The 5-4 ruling comes in the case of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted of a 1992 murder. During police questioning, and before he was arrested or read his Miranda rights, Salinas answered some questions but did not answer when asked if a shotgun he had access to would match up with the murder weapon.
Prosecutors in Texas used his silence on that question in convicting him of murder, saying it helped demonstrate his guilt. Salinas appealed, saying his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent should have kept lawyers from using his silence against him in court. Texas courts disagreed, saying pre-Miranda silence is not protected by the Constitution.
The high court upheld that decision.
The Fifth Amendment protects Americans against forced self-incrimination, with the Supreme Court saying that prosecutors cannot comment on a defendant’s refusal to testify at trial. The courts have expanded that right to answering questions in police custody, with police required to tell people under arrest they have a right to remain silent without it being used in court.
Prosecutors argued that since Salinas was answering some questions — therefore not invoking his right to silence — and since he wasn’t under arrest and wasn’t compelled to speak, his silence on the incriminating question doesn’t get constitutional protection.
MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING
In a second 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said that any finding of fact in a case that might increase the mandatory minimum sentence should not be determined by a judge, but instead, submitted to the jury for final say.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey has the story. Here’s a clip:
The decision marks an important affirmation of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, while establishing a new rule for judges seeking to balance sentencing guidelines with their own judicial discretion.
In the 5-to-4 decision, the high court overturned two existing legal precedents from 1986 and 2002 that permitted judges to make such determinations themselves by a preponderance of the evidence.
In overturning those precedents, the majority justices said any fact that increases a defendant’s sentence – including a mandatory minimum sentence – must be submitted to a jury under the higher standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.
(This is surprisingly complicated to summarize, so you might want to read the whole story.)
AZ VOTER REGISTRATION
SCOTUS also struck down an Arizona voter registration law requiring voters to prove their citizenship—but it’s complicated.
UC Irvine Law Professor Richard L. Hasen clears up the confusion surrounding the high court’s decision in a post for the Daily Beast.
(More SCOTUS rulings are expected this Thursday.)
UPDATE ON CALIFORNIA PRISON POP. PROBLEMS
Gov. Jerry Brown’s monthly report to federal judges shows that CA’s prison crowding situation is slowly getting worse. Brown says he’s drafting a legislative strategy to get the population reduction closer to the number mandated by the court. (Last month, the governor’s office began the process to appeal the federal court order to the Supreme Court.)
In the state’s monthly progress report to federal judges, California acknowledges prison crowding has again begun to creep upward while Gov. Jerry Brown promises to seek legislative solutions “shortly.”
The state’s 33 prisons are now at more than 150% capacity, according to Monday’s report to the U.S. District courts. Three prisons — North Kern, the Central California Women’s Facility, and Wasco — are at or near 175% crowding.
For the second month in a row, Brown’s lawyers say the governor is “drafting legislative language” to take other steps to reduce crowding, including to keep more inmates in private prisons out of state, lease beds from county jails, and allow inmates who are elderly, medically frail or model prisoners to be released earlier.
EDITOR’S NOTE: DCFS BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION VOTE
Don’t forget that today—Tuesday— the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, cosponsored by Sup. Mike Antonovich, to create a Blue Ribbon Comission on Child Protection, in order to get to the bottom of why LA’s foster care system is still so disasterously dysfuntional.
FOSTER YOUTH EDUCATION PROGRAM’S GRADUATING CLASS OF 2013
LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina held a celebration before last week’s board meeting to honor the high school graduation of forty-eight foster youths participating in the Foster Youth Education Program. Educational outcomes for foster youth have traditionally been extremely grim, making programs like this one immensely important (as illustrated in this study).
Here’s a clip from Molina’s announcement:
“Being part of the educational journey of these amazing kids truly motivates all of us to continue to advocate on their behalf,” Molina said. “And the positive results speak volumes.”
Molina’s program – which went countywide last year – requires intensive collaboration particularly between school district staff and DCFS social workers, who check students’ grades weekly; secure tutoring sessions and transportation assistance; meet students’ summer school registration deadlines; schedule their SAT prep courses and exams well in advance; and plan college tours. They also ensure that any credits students earned at schools they previously attended are counted toward graduation. Social workers’ offices are located near the schools of the children they oversee – which helps them more effectively work with each student to craft an individualized case plan (in partnership with each child’s caregivers, biological parents, and school personnel).
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF FOSTER CARE…
The LA County Supes will likely be voting today on whether to cut ties with the troubled foster care contractor known as Teens Happy Homes. They are expected to have the three votes necessary to pass the motion to end the contract. We’ll keep you updated.
SUPREME COURT SEZ HARSHER SENTENCING GUIDELINES NOT RETROACTIVE
In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS ruled on Monday that it’s unconstitutional to use new sentencing guidelines on old cases if they call for harsher punishment than the guidelines that were in effect when the crimes were committed.
In this case, petitioner Marvin Peugh was convicted in federal court in 2009 on five counts of bank fraud for conduct that occurred in 1999 and 2000. Based on the sentence recommended in the current version of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the district court sentenced him to seventy months in prison – a sentence that was almost twice as long as the one recommended in the version of the Sentencing Guidelines that was in effect when Peugh committed his crimes. Peugh argued that the Ex Post Facto Clause, which (among other things) prohibits the passage of laws that impose a greater punishment than the punishment in effect when the crime was committed, required the court to sentence him using the earlier version of the Guidelines, but both the federal trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected that argument.
This morning, in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Court held that it does violate the Ex Post Facto Clause to sentence a defendant based on guidelines that were promulgated after he committed his crimes, when the new version provides a higher sentencing range than the version in place at the time of the offense.
THE ROAD TO RIGHTING INJUSTICES WITHIN THE US CORRECTIONS SYSTEM
Over the last month, the culture of abuse and neglect in correctional facilities in four states has been brought to public attention by lawyers, judges, and government investigators.
In a sharply-worded essay, the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen asks why the DOJ won’t investigate the same major problems within the federal prison system.
Here’s a large opening clip:
It has been an extraordinary three weeks in the history of the American penal system, perhaps one of the darkest periods on record. In four states, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, the systemic abuse and neglect of inmates, and especially mentally ill inmates, has been investigated, chronicled and disclosed in grim detail to the world by lawyers, government investigators and one federal judge. The conclusions are inescapable: In our zeal to dehumanize criminals we have allowed our prisons to become medieval places of unspeakable cruelty so far beyond constitutional norms that they are barely recognizable.
First, on May 22, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department released a report highlighting the unconstitutional conditions of a county prison in Florida. Then, on May 30th, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit alleging atrocious conditions at a state prison in Mississippi. One day later, the feds again sounded out on behalf of inmates, this time against profound abuse and neglect at a Pennsylvania prison. Finally, last week, a federal judge issued an order describing the unconstitutional “brutality” of the prison in Orleans Parish, Louisiana.
There were many common themes in the reports. In each instance, the mistreatment of mentally ill inmates was highlighted. Prison officials have failed to provide a constitutional level of care in virtually every respect, from providing medication and treatment to protecting the men from committing suicide. In the Louisiana court order, one prison expert is quoted by the judge as describing an “extraordinary and horrific” situation with the prison there. In the Florida investigation, federal investigators noted that local prison officials “have elected to ignore obvious and serious systemic deficiencies” in the jail’s mental health services.
Taken together, these developments shed welcome light on some of the worst government abuses of our time and demonstrate vividly the need for enlightened policies and more human decency and accountability from prison officials. But these lawsuits and investigations and court orders also beg a critical question: If the feds are so concerned with the constitutional rights of mentally ill prisoners in state and local prisons, why is the Justice Department so unwilling to undertake an equally thorough review of the similarly dubious practices and policies now being forced upon mentally ill federal prisoners by the Bureau of Prisons?
DCFS CHIEF BROWNING CLAIMS PRESSURE TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER IS PART OF THE “CULTURE” THAT RESULTED IN THE MURDER OF 8-YEAR-OLD GABRIEL FERNANDEZ
Many of us are still haunted by the entirely preventable murder last month of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, the Palmdale boy who was reportedly abused over and over again, before the day he was tortured and fatally beaten by his mother and the mother’s boyfriend.
The fact of this child’s terrifying death is made worse by reports from other adults who knew him, like his elementary school teacher, Jennifer Garcia, who said she repeatedly warned officials that the sweet-faced, big-eyed boy was in peril. And yet, despite a blizzard of red flags, LA County DCFS officials charged with working his case ignored the danger and left this boy in the hands of his tormenters.
“My first report was from October,” said Jennifer Garcia, Gabriel’s teacher. “And in every single report I made, there was enough information in that report that he should have been removed that first October.”
Over the weekend I noted that LA Times columnist Sandy Banks—who is a parent as well as a journalist with a healthy access to her compassion— wrote a column in which she expressed her own outrage at the inexplicable failure by DCFS to protect this little boy.
In the course of researching the column, Banks asked DCFS Chief Philip Browning, who has been on the job for 15 months with a mandate to clean up the chronically dysfunctional department, what the hell was going on?
She reports that Browning told her the following:
… Social workers feel hamstrung by a departmental obsession with keeping children with their families, given the shortage of good foster homes.
That policy was the product of a previous culture change, aimed at reducing foster care rolls and strengthening troubled families with resources like drug treatment, mental health care and parenting classes.
But Browning said it has “immobilized” social workers, who rely on mindless allegiance to the goal instead of “common sense and critical thinking” about what’s best for children.
“Social workers have said they feel pressured to leave kids with families,” Browning said.
Reading DCFS Chief’s explanation, my own fury shot through the roof.
Even if Browning’s contention was true, that part of the problem was an overload of pressure to reunite families, it is stating the painfully obvious to point out that such “pressure” in no way explains how social workers could decide that it was perfectly fine to leave a child in a household where everyone from his teacher, to his therapist, to various close relatives, reported to authorities that Gabriel Fernandez showed clear and repeated signs of frightening abuse.
However, figures show that, contrary to Browning’s contention that DCFS workers feel overly pressured to leave at-risk kids with their families, in practical fact, quite the opposite is occurring.
While the county’s removal rate did decrease dramatically for a few years from around 2006 to 2009 when what was known as the Title IV E waiver allowed counties to spend federal foster care dollars on a wide variety of services aimed at strengthening families with problems so that children could be helped to remain safely at home, instead of going through the trauma of being removed to foster care.
But then headlines over a handful of terrible cases like that of the death of Gabriel Fernandez whipped up a frenzy of public pressure, which began to push the pendulum back the other direction. After that programs began to be cut and the pendulum swung still further.
Thus, since 2009, DCFS has, if anything, been filing to remove more kids from their homes every year, not less. There were 10,725 petitions filed in 2009. In 2012, the number jumped to 13,454. Thus far this year, the rate is reportedly going still higher.
And then at the other end of the spectrum, we have Gabriel Fernandez.
Certainly we sympathize with Chief Browning, who is charged with the daunting task of reforming the largest foster care system in the nation, with 27,188 children under LA’s courts’ jurisdiction, at last count.
But we do not believe it is responsible to react to one ghastly tragedy, with wrong-headed rhetoric that could easily trigger more slow-motion, everyday tragedies.
A RARE HAPPY ENDING FOR ONE 17-YEAR-OLD FOSTER “CHILD” WHO GETS ADOPTED AFTER BEING ARRESTED
The always excellent Joe Piasecki has a story in the Pasadena Sun of the adoption of 17-year-old Fred Jingles, who had not only spent years in foster care, but had also landed himself in LA juvenile justice system when, emotionally whiplashed by his father’s terminal illness, and his misery at being separated from his family, he slugged a kid at the group home where he was staying and knocked him out.
But this tale appears, at the moment anyway, to have a happy ending. Here’s a clip from Piasecki’s story, but be sure read the rest, or at the very least, check out the photo of Jingles gazing happily at his new mom-to-be as he is going through adoption proceedings.
Here’s the clip:
Following a series of family tragedies, four years in the foster care system and a seven-month stint in a juvenile probation camp for a schoolyard assault, 17-year-old Fred Jingles sat in a Pasadena courtroom on Tuesday for arguably the most important hearing of his life.
He was being adopted.
Holding hands with his birth mother, who sat teary-eyed and wearing a blue Twin Towers jail uniform, Fred took the, almost unheard of, step of being united with new parents while a ward of the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
“You’re going to be all right. And your mother is, too. And I love you,” Kimberly Freeman told her youngest child before signing over parental rights to Fred’s paternal aunt, LaVetta White, and her husband, Rondia White.
Adoptions are typically a happy ending reserved for the dependency court system, which handles cases of parental abuse or neglect and oversees some 16,000 children in county-run foster care.
Fred’s adoption out of delinquency court is only the third such case in the history of Los Angeles County, said Lisa Campbell-Motten, a probation department supervisor.
She hopes many similar stories will emerge among the hundreds of Los Angeles-area foster kids mixed in with the county’s roughly 20,000 young offenders on criminal probation or living in juvenile halls and camps.
THE WAR ON DRUGS…AND THE “WOBBLER” OPTION
This smart editorial from the LA Times editorial board (written by Rob Greene) explains why, SB 649—the new drug “wobbler” bill that would allow simple possession of a small amount of an illegal substance to be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor— should be passed forthwith.
Here’s a clip, but as usual, we urge you to read the whole thing in order to get the full picture of why this piece of legislation should work for both sentencing reformers and law-and-order types.
Okay, here’s the clip:
Simple possession of small amounts of methamphetamine — enough for personal use but presumably not for dealing — is a “wobbler” in California, meaning that offenses can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors. It’s different with possession of cocaine, opiates such as heroin and many other addictive drugs; they currently can be charged only as felonies.
The state Senate has now passed a bill to bring criminal handling of those drugs into line with methamphetamine, and the measure is before the Assembly. SB 649, by Democrat Mark Leno of San Francisco, is good policy and should be adopted.
The bill is an improvement over a version Leno offered last year to convert possession to a misdemeanor, with no felony option.
True, there is something perverse about locking people up for any period for possessing highly addictive drugs for their own use. Most offenders have the stuff on hand because they are hooked. For years California sent such addicts to prison, where little or no treatment was available. They were released on parole, which they were practically fated to violate by using drugs again — because they were, after all, addicted.
This foolhardy approach gave California a steady supply of unrecovered addicts shuttling between prison and the streets. That meant continuing damage to neighborhoods dealing with the addicted, plus overcrowded prisons. At the end of last year, for example, there were more than 4,000 inmates in state prison for possessing drugs for personal use.
It would be better to divert addicts from the criminal justice system entirely if they could be successfully treated without ever going to jail or even to court. But for many addicts, there remains a role for punishment, or at least the threat of punishment…
Angel Mendez, 30, and Jennifer Garcia, 27, were assuredly not model citizens. Yet they were not suspected of any crime when a specialized Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department team reportedly blew through the door of the backyard shack where they were living.
The members of the “COPS HIT” team (the unfortunately conceived acronym for “Community-Oriented Policing Services High-Impact Team”) reportedly entered the shack without knocking, calling out, or identifying themselves. They had evidently come to the shack looking for a parolee who had gone AWOL from his court-ordered drug rehab. They’d gotten a tip that he might have gone to the Mendez/Garcia shack. Or not. It might have been somewhere else.
Within seconds two of the team unloaded a total of fifteen bullets into Angel Mendez and Jennifer Garcia.
In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Patrick Range McDonald delves into the story of the shooting, the subsequent response of the sheriff’s department, and the civil case that has recently finished and now awaits a judicial verdict.
Here are two clips—one from near the first of the stort, the second from near the end.
Conley opened the shack door with his department-issued 9mm semiautomatic Beretta drawn. Mendez, who had on the bed a Daisy Powerline rifle-style BB gun that he used for shooting rats, sat up and moved the BB gun to the floor. Conley opened fire. A bullet ripped into Mendez’s right forearm, passed through it and struck his right leg — proof, his attorneys today say, that he was reaching down to put the BB gun on the floor when shot.
“I didn’t even know it was them,” Mendez later told Sheriff’s Homicide Sgt. Robert Gray. “They didn’t say ‘police’! They didn’t say ‘freeze’! They didn’t say ‘drop the weapon’! They said nothing, sir.”
Conley and Pederson fired at will, peppering the couple with 14 more bullets, one of which struck the seven-months-pregnant Garcia in the right upper back and shattered her collarbone. Mendez was critically injured, hit multiple times in his right leg, arm, back and side; blood poured from his wounds. Weeks later, his badly fractured right leg, whose key arteries had been sliced in half, had to be amputated.
In a disturbing videotape taken minutes after the shooting, as a paramedic worked to stop the bleeding, police can be clearly heard pressuring Mendez to say he’d pointed the BB gun at Conley. Mendez begs the people around him, “Oh, please, don’t let me die, sir!” then turns his head toward neighbor Charles Green, who is witnessing the drama, and tells Green: “I never pointed the gun at him, Charlie!”
And pages later…a second clip:
Tom Parker, the former head of L.A.’s FBI office, read the Sheriff’s and L.A. County District Attorney reports on the Mendez shooting, as well as David Drexler’s opening statement at trial. He has come to suspect that COPS HIT and TOP were engaged in the “very common” practice of “testi-lying” after a bad shoot.
Parker is a retired 24-year veteran of the FBI whose distinguished career included undercover investigations, police corruption and brutality cases and investigations of agent-involved shootings. Last year, the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara gave him a Heroes of Justice Award for his work on criminal-justice reform.
Parker says police sometimes lie about “drug houses” to justify unjustifiable searches. But he has even more fundamental doubts than that in the Angel Mendez case. He questions whether a deputy ever saw big, white Ronnie O’Dell at Albertsons or whether the purported informant even existed.
“From that point forward,” Parker says, referring to the deputies’ huddle outside Albertsons, “there’s really faulty police procedures happening here.” Nobody saw O’Dell leave Albertsons, so the deputies were not in a “hot pursuit” to Paula Hughes’ home. Nor was there any clear and immediate threat to the public.
Parker says, “Without a warrant or substantial probable cause … you don’t have a right to go into the backyard and search through buildings, never mind the shack.” He says the killing of Paula Hughes’ German shepherd was wrong. “If you’ve got no right to be on the property, you’ve got no right to shoot the dog.”
Professor O’Donnell agrees that if there’s not an emergency, “You need to have a warrant to go into someone’s house.” But he notes that due to institutional pressures, officers and their commanders often feel they can’t admit they were wrong.
O’Donnell adds, “If you can’t be truthful, then what are your reports going to say?”
Parker explains, “If you operate from the premise that [police] had no right to be there, that damages the self-protection aspect of the shooting. … Angel and Jennifer are innocent victims in this situation.”
O’Donnell says it’s also “interesting” that Mendez was not prosecuted for pointing an imitation gun. “He basically didn’t do a crime,” the professor says. “He was sitting in his home.”
The sheriff’s department’s own Internal Affairs investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, as did the OIR—the Office of Independent Review—and the LA DA’s office.
There’s much more to the story so read the rest here.
SUE REAMS GETS HER SON BACK AFTER 3-STRIKES AND 17 YEARS
Anyone who has reported on 3-Strikes reform has probably met or talked to Sue Reams, one of the front line 3-Strikes reform activists. Reams started her campaign to change the law after her son went away on a life sentence.
The day before Easter of this year, she and her husband were able to bring her son home from prison.
…Before that moment, Shane had served about 17 years of his potential life sentence. He got his third strike for being involved in the sale of a $20 rock of cocaine. He says he was a bystander. The prosecution said he was a lookout. But it was Shane’s first two strikes that caused his mother such heartache, as she said in a 2009 interview with NPR. She’d been trying to get her son off drugs, she explained. Nothing seemed to work, so she tried tough love.
“Tough love tells you that you take a stand,” she said. “So I took a stand.”
That meant when her son stole some stuff from her house — and from the neighbors — to get money for drugs, Reams insisted he turn himself in. She even drove him to the police station. She told him: “Maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program.”
Instead he got convicted of two counts of residential burglary. A few years later when he got picked up on the drug charge, those burglaries counted as his first two strikes….
Michael Waterson writing for the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:
Recognizing the power of peer pressure, Napa County’s juvenile justice system attempts to harness it for positive behavioral change through a peer court program where teens judge teens.
Peer Court came to American Canyon on Thursday. A young defendant was tried in City Hall chambers by youth lawyers who presented the case to a teenage jury and Napa County Family Court Commissioner Monique Langhorne-Johnson. The young attorneys were mentored by real lawyers from the Napa Bar Association or experienced Peer Court youths.
The young defendant, who because of his age can’t be identified, had been arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana and concentrated cannabis. A high school senior and a good student with a 3.27 grade point average, the defendant said he used marijuana more than once for joint pain in his knees and shoulder. He said a doctor told him surgery was not an option to correct his pain.
On the day he was caught smoking with a friend in a parked car, he said he had come from work where he had stood on his feet all day. Because of his arrest, he has been given a curfew by his parents, he said.
In addition to observing another Peer Court proceeding, writing an essay about it and serving on a peer jury, student prosecutors Eric McFarland and Acee Echevarria called for the defendant to put in eight hours of community service and complete a drug education class.
A 16-year-old student at American Canyon High School, McFarland said he has always loved the idea of being a lawyer. His middle name, Kazi, means “lawyer” in the Bengali dialect he said.
Echevarria, also 16 and an American Canyon student, said he is fascinated by the law, so much so he sometimes travels to Napa to sit in on random court proceedings.
“I first heard of it in class,” Echevarria said about Peer Court. “I fell in love with the program….”
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department via LA Weekly
WHAT TO DO ABOUT SEX OFFENDERS WHO SNIP THEIR ANKLE MONITORS? ROB GREENE AT THE LA TIMES STARTS A SMART & INFORMATIVE CONVERSATION
In the last month or so there’s been a string of news stories about sex offenders snipping off or disabling their ankle monitors after they get out of prison. It turns out there is not much of a legal penalty for messing with one’s monitor.
Unfortunately, much of the reporting on the topic has tended toward the sensational, and many reporters have uncritically repeated the opinions of those who wrongly blame the problem on California’s new prison realignment system.
Since sex offenders are most people’s least favorite brand of law breaker, the news of all this monitor untethering has triggered outrage and calls for speedy solutions—which has predictably, caused lawmakers to hastily trot out half-cooked bills to “fix” the matter.
It is just this sort of knee-jerk urge to find quickie legislative fixes in response to public pressure that has, in the past, given us some very bad laws and a disastrously over-crowded prison system.
Greene lays out all the puzzle pieces that formed this ankle-bracelet snipping problem-–and suggests ways that it might be fixed.
He also makes clear how very little the issue has to do with realignment.
Here’s a clip. But I urge anyone interested in this matter to read to whole thing. It clears up a lot, I promise.
California already had what were arguably the nation’s toughest sex offender laws in 2006 when voters, spurred on nightly by fear-mongering television hosts such as Nancy Grace and Bill O’Reilly, adopted this state’s version of Jessica’s Law. Proposition 83 required all convicted sex felons, whether violent or not, whether still on parole or not, and whether at high or low risk of reoffending, to wear electronic monitoring devices for the rest of their lives. Drafters ignored the fact that there was virtually no evidence that global positioning satellite tracking reduces the number or severity of sex crimes, and they didn’t consider whether to allocate the high costs of perpetual monitoring to the state or to county governments. They didn’t think through how to penalize parolees and post-parole registrants who cut off or disabled their ankle monitors.
A proposal that might have made for an instructive pilot program that revealed flaws and allowed for course corrections was instead rushed onto the ballot and then onto the books, and California has been dealing with the consequences ever since.
Now, parolees and post-parole sex registrants are cutting off or disabling their ankle monitors in increasing numbers each year. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced bills intended to toughen oversight (or at least the appearance of oversight) of sex offenders and others who violate the terms of their release. They tend not to criticize the disastrous but still-popular Proposition 83 but focus instead on public safety realignment under AB 109, another law that was passed hastily, this time by the Legislature in 2011 as part of a budget package to cut costs and prison overcrowding.
AB 109 sends many newly convicted felons to county jails instead of state prison and redirects oversight of some felons, as their incarceration ends, from the state parole agency to county probation departments, under a program with the cumbersome title of post-release community supervision, or PRCS.
PRCS violators who formerly would have been returned to prison for up to a year are now returned to county jail, and for only up to six months — including those whose violations consist of disabling their monitoring devices. Some lawmakers claim that county sheriffs release such violators immediately, or never even take them in, because their jails already are overcrowded. Some lawmakers have responded with bills to send such people back to state prison instead of county jail. Some of those bills would commit them to prison for the one-year period they formerly would have served; some would commit them for as long as three years — far longer than such violators ever would have served before AB 109 was adopted. Some would make sex offenders ineligible for county jail in the first place and require them to be housed in prison even on new non-sex-related offenses.
In other words, these bills would roll back realignment and restock state prisons with sex offenders, low-risk and high-risk alike, in some cases at a greater rate and for a longer period than they were ever imprisoned before, and it would do so just as the state is making headway in its effort to comply with federal courts and ease prison overcrowding. California prison overcrowding had become so bad, and medical and mental health services for inmates was so inadequate, that federal courts found the state to be violating constitutional strictures against cruel and unusual punishment.
But lawmakers need to slow down and take a breath. This is how we got into trouble in the first place — with swiftly passed, knee-jerk laws in reaction to sensational headlines. California must use its deliberative, legislative hearing process to gather data, air views and clarify just what the problems are that we are trying to solve, and what the best ways are to solve them….
DO THE LAPD’S INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS NEED SOME WORK?
The Nation Magazine has published a very critical report by Uzma Kolsy about the LAPD’s ability to appropriately investigate its own use of force incidents. Kolsy writes that Chief Beck and the LAPD’s leadership clearly want constitutional policing, but questions whether the higher ups are holding officers who step over the line with use of force as unwaveringly unaccountable as is needed. Kolsy and the Nation think the answer is No.
Here’re a couple of clips:
Last year, Alecia Thomas died in LAPD custody after a violent arrest in which a policewoman kicked her in the groin after having trouble restraining her. Thomas died in the back of a patrol car that was fitted with a camera, but the LAPD did not release the surveillance footage. In a news release detailing the incident, the LAPD made no mention of the fact that the officer assaulted Thomas before forcing her into the car. In another incident last fall, LAPD officers found a suspect hiding under a vehicle, dragged him out by his ankles, and believing they saw a metallic object in his hands, shot him in the back, critically wounding him. The news release following the incident omitted the fact that the suspect was handcuffed and face down when they fired at him. No weapon was found on the suspect.
….LAPD officer Joseph Cruz fired several fatal rounds at Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, when he allegedly pulled out a folding knife in a threatening way. Even Cruz’s partner said he never saw Chaudhry with a knife, yet an internal investigation cleared Cruz of any wrongdoing. Later, he was fired from the force for lies regarding an unrelated matter. In 2011, a federal jury rejected Cruz’s account of the shooting. Evidence used at trial included the knife in question, which was tested for DNA. The results did not match Chaudhry.
A 2010 report by the CATO Institute found that Los Angeles had one of the highest concentrations of credible reports of police misconduct in the country. And in 2011, LAPD had a reported sixty-three officer-involved shooting incidents, a roughly 50 percent increase over the shootings in any of the previous four years. Belligerent officers’ using unwarranted deadly force is a serious concern the department still faces.
A WELL-LIKED SINGLE FATHER WORKING AT CITY HALL AT THE HOMEBOY DINER BREAKS HEARTS WITH A FATAL CRASH
The tragic story was all over the news last month, about how a 9-year-old girl had hiked alone at night in the desert to try to find help for her father who was badly injured—fatally as it turned out—when the family SUV went down an embankment and crashed in the desert.
The father was Alex Renteria, an extremely well-liked 35-year-old who had turned his life around with the help of Homeboy Industries and had been working in the Homeboy Diner in LA’s City Hall.
Like a lot of people who spend time at Los Angeles City Hall, I knew Alex. He worked at Homeboy Diner, the small cafe on the second floor run by Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit group that provides counseling, tattoo removal and job training for former gang members.
When the diner opened two years ago, I wrote about Alex and his story of transformation. He had been in prison and had battled addiction. Through Homeboy, he found work and the 12-step program.
During our interview, as he stacked bags of chips at the diner, he told me: “I’m just happy to be here.”
If this had been any other news story, that would have been the last time I saw him. This is one of the odd qualities of the journalism profession: It’s your job to ask probing questions of strangers you may never speak to again.
But I worked at City Hall, so I encountered Alex every time I went to Homeboy for a salad or a cup of coffee. He was a real charmer, always quick to tell me how nice I looked, and never failing to ask about my day. When I was going through a hard breakup, he made me hot chocolate and offered advice.
Alex had expressive eyebrows that arched comically when he told jokes. He loved old-school R&B and freestyle music and was proud of his weekend job as a mover. He adored his daughter, Cecilia, and was saving up to take her to Disneyland for her birthday next month.
Alex, 35, a single dad, often brought Cecilia with him to work. She got to know a number of city workers who would sometimes take her on tours of their offices.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the number of City Hall employees who made the trek to San Fernando for Alex’s funeral Friday. Or by the proclamation sent by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Capri Maddox, the president of the Board of Public Works, gave Cecilia a commemorative egg from the White House Easter Egg Roll a few weeks ago….
In both instances, the chief said that the department is going to conduct anonymous survey of more than 500 of its officers about issues of racism, discipline, and a list of related issues, the idea being to find out what officers think and experience that they may not be willing to come forward to say.
On Larry Mantle’s show Beck and Mantle also had an interesting exchange about whether or not the chief would ever endorse one local candidate over the other. The answer was NO—”Unless I believed that person was dangerous to the city.” Even then, Beck suggested, he would likely say something behind the scenes, not as a public statement.
This is, of course, quite different than the point of view Sheriff Lee Baca has taken. (In the past, Baca has endorsed candidates for City attorney and for LA’s District Attorney, among others.)
FoxLA reports on a lawsuit brought by Earl Wright, an LAPD officer alleging racial harassment on the job at LAPD’s Central station, as recently as 2010. (The lawsuit was filed in April 2012, but is just now coming to court.)
Here’s the complaint if you wish to read it. If true, it describes a climate of ongoing racial harassment—with liberal references to watermelon and the n-word. According to the complaint, the harassment was not limited to Wright, but states he observed an Asian American officer being similarly harassed, and also a female colleague, who was allegedly sexually harassed then pressed not to report it. In many cases, the incidents were allegedly caused by same officer who, according to the complaint, supervisors declined to reprimand.
NEW LASD ASSISTANT CHIEF TERRI MCDONALD TO BE ON WHICH WAY LA?
The LASD’s new Assistant Chief in charge of custody is scheduled to appear on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? today Thursday. She is also expected to be interviewed by Patt Morrison for the LA Times in the next day or so.
CA CONSERVATIVE LAWMAKERS INTRODUCED THEIR PACKET OF REALIGNMENT BILLS ON TUESDAY
The threatened cluster of counter-Realignment bills were introduced into committee on Tuesday. The idea of increasing penalties for those who take off or disable their GPS bracelets (introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu) is one that we think has merit, if written correctly.
As for the rest….we’ll be keeping an eye on them. Public hysteria plus shoddy reporting, like we have too often seen on this topic, usually makes for bad laws.
AND SPEAKING OF LEGISLATION….CONGRESSMAN BOBBY SCOTT WILL BE INTRODUCING THE YOUTH PROMISE ACT TODAY, THURSDAY
We’ve been fans of the Youth Promise Act for a long time. But although it has, in the past, gathered lots of sponsors, it has not gotten very far in terms of passage. But times are changing. Here’s some info on the bill from Scott’s site:
Under the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) Act (H.R. 2721), communities facing the greatest youth gang and crime challenges will be able to develop a comprehensive response to youth violence through a coordinated prevention and intervention response. Representatives from local law enforcement, the school system, court services, social services, health and mental health providers, foster care providers, other community and faith-based organizations will form a council to develop a comprehensive plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. The plans can be funded up to four years. The act also enhances state and local law enforcement efforts regarding youth and gang violence.
Nothing in the Youth PROMISE Act eliminates any of the current tough on crime laws, and while it is understood that law enforcement will still continue to enforce those laws, research tells us that no matter how tough we are on the people we prosecute today, unless we are addressing the underlying root causes of criminal activity, nothing will change.
Aside from reducing crime and providing better results in the lives of our youth, many of the programs funded under the Youth PROMISE Act will save more money than they cost. The State of Pennsylvania implemented a process very similar to the one provided for in the Youth PROMISE Act in 100 communities across the state. The state found that it saved, on average, $5 for every $1 spent during the study period…
EDITOR’S NOTE: THERE’S NOT REALLY ANY NEWSWORTHY REASON FOR POSTING THE VIDEO ABOVE OF SHERIFF LEE BACA ON BLACK BELT TV. WE JUST KINDA LIKED IT.)
THE CONSERVATIVE CASE AGAINST MORE PRISONS
The latest issue of The American Conservative has an interesting article by Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin about how it is conservatives who are leading the charge against lowering America’s prison populations.
Leading the charge might be an overstatement. But conservative groups are having an important and measurable effect on policy, where all but the most liberal of democrats are lagging behind.
The reform of 3-Strikes in California simply would not have passed had it not been for the help of some of the conservatives from the Right on Crime movement.
In any case, here are a couple of clips from TAC’s story.
Since the 1980s, the United States has built prisons at a furious pace, and America now has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. 716 out of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars. By comparison, in England and Wales, only 149 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated. In Australia—famously founded as a prison colony—the number is 130. In Canada, the number is 114.
Prisons, of course, are necessary. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne observed that “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil… as the site of a prison.” As long as there are people, there will be conflict and crime, and there will be prisons. Prisons, however, are not a source of pride. An unusually high number of prison cells signals a society with too much crime, too much punishment, or both.
There are other ways to hold offenders—particularly nonviolent ones—accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution. The alternatives are also less costly. Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending. None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.
Between 1992 and 2011, the U.S. prison population increased by nearly 73 percent. To the extent that the recent rise in incarceration incapacitated violent offenders, it was valuable. For nonviolent offenders who are not career criminals, however, incarceration can be counterproductive. As is sometimes said, prisons are graduate schools for crime. This is more than apparent in numerous states where recidivism rates exceed 60 percent.
Unnecessary incarceration of nonviolent, low-level offenders also destroys families. Mitch Pearlstein at Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment has pointed out that incarcerated men “are less attractive marriage partners, not just because they may be incarcerated, but because rap sheets are not conducive to good-paying, family-supporting jobs.” It is common sense that neighborhoods suffering from high incarceration rates also suffer a plague of single-parent homes and troubled children.
This, in turn, leads to dysfunctional communities that are mistrustful of law enforcement. Most American children are taught that they may always ask the police for help. In some American neighborhoods, however, children are taught never to engage with the police.
For this—high recidivism rates, ravaged families, and maladjusted neighborhoods—Americans pay dearly. In 2011, Americans spent over $63 billion on corrections, a 300 percent increase since 1980. Prisons are the second-fastest growing component of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid….
YES, THERE HAVE BEEN SOME ANECDOTAL PROBLEMS WITH REALIGNMENT, BUT THE PROBLEMS WE’D HAVE HAD WITHOUT COULD HAVE BEEN FAR WORSE
I realize we’re starting to get boring on this topic. But a refreshingly sane editorial in the Ventura County Star, gave us an opportunity to harp on this issue that has been dreadfully reported by many journalists around the state (with some notable exceptions, like the LA Times, which has been great).
As crime statistics for 2012 gradually filter in from around the state, gripes about the 15-month-old prison realignment program have begun rising in newspaper headlines and talk show airwaves.
There are two major complaints: One is that crime rose as realignment cut the inmate populace by more than 24,000.
The other is that some criminals are being released earlier than before the program began in October 2011, in part because local jails in a few counties are overcrowded.
A typical gripe comes from Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the state’s largest police union. “Our members are terribly concerned that we are allowing people out of prisons who are likely to recommit crimes and victimize the people of our city,” he said in a telephone interview.
He claimed probation departments have lost track of some former prisoners, but could offer no specific examples. “All I have is anecdotal information,” he conceded.
It turns out that only one of those big gripes has any proven merit…
Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced Assembly Bill 601 to allow parole violators to be returned to state prison for up to one year.
AB 2, authored by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would return sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison “to serve any sentence ordered for that violation.”
Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, earlier proposed Senate Bill 57, which would make removal of a GPS monitoring device an additional crime requiring a prison sentence of 16 months, two years or three years
WitnessLA agrees that some fine tuning and closing of certain loopholes is needed, but the devil will be in the details. What we do not want to see is an emotional rush to return to the bad old days that produced overcrowded prisons with little or no positive effect on public safety.
PREDICTIVE POLICING: THE PROS AND CONS OF USING ALGORITHMS TO DRIVE PROACTIVE COP WORK
The LAPD has been running a pilot program of a strategy called predictive policingthat uses a combination of updated crime statistics, technology and algorithms to predict areas ripe for crime so that police can be ready and move in to prevent crime and/or make arrests in the moment rather than trying to solve the crimes afterward.
An intriguing article in the Gardian by columnist/author Evgany Morzov cautions that, while the program seems very promising now, targeting crime before it happens can be a mighty slippery slope.
Here’s a clip from the close of his story:
The promise of predictive policing might be real, but so are its dangers. The solutionist impulse needs to be restrained. Police need to subject their algorithms to external scrutiny and address their biases. Social networking sites need to establish clear standards for how much predictive self-policing they’ll actually do and how far they will go in profiling their users and sharing this data with police. While Facebook might be more effective than police in predicting crime, it cannot be allowed to take on these policing functions without also adhering to the same rules and regulations that spell out what police can and cannot do in a democracy. We cannot circumvent legal procedures and subvert democratic norms in the name of efficiency alone.
And, of course, it bears remembering that it was those Masters of the Algorithmic Universe—the Wall Street genius “quants”—who, to a great degree brought us the 2008. So, yeah, full speed ahead, but with ethics intact, and a good hold on common sense and caution.
LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT NEEDS ANOTHER $61 MILLION TO KEEP ITS JAILS SAFE
According to a report issued Tuesday by Richard Drooyan, the lead attorney for the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, progress is being made in reforming the department’s jails, but a pile of money—namely $61 million—is needed to keep the scandal-plagued facilities safe.
Since the LASD’s budget it, at present $2.7 billion, that means that an additional 23 percent is needed solely for the jails to make such improvements as having an adequate number of supervisors in the facilities and creating an investigative process that works.
While it’s genuinely heartening that force inside the jails has dropped, particularly “significant force,” and it’s understandable that more supervisors are needed, but $61 million worth?
We have other questions about the matter, but they can wait.
In the meantime, Elizabeth Marcellino from the City News Service has more on the story. Here’s a clip:
….One major change was hiring of an assistant sheriff responsible for the custody division.
Terri McDonald, formerly the undersecretary of operations for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is set to start work on March 18, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. McDonald will report directly to Baca.
“What we saw was a real gap in accountability between the jail facility and the sheriff. Now they’ve taken the first step,” Drooyan said. “I think things are moving in the right direction.”
Several of the people running the jails during the time frame reviewed by the commission are no longer with the department, including Daniel Cruz, formerly a captain at Men’s Central Jail, and former Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh, once responsible for overseeing the jail system.
Both Cruz and Cavanaugh retired Jan. 1.
Drooyan said the sheriff and his department have been responsive to his requests, and that all of the recommendations that do not require significant funding should be implemented in 30-60 days.
But “in many ways, the toughest ones to implement” are still under way, Drooyan told the board. They include hiring additional supervisors, finalizing enhanced penalties for excessive force and revising the investigative process.
SUPREME COURT WRESTLES WITH STATE RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
Virginia is virtually alone among the states in blocking those from beyond its borders from using its Freedom of Information Act to get state documents and records.
The question before the Supreme Court on Wednesday was: So what?
The court spent a spirited hour debating whether Virginia had a good reason for making a distinction between its residents and out-of-staters, or whether the state even needed one.
Two men — Mark McBurney of Rhode Island, who wanted to examine records from the state child support enforcement division, and Californian Roger Hurlbert, who operates a business obtaining real estate tax assessments — challenged what their Washington attorney, Deepak Gupta, called Virginia’s “discriminatory access policy.”
Gupta said it violated a provision of the Constitution meant to put residents of the states on equal footing, and also the dormant-commerce clause, which guards against economic protectionism.
But Gupta ran straight into Justice Antonin Scalia, who coincidentally is one of four justices who live in Virginia. Scalia said he remembered the advent of “government in the sunshine” laws that popped up around the country, starting in Florida, during the 1960s.
“It seems to me entirely in accord with that purpose of these laws to say it’s only Virginia citizens who are concerned about the functioning of Virginia government, and ought to be able to get whatever records Virginia agencies have,” Scalia said. “What’s wrong with that reasoning?”…
The USA is number one in the world when it comes to the number of people in prison. Bigger than China. Bigger than Russia. America’s prison population is tops. 2.2 million. Bigger than fifteen American states. And its incarceration rate is number one. Three times – triple – any other nation’s. All that American imprisonment is very expensive. And very debatable when it comes to effectiveness, fairness – to justice itself. Now states across the country are reconsidering the mandatory sentencing policies and more that filled those cells. This hour, On Point: slimming down American prisons.
Here’s a link to two more stories on NPR’s All Things Considered as part of their series, “The Legacy And Future Of Mass Incarceration.”
40 YEARS OF ROE V. WADE MARKED WITH RALLIES AND COUNTER RALLIES IN SF AND ELSEWHERE
THere were rallies marking the 40′s anniversary of Roe v. Wade all over the county this past weekend. Matthai Kuruvila from the San Francisco Chron has an account of the rally and counter rally in San Francisco. Here’s a clip:
The account of the events in San Francicso. Abortion activists on each side of the issue converged on San Francisco Saturday, creating parallel universes testifying to what 40 years of reproductive rights have wrought.
At Justin Herman Plaza, pro-choice activists danced and spoke about liberating women from the horror of back alley abortions conducted by coat hanger-wielding quacks.
Before legal abortions, what might happen to you “was a terror in the back of your mind,” said Chris Malfatti, 64, of San Francisco, who knew someone who lost her fertility to an illegal abortion.
RELEASE OF CORONER’S REPORT FUELS CONTROVERSY OVER CULVER CITY MAN SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES BY DEPUTIES
The newly released autopsy report on the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of Jose De La Trinidad shows that De La Trinidad was shot 7 times, all from the rear, five of the shots striking the Culver City father in the back.
A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.
Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.
Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.
De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.
“Here’s a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff’s Department…
THE PRICE OF A STOLEN CHILDHOOD
In a deeply affecting story for this week’s New York Times Magazine Emily Bazelon writes about two young women with the first names of Nicole and Amy who, as children, were sexually abused, with their rapes recorded on video and distributed to thousands of men. In the cases of Nicole and Amy, however,the court has ruled that they can both obtain monetary restitution from those who downloaded the videos of them to mitigate the harm that was done to them. Bazelon’s article explores, among other things, if financial restitution actually helps victims of child pornography.
Here’s a clip:
The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.
The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.
Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.
Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”
When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone…..
The idea of the kind of restitution Bazelon’s story describes is not without controversy. It seems that, as terrible as such crimes are, creating tough laws that don’t also capture in their net the wrong people along with the predators, can be challenging, as Jennifer Bleyer of Slate points out.
THREE STRIKERS NEWLY RELEASED FACE A MULTITUDE OF CHALLENGES, OFTEN WITH NO HELP
In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison “gate money” and the clothes on their backs.
These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.
The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of “strikers” alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law — as well as the inmates themselves.
“I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing,” said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.
“We want these people to succeed,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project. “We don’t want them committing crimes and creating more victims.”
Proponents say the main reason they didn’t foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly — after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36.
Under California’s realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.
Romano said the issue is now being litigated in Los Angeles County, where a prosecutor claims strikers should be supervised by probation officers. But even if they are, he said, many counties lack the resources to help the mostly male population of former lifers make a successful transition….
Photo of San Francisco rally for 40 years of Roe v. Wade by Christine Duong
There is a lot of news that is worth your attention this week: a significant new report with implications about California’s probationers and parolees...some action on LA County probation’s use of solitary confinement for kids…additional LASD news….and more. But we’ll get to those issues tomorrow, and in coming days.
Today we are pausing to focus on Monday’s inauguration as it relates to a couple of the social justice topics that we discuss here at WitnessLA.
With that in mind, here are some stories, essays, and op eds that attempt to decode the import of the president’s speech, specifically, and the inauguration, in general:
No one anticipated it, but President Barack Obama used the occasion of his second Inaugural Address to give what was perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history. Inaugural Addresses are, by their definition, important and defining occasions, when Presidents set the tone and direction for the coming four years. President Obama used the occasion to make the first direct reference to gay-rights in an Inaugural Address, and he did so with a power and forthrightness we have not heard before, even from him.
About two-thirds of the way into the speech, Obama referred to Stonewall, a gay bar where, in 1969, a police raid provoked a riot, in the same sentence as Seneca Falls and Selma—thus comparing the women’s and African-American civil-rights movements to the gay-rights struggle. Had he stopped there, it would have been historic—particularly coming from the first African-American President—but, in keeping with the tradition of politicians who refer to gay-rights obliquely or with code words, stopping short of directness.
But the President continued:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
Not only was this a call to end discrimination, but an unambiguous argument for the recognition of same-sex marriage across the country. For a President who announced his support for marriage equality less than a year ago, after more reluctance (and suggestions about what could be left to the states) than many would have liked, this was a bold declaration….
THE DIFFERENCE FOUR YEARS MAKES
NY Times columnist, Frank Bruni, comments on the difference between Obama’s first inauguration and Monday’s when it comes to gay rights. Here’s a clip:
Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The alliteration of that litany made it seem obvious and inevitable, a bit of poetry just there for the taking. Just waiting to happen.
But it has waited a long time. And President Obama’s use of it in his speech on Monday — his grouping of those three places and moments in one grand and musical sentence — was bold and beautiful and something to hear. It spoke volumes about the progress that gay Americans have made over the four years between his first inauguration and this one, his second. It also spoke volumes about the progress that continues to elude us.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” the president said, taking a rapt country on a riveting trip to key theaters in the struggle for liberty and justice for all.
Seneca Falls is a New York town where, in 1848, the women’s suffrage movement gathered momentum. Selma is an Alabama city where, in 1965, marchers amassed, blood was shed and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood his ground against the unconscionable oppression of black Americans.
And Stonewall? This was the surprise inclusion, separating Obama’s oratory and presidency from his predecessors’ diction and deeds. It alludes to a gay bar in Manhattan that, in 1969, was raided by police, who subjected patrons to a bullying they knew too well. After the raid came riots, and after the riots came a more determined quest by L.G.B.T. Americans for the dignity they had long been denied.
The causes of gay Americans and black Americans haven’t always existed in perfect harmony, and that context is critical for appreciating Obama’s reference to Stonewall alongside Selma. Blacks have sometimes questioned gays’ use of “civil rights” to describe their own movement, and have noted that the historical experiences of the two groups aren’t at all identical. Obama moved beyond that, focusing on the shared aspirations of all minorities. It was a big-hearted, deliberate, compelling decision.
He went on, seconds later, to explicitly mention “gay” Americans, saying a word never before uttered in inaugural remarks. What shocked me most about that was how un-shocking it was.
OKAY, THAT’S ALL VERY NICE, BUT DOES IT SIGNAL A CONCRETE POLICY SHIFT THAT WILL RESULT IN ACTION?
In this LA Times Op Ed, Ken Dilanian and David G. Savage of the paper’s Washington Bureau, discuss the possible policy shifts the speech suggests—particularly when it comes to the stand the administration may or may not take with regard to the gay rights matters coming soon before the Supreme Court. Here’s a clip from their story:
“….Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he continued, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
The passage “was definitely one of those moments that took your breath away,” said Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian and Gay Band Assn., whose 215 members later marched past the president in the inaugural parade. “We understand the historical significance of it. What political significance it has remains to be seen.”
Obama, who only last spring hesitated to declare his public support for gay marriage, soon will have to decide whether his administration will take the potentially huge step of arguing before the Supreme Court that gay marriage is an equal right under the Constitution.
The court will soon review two cases, one of them involving California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that limited marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Gay rights lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to declare the ballot measure unconstitutional, potentially striking down the laws of 41 states.
To several legal scholars, Obama’s equating of Selma and Stonewall strongly implied he is prepared to side with gay rights activists. But doing so would mark a sudden departure from the caution with which he has typically approached most issues….
Theodore Olson, the former George W. Bush administration solicitor general and lawyer for the gay couples challenging Proposition 8, said the president sounded ready to back a constitutional right to gay marriage.
“I was very gratified to hear the president state in clear and unambiguous language that our gay and lesbian citizens must be treated equally under the law,” Olson said, “and that their loving relationships must be treated equally as well. That can only mean one thing: equality under the Constitution.”
Evan Wolfson, president and founder of New York-based Freedom to Marry, noted in an interview that Obama’s speech “was an inaugural address, not a legal brief, and we will see over the next several weeks exactly what positions the Justice Department takes.”
“I am confident the president knows that the Constitution requires equality in the freedom to marry,” he added…
AND, WHILE ON THE SUBJECT OF ACTION, WHAT’S WITH THE PREZ’S INACTION ON CLEMENCY?
“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”
Blogging four years ago during the last day in which a US President took the oath of office, I commented in this post about the tendency of chief executives to invoke great rhetoric and wax poetic about freedom and liberty in America despite our country’s recent record of locking up a record number of persons in jails and prisons. I also asked in this follow-up post on the same day whether it was too early to start demanding President Obama use his clemency power to live up to our country’s traditional commitment to personal freedom and liberty.
Sadly, as P.S. Ruckman effectively documents and highlights in this new post, President Obama’s first-term record on the clemency front is at once disgraceful and disgusting:
Barack Obama’s first term has come to an end and we are now ready to report that his four-years as president represent the least merciful term for any modern president (Democrat or Republican) and, quite possibly, the least merciful in the entire history of the United States (see footnote below).
This is, of course, an incredible distinction for a president who repeatedly notes that America is a place where people get “second chances,” from a president who complained bitterly about overly-harsh sentences given to criminal defendants simply because they were African-American, and from a president who promised us “hope and change.”
AND TWO MORE OPINIONS ON WHETHER OR NOT THE RHETORIC WILL TRANSLATE INTO ACTION
The Atlantic’s James Fallows points out that, in addition to the significance of the paragraphs in the president’s speech on gay rights, gender equality, et al, the other significant section is the one that comes earlier in the speech, and contains this:
“For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”
In other words, for whatever it is worth, POTUS intends the speech as more than rhetorical; it is a specific call to action.
Fallows says he has ” no illusion, delusion, allusion, or even dog-whistle conceptions that this speech will change the partisan power-balance affecting passage of anything Obama mentioned, from climate legislation to reforming immigration law.”
And yet, Fallows’ colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests in his reflections on the speech:
Obama’s speech is different. To some extent it exposes people to new ideas. But to a greater extent, perhaps, it shows how movements which only a few years ago were thought to be on the run have, in at least one major party, carried the day. This is not a small thing.
For details, one presumes we should stay tuned for the State of the Union address in February.
AND NOW….back to our regularly scheduled programming
PS: While Beyonce and the others were wonderful to see and hear at the inauguration, for me it was that lovely, unnamed soprano who—along with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir surrounding her—truly blew the doors off the joint.