Prop 47 and Drug Courts, Ex-lifers Mentor Each Other, Prosecutorial Power, and Young Cops and Use of ForceMarch 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
WHY PROP 47 DRASTICALLY REDUCES USE OF DRUG COURTS …AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM
Before Proposition 47 reduced many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process. Those who completed drug court requirements had a much lower chance of reoffending than than if they had instead served out a sentence.
But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses. Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.
In LA County, drug court applications are 50% lower than pre-Prop 47 numbers.
There may be ways to resolve this problem, however.
KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here are some clips:
[A former public defender involved with L.A.'s drug courts, Mark] De Wit believes expanding eligibility for drug court could be the answer. And – for those who fail, a gentler sentence at county jail instead of prison.
Another proposal from Loyola Law Professor Eric Miller, include more serious felonies.
Miller admits however that there’s little political appetite for such a move locally, and it would be complex determining who would respond best to different kinds of treatment.
Miller adds that one of the shortcomings of the program already is that drug courts don’t engage in sophisticated enough screening process to weed out people who won’t succeed.
That very quandary has left many who work in this field with complicated feelings. De Wit, for instance, voted for the proposition, but simultaneously criticizes what it has done to drug courts.
And the California District Attorney’s office says a new policy is in the works that will change the qualifications for entering drug court.
FORMER LIFERS MENTOR FORMER LIFERS IN A FOUR-CITY CALIFORNIA PILOT PAROLE PROGRAM
KQED’s Scott Shafer visited a pilot support group in San Francisco through which paroled ex-lifers mentor each other. The participants discuss things like guilt and responsibility, as well as how to live successfully on the outside after spending decades behind bars.
This particular parole program is also being piloted in Los Angeles, as well as Pomona and Sacramento, with hopes to expand with the goal of helping the more than 2,100 paroled ex-lifers in California stay out of prison.
Shafer has more on the program for KQED’s California Report. Here’s a clip:
This meeting is a support group, an experimental peer mentoring program. It’s voluntary and those who come share practical advice, like tips on looking for work and dealing with one “no” after another from employers who just aren’t willing to take a chance on hiring an ex-felon.
One of the men, Steve Monger, said the last thing he wanted to do was work in a fast-food joint. But the rejections kept piling up.
“So me and another lifer, we just went in, we was honest with the guy,” Monger said. “We said we recently got out of prison. I was in 27, he was in 25, and we want a job. We’ll be here on time, we’ll work hard for ya. We don’t steal from ya. We don’t do drugs. You ain’t gotta worry about us. You call us, we’ll be here.”
Taco Bell hired them both. They’ve been working there five months.
Now let’s be clear here — there are plenty of inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole who will never, or should never, get out. It’s just too risky. They’re sociopaths, or they don’t show any remorse for what they did.
But over the past few years I’ve interviewed quite a few lifers — in and outside prison. And I’m always surprised at how thoughtful and reflective they are — especially given what they did to land them in prison.
Like Alisha Nolan Taplett. She was living in Sacramento when she got behind the wheel of a car with some friends out to settle a score.
“I was just looking at myself as the driver in the beginning,” she admitted. “Well, I didn’t kill anybody. But at the end of the day and every day, I still have to remind myself if it hadn’t been for me driving that vehicle, that young woman could still be alive.”
I asked Taplett what she’d say to a young person today who finds himself or herself in a situation where they’re being asked to drive a getaway car.
“If someone asks you to drive a car and you know that a homicide is going to take place, maybe you should pick up the phone and call 911,” she said without hesitation. “But that’s one of the things that we fail to do in our communities as well, because we don’t want to be labeled as that snitch. If I don’t save that person’s life by dialing 911, at least I know I tried.”
FOUR WAYS PROSECUTORS CAN MAKE BETTER USE OF THEIR VAST DISCRETIONARY POWER
In an op-ed for the Marshall Project, Brian Elderbroom, senior research associate at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, and Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel at Brennan Center’s Justice Program, lay out four reform-minded changes prosecutors can make to the way they wield their prosecutorial authority. (Instead of this way, and this way, for instance.) – links
Here are some clips:
Considering that crime has declined significantly, with violent crime falling by almost half since its peak in 1991, do prosecutors still need the leverage of mandatory minimums and long sentences for even the least serious felony offenses? To what extent have prosecutorial practices contributed to the high incarceration rates that are rallying Democrats and Republicans alike to seek alternatives to prison?
Campaign rhetoric should more closely match the national dialogue. Based only on DA elections, one wouldn’t know that crime was at historic lows or that members of both political parties are advancing policy reforms that aim to reduce incarceration. Prosecutors still regularly tout their success at securing the longest prison sentences and rarely campaign on the number of people they helped get treatment or avoid harmful incarceration. Instead of promising to pursue increasingly punitive policies, and then advocating for them in state legislatures, prosecutors should focus on expanding proven crime-prevention strategies.
Rather than trying to secure convictions and long sentences, prosecutors should focus on reducing recidivism and overall harm to the community. There is evidence that putting people in prison for longer than necessary can actually increase their propensity to commit crimes. There is also a growing body of research that suggests we have reached a point of diminishing returns with regards to incarceration and that additional increases to imprisonment rates will have no impact on public safety. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, prison expansion since 2000 had effectively zero impact on crime rates. Prosecutors are uniquely positioned to create opportunities to improve public safety while also reducing the nation’s incarceration footprint…
States and the federal government should require prosecutors to provide data on their charging, plea bargaining, and sentencing decisions. One way to ensure this outcome is for Congress to incentivize states to participate in a national prosecutor reporting program…
YOUNG OFFICERS USE FORCE, INCLUDING DEADLY FORCE, MORE OFTEN THAN OLDER COPS
There is a growing body of research indicating that younger officers are more likely to be involved in shootings and other uses of force.
The officers who killed Michael Brown, Darren Thomas, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice were all in their twenties.
A number of law enforcement veterans and experts argue that recruitment ages should be raised, and that officer training should be tailored to the individual, and include stress-management instruction.
Buzzfeed’s Mary Ann Georgantopoulos has this story we didn’t want you to miss. Here’s a clip:
The risk of officer-involved shootings drops as officers age, according to a study conducted by James P. McElvain, formerly of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Loma Linda University and Augustine J. Kposowa of the University of California, Riverside.
The data used in that 2008 study, published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, was collected from McElvain’s department, the 44th largest law enforcement agency in the country at the time. The results match what two researchers found in a 2007 study, published in the same journal, that found that incidents in which officers employ verbal and/or physical force diminished with each year of experience gained by the officer.
Researchers told BuzzFeed News they are not surprised that officers who use excessive, and sometimes lethal, force are young. Studies conducted by academics and police departments alike said age is a factor — one of many, but still a factor — in an officer’s use of deadly force.
Experts who have researched the issue said most people in their young adulthood — from ages 18 to 29 — haven’t developed full maturity of judgment to make, as the Justice Department called it in the Brown shooting analysis, “split-second judgements in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.” (Federal investigators cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing this week, calling his account “credible,” but found evidence of discriminatory policing throughout the Ferguson Police Department.)
And police orientations do little to address the emotional needs of future police officers. Across the country, police training includes little to no guidance on the psychological and emotional aspects of using force and stress management, said Maria Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College.
“We place a great deal of responsibility” on young officers, said Tom Nolan, a retired 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department and current professor of criminology at Merrimack College.
Nolan, who became an officer when he was 22 years old in 1978, said he was overwhelmed when he began the job. “I in no way had the requisite maturity and wisdom,” he said. “I had never held a gun before. It’s a dirty little secret that we’re hiring police officers too young.”
“I was in over my head,” he said about his start. “The tendency for someone that is overwhelmed or fearful is to react with excessive force, and I say that from personal experience.”