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CA to Spend BIG $$ on Youth Lock-ups. So Can We spend it Well?…..”Getting Life” – What It’s Like to Be Wrongfully Convicted…….

July 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Right now the California Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) is working on structuring an RFP so that it can give away $79 million to various counties in the state for the construction of new juvenile facilities.

The $79 mil is the second round of post-realignment funding for county youth lock-ups; $220 million has already been awarded to 14 California counties.

With this new round of money, research and advocacy organizations like the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), the National Center for Law, and the Ella Baker Center see a rare opportunity to stimulate reform through the enticement of funding, so have been trying to educate and persuade the BSCC about what kind of youth facilities are likely to produce the best results.

According to Kate McCracken, CJCJ’s Director of Policy & Development, the the BSCC’s Executive Steering Committee, which is responsible for developing the crucial RFP, has “demonstrated openness” to crafting a competitive process would give the edge to county proposals that are designed with “clear rehabilitative goals.”

Ideally, McCracken writes, “the language of this RFP will guide the way counties develop their own proposals, and is thus essential to the development of long-term dispositional options and rehabilitative services available to young people in the community.”

Thus she hopes “the RFP will be rooted in what we know works for young people.”

“Research has proven time and time again that facilities are not effective when they have artificial environments, living quarters designed to confine large numbers of youth, and minimal programming space. If California is going to spend $79 million dollars — plus matching funds from the counties — on more juvenile facilities, let’s do it in a meaningful way.”

Some counties, like Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, are already committed to juvenile programs that emphasize rehabilitation and treatment over conventional youth corrections facilities.

Los Angeles County, which has the state’s (and the nation’s) largest juvenile justice system, was stuck for years in a punitive pattern that has resulted in years of federal monitoring along several class action lawsuits. Now LA County’s juvenile probation is moving toward some reform, with such programs as the in-the-works transformation of Camp David Kilpatrick. But, the tentative move in the direction of rehabilitation over containment is nothing close to system-wide.

If the purse-string-holding BCSC were to make clear that future $$ will be linked to reform, such fiscal incentives cannot help but have a salutary effect on counties like Los Angeles and others that may have made some improvements, but need to make many more.

“The future of California’s juvenile justice system is in the 58 counties,” writes McCracken, “as we observe pockets of innovation throughout the state that require support and incubation in other counties. There is significant evidence that a continuum of community-based services is the most effective approach to serving youth, as well as promising programs available to promote a new way of justice in California. This RFP is just one example of an opportunity for the state to rethink its approach to justice and challenge the status quo with innovative development.”

Yep. Exactly.


Concerned about a building furor over the bystander-taken video of a California Highway Patrol officer beating a woman next to the 10 freeway, on Tuesday, CHP head Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders.

KPCC’s Frank Stolze has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an indication of the agency’s increasing concern over the videotaped altercation between an officer and an African-American woman on the 10 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders in Los Angeles.

“I believe that right now, we are somewhat wounded because of what people have seen,” Farrow told reporters afterward outside the CHP’s West L.A. office. “I was deeply concerned when I saw the videotape. I was shocked.”


Michael Morton’s memoir, “Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace,” about the wrongful conviction that led him to serve a quarter century in prison for murdering his wife, has just been released to reviews that, thus far, are uniformly glowing.

For instance, here’s a clip from the review by Jesse Sublett of the Austin Chronicle:

Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas – even those who followed this case closely in the press – could do themselves a favor by picking Michael Morton’s new memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace. It is extremely well-written, insightful, infuriating, and, in places, quite funny. The “peace” part of the title is no exaggeration, either. For everything he’s been through, Michael Morton seems to be a very well-adjusted person with a sense of Zenlike calm…

Morton’ wife, Chris, was bludgeoned in their bed while he was at work. When he returned home to find the family home surrounded by yellow police tape he became frantic. Morton was arrested soon after and railroaded by Williamson County D.A. Ken Anderson, who withheld crucial information and documents from the defense. Morton was eventually cleared by the Innocence Project using DNA evidence. After that, the DNA led officials to the actual killer.

Here’s a clip from what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said about Morton’s book:

A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the American criminal justice system, but perhaps nothing more searing than Morton’s book, “Getting Life.” It is a devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham, a window into a broken criminal justice system.

Indeed, Morton would still be in prison if the police work had been left to the authorities. The day after the killing, Chris’s brother, John, found a bloodied bandanna not far from the Morton home that investigators had missed, and he turned it over to the police.

Morton had advantages. He had no criminal record. He was white, from the middle class, in a respectable job. Miscarriages of justice disproportionately affect black and Hispanic men, but, even so, Morton found himself locked up in prison for decades.

Then DNA testing became available, and the Innocence Project — the lawyers’ organization that fights for people like Morton — called for testing in Morton’s case. Prosecutors resisted, but eventually DNA was found on the bandanna: Chris’s DNA mingled with that of a man named Mark Alan Norwood, who had a long criminal history….

Parade Magazine has an excerpt from “Getting Life”.

Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

The door closed.

Not with a click or the sound of tumblers finally hitting their marks or the sturdy clunk of wood and metal meshing as if they were made for each other.

This was different.

It began with the long, hard sound of steel sliding against steel.

Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.

It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me— literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.

I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.

And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.

Twenty-five years.

My wife, Chris, had been savagely beaten to death several months earlier. Before I had time to begin mourning, I was fighting for my own life against a legal system that seemed hell-bent on making me pay for the murder of the woman I would gladly have died for.

I was innocent.

Naïvely, I believed the error would soon be set right.

I could not have been more wrong.

Posted in American voices, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, Probation, Realignment, State government, writers and writing | No Comments »

2 More Dorner Stories …Does Baca Play Favorites With Concealed Weapon Permits?….Foster Care & More Dead Kids….Gun Advocates & Death Threats

February 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


“We’ve got a cemetery of ghosts from LAPD’s past raised by this tragic—beyond tragic— catastrophe,” said civil rights attorney Connie Rice, when she and LAPD expert, Joe Domanick, associate director of the Center on Media Crime and Justice, and author of the definitive history of the LAPD, “To Protect and to Serve,” were interviewed by Madeleine Brand on KCET’s So Cal Connected about what the Dorner nightmare means for the LAPD going forward.

Both Rice and Domanick have looked into the LAPD deeply over the years, and thus have much to add to the developing conversation. Here’s the link.


Gene Maddeus at the LA Weekly reports, based on documents obtained by the Weekly through the public records act, that Sheriff Lee Baca approves very few concealed weapons permits but those he does approve are likely to be for his friends and/or his donors.

Here’s a clip from the story:

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is known in gun-rights circles for being stingy with concealed-weapons permits. Sheriff Lee Baca has total discretion over who is allowed to get a permit, and he hasn’t given out many.

As of May 2012, only 341 people had been granted them, according to sheriff’s records. Compare that with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which had 1,754 permit holders in 2011, despite a population of just 2 million people to L.A.’s 10 million. The Kern County Sheriff granted even more, with 3,564 permit holders in a population of 800,000 people.

In L.A. County, records show, most of the permits go to judges and reserve deputies. But there is another group that seems to have better luck than most in obtaining permits: friends of Lee Baca. Those who’ve given the sheriff gifts or donated to his campaign are disproportionately represented on the roster of permit holders.

Chuck Michel, a gun-rights attorney who has pushed for greater access to concealed-weapons permits, says practices in many “anti-gun” jurisdictions are “corrupted by favoritism and cronyism.”

Michel had not looked in depth at L.A. County’s practices, but the Weekly did. Last year, the Weekly filed a public records request for all 341 active concealed-weapons permits granted by the Sheriff’s Department — as well as a list of the 123 people who applied for concealed weapons over an 18-month period but were denied….

And here’s where you can find the list of permit holders that the Weekly acquired.


The LA Times Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein have the best story I’ve read thus far on the ongoing question of whether the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department SWAT team deliberately set fire to the cabin where Dorner was barricaded.

The department has said no, then declined to comment on the matter further. But based on the Times’ and other reporting this seems a bit disingenuous. Whether or not it was the stated intent, it was the all but guaranteed outcome after sending in seven highly incendiary tear gas devices into a mountain cabin.

Rubin and Blankstein find expert opinions on both sides of the question of whether the move was justified. In the end, however, one is left with the picture of an extremely difficult and deadly situation with no perfect choices after Dorner did not respond, except with gunfire, to repeated calls to surrender.


Jason Song and Garrett Therolf report for the LA Times. Here’s a clip:

A stifling bureaucracy and inept workforce have crippled Los Angeles County’s child protective agency, resulting in a system that allowed children to remain in unsafe homes, sometimes to die at the hands of their caretakers, according to a confidential county report.

The investigation, conducted by an independent counsel for the Board of Supervisors, looked at 15 recent child deaths and a torture case. In all but two instances, investigators found that casework errors began with the agency’s first contact with the children and contributed to their deaths.

The report is the harshest assessment of the Department of Children and Family Services in recent memory, echoing complaints from child advocates that the county has rejected for years.

Investigators largely blamed the department’s problems on its decision to place its least experienced social workers in its most crucial job: assessing dangers to children. Many of those workers — facing a total of 160,000 child abuse hot line calls each year — are “just ‘doing their time,’” according to the report.

Supervisors are poorly qualified and often disregard policy, creating a situation akin to “the blind leading the blind,” with workers rarely held accountable for “egregious” errors, the report said.

The result has been deaths that might have been prevented had social workers taken basic steps to assess the risks.

Here’s a link to the report that the LA Times obtained.

In short, this is an agency in need of an overhaul. We very much hope that Philip Browning, the newest DCFS chief who came on just as the report was being completed, is up to the task of making the “wholesale changes” the report recommends. Browning was picked because he’s known as a solid nuts and bolts guy capable of turning things around.

He cautions that this will not be a quick fix.

No kidding.


On Thursday, State Senator Leeland Yee, held a press conference to announce an extremely chilling threat against his life. Rather than paraphrase, let me quote from his statement on the matter:

Four weeks ago, I received an email to my Senate account detailing a very explicit threat on my life. The author of the email specifically stated that if I did not cease our legislative efforts to stop gun violence that he would assassinate me in or around the Capitol. He stated that he was a trained sniper and his email detailed certain weapons he possessed.

This threat was unlike any other I had ever received. It was not a racist rant on my ethnicity or culture, but instead it was very deliberate and specific. As a psychologist, I was deeply concerned by the calculating nature of this email.

My Chief of Staff immediately forwarded the email to the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the CHP to investigate.

As you know, law enforcement made an arrest on Tuesday and executed a search warrant of the suspect’s home in which they found illegal weapons and bomb-making materials. I have no other details regarding this case and all such questions should be directed to the CHP.

With that said, I want to make it crystal clear – these threats and any others will not deter me and my colleagues from addressing the critical issues surrounding gun violence. This case is very troubling and only further demonstrates the need to address this epidemic.

The San Francisco Chron has more on the story.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because of the nature of what I’ve reported on over the years, I’ve gotten more than my share of angry letters and the occasional not-so-veiled threat. But nothing approached the flood of hatred and genuinely scary threats I got back the spring of 2000 for an essay I wrote for MSNBC (where I was, at the time, a regular columnist) about my experience bringing my then-fourteen year old son to the so-called Million Mom March for gun control.



Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles residents apply to buy 200 guns a day, an alarming number making it difficult to get weapons off the street, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said in a preliminary report on gun purchases in Los Angeles.

“With Angelenos buying an average of nearly 200 firearms every day, thousands every month and tens of thousands every year, I will do everything in my power to keep guns out of the hands of people interested only in destroying the lives of children, families and police officers,” Trutanich, who is in a close re-election race, said in a written statement.

The results are based on letters his office began sending out in December during the 10-day waiting period for people buying guns. The letters reminds gun owners to keep the weapons safe and report when weapons are lost or stolen.

If we can stop just one person from buying a gun who is prohibited from possessing a weapon, or stop someone from buying guns for felons or the mentally ill, then perhaps we have also stopped another senseless tragedy,” the letter said.

The letters were sent out as a follow-up to a study by the RAND Corp. that said 50 percent of people will voluntarily comply with local laws if they are informed of the requirements.

Our intent was to make them aware of the laws and what they have to do under the law,” Trutanich said in an interview. “Our purpose was to get more compliance.”

Posted in Foster Care, guns, LAPD, LASD, race, racial justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, State government, State politics | 17 Comments »

With His New Budget on the Horizon, Jerry Brown Says Prison Pop Problem Solved (or Maybe Not)……and More

January 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown will introduce his new proposed state budget which is expected to have some innovative and possibly controversial ideas about how better to run the state’s prison system.

In the meantime, in a press conference this past Tuesday, Brown was also talking prison policy when he announced that the prison population crisis is at an end, and that the gaggle of interfering federal judges should buzz off and give the responsibility of running the California state prisons back to the state of California.

Here’s a clip from the San Francisco Chron’s coverage of the story:

A defiant Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to the overcrowding emergency in state prisons on Tuesday and said that the courts should return all the responsibility of overseeing prisons to state officials.

That action came hours after the state faced a deadline to inform a federal court how officials plan to further reduce the prison inmate population by June. State attorneys instead filed an appeal requesting that federal judges undo an order that had set a limit on California’s prison inmate population.

“We’ve gone from serious constitutional problems to one of the finest prison systems in the United States,” Brown said at a news conference, where he announced that he had signed a proclamation declaring an end to a state of emergency in state prisons.

That emergency was declared in 2006 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger because of overcrowding. But since then, the population of inmates has decreased by about 43,000 to 119,200, largely because Brown’s prison realignment program shifted incarceration of inmates from prisons to county jails. Some sheriffs now say their jails are overcrowded.

(One of the finest prison systems in the U.S…? Oh, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry! Improved, yes. One should hope so. But one of the finest…? Uh, no.)

While we can understand Brown’s desire to do away with outside overseers and meddlers, and certainly, we don’t want to see the courts force some kind of crazy prisoner release, advocates and experts, who are not quite the Calif. prison system boosters that Brown was on Tuesday, feel it’s important that the pressure stays on the governor and the California Department of Corrections for just a bit longer.

And, although progress has been made, stories like this one by Joshua Smith in the Merced Sun-Star remind us that there are still challenges that remain, on the prison pop front. For instance, according to the Sun-Star, Chowchilla prison for women is running at 180 percent of intended capacity with 3,608 inmates, while earby Avenal prison is running at 171 percent capacity.

Here’s a clip:

More than a dozen groups from around the state – including the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Californians United for a Responsible Budget — have organized a rally to protest the conditions.

“These cells were set up for two to four people max, and they’re up to eight people again,” said Colby Lenz, campaign coordinator for the coalition. “They’re not enough resources in terms of hygiene. They’re not getting cleaning supplies or tampons. It’s a public health disaster.”
The protest will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 26 in front of Valley State Prison outside Chowchilla.
However, corrections officials dismissed the groups’ concerns.

“We’re not overcrowded,” said Dana Simas, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman. “No inmate is being housed in nontraditional beds. We’ve been far more overcrowded than where we are now.”

(NOTE TO CDCR’S DANA SIMAS: “We’ve been far more overcrowded” is not a reassuring thing to say at this juncture. Yes, of course we know you’ve been far more overcrowded. Catastrophic overcrowding is what brought the state the years of federal oversight, plus a US Supreme Court ruling that said the state’s lock-ups are in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution!)

Squabbles over prison oversight aside, we are looking forward to hearing Brown’s budget proposals on Thursday.


As the argument over how to measure teacher effectiveness continues, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation weighs in with a just released 3-year study involving 3000 teachers, which provides lots of data-driven food for thought. Their main conclusion was that, yes, the so-called value-added method of evaluating teachers by using changes in yearly student test scores to measure teacher performance can, in fact, be very useful. But the study also determined that the value added model works best if combined with other methods, like student surveys and certain systems of classroom observation and direct evaluation.

Here’s a clip from the executive summary.

Despite decades of research suggesting that teachers are the most important inschool factor affecting student learning, an underlying question remains unanswered: Are seemingly more effective teachers truly better than other teachers at improving student learning, or do they simply have better students?Ultimately, the only way to resolve that question was by randomly assigning students to teachers to see if teachers previously identified as more effective actually caused those students to learn more. That is what we did for a subset of MET project teachers. Based on data we collected during the 2009–10 school year, we produced estimates of teaching effectiveness for each teacher. We adjusted our estimates to account for student differences in prior test scores, demographics, and other traits. We then randomly assigned a classroom of students to each participating teacher for 2010–11.

Following the 2010–11 school year we asked two questions: First, did students actually learn more when randomly assigned to the teachers who seemed more effective when we evaluated them the prior year? And, second, did the magnitude of the difference in student outcomes following random assignment correspond with expectations?

They found that, yes, effective teaching can be measured.

Read the rest of the photo and diagram-laden study for the details.


David Fonseca of Highland Park Patch has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday stated in a dual press conference with LAPD Charlie Beck that gang crime has been reduced by 47.5-percent since he took office and that a “record-low” 152 gang related homicides were reported in 2012.

Despite the marked reduction in gang crime, Chief Beck said the problem still required is “still unacceptable” and “requires much work.”

One of the two motions passed on Tuesday, which was authored by Councilman Tony Cardenas, would require the Los Angeles Police Department to provide within 30 days a report detailing the level to which the department collaborates with gang intervention programs.

“Given the significant steps that have been taken to further professionalize the field of community-based gang intervention within the City of Los Angeles and the historic partnership that has developed among law enforcement and interventionists, a report from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) affirming the integral role of community-based gang intervention in helping to reduce violence would substantially contribute to demonstrating the overall effectiveness and necessity of intervention services during these difficult economic times,” Cardenas’ motion states.


We know the White House is meeting with a lot of people on this issue, but it’s nice to know that juvenile justice experts are among them. Moreover a glance over their list of participants is heartening as they’ve got a lot of the right people included, people like Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice; Mark Soler, founder and CEO of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, and more of that ilk.

Kaukab Jhumra Smith of Youth Today has the story. Here’s a clip:

Representatives from a group of more than 300 juvenile justice and delinquency prevention organizations at the national, state and local level have met with White House staff and Congressional minority leaders at their invitation in recent weeks to provide evidence-based expertise on ways to reduce gun violence in the country, a coalition leader said.

As tasked by President Barack Obama in the wake of mass shootings at an elementary school last month, Vice-President Joe Biden and his staff have spent the last few weeks meeting with gun-control advocates, pro-gun rights groups and dozens of concerned organizations in preparation for the release of the vice-president’s recommendations for the prevention of gun violence.
According to Politico, Biden indicated today that the president could use an executive order to act on some of his recommendations, which are expected to be made public next week.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Gangs, juvenile justice, LAPD, prison, prison policy, Realignment, State government, Supreme Court | 5 Comments »

Thursday Must Reads: CA Juvie Facilites, an ICE Dention Dependant Town …& More

April 12th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Taylor Walker


SF Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos reports on the advantages (and disadvantages) of the state’s controversial juvenile justice programs that the governor proposes to close and the effect that closure could have on the programs’ resident youth.

Here’s a clip:

This is California’s solution to dealing with its juvenile offenders with the most serious criminal backgrounds, who need intensive treatment that county juvenile halls could not provide. The program is expensive, costing state taxpayers $179,400 a year per offender.

Now, the state is contemplating pulling the plug on O.H. Close and three other state-run facilities that serve this population, which represents less than 1 percent of the more than 225,000 youths arrested in California each year. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed closing the institutions and sending these offenders back to county juvenile halls. [Editors' note: Actually it would be County probation camps. But no matter.]

The move would fall in line with Brown’s broad goal of shifting state services to the county level, in part to cut back on state spending. But staff members at O.H. Close say the closures would be devastating, and some youths here agree, saying they have received far more effective treatment than they ever got in county juvenile halls.


Staff and wards at both O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility next door say closing the state facilities – which would save the state more than $100 million a year – would set California back, and experts warn it could result in far more juveniles being charged as adults and sentenced to state prison.


California’s prison system has drastically cut its inmate rehabilitation programs and inmates have few incentives to participate in those that remain. As a consequence, most are paroled with no new skills or education, and those with drug or mental health problems don’t have them addressed. The East Bay Express’ Joaquin Palomino examines how all of the above contributes to the states’ disastrously high recidivism rate.

Here’s a clip:

….Under the Determinate Sentencing Law that [Jerry] Brown signed [in 1977], most inmates receive a fixed sentence, and are released from prison after a specified time period. As a result, most inmates no longer need to prove to a parole board — like Bolar did — that they are ready to reenter society, and so they don’t have to work for their freedom. Because of this, participation in reform-oriented prison programs has dropped substantially. “The general prison population doesn’t do shit no more,” Bolar noted. “No jobs, no classes, no therapeutics, no nothing … and when it’s time to go home they go home.”

In addition, funding for prison rehabilitation has been systemically cut from the California Department of Corrections’ budget. In the 1990s, the legislature went so far as to officially change the penal code to say that the purpose of prison was punishment — period. “They took rehabilitation out of it entirely,” noted UC Berkeley law professor Barry Krisberg. “So for the past three decades the system has been guided entirely by retribution. The main problem with the punitive approach is that the vast majority of prisoners are released.”

And today, released inmates are much less prepared for free society. They usually commit new crimes and end up back in prison. According to the most recent state statistics, an astounding 65 percent of released inmates now return to prison. In the past 25 years, that number has fluctuated between 60 and 80 percent.

At the same time, California voters and state political leaders have made it much more difficult for lifers to win their release. During the past three decades, California governors have routinely overturned parole-board decisions, forcing prisoners to spend even more time behind bars, thereby further diminishing the role of rehabilitation.


A privately run detention center in a remote Georgia town attempted to revive it’s prison population (and in turn, boost the town’s economy) with immigrant detainees, courtesy of ICE. Now that the prison is again on the brink of closure, Irwin County’s immigrant prisoners endure disturbingly inhumane conditions.

The Nation’s Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville have the story.

Here’s how it opens:

About a mile from the center of Ocilla, Georgia, a two-stoplight town nearly 200 miles south of Atlanta, sits a bleak boxy building surrounded by barbed-wire fencing. A hand-painted sign reads “Irwin County Detention Center.” With 1,200 beds, this private prison is the largest employer in Irwin, a county of 10,000 people. For years it did good business, bringing much-needed jobs to this impoverished part of south Georgia.

But by the middle of 2009 the prison sat nearly half empty. It needed more inmates to keep the business afloat. The facility’s private management company, and the county, began to court today’s most lucrative detention market: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, otherwise known as ICE.

ICE runs the world’s largest immigration detention system, relying heavily on local jails and private facilities in far-flung communities like Irwin County. Rather than operating them itself, the agency leases beds from local jails or contracts with private corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, billion-dollar companies that spend millions on federal lobbying to ensure that the market stays strong. Private companies also inspect and monitor prospective and contracted prisons on ICE’s behalf. These entities are responsible for the health and welfare of more than 33,000 immigrant detainees each day. Immigrants who are detained before deportation can spend anywhere from a few hours to years in custody….


*ANNENBERG’S NEON TOMMY IS THE BEST PLACE TO GO for rounded coverage of the tragic shooting death of two USC grad students.


Dennis Romero of the LA Weekly also reports.

The video is harrowing to watch as the kid, after reportedly speaking to his mother and to police on the cell phone, suddenly throws a skidding U-turn with patrol cars on his tail, then gets out of his car and sprints out onto the freeway. As he runs, really, to nowhere across lanes, he turns around and twice points something at police, a move that could only have one logical ending.

The video also makes clear how important air support is for officers on the ground in highly volatile instances like this one.

UPDATE: Dennis Romero at the LA Weekly is keeping up to date on this story, which is playing out more and more tragically with additional information.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, Must Reads, State government | No Comments »

Judge Nash Issues Order to Open Juvenile Dependency Court…and More

January 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash did a brave and important thing on Friday—and then again on Monday.
On Friday he issued a draft order to open the Juvenile dependency courts to the press, allowing fresh air into a system in Los Angeles County that has long been disastrously closed. Then on Monday, he had a hearing on the matter and announced that he planned to make the order permanent.

In case you’ve forgotten, Juvenile dependency courts are the places that hear child abuse and neglect cases.

Nash was originally going to open the courts to the public as well as the press, but he ran into a lot of resistance.

So, according to Friday’s draft order, the courts will remain closed to the public unless a certain set of criteria are met in individual cases. However, the new default position will be that press will be allowed in— unless anyone can show clear cause that having reporters in a hearing will harm a child.

As the order itself states:

Members of the press shall be allowed access to Juvenile Dependency Court hearings unless there is a reasonable likelihood that such access will be harmful to the child‟s or children‟s best interests.

Richard Wexler of the NCCPR—the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform— expressed the view of the many child welfare experts who have been advocating for LA’s court to get some fresh air. Here’s a clip from Wexler’s blog post on the topic:

If Judge Nash proceeds with this order as written, it will be a significant step forward in holding the county Department of Children and Family Services and the courts themselves accountable for what the system does to children and families in Los Angeles. As we explain in our Due Process Agenda, none of the many other state and local systems that have opened these courts has closed them again because all the fears of opponents proved groundless…

Not everyone agrees. Former foster child, Marcy Valenzuela wrote an Op Ed for the LA Times last fall explaining why she felt the courts should stay closed.

Juvenile dependency courts exist to protect children and youths who have been neglected and abused, so it’s shocking that the presiding judge who oversees the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s juvenile division is pushing a plan that puts foster children and youths at risk of further harm.

If Judge Michael Nash’s order stands, vulnerable children, youths and their families, who are already dealing with painful consequences of neglect and abuse, would face the additional burden of proving why the most intimate details of their lives should be kept private.

The primary movers against letting light into the courts, are not child advocates, but the unions for the grown-ups, those who represent the social workers, et al. They have fought hard to keep the hearings secret.

However, Nash is clear on the issue.

There is a lot that is not good [in the dependency courts], and that’s an understatement,” the LA Times reported that Nash said earlier this year at a Sacramento hearing on the issue. “Too many families do not get reunified…. Too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case.”


According to advocates who were present at Monday’s meeting, Nash said he would issue a final order very soon.


Or words to that effect. Mainly, Monday’s very well written editorial echos what we said last week before and after the board of supervisors meeting, regarding the need to look at the whole picture before rushing off and throwing a billion and a half dollars at jail building.

And by “the whole picture, this includes the suggestions contained in the very lengthy and very smart Vera Institute report on the county’s jail over crowding issue and what to do about it ( a report that was, by the way, ordered and paid for by the county). And it also means waiting to look at the upcoming report on the same issue from jails and prison expert Jim Austin, due in late February.

Anyway, a big thank you to the Times editorial board, who said all of the above more elegantly than we did.


Former California senator Tom Hayden (and current critter owner) explains everything. (See above video.)

Yes, yes, we’ve heard that the legislative analyst says that doing away with this bill will save the state money. Okay, sure. And having no shelters at all will save the state even more money. BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT A GOOD IDEA.

Raise fees. Whatever. But do not even think of trying to vaporize the law that prevents precipitous critter euthanasia—which could, in turn, mean that if by some chance our four-footed family members get lost, get out of the house for an unscheduled walkabout, or get separated from us by some unforeseen force majeure, they could be killed dead before we’ve had the chance to track them down.

No. Not a workable solution, Jerry.

Seriously—Ask yourself, WWSD? What would Sutter do?

Okay, see? I rest my case.

Posted in bears and alligators, Courts, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, State government | 4 Comments »

Shutting Down CA’s Juvie Prisons, SCOTUS Ethics, a Needed Clemency & More

January 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The short answer is YES. They’re preposterously expensive and they’re a mess that seems immune to fundamental reform.

However, shutting them down must be done wisely or it will simply result in more kids being tried as adults and so shoved instead into the adult prison system, as the Bakersfield Californian points out in an editorial.

The plan doesn’t appear to provide clear safeguards that would keep juveniles convicted of lesser crimes out of adult prisons. What if the counties, deep in their own budget problems, can’t accommodate them? Will these kids end up in adult facilities? Will counties lean toward prosecuting more youth offenders as adults to avoid having to house them? Will they be tempted to not prosecute them at all?

The NY Times also looks at some of the disagreement on the issue:

Joaquin E. DiazDeLeon, a former Fresno gang member, spent two years inside California’s juvenile prison system. What he found there, he said, was no better than the streets he came from.

Instead of rehabilitating young offenders, he said, correctional officers spent most of their time separating rival gangs. Violence was so pervasive, he said, that he kept his gang affiliation just to protect himself.

“Basically you’re being thrown in a box and expected to change,” said Mr. DiazDeLeon, 21, now a student at City College of San Francisco.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent proposal to eliminate California’s Division of Juvenile Justice was billed as a way to cut $242 million from the state budget. It was also the culmination of a decade-long effort to shut the state’s troubled youth prison system, which for years has been plagued by violence, abuse and decaying facilities.


The LA Times’ Kim Geiger has this head-shaker of a story. Here’s the opening:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife’s income from a conservative think tank on financial disclosure forms for at least five years, the watchdog group Common Cause said Friday.

Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation’s IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled “none” where “spousal noninvestment income” would be disclosed.

Common Cause also says that Ginny Thomas was paid a salary in 2009 by a group called Liberty Central. But again in 2009, Justice Thomas checked the “NONE” box.

“Without disclosure, the public and litigants appearing before the court do not have adequate information to assess potential conflicts of interest, and disclosure is needed to promote the public’s interest in open, honest and accountable government,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar wrote in a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Do we think this is an oversight? Nope. Not really. One year maybe. But six? Although it’s admittedly hard to know what exactly Thomas was thinking with such a bone-headed move.


Lisa Ruth, at the not normally bleeding-heart-liberal Washington Times, asks—quite rightly—why President Obama hasn’t given clemency to Hamedah Hasan, the mother and grandmother whose case typifies the nation’s War on Drugs sentencing madness.

Ruth writes that presidential commutations are rare, but that sometimes justice demands them:

One stand-out in the more than 3,000 requests for Presidential commutation is Hamedah Hasan, a mother and grandmother serving her 17th year of a 27 year federal prison sentence for non-violent crack cocaine conviction. She has no prior criminal record.

In 1991, Ms. Hasan was arrested for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, after three other known drug traffickers implicated her as the “manager” of the conspiracy to sell 5.9 kilograms of crack cocaine. They received lighter sentences for their cooperation with authorities. Police never found any drugs on Ms. Hasan, nor did they find any drugs in her house. Despite repeated stake-outs, they did not observe her selling, using, or possessing drugs of any kind.

Mandatory federal sentencing guidelines put Ms. Hasan in jail for life. The requirements at the time included a 100:1 ratio for crack cocaine to regular cocaine. In other words, if you had one gram of crack, your punishment was equal to having 100 grams of cocaine.

Changes in the Sentencing Guidelines later reduced her sentence to 27 years.

Ms. Hasan has applied for Presidential commutation of her sentence, and has received an outpouring of support.

The ACLU now represents Ms. Hasan due to the strength of her argument. The application included more than 50 letters of support from community leaders, prison chaplains, advocates, friends and family.

One letter is from the federal judge who sentenced Ms. Hasan, the Honorable Richard G. Kopf, U.S. District of Nebraska. Part of his letter reads:

“…I can say, without equivocation, that Ms. Hasan is deserving of the President’s mercy. I have never supported such a request in the past, and I doubt that I will support another one in the future. That said, in this unique case, justice truly cries out for relief.”


The Guardian has the story. As you read the clip below, remind yourself that Manning has been kept in solitary confinement for six months—although he has yet to be convicted of anything at all.

Supporters of Bradley Manning, the army private suspected of leaking confidential documents to WikiLeaks, were thwarted in an attempt to deliver a petition protesting his treatment when US Marines took a sudden interest in traffic law.

David House, a friend of Manning’s, and Jane Hamsher, founder of the Firedoglake blog, were stopped by guards at the Quantico Marine Corp base in Virginia where Manning is being held, on Sunday when House planned to make a regular visit to see Manning.

The pair also wanted to deliver a petition with 42,000 signatures protesting at the conditions Manning is being held under, including solitary confinement and round-the-clock watch which his lawyers describe as unfair and abusive.

But despite having visited the base to see Manning on several previous occasions, yesterday the pair were stopped by military police and Hamsher’s car impounded after guards found the vehicle’s license plates had expired and Hamsher was unable to produce insurance papers.

After nearly two hours the pair were released – but too late to see Manning during the military brig’s visiting hours, denying the prisoner of his sole weekly respite from solitary confinement.

Posted in California budget, CDCR, crime and punishment, juvenile justice, State government, State politics, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Schwarzenegger, Estaban Nunez, Michael Duc Ta and the Double Standard

January 18th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Now that we have had some time to reflect further
on outgoing governor Arnold Schwarznegger’s reduced sentence for Estaban Nunez, the son of his business ally, former Assembly Speaker, Fabian Nunez, the whole thing looks far worse, not better.

On Sunday, the LA Times’ Jack Nolan examined the issue in a story about the 29 inmates in the last year alone who had served lengthy prison sentences, who were deemed appropriately punished and rehabilitated by the notoriously hard core California parole board that they were granted parole.

However, none of those 29 inmates were actually released because Arnold spiked their parole, countermanding the decision by the board (a group that has never been known for its warm and fuzzy liberalism).

Here’s a clip:

They, like former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s son Esteban, participated in crimes that left a victim dead but did not deliver the fatal blows.

And like the younger Nuñez, 11 of those inmates had no previous criminal record, according to orders from the governor’s office in 2009, the most recent year for which records are publicly available.

Among the reasons Schwarzenegger frequently gave for reversing the parole board — a panel appointed by his office and dominated by former police and corrections officers — was that the victim had been killed over something “trivial.”

In addition, the offender had demonstrated “callous disregard for human suffering,” often by fleeing the scene and leaving the victim to die, as Nuñez did after he and his friends drunkenly attacked a group of strangers on a San Diego street in 2008 after being denied entrance to a fraternity party.

Schwarzenegger laid out circumstances strikingly similar to those of the Nuñez case in a June 2009 order overturning the parole board’s decision to free Sieu Ngo, who had served 16 years for his role in a gang assault at Fullerton High School.

Like Nuñez , Ngo was 19 at the time of his crime. It was September 1992 when he and four friends chased and beat a rival gang member, Angel Gonzalez. During the attack, one of Ngo’s accomplices pulled a gun and shot Gonzalez once in the back, killing him. And like Nuñez, Ngo then hopped in a car with the others and hit the road.

In the Nuñez case, the politician’s son had stabbed one victim in the stomach while a friend fatally stabbed another in the heart. Then they drove to Sacramento and threw their knives in a river. Ngo’s group drove to Washington state, where they were arrested a month and a half later, according to Schwarzenegger’s order.

Schwarzenegger acknowledged that Ngo, who is serving 16 years to life, had maintained “supportive relationships with family and friends” during his time in prison and had a job offer waiting for him if he got out. But the former governor argued that Ngo still failed to take full responsibility for his actions, a trait he had demonstrated after the attack by fleeing to another state, Schwarzenegger wrote.

Eighteen months after ordering Ngo to stay in prison, Schwarzenegger cut Nuñez’s sentence by more than half, from 16 years to seven. Nuñez had served six months at the time and would not have been eligible for parole until roughly 2023….

(Read the rest here.)

The people in Dolan’s story suggest a stark inconsistency in Schwarzenneger’s policy.

Yet in all the cases he mentioned someone was murdered.

But what about the California kids tried as adults and given lengthy sentences for crimes in which no one died, no one was seriously hurt, and in which they were not the prime participant in the first place? What about those cases?

Why were those young inmates not as deserving as Estaban Nunez?


In 2000, Michael Duc Ta was a bright, 16-year-old who tested in the highly gifted range but was also a boy with problems, mostly due to a lousy home life. According to court records, Ta often clashed with his dad, a Vietnamese immigrant who reportedly smacked Ta’s mom around on a regular basis, and then smacked his son whenever Ta tried to intervene. Things got bad enough that Ta ran away several times, and once tried suicide. He also got himself expelled from school on two separate occasions for bouts of acting out—the first time, from elementary school for setting off a stink bomb. The second expulsion, years later, was for fighting, and caused Ta to be transferred to Valle Lindo, a continuation high school in El Monte that was loaded with gang members. As with most continuation schools in LA County, Valle Lindo’s students were an edgy group that tended to Balkanize along racial lines: Latino’s hung with Latino’s, Anglos with Anglos and so on. Ta hung out mostly with other Asian students, many of whom happened to be gang affiliated.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, juvenile justice, State government, State politics | 6 Comments »

SmartPhones All the Rage Behind Bars….& Arnold Pardons

January 3rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Cell phones have proliferated (illegally) inside prisons
for several years. But now Monday’s NY Times has a particularly thorough article on a newer lock-up phenom—namely the advent of smartphones behind bars.

Here are some clips:

Although prison officials have long battled illegal cellphones, smartphones have changed the game. With Internet access, a prisoner can call up phone directories, maps and photographs for criminal purposes, corrections officials and prison security experts say. Gang violence and drug trafficking, they say, are increasingly being orchestrated online, allowing inmates to keep up criminal behavior even as they serve time.

“The smartphone is the most lethal weapon you can get inside a prison,” said Terry L. Bittner, director of security products with the ITT Corporation, one of a handful of companies that create cellphone-detection systems for prisons. “The smartphone is the equivalent of the old Swiss Army knife. You can do a lot of other things with it.”

The Georgia prison strike, for instance, was about things prisoners often complain about: They are not paid for their labor. Visitation rules are too strict. Meals are bad.

But the technology they used to voice their concerns was new.


The recent rise in smartphones raises larger issues for prisoners and their advocates, who say the phones are not necessarily used for criminal purposes. In some prisons, a traditional phone call is prohibitive, costing $1 per minute in many states. And cellphones can help some offenders stay better connected with their families.

Mike, the Georgia inmate who was part of the recent [Georgia prison] strike, said he used his to stay in touch with his son.

“When he gets off the school bus, I’m on the phone and I talk to him,” he said in an interview on his contraband cellphone. “When he goes to bed, I’m on the phone and I talk to him.”

Some groups are encouraging prisons to embrace new technology while managing risks. Inmates are more likely to successfully re-enter society if they maintain relationships with friends and families, said David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It shows that even if they are closed institutions, prisons are still part of the larger society,” Mr. Fathi said. “They can’t be forever walled off from technological changes.”

NOTE: As someone who has long gotten regular collect calls from correctional institutions in the course of my work, I have been able to watch the unfolding of the contraband phone—and smartphone—phenomenon, thus have seen close up that there are genuine social benefits along with the obvious liabilities that concern prison administrators.


Governor Schwarzenegger has pardoned some people and reduced the sentences of others, including Sara Kruzen, who at 16 killed her former pimp (and for whom various human rights groups have long advocated), and 22-year-old Esteban Nunez, son of former Assembly Speaker and GFOA (Good Friend of Arnold), Fabian Nunez.

In the case of Esteban Nunez (whom you can read about here and here) while I am glad that the governor shortened one young man’s sentence, I cannot help but wish that some of the other young men who will be languishing much longer behind bars for far, far lessor offenses, had access to similarly well-connected champions.

photo from

Posted in prison, prison policy, Sentencing, State government | 7 Comments »

Why Schwarzenegger Must Sign AB 12, to Extend Foster Care

September 23rd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

It is going to be tempting for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
not to sign AB 12, the bill now sitting on his desk that will extend the age limit for a kid to remain in the foster care system from 18 to 21.

It’s a good bill, no one disputes that. But it will cost money. And in this dreadful budget season no California politician wants to be seen as spending extra taxpayer money on anything, at all, ever, if he or she can help it.

Of course, everybody who does the numbers points out that it will cost more, in the long run, if we don’t extend help to foster kids. (High incidence of homelessness, joblessness—and so on.)

Now in an op ed for the Daily News, award-winning journalist-turned-foster-care advocate, Daniel Hempel asks the governor—and the rest of us—to think about all the positive societal and fiscal benefits that can accrue if California does enact AB 12.

Here’s how Hempel’s essay opens:

There Shalita O’Neale sits, big belly, 10 days away from her first child. She is smiling, brimming under the hum of overcooled air being pumped through the vents of an old building in East Baltimore.

On the sill of a window, which separates the world she has built in her executive director’s office from the rough outside, sits a photo. It is of her, then 19, standing next to Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state.

O’Neale was a member of the first class of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Intern program, which has in the years since placed dozens of former and current foster youth in the offices of members of Congress. It was one of myriad connections she made after her 18th birthday.

Unlike most states across the country and in our home state of California, Maryland didn’t cut O’Neale off at age 18 simply because she was a foster youth, a fiscal burden rather than human being. Instead, the state continued to subsidize her housing and waived her school tuition.

“I started meeting people in college, making connections,” she says. “If I was out on my own, I couldn’t have done that.”

And what that has done for her individually and for thousandssof other foster youths in states like Maryland, Illinois and New York is at the crucible of the decision Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now weighs. California is poised to tap into federal funds to extend foster care to the 4,500 youths who age out of the system every year at 18 to age 21 The bill, AB 12, which would accomplish this, hurtled through the state Sssembly and Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature by the end of the month.

If the governor does indeed sign AB 12 it would mean that one-eighth of the nation’s foster youths – 65,000 – would, in one fell swoop, be offered the same chance that O’Neale has built a life on. .

Read the rest.

Photo by Frederic Larson / The Chronicle


The governor should sign AB 1602 and SB 900–the health care-related bills that Anthem and others are fighting mightily to kill.


Here’s your Thursday moment of sanity.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld upheld a 2008 ruling by a Miami-Dade judge, who found “no rational basis” for the 3-decade ban when she okayed the adoption of two young brothers by a gay couple.

The AP has the story.


On a decidedly less cheery note, the Virginia execution of Teresa Lewis is slated to take place Thursday night, despite thousands who want to know why the state feels it needs to kill Lewis, while the guys who actually committed the murders are serving life sentences.

Interestingly, when SCOTUS voted not to grant a stay to Lewis, the only two justices who voted in favor of the stay were Sotomayor and Ginzberg—both women. Elena Kagan, however, broke gender ranks and voted against. (Not that it means anything. It’s simply intriguing to note, as Doug Berman points out.)

Posted in Foster Care, State government, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Creepy “Gay ‘Cure’” Language Yanked from State Code

April 27th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

File this under: it’s about damned time. Here’s what the press release from Equality California said:

The California Assembly today [Monday] passed an Equality California-sponsored bill (AB2199) that would repeal a particularly offensive section of the California Welfare and Institutions code, which instructs the State Department of Mental Health to conduct research into the “causes and cures of homosexuality.” The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), passed with bipartisan support and a unanimous vote.

“Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice any more than one’s height, and neither can be changed,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “We are thrilled with the passage of this vital bill, as all Californians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be treated equally and with dignity and respect.”

The code implies that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is harmful and that LGBT individuals can and should be cured, in direct contradiction with an enormous body of research that demonstrates otherwise.

“It’s discriminatory, it’s insulting and it has to go,” Lowenthal said. “Sixty years is more than long enough

Actually 60 years as way too long, but this reparative bill is a very good thing

Posted in LGBT, State government | 9 Comments »

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