Saturday, February 28, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Supreme Court


Obama Launches Initiative to Help Minority Boys and Men, This Week at the Supreme Court, ALADS’ Sheriff Candidate Debate, and an Open Letter from Paul Tanaka

February 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HELPING BOYS AND YOUNG MEN OF COLOR BREAKING FREE OF THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

On Thursday, President Barack Obama officially launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” the initiative to end the school-to-prison pipeline for young men and boys of color nationwide. “My Brother’s Keeper” will connect with non-profits and businesses to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color succeed.

Here’s a clip from President Obama’s speech (the entirety of which you can watch in the video above):

…we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they are in ninth grade, they are twice as likely to drop out.

That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines, not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior, as opposed to bad behavior out of school.

We can make classes good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future.

And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong, in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.

…we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he’s almost as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.

And that means then they’re more likely to be employable and to invest in their own families and to pass on a legacy of love and hope. And, finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be disconnected, not in school, not in working.

We have got to reconnect them. We have got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We have got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We have got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.

We can keep them from falling through the cracks and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life.

And here’s a clip from the Advancement Project’s announcement and response to the newly launched initiative:

“It is momentous that in the first 60 days of this year, both President Obama and Attorney General Holder have addressed barriers to opportunity that are facing people of color, especially young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis…

“We are pleased that the Obama Administration will focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline caused by overuse of suspensions and arrests, pushing young people off of an academic track and onto a track to prison…

[SNIP]

“We are encouraged to see President Obama use his platform to specifically support boys and young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Constance L. Rice. “From our work in the city of Los Angeles’ gang violence hot zones, we know that community safety is of paramount importance to this demographic, with young Black men 10 times more likely and young Latino men three times more likely to be killed by guns than young White men. We need a comprehensive, public health-based community safety strategy to reverse this trend…


SCOTUS ON WARRANTLESS SEARCHES AND ASSET FORFEITURE

This week, the United States Supreme Court issued two noteworthy criminal justice rulings.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that if a person objects to a warrantless search of his home, but then leaves the residence (in this case, by arrest), officers can still conduct the search with the consent of a different occupant. (Here’s some backstory.)

The LA Times editorial board says this ruling may give officers a reason to arrest someone just to sidestep a refused search. Here are some clips:

The 6-3 decision eviscerated a 2006 ruling in which the court ruled that police must respect “a physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search” even if a spouse or roommate gives consent.

Walter Fernandez, a robbery suspect, made it abundantly clear to LAPD officers in 2009 that he didn’t want them to search his apartment, saying: “You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights.”

Or at least he thought he did. Police arrested Fernandez, and an hour later an officer returned and asked Roxanne Rojas, Fernandez’ companion, for permission to search the apartment. The search turned up gang paraphernalia, a knife and a gun, and Fernandez was eventually convicted of robbery and domestic abuse.

[SNIP]

By blessing the warrantless search of Fernandez’s apartment, the majority not only undermined its previous ruling but also sent a message that police can skirt the 4th Amendment and not be punished for it by the courts.

In another 6-3 Tuesday ruling, the Court said that a defendant who has been indicted by a grand jury has no right to contest pre-trial asset forfeiture.

Slate’s Chanakya Sethi has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, thus concluded Justice Elena Kagan that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial. In an odd ideological lineup, the dissenters were Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Kaleys’ saga began more than nine years ago when Kerri, a medical device salesperson, learned that she was under investigation by federal authorities for stealing devices from hospitals. Kerri admits she took some devices and later sold them with Brian’s help, but she says the devices she took were unwanted, outdated models that the hospitals were glad to be rid of—in effect, that she couldn’t steal something that was given to her…

With charges looming, the Kaleys sought an estimate from their lawyers of how much mounting a defense would cost. The answer: $500,000. (That figure may seem high, but sadly the government agreed it was reasonable.) The Kaleys took out a home equity loan and used the $500,000 to purchase a certificate of deposit, which they planned to spend on lawyers.

Then came the grand jury indictment and with it a nasty surprise: an order freezing essentially all their assets, including the CD that was meant to pay their legal bills. The only assets exempt from the order—Kerri’s retirement account and their children’s college funds—weren’t enough to cover the $500,000 estimate. And if the Kaleys liquidated those funds, they’d have owed $183,500 in tax penalties. The bottom line: They could no longer pay for their lawyer of choice even though, as the government agreed, that’s what the Sixth Amendment right to counsel protects.


CLOSED-DOOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

Last week, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) held a members-only debate at the county Hall of Administration between the candidates running for sheriff. The debate had some interesting moments, and focused on the need for department reforms, along with other issues important to deputies.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who has been criticized for helping foster a culture of abuse inside the jails, criticized the department’s inmate education program.

“Deputies should not be teaching inmates how to read while they should be manning security posts, OK?” he said, prompting loud cheers.

In a statement to The Times, Tanaka said he wasn’t opposed to educating inmates “as long as it does not take away from the limited resources which are needed to run the jails and protect the public.”

In interviews afterward, the other candidates took aim at Tanaka, who seemed to be the crowd favorite based on applause. His opponents said Tanaka’s comment showed his shortsightedness about the role education can play in keeping inmates from re-offending after they are released.

“To show that lack of compassion for people who can’t read is exactly why I’m running,” Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold said.

The candidates acknowledged during the debate, which took place last week, that the recent federal indictments against deputies and reports of poor hiring show that reform is needed. But they also assured the audience that they believed that a great majority of deputies follow policy.

Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told the deputies that he took exception with some outside criticisms of the department. Some time after Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell promised to “restore that shine and that luster to the badge,” Rogers said: “Others talk about our badge being tarnished. With all due respect to all of them, my star is just as shiny as it used to be, and so is yours.”


PAUL TANAKA “SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT”

On Thursday, (a day after the new issue of LA Magazine hit newsstands) former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka published an open letter to “set the record straight” about his involvement in a number of LASD scandals.

Here’s how the letter opens:

After dedicating three decades of my life to public safety, I have suffered overwhelming character attacks over the last two years by nameless “sources” who have continuously falsified accounts of my behavior and my leadership for their own self-purpose and notoriety. I have always believed that the focus of law enforcement officials should remain on public safety and the community rather than combating the latest news story, however, I can no longer remain quiet as others continue to paint fiction and call it truth. I would like to Set the Record Straight regarding my character and my record once and for all.

First and foremost, during my 33 years in law enforcement I have never condoned nor encouraged excessive force or deputy misconduct. In fact, in the past I have been highlighted as a strict no-nonsense disciplinarian. It wasn’t until there were talks throughout the Department that I may run for Sheriff that these accusations began. Many of my accusers feared the standard of accountability they would be held to should I become Sheriff. Throughout my career, I have always demanded our Department employees, particularly high-ranking executives, perform the duties and tasks the people of Los Angeles County pay them for, and expect from us, with no exception.

And here are Tanaka’s thoughts on a certain online publication’s stories about a private smoking patio, and his alleged pay-to-play system:

Furthermore, an online publication has written countless stories about a secret patio that was supposedly reserved for a secret circle of department employees that had to possess “challenge coins” in order to gain entrance. In addition, this same publication has also alleged that those who donated to my Mayoral campaign would then be promoted in the Department. First, the process for promotion in the Sheriff¹s Department is an uncompromising and strictly defined process. Promotions are based on a set of qualifications determined by the Department and the County. In addition, promotions to Lieutenant and higher were appointed solely by the Sheriff. No one who has ever donated to my City Council campaign has ever been given special treatment. Period. Second, the employee patio that was mentioned is an open air, out-door patio with poles that support its roof. It is open to all civilian and sworn employees and was commonly used for cigarette breaks, barbecues, meetings, etc. The coins they referred to were created, passed out and sold by Chief Buddy Goldman and retired Captain Joe Gonzales. To my knowledge, they were nothing more than a souvenir item anyone in the department could obtain.

Posted in LASD, Obama, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | 54 Comments »

Help for San Diego’s Jailed Vets, Prop 36 Outcomes, and SCOTUS Lets Alabama Continue Controversial “Judicial Override”

November 19th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

A SAN DIEGO JAIL’S ENCOURAGING NEW PROGRAM FOR VETERANS

San Diego County’s Vista Detention Facility has a separate wing (called the N-Module-3) for veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The N-Module-3 program “Veterans Moving Forward” offers the incarcerated vets—often wrestling with any combination of PTSD, substance abuse, and other issues—a chance to deal with the the struggles of life after active duty that helped put them behind bars, through daily classes, and by being in the company of other veterans.

The LA Times’ Tony Perry has the story. Here’s a clip:

Thirty-two veterans serving sentences or awaiting trial have volunteered to live in the module separate from the other prisoners and participate in classes meant to increase their chances of making a law-abiding return to civilian life.

“We’re all dedicated to making this work, nobody wants to go back,” said Jeremy Thomas, 22, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and lost his left hand when a roadside bomb exploded.

Each of the veterans has agreed to take classes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to assist with problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, substance abuse, parenting and other issues.

“We hope that by putting them together we can rekindle that esprit de corps they had when they were serving their country,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department runs the jails. “It’s a great population to work with.”

The program was spurred both by a sense of obligation toward the veterans and also an increased need to reduce recidivism to accommodate the state’s prison realignment program that threatens to overwhelm the capacity of local jails.

“We’ve got to do things differently,” Gore said.

Angela Simoneau, a social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego, said she and others participating in the program will be watching for numbers to support expanding the program to other local jails. “Data is on everyone’s mind,” she said.

And here’s a snip of what’s being done for incarcerated vets in LA County and the California prison system:

The California prison system does not house veterans separately from other prisoners but does encourage formation of veterans-only discussion groups at its 34 institutions, a spokesman said. VA “reentry specialists” regularly meet with prisoners on the verge of being released to tell them of benefits and therapy programs.

In Los Angeles County, where the Sheriff’s Department runs the largest jail system in the country, 291 prisoners are housed in veteran-only dorms where they participate in programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and classes in art, computers and relationship counseling.

The most recent national data is, unfortunately, almost ten years old (and doesn’t offer county jail statistics): a 2004 DOJ report revealed that one in ten federal and state prisoners had prior military service. Programming for these locked up veterans is a good step toward reducing recidivism in California’s overcrowded facilities and an important tool to help vets successfully return to civilian life.


FORMER 3RD-STRIKERS: A YEAR INTO PROP 36′S REFORMS

Since California’s three-strikes reform legislation passage about a year ago, over 1,000 people have been resentenced and subsequently freed.

KQED’s Michael Montgomery kept in touch with three men released under the measure. In this California Report story, Montgomery says Prop 36′s results are generally good so far, but many of the former third-strikers have served so much time, they are not put under county or state supervision, and often miss out on crucial reentry programs.

Here are some clips (but you should also listen to the podcast):

Convicted of stealing two car alarms from a Walgreens store, Richard Brown spent 18 years in prison under California’s notorious Three Strikes law. Then, quite suddenly, he was standing outside the gates of San Quentin earlier this year, a free man.

“They told me to get off the property,” he says. “I asked if there was a phone booth or something. They said no.”

For Robert Watts, who served 13 years for receiving stolen property, getting out of prison involved an emotional legal tangle with local prosecutors who insisted he was an unredeemed career criminal and should remain behind bars.

“It was unpleasant,” he says. “But at least it’s over.”

For both men, freedom came as the result of Proposition 36, the ballot initiative approved last year by voters in every county in California.

The measure changed the 1994 law that had allowed judges to impose life sentences for low-level felonies such as petty theft and drug possession. The new law focuses on serious and violent crimes. It’s also retroactive, allowing current inmates whose third strike was non-violent and non-serious to petition the courts for resentencing and possible release.

Opponents of the measure have argued that the original Three Strikes law worked well and contributed to a dramatic fall in violent crime over the past two decades. Granting some inmates early release, they said, would lead to a spike in crime…

But so far, Prop. 36 does not appear to be endangering public safety, according to a recent report by Stanford Law School and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Citing state data, the report concluded that of the more than 1,000 inmates released from prison under the measure, fewer than 2 percent have been charged with new crimes. By comparison, the average recidivism rate over a similar time period for non-Prop. 36 inmates is 16 percent.

[SNIP]

Several former three strikers say their challenge has been coping with life on the streets without the structure of prison and support normally provided to newly released felons.

Most three strikers who qualify for release have served so much extra time they’re not placed on parole or probation. Often that means that don’t have access to substance abuse, mental health and other re-entry programs as well as housing.

“They give you $200 and kick you out, and they don’t give you any type of papers to indicate that you can go down to this program or (that) program,” said Brown. He considers himself lucky to have a job, home and support network.

“For many people coming out, it’s a nightmare,” he said.


SCOTUS DISMISSES CASE CHALLENGING ALABAMA JUDGES’ ABILITY TO OVERTURN JURY DEATH PENALTY DECISIONS

On Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of an Alabama man who was sentenced to life in prison by a jury, only to have it overridden by the trial judge who then sentenced him to death. (Alabama is one of only three states that allows judges to reverse a jury’s decision in death penalty cases.)

Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen says the court should have heard the case (Woodward v. Alabama) and ceased the state’s use of “judicial override.” Here are some clips:

If (as Alabama has done) you give judges the power to override jury verdicts in capital cases, and if (as Alabama also has done) you then make those judges accountable to public opinion by having judicial campaigns and elections, you are going to end up (as they have in Alabama) with judges who disproportionately feel it is in their self-interest to sentence people to death even when a jury has recommended a sentence of life.

Citing the trenchant work done in this area by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, Justice Sotomayor wrote that such a scenario must be unconstitutional…

One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment. One of these ads boasted that he had “‘presided over more than 9,000 cases, includ­ing some of the most heinous murder trials in our history,’” and expressly named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death, in at least one case over a jury’s contrary judgment…

By permitting a single trial judge’s view to displace that of a jury representing a cross-section of the community, Alabama’s sentencing scheme has led to curious and potentially arbitrary outcomes. For example, Alabama judges frequently override jury life-without-parole verdicts even in cases where the jury was unanimous in that ver­dict.In many cases, judges have done so without offering a meaningful explanation for the decision to disregard the jury’s verdict. In sentencing a defendant with an IQ of 65, for example, one judge concluded that “‘[t]he sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.’”

Another judge, who was facing reelection at the time he sentenced a 19-year-old defend­ant, refused to consider certain mitigating circumstances found by the jury, which had voted to recommend a life­ without-parole sentence. He explained his sensitivity to public perception as follows: “‘If I had not imposed the death sentence I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.” (citations omitted by me).

(There’s more. Read on…)



Photo taken from the San Diego Sheriff’s website.

Posted in Death Penalty, PTSD, Reentry, Sentencing, Supreme Court, Veterans | 2 Comments »

AB 109 Recap + the Women of Realignment, SCOTUS Rejects Suit Against San Diego Officer…and More

November 5th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT REVIEW AND THE PLIGHT OF AB 109′S WOMEN

If you need to brush up on the nuts and bolts of California prison realignment, KPCC’s Rina Palta has a solid Q&A on the original purpose of AB 109 and the effects California is beginning to see two years after its inception.

Here’s a small clip:

Q: What exactly is realignment?

A: When California got the order to rapidly reduce prison overcrowding, the state had two options: build a bunch of prisons to increase capacity or reduce the prison population. Because of time constraints, budget problems, and the Great Recession, the state opted to cut the prison population. And it did so by telling county governments to take over punishing certain kinds of crimes, like drug crimes and property crimes. The hope was this would shrink the prison population and also inspire county governments to come up with new ways of dealing with people that might help cut the state’s high recidivism rate.

Q: Has it worked?

A: Yes and no. The prison population has shrunk, but not quite enough to meet court-ordered deadlines. Because of that, California Governor Jerry Brown has asked the court for extensions. He’s gotten minor ones, but California needs a supplemental plan for about 10,000 inmates…

And, in an excellent story published on Friday, Palta explains the effects of realignment on the thousands of California’s low-level female offenders sent to LA County Jails to serve out their sentences. Here are some clips:

Counties have treated this task differently. Some, like Riverside, Orange, San Francisco, and Contra Costa, have utilized jail alternatives like residential drug treatment programs or split sentencing, which allows an offender to serve a portion of their time on probation instead of in jail. Los Angeles, however, has almost entirely relied on jail terms in which offenders are not allowed to earn credits to get out early. For Quincey and other AB109 women, this has meant serving lengthy sentences in a place designed to house people for weeks or months, not years.

[SNIP]

Prisons also generally allow for contact visits, where family members can sit in a room with an inmate for hours. In jail, visits are limited to two people, talking through phones, seeing each other through a glass wall.

Melinda Rodriguez says that’s made it difficult for her two teenage daughters to visit. Instead, she writes them cards every week.

[SNIP]

Such women used to flood California’s state prison system, until the U.S. Supreme Court determined California’s prisons were massively overcrowded and the state realigned such women to the counties. The move cut the number of women in California prisons nearly in half because there had been so many lower level female prisoners.

But Susan Burton, of A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Watts, says those numbers don’t mean realignment has been successful.

“Overcrowded. Bad medical conditions. People stripped of their dignity,” Burton said. “It’s pretty much the same.”

She wants to see alternatives to incarceration for women who commit lesser crimes. Burton and a lot of prisoner advocates thought realignment would bring a shift towards more rehabilitation and less incarceration.

“But there’s no shift,” Burton said. “They’re still just packing people into jails.”

Los Angeles County is looking to build a new women’s jail in Mira Loma–a move that Burton and others see as a disincentive to look into incarceration alternatives. The county sees it as an opportunity to build a more suitable facility for women.

(In July, WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on how realignment has caused severe overcrowding in women’s prisons.)


SUPREME COURT SIDES WITH SAN DIEGO POLICE OFFICER IN “UNREASONABLE SEARCH” CASE

The US Supreme Court unanimously quashed a lawsuit against La Mesa police officer Michael Stanton for an “unreasonable search,” saying that the officer did not clearly violate the Constitution. The suit was brought by a homeowner who was knocked down when Stanton kicked in her gate in pursuit of a potential suspect, and was upheld in the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The LA Times’ David Savage has more on this interesting case. Here’s a clip:

The case began when Officer Mike Stanton responded about midnight to a call reporting an “unknown disturbance” in La Mesa. …upon arriving, Stanton saw one young man walk across the street toward a residence.

Stanton called out, “Police,” and told the man to stop. When the man entered a yard through a fence, Stanton pursued him and kicked open the gate. Standing next to it was Drendolyn Sims, the homeowner. She was knocked down and struck her forehead on the steps…

Sims sued officer Stanton, alleging he had violated her constitutional rights by entering her private yard. A federal district court judge disagreed.

But the 9th Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles, ruled that the officer had violated the law…

The officer appealed. Without bothering to hear arguments, the high court issued an eight-page unsigned opinion reversing the 9th Circuit in Stanton vs. Sims.


SIX LIFE SENTENCES, PLUS 118 YEARS FOR A NON-HOMICIDE OFFENSE

Virginia teen Travion Blount may be serving the longest sentence in America for a juvenile who did not commit murder—118 years and six life sentences for armed robbery committed when he was fifteen.

The Virginian-Pilot’s Louis Hansen has an interesting two-part story on Blount’s case, along with some helpful interactive tools. Here’s how it opens:

At the opening of the trial, a Norfolk circuit judge glanced down at Travion Blount.

“He looks young,” the judge said.

“He’s 17,” his defense attorney answered.

A clerk stood and read 51 felony charges against Blount: among them, illegal use of a firearm, robbery, abduction.

Blount said two words to each: “Not guilty.” He said little more during his three-day trial.

A dozen victims, a detective and two teens he once called friends testified against him. Witnesses described an armed robbery committed by two older teenagers and Blount, then 15, at a house party near Norfolk Naval Station in September 2006. The three collected cash and marijuana. No shots were fired, but one person was struck by a co-defendant.

After a few hours of deliberation, a jury foreman submitted a stack of forms to the judge. Blount was guilty on 49 counts.

In Virginia, juries play no role in juvenile punishment. Blount was ordered to return to Courtroom 7 for sentencing in four months…

On March 12, 2008, at Blount’s sentencing, the judge told everyone that gun convictions came with set punishments under Virginia law.

He stepped through the weapons charges, one by one. The count added up to 118 years.

Next, the judge addressed the remaining 25 felony convictions. He suspended several sentences. But for the crimes against three victims – all juveniles, robbed at gunpoint of purses, cellphones and wallets – he did not. The rulings: life, life, life, life, life and life.

Blount knew he would spend years in prison. He didn’t expect to die there.

Angela Blount watched her son turn and ask, “What happened, Mom?”

Travion Blount might be serving the harshest punishment delivered to any American teenager for a crime not involving murder, experts say. His case, and others like it, are forcing judges and lawmakers to ask: Can a young criminal life be redeemed?

Blount’s advocates argue his six life sentences for an armed robbery violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Nobody’s asking to let him out tomorrow,” said his attorney, John Coggeshall. He wants a new sentence for his client, comparable to the codefendants’. The older defendants – who, according to testimony, led the robbery – pleaded guilty and received just 13 and 10 years in prison.

In California, although we don’t generally hand out multiple life sentences to juveniles, because of laws like the gun enhancement measure known as “10-20-life” and the Juvenile Crime Initiative, Proposition 21, California teenagers can wind up with disproportionately long prison terms—even on first time offenses.

Go read the rest of the Blount story. (And here’s the second part.)

Posted in LA County Jail, prison, Realignment, Sentencing, Supreme Court | 3 Comments »

SCOTUS Sez No to Jerry Brown’s Request to Delay Prisoner Release to Fix Overcrowding

August 2nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


With no real comment, and with three justices dissenting,
the U.S. Supreme Court refused the appeal by Governor Jerry Brown and AG Kamala Harris to delay the demand to release prisoners, or whatever it takes, to lower the population numbers inside California’s still crowded lock-ups to what a panel of federal judges deems acceptable and safe.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News has more. Here’s a clip:

Gov. Jerry Brown and his top prison officials may be running out of options to avoid having to remove another 10,000 inmates from the state’s prisons by the end of the year.

In a brief but significant order, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected the Brown administration’s bid to stall a federal court demand that the state shed the inmates to resolve California’s prison overcrowding crisis. It was the latest setback in a long-running case that has stirred fears of thousands of criminals walking free, although the state would likely seek to place many of the prisoners in other facilities, including county jails.

The Supreme Court without explanation denied California’s attempt to stay the orders while the justices consider whether to take up the state’s broader appeal, an ominous sign for the governor. Three justices dissented and voted to put the inmate release order on hold, including Justice Antonin Scalia, who labeled it a “terrible injunction.”

The Supreme Court did not indicate whether it will accept the full appeal of the order for its upcoming term, but with six justices refusing to put it on hold, the odds appear to weigh against the governor and his top prison aides.

Nevertheless, state officials vowed to press forward with their legal fight. The governor did not respond to the Supreme Court’s order, but Jeffrey Beard, head of the state prison system, issued a brief statement saying the state now hopes to get the justices to consider the heart of the appeal.

We’ll have more at the beginning of the week as additional people weigh in.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, prison policy, Supreme Court | No Comments »

TWO MANY WOMEN: the Hidden Overcrowding in California’s Prisons – by Matthew Fleischer

July 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

TOO MANY WOMEN: Are California’s female inmates bearing the brunt of the state’s overcrowding problem?

by
Matthew Fleischer


California’s 2011 prison realignment plan, has rerouted thousands of inmates into the county jails who, in past years, would have landed in the state’s overcrowded prisons. In the first year of the state’s massive corrections reform strategy, no group benefitted more from the new policies than women in the system.

In particular, female inmates profited from newly devised alternative custody programs, like the one that allowed certain “primary caregiver” mothers, convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses, to complete their sentences at home or in community facilities. Plus, since the core of the AB109 reforms was to keep all future non-non-non offenders in their respective counties, the fact that nearly a full third of California’s female inmates were locked up on drug offences meant that the women’s population numbers plunged faster than those of the men. From 2011 to 2012, California’s female inmate population dropped from 9,038 to 6,142, while the number of inmates in female prisons, compared with the design capacity of those facilities, plummeted from to 170% to 116.9%.

For context, the Supreme Court ruling that forced California’s hand in pushing forward with realignment determined that prisons functioning above 137.5% capacity produced conditions that far too often violated the 8th Amendment and constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision, “The medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons falls below the standard of decency that inheres in the Eighth Amendment. This extensive and ongoing constitutional violation requires a remedy, and a remedy will not be achieved without a reduction in overcrowding.”


POPULATION DROPS, INMATES GAIN

Even in its first months, the population decline began producing positive collateral effects for female inmates. By February 22 of 2012, women’s facilities in California had already dropped below the 137.5% marker – and continued declining from there. An April 2012 San Francisco Chronicle feature on the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) outside Chowchilla praised the “quiet hallways” and increased “access to the handful of successful vocational programs this facility still offers, including a cosmetology school, a dental lab and a flag-making factory.”

What a difference a year makes.

After those tremendous gains of 2012, however, California women’s correctional facilities are once again among the most crowded in the state’s 33-prison system. The reason is not difficult to determine: last year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation converted Valley State Prison women’s facility into a men’s facility, in order to ease overcrowding elsewhere. The two remaining female prisons, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) outside Chowchilla, and the California Institute for Women in Chino, were forced to absorb VSP’s population.

As a result, overall numbers in women’s facilities shot up to 153.5% of capacity — now officially higher than the infamously crowded men’s facilities, which are operating at 145.7% capacity.

CCWF, in particular, is suffering. According to the most recent population report from the CDCR, CCWF is operating at nearly 175% capacity, second only to North Kern State men’s prison as the most packed in California.

It seems the Supreme Court ruling that ordered drastic population reductions made no stipulations about capacity numbers in individual facilities – only that the overall system had to come below the 137.5% borderline. So, legally speaking there is nothing wrong with raising capacity in women’s facilities to ease overcrowding for men.


WOMEN TAKE THE HIT

But does this mean women are shouldering the brunt of California’s population reduction efforts?

“Absolutely,” says Courtney Hooks, communications director for the prisoners’ rights organization Justice Now. “Historically, people in women’s prisons have tended to self-harm instead of riot. So CDCR probably felt like it was OK to overcrowd there because they can keep the repercussions quieter.”

Not only are women packed in, sometimes eight to a room meant for four inmates, but the population demographics of the facility have changed, making the facilities more dangerous than they were two years ago, when capacity was at similar rates, say advocates. Because those convicted of drug crimes and other lower level offenses are now being sent to county jails, the women who are suddenly jammed on top of each other are far more likely to be serious offenders.

Justice Now pays routine legal visits to California’s female prisons to monitor conditions and provide legal aid for inmates. This past May, they received testimonials from various inmates about what they described as dangerous conditions inside CCWF.

“I have never experienced this amount of violence and unsafe environment as I have since being transferred to CCWF,” wrote one inmate who asked to remain anonymous, for fear of retribution from guards. “I have encountered more violence at CCWF in five months than in 15 years at VSPW…Rehabilitation is not even an option anymore.”

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations spokesperson Dana Simas concedes that realignment has affected female inmates much more than it has their male counterparts. “Lower level offenders no longer come to state prison. To say that tensions are running high, however…I haven’t seen any incidents that would indicate that to be the case. No female institution has been on lockdown in over 2 years.”

Yet advocates for female prisoners say that overcrowding inherently produces precisely the kind of problems that the Supreme Court designated as cruel and unusual punishment, hence its sharply written order to the state to reduce numbers or face unpleasant consequences.

“What causes medical neglect, illness and [unnecessary] death –the conditions that led to lawsuits and federal oversight–is how overcrowded individual prisons are,” says Justice Now’s Hooks.


COLLATERAL DAMAGE REPORTED TO PROGRAMS AND SERVICES

Misty Rojo, program coordinator for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and a former inmate herself, has seen first hand what overcrowding does to a prison.

“The system can’t accommodate the number of women they’re trying to service. A shortage of staff leaves women [functionally]* locked down. They want to learn vocational skills, but are [prevented] because of lack of staff [to handle the logistics of classes for such a large population]. So women are losing out on any possibility of rehabilitation.”

Rojo’s organization works with women on the inside, who tell her that the woeful medical care that prompted the Supreme Court’s decision has resurfaced inside CCWF.

“We’re getting reports that women transferred to CCWF from Valley State are no longer getting the medications they were used to getting,” she says.

Aside from the health concerns and lack of access to rehabilitative programs that can help the women’s chances of succeeding when they’re released, there are reports that even the little things that make life bearable for women are being adversely affected.

“Mail is not running the same,” she says. “Inmates we spoke with [at CCWF] who work recycling tell us they found bags of undelivered mail that were just thrown away. We get letters all the time asking why we haven’t written back. We have. The inmates are just not getting them. That’s because of overcrowding.”

The CDCR’s Simas says that these concerns about overcrowding in relation to capacity are overstated.

“100 percent capacity would mean everyone is housed in a single cell,” she tells WitnessLA. “By our definition, there is no overcrowding like you saw before realignment. There is no one being housed in triple bunks, or gyms and day rooms. All the inmates are able to access programs. If you were to go in to a male prison, or female prison, you would not see any disparate treatment between the two.”

Simas says that any capacity concerns should ease when the newly opened Folsom Women’s Facility becomes fully operational.

“CCWF is high right now,” she admits. “Folsom, however, isn’t at capacity yet. There are 186 women there now, but the facility can hold over 400.”

Once more inmates are transferred to Folsom by fall of 2013, Simas estimates capacity at CCWF should likely drop to around the mid-160’s.

That fractional drop, however, will do little to appease advocates like Rojo.

“Everything that’s happening is only happening for the men. None of that focus has been brought to women. Based on our conversations with the CDCR, we see no sustainable plan to reduce overcrowding [in women’s prisons].”


FOR WOMEN, SLO-MO RELIEF ONLY

Last Monday, California petitioned the Supreme Court to block the pending order that calls for releasing 9,600 more inmates by the end of the year.

“California has now diverted tens of thousands of low-risk inmates from state prison to local authorities…, expanded good time credits for certain classes of inmates …, and eliminated any need to use gymnasiums and day rooms for anything other than their intended purposes,” Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote in a joint letter to the court.

Realignment is working to ease crowding, Brown seems to be arguing, and that process can’t be rushed by arbitrary deadlines.

Indeed, progress has been made in substantially reducing California’s prison population. The CDCR, however, as indicated by Simas, has made it clear it sees no problem with the remaining overcrowding inside California’s women’s correctional facilities. If realignment continues on its current course, system-wide numbers should continue to drop. But given that the low hanging fruit of non-violent, non-serious female offenders have already been mostly channeled out of the prison system, the state’s two women’s prisons will get the least relief.

Thus, it seems it will be the women remaining in lock-up who will have to endure the indignities and the outright harm of overcrowding while the larger system slowly eases into compliance with the Supreme Court’s mandate.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, prison policy, Realignment, Supreme Court | 4 Comments »

DEVASTATING: 19 Firefighters Killed Sunday Night in AZ Wildfire…and Other News

July 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



As many of you may have heard by now, 19 firefighters were killed Sunday
night battling an out-of-control wildfire, located about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The 19 were members of a team of highly-trained wildland firefighters known as the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots (pictured above), one of the elite Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) that are deployed as needed to major wildland fires throughout the nation.

The deaths of the Prescott hot shots is the second worst such incident in U.S. history, and the worst firefighting loss of life since 1933.

When firefighters or police officers are killed, it tears a particular kind of hole in the community—both locally and in the larger community. Thus, while WLA doesn’t genrally report on wildfires, in this case….attention must be paid.

Here is what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck tweeted at around 10 pm Sunday night:

Feeling incredible shock and grief over the deaths of the 19 firefighters killed in Yarnell,Az wildfires. Please pray 4 their families.CB

Yes.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

OFFICER LAWSUITS AGAINST THE DEPARTMENT DEMONSTRATE NEED FOR CHANGES AND REFORMS SAYS LAPD’S INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s Inspector General, Alex Bustamante, issued a sharply-worded report that critiqued the department’s failure to institute reforms to reduce the number of officers suing department—and collecting big $$ payouts—as a result of various claims of ill-treatment at the hands of the LAPD.

Here’s a small snip from the LA Times’ Joel Rubin’s story on the matter:


Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, calculated that the city has paid $31 million over the last five years to resolve employment-related cases in which members of the LAPD contended they were victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other misconduct. That was almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.

In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department to implement a mediation program devised by the LAPD, city attorneys and officials from the union representing rank-and-file police officers.

The Los Angeles Police Comission will discuss Bustamante’s report on Tuesday.

And while we’re on the topic, it would be good to know what percentage of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department payouts are to settle with department members.

It should also be noted that, in his report, Bustamante said that, in the last 5 years, the LAPD has paid out $110 million in lawsuits, 31 million of which is cops suing the department.

The Sheriff’s department has, by contrast, paid out over $100 million-in three years.

So how much of that 100 million plus is paid to settle with LASD department members who are suing their department?

Has anyone called for reforms to help cut those numbers down?


SUPREME COURT JUSTICE KENNEDY TOSSES OUT PETITION TO STOP GAY MARRIAGES.

On Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy turned down requests from Prop. 8 supporters to put a stop to gay marriages in California until they could appeal to SCOTUS to rethink it’s ruling.

Kennedy said, Uh, no.

NPR’s Mark Memmott has the story. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday, the court (with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion), ruled 5-4 that the proponents who came forward to defend Prop 8 after it was struck down by a lower court did not have the proper standing to bring the case to the High Court. So, in effect, the lower court ruling was allowed to stand.

The ruling has brought hundreds of same-sex couples to courthouses and city halls across California. As we wrote Saturday, it’s “wedding weekend in San Francisco” and other places.

This weekend, Kennedy (to whom appeals of decisions from California are directed) was asked to put a stop to the weddings. Prop 8′s supporters, as our colleagues at KQED reported, argued that because they have 25 days in which to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, the marriages should be on hold for at least that long.

Kennedy disagreed. So, the marriages can continue.


TRAVIS COUNTY, TX, EXPERIMENT COULD SET THE STAGE FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM ACROSS THE STATE

Travis County, Texas, (which includes Austin within its borders) has decided that it can do a better job in helping its law breaking kids turn their lives around, by making use of intensive therapy and other rehabilitative programs.

Brandi Grisson writing for the Texas Tribune has the story. Here’s a clip:

“…We will no longer commit kids to the state,” said Jeanne Meurer, a Travis County senior district judge. “We will take care of all of our kids.”

This year, legislators approved a law to allow the county to commit juvenile offenders to local detention facilities instead of sending them to large institutions operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. If the Travis County model is successful, it could set the stage for the next steps in reforming the juvenile justice system — sharply reducing the size of the agency and the number of detention centers.

“Travis County’s experience doing this will tell us what’s possible,” said Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on jail conditions.

Since Texas deals with many of the same complex youth populations in its facilities as does California, what Travis does should be worth watching.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Fire, juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court | 8 Comments »

DOMA Unconstitutional! ….Prop. 8 Dismissed for Lack of Standing……Also The Supremes on Voting Rights…..A Young Father’s Parental Rights.

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The New Yorker has a photo of Edie Windsor learning of the decision.

MAIN PART OF DOMA IS STRUCK DOWN, RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN 5/4 RULING…..PROP 8 APPEAL SENT BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

DOMA is found unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages,” writes Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority.

Here’s a link to the DOMA opinion.

And this is from the live blogging at SCOTUSBlog:

“What this means, in plain terms,” writes Amy Howe of SCOTUSBLOG, which has been live-blogging the rulings, “is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law– with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.”

Adam Liptak of the NY Times writes this:

Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

In a second decision, the court declined to say whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Instead, the justices said that a case concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, was not properly before them. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial court’s decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the state’s shoes to appeal from the decision, the court said, it was powerless to issue a decision.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation. Its consequences for California were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages there are likely to resume in a matter of weeks.


SUPREMES SEND PROP 8 CASE, HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY, BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

Here’s the Prop 8 ruling.

Here’s the plain English version from the NY Times:

In the California case, the court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban. The Supreme Court’s ruling appears to remove legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in the state, but the court did not issue a broad ruling likely to affect other states.

Here’s Greg Stohr at Bloomberg:

A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and potentially clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.

The court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for gays to marry, or even ruling directly on California’s voter-approved ban, as the justices considered the issue for the first time.

The decisions in the two cases sustain the momentum that has grown behind same-sex marriage over the past decade. With a 5-4 procedural ruling in the California case, the court reinstated a trial judge’s order allowing at least some gay marriages there. And by invalidating part of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act by a different 5-4 majority, the court rejected many of the justifications for treating same-sex and heterosexual couples differently.

Interestingly, the decision on Prop 8 features a different 5/4 configuration with Roberts writing for the majority.

Here’s David Savage of the LA Times:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined [Roberts] to form the majority.

The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Okay, that’s it for the moment. Lots of good national coverage. This is an excellent day for equal rights in the nation.




PROVISION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT GUTTED BY SUPRIME COURT DECISION

The web and my email box are loaded with angry expert opinions and cries of anguish over Tuesday morning’s Supreme Court ruling on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Garrett Epps from the Atlantic writes about the dispiriting decision in appropriately blistering terms:

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.) But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality. An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes. The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

[BIG SNIP]

The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.


SUPREMES RULE FOR BABY VERONICA’S ADOPTIVE FAMILY NOT NATIVE AMERICAN FATHER AND FAMILY

This Solomonic/halving-the-baby decision is a heartbreaker however you look at it.

Dan Frosch and Timothy Williams write about the ruling for the New York Times. Here’s a clip:

An American Indian child being raised by her biological father should not have been taken from her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, saying that a federal law devised to keep Indian families together did not apply in the case.

The 5-to-4 decision, which reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, found that the case represented an exception to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that made it more difficult for American Indian children to be removed from their families. That landmark legislation effectively ended the practice of taking Indian children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools and foster care.

The court’s majority held Tuesday that the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, No. 12-399, did not involve removing a child from an Indian home because the girl’s father had relinquished his parental rights before the girl’s birth and her biological mother had agreed to allow the South Carolina couple to adopt the girl.

Four months after the child’s birth, the father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee tribe, changed his mind and sought custody of his daughter. He said he had not realized that his former fiancée was going to put the child up for adoption.

The girl was in the process of being legally adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who raised her for 27 months before South Carolina courts ruled in favor of Mr. Brown. The child, now nearly 4, has been living with Mr. Brown in Oklahoma for the past year and a half. The state courts found that both the Capobianco family and Mr. Brown had provided the girl with safe, loving homes.

The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of the dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from child welfare groups, adoptive parents and Indian tribes, all of whom have sought a clearer legal standard of how the Indian Child Welfare Act should be applied when it appears to conflict with state law.


Posted in children and adolescents, How Appealing, LGBT, race, race and class, racial justice, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Judges Order Gov. Jerry to Start Releasing Prisoners, CA Public Records Act No Longer in Jeopardy…and More

June 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

FEDERAL JUDGES TELL GOV. BROWN HE MUST START COMPLYING WITH ORDERED CAP ON PRISON POP.

On Thursday, a panel of three federal judges—Stephen Reinhardt, Lawrence Karlton and Thelton Henderson-– issued a 51-page court order demanding Gov. Jerry Brown immediately comply with a Supreme Court-imposed order meet a 137.5% population cap in CA’s severely overcrowded prisons. The panel said that if the governor doesn’t get with the program, he will be forced to release inmates from a list of low risk offenders. Thus far, the population has been reduced by about 20,000 through realignment, but according to the judges, the governor has not taken adequate additional steps to further reduce the population by the 10,000 necessary to meet the order. (Last month, he started the process to appeal the federal court order to the Supreme Court.)

LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

Citing California’s “defiance,” “intransigence” and “deliberate failure” to provide inmates with adequate care in its overcrowded lockups, the judges on Thursday said Brown must shed 9,600 inmates —about 8% of the prison population — by the end of the year.

Unless he finds another way to ease crowding, the governor must expand the credits that inmates can earn for good behavior or participation in rehabilitation programs, the judges said.

“We are willing to defer to their choice for how to comply with our order, not whether to comply with it,” the judges wrote. “Defendants have consistently sought to frustrate every attempt by this court to achieve a resolution to the overcrowding problem.”

If Sacramento does not meet the inmate cap on time, the judges said, it will have to release prisoners from a list of “low risk” offenders the court has told the administration to prepare.

[SNIP]

Thursday’s order requires, absent other solutions, that the state give minimum-custody inmates two days off for every one served without trouble and to apply those credits retroactively. Such a step could spur the release of as many as 5,385 prisoners by the end of December.

The court order also instructed the governor to check in every two weeks until December, upping the frequency from current once-per-month report.

Not surprisingly, the California Police Chief’s Association and the California State Sheriff’s Association were quick to announce objections to the panel’s demand that CA comply and their support for Gov. Brown’s request to stay the order.


GOV. AND LEGISLATURE BACK DOWN ON CHANGES TO PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

Gov. Jerry Brown, the CA Senate, and Assembly have all backed down on a controversial attempt to dilute the state’s Public Records Act by making it optional for cities, counties, and school districts to fulfill requests for public records (usually made by reporters and government watchdogs, but also a useful tool for students and average citizens).

The San Jose Mercury’s Mike Rosenberg has the story. Here’s a clip:

State lawmakers were hit with a torrent of criticism from newspapers around the state, as well opposition from everyone from liberal environmentalists to conservatives, who feared the change approved by the Legislature last week would have severely limited the public’s right to know what their government is up to.

After deciding last week to pull about $20 million for local agencies to respond to requests made under the California Public Records Act –signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968 — Brown and Senate leaders reversed course Thursday, a day after the Assembly did the same.

The political firestorm proved too much to bear for state leaders, particularly in light of the relatively small amount of funding the state was looking to cut, which amounts to 0.02 percent of the state’s general-fund budget at a time when the budget has a $1.1 billion surplus.

[SNIP]

Reporters and other watchdogs regularly file public records requests seeking data such as government salaries and email correspondence between public officials, and the information over the decades has led to the exposure of wrongdoing and in some cases criminal indictments. The law approved last week would have allowed cities, counties and school districts to essentially ignore those requests if they chose to.

They’re now required to send a response within 10 days.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like most reporters working in California, we at WLA have regularly used the CPRA to persuade public agencies to fork over crucial copies of documents, stats, and other pieces information needed for the stories we are pursuing. For instance, we used the state’s public records law to get lists of the people who had donated to LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s Gardena elections campaigns. We also used the California Public Records Act to get the number and kind of force incidents for each of the county’s jails, over a multi-year period—to name two of many, many instances.

Thus it was perplexing that the governor and our lawmakers came as close as they did to damaging this instrument so essential to maintaining a healthy democracy.

All’s well that ends well, we guess— but, geeze, Jerry, what in the world were you thinking???


LOOKING BACK ON THE EVENTFUL 2012 SCOTUS TERM (IT’S NOT OVER YET!)

As part of Slate’s running tradition, legal reporter Emily Bazelon has a rather interesting review of the past year at the Supreme Court (and a glance toward the future). Here are two notable clips:

…what did you make of [Justice Scalia's] impassioned cry for civil liberties in Maryland v. King? In that one, five justices (the other conservatives plus Stephen Breyer) ruled that states can collect DNA from everyone who gets arrested for a serious crime. Scalia dissented, warning of worse to come: “Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” This is the kind of just-you-wait prediction he made 10 years ago to warn that preventing the states from criminalizing sodomy would one day lead to gay marriage. Next week, we will find out if he was right about that. Either way, what do you think of dire prediction as a rhetorical strategy?

[SNIP]

Next week, we will of course talk about the court’s take on race in Ameica and whether it means life or death of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action. Any predictions? I will say that as a gay-rights supporter, I’m feeling optimistic about both of the gay-marriage cases. I think the court will strike down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for purposes of receiving federal benefits. And I think it will also find a way to get rid of California’s gay marriage ban, without foisting gay marriage on the rest of the states that have yet to vote for it.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Realignment, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Breakdown on Monday’s SCOTUS Rulings, and CA Prison Overcrowding Increasing…plus Motion for DCFS Blue Ribbon Commission

June 18th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

The Supreme Court, nearing the end of the 2012 term, delivered several notable decisions on Monday.

PRE-MIRANDA RIGHTS (OR LACK THEREOF)

In a 5-4 split ruling, the Supreme Court held that a defendant’s silence before being read his or her Miranda rights can be used against them in court.

AP’s Jessie J. Holland has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 5-4 ruling comes in the case of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted of a 1992 murder. During police questioning, and before he was arrested or read his Miranda rights, Salinas answered some questions but did not answer when asked if a shotgun he had access to would match up with the murder weapon.

Prosecutors in Texas used his silence on that question in convicting him of murder, saying it helped demonstrate his guilt. Salinas appealed, saying his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent should have kept lawyers from using his silence against him in court. Texas courts disagreed, saying pre-Miranda silence is not protected by the Constitution.

The high court upheld that decision.

The Fifth Amendment protects Americans against forced self-incrimination, with the Supreme Court saying that prosecutors cannot comment on a defendant’s refusal to testify at trial. The courts have expanded that right to answering questions in police custody, with police required to tell people under arrest they have a right to remain silent without it being used in court.

Prosecutors argued that since Salinas was answering some questions — therefore not invoking his right to silence — and since he wasn’t under arrest and wasn’t compelled to speak, his silence on the incriminating question doesn’t get constitutional protection.


MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING

In a second 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said that any finding of fact in a case that might increase the mandatory minimum sentence should not be determined by a judge, but instead, submitted to the jury for final say.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey has the story. Here’s a clip:

The decision marks an important affirmation of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, while establishing a new rule for judges seeking to balance sentencing guidelines with their own judicial discretion.

In the 5-to-4 decision, the high court overturned two existing legal precedents from 1986 and 2002 that permitted judges to make such determinations themselves by a preponderance of the evidence.

In overturning those precedents, the majority justices said any fact that increases a defendant’s sentence – including a mandatory minimum sentence – must be submitted to a jury under the higher standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.

(This is surprisingly complicated to summarize, so you might want to read the whole story.)


AZ VOTER REGISTRATION

SCOTUS also struck down an Arizona voter registration law requiring voters to prove their citizenship—but it’s complicated.

UC Irvine Law Professor Richard L. Hasen clears up the confusion surrounding the high court’s decision in a post for the Daily Beast.

(More SCOTUS rulings are expected this Thursday.)


UPDATE ON CALIFORNIA PRISON POP. PROBLEMS

Gov. Jerry Brown’s monthly report to federal judges shows that CA’s prison crowding situation is slowly getting worse. Brown says he’s drafting a legislative strategy to get the population reduction closer to the number mandated by the court. (Last month, the governor’s office began the process to appeal the federal court order to the Supreme Court.)

LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

In the state’s monthly progress report to federal judges, California acknowledges prison crowding has again begun to creep upward while Gov. Jerry Brown promises to seek legislative solutions “shortly.”

The state’s 33 prisons are now at more than 150% capacity, according to Monday’s report to the U.S. District courts. Three prisons — North Kern, the Central California Women’s Facility, and Wasco — are at or near 175% crowding.

[SNIP]

For the second month in a row, Brown’s lawyers say the governor is “drafting legislative language” to take other steps to reduce crowding, including to keep more inmates in private prisons out of state, lease beds from county jails, and allow inmates who are elderly, medically frail or model prisoners to be released earlier.



EDITOR’S NOTE: DCFS BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION VOTE

Don’t forget that today—Tuesday— the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, cosponsored by Sup. Mike Antonovich, to create a Blue Ribbon Comission on Child Protection, in order to get to the bottom of why LA’s foster care system is still so disasterously dysfuntional.

(Here’s our earlier story on the motion.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Realignment, Sentencing, Supreme Court | No Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »