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Realignment


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 »

LA Times’ Steve Lopez on the Jail Plan….Former Inmate Sues LASD for Alleged Abuse….Unusual Measure Would Drop Some Felonies to Misdemeanors….and California Judge Restores Voting Rights to Realignment Probationers

May 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE LOS ANGELES SUPERVISORS’ DECISION TO MOVE FORWARD WITH A $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN

Yesterday, we reported on the LA County Board of Supervisors’ decision to move forward with a $2 billion jail plan before a new sheriff could be involved in the decision-making process, and despite opposition. (More backstory here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez also reported on the issue, and had some interesting things to say about the supes’ decision. Here’s a clip:

This was not a brand new topic for the supervisors. And what I mean by that is that the supes have been dithering over the matter for about a decade.

That’s not necessarily a long time for this crew. But to put it in perspective, James Hahn was mayor back then. Barack Obama was an obscure state legislator in Illinois. And no one had heard of “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” or “Downton Abbey.”

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina, quite clearly, were ready to move on. I’m not sure whether they truly believe that building a $2-billion jail downtown and a women’s facility in Lancaster is the best option, or if they were just tired of talking about it. But they introduced a motion to move forward on that proposal, and Supervisor Don Knabe decided he was on their side.

Here’s what seemed a little crazy, though:

After a decade of putting off a decision, why decide to act just a month before an election to pick a new sheriff?

I know, I know. I’ve just criticized them for taking forever, and now I’m wondering why they’re moving so fast. They would argue that it’s because the federal government might crack down because of inhumane conditions, but that’s been the case for a long time. My point is that we might want the new sheriff to weigh in on the jail he’s likely to be overseeing one day.

Aside from all that, though, the supervisors — as usual — didn’t disappoint. It was remarkable to watch two conservative supervisors, Antonovich and Knabe, team with a liberal woman of color, Molina, in support of one of the biggest public projects in L.A. County history.

But it was just as remarkable to watch Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky go through their moves.

Sure, the county needs a new jail, they agreed. But why hadn’t there been a harder look at diversionary programs aimed at getting more inmates with mental illness and drug addiction into community programs instead of locking them up?

That’s a very good question, and it’s been raised by many people — including me — for years. So why were Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky suddenly acting like it was breaking news?

I think because the votes had already been counted, and Tuesday was about covering the bases.

Or covering something.

Read on…


AND IN RELATED NEWS…

On Wednesday, Bret Phillips, a mentally ill former inmate at Men’s Central Jail, filed a lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Dept., accusing four deputies of beating him unconscious while he was in handcuffs and chains. Jail chaplain Paulino Juarez witnessed the beating and reported it to a sergeant, and later recounted it to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. (Click here for the backstory and what Phillips story suggests about LASD leadership.)

In February, two of the deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, were federally indicted for the alleged assault on Phillips.

Phillips lawsuit names former Sheriff Lee Baca and the four deputies allegedly involved as defendants. (And Phillips is being represented in the lawsuit by high-profile civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred.)

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Bret Phillips, 43, says four deputies at Men’s Central Jail punched him in the face and body while he was handcuffed and chained. The lawsuit claims deputies also used pepper spray and a flashlight during the beating, which left Phillips unconscious.

Nicole Nishida, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, said the agency has not yet reviewed the lawsuit and was unable to comment on the case.

“However, we take all allegations of inmate abuse very seriously and investigate every allegation appropriately.” Nishida said.

Phillips suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is bipolar, according to the lawsuit. Gloria Allred, his lawyer, said the Sheriff’s department should have known Phillips had serious mental health issues because he had been placed in a psychiatric section of the jail during a prior incarceration. He was in the jail’s general population when the beating occurred.

“Because he suffered from mental impairment, he was completely vulnerable to any deputy who wished to abuse him and escape punishment,” Allred said.

A priest visiting the jail that day witnessed the beating and later reported it to a sergeant. But in wasn’t until February of this year that federal authorities with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles indicted two deputies…

Phillips was jailed for failing to provide his new address to his probation officer, said his long-time companion and caregiver Christine Chopurian. She said they had just moved 30 hours before he was arrested for the probation violation.

“I truly believe that if Father Paulino Juarez wasn’t there visiting the jail that day, Bret might have died,” she said…

Allred said that if Phillips had been placed in a mental health facility with trained personnel, this wouldn’t have happened to him.

“This county has been aware for quite a long time about the vulnerability and the needs and perhaps even the abuse at L.A. County jails of mentally impaired inmates,” she said.


PROPOSED BALLOT INITIATIVE WOULD REDUCE CERTAIN LOW-LEVEL FELONIES TO MISDEMEANOR STATUS

An intriguing measure likely headed for the November ballot would bring down the status of certain low-level non-violent offenses (like drug possession and petty theft) from felony to misdemeanor. In addition, the money the state saved in prison costs would be allocated for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation, trauma services, and crime prevention efforts.

The initiative is co-sponsored by San Francisco DA George Gascón and former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and has garnered more than 800,000 signatures. (We will have more on this measure in the coming weeks.)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has more on the welcome initiative. Here’s a clip:

Supporters of the proposal, intended for the November ballot, said they had a surprisingly easy time collecting more than 800,000 signatures to place the measure before voters – far more than the 555,236 needed – and were delivering those petitions to county registrars across the state Monday and Tuesday.

The measure is backed by a politically diverse and somewhat unlikely group: Its official sponsors are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and recently retired San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, and its supporters include conservatives including businessman B. Wayne Hughes Jr. They believe it could save taxpayers $150 million to $250 million on jail and prison spending each year, money that would be redirected toward crime prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and trauma recovery services.

Hughes, who made his fortune from self-storage facilities, said he has become increasingly interested in incarceration issues in recent years and founded a foundation that is currently providing “moral and ethical” training to 2,000 California prisoners. He said his firsthand experience helping inmates prompted him to support the measure.

“I am not an apologist for people who break the law … (but) folks are coming out of prison better criminals than when they came in, and that is not helping to get the state where we need to be,” he said.

“When a mom or dad or kid goes to prison, a grenade goes off and the shrapnel hits everybody, and when enough homes experience this, we lose whole communities, and that’s what we have here. Twelve to 14 cents of every dollar spent in California is on incarceration, and meanwhile our infrastructure is falling down. … This is a situation where the walls of partisanship ought to come down immediately.”


CALIFORNIA JUDGE’S RULING RESTORES VOTING RIGHTS TO PEOPLE IN COMMUNITY SUPERVISION UNDER REALIGNMENT

Back in February, the ACLU of California filed a lawsuit accusing California Sec. of State Debra Bowen of illegally disenfranchising thousands of potential voters on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and mandatory supervision under Realignment.

On Wednesday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled in favor of the ACLU and the former state prisoners shifted to community supervision under California Realignment (AB 109), and ordered the probationers’ voting rights be restored.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s announcement:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for California’s democracy,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “By following the plain language of our state’s voting laws, the court’s ruling will help ensure that in California, one of the nation’s most fundamental rights – the right to vote – will be protected and not restricted.”

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the fact that the California legislature passed the Realignment Act with the legislative goal of better facilitating the reintegration of people with felony convictions back into society suggests legislators would have wanted people on PRCS and mandatory supervision to retain their right to vote, writing that “the plain language of the statute suggets that the integration of adult felons into society would be facilitated by allowing” these individuals to vote.

”Our democracy belongs to everyone who lives in America, not just a select few,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people.”

Judge Grillo also followed California’s longstanding rule that every reasonable presumption be given in favor of the right of people to vote.

“The significance of this victory cannot be overstated. The right to vote gives meaning to every other right we have as citizens, and it is for this reason that our laws require every reasonable presumption in favor of the right to vote,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The court’s decision affirms the voices of Californians returning to their communities, assuring them the opportunity to contribute as equal members.”

Posted in ACLU, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Realignment, Sentencing | No Comments »

Is America’s Outsized Prison Population Built on a Famous Research Lie?….& More

May 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



AMERICA’S EXPLODING PRISONS & THE GHOST OF OF ROBERT MARTINSON

NY Times economic columnist, Eduardo Porter, has written an interesting story in the paper’s business section that looks at, in the very broadest of terms, how the U.S. came to spend so much money on incarcerating so many of its residents, and the collateral damage that this overreliance on incarceration has produced.

In tracing how we came to our present state of incarceration fever, Porter isolates a famous report published in 1974 by criminologist Robert Martinson, which concluded that efforts at rehabilitating lawbreakers were essentially pointless. Martinson’s paper was such a sensation that it arguably became the primary trigger that turned American policy fundamentally away from any attempt at rehabilitation and toward longer and harsher sentences.

Porter also looks at some recent reports that strongly suggest that reducing incarceration by, say, 20 percent would produce tremendous collateral benefits while not appreciably affecting public safety.

It’s an interesting piece that is well worth your time to read. But one thing I noticed Porter does not write about is the fact that Martinson’s “scientific” conclusions turned out to be false.

More on that in a minute, but first here’s are some clips from Porter’s story:

In 2012, 2.2 million Americans were in jail or prison, a larger share of the population than in any other country; and that is about five times the average for fellow industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The nation’s unique strategy on crime underscores the distinct path followed by American social and economic institutions compared with the rest of the industrialized world.

Scholars don’t have a great handle on why crime fighting in the United States veered so decidedly toward mass incarceration. But the pivotal moment seems to have occurred four decades ago.

In 1974, the criminologist Robert Martinson published “What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform.” Efforts at rehabilitation, it concluded, were a waste of time.

“With few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism,” he wrote. Standard rehabilitation strategies, he suggested, “cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendency for offenders to continue in criminal behavior.”

Crime was rising in the 1960s and 1970s, alarming the public and increasing the risk to politicians of appearing “soft” on crime.

If rehabilitation was out of reach, the thinking went, all that was left was to remove criminals from society and, through harsh sentencing, deter future crime. From 1975 through 2002, all 50 states adopted mandatory sentencing laws, specifying minimum sentences. Many also adopted “three strikes” laws to punish recidivists. Judges lost the power to offer shorter sentences.

And the prison population surged. Four decades ago, the correctional population in the United States was not that dissimilar from the rest of the developed world. Less than 0.2 percent of the American population was in a correctional institution. By 2012, however, the share of Americans behind bars of one sort or another had more than tripled to 0.7 percent.

[SNIP]

Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that putting a minor in juvenile detention reduced his likelihood of graduating from high school by 13 percentage points and increased his odds of being incarcerated as an adult by 23 percentage points.

The impact of incarceration on a former inmate’s future life is difficult to disentangle. Still, a report by Mr. Western and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington suggested that serving time reduced men’s hourly wage by 11 percent and annual employment by nine weeks.

More than half of inmates have minor children. Their children are almost six times as likely to be expelled or suspended from school. Family incomes fall 22 percent during the years fathers are incarcerated.

On Wednesday, the National Academy of Sciences is unveiling a report on the causes and consequences of American mass incarceration. On Thursday, the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project will present its evaluation, alongside an analysis by Mr. Raphael and Mr. Stoll, which suggests that less imprisonment might not produce more crime.

There’s lots more, specifically about how changes in our policy could save us money, so read the whole thing.

Now back to Martinson and his famous “What Works?” paper. Here’s the story behind the story.

Prior to the publication of Martinson’s “findings,” rehabilitation and improvement was, at least theoretically, a part of American incarceration policy.

Martinson came by his theory through his part in a 1968-1970 survey of 231 smaller studies that looked at the efficacy of offender rehabilitation. Together with two other researchers, Martinson evaluated the many small studies conducted from the late 1940′s into the late 1060′s and drew conclusions, which Martinson then published in 1974.

Although Martinson joined the study after it was already well underway, due to his flamboyant personality, his love of the limelight, and his skill at giving the press pithy conclusions instead of the chronically bloodless academic speak of his fellow researchers, he became the study’s primary spokesperson and interpreter.

At best, the study’s findings were based on methodology that is now viewed as flawed and lacking in sufficient rigor to justify the conclusions reached. And, in the last 20 years, of course, more sophisticated studies have produced plenty of outcomes-based evidence that rehabilitation works. But even at the time, the research that made Martinson famous did not not in fact lead to the conclusions that Martinson represented.

In fact, although the study’s final findings were not ready for publication until 1975, Martinson went ahead and preempted his fellow researchers without their permission, publishing his What Works? paper a year early and with a more dramatic and newsworthy conclusions than the real findings, which were dry and inconclusive, would represent.

Not that the official findings were all that upbeat. Yet they were nowhere near as bleakly definitive as Martinson had portrayed. They stated, “…the field of corrections has not as yet found satisfactory ways to reduce recidivism by significant amounts…”

Yet it was Martinson’s presentation (which came to be viewed as “Nothing Works“) that would gain purchase in both the public and the political consciousness. After Martinson published, other more conservative theorists would follow after, people like John DiIulio and James Q. Wilson, the creator and the main promoter, respectively, of the super-predator theory. An aggressive tough-on-crime policy followed close behind and kept the nation in its grip for nearly the next thirty years.

Interestingly, in 1979, a year before his death, Martinson wrote a new paper in which he recanted his original conclusions as “not correct.” Programs could help, he wrote, but much depended on the conditions in which they were administered.

But it was much too late. The damage had been done. Martinson’s new work was roundly ignored.

If you want to read more about Martinson and the tragic effects of his flawed 1974 publication, you can find some papers on the matter here and here.


TEXAS FOSTER CARE SYSTEM INSTITUTES “TRAUMA INFORMED CARE TRAINING” FOR STAFF AND FOSTER PARENTS

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services—namely the state’s foster care system—has begun requiring that its foster families certain staff get trained in what trauma does to kids and others. Yes, it’s only a two-hour online training, but it’s a step.

Here’s how Texas DFPS describes the training and the reason behind it. (You’ll note that part of the training is to help the practitioners look at their own possible trauma.)

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recognizes the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect. The need to address trauma is increasingly viewed as an important component of effective service delivery. The impact of trauma is experienced by children, families, caregivers, and the social service providers who serve them.

DFPS is providing this training opportunity to assist families, caregivers and other social service providers in fostering greater understanding of trauma informed care and child traumatic stress. We hope this will help you understand the effects that trauma can have on child development, behaviors, and functioning, as well as recognize, prevent and cope with compassion fatigue.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF EARLY RELEASE FROM PRISON, CA GOV. JERRY BROWN BEGAN SOME EARLY RELEASES OF SOME NON-VIOLENT PRISONERS TWO WEEKS AGO

Since California’s realignment plan began in October 2011, the politicians and some of the press have wrongly accused the state of letting people out of prison early. County jails have released prisoners early. But the state did not.

Until now.

The LA Times Paige St. John has the details. Here’s a clip:

The state is releasing some low-level, nonviolent prisoners early as Gov. Jerry Brown complies with a federal court order to reduce crowding in its lockups — a turning point in the governor’s efforts to resolve the issue.
Inmates serving time for certain nonviolent crimes are being discharged days or weeks before they were scheduled to go free, a move that Brown had long resisted but proposed in January and was subsequently ordered by judges to carry out.

Eventually, such prisoners, who are earning time off their sentences with good behavior or rehabilitation efforts, will be able to leave months or even years earlier.

Prison workers, inmates’ lawyers and county probation officials said the releases began two weeks ago. Since then, San Bernardino County probation officers said, the number of felons arriving from prison has increased more than two dozen a week, or 30%

[BIG SNIP]

Sentence reductions were among the changes Brown offered to make as he sought two more years to reduce prison crowding to a level the judges deem safe. He wants to meet the jurists’ targets mostly by placing more felons in privately owned prisons and other facilities.

In February, the judges granted Brown’s request and ordered him to “immediately implement” the early releases and add parole options for prisoners who are frail, elderly or serving extended sentences for specific kinds of nonviolent crimes.
Analysts in Brown’s administration initially estimated that about 1,400 prisoners would be freed early over two years by being allowed to shave off as much as a third of their sentences with good behavior.
From prison, they follow the normal path to either state parole or county supervision, depending on the crimes they committed.

“Our first ‘Whew!’ moment was when we realized it was not anybody we wouldn’t [be getting] already,” said Karen Pank, a lobbyist for California’s 58 county probation departments.


Photo from the film 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut

Posted in Foster Care, prison policy, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Sheriff’s Candidates Wax Progressive at Debate….Tanaka’s a No-Show….Eric Previn Wants 2 be Supe…& More

March 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

SHERIFF’S CANDIDATES GET NOTABLY PROGRESSIVE AND PAUL TANAKA PULLS A LAST MINUTE NO-SHOW AT THE 2ND BIG PUBLIC DEBATE

Mercado La Paloma in South LA was jammed Thursday night as five of the seven candidates running for LA County Sheriff took their seats for the second public debate, and answered questions on such topics as alternative sentencing, building new jails, immigration enforcement, data gathering on stop & frisk, and more—all topics to which the five men gave consistently progressive-leaning answers that featured more agreement than difference.

For instance, the candidates were asked if they were in favor of solving the jail overcrowding problem by building new jails?

By and large they are not. They’d rather manage the jail population by finding appropriate therapeutic housing for the mentally ill who routinely turn up in the jails, and most favored some kind of alternate sentencing and pretrial release.

Bob Olmsted wants to create a special court for the mentally ill.

“We need to free the bed space for those who really need to be locked up,” he said.

“We need community based mental health clinics,” agreed Jim McDonnell.

Jim Hellmold and Lou Vince said no to any kind of jail expansion. “Once we do that, those beds are always going to be filled,” said Vince.

“Community based alternatives can reduce recidivism by ten or twenty percent,” said Todd Rogers and then proceeded to expand enthusiastically on the topic.

The candidates also favored a more appropriate, family-friendly environment for women who are locked up.

“Right now our women are housed in facilities that are intended for men in complete lockdown,” said Hellmold.

All the candidates were roundly in favor of a robust citizen oversight body for the LASD

And so it went on topic after topic. While there were degrees of difference, there was more often agreement that leaned in a distinctly reformist direction.

“They were more progressive in many cases than the majority of the board of supervisors,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, after the questioning was over. (The ACLU was one of the event’s sponsors.) “For example, there was a real unanimity in the suggestion that LA is incarcerating way too many people. Whereas what appears to be the board’s response, which is to build more jail beds, that’s clearly not what these candidates want to be doing.”


WHILE 5 CANDIDATES OPINED, 2 CANDIDATES WERE MISSING

Two candidates in the field, however, were not available for comment.

Pat Gomez had another event he felt he had to attend so wasn’t able to take part in the debate, but according to Eliasberg, Gomez notified the debate staff a week or two in advance.

Paul Tanaka, in contrast, cancelled “because of a conflict” at exactly 12:37 pm on the day of the event, said Eliasberg.



AND IN RELATED NEWS: AD HOC WATCHDOG ERIC PREVIN RUNS FOR SUPERVISOR

Eric Previn, our favorite ad hoc LA County watchdog, would now like to join the ranks of those he has previously enjoyed hectoring mightily on regular basis.

Hillel Aron (whom we’re happy to note will now be writing full time for the LA Weekly) has the story. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven isn’t like other gadflies, those full-time roustabouts who skulk the halls of L.A. government making public comment after comment until every bureaucrat is ready to put a gun to his or her head. Preven is different; he’s… well, he’s cleaner. And more normal looking. And: Preven digs up good dirt.

Inspired by something weird that was done to Preven’s mom’s beloved labrador a few years ago (by L.A. County Animal Control), he’s acquired a compulsion to appear each Tuesday to castigate the five powerful members of the County Board of Supervisors, who oversee government programs affecting 10 million people*, control a budget of about $25 billion – and enjoy power and authority virtually unrivaled in California.

They meet Preven with a bitter indifference or, more often, open disdain. But now, the biggest thorn in the Supervisors’ sides is running to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, so he can join the bunch he taunts with surprisingly well-informed criticisms and news scoops.

Here’s Previn in high theatrical form.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS & BUDGET PRIORITIES TO WATCH in 2014

Californians for Safety and Justice, a non-profit that gives voice to crime victims and brings them together with community leaders, policymakers, law enforcement and more, has created a wish list of 2014 bills and budget priorities to keep an eye on.

Here is a representative sampling of the items on their list:

BILLS

AB 1919 (V.M. Perez) – Increase the Use of Risk Assessments: Research shows that we reduce repeat offenses when people in the justice system are matched with programming and supervision determined by an individual risk and needs assessment. This bill will encourage counties to use a validated risk and needs assessment for people in their local justice system.

AB 2612 (Dababneh) – Increase Access to Drug Treatment Programs: Nearly two-thirds of all jail inmates suffer from a substance abuse disorder, and, if unaddressed, such disorders drive criminal behavior. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, California has an opportunity to increase the use of federal Medi-Cal dollars to fund drug treatment programs as an effective alternative to warehousing people in jails. This bill would address existing barriers to increased placement in residential programs.

SB 466 (DeSaulnier) – Creating the California Institute for Criminal Justice Policy: This bill would create a nonpartisan, independent institute to conduct timely research on criminal justice and public safety issues. Its primary responsibility will be creating a Master Plan for California Public Safety based on research and evidence-based practices in the field, and the Institute will also analyze any criminal justice bill to determine its effectiveness, cost-benefit and suitability within the Master Plan.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

Help Crime Victims Recover, Avoid Repeat Victimization by Expanding Trauma Recovery: Victims often experience long-term effects, including trauma and mental health conditions. Left unaddressed, these conditions can impact victims’ ability to recover and may lead to financial problems, mental health issues, substance abuse, depression and further victimization. The existing system can be confusing to access and often only offers short-term support. The Trauma Recovery Center model takes a holistic approach to healing the person in a welcoming and safe environment that provides long-term support.

Improve the Outcomes for Women and Families via Alternative Custody Programs: Research has shown that women in the justice system who maintain a relationship with their children are less likely to reoffend, and their children are less likely to suffer trauma and to be incarcerated as adults. By implementing programs that allow women who have committed nonviolent, non-serious to serve their time in alternative custody programs, we can reduce crime and population pressures on prisons and jails.

Ensure Structured Reentry to Reduce Recidivism by Expanding Split Sentences: The first few weeks an individual is released from prison or jail is a crucial time. Structured reentry, through the use of reentry services and supervision, can reduce the likelihood of reoffending and increase public safety. Under Public Safety Realignment, some people are serving their entire sentence in jail and have no support or supervision upon release. By making split sentences the default (unless a judge rules otherwise out of the interest of public safety), we can ensure individuals have a more effective reintegration into the community.

Reduce Jail Pressures, Costs by Incentivizing the Use of Pretrial Programs: Using jail space to house low-risk people awaiting trial is expensive and paid for public safety. For low-risk people not yet convicted of a crime, evidence-based pretrial programs can increase court appearances, reduce recidivism and save valuable public safety dollars.

Click here for the rest..


TREATING PREGNANT WOMEN IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Dr. Corazon Navarro has been treating pregnant state prison inmates since 1987. She is the OB/GYN at the California Institute for Women in Chino.

In KPCC’s First Person project, Navarro tells about her work and what she loves about it.


Posted in 2014 election, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

Contra Costa Does Realignment Right….Supes Take Small Step Toward Civilian Oversight for the LASD….LA County’s Problematic GPS Monitoring….Justice Reform: the Good & the Bad News….

February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CAN CONTRA COSTA COUNTY TEACH THE REST OF CALIFORNIA HOW REALIGNMENT SHOULD BE DONE?

Yes, Contra Costa is smaller than counties like LA, Orange and Riverside. But it has a crime rate roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the state, and its success with the ins and outs of realignment since the effects of AB109 kicked in, has been dramatic.

A new report looks at what exactly Contra Costa is doing right and how it might be replicated. Christopher Nelson at Cal Forward has the story.

Here’s a clip:

The time between when the three judge panel ordered California to dramatically reduce its state prison population to when AB 109 went into effect was quick by any measure, especially for something of this magnitude.

Naturally, some counties have fared better than others under realignment, including new responsibilities for non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious criminal offenders who in the past would have been sent to prison. But according to a study commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice and released last month by the JFA Institute, there is one county that already had so many cultural and institutional elements in line that is has risen above the rest and serves as a model for how realignment should be implemented. That county is Contra Costa.

“I think it would be fair to say we came from a unique position from the very beginning,” said Philip Kader, Chief of Contra Costa County Probation and by virtue of that title, chair of the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) that allocates AB 109 funding throughout the county.

In many ways, Contra Costa doesn’t differ too much from other California counties. It has a population of about 1 million, making it the 9th largest county in the state. Its crime rate is about on par with the rest of the state, lest anyone think that a smaller Northern California county might be exempt from some of the troubles that plague its larger brethren down south.

But it differs in one major way: a culture of mutual respect exists between probation, sheriff, the district attorney and public defender without which Contra Costa would not be able to achieve the astounding statistical success it has seen since 2010.

According to the report, which was prepared by the JFA Institute, which is headed by James Austin, PhD (the same guy who did the report on how the LA County Jail system cold best handle its overcrowding problems), Contra Costa allocated about 60% of its AB109 funds to programs and services (probation, public defender, health services and contracted programs) designed to assist people convicted of crimes.

There’s lots more in the report and in Nelson’s story about the report.


THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES TAKE FIRST SMALL STEP TO (POSSIBLY) CREATE CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD FOR LASD—BUT WOULD IT HAVE ANY POWER?

On Tuesday morning the Supervisors voted to ask new LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman and new interim LASD Sheriff John Scott (along with the county counsel) to look into what kind of civilian oversight body they believe would work when it comes to the sheriff’s department.

Rina Palta at KPCC has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to study creating a civilian body to monitor the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The Board has debated for months a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a civilian oversight commission, but Ridley-Thomas could not muster the three votes needed for passage.

On Tuesday, the Board agreed instead to ask Interim Sheriff John Scott, Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel to study what sorts of oversight might be appropriate for the department.

[BIG SNIP]

In December, the Board hired Huntsman away from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office to start an Office of the Inspector General to monitor the Sheriff’s Department.

But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that move was not enough – that the Sheriff’s Department needs a civilian oversight body, akin to the LAPD’s Police Commission, to serve as a transparent, public watchdog. Supervisor Gloria Molina cosponsored the proposal.

Critics, however, wondered how much “oversight” a commission would actually have. Voters elect county sheriffs in California, meaning that by law they are independent from other county leaders. The Board of Supervisors oversees the sheriff’s budget, but, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KPCC in December the Board can hardly threaten the sheriff by withholding funding.

The report is due this June—right about the time LA County residents will be voting for a new sheriff in the election primary.


PROBATION CHIEF POWERS REPORTS TO SUPES ON DRAMATIC PROBLEMS WITH GPS MONITORING SYSTEMS

Also in Tuesday’s meeting of the Supervisors, Probation Chief Jerry Powers gave a lengthy report on his agency’s use of an electronic monitoring system to track criminal offenders who, for one reason or another, qualify for GPS monitoring.

Powers was refreshingly candid in his assessment that the system was something of a mess.

“I think we have to spend some time taking our lumps, frankly, in reviewing how probation implemented the program,” Powers said. “It was very clear to me that it was not close to a best practice.”

Then he added that probation didn’t really have good policies in place to sort out which people were put on GPS and why. Plus there was the matter of losing track of around 80 offenders altogether.

He also outlined the agency’s failure to give probation officers adequate training to oversee the monitoring system.

Yet, although Powers did not present an encouraging picture, his transparency, forthrightness and thoroughness in facing up to the unwanted reality went a long way in giving the county a clear path to follow in order to greatly improve matters.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John takes a detailed look at the problems Powers presented and their implications. Here’s a clip:

By the end of this week, the probation department intends to reduce thousands of alerts created when offenders drive or ride through about 4,800 violation zones that blanket Los Angeles County, including every school and park. It will use software to calculate the speed of monitored offenders and ignore alerts created by those moving quickly.

The department ultimately intends to remove those default zones and establish prohibited areas unique to each offender, a goal set for this spring. Officials are also in the midst of creating a 12-person unit of deputies trained to use electronic monitoring. Some officers told The Times that they never were instructed how to use the system and were unaware that they could determine a felon’s past or current location.

Los Angeles County officials said they were also tackling equipment problems they have had with the GPS ankle monitors provided by vendor Sentinel Offender Services of Irvine. An internal audit in September found that one in four GPS devices used to track serious criminals was faulty. The vendor attributed many of those problems to poorly trained county deputies.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is not a fan of GPS monitoring, noted during the meeting that Sentinel, the vender that provides LA County with its GPS devices, had failed to meet its contractual obligations, and that probation should seek a new vender.

“We shouldn’t be a partner in allowing this vender to continue to operated after their past record of failing to abide by the contract,” he said.

Last November, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that the board was poised to approve a new contract with Irvine, California based Sentinel Offender Services. Nevermind that last summer, Orange County Probation had broken its contract with Sentinel after finding that the company had repeatedly been guilty of what amounted to gross incompetence.

And there were other red flags… (You can find the backstory here.)


YES, WE ARE SEEING SOME REAL JUSTICE REFORM, BUT THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO

The so-called “tough on crime” era that came to full flower in the early to mid 1980s, resulted in the US having 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and only 5 percent of its population (to use the much quoted statistic).

In the last few years, as we have often mentioned here at WLA, the tide has slowly begun to turn.

Timothy P. Silard, a former prosecutor and the president of the Rosenberg Foundation, lays it out well in an essay for the Huffington Post. Here’s a clip.

For those of us who consider criminal justice reform to be one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, these are hopeful signs that we might be entering a new era. We are no longer turning a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, or ignoring the pervasive racial bias that undermines the very legitimacy of the system itself.

Racial disparities deeply persist in our justice system at all levels, from how we treat victims to whom we arrest and send to jails and prisons. Victims of violent crime are more likely to be Latino or African American, and nearly half of all homicide victims are Black men and boys. But the perception that our young men are dangerous, rather than vulnerable, is one that is reinforced daily by our justice system.

Nationally, 25 percent of those behind bars are there for drug offenses, and the racial disparities in drug enforcement are staggering. While African Americans use and sell drugs at lower rates than whites, they are are incarcerated for drug charges at 10 times the rate of whites.

[BIG SNIP]

More states, including California, must continue to shift from an “incarceration only” approach and toward the evidence-based programs and services that have been proven to actually reduce crime and racial injustice in the system, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars. For example, education and job-focused programs like San Francisco’s Back on Track program and New York’s Bard Prison Initiative have dramatically reduced re-offense rates to less than 10 percent, creating pathways to productive lives for the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers caught up in the criminal justice system, at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

Posted in criminal justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, Probation, Realignment, Reentry | No Comments »

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