On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court is slated to consider whether people held in immigrant detention facilities have a right to bond hearings, which means the potential for release.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Jennings v. Rodriguez that immigrant detainees subjected to noncitizen mandatory detention for six months or more must be granted a bond hearing, even if they have been convicted of crimes.
The ACLU brought the original class action lawsuit on behalf of around 1000 immigrants held indefinitely in federal detention centers for minor—and often very old—crimes. Most were legal residents who committed crimes that are grounds for deportation. Others were guilty of re-crossing the border after a deportation.
Those convicted had to complete sentences for the actual crime before moving to immigration detention. In at least half the cases, the crimes committed did not carry more than a six month sentence.
Many of the Jennings v. Rodriguez plaintiffs were held in detention for many months—even years.
During bond hearings, immigration judges determine whether detainees would pose a flight risk or endanger the public if released while they await deportation proceedings.
In Los Angeles area cases, judges found 70% of the men and women who requested bond hearings to be eligible for release, according to the ACLU.
On average, the plaintiffs in the Jennings case, who “have strong claims to lawful status” are five times more likely to triumph over their deportation cases than other detainees, says the ACLU.
Alejandro Rodriguez, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, was a legal permanent resident when he was convicted of joyriding at age 19, and later, misdemeanor drug possession. These crimes triggered mandatory detention for Rodriguez, who waited for more than three years without going before a judge for a bond hearing. Rodriguez ultimately won his immigration case. Unfortunately, in the process, he lost years with his two children and his job as a dental assistant.
Warren Joseph, another plaintiff, was injured in the Gulf War while serving in the US Army. Joseph was honored for rescuing his fellow soldiers. Joseph struggled to reintegrate into his community after service. In 2001, he was arrested for buying a handgun for people to whom he owed money. Joseph, a legal permanent resident from Trinidad, was put on probation and got his life back on track. Then Joseph moved in with his mother without telling his probation officer, and was sentenced to six months behind bars. After his prison term, Joseph spent another three-and-a-half years in an immigration facility. He never received a bail hearing. Joseph also eventually won his deportation case and became a US citizen.
OBAMA FOCUSES ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND THE U.S. AS “A NATION OF SECOND CHANCES,” COMMUTES 46 SENTENCES AND WILL VISIT A PRISON
On Monday, President Barack Obama, who has previously faced criticism for seldom granting clemency, announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. This brings President Obama’s total number of approved clemency petitions up to 89. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton granted clemency to 61 offenders. There are still nearly 8,000 pending clemency petitions.
In a letter, Obama tells those given a second chance, “…it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change…but remember you have the capacity to make good choices.”
…federal sentencing practices can, in too many instances, lead nonviolent drug offenders to spend decades, if not life, in prison. Now, don’t get me wrong, many people are justly punished for causing harm and perpetuating violence in our communities. But, in some cases, the punishment required by law far exceeded the offense.
These unduly harsh sentences are one of the reasons the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system. Today, he is continuing this effort by granting clemency to 46 men and women, nearly all of whom would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today…
In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.
Obama will also become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he tours the El Reno prison in Oklahoma next week as part of a VICE special documentary for HBO on mass incarceration. The president, along with VICE founder Shane Smith, will tour the grounds and speak with prison staff, prisoners, and law enforcement officials. Here’s a clip from VICE’s announcement:
Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates convicted of violating federal law. It was home to Jason Hernandez, a prisoner convicted on drug charges who had his life sentence commuted by Obama in 2013.
The interviews will be part of a documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America’s approach to crime and imprisonment. The special is the latest in VICE’s ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.
“There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways,” Smith said. “Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one on one conversations with the men and women living this reality. It’s going to be fascinating.”
The President says he will also be discussing bipartisan-backed ideas for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia on Thursday. Stay tuned.
CA REGAINS CONTROL OF HEALTH CARE FROM FEDS AT FOLSOM STATE PRISON
After nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system, the state will regain control in Folsom State Prison—the first from the federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso. Folsom is the first prison to be returned to state control.
Kelso says much progress has been made in Folsom and in other prisons, but U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson says federal oversight will only end after the state has had control of health care in all of its prisons for a full year.
“We’re pleased and ready to start taking back control of medical care,” corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in a statement. “We know that other CDCR prisons are ready to step up in the months ahead and we will continue collaborating with the Receiver’s Office to ensure inmates at all of our facilities receive appropriate health care.”
Don Specter, director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office that represents inmates in the lawsuit, said it’s good that care has improved at Folsom, but attorneys will continue monitoring.
“One of the things I’m most concerned about is whether the state has reformed its processes so that all the improvements that the receiver has made over the last 10 or so years are sustained,” Specter said.
Kelso reported in March that conditions statewide have substantially improved, though some prisons are doing better than others and more work remains to be done statewide.
Under the judge’s rules, Kelso could retake control of a transferred prison if conditions decline, but the goal is for the receiver to eventually monitor rather than run the health care system.
FOSTER KIDS MOVED AWAY FROM THEIR HOME COUNTIES SUFFER LONG DELAYS FOR MENTAL HEALTH CARE
When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.
A California bill, which would ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties, will be heard California Senate Health Services Committee today (Tuesday), after passing out of the Assembly.
The bill, authored by CA Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), aims to fix a serious lack of collaboration between departments serving foster kids between counties.
In LA County, 17% of foster kids are in out-of-county and out-of-state placements, in comparison to Alameda and San Francisco—59% and 60% respectively.
AB 1299, which was introduced by State Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), would require the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to create clear policies to guide the transfer of responsibility for mental health services to a child’s county of residence. The bill would also compel the Department of Finance to establish a system to ensure that counties are fully reimbursed for providing mental health services, during the fiscal year when the services are delivered, by May of 2016.
All California foster youth are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program. But under current law, when a foster youth moves to a different county, responsibility for providing mental health services—and any related funding—remains with the county of origin and its network of service providers
As a result, nearly 12,000 out-of-county foster youth—or about one in five of all youth in the state’s child welfare system—are routinely left in limbo, waiting for mental health services that often take months to begin.
A 2011 report from the state’s Child Welfare Council, which is responsible for improving collaboration among child-serving agencies, revealed disparities between children in and out of county who were receiving mental health services. An examination of the data for all 58 counties in California showed that out-of-county youth received fewer average days of mental health outpatient or day services when compared to children with in-county placements (2.3 days versus 2.9).
“Part of the issue is that the counties have been in control of the money up until this point, and the money has not been flowing as it needs to when these kids are moving from one county to another,” said Khaim Morton, chief of staff for Ridley-Thomas. “We want to get to the point where we can collaborate and reach a compromise that will enable more of the money to reach these kids and more swiftly.”
California may once again find itself back in court as part of a class-action lawsuit if there isn’t an agreement soon, according to mental health advocate Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project.
“If there isn’t a solution by the end of the year, either through negotiations under the auspices of the Child Welfare Council or through the work being done in the legislature, a judge is going to have to step in to fix this, because letting this continue is completely unacceptable,” said Gardner.
CA TURNING AWAY FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT…SLOWLY
In 2011, California prisoners went on the first of three major hunger strikes over prison conditions and excessive and punitive use of solitary confinement.
Real efforts toward curbing solitary in state prisons began in late 2012. Prison officials reviewed the cases of prisoners in solitary, and released a modest number of long-isolated inmates back into the general population.
But the process has been slow and hard-fought.
In June, six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.
Even as it prepares for a courtroom showdown over the use of prolonged solitary confinement to keep order in its prisons, California has adopted emergency rules to dial down such isolation.
Inmates may no longer be put in isolation for refusing a cell assignment, for example, one of several prison infractions for which solitary confinement punishment has been reduced or dropped. And those being disciplined with segregation can cut that punishment in half with good behavior.
“This is part of an ongoing evolution in how we manage inmates in segregation,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. “There will be more changes.”
The new rules went into effect last month, ahead of public hearings scheduled for August. They come atop other changes that have cut the count of California prisoners held in near-constant lockdown from more than 9,800 in early 2014 to just under 8,700 last month.
The revisions also have been made amid an escalating debate over solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, of which California has the largest share.
Advocates for inmates are preparing to release research by a prominent corrections psychiatrist describing a malady he calls “SHU Post-Release Syndrome,” a reference to the Security Housing Unit, California’s name for long-term solitary confinement.
The study documents some of the same psychiatric effects raised last month by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in an unusual opinion in a California death penalty case. He essentially invited a constitutional challenge to long-term isolation and the “terrible price” it extracts.
SHUT DOWN THE LA COUNTY YOUTH WELCOME CENTER, A WAREHOUSE FOR HARD-TO-PLACE FOSTER KIDS, SEZ A SPECIAL COMMITTEE
A new report headed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says the county must shut down operation at its Youth Welcome Center, which has become an ill-equipped warehouse for kids, thanks, in large part, to a lack of available homes for foster kids.
The Youth Welcome Center, opened in 2012 (video above), originally intended as a place to house kids new to the system for 24 hours while social workers found them foster parents or group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like older teens, LGBTQ kids, and those suffering from mental illness.
The report, which will come from a committee formed by the Supes, recommends creating a 30-day emergency shelter for these kids, while also beefing up the number of group homes.
The centers are allowed to keep children for only 24 hours and are not licensed for the lengthy stays some of the youths endured. They lack sufficient bedding, bathrooms and showers, as well as mental health and the education professionals necessary to meet their needs.
Over time, the number of youths without a proper foster home grew. It the last year, there were 800 violations of the 24-hour rule at both welcome centers, a county commissioner said.
Following The Times report, state officials in April took a harder line and sued the county, pushing the centers to comply to the letter of state law. The county and state reached a settlement agreement the same month and agreed to begin the licensing process to bring the existing facilities up to the state’s standards.
These changes would include establishing facilities at the centers that provided the required amenities and opportunities so young people could be legally housed there for up to three days.
Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youths, said that the DCFS plan to solve the centers’ problems by establishing a three-day facility is insufficient.
“For the hardest-to-place youth, I’m skeptical that we will do much better in 72 hours than what we do in 24. We will once again be in the position where we are just looking for a bed — any bed” to move a child out of a welcome center, she said.
Both she and the commission’s report recommend more sweeping change, including vast improvement in the inventory of foster homes and a 30-day emergency shelter. Only more ambitious reforms such as those, she said, “will ever solve the revolving door” of children failing to find lasting foster homes and repeatedly returning to the welcome centers.
LANCASTER & PALMDALE SHERIFF’S STATIONS MAKING MAJOR ANTI-BIAS REFORM PROGRESS AFTER US DOJ INTERVENTION
Advocates say the Los Angeles Sheriff’s stations in Lancaster and Palmdale are making huge strides to eliminate racially discriminatory practices that led to federal intervention.
In April, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale stations. The settlement followed two years behind a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. There are 150 requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement.
One of the advocates who brought allegations to the feds, Miguel Coronado, says discriminatory drug raids on people receiving subsidized housing assistance and other racially biased practices have all but vanished.
Coronado, who sits on Lancaster’s planning commission, was among those who brought allegations of racially biased policing in the area to federal authorities. He now has the cellphone numbers of high-ranking sheriff’s officials on his speed dial — and he says they pick up when he calls.
Residents rarely call him anymore to complain about the department, when he used to get several complaints a day, he said.
The settlement approved in April came less than two years after federal prosecutors identified a pattern of discrimination that included unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and excessive force against blacks and Hispanics in Palmdale and Lancaster.
Deputies harassed and intimidated blacks and others in public housing, showing up for inspections with as many as nine officers, sometimes with guns drawn, the Justice Department said in its June 2013 report.
EDITORIAL: CA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES SHOULD TAKE A HARD LOOK AT QUOTAS AND OTHER PROFIT-MAKING POLICING ACTIVITIES
A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial says California Highway Patrol’s monthly goals regarding the number of “enforcement contacts” made seem dangerously similar to quotas. For California law enforcement agencies, implementing quotas for arrests and citations is illegal.
It’s not just a CHP problem. LAPD motorcycle officers have successfully sued the city over arrest quotas. Law enforcement agencies should look closely at practices and policies, like quotas and civil asset forfeiture, that value profit and punishment over public safety, says the editorial board. Here’s a clip:
Under questioning from attorneys for Harrison Orr – a Citrus Heights man who won a $125,000 judgment – CHP motorcycle Officer Jay Brame testified that he has for years been admonished by his CHP superiors to have at least “100 enforcement contacts” a month while on patrol duty. This testimony has been backed up by Brame’s formal performance reviews, which criticized him for “enforcement contacts” that were “well below the shift average.”
It is illegal under state law for law-enforcement officers to be given quotas for arrests and/or citations. The CHP flatly denies it has quotas for its Sacramento bureau or anywhere in the state. But pressing officers to meet numerical goals on “enforcement contacts” certainly seems problematic. And the fact that it is far from the first time that police agencies in California have faced such allegations provides crucial context. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has repeatedly been successfully sued by its motorcycle officers over arrest quotas set by their superiors.
This practice is dubious in many ways, starting with the fact that it creates incentives that make an officer’s job more about punishing drivers and collecting fines than about maintaining highway safety…
RECOMMENDED READING: PAT NOLAN, FROM TOUGH-ON-CRIME LEGISLATOR, TO INMATE, TO POWERFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM ADVOCATE
The New Yorker has an excellent longread profile on Pat Nolan, a former California Republican Assemblymember who, after being busted in a federal racketeering sting, had a very personal wake up call about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system. Nolan’s whole world (and perspective) was turned upside down. He spent 25 months behind bars, and then four months in a halfway house, during and after which, he became a vehement advocate for reform. Nolan is now the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Project at the American Conservative UnionFoundation, and partners with the Texas-based Right on Crime group, and has had a hand in the passage of Prop 47, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and the reetry-focused Second Chance Act.
“I went to the legislature very pro cop and with a get-tough-on-crime attitude,” Nolan told me. He wanted to reinstate the death penalty, which the Supreme Court had temporarily suspended. He believed that the exclusionary rule, which disallows evidence improperly obtained by the police, had become a loophole that lawyers exploited to allow guilty clients to go free. He excoriated a colleague in the assembly for proposing a law that would extend workers’ compensation to inmates injured in prison labor programs. And he was a leading sponsor of a prison-building boom in the state, which included, to his eventual regret, the Pelican Bay supermax facility, where inmates are kept in long-term solitary.
The F.B.I. sting, he says, dispelled his unconditional faith in law enforcement. In Nolan’s telling of it, trophy-hunting agents browbeat his aides and his campaign supporters to build a case against him, leaking tidbits to the press in the hope of breaking his resolve. The prosecutor loaded the charge sheet so heavily that Nolan concluded that he couldn’t risk going before a jury. Like roughly ninety-five per cent of people convicted in America, he pleaded guilty and took a lesser sentence rather than take his chances at trial. He began to wonder how many of the people he had dismissed as bad guys had simply succumbed to prosecutorial bullying. He said, “I saw that the F.B.I. and the government prosecutors weren’t interested in the truth, and that was a shock to me.”
By the standards of American incarceration, Nolan had it easy. He served twenty-five months in two prisons that housed the least menacing felons. The Federal Prison Camp at Dublin, near San Francisco, was a compound of former Army barracks surrounded by landscaped flower gardens. There was a small coterie of white-collar criminals, but the majority of the inmates were blacks and Latinos serving time for relatively minor drug convictions. Nolan helped organize religious-study groups, and—to judge by his accounts in an unpublished memoir—he treated his fellow-inmates as a constituency to be charmed. (He still corresponds with some of them.) From prison, Nolan produced a chatty newsletter that his wife, Gail, distributed to some two thousand supporters. He had regular visits from his family and a loyal band of political friends. After ten months, he was transferred to Geiger Corrections Center, near Spokane, where the supervision was even less oppressive. Still, his time in prison exposed him to what he came to see as the cynical cycle of American justice: sweep up young men, mostly from broken families in underprivileged neighborhoods, put them away for a while, send them back onto the streets with no skills, and repeat. To call this a “corrections” system seemed a sour joke.
“I had assumed they did all they could to help prepare the guys to return to society and make a better life,” Nolan told me. “But they were just warehousing them.” There was a pervasive sense of defeat. “The implication is: you’re worthless, you come from nothing, you are nothing, you’ll never be anything.” He added that when prisoners were released the guards would say, “See you in a few months.” He was surprised, too, at the number of elderly and infirm inmates. In his memoir, he wrote that “incarcerating people who aren’t a physical threat to society is expensive and counter-productive”—something that “only a nation that is rich and vindictive” would do.
Nolan was still an inmate when he ventured into the politics of reform. In 1994, in the California Political Review, he published an attack on that year’s crime bill—President Clinton’s signature contribution to mass incarceration, which earmarked $9.7 billion for prisons, imposed tougher sentences, and, among many punitive provisions, eliminated college grants for prison inmates.
There are whole areas of policy where bipartisan consensus remains far out of reach. Guns, for starters, are untouchable. (Norquist likes to provoke liberals with the creative theory that the crime rate has fallen because more Americans have concealed-carry permits.) For most Republicans, outright legalization of drugs, even marijuana, “is one we can’t touch,” Nolan says. The idea of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which has the support of Rand Paul and Nolan as well as Bernie Kerik, appeals to many Democrats but terrifies most Republicans. “They have this image of hordes of criminals” flocking to the polls to vote for Democrats, Nolan said. Conservatives tend to look more favorably on privatizing prisons, prison services, and probation, a scheme that liberals view with deep distrust. The death penalty, which divides the right, is not on the shared agenda.
The most significant question is whether conservatives are prepared to face the cost of the remedies, from in-prison education and job training to more robust probationary supervision and drug and mental-health treatment. Joan Petersilia, a criminologist who teaches at the Stanford Law School, points to the last great American exercise in decarceration, half a century ago: President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, which aimed to reduce by half the number of patients in state mental hospitals. The promised alternatives—hundreds of community care facilities—were never fully funded, and thousands of deeply troubled people were liberated into homelessness. The mentally ill now make up a substantial portion of inmates in state prisons and county jails.
“The direction forward is not really clear, because, on the one hand, the right is saying less government, less spending,” Petersilia told me. “And the left is saying we need more investment.” She offers the example of California, which for nearly five years has been under a Supreme Court order to cull the overcrowded prisons that Nolan once helped build. “The success story of downsizing prisons in California is like nothing the nation has ever experienced,” she said. “We have downsized in less than five years twenty-five per cent of all prison populations. But look what is happening at the local, community level, which is that they’ve upsized jails, and they’ve got a homeless population, they’ve got police officers complaining about the mentally ill. We didn’t answer the question: if not prisons, what?”
Nolan agrees about the cost of alternatives: “In each of the Right on Crime states, we have insisted that a large part of the savings be put back into the system.” As for his home state, Nolan says, “we were not a part of that mess.” Nolan thinks that Governor Jerry Brown failed to plan adequate prison alternatives because “he just wanted to get the court off his back.” When conservatives did venture into California, last November, to help pass Proposition 47, the measure required that two-thirds of any money saved be funnelled into alternative correctional programs. Nolan said, “Conservatives have insisted that money be plowed into services because we know that just releasing prisoners or diverting them from prisons without services would increase crime.” That is true, but it tends to be relegated to the fine print in conservative reform literature. The headlines promise tremendous savings to taxpayers.
Nolan has another worry: that one sensational crime, or a spike in the crime rate, or the distraction of more polarizing issues could send Republicans and Democrats back to their corners. “We’ve all said we’re one bad incident away from having this erode on us,” he said. But if the bipartisan movement can accomplish the things it agrees on, Nolan has a wish list of additional reforms that he will pitch to conservatives. He would like to see abusive prosecutors lose their licenses. He would require the police to videotape interrogations from beginning to end, not just a confession that may have been improperly extracted.
And, mindful of the prisoners who have been exonerated while waiting on death row, he would like to end capital punishment.
On Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes told a seven-woman, five-man jury about a man named Gabriel Carrillo who, on February 26, 2011, came with his girlfriend to LA County’s Men’s Central Jail to visit Carrillo’s brother. However, both Carrillo and his girlfriend had cells phones with them, and cell phones are prohibited in the visitors’ center, said Rhodes. When the cellphones were discovered, Carrillo became defensive and mouthed off to a deputy who handcuffed Carrillo and led into a side room where, Rhodes said, the visitor was beaten by multiple deputies to the point he had to be hospitalized. Then those same deputies plus their supervisor falsified charges against Carrillo, Rhodes told the jury, claiming that he was the aggressor who had assaulted the deputies, not the other way around.
“Mr. Carrillo walked into Men’s Central Jail as a vistor, and left on a gurney,” Rhodes concluded.
And so began the opening arguments in the latest federal trial of members and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The trio who sat at the defense table on Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge George H. King (who happens to be the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) were LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, all three of whom were accused of participating, either directly or indirectly, in the vicious beating of Carrillo who came to the visitors’ center of Men’s Central Jail in order to visit his brother, Robert Carrillo—who had, a few nights before, been arrested and beaten badly in the course of the arrest.
When it was the defense team’s turn to deliver an opening, attorneys for each of the defendants got up, one after the other.
“What is this case about?” attorney Patrick Smith asked the jury. “Lies and nothing else! You are going to hear nothing but lies out of every witness that the government puts up.” Smith is representing deputy Sussie Ayala.
All three defendants are among the more than 20 members of the LASD who have been indicted as part of a multi-year FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system and into wrongdoing in department in general.
FORMER DEFENDANTS, NOW WITNESSES
The trial that began this week is particularly interesting in that two of the original five charged in the indictment—former deputies Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutors in return for their willingness to admit to the charges of which they are accused and, it seems, to testify at the trial of their three former codefendants.
Since all this deal making began, both Zunggeemoge and Womack have changed their stories about what happened on the day of Carrillo’s beating.
Zunggeemoge will be first up when court begins again at 8 a.m. in front of Judge King at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles.
After this trial is complete, next fall will bring the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former captain Tom Carey in early November.
And still earlier this coming fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeals of the six former department members who were convicted last year of obstruction of justice and on the appeal of former LASD deputy James Sexton who was convicted of obstruction last year in a separate trial.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrections and clarifications were made in this story at 5:35 P.M. on Wednesday, June 17.
PROBABLE NEW MANAGEMENT FOR LA JAILS’ MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH CARE
Los Angeles County is the only county in the state of California that lets its sheriff’s department run the health care system for its county jails.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, all that may change.
Tuesday is the day when the board will entertain a motion—proposed by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich—to take away responsibility for inmate medical care from the sheriff’s department, and to also to snatch the oversight of inmate mental health care from the Department of Mental Health. The two functions are then to be consolidated under the Department of Health Services (DHS), and overseen by the newly created position of “Correctional Health Director” within the DHS.
This new configuration for how LA County looks after the medical and mental health needs of its jail inmates is part of a larger plan that will be officially presented by Interim CEO Sachi Hamai. The plan was created in response to a request from the board back in early March, which asked the CEO and representatives of other county officials to take a look at “the status of jail health services in Los Angeles County,” and to make recommendations about how “the overall quality and delivery of the care provided in the County jails..” could be improved.
In other words, the supes had been aware for a while that the medical and mental health care in the jails sucked, but they wanted to know how much it sucked, and what to do about getting it not to suck.
The conclusion reached by the CEO and her fellow evaluators (which included representatives from the LASD) was that both functions needed to be removed post haste from those who’d been running them in the past. (Although the report said this far more politely.)
We have known for some time that the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH), along with the sheriff’s department, has been doing a frighteningly lousy job of running the mental health part of the medical system inside our county lock-ups.
(For an idea of how lousy, see the federal investigation that resulted in scathing reports and a still looming federal consent decree.)
But while the mental health situation inside the jails—and the need for mental health diversion—has received a lot of public attention, plain old medical services have not.
And, yet, anecdotal information strongly indicates that matters are not healthy on the medical care side of things either.
For instance, a pattern of problems has shown up in the complaints filed with the ACLU, and in accounts by sources who work inside the jail system and who are troubled by what they see. At WLA we’ve also been getting harrowing calls from inmates inside the jail who describe fairly convincingly how they cannot get basic care and/or medication for very real and often serious medical conditions. So they call us in the hope that somehow we can help them get their needs met.
As legal director of the Southern California ACLU, Peter Eliasberg, put it, “We have every reason to believe that the quality of medical care in the jails is abysmal.”
Yet, it turns out that what reportedly amounts to inadequate medical care (or worse) does not come cheap: A budget of $238 million and over 1,700 budgeted personnel are allocated yearly to the Sheriff’s Medical Services Bureau (MSB).
“There are numerous reasons why these changes make sense including a) the obvious unsuitability of a law enforcement agency for the provision of medical care, b) the well-documented and long-standing failures of DMH to provide appropriate care to inmates with mental illness…” Eliasberg wrote on Monday in a letter to the board.
Time for a change. Good for the supes for calling for it. Lets hope they and the DHS and the LASD follow through and insist on—as they say in the movie script business— a Page 1 rewrite.
More on the jail medical care issue as it unfolds.
UPDATE: After lots of commentary from the audience, including people who won Tuesday the motion passed unanimously.
AND WHILE THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT JAILS, HOW MUCH WILL THE LA COUNTY SUPES CONSIDER SCALING DOWN THE MEGA BUCKS JAIL BUILDING PLAN ON TUESDAY?
Among those presenting the plan will be Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, Dr. Marvin Southard, of the (possibly soon to be ousted from the jails) Dept. of Mental Health and more.
The group has done some admirable scaling back and rethinking of the number of new beds, (See P. 19 of the report) but will the changes be enough?
Since both Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl talked about their opposition to the existing plan in their campaigns for office, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained during the Vanir vote, one presumes there will be some hard and lively questions asked.
UPDATE: Rather than accept the new plan put forth by the Sheriff, et al, a three member majority of the board decided to delay the go-ahead on the revised building plan in order to take a long hard look at how large the new jail really needs to be.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th didn’t give Bonds a reversal, so his attorneys petitioned for an en banc rehearing—meaning they wanted the whole court. Bonds and his lawyers got it, and the new ruling—as we learned on Wednesday—went in a very different direction.
The court found, in a 10 to 1 decision, that Bonds’ meandering obfuscation in answer to the one of the prosecutors’ questions did not “materially” get in the way of the government’s investigation into the illegal distribution of steroids. In other words, the baseball star’s dodging of a question he didn’t want to answer wasn’t all that, you know, obstruct-y.
Moreover, Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote a concurring opinion, seemed to be chiding the prosecutors for stretching the definition of obstruction the point that, the judge suggested, practically anyone in the vicinity of a federal investigation could get charged.
For instance, here’s a clip from Kozinski’s opinion:
Because the [obstruction of justice] statute sweeps so broadly, due process calls for prudential limitations on the government’s power to prosecute under it. Such a limitation already exists in our case law interpreting section 1503: the requirement of materiality. Materiality screens out many of the statute’s troubling applications by limiting convictions to those situations where an act “has a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the decisionmaking body.” Put another way, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged conduct was capable of influencing a decisionmaking person or entity — for example, by causing it to cease its investigation, pursue different avenues of inquiry or reach a different outcome.
And there’s this:
We have no doubt that United States Attorneys and their Assistants would use the power to prosecute for such crimes judiciously, but that is not the point. Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy. It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass.
SO-O-O-OOO… DOES THE BONDS RULING IN ANY WAY AFFECT THE 7 PANDORA’S BOX OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE CASES THAT ARE GOING TO BE HEARD BY THE 9TH CIRCUIT IN THE FALL?
This is the question that we understand is being tossed around by some of the various defense attorneys representing each of the seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted of obstruction of justice around the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown.
On the surface we would imagine that the actions of the six former LASD folks convicted last summer, and those of former LA County Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton convicted in the fall, are quite different from the on-the-stand phumphering of Barry Bonds. On the other hand, if the 9th is feeling less-than-friendly toward prosecutors’ use of obstruction as a charge in general, suggesting—as Kozinski seems to do in some of the verbiage above—that the feds are overreaching with their use of the statute, will their cranky view extend far enough to cause any of the seven convictions to be similarly overturned?
And if that is any kind of possibility, could it also cause the feds to hold their collective fire on any new indictments that we keep hearing rumored could be coming this spring?
(cough) Tom Carey and Paul Tanaka (cough, cough)
We don’t pretend to know the answers to any of these queries, but we thought you’d like to know that the questions are, in certain quarters, in the air.
GIVING LA’S DRUG COURTS NEW LIFE BY OPENING THEM UP TO MORE SERIOUS DRUG OFFENDERS
A new proposal from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office would expand the scope of the county’s half-empty drug courts to help people accused of more serious drug-related crimes.
Before Proposition 47 reduced many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with certain drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process.
But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses. Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is currently not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.
Treatment programs used for drug court participants have dropped from 85 percent full to about 65 percent full, Satriano said.
To turn the trend around, she said, the committee is considering a proposal to repurpose drug courts to service higher risk, higher need offenders who’s crimes are tied to their addictions. Things like theft and being a middle man in a drug deal could qualify, along with any non-violent, non-serious felony.
“We’re looking to broaden the eligibility to get into drug court, but at the same time, realizing that what we would also need to do is intensify the program,” said Mark Delgado, director of the county’s criminal justice coordinating committee.
He said the new program, if adopted, would involve three months of jail time for people accused of more serious crimes – as well as more rigorous drug treatment and testing requirements.
HOW MUCH LA CITY AGENCIES SPEND EACH YEAR INTERACTING WITH THE HOMELESS
Los Angeles spends more than $100 million on homelessness each year, an estimated $54-$87 million of which is spent on police interaction with the homeless, according to a report released Wednesday by City Administrative Officer Miguel A. Santana. And of the money spent on law enforcement contact with the homeless population, arrests cost $46-$80 million.
Santana included sixteen different city agencies and departments in his study. One problem, according to the report, is that the departments rely heavily on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 19-person Emergency Response Team which only receives $330,000 from the city and serves the whole county.
“There appears to be no consistent process across city departments for dealing with the homeless or with homeless encampments,” he said.
The report said it was not possible now “to get a full measure of the costs” of homelessness for the city, or to monitor the effects of changes in homelessness over time in L.A.
Responses by city departments are not designed to end homelessness by systematically connecting the homeless to assessment, services and housing, the report said.
In many departments, the report said, responses are ad hoc, designed to respond to a very specific challenge rather than working toward ending homelessness as a whole.
Santana recommended that the city increase funding for homeless outreach and case management, create a new homeless office and set up neighborhood hubs to support existing efforts to house and care for homeless people.
DOJ TO MONITOR AND MAKEOVER CALEXICO’S POLICE DEPARTMENT
The US Department of Justice announced this week that it will train and monitor Calexico, CA’s troubled police department. Last fall, the FBI launched an investigation into alleged officer misconduct. In October, the city fired its police chief and replaced him with former LAPD Assistant Chief Michael Bostic. The new chief said he quickly found that the investigations unit was not conducting any investigations, officers were not bothering to obtain search warrants, the department was spying on the City Council, and that department members were using assets seized from citizens to buy things like spy glasses.
Chief Bostic has asked the DOJ to step in and help him turn the Calexico Police Department around. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, will provide extensive training and will help build a community policing unit over the next three years.
Bostic has fired six police officers since his arrival in Calexico last fall. He was appointed police chief as the FBI started its investigation.
Previously, Bostic was assistant police chief at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he led internal cleanups after police scandals such as the Rodney King beating. During his time there, the Department of Justice and US Attorney’s Office monitored the LAPD for seven years in response to a court order.
“In my mind it was a very beneficial process,” Bostic said. “So when I got to Calexico… I on my own called the DOJ and asked them to come in and assist me in rebuilding the police department.”
The Department of Justice will help the Calexico Police Department through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, bringing in a group of police chief consultants from major U.S. cities to share their expertise.
The training will be focused on the proper handling of evidence, booking procedures and improving community outreach.
In January, NPR’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath talked with reporter Jill Replogle, who had been covering the FBI investigation, about the corruption allegations and about the city’s outspoken and proactive new chief, Michael Bostic. (He was so vocal, in fact, that the police union decided to sue him.)
JILL REPLOGLE: The new police chief, who started in October, says that when he got there, there was no real police work going on. He says the investigations unit didn’t have any investigations going on. He found internal investigations scattered all over the place – a safe, in desk drawers, in somebody’s car. He found that the department had used a lot of money from seized assets to buy spy equipment like spy glasses and, you know, lapel cameras, things like that. And then when they’re looking through the footage, they find that they’re spying on City Council members. They also found that they had bought a bunch of equipment to break into buildings and cars, but they have no search warrants for those searches.
RATH: Now, that new police chief, Michael Bostic, who took over in October after his predecessor was fired - some of the most damning public allegations have actually come from him. Here he is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL BOSTIC: They’re recording City Council members, and they’re using it for extortion. I can say that. That’s just true. That’s what they were doing.
RATH: Jill, it was an amazing moment. The police chief actually broke down and cried at one point he was so disturbed by the corruption allegations. And this guy’s a 34-year veteran of the LAPD.
WHY EVIDENCE OF A WRONGFUL CONVICTION DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN EXONERATION AND FREEDOM
The Marshall Project’s Andrew Cohen has a great longread about Davontae Sanford, a young man convicted of killing four people when he was fourteen. Despite an abundance of evidence pointing to Sanford’s innocence, including an air-tight confession by a hit-man, Sanford’s efforts toward exoneration have been blocked at nearly every turn, and he remains behind bars (and will likely stay there for years more). Cohen explores why exonerations are so hard-won. Here’s how it opens:
We know more every day about the ways wrongful convictions happen. An indigent defendant gets an incompetent attorney. Or prosecutors hide exculpatory information from the defense. Perhaps there is a false confession, coerced by sly detectives, or undue reliance on faulty eyewitness testimony or junk forensic science. Maybe a key witness turns out to be an unreliable informant, or the jury or judge is racially biased. Often, it is some combination of these factors that puts an innocent person behind bars, sometimes for life.
What gets far less notice, however, is how wrongful convictions stay that way, even after evidence of injustice appears to bubble to the surface. This is why the already well-chronicled saga of Davontae Sanford, a 14-year-old boy convicted of a 2007 quadruple murder in Michigan, is worth following closely again as it enters its latest and most bizarre phase.
Later today, Sanford’s lawyers will ask a Michigan judge to grant their client a new trial based on evidence and arguments that state judges and county prosecutors have never before addressed. The defense team essentially will be asking Michigan’s criminal justice system to finally make a choice between two confessions to the same crime; one by a boy whose story was contradicted by independent evidence, the other by a professional killer who accurately told the police where to find the murder weapon.
ALARMING NEW FEDERAL REPORT ON DOCS OVER-PRESCRIBING POWERFUL ANTIPSYCHOTIC DRUGS TO CHILDREN ON MEDICAID
A new report from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General shines some light on the excessive use of antipsychotic drugs to treat poor children (many of them in foster care) on Medicaid.
Researchers requested records from 2011 on 687 claims in five states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. They received information on 485 of the requests (many of the other records were incomplete or nonexistent). These particular states were chosen because they comprised 39% of all Medicaid payments for antipsychotics.
These “second-generation antipsychotics” (SGAs) are often used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism-related irritability. Because minimal clinical research has been completed on how the SGAs affect kids, and there are very specific age-ranges approved for use of the antipsychotics, many doctors prescribe these medications for conditions that are not considered medically accepted.
Thus, kids often receive the wrong treatment, are given a dangerous cocktail of psychotropic drugs, and experience severe side-effects (like suicidal thoughts, paranoia, and hallucinations) and other potentially problematic effects like weight gain, none of which are properly monitored.
In 67% of the claims, the researchers found what they call quality-of-care concerns. Just under half of claims showed two or more of these particular concerns.
A whopping 53% of cases were poorly monitored. Kids vital signs and blood pressure were not regularly tracked, they were not checked for involuntary movements, height and weight were not monitored, and doctors did not run lab work to check for liver and blood issues.
In 41% of kids’ records, there was either no explanation as to why the antipsychotics were prescribed, or they were prescribed for an inappropriate reason. In over one-third of cases, these drugs were prescribed to treat conditions listed on the medication’s FDA boxed warning. (An example of this would be prescribing an antipsychotic medication to a child with major depressive disorder, despite an FDA warning label that says the drug may cause suicidal thoughts in children with major depressive disorders).
Other distressing patterns included prescribing kids too many drugs at once (37%), keeping kids on the antipsychotics for too long (34%), giving the wrong dose (23%), prescribing to kids too young (17%), and negative side-effects (7%).
In one particular case, a child diagnosed with bipolar disorder was prescribed six psychotropic drugs at once. Three were antipsychotics. A vague mention of hallucinations was the only explanation for the heavy drugging. The 16-year-old suffered through insomnia, “paranoia, hostility, unstable mood, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts” as well as significant weight gain, and swelling of the hands and feet. When the teen was taken off these drugs, the originally reported hallucinations vanished.
Only in 8% of the cases were kids’ prescribed these drugs for any of the medically accepted reasons. And of the five states, only New York restricted Medicaid coverage for these drugs outside of medically accepted reasons (unfortunately, 3,366 prescriptions were covered in violation of New York’s policy).
According to the report’s lead investigator, Michala Walker, antipsychotics “should only be used for a medically appropriate reason and, when they’re used, they must be very carefully managed to ensure safety and quality care.”
The report urges the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to partner with state medicaid programs to review how antipsychotics are prescribed to children, and to conduct regular reviews of the medical records of medicaid-covered kids prescribed the drugs, and to work with states to come up with ways to boost oversight. CMS has agreed with these three recommendations.
Karen de Sa, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on how and why California’s foster kids are so heavily medicated, also reported on this new data.
US ATTORNEY GENERAL ANNOUNCES FEWER MANDATORY MINIMUMS SOUGHT FOR DRUG CRIMES
In August 2013, US Attorney General instructed federal prosecutors to stop seeking mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, as part of a new “Smart on Crime” initiative. On Tuesday, he reported on the results of his push for fewer outsized sentences for these non-violent drug crimes.
According to Holder, in the year after Holder announced the new initiative, there were almost 1,400 fewer federal drug trafficking cases, a decrease of 6% over the previous year. And prosecutors sought mandatory minimum sentences in half of low-level drug cases, down from two-thirds of such cases.
Here’s a clip from the announcement on the Attorney General’s website:
The figures announced Tuesday were compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission at the request of the Justice Department to measure the impact of several reforms implemented in 2013 through Attorney General Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. Those reforms—aimed at restoring fairness to the criminal justice system and at confronting the problem of America’s overcrowded prison system—instructed federal prosecutors to exercise greater discretion in selecting drug cases to bring to federal court. The data suggests prosecutors heeded that call, as the overall number of federal drug trafficking cases dropped by six percent in FY2014.
While the sheer number of drug cases went down, the data also showed that federal prosecutors have prioritized more serious cases. Holder pointed to a rise in the average guideline minimum sentence, from 96 months in FY2013 to 98 months this past year. That suggests the severity of offenses prosecuted in FY2014 was slightly higher.
Most important of all, Holder said, was the trend observed with respect to mandatory minimums. After several years in a row that saw federal prosecutors pursue such mandatory sentences in roughly two-thirds of drug cases, last year’s rate dropped to one-in-two. The Attorney General said this showed that the department was succeeding in reserving these strict sentences for the worst types of offenders rather than imposing indiscriminately.
“This figure, perhaps more than any other, shows the significant impact that our policy reforms are having,” said Attorney General Holder. “These are extremely encouraging results.”
Advocates say these steps forward are great, but much more can be done. There are still tons of federal prisoners serving preposterously long sentences for drug offenses. Weldon Angelos, for instance, is serving a 55 year sentence for selling weed while carrying a firearm. (Weldon is the face of the Koch brothers’ criminal justice reform campaign. We pointed to the campaign, and Weldon, here.)
THE RUSH TO HELP PROP 47-ERS IN CALIFORNIA COUNTIES
Jill Jenkins is a paralegal at the Alameda County Defender’s Office. She works in an office that has worked its way through nearly everyone seeking to reduce their convictions through Proposition 47, which lowered certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors. But Jenkin’s connection to the important new law runs deeper than her job. Jenkins herself, is a former felon who had her conviction commuted to a misdemeanor by Prop. 47, and her criminal record expunged.
But not all Prop 47-ers will share Jenkins’ good fortune. It is critical that those still serving time for their felony convictions have a place to live, and are connected with other resources to help them reenter their communities, upon their release.
Not all counties have been able to move as quickly as Alameda, either, and are struggling under the towering workload and the law’s three-year deadline.
The difficulties that people with felony convictions face are profound, said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice and co-author of Proposition 47. They have a difficult time getting jobs, promotions, federal student loans, certain housing and public assistance, teaching credentials, and more.
Because the maximum punishments for misdemeanors are much lower than for felonies, many offenders were released from jail or prison once their offenses were reclassified under the new law.
Counties like Los Angeles and Orange still have a long way to go to reduce convictions for all of their Proposition 47-eligible offenders who are currently incarcerated, Anderson said. But defense attorneys in the Bay Area hit the ground running the week it became law and are largely done addressing that population.
In an Oakland courtroom last fall, inmates were doing arm pumps and flashing big smiles at the news that they were being released. Social workers rushed to their side to hand out referrals for community-based organizations offering emergency shelter, mental health services, rehab programs and job training to help with the transition.
“They were thrilled because a lot of people didn’t even know why they were coming in to court,” said Sascha Atkins-Loria, one of a team of social workers deployed by Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods to help Proposition 47 clients.
“Eighty percent seemed overjoyed because they didn’t know they were getting out,” Atkins-Loria said. “Another 20 percent seemed like they didn’t know where they were going to stay tonight.”
Legislative analysts say that lowering the prison population through Prop 47, and thus eliminating some of the costly use of out-of-state private prisons, could save California $20 million. The analysts said, however, that their estimate may be off without the usual four-year prison population estimates from Governor Jerry Brown. The governor, in turn, says that it will be difficult to predict prison population numbers without knowing the long-term Prop 47 effects.
Coupled with a $36-million project to expand three existing prisons, the analysts say California could potentially reduce its use of private overflow prisons and save $20 million “under almost any scenario.”
However, the report notes, the assumption is uncertain and lawmakers should demand a more detailed accounting from Brown’s administration. Without long-term projections, the report states, “it is impossible for the Legislature to make an informed decision” on prison spending.
Another important question, aside from how much money Prop 47 will save, is how those extra dollars will be used.
State money saved by Prop 47 will be be split three ways. Sixty-five percent will go to mental health and drug rehab programs for criminal justice system-involved people, 25% will fund efforts to reduce truancy and help at-risk students, and 10% will be spent on establishing trauma recovery centers for crime victims.
State savings will be available in 2016, whereas county savings are already being realized.
The state savings from Prop. 47 come from fewer people being sent to state prison. To determine those amounts, the state will calculate how many fewer people are sent to state prison each year because of the felonies reduced by Prop. 47…
Who decides where the state savings go?
Savings from reduced incarceration within state prisons will be distributed by a grant process run by three different state agencies:
The Board of State of Community Corrections will evaluate grant proposals and distribute 65% of the funds for mental health and drug treatment; the Department of Education will distribute 25% for programs in K-12 schools focused on at-risk students; and the California Victim Compensation Program will distribute 10% for trauma recovery services for crime victims.
Savings achieved from reduced incarceration within county jails are not distributed by Prop. 47 but rather by local government bodies. Local advocates may advocate for those savings to be reallocated to crime-prevention strategies and programs that best serve the needs of that particular community.
Can the money go to law enforcement or jails?
The savings from Prop. 47 are intended to go to programs that prevent crime, reduce recidivism and aid crime victims. Any public agency may apply.
The law is focused on investing savings in prevention approaches that reduce the cycle of crime for people (especially those with drug or mental health problems) at risk of committing misdemeanors addressed in Prop. 47.
REVERSING HARMFUL ANTI-HOMELESS RULES IN CALIFORNIA
Fifty-eight cities in California have together authorized hundreds of ordinances that target homeless people, criminalizing things like sitting, sleeping, standing, and food-sharing, according to a report expected to be released this week by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley. The report predicts another 100 city rules against homelessness within the next ten years. In 2013, more than 7,000 homeless Californians were arrested for vagrancy-related offenses.
In an op-ed for the LA Times, the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s Paul Boden, and UC Berkeley Policy Advocacy Clinic director, Jeffrey Selbin, point to a “crucial” Right to Rest bill (part of a three-bill package called the Homeless Bill of Rights) being pushed by advocates that would begin to undo some of the anti-homeless rules plaguing California cities. Here’s how it opens:
Anti-Okie laws. Sundown towns. Ugly laws.
These old vagrancy laws recall shameful periods in our history when communities selectively persecuted and punished migrants, people of color and the physically disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s anti-Okie law, which made it a crime to bring anyone indigent into the state, in 1941. In a 1972 case from Jacksonville, Fla., the Supreme Court invalidated a local vagrancy ordinance because it encouraged arbitrary arrests, criminalized innocent activities and placed unfettered discretion in the hands of the police.
But those rulings weren’t the end of vagrancy laws. In their latest iteration, they target homeless people. After homelessness began skyrocketing in the 1980s, cities responded with laws that criminalize basic life activities conducted in public like standing, sitting, resting or sleeping, and even sharing food with homeless people. As the crisis worsened in California — 22% of America’s homeless population now lives in the state — cities have piled on more and more vagrancy laws…
Although arrests are only the tip of the enforcement iceberg, more than 7,000 Californians were picked up for vagrancy in 2013 according to police agency reports to the FBI. Vagrancy arrests increased 77% in California from 2000 to 2012, while arrests for “drunkenness” and “disorderly conduct” declined by 16% and 48% respectively. In other words, vagrancy laws increasingly are being used to punish people’s status — being homeless — rather than their behavior.
HIGH RATE OF SEX OFFENDER DEATHS IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS
An investigation by the AP’s Don Thompson revealed that since 2007, male sex offenders comprised 30% of inmate deaths in California prisons, while only making up 15% of the total prison population. Thompson’s investigation also found the mortality rate of California inmates to be twice as high as the national average.
According to jails expert James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, those numbers will not go down until the state lowers its prison population much further than the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of three federal judges.
The deaths — 23 out of 78 — come despite the state’s creation more than a decade ago of special housing units designed to protect the most vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, often marked men behind bars because of the nature of their crimes.
In some cases, they have been killed among the general prison population and, in others, within the special units by violence-prone cellmates. Officials acknowledge that those units, which also house inmates trying to quit gangs, have spawned their own gangs.
Corrections officials have blamed a rise in the prison homicide rate on an overhaul meant to reduce crowding. As part of the effort, the state in 2011 began keeping lower-level offenders in county lockups, leaving prisons with a higher percentage of sex offenders and violent gang members.
Violence and homicides won’t decline unless the state goes well below the prison population level set by the courts — 137.5 percent of the system’s designed capacity, said James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that works on prison issues.
“Until the state gets its prison population below 100 percent of capacity, you’re going to have this,” he said.
Overall, 162 California prisoners were killed from 2001 to 2012, or 8 per 100,000 prisoners — double the national average over the same time period and far higher than that of other large states, including Texas, New York and Illinois, according to federal statistics.
FOUR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS INVESTIGATED FOR THEFT AND BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS
Four members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have been relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into reports that the four engaged in a scheme of thefts and bribes regarding towed vehicles or vehicles about to be towed.
According to a statement released by the LASD on Monday morning, the department became aware in December 2014 of evidence that three deputy sheriffs and a parking control officer were implicated in individual incidents of theft from towed vehicles or accepting cash from vehicle owners to avoid towing and impounding of their vehicles. All four of the department members relieved of duty worked out of Century Station located in Lynwood.
As of now, department investigators do not believe that any additional personnel were involved in the alleged theft and bribery.
“As a law enforcement organization, it is imperative that we earn the public’s trust each day,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in an email that went to all department members. “Acts such as those described above tarnish the badge all of us wear and erode the confidence the public has in law enforcement.
“We will respond swiftly and resolutely whenever acts of this nature come to our attention,” McDonnell continued. “We must demonstrate to the public and to our own Department family that conduct which violates the public trust will not be tolerated. In doing so we also reaffirm that the vast majority of our personnel perform their duties in an exemplary manner.”
The department is pointing to the announcement of the investigation as evidence of a new policy of transparency.
Those department members—working and retired—we spoke with about the matter on Monday said they appreciated the strategy.
“It sets a good tone,” said one retired LASD lieutenant. “It says the department is no longer going to tolerate this kind of nonsense.”
(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge and patch photo above by Jaime Lopez, LASD)
ARE SOME OF CALIFORNIA’S POOREST CRIMINAL DEFENDANTS GETTING A CUT RATE DEFENSE?
In the 1963 landmark SCOTUS decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the assistance of counsel for a defendant who could not afford to hire a lawyer was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court’s ruling specified that such legal assistance applied to the preparation for trial as well as the trial itself.
According to a new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, more and more of the state’s counties are cutting funds formerly allocated to provide lawyers for those in need of counsel—and many defendants are getting inadequate “cut-rate” representation as a consequence.
Counties are increasingly hiring legal firms that offer cut-rate representation by failing to spend money on investigators or experts that are needed for adequate defense, said the report issued by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created to examine ways to guard against wrongful convictions.
“This is like a cancer within the system of providing indigent defense, and it’s spreading,” said Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the so-called Fair Commission, calling the spread of low-bid, flat-fee private firms “a race to the bottom.”
Traditional public defenders in the pay of the various California counties are generally okay, said the report.
But lawyers who are paid a flat fee for representation, the report said, may be tempted to cut corners on pretrial preparation and avoid going to trial to save time and money.
As a solution, commissioners recommend that the state Legislature establish a body to oversee the way counties provide representation to criminal defendants, and also recommend a law to ensure that funding for experts and investigators is separate from the fee paid to the lawyers in publicly funded cases.
The Fair Administration of Justice Commission report cited research by California Western School of Law Professor Larry Benner, who found that inadequate investigation is a recurring problem in cases in which convictions were overturned because of poor representation….
ARE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS GUNNING FOR BACA AND TANAKA WITH NEW GRAND JURY SUBPOENAS?
For the last month or so we’d been hearing that various current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had received subpoenas to appear in front of a federal grand jury, as part of an ongoing investigation into the events that resulted in the conviction of seven LASD members for obstruction of justice last year.
Moreover, several of those who were asked to appear were among the seven former department members who have already been convicted. Since all seven contended that the actions that led to their convictions were the result of orders that originated at the LASD’s highest echelon—namely from Baca and Tanaka—there has been much speculation that federal prosecutors are now hoping to indict some of those very former department higher ups.
The questioning has focused partly on meetings where then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his No. 2, Paul Tanaka, discussed how to deal with the discovery of a cellphone provided to a county jail inmate by the FBI. In addition to the convicted officials, some current Sheriff’s Department officials have also received grand jury subpoenas.
Many in the Sheriff’s Department believe that low-ranking officials took the fall for following orders from Tanaka and Baca. Now, with the convening of the grand jury, it appears that prosecutors are attempting to target more sheriff’s officials after convicting seven last year for obstructing justice.
Of the seven, Gregory Thompson, a former lieutenant, and two ex-deputies, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, are known to have testified before the grand jury in December, according to a source.
Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Assn. (PPOA), the union that represents sheriff’s department supervisors, said that he knows of at least one more grand jury subpoena related to the obstruction of justice issue. But, he said, he has heard credible reports of still more such subpoenas.
So will there be new indictments?
When LASD Captain Tom Carey testified at the trials of the seven last year, he admitted that he was the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. And, as WLA has previously reported, Carey was relieved of duty in December pending the result of an internal departmental investigation.
Yet, despite much pestering on the part of reporters, WLA included, federal prosecutors and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office have repeatedly declined to comment on the possibility—or lack thereof—of more indictments, and will say only that the investigation is ongoing.
Still, the new grand jury hearings have fueled new rounds of speculation.
“Of course, many of us hope the government is going to reach higher than those who have already been convicted,” Moriguchi said. “But in the end all we can do is speculate. It’s hopeful speculation, but it’s speculation, nonetheless.”
LA PRESS CLUB 2015 AWARD FOR COURAGE & INTEGRITY IN JOURNALISM TO GO TO CHARLIE HEBDO
The Los Angeles Press Club announced on Monday that its 2015 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism will go to Charlie Hebdo.
“We are deeply honored. Of course, we’ll accept, said Gerard Biard, Editor-in-Chief of Charlie Hebdo.
“No act of terrorism can stop freedom of speech. Giving the Daniel Pearl Award to Charlie Hebdo is a strong message to that effect,” said LA Press Club President Robert Kovacik of NBC LA.
Since 2002, the Los Angeles Press Club in conjunction with Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl—who was kidnapped in 2002 by Pakistani militants and later murdered by Al-Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have handed out the award to those who have displayed unusual courage in reporting.
Past recipients have included Richard Engel, the NBC correspondent who covered multiple mid east wars on the front lines, before being abducted in Syria in 2012, and Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist/author who became famous for her reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, who was murdered in 2006 in the elevator outside her apartment in what was widely viewed as an ordered assassination to prevent her latest deeply reported story from being published.
The 2015 award will be presented by Judea and Ruth Pearl at a gala awards dinner held at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 28th.
In the meantime, Charlie Hebdo’s first cover since the murderous attack on its Paris offices that killed 12 people, will feature a tearful prophet Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie.” The magazine’s headline says “All is forgiven.”
The magazine, which will go on sale on Wednesday, will reportedly print as many as record 3 million copies in 16 languages, instead of its usual 60,000.
The cover cartoon, which you can see below, was drawn by the weekly’s cartoonist Luz, who survived the massacre because he was late arriving at the office.
(Click on the Charlie Hebdo cover image to enlarge it.)