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Realignment


Realignment Revisited, CA Bill to Conceal Child Abuse Death Cases, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Crowdfunding Lawsuits Against Law Enforcement

May 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA PRISONER REALIGNMENT AND ITS SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION, WILL BE PART OF GOV. BROWN’S LEGACY

California’s prisoner realignment, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) to the states’ 58 counties.

In 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California looked at what effect, if any, realignment had on crime in its first year of existence. It found a slight uptick in violent crime, but noted that it was comparable to similar increases in violent crime elsewhere in the country in states that had no new realignment strategy. (There was however, an anomalous uptick in auto theft, for which the researchers had no explanation.) At the same time, in that first year, the state’s prison population dropped by around 27,000 to 133,400 inmates.

On Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California released a second report, finding that in 2013, crime rates dropped several percentage points (or more) in all categories of violent crime and property crime calculated.

And, thanks to realignment, and more recently, Prop 47, the state’s prisons are now 2,200 inmates below the 137.5% capacity deadline set by a panel of federal judges. (Prop 47 reclassified certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.) County jail population growth has also slowed down.

A Sacramento Bee editorial lauds California Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice reform efforts, calling realignment an important accomplishment and a model for the nation.


UNDER-THE-RADAR CALIFORNIA “TRAILER BILL” WOULD CONCEAL RECORDS OF KIDS KILLED BY THEIR PARENTS’ SIGNIFICANT OTHERS…AND MORE – UPDATED

A “trailer bill” tucked away in the CA budget proposal would hide records of child deaths at the hands of a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend. It would also limit access to other case notes, and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Interestingly, the bill would also implement a federal order to release case files when kids are brought close to death.

Because the bill is attached to the budget, it will bypass the usual committee review process.

According to the Times, the bill could be voted on as early as today (Thursday).

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here are some clips:

…state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.

But the bill currently under consideration would relax deadlines for the release of records, and keep the names of social workers secret. It would deny the public access to original case notes, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children.

It would also exclude the public from reviewing case files concerning children who were killed by their parents’ boyfriends or girlfriends.


[EDITOR'S UPDATE: We have just deleted a sentence in our clip from this LA Times story. It had to do with DCFS's purported sponsoring of this worrisome bill, which---according to information we have subsequently received---turns out to be incorrect. (A DCFS spokesman said that those at his office first learned of the bill's existence this morning from the LAT's and WLA's reporting. He assured me that DCFS is not at all in favor of the information-restricting proposed legislation.)

The Times too has removed the problematic sentence, although without notifying readers that they have done so. Instead the faulty information just unaccountably vanished. (Bad LAT, no cookie!)]


[SNIP]

Pete Cervinka, the deputy director of the social services department who reportedly led efforts to draft the rollback, declined to answer questions about the proposal.

A spokesman noted that the department had not yet publicly introduced the language of the bill, which he said will implement a federal mandate to release records for the first time in cases where children are injured to the point that they are “near death.”


DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV AND THE DEATH PENALTY, AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF SOMEONE PAID TO HUMANIZE DEFENDANTS IN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT CASES

In a story for the Nation, Debbie Nathan, a journalist and freelance “mitigation specialist” for death penalty cases, gives an interesting take on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case from the eyes of someone whose job is to “de-monster the monsters.”

In death penalty cases, when guilt is already established, mitigation specialists dig through the defendant’s past to present a humanizing narrative that will sway jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Often, according to Nathan, the investigations turn up prior abuse, mental illness, and other traumas. But, Nathan says, the concepts and practices of mitigation investigations, vilification, and even innocence claims are indicative of a broken criminal justice system. Nathan argues that humans should be allowed to make bad decisions, even catastrophic ones, and remain among the living.

Here are some clips from Nathan’s insider take on the issue:

We search out hardship in early life. In death-penalty cases, this is usually like shooting into barrels of fish. Capital murder is an extreme behavioral outlier and almost always is associated with a gross inability to control one’s frustration, anger, and other antisocial impulses. The problem is most often associated with conditions like intellectual disability, mental illness, exposure to environmental and workplace toxins, and substance abuse. Learning this background can liberate a jury from simplistic and legalistic notions of “guilt,” toward the more complicated understanding that when terrible things happen to someone, even grotesquely violent responses are imbued with a quantum of moral innocence.

[SNIP]

Exposition. Rising action. A plot gone awry and a horrible climax. The denouement remains to be written. We mitigation specialists hope the poetics of our client’s life will move the jury to consider their own poetics. To think, as they lie in bed at night after court: “There but for the grace of God go I. Or my child!” They might vote to kill a monster, but not a human. Mitigation narratives don’t work all the time—witness what’s just happened with Tsarnaev. But they work often enough, and they save lives.

As a result of this work, I see capital cases from the inside. I see privy things. Very occasionally, I see strong evidence that someone is actually innocent: they seem truly to have done no wrong. These cases underscore the State’s outsized and often corrupt power, exercised though egomaniacal and dishonest district attorneys, lying cops, inept “experts.” These cases have become a powerful argument against the death penalty.

But I’ve also seen cases in which the defendant and his lawyers have publicly claimed innocence—yet during my work I’ve found evidence suggesting my client is guilty. I’ve seen attorneys hide the “bad facts” of the case—facts, kept quiet by the defense, which suggest that my client did commit murder. These are the moments in which I question the corrosive role that “innocence” plays in criminal justice, and in our effort to reform that broken system.

Claims of innocence can be tremendously useful tools. In court they can rout a death sentence, particularly when raised on appeal to contest an execution that is imminent. Politically, innocence claims are a potent argument against capital punishment, because who, even among the most die-hard of capital punishment advocates, wants to mistakenly execute the blameless?

But innocence claims, even in far lesser crimes than murder, can be as corrosive to our struggling comprehension of humanity as is the prosecutor’s rant about “monsters.” Handed down in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion, a judgment of innocence gives indigent people, people of color, and immigrants the right in America to live. But the other side of the shiny coin of innocence is the crumpled currency of guilt. You’re not innocent? You fucked up? Then you deserve your exile—prison for an eternity, ejection from the United States, your life injected away on a gurney. After all, you’re not innocent.


CROWDFUNDING FOR PEOPLE ALLEGEDLY ABUSED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT, WHO CANNOT AFFORD LEGAL FEES

Anoush Hakimi turned to crowdfunding to “level the legal playing field” by helping indigent victims of alleged police abuse pay their attorney’s fees.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the unusual story. Here’s a clip:

The effort is designed to address a perennial problem in police abuse litigation: most victims are poor and their attorneys only get paid when there’s a settlement or a jury finds in their favor.

In the meantime, attorneys spend their own money to hire expert witnesses, conduct discovery and prepare the case.

“So naturally, plaintiff attorneys are reluctant to take on cases unless they are a slam dunk,” said Hakimi, 37, a Century City finance lawyer. “This leaves a lot of people out in the cold.”

Too often, he argued, victims are forced to settle a case on the cheap because their lawyers can’t afford to fight. The Iranian immigrant, who graduated from UCLA Law School, said he co-founded TrialFunder.com to raise investor money to bolster good cases.

Hakimi said investor money will “level the legal playing field” against deep-pocketed cities, counties and corporations.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Innocence, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, prison, Realignment | No Comments »

“Back on Track LA,” Sheriff and Doctor Duo Fight Trauma, How to Defend Kids Facing Life, and ending CA Prison Healthcare Oversight

March 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW COLLABORATIVE LA COUNTY REENTRY PROGRAM SEEKS TO BE MODEL FOR NATION

On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, and Probation Chief Jerry Powers announced the launch of “Back on Track LA,” an innovative recidivism reduction pilot program that has been launched as a collaborative effort between the LASD, Probation, the AG’s Office, the LA County Child Support Services Dept., several foundations, and schools.

Back on Track provides participating inmates with education and job training, cognitive behavior training, and life skills and customized re-entry coaching.

“Instead of only reacting to crime, we must also focus on prevention to shut the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” says AG Harris. “Back on Track LA will hold offenders accountable to their communities, their families and themselves. This initiative will give participants the skills to become contributing and law-abiding members of society, which enhances public safety.”

Both Harris and McDonnell stressed the urgent need for such a program in California’s various counties, especially Los Angeles.

“At this very moment, 20,000 individuals are incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jails,” said Jim McDonnell. “Too many of those in our jail and justice system come from broken homes and challenging life circumstances.”

McDonnell listed some of the challenges that the program will need to address, like early childhood trauma and the fact that a high percentage of jail inmates finished school.

“Very few of those filling our jails today have the needed tools to give them a good shot,” he said.

Ninety non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders, who are now the county’s responsibility post-realignment, are enrolled in the pilot program, which began mid-February.

Once the initial 90 inmates are released from jail, they will receive transitional housing, help with employment, and continued mentoring the entire year after their release. In addition, the college credits they earn through the program during their incarceration can be transferred to any community college in the state.

In order to ensure that the program is actually working, researchers will be part of the process from the very beginning, tracking participants and their outcomes along the way and in the long-term, and measuring them against the outcomes of inmates not involved in the program.

The program is funded through a $750,000 grant through the US Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act (Back on Track was one of just four recipients nationwide), and grants from the California Wellness Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

Back on Track is intended to become a model for California, and hopefully for the nation, McDonnell said on Wednesday:

“What we are announcing today is not merely an experiment. We know we have too many people in jail who can and should be contributing members of society. Many of those in jail regret the decisions of their youth that landed them where they are today.”

Such programs contribute to public safety, McDonnell said:

“It is tempting to believe that by being tough on criminals by depriving them of education and skills training, we are being tough on crime. But that’s simply not the case.

We can reduce crime by reducing criminals, and we can reduce criminals by giving people the skills they need to get Back On Track.”


A DOCTOR AND A SHERIFF JOIN FORCES TO TACKLE CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IN THEIR CITY NEIGHBORHOODS

Laura Starecheski has another excellent story for NPR about childhood trauma as a critical health issue. This latest story follows a doctor and a sheriff who join forces to combat childhood trauma in poverty-stricken, and high-crime areas in Gainesville, FL.

When the University of Florida’s Dr. Nancy Hardt, a pathologist and OB-GYN, and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell realized that their respective hotspot maps (Hardt’s a map of children born into poverty, and the sheriff’s a crime map) were nearly identical, the unlikely pair knew they had to take action.

Here are some clips from Starecheski’s story:

The research shows that kids who have tough childhoods — because of poverty, abuse, neglect, or witnessing domestic violence, for instance — are actually more likely to be sick when they grow up. They’re more likely to get diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. And they tend to have shorter lives than people who haven’t experienced those difficult events as kids.

“I want to prevent what I’m seeing on the autopsy table,” Hardt says. “I’ve got to say, a lot of times, I’m standing there, going, ‘I don’t think this person had a very nice early childhood.’ ”

Back in 2008, Hardt was obsessing about this problem. She wanted to do something to intervene in the lives of vulnerable kids on a large scale, not just patient by patient.

So, by looking at Medicaid records, she made a map that showed exactly where Gainesville children were born into poverty. Block by block.

Right away she noticed something that surprised her: In the previous few years, in a 1-square-mile area in southwest Gainesville, as many as 450 babies were born to parents living below the poverty line.

It just didn’t make sense to her — that was an area she thought was all fancy developments and mansions.

So Hardt took her map of Gainesville, with the poverty “hotspot” marked in deep blue, and started showing it to people. She’d ask them, “What is this place? What’s going on over there?”

Eventually she brought the map to the CEO of her hospital, who told her she just had to show it to Alachua County’s sheriff, Sadie Darnell.

So Hardt did.

And, to Hardt’s surprise, Sheriff Darnell had a very interesting map of her own.

Darnell had a thermal map of high crime incidence. It showed that the highest concentration of crime in Gainesville was in a square-mile area that exactly overlaid Hardt’s poverty map.

“It was an amazing, ‘Aha’ moment,” says Darnell.

“We kind of blinked at each other,” Hardt says. “And — simultaneously — we said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”

Read on.


INSTRUCTIONS FOR ENSURING KIDS FACING LIFE IN PRISON RECEIVES SPECIALIZED AND SKILLFUL DEFENSE

On Wednesday, the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth released a set of guidelines for providing quality defense to kids facing life imprisonment.

Gabriella Celeste, Child Policy Director at Case Western Reserve University’s Schubert Center for Child Studies, explains why making sure these kids have skilled and thorough representation is so critical:

“Kids are kids. They don’t stop being kids just because our criminal justice system has deemed them ‘adults’ as a matter of legal fiction to justify placing them in the adult system. Our system forgets that kids are still growing, developing, and maturing. This is wrong. Worse yet, the harm caused to a young person cannot be overstated, both due to their unique developmental stage as an adolescent and the damage that results from children inevitably facing more years in prison than adults and being at greater risk for isolation, sexual assault, and other forms of violence and trauma. Having an informed advocate can make all the difference.”

The report calls for a defense team of at least four—an attorney with experience representing kids, an attorney who has represented defendants charged with homicide, an investigator, and mitigation specialist to discuss all possible contributing factors like trauma and poverty and to stress the ways kids’ and teenagers’ brains differ from those of adults. An interpreter should also be on the defense team, if needed.

The guidelines also say defense teams must regularly meet with and maintain open communication with the kids they are representing. Defense teams are also directed to advocate for their clients to be placed in juvenile facilities, and to make sure that those detention centers have proper education, mental health care, and rehabilitation services.

The guidelines are endorsed by dozens of advocate groups, including Gideon’s Promise, the Juvenile Law Center, the NAACP, the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Juvenile Defender Center.

Here are some clips from the report:

The representation of children in adult court facing a possible life sentence is a highly specialized area of legal practice, therefore these guidelines address the unique considerations specific to the provision of a zealous trial defense. These guidelines set forth the roles and responsibilities of the defense team for the duration of a trial proceeding and outline child-specific considerations relevant to pre-trial, trial, and sentencing representation. Direct appeal and collateral review are not explicitly addressed in these guidelines.

These guidelines are premised on the following foundational principles:

- children are constitutionally and developmentally different from adults;

- children, by reason of their physical and mental immaturity, need special safeguards and
care;

- children must not be defined by a single act;

- juvenile life defense is a highly specialized legal practice, encompassing the representation
of children in adult court as well as the investigation and presentation of mitigation;

- juvenile life defense requires a qualified team trained in adolescent development;

- juvenile life defense requires communicating with clients in a trauma-informed, culturally
competent, developmentally and age-appropriate manner…

- juvenile life defense counsel must litigate to ensure a meaningful individualized sentencing
determination, in which defense counsel is able to fully and effectively present mitigation
to the court.

[SNIP]

The mitigation specialist must investigate and develop a social, psychological, and genealogical history of the child client for purposes of presenting mitigating evidence at sentencing. The mitigation specialist also should work with the child client and his or her caretaker(s) to develop a reentry plan to present at sentencing.

Mitigation evidence includes, but is not limited to: the ability to make a positive adjustment to incarceration; the realities of incarceration; capacity for redemption; remorse; vulnerabilities related to mental or physical health; explanations of patterns of behavior; negation of aggravating evidence regardless of its designation as an aggravating factor; positive acts or qualities; responsible conduct in other areas of life (e.g., employment, education, as a family member, etc.); any evidence bearing on the degree of moral culpability; mercy; and any other reason for a sentence other than life…


FED. JUDGE BEGINS PROCESS TO GIVE CONTROL OF STATE PRISON HEALTHCARE BACK TO CALIFORNIA

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson revealed a plan to end nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system.

When Judge Henderson initiated the oversight, he said the conditions inmates were living under constituted cruel and unusual punishment: California prisons were averaging one easily preventable inmate death per week due to medical neglect.

(Henderson is also part of the three-judge panel forcing California to bring the prison population down…or else.)

The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, says the situation is much better now: there are more medical staff members, the budget has doubled, and there are 40,000 fewer prisoners. But there are still cracks to be filled in.

Here’s a clip from a blended AP/Sacramento Bee story on the issue:

To address the issues, California over the last decade has:

Spent $2 billion on new medical facilities for prisons;

Doubled its annual budget for prison health care to about $1.7 billion; and

Reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 inmates.

According to a report by court-appointed federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, the state prison system now has:

Adequate medical staff;

Processes to ensure inmates receive care; and

An oversight system to catch problems when inmates do not receive care.

However, Kelso noted in his report that that the prison system still needs to make several improvements, including:

Adequately keeping medical records;

Appropriately scheduling appointments;

Delivering care onsite rather than sending inmates to outside hospitals; and

Upgrading treatment areas.

Under Henderson’s plan, every prison will have to pass an inspection before the feds return some of the control to the state. At that time, Kelso will step back and act as a monitor, with the ability to take back the reins if the state begins to backslide.

Posted in Department of Justice, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, LA County Jail, medical care, prison, Realignment, Reentry, Trauma | 2 Comments »

Jail Population Declining, Unsolved Homicides Update, Unaccounted-for Mental Health $$, and Sluggish County Settlements,

January 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY JAIL POPULATION DOWN THROUGH PROP 47 AND BOOST TO SPLIT-SENTENCING

LA County has started catching up with other counties using their realignment money to implement split-sentencing—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation. Last July, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey instructed prosecutors to seek split-sentences.

Since then, the county’s use of split-sentencing for low-level offenders has risen from 5% to 16.6%, according to a Probation Dept. report presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. (Still a far cry from counties like Contra Costa, where 92% of non-serious offenders were serving split sentences by June of last year.) And as of January 1, across the state, split-sentencing for felonies will be mandated unless a court decides “that it is not appropriate in a particular case.”

Thanks, also in large part, to Proposition 47, the LA County inmate population has dropped low enough to ensure that most offenders will now serve nearly the full length of their sentences. (If you need a refresher: Prop 47 reclassified certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.)

These numbers may come into play during the LA County Board of Supervisors’ discussions about whether to spend $2.3 billion on a 4,860-bed replacement for Men’s Central Jail. (We hope so.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who manage the jail system, complained that the resulting influx of offenders serving longer sentences was leading to the early release of thousands of other inmates. At the same time, probation officials have had trouble adjusting to a new population of offenders with lengthier criminal records and more serious mental health and substance abuse problems.

In November and December, the first two months after the penalty-reduction law took effect, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office reported that felony sentences of prison, jail or probation had dropped by 41% from the same period in the previous year. And the number of inmates in county jails decreased from about 18,700 at the end of October to fewer than 16,000 at the end of December.

As a result of the falling population, the Sheriff’s Department has reversed a long-standing policy of releasing most inmates after they serve a fraction of their sentences. For years, most men convicted of lower-level crimes served only 20% of their sentence and women served 10%. Now, McDonald said, most inmates are serving 90%.

[SNIP]

…Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, who joined the board after November’s election, have expressed reservations about the size of that jail.

Kuehl said Tuesday that she continues to question the need for that many beds and “whether there is more capability and better capability to do mental health and substance abuse treatment in the community than in a locked facility.”

By the way, there is a ton of other interesting information in the Probation Department year-three realignment report. Or you can skim a condensed summary (with charts!) in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.


LAPD’S RESPONSE TO INVESTIGATION INTO CLOSED—BUT UNSOLVED—HOMICIDE NUMBERS

Between 2000-2010, the LAPD closed unsolved homicides without arresting or charging a suspect at a rate more than double that of the national average, according to an investigative story by Mike Reicher as part of the LA Daily News’ fantastic series called “Unsolved Homicides.” (More on that in our previous post, here.)

Since then, the LAPD has responded, saying that they are unable to provide more data about why so many murders were cleared without being solved because they do not have the man power to pull the records, and provide the information. But former LAPD chief (and current city councilmember) Bernard Parks says collecting the information would not be difficult.

Here are some clips from Reicher’s update on this story:

“I would want them to be extremely transparent and clear about the numbers,” said Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine. “How many arrests are brought forward and declined by prosecutors? It could be that the courts are overwhelmed, that the resources aren’t there to deal with the volume. These are important questions that nobody has an answer to.”

[SNIP]

When asked for the reason each case was closed, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith wrote, “We do not have the staff available to pull the concerned cases, conduct the research and provide you the detailed information you requested.”

Those reasons should be easily accessible, said City Councilman and former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. Each detective has to justify why a case is closed, he said.

“If they’re not watched, and they’re not evaluated, people can easily manipulate them to have better stats,” Parks said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not only transparency, it’s the basic element of filing a case. You can’t just say, ‘I cleared it, and I’m not going to tell you why.’ ”

LAPD Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said the agency already discloses enough information: “I think our guys are as transparent as any department in America.”


HOW DOES CA SPEND $13 BILLION ALLOCATED FOR THE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHERE ARE THE RESULTS?

In 2004, California’s Proposition 63 approved an extra 1% tax on millionaires to provide $13 billion in additional funding for mental illness programs state-wide. A report from the Little Hoover watchdog panel found that the state is unable to show how the money was spent (continuing a ten-year trend), or whether the extra money has helped California’s mentally ill.

The report gives six sensible recommendations on how to realize the full potential of this funding, through data collection, financial reporting, and weeding out ineffective programs, among other efforts.

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

An investigation by The Associated Press in 2012 found that tens of millions of dollars generated by the tax went to general wellness programs for people who had not been diagnosed with any mental illness. Those programs include yoga, gardening, art classes and horseback riding. The state auditor reported similar findings a year later….

Counties are responsible for choosing and running their own programs, but an oversight commission was not established until eight years after the funding began and it has little authority.

Because of that, the report said, there are few repercussions for sloppy accounting or insufficient data, making it difficult for the state to evaluate the programs.

Commissioners said that during hearings on Proposition 63 last year they heard anecdotal stories of individual success, but the state cannot show “meaningful big-picture outcomes — such as reduced homelessness or improved school attendance.”


EDITORIAL: SWIFTER SETTLEMENTS TO PARTIES WRONGED BY LA COUNTY AGENCIES

When a lawsuit against an LA County department (the sheriff’s department, for instance) results in a settlement, county lawyers regularly draw out the process, even when there is no other option but to settle. The Board of Supervisors can (and do) further defer finalizing legal settlements.

The Supervisors understandably aim to be good stewards of the county’s money, and sometimes it’s necessary to make certain that the department at fault takes corrective action. But injured parties wait longer to receive restitution when the county delays action, and it can cost taxpayers even more money.

An LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to ensure a timely payment to the those wronged, and if necessary, to lean on departments taking too long to remedy violations. Here are some clips:

Joseph Ober was an inmate in another case; he said that deputies beat him without justification and denied him medical treatment. He and county lawyers reached a settlement in May, and one of the terms was final sign-off by the supervisors within 120 days. That deadline passed in August, and the court ordered the county to pay daily interest on the $400,000 settlement amount. The supervisors finally approved the agreement last week.

[SNIP]

County officials face an inherent tension when settling lawsuits. They want to protect the county treasury as much as possible, so they bargain hard and sometimes drag their feet in quest of a better deal. But they also have an obligation to make victims of county mistakes and misdeeds whole; and they must make sure that the problems that led to the suits are fixed. To that end, the supervisors understandably demand to see evidence of corrective action — so the same thing won’t happen over and over — before they approve settlements.

But many of these delays cost the county additional money, as in the Ober case…

Posted in District Attorney, jail, LAPD, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness, Realignment, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Kamala Harris Talks Cops & Race….Start of Prison Terms Delayed for LASD 7….LAT Asks What Should Replace Men’s Central Jail….Jerry Brown Talks Criminal Justice….a Juvie Sex Scandal in Idaho….& More

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AT SWEARING IN AG KAMALA HARRIS ENTERS NATIONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE AND POLICE SHOOTINGS

Despite the trouble that NY Mayor Bill de Blasio has been having for his remarks regarding the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, California Attorney General Kamala Harris waded fearlessly into the national discussion regarding race and law enforcement practices in the speech she gave following her swearing in for her second term. Considered a bright political star on the rise, the topic was one of many that Harris discussed in her post-swearing in address.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

California’s attorney general stepped into the national debate over the recent slayings of unarmed civilians by police on Monday, calling for a review by her agency and promising to lead a public dialogue.

Kamala Harris, the first minority to hold the state’s highest law enforcement office, made the pledge as she was sworn in to a second and final term in the office she now holds. However, she is widely expected to be preparing for a run for governor or the U.S. Senate.

“As law enforcement leaders, we must confront this crisis of confidence,” Harris said. “We must acknowledge that too many have felt the sting of injustice.”

She ordered a review within 90 days of how her Department of Justice trains special agents on bias and the use of force. Harris also said she will work with the state’s law enforcement agencies and communities in coming months to strengthen mutual trust.

Her comments come after the killings of two unarmed black men this summer by white police officers in Missouri and in New York.

Harris, a Democrat, is the daughter of a black father from Jamaica and a mother from India. She referred to herself in her inaugural speech as “a daughter of Brown vs. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.”

Harris said that as a career prosecutor, she has learned “one central truth: the public and law enforcement need each other to keep our communities safe.”


START OF PRISON TERMS DELAYED FOR 7 FORMER LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS CONVICTED OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

The six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted last July of obstruction of justice in connection with their interference in an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption by members of the LASD were originally directed to surrender on January 2, 2015, to begin their respective prison sentences.

Deputy James Sexton, who was tried twice before being convicted of similar charges last September, was to have surrendered on February 16.

Now, it seems, all seven of the surrender dates have been postponed pending the response of the The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to the seven’s various applications for bond—in other words, bail.

This has to do with the fact that each of the seven have appealed their convictions. Thus if the Ninth Circuit grants any of the bond applications, it will be a signal that the court means to at least hear that particular appeal.

As to what the odds are that the appellate court will decide to listen to any or all of the appeals….none of the attorneys, nor any of the feds, are willing to hazard a prediction.

“But not even the prosecutors want anyone to start a sentence, then be yanked out,” said a source close to the cases.

And so the surrender dates are delayed while everyone waits.

More news as we know it.


YES, YES, EVERYONE AGREES THAT LA COUNTY’S DREADFUL MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL MUST BE REPLACED. BUT REPLACED WITH WHAT? A DUMB OR A SMART PLAN? HMMMMM. TOUGH ONE.

Over the weekend, the LA Times editorial board made the point rather eloqently that the question isn’t whether or not Men’s Central Jail should be replaced; the question is whether the replacement should be big and expensive? Or something, say, smaller, smarter, and less costly.

As it stands now, the board is committed to a $2 billion plan that, as the Times points out, was one “among several presented by Vanir Construction Management Inc., a firm in the business of building such facilities. The price tag makes the construction project the most expensive in county history.”

Moreover the plan, writes the LAT board, “remains rooted in questionable estimates and bygone practices.” It completely ignores the research-backed conclusions of a 2011 jail population study by the Vera Institute—which the board commissioned—showing ways that MCJ’s population could be safely and appropriately reduced, thus requiring a smaller replacement facility.

Nearly everything in the editorial is something that the Times—and we at WLA—have said before, multiple times. But, unfortunately, it bears repeating….and repeating…for as long it takes the LA County Board of Supervisors to hear it and act accordingly.

Here’s a clip from the Times’ essay:

In pushing forward with a new jail that could keep as many people locked up as were, say, two years ago, the Board of Supervisors is in effect making an astounding policy statement: The current jail population is the correct one, despite the theoretical embrace of mental health diversion, the ability to authorize some no-bail, pretrial releases, and the recent reduction of sentences for some crimes. And the $2 billion — or perhaps twice that, when including bond interest — should all be spent on incarceration rather than more effective, and cost-effective, alternatives.

Such a statement is both incorrect and potentially self-fulfilling: If they build a jail, they will fill it. In other words, the supervisors won’t have the incentive — or the money — to build out the county’s capacity for more just, more efficient and more effective community-based programs to end the cycle of recidivism.

Supporters of the Vanir plan point out that Men’s Central Jail is so over-capacity that inmates serve only 20% to 40% of their sentences. They argue that the space freed up by mental health diversion and all the other ways of reducing the jail population should be used to ensure that inmates serve their full time. But even if they do, the potential reductions would outpace the need for jail space.

Men’s Central Jail should be demolished. But again, replaced with what? A jail that will house just as many people as the current one, or a scaled down version that permits smarter use of limited resources?

And, yes, like the Times, we once again vote for the latter—the smart plan—over the non-research-based, dumb and insanely expensive model. Silly us.


GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN’S LATEST WORD ON CALIFORNIA’S SYSTEM OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Among the six or so major topics that Jerry Brown emphasized in his State of the State speech following his swearing in on Monday morning to his fourth term as governor, was the issue of whom the state of California locks up, and for how long. For your reading pleasure, here is the text of that section of his speech:

Another major state responsibility is our system of crime and punishment. And here too, I will refer to my father’s 1959 address. He worried then about California’s “dangerously overcrowded prisons.” He talked about identifying “those prisoners who should never be released to prey again on an innocent public,” but he also said, “we should also determine whether some prisoners are now kept confined after punishment has served its purpose.”

We face these same questions today: what purposes should punishment serve and for how long should a person be confined to jail or prison – for a few days, a few years or for life?

In response to a large increase in crimes beginning in the 1970s, the Legislature and the people – through ballot initiatives – dramatically lengthened sentences and added a host of new crimes and penalty enhancements. Today, California’s legal codes contain more than 5,000 separate criminal provisions and over 400 penalty enhancements, an arcane and complex mix that only the most exquisitely trained specialist can fathom. And funding has grown proportionately: during the 1970s we had 12 prisons holding fewer than 30,000 prisoners and corrections spending was only 3 percent of the budget; our system then grew to a peak of 34 prisons, with an inmate population of 173,000, eating up more than 10 percent of our budget dollars.

Four years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that our prisons were unconstitutionally overcrowded and imposed strict capacity limits, far below the number of inmates that were then being held.

Clearly, our system of crime and punishment had to be changed. And through the courts, the Legislature and the voters themselves, a number of far-reaching reforms have been enacted. The biggest reform is our realignment program, which places tens of thousands of lower-level offenders under county supervision. More recently, a federal three-judge panel ordered further measures to reduce prison overcrowding. And the voters, through Propositions 36 and 47, modified our criminal laws to reduce the scope of the Three Strikes law and change certain felonies into misdemeanors.

All these changes attempt to find less expensive, more compassionate and more effective ways to deal with crime. This is work that is as profoundly important as it is difficult, yet we must never cease in our efforts to assure liberty and justice for all. The task is complicated by our diversity and our divisions and, yes, by shocking disparities. Since time immemorial, humankind has known covetousness, envy and violence. That is why public safety and respect for law are both fundamental to a free society.


SEXUAL ABUSE SCANDAL IN IDAHO KIDS’ PRISON

Another case of kids behind bars being sexually victimized by staff, this time in Idaho. The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson has the story. Here’s a clip:

When a local nurse’s son was sent to the juvenile corrections center here at age 15, she was upset, but relieved that he would be away from drugs and gangs. The single mother said that the “night he went in, I felt bad, but I could sleep because he was safe.”

But within months, the head of security at the state juvenile corrections center in Nampa struck up a sexual relationship with the teenager, according to police reports. Julie McCormick admitted to having sex with him three times in 2012 while he was incarcerated, the reports said.

Ms. McCormick, 29 years old at the time, told detectives that she fell in love with the boy nearly half her age. She pleaded guilty in 2013 to lewd conduct with the minor and was sentenced to five to 20 years in prison in 2014. A lawyer who represented Ms. McCormick declined to comment.

“You hear about the Boy Scouts, you hear about the Catholic Church—those kids can walk away from it,” said his mother. “My son couldn’t.”

The scandal is an instance of an issue plaguing juvenile facilities nationwide.


RESEARCHER ON A MISSION FINDS MORE THAN 50 GRAVES OF KIDS WHO DIED—MANY KILLED—AT OLD FLORIDA REFORM SCHOOL

Ben Montgomery writes for the Tampa Bay Times a fascinating and chilling tale about kids who came to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, often for minor infractions, and ended up dead. Now a university researcher is determined to put things right 80 years later, despite opposition. Here’s a clip:

By the time she came for them and brought them up from the earth and spread them on tables in a basement lab on Maple Drive in Tampa, they were in hundreds of pieces, some as small as a fingernail. All that remained of some of them could fit inside a lunch box.

It took imagination to remember that they were boys once, before their childhoods ran out at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, before they were buried without the dignity of headstones, before they were lost to time. All 55 of them were, in the cold language of forensics, unidentified human remains.

Erin Kimmerle wanted to give them their names back.

She’d been working 14-hour days through January, February and March, stressing about finding time for teaching and advising on top of leading this massive project. She’d been missing her family, too. When her cell phone rang, the word BABE popped onto the screen — Mike, her husband. “Hey, babe,” she’d sing, and walk out of earshot to get updates on school activities and runny noses.

When she started the project in 2012, her goal had been to map the cemetery on the reform school campus so that family would know where their relatives were buried. It would take a year, tops. But when ground penetrating radar showed 50 graves, 19 more than the state had said, and when families wanted the remains of their boys back, it became a mission.

Now she was in her third year. Now she had 55 sets of remains. Now she was trying to piece the boys back together, bone fragment by bone fragment, to figure out who they were and, she hoped, how they died.

She needed the bones to speak.


WHEN JUDICIAL DETACHMENT ISN’T ENOUGH

A heartbreaking first-person tale for the Marshall Project in which a judge ponders the value of empathy versus that of the law in the case of a disturbed young veteran he had recently sentenced.

Here’s how it opens:

Alone at my chambers desk late in the day, I find myself staring blankly at Tyler’s death notice in the online Billings Gazette, and I am stunned. There are many who come to spend a few trial days in my courtroom and remain opaque and unreadable. This was never the case with Tyler, who, from the first, I had seen as wearing both his admirable strengths and his pitiable weaknesses as if they were medals on display. The notice’s bland statement that this 27-year-old man had “passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2014” strikes me as so distant, so bloodless, so inadequate…

Eventually my eyes drift to the daily “Hot Topics” banner at the top of the page where references to child molestation and prison sentences scroll side-by-side. Linking to current news stories, it turns out these headlines have nothing at all to do with Tyler. Still, it somehow seems apt that they have been woven into the fabric of this page where I have landed in search of confirmation of what has been so hard for me to take in.

The last I’d seen Tyler Williams was just before Thanksgiving when he appeared in my Seattle courtroom for the setting of a post-conviction appeal bond. Upon posting a modest $10,000 security, he would be free of the obligation to surrender in two weeks to begin serving the 15-month prison term I had ordered. Much of our discussion that day centered on whether it would be wiser to get the incarceration out of the way while his life was lacking in direction or to postpone it in the hopes that an appeal might be successful.

While trying to helpfully explain his options, I made it clear that I could not advise him from the bench on legal matters – such as whether I had committed reversible error from which he might benefit on appeal. But, characteristically, I didn’t hesitate to offer a recommendation of Phil Klay’s “Redeployment,” which had won the National Book Award for fiction the previous day. Consciously prodding him to look beyond his depressed and depressing present, I was pleased when Tyler asked me to repeat the author’s name and seemingly intended to follow through.

I wish he had. Reading it might have brought him to a deeper realization that he was not alone in struggling with the after-effects of his honorable military service in Iraq. As difficult as the soldiers in Klay’s stories find being sent to Iraq, many of them – like Tyler – find it even tougher when it comes time to separate from the “band of brothers” and be deployed back home. As former Marine Lieutenant Klay has observed, the experience of war is “too strange to be processed alone.

”But now Tyler was dead, having met his end in a manner quintessentially and chillingly alone.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Realignment | 6 Comments »

Will CA Lead on Criminal Justice Reform on Tuesday?…Is US Border Patrol Out of Control?…Can Over-Incarceration Cause Community Violence?…& More

October 31st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


NY TIMES SEZ CALIFORNIA POISED TO LEAD ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM WITH PROP 47

For decades, tough-on-crime proponents cowed lawmakers into passing ever more stringent sentencing statutes that, in turn, resulted in state and federal prison systems metastasizing to disastrous proportions.

Yet, any attempt at correcting the most problematic of the laws inevitably triggered shrieking from the same tough-on-crime folks who predicted that sentencing reform would surely result in a ghastly rise in crime.

The shriekers turned out to be dead wrong.

In fact, multiple recent studies showed that crime drops were greater in states that had taken steps to reduce their prison populations—California included, with it’s far-from-perfect realignment strategy.

Now it appears that California is likely on the verge of passing Proposition 47, a voter initiative that, if successful, will reportedly lower our prison population still further. With Prop 47 specifically in mind, the New York Times editorial board has weighed in with a new essay praising the state for leading the way “on justice reform.”

Here’s a clip:

An encouraging example [of crime drops accompanying prison population reduction] comes from California, the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it.

For five years, the state has been under federal court order to reduce extreme overcrowding in its prisons. In response, voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state’s notorious “three-strikes” law, leading to the release, so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison — in some cases, for petty theft.

Dire warnings that crime would go up as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, or less than one-tenth of the state’s average. That’s, in large part, because of a strong network of re-entry services.

The 2012 measure has provided the model for an even bigger proposed release of prisoners that California voters will consider on the ballot next week. Under Proposition 47, many low-level drug and property offenses — like shoplifting, writing bad checks or simple drug possession — would be converted from felonies to misdemeanors.

That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To keep people from returning to prison, or from going in the first place, the savings would be invested in anti-truancy efforts and other programs like mental health and drug-abuse treatment. Some would go to victims’ services, a perennially underfinanced part of the justice system.

Law-enforcement officials, not surprisingly, oppose the measure, warning that crime will go up. But they’ve already been proved wrong on three-strikes reform….


HOW DID OUR BORDER CONTROL SPIN SO OUT OF CONTROL?

“We made some mistakes,” said former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham. “We found out later that we did, in fact, hire cartel members.”

Between 2001 to the end of George W. Bush’s second term, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection—the Border Patrol— grew from 9500 agents to 18,000. The force jumped again to 21,000 agents in Barack Obama’s first term.

Now some officials are admitting that, in response to executive and congressional pressure, the CBP grew too fast, meaning that many of those brand new green-uniformed agents were not properly trained and vetted, a problem that was compounded by the fact that an adequate number of experienced supervisors was in short supply.

The consequence was a burgeoning problem of corruption, brutality, unnecessary uses of force and, in some cases, out-and-out infiltration by some true bad guys. In fact, from 2005 through 2012, nearly one CBP officer or Border Patrol agent was arrested every single day for misconduct.

Yet, when the FBI tried to investigate instances of wrongdoing, or when, due to urging by Congress, The Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank, examined CBP methods and actions then wrote a highly critical report, the Border Patrol management mostly just closed ranks.

Politico senior staff writer Garrett M. Graff has the deeply reported and well-written special investigation into the problems of the agency that some are calling The Green Monster.

Here are some clips:

The corners cut during the hiring surge were becoming clear by the final months of the Bush administration. There was the Miami CBP officer who used his law enforcement status to bypass airport security and personally smuggle cocaine and heroin into Miami. There was the green-uniformed agent in Yuma, Arizona, who was caught smuggling 700 pounds of marijuana across the border in his green-and-white Border Patrol truck; the brand-new 26-year-old Border Patrol agent who joined a drug-smuggling operation to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana in Del Rio, Texas; the 32-year-old Border Patrol agent whose wife would tip him off on which buses filled with illegal immigrants to let through his checkpoint on I-35 in Laredo, Texas. Some cases were more obvious than others, like the new Border Patrol agent who took an unusual interest in maps of the agency’s sensors along the border and was arrested just seven months into the job after he had sold smugglers those maps for $5,500.

In November 2007, CBP official Thomas Winkowski wrote an agencywide memo citing numerous incidents, or, as he called them, “disturbing events,” and saying that the leadership was concerned about the “increase in the number of employee arrests.” The memo, never made public but obtained by the Miami Herald, reminded officers and agents, “It is our responsibility to uphold the laws, not break the law.”

Although the allegations concerned just a fraction of the force, the work CBP did made it especially susceptible to corruption, and made that corruption uniquely damaging. “There’s a huge vulnerability there with employees who control the flow of goods and people on the border,” explains James Wong, the CBP internal affairs investigator. “You’ve got undocumented immigrants, contraband or even worse—a weapon of mass destruction.”

Which is why, acknowledges Basham, who oversaw the hiring surge as CBP commissioner, the border region is considered the “highest threat environment for government corruption.”

In fact, CBP was uncovering dozens of cases of criminal organizations like Mexican cartels and street gangs such as MS-13 infiltrating its ranks with new hires.

[SNIP]

What concerned Skinner, the DHS inspector general, was the possibility that he was hearing only about the most egregious misconduct. “We were getting more and more complaints, but our biggest concern was that there was a culture as to not report allegations to us,” Skinner says. “Out in the field, there was a culture to keep things to themselves. You’re familiar with ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?’ They had a ‘What happens in the field stays in the field.’”

Agents traditionally worked lonely patrols, with help far away and a strong tradition of frontier-style justice. The agency motto, “Honor first,” is a statement of both machismo and integrity, and its responsibilities require a mind-set far different from most law enforcement agencies. “Their mentality is everyone they encounter is a bad guy, which is totally different from other law enforcement,” Basham says.

[SNIP]

In the summer and fall of 2012, [FBI Assistant Director of Criminal Investigations Ronald] Hosko attended a series of meetings at CBP headquarters that left him stunned. CBP officials, just coming off the huge hiring surge that had doubled the size of the Border Patrol and increased Customs officers by thousands, had grave concerns about the people that they had hired.

Hosko heard senior CBP officials say at the meetings that they believed roughly 10 percent of the agency’s workforce had integrity problems, but he was even more stunned when they batted around a range of numbers, going as high at one point as 20 percent, of those who might deserve to be removed from the force.

“That’s a shocking number and chilling. If I have the senior leaders of an organization like CBP—with 40,000 uniforms and guns—saying 20 percent, that’s shocking,” Hosko told me. “Let’s say that’s a gross exaggeration. Let’s cut that in half. Let’s say it’s just 5 percent. That’s still thousands of people.” (Asked about Hosko’s numbers, CBP officials denied that the force had such systemic problems but refused to confirm whether the meetings he cited had taken place.)

Be sure to read the rest of this excellent and alarming story.

“Not a single Border Patrol agent for the last eight years has been disciplined for excessive use of force,” CBP internal affairs investigator James Wong told Politico’s Graff. “With a workforce that large, that’s amazing.”


WHY ARE SOME OF AMERICA’S IMPOVERISHED INNER CITY NEIGHBORHOODS SO PLAGUED BY VIOLENCE? RESEARCH SHOWS THAT OVER-INCARCERATION IS A BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM

In the discussions about events in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer, the high level of violence in America’s low income inner city neighborhoods often became part of the conversation. This was especially true among TV’s talking heads who frequently opined as to why so many young people of color were falling victim to gun violence in their communities.

Writing for the Atlantic, Heather Ann Thompson, looks at some of the less obvious causes, over incarceration prominently among them.

On first bounce this may sound counterintuitive. But, Thompson points to the research of Todd Clear, which is now famous in the criminal justice world.

(In brief: in a series of studies of various urban neighborhoods around the country, Clear—a Distinguished Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice— and his colleagues noted that when a certain number of lawbreakers were arrested in a community, crime went down. But there was a tipping point. If the percentage of community members arrested and incarcerated continued to increase, eventually the community became destabilized and crime actually went up.)

In any case, there’s a lot in Thompson’s interesting and thought provoking essay that is worth your time.

Here’s a clip:

The quadrupling of the incarceration rate in America since 1970 has had devastating collateral consequences. Already economically-fragile communities sank into depths of poverty unknown for generations, simply because anyone with a criminal record is forever “marked” as dangerous and thus rendered all but permanently unemployable. Also, with blacks incarcerated at six times and Latinos at three times the rate of whites by 2010, millions of children living in communities of color have effectively been orphaned. Worse yet, these kids often experience high rates of post-traumatic shock from having witnessed the often-brutal arrests of their parents and having been suddenly ripped from them.

De-industrialization and suburbanization surely did their part to erode our nation’s black and brown neighborhoods, but staggering rates of incarceration is what literally emptied them out. As this Pew Center of the States graphic on Detroit shows, the overwhelmingly-black east side of the Motor City has been ravaged by the effects of targeted policing and mass incarceration in recent years with one in twenty-two adults there under some form of correctional control. In some neighborhoods, the rate is as high as one in 16.

Such concentrated levels of imprisonment have torn at the social fabric of inner city neighborhoods in ways that even people who live there find hard to comprehend, let alone outsiders. As the research of criminologist Todd Clear makes clear, extraordinary levels of incarceration create the conditions for extraordinary levels of violence….


LOS ANGELES COUNTY IS USING MORE SPLIT SENTENCING….BUT STILL LAGGING BEHIND OTHER COUNTIES

Yes, LA County is finally getting a little bit better when it comes to split sentencing, according to data coming out of District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office, but LA still has a long way to go.

Split sentencing, if you’ll remember, means that low-level offenders spend half their time in jail, and the other half on probation where they can receive supervision and services to help them stay out of jail in the future.

Lacey has been strongly encouraging her prosecutors to use the strategy.

KPCC’s Andrea Gardiner has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Many counties throughout the state have used the policy, called split sentencing, to reduce overcrowding in their jails, after a wave of inmates were transferred there from state prisons. Riverside and Orange County reportedly use split sentencing in more than 50 percent of cases.

New numbers from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office shows in September, 14 percent of cases resulted in split sentences. That’s up from 3 percent in June, when District Attorney Jackie Lacey first issued a directive ordering prosecutors to give split sentences when appropriate.

[SNIP]

State law mandates split sentencing become the presumptive punishment for low-level felons starting in January. That means each low-level felon who is eligible for a split sentence will get one unless a judge states a reason for denying it on the record.

Posted in 2014 election, District Attorney, immigration, law enforcement, Realignment, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

André Birotte Gets Robed Up….Brown Foes Say Realignment Causes Crime But Stats Say Otherwise….When Mental Disabilities Lead to Harsh School Discipline….& PPOA McDonnell Interview, Part 2….

October 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ANDRÉ BIROTTE SWORN IN AS FEDERAL JUDGE

By 4 p.m. on Friday night, courtroom 650 at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building —plus two overflow rooms—were absolutely jammed with judges, lawyers, higher echelon law enforcement types, local lawmakers and others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, all of whom had come to witness the formal investiture of André Birotte Jr as a United States District Judge.

Birotte, if you remember, was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama on April 3, 2014, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate on July 22, 2014 (an impressive feat in itself, considering the current fractious state of that august body).

The son of Haitian immigrants, Birotte graduated from Tufts University in 1987 with a B.A. in psychology, then came to Southern California to attend Pepperdine University School of Law. He began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to redefine and reform itself. Birotte is generally acknowledged as a significant part of that reform.

In 2009, while he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, after Senator Diane Feinstein strongly recommended him. Five years later, Feinstein again recommended him for the judgeship.

“In 15 years of [vetting] people for the senator,” said Trevor Daley, Feinstein’s state director who was tasked to check up on Birotte. “I’ve never gotten the kind of positive feedback on anyone as I did on André.”

Other speakers at the investiture were similarly effusive.

Birotte was a “champion on the individual as well as serving the underserved,” said former police commission chairman Rick Caruso. “Yet he never sought the spotlight.

Eric Holder praised Birotte for cracking down on public corruption and drug trafficking while also understanding that “we will never be able to prosecute and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.” Holder also pointed to CASA, the sentencing diversion program that Birotte championed, “which serves as a model for smart on crime initiatives throughout the nation.”

Now Birotte would be “strengthening and making more fair the justice system to which he has given so much of his life,” said Holder.

When it came time for the newly-minted judge himself to speak, Birotte quoted a poetry fragment by poet Antonio Machado, that he said had influenced him.

…Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

Indeed, Birotte doesn’t appear to have set his sites on the positions he has attained as part of some grandly ambitious lifeplan. Instead, according to his own account, and the accounts of those who lauded him on Friday, he has arrived at the present moment by “walking,” as the poet suggests—a.k.a. by doing the work that appeared before him, while guided by a strong sense of justice and compassion.

In fact, if it had not been for his wife’s encouragement, Birotte told investiture crowd, “I’m not sure that I would have put myself out for these positions.”

Birotte thanked a long list of people (including his faithful group of morning workout partners at his gym). He confided to the crowd that among the most important talismans he brought with him into his new courtroom were “my father’s medical bag and one of the many purses that my mom would keep by her side.”

At the mention of his mom, who died just a few years ago, Birotte choked up visably. He struggled similarly when he told his wife how much she and their kids meant to him, and also when he thanked Judge Terry Hatter, who had been a longtime hero, and who swore him in. Each time, the “baby judge,” as he called himself, was refreshingly unapologetic for his unruly emotions.

Although the investiture began just after 4 p.m., more than three hours later guests still lingered at the post-ceremony reception in the Roybal building’s lobby, as if wishing to bask a bit longer in the evening’s prevailing sentiment—namely that this particular judgeship, thankfully, had landed in very good hands.


AS ELECTIONS HEAT UP BROWN OPPONENTS SAY REALIGNMENT MADE CALIF. COMMUNITIES LESS SAFE, BUT ACTUAL NUMBERS SAY OTHERWISE

As we noted yesterday, although realignment was not originally a big issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, now Jerry Brown’s opponents are bringing up the topic with increasing frequency. Yet, while critics’ contend that realignment has harmed public safety, the state’s still falling crime figures don’t agree. Still, when it comes to pointing to lasting victories for the governor’s signature policy, even Brown and other advocates admit that realignment is a complicated work in progress.

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has more on the story (via the Sacramento Bee). Here are some clips:

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks re-election next month, Republicans say decisions he made to reduce prison overcrowding are endangering the public by putting more criminals on the streets.

About 13,000 inmates a month are being released early from crowded county jails while they await trial or before they complete their full sentences. More than 5,000 state prisoners had earlier releases this year because of federal court orders, legislation signed by the governor and a recently approved state ballot initiative.

Yet those statistics don’t tell the full story.

Crime rates statewide actually dropped last year and did so across all categories of violent and property offenses, from murder and rape to auto theft and larceny, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Justice.

[BIG SNIP]

Even as crime rates have dropped, realignment is presenting challenges for counties throughout the state. The total county jail population in California has increased by nearly 11,000 inmates since realignment took effect in October 2011.

Probation departments now handle offenders whose most recent convictions are for lower-level crimes but who may have serious or violent criminal histories.

County officials also say they are ill-equipped to deal with other offenders who used to go state prisons, including those with mental illness and those serving multi-year sentences.

“The population most likely to be the most problematic is the population being funneled to the counties,” said Margarita Perez, who was acting chief of the state’s parole division before realignment took effect in October 2011 and now is assistant probation chief in Los Angeles County.

Despite the tougher population, probation officers said they are becoming better at handling those inmates.

“There’s more of a culture of tolerance, more of a culture of using any resources at your disposal to try to get this individual to turn around instead of a philosophy of lock them up,” Perez said.

Dean Pfoutz is one of those trying to benefit from the new emphasis on rehabilitation.

His roughly two decade-long criminal history includes a three-year prison sentence for assault and another eight years for an assault causing serious injury to a girlfriend. He most recently served 16 months for receiving stolen property.

Despite his violent past, he is being supervised by Sacramento County probation officers instead of state parole agents because his most recent crime, possession of stolen property, is considered a lower-level offense.

Pfoutz said he is benefiting from the county’s approach.

“It’s more hands-on here than parole. With parole, it’s like, ‘Just don’t get arrested,’” he said before attending a self-help class at the probation center he visits five days a week. “They’re pulling for us to do all right.”


SPECIAL ED LEADS TO THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR TOO MANY AMERICAN STUDENTS

Although much of the concern about the disproportionate use of over-harsh school discipline has been focused on students of color, experts are increasingly aware that kids with mental disabilities are also disproportionately pushed into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz of the Juvenile Justice Education Exchange have the story. Here’s a clip:

Cody Beck was 12-years -old when he was handcuffed in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car outside of Grenada Middle School. Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student, and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken to the local youth court, and then sent to a mental health facility two hours away from his home. Twelve days later, the sixth-grader was released from the facility and charged with three counts of assault.

Officials at his school determined the incident was a result of Cody’s disability. As a child, Cody was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had been given an Individual Education Program, or IEP, a legal document that details the resources, accommodations, and classes that a special education student should receive to help manage his or her disability. But despite there being a medical reason for his behavior, Cody was not allowed to return to school. He was called to youth court three times in the four months after the incident happened, and was out of school for nearly half that time as he waited to start at a special private school.

Cody is one of thousands of children caught up in the juvenile justice system each year. At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

…..The vast majority of adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn’t been updated since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population – which has grown 700 percent since 1970 – in part to deep problems in the education of children with special needs.

In Mississippi and across the country, the path to prison often starts very early for kids who struggle to manage behavioral or emotional disabilities in low-performing schools that lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers, and appropriately trained staff. Federal law requires schools to provide an education for kids with disabilities in an environment as close to a regular classroom as possible. But often, special needs students receive an inferior education, fall behind, and end up with few options for college or career. For youth with disabilities who end up in jail, education can be minimal, and at times, non-existent, even though federal law requires that they receive an education until age 21.



PAY TO PLAY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS—THAT’S CLEARLY CORRUPTION, SAYS JIM MCDONNELL IN NEW PPOA INTERVIEW

In Part 2 of the 3-part interview series that PPOA Prez Brian Moriguchi has conducted with Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell, the candidate talks about personnel issues, like promotion strategies, and other matters that have been subject to corruption at the LASD in the past—plus how he plans to “put the shine back” on the badge “that means the world” to so many officers.


ALSO, SEE REPORT ON WEEKEND FORUM WITH MCDONNELL BY FRANK STOLTZE

KPPC’S Frank Stoltze reports that Jim McDonnell, the frontrunner for Los Angeles County Sheriff, “…is not yet prepared to support subpoena power for a proposed citizen’s oversight panel, although authority watchdogs say is important to reforming the troubled department.”

Read the rest of Stoltze’s report here.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

Gov. Brown’s Realignment, LAPD Investigating Use-of-force Incident, Exoneree Wins $41.6 Million, and a Bryan Stevenson Essay

October 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LOOKING AT REALIGNMENT AS WE HEAD INTO NOVEMBER ELECTIONS

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks reelection on Nov. 4, California Report’s Scott Shafer takes a look at the state of criminal justice in California under Brown, particularly with regard to Realignment (AB 109). Many critics argue prison realignment was implemented too quickly, without adequate advanced planning, and thus left counties to struggle with little preparation under the burden of supervising and housing would-be state prisoners.

California counties received a combined $2 billion to adapt to realignment, yet the various counties are not using the money uniformly. Some are funneling the money into rehabilitation, reentry, and diversion programs as reformers had hoped they would, while others have beefed up their sheriff and probation staff. And still other counties have used the money to build new jails able to handle the influx of inmates serving longer sentences than preexisting county facilities were designed to house.

Three years after its launch, in short, the jury is still out. Even supporters agree we won’t really know if realignment had the effects proponents had hoped for until years from now.

Here’s how Shafer’s story opens:

It’s not the focus of this year’s campaign for governor, but under Jerry Brown the state’s approach to criminal justice has gone in a dramatically new direction.

Underlying it all: too many inmates and too few cells.

In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned the state Legislature that the prisons were powder kegs.

“Our prisons are in crisis,” the governor said. “We have inherited a problem that has been put off year after year after year.”

Schwarzenegger did take steps to reduce the inmate population, but not nearly enough to satisfy the federal courts. Finally, in 2011, with the state’s back to the wall, the Legislature passed the most fundamental reform of California’s criminal justice system in more than a generation.

AB109, known as “realignment,” transferred responsibility for tens of thousands of low-level criminals from state prisons to county jails and probation officers.

These perpetrators of non-serious, non-sexual, nonviolent crimes would now become the responsibility of local law enforcement officials, rather than the state.

“Probation [departments] were not ready,” says U.C. Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg, who for years has advised the Legislature on criminal justice matters.

Krisberg says California adopted realignment so fast that counties struggled to keep their heads above water.

“I mean, if you had done this logically, you would’ve announced to everyone, ‘We’re gonna do it.’ You probably would have spent a year or so planning it out, training and making it happen,” Krisberg says.

“But that’s not how realignment happened. It just happened.”

Five months after Brown signed AB109 (and a companion bill, AB117), realignment took effect.


LAPD OFFICER ALLEGEDLY KICKED RESTRAINED SUSPECT IN THE HEAD

An LAPD officer has been accused of kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground by other officers. Police officials were able to view footage of the incident taken by a nearby store’s security camera. The officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.” The police officer (as well as three other officers and a sergeant) has been relieved of duty with pay pending the investigation. The officer’s lawyer said the kick landed on Alford’s shoulder and was an acceptable use of force.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

Alford said he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk along Avalon Boulevard near 55th Street when a car pulled up behind him. A man shouted a command to stop, but Alford said he continued pedaling because the man did not identify himself as a police officer. When someone grabbed the back of the bike, Alford said he jumped off and ran.

After a short foot pursuit, two officers caught up to Alford. Footage from the security camera on a nearby building captured Alford voluntarily laying down on the street and putting his hands behind his back, according to several people who viewed the recording. The officers restrained Alford, who made no movements and did not resist, the sources said.

Seconds later, a patrol car pulled up and a uniformed officer, who the sources described as “heavyset” or “very large,” rushed from the driver’s side, according to sources. The officer moved quickly over to Alford, who was still held on the ground by the other officers, and immediately stomped or kicked, the sources said.

The officer then dropped to the ground and delivered a series of strikes with his elbows to the back of Alford’s head and upper body, sources said. Alford’s head can be seen on the video hitting the pavement from the force of the strikes, two sources recounted. Afterward, the officer leaned his knee into the small of Alford’s back and, for a prolonged period, rocked or bounced with his body weight on Alford’s back, the sources said. At one point, the officer put his other knee on Alford’s neck, a source said.

Throughout much of the altercation, two officers restrained Alford but eventually they moved away.

Two officials who viewed the video said it was clear to them Alford was handcuffed as soon as he got on the ground. Others said it is difficult to tell from the video when Alford was placed in handcuffs.

Alford said he had already been handcuffed when he was first kicked.

When it was over, Alford’s body was limp and motionless, according to sources who viewed the video. It took several officers to carry him to a patrol car, they said.

“He looked like a rag doll,” one person said of Alford.

Gary Fullerton, an attorney representing the officers, declined to discuss details of the incident but disputed that Alford had his hands behind his back when the officers used force.


INNOCENT MAN RECEIVES $41.6 MILLION FOR 15 YEARS IN PRISON, UNPRECEDENTED PAYOUT

A New York man, Jeff Deskovic, won $41.6 million in a lawsuit against Putnam County and the sheriff’s investigator who coerced his false confession. Deskovic was exonerated in 2006 of raping and killing a 15-year-old schoolmate, for which he spent 15 years in prison.

While Deskovic’s sum is reportedly the largest in US history, in a whopping 21 states, people who are exonerated after spending years in prison do not receive any compensation at all. In states that do pay, it takes years for the money to work its way through the court system, and in many cases the payouts are capped to prevent large payouts like Deskovic’s. Most Exonerees are not even given the reentry assistance provided to other released inmates.

The NY Daily News’ Stephen Rex Brown has the story on Deskovic. Here’s a clip:

Deskovic was given three lie detector tests over the course of a six-hour interrogation in which he eventually confessed.

He said on the stand this week in federal court in White Plains that he was scared for his life during the ordeal.

He was convicted in 1991 after prosecutors successfully argued that Deskovic did the deed — despite DNA taken from semen on the body that didn’t match the teen’s.


EXCERPT FROM BRYAN STEVENSON’S NEW BOOK

We introduced you to Bryan Stevenson last week, and didn’t want you to miss this essay by Stevenson in the NY Times Magazine that was adapted from his new book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

Here’s a clip (it’s a short one, so be sure to go read the rest):

“The lawyers at S.P.D.C. sent me down to tell you that they don’t have a lawyer yet,” I said. “But you’re not at risk of execution anytime in the next year. We’re working on finding you a lawyer, a real lawyer.”

He interrupted my chatter by grabbing my hands. “I’m not going to have an execution date anytime in the next year?”

“No, sir. They said it would be at least a year.” Those words didn’t sound very comforting to me. But he just squeezed my hands tighter.

“Thank you, man,” he said. “I mean, really, thank you! I’ve been talking to my wife on the phone, but I haven’t wanted her to come and visit me or bring the kids because I was afraid they’d show up and I’d have an execution date. Now I’m going to tell them they can come and visit. Thank you!”

I was astonished. We began to talk. It turned out that he and I were exactly the same age. He told me about his family and his trial. He asked me about law school and my family. We talked about music and about prison. We kept talking and talking, and it was only when I heard a loud bang on the door that I realized I had stayed long past my allotted time. I looked at my watch. I had been there three hours.

The guard came in and began handcuffing him; I could see the prisoner grimacing. “I think those cuffs are on too tight,” I said.

“It’s O.K., Bryan,” he said. “Don’t worry about this. Just come back and see me again, O.K.?”

I struggled to say something appropriate, something reassuring. He looked at me and smiled. Then he did something completely unexpected. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. I was confused, but then he opened his mouth, and I understood. He had a tremendous baritone that was strong and clear.

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,

By faith, on heaven’s tableland;

A higher plane than I have found,

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Posted in Innocence, LAPD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Realignment, Reentry | 1 Comment »

CA to Spend BIG $$ on Youth Lock-ups. So Can We spend it Well?…..”Getting Life” – What It’s Like to Be Wrongfully Convicted…….

July 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CALIFORNIA PLANS TO SPEND $79 MILLION ON YOUTH, & ADVOCATES PRESS FOR $$ TO GO TO COUNTIES WITH CLEAR REHAB GOALS

Right now the California Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) is working on structuring an RFP so that it can give away $79 million to various counties in the state for the construction of new juvenile facilities.

The $79 mil is the second round of post-realignment funding for county youth lock-ups; $220 million has already been awarded to 14 California counties.

With this new round of money, research and advocacy organizations like the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), the National Center for Law, and the Ella Baker Center see a rare opportunity to stimulate reform through the enticement of funding, so have been trying to educate and persuade the BSCC about what kind of youth facilities are likely to produce the best results.

According to Kate McCracken, CJCJ’s Director of Policy & Development, the the BSCC’s Executive Steering Committee, which is responsible for developing the crucial RFP, has “demonstrated openness” to crafting a competitive process would give the edge to county proposals that are designed with “clear rehabilitative goals.”

Ideally, McCracken writes, “the language of this RFP will guide the way counties develop their own proposals, and is thus essential to the development of long-term dispositional options and rehabilitative services available to young people in the community.”

Thus she hopes “the RFP will be rooted in what we know works for young people.”

“Research has proven time and time again that facilities are not effective when they have artificial environments, living quarters designed to confine large numbers of youth, and minimal programming space. If California is going to spend $79 million dollars — plus matching funds from the counties — on more juvenile facilities, let’s do it in a meaningful way.”

Some counties, like Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, are already committed to juvenile programs that emphasize rehabilitation and treatment over conventional youth corrections facilities.

Los Angeles County, which has the state’s (and the nation’s) largest juvenile justice system, was stuck for years in a punitive pattern that has resulted in years of federal monitoring along several class action lawsuits. Now LA County’s juvenile probation is moving toward some reform, with such programs as the in-the-works transformation of Camp David Kilpatrick. But, the tentative move in the direction of rehabilitation over containment is nothing close to system-wide.

If the purse-string-holding BCSC were to make clear that future $$ will be linked to reform, such fiscal incentives cannot help but have a salutary effect on counties like Los Angeles and others that may have made some improvements, but need to make many more.

“The future of California’s juvenile justice system is in the 58 counties,” writes McCracken, “as we observe pockets of innovation throughout the state that require support and incubation in other counties. There is significant evidence that a continuum of community-based services is the most effective approach to serving youth, as well as promising programs available to promote a new way of justice in California. This RFP is just one example of an opportunity for the state to rethink its approach to justice and challenge the status quo with innovative development.”

Yep. Exactly.


CHP HEAD MEETS WITH CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS OVER FREEWAY BEATING VIDEO

Concerned about a building furor over the bystander-taken video of a California Highway Patrol officer beating a woman next to the 10 freeway, on Tuesday, CHP head Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders.

KPCC’s Frank Stolze has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an indication of the agency’s increasing concern over the videotaped altercation between an officer and an African-American woman on the 10 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders in Los Angeles.

“I believe that right now, we are somewhat wounded because of what people have seen,” Farrow told reporters afterward outside the CHP’s West L.A. office. “I was deeply concerned when I saw the videotape. I was shocked.”


AN INNOCENT MAN TELLS OF HIS 25-YEARS BEHIND BARS, AND MORE

Michael Morton’s memoir, “Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace,” about the wrongful conviction that led him to serve a quarter century in prison for murdering his wife, has just been released to reviews that, thus far, are uniformly glowing.

For instance, here’s a clip from the review by Jesse Sublett of the Austin Chronicle:

Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas – even those who followed this case closely in the press – could do themselves a favor by picking Michael Morton’s new memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace. It is extremely well-written, insightful, infuriating, and, in places, quite funny. The “peace” part of the title is no exaggeration, either. For everything he’s been through, Michael Morton seems to be a very well-adjusted person with a sense of Zenlike calm…

Morton’ wife, Chris, was bludgeoned in their bed while he was at work. When he returned home to find the family home surrounded by yellow police tape he became frantic. Morton was arrested soon after and railroaded by Williamson County D.A. Ken Anderson, who withheld crucial information and documents from the defense. Morton was eventually cleared by the Innocence Project using DNA evidence. After that, the DNA led officials to the actual killer.

Here’s a clip from what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said about Morton’s book:

A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the American criminal justice system, but perhaps nothing more searing than Morton’s book, “Getting Life.” It is a devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham, a window into a broken criminal justice system.

Indeed, Morton would still be in prison if the police work had been left to the authorities. The day after the killing, Chris’s brother, John, found a bloodied bandanna not far from the Morton home that investigators had missed, and he turned it over to the police.

Morton had advantages. He had no criminal record. He was white, from the middle class, in a respectable job. Miscarriages of justice disproportionately affect black and Hispanic men, but, even so, Morton found himself locked up in prison for decades.

Then DNA testing became available, and the Innocence Project — the lawyers’ organization that fights for people like Morton — called for testing in Morton’s case. Prosecutors resisted, but eventually DNA was found on the bandanna: Chris’s DNA mingled with that of a man named Mark Alan Norwood, who had a long criminal history….

Parade Magazine has an excerpt from “Getting Life”.

Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

The door closed.

Not with a click or the sound of tumblers finally hitting their marks or the sturdy clunk of wood and metal meshing as if they were made for each other.

This was different.

It began with the long, hard sound of steel sliding against steel.

Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.

It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me— literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.

I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.

And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.

Twenty-five years.

My wife, Chris, had been savagely beaten to death several months earlier. Before I had time to begin mourning, I was fighting for my own life against a legal system that seemed hell-bent on making me pay for the murder of the woman I would gladly have died for.

I was innocent.

Naïvely, I believed the error would soon be set right.

I could not have been more wrong.


Posted in American voices, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, Probation, Realignment, State government, writers and writing | No Comments »

Realignment and Homeless Probationers, San Francisco to Nix Costly Jail Phone Calls, and Restorative Justice in Massachusetts Prisons

July 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INCREASE IN HOMELESS AB109 PROBATIONERS, AND HOW COUNTIES ARE DEALING WITH THE ISSUE

The diversion of lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision through California prison realignment, AB 109, was designed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding and recidivism while saving the state money. But realignment has greatly increased the number of homeless people under county supervision, where they were previously supervised under state parole officers, and many counties are struggling with the expanded responsibility.

Los Angeles County may decide to consider homelessness a violation of an inmate’s terms of release, a “solution” that many advocates see as more destructive than effective (and WLA agrees). Other counties are increasing shelter beds or providing temporary shelter for homeless probationers.

The Associated Press’ Gillian Flaccus has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

Gov. Jerry Brown based his recent overhaul of the state corrections system in part on the idea that having those convicted of lower-level crimes supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole agents when they are released would help them stay clean, find jobs and avoid committing new crimes.

A cornerstone of the law’s success is housing, yet county probation officers throughout the state say homelessness continues to undermine their ability to help ex-cons rehabilitate, get drug treatment and find jobs. Some California counties report that up to one in five of the parolees they supervise under the governor’s realignment law is homeless.

“You’ve got somebody and … they’re gang-involved, you want to get them in classes, but they live under a bridge,” said Andrew Davis, an analyst with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. “They’re not going to show up; they don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Counties across the state are dealing with the problem in different ways. Many are trying a patchwork of solutions as they adapt.

In Marin County, probation officers sometimes pick homeless parolees up at the prison gates and pay for motel rooms until they can find a bed. Santa Cruz County has contracted with local homeless shelters, a move that stirred controversy last year.

Homeless parolees in Riverside County are required to check in at an electronic kiosk and have their photo taken daily. In San Diego County, where nearly 400 former prison inmates are reporting as homeless, there’s a plan to spend $3 million to add 150 shelter beds. Parolees who say they are homeless must check in weekly with probation.

In Los Angeles County, where 758 convicts released under realignment say they have no permanent address, county attorneys are considering whether being homeless could be classified as an automatic violation of a parolee’s terms of release. That’s in part because many counties are finding that former inmates will claim homelessness to avoid close supervision.

Los Angeles has spent more than $6.5 million on housing for convicts who would have previously been the responsibility of state parole.

Counties say the number of lower-level offenders — defined as those who have committed crimes that are non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent — who are homeless upon their release has not necessarily changed since the realignment law took effect in 2011. State officials are still tallying the number.

The difference is that previously, these felons were the state’s responsibility. Counties are not strangers to dealing with homeless probationers, but now the numbers have increased.

Read on.


SAN FRANCISCO MOVES TO LOWER EXORBITANT RATES FOR LOCAL PHONE CALLS FROM JAIL

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. But because the cap only applies to out-of-state calls, contracted companies like Global Tel-Link continue to charge inmates’ families outsized fees for in-state calls and other services.

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to modify the county’s contract with Global Tel-Link to reduce the costs of local and regional calls from SF County jails by up to 70%. San Francisco is one of the first counties to take a stand against contractors like GTL overcharging inmates’ loved ones. We hope other counties in California (ahem, Los Angeles) and other states follow suit.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has the story. Here’s a clip:

The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions — in some cases to pay for inmate programs — while charging fees to cover those costs, according to regulators, lawmakers and inmate advocates.

Now, San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice — one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so.

At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to dramatically reduce the cost of calls, which can burden inmates’ families.

“We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society often depends on strong family ties.

The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70%, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45 — a 38% drop.

Earlier this year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.

So far, most state efforts have focused on prisons, not local jails, like San Francisco’s.

California and at least seven other states ban prisons from accepting commissions…

Verizon, which isn’t in the corrections business, has weighed in against the practice, telling the FCC: “Forcing inmates’ families to fund [inmate services] through their calling rates is not the answer. … Other funding sources should be pursued.”

County-run jails have opposed regulation, and have largely managed to avoid it.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) hopes to change that. He has introduced a bill that would ban commissions and require contracts to be awarded to providers offering the lowest cost of service for inmates. It would apply to all jails and juvenile facilities statewide.

The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes the measure, contending the changes would “negatively impact inmates” by reducing funds for inmate services.

But Quirk said, “I think there are better ways to fund it other than taxing grandma.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.


MASSACHUSETTS TO LAUNCH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROGRAM IN PRISONS

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a new restorative justice prison program (based on the Victim Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison) aimed at reducing recidivism. During the 34-week course, offenders will have the opportunity to connect with victims in a mutually healing environment and take responsibility for harm they caused to others.

The NY Times’ Dina Kraft has the story. Here’s how it opens:

For many of his 15 years behind the soaring prison walls here, Muhammad Sahin managed to suppress thinking of his victims’ anguish — even that of the one who haunted him most, a toddler who peeked out from beneath her blankets the night he shot and killed her mother in a gang-ordered hit.

But he found it impossible to stop the tears as he sat in a circle together with Deborah Wornum, a woman whose son was murdered, and more than a dozen other men serving terms for homicide and other violent crimes. Each participant — victim and inmate — had a very different, personal story to share with the encounter groups that met here on a recent weekend in a process called restorative justice.

Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.

“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”

Lifting his head to look directly at Ms. Wornum, he projected his crime onto the murder of her son: “I kind of feel like I caused the pain, like I’m the one who committed the crime.”

The unusual two-day gathering took place south of Boston at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, one of the state’s oldest prisons as well as its largest, with about 1,500 inmates. Under the whirring of overhead fans in an auditorium of exposed red brick, it brought 150 inmates together with victims, judges, prosecutors and mediators. Gov. Deval Patrick attended briefly and met with a small group of those present.

Restorative justice, a process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures that resurfaced in the United States and abroad in the 1970s, has begun to make headway in some states, including Massachusetts, where legislation was introduced last year to promote its practice. It brings offenders and victims together voluntarily. Offenders take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims and loved ones as well as their own families and neighborhoods. The victim is given a chance to ask questions of the offenders and share how their lives were affected by the crime. Advocates say it is key to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism….

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a curriculum on restorative justice, modeled on a program called the Victim Offender Education Group, which was developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. Meeting weekly for 34 weeks, participants will undergo a probing process aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused.

Posted in Homelessness, jail, Probation, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice | No Comments »

Realignment and Untapped Solutions to Overcrowding at the Local and State Levels, Federal Sentencing Reforms Stalled, and More

June 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT THREE YEARS IN: STILL OVERCROWDED WITH MINIMAL SAVINGS

California prison realignment, AB 109, (which diverts lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision) was supposed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding while saving the state money. Three years into the implementation of AB 109, however, California is spending $2 billion more per year locking people up, jails are overcrowded, and the state prison population is on the rise, once again.

Through realignment, counties were allotted money to spend on things like community-based alternatives to incarceration, but some counties (Los Angeles, for instance) have failed to use available methods like split-sentencing and other programs to lower recidivism.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the realignment issue. Here are some clips:

Nearly 15 months after launching what he called the “boldest move in criminal justice in decades,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades.

Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation.

“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said in early 2013.

The numbers tell a different story.

Today, California is spending nearly $2 billion a year more on incarceration than when Brown introduced his strategy in 2011. The prisons are still overcrowded, and the state has been forced to release inmates early to satisfy federal judges overseeing the system.

Counties, given custody of more than 142,000 felons so far, complain that the state isn’t paying full freight for their supervision. Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more.

“The charts are sobering,” Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said at a hearing this year on crime, prison costs and inmate numbers.

Still, Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. “It is not going to create miracles overnight,” he said as he returned to his office from a Capitol rally for crime victims earlier this spring.

The governor’s office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state.

Putting prisoners back in local hands “is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives,” he said.

[SNIP]

The prison population fell sharply at first, dropping from 162,400 to 133,000, but it is rising again. There now are 135,400 inmates in state custody, a number expected to grow to 147,000 in 2019.

The state Finance Department originally projected that realignment would reduce prison spending by $1.4 billion this fiscal year and that about two-thirds of that savings would be passed on to counties to cover the costs of their new charges.

Instead, the state’s increased costs for private prison space and the compensation it pays out for county jails, prosecutors and probation departments adds up to about $2 billion a year more for corrections than when Brown regained office.

Without stemming the flow of prisoners into the system, the problems created by crowding continue. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state agency that investigates government operations, said in a May report that realignment simply “changed the place where the sentence is served.”


OVERCROWDING AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, AND WHAT LOS ANGELES COULD BE DOING ABOUT IT

Los Angeles County is facing A $1.7 billion (or more) plan to tear down and replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail. Currently, 4,000 more men are crammed into the facility than allowed by the government. There is no question that the aging and grossly overcrowded facility needs to be replaced, but there are ways to fix the population problem.

Before we get to that, LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story on the overpopulated jail. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Dyer, commanding officer of the downtown Men’s Central Jail, couldn’t help but grimace during a recent inspection of Dorm 9500.

More than 200 low-security inmates were crammed inside the room, every now and then tripping over each other’s bunks spaced a foot apart.

The space was not originally intended to serve as living quarters, so toilets were an afterthought, installed haphazardly in the middle of a row of bunks in the 1980s. They’re exposed to the room with no stall walls and only a few feet from the nearest bunk.

“That’s just wrong,” Dyer said, gesturing toward the inmates who have to eat and sleep next to the toilets.

[SNIP]

“We are at serious risk of litigation,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald warned. “If the courts take over, we’ll end up spending a lot of money which could have gone toward rehabilitation and treatment.”

County Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop said Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 decision to ease overcrowding in state prisons by diverting inmates to county jails created a crisis.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” he said. “Something must be done.”

Alsop called for additional funding support to ensure inmates’ “appropriate and effective supervision and rehabilitation.”

[SNIP]

The jail population peaked at about 23,000 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sheriff’s Lt. Sergio Murillo recalled, “We used to have inmates all over the place — they were on the roof, in the chapel, on the floors of the cells.”

The number dropped to about 15,000 three years ago, but AB 109 pushed it up to 19,000 currently. That’s 4,000 more than government regulations allow.

“That’s horrific, horrendous and unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a court-appointed monitor of the jails.

“It raises very significant questions as to whether this is an unconstitutional level of overcrowding, especially when they have space they are not utilizing,” he added.

Dyer admitted the East Facility at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic has room for 1,500 inmates but isn’t being used because of budget problems.

SoCal ACLU Director Peter Eliasberg told WLA that if LA County is worried about getting sued by the federal government, we might want to find a way to use those 1500 beds in Pitchess.

Eliasberg also shared three ways to further lower the jail population, including amping up the county’s currently minimal use of split-sentencing (dividing sentences into part jail time, part probation):

1. Have the Board of Supervisors authorize the Sheriff to do risk-based pretrial release, rather than having the county rely on the bail system, which is not risk-based and leaves lots of poor low risk individuals in jail awaiting disposition of their cases. If the Sheriff were to use a sound risk assessment tool to do non-bail pretrial release, it would likely lower the average daily jail population by about 1,000.

3. If the proposed state criminal justice trailer bill (AB 1468) passes, it will likely increase the amount of split sentencing in LA County significantly because it contains the presumption that an N3 [a non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender] will receive a split sentence “Unless the court finds, in the interest of justice, that it [a split sentence] is not appropriate in a particular case…”

Los Angeles has one of the lowest, if not the lowest rates of split sentencing in California at about 3%. By contrast, 87% of the N3s in Contra Costa receive split sentences; the figure is 67% in Riverside and 39% in Orange County. The best estimates are that if LA raised its rate of split sentencing to 30%, it would lower the average daily jail population by about 900 a night.

If the District Attorney achieves her goal of cutting the number of inmates with mental illness by about 1,000 through a diversion program, the Board of Supervisors gives the Sheriff pretrial release authority, and LA raises its level of split sentencing to 30%, the County would be looking at a reduction of the average daily jail population of about 2,900 below the projections that were used to justify the jail plan the BOS voted to move forward on in May.


BIPARTISAN SENTENCING REFORM BILLS DELAYED IN CONGRESS

Over the last few years, there has been a significant bipartisan push to reduce incarceration. Unfortunately, two promising and far-reaching criminal justice reform bills have stalled in Congress.

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.


An NY Times editorial explains why the bills have stalled,
and calls on Congress to “do its job” and fix the defective laws feeding our over-stuffed prison system. Here’s a clip:

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal inmates — many of whom have already served years of unjustly long drug sentences — continue to sit in overstuffed prisons, wasting both their lives and taxpayer dollars at no demonstrable benefit to public safety.

The slowdown is all the more frustrating because there is mounting evidence that criminal justice reform works. States from South Carolina to Ohio to Rhode Island have cut back on mandatory minimums, improved rehabilitation services and reduced their prison populations while seeing crime rates go down, or at least not go up.

So why the delay? One major factor has been resistance from members of the old guard, who refuse to let go of their tough-on-crime mind-set. In May, three senior Republican senators — Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama — came out against the sentencing reductions, arguing that mandatory minimums are only used for the highest-level drug traffickers. This assertion is contradicted by data from the United States Sentencing Commission, which found that 40 percent of federal drug defendants were couriers or low-level dealers.

Another factor was the Obama administration’s April announcement that it would consider clemency for hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates currently serving time under older, harsher drug laws. Republicans complained that this — along with other executive actions on criminal justice by Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. — took the wind out of reform’s sails.

But with the exception of some old-line prosecutors and resistant lawmakers, everyone still agrees on the need for extensive reform…


LA PROGRAM HELPS PARENTS COMBAT EFFECTS OF TRAUMA IN BABIES AND TODDLERS

A Children’s Hospital Los Angeles program is targeting trauma and toxic stress experienced by babies, in hopes of averting mental health problems as they get older. The program provides in-home therapy and coaching for parents of babies and toddlers exhibiting signs of toxic stress. (For more WLA posts about trauma and toxic stress in children, go here and here.)

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Through its “early childhood mental health program,” the hospital sends therapists into the homes of hundreds of kids who are showing signs of anxiety, trauma and stress that can pile up causing what experts call “toxic stress.”

…counselors in this program teach parents how to diffuse stress in the home and to understand and meet their children’s emotional needs. About 400 families are served every year.

Among them are Shantoya Byrd and her toddler, Anmarie Paz.

When Anmarie was just weeks old, her aunt committed suicide in the home they shared.

“I was so, so, sad,” Byrd said. “And then you feel really bad because you’re like, now I have a baby, and the baby sees you so sad.”

Byrd was also living with her mother, who was struggling with drug addiction. When Anmarie was six months old, social workers found the home unfit and removed her. She was reunited with her mother a few days later, when Byrd moved out on her own.

“When I got her back, I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without her like following behind me screaming,” she said. “If she could not like touch me, she would scream, she would cry.”

Anmarie was suffering from severe anxiety. She cried and yelled nonstop. Byrd didn’t understand why or how to deal with it.

[SNIP]

Child welfare workers referred Byrd to the program, which sent psychotherapist Lorena Samora to her Los Angeles apartment.

During weekly visits, Samora was able to coach the young mother on techniques for helping her toddler to self-soothe and lessen anxiety.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health, prison, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma, War on Drugs | 3 Comments »

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