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Louisiana Prison Capital of the World, Brian Banks Exonerated, and more…

May 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Louisiana has more people behind bars per capita than anywhere else on earth, with a rate of one in 86 residents incarcerated. From the for-profit prisons that keep their facilities over-crowded to keep cash flowing, to the minimal rehabilitation opportunities at the local level, to the preposterously lengthy prison sentences–New Orleans Times-Picayune’s eight part series sheds light on the poor infrastructure that makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

NOLA’s entire series is worth reading, but here is a clip from Part 4: Unusual Punishment:

Brian Martin is serving 24 years behind bars — without the possibility of parole — for a car burglary. The 22-year-old had two other burglaries on his record when he was arrested near Abita Springs on June 8, 2011, after stripping a BMW of its stereo and steering wheel. If charged as a three-time offender, he could have received life without parole. His attorney, Doyle “Buddy” Spell, persuaded prosecutors to consider only the two most recent car break-ins, taking a life sentence off the table, but doubling the 12-year maximum for a first-timer.

Martin, a drug addict with a mop of unruly blond hair, will be 46 when he is released from prison in 2036. “I would suggest that we just threw away a life and that the punishment did not fit the crime,” Spell said.

Sentences of several decades, or even life, for nonviolent crimes are not unusual in Louisiana. The state’s prisons are filled with Brian Martins — petty criminals who in another state would have received a much shorter sentence or no jail time at all. Unusually tough sentencing laws are one major reason Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

“We see the only goal that is being reflected accurately might be retribution,” said Katherine Mattes, a professor at Tulane Law School and interim director of the university’s Criminal Litigation Clinic.

In Texas, no bastion of liberalism, a two-time car burglar would be guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a maximum of six months. California’s famous three-strikes law does not kick in unless at least one of the crimes was a rape, murder, carjacking, residential burglary or other major felony. There, Martin would have received no more than a year behind bars.

In Louisiana, about 160 habitual offenders whose most recent crime involved nothing more harmful than marijuana are serving 20 years or more. More than 300 people serving life without parole in Louisiana have never been convicted of a violent crime.


Brian Banks was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction with help from the California Innocence Project. His accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was secretly recorded admitting the accusation was false during a meeting with Banks. Now Banks suing California for his false imprisonment.

KPCC’s Patt Morrison had Brian on the show to tell his story. Here’s a clip:

Banks, who was 17 at the time of his trial, pleaded no contest to the charges in order to avoid the possibility of facing 40 years to life in prison in a conviction. He spent six years in prison and was under very restrictive parole until his accuser was recorded saying she wasn’t raped and that she is afraid of coming forward because she might have to return the $1.5 million her family won from the Long Beach Unified School District in a civil suit.

“I received a Facebook friend request last year from the woman who accused me of raping her, where she wanted to reconnect and, in her words, ‘let bygones be bygones,’” said Banks. After receiving this message, Banks hired a private investigator to set up and record their meeting, in which his accuser admitted to falsely accusing him. “From there I took that information to the California Innocence Project, who accepted my case. The rest is history, and here I am today, a free man,” said Banks.

Justin Brooks is the defense attorney handling Banks’ case. He said that in the history of the California Innocence Project, they have never taken a case of someone who had already been released from prison.

The Daily News has the story on Banks’ lawsuit against the state, and includes a video of the emotional hearing. Here’s a clip:

Brooks said that Banks is entitled to $100 a day for every day he was falsely imprisoned under State Law 4900.

If successful, the lawsuit against the state of California would net Banks about $188,500.

Banks, a football standout at Poly, had been heavily recruited by colleges, and had a verbal offer for a scholarship at USC.


Andrea Lopez, 17-year-old LA Youth writer, felt extremely under-prepared for the SAT prep course she attended at UCLA. Lopez was surprised that she could be one of the top students in her grade, and still be so far behind other students from the same school district. Like many other kids in minority communities, she began to worry that her Sylmar public school education was not adequate enough to get her into a good college.

Here’s a clip from the LA Youth story:

I thought I had a great vocabulary, but I had never heard words like “spurious,” “cogent” and “plaudits.” It’s disappointing that the schools I’ve been to didn’t give me as good an education as these kids. Usually I’m proud of getting some of the best grades in my classes, but I was jealous of what these students knew.

I realized that these kids probably grew up with parents who spoke English and used impressive-sounding words. But having Spanish-speaking parents, I learned most of my grammar and vocabulary on my own. I’ve never been ashamed of having parents who weren’t born here or didn’t graduate high school but sometimes I wish they were more educated so they could help me in school.

Be sure to read the rest of Andrea’s story–it has a very inspirational ending.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LAUSD, National issues, prison, prison policy, Probation, Reentry, Sentencing, social justice, Social Justice Shorts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Quickie Must Reads

October 5th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday the Northern California Innocence Project and The Santa Clara University School of Law released the most comprehensive statewide study ever undertaken on the misconduct of public prosecutors in state and federal courts—and the news is not good.

The report is called Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009.

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard has more:

Hundreds of prosecutors in California — including many in Los Angeles County — have committed misconduct with near impunity as authorities failed to either report or discipline them, according to a report released Monday.

The misconduct ranged from asking witnesses improper questions during trial to failing to turn over evidence that could help a defendant and presenting false evidence in court, according to the report, which was issued by an innocence project at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

The researchers discovered 707 cases in which state and federal courts and appellate courts found prosecutorial misconduct in opinions issued between 1997 and 2009. Of those, 67 prosecutors committed misconduct in more than one case, including three who committed misconduct four times and two who did so five times.

Read the rest.


The LA Times Robert Lopez reports:

Sheriff’s investigators were responding Monday night to Men’s Central Jail, where an inmate died in an apparent suicide, authorities said.

The inmate was pronounced dead at the downtown Los Angeles jail shortly after 8 p.m., the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. His name and age were not released.

More as we know it.


Chris Jacobson, who runs an online guide to criminal justice degree programs, also has a blog on the site on which he posts all manner of unlikely and intriguing criminal justice-related articles.

His most recent is a compilation of advice from 20 blogs, books and articles by insiders who give advice about how to survive—and possibly thrive—in lock-up.

(Even if you and yours are not planning to be guests of the state in the near future, the list is interesting to peruse.)

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Social Justice Shorts | 7 Comments »

Election Aftermath: Gloria Romero and the LA Times Factor

June 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The elections results were pretty much what we expected
in terms of candidates’ victories. No real surprises in either the Democratic or Republican camps.

The voting outcomes on the ballot measures were heartening because of the voters’ rejection of both corporate attempts to buy a nice, shiny new law—namely Prop. 16 and 17. It is also cheering that the electorate embraced of ANYTHING that might even have a tiny shred of a chance at changing our state’s dysfunctional, money-driven and paralyzingly partisan system.

For me, however, the one truly dispiriting outcome of this June primary was the fact that State Senator Gloria Romero did not make it into the runoff for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Instead, the top vote-getter was a virtual unknown, Larry Aceves, a former school superintendent who was lured out of retirement for the task by the association of California school administrators, which put $400,000 into his mailers. Amazingly, Aceves got 18.9 percent of the votes cast by the 3.2 million who went to the polls, no doubt at least somewhat helped by having the words “former school superintendent’ after his name, while the other two had IDs that seemed less obviously education-related (even though Romero’s also a tenured college professor).

Oh, yeah, and Aceves was also helped by the fact that he was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times.

The number two vote getter, Tom Torlakson, had a more obvious reason for whatever success he enjoyed as he was the darling of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions, who threw substantial support behind him. Torlakson, who won 18 percent of the vote, was opposed to charter schools, opposed to the parents’ choice measure, and opposed to the federal Race to the Top program.

Romero came in third with 17.2 percent of the bote. Unlike Aceves and Toriakson who both arguably represented the status quo, Romero was the reform candidate in the race.

The Daily News, which endorsed her, put it succinctly:

Tom Torlakson, a liberal Democrat from the Bay Area, is backed by the teachers unions—a group that has worked strenuously to thwart reform in California at every turn.

Larry Aceves, a retired schools superintendent and teacher from the Bay Area, is backed by district superintendents across the state and the administrators association. He’s been a part of the same education structure for three decades that has overseen the downfall of what was once an envied public educational system.

The third candidate, Sen. Gloria Romero-–and the only one of the three from Southern California – is supported by a collection of teachers, students, administrators, parents and everyone else who supports serious reform of education in California.


Though part of the established Democratic power structure in Sacramento for years, no other legislator has done more to buck her own party to push union-opposed school reform legislation than Romero. She’s either sponsored or supported bills that would allow for innovative programs like L.A. Unified’s School Choice, for the parent trigger to force change at failing schools, for allowing districts to have some flexibility in how they lay off teachers, and for changes in teacher evaluations that allowed the state to compete in federal Race to the Top funding…..

So why did the LA Times, which has expressed support for nearly all of the reforms that Romero championed, endorse the very nice guy who, no matter how likable, represents the way it’s always been?

The position of SPI comes with some real power. He or she will determine what should be on the state’s standardized tests, and will decide when and how to require changes in schools that are failing to make adequate progress. These are both elements of the state’s vast education bureaucracy that could use some fresh eyes and some level-headed examination. It also features a fairly large bully pulpit, that Romero would have put to good and energetic use.

In the end, around 30,000 votes made the difference between making it into the runoff or not for Romero.

In this low-turn-out election where few were paying much attention to the down-ballot races, it is reasonable to guess that an endorsement by the state’s largest newspaper could have been a deciding factor—perhaps THE deciding factor—in how 30,000, or 40,000 or 60,000 votes got cast.

The LA Times editorial board explained in part why it chose Aceves. In essence, they said, because he’s calm, non-partisan, upbeat and experienced. Okay, fair enough.

However, given the mess this state’s schools are in, to my mind anyway, a sure hand on the tiller—while undeniably desirable—no longer seems like enough.

Posted in elections, Social Justice Shorts | 4 Comments »

That Dragon-Wearing, Fire-Playing, Hornet-Kicking Grrrlll

May 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The cover of Sunday’s New York Times Book Review
is devoted to the third book in Stieg Larsson’s staggeringly popular Swedish thriller trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Good call, NYT.

For those of you who have not (yet) succumbed and are aghast that your normally sensible friends have been so relentlessly effusive about a freakishly best-selling series—(or even worse, couldn’t stand the wait for book 3 so persuaded somebody in Europe to send it to them ahead of the American pub date)— reviewer David Kamp explains everything.

Here’s the short form:

All three books are centered on two ­principal characters: a fearless middle-aged journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who publishes an Expo-like magazine called Millennium, and a slight, sullen, socially maladjusted, tech-savvy young goth named Lisbeth Salander, the “girl” of the books’ titles, who, in addition to her dragon tattoo, possesses extraordinary hacking abilities and a twisted, complicated past. Together, Blomkvist and Salander use their wiles and skills to take on corporate corruptos, government sleazes and sex criminals, not to mention these miscreants’ attendant hired goons.

This all might sound rather Euro-cheesy, a bit Jean-Claude Van Damme, but it’s not. Larsson was a cerebral, high-minded activist and self-proclaimed feminist who happened to have a God-given gift for pulse-racing narrative. It’s this offbeat combination of attributes — imagine if John Grisham had prefaced his writing career not by practicing law in Mississippi but by heading up the Stockholm office of Amnesty International — that has made the series such a sui generis smash.

Exactly—especially the Grisham/Amnesty International part.

Don’t misunderstand. The books do not belong in the realm of belles lettres. Larsson is occasionally a bit pedantic with his exposition and his prose sometimes veers toward the ham handed. But none of that matters because, at the center of the series’ appeal is Lisbeth Salander, one of the most irresistible literary creations in recent memory.

We’re only halfway through the holiday weekend, meaning there’s still much reading time left before Tuesday. So what, really, are you waiting for???

Start with book one and enjoy. (Resistance is futile.)

Heck, I envy those of you who still have the whole three-book experience ahead of you.

PS: Once you’ve read the trilogy, go to last week’s NY Times Magazine and read about the ridiculously complicated real life drama that’s been occurring over the rights to Larrson’s literary estate.

Posted in Social Justice Shorts, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

Dear Meg Whitman: Please Check Your Math

May 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In the competition between Republican gubernatorial candidates
to win the who’s-going-to-sound-the-hardest-core-on-the-immigration-issue, the Sacramento Bee reports that former eBay CEO, Meg Whitman, made the following statement.

Stopping illegal immigration “is absolutely essential because the costs are enormous,” Whitman said. “I don’t know if you know this, but 30 percent of the state prisoners are probably illegal immigrants. We don’t get reimbursed for those monies. And it’s putting a burden on every element of the state budget.”

Well, no, Meg, undocumented (or illegal or whatever word you want to use) immigrants aren’t 30 percent of California’s prison population. They are 11 percent of our state prisoners. And, yes, that’s still significant. But Whitman overstated the significance by…um…around 200 percent.

Oh, and she’s also dead wrong about the reimbursement thingy. The state doesn’t get enough federal reimbursement for incarcerating immigrants, but had she bothered to ask someone, Whitman would have known California definitely gets fed money to help cut our expenses.

In any case, we would humbly suggest that before the Megster starts making pronouncements, that she checks her facts.

The errors may seem trivial. But when we are choosing someone to lead us through California’s budget morass, it would be nice if that person was at least marginally accurate with their figures rather than treating them as clay to be molded this way and that for political gain.

Posted in Social Justice Shorts | 22 Comments »

Fresh Picks

March 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Two weeks ago I had lunch with a woman who is the Catholic pastor of a large California prison. I should mention that she is no neophyte in the corrections world. She’s worked at LA County’s jails, at an out-of-state prison, and at an in-state institution or two before she got to where she is now.

We were meeting about another matter entirely but, in the course of the conversation, talk turned to some of the guys she sees inside whom she really thinks ought to be let out—simply because they are so incapacitated, that keeping them locked up on our tab doesn’t, she said, make any sense.

The pastor wasn’t talking about any kind of compassionate parole. She was just talking cost/benefit.

This week in an excellent article in the Sacramento Bee, the federal monitor in charge of California’s prison health care system, J. Clark Kelso, has said much the same thing.

“I am keenly aware, as are the courts,” Kelso said, “that a dollar that we can save in the prison health care program is a dollar that can be spent on other important priorities for the state, such as education, money for children, the elderly, other health care programs.”

An aide in Kelso’s office said that, conservatively, the prison system could save $213 million over five years by paroling just 32 inmates identified as severely incapacitated.

Twenty-one of those 32 inmates are in nursing facilities or hospitals outside prisons, which requires spending for expensive guard time — including overtime — as well as huge health care costs.

These 21 inmates’ average annual health care and guard costs total more than $1.97 million apiece — a total of $41.4 million a year for 21 individuals, said Kelso aide Luis Patiño.

With all this and more in mind, on March 17, Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco introduced a bill to create medical parole.

Leno said 1,300 inmates’ health care costs exceed $100,000 a year, and that up to 700 prisoners could qualify for a possible medical parole under his bill.

With full implementation of his bill, Leno said, the state could save at least a couple of hundred million dollars a year, more than the receiver’s initial $213 million estimate spread over five years.

There’s a lot more in the way of facts and figures on this issue, so read the rest.


Yeah, this is actually kind of usual, from a legal perspective, but given the situation, from a moral and emotional perspective it’s—what’re the words I’m looking for?—Oh, yeah. Intolerable and psychotic.

Here are the details from the Topeka Capital-Journal:

Only a few months before both sides square off in the U.S. Supreme Court, the father of a slain Marine has been ordered to pay legal costs for a Topeka-based church after the $5 million judgment he won from the congregation in 2007 was overturned on appeal.

Albert Snyder, the father of a Marine who was killed in March 2006 in Iraq, learned late last week that he had been ordered to pay legal costs for Westboro Baptist Church in connection with a lawsuit he brought against the congregation after some of its members picketed his son’s funeral in March 2006 in Westminster, Md.

Late Friday, Snyder learned he would be liable to pay the legal costs of the appeal by the Westboro church and the Phelpses in the amount of $16,500, said his attorney, Sean E. Summers, of York, Pa., in a phone interview late Monday night.

“We’ve been talking all day and all night,” Summers said of himself and Snyder. “He is disappointed. It’s kind of like rubbing his nose in it.”

I don’t know how this gets solved. As the C-J mentions, the case is on its way to the Surpremes—and the court is, I think, going to be reluctant to shut up the protesters, no matter how repellent they are. Sometimes freedom cuts against the righteous.

So what to do? I don’t know. But the idea of the family of the dead Marine having to pay up to these hate-filled Westboro people….it’s pretty hard to take.


Here’s a snippet of the Globe’s report. It explains itself.

It is where the government has hidden the most secret information: plans to relocate Congress if Washington were attacked, dossiers on double agents, case files about high-profile mob figures and their politician friends, and a disturbing number of reports about the possible smuggling of atomic bombs into the United States.

It is also where the bureau stowed documents considered more embarrassing than classified, including its history of illegal spying on domestic political organizations and surveillance of nascent gay rights groups.

It is the FBI’s “special file room,” where for decades sensitive material has been stored separately from the bureau’s central filing system to restrict access severely and, in more sinis ter instances, some experts assert, prevent the Congress and the public from getting their hands on it.

Established in 1948 under the reign of notoriously secretive FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, it remains in use today at FBI headquarters in Washington to safeguard what the bureau considers its most highly sensitive information.

Read the rest here.

Go Globe!



The LA Times & the Center for Investigative reporting have a disheartening tale by Andrew Becker about two mentally disabled men who had finished serving time on low level assault charges—but who were stayed in jails and prisons for years following the finish of their mandated sentences. One was kept for an extra four years, the other an extra five.

As for their crimes, one threw a rock during a gang fight, the other got in a scuffle over tomatoes picked without permission.

The problem is that both men were scheduled to be deported after their sentences were served-–but it was clear that neither could live on his own in Mexico.

Neither man was undocumented. Both had immigration papers. That wasn’t the issue. Yet, under current immigration law, their crimes mandated they be tossed back to their country of origin—which was Mexico.

So, unsure what else to do, the government merely held on to them—alleges a new lawsuit.

Here’s the story.

Posted in Free Speech, How Appealing, immigration, prison, prison policy, Social Justice Shorts, Supreme Court | 51 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

March 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



No, I’m not kidding. The AP has the story.

The University of California will form a special committee to study whether it should take over inmate health care for the state’s troubled prison system, the chairman of the university system’s Board of Regents said this week.

Regents Chairman Russell Gould announced the committee, which university officials said will study issues including the cost, effect on labor relations, and the university’s liability in inmate lawsuits. Health care has been so bad in the state’s 33 adult prisons that a federal judge appointed a receiver in 2006 to make improvements.

A study by a company affiliated with the University of Texas has criticized the receiver for running up costs as part of the improvement effort. It projected California could save more than $4 billion over five years and $12 billion over 10 years by shifting control to the University of California…..

Scott Henson, of the always stellar Texas criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast, has some thoughts on the matter.


In the current New Yorker Magazine, Jane Mayer, author of the award-winning The Dark Side, reviews Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack, by former Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen—and yanks the wings and legs off Thiessen’s “facts” one by one. To do so, Mayer uses solid, verifiable, reality-based information that she has acquired the old fashioned way—through real reporting.

The last ‘graph of Mayer’s review is clearly what she means to be the takeaway:

Thiessen’s effort to rewrite the history of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program comes not long after a Presidential race in which both the Republican and the Democratic nominees agreed that state-sponsored cruelty had damaged and dishonored America. The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Read the whole thing.


Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times on Monday about the dueling secret memos dealing with how the US is—and isn’t—legally empowered to handle detainees who are deemed to be terrorism-related.

Here are the relevant 2 ‘graphs:

….behind closed doors, the debate flared again that summer,
when the Obama administration confronted the case of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian man who had been arrested in Bosnia — far from the active combat zone — and was being held without trial by the United States at Guantánamo. Mr. Bensayah was accused of facilitating the travel of people who wanted to go to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. A judge found that such “direct support” was enough to hold him as a wartime prisoner, and the Justice Department asked an appeals court to uphold that ruling.

The arguments over the case forced onto the table discussion of lingering discontent at the State Department over one aspect of the Obama position on detention. There was broad agreement that the law of armed conflict allowed the United States to detain as wartime prisoners anyone who was actually a part of Al Qaeda, as well as nonmembers who took positions alongside the enemy force and helped it. But some criticized the notion that the United States could also consider mere supporters, arrested far away, to be just as detainable without trial as enemy fighters.


More than just a few Catholic church higher-ups have suggested in the last few days that the criticism leveled at the church and at Pope Benedict XVI for actions not taken to protect kids from pedophile priests—here and in Europe—amounts to Catholic bashing, or things even more conspiratorial

LA Times editorial board member Michael McGough blogs about the issue here.

He concludes (and I agree):

The pope may have plausible deniability in the cases reported by the New York Times. But the best defense for the Vatican and its supporters is to contest the accuracy of these and other reports, not to accuse journalists (or activists) of selective criticism, let alone an ignoble conspiracy. Playing the anti-Catholic card just won’t work. The sex-abuse scandal in the United States should have demonstrated that.

Posted in medical care, Obama, prison policy, Social Justice Shorts, torture | 5 Comments »

Short Takes: Jails, the 2nd Amendment…and the National Enquirer

February 19th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Okay, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk has declined to buckle under to the OC Deputies’ union’s law suit asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the OC sheriff from letting any more inmates out from the jail early in response the the state’s corrections reform law that kicked in Jan 1. But the judge said he would revisit the thoroughly bollixed up issue in mid March. For her part, the OC Sheriff has been applying the law retroactively, even though anybody with a grasp of logic who read the law could see that this was not its intention—as California Attorney General Jerry Brown has stated with admirable succinctness.

As should be evident by now, I’m for the parole revisions and the new provisions that allow prisoners—both in prison and in jails—to earn a few days or weeks off their sentences by engaging in productive and rehabilitative programs. Such programs are statistically likely to decrease inmates likelihood of reoffending,. And, by the way, the amount shaved off their sentences is comparatively minimal.

But I do not see any reason why we have to start dumping people out of jails by the hundreds, freaking everyone out, when the law says to do no such thing. If for no other reason, its a lousy PR move.

Here’s what Jerry wrote on the retroactivity issue.. It’s a little long to paste the best of it here, so you’ll have to click through.

To make matters more bizarre,
some of the crafters of the law are saying that they never meant it to apply to jails. (Well, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, if you didn’t want your law—good ol’ SB 3X 18 —to apply to jails, then it might have been wiser not to have written into it the words, “This bill would also revise the time credits for certain prisoners confined or committed to a county jail or other specified facilities, as provided.”

The Wave has an informative take on the quarrel.

And the LA Times Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton have more of the details on the judge’s decision:

A judge on Thursday denied a request by the union representing Orange County deputies to end the early release of jail inmates but signaled that the decision would not be the last word on the issue, setting a hearing for further arguments next month.

In turning down the bid to temporarily block the releases, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk noted that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has the final say in choosing how to address the new state law that went into effect Jan. 25.

The judge set a hearing for March 12 on arguments for a preliminary injunction.

The law reformulated good behavior credits for state prison inmates, accelerating their release. But it also has caused confusion among local law enforcement officials, many of whom have been advised by county counsels to release inmates early, an interpretation that was backed up this week by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.


The Wall Street Journal has this in Friday’s paper about the upcomng case the Supreme court will hear regarding the ban on handguns in Chicago and Oark Park, Ills.

The WSJ reports that the case has brought together a surprising mix of allies on the left and the right. Not a bad thing.

(Now if we could just have a similar left/right collaboration in Congress Over something. Anything.)


As well they should be. Yes, there are ethical issues caused by their policy of paying sources. But they should still be in the running for their reporting on John Edwards. Speaking personally, I don’t think they deserve to win. But I do believe they should be shortlisted.

The Huffington Post (which is getting WAY too celebrity driven of late) has the story:

The Pulitzer Prize Board has officially accepted The National Enquirer’s submissions for breaking the John Edwards scandal, according to sources close to the Board. In a historic move, the Pulitzer Board conceded that the self-proclaimed tabloid is qualified to compete with mainstream news outlets for journalism’s most prestigious prize. The Enquirer is in the running for the Pulitzer in two categories: “Investigative Reporting” and “National News Reporting” for The National Enquirer staff.


Before The Enquirer submitted its nomination, the Pulitzer’s long-time administrator Sig Gissler attempted to pre-empt this campaign by telling reporters that the tabloid is not eligible due to various technicalities. Gissler, however, showed great humility and fairness by reading The Enquirer’s submission and admitting that the paper is eligible to compete. Gissler has given The National Enquirer the legitimacy it long deserved for breaking a political scandal of national significance.

The National Enquirer single-handedly broke the stories about Edwards’ affair with a campaign staffer, their out-of-wedlock child, the expensive cover-up and the federal grand jury investigation of possible misappropriation of campaign funds. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the other reporters covering Edwards’ campaign did little if anything to follow up on the published stories in The Enquirer.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Courts, Future of Journalism, journalism, Social Justice Shorts | 1 Comment »

Social Justice Roundup

February 9th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The best research (and my own anecdotal observation) suggests that one of the essential components to transforming one’s life away from gangs and/or a similar law-breaking past requires that one face squarely the harm that one has caused and then give back in some way to one’s community.

Here’s a story from the Fresno Bee about women who are taking a step in that direction.

They’ve robbed. They’ve stolen. They’ve murdered.

But despite their past crimes, nearly 100 women gathered in a prison gym Wednesday to hear how they can help victims of serious crimes. Some wanted to know how they could help the very people they hurt.

The inmates are part of a club at Valley State Prison for Women that focuses on raising money for charitable groups and, as they describe it, repay their debt to society. One of the women in the club, called the Long Termers Organization, sent a three-page letter in August to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board — a state agency that distributes about $100 million a year in funds to crime victims in need of health care, therapy or other services as a result of the crimes committed against them. The inmate, Crystal Potter, wanted to know whether the board would be willing to let her club know how they could help.

“We may never gain the trust or the forgiveness of our victims, but to do now what we should have been doing from the very beginning in providing community services would teach us further the morals and values so necessary as a productive member of society,” Potter wrote.

Read the rest.


Much was made last week over the early release of a 22-year-old man named Kevin Peterson from Sacramento County Jail. Peterson was supposed to serve a four month sentence for whacking a family member in the face with a broom. Instead he was released 18 days early as part of the budget-cutting measures that California counties have put into place since January 1st. (Many counties, however, most notably Los Angeles County, had been shaving time of short jail sentences for the last several years in order to reduce overcrowding at a county level.)

Anyway, within hours after his release, Petersen allegedly attacked a female counselor and attempted to rape her.

And within minutes of Peterson’s rearrest, commentators and partisans were shrieking about the crime wave to come that he represented.

However one enterprising TV station—FOX40 News—bothered to look a little deeper into the story. Most notably, they interviewed Peterson in jail. And guess what? Even Peterson admitted he should be locked up—but not in a jail. He needs to be in a psychiatric facility, he said..

(On the right side of this page, you’ll find a longer version of the video.)

A confused Peterson says he doesn’t remember attacking anyone. He does however remember hearing voices.

“I’m a paranoid schizophrenic,” he said to the TV reporter.
. He was hoping to get taken to the Sacramento Mental Health Evaluation Center so that he could get some help. He should be off the street, he said—but in a mental institution, not in jail.

Bottom line: Peterson’s alleged near rape has everything to do with the inadequate mental health screening and treatment inmates receive in county jails.

…But exactly zero to do with the issue of early release.

PS: On the issue of prison population reduction, the Press-Enterprise had a remarkably sane Op Ed on the matter.


Annenberg grad student Chris Pisar of Neon Tommy reports that the much ridiculed rush last year by the LA City Council to pass a cat declawing ordinance wasn’t so ridiculous after all. The rush had to do with getting the damn thing passed before a brand new state law went into effect that would have prevented cities and counties from passing their own such regulations.

The California Veterinary Medical Association, which provided the main opposition to the LA ordinance, still wants to do away with the ban. Critics say the vets opposition to the ban is for monetary reasons not for moral ones. (Declawing is a pricey procedure.)

Here’s the rest.


In Tuesday’s New York Times Adam Liptak has a story of a mediocre bank robber
who, during his decade in prison, made good use of the prison library and transformed himself into a stellar jail house lawyer.

Here’s how it begins:

Shon R. Hopwood was not a particularly sophisticated bank robber.

“We would walk into a bank with firearms, tell people to get down, take the money and run,” he said the other day, recalling five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998 that yielded some $200,000 and more than a decade in federal prison.

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars: an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner.

Read the rest.


Try Jane Mayer’s excellent article on the controversy in next week’s New Yorker.

Photo of jailhouse lawyer Shon Hopwood by Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Posted in bears and alligators, jail, prison policy, Social Justice Shorts | 6 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts (Very Short)

January 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



This excellent series from San Diego County’s KPBS explores the very high fiscal cost of California’s “tough on crime” legislation by giving a look inside three state prisons, including the California Medical Facility, the place that houses the oldest and sickest inmates in the state.


Homegirl Cafe, the restaurant and catering business operated by Homeboy Industries has partnered with pro airport concessionaire Areas USA, to put in a bid to open a Homegirl Cafe outlet at LAX. (How cool would that be?!)

By the way, if you’ve still never been to Homegirl Cafe at Alameda and Bruno Streets, near Union Station—well, you’re missing out, I’m telling you. T


This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemmas in which we hope that the California Supreme Court can find a wise way to adequately served the needs of the equal protection clause—and public safety.


In Thursday’s Baltimore Sun, Wendy Young, who is the executive director of KIND (Kids in Need of Help), writes:

“….More than 8,000 children who come to the U.S. alone each year and end up in immigration proceedings. More than half do not have a lawyer. In immigration court, defendants are not appointed a public defender, even if they are children; they must find a lawyer themselves or face the judge and the government attorney alone. Children who come to the U.S. without a parent or guardian are often fleeing a desperate situation. Some are trying to escape severe abuse or persecution; others have been abandoned by their parents and are trying to find a way to survive….”

As a consequence, Baltimore has created a “children’s dockit” to try to treat the kids in who come through its immigration court—like kids.

When I contacted her, Young told me that LA has a similar children’s docket for kids who are already detained in immigration cases, but she says, “children who have been released from federal custody are mixed in with adults.”

Well, half is better than none at all.

Posted in Social Justice Shorts | 1 Comment »

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