Friday, October 21, 2016
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Gov. Brown’s Bill-Signing (and Vetoing): The Final Roundup

October 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Friday was the final day for California Governor Jerry Brown to sign or veto bills passed by state lawmakers this year. This is WLA’s third and final roundup of the fates of justice-related bills we’ve followed in 2016. (Here are parts one and two, in case you missed them.)


On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1052, a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) that would have restricted the way law enforcement officers can interrogate kids during a criminal investigation, and would have required juveniles suspected of crimes to consult with an attorney before they can waive their constitutional right to remain silent.

Three days later, on Monday, the US Supreme Court chose not to intervene in the case of Joseph H, a 10-year-old from Riverside who was sentenced to more than a decade behind bars for the murder of his abusive neo-Nazi father. Joseph waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the murder. When a police officer asked Joseph, who has developmental issues, if he understood his Miranda rights, the boy said, “Yes, that means I have the right to remain calm.”

In refusing to step in, the high court has effectively said that children as young as Joseph are competent enough to validly waive their right to remain silent. (Back in August WLA ran a story by the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback about SB 1052 and Joseph H’s plight.)

Back in California, Brown penned a particularly long veto message explaining his difficult decision to reject SB 1052 based on an incomplete understanding of the possible “ramifications” of the bill. Here’s a clip:

“In more cases than not, both adult and juvenile suspects waive these rights and go on to answer an investigator’s questions. Courts uphold these “waivers” of rights as long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary. It is rare for a court to invalidate such a waiver.

Recent studies, however, argue that juveniles are more vulnerable than adults and easily succumb to police pressure to talk instead of remaining silent. Other studies show a much higher percentage of false confessions in the case of juveniles.

On the other hand, in countless cases, police investigators solve very serious crimes through questioning and the resulting admissions or statements that follow.

These competing realities raise difficult and troubling issues and that is why I have consulted widely to gain a better understanding of what is at stake. I have spoken to juvenile judges, police investigators, public defenders, prosecutors and the proponents of this bill. I have also read several research studies cited by the proponents and the most recent cases dealing with juvenile confessions.


Brown signed AB 1909, a bill to rein in prosecutorial misconduct in California by raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for prosecutors who intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense.

“Those individuals who are willing to win a case at all costs, who abuse their power as officers of the court, must answer for their actions,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Patty Lopez (D-San Francisco).


A bill that aims to standardize the way California’s local probation departments gather and report data on the kids in the juvenile justice system, AB 1998, also made it past Brown’s desk on Friday.

Currently, there’s “no state-level capacity to track recidivism or other important outcomes” like education, mental health, and child welfare status. Nor does the current system capture data on outcomes based on types of probation violations, or by types of facilities in which kids are placed (juvenile hall vs. a camp, for example) and length of stay.

The bill, introduced by Assm. Nora Campos (D-San Jose), will create guidelines for how probation departments collect data and share it with the state. Unfortunately, the guidelines cannot be enforced.

“Racial disparity is perhaps the most important issue facing our juvenile justice system, and we need good data to guide our restorative efforts,” Campos said. “AB 1998 will help state and local governments develop better information on how state funds and local programs are contributing to community safety.”


Brown also signed SB 1004, which will launch pilot programs in five counties allowing 18 to 21-year-olds convicted of low-level youthful offenses to be placed in juvenile facilities, rather than adult facilities.

The bill, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), will make it easier for young offenders to have access to the education and support systems unique to juvenile detention centers. SB 1004′s pilot programs will be held in Alameda, Napa, Santa Clara, Nevada, and Butte Counties.

In his signing message, Brown calls the bill a “promising start” but calls on lawmakers to also “explore options such as non-custody based diversion.”


Also in Brown’s signed pile are AB 2888 and AB 701, bill inspired by the very unpopular six-month jail sentence given to Stanford rapist Brock Turner.

Under current law, many felony sex crimes—rape by force, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and others—disqualify those convicted from receiving a sentence of probation. Prison time must be served.

However, some forms of sexual assault—digital penetration of someone who is unconscious or too intoxicated to consent (a la Brock Turner), for example—does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. AB 2888 and AB 701 intend to bring these other nonconsensual sexual assaults onto the same level as what is currently legally considered rape.

Opponents of AB 2888 argued that the bill creates new mandatory minimum sentences, as justice reformers and lawmakers work to reduce the prevalence of mandatory minimums, which disproportionately affect people of color.

Also signed into law were AB 1744, which requires all counties to use the same standardized rape kit, and AB 2499, which forces the state Department of Justice to improve its database, so that victims of sexual assault can track the status of their kits.

Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice, Rape, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Bill Roundup—Round 2

September 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, WLA posted a list of noteworthy bills signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. As the governor decides the fate of dozens of bills each day this week before his September 31 signing (and vetoing) deadline, WLA has gathered a second roundup of relevant justice-related bills we’ve been following this year.


On Thursday, Governor Brown signed an important bill to rein in police officers’ ability to seize money and/or property that may be tied to a crime (usually a drug crime), without due process.

Law enforcement agencies in California and other states circumvent their own states’ forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which creates a loophole allowing police, by bringing feds into an investigation, to use seized money as revenue, with only the suspicion that laws have been broken. Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool and using it as a cash cow, taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.

SB 443, introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), blocks law enforcement from bypassing California’s civil asset forfeiture laws. To take advantage of the controversial Equitable Sharing Program without a conviction, the seized cash must be over $40,000.

“Solutions like SB 443 give communities plagued by injustice some relief,” said Zachary Norris, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Low income people simply do not have the means to hire an attorney to get their lawfully earned cash returned to them. When their money gets taken by law enforcement, it’s a family crisis affecting rent, food, everything.”

Last year, a version of the asset forfeiture reform bill could not survive lobbying from law enforcement groups.

“SB 443 will not only rein in the abuse in California, but also offers a blueprint for workable solutions to other states seeking reforms. We applaud Governor Brown for signing it,” said Mica Doctoroff, a legislative advocate at the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy.


SB 813, a controversial bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for rape and other sex crimes, also made it past Brown’s desk.

The bill, introduced by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), was propelled by the more than 30 rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, many of which have passed beyond the current 10-year statute of limitations. The new law will not, however, apply retroactively.


Brown also signed a bill that will clarify and affirm the voting rights of individuals who are locked-up for non-serious felonies serving time in county jails because of California’s prison realignment (AB 109). The bill, AB 2466 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), also applies to eligible AB 109ers under county supervision.


Thanks to the governor’s signature on AB 2298, people will be notified of their impending inclusion on California’s gang database, CalGang, and will have the opportunity to challenge the designation.

People who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database. Advocates say the vague criteria often have the effect of penalizing people of color for living in the wrong neighborhood.

A recent audit from State Auditor Elain M. Howle found serious errors in the database, which the audit shows lacks necessary state oversight and does not adequately protect the rights of the more than 150,000 people listed in the database.


The Restorative Justice Act, also by Assm. Weber, aims to increase rehabilitation and education programs and make them available for all inmates, not just non-violent offenders.

The bill changes language in a section of the penal code, removing references to punishment as the purpose of incarceration. Now, according to the changes, public safety—which is carried out through rehabilitation, restorative justice practices, and accountability—is the purpose of incarceration.


Brown signed another bill introduced by Assm. Weber, AB 2765, , which will extend the deadline for Proposition 47-eligible Californians to get their low-level felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors. The will give Prop. 47ers seeking to reduce their felony convictions—upon a showing of good cause—an extra five years to apply beyond the current November 2017 deadline.


The newly signed SB 1174 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) will trigger regular reports on physicians and their prescribing patterns of psychotropic medications, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children. (For backstory, read Karen de Sá’s five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids,” which inspired SB 1174 and a number of other reform bills and policy changes.)

Governor Brown vetoed another bill that would have increased the requirements for juvenile court authorization of psychotropic meds for child welfare system or probation-involved kids. SB 253 by Senator William W. Monning (D-Carmel) would have required, among other safeguards, second medical opinions for prescriptions to foster kids under five, or in cases of multiple prescriptions. Brown called the bill “premature” in a veto message, and said he wants to wait to see the impact of new juvenile court medication authorization rules from a bill signed last year.


Governor Brown vetoed SB 1289, a bill introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), which would have banned cities and counties from contracting with (scandal-plagued) for-profit prison companies to run immigrant detention centers in California. All-told, four municipalities, including cash-strapped city of Adelanto, are currently contracting with private detention centers.

“I have been troubled by recent reports detailing unsatisfactory conditions and limited access to counsel in private immigration detention facilities,” Brown wrote in a veto message. “The Department of Homeland Security, however, is now considering whether private contracting should continue for immigrant detention, and if so under what conditions…These actions indicate that a more permanent solution to this issue may be at hand.”


Under current law, officers must record interrogations of minors suspected of committing murder. SB 1389, a bill from Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda), will expand the rule to include adults accused of murder.

The recording of police interrogations is an important safeguard against false confessions, which land innocent people behind bars, sometimes for decades.


SB 1189, signed by Brown on Wednesday, aims to reduce the political pressure leveraged against forensic pathologists, and would require all autopsies to be carried out by a licensed physician and surgeon. Introduced by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill will also force law enforcement agencies to hand over all information about a death to those conducting an autopsy prior to the close of an investigation. This KQED story by Julie Small gives some alarming context as to why this bill is such an important reform.


SB 955, a bill from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), will give state hospitals the power to grant compassionate releases for terminally ill or incapacitated patients who are charged with a crime but found unfit to stand trial.

Posted in children and adolescents, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Gangs, Restorative Justice, Sentencing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

New Study Shows How Subtle Cues Given During Interrogation Can Alter the Memory of Eyewitnesses

September 12th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


As readers may remember, in July of this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay Francisco Carrillo a civil rights settlement of $10.1 million for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. (We reported on Franky Carrillo’s case here.)

Carrillo was sixteen when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy allegedly influenced a crucial witness to wrongly pick Carrillo as the shooter in a murder that the teenager didn’t commit, resulting in his conviction, and a life sentence.

Carrillo always insisted on his innocence, and he eventually persuaded a team of defense lawyers to take on his case and, in 2011, they secured his release. Forensic psychologist Scott Fraser became part of that team, and presented evidence at a Habeas hearing showing that the witnesses who initially couldn’t have seen what they claimed to have seen. (Five of the six original witnesses had already recanted their original testimony, The sixth invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.)

In the TEDx talk above, Fraser refers to the Carrillo case as he explains how the fallibility of human memory can affect eyewitness testimony.


Of course, in the case of Franky Carrillo, it wasn’t simply that the witnesses memories were inaccurate. Instead, the main witness was reportedly influenced by an LA County sheriff’s deputy who appeared to have decided that Carrillo was the shooter.

Then the newly reconstituted memory of the first teenage witness influenced five more teenagers who, after talking to their friend, suddenly believed that they too had seen Carrillo shoot the victim.

Recent years have produced a growing body of research regarding the ways in which certain kinds of interrogations can alter the memories of eyewitnesses, or produce false confessions in suspects.

For instance, there is research showing that giving an eyewitness “direct negative feedback” about what they remember having seen or heard, along with “suggestive questioning” can lead the eyewitness to change what he or she reports remembering.

Other studies have indicated that even non-verbal feedback can influence what a witness believes that he or she remembers.

Now a newly published study by Dr. Linda A. Henkel, who researches memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, shows how certain kinds of “negative feedback” delivered in a pleasant, supportive manner by an interviewer can cause eyewitnesses to change what they report remembering about a crime they have witnessed.

In an article published in Psychology Crime & Law, Henkel explains that the study consisted of two separate experiments in which 229 participants—179 women and 50 men—were each shown a video depicting a crime. Then each witness/participant was interviewed twice about the video.

In the first interview, the witnesses were simply questioned about what they had seen or heard about the crime in the video.

Then, after that first round of interviews, according to Henkel, the questioner gave half of the participants “supportive negative feedback” about what they said they’d observed, while the other half of the witness/participants got “neutral feedback” about what they reported having seen on the video.

The supportive negative feedback might be “sympathetically suggesting why many people’s memory may be inaccurate.” Or the interviewer might subtlety but non-critically suggest that what the witness reported was wrong, and that he or she should try harder to remember correctly.

The results of the experiments showed that those participants given supportive negative feedback changed significantly more of their responses between the first and second round of questioning, than those who were given neutral feedback by the questioners. In other words, the memories of the group who received the negative feedback, no matter how pleasantly delivered, actually seemed to change between the first and second round of questioning.

The Crime Report also has a story about the study and notes that Henkel reported that “the feedback does not have to be as explicit as saying ‘You got a lot wrong,’ but can arise from implying that one’s report is unsatisfactory,” or even if the questioner suddenly becomes abrupt in their manner toward the participant.


The fact that, in approximately three-quarters of the cases of people exonerated in recent years by the Innocence Project, the convictions hinged on eyewitness testimony, suggests that the topic of eyewitness fallibility is important arena for additional research.

For instance, writes Henkel, “future research” is needed to “better understand whether, when people change their responses upon repeated questioning, they truly believe that the event happened the way they now claim.” Or if “participants had relatively low levels of confidence in their memories, and hence may have been responding with what they assumed or guessed might be the correct response, rather than relying on what they actually remembered.”

Nationally recognized memory researcher, Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, had this to say about the issue.

“Eyewitness testimony is very powerful and convincing to jurors, even though it is not particularly reliable. Identification errors occur, and these errors can lead to people being falsely accused and even convicted.

“Likewise, eyewitness memory can be corrupted by leading questions, misinterpretations of events, conversations with co-witnesses, and their own expectations for what should have happened. People can even come to remember whole events that never occurred.”

Yet, since we still depend heavily upon eyewitnesses in the legal arena, research like that of Henkel’s may help us better understand their uses, their limitations, and the nature of their potential corruptibility.

Posted in Sentencing | 1 Comment »

In an Important New Opinion, Fed Judge Talks About “Collateral Consequences” of a Felony Record, & Declines to Give Prison Sentence

May 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

In a remarkable 42-page opinion handed down in a New York federal court on Tuesday,
U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block explained why he had decided not to sentence a 20-year-old woman named Chenille Nesbeth to federal prison for trying to smuggle 602 grams of cocaine into the U.S. from Jamaica.

Instead of prison time, Block gave Nesbeth a year of probation and 100 hours of community service because, he wrote, the “number of statutory and regulatory collateral consequences she will face as a convicted felon,” many of them for the rest of her life, was punishment enough:

“I am writing this opinion because from my research and experience over two decades as a district judge, sufficient attention has not been paid at sentencing by me and lawyers – both prosecutors and defense counsel – as well as by the Probation Department in rendering its pre-sentence reports, to the collateral consequences facing a convicted defendant.’ And I believe that judges should consider such consequences in rendering a lawful sentence.


In explaining his actions, Block quoted from, among other sources, Michelle Alexander’s influential book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

The effects of these collateral consequences can be devastating. As Professor Michelle Alexander has explained, “[m]yriad laws, rules, and regulations operate to discriminate against ex-offenders and effectively prevent their reintegration into the mainstream society and economy. These restrictions amount to a form of ‘civi[l] death’ and send the unequivocal message that ‘they’ are no longer part of ‘us.’”

This “broad range” of collateral consequences, Block wrote, “serve no useful function other than to further punish criminal defendants after they have completed their court-imposed sentences.” Moreover, many of these after-effects of a felony conviction, under both federal and state law, “attach automatically upon a defendant’s conviction.”

The effects of such collateral consequences, he said, “can be devastating.”

Justice advocates have been making similar point for years, but coming from a well-known federal judge the thesis was both startling and significant.

And case anyone reading failed apprehend his seriousness on the topic, in the pages that followed, Block provided a short course on the scope of those consequences, and on the deleterious affects that reach beyond the lawbreaker to his or her children, family and the community in general.

He noted, for example, that federal law imposes “nearly 1,200 collateral consequences for convictions generally, and nearly 300 for controlled-substances offenses.”

Under federal law alone, he wrote, a felony conviction may make an individual permanently ineligible for public housing, Section 8 vouchers, food stamps, student loans and more. Add to that the fact that most employers don’t want to hire people with a criminal record, and the chances of someone successfully integrating him or herself back into society is drastically diminished.

“The inability to obtain housing and procure employment,” Block continued, “results in further disastrous consequences, such as losing child custody or going homeless. In this way, the statutory and regulatory scheme contributes heavily to many ex-convicts becoming recidivists and restarting the criminal cycle.”


Despite the unusual nature of this week’s sentencing, Block was careful to point out that he was in no way letting Nesbeth off the legal or moral hook for the crime she committed.

“There is no question that Ms. Nesbeth has been convicted of serious crimes,” he wrote. “Her criminal conduct is inexcusable.”

As for the crime itself: it seems that Nesbeth took a trip to Jamaica “at the behest of a boyfriend.” Then, prior to her return, friends of the boyfriend gave her two suitcases and asked her to bring them to another person when she arrived back in the U.S. Evidently the drugs were in the handles of the suitcases. At trial, Nesbeth claimed that she didn’t know there were drugs in the suitcases.

The jury didn’t buy it—particularly since the “friends” had purchased her ticket.

Yet, it also came out in the trial, according to Block, that Nesbeth was to receive no payment or other monetary gain from acting as a courier. It seems she’d mostly done the whole thing for the boyfriend.

Even the U.S. Probation Department in their sentencing recommendation, urged that Nesbeth be given a 24-month sentence, which was at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines for the crime of which she’d been convicted. Probation pointed to the fact that she was “a first-time offender, was enrolled in college, employed, and “has otherwise lived a law-abiding life and is at a low risk of recidivism.”

Probation went on to write, “the defendant is a college student and she has held internships working with young children as it was her original intent to become a teacher and eventually a principal. The defendant will be ineligible for grants, loans, and work assistance for a period of two years, the duration of her college career.”

She would also be unlikely to ever hold a job as teacher, or a school administrator, and other related professions that had originally been the focus of her education and ambition.


At the end of his writing, in case anyone has missed the point, Block made it clear that he intended the opinion to be far more than simply an explanation for what some might perceive to be an unusually lenient sentence.

In specific, Block expressed the hope that his writing would cause other jurists to examine the issues he laid out:

“While consideration of the collateral consequences a convicted felon must face should be part of a sentencing judge’s calculus in arriving at a just punishment, it does nothing, of course, to mitigate the fact that those consequences will still attach. It is for Congress and the states’ legislatures to determine whether the plethora of post-sentence punishments imposed upon felons is truly warranted, and to take a hard look at whether they do the country more harm than good.

“Hopefully, this opinion will be of value to the bench and bar, and to all those who are committed to serving the ends of justice.”

There is, of course, no way to know for sure whether or not Block’s opinion will have an effect on the actions of other judges, yet Gabriel J. Chin, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Law, who was quoted in the NY Times story on Tuesday’s ruling, called the opinion “groundbreaking.”

“This is by some distance the most careful and thorough judicial examination” of collateral consequences in sentencing, said Professor Chin, who has written on the subject and whose work the judge cited in the opinion.

“It’s going to generate debate on a critical issue in the criminal justice system — the ability of people convicted of crimes to get on with their lives,” he said.


Block, who will turn 82 on June 6, was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, and is the author of a well received memoir called Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.

When doing publicity for the book, Block was asked by reporter David Lat of Above the Law, which case in his career he looked back on with the most pride, he pointed to a 2008 case involving two Egyptian-born men who were questioned for four hours after a cross-country flight in 2004. Block ruled that it was wrong to arrest the men solely because of their ethnicity. “…perceived ethnicity alone,” he wrote, “cannot give rise to reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”

During that same post publication period, Block told Larry McShane of the New York Daily News something that may have bearing on THE 2008 case and on this week’s decision.

“I’m at the DGS stage of life,” Block said to McShane

Then, chuckling, the judge—who was then a mere 78-years-old—translated for the reporter.

“Don’t give a s—. I don’t care what any of you say. I feel freed up to do what I really feel is the right thing.”

Judge Block on Collateral Consequences of Felony Conviction by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Sentencing | 5 Comments »

Sentence Enhancements, LASD Psychologist Accused of Molesting Kids, and One School’s 100% College-Bound Student Body

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Sentence “enhancements” on the books in California can turn a sentence of a few years into one of multiple decades.

During it’s first Senate vote, at the end of last month, CA Sen. Holly Mitchell’s bill to get rid of the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions missed winning a majority, because of three Democrats who voted with Republicans against the bill, and five Democrats who abstained.

Sentence enhancements for drug crimes
disproportionately affect poor and minority people, reduce the likelihood of successful reentry, and are representative of a failed war on drugs, says Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and former director of the Racial Justice Project at the NorCal ACLU.

Sen. Mitchell’s bill might return this week to the Senate floor for another vote, and Senate and Assembly members should support the measure “as an important step in the state’s belated journey toward justice and healing in our communities.”

Here’s a clip from Alexander’s op-ed:

Sentence enhancements like these were marketed as deterrents to drug use and sales, supposedly out of concern for the harm drugs cause people. But drastic sentences impede rehabilitation and treatment and worsen the odds of successful reintegration.

There is no evidence that enhanced sentences reduce drug availability or the number of people harmed by illicit drug use. After decades of the war on drugs, it is clear that purely punitive approaches to drug crime are counterproductive. Drug use has not declined, controlled substances are now cheaper and more widely available than ever before, and the death rate from drug overdoses continues to rise.

Here in California, thousands of families have been broken apart and communities throughout the state have been destabilized. Instead of helping those targeted by the war on drugs, we have sentenced them not just to prison but to the lifetime of discrimination and stigma that follows it.

It is no secret that the war on drugs has had a grossly disproportionate impact on people who are black, brown and poor. People of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug violations than are whites, who can typically commit the same acts in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods without criminal consequences. Sentence enhancements based on prior drug convictions magnify these disparities, falling on those who have been unable to successfully re-integrate into society after earlier prison sentences.


On Monday, 41-year-old psychologist Michael Ward, a civilian employee of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, was charged with sodomy of a minor under age 10, four counts of committing a lewd act on a child, two counts of committing a forcible lewd act on a child under 14, and three counts of forcible oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child 10 years old or younger. It’s not yet clear how Ward knows the victims—a 9-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl—or where those alleged crimes took place according to City News Service. Ward pleaded not guilty to the 10 felonies.

A statement released by the sheriff’s department called the charges “deeply troubling,” and said that the “allegations were not as a result of contacts he made within the scope of his work with the Sheriff’s Department.”

Ward, whose job involved training investigative personnel, was relived of duty last week. His bail is set at $2 million. If convicted on all counts, Ward faces life in prison.


For the ninth year in a row, all 56 seniors graduating from Watts’ Verbum Dei High School have been accepted to college. About 70% of the students at Verbum Dei, a private Jesuit school, are Latino, and 30% are black. Most will be the first in their families to attend college. The students—all of whom come from low-income households—participate in a work-study program to pay for part of their tuition. The remaining tuition money comes from scholarships, grants, and fundraisers.

You can read more about the school and its students over at LAist.

Posted in Sentencing | 3 Comments »

The Prop. 47 Funding Debate, $30 Million Gang Injunction Settlement, and Merrick Garland

March 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In November 2014, 60% of California voters passed Proposition 47, which reclassified six non-serious, non-violent drug and property felonies as misdemeanors. The measure was supposed to ease overcrowding in prisons and save the state more than $100 million each year. That $100 million (or more) was to then be spent on preventing recidivism through mental health and rehabilitation programs, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services (via the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund).

Gov. Brown’s January budget tallied net savings from Prop. 47, which reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, at $29.3 million—$62.7 million in savings from smaller caseloads, fewer hospital stays, and fewer prisoners, minus $33.4 million in extra parole and resentencing costs. The budget allocated the net savings of $29.3 million for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.

A recent report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found a few problems with those figures: Brown’s budget underestimates savings by about $100 million, overestimates costs, and diverts money from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund—where all the Prop. 47 savings is supposed to end up—and sends it back into the prison system.

While the 2014 law has resulted in the release of more than 4,500 offenders, prison staff and operating costs have not dropped. In fact, prison costs are increasing. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s newly-appointed Secretary, Scott Kernan, says for any significant savings to occur, the state would have to close a prison.

State lawmakers will have to step in and decide what savings Prop. 47 is responsible for producing. The legislature has until this summer to settle the issue.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Though the administration found the measure eliminated the need for more than 4,500 prison beds, the governor’s office primarily based its savings calculation on a 400-unit decline in contract beds, spots in private prisons California pays for to keep prisons from becoming more crowded.

“The remaining population reductions resulted in fewer inmates being housed in CDCR’s institutions where there are limited possibilities for reduced expenditure,” said Jeffrey Callison, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in an email.

Despite the decline in drug offenders in prison, Callison said, prisons are not incurring savings in staffing and other necessary operating costs. For that to happen, he said, the state would need to close a prison.

Secretary Scott Kernan, who heads the prison system, said cutting money from his budget isn’t feasible. The system’s been beleaguered by overcrowding, inadequate mental health and health care, and a host of court orders to improve conditions.

“So I think that in this challenging environment there is going to be a base line cost,” Kernan said.

And, those costs are going up.

Despite 2011′s prison realignment, which shifted supervision for lower-level offenders to counties in an effort to stem overcrowding, the prison population is expected to rise over the next year, along with the prison budget.

Early budget proposals up the corrections budget to $10.5 billion in 2016-2017 - higher than the year before realignment went into effect. Cutting into the budget now, Kernan said, could compromise court orders.

The state’s obligated to provide “a constitutional level” of care, he said.


On Wednesday, the LA City Council unanimously approved a $30 million settlement in a lawsuit accusing the LAPD of enforcing old gang injunction curfews that had been struck down years earlier, in 2007.

The settlement amount will depend on how many of the 5,700 people affected by the gang injunctions—and thus the unconstitutional 10:00 p.m. curfews—come forward. According to the terms of the settlement, over the next four years, at least $4.5 million and as much as $30 million will go to job training, tattoo removal, and other programs to help people designated as gang members by LA injunctions.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Emily Alpert Reyes have more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

City Atty. Mike Feuer urged council members to approve the deal in a confidential memo obtained by The Times. The settlement, one of Feuer’s deputies emphasized in the memo, would establish clear rules for enforcing injunctions and avoid the possibility of a jury verdict that could have forced the city to pay off gang members.

“The city must resolve this litigation,” the memo said. “The settlement creates opportunities for gang members to obtain basic job skills … that can turn their lives around, and does so without giving any direct payments to gang members.”

In an interview, Feuer called the deal “an opportunity for the city to grapple with one of its most important problems in a constructive way.”

Nearly four dozen injunctions are in place throughout some of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. They are court orders that aim to severely curtail gang activity by, among other things, prohibiting gang members and their associates from socializing with one another, carrying weapons or wearing certain clothing inside an injunction’s designated area — typically the neighborhoods where the gangs are active.

Although gang crime has climbed recently, the city has made large gains over the last decade in tamping down gang violence, drug dealing and other crimes. While officials credit the injunctions with playing a large role in that progress, critics point to the rosters of people ordered to abide by the injunctions, saying they include those who have no gang ties.

In 2011, attorney Olu Orange filed a federal lawsuit challenging curfew provisions included in 26 of the city injunctions, which prohibited people from being outside after 10 p.m.

In enforcing the curfews, police and city officials were willfully ignoring a 2007 California appeals court ruling that a similar curfew in another city violated individuals’ due process rights, Orange contended. In that ruling, the court found that an injunction against an Oxnard gang did not adequately define what it meant for someone to be “outside” during the hours of the curfew.

The wording was “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning,” the court concluded.


On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Out of President Obama’s top three choices (the other two were Judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul J. Watford), Judge Garland, a white, 63-year-old federal prosecutor, appears to be Obama’s best chance at getting a nominee past the Republican Senate, which has vowed to oppose any nomination from the current president.

But by nominating the “old school” Garland, Obama has missed out on an important opportunity to “walk the walk on criminal justice reform” by appointing someone who has a public defender background, says Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy:

In this prior post, I (apparently foolishly) suggested that Prez Obama might be leaning to appointing a former federal defense lawyer to the Supreme Court given his comments about looking for a nominee with “a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook [but who has] life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom.” But Chief Judge Garland, like far too many of the current Justices in my view, is a career “inside-the-Beltway” lawyer having served in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration and having spent the last two decades serving on the most insulated and isolated of all the US Circuit Courts. Notably, at a time when American voters on both sides of the aisle have shown an interest in changing “politics as usual” in Washington DC, the President has decided to nominate the most “old-school” SCOTUS candidate I could imagine.

Readers will not be surprised to hear that what really has me irked about this SCOTUS choice is that it provides yet more proof that President Barack Obama is never actually willing to “walk the walk” on criminal justice reform when he has a real opportunity to use his power and platform to engineer real change. Appointing someone with a public defender background would be a powerful statement that lawyers who defend those accused of crimes have a critically important perspective on the operation and application of the rule of law. Instead, Prez Obama has nominated a former Criminal Division DOJ lawyer who supervised the Oklahoma City bombing case and the case against the Unabomber. Tellingly, in his announcement this morning, Prez Obama stressed Chief Judge Garland’s “sterling record as a prosecutor” and expressed admiration for his prosecutorial efforts to avoid the possibility that the Oklahoma City bomber “might go free on a technicality.”

So where does Garland stand on criminal justice issues? In 2010, when Garland was short-listed as a possible replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein wrote a profile of Garland, which included a review of the judge’s past decisions in specific areas of law. Goldstein found that Garland leaned moderate-to-conservative on important criminal justice issues, rarely voting in favor of criminal defendants. Here are some clips:

The most significant area of the law in which Judge Garland’s views obviously differ materially from those of Justice Stevens is criminal law. Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions. I identified only eight such published rulings, which should capture all the significant cases. Judge Garland did not author any of the opinions…

…in ten criminal cases, Judge Garland has disagreed with his more-liberal colleagues; in each, he adopted the position that was more favorable to the government or declined to reach a question on which the majority of the court had adopted a position favorable to a defendant. Because disagreement among panel members on the D.C. Circuit is relatively rare, this substantial body of cases is noteworthy…

In another case, Judge Garland dissented from a panel ruling by two of the court’s more conservative judges in favor of a criminal defendant.

Vox’s German Lopez explains why Garland may prove even more conservative than Justice Scalia on certain criminal justice issues, if he makes it past the Senate. Here’s a clip:

…while Scalia was broadly very conservative on criminal justice issues, he occasionally sided with liberals and reformers to defend criminal defendants’ rights — in a way that Garland may not.

“Casual observer or non-lawyers have not recognized that, even though Justice Scalia was very conservative in most criminal procedure cases,” Evan Lee, a law professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, told me, “there were a few really important cases in which he — and Justice Thomas — created new and important rights for criminal defendants based on their reading of the original intent of the framers.”

Scalia’s biggest decision to this end was, according to Lee, Apprendi v. New Jersey in 2000, in which the Supreme Court effectively expanded criminal defendants’ rights — despite a case that involved an allegedly racist defendant.


Now, Scalia was certainly not a liberal on criminal justice issues. In his nearly 30 years as a justice, he had far more cases in which he sided against criminal defendants, particularly on the death penalty. In one case, Scalia argued that the Supreme Court had never found that executing innocent defendants violated the Constitution if they got a “full and fair trial.” Although an extreme example (and technically correct), Scalia’s tone reflects the approach he took for the bulk of criminal procedure cases.

But as conservative as his views in most cases were, Scalia still had a few moments in which he stridently sided with defendants. And the few examples show Scalia was not as conservative on criminal justice issues as liberals may think. So if he’s replaced by someone who’s moderate to conservative — like Garland — then criminal justice reformers could end up gaining little to nothing from the replacement.


Another big distinction: While Scalia was more likely to overturn previous law and tradition to fit his view of the Constitution, Garland will likely avoid changing current precedent. “He is a centrist, a call-them-as-I-see-them, I-have-no-interest-in-changing-the-law kind of guy,” Goldstein said.

That could sometimes extend in favor of defendants when current law is in their favor. For example, Scalia despised the “exclusionary rule” — which requires courts throw out evidence that police obtained illegally — out of worry that it can ruin otherwise good cases against criminals, and he seemingly wanted to undo it. But Garland would probably be unwilling to overturn a standing rule, so he would be more likely to throw out illegally obtained evidence through the existing exclusionary rule.

Given Scalia’s extremely pro–death penalty views, Garland will also very likely be much more liberal on capital punishment. Goldstein said that Garland, for instance, will probably be more willing to let defendants challenge their death sentences if they claim to have received an inadequate legal defense. But Goldstein would be very surprised, he said, if Garland ruled to strike down the death penalty, which some of the more liberal justices have shown interest in doing.

Still, Garland has generally favored prosecutors and sided against defendants as a DC judge, and it seems unlikely he would create big, new rights for defendants as Scalia did in a few cases.

But it seems unlikely that the Senate Republicans will confirm Garland. During the judge’s first trip to the capitol as Obama’s nominee, Republican leaders said they refused to hold hearings or vote on Garland’s confirmation this year, no matter what.

The New York Times’ David Herszenhorn has the story. Here are some clips:

It was a strange day even for an often-fractious Capitol. Democrats moved forward with the traditional opening pageantry for a Supreme Court nominee, including staged photo opportunities and two largely ceremonial meetings. At the same time, the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, sought to dismiss the fight over the court vacancy as an irreconcilable difference that should be set aside, like some routine piece of failed legislation, as the Senate moved on to other business.

Tensions boiled over early after Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and others suggested that Republicans might take up Judge Garland’s nomination in the lame duck session — should Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the White House — and outraged Judiciary Committee Democrats called Republicans duplicitous.


By the end of the day, Republican leaders made clear they were sticking to their original position and flatly ruled out any action on the nomination during the lame duck session.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday that he expected Democrats to keep repeating their demands for a confirmation vote, but he urged them to desist.

“It’s frankly a waste of time,” Mr. Cornyn said at the Judiciary Committee’s business meeting. “The decision has been made that we are going to wait for the voters to choose the next president and allow that president to make the nomination at which time that nomination, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican will be processed. But not before then.”

Even Mr. Hatch had retreated. “If it’s Hillary, it’s Hillary,” he told reporters with resignation at the Capitol, acknowledging that party leaders had decided Mr. Obama’s nominee would not be confirmed under any circumstance.

Posted in Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

California Supremes Clear the Way for Gov. Brown’s Justice Reform Initiative to Reach Voters

February 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Friday evening, the California Supreme Court cleared the road
of obstacles—at least for the moment—allowing Gov. Jerry Brown to proceed in gathering signatures for his ballot initiative that proposes reduce

The high court, originally planned to consider the matter on Monday, but instead acted Friday after Brown warned that further delay could make it difficult to get the necessary 585,000 voter signatures needed to put his initiative on this year’s ballot.

On Thursday of last week, Governor Jerry Brown and his attorneys filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court requesting an immediate stay of a ruling issued by a lower court judge that could keep the governor’s new sentencing reform ballot issue out of the voters’ hands until 2018.

The came after, on Wednesday of last week, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, known as “The Justice and Rehabilitation Act,” ruling amendments to the initiative were not done correctly.

This is the ballot initiative that would take the decision about whether a child defendant will transferred to adult court away from prosecutors, and put it back into the control of judges who—unlike prosecutors—are presumably neutral parties.

The initiative also makes it easier for adult offenders to earn credits awarded by prison officials through educational and rehabilitative efforts and good behavior.

In addition, Brown’s initiative would allow non-violent inmates to be eligible for parole after they have completed their full sentence for their primary offense.

Brown characterized this second part of the proposed ballot measure as more than a way to lower the state’s prison population (as demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in it’s 2010 Plata v. Brown ruling), but also a much needed strategy to make the state’s prison system more rehabilitative.

“By allowing parole consideration if they do good things,” the governor told reporters in a conference call at the end of January, “they [prisoners] will then have an incentive…to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”

Although various law enforcement figures across the state agreed and came out in support of Brown’s initiative, the California District Attorney’s Association was not at all pleased to have yanked from them the power to have teenagers as young as 14-years old tried as adults.

In an effort to defeat measure before it ever got to the ballot, the CAL DAs who brought the lawsuit that resulted in the lower court’s block.

Friday’s CAL Supreme ruling is only a temporary victory, however, allowing Brown and Co. to gather signatures while the court considers the whether or not Brown and company and Attorney General Kamala Harris followed the law.

For details of the legal argument, check our earlier story on the lower court ruling, and Brown’s lawyer’s emergency petition to the California Supreme court.

Posted in Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Governor Jerry Brown Turns to CAL Supremes After Judge Blocks Initiative – UPDATED

February 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: The Cal Supremes temporarily removed the judicial roadblock
that would stop Brown from collecting signatures to put his voter initiative on the ballot. For the rest of that story, go here.


On Thursday, Governor Jerry Brown and his attorneys filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court requesting an immediate stay of a ruling issued by a lower court judge that could keep the governor’s new sentencing reform ballot issue out of the voters’ hands until 2018.

Here’s the background: On Wednesday of this week (as we reported here), Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, known as “The Justice and Rehabilitation Act,” ruling amendments to the initiative were not done correctly.

To remind you, this is the ballot initiative that would take the decision about whether a child defendant will transferred to adult court away from prosecutors, and put it back into the control of judges who—unlike prosecutors—are presumably neutral parties.

The initiative also makes it easier for adult offenders to earn credits awarded by prison officials through educational and rehabilitative efforts and good behavior.

In addition, Brown’s initiative would allow non-violent inmates to be eligible for parole after they have completed their full sentence for their primary offense.

Brown characterized this second part of the proposed ballot measure as more than a way to lower the state’s prison population (as demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in it’s 2010 Plata v. Brown ruling), but also a much needed strategy to make the state’s prison system more rehabilitative.

“By allowing parole consideration if they do good things,” the governor told reporters in a conference call at the end of January, “they [prisoners] will then have an incentive…to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”

Various law enforcement figures across the state agreed and came out in support of Brown’s initiative, including San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is known for her law-and-order leanings, and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, both of whom were present with Brown when he announced the initiative less than a month ago.

The California District Attorney’s Association, however, was not at all pleased to have yanked from them the power to have teenagers as young as 14-years old tried as adults.

“It takes a tool away from us,” said Yuba County District Attorney Pat McGrath, president of the California District Attorneys Association, after Brown announced the ballot initiative.


The Cal DAs quickly expressed their unhappiness with legal action in the form of a law suit filed to prevent Attorney General Kamala Harris from issuing the official title and summary of the proposed measure that would let supporters begin gathering signatures.

The prosecutors claimed in the lawsuit that Brown had amended the initiative (which is true, but legal) but that he had done so in such a way that the DAs contended violated a 2014 state law that was intended to improve the initiative process by allowing amendments of initiatives within a certain time frame prior to the initiatives being approved for signature gathering.

According to the 2014 law, amendments are to be “reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed.”

The prosecutors contend that Brown’s amendment did not meet the legislature’s standard, and also accused Attorney General Kamala Harris with letting the governor get away with the allegedly wrongfully applied amendments without the proper period of public comment on the amendments.

Interestingly, it was the original, unamended initiative that contained the proposed change to state law that the DAs found so loathsome, as it would have taken away from prosecutors the choice to try kids as adults instead of allowing them to be tried in juvenile court, and given that discretion back to judges, which had previously held the power in the first place.

(The original initiative also expanded parole eligibility for adult prisoners whose crimes were committed before the age of 23.)

The amendments that are the basis of the lawsuit, however, were the addition of the sections that would allow prison officials to consider sentencing credits for adult inmates, and would additionally allow the possibility of earlier parole for non-violent felons.

In any case, Judge Chang agreed with Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and the Cal District Attorneys Association and ruled that there was “no substantial compliance” by Harris with the 2014 state law. (Her ruling is more complicated, but that’s the upshot.)

If it stands, Chang’s ruling means that Brown and company will be forced to start the initiative process over from scratch, meaning that there will not be enough time to gather the needed 585,000 voter signatures for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.


In the emergency petition filed with the Cal Supremes on Thursday, Jerry Brown and his attorneys, Robin B. Johansen and James C. Harrison, state that the amendments, which they contend “would further advance the measure’s rehabilitation and public safety goals,” for adults and juveniles, were filed within the time period laid out by the law, that the governor reached out appropriately for comment about the amendments to a wide swath of people—including the CAL DAs. Furthermore, they stated, the law doesn’t require public comment for the amendments. After all, the public can gets to weigh in at the ballot box.

Brown and company’s overall argument is 46-pages long, and makes for interesting reading for those who want more of the legal details. (See below) But the snippets below represent much of the heart of it:

“Waiting until 2018 to qualify this measure for the ballot is not an option,” wrote Johansen and Harrison. “If the superior court’s order stands, the people will have been deprived of their right to use the initiative process to remedy problems that urgently require attention now. The ruling of the Court below turns the Legislature’s amendment process on its head and thwarts rather than promotes the initiative power granted.

“…Because the amendments are reasonably germane and because it is imperative that the people have an opportunity to vote on this measure in November, the Court should immediately stay the lower court’s order and allow the Attorney General to issue her title and summary.”

In addition, Brown’s attorneys wrote, allowing Judge Chang’s ruling to stand “will encourage strike suits, like the one that prompted this writ, by opponents of a measure to try to keep an initiative off the ballot.” In other words, they argued, it allows the use of lawsuits filed for political reasons, not because there is any flaw in the way the initiative was filed.

“If left uncorrected, the superior court’s error will bar voters from even considering whether to sign a measure that would improve public safety by promoting rehabilitation rather than incarceration for juveniles and adults and allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether juveniles should be charged as an adult.”

So what will California’s top court do with this emergency request?

Justice reformers across the state with whom we’ve spoken are anxiously awaiting the answer to that question.

We do know, however, that late on Thursday, the California Supreme Court asked the interested parties, namely the CAL prosecutors, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, and Attorney General Kamala Harris, to file responses to the emergency petition by 5 pm this coming Monday, January 29.

So stay tuned.

Gov. Brown Justice Reform Initiative Writ Petition (00268671-11xAEB03) by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Sentencing | No Comments »

LA County’s New Prop 47 Task Force

December 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

As the 2017 deadline for California’s Proposition 47 nears, LA County will ramp up efforts to help the 690,000 county residents eligible for felony sentence reductions.

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis to collect data on people who stand to benefit from Prop. 47′s reclassification of six low-level felonies to misdemeanors. The county will also create an inter-agency outreach task force to notify those eligible before the November 2017 deadline, assist with the complex application process, and connect them with crucial reentry services.

Out of the hundreds of thousands who stand to benefit from Prop. 47, LA County Public Defender Ronald Brown said his office has processed and granted 16,702 petitions. An estimated 4,000 petitions have been processed and approved through the alternate public defender’s office. According to a recent survey commissioned by the California Endowment, only 29% of Los Angeles residents were aware of Prop 47.

“If this deadline passes without a significant acceleration in applications,” said Supervisor Solis, “Los Angeles County will have missed a significant opportunity to set people on the road to productive citizenship, and by default, we will make our neighborhoods more vulnerable to potential crimes.”

Supervisor Ridley Thomas added that Prop. 47 offers low-level offenders a powerful (and time-sensitive) second chance. “We must not squander this opportunity, this mandate, to reform our criminal justice system so that it’s less punitive and more humane, with the potential to be healing and transformative.”

The task force will pull from many different county departments and organizations. The California Endowment, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, LA County Federation of Labor, and LA Trade Tech College, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, the county’s mental health and public health departments, and at least two community members formerly impacted by incarceration and barriers to successful reentry, among others, are expected to participate in the large-scale effort.

The county will also pursue state legislation to extend the deadline for Prop. 47 petitions past 2017, or eliminate the deadline altogether.

The motion also called for collaboration between the Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Reentry and the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry to apply for state grants to bolster reentry programs for Prop 47ers leaving lock-up and those who have already been released and are in need of reentry services.

The Supervisors approved the creation of the Office of Diversion and Reentry in August, following the release of a major report from LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey full of recommendations on how to divert the mentally ill from county jails into community treatment. The city’s Office of Reentry was created to formulate programs and policies that “support formerly incarcerated individuals find stability, resources, employment, housing, and reunification with their families.”

“Our communities grow stronger when we show mercy, compassion and understanding for those who have made mistakes in life and deserve a second chance,” said Mayor Garcetti. “It is also our mandate to help them rebuild their lives after incarceration, and today L.A. County took a tremendous step forward on the principle of restorative justice.”

Mayor Garcetti said that the city’s reentry office is ready to get to work with the county “to make a positive impact on the lives of the formerly incarcerated and to make our communities safer, and restore dignity to those who have been marginalized for too long.”

Posted in Reentry, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Considering Risk of Reoffending, a $4.9M Settlement in Kelly Thomas Case, LA Justice System Portrayed in New Yorker, and New LAUSD Arts Money

November 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Jurisdictions across the nation are turning to risk and needs assessment (RNA) information for use during sentencing to determine whether a person can be safely and successfully supervised in the community, rather than locked up in a jail or prison.

Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using RNAinfo look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives.

A new report by the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Sentencing Initiatives looked at initiatives in ten jurisdictions nationwide, including Napa, California, through which RNA information is used during sentencing.

The other jurisdictions were Coconino County, Arizona; Mesa County, Colorado; Bonneville County/7th Judicial District, Idaho; Grant County, Indiana; Douglas County/4th Judicial District, Nebraska; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Yamhill County, Oregon; Travis County, Texas; and La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

The initiatives included treatment programs, evidence-based supervision programs, and partnerships between the court system and probation departments.

The Napa County Probation Department employs risk and needs assessment info to assign offenders to a corresponding tier of supervision based on their risk of reoffending. Low-risk offenders report to their probation officers on a quarterly basis on the phone, and medium-risk cases were given to officers with a caseload of around 100. Thanks to the RNA system, Napa county is handing down lower jail sentences, utilizing more incarceration alternatives like electronic monitoring, and using treatment programs in probation case plans.

In Napa, probation officers also incentivize probation, reinforcing positive actions like going to a job interview, or being to the probation appointment on time with rewards, which include items from “a little basket of goodies.” Since Napa started using RNA information during sentencing, the probation department experienced a decrease in recidivism rates, but it’s still unclear whether the change can be attributed to using the RNA info.

Yamhill County, OR focuses specifically on offenders who would be sent to prison under Oregon’s sentencing guidelines or who are repeat property or drug offenders, but can be safely and successfully supervised in the community.

Travis County, TX has seen a 77% reduction in recidivism rates for low-risk offenders and a 50% reduction in recidivism rates for medium-risk offenders. The county estimates it saved $21.3 million between 2007-2011 by using RNA information during sentencing.

(The report is a companion to this 2011 report.)


On Monday, the city of Fullerton agreed to pay $4.9 million to the father of Kelly Thomas, the homeless schizophrenic man who died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by Fullerton police officers in 2011.

In a security video of police confronting Kelly Thomas, who was suspected of stealing personal items, Thomas can be heard screaming for his father.

Three former Fullerton police officers involved in the fatal beating, Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli and Joseph Wolfe, were fired from the Fullerton Police Department. Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty and the charges against Wolfe were dropped.

The settlement is not an admission of legal liability, said Diana Fox, the attorney representing Fullerton.

The OC Register’s Lou Ponsi, Theresa Walker, and Sean Emery have the story. Here’s a clip:

Dana Fox, an attorney for the city of Fullerton, said the $4.9 million settlement is not an admission of legal liability by the city or police.

But Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, disagreed.

“They know they were guilty of murder,” he said during a news conference that included blown-up photos of his son as a child playing with his family and holding up a fish he caught, and the now-familiar photo of an adult Kelly Thomas in a cowboy hat.

“By offering that amount, they feel they are getting off lucky.”

Civil rights lawyers and advocates for the mentally ill said the amount sends a strong message to all police and the public that the lives of the homeless have value.

“You can’t look at these folks on the streets and deal with them in any less a human manner than you would with a regular working Joe,” said Eric Traut, former president of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar and dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, said the amount “sends a message that something really wrong was done here.”

“If the amount was $10,000, that’s a very different message than $4.9 million. Obviously, the city would not have settled for $4.9 million unless they felt there was a substantial risk that they would lose much more before a jury.”

The wrongful death lawsuit named the city, former Fullerton police Officers Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli and Joseph Wolfe, who were all fired from the department. Others included in the suit: Fullerton Officers Kevin Craig and James Blatney, who remain with the department; ex-Chief Michael Sellers; and his predecessor, Patrick McKinley, who sat on the City Council at the time of the incident and was later recalled.

In a criminal trial that ended early last year, Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty and charges were dropped against Wolfe.

“These officers are trying to get their jobs back,” said Garo Mardirossian, an attorney for Ron Thomas.

“We wanted to make sure they can’t.”

Kelly Thomas, who was known as a transient in Fullerton and other North County communities, died five days after police tried to take him into custody at the Fullerton Transportation Center for possibly stealing small personal items.

A city security video that surfaced after the incident showed several officers threatening Thomas. Though the video isn’t clear on all that transpired, Thomas was unconscious at the end of the encounter and his injuries included a compressed trachea and broken bones in his face.


In Rachel Kushner’s “Fifty-Seven,” a short story in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, a homeless man who is released from an LA County jail with five dollars and nowhere to go quickly finds himself locked back up, this time for killing a woman during a robbery. The story follows the man through the court system, and back into prison, where he stabs a guard and gets himself thrown in solitary confinement indefinitely.

In conversation with The New Yorker‘s Deborah Treisman, Kushner says that “Fifty-Seven” was inspired by her many interviews with men and women in Los Angeles jails and the rest of California’s justice system, whose childhoods involved “extreme situations of poverty and abuse.” Here’s a clip:

The story emerged from what has preoccupied me both as a person and as a writer for the past few years, which is the world of Los Angeles jails and criminal courts and California prisons, and who moves through these structures (needless to say, very poor people and people of color, disproportionately). The character in the story is released with no place to go (as are probably half of the people let out of the county-jail system downtown every day and night). He then commits a crime that puts him in prison for life. I have spent a lot of time listening to people who are serving life sentences and getting to know them and the circumstances of their lives.

I have never met anyone serving a long prison sentence who had anything close to what I could call a childhood; instead, the upbringings always—always—involve extreme situations of poverty and abuse. The second half of the story, when the character is in prison, was influenced by what I’ve observed on prison yards, especially the Level Four maximum-security facilities, like Salinas Valley, which is the prison my character initially goes to. C Yard there is an intense place, a very “active” yard. These yards have specific energies. You can feel it when something is about to take place. And meanwhile these guards, all puffed up in their stab-proof vests (they supposedly get paid extra to wear them), are yelling at you to stay close to the wall, not to talk to groups of people, and so on, as if you were on, say, a safari. But these are people, not lions, and in a way the people I feared most were the guards themselves.


On Monday, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced a $1 million in funding for arts education—especially for schools lacking arts education—from the state.

KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the new (and much-needed) funding. Here’s a clip:

Money went out based on student enrollment and the results of the district’s new Arts Equity Index, which was released this spring. That survey was used to figure out which schools were providing arts education and which weren’t — to help the district determine the greatest need.

“We are bringing more equity and access to the funding and support of schools,” said Rory Pullens, head of the district’s arts education branch, in an interview…

Principals can decide how to spend the money. One school that ranked low on the index, Madison Middle School, received nearly $5,000. “Our school is in desperate need of supplies, so this will go into supplies for art enrichment programs,” said principal Estelle Baptiste in a statement.

Another school is starting a new music program from scratch.

Posted in Sentencing | 11 Comments »

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