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Rigid New Screening Process for Visiting CA Prisoners, Black Girls Face Harsher Discipline at School, Risk Assessment in Sentencing…and More

September 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR ANNOUNCES MORE RIGOROUS SCREENING PROCESS FOR CALIFORNIA PRISON STAFF AND VISITORS, IN ATTEMPT TO CURB DRUGS ENTERING PRISONS

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced that, starting mid-October, state prison staff and visitors will be subject to much tougher screenings, in an effort to cut off prisoners’ access to illegal drugs. Both staff and visitors will be randomly chosen to submit to hand swabs and drug-sniffing dogs. Visitors will be strip-searched if either test suggests contact with drugs. While visitors would be allowed to walk away without submitting to a strip-search, anyone found to have drugs on them would be referred for possible prosecution.

Inmate advocates say the significantly more invasive screening process will rely on methods that are often faulty, and will also likely dissuade inmates’ loved ones from visiting them. This is of particular concern, since visits from family and friends have shown to produce better outcomes for inmates, both during the time they are behind bars, and once they are released back into their communities.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here are some clips:

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition said in a statement.

Corrections officials say they are taking the steps to control a growing problem in California’s 34 adult prisons.

“The whole point is to deter and detect trafficking into our prisons,” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said. “It’s a serious issue.”

Drug-sniffing dogs discovered 404 pounds of illicit drugs last year and another 29 pounds through the first half of this year, prison officials said. Since July 1, another 26 pounds was discovered without the use of dogs. Each time, marijuana accounted for most of it.

So far this year, the department has had 546 visitors arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs and cellphones into prisons.

The state plans to spend at least $30,000 for each of the ion scanners that will be used to test the hand swabs. The machines are identical to those used by airport security to detect traces of explosive materials, but in this case will be programmed to scan for traces of the four drugs: marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

California plans to install at least two of the detectors at each state prison if funding permits, starting with 11 where illicit drugs are the biggest problem. The emergency regulations are expected to go into effect on a test basis in October.

[SNIP]

Prison advocacy groups criticized the new policy, saying it relies on two methods that sometimes provide false-positive test results. They said the Federal Bureau of Prisons abandoned its use of the ion-detector hand-swabbing machines in 2008 because of complaints about unreliability.

Representatives of national associations representing state prison and county jail officials and state legislators said they were unaware of any other state or local jail currently using the ion scanners.


BLACK FEMALE STUDENTS FACE EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE DISPARITIES

Black girls frequently receive more severe punishments than white girls for the same offenses at school, despite not being any more likely to act out than their white counterparts, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

According to the Dept. of Education, black girls make up 17% of enrolled female students, but receive 31% of girls’ referrals to law enforcement, and comprise 43% of school arrests of all female students.

The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Klein has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

When Georgia high school student Tiambrya Jenkins was in ninth grade, the teen, who is black, got into a fight with a white classmate. Both girls were transferred to an alternative high school as a result, but the white student returned to regular school after 90 days. Jenkins had to stay in the alternative school for a year.

“It was like being in prison,” Jenkins, now 16, said in a press release for the National Women’s Law Center. “The classrooms had no windows. There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang. A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school. But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me.”

Jenkins’ experience isn’t unusual for black female students, who are routinely given harsher punishments than white students — even though no evidence shows black students are more likely to misbehave, according to a report Tuesday from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report outlines the discipline disparities for African-American girls, and notes that pervasive racial and gender biases in education often prevent students from succeeding.

While black male students are the most frequently suspended, African-American girls also disproportionately receive harsh punishments, the report says. The discipline disparities for black girls are likely related to racial and gender stereotypes that portray African-American females as “loud, confrontational, assertive, and provocative,” the report says.


TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT RISING USE OF RISK ASSESSMENT IN SENTENCING

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo has an intriguing story about the complexities of judges’ increasing use of risk assessment tools to aid in sentencing rulings.

Risk assessment efforts have been touted as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by estimating an offender’s risk of reoffending. Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using risk assessment look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives. But while risk assessments are potentially useful, they are also extremely controversial because of a number of possible pitfalls.

In August, in response to a risk assessment bill making its way to Obama’s desk, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against using risk assessment to calculate drug sentences, saying that a number of the criteria (like education and location) may have an adverse effect on minorities and the poor. (California, for instance, uses a misguided form of risk assessment to tack on extra time behind bars via “sentence enhancements.”)

Palazzolo’s WSJ story is behind a paywall. Here’s a relevant clip, for those who don’t subscribe:

Many parole boards now weigh risk scores when considering early release, and prison officials use them to determine the level of security offenders need during their stay. But the adoption of such tools has sparked a debate over which factors are acceptable. Attributes such as age or sex, which employers are generally forbidden from including in hiring decisions, are considered by criminal-justice experts to be strong predictors of whether an offender is likely to commit a crime in the future.

The measures vary widely but generally are based on an offender’s criminal history and, in addition to age and sex, may include marital status, employment and education, according to Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Pennsylvania, one of the latest states to turn to actuarial tools in sentencing, is building a test that weighs the nature of offense, criminal history, age, sex and county of residence. The last factor is the most controversial as it could be considered a proxy for socioeconomic status. Missouri takes into account current offense and criminal history, age, whether the offender has a history of substance abuse, education level and employment.

Judges aren’t bound by the evaluations, but there is evidence they are taking them into account. Virginia officials attribute a more than 25% drop in the number of nonviolent offenders sent to prison annually to the assessments, used to score felons convicted of fraud, larceny and drug crimes since 2003. In the past decade, the percentage of offenders serving prison terms for violent crime has risen to 74% from 61%, said Chief Judge Bradley B. Cavedo of Richmond Circuit Court. “It doesn’t really control the outcome, but it is useful information,” he said of the measures.

The efforts have drawn skepticism from Attorney General Eric Holder, who told a group of defense lawyers in Philadelphia last month that basing sentencing on factors such as a defendant’s education level “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities.”

There is no research yet on whether the use of risk evaluations in sentencing has aggravated, for example, the gap between sentences for black and white men for similar crimes. Ms. Starr said the disparities created by risk measures are evident. “When it comes down to it, these assessments stand for the proposition that judges should sentence people longer because they were in foster care as children or had too many bouts of unemployment,” she said.

Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University law professor, said the alternative was potentially worse. “At least these risk-assessment instruments don’t explicitly focus on race or poverty, unlike what might occur in a sentencing regime where judges are making risk assessments based on seat-of-the-pants evaluations,” he said.


UNDOCUMENTED AT HARVARD

Dario Guerrero found out he was an undocumented immigrant at age 16. All at once, he learned that he could not obtain a California driver’s license, legally work, visit his family in Mexico, or receive financial aid to attend most US colleges. But a few private colleges, and all Ivy League schools, did offer assistance and full-rides to students in need, and Guerrero found himself accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship.

Here’s a clip from his story for the Washington Post:

A few weeks later, Oscar and I sat down, college applications in hand, to share what we had learned on our travels. We created a Web site for other undocumented students with everything we had learned by e-mail, phone, and in person. We got to work on our applications. Although we were undocumented applicants, most schools still asked to see some proof of income so they could determine our financial-aid award. Thankfully, my parents had filed taxes since the year we arrived; I sent our latest returns.

I applied to every Ivy League school, the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Wesleyan, Washington and Lee, and College of the Atlantic. On Jan. 11, as I sat in the library doing research for a government class project, I got a call from a Massachusetts area code. The Harvard Admissions Committee had voted to send me a likely letter of admission. (Oscar later got a call from Cornell.) And they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard’s dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I’d finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have.

I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different. But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity — as an undocumented Chicano — that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have.

Posted in CDCR, Education, prison policy, race and class, Sentencing | No Comments »

“Drugging Our Kids” Part 2, Nuestra Familia, City Attorney’s Community Court Program, and Rick Orlov Interviews Paul Tanaka

September 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

D’ANTHONY’S JOURNEY THROUGH 29 DIFFERENT HOMES AND A PLETHORA OF ANTI-PSYCHOTICS

Last month, we linked to part one of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury about the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Part two of de Sá’s series takes us through the heartbreaking story of D’Anthony Dandy, a foster kid who was moved 29 times to various group homes, foster families, and shelters, and prescribed cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs from the age of 13 to improve his behavior. D’Anthony broke free from the psychotropic fog, graduated high school, and is now living in his own apartment and reconnecting with his family through the help of Tara Beckman, his court-appointed advocate.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the beautiful videos):

Whisked away from his drug-addicted mother, then rejected by his adoptive mom, D’Anthony Dandy spent his childhood wondering where he fit in. Often, the trauma made him depressed. Sometimes it made him defiant.

At school, he called his teacher “bald-head,” hurled pencils and got suspended twice in the ninth grade.

So California’s foster care system did what it often does with a complicated kid — it moved him.

Twenty-nine times.

And, in a futile attempt to control his behavior and dull his pain, it medicated him for years with a risky regimen of mind-altering drugs — lithium, Depakote, even an adult dose of the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal.

D’Anthony’s story, revealed through dozens of interviews over 10 months and an exhaustive review of his juvenile dependency court records, illustrates a disturbing pattern detailed in “Drugging Our Kids,” this newspaper’s yearlong investigation: When it comes to managing challenging childhoods, the nation’s largest child welfare system relies on expedient choices that often don’t work and resists tough ones that do.

It took an extraordinary adult who finally listened to help D’Anthony realize there might be a better path, but his frequent moves and a haze of medication made it difficult for him to settle down.

Until then, “nobody actually told me like, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ ” said D’Anthony, now 19. “ ‘What’s goin’ on in the inside? I know you can be a good kid.’ ”

[BIG SNIP]

At least 14 psychiatrists throughout Northern and Central California examined D’Anthony, diagnosing him variously with post-traumatic stress, reactive attachment, major depression, bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity. They prescribed an ever-changing “cocktail” of medications, including two antipsychotics at once, that experts called dangerous and ineffective after reviewing his case at this newspaper’s request. One even called it “disgusting.”

De Sá’s valuable reporting is already having a considerable legislative impact. In late August, lawmakers called for fast-tracked legislation to curb the rampant drugging of California’s foster kids, and the state medical board began investigating doctors at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request.

Now, de Sá reports that, beginning October 1, California doctors will have to obtain additional authorization by pharmacists to prescribe antipsychotics to kids under 17 who are on Medi-Cal, which includes foster kids. Here’s a clip:

Beginning Oct. 1, a state pharmacist must verify the “medical necessity” of each antipsychotic prescription before the medications can be given to children who are 17 and younger and covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for the poor that also includes foster children.

The tightened restrictions come three years after the federal government called on states to better monitor the use of psychotropic medications on foster children….

Doctors involved in statewide efforts to curb overmedication of foster youth called the new measure a good start — though they say it’s still up for debate whether it will have a widespread impact.


IMPORTANT NEW BOOK ON NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S NUESTRA FAMILIA GANG

For more than ten years, award-winning journalist Julia Reynolds followed Nuestra Familia, the powerful northern California gang that was born a half century ago in San Quentin State Prison, then spilled its violence outside the prison walls into the farm towns of Monterey County and beyond. The result of Reynolds’ unprecedented access to gang members and their families is an excellent and deeply-sourced new book, Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang, in which she follows the lives of individual members of Nuestra Familia, and of the local law enforcement who try to combat their influence. Reynolds looks at the decade-long Operation Black Widow, the FBI’s controversial and largely unsuccessful attempt to take down Nuestra Familia, and at the split structure of the gang’s leadership, which now calls shots from inside Pelican Bay State Prison, and from the supermax federal prison in Florence, CO, causing new friction and attendant violence within the gang.

KPCC’s Take Two has more on Reynolds and her new book. Here’s a clip:

“A lot of young kids were dying,” she recalled. In the farm cities along California’s northern coast, shootings and revenge hits were tearing communities apart.

“I finally decided that as a journalist and living in the area, it was my responsibility to face this issue and see what was going on,” said Reynolds.

So she embarked on a journey that took her inside the lives of the gang’s top leaders, operating from Pelican Bay State Prison, to its foot soldiers and recruits on the streets of Salinas, recording both the mundane and the chilling details of Nuestra Familia. She also explores the law enforcement agents and their battle against the gang.


PILOT PROGRAM TO GIVE LOW-LEVEL OFFENDERS SECOND CHANCE TO SERVE COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF FACING JAIL

As part of the City Attorney Office’s Community Justice Initiative, the Neighborhood Justice Program will form community courts in South LA, the Valley, and the Harbor area. The program will give low-level offenders—those who have committed quality of life crimes—a chance to repay their communities instead of going to jail. (We previously linked to the city attorney’s Neighborhood School Safety Program, which is part of the same initiative.)

Park Labrea News’ Aaron Blevins has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“This is likely to be, if it continues to grow as we anticipate, the largest effort of its kind in the nation,” Feuer said during a meeting with reporters at his office.

The model calls for violators of quality of life offenses to go before a panel of trained community members, who would determine a fitting way for the individual to make it up to the neighborhood.

For example, if an individual is arrested for graffiti, accepts responsibility and his or her case is handled by a community court, he or she could be tasked with repainting the wall that was vandalized. In return, the court would provide the individual with services and the city attorney’s office will not file charges.

Feuer said that is in contrast to the traditional system, in which an individual is arrested, it takes “awhile” for the system to process the charge and, in the end, the neighborhood may or may not notice the intervention of the justice system. With jails being overcrowded, there is very little consequence as a result, he said.

[SNIP]

Feuer said his office opted to partner with neighborhood-oriented locations that are the “centers of community life.” The goal is to host one panel per week at each location, he said.

The city attorney said the approach has been used in San Francisco, though they are not exactly alike. He said the community court there handles approximately 600 cases per year, and he expects the L.A. version to exceed that figure. The office hopes to handle four cases per session, and court will be in session in the early evening to ensure access.


PAUL TANAKA TALKS WITH RICK ORLOV ABOUT HIS CAMPAIGN FOR SHERIFF

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov interviewed former LA undersheriff Paul Tanaka about his campaign for sheriff, which save for a tweet or two and one video, has appeared to be largely nonexistent. Tanaka also discusses his time as undersheriff and as current mayor of Gardena. Here are some clips:

…[Tanaka] insisted in a telephone interview, he remains in the race and is planning an active effort in the final weeks leading up to the election.

“I am absolutely campaigning,” Tanaka insisted in a telephone interview this past week. “I do have a campaign. It is a different type of campaign. Sometimes you need a change in the team makeup. I felt we needed to make some adjustments, and that’s what we have done.”

The changes are stark.

No campaign manager or aides. No active Web page, relying instead on Facebook. No plans for advertising. There are no debates for the runoff, unlike the series of confrontations held in the primary.

[SNIP]

In talking with Tanaka, however, it appears he is still shell shocked over the way the election turned out. He barely managed a second-place finish to McDonnell to force a runoff election. With 49.4 percent of the vote, McDonnell fell just short of avoiding the runoff. Tanaka came in a distant second with 15.1 percent.

“Look, there were six people running against me and they decided to all attack me as if I was the sheriff,” Tanaka said. “I actually had very little to do with all the areas of controversy in the jails. That was outside my area. When I was in charge of the jails, we didn’t have the same problems.”

[SNIP]

Tanaka said he has consoled himself over how he was attacked and with the fact that he was able to make the runoff.

“The fact we are still in this has given a lot of people hope, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people were energized by the fact we have made it as far as we did. It is what keeps me going.”

But Raphael Sonenshein, executive director at the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., said it appears to the public as if the Tanaka campaign has evaporated.

“You see this in other elections where an incumbent faces a light challenge, but in this one, he had a lot of money and an identified base of support that he was counting on,” Sonenshein said. “When he did so badly in the primary, I think the rationale for his candidacy collapsed. After that, he had to keep a low profile.”

After the primary, Tanaka closed down his main campaign office in Torrance and didn’t even inform his staff members.

Tanaka said he simply moved the operation to El Monte and has continued to speak to groups that invite him. His most recent campaign reports show him with a deficit of $18,000.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Foster Care, Gangs, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 7 Comments »

The Case for Prop 47, Other States’ Lessons on Reducing Prison Pop., a Mentally Ill Diversion Program for LA County, and Gov. Brown Signs Ex-Inmate Job Training Grant Bill

September 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEWT GINGRICH AND B. WAYNE HUGHES JR ENDORSE PROP 47, CALL ON CALIFORNIA TO TAKE NOTES FROM THE RED STATES

Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 ballot, would reduce certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, keeping people who have committed low-level drug and property crimes out of lock-up and under better-suited supervision and treatment. (A report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice estimates $175 million in savings for LA County, if voters pass Prop 47.)

Newt Gingrich and B. Wayne Hughes Jr., founder of Serving California, in an op-ed for the LA Times, urge Californians to vote yes on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Contributing to the growth in the number of prisoners and in prison spending has been a dramatic expansion in the number of felonies. In addition, mandatory minimum sentences have been applied to an increasing number of crimes. These policies have combined to drive up the prison population, as more prisoners serve longer sentences. On top of that, California has an alarmingly high recidivism rate: Six out of 10 people exiting California prisons return within three years.

It makes no sense to send nonserious, nonviolent offenders to a place filled with hardened criminals and a poor record of rehabilitation — and still expect them to come out better than they went in. Studies show that placing low-risk offenders in prison makes them more dangerous when they are released.

Over-incarceration makes no fiscal sense. California spends $62,396 per prisoner each year, and $10 billion overall, on its corrections system. That is larger than the entire state budget of 12 other states. This expenditure might be worth it if we were safer because of it. But with so many offenders returning to prison, we clearly aren’t getting as much public safety — or rehabilitation — as we should for this large expenditure.

[SNIP]

Most notably, Texas in 2007 stopped prison expansion plans and instead used those funds for probation and treatment. It has reduced its prison population, closed three facilities and saved billions of dollars, putting a large part of the savings into drug treatment and mental health services. Better yet, Texas’ violent crime rates are the lowest since 1977.

Another red state, South Carolina, made similar reforms for nonviolent offenses. The drop in the number of prisoners allowed South Carolina to close one prison and also lower its recidivism rate. Other states (Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Mississippi) have similarly shifted their approach to nonviolent convictions.

Now voters in California will have a chance to do the same, using costly prison beds for dangerous and hardened criminals. It is time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on locking up low-level offenders. Proposition 47 on the November ballot will do this by changing six nonviolent, petty offenses from felony punishments (which now can carry prison time) to misdemeanor punishments and local accountability.

The measure is projected to save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars per year, and it will help the state emphasize punishments such as community supervision and treatment that are more likely to work instead of prison time.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

The folks over at Zócalo asked five criminal justice experts what California can learn by example from other states who have successfully reduced their prison populations. Here’s what Lois M. Davis, a RAND Corporation senior policy researcher, had to say about Washington state, and its success with making rehabilitation high priority.

California’s experiment in public safety realignment is being credited with closing the revolving door that keeps low-level offenders cycling through the state prison system by housing them instead in county jails and providing counties funding and flexibility to provide for these inmates. Currently the state’s 58 counties are doing their own experiments to determine how much of the realignment resources should be devoted to rehabilitative programs. But reducing California’s prison population over the long term will require the state to provide rehabilitative services like education that reduce recidivism and help to turn individuals’ lives around once they return to communities.

California can learn a great deal from the state of Washington, which has implemented a series of reforms focused on rehabilitation—on diverting offenders to treatment and other options and making serving time in prison the last option. The logic for this is clear: Analyses by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show that cognitive-behavioral programs for adult offenders in prison and community settings can be expected to reduce recidivism rates by 6.3 percent, on average.

RAND’s recent national study on correctional education shows that adult offenders who participated in prison education programs reduced their risk of recidivating by 43 percent. Every $1 invested in these programs resulted in about $4 to $5 in savings in re-incarceration costs. Beyond the stark economic benefits is the broader incentive that such rehabilitation is good for society as a whole. As a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences indicated, mass incarceration is associated with negative social and economic outcomes, which make it very difficult for ex-offenders to turn their lives around when they return, disproportionately, to disadvantaged communities.

California took a bold step in implementing the Public Safety Realignment Act. Now it should move beyond realignment to focus on rehabilitation.

Head over to Zócalo for for more lessons from other states, including a tip California can take from 45 other states, and something the state can learn from itself.


A RELATIVELY SMALL BUT PROMISING LA COUNTY PROBATION PROGRAM TO DIVERT MENTALLY ILL FROM JAIL

On Wednesday, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a small pilot program to divert homeless, mentally ill people charged with low-level offenses from jail. To start with, the program will target 50 participants in Van Nuys, but both Yaroslavsky and Lacey both say they would like to see the program expanded county-wide.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“We want to demonstrate that it works, demonstrate that it saves money, we want to demonstrate better outcomes for the individuals in the program,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at a press conference.

L.A.’s county jails are overcrowded with mentally ill offenders, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office. Earlier this year, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.8 billion jail overhaul plan that includes building a new downtown jail to house mostly inmates with serious mental illnesses.

The new diversion program will offer chronically homeless men and women an alternative to jail when they’re initially charged with a misdemeanor or low-level felony. Those who opt to participate will be sent to the San Fernando Community Mental Health Center and, if needed, placed in subsidized housing. They’ll also receive mental health and employment services.

But it’s limited to 50 participants at a time and only in Van Nuys. It’s expected to cost approximately $750,000, funded partially by the county and partially through a federal grant.

Palta has a second interesting Los Angeles Probation story, along with Karen Foshay, regarding an alarming number dubious worker’s compensation claims filed by Probation Dept. staff. Here’s a small clip from the opening:

KPCC reviewed hundreds of Probation Department workers’ compensation files from 2010-2012 and found dozens of questionable cases, including workers spending months away from the job after getting spider bites or tripping in parking lots, or falling out of chairs.

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers stresses that the vast majority of workers’ compensation claims are legitimate, but he has taken several steps to crack down on questionable injuries since taking office in 2011. Since then, the number of probation staff on disability has dropped by one third, Powers says.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL CREATING A GRANT PROGRAM TO GIVE JOB TRAINING TO EX-INMATES

For more on the bill, Assemblymember Perez has this update from June when the bill passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee. Here’s a clip:

“Workforce training for the re-entry population is a practical strategy for improving access to a stable job,” said Pérez. “It helps improve offender outcomes, reduces the likelihood of recidivism, and promotes community safety and stability.”

Specifically, the bill establishes a new competitive grant program for workforce training for the re-entry population. The grant program would be administered by the California Workforce Investment Board and would be available to counties on a competitive basis, with greater consideration for those that provide matching funds, have demonstrated collaborative working relationship with local workforce investment boards, and/or have a workforce training program for the reentry population already in place.

To fund the program, Pérez secured $1 million in the 2014-15 Budget Act, which will be appropriated through the state’s the Recidivism Reduction Fund.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Probation, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 1 Comment »

Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 3: The Prosecutors’ Case….Prop. 47 Would Save LA Big $$ Says Report….and More

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, after the testimony of multiple witnesses,
the prosecution neared the end of its presentation of its obstruction of justice case against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton.

This is the second time Sexton has been tried on the same charges. In May, his previous trial resulted in a hung jury that was split 6 to 6.

The prosecutors worked to set a context for the charges against Sexton when two FBI agents—Special Agent David Dahle and Special Agent Leah Marx—testified about the importance of the government’s civil rights investigation into reports of alarming brutality by deputies against jail inmates along with other forms of corruption by LA County Sheriff’s Department members, especially those stationed in Men’s Central Jail.

Both Dahle and Marx also testified about the ways in which members of the department reportedly attempted to obstruct their investigation after their confidential informant, jail inmate Anthony Brown, was discovered to have a contraband cell phone that he was using to contact the FBI as part of an undercover investigation into wrongdoing inside the jails.

In order to demonstrate this obstructive activity and intent, prosecutors presented such evidence as audio clips of recently convicted department members, Deputy Gerard Smith, Deputy Micky Manzo and Lt. Stephen Leavins, interviewing Brown a few days after the discovery of the cell phone, and trying to get the inmate to reveal what he’d been telling the feds, while also expressing irritation that “somebody else”—namely the FBI—had come in to “clean our house.”

In addition, the prosecutors played the video of Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long waylaying Agent Marx outside her apartment and threatening her with arrest.

And there was more of that nature.

Yet surprisingly little of the evidence and testimony presented in the last two days has had anything directly to do with James Sexton, who is accused of helping to manipulate the department’s computer system in order to deliberately hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday, the feds plan to read sections from one of Sexton’s 2012 grand jury appearances, in which—a year after the the Anthony Brown affair took place—the deputy is self-incriminating in what the defense will argue is his eagerness to help the feds, whom he then believed did not regard him as a target.

The grand jury testimony is at the center of the government’s case against Sexton.

Then the government will rest, and it will be the defense’s turn.

Former undersheriff and current candidate for sheriff, Paul Tanaka, will be called as a defense witness, among others. It is still unclear whether or not former sheriff Lee Baca will also take the stand.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….NEW REPORT SAYS PROP. 47 COULD SAVE LA COUNTY $175 MILLION

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the potential county-level savings and jail population reductions resulting from Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The report contends that Los Angeles County would save $100 million to $175 million per year, with between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds freed. (LA County jails currently release approximately 1,500 people early each month due to overcrowding.)

According to the report, Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot, would reduce the status of certain low-level property and drug offenses from felonies or wobblers to misdemeanors.

The report also estimates that San Diego County would save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million, per year with the implementation of the proposition.

(The CJCJ report used Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin counties as examples to look at the potential savings for all California’s counties.)

The report calculates that the state-level savings would range from $100 million and $300 million—$$$ that would then be transferred to a fund that would support victim services, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy and drop-out prevention.


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

After learning that the LAPD was misclassifying violent crime as minor crime, the LA County Supervisors, led by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, asked Inspector General Max Huntsman to take a look at the LA Sheriff’s Department’s reporting.

Huntsman found misclassification at the LASD too but, weirdly, the trend seemed to be to overstate the number of violent crimes, rather than the reverse. Moreover the errors seemed to be something that could be cured with better training, and did not appear to be deliberate manipulation.

Out of all the LASD’s stations, only Marina del Rey had zero errors.

The LA Times’ Ben Poston has the story. Here’s a clip:

An initial review of crime statistics at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released Thursday found that the agency tends to overstate violent crime.

An audit of 240 assaults from six sheriff’s stations found that department personnel misclassified more than 31% of minor assaults as serious offenses, while incorrectly filing about 3% of serious attacks as minor ones.

The report was issued by Inspector General Max Huntsman, the newly installed Sheriff’s Department watchdog….

[BIG SNIP]

The overreporting errors at the Sheriff’s Department occurred primarily at the initial crime classification stage when deputies make a decision on how to title a crime report, according to the audit. Deputies commonly classify an assault case as a felony when the crime could be charged by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor, the inspector general’s report states.

In one example, Huntsman said, a deputy initially classified a domestic violence incident as an aggravated assault because the victim was struck repeatedly and sustained a bump and cut on the head. The case should have been filed as a minor assault. To meet the FBI’s definition of aggravated assault, a victim must suffer serious injury, such as a broken nose or a cut that requires stitches.

Of the six sheriff’s stations analyzed, Marina del Rey was the only one with zero errors. The other stations — Century, Compton, East L.A., Lancaster and South L.A. — overreported between 25% and 50% of aggravated assaults during the one-year period reviewed. Meanwhile, the Century station underreported 15% of its serious assaults as minor offenses.


DEFENSE DEPARTMENT HAS ISSUED 12,000 BAYONETS TO LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS SINCE 2006

Last month, President Obama asked for a review of what equipment the federal government has been supplying to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

NPR decided to take a look at what the president’s report might find. Their story appeared more than a week ago, but we didn’t want you to miss this rundown on bayonets and MRAPS distributed.

FYI: Los Angeles, it seems, has been a big winner in the world of combat gear distribution.

Posted in Department of Justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

New Program to Help Kids Get to School Safely, Bill to Defer Sentencing on Certain Misdemeanors, No Nationwide Data on Police Shootings, and Celebrating Successful Family Reunifications

September 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CITY ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO REDUCE TRUANCY BY HELPING KIDS GET TO SCHOOL SAFELY

Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced an extensive new LAUSD pilot program to combat truancy by ensuring kids have “safe passage” to school.

Often, kids in high-violence neighborhoods don’t feel safe getting to school, so they just don’t go. The Neighborhood School Safety Program (NSSP), launching at four middle schools across the district, will create a “neighborhood school safety attorney” for each school. These attorneys will collaborate with parents and LAUSD administrators to keep kids safe by reducing gun violence and negative environmental factors. A number of parents from each school will also be trained to keep students safe on their walks to and from school.

The San Fernando Valley Post-Periodical’s Matt Thacker has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

A designated “neighborhood school safety attorney” will work with parents and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators to develop plans for improving safety for children who walk to school, reducing truancy, preventing gun violence and reducing environmental threats near schools.

One component of the program includes “safe passage to schools” – a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office, Casa Esperanza and school administrators. Feuer said they are recruiting and training 15 Vista parents to make sure children make it to and from school safely.

A number of other programs have been implemented, including the City Attorney’s Truancy Prevention Program which combats truancy through educational letters, parent and community meetings and enforcement hearings.

“Kids need to know they can be safe in school so they will go to school,” Feuer said. “School truancy issues are very important to all of us. We need our kids to stay in school.”

The neighborhood school safety attorney also organizes a “parent safety cadre” which educates parents how to address safety issues near schools. Following a recent meeting on tobacco enforcement, a parent contacted a local store which was selling e-cigarettes to minors, and the store’s owners agreed to stop the illegal practice immediately, according to Feuer.

A gun violence prevention coordinator will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to check that people who live near the schools and are not allowed to own or possess guns do not have firearms or ammunition. A multi-agency task force called “Los Angeles Strategy Against Violent Environments near Schools” began conducting compliance checks on parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders who reside near schools. On Aug. 12, nine felony arrests were made in an operation near Vista, while five children were removed from unsafe environments.


BILL WOULD ALLOW JUDGES TO GIVE SECOND CHANCES ON FIRST-TIME MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES

A new pilot program awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2124, would give judges the ability to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed. The defendant would have a year to complete restitution, participate in any required programs, and fulfill any other conditions. If the defendant meets all requirements, they will walk away free of a criminal conviction.

An LA Times editorial urges the governor to sign this smart piece of legislation. Here’s a clip:

Many people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced directly to probation, especially in counties such as Los Angeles, where jails are crowded and cells are generally held for the most serious criminals. For the offenders, that means they don’t have to lose their jobs or school placements while they sit in jail. But they still end up with criminal records that could hinder their full reintegration into society as law-abiding members.

Some states have recognized that they can do even better by putting probation on the front end. The defendant pleads guilty and complies with various conditions, including monetary restitution, and the judge can opt not to enter the plea or the conviction. At the end of the year, presuming the offender has made amends, he or she is on a better track and winds up with no criminal conviction. If the conditions aren’t met, the conviction is entered and the offender is sentenced.

Hawaii has had a great deal of success with a version of the program. Virginia has its own twist, with some good results.

So how about California? Lawmakers here have slowly — very slowly — come to realize that we convict and lock up too many people for less serious crimes and in so doing put people on a path that limits their chances to move on with a crime-free life.


WHERE’S THE NATIONAL DATA ON OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING NUMBERS?

The federal government does not have keep a comprehensive record of the number of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings by law enforcement officers. Instead, the Department of Justice lets police agencies “self-report” officer-involved shootings. Advocates say the uncollected data keeps law enforcement agencies from creating better policies and practices to lower the number of avoidable deaths.

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Police unions and some law-and-order conservatives insist that shootings by officers are rare and even more rarely unjustified. Civil rights groups and some on the left have just as quickly prescribed racial motives to the shootings, declaring that black and brown men are being “executed” by officers.

And, like all previous incarnations of the clash over police force, the debate remains absent access to a crucial, fundamental fact.

Criminal justice experts note that, while the federal government and national research groups keep scads of data and statistics— on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upwards of 64,000,000 according to 2010 numbers) — there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.

The government does, however, keep a database of how many officers are killed in the line of duty. In 2012, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, it was 48 – 44 of them killed with firearms.

But how many people in the United States were shot, or killed, by law enforcement officers during that year? No one knows.

Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.

That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.

[SNIP]

Law enforcement watchdog groups and think tanks say that the lack of comprehensive data on police shootings hampers the ability of departments to develop best practices and cut down on unnecessary shootings.


DCFS HONORS PARENTS WHO TURNED THEIR LIVES AROUND TO GET THEIR KIDS BACK

The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services has faced intense scrutiny since the horrific and preventable death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. But the department does have triumphs, including many successful and safe family reunifications.

On Tuesday, DCFS held its fifth annual Family Reunification Heroes ceremony to celebrate reunited families and honor the parents who turned their lives around to win their children back.

LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

On a clear night four years ago, Angel Ramirez got ready to sleep in a parking lot again. Homeless, strung out from years of heroin use, he thought this — after years of hitting bottom — was, in fact, rock-bottom.

He was alone. Broke and broken. His sister didn’t talk to him anymore, his children hardly knew him sober, and the weight of shame he carried on that patch of hard asphalt in East Los Angeles seemed to prove it was the lowest point in his life.

Ramirez said he just looked up into the dark sky and cried out.

The memory was fresh Tuesday when he recalled the gang ties, the jail time and the hopelessness. He stood up — sober since 2010 — and thanked Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials who helped him start to get his life back.

And his children back.

Ramirez, 49, of Los Angeles, joined three other parents honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting as DCFS officials marked the fifth annual celebration called Family Reunification Heroes. Each parent, who had been chosen from a board member’s district, received a scroll and a picture with a board member.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LAUSD, Sentencing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

More on the LAPD Ezell Ford Shooting, DOJ to Review Police Tactics, LAUSD Welcomes Immigrant Kids…and More

August 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD UNION MAKES STATEMENT ON FORD SHOOTING…AND QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED BY THE INVESTIGATION

On Monday, an LAPD officer shot Ezell Ford, an unarmed, young black man who was reportedly mentally disabled. According to LAPD officials, two officers stopped Ford, a struggle ensued, and Ford tackled one officer and tried to take his gun from its holster, at which point the officer shot Ford with his back-up weapon. The second officer also shot Ford. It is not yet clear how many bullets were fired.

Eyewitnesses are telling a conflicting story, one in which Ford was complying with officers.

Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League urges us not to rush to a conclusion on the matter—that a thorough investigation will take time to determine whether the shooting was within policy. Here’s a clip:

“Increasingly, in the immediate aftermath of any police shooting, unvetted statements by persons claiming to be witnesses are given prominent play. While a factual investigation unfolds at a deliberate and slower pace, an inaccurate narrative can be created before the actual facts are determined. The Ezell Ford incident on August 11, 2014, in Newton Area is no exception, as we have read and viewed some inaccurate reports of what occurred.”

“It is critically important, both for the LAPD and the community to establish what actually happened. The LAPPL reminds everyone that it is necessary for a thorough and transparent investigation to take place so the final conclusion is trustworthy and can withstand critical scrutiny—and that will take time. This thorough and complete investigation is being conducted by Force Investigation Division. The Inspector General and the district attorney monitor the investigation and ensure that it is complete and unbiased. The preliminary facts, according to LAPD officials, are that two LAPD officers assigned to the Gang Enforcement Detail in Newton Area stopped Ezell Ford at about 8:10 p.m. as he walked on a sidewalk near 65th Street and Broadway in South Los Angeles. A violent struggle ensued, and Ford grabbed one of the officers and tried to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster, prompting a deadly use of force.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is out of town, but KPCC’s Frank Stoltze spoke with LAPD Commander Andrew Smith and LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger about the Ford incident.

According to Smith, the struggle was chaotic and did end in Ford being shot while on the ground. Here’s a clip from Stoltze’s story:

The incident started when two officers with the Newton Division’s Gang Enforcement Detail confronted Ezell Ford during an “investigative stop” around 8:20 pm, according to Commander Andrew Smith. He did not know what precipitated the stop. Gang officers regularly approach people who they believe may be involved in gang activity.

“As the first officer gets close, the suspect spins around and grabbed the officer around the waist, threw him to the ground and was laying on top of the officer,” Smith said. “There was a struggle over the officer’s weapon and the officer on the ground withdrew his backup weapon and shot the suspect.” Many officers carry backup weapons in ankle holsters or tucked inside pants pockets.

The second officer also fired at Ford. Smith would not say how many bullets were fired or how many struck the suspect. Both officers are “veterans” with at least seven years at the department, he said.

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told KPCC that Ford “made suspicious movements, including attempting to conceal his hands.” Paysinger also said Ford “attempted to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster.” He added that “the suspect partially removed the gun from the officer’s holster, and it was indeed a struggle for their lives.”

Whether or not the shooting is determined to be within policy, it had a tragic outcome. Here are some of the questions that we’d like to see answered by the investigation:

Why was Ford stopped in the first place?

Are Ford’s fingerprints on the officer’s gun?

How many bullets were fired by the officers? Which shot proved fatal? After the first shot, were any following shots necessary, or were they products of an adrenalized action that could have been avoided?


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF QUESTIONABLE USE OF DEADLY FORCE ON MINORITIES AND THE MENTALLY ILL: JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAUNCHING LARGE-SCALE REVIEW OF POLICE TACTICS

The Department of Justice is conducting an extensive review of police policies with regard to contact with the mentally ill, use of deadly force, and more, according to a federal law enforcement official. The review is expected to be completed early next year. The DOJ is also considering forming a national commission to oversee and direct police protocol and conduct.

USA Today’s Kevin Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In addition to deadly force, the review is expected to examine law enforcement’s increasing encounters with the mentally ill, the application of emerging technologies such as body cameras, and police agencies’ expanding role in homeland security efforts since 9/11, said the official, who is not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

The review is slated to be completed early next year while authorities consider establishing a special law enforcement commission similar to a panel created by President Johnson to deal with problems then associated with rising crime.

Rather than violent crime, which has been in decline in much of the country, police are now grappling with persistent incidents involving use of force and their responses to an array of public safety issues, from drug overdoses to their dealings with the mentally ill and the emotionally disturbed.

The call for a broader federal policy review, while not directly tied to any specific incident, grew out of a meeting involving law enforcement advocacy groups and Justice officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, the official said.

“Nobody has looked at the profession in any holistic way in more than 50 years,” the official said.


LAUSD TO WELCOME NEW IMMIGRANT STUDENTS “WITH OPEN ARMS”

All kids in the United States have a right to attend school regardless of their immigration status. In 2013, 13,000 kids entered the country without a parent or guardian. The number jumped to 25,000 this year, as kids are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said that he is preparing for about 1,000 new immigrant children to enter the public school system this year, and told the LA Times, “We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s how it opens:

At the low-slung bungalow west of downtown, a youngster screams from a vaccination and a nurse records the height and weight of an older boy. Academic counselors stand by, because it is here that many children who recently crossed the southern border enroll in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As the line runs out the door of the cramped reception area, José Miguel waits his turn to sign up 17-year-old niece Elena, a native of Guatemala who crossed over from Mexico in March without her parents or a guardian.

Under federal law, these children are entitled to attend public school regardless of immigration status.

“I am planning for 1,000 this year, but I will know more when our doors open,” L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said just before the nation’s second-largest district started its school year on Tuesday.

Across the country over the next year, federal agencies expect to manage about 60,000 minors who entered or will arrive in the United States without an adult guardian. That figure compares with about 7,500 who came in annually before the numbers surged to 13,625 last year and about 25,000 in the current year.

“We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD,” Deasy said last week in an interview with reporters and editors at The Times.

Many unaccompanied minors land in Southern California; here they can be cared for by relatives who are part of well-established expatriate communities from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — the impoverished and sometimes violent countries from which most have journeyed.

José Miguel, a worker in the garment industry, needs assistance in part because his own education was limited. He speaks Spanish, but his first language is a Guatemalan dialect. Immigration authorities left him a stack of papers for his niece. He’s not sure what district staff need to see.

The center is outfitted to handle Spanish and Korean speakers, and brings in interpreters as needed.

L.A. Unified officials have warned schools to be prepared for students who may be afraid to enroll or who could experience separation anxiety and grief. Some have suffered trauma from witnessing violence. They may be undereducated or even illiterate.

Some of the girls might have been sexually abused; some are parents themselves. Diapers are among the supplies at the school enrollment, placement and assessment center, located in a fenced corner of Plasencia Elementary School.


BILL TO END RACIAL DISPARITY IN CRACK/POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING HEADS FOR GOVERNOR’S DESK

The California Assembly has passed a bill to equalize the punishment for possession (for sale) of powder and crack cocaine. Crack previously held a higher penalty of three to five years, while powder was punishable by two to four years.

SB 1010, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, after which it will land on the governor’s desk.

The Drug Policy Alliance has more on the bill’s progress. Here’s a clip:

“As Assemblymember Bradford said in presenting the bill today, the current disparities in our drug laws amount to institutional racism,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Fair Sentencing Act will take a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. The time has long come.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body. Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda. Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Posted in LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 52 Comments »

Using Risk Assessment in Sentencing…Protecting Kids Whose Parents are Being Arrested…and More

August 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AG ERIC HOLDER OPPOSES USING RISK ASSESSMENT TO CALCULATE DRUG SENTENCES

US Attorney General Eric Holder has come out against states using certain “big data” risk assessment tools to help determine drug sentences. Holder says that sentences should match the crime, and that using things like a person’s work history, education, and what neighborhood they’re from to determine their likelihood of reoffending, and thus, how long they should remain in prison, may have an adverse impact on minorities and poor people.

Supporters of risk assessment say that the data helps lower the prison population, recidivism, and money spent on incarceration. Many states use big data in corrections, but the federal government does not. A bipartisan bill to adopt risk assessment at the federal level is making its way through legislature, and is expected to make it to President Obama’s desk.

California uses risk assessment by way of “sentencing enhancements” that add time onto sentences, and are grossly skewed against minorities and contribute to our overstuffed prisons.

Times’ Massimo Calabresi interviewed AG Holder and has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Over the past 10 years, states have increasingly used large databases of information about criminals to identify dozens of risk factors associated with those who continue to commit crimes, like prior convictions, hostility to law enforcement and substance abuse. Those factors are then weighted and used to rank criminals as being a high, medium or low risk to offend again. Judges, corrections officials and parole officers in turn use those rankings to help determine how long a convict should spend in jail.

Holder says if such rankings are used broadly, they could have a disparate and adverse impact on the poor, on socially disadvantaged offenders, and on minorities. “I’m really concerned that this could lead us back to a place we don’t want to go,” Holder said on Tuesday.

Virtually every state has used such risk assessments to varying degrees over the past decade, and many have made them mandatory for sentencing and corrections as a way to reduce soaring prison populations, cut recidivism and save money. But the federal government has yet to require them for the more than 200,000 inmates in its prisons. Bipartisan legislation requiring risk assessments is moving through Congress and appears likely to reach the President’s desk for signature later this year.

Using background information like educational levels and employment history in the sentencing phase of a trial, Holder told TIME, will benefit “those on the white collar side who may have advanced degrees and who may have done greater societal harm — if you pull back a little bit — than somebody who has not completed a master’s degree, doesn’t have a law degree, is not a doctor.”

Holder says using static factors from a criminal’s background could perpetuate racial bias in a system that already delivers 20% longer sentences for young black men than for other offenders. Holder supports assessments that are based on behavioral risk factors that inmates can amend, like drug addiction or negative attitudes about the law. And he supports in-prison programs — or back-end assessments — as long as all convicts, including high-risk ones, get the chance to reduce their prison time.

But supporters of the broad use of data in criminal-justice reform — and there are many — say Holder’s approach won’t work. “If you wait until the back end, it becomes exponentially harder to solve the problem,” says former New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, who is now at the nonprofit Laura and John Arnold Foundation, where she is building risk-assessment tools for law enforcement. Some experts say that prior convictions and the age of first arrest are among the most power­ful risk factors for reoffending and should be used to help accurately determine appropriate prison time.


NEW LAW ENFORCEMENT GUIDELINES FOR TAKING CARE OF KIDS WHOSE PARENTS ARE BEING ARRESTED

The Department of Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police are taking crucial steps toward protecting kids from avoidable trauma by rolling out guidelines and training at the local, state, and federal levels on how to care for children whose parents are being arrested. The guidelines include asking suspects if they have dependent kids during their arrest (a California Research Bureau report found that only 13% of California officers ask this), placing kids with relatives instead of taking them into child welfare custody, and postponing arrests so that kids are not present, if possible.

USA Today’s Kevin Johnson spoke with Deputy AG James Cole about the new guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically address the continuing care of children after such arrests, despite an estimated 1.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of children jumps to about 2.7 million when parents detained in local jails are included….

Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s largest organization of police officials, are beginning to roll out guidelines to agencies across the country. It is an unusual attempt to shield children — often forgotten in the chaotic moments before and after arrests — from unnecessary “trauma” related to their parents’ detention.

While there is little reliable data to indicate how many children each year are in need of emergency placement because of parental arrests, [Deputy Attorney General James] Cole indicated that thousands of children could require such care.

“In addition to the legal consequences, protection of a child in these and related situations should also be viewed as an ethical, moral and pragmatic responsibility that serves the short-term and long-term interests of both law enforcement … and the communities they serve,” the IACP concluded in a report outlining the proposed guidelines to thousands of member police officials.

And here are some of the guidelines:

• Officers and agents should be required to determine the whereabouts of children during parental arrests.

A California Research Bureau report, cited by the IACP, found that only 13% of officers in California agencies routinely asked whether suspects had dependent children during arrests. Nearly two-thirds of state departments, according to the bureau, did not have policies to guide them on how or when to take responsibility of children during or after arrests.

• Children in need of emergency care, whenever possible, should be placed with other family members or close family friends, rather than social service agencies or police.

“Custody by a law enforcement agency or (child welfare systems) can have a significant negative emotional impact on a child, adding to the trauma of parent-child separation that the arrest may cause and possibly creating an enduring stigmatization,” the IACP report stated.

• Law enforcement and child welfare authorities should have agreements in place to assist in cases when emergency placement is necessary. In advance of police raids, child welfare officials should be part of pre-arrest planning when it is likely that children will be present at targeted locations.

“In some cases, where timing is not a critical concern,” the IACP report suggests, “an arrest may be postponed so that it will not be conducted in the presence of the child. If delay is not possible, arrangements should be made in advance to have additional law enforcement officers and or representatives from (child welfare services) … at the scene or on call.”


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF TRAUMA IN CHILDREN…

Nearly half of kids across the nation have experienced at least one trauma—an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)—according to a new report by the Child Trends research institute. The report used data from 95,000 households, and tallied eight different ACEs, including having a parent behind bars, economic hardship, witnessing violence at home, and divorce. Nationwide, 11% of kids experienced more than three ACEs (and 9% of kids in California).

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

Experts say chronic early stress – or “adverse experiences” – in children’s lives can alter their emotional responses, their impulse control and even harm their developing brains.

For the study, researchers analyzed interviews from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health with more than 95,000 adults who had a child in their household…

Economic hardship was the most commonly reported stress children nationwide faced.

Child Trends has been compiling data about children’s well-being for years, but this is their first time using a large enough nationwide sample to make state-by-state comparisons.


THE REALITY OF THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

At a commencement speech in a corrections facility, Gloria Ladsen-Billings (Kellner Family Chair of Urban Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison) once asked inmates how many of them had been suspended as a child. Every single one of them raised their hands.

Ladsen-Billings, in a talk with HuffPost’s Marc Lamont-Hill about racial disparity in suspensions, used this story to help illustrate how harsh school discipline creates a school-to-prison-pipeline, affecting kids into adulthood.

Here’s a clip from the accompanying text, but do click over to Huffpost and watch the video, which is part of a larger discussion that included Tunette Powell, the mother whose two toddlers have received a whopping 8 suspensions between them:

She explained that schools’ disproportionately large percentages of black student suspensions has less to do with white teachers not understanding the behavior of black students, and more to do with fear they bring into the classroom with them.

“The majority of suspensions are linked to what is called ‘non-contact behavior,’” she told Hill. “Kids get suspended for wearing a hat. Kids get suspended for rolling their eyes. Some of the referrals will say they were ‘disrespectful.’”

Billings explained that the danger of discrepancy between the severity of a punishment and the nature of the transgression plays out in students’ later lives.


LATEST IN THE NY TIMES MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION SERIES

In case you are following the New York Times’ editorial series about ending marijuana prohibition at the federal level, here is the latest offering.

Posted in juvenile justice, law enforcement, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sentencing, The Feds, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Juvenile Lifers and What They Face in the System….”My Brother’s Keeper” Leaves out the Girls….CA Bill Would Bring “Religious Freedom” into Child Welfare…and More

July 31st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE REALITIES OF SENTENCING KIDS TO DIE IN PRISON

Data and discussions about the causal effects of childhood traumatic stress in minors who commit crimes is replacing the “superpredator” fear-mongering of the 90′s. Still, more than 2000 people in the United States have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors—300 of them in California. And when kids sentenced as adults reach lockup, they are treated worse than adults. often placed in solitary confinement, or worse, in the name of keeping them safe—despite opposition from the UN and research showing how prolonged isolation exacerbates existing trauma and can lead to mental illness.

Joshua Rofé has more on the issue for LA Weekly. Here’s a clip:

The extreme violence of the early 1990s in places such as Compton, South Los Angeles and the Eastside helped spawn public fear of the juvenile super-predator and the thrill killer.

But, as psychologist and juvenile justice consultant Marty Beyer showed in her study of juvenile intent, most of these youths were marred by severe trauma long before they pulled the trigger or plunged the knife.

Such experts say that juvenile lifers experience a culminating day in which the effects of trauma, violence and youth boil over into the communities or households that wittingly or unwittingly turned a blind eye.

In Jasmine’s case, the streets raised her, not her parents.

“My dad wasn’t really never in the picture,” she recalls. “I was yearning for my mom and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there. She worked double shifts, like, 16 hours a day. This is not an excuse, this is just the way it was for me coming up.”

At 14, she’d acquitted herself well during gang initiation. “I had to fight all the girls in my neighborhood. All at the same time. I come from three brothers, so I really knew how to fight. So it wasn’t that easy to get me down.”

Two years later, she shot a girl she didn’t know. Her court-appointed public defender assured her that she’d be tried as a juvenile and then placed in a California Youth Authority facility for seven years.

Instead, Jasmine was sent into the much tougher adult court system.

“I really did not even understand what was going on,” she says. “The lawyer just kept telling me, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ Next thing I know, I’m pleading guilty and there’s no trial. They give me a life sentence.”

In the United States, more than 2,000 children have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger.

Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law giving California’s 300 lifer children a chance at parole after 15 years — if they did not kill a cop or torture their victim. Now, often having reached middle age in prison, like Jasmine, some have been freed.

Beyond this, child advocates say it’s past the time to offer serious help to children who kill.

Katharine C. Staley, associate director of the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, says children develop traumatic stress, a cousin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “when either the stressor is huge and just completely unexpected, and overwhelms any ability to cope with it, like a school shooting, for example; or, as is much more often the case, when the stressor is significant, unpredictable — frequently repeated.”

Some children kill an adult tormentor who raped or tortured them — often a parent, relative or family friend. Others are set off by “being exposed to ongoing violence between parents or gang members.”

Jasmine’s initial week in an adult prison set the stage for her horrifying life there. Juveniles often are placed in solitary confinement, also known as “segregated housing” — for their own safety, according to prison officials.

But at age 17, when Jasmine was processed and admitted, all the solitary confinement cells at California Institute for Women in San Bernardino County were occupied. A quick decision was reached: This girl would be housed on Death Row.

You can watch Joshua Rofé’s documentary “Lost for Life,” (trailer above) on iTunes.


GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR EXCLUDED BY OBAMA’S “MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” INITIATIVE

President Barack Obama launched a $200 million initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia University and UCLA, and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, points out that My Brother’s Keeper overlooks girls and young women of color, who face similar disparities and hardships and need just as much support.

Black girls are suspended more than any other girls. They are also more likely than other girls to be sex-trafficked or die violently.

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Crenshaw calls the initiative an “abandonment of women of color” by Obama. Here’s a clip:

Gender exclusivity isn’t new, but it hasn’t been so starkly articulated as public policy in generations. It arises from the common belief that black men are exceptionally endangered by racism, occupying the bottom of every metric: especially school performance, work force participation and involvement with the criminal justice system. Black women are better off, the argument goes, and are thus less in need of targeted efforts to improve their lives. The White House is not the author of this myth, but is now its most influential promoter.

The evidence supporting these claims is often illogical, selective or just plain wrong. In February, when Mr. Obama announced the initiative — which is principally financed by philanthropic foundations, and did not require federal appropriations — he noted that boys who grew up without a father were more likely to be poor. More likely than whom? Certainly not their sisters, who are growing up in the same households, attending the same underfunded schools and living in the same neighborhoods.

The question “compared with whom?” often focuses on racial disparities among boys and men while overlooking similar disparities among girls and women. Yet, like their male counterparts, black and Hispanic girls are at or near the bottom level of reading and math scores. Black girls have the highest levels of school suspension of any girls. They also face gender-specific risks: They are more likely than other girls to be victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, more likely to be involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and more likely to die violently. The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.

Proponents of My Brother’s Keeper — and similar programs, like the Young Men’s Initiative, begun by Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011 when he was mayor of New York — point incessantly to mass incarceration to explain their focus on men. Is their point that females of color must pull even with males in a race to the bottom before they deserve interventions on their behalf?

Women of color earn less than both white men and their male counterparts from the same ethnic or racial groups, across the spectrum. Even more disturbing: the median wealth of single black and Hispanic women is $100 and $120, respectively — compared with almost $7,900 for black men, $9,730 for Hispanic men and $41,500 for white women.

Read on.


BILL WOULD ALLOW CALIFORNIA’S RELIGIOUS CHILD WELFARE PROVIDERS TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST GAYS, UNMARRIED COUPLES

A California bill introduced Wednesday would protect religious child welfare providers from losing government funding and contracts for discriminating against gays or unmarried heterosexual couples or anyone else who conflicts “with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014 is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Brian Rinker has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Many private providers of adoption and foster care services are faith-based organizations, which contract with the state to recruit adoptive/foster parents. Some religious providers only recruit married men and women to be foster parents, refusing to serve same sex or unmarried couples because of their religious beliefs.

A handful of states have enacted civil union and same-sex marriage policies that strip the funding and contracts from faith-based organizations that refuse to incorporate those practices in their adoption and foster care services.

“Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” said Enzi in a press release. “This legislation will help make sure faith-based providers and individuals can continue to work alongside other agencies and organizations, and that adoptive and foster parents have access to providers of their choice.”


VIRGINIA’S BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL

On Monday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The ruling is a far-reaching one, as the Appeals Court has jurisdiction over North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, as well.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has more on the ruling.

Posted in LGBT, LWOP Kids, racial justice, Sentencing, solitary, Trauma, women's issues | 7 Comments »

PBS Documentary on Juvenile Life Without Parole…NY Times Supports Marijuana Legalization….Paul Tanaka’s Retirement Take-home Pay….and More

July 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PBS’ “POINT OF VIEW” LOOKS AT LOCKING KIDS UP FOR LIFE WITHOUT A CHANCE OF PAROLE

Next Monday, August 4, PBS will air “15 to Life,” the story of Kenneth Young, who received four consecutive life sentences for committing several armed robberies as a teenager. Kenneth thought he would never make it out of prison alive, until the US Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that kids could not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes.


NY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD CALLS FOR END TO FEDERAL BAN ON MARIJUANA

On Sunday, the NY Times editorial board officially came out in support of repealing the federal marijuana ban, which is something of a big deal. The editorial was also the starting point for a six-part opinion series on legalizing marijuana. (In part one, NYT’s David Firestone argues in favor of the feds stepping back and letting states decide.)

Here’s a clip from the editorial board’s significant endorsement:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.


PAUL TANAKA’S 2013 FINAL PAY WAS NEARLY $600,000

Between seven months of salary pay and 339 days of unused paid leave accrued over his 31-year career, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka took home $591,000 as final pay in 2013. This number was only surpassed by one county employee, the chief neurosurgeon at the biggest county-run hospital.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has the story. Here’s a clip:

Including his seven months of wages and benefits, the county paid $591,000 for Tanaka in 2013, according to payroll records provided to the Bay Area News Group, part of the Daily News’ parent company. This made him the second-highest compensated employee, next to the chief neurosurgeon at the largest county-administered hospital.

A certified public accountant (whose license is inactive), Tanaka did not violate any rules, county officials said.

Nor did he “spike” his pension. None of the 339 days leave he cashed out applied toward his retirement income, officials say. The county code limits that widely criticized practice of boosting one’s final salary.

Six-figure payouts aren’t rare at the Sheriff’s Department, though Tanaka topped the 2013 list. There were 500 other sheriff’s employees — more than at all other county departments combined — who received one-time payments in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 data. For some county employees, those checks may have included bonuses or other taxable cash payments in addition to leave time.

Tanaka, who did not respond to requests for comment, was pushed out of the department by Sheriff Lee Baca following a series of scandals. Federal authorities are investigating whether high-level sheriff’s officials were involved in witness tampering. During recent testimony, Tanaka told a prosecutor he was aware he’s a subject of the probe, and denied any wrongdoing. He is facing Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election.

An employee with McDonnell’s standing would be eligible to cash out a maximum of 60 days vacation and holiday time upon retirement, Long Beach administrators said. Also, when he left the Los Angeles Police Department in 2010, after 28 years, McDonnell cashed out his unused sick time, vacation and overtime hours for $90,825, according to the City Controller’s office.

Some argue that such payouts unnecessarily strain local government finances.

“They earned the benefits, and they’re entitled to it, but there’s no reason the benefits should be inflated to the top rate,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They should be paid based on the value of the benefit they earned, at the time they earned it.”

While we’re on the subject of LASD retirement packages, a number of the department’s scandal-plagued supervisors have been able to retire ahead of being demoted or terminated.

This, for example, is what we wrote a year and a half ago about Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram’s sudden retirements—and their estimated yearly retirement pay.


BREAKING FREE OF THE “INCARCERATION ONLY” APPROACH

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Timothy P. Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, says our warped criminal justice system should be remodeled into a system that bosts public safety while turning lives around. In his essay (inspired by Shaka Senghor’s powerful TED talk, above), Silard says we must keep pushing for sentencing reform—reducing the number of low-level drug offenders and mentally ill in prison—and reinvest money saved through lowering incarceration rates back into programs that rehabilitate and help former offenders successfully return to their communities. Here’s how it opens:

I got a first-hand look at how our criminal justice system could be used to transform lives — not just punish — while serving as a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

In one case, an 18-year-old young woman was arrested for selling drugs on a San Francisco street corner. She normally would have ended up behind bars for a felony conviction that would have followed her for the rest of her life. Instead, she pled guilty, accepted responsibility and entered an innovative re-entry program for nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. During the program, she was closely supervised and provided the resources and support she needed to turn her life around. Among the requirements: enrolling in school, performing community service and getting a full-time job. She thrived in the program. After graduating, she received a full scholarship to attend a university and finished her first semester with a 3.8 GPA.

The program, called Back on Track, was one of the first re-entry programs in a District Attorney’s Office. It would go on to become a national model, reducing re-offense rates from 53 percent to less than 10 percent while saving tax dollars — the program cost about $5,000 per person, compared to more than $50,000 to spend a year county jail. Perhaps even more importantly, it helped save lives and strengthen families and communities. The power of second chances was never more evident than at the yearly Back on Track graduation ceremonies. There, smartly dressed mothers, fathers, siblings, children and community members celebrated the young graduates as they prepared to embark on much more hopeful futures.

For far too long, our criminal justice system has been stuck using one gear – the incarceration gear. We lock up too many people for far too long, for no good reason, and we’re doing so at great economic, human and moral cost. As a prosecutor, I saw the same offenders arrested, prosecuted and locked up, only to come back time and time again. I saw low-level, nonviolent offenders return from prison and jails more hardened and posing a greater threat to our communities than when they went in. And I saw African Americans and Latinos arrested and jailed at egregiously greater rates than whites.

Posted in LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 15 Comments »

Gov. Signs Bill to Curb Deportations for Misdemeanors….Federal Judge Argues in Favor of Firing Squads….Representation for 46K Affected by Retroactive Sentencing Guidelines

July 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO KEEP LEGAL IMMIGRANTS CONVICTED OF LOW-LEVEL CRIMES FROM BEING DEPORTED

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a piece of legislation that aims to reduce the number of deportations of legal immigrants for non-felony crimes.

Federal law allows for deportation of permanent legal residents who commit crimes carrying a one year sentence (or more). The measure, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) lowers the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor from one year to 364 days. The bill garnered bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly.

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

As of Jan. 1, SB1310 will reduce the maximum penalty for misdemeanors to 364 days to conform to the federal law.

“Amazingly, the fact that it’s 364 means it’s not an aggravated felony under federal law,” said Steven Rease, a criminal defense attorney in Monterey County. “It’s a very small change in terms of 365, 364, but it’s going to make all the difference in the world to a legal immigrant…whose chances of deportation are greatly reduced.”

Rease is co-chairman of the legislative committee of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which represents defense attorneys and sought the change in state law.

He estimated the change could affect thousands of people in California, based on the scores of cases he has seen mainly among farm workers in his county who have been convicted of misdemeanors for things like writing bad checks.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also projected the change could affect thousands of immigrants in California. It estimated that more than 100,000 children legally residing in the United States had a parent deported for a misdemeanor crime between 1997 and 2007. It said similar legal changes have been adopted by Nevada and Washington state.

“While the federal government continues to turn a blind eye to our broken immigration system, California continues to advance state legislation to ensure aspiring citizens are integrated into our fabric instead of being in the shadows,” the group’s policy and advocacy director, Joseph Villela, said in a statement.


9TH CIRCUIT CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI TELLS STATES TO BRING BACK FIRING SQUADS

In a dissent criticizing execution by lethal injection, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, called for states to go back to using firing squads.

The judge’s dissent came in the case of an Arizona man seeking a stay of execution after the state refused to release information on the drugs to be used in his lethal injection. (The death row inmate, Joseph Rudolph Wood, won the stay, but the Supreme Court promptly reversed the lower court’s ruling and lifted the stay.) The ruling followed five days after U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional.

Kozinski, a supporter of the death penalty, called lethal injections a “misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions.”

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Legal scholars say the judge’s splashy approach is aimed less at shocking the public than asking it to confront its own relationship with the death penalty.

The dissenting opinion came in the case of an Arizona inmate scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday. Joseph Rudolph Wood, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father, sought a delay on the grounds that Arizona has refused to disclose details of their execution protocol. Wood won the stay, and the 9th Circuit decided not to review his case–a decision Judge Kozinski disagreed with on the cases’ legal merits.

Kozinski used his dissenting opinion, however, to launch into a bit of a tangent on lethal injection—the preferred execution method of all state’s that have the death penalty. Firing squads may be disturbing, he said, but unlike lethal injection, they’re relatively fool-proof.

The judge wrote:

“Whatever the hopes and reasons for the switch to drugs, they proved to be misguided. Subverting medicines meant to heal the human body to the opposite purpose was an enterprise doomed to failure. Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.

But executions are, in fact, nothing like that…They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf…

Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”

Kozinski, it should be noted, is not a death penalty opponent.

Read the rest.


NO RIGHT TO LEGAL AID FOR 46,000 FEDERAL DRUG OFFENDERS ELIGIBLE FOR SENTENCE REDUCTIONS

On Friday, the US Sentencing Commission voted to make retroactive drug sentencing guidelines that reduced sentences for most drug trafficking offenses by an average of two years.

The decision is expected to affect more than 46,000 federal prisoners who will be able to seek sentence reductions.

Law professor and sentencing expert, Doug Berman, in his blog Sentencing Law and Policy points out that federal prisoners do not have a right to legal counsel in sentence modification court proceedings. Berman explains that normally, public defender offices try to provide legal help to those seeking sentence reductions, but will not be able to handle the influx of nearly 50,000 inmates seeking aid.

Experts like Berman point out the necessity to find some solution to the problem because, as Berman says, ” …the proper application of new reduced drug offense guidelines can involve various legal issues that may really need to be addressed by sophisticated legal professionals.”

Here’s a clip:

As hard-core federal sentencing fans likely already know, most lower federal courts have ruled that federal prisoners do not have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel applicable at the sentence modification proceedings judges must conduct to implement reduced retroactive sentencing guidelines. Consequently, none of the nearly 50,000 federal drug offense prisoners who may soon become eligible for a reduced sentence have any right to legal assistance in seeking this reduced sentence.

Fortunately for many federal prisoners seeking to benefit from previous guideline reductions, many federal public defender offices have traditionally made considerable efforts to provide representation to those seeking reduced sentences. But even the broadest guideline reductions applied retroactively in the past (which were crack guideline reductions) applied only to less than 1/3 of the number of federal prisoners now potentially eligible for reductions under the new reduced drug guidelines. I suspect that pubic defenders are unlikely to be able to provide significant legal help to a significant number of drug offenders who will be seeking modified sentences under the new reduced drug guidelines.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

An NY Times editorial praises the US Sentencing Commission’s vote in favor of retroactivity, and calls on Congress to let the decision stand. Here’s a clip:

The commission’s bold step, which will ease overcrowding in federal prisons, stands in stark relief to the mind-numbing failure of Congress to make meaningful progress on criminal justice reform. At the same time, it is consistent with a healthy trend among state governments that are finding innovative ways of shrinking prison populations while also reducing crime.


Posted in Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, Sentencing | No Comments »

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