might seem strange, then, that Cooper won’t be voting for a president on Tuesday. “I’m going to vote on local propositions,” he says. He’s helping to rally voters to pass Proposition 57, an effort to roll back a previously passed law that allows prosecutors, rather than judges, to choose between juvenile and adult court—a law that, critics argue, puts too much power in the hands of prosecutors. He says he’s registered over a hundred people to vote this cycle—and that has nothing to do with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. “As long as I’ve been alive, with the presidents we’ve had, my life has always been the same.”

He calls the Trump videos showing the Republican candidate bragging about groping women “sick.” “I don’t know nobody that has that type of mind,” Cooper says, “for him to think he could just touch a woman that don’t want to be touched.”

He would prefer a Clinton presidency. Among other things, he believes that she is better suited to be commander-in-chief. “I think Trump wants to go to war. I think he promotes that type of violence,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to be over there [at war] with Trump’s orders.” But he’s not going to help the Democratic candidate win. “I don’t want her to have my vote.”

Part of his decision not to cast a vote for the next president is rooted in his lack of faith in the institutions of this country—especially law enforcement. He describes a neverending cycle of being stopped by police as a youth, in which one stop would lead to the next, and the next…

Read the rest.

Posted in Police, prison | No Comments »

Prop. 57 Roundup…and a Settlement in the Ezell Ford Case

November 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice reform measure, Proposition 57, has drawn a large number of both very strong supporters and opponents vehemently opposed to it. Since the elections are just a few days away, we’ve gathered a handful of worthwhile stories to share about Prop. 57.

Prop. 57, if you’re unfamiliar, would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. If approved by voters next month, the initiative would also increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense. This means that prisoners would be able to go before the parole board prior to completing time added onto a base sentence via sentence enhancements, consecutive sentences, and alternative sentences. Prop 57 would also boost access to early release “good time” credits.

Prosecutors and police unions have been especially vocal in their opposition to the passage of Prop. 57. Last month, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey came out in opposition of the measure. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis supports Prop. 57, while Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is against the measure. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón have remained neutral.

Critics argue that measure could allow for the early release of violent offenders because it is too vague. They point, for example, to first degree burglary, battery with serious bodily injury, and domestic violence which are not classified as “violent” in the one section of the Penal Code that defines violent crime. Governor Brown and Prop. 57 proponents argue that offenders aren’t going to get a free pass to get out of prison. The inmates will have to be screened for public security and go before the parole board.

Opponents also argue that the parole board can’t be trusted to block dangerous offenders from parole. The governor does, of course, have the final say on parole board decisions, and can block the release of anyone he believes should not be paroled.

Governor Brown says the measure would help the state reduce overcrowding in prisons, and would not lead to the release of dangerous criminals. Brown has backed the ballot initiative with millions of dollars left over from his own campaign fund. Brown also believes Prop. 57 would undo a legislative mistake he made in 1976 when he signed SB 42, which diminished the role of rehabilitation in California prisons by opening the door for the “determinate sentencing” structure—sentences with a fixed length not subject to shortening by the parole board. SB 42 also established that the purpose of incarceration is punishment.

In addition, Prop. 57 would reverse a 2000 voter-approved law, Proposition 21, which gave prosecutors far more power to charge juveniles as adults, allowing prosecutors to bypass judges’ transfer hearings. While the number of California kids arrested for felonies dropped 55% between 2003 and 2014, the number of kids transferred to adult court (direct filed by prosecutors) rose 23% during the same years, according to a collaborative report from the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and the National Center for Youth Law. (Read more about the pitfalls of letting prosecutors decide whether kids should be tried in juvenile or adult court: here.)

The LA Times’ John Myers has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I feel very strongly that this is the correct move,” Brown told The Times in a recent interview. “I’m just saying, let’s have a rational process.”

Prosecutors, though, contend the governor’s proposal goes too far after several years of trimming down California’s prison population to only the most hardened criminals. They believe the parole board, whose members are gubernatorial appointees, already is swinging too far away from being tough on crime.


In some ways, Proposition 57 is a proxy for a larger battle over prison sentences. There are sharp disagreements between Brown and many district attorneys over the legacy of California’s decadeslong push for new and longer mandatory sentences, a system in which flexibility is often limited to which crimes a prosecutor seeks to pursue in court. The warring sides have painted the Nov. 8 ballot measure in the starkest of terms, a choice for voters between redemption and real danger.

“We’re dealing with deep belief systems,” Brown said.

Proposition 57 would make three significant changes to the state’s criminal justice framework. It would require a judge’s approval before most juvenile defendants could be tried in an adult court — reversing a law approved by California voters in 2000. Critics believe prosecutors have wrongly moved too many juveniles into the adult legal system, missing chances for rehabilitation.

What’s most in dispute are two other Proposition 57 provisions, either of which could result in adult prisoners serving less time than their maximum sentences. Brown tacked those two provisions onto the juvenile justice measure in January. One would allow an expansion of good-behavior credits awarded by prison officials; the other gives new power to the state parole board to allow early release of prisoners whose primary sentences were not for “violent” crimes.

In an interview last week, the governor argued that his ballot measure would add a dose of deliberative thought to a process too often driven by elected district attorneys playing to the white-hot politics of sensational crimes.

“Do you want the hurly burly of candidates, running for office, being the decision makers in the face of horrible headlines?” Brown asked. “Or would you rather have a quiet parole board, not now but 10 years later, deciding what’s right?”

Michael Salerno, a former consultant to the California Senate Select Committee on Penal Institutions, was a major player in the passage of the determinate sentencing law.

In an op-ed for Zocalo Public Square, Salerno, now a law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, gives a brief but informative history on incarceration from the 1976 passage of SB 42 until now, and urges voters to reform the law he helped to pass.

Here’s a clip:

I participated in the negotiations with the Governor’s staff and interest groups. The DSL was passed in 1976. Its sentences were based on median time served for crimes under the ISL. It made sentencing predictable and limited discretion. The judge could add or subtract a year based on the circumstances of the crime. The DSL was initially touted as a historic reform and praised by correctional experts.

What went wrong? By increasing transparency around sentencing, the DSL also added to public awareness of the actual lengths of prison sentences. Soon, outrage flared when a heinous crime was considered too lightly punished, and the legislature responded by prescribing ever-longer sentences. The prison guards, who gained power, became organized and advocated for longer sentences and more prison (it was good for their business). And the voters, in their public request for retribution for crimes, adopted initiative measures to add to sentences; most notably the prison industry-funded “Three Strikes.” Under that measure, a person convicted of shoplifting a package of cheese as a third strike was given a life sentence.

Today, the number of prisoners serving Three-Strike sentences rivals the total number of prisoners incarcerated in 1976. Indeed, before DSL, California had nine prisons holding approximately 30,000 prisoners. Those numbers eventually increased to 33 prisons with a population at times exceeding 150,000.

This rising prison population resulted in growing expenses and significant overcrowding, which in turn led the federal courts to intervene and demand a reduction in the number of prisoners. Even after that reduction, the high costs (around $60,000 per year per prison) remain. The 2016-17 California budget appropriates 8.1% to prisons, a greater percentage than the 5.3 combined percentage appropriated for both the University of California and the California State University.

Our budget-constrained era thus presents a difficult choice: Should the taxpayers maintain the greatest public universities or the biggest and costliest prison system? Voters are beginning to conclude, not just in California but in places like Texas and Georgia, there can be too much punishment, which isn’t cheap.

Proposition 57 is straightforward. The initiative measure simply allows parole consideration for non-violent offenders who have already served their base sentences. It gives prisoners an incentive to earn an earlier release after serving a substantial portion of their sentences. It’s not radical, and not a complete reversal of DSL. Those not granted parole will continue to have their cumulative DSL sentence as a cap on how long they serve. If the initiative were to pass—and the parole authority were to adopt effective regulations—the changes would be a long overdue refinement of DSL.

In California, a number of faith leaders—a group that has been criticized in recent years for its silence on issues of racism and criminal justice reform—have spoken out in favor of Prop. 57. News Review’s Scott Thomas Anderson reports that 56 churches in Sacramento County, the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism have thrown their support behind the measure.

At Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), Rabbi Jocee Hudson moderated a panel to discuss Prop. 57. Attendees included members of the synagogue, as well as other faith communities, and advocates. TIOH is just one of a number of synagogues that have held community meetings to discuss Prop. 57. The initiative has also garnered the support of the Jewish organization Bend the Arc, as well as the National Council of Jewish Women’s California Chapter, and Reform CA.

The Jewish Journal’s Eitan Arom has the story. Here’s a clip:

In advance of the election, Prop. 57 made its way into High Holy Days sermons across the city, including that of TIOH’s Rabbi Jocee Hudson, who moderated the Oct. 18 panel.

While critics have raised safety concerns, the proposal sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown has earned the support of Reform CA, the progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc, and the California chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

The measure would allow nonviolent offenders to earn parole after they serve the sentences for the primary offense that landed them in prison. In addition, it instructs the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to consider educational and rehabilitative achievements when weighing a prisoner’s early release.

But perhaps the most important step Prop. 57 would take, Hudson said, relates to juveniles being sent to adult court. When the synagogue adopted criminal justice reform as one of its initiatives and she began learning more about the prison system in California, she said, “I didn’t realize that juveniles could be sentenced to life — I mean, without parole.”

For every six youths sent to adult court, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that five of them are there at the sole discretion of a prosecutor, contributing to harsher sentences and longer prison terms.


The city of Los Angeles has reportedly come to a tentative settlement agreement with the family of Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally challenged man who was fatally shot by LAPD officers in 2014. If you’ll remember, Ford allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

The conditional settlement, the terms of which have not yet been made public, still has to go before the city council for approval.

KPCC’s Chris Keller and Frank Stoltze have the story. Here’s a clip:

The agreement was reached late last month, and L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rita Miller signed the order on Oct. 27, according to court documents obtained by KPCC.

“Any settlement with the city of Los Angeles has to be approved by the City Council and until that is accomplished, there is no settlement,” said Federico Sayre, the attorney representing the Ford family.

“It’s been a very long road for the Ford family, and this understanding (between the parties) gives them hope that matter is coming to an end and they will be relieved of this ongoing stress and pressure in their lives,” Sayre said. “They were not looking to rehashing this in court.”

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed in court records.

Posted in Justice Reform, prison | 1 Comment »

CA Spent $21 Billion on Crime Last Year, Despite Reforms – by Jeremy Loudenback

November 2nd, 2016 by witnessla


In the story below, reporter Jeremy Loudenback, the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at a recently released report that reveals discouraging data on California and its counties’ level of spending last year on incarceration and other costs related to responding to crime. Despite reforms that reduced the California prison population, half of the $20.7 billion spent at the state and county levels during fiscal year 2014-2015 was funneled into incarcerating people in state prisons.


by Jeremy Loudenback

A new report lays out a stunning price tag for the cost of crime in California last year: nearly $21 billion.

Even as the state has launched criminal justice reforms in recent years aimed at reducing its prison population, California’s expenses related to responding to crime and incarceration have continued to rise to an all-time high for the state.

The tally comes from a new report from the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit that seeks to provide nonpartisan evaluation of state budget and tax policies.

Using publicly available data from the Department of Finance and the state controller’s office, the report found that 73 percent of the total — or $15.1 billion — was spent on the incarceration of adults and juveniles at both the county and state levels.

The remaining $5.6 billion was spent on activities related to responding to crime. This includes money for trial courts as well as county spending on the prosecution of cases through the district attorney offices, probation, public defenders, some court activities at the county level, juvenile wards of the court, grand juries and associated capital outlay.

The number did not include the cost of law enforcement because some police work can be considered preventative, according to Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center.

Hoene called the $20.7 billion an indictment of California’s priorities. By contrast, the state spends around $8 billion on the University of California system, the California State University system and the California Student Aid Commission, which provides financial aid to California students pursuing higher education.

“We’ve been through several decades of an experiment of being as tough on crime as possible by throwing the book at people and locking them up for as long as possible, and we don’t have enough evidence showing it had a large public safety benefit,” Hoene said. “But there’s loads of evidence showing that it’s been very costly and had real trade-offs in terms of how we can otherwise spend those dollars and have positive impacts on our communities.”

Hoene estimated that a billion dollars across the state was spent on incarcerating juveniles last year.

In Los Angeles County, spending on juvenile detention — costs related to the incarceration of juveniles at the county’s system of juvenile camps and halls, but not including money spent on the Probation Department — topped $355 million last year.

Hoene said the money spent on youth in the juvenile justice system across the state, including incarceration, court costs and probation officers, should prompt a re-evaluation of spending patterns.

“With juveniles in particular, that level of spending calls into question what our priorities are and whether we be better spending those monies on services that would improve outcomes both for those juveniles and for the communities that they’re coming from,” he said.

The steep costs of addressing crime in California comes at a time when a wave of reform has scrutinized the financial and social costs of incarceration across the state. In November 2014, voters across the state approved Proposition 47, a ballot initiative that has re-classified some felony convictions as misdemeanors.

In the upcoming Nov. 8 election, the state will decide on another initiative aimed at criminal justice reform. Championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Proposition 57 would increase opportunities for early parole for offenders convicted of certain nonviolent crimes and would task judges with the decision about whether to prosecute juveniles as adults.

Lizzie Buchen from Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a group that opposes the construction of new incarceration facilities, says that despite recent criminal justice reforms in California, she is somewhat skeptical about the state’s efforts.

In recent years, the state has authorized $2 billion in bonds for jail construction and has continued plans to replace or renovate 12 of its aging prison facilities, she said.

“With all the talk about reducing incarceration and the actuality of some reduced incarceration, we’re still funneling money into the system,” Buchen said.

“Before putting any more money into imprisonment, we need to prioritize finding ways to address these issues outside of jail, outside of prison because we know that’s what most effective and most cost-effective and what results in the better outcomes for people and their families,” Buchen said.

For further reading, Here’s a breakdown of data gathered and methodology used by the California Budget & Policy Center.

Holden Slattery contributed to the data analysis for this story, which originally appeared on the Chronicle of Social Change.

Posted in jail, prison | 1 Comment »

Indefinite Solitary All But Eliminated in California Prisons

October 25th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

As a result of the settlement of Ashker v. Brown last year, only a handful of California prisoners remain in indefinite solitary confinement, according to data collected by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the non-profit legal advocacy organization who represented inmate plaintiffs in the suit.

When California settled Ashker last September, the state agreed to drastically limit the use of isolation in state prisons. CCR brought the lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of a group of ten Pelican Bay State Prison inmates who had each spent at least 10 years in solitary confinement.

The plaintiffs—who called themselves the “Short Corridor Collective”—led the prison hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, protesting the conditions of isolation. During the first five days of the 2013 strike, a staggering 30,000 prisoners refused food. The LA Review of Books has a great longread that tells the story of the Short Corridor Collective’s unlikely win against the state’s draconian use of long-term solitary confinement.

In Pelican Bay, home of the largest Security Housing Unit (SHU) program in CA, inmates spent 22-and-a-half hours each day in tiny, windowless cells, where they were denied visits and phone calls from family, as well as any programming offered to inmates in the general population.

According to CCR’s data, between 2011 and 2016, the number of men held in Pelican Bay’s SHUs for more than 10 years dropped 99%—from 513 inmates to five inmates this year. The last five prisoners in extended isolation are expected to be released from solitary soon.

Of the 1,557 total inmates whose indeterminate confinement was reviewed by prison officials between October 2015 and October 2016, the state approved 1,532 for transfer out of isolation.

So far, the state has moved 1,512 inmates (97%) into a two-year step-down program, after which, the inmates will be reintroduced into the prisons’ general population.

“We are thrilled to report that new data shows that the settlement succeeded in moving virtually all prisoners out of indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement,” the Center for Constitutional Rights wrote.

And from December 2012 to August 2016, California’s total SHU population dropped 65%, from 9,870 to 3,471.

One of CCR’s clients, Luis Esquivel, wrote about his transition into the general population after nearly two decades in solitary confinement. “It was like learning to walk for the first time,” said Esquivel. Here’s a clip:

I would never be able to give my Mom that hug she wanted back in 2000. The last time I saw her, she said, “Mijo, ask the C/O, if I can give you a hug.” Those were her words. The SHU has a lot of our memories, good and bad. I lost one of my sisters, my older brother, my Mom and Dad in the SHU.

Then, we prisoners, attorneys, outside support, families, friends, all the people—all as one, we beat CDCR and obtained one victory, our release from Pelican Bay SHU, any SHU, the right way. Walking with head held high.

So what were we able to do that we had not been able to in the SHU? Walking the yard, all seemed unreal, it was like learning how to walk for the first time. It felt, because of the size of the yard in the SHU, you get used to just walking a small yard.

Shaking someone’s hand, because for so many years we weren’t able to do that, just like on my first visit with my niece, Maribel, then with my sister. My first hug. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was just hard to feel their hug. I felt their arms around me, but that was it. I couldn’t feel it in my heart.

Posted in prison, solitary | 1 Comment »

Prop 57 Debate Rising to a Fever Pitch as November Draws Closer

September 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

As California nears the November election, the debate surrounding Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice initiative is intensifying. Proposition 57 would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. It would also as increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense and boost access to early release credits.

Critics—who are largely law enforcement leaders and district attorneys—say the measure could allow for the early release of violent offenders because it is too vague. They point, for example, to rape by use of drugs and sexual penetration or oral copulation of an unconscious person, which are not classified as “violent” in California law.

Governor Brown and Prop. 57 proponents argue that offenders aren’t going to get a free pass to get out of prison. The inmates will have to be screened for public security and go before the parole board.

Brown says the initiative is a common-sense response to the US Supreme Court’s order to reduce prison overcrowding in California. “Eighty percent of what Proposition 57 does is being done right now under the force of a court order,” Brown said. About 7,000 inmates categorized as non-violent felony offenders who have completed their base sentences would be able to apply for parole, according to the Associated Press, but around 5,700 of those offenders are reportedly already eligible for parole because of the federal court order.

KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the debate. Here’s a clip:

Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said many crimes that are violent are considered nonviolent under state law, and that allowing people to be released early violates a compact the state made with victims.

“You might have a guy that gets sentenced by a judge and after having heard from a defense attorney and a DA and a victim and the defendant, and the judge says, ‘Mr. Jones, I sentence you to 25 years. That’s based upon the crimes. It’s based upon these enhancements. It’s based upon your prior convictions for violent crimes. You have 25 years,’ ” she said. “Now, the victim who had the courage and fortitude to come into a courtroom and testify, say on a domestic violence case — poof. That’s all gone.”

She called the measure “very dangerous for California” and “disgraceful for victims of crime.”

But Brown argued the ballot measure’s provisions are a natural extension of actions the court has already ordered the state to undertake. Currently, many people in prison under the state’s three-strikes law are being paroled early under a process similar to what Proposition 57 proposes.

“Eighty percent of what Proposition 57 does is being done right now under the force of a court order. It is backed up by the United States Supreme Court and which we cannot change unless they say our remedy, in this case Proposition 57, is durable and serves the end of justice,” Brown said.

He said the changes must be combined with rehabilitative programs.

“Education, junior college programs, drug treatment, more intensive mental health,” he said. “All these things that will take people — many have been abused as children, neglected, starting narcotics when they are 10 or 12, and are turning their lives around with some professional help.”

The governor says inmates will be more inclined to participate in those programs if they have the opportunity to leave prison sooner — and that society will be safer if they leave prison rehabilitated.


In an interview with The Atlantic’s Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, “Hangover” series producer-turned justice-reform advocate Scott Budnick talks about his involvement with Prop. 57 and why he believes it to be “one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward.”

Budnick, who left Hollywood behind to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), helped draft the language in both the juvenile justice portion of the initiative and the sections dealing with adult prisoners.

Budnick says incentivizing education and rehabilitation programs through the use of good time credits will result in improved chances of success for inmates exiting prison, and thus, hopefully reduced recidivism.

Here’s a clip (but go over to The Atlantic to read the rest):

Lantigua-Williams: The governor decided to introduce adult provisions into what was originally a bill about juvenile offenders.

Budnick: If you think about it, it’s not juvenile versus adult. The juveniles who we’re talking about in a direct-file piece are going to adult prison, going to adult court, and getting adult sentences. They’re only juvenile in age. In California, they’re not treated as juveniles. Once they’re direct filed, in every part of their contact with the system they become an adult.

Lantigua-Williams: California has been leading the charge in terms of trying to reduce incarcerations. Do you see Prop. 57 as an overall play toward that?

Budnick: I don’t think it’s an ambitious plan to decarcerate. The governor obviously has a population cap that judges have given him for the system, and the governor realizes that the people who are leaving prison under our current mechanism have no incentive to rehabilitate whatsoever. They can just sit in prison. Imagine if you had a nine-year determinate sentence: You could sit and shoot up heroin and continue gang politics, and you’re still getting released in nine years. There’s nothing that you need to do before then. You could get drunk every night in prison, party, have fun, and there is nothing that forces you to change, that forces you to go to education programs, forces you to get a job, forces you to learn a trade, forces you to go to therapy. None of that exists right now. The people who are actually getting out of prison under our current system have no incentive to change whatsoever.

That’s why Prop. 57 includes the rehabilitation credits for educational achievements, GEDs, college, jobs, career technical education. You incentivize someone with the ability to get out a few months earlier, a year earlier. If they’ve completed all these things, all the evidence points to reduced recidivism. What makes a safer community is the amount of people who decide to change. Decide to not use drugs anymore. Decide to not involve themselves in gangs.

Every single person in prison who makes that decision comes out and makes us a safer community. If we can triple that number, quadruple that number, go 10 times that number of people—who choose to change and come into the community, are now college students, are now union workers or working at businesses, are not gang members, are not drug dealers, and are not drug addicts—that’s real public safety. This is one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward. It’s really, really smart on crime.


The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board has recommended “yes” on Prop. 57, saying that Prop. 57 gives inmates real incentive to participate in education and rehabilitation programs to earn early release credits. Here’s a clip:

Simply allowing a certain class of offenders — those who have served their base sentences for a nonviolent felony offense — the opportunity to be eligible for early release doesn’t mean they’re all going to earn it. These offenders still have to be screened for public safety, and then they have to go before the parole board.

The difference is that now they’ll have an incentive to be better civilians. Under the current system, offenders have little motivation to participate in rehabilitative programs. Instead, they’re encouraged to sit in prison — a difficult, dangerous environment — and wait until their sentence is finished. When they’re released, they’re often more dangerous than they were when they went in.

Prop. 57 requires California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to implement a new system of credits for inmates based on their successful participation in evidence-based rehabilitation programs like education and drug treatment. The state prison system awards the sentencing credits, and then the parole board makes the final decision about whether an offender is worthy of release.

“This does nothing to change sentencing,” said Mark Bonini, chief probation officer for Amador County. “Nothing changes on the sentencing side. The people we’re talking about are going to be released to (parole) supervision, and this gives us a better chance of rehabilitation.”

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Fewer Former Offenders Returning to Prison in CA…Bill to Protect In-Person Jail Visits Moves to Gov. Brown…and DOJ Training Video for Better Interactions with Trans People

August 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Three-year recidivism rates for California’s prisoners has dropped significantly for the fifth consecutive year, according to new data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The 87-page report revealed a 10% recidivism reduction—from 54.3% in 2014 to 44.6%—for inmates released during the 2010-2011 fiscal year compared with those released during fiscal year 2009-2010. Even lower than the statewide recidivism rate, was the rate for Los Angeles County: 32.3%.

Of the offenders who received substance abuse treatment both behind bars and post-release, just 15.3% returned to prison during that three year period following their release.

“Most offenders sent to prison are eventually released, and so rehabilitation is in everyone’s best interest—our staff, the inmates and the community at large,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “The latest recidivism rate shows that we’re helping more inmates learn how to live a law-abiding, productive life.”


As some jails gradually increase the use of video visitation and decrease in-person visits for inmates and their loved ones, a California bill aims to protect those face-to-face visits. The bill, authored by CA Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), which would require counties to provide in-person visitation in jails by 2022, has made it to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for final approval.

“Every year California releases thousands of jail inmates whose chances of staying out and straightening up rise in proportion to how closely they stayed in touch with family members while in jail,” said Mitchell, explaining the importance of keeping inmates and their families connected.


The US Department of Justice has released a video (above) for the nation’s law enforcement officers explaining transgender terminology and how to have respectful, kind interactions with transgender people with whom they come into contact.

Posted in prison | 3 Comments »

Changing Leadership at CA Women’s Prisons, and Why We Need More Female Cops

August 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Both of California’s only all-female prisons—which have been under investigation by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—are reportedly undergoing changes in leadership. On Friday, the CDCR sent out two memos announcing the retirement of Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) Warden Deborah “DK” Johnson and California Institution for Women (CIW) Warden Kimberly Hughes.

A CDCR representative has said that the timing of the two wardens’ retirements is merely a coincidence, but prisoners’ rights advocates say the corrections department is cleaning house, and likely forced the retirements. And the CDCR spokeswoman, Krissi Khokhobashvili, confirmed that other higher-ups at CCWF have been reassigned.

We at WitnessLA have been closely following the situation at CIW, in particular. The prison has experienced an alarmingly high number of suicides (6), and suicide attempts (73), since at least 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate–five times the state average—among all 34 prisons. (Read the story of Erika Rocha, who committed suicide in April, in the mental health unit at CIW, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing.)

Both prisons have struggled with serious overcrowding issues. The overflowing population at CCWF, one of the largest women’s prisons in the nation, has reportedly exacerbated problems with medical care at the facility, as well as “a culture of fear and retaliation…and a general lack of respect on the part of the guards toward the women,” according to Don Spector, executive director of the Prison Law Office.

LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Krissi Khokhobashvili says the timing of the dual retirements is merely a coincidence.

“They both put in for retirement, as far as I know,” Khokhobashvili says.

But according to Khokhobashvili, a number of other top officials at CCWF have been reassigned, including its chief deputy warden, chief executive officer and chief medical executive.

Observers of the prison system see the personnel changes as a move by Department of Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Dec. 28, to clean house.

“I’m relieved that there’s any response at all that indicates they see a problem,” Lenz says. “But I don’t feel optimistic, given their track record of investigating themselves.”

Spector agrees.

“We’re grateful that the department has made some changes to the leadership of both of those institutions,” he says. “But that’s only the first step. There needs to be intensive work to change the culture and practices at both prisons.”


There are over 3 million incidents of domestic violence reported to police each year, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Out of the reported assaults on spouses or ex-spouses, 95% were acts of violence by men against women.

Of the more than 4.5 million reported violent crimes committed against women every year in the US, 500,000 are sexual assaults—although rape and other sexual assaults are wildly underreported. Female rape victims—whose stories are often discredited by law enforcement—are statistically more likely to report sexual assault if female cops are present.

Yet, nearly 90% of law enforcement officers nationwide are male.

At the local level, the Los Angeles Police Department—which, interestingly, hired the nation’s first female police officer with arrest powers—had 1,855 sworn female officers and 8,046 sworn male officers, as of June 2016. (For comparison, the department employs 1,676 women and 1,129 men in civilian roles.) According to LA County’s open data website, the sheriff’s department is composed of 11,360 men and 6,349 women. (The county data is not broken down into sworn versus civilian.)

By telling the harrowing story of her grandmother—a victim of domestic abuse who became a police officer—author and journalist Sarah Smarsh discusses the gender disparity in policing, and the need for more female cops, who are no less capable than their male peers, and who bring to the table more empathy and respect toward the citizens they serve.

Female cops are also less likely to use excessive force or engage in misconduct. Smarsh argues that “toxic masculinity,” bias, and a culture of overly aggressive law enforcement (and even sexual assault) within troubled departments would be mitigated by having an even number of men and women wearing badges. “There is no greater agent of positive disruption than a female cop,” Smarsh says.

Here’s a clip from Smarsh’s not-to-be-missed Longread:

Men thus compose the immense majority of both women’s assailants and women’s official protectors…

“The history of police is the history of state power,” political theorist Mark Neocleous wrote in The Fabrication of Social Order. State power for millennia belonged mostly to men, of course, societal beneficiaries of a biological evolution in which size meant control. Modern policing thus centers on armed males trained to subdue civil disruption—most recently and notably, mass killings by male shooters with histories of violence against women—with physical force. The 20th century was a crescendo of militarization, first by the state and then by a fearful populace. It brought us to our current, boiling-point moment in which mostly male cops kill innocent civilians and mostly male civilians kill innocent cops. Racism is often the undercurrent, but toxic masculinity is the force that makes it lethal.

Meanwhile, a modern officer’s work more often involves driving a homeless person to a shelter than it does tackling a perp or drawing a weapon. For a society that in recent decades has dismantled many of the public institutions that once cared for citizens in need—mental health care, welfare, after-school programs—today’s American cop is among the few remaining tax-funded administrators of public wellness. He is less called upon to be a soldier than a caretaker.

Often the person who needs his care is a woman. In that process, gender can be a detrimental divide.

One result of that divide is that women are often disbelieved when reporting assault. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, ten officers in a Michigan police department—seven of whom were male—described their personal approaches to evaluating rape reports: “If there is no physical evidence and you said you got raped, did you get raped? …No,” one cop said. Other officers described giving alleged victims “a light interrogation” in the event that “there’s any inclination that there might be another motive” for the report. Such scrutiny of sexual assault victims deters reporting, of course. Unsurprisingly, the presence of female cops makes women more likely to report, according to United Nations research.

A police department’s treatment of domestic violence in its own ranks is telling of the culture it brings to work. In the Los Angeles Police Department’s handling of domestic violence claims against its own officers from 1990 to 1997, 227 complaints were filed, 91 were determined to be worth investigating—and just four resulted in a criminal conviction. The validated claims weren’t mentioned in performance evaluations more than three-quarters of the time, and over a quarter of accused officers were promoted while under investigation. Calling out bad cops is risky business, of course. When a legal consultant in a civil lawsuit noticed these scandalous mishandlings in LAPD personnel files and leaked the story to the press, he became the first person in U.S. history to serve prison time for violating a judge’s protective order.

An even more sinister outcome of a gender-lopsided police force: Sexual assault of female civilians by male cops. Last year, the Associated Press reported that, over a six-year period, about a thousand officers lost their badges for rape, propositioning citizens and other sex crimes. Victims—mostly young, poor females compromised by addiction or criminal records and unlikely to file complaint—included “unsuspecting motorists, schoolchildren ordered to raise their shirts in a supposed search for drugs… women with legal troubles who succumbed to performing sex acts for promised help, and prison inmates forced to have sex with guards.” The study doesn’t capture the size of the problem, as it only counted revoked licenses, thus leaving out untold reported and unreported offenses that went unpunished. (Nine states and Washington, D.C., including highly populous California and New York, didn’t provide numbers or have no state-level system for dealing with officer misconduct to begin with.)

High-profile cases of serial-rapist officers leveraging the power of their badges to assault women have brought recent arrests in Los Angeles and convictions in Oklahoma City. In March, an Alabama state trooper who raped a woman when responding to her call for help after a car accident was sentenced to just six months in jail. In June, Oakland, Calif., Mayor Libby Schaaf said of a scandal involving over a dozen male officers accused of having sex with a teenage girl and supplying her with money and information, “I’m here to run a police department, not a frat house.” In 2009 and 2010, sexual misconduct was the second most frequent complaint against officers, according to the Cato Institute.

The most frequent complaint: excessive force. This topic of broad public discussion for the last couple years has rightly centered on the race of victims, but relevant too is the gender of cops: Female officers are, in general, far less brutal. They are over eight times less likely than male officers to face sustained charges of excessive force, and two to three times less likely to receive complaints. This data, compiled by the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP) in a 2002 report, also shows that female police officers favor—and succeed with—non-physical means of interaction with suspects, though they still use force when necessary. In 1991, an independent commission formed after the videotaped beating by white officers of black motorist Rodney King highlighted similar findings to little public notice.

Preference for nonviolence does not constitute physical weakness. The NCWP report cites studies indicating that women’s typically smaller stature doesn’t hurt their survival in the field. When physical force is required, training—not brute strength—better predicts success. Meanwhile, communication skills important for defusing dangerous situations, commonly measured as higher among female officers, are under-emphasized in officer-selection standards—hiring criteria that would encourage less violent male recruits, too. In these ways, a police force over-fueled by testosterone endangers not just women but people of any gender most likely to come into contact with police, including people of color or in poverty.

As someone who grew up with cops for family and friends, I’m sensitive to reactive discourse that casts every officer in a negative light—especially concerning so harrowing a job that I doubt most critics would perform any better. As recent killings of innocent black civilians by white male cops reveal, though, our police departments reflect the unjust power paradigms of our country.

Posted in prison, women's issues | 1 Comment »

Suicides at CIW, a New Trial After Miranda Rights Violation, and Indigent Defense

July 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Erika Rocha was 35 years old when she committed suicide on April 14 of this year, in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Women (CIW) in San Bernardino, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing. Rocha, who was serving a 19-to-life sentence for a juvenile crime, was taken off of suicide watch despite a making a suicide attempt before a previous parole hearing. (Read WLA’s previous reporting on Rocha’s untimely death: here.)

Unfortunately, Rocha’s case is not an outlier.

In June, one month after Rocha’s death, 27-year-old Shaylene Graves was found hanging in her cell, with just six weeks left to go on an 8-year sentence. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said Graves’ death was a suicide, but the young woman’s loved ones are challenging that conclusion.

CIW has experienced an alarmingly high number of suicides and suicide attempts since at least 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate—five times the state average—among all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

There have been 73 suicide attempts and six women have committed suicide since the beginning of 2013.

A 2014 report examining suicide prevention practices at all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found CIW, in particular, to be “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”

While the prison has been faulted for its suicide prevention efforts, CDCR officials have not pinpointed a single specific reason for the spike in suicides and attempts. There are likely other factors involved. Krista Stone-Manista—an attorney who took part in a lawsuit against the state over treatment of mentally ill prisoners—says the stream of suicide attempts may be due to “suicide contagion” effect.

“There’s a greater sense of despair there that I haven’t seen in other prisons,” Angie Junck, supervising attorney for the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, told LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron.

The inmates agree.

Other possible factors include an increase in drug traffic through the prison, and a high turnover rate for psychiatrists.

CA Senator Connie Leyva wants to solve the mystery. The senator says she is going to call for an investigation into the situation at CIW to ensure that “officers are receiving adequate training, making sure policies there are being adequately followed.”

Here’s a clip from Aron’s story for LA Weekly:

For years, the California Coalition of Women Prisoners has been asking California lawmakers to open an independent investigation into suicides at CIW.

“I think the problem is so deep,” Lenz says. “You could have better mental health care, but the culture of prison is so dehumanizing. I don’t think you can ever remedy the problem without changing the way we deal with crime and violence. But in the meantime, we want to help people survive.”

Following Erika Rocha’s death, which has received a small amount of media attention, their requests are gaining traction.

State senator Connie Leyva, whose district includes CIW, says she’s going to call for “an audit,” in August to “find out exactly what’s going on.” Leyva credits correctional officers with bringing the suicide rate to her attention.

“Clearly there is a problem,” Leyva says. “No one seems to be able to put their finger on what’s happening. We need to make sure that officers are receiving adequate training, making sure policies there are being adequately followed.”

She says she’s spoken to CIW’s warden, Kimberly Hughes. “I want to keep our discussion private,” Leyva says, “but we’re moving forward.”

Department of Corrections spokespeople declined L.A. Weekly’s request for an interview with Hughes.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristina Khokhobashvili points out that CIW is the only women’s prison in California with a psychiatric inpatient program. “Those inmates that require that advanced level of care, they will leave CCWF and be housed at CIW, because that facility is set up for that,” Khokhobashvili says.


In a 2-1 ruling on Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Kevin Jones Jr.—a man convicted in 2003, when he was 19, of fatally shooting one teen and wounding two others in a drive-by—must be granted a new trial because LAPD officers continued questioning him after the young man invoked his right to remain silent.

The court said LAPD detectives lied to Jones, telling him they had evidence of his guilt. Jones’ responses to the detectives’ post-Miranda questioning were pivotal in the case against him.

The victims who survived the shooting were unable to identify Jones from a lineup, and the vehicle witnesses described seeing was different than Jones’ car. The witnesses also described a hat that did not match Jones’ baseball cap.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

In a ruling written by Judge Jay S. Bybee, the court said Jones had invoked his Miranda right to remain silent when he said he didn’t want “to talk no more.”

“Once Jones said he wished to remain silent, even one question was one question too many,” wrote Bybee, a President George W. Bush appointee. Bybee was joined by Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee.

The victims were members of the Eight Treys Gangster Crips. They were shot while stopped at a gas station in a neighborhood that bordered the territory of a rival gang, the Westside Rolling 90s Crips.

An African American man sitting in the passenger seat of a black Ford and wearing a Cleveland Indians cap fired at the victims, witnesses said.

An informant told police that Jones was a gang member and drove a car similar to the one used in the shooting.

But the surviving victims were unable to pick Jones out of a photo lineup, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, the court said.


US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) announced their partnership on proposed legislation that would open up avenues for defendants to file federal lawsuits (including class action lawsuits) against states and local governments for system-wide failures to give poor felony defendants effective legal representation.

Across the nation, public defenders are severely overburdened (and underpaid), which means that and often can’t provide all of their clients with effective representation. In some jurisdictions, public defenders only have a few minutes to spend on each case. Approximately 95% of indigent criminal defendants take plea deals, Booker and Maloney point out.

“Fifty-three years after the Supreme Court reaffirmed our constitutional right to an attorney, public defenders are still juggling hundreds of cases and defendants are still meeting their lawyers only minutes before entering a guilty plea,” says Rep. Maloney.

These justice system failures most heavily impact low-income communities, Sen. Booker says. “The Equal Justice Under Law Act seeks to fill in the glaring gaps that have left too many Americans vulnerable and without adequate legal representation.”

The proposed legislation is a welcome step toward a more just public defense system, says NAACP Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, Hilary O Shelton. “By allowing a federal cause of action that allows a class of indigent defendants to sue in federal court for systemic violations of the Sixth Amendment on a pre-conviction basis, you are offering a constructive and effective solution.”

By the way, Booker’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is worth watching, if you missed it:

You can also read the full text of Booker’s speech over at Time.

In talking about Democratic pres cand Hildog, Booker managed to work into the speech his own most cherished topic, namely criminal justice reform:

She knows that our criminal justice system desperately needs reform, that we need to bring back fairness to a system that still, as Professor Bryan Stevenson says, treats you better if you are rich and guilty than poor and innocent.

She knows that we can be a nation that both believes that our police officers deserve more respect, support, cooperation, and love – and believes that a young twenty-something black protestor deserves to be valued, that they should be listened to with a more courageous empathy, and that change is needed in our system.

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Prison Call Fees Increasing After FCC Cap, How “Legal Financial Obligations” Also Burden Poor Inmates, and More

July 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Last August, a Federal Communications Commission ruling placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls.

Research has consistently shown that contact with family is extremely important for a former offender’s successful reentry into their community, yet many families simply cannot afford to visit loved ones who are locked up far from home, so they rely on the telephone. But outsized fees for phone calls can be a huge financial burden and a significant barrier to family connection.

The problem appears to be that the FCC’s cap only applies to out-of-state calls, and the largest prison phone company, Securus Technologies, has reportedly increased fees levied against inmates’ families for local calls to make up for the rate reduction for out-of-state calls. The rate increases have resulted in an overall higher cost to prisoners’ loved ones.

Last week, the Human Rights Defense Center filed a complaint with the FCC about Securus’ fee shift.

Mignon Clyburn, a federal regulator who pushed for the rate caps, called the local rate increase the “most egregious case of market failure” he had seen in his 16 years at the FCC.

International Business Times’ Eric Markowitz has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

At Weld County Jail in Greeley, Colorado, for instance, rates went up 52 percent for a local call. And at a jail in Holdenville, Oklahoma, rates recently rose 43 percent in just 24 hours — from $4.03 on June 19 to $5.75 on June 20. Both jails have contracts with Securus. Right now, it’s unclear how many other jails and prisons have raised their prices.

Rick Smith, chief executive of Securus Technologies, defended the change in an email and pointed the finger toward the FCC. Smith argued that because the FCC eliminated fees, set rates below their costs, and did not ban commission payments (i.e. revenue sharing with sheriffs an prison officials) the company “had to increase rates as long as we received facility approval in order to stay neutral financially.”

“Bottom line,” Smith wrote, “the lower rates that were highly publicized never went into effect because the FCC failed to do their job and tried to set rates below our cost. There are no rate caps on intrastate and local calls, only on interstate calls. I understand that inmates and families are upset that rates didn’t decrease, it’s the FCC’s fault.”

Wright, the inmate advocate, conceded what Securus is doing isn’t illegal. “While Securus may not be violating the law … there is no question that they are not only violating the spirit of the Commission’s Order, but doing so in a blatant manner that indicates their contempt for the FCC’s reforms and authority,” Wright wrote in his official complaint.

When a customer emailed a Securus to complain, the company responded: “Due to an order by the FCC, effective June 20th certain fees related to inmate calling will be reduced or eliminated. As a result, you may see modifications and rebalancing of calling rates at that time to offset fees that have been eliminated or reduced.”

This offsetting, however, has real-life impacts.


Another incredible financial burden placed on justice system-involved people by a growing number of local governments nationwide, is called a “legal financial obligation” (LFO). Jurisdictions charge defendants thousands of dollars in bench-warrant fees, filing-clerk fees, public defender fees, jury fees, incarceration fees, and more, in order to increase funding for their criminal justice systems. Not surprisingly, these fines, often carrying prohibitively expensive interest rates, have a hugely disparate impact on low-income and minority defendants.

And in 44 states, if formerly incarcerated people “willfully” default on paying these fees, they can be locked back up and slammed with even more LFOs.

The Atlantic’s Alana Semuels has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The interest charged on LFOs can be prohibitive for some former prisoners, adding thousands of dollars on top of the fines and fees they already can’t pay. For instance, on average, people in Washington State were sentenced to LFOs of $1,347. But that amount can increase significantly if individuals can only pay $5 a month. Many realize they may never pay off their LFOs, according to Harris.

The uptick in LFOs comes as states look for ways to pay for their corrections system while facing other revenue shortfalls. The fees levied on the formerly incarcerated include bench-warrant fees, filing-clerks fees, court-appointed attorney fees, crime-lab analysis fees, DNA-database fees, jury fees, and incarceration costs. They come in different forms: Fines are fixed financial penalties for given offenses, fees are charges for costs of using the justice system—and surcharges are levied on top of those—as a percentage of the total cost. States also charge for restitution and the cost of collection, and add interest surcharges for people on payment plans.

The percentage of prison inmates with court-imposed monetary sanctions exploded from 1991 to 2004, according to a study by Harris, Heather Evans, and Katherine Beckett. In 1991, just 25 percent of inmates reported receiving court-ordered fines and sanctions, by 2004, 66 percent did.


In 2012, 15-year-old Audrie Pott committed suicide after three teens sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious, and then texted photos of her body to fellow high school students. In response, California lawmakers passed Audrie’s Law, which increased penalties for sexually assaulting someone who is unconscious. Unfortunately, the law was poorly though through. The scope of Audrie’s Law was too narrow and left major disparities in sex crime sentencing laws.

State legislators should not make the same mistake in the wake of the the unpopular Brock Turner rape sentence, says the LA Times editorial board. Instead lawmakers should take the opportunity to carefully examine the state’s rape and assault laws and disparities in sentencing that might have contributed to Turner’s lenient sentence. Here’s a clip:

It would have been nice if the brutal attack, the sentences and the headlines and outrage that followed had spurred a more exhaustive reexamination and overhaul of California rape and assault law rather than a bill so narrowly focused on the circumstances of one incident. It would have been helpful if lawmakers had taken the opportunity to thumb through their statute books and had discovered the continuing imponderable discrepancy between sentences not just for juveniles but for adults who rape conscious victims and those who rape unconscious ones. If they had, they might have had a more rational legal framework in place than the one that allowed Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky to sentence former Stanford student Brock Turner in June to a mere six months in jail plus probation for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman after a party in 2015.

But they didn’t, and the maddening result is that lawmakers are now repeating their mistake by rushing to pass more headline-driven bills tailored to the circumstances of a particular case and the highly unpopular sentence that followed.

When the Brock Turner sentence hit the headlines, Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) quickly announced that she would introduce a bill on sentencing in cases in which an unconscious victim is raped (it’s worth noting that Campos is running against state Sen. Jim Beall, another San Jose Democrat, who is author of Audrie’s Law). She was beaten to the punch by AB 2888, a bill that once covered funding for food displays at California fairs, but was hastily rewritten and now prohibits probation for a variety of sex crimes, including rape or sexual assault of an unconscious person.

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