Monday, December 5, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts





LA County Approves Prop. 47 Outreach….Questions About CA’s Upcoming Foster Care Reform…and Kids with Leukemia Become Deputies for a Day

July 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation by County CEO Sachi Hamai to allocate $6.6 million from the county’s budget to help approximately 500,000 people with felonies that qualify for reduction to misdemeanors under Proposition 47. The vote was 4-1 with Supe. Michael Antonovich dissenting.

The money will go toward services and outreach so that as many people as possible take advantage of the legal relief Prop. 47 offers before the law’s November 2017 deadline. (There’s also a bill working its way through state legislature that would extend the deadline, if there were good cause to do so.)

The Public Defender’s Office will kick off the outreach by mailing letters to potentially eligible people. “County departments, community-based organizations, advocates, and interested public and private agencies will also receive posters and flyers to advertise the opportunity for Prop 47 legal relief and services,” Hamai’s letter reads. And if a 10% response rate is not achieved, “then the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) will insert Prop 47 flyers into their regular correspondence to clients and advertisements will be placed on public transportation routes.”

As of April, the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender’s Office had received over 54,000 Prop. 47 petitions, and filed over 31,000 petitions. This doesn’t include applications filed by private attorneys, but is certainly a far cry from the estimated 500,000 eligible people who still haven’t submitted requests. Part of the money will be used to add paralegals to the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices to help with the anticipated increase in workload.

The funds will also be used to connect Prop. 47ers with mental health and substance abuse services, medical care, housing, and employment resources from community-based businesses and organizations.

NOTE: The Supes passed a separate motion that would task the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Probation, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry, and other government entities and external organizations to research ways to reduce recidivism, including probation for misdemeanor offenders. We’ll have more on the motion later this week.


In 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 403, a bill that will overhaul counties’ child welfare placement systems by eliminating traditional group homes, and by focusing on long-term placements with foster families, as part of a larger effort called the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR). The changes are slated to go into effect by January 2017, and so far, California’s not ready for the switch.

At that time, the current controversial group home model will be thrown out in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs) which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes. Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs.

But what will happen to LA County’s high-needs foster children when the long-term group homes vanish and there are not enough foster families to go around? (USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism students Sara Tiano & Brittany Reid explored the issue in a story for WitnessLA.)

Writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, human services veteran and founder of the Family Care Network, Jim Roberts, reports that CCR was not designed specifically to improve the lives of children in the welfare system…it was designed to save California money. And unfortunately, without a major (and unlikely) boost to currently depleted foster parent ranks, the plan may be doomed before it even begins. Part of the problem, says Roberts, is that the state isn’t substantially increasing payments to foster families and foster family agencies, which would help with recruitment.

Roberts also points out that, so far, the state has been unwilling to pay foster parents an appropriate amount to take care of teenagers and hard-to-place high-needs, challenging foster kids who are extremely hard to place (and who often end up in group homes). Here’s a clip:

For the past couple of years, the state has been doling out more money to the counties to improve resource family retention and recruitment, but I can guarantee you, these are not the families who will be taking the youth coming out of group homes, many of which have significant behavioral, mental and emotional problems. The majority of these kids went into residential treatment because they needed it, not because there was a lack of placement options elsewhere.

Of equal concern is the fact that the state is not willing to appropriately pay foster parents what it takes to serve high-needs, challenging foster youth. The “new” CCR rates include, at best, a paltry rate increase, but actually decrease some rates to foster parents who provide certain levels of care, including those who care for teenagers. We should be doubling or tripling the amount paid to our foster parents who are working with challenging youth 24/7.

My agency, the Family Care Network, has been successful in working with the county to cobble together multiple funding sources in order to pay foster parents one of, if not the, highest rate in the state. But it is still not enough, nor has it helped much in our recruitment efforts.

One ray of hope in the resource family reimbursement debacle is therapeutic foster care (TFC). Yes, TFC will provide additional payment to “therapeutic foster parents” working with an FFA. But they must meet stringent vetting and training requirements, they must participate in the clinical process and complete required daily documentation, and the foster youth must meet “medical necessity” in order to qualify for mental health services. Plus, the FFA must be a qualified specialty mental health services provider with a contract to receive reimbursement. The long and short of this is that it will benefit a handful of foster parents at best, providing that you can find these families.

Another demonstration of the state’s lack of insight concerns probation youth within the juvenile justice system. These kids are one of the higher consumers of group home services and the plan is to move many of them into the community. Again, the “new” rate structure does not provide any accommodation for serving this high-risk, offender population. Most of these youth do not “meet medical necessity” and would not qualify the foster parent to receive the TFC rate augmentation. And I rather doubt there will be many – if any – foster families willing to take in a juvenile offender without substantial reimbursement and the necessary intensive services and supports.


Today (Wednesday), Julian Cardenas, a 13-year-old with leukemia, will become an honorary deputy for a day at Industry Sheriff’s Station.

When Deputy Marianne Oliver responded to a call to help Julian back in May, she connected with the boy, who she learned was struggling with the fact that he could not play with his peers outside, or regularly attend school while undergoing treatment. Oliver, who felt she needed to do something beyond the standard call for service, shared Julian’s story with her fellow deputies, who decided to surprise Julian by making him honorary deputy at their station.

Today, Oliver will pick Julian up in an LASD Camaro show car, and take him to the station, where we will be sworn in, receive a tour of the station, train in the weapons training simulator, and visit the Special Enforcement Bureau Special Weapons Team, K-9 and Aero Bureau deputies. Oliver and her coworkers will also present Julian with a bunch of challenge coins and souvenirs from different LASD departments.

The Industry Station will also host a barbecue fundraiser to help Julian and his family.


Upon hearing the story of Alfonso Hoffman—a 12-year-old in Boyle Heights who is fighting leukemia, and who dreams of one day becoming a K9 officer, the LASD’s Transit Policing Division swore Alfonso in as an honorary deputy for a day. Alfonso was given a tactical vest, rode in a armored truck, and trained with the department’s explosives detection dogs.

Alfonso, who faces three years of chemotherapy treatment, thanked the transit deputies officers with tears in his eyes. “It’s been an honor,” Alfonso said.

(We also recommend heading over to ABC7, where you can watch a video of Alfonso being sworn in.)

Posted in Propositions, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

LA County Supes Vote to Track Fiscal Impact of Prop. 47 and Devote 50% of Savings to Prevention Programs

April 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

At last week’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Auditor-Controller John Naimo informed the Supes—-via an 18-page report—that the county had no way to come up with an accurate estimate of savings (or increased costs) from Proposition 47.

Prop. 47 reclassified six low-level drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors, and was supposed to save the state more than $100 million each year. Money saved by Prop. 47 is earmarked for community mental health and rehabilitation services, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services.

None of the eight county departments included in Naimo’s review had methods in place for gathering and tracking the financial impact of Prop. 47 in Los Angeles County.

“It’s worrisome that many county departments aren’t keeping track of the information they need to understand how Prop 47 is changing their operations,” said John Kim, Executive Director of Advancement Project.

The problem isn’t unique to Los Angeles. “We contacted the counties of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego to identify best practices, and noted that all four counties did not track and quantify Prop 47 cost savings and/or increases at the time of our revÍew,” Naimo wrote in the report.

The Auditor-Controller did come up with a rough estimate (for fiscal year 2015-2016) of $9.2 million in net savings from the voter-approved 2014 law.

On Tuesday, the board approved two important motions from Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The first motion will split the savings, sending 50% to community-based mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and victims services, and 50% will go to Prop. 47 task forces, which among other duties, will ensure the Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office have enough resources to get all Prop. 47 petitions processed before the November 2017 deadline.

“Investing 50% of Prop. 47 savings in community prevention is a big step forward and moves savings upstream, into prevention. But we are only halfway there,” said the LA Coalition for Safety and Justice in a statement released Tuesday. “One hundred percent of the savings should be invested into community based programs that reduce recidivism, increase neighborhood safety, and get residents the appropriate care they need, such as substance abuse treatment and youth development.”

Drug Policy Alliance’s Eunisses Hernandez stressed the importance of the money allocated for local legal resources to get all Prop. 47-eligible petitions processed. “I think this motion is really great,” said Hernandez. “I just want to ensure that we include some of that funding to go into the community-based legal service providers…that are working on implementing Prop. 47, and helping people remove the barriers to employment, housing, and other things that can lead to recidivism.”

At the state level, CA Governor Jerry Brown’s budget has calculated that savings to be $29.3 million. And the ACLU and other advocates have criticized Gov. Brown for putting Prop. 47 money back into the prison system by subtracting certain supervision and court costs from the Prop. 47 savings total. A report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million.

The second motion will have the eight county departments—which include the LASD, Probation, the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender, the DA, Dept. of Health Services, and Dept. of Mental Health—track and analyze work and productivity data in a manner that will clarify Prop. 47 savings and better inform the budget.

“Already tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles County have applied for a change in their criminal record under Prop. 47, allowing them to escape the burden of a felony that for too long has precluded them from accessing jobs, housing, and other things that are key to maintaining stability,” said Danny Montes of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Our county’s justice system needs to adapt to changes in the law. Prop. 47 requires new approaches, and everyone in our county’s justice system needs to be committed to that.”

We at WLA will be keeping an eye on these issues.

This post was updated April 13, at 2:20p.m. to include quotes from the board’s meeting.

Posted in Propositions, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

Prop 47 Town Hall Talks $$$ Use…. Hillary on Criminal Justice…More Thoughts on Violence & Non-Violence Baltimore….

April 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In an absolutely packed town hall meeting held Wednesday night at Hollman United Methodist Church on West Adams, close to 800 So Cal community members, clergy, office holders, and advocates came from as far as San Diego, Orange County, and the Inland Empire to talk about the implementation of Proposition 47, the initiative passed last November that reduced a number of low level felonies to misdemeanors.

The string of speakers that included LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, A New Way of Life’s Susan Burton, LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers, Father Greg Boyle and other representatives from Homeboy Industries, and more, talked about the need to make sure that the biggest piece of the projected millions in savings generated by the law is directed toward reentry services, drug treatment, and other programs that either help prevent a return to jail or prison, and/or provide healthy alternatives to incarceration.

Supervisor Solis talked about increasing county funding for community programs “that work,” and about how the newly configured LA county board of supes “is realizing it’s wiser to reduce incarceration for community safety.”

Hillary Blout of Californians for Safety and Justice, one of Prop 47′s sponsors, gave a rundown on the statewide implementation to date of the still new law, and talked about the “need to treat health problems with health solutions,” rather than incarceration.

“Drug addiction is a disease that needs treatment…untreated it gets worse behind bars”

Susan Burton, who founded An New Way of Life to give women coming out of prison a new start. said that she had supported Prop. 47 “because it recognizes the promise in all of us.”

The overarching purpose of the night was to seek commitments to support programs that “create opportunities for redemption and success” from members of the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), which is the group that will administer 65% of the savings from the Proposition 47 Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.”

The two-plus hour event was cosponsored by PICO California, LA Voice, Californians for Safety and Justice, Homeboy Industries, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Community Coalition, All of Us or None, and A New Way of Life. And, as the night reached its end, most participants seemed to come away with inspiration.

“People make the deepest of transformations with even the slimmest of support,” said Minister Zachary Hoover, LA Voice’s Executive Director. “Imagine what would happen if we continue to invest in ourselves, our neighbors, our fellow Californians as if we were family…. We are calling on state and local officials to do more,” he said, “because we the people are ready for boldness.”

Wednesday’s town hall was the third of four events in a series of town hall forums organized by PICO California and affiliates, along with the Board of State and Community Corrections, to discuss “local, regional and state priorities for violence reduction, expanding alternatives to incarceration, and reducing recidivism.”

The final town hall will be held in Sacramento on May 19, 2015


On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton gave what was billed as a major speech on criminal justice at Columbia University. But did she say anything of substance?

The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan felt that Clinton called for an overhaul of her husband’s criminal justice policies. (Although this was reportedly somewhat refuted later by Clintonites.) Here’s a clip:

Tough-on-crime policies that emphasized arrests and convictions for relatively minor offenses have failed the country, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday, leading to overcrowded prisons and too many black men “missing” from their families and communities.

“We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system,” Clinton told an audience at Columbia University in New York.

Calling for an “end to the era of mass incarceration,” Clinton endorsed body cameras for police nationwide to record interactions between officers and potential suspects. Making her most specific policy proposals since launching her campaign earlier this month, Clinton said it’s time for a nationwide overhaul of what she called misguided and failed policing and prison strategies.

In effect, she was saying that policies put in place when her husband Bill Clinton was president have not worked. Clinton did not mention her husband or identify exactly which laws and sentencing policies she thought had gone wrong. But many of those policies grew out of the crackdown on drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses that took place before and during Bill Clinton’s presidency 20 years ago….

Jacob Sollem of Reason magazine was less than thrilled. Here’s a clip:

Speaking at Columbia University, Clinton said several true things: The use of unnecessary force by police is bad, but so is looting and rioting. Our “out-of-balance” criminal justice system punishes people too harshly, imprisons too many “low-level offenders,” and disproportionately hurts black men. As Clinton noted, there is by now bipartisan agreement on these points. “It is not enough just to agree and give speeches about it,” she said. “We need to deliver real reforms.”

Such as? The one new and specific reform Clinton recommended was equipping police officers with body cameras, which she called “a common-sense step.” She also reiterated her support for “alternative punishments,” “specialized drug courts,” and “drug diversion programs.” Body cameras are a good idea with broad support. I am less keen on forcing people into “treatment” they do not want by threatening to lock them in cages. I would tell you what I think about Clinton’s other ideas if she had offered any.

“It’s time to change our approach,” Clinton said. “It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration.” I agree. Presumably the solution involves 1) locking fewer people up, 2) imposing shorter sentences, and 3) letting current prisoners out. But Clinton did not move beyond platitudes on any of those points. “I don’t know all the answers,” she confessed.

Sollem lists a number of reformist bills that Hillary could back that would give her stand some heft—-many of them already backed by some of the Republicans who would run for president against her.

For instance, he says, she could easily get behind making retroactive the lowering of the disproportionately high sentences for crack cocaine, which was approved by Congress almost unanimously in 2010. And he has other ideas after that one.

[The crack sentencing retroactivity] reform, which could help thousands of federal prisoners and should be a no-brainer for Clinton, is part of the Smarter Sentencing Act, which was reintroduced in February by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The bill’s 12 cosponsors include four Republicans, two of whom, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are vying to oppose Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in next year’s presidential election. The House version of the bill was introduced by a Republican and has 30 cosponsors, including seven Republicans. In addition to making shorter crack sentences retroactive, the bill would cut mandatory minimums for various drug offenses in half, eliminate the mandatory life sentence for a third drug offense, and expand the “safety valve” for low-level, nonviolent offenders.

Is this the sort of bipartisan reform Clinton has in mind? What about the Justice Safety Valve Act, a more ambitious bill sponsored by Paul that would effectively repeal mandatory minimums by allowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice? Is that too radical for Clinton? If so, why?

Here’s the text of Hillary’s speech.


And while Hillary was at Columbia, after the most intense of Baltimore’s demonstrations quieted, Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this conversation-provoking essay about the fury in the streets. It is called ‘Nonviolence as Compliance.” Take a look.

Here are some clips:

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.

The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:


….tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested….

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Drugs and drug treatment, law enforcement, Propositions, race, race and class, racial justice, Reentry | 2 Comments »

The Conservative War on Prisons, The LAPPL Challenges Riordan to a Debate….and Petraeus (Sure. Why not?)

November 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


In brilliant, must read article for Washington Monthly, reporters David Dagan and Steven M. Teles explain how “Right-wing operatives have decided that prisons are a lot like schools: hugely expensive, inefficient, and in need of root-and-branch reform.”

“Is this,” the authors ask, “how progress will happen in a hyper-polarized world?”

Well, perhaps so. Dagan and Teles do a good job of analyzing how government-drowning antitax activists like Grover Norquist are coming together with evangelicals and formerly tough-on-crime conservative advocates—and, in some cases, even (gasp) liberals—to take some solid steps in the direction of real criminal justice reform, with more potentially on the horizon.

Moreover, it is reform that liberal criminal justice advocates have been unable to accomplish on their own, nevermind that facts, common sense and a host of research was on their side.

Here’s how the story opens:

American streets are much safer today than they were thirty years ago, and until recently most conservatives had a simple explanation: more prison beds equal less crime. This argument was a fulcrum of Republican politics for decades, boosting candidates from Richard Nixon to George H. W. Bush and scores more in the states. Once elected, these Republicans (and their Democratic imitators) built prisons on a scale that now exceeds such formidable police states as Russia and Iran, with 3 percent of the American population behind bars or on parole and probation.

Now that crime and the fear of victimization are down, we might expect Republicans to take a victory lap, casting safer streets as a vindication of their hard line. Instead, more and more conservatives are clambering down from the prison ramparts. Take Newt Gingrich, who made a promise of more incarceration an item of his 1994 Contract with America. Seventeen years later, he had changed his tune. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”

None of Gingrich’s rivals in the vicious Republican presidential primary exploited these statements. If anything, his position is approaching party orthodoxy. The 2012 Republican platform declares, “Prisons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.” What’s more, a rogue’s gallery of conservative crime warriors have joined Gingrich’s call for Americans to rethink their incarceration reflex. They include Ed Meese, Asa Hutchinson, William Bennett—even the now-infamous American Legislative Exchange Council. Most importantly, more than a dozen states have launched serious criminal justice reform efforts in recent years, with conservatives often in the lead.

Skeptics might conclude that conservatives are only rethinking criminal justice because lockups have become too expensive. But whether prison costs too much depends on what you think of incarceration’s benefits. Change is coming to criminal justice because an alliance of evangelicals and libertarians have put those benefits on trial. Discovering that the nation’s prison growth is morally objectionable by their own, conservative standards, they are beginning to attack it—and may succeed where liberals, working the issue on their own, have, so far, failed….

Read the rest.


Last month, former LA Mayor Richard Riordan proposed a ballot measure for the May 2013 election that would change the pension structure for all city employees, including police and firefighters. Without such reform, Riordan says, the city will soon face a cashflow nightmare.

As the LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron described it in his story on the topic:

The Riordan plan does three key things: forces people to contribute far more cash to their own retirement plans; places all future city hires — but not current employees — into a 401(k)-style system mimicking the private sector; and freezes automatic pension increases (now tied to salary increases) if the pension fund investments aren’t doing well.

Naturally the city’s labor unions are dead against the proposed measure, and they have some very valid points—which they fear are being drowned out by the former mayor’s appearances on local talk radio.

And so, on Tuesday afternoon, LAPPL president Tyler Izen challenged Riordan to a debate—-or rather a series of debates—on the pros and cons of the would-be ballot measure, which must have all its signatures gathered by December 7. Here’s a clip from the union’s statement:

“I am challenging Richard Riordan to three debates between now and December 7 because he has yet to offer any independent analysis that supports his wild claims. Riordan has chosen to hide behind carefully orchestrated radio talk show appearances where no challenging or insightful questions are asked, appearances before groups where he knows his ideas won’t be challenged, and well-crafted media releases that lack any pretense of substance,” said Izen.

We hope Riordan accepts.

Certainly some kind of pension reform is needed, but it must be the right plan, not merely something that Dick Riordan jams through because he can, and because it sounds good to a fed-up, and recession-worn public. (By the way, Joe Matthews writes for NBC “5 reasons” that Riordan’s plan won’t work.)


Hey, we’re riveted too. So, with that in mind, three quickie stories you might not have seen yet:


The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe writes about what happens when the “Surveillance State takes friendly fire.


Over at Wired Magazine’s Threat Level blog, the Threatistas note that post-Petraeus scandal Google has released stats showing an uptick in government requests for data.


Back to the New Yorker again, Andy Borowitz helpfully explains how you can tell whether or not you are involved in the Petraeus scandal. (In case you’re concerned.) For instance, according to Borowitz, these are some questions that a CIA Public Information Officer recommends that you ask yourself:

“Have you ever met David Petraeus? Have you ever received and/or sent shirtless photos of an F.B.I. agent? Have you ever exchanged e-mails with Jill Kelley? Under five thousand pages of e-mails and you’re probably O.K., but anywhere between ten thousand and fifteen thousand pages of e-mails could potentially mean you’re involved in some way….”

Posted in LAFD, LAPD, LAPPL, prison policy, Propositions, Right on Crime | No Comments »

Three-Strikes Reform, Former Inmates & The Joy of the Right to Vote

November 7th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Norman Williams, who is in the photo above, was voting for the first time when the picture was snapped.
Williams is a former 3-striker who was sentenced to life in prison for a third strike of petty theft. (He stole a floor jack out of a tow truck.) Williams’s other two strikes were not as minor as jacking a jack. But nor did they signal he was a man who so threatened public safety that he needed to be removed from our midst forever and post haste, as the 3-strikes law—passed in 1994– had dictated.

As the NY Times reported in 2010:

In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled

Fortunately for Williams, in 2005 when Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley had instructed his office to look for 3-strikes cases for whom a 25-to-life sentence clearly didn’t fit, they found Williams, and the Stanford 3-strikes Project at Stanford Law School subsequently agreed to take him on as a client and eventually gained his release.

And so it was that he cast his first vote on Tuesday, and thus was able to vote YES on Proposition 36, the state ballot measure to reform the over-broad law that had once put him behind bars for life. (As it happens, the Stanford 3-Strikes Project co-sponsored the measure.)

On Tuesday night, Prop 36 passed handily, gaining support in both conservative and liberal California counties.

I don’t know Williams personally, but I do know Wil Lopez, a bright, personable man and a former inmate who is now on staff for Homeboy Industries. While not a three-striker, on Tuesday Lopez was another joy-filled first time voter who marked his ballot for Prop 36 with a strong sense of purpose.

Here’s what Lopez wrote about the matter on Facebook on Monday of this week.

“I remember being in the ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit] in Corcoran state prison in 2005 and my cell mate from El monte was telling me how he had received a third strike for possession of burglary tools, which were regular tools in his car, and now he’s sentenced to life. I sat there and said I wish people would change the laws by voting. Wow, it’s been over five years and I never thought this day will come but I can honestly say I’m doing my part. I’m voting tomorrow, first time in my life, I’m f***ing voting tomorrow. Please, friends, go out and vote. Help make a change.”

Above is a photo of a euphoric Lopez taken on Tuesday after his own voting experience.

Luis Aguilar is another man I know who, like Lopez, was never a 3-striker himself, but who, through his own stints in prison, got to know people who were.

“Some guys deserved to be there, but for other guys I saw, it was just a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Luis told me when he called on Tuesday night from his job site to ask if I knew how the various ballot propositions were faring. Aguilar is former gang member who is now married with a family and a good union career working massive construction projects for LA County. Luis works the night shift so he and his wife had voted before he left for the job. He was relieved when I told him it looked like 36 was winning.

“I had this cellie one time when I was locked up who got struck out for stealing three pairs of Levis from Sears,” he said. “His other strikes weren’t nothing violent either. He was just an addict, and when he was using he did stupid stuff.”

Luis first voted in 2004 when he was still on parole and I was writing a series of articles for the LA Weekly about him and his family during his first year out of prison. I remember the seriousness with which he took his newly acquired enfranchisement then, a seriousness that appeared now to have only deepened—as demonstrated when he called multiple times to ask for updates.

He was most interested in Prop. 36, but wanted to know about rest too, especially the union-hobbling Prop. 32 (He was against it), and Prop. 30, Gov. Brown’s sales tax raise to benefit education, which Luis strongly favored. “I voted against everything else that the voting pamphlet said would cost the state more money,” he said. “But on 30 I voted yes, because schools are important.”

In terms of candidates, he voted a straight Democratic ticket, Luis said. “The only time I didn’t look at parties was for DA, then I voted for the lady—I don’t remember her name…”

“Jackie Lacey.”

“Yeah. That’s right. Because I liked the way she talked better than the guy, who looked like he mostly wanted to show he was all tough.”

Luis rang me for the last time Tuesday night just as Obama was beginning his victory speech. He said the radio in the county truck he was driving was broken. I told him CNN had just called a victory for Prop 36, then put him on speaker phone so he could hear the president talk. We listened silently for the duration:

….I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions…

“He was good, right?” Luis asked when Obama had finished and the pundits were beginning their commentary.

I took the phone off speaker and put it back to my ear, muting the TV as I did so. “I thought he was really good,” I said.

There was a pause.

“It feels good to vote,” I said, “It matters.”

“Yep,” he replied. And with that I heard his county-issued walkie-talkie squawk in the background. He thanked me for my help, and he had to go.

Posted in 2012 Election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, elections, Homeboy Industries, Propositions, Sentencing | No Comments »

The WitnessLA November 2012 Elections Endorsements

November 2nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

With voting day looming on Tuesday,
a quickie rundown of our thoughts and recommendations.


30 – YES! Jerry Brown’s must-pass initiative is a desperately needed budget patch providing funds for California’s educational system—both K-12 and higher education—while also funneling fiscal aid to other crucial state programs.

Prop 30 looked like it would pass easily, mainly because most Californian’s understand that our schools and other essential programs are in need of $$$, and the governor has devised the least painful way to raise the necessary bucks.

Unfortunately, wealthy Californian Molly Munger muddied the water by floating a competative ballot proposition (Prop. 38) then, along with her brother, using tens of millions of her own money to blast voters with TV ads designed to shake confidence in 30, in the hope of getting voters to embrace 38. Now, while 38 looks unlikely to pass, it has managed to erode just enough of Prop. 30′s support to put it in serious jeopardy.

So here’s the deal: Not only should you vote for Prop 30, but you should threaten, cajole, emotionally blackmail everyone you know, are related to, or pass randomly on the street into voting for it. Otherwise, we’re in for some dark days in terms of public education. (Not to put too fine a point on the matter.)

31 – NO. A messy and badly conceived attempt to reform the way the state legislature behaves. Heaven knows some serious reform is needed, but this ain’t it. Prop 31 will cut money from schools and other vital programs and create a pile of bureaucracy. Read what the Courage Campaign has to say here.

Even CA’s conservative newspapers are fleeing from this badly written item.

32: NO WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE – If you loved Citizen’s United then you’re going to adore Prop 32. Listen, many of us are furious when certain unions (cough) CCPOA, prison guards (cough, cough) swing their weight around to ill effect. But this proposed law is a union-hating, Koch Brother’s special that pretends to rein in corporate campaign spending and special interests. Instead, it favors big corporate interests and hobbles everybody else.

For a humorous (and kinda scary) look at Prop 32 supporters read our own Matt Fleischer’s account of what he heard when he parachuted in behind the lines of Prop. 32 central—namely the Lincoln Club.

33: NO! – This creepy little piece of work is auto insurance bait and switch that is the baby of Mercury Insurance founder George Joseph, and does not have your and my best interests at heart. Run!

34: YES – Replaces the death penalty in California with life without the possibility of parole.

I’ll let Jeanne Woodford (the former head of the CDCR and former Warden of San Quentin who oversaw four executions), plus my friend Frankie Carrillo speak on the topic, as they each are uniquely qualified to do so.

35: NO – The sex trafficking and slavery initiative is extremely well meant but is a morass of unintended consequences. Yes, of course, we must do everything possible to take the predators it targets off the streets and put them behind bars. But this problematically-structured law, the project of former Facebook privacy officer, Chris Kelly (who would like to ride this law into the office of CA Attorney General), causes more problems than it solves—sadly.

The good news is that it opens the dialogue on this pressing issue, where victims remain tragically unprotected.

36: YES – Reforms 3-Strikes so that bad guys get put away, and the people who don’t need to be the guests of the state for the rest of their lives (on our tab) don’t. Even LA DA Steve Cooley & SF DA George Gascon like this prop that fixes the flaws in a well-intentioned but overbroad law.

37: YES– Requires that genetically engineered foods (GMOs) be labeled before being sold in California.. The LA Times is against it. We disagree.

The issue is not whether GMOs are good or harmful. Many likely are not, and may have great benefit. The point is that, as a consumer, I’d like the right to know what’s in my food and whether or not the items I buy contain GMOs. Wouldn’t you?

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and some of the most famous chefs in America are in favor of GMO labeling.

So is the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and Dow are not and have thrown upwards of 40 million to try to persuade you that their opinion is the righteous one.

For a lengthier and highly informed counter-opinion to that expressed by the LAT and some of the other CA papers that are urging a NO vote, read what NY Times food writer Mark Bittman has to say about Prop. 37—and the missinformation put out by its mega-buck-funded opposition.

You also might want to read this also from the NY Times, by Michael Pollan (one of the gurus of the food movement, and author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, among other food-related books)

Oh, yeah, and if you don’t believe those guys, you might want to see what Bill Moyers has to say on the topic.

38: NO/YES.or WHATEVER. This prop, which has set itself up as the alternative to Jerry Brown’s Prop 30, is a scheme to raise some taxes in order to fund the state’s ailing public school system. The prop, as mentioned above, has been almost exclusively funded by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger. Munger is the co-head of the Advancement Project, along with the excellent Connie Rice, and we really, really like Munger for that, and for her many other accomplishments as a lawyer and an advocate. However, we are extremely vexed at her I-know-better-than-all-of-them-Sac’to-fools-do attitude in this instance, which could mean that neither prop passes, and that California schools suffer terribly as a result.

Karin Klien, the editorial board writer for education lays the matter out perfectly:

Proposition 30 is a superior measure on several fronts. It would avoid trigger cuts that would cause immediate and drastic harm to schools, which would probably be forced to cut the school year by up to three weeks, as well as $250 million in cuts to the University of California and an equal amount to the California State University system.

Beyond that, one aspect of Proposition 30 that has been little noticed is that it also provides money for community colleges; right now, more than 200,000 students at those colleges cannot find a seat in a single class, let alone enough courses or the courses they need to graduate. There’s little point to rescuing only K-12 schools when the graduates would have nowhere to go.

Polls suggest that Prop 38 doesn’t have a chance. And, yet, Munger’s ads and those of her conservative brother, wrongly claiming, as Klien writes, “…’politicians’ would get their hands on money intended for schools..” are still running. The non-passage of 30, once a sure thing until the Mungers threw tens of millions at the issue, is now hanging by a thread.

So vote for 38, don’t vote for it. Just make sure you vote for Prop. 30.

39: YES – Would remove a tax break that mainly benefits multistate companies based outside of California, a tax loophole that has actually encouraged these companies to take their jobs out of state. As KCET points out, Prop 39 would level the playing field by making multistate companies play by the same rules as companies that employ Californians, and would produce an extra $1 billion for the state coffers.

That’s the short version. If you want more, KCET has the details.

40: YES - Basically re-approves California’s newly redrawn state Senate districts. Every major newspaper in the state, whether conservative leaning or liberal leaning, urges a YES vote. A few disgruntled politicians urge otherwise, but most of them have quietly gone away.


In terms of candidates, we favor Janice Hahn, Howard Berman, Julie Brownley, Henry Waxman, if you’re in an area where they are on the ballot.


We firmly recommend Jackie Lacey.

Look: Alan Jackson is a skilled prosecutor, but he does not appear to have the temperament or the experience to manage the District Attorney’s office effectively. During the campaign, he has consistently tailored his message to the crowd, rather than giving us a clear idea of what his policies would be, if elected.

Lacey is more conservative than we would like, but she’s a listener, and has already appeared to grow in the course of the campaign. In short, she’s up to the job now and we believe would become stronger and better, while in office.

For more, read the very smart LA Times endorsement that I’m guessing was written by our pal Rob Greene.


(But you probably knew that.)

In any case, whatever and whomever you vote for: PLEASE VOTE

Posted in CCPOA, Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, CTA, District Attorney, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), elections, Innocence, Presidential race, Propositions, Springsteen, unions | 8 Comments »

LA Rolls Out an Are-U-Ready-to Get-Out-of Gangs? Test….& other Must Reads

January 9th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

This month LA’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development office (GRYD)—which runs the city’s gang intervention and prevention programs
—will roll out a brand new strategy ostensibly designed to determine how ready a gang member is to get out of his or her gang, and thus how ready they are to receive services that might aid them in turning their lives around.

With this in mind,some well known gang researchers who have been working working with GRYD, came up with a written test. Christina Hoag of the AP has a story on the new tactic. Here’s a clip:

USC researchers came up with measures of the strength of a gang member’s allegiance and to what extent he derives his identity from the gang.

“The group exerts a powerful influence on the individual. With gangs, we want to try to reduce that group influence,” said Karen Hennigan, assistant psychology professor at USC who developed the questionnaire. “So the question is ‘how well can you hold your own against the group?’ We call it the ‘I position’.”

Anti-gang counselors, who are often former gang members, will ask questions ranging from participation in sports and church groups to the number of family dependents to reactions to such statements as “being in a group is an important part of my life.”

One challenge may be finding gang members willing to take the survey, particularly if it’s perceived as judgmental.

Hennigan said anti-gang counselors will approach gang members saying the survey will be used to help improve their lives. At the very least, the aim is to get gang members to stop violent behavior, if they can’t exit the gang altogether.

I’ve heard some about this new test, but I’ve not actually seen the thing. I do know that it is similar, in intent and nature, to the existing GRYD questionnaire that at risk kids are asked to take to determine if they are at risk enough to merit receiving the city’s gang prevention services.

Matt Fleischer reported for WitnessLA on this earlier test—known as the YSET (Youth Services Evaluation Tool) or “The Tool”—and we found that many experts were critical of the strategy. (We were pretty critical ourselves.)

There is a list of reasons why this “tool” is potentially problematic too. In order to better determined its possible pros and cons, we’ll be reporting on it further in the days and weeks ahead.

In any case, stay tuned.


Our state has been in a law and order frenzy since the mid 1980′s, but the law-passing part of the frenzy reached a fever pitch up in the past 15 years.

The Sac Bee’s senior editor, Dan Morain (who is in general a smart writer and savvy about the political winds that cyclically blow through the state) has a column that suggest that the madness may finally be beginning to play itself out.

Here’s a clip:

Not that many years ago, California legislators worked themselves into a law-and-order frenzy, and with voters’ help, infused the justice system with steroids by approving the nation’s toughest “three-strikes” sentencing measure.

How the pendulum has swung.

After unrelenting prison growth dating back decades, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a budget last week that would slash $1.1 billion from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, paring its annual budget to $8.7 billion. Brown is calling on the Legislature to reduce the 66,000-position corrections department by 3,782 spots in the coming year and contemplates reducing the number of jobs by 10,200 over the next five years.

The inmate population never reached the 230,000 projections made in 1994 when California adopted the three-strikes law. But the number of inmates did top 174,000 in 2006. Now, the population sits at 132,000, and will to 112,000 if all goes as planned in the next five years.

“I cannot think of a word that would overstate it,” said Stanford professor Joan Petersilia, a criminal justice expert who has long studied California’s prison system. “We have never seen anything like this in California.”

Morain also points out that the new proposition likely headed for the ballot that is aimed at modifying California’s ultra strict 3-Strikes law , does not seem to be garnering all the usual opposition. (Surely there will be opposition, but some of the usual suspects may not be part of it.)


An autobiographical book by LA civil rights attorney Connie Rice titled Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in America, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones is being released on Tuesday. More on this tomorrow (after I go to the book party celebrating its publication). In the meantime, here’s a clip from Carolyn Kellogg’s review of the book for Sunday’s LA Times.

Yet from a young age, she was aware that not everyone shared her fortune. The light-skinned Rice tells the story of a darker boy on an Arizona playground who asked, “What IS you?” — he couldn’t believe that they were both black. With an uneasy sense of commonality, she pushed — something she does again and again in her life — and visited his home; it was her first genuine encounter with the deprivations of poverty. Rice looks back to that encounter not because of their shared identity but for what it revealed to her: the disparity of opportunity and circumstance. By her teens, steeped in the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and moved by Rep. Barbara Jordan, she was convinced she must “end the inequality conspiracy, not join it.”

This passionate conviction drove her to Harvard-Radcliffe, then law school at New York University. The summer internships that law students take their second year have classically been thought of as a tacit line to a career with that firm, and Rice landed one at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. That was 1982, the summer that decisions by the Supreme Court meant that states could renew their pursuit of death penalty cases. “We had vowed to do whatever it took to keep everyone alive,” Rice writes of the stance that she and a pair of determined fellow interns took. “We were too inexperienced to know that it could not be done.” She recounts their near round-the-clock work, including late-night filings and Southern court conflicts, with breathless detail.


The LA Times’ Anna Gorman reports on this problem, which is neither easy nor cheap to solve.


Luis Luna has lived the U.S. since the age of three when his mother smuggled him across the border from Mexico. Then at 20, he was deported after a cop stopped him for a broken headlight. Now he’s trying to slip back in to the only country he sees as home. Be sure to read the LA Times’ Richard Marosi’s excellent story of Luna’s dilemma.

Posted in Gangs, Must Reads, prison policy, Propositions, Sentencing | No Comments »

What the Newest Field Poll Favoring 3-Strikes Reform Really Means

June 17th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday a new Field Poll was released that indicated
Californians favor a reform of the state’s Three-Strikes law by a 3 to 1 margin. Specifically, Field showed that 74 percent of Californians would like the law to be modified.

While more Democrats than Republicans favor the reform, the majority of Republicans and independents are ready to retool the law too— with 46 percent of voters favoring reform “strongly.”

This week Tracey Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News reported that a Three-Strikes reform initiative is, indeed going forward for the November 2012 ballot. (Kaplan has the details about the Stanford lawyers and others who have thus far signed on to launch the initiative).

The Field poll would appear to bode well for the 2012 effort.

However, in 2004 there was an earlier attempt to reform the Three-strikes law through the initiative process. Then too, the idea scored very high in a series of Field polls, and yet when election day came the initiative went down to defeat.

I called Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, and asked him about the 2004 gap between the opinion polling and the vote.

“Yeah,” DiCamillo, said, “the proposition had a 40 point lead until one month before election. Then Governor Schwarzenegger and some other respected figures including, as I remember, Jerry Brown, came out strongly against it, and I watched opinion change on a dime. That’s what happens when you have credible sources arousing fear. Often the public can be greatly swayed.

“I don’t think public opinion has changed all that much.” DiCamillo continued. They favored reform then by a big margin, and they favor it now. “But right before the election they got scared. It was a little like [George H. W.] Bush with Dukakis and that whole thing with Willie Horton.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens this time.”

This time, the reformers may be developing sharper elbows. Tracey Kaplan reports that political consultant Averell “Ace” Smith will be leading the campaign, a signal that the initiative’s backers are gearing up for hardball. Smith, who has run California campaigns for such successful candidates as Antonio Villaraigosa, Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris, has a well-earned reputation for being a very tough adversary.

California’s Three Strikes law is the harshest of the 24 similar laws in the nation in that any felony—even the theft of a video game—can qualify as a third strike.



Elsewhere in the Field Poll, California voters were asked if they agreed withGovernor Brown’s proposal to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling by transferring lower-risk inmates from state prisons to local county jails and other community-based facilities.” (The majority agreed.)

But then they were asked if they: “…agree or disagree with the governor that taxes will have to be increased to pay for this or not?”

Naturally most people said, Nope. Don’t think so.

All well and good—except for the fact that Jerry Brown has not suggested raising taxes, but is asking to extend some existing taxes. Second of all, the tax extension money would go to support a list of programs, education being the most prominent among them. And, yes, it would would also help pay for the inmate transfers.

‘Twould have been nice if the Field folks had asked the question a bit more accurately.


The LA Times’ David Savage has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court bolstered the rights of juveniles for the second year in a row, deciding by a 5-4 vote that police officers who remove a student from class for questioning about a crime usually must warn him or her of the right to remain silent.

The decision Thursday did not set a strict rule for all cases involving police questioning of minors, but the justices said young people deserved extra protection because they would feel they had no choice but to answer….


When an anti-Janice Hahn video surfaced early this week, many of us exchanged emails about the thing, but concluded that it deserved merely to be roundly ignored for the attention-seeking, tasteless, talent-free stunt that it was.

But, for some reason the normally sensible Larry Mantle devoted part of Wednesday’s Air Talk show on KPCC to discussing the thing. (Even my wonderful reporter pal Frank Stoltze contributed to the show’s discussion.)

Guys: Just ignore the children until they stop spitting their food on the floor.

Here’s the video. You tell me if you think it merits a serious discussion.

(Okay, here’s what we’re going to do: Let’s make a campaign ad that has the heads of Charlie Mason and some unidentifiable gangsters from the 1930′s randomly floating past a white lady pole-dancer’s bouncing butt while some embarrassed-looking rappers wearing 4th-of July shirts and plaid golfer hats yell “KILL! KILL!” And then we’ll show Janice Hahn with devil eyes and that cool, red, blood-drippy typeface! Yeah! Awesome, dude! This going to make our careers, I’m telling you!!!)


Posted in prison policy, Propositions, Sentencing | No Comments »


November 13th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon




Everybody’s known this for what now seems like ever. But no one would say so publically: LAUSD Superintendant David Brewer is way, way over his head, and has been from the get-go. Now he needs to step down. Here’s the opening of LA Times editorial calling it for what it is.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is not without accomplishment.
It has recently seen student test scores improve, and it is on track with a vast, long-term effort to build enough schools for all of its students. But along with much of California, the district is heading into troubled times — largely financial — that threaten its classrooms and students, and that will test its management and educational skills. This is a treacherous moment for a school district that has long operated on the edge of failure, and it demands unimpeachable leadership. In such a moment, the district cannot afford a superintendent who holds the title but isn’t up to the job.


The LA Times’ Jessica Garrison writes a smart, thoughtful news story about the evolving nature of the strategies used by the Prop. 8 opponents—then and now. Here’s how it starts:

Leaders of the campaign against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, raised nearly $40 million and ran a careful, disciplined campaign with messages tested by focus groups and with only a few people authorized to speak to the media.

They lost.

In the week since, California has seen an outpouring of demonstrations ranging from quiet vigils to noisy street protests against Proposition 8, including rallies outside churches and the Mormon temple in Westwood as well as boycotts of some businesses that contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign.

Many of those activities have been organized not by political professionals and established leaders in the gay community, but by young activists working independently on Facebook and MySpace.

The grass-roots activism is a tribute to political organizing in the digital age, in which it is possible to mobilize thousands of people with a few clicks of a mouse. It has generated national attention — and set up a series of Saturday demonstrations that organizers hope will attract tens of thousands of people to city halls throughout California.

But the demonstrations also have raised questions about whether the in-your-face approach will alienate voters

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, LAUSD, LGBT, Propositions, State government | 5 Comments »

Prop 8 Demonstrations Go Nationwide- UPDATED

November 12th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


This Saturday, November 15, the Prop 8 Protests
are scheduled to go nationwide.

The largest of the protests is expected to be the Los Angeles march, which begins at 10:30 a.m. at City Hall.


This time, word of the march seems to be spreading rapidly. Notices are speeding around Facebook and other venues. (I’m already hearing from actor and writer friends who are going.)

For more LA info, go here.

UPDATE: Taking at least one step in the direction of answering the question, What will elections-centric Blogs Like FiveThirtyEight do now that Obama has won? FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver does an excellent analysis (best one I’ve seen to date), of who voted for an against Prop 8, so that we can stop with this Who’s the Most to Blame? business and get back to solving the problem.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Propositions | 19 Comments »

« Previous Entries