Is Drug Sentencing Reform Really Coming?….In CA Who Will Get Early Release?….Baca Tells LB Rotary Club He’s Running…and MoreAugust 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.)
IF CALIFORNIA HAS TO RELEASE INMATES, WHO WOULD THEY BE? SERIOUSLY ILL OFFENDERS BELONG TO ONE LIKELY GROUP
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.
BACA SPEAKS TO LONG BEACH ROTARY CLUB ON WEDNESDAY AND VOWS TO RUN FOR REELECTION
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.
AND THE AWARD FOR CREEPIEST STORY OF THE WEEK GOES TO: THE LOUISIANA ATTORNEYS WHO CLAIM THAT A 14-YEAR-OLD LOUISIANA GIRL WANTED TO BE REPEATEDLY SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY GUARD IN A JUVENILE FACILITY
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.