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Suing Colorado’s ADX Prison: “A Clean Version of Hell”

March 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


INMATES KEPT IN ISOLATION IN THE NATION’S SECURITY PRISON: “THEY ARE NOT SURE THEY EXIST AND, IF THEY DO, EXACTLY WHO THEY ARE”

The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known by most as the ADX, is the highest-security prison in the country. Inside ADX you will find such high profile inmates as the Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, former Bonanno crime-family boss Vincent Basciano and Michael Swango, a serial-killing doctor who may have poisoned 60 of his patients.

These kind of prisoners, most of whom are doing multiple life sentences, are viewed as having nothing to lose, thus potential violent.

But according to a class action lawsuit filed in June 2012, many of those housed in ADX are not high risk prisoners but inmates who’ve gotten transferred to the prison for a list of less-than-necessary reasons. Moreover, many are mentally ill and the conditions—along with a lack of appropriate care at ADX—make those who come to the facility with mental and emotional problems inevitably grow far worse.

And many of those who come into ADX without serious mental problems, have decompensated mentally and emotionally as a consequence of the extreme isolation to which they are subjected.

Perplexingly, according to the lawsuit, those who are housed in ADX’s Control Units-–the most restricted and isolating units in the prison—receive no mental health care or psychotropic medication at all, whatever their needs.

“Currently, the BOP [Bureau of Prisons] turns a blind eye to the needs of the mentally ill at ADX and to deplorable conditions of confinement that are inhumane to these prisoners,” states the 2012 lawsuit knowns as Bicote v. The Federal Bureau of Prisons. “No civilized society treats its mentally ill citizens with such deliberate indifference to their plight.”

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, reporter Mark Benelli writes a long and affecting story about what it’s like inside “America’s Toughest Prison,” and about the conditions and the prisoners that persuaded attorneys Deborah Golden, the director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Project, and Ed Aro, a cowboy-styled super lawyer from Denver, to file a lawsuit that most considered unwinnable.

Here are some clips:

Robert Hood, the warden of the ADX from 2002 to 2005, told me that when he first arrived on the campus, he was struck by “the very stark environment,” unlike any other prison in which he ever worked or visited — no noise, no mess, no prisoners walking the hallways. When inmates complained to him, he would tell them, “This place is not designed for humanity,” he recalled. “When it’s 23 hours a day in a room with a slit of a window where you can’t even see the Rocky Mountains — let’s be candid here. It’s not designed for rehabilitation. Period. End of story.”

Hood was not trying to be cruel with such frankness. The ADX was built explicitly to house men often already serving multiple life sentences and thus facing little disincentive to, say, murder a guard or another prisoner. Still, during his own tenure, Hood said he made a point of developing one-on-one relationships with as many inmates as possible — he described Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano as “a very likable guy, believe it or not,” and he bonded with the Unabomber over their shared interest in running marathons — in hopes of eliciting good behavior in exchange for whatever he could do to make their sentences more bearable. But he also needed them to understand that even as warden, he lacked the authority to change the rules of their confinement. In the past, Hood has memorably described the ADX as “a clean version of hell.”

[CLIP]

A Colorado native who looks the part, attorney [Ed] Aro, 50, favors cowboy boots and fleece jackets, and his cheeks have the ruddy, slightly cured quality of a man who enjoys vigorous exercise at high altitudes. “Juries are my stock in trade,” he told me. “They bring me in when the story is complicated and there’s not going to be a settlement and they need someone to tell a convincing narrative. With this case, I worried, How do you weave a narrative and humanize people at a prison like this?”

As he tried to get a handle on the lawsuit, he made the two-hour drive to Florence nearly every week. For years, conditions inside the ADX had remained largely a mystery; from 2002 on, the Amnesty report noted, ADX officials denied every media request for a visit or prisoner interview, aside from a restricted tour in 2007. (The B.O.P. declined to comment for this article or to allow a site visit.) Aro assumed he would find a small number of prisoners who had somehow slipped through the cracks. “The thing that shocked me most was how massive the problem was,” Aro said. “The ADX is the most closely monitored and evaluated subset of the prison population in the entire country. With the extent of the problem, it’s incomprehensible to me that the B.O.P. didn’t notice what was going on.” How, Aro wondered, did the toughest prison in the United States become a mental asylum — one incapable of controlling its own population?

He enlisted Dr. Doris Gundersen, a Denver-based forensic psychiatrist, who was allowed inside the ADX as part of his legal team. After evaluating 45 prisoners, she estimated that 70 percent met the criteria for at least one serious mental illness. She and Aro spoke to inmates who swallowed razor blades, inmates who were left for days or weeks shackled to their beds (where they were routinely allowed to soil themselves), an inmate who ate his own feces so regularly that staff psychiatrists made a special note only when he did so with unusual “voracity.” A number of prisoners were taken off prescribed medications. (Until recently prison regulations forbade the placement of inmates on psychotropic medication in the Control Unit, the most restrictive section of the ADX, as, by definition, such medication implies severe mental illness.) Others claimed that they were denied treatment, aside from “therapy classes” on the prison television’s educational station and workbooks with titles like “Cage Your Rage,” despite repeated written requests. (The ADX lawsuit says that only two psychologists and one part-time psychiatrist serve the entire prison.)

Gunderson and Aro met one inmate, Marcellus Washington, sentenced to life for carjacking and armed robbery, who slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt and was punished for it: He lost his television and radio privileges for several weeks. They met another inmate, Herbert Perkins, also serving life for armed robbery, who, after slashing his throat with a razor and being rushed to a hospital, was returned to the same cell, given a mop and bucket and ordered to clean up the blood.

Binelli’s story is a longread, but it’s fascinating as well as alarming and well worth your time.

The Atlantic’s Andrw Cohn also wrote an excellent series on ADX and the lawsuit. It begins here.

Here’s how Cohen’s series opens with the harrowing tale of then ADX inmate Jack Powers:

When Jack Powers arrived at maximum-security federal prison in Atlanta in 1990 after a bank robbery conviction, he had never displayed symptoms of or been treated for mental illness. Still in custody a few years later, he witnessed three inmates, believed to be members of the Aryan Brotherhood gang, kill another inmate. Powers tried to help the victim get medical attention, and was quickly transferred to a segregated unit for his safety, but it didn’t stop the gang’s members from quickly threatening him.

Not then. And certainly not after Powers testified (not once but twice) for the federal government against the assailants. The threats against him continued and Powers was soon transferred to a federal prison in Pennsylvania, where he was threatened even after he was put into protective custody. By this time, Powers had developed insomnia and anxiety attacks and was diagnosed by a prison psychologist as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Instead of giving Powers medicine, or proper mental health therapy, officials transferred him yet again, this time to another federal prison in New Jersey. There, Powers was informed by officials that he would be removed from a witness protection program and transferred back into the prison’s general population. Fearing for his life, Powers escaped. When he was recaptured two days later he was sent to ADX-Florence, part of a sprawling prison complex near Florence, Colorado often referred to as “ADX” or Supermax,” America’s most famous and secure federal prison.

From there, things got worse. The Supermax complex, made up of different secure prison units and facilities, is laden with members of the Brotherhood and Powers was no safer than he had been anywhere else. Over and over again he was threatened at the Colorado prison. Over and over again he injured or mutilated himself in response. Over and over again he was transferred to federal government’s special mental health prison facility in Missouri, diagnosed with PTSD, and given medication. Over and over again that medication was taken away when he came back to Supermax.

As he sits today in Supermax, Powers had amputated his fingers, a testicle, his scrotum and his earlobes, has cut his Achilles tendon, and had tried several times to kill himself. Those tattoos you see? Powers had none until 2009, when he started mutilating with a razor and carbon paper. He did much of this — including biting off his pinkie and cutting skin off his face — in the Control Unit at ADX while prison officials consistently refused to treat his diagnosed mental illness. Rules are rules, prison officials told him, and no prisoners in that unit were to be given psychotropic medicine no matter how badly they needed it.

Posted in crime and punishment, prison policy, solitary, torture | No Comments »

John Legend’s Oscar Night Statement….Tech Education for Kids in Lock Up… The Bail Industry Fights Back….Will CA Regulate Solitary for Juveniles?…

February 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

In addition to Monday morning’s expected post-Oscar commentary on winners, losers, and the various best and worst dressed, we were pleasantly surprised to note that there was also a lot of attention paid to a particular part of musician/composer John Legend’s acceptance speech in which he referred to the alarming number of black men in America’s prisons. The singer/songwriter’s assertions evidently sent reporters and commentators scurrying to find out if what Legend said was factually accurate. (Answer: Yes.)

Here, for example, is a clip from a story by Max Ehrenfreund for the Washington Post’s WonkBlog:

The artists John Legend and Common received an Academy Award Sunday night for “Glory,” their song in the film “Selma.” In his acceptance speech, Legend called for reform of the U.S. criminal justice system. “There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850,” he noted.

It’s true. There are some, as Politifact has written, 1.7 million black men under some form of correctional control, including probation and parole, excluding those held in local jails on any given day. That is about twice the 870,000 or so black men at least 15 years old who were enslaved in 1850, according to the Census (warning: big file).

In some ways, of course, the comparison is misleading. Although there are more blacks under correctional control now than there were slaves before the Civil War, the population has a whole has grown tremendously in that time. The Census that year found that roughly nine in 10 of the nation’s 3.6 million blacks were enslaved. By contrast, one in 11 blacks is under correctional supervision today, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

And it would be wrong to obscure the horrors of slavery by comparing that peculiar institution to today’s systems of probation and parole (although in modern prisons, practices such as solitary confinement are indeed profoundly damaging to inmates).

In other ways, though, these numbers conceal the size of our criminal justice system and its consequences, especially for blacks — in a society that, unlike that of the 1850s, is supposed to be free and equitable…

Read the rest. (And then listen.)


CAN TECH TRANSFORM EDUCATION FOR LOCKED-UP KIDS?

On any given day more than 60,000 kids under the age of 21 are confined to juvenile facilities in America. The majority of those kids are already behind in school when they encounter the juvenile system. And most have experienced one or more serious traumas in their childhood of the kind that have been shown to have had a negative impact on school performance and behavior.

In theory, the time those same kids spend locked up should be a stable period in which they can begin to catch-up on their education without distractions. Thus, most kids should be able to leave the facility better able to succeed in school than when they came in.

Unfortunately, in too many cases, the opposite is true. The education they receive is often sub-par in quality; the environment more punitive than rehabilitative, and not overly conducive to learning.

With these problems in mind, late last year the Department of Justice and the Department of Education put out an advisory to state educational officers urging them to make changes:

For youth who are confined in juvenile justice facilities, providing high-quality correctional education that is comparable to offerings in traditional public schools is one of the most powerful – and cost-effective – levers we have to ensure that youth are successful once released and are able to avoid future contact with the justice system. High-quality correctional education, training, and treatment are essential components of meaningful rehabilitation because these equip youth with the skills needed to successfully reenter their communities and either continue their education or join the workforce.

On Monday and Tuesday, Adriene Hill reported for NPR’s Marketplace on two examples of facilities that are already doing what the DOJ and DOE describe—in particular by focusing on the educational technology that has become common in America’s public schools.

The first such facility Hill singles out is The Wyoming Girls’ School in Sheridan Wyoming.

Here’s a clip from the story:

“Technology is no longer the way of the future,” says Chris Jones, superintendent of the Wyoming Girls’ School, which was one of the first secure juvenile justice facilities in the country to embrace the digital classroom. “It is the status of the current. So it is our job as educators to integrate that into how we are educating kids.”

To that end, the school has incorporated educational technology in nearly all its classes, as well as in sports. In geography class, for instance, students use Google Earth to explore the streets of Manhattan and other cities. In horticulture, they will soon be using iPads to monitor temperature and humidity in the greenhouse. And, in computer science class, girls are learning to code.

Teacher Jordan O’Donnell, who has been instrumental in bringing tech into the school, says he is trying to, “empower these students here to think them beyond what got them here to get them involved in coding, STEM, science technology engineering and math.”

Fourteen-year-old Shawnee, who asked her last name not be used, has been at the school for just under five months. In that time, coding has become her thing. She says it gives her a sense of control.

“When people mediate they do that to come at peace with themselves,” she says, in a way that makes her sound much older than she is. “That’s kind of what coding is for me, it’s my meditation.”

She’s already taken the computer science class offered by the school, so she’s doing a more in-depth online class in her free time. She says, ultimately, she wants to get a degree in computer science, then go work for Google. Or a video game company.

“If I hadn’t been here and hadn’t discovered coding, I would be running around like a chicken with their head cut off trying to figure out what I’m doing to do with my future,” she says. She also points out cutting class isn’t exactly an option.

Wednesday, we’ll excerpt from Hill’s story on a facility in San Diego that plans to give every kid a laptop.


THE BAIL INDUSTRY WANTS TO BE YOUR JAILER

The United States is one of only two countries with a private bail industry. (The other is the Philippines.)

In England and Canada, making a profit by posting a defendant’s bail is a crime, while in America, the bail bond business has grown to approximately $14 billion, and the average bail amounts levied by courts have more than doubled since 1994, largely due to the aggressive lobbying of the bail industry.

In the past few years, however, studies have repeatedly shown that the over-use of bail has disproportionately penalized the poor, while resulting in overcrowded jails with no benefit to public safety. To the contrary, the inability to make bail has been found to greatly diminish offenders’ ability to resume a normal life once they do get out, and to significantly raise the likelihood that they will recidivate. As a consequence, an increasing number of states and municipalities are starting to consider a system of pre-trial release for those charged with lower-level nonviolent offenses.

Naturally, the bail industry is fighting back.

Alysia Santo of the Marshall Project has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

In a Dallas Hilton conference room last summer, a few dozen state lawmakers from around the country gathered for a closed-door presentation about an all-American industry under threat. The pitch was part of an annual conference hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a powerhouse conservative consortium that promotes — and often drafts — pro-business legislation. The endangered industry was bail.

Bail is an essential lubricant of American justice, asserted Nicholas Wachinski, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, a trade group for insurance companies that underwrite bail bonds. But now bail agents are under siege by so-called reformers, who argue that the traditional bail system forces poor defendants to choose between paying fees they can’t afford and sitting in jail until they go to trial. A growing number of states — New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Hawaii and others — are limiting the use of bail for defendants who don’t pose a threat, or replacing for-profit bail with government supervision.

Of course, Wachinski said, the bail bond industry will continue its tireless lobbying to protect its lucrative franchise, but he was there with another message: Innovation! New products! New markets! “A brave new world!” Why should bail bonds be only for defendants who are awaiting trial? How about bail bonds for a whole new class of customers: people who have already been convicted.

“My task,” Wachinski told the crowd, “is to bring the sexy side of bail back.”

In a courtroom just outside Jackson, Mississippi, Kristina Howell was about to experience a new, “sexy side of bail.”After spending two days and nights in jail for drunk driving this past August, Howell was brought to the Byram city court, where she pled guilty and was told she had to pay a fine of $1,044. If she couldn’t come up with the money on the spot, she was headed back to jail. “I panicked,” said Howell, who lives and supports her son “paycheck to paycheck.”But there was one other option. The judge explained to Howell that she could avoid jail by purchasing a new kind of bail bond, a post-conviction device that bail agents in Mississippi are busily promoting around the state. It would cost $155, and would buy her two extra months to come up with the money to pay her fine. Howell was then escorted to another room, where Patty Hodges from the Mississippi Bonding Company sat ready with the paperwork….


ADVOCATES RAMP UP SUPPORT FOR LENO BILL LIMITING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN JUVENILE FACILITIES

In January of this year, state senator Mark Leno introduced a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities.

The bill—SB 124— is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Youth Justice Coalition and Children’s Defense Fund-California.

Specifically, SB 124 would:

• Define solitary confinement as the involuntary placement in a room or cell in isolation from persons other than staff and attorneys.
• Provide that solitary confinement shall only be used when a young person poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or the security of the facility, and when all other less restrictive options have been exhausted.
• Provide that a youth shall only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time necessary to address the safety risk.
• Empower existing county juvenile justice commissions to report on the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

This spring the proposed legislation will be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee, so on Tuesday, its advocate co-sponsors issued a statement ramping up support. Here’s a clip from the Children’s Defense Fund’s letter:

Solitary confinement is particularly psychologically damaging for young people who already arrive having experienced a history of trauma in their lives, which encapsulates between 75 and 93 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system. Practices such as solitary confinement can contribute to re-victimization and re-traumatization of these young people.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as early as 2006, found that children are particularly at high risk of death and serious injury as a result of the use of seclusion and restraint, especially children with mental disabilities. In April of 2012, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry noted the psychiatric impact of prolonged solitary confinement including depression, anxiety, and psychosis, and also finding that the majority of suicides occurred in juvenile correctional facilities when the individual had been isolated or confined…

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice, solitary | 3 Comments »

Prison Tech, Prez Nominates Deputy Mayor for US Attorney, Disabled in Isolation, Public Defenders’ Unconscious Bias

February 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SMUGGLED CELL PHONES CONNECT PRISONERS WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD…PLUS SAN QUENTIN’S CODING CLASS

A three part series for Fusion by Kevin Roose and Pendarvis Harshaw explores digital tech issues in the criminal justice system.

Part one takes a look at the seemingly limitless flow of contraband cell phones, which inmates use for everything from to coordinating hunger strikes between prisons, to checking in with loved ones, to recording comedic vine videos. Here are some clips:

A month-long Fusion investigation turned up dozens of social media profiles of inmates currently serving time in several states, many of whom were frequent users of the services in question. Some inmates appeared to be accessing the Internet through proxies – a family member who had the inmate’s Facebook password, for example, and was using the account to relay messages – while other inmates appeared to be accessing the sites directly from their cells.

“Been on lock down for two weeks…going into the third week. Letters would be great. Money would be a blessing. If I have to choke down one more bologna sandwich I think I might snap….,” wrote one Facebook user last October. The user, whose name matches that of a current federal prisoner in West Virginia, appears to have posted to his Facebook profile from two other prisons where he was previously housed.

“Hello everyone, wanted to say hi and let u know I’m currently on an extended lock-down,” wrote another federal inmate, who is serving time for armed robbery at a high-security facility in Texas. “Dont worry I’m nit [sic] in trouble the lock-down is due to a big incident that happened between two gangs at my location,” the inmate wrote….

Other social networks, too, are filled with evidence of contraband activity. One Vine user, who goes by “Acie Bandage,” has posted dozens of six-second videos of himself and his fellow inmates dancing, goofing off, and doing impersonations from their prison cells. (The user wraps a bandage around his face during the videos to disguise his identity — click here to see more of his videos, which are really quite something.)

[SNIP]

Beyond the pragmatic safety issues, there are philosophical questions about the role digital culture should play in the criminal justice system. In 2015, as technology forms the base layer of culture, communication, and education, is it cruel and unusual to cut prisoners off from the entire online universe? What’s the role of technology in rehabilitation? If the purpose of a prison is to restrict an offender’s movement and keep him from causing further harm to the general population, should those restrictions apply just to the physical body? Or should his virtual self be imprisoned, too?

The second story explores the issue of teaching inmates technology in prison, for job seeking purposes, and also so that they can more easily reenter their digitally-connected communities.

Roose and Harshaw focus on Code 7370, a coding program put on by the Last Mile, in partnership with Hack Reactor and the California Prison Industry Authority. While the vocational program at San Quentin State Prison does not directly connect participants to the internet, their completed coursework is tested on an administrator’s computer and projected onto a screen. And although there do not seem to be many pre-release programs to teach inmates the basic tech skills they will need to thrive on the outside, yet, the calls for such training are growing louder. Here’s a clip:

For former inmates, the transition out of prison and into the 21st century can be jarring. Many newly paroled inmates, especially those who served long sentences, have never sent an e-mail, used a smartphone, or filled out an online form. The unfamiliarity of these systems can create hurdles when it comes to mundane tasks, such as buying groceries from the self-checkout aisle at the store or using an electronic subway pass. And when it comes to applying for jobs, small hurdles can turn into huge obstacles.

The post-prison lives of inmates are rarely easy, technology problems or no. 77 percent of ex-convicts are arrested again within a 5 year period of being released, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice. But numerous studies have shown that vocational training and educational opportunities, like those offered by The Last Mile, can help keep ex-inmates from returning to prison. A 2010 study by The Rand Corporation showed that fewer than half of incarcerated people receive academic instruction while behind bars. Those who do receive educational or vocational training, though, are 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders, and 28 percent more likely to land a job.

One graduate of The Last Mile, Kenyatta Leal, got his first smartphone shortly after being released from San Quentin, where he served the last part of a 19-year sentence for firearms possession. Leal, 46, was no stranger to technology – years before, he’d been given 40 days of isolation in “the hole” as punishment for having a cell phone in prison – but he’d never had a phone capable of downloading apps, streaming music, and sending e-mail. In his new job at RocketSpace, a San Francisco tech co-working space whose founder hired Leal after meeting him in Code 7370, he realized he would need to catch up.

“I didn’t have any tech skills, but I had bust-my-ass skills,” says Leal. “My boss gave me a Galaxy III on my first day, and I took it home, figured out YouTube, and watched, like, four different videos on how to send an e-mail.”


LA DEPUTY MAYOR, EILEEN MAURA DECKER, TAPPED TO BE NEXT US ATTORNEY FOR CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CA

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama nominated Eileen Maura Decker to be US Attorney of California’s Central District. Decker is a former federal prosecutor and currently serves as Los Angeles’ deputy mayor on law enforcement and public safety.

Decker would take the place former US Attorney André Birotte Jr., who was sworn in as the newest judge of the federal District Court in Los Angeles in October.

The Associated Press’ Brian Melley has more on Decker’s nomination and background. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Eric Garcetti credited Decker’s leadership with bringing crime to a historic low in the city, overhauling the fire department and making the city a model for disaster preparedness.

“Our office will miss her work and I will personally miss her, but I am glad that her new position keeps her in the business of keeping L.A. safe,” Garcetti said.

Decker was recommended for the post by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she was highly qualified to work with federal, state and local law enforcement in a region of 19 million people that spans from Orange County to San Luis Obispo and the Inland Empire.

Decker, 54, who earned her undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, started her legal career in private practice in 1990.

She worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor for two years, returned to private practice and then became an assistant U.S. attorney in 1995, where she prosecuted cases involving national security, fraud and organized crime. She also has a master’s degree from the Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey.


FED. JUDGE SEZ STOP WAREHOUSING DISABLED CALIFORNIA PRISONERS IN ISOLATION

An Oakland federal judge has ordered California prisons to discontinue sticking disabled inmates in solitary confinement due to lack of space elsewhere in the facility. Judge Claudia Wilken says a number of state prisons are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that San Diego’s R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the most egregious violator. Wilken is currently hearing a class-action lawsuit against California’s solitary confinement practices.

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

Lawyers for prisoners and the state in 2012 had agreed on a plan to find more suitable housing within the state’s crowded prison system. Even so, Wilken found, prison logs showed 211 disabled inmates had been put in the isolation cells in the past year, spending from one day to one month in the units. Most of those cases were at one prison — R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the corrections department, said the agency was reviewing the court’s order but otherwise did not comment.

Lawyers for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, representing the corrections department, argued in court that the problems at the San Diego prison would best be resolved internally by state policy changes.

A corrections department administrator said the housing assignments were temporary as the state copes with unplanned need to move 400 to 600 inmates between prisons every week, some the result of other court orders to relocate prisoners at risk of contracting valley fever or to receive mental health care.


WHEN PUBLIC DEFENDERS GIVE LESS THAN ADEQUATE REPRESENTATION BECAUSE OF THEIR UNCONSCIOUS BIASES

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll interviews Tigran Eldred, New England Law Professor and former public defender, about what he calls “ethical blindness,” which the prof. says is what happens when well-meaning public defenders are too overloaded to detect when they are giving poor clients subpar representation.

Elgred names three components: confirmation bias—preferring information that validates prior beliefs, motivated reasoning—seeking information that brings preferable answers, and overconfidence bias—misjudging the power to give effective counsel in the face of extreme adversity.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

DC: Okay – let’s try to unpack this for our readers. Are you saying that the demands of excessive caseloads force public defenders into making quick decisions about cases everyday that that they themselves may not be consciously aware of?

TE: That’s basically it. And, the scientific support for this comes from the world of “behavioral ethics.” In particular, three psychological factors are relevant to the excessive caseload discussion. First, we all experience what is known as “confirmation bias.” This is the tendency in all of us to seek out, interpret and remember information in a manner that supports our pre-existing beliefs. The second and related concept is “motivated reasoning.” Not only do we seek to confirm our pre-existing beliefs, but also we do so to reach conclusions that we prefer. Third, because of our general desire to think well of ourselves, we tend to experience an “overconfidence bias,” including the tendency to overestimate our abilities to act competently and ethically when confronted with difficult dilemmas.

All of three of these factors occur unconsciously. We are tricked into believing that our choices are reasoned, even when often they are not. Our brains convince us our quickest decisions are solely the result of conscious and rational deliberation. But all the while we are blissfully unaware of how our pre-existing views, desires and self-conception can influence the judgments and decisions that we make.

DC: So, we need some context here. Can you explain these theories within the specific debate of how public defenders respond to excessive caseloads?

TE: Certainly. I agree with Professor Gross that defenders who have too much work often have only one option: to triage cases. Structurally, they are forced into focusing limited resources on a percentage of cases at the expense of many others – and on those cases that don’t get the same level of focus or resources, you wind up with an assembly line of quick plea dispositions. When this type of triage occurs, the psychological phenomena I have described can be expected to exert significant influence.

For example, by starting with the premise that most cases will need to be disposed of quickly, lawyers will likely engage in confirmatory and motivated reasoning, unconsciously seeking reasons to justify this pre-determined conclusion. This can happen in a number of ways. For example, the lawyer might overestimate the strength of the evidence against the client or underestimate the value of additional investigation. Acts of omission, as Professor Gross notes, can have a profound effect on a case. When the lawyer fails to seek exculpatory material, to interview witnesses or to visit a crime scene – or fails to engage in many other forms of advocacy for a client – the lawyer is essentially confirming the pre-existing belief that no additional work for the client will be helpful.

DC: In studying indigent defense services all across the country, I continually encounter public defenders that tell me that I should not be so dismissive of early resolution courts because they often result in favorable decisions to defendants.

TE: Right, they’re playing the percentages. While in many instances it may be true that the best course of action is a quick plea bargain, it is also true that in many instances it is not. There is a significant chance that the decision to forgo additional work for the client is the product of the type of fast thinking I have described. And then, after the fact the process become self-fulfilling. The lawyer has decided that a quick plea is appropriate without further investigation. So the client is advised to take the plea quickly and the lawyer, laboring under the illusion that the decision was solely the product of rational deliberation, remains convinced of the propriety of the decision — unaware of the subtle psychological forces that conspire to influence the lawyer’s behavior.

Tilgard goes on to explain how to reform indigent defense in a way that will effectively combat these unconscious biases:

TE: This is where the latest post by Mr. Vitale is so critical to the discussion. He suggests that indigent defense reform must occur on three fronts: system-building, public advocacy and culture change. I agree all three are critical to overcoming ethical blindness. Public defenders must work in systems that insulate them from undue political and judicial interference. Without structural independence there is little hope that public defenders can overcome these issues alone.

Posted in CDCR, Obama, prison policy, Public Defender, Reentry, solitary, U.S. Attorney | 1 Comment »

Reforms Trump Talking About Race, Solitary and Kids’ Brains, Next Steps for NYC Solitary Ban, and LA Foster Care Reform Efforts

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

In an op-ed for the LA Times, California Endowment President Robert Ross says that instead of pushing for a national discussion about race issues, we should take advantage of this “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to take action. Ross urges Californians to push forward with meaningful reforms to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for young people of color.

He points to four specific areas, which the state has already made some measure of progress on, where we should focus our efforts—public education, criminal justice, immigration, and healthcare. Here are the details on the first two:

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.

Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47′s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.


WHY WE LOCK KIDS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND WHAT IT DOES TO THEIR BRAINS

Dana Liebelson has an excellent longread for the January/February issue of Mother Jones Magazine, chronicling the history of solitary confinement in the US, and detailing the alarming effects isolation has on young developing brains, exacerbating existing mental illnesses, and even producing new ones. Here’s a clip, but we highly recommend reading the whole thing:

We now know…that new brain cells continue to develop in the hippocampus—a portion of the brain central to cognition and memory processing—throughout adulthood. When scientists began looking at animals kept in isolation, they discovered that they grew fewer new neurons than their nonisolated counterparts. That’s because isolation creates stress, and stress hormones inhibit neuron formation, which can result in harm to memory and learning. The effect is often more pronounced in juvenile animals, whose brains are undergoing rapid development. There “isn’t any question,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, that isolation is harmful to the brain and to overall health.

Last March, researchers from Brazil published a study in which they isolated adolescent marmosets, a kind of adorable South American monkey, in cages as small as two and a half feet across, and kept them from seeing or touching other monkeys. The animals soon grew anxious and spent less time on their usual grooming habits. Compared with controls, they exhibited “significantly” higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a steady drop in neuron production in the hippocampus—just one week in isolation decreased the observed number of new cells by more than one-third.

Ceylan Isgor, an associate biomedical science professor at Florida Atlantic University, has found that the effects of isolation on juvenile animals are “long-lasting.” As she explained it to me, the pruning of synapses—the connections between nerve cells—that occurs during adolescence and helps teenagers grow out of behaviors such as impulsiveness does not occur normally under conditions of extended isolation. Extrapolating from animal studies, she said, the results would suggest that kids already prone to breaking rules will become even more likely to act out: “You’re getting a whole different network.” And while the consequences may not be seen right away, they can pop up later as mental-illness symptoms or vulnerability to drug addiction. In other words, the way we often deal with messed-up kids in juvenile detention may increase the likelihood that they’ll reoffend down the road.

David Chura, whose 2010 book, I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine, chronicles the decade he spent teaching English to juveniles at the Westchester County Jail (an adult lockup in New York), has seen the effects of isolation firsthand. In 2004, the prison opened a new security housing unit, a.k.a. solitary wing. At first, it seemed like an improvement: The rooms, Chura recalled, were clean and quiet and “you could read or whatever.” But then his students began to deteriorate, rapidly and dramatically, and his teaching attempts fell apart: “The motivation for doing anything was lost.” Young men who used to fastidiously iron their orange uniforms stopped bathing. They became angrier and started acting out more. When they were allowed out of their cells into an adjacent recreation area—an empty room with a screen for fresh air—the kids would “plaster their faces against these screens and be yelling back and forth,” Chura told me, as though trying to prove, “I’m alive. I’m really still here.”

The class action suit in Ohio described a boy, “IJ,” who was 14 when he entered state custody in 2006. Grassian, by then retired from Harvard, was asked to review his records. When IJ first came into the system, Grassian testified, he was described as a “cooperative youth” who, despite his intellectual disabilities, didn’t require psychiatric drugs or mental-health services. But after a few years, and a lot of time spent in solitary, the teen was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder and PTSD. Six years into his sentence, he was “seen as simply incorrigible…and a misogynist,” Grassian noted. He assaulted a staff member that year too. “I hated being in my room,” IJ testified. “It made me mad. It made my anger issues way worse.”


NYC CORRECTIONS SAYS NO MORE SOLITARY FOR RIKERS INMATES UNDER 21, BUT THERE ARE…PROBLEMS

Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Corrections unanimously voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger. The decision is particularly important for the young people housed in the notorious Rikers Island Jail.

But while the move is a huge step in the right direction, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Taylor Pendergrass, says formidable obstacles must be overcome in order for the ban to be successful. The first is obtaining sufficient funding.

The Marshall Project’s Clare Sestanovich has the story. Here’s a clip:

Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, who has worked on their federal lawsuit challenging New York state solitary practices, foresees two problems with implementation. The first is one that the Board of Corrections itself has identified: funding. In fact, the board literally underlined this contingency in their new regulations. The ban on solitary will only take effect, they wrote, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.”

Even if funding is secured, a bigger challenge awaits: how to manage such a drastic policy overhaul in a place where, as one former corrections official told The New Yorker, staff has become “severely addicted to solitary confinement.” If this addiction is as deeply rooted as many claim (and Commissioner Joseph Ponte has himself identified a “culture of excessive solitary confinement”) the new policy could face stiff resistance. “The piece that’s complicated and harder to get a sense of,” Kysel says, “is how much buy-in there will be from officers who are putting them in practice.”

But more than getting corrections officers on board, the key, according to Pendergrass, will be “making sure that [guards] have tools other than sending [inmates] to solitary as a knee-jerk response. I think it’s certainly true that if you just take away solitary confinement and replace it with something else, there’s a high risk that the policy will never be properly implemented, or even if it is implemented, you will have a regression back to punitive responses.”

Solitary confinement, he says, has been used as a blunt instrument to respond to a wide array of problems, ranging from mental illness to substance abuse to adolescent defiance, and poses real dangers to those assigned to maintain order. Pendergrass says a long-term solution will require “fragmenting the approach”; tailoring responses to inmates who act out based on their underlying problems. That, of course, requires complicated – not to mention expensive – training. The BOC’s new rule seems to anticipate this approach. It specifies that all staff who monitor punitive segregation units will be provided with training that “shall include, but shall not be limited to, recognition and understanding of mental illness and distress, effective communication skills, and conflict de-escalation techniques.”


WHERE LA STANDS ON THE ROAD TO REFORMING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

After months of delaying the implementation of foster care reform recommendations made by a blue ribbon commission, including the hiring of a child welfare czar, the LA County Board of Supervisors appear to be gaining momentum.

On Tuesday, the Supes voted to move forward with two important child welfare reform recommendations.

Like most of us, the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection attributes the new energy, in part, to the arrival of two new board members determined to implement the commission’s reforms.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick reports that until now, the transition team has come up against resistance from members of the board, particularly Supervisor Don Knabe, who has opposed both the blue ribbon commission and the transition team as unnecessary bureaucracy. In addition, the transition team, once authorized to lend a hand in the hiring of the new czar, were subsequently excluded from the process.

Bolstered by the new activity from the Board of Supervisors, the transition team has set a list of priorities they intend to push in the coming months.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of Renick’s detailed report on the issue:

The transition team appointed to initiate sweeping child protection reform in Los Angeles met for the first time in 2015 this week, and seemed to embrace an optimistic attitude.

“A lot of times you wonder if this is going to be shelved, these recommendations, and what I’m seeing is that it’s alive and well, and we’re moving forward,” said Richard Martinez during the January 12 meeting. Martinez, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is a member of the transition team and Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.

“It’s so exciting that we’re moving forward with this,” said transition team member Janet Teague at the January meeting.

The positive tone belies the team’s frustration over spending the past six months grinding out small wins while being sidelined from the highest priority of the reform process: hiring the person who will oversee it.

The transition team’s meetings – held in the cavernous and almost entirely empty Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in downtown L.A. – have produced some results, such as the expansion of the medical hubs where children and youth receive health screenings.

But fitful relations between the team and some of the county’s five supervisors have left team members and outside observers wondering what could have been if the board had given the deliberative body a stronger mandate.

“We have not yet had an easy communication with respect to the people we’re serving, the Board of Supervisors,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during a December meeting. “A transition team really is only useful if there is a desire to use us in terms of our expertise and our opinions.”

Hope for better relations comes in the form of two new board members, both of whom have voiced support for the reform process.

“We need reports back [from the transition team] more often,” said newly sworn in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, during a recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “I think the public’s confidence in what we’re doing is very low. They haven’t seen us doing much and they don’t know that we will do much.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, health care, immigration, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES

It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS

In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

[SNIP]

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME

For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

Juvenile Justice Roundup: Rikers, Solitary, Kids with Incarcerated Parents, and Serial

December 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DEPT. OF JUSTICE SUES NYC OVER CONDITIONS AT RIKERS ISLAND JAIL

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced it would join a class action lawsuit against New York City after a two-and-a-half year federal investigation found excessive and unchecked use of force against incarcerated teenage boys and unnecessary use of solitary confinement as punishment.

The move is intended to expedite crucial reforms after months of unfruitful negotiations with NYC. While Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that Rikers would no longer isolate 16 and 17-year-olds, there are 72 remaining recommended reforms to better protect the civil rights of Rikers inmates.

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

In court papers, Attorney General Eric Holder and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote that despite four months of negotiations with the city, federal prosecutors “have been unable to reach agreement as to lasting, verifiable, and enforceable reforms.”

The lawsuit seeks an court-enforceable consent decree is issued by a judge to ensure the reforms take place, and notes that the city has now agreed to such intervention…

De Blasio and his reform-minded commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have recently touted measures they say point to a change in direction for the nation’s second-largest jail system. Those include capping solitary stints to 30 days from 90 days, decreasing the staff-to-inmate ration in juvenile facilities from 33-to-1 to 15-to-1 and the securing of funds to add surveillance videos over the next two years.

But the federal complaint says those reforms have yet to reach 18-year-olds. It noted there have been 71 reported use-of-force incidents against 18-year-olds between September and November in facilities without surveillance cameras. As of last month, at least 40 of them were being held in solitary confinement.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

In an op-ed for the NY Times, Ian Kysel calls on US Attorney General Eric Holder to instruct the Bureau of Prisons to ban all solitary confinement of juveniles. (Kysel is an adjunct professor and a fellow at the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center.) Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should immediately direct the Bureau of Prisons to outlaw the solitary confinement of juveniles. The federal government already prohibits the detention of juveniles with adults in federal prisons (a rule that states should emulate). Mr. Holder could also direct the bureau to develop new policies to strictly regulate any use of even short periods of isolation.

Mr. Holder could then direct the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to promote these policies as model practices, much like the national guidelines on education in juvenile facilities that Mr. Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week.

Young inmates should be managed in a way that promotes their healthy growth and development. Their fundamental rights must be protected. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently revised its inspection standards, calling for isolation to be used only for children who posed an immediate risk to themselves or others; after other techniques had failed; only for as long as it took for a child to regain control of himself (it should be measured in minutes, not hours or days); and never for longer than four hours or as a punishment. These standards echo statements by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


THE NATION’S MASS INCARCERATION PROBLEM HURTS KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS THE MOST

The Hechinger Report’s Katy Reckdahl takes a look at the growing body of evidence showing that kids with incarcerated parents suffer the worst consequences of mass incarceration in the United States. Here’s how it opens:

Steven Alexander was in sixth grade when his mother, Carmen Demourelle, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for pickpocketing in New Orleans’s French Quarter. Though she was held in a women’s prison just an hour away, her four children could not telephone her and visited only about once a year.

At the time of her arrest, Demourelle was working sporadically as a beautician, though she was mainly making “fast money” by selling drugs and picking pockets while her children were in school, she said. But after school, she was an engaged and caring mother—until she was sent to prison. “I missed everything about her,” Alexander recalled. “I wanted her home.”

All four of Demourelle’s children moved in with their grandmother, who worked nights at a hospital. She supported them financially, Alexander said, but their schoolwork suffered almost immediately without their mother, who had been strict, especially about school. She hadn’t allowed them to play outside or turn on the television until their homework was done. She enforced early bedtimes. And the children were not allowed to spend time with neighbors deemed troublemakers.

Soon after their mother’s sentencing, however, homework went undone, forbidden friendships blossomed, and evenings at nightclubs became common—even on school nights.

None of the children finished high school. Almost all struggled with addiction. Steven’s older brother Stanton got into constant fights. His little sister, Sandria, was taunted by classmates, who told her: “If your mother loved you, she wouldn’t have gone to jail.”

While in ninth grade, Sandria became pregnant and dropped out. Even the oldest, Stanley, an honor student, quit school as a senior after getting his girlfriend pregnant.

Steven stopped going to classes during the seventh grade. “I just wasn’t interested anymore,” he said.


SERIAL, A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO DISCUSS THE ISSUE OF INCARCERATING KIDS FOR LIFE

Yesterday, the wildly popular Serial podcast (an offshoot of This American Life) ended its first season. We won’t ruin the ending for the regular listeners who have yet to finish the last episode. But for those unfamiliar, Serial, via creator Sarah Koenig, reexamined the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted in 2000 of killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee when he was seventeen. Koenig’s series focuses on whether Syed is innocent or guilty, and whether he got a fair trial.

Its popularity is evidenced by the fact that there have been commentaries, Reddit feeds, and even a parody podcast. And yet, some critics have pointed out that Serial failed to address most of the larger issues, including racial and religious discrimination in the justice system. Heather Renwick of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth talks about the elephant in the room that is still missing from the discussion. Adnan Syed received a life sentence for a crime committed when he was a kid—just 17-years-old. Here’s a clip:

At this point, all that’s missing from the national conversation was revealed by host Sarah Koenig in the opening minute of Episode 1. Koenig frames the entire Serial narrative this way: “For the last year, I have spent every working day trying to figure out where a high school kid was for an hour after school one day in 1999.”

Kid.

Koenig describes Syed as a kid. Not as a man, not as an adult.

That’s because at age 17, Syed was a kid, legally and developmentally.

That kid was sentenced to life imprisonment.

We in the U.S. are so desensitized to the imposition of extreme sentences on kids that Serial does not even contemplate the inappropriateness of Syed’s sentence, regardless of his guilt or innocence. At the age of 17, Syed was charged with an adult crime, tried in adult court, and given an adult sentence. This is a uniquely American phenomenon. In Europe, for example, it is rare for kids to be sentenced to more than 15 years. Yet an estimated 2,500 individuals in the U.S. are serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as kids. These extreme sentences, like Syed’s, don’t provide any meaningful release opportunity to kids who mature into stable, thoughtful adults.

To be clear, Syed was sentenced to life plus 30 years, so he technically has a chance at parole. But Koenig was right that being paroled is extremely difficult when an individual like Syed maintains his innocence and fails to show remorse. It is also worth noting that in Maryland, where Syed is incarcerated, release on parole for a life sentence is almost nonexistent and requires approval by the governor. In the past decade, no one serving a life sentence has been paroled in Maryland. So for all practical purposes, the state of Maryland sentenced Syed, a kid, to die in prison.

The United States is the only country in the world to sentence kids to life without parole. Ten other countries are known to have life without parole on the books as a possible sentence for youths, but the U.S. is the only country that actually sentences kids to life without parole.

Posted in Department of Justice, juvenile justice, solitary | 1 Comment »

CA Prisons Halt Race-based Lockdowns, Inequality for San Bernardino Gay and Trans Inmates, LAPD Fires Detective, and LA Jails Use-of-force #s

October 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR TO STOP LOCKING INMATES DOWN BASED UPON RACE, AND WILL ALLOW EXERCISE DURING LONG LOCKDOWNS

On Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to stop race-determined prisoner lockdowns, settling a 2008 lawsuit on behalf of male inmates.

The settlement says lockdowns will now apply to everyone “in the affected area” after a riot or violent incident, or will be conducted by assessing individual threat. The CDCR also agreed to give outdoor recreation time to inmates in the event of a lockdown lasting more than 14 days.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s how it opens:

When a group of prisoners attacked two guards at California’s High Desert State Prison in 2006, the warden declared a full lockdown that confined African Americans in one wing of the prison to their cells, and kept them there for 14 months.

No outdoor exercise. No rehabilitation programs or prison jobs.

This week, California agreed to give up its unique use of race-based punishment as a tool to control violence in its crowded prisons. Corrections chief Jeffrey Beard and lawyers for inmates have settled a six-year-long civil rights lawsuit, filed in 2008, over the High Desert lockdown.

The case was eventually widened to cover all prisoners and lockdown practices that had become common statewide. The agreement now goes to a federal judge for expected approval.


ACLU SUES SAN BERNARDINO FOR CONFINING GAY AND TRANSGENDER PEOPLE, DENYING THEM AVAILABLE PROGRAMS

A new ACLU class action lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses San Bernardino County of refusing gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates education, work and rehabilitation programs to which other inmates have access. According to the suit, GBT inmates at West Valley Detention Center are locked in their cells for 22 hours per day, unable to participate available programs. Jail officials say GBT inmates are segregated for their protection, but the ACLU says there’s no excuse for denying access to programs that may help inmates shave off lockup time or help them prepare for successfully returning to their communities.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s site:

The denials of education, work and rehabilitation are particularly galling, as participation in these programs can not only reduce the time they serve, but can also facilitate their integration back into society, reducing recidivism rates and the strain on our already overburdened criminal justice system.

Although in most instances WVDC staff have claimed that this harsh treatment is for their “protection,” protective custody and equal protection are not mutually exclusive. Jails and prisons cannot justify discriminatory treatment of LGBT prisoners under the guise of keeping them “safe.”

While there can be no doubt that LGBT prisoners are often vulnerable to harassment and assaults by other prisoners and many need protection, it is both possible and imperative that our correctional facilities ensure the safety of their charges while providing equal access to programs, privileges and facilities, as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act and our constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Jails are simply not Constitution-free zones.

For further reading, the San Bernardino Sun’s Ryan Hagen has some good reporting on the alleged inequality (and harassment from deputies) faced by West Valley inmates.


FRANK LYGA FIRED FROM LAPD FOR CONTROVERSIAL COMMENTS

On Wednesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed paperwork to fire detective Frank Lyga, who was accused of making inappropriate and racist remarks during a department training session. (Backstory: here.) Lyga is reportedly considering appealing or filing a lawsuit.

ABC7′s Elex Michaelson has the story. Here are some clips:

Ira Salzman, Lyga’s attorney, confirmed on Wednesday that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed paperwork to fire Lyga, who had been on home duty with pay since June.

“We didn’t get an opportunity to present our appeal,” Salzman said, adding that the firing was unfair. “Horribly disappointed.”

[SNIP]

In a letter to LAPD investigators, Lyga said he deeply regretted his poor judgment. He said there’s no excuse for what he did, but he learned valuable lessons.

“By no means does Frank, to his everlasting credit, or I say it’s OK what he said. It wasn’t OK,” Salzman said. “But that doesn’t at all justify a termination over words.”

Community activist Jasmyne Cannick, the blogger who first posted the recording online, disagreed with Salzman, saying in a statement, “Detective Frank Lyga wrote his own termination when he said what he said.”


YEAR-TO-DATE LOS ANGELES JAILS USE-OF-FORCE STATISTICS

New LA County Sheriff’s Department statistics show use-oF-force in county jails rose 11% so far this year. It’s not yet clear that this number is significant. The numbers were reported to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. According to LASD officials, the spike may be attributed to a number of things, including more thorough use-of-force reporting.

The jail that reported the highest percentage jump in use-of-force incidents, 40%, was at Castaic’s North County Correctional Facility, while Twin Towers actually saw a reduction of 12% over last year’s numbers. You can view the rest of the statistics here (on page five).

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the numbers. Here are some clips:

The biggest increase occurred at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, where Sheriff’s deputies used force against inmates 65 times – a 40 percent increase compared to the same period last year. The jail holds about 3,900 inmates.

“I’m not sure if the actual use of force is up, or if we’re doing a better job reporting it,” said Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the county’s sprawling jail system. “But I’m concerned it’s up.”

[SNIP]

In all, deputies used force 512 times during the first nine months of the year. Most of the incidents — 352 — involved “control holds” or the use of chemical agents like Mace. Punches, kicks, the use of Tasers or batons, “and/or any use of force which results in an injury or lasting pain” accounted for 157 incidents.

Three incidents involved shootings, strikes to the head, “and/or any force which results in skeletal fractures and/or hospitalization.”

In 53 cases, inmates accused deputies of using excessive force. The department determined 42 allegations were unfounded, ten remain under review, and one was determined to be true.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, LAPD, LASD, LGBT, prison policy, solitary | 46 Comments »

Visible Tattoos and Recidivism, the Right to a Speedy Trial, Prop 47, and the Right to Remain Silent

October 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: VISIBLE INK ON RELEASED INMATES = HARDER TIME FINDING EMPLOYMENT AND FASTER RETURN TO INCARCERATION

Former inmates who have visible tattoos—on their face, head, neck, or hands—are re-incarcerated nearly two years earlier than ex-inmates with visible tattoos elsewhere on their body, according to a recent study authored by Kaitlyn Harger of West Virginia University. And, inmates without tattoos made it on the outside an average of 3.4 years longer than inmates with tattoos.

Harger used data on a sample of inmates exiting and entering Florida Dept. of Corrections facilities between 2008-2010, and accounted for variables like gender, age, and previous offenses.

Here’s the report‘s abstract:

This study examines whether tattoo visibility affects recidivism length of ex-offenders. Conventional wisdom suggests that visible tattoos may negatively influence employment outcomes. Additionally, research on recidivism argues that employment post-release is a main determinant of reductions in recidivism. Taken together, these two bodies of literature suggest there may be a relationship between tattoos visible in the workplace and recidivism of released inmates.

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections, I estimate a log-logistic survival model and compare estimated survival length for inmates with and without visible tattoos. The findings suggest that inmates with visible tattoos return to incarceration faster than those without tattoos or with tattoos easily hidden by clothing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries often tells a story of the guy who came into his office shortly after his release from prison saying he really needed helping getting a job, that he’d struck out on everything for which he’d applied. Greg looked at the former gang member, and took in the devil horns tattooed prominently on his forehead and said, “Uh, yeah, let’s put our heads together and see if we can figure this problem out.”

Clearly McDonalds was not going to hire the recently released man, as is, to ask “Would you like fries with that?”

Then there was the former homeboy I knew well, a guy nick-named Curly who was having similar problems getting a job when he got out of prison. Bright, good-hearted and personable, Curly—whose mother and dad were both heroin addicts—had struggled with drug addiction for much of his teenage years and adulthood. But now he wanted very much to reboot his life. I looked at him and noted that he had no really onerous tattoos visible. Then I noticed he was holding his eyes peculiarly wide open, without blinking, and I became suspicious.

“Blink,” I said.

And he did. I saw that on one eyelid he had the word FUCK tattooed, on the other eyelid: YOU.

“What were you thinking?!!” I moaned before I could stop myself.

Curly admitted he was a man in need of tattoo removal services. With the offending words removed, his job search went far better.

Many men remove visible tattoos, not just for jobs, but for their kids, who are embarrassed by their dad’s skin markings, and also as a symbol of their personal change, a way of stating, “homie don’t play that anymore….”

So are we surprised at these figures? Not at all. But are we glad that the research supports what common sense could tell anybody. Yes. And hopefully policy and programs will follow after.


TEEN WAITED FOR TRIAL IN SOLITARY FOR ALMOST THREE YEARS ON CHARGES ULTIMATELY DISMISSED

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack that contained a debit card, a credit card, some electronics, and $700. Kalief was not found to have the backpack, but the robbery victim identified him as the thief, and Kalief was hauled away to Rikers Island to await trial.

Kalief’s case was delayed for three years for various reasons, one of which was because the prosecutor’s assigned assistant was on vacation. And although the case against Kalief was eventually dismissed, Kalief spent nearly the entire three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, and the damage was already done. Kalief attempted suicide twice while in isolation, and twice more after his release, landing him in the psychiatric ward. (Last week, Rikers vowed to end solitary confinement of 16 and 17-year-olds.)

Kalief now has a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD, the DA responsible for his case, and the NYC Department of Correction.

The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman has Kalief’s heartbreaking story (it’s quite long, but make sure to read the whole thing). Here are some clips:

In the early hours of Saturday, May 15, 2010, ten days before his seventeenth birthday, Kalief Browder and a friend were returning home from a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. They walked along Arthur Avenue, the main street of Little Italy, past bakeries and cafés with their metal shutters pulled down for the night. As they passed East 186th Street, Browder saw a police car driving toward them. More squad cars arrived, and soon Browder and his friend found themselves squinting in the glare of a police spotlight. An officer said that a man had just reported that they had robbed him. “I didn’t rob anybody,” Browder replied. “You can check my pockets.”

The officers searched him and his friend but found nothing. As Browder recalls, one of the officers walked back to his car, where the alleged victim was, and returned with a new story: the man said that they had robbed him not that night but two weeks earlier. The police handcuffed the teens and pressed them into the back of a squad car. “What am I being charged for?” Browder asked. “I didn’t do anything!” He remembers an officer telling them, “We’re just going to take you to the precinct. Most likely you can go home.” Browder whispered to his friend, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything?” His friend insisted that he hadn’t.

At the Forty-eighth Precinct, the pair were fingerprinted and locked in a holding cell. A few hours later, when an officer opened the door, Browder jumped up: “I can leave now?” Instead, the teens were taken to Central Booking at the Bronx County Criminal Court.

Browder had already had a few run-ins with the police, including an incident eight months earlier, when an officer reported seeing him take a delivery truck for a joyride and crash into a parked car. Browder was charged with grand larceny. He told me that his friends drove the truck and that he had only watched, but he figured that he had no defense, and so he pleaded guilty. The judge gave him probation and “youthful offender” status, which insured that he wouldn’t have a criminal record.

Late on Saturday, seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence. The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. The judge released his friend, permitting him to remain free while the case moved through the courts. But, because Browder was still on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars. The amount was out of reach for his family, and soon Browder found himself aboard a Department of Correction bus. He fought back panic, he told me later. Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island.

[BIG SNIP]

Browder was losing weight. “Several times when I visited him, he said, ‘They’re not feeding me,’ ” the brother told me. “He definitely looked really skinny.” In solitary, food arrived through a slot in the cell door three times a day. For a growing teen-ager, the portions were never big enough, and in solitary Browder couldn’t supplement the rations with snacks bought at the commissary. He took to begging the officers for leftovers: “Can I get that bread?” Sometimes they would slip him an extra slice or two; often, they refused.

Browder’s brother also noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.

On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.

The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.


PROP 47: SUPPORTERS SAY WILL LOWER PRISON POP, SAVE $$; OPPONENTS SAY LETS OFFENDERS OFF EASY

Proposition 47 (which would reduce certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors) is a weighty piece of legislation with strong proponents and opponents, so we will continue to inform readers on this initiative until November. (Previous posts here, and here.)

Backers say the legislation, authored by retired SD Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and SF District Attorney George Gascón, would save hundreds of millions while lowering the outrageous prison population by redirecting offenders to treatment, probation, and shorter jail stints, instead of prison. Opponents, which include San Diego’s current police chief, sheriff, and DA, say that reducing these crimes to misdemeanors will nix the idea of consequences as a crime deterrent—that people will be able to keep committing these misdemeanors. Opponents also say that the legislation will put more of a burden on counties already strained by realignment.

U-T San Diego’s Kristina Davis has more on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Lansdowne, with nearly 50 years in law enforcement behind him, said his time as police chief of Richmond in the Bay Area in the mid-90s left a strong impression on him. “I learned a lot about crime and poverty and the need to reach out and give people opportunity to rehabilitate themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen so many homeless people in and out of jail, mentally ill addicted to drugs and they can’t get any help in the process. … There’s more to this. Just to say it’s numbers and take the people out of it is a terrible mistake.”

Supporter Stephen Downing, a retired former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, called the current tough-on-crime justice system a “war on the people” that unfairly penalizes minorities. More than half the nation’s prison population is black or Hispanic, and many are young, male and poorly educated, with substance abuse and mental health issues, according to The National Academy of Sciences, which issued a report this year on incarceration rates. The discrepancy is higher in California, where 70 percent of prison inmates are black or Hispanic.

[SNIP]

Critics say the law lacks incentives. With lighter punishments, and nothing to punish repeat offenses, what’s to stop someone from continuing to commit these misdemeanors, they ask.

[District Attorney Bonnie] Dumanis points to the slew of measures already in place to send addicts to treatment, including the drug court she started in 1996, which closely monitors addicts’ progress under the threat of jail or prison.

“What we found with drug court is that coerced treatment works. When you take the teeth out of any of these drug laws and have people pushing boundaries … there’s nothing to stop them, so it’s really enabling them,” Dumanis said.


WHEN PRE-MIRANDA RIGHTS SILENCE IS USED AGAINST YOU

People arrested in the United States technically have the right to remain silent, but unless they actually say aloud that they are invoking their 5th Amendment rights, it’s not so simple. Thanks to several California and US Supreme Court decisions, silence during police questioning can be used against a defendant in court.

KPCC’s Emily Green has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Courts have found suspects don’t have to be read their rights upon arrest, but only right before they are interrogated. And there can be a long lag time between the two.

In the case of Richard Tom, for example, he was in custody for two hours before he was read his rights. Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in Tom’s case, and said his silence at the scene of the accident could be used against him.

“The California Supreme Court has left us in a no-win situation, where as soon as you are arrested the prosecutor can use against you say [and] anything you don’t say against you,” says Marc Zilversmit, Tom’s attorney.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar decision in 2013, in a case involving a suspect’s silence prior to arrest. In that case, the suspect voluntarily answered police questions for nearly two hours but refused to talk in depth about a gun found in his house. The prosecutor used that against him at trial.

“Most people assume that if you have a right and you exercise it, that’s all you need to do,” says Standford Law professor Jeff Fisher.

Fisher says the courts’ rulings set a trap for the unwary. The courts said the only exception is if defendants expressly tell police they are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. Fisher says the rulings affect every kind of criminal case, including white-collar investigations where suspects are often questioned at length before being arrested.

“Under these decisions, somebody in that situation, just as much as the person accused of murder or manslaughter, needs to announce that they are relying on the Fifth Amendment privilege,” Fisher says. “It’s not enough to simply refuse to talk to police.”

Posted in Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, Sentencing, solitary | 1 Comment »

$20 Million to Mental Illness Diversion, Gov. Brown’s Veto of Prosecutorial Misconduct Bill, Too Few LASD Patrol Cars In Unincorporated LA, and Rikers’ Ban On Solitary for Kids

October 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPES SET ASIDE $20 TO KEEP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF JAIL AND IN TREATMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $20 million for keeping the mentally ill out of lock-up, and steering them into treatment and other tailored services, instead. The money is being earmarked for diversion programs pending LA DA Jackie Lacey’s upcoming recommendations for how to best divert mentally ill offenders.

The Supes made this decision earlier than expected, having previously said they would wait to vote on this issue until Lacey presented her report later in the fall. (Backstory on the issue—here.)

Supe. Ridley-Thomas has more about the board’s important decision on his website. Here’s a clip:

“Unnecessarily jailing people with mental illness is not only expensive, because they can be treated for a fraction of the cost using community-based programs, but it is also harsh and insensitive, and dare I say, inhumane,” [Ridley-Thomas] said. “Having an untreated mental illness should not be a crime.”

The County of Los Angeles has been under a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2002 and could face a consent decree because the jails were not designed to accommodate or deliver treatment to inmates with severe mental illnesses.

Today, the Board of Supervisors joined with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, County mental and public health departments and the Sheriff’s Department as a financial partner committed to diversion. In 2015, the board will vote on whether to build a $2 billion jail. By setting aside $20 million in a separate fund pending receipt of the District Attorney’s report, the Board has expressed a commitment to righting this wrong.


RADLEY BALKO ON GOV. BROWN’S VETO OF IMPORTANT BILL AGAINST PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

Yesterday, we linked to a number of good and important bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week, but the governor did also veto a significant criminal justice reform bill aimed at curbing prosecutorial misconduct, and thus, wrongful convictions.

AB 885 would have given judges the ability to tell juries when prosecutors intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. (While it is “arguably illegal,” as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko says, there is not much in the way of accountability to keep prosecutors from withholding evidence.) Some prosecutors had even supported the bill.

Balko has the rundown on why Brown’s veto was troubling. Here’s a clip:

This year, the state legislature again passed a bill aimed at reining in wrongful convictions, this time by allowing judges to inform juries when prosecutors have been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal. It was modest reform that even some state prosecutors supported. Yet Gov. Brown vetoed it. The watchdog site The Open File, picks apart Brown’s justification.

Brown based his veto on two claims: first, that “Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light at trial”, and, second, that the bill “would be a sharp departure from current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed.”

The first claim ignores the very problem that the bill was designed to remedy by suggesting that the present regime of prosecutorial accountability is perfectly sufficient, when the evidence, not only in California, but across the country continues to mount that too many prosecutors have for too long violated their constitutional and ethical duties as public officials.

The second claim is, if possible, even stranger. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking Brown’s office hadn’t read the bill. To say that an amendment to the penal code which vests discretion in judges is a “sharp departure” from the practice of allowing “the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed,” is, frankly, bizarre. But not arbitrary. It bespeaks a broader truth at work here: when unchecked authority detects even the hint that its prerogatives are being questioned, its reaction is frequently hysterical. It goes “ballistic” as Assemblyman Ammiano suggested. And when impunity is threatened, reason goes out the window. Minor reforms are seen as existential threats.

Which, of course, carries through into something broader still. A national, racialized hysteria over crime that has for decades now fogged the public mind to the enormous human cost of over prosecution and over sentencing.

Jerry Brown had an opportunity to take one baby step toward slowing the rate of this damage. Alas, the Democratic Governor of perhaps the most reliably Democratic state in the union couldn’t summon the courage. His party’s capitulation to the law-and-order agenda is apparently too deeply woven into his political identity. And so he has left it to others to start burning off some of that fog.

It isn’t as if prosecutor misconduct is nonexistent in California. A 2010 study by the Northern California Innocence Project found 707 instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California courts between 1997 and 2009. And those were merely cases where misconduct had been found by appellate courts. The study also found that over that same period, just 10 state prosecutors were disciplined by the California State Bar. A follow-up study the following year documented 102 cases of misconduct found by California judges in 2010 alone, including 31 in Los Angeles County. In a ruling last December, Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — which includes California — decried an “epidemic” of Brady violations in America. (“Brady” is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence.)

Balko goes on to give quite a few specific instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California, so do go read the rest.


LASD DOESN’T SEND ENOUGH PATROL CARS OUT TO UNINCORPORATED AREAS, SAYS SUPE. MOLINA

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office found that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. has been failing to send out the agreed upon number of patrol cars to unincorporated areas like East Los Angeles. The shortages were especially predominant on weekends, when there are generally more calls from people needing help. Molina’s office also found that the department sometimes increased the number of patrol cars during the week to offset the weekend deficit.

In light of the findings, the Supes have decided to hold $12 million in funding for new hires (to lower response times in unincorporated areas) until the department solves it’s scheduling problem.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I just wanted to get what I was paying for,” Molina said in an interview. “You see the high crime rates in these areas, and the patrol cars weren’t there.”

At the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, a contrite Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans acknowledged that there was a problem with weekend staffing, which he said he had only learned about recently. But he said the department had taken measures to alter a scheduling practice that had put more deputies on patrol during quieter weekdays — a situation that he said stemmed in part from a freeze on overtime, which was lifted in July.

In an effort to improve response times, supervisors agreed to set aside $12.4 million to increase the number of deputies patrolling unincorporated areas. But they decided to hold the money until sheriff’s officials verify that they have fixed scheduling practices that have led to more deputies being deployed during weekdays than on busy weekend nights.

The additional funding would add 67 deputies to the unincorporated areas, as a move toward restoring staffing to pre-recession levels. An additional 56 positions could be added next year.

A study of sheriff’s response times around the county found that those for both routine and emergency calls had grown worse in some unincorporated areas from 2010 to 2013. In East Los Angeles, the average time to respond to emergency calls remained 4.3 minutes — one of the best in the county’s unincorporated areas — but response time for routine calls had increased from 58.4 to 68.4 minutes. In unincorporated areas around Malibu, emergency response times increased from 9.8 to 10.8 minutes and routine calls from 34.5 minutes to 42.2 minutes.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NYC DEPT. OF CORRECTION’S BAN ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR 16 AND 17-YEAR-OLDS

In August, a federal investigation found that teenagers at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York were subjected to excessive and unchecked use of force by guards, violence from other inmates, and overuse of solitary confinement as punishment.

This week, the New York City Dept. of Correction has announced it will eliminate the solitary confinement of juveniles at Rikers by the end of 2014.

The Center for Investigative Reporting Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan explain the importance of this reform and what it might mean for other jurisdictions that are still putting kids in isolation. Here are some clips:

We know little about how many young inmates get placed in solitary, why and for how long.

This is what Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, called “a chaos of information.” Juvenile solitary confinement is torture, he said, and no one knows how common it is.

Because most U.S. facilities are not required to track or report their use of isolation for juveniles, the practice has flourished in the shadows. And because no federal laws prohibit isolating teenagers indefinitely for 23 hours a day, young inmates can spend months alone in their cells without anyone outside their facilities noticing.

[SNIP]

Many facilities suppress information and close their doors to scrutiny.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored a recently passed bill requiring corrections officials to report detailed data about who is held in solitary, why and for how long, after officials refused to provide him with data he requested. His legislation could be a model for other jurisdictions seeking the access and information required to understand what is happening to teenagers in local facilities.

CIR made dozens of requests to visit the isolation units in facilities that hold juveniles across the country, but only one, in Santa Cruz, California, opened its doors and talked openly about efforts to reduce the use of solitary confinement. Officials at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall have kept isolation data for years, tracking a decline in the practice so drastic that officials from jurisdictions all over the country travel to California to see how they did it.

[SNIP]

Now that Rikers Island, the nation’s second-largest jail, is saying it will ban juvenile solitary confinement, it’s possible that other jurisdictions will follow suit.
A growing chorus of mental health experts claims that isolating teenagers makes them more violent, and more relationship-based and trauma-informed approaches to managing teens will lead to safer facilities and safer streets.

Although Rikers Island officials have been privy to such perspectives for years, it took months of media scrutiny and a federal investigation for them to acknowledge the damage their practices have caused and commit to changing them. The question now is whether others will voluntarily work to find new ways to manage troubled teens, like officials did in Santa Cruz, or whether they will wait for government probes and media attention.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Prosecutors, solitary | 2 Comments »

More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | 7 Comments »

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