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Is Drug Sentencing Reform Really Coming?….In CA Who Will Get Early Release?….Baca Tells LB Rotary Club He’s Running…and More

August 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

We may be at the very beginning of a sea change when it comes to drug sentencing,
at least on the federal level, according to a new NPR story by Carrie Johnson, who reports that Attorney General Eric Holder would like to see things done differently.

“I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons,” Holder told Johnson.

Here’s more from her story:

The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” Holder said. “There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

That’s one reason why the Justice Department has had a group of lawyers working behind the scenes for months on proposals the attorney general could present as early as next week in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

Some of the items are changes Holder can make on his own, such as directing U.S. attorneys not to prosecute certain kinds of low-level drug crimes, or spending money to send more defendants into treatment instead of prison. Almost half of the 219,000 people currently in federal prison are serving time on drug charges.

“Well, we can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together

Yet Holder isn’t the only one calling for change. After three decades of lawmakers absolutely tripping over each other in their haste to see who can come off as the toughest on drug crime, it appears that there are pockets of sanity emerging in the Congress as well.

There is, for example, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Democrat Patrick Leahy, who is teaming up with Tea Party darling, Republican Rand Paul, to introduce a bill called the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which will give judges the power to consider sentences below the mandatory minimum for all federal crimes.

Leahy is also planning committee hearings on sentencing.

In addition to possible changes with federal sentencing laws, nearly two dozen states are moving toward sentencing reform as well, including Texas where change is driven by the conservative “Right on Crime” people, who continue to gain in significance in the realm of criminal justice reform.

And what, you might be wondering, does our progressive state of California have in the works when it comes to sentencing reform??

Pretty much zero.

But with the spectre of having to do something to lower the state’s prison population by 9400 inmates, perhaps even California will be motivated to get with the program.**

Our favorite legal blogger and law prof Doug Berman put it this way when he talked to NPR on the general topic of sentencing reform: “Are we using the prison system too broadly, too widely? Are we getting a poor return on our investment with criminal justice dollars when we’re constantly growing the federal prison population and especially in a time of sequester that comes with cuts to prosecutors, cuts to police forces, cuts to defender services?”

Return on investment. . Not a bad standard to use.

(**NOTE: While sentencing reform won’t solve California’s immediate overcrowding problem, it could, over time, help bring about a permanent and sustainable solution.)


Now that the US Supreme Court has ruled that California has to lower its prison population by at least 9400 inmates by the end of the year, we are starting to get reports on how that number might be met.

The LA Times’ Chris Megerian and Paige St. John report that around 8000 or more of the necessary reductions might be found by moving inmates around—to private prisons, to out of state facilities, to certain jail systems in the state that have the room to take additional inmates (LA is not on that list), and to other facilities like fire camps.

That would still leave around a 1000 inmates who might need to be released early.

So who might those early releases be?

One category being examined for release, reports the AP’s Don Thompson, is certain inmates who are seriously ill.

Here’s a clip:

A federal official who controls prison medical care has given corrections officials files on about 30 women who could be released on medical parole as part of the state’s response. They are among 900 inmates statewide who have been preliminarily identified as eligible for medical parole, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver.

It’s just one step California is taking to meet the court order.

“We’re starting with the inmates with the most serious medical conditions. These are ones that likely will need to be placed in nursing homes,” Hayhoe said.

It should be noted that elderly and ill inmates are the most expensive for California to house. Those same inmates can be safely cared for by the state outside prison, say experts, for a fraction of the cost of keeping them inside.


Beatriz Valenzuela of the Long Beach Press-Telegram has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday he is running for re-election next year despite a recent scathing editorial urging the sheriff to bow out of the race.

“I think I’m the most qualified for the job,” Baca said following a speaking engagement at the Long Beach Rotary Club Wednesday afternoon. The sheriff was slated to talk about the Los Angeles Times editorial and California’s Prison Realignment’s effects on the county, but seemed to dance around both topics in his talk to the local service group.

In an editorial piece that ran in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Baca is asked not to run for re-election due to the “extraordinary cascade of scandals that have exposed the dismal state of the department and the jails he runs.”

The sheriff also reportedly talked about his one of his favorite topics, Education Based Incarceration, which he said can help with deputy/prisoner conduct problems.

“Education is key,” he said.

In the county jail system, Baca helped create a program that allows inmates to receive an education while behind bars.

“We’ve had 6,000 go to school every day Monday through Friday and six have gone to the judge to ask for extended sentences to finish their classes,” Baca said.

A better educated inmate, he said, helps keep that person from returning to jail.

On that point, WLA strongly agrees.


John DeSantis of the Tri-Parish Times has the head-spinning story about a 20-year-old woman who is suing Terrebonne Parish, alleging she was repeatedly sexually assaulted when she was 14 and locked up in a local juvenile detention center.

In trying to avoid paying the young woman damages, local attorneys are using the time honored “she asked for it” defense. (No one evidently disputes that the guard had sex with the girl— who was, at the time, three years shy of the age of consent in the state of Louisiana.)

Here’s a clip:

….attorney Carolyn McNabb, a founding member of CASA of Terrebonne, whose members act as child advocates in court, and a board member of the Bayou Area Children’s Foundation, wrote a letter last week to attorney Alexander “Kip” Crighton, criticizing the tactic.

“To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record,” McNabb’s letter states.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, Right on Crime, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 19 Comments »

19 Responses

  1. Reform Says:

    “I think I’m the most qualified for the job,” Baca said following a speaking engagement at the Long Beach Rotary Club Wednesday afternoon. The sheriff was slated to talk about the Los Angeles Times editorial and California’s Prison Realignment’s effects on the county, but seemed to DANCE around both topics in his talk to the local service group.

    This our Sheriff. One who DANCES around many issues. He would have won the grams finale on Dancing with the stars (and moon) for his classic “Baca two step .” I actually attended this forum. The Rotary Club was not impressed at all. In fact, quite the opposite. But you’ll hear more on that later. Baca needs to realize that the ride is over and the sun is setting on his saloon. Unfortunatley, he’s hanging on and his desperate attempt to explain key issues is non existent.

    One thing Ill agree on is EBI. Outs a great idea, however, it needs to be overhauled to be more effective. Also, the safety issue in those dorms is crazy. Especially when several inmates and staff have been assaulted. I hear the Mexican Mafia uses those EBI dorms as safe havens for jail made weapons and narcotics. It’s not good when the inmates your trying to rehabilitate constantly have to look behind their backs for their safety. Not a great learning environment.

    Anyways, ABB

  2. Eyeswideopen Says:

    Well, Sheriff Baca has a P.H.D and look at what a mess he has made of the department. An education does not necessarily equal ETHICS!

  3. Cognistator Says:

    #2: Yeah, but lookit what his Ph.D dissertation was on:

  4. Person of Interest Says:

    If you really look at those EBI participation numbers, you will encounter much smoke and mirrors. “6,000 students every day” is really 6,000 seats filled by 1,500 students attending four classes per day. And, on top of that, attendance figures are frequently inflated or fabricated outright.

  5. Time for a Reality Check Says:

    Actually, the inflated EBI numbers are really the result of feeble attempts to please Baca by showing all the educational opportunities that are occurring within each facility. Let me be more specific. Before EBI, certain inmates would be assigned “jobs” in such places as the kitchen, clinic and laundry. This was and is a necessary endeavor, as the jails cannot sustain themselves without inmate labor. Within these various “jobs”, responsibilities would include everything from loading a dish washer, mopping the floor to sorting clean clothes. Please keep in mind, that the aforementioned are brief examples of how inmate labor is used. Today, these same “jobs” continue, but now they’re classified as “EBI” opportunities. An inmate reports to work, performs maintenance tasks in the clinic and is credited with having attended an EBI class on what it takes to be a janitor. Nothing but smoke and mirrors; but now, the sheriff can stand before any group and proclaim the number of inmates that are receiving valuable life skills training, all under the guise of “EBI.”

    I’ll tell you what is not being tracked and no one dare suggest it – the recidivism rate of those that “participated” in any of the EBI programs, but especially, the “fabricated” ones. One finally point to make. As each of us is aware, the jails are understaffed and positions are busted on a regular basis. Within custody, watch commanders and unit captains are essentially running short on each shift, and holding their collective breath that nothing happens during the ensuing eight hours. Complicating this poor management tactic is the realignment of both deputy and custody assistants who have been pulled from their security responsibilities, and detailed exclusively to EBI. This personnel shift has occurred at every facility and my fundamental concern is: How do you justify running short on the security side so that a meaningless EBI class can be provide to a group of inmates whose only goal is to make it another day in jail? If the true goal is education, then hire teachers. Frankly, I’d bet you could retain at least two teachers for every deputy that is now pulling “EBI” duty.

  6. TrueNorth Says:

    Some very good comments. Speaking of EBI and public safety… Where did all of this money to fund inmate education suddenly come from? What would you say if LDB and Gov.Brown planned AB109 together to aid in building the Baca empire and the LASD? Another fund for the Sheriff to tap? Much of the money allocated for personnel/teams to enforce AB109 and check parole and probationers to keep our communities safe, has been diverted to EBI efforts. We are talking 10s of millions here. Meanwhile detectives and specialized units are CARPed, while priorities are placed aside and their case loads increase. Gang enforcement teams are decimated. Parole teams are well below proper staffing levels. How does any of this serve in the citizens’ best interest? Exactly… It doesn’t. It is unsafe and as usual the troops get trampled on.

    People commit a crime, go to jail and get a degree; while Los Angeles County residents and Deputy Sheriffs pay the price and suffer for it. Gang members and con artists now use EBI to their benefit. They get special housing and privilidges just for playing along. If you’re going to divert the public’s money, use it to end CARPing and enhance everyones safety, or better yet, used as it was originally intended, to enforce the law.

  7. CSN83 Says:

    Excellent posts Person of Interest, Reality Check & True North, but I think everyone is a little befuddled by the whole CARP thing. I think you have a better handle on it than I, so perhaps one of you could explain the whole thing to everyone. To me, it seems like we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and not caring what falls by the wayside (like response times, safety & security, etc). I also think it is even more egregious in our Contract City areas because they ARE paying for certain dedicated items and we are basically “double dipping” with the billing. A glaring example is any station detective unit or probably, the most abused place of all is the TSB contract which has no “minimum staffing level” as many stations do. I don’t understand the stance of the Department on this — maybe someone else does.

  8. Facts matter Says:

    EBI is strictly for ONE purpose and ONE purpose only. To get the Sheriff re-elected!

    Do you think he cares about inmate education? NOPE!

    Do you think he would use this program for selfish reasons? YUP!

    Do you think the program is successful and efficient? NOPE!

    I believe in inmate education and think it’s important for the criminal justice system. However, I don’t believe it should be used as a political pawn.


    ABB 2014

  9. shake my head Says:

    I was wondering if there is a conflict of interest that Baca’s sister has taken over the contract for the commissary inside the jails. Is Baca getting a cut of the over priced items sold to inmates. hmmmm

  10. TrueNorth Says:

    CSN: You are absolutely right in your assessment of CARPing. It is a slight-of-hand trick. I’ll break it down this way: a contract city or the county pays for a detective with tenure and bonus pay, sometimes bonus two or hazard pay on top of that. That detective, who plays a vital role in investigating and filing cases, is taken from his or her position as often as once a week in order to work a line-level position usually occupied by a lower paid, less experienced/tenured deputy. The contract is essentially paying for a detective and line level position, but only getting the detective. If the detective is working 4 days a week/10 hours a day, one of those days as a detective is taken away to fill patrol minutes at the line-level. Patrol minutes are accounted for via mobile computers and the CAD system, where as detective minutes are not. Multiply that by numerous detectives per unit and you have a heck of a scheme goin on. So, as far as the contract knows they are still getting their detectives at 40 hours a week and the patrol minutes filled by a line-level deputy. Then look at the potential pay differential between a 7 year patrol deputy and a tenured 20+ year detective; the numbers really begin to add up, and that is on the conservative side. I hate to say it, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Morale is suffering, money is squadered, and the citizens are being taken to the cleaners. TSB has caught on and is putting a stop to it. It is time to end this madness.

  11. Lesser evil Says:

    # 9

    Re: commissary contract?

    That is a HUGE conflict of interest and LA County Charter Ethical Violation, if what you say is true ( I don’t doubt it), the Board of Supes would be extremely pissed off, as well as LA County residents. What you’re alleging is similar to the city of Bell corruption. If you have that info, make sure you turn it over to the State Attorney General and US Attorney for review. This is so sad…

    What has LASD become? :(

  12. Lesser evil Says:

    # 11

    What you are alleging is theft. Maybe even Grand Theft. I’m sure the city managers of our contract cities would have a field day with that, especially those that are struggling. What the heck is going on with the Sheriffs Department and Core Values?

  13. Pink Owl White Swan Says:

    Baca believes Incest should be legal!!!

    He’s SICK!!!

  14. Investigative Mind Says:

    #9, are you serious regarding the commissary in the jails? If so, everything is slowly adding up…oh no.

  15. Black Swan Says:

    Re: EBI. Talk to some of the deps. who have to work there. They weren’t allowed to search inmates going in or coming out, or the classroom. Some of the deps. had inmates coming to them telling them about the weapons, kites and dope being transferred about. The inmates wanted o know why nothing was being done. Some inmates asked to be removed because they didn’t want to be involved in what was occurring in EBI.
    As for the Sheriff’s feelings about EBI. What’s scary is I think he really believes in it being good for all. Don’t forget he is the former chief who felt deps should take gangsters home with them for dinner.

  16. Facts matter Says:

    This statement was picked up from a Leadership Class at CSUF. So true -

    In the world of leadership where the traits of accountability and personal responsibility are so highly regarded, I have one question? What’s with all the finger pointing? One of my pet peeves is coming across leaders (BACA) who think they’re always right, and that any problem or challenge that arises must clearly be the fault of someone else.

    Here’s the thing – as a (BACA)leader, anything that happens on your watch is your responsibility whether you like it or not. This level of responsibility just goes with the territory, and leaders who cannot accept this do not deserve to lead.

    -Simply put, Sheriff Baca’s Leadership credentials will bed VOIDED for 2014!

  17. Facts matter Says:

    Todays LA Times Editorial. WOW!

    Gloria Molina: I can’t fire Sheriff Baca, but you can..

    I’m extremely troubled that despite copious evidence of a county Sheriff’s Department in serious managerial disarray, not one challenger has stepped forward to rescue it.

    As a Los Angeles County supervisor, I can’t fire Sheriff Lee Baca. Only the voters can. But I do oversee lawsuit payouts — most against his department. Each time I approve a legal settlement arising from misuse of force by sheriff’s deputies, another arises. Details vary, but what stay the same are bad management and zero accountability.

    For years, Baca has circled the globe attending events while apparently neglecting certain duties at home. Serious responsibilities — like curbing jail violence and ensuring consistent deputy patrol in unincorporated neighborhoods — fell by the wayside. His lack of responsiveness indicates that not only has he failed at his mission, but he feels he never had a problem to begin with. For years, he’s paid lip service to the Board of Supervisors about “reform” while we’ve paid for lawsuits originating from his mismanagement.

    So many law enforcement personnel serve professionally and honorably, and it’s a disgrace that their heroism is tarnished by poor management. Now is the time for the right challenger to step up and run against Baca in 2014. What’s required is integrity and courage.

    Gloria Molina

    Los Angeles

  18. Reform Says:

    The editorial from Gloria Molina says it all and is a BIG hit from the Hispanic community. Thankfully, Baca’s days are numbered.

    Lawsuits and million dollar pay outs are not going to go over well with voters. I hear employee retaliation cases are on the rise too. This all translates to BIG TAX PAYING MONEY losses.

    Not good.

    Baca, do us all a favor and Step Down!

  19. Cognistator Says:

    #17: In other words, Gloria Molina is saying that “the right challenger” will have the backing of the Board of Supervisors.

    And we already know that “the right challenger” will have the backing of the Los Angeles Times, because it has said so.

    Some potent endorsements, there.

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