Contra Costa County’s Awful Juvenile Hall…..Holder to Announce Sentencing Reform…….7 Shells = 15 Years….and MoreAugust 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
IS CONTRA COSTA COUNTY “LOCKING UP YOUTH AND THROWING AWAY THEIR FUTURES?”
An alarming class action suit filed last Thursday accuses Contra Costa’s Juvenile Hall of taking kids as young as 13 with disabilites and locking them up in solitary for 23 hours a day, while dening them education….and other such abuses.
Here’s a clip from the statement put out by Public Counsel, which brought the lawsuit along with Disability Rights Advocates, and Paul Hastings LLP,:
Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, like all juvenile halls in the State, exists “solely for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment,” according to the California Supreme Court. Education is supposed to be at the center of young people’s rehabilitation.
But students at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the size of a hand. Young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison.
By its own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. But youth with disabilities at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination: they do not receive critical special education and related services, and lacking such supports, they are locked in their cells for a variety of infractions.
Despite knowing that many students have a learning disability, mental illness, or other disabilities, Contra Costa County puts students in solitary confinement for behavior that is related to their disabilities, denies them general and special education services, and holds them in conditions that can make their disabilities worse.
Here are two examples of the kind of treatment of kids that the lawsuit alleges: :
**A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.
**W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.
Susan Ferris, the excellent juvenile justice reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, has more on the lawsuit and on the awful conditions that helped bring it about.
HOLDER SET TO ANNOUNCE FEDERAL SENTENCING REFORMS ON MONDAY
Sari Horowitz from the Washington Post has details on some of the extremely welcome changes in federal sentencing policy that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce on Monday. Here’s a clip:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.
The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.
Justice Department lawyers have worked for months on the proposals, which Holder wants to make the cornerstone of the rest of his tenure.
“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder plans to say Monday, according to excerpts of his remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.
As we mentioned last week, Some of Holder’s proposed reforms will require legislative changes.
And, as we also mentioned previously, , let us hope that California follows the lead of the feds with some our own desperately-needed state sentencing reforms.
STUPID SENTENCING TRICKS
As Holder prepared to announce his list of reforms, Saturday’s essay by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof provided a perfect illustration of other excesses in federal sentencing that could also use some work. Here’s a clip:
IF you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.
Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.
Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.
“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”
Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.
The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.
It should be noted that what Kristof does not explain is that Young was not altogether innocent, and that the police bust was righteous. (Sorry, but that was very sloppy, Mr. Kristof.)
It turns out that in 2011, Young had relapsed into old behavior, and had stolen tools, tires and weight lifting equipment from vehicles and a business warehouse—crimes to which he confessed when the police came knocking. Yet, for the burglaries he would have gotten a few years of Tennessee state time with the likelihood of early parole.
However, the federal charge for the seven shells means that Young will spend a full fifteen years in prison, away from his kids, not supporting his family, a punishment that is not remotely proportionate, all at a cost to the federal government of approximately $415,000.
AN EXCEPTIONALLY SANE LOOK AT REALIGNMENT, POSSIBLE EARLY RELEASES AND WHAT NEEDS TO COME NEXT
We wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the excellent LA Times editorial that talks sanely and factually about the possible early release of some prison inmates, what most desperately needs to be fixed in California’s incarceration policy…and more. Here’s a clip from the essay’s center:
…..It would be naive to consider the returning felons harmless; but it would be an act of wild self-deception to pretend that an early release order would make their homecoming any more dangerous than it would have been otherwise. The fact is, most of the prisoners in line for possible early release had been scheduled to return to the streets within the coming year anyway. The status quo in California has been, for years, the steady return of felons after two- to five-year terms who pose the same risk they did when they went in. Those returns are the chief product of our broken criminal justice system.
That’s the real point here — not that some prisoners will be moving to the post-incarceration portion of their sentences a few months early, but that California has done too little to fix a system under which we deem it normal that prisoners come out at least as dysfunctional as when they went in. Precisely because of crowding and foolish management of the inmate population, California prisons have not only fallen below a minimum constitutional level of medical and mental health care, but also have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes. One word that appears throughout various reports and federal court orders describes the state’s prison system as “criminogenic” — referring to its high propensity to make inmates more likely, not less, to offend again after their release.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A MENTALLY ILL MAN GETS HELP INSTEAD OF BEING LOCKED UP….AGAIN?
We’ve heard over and over again that the LA County Jail system is the largest mental health hospital in the nation, with approximately 2000 mentally ill inmates housed in the county’s lock ups at any one time.
But other than getting inmates (hopefully) the right meds, the jail system does little else to provide any kind of help for those who cycle in an out of its locked doors.
LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about one such frequent return customer to the jails who contacted Lopez and described how he’d managed to get out of the cycle. Here’s a clip:
There is little in Andy’s appearance or manner that offers a clue as to what he’s been through. The arrests, the jailhouse beatings, the commitments. He’s soft-spoken and unassuming, so much so that the story of his life doesn’t seem to go with the man who tells it.
I ask how many times he’s been locked up, and now a hint of distress creeps into his eyes.
“Maybe 20,” he shrugs, adding that he’s been in mental institutions nearly as many times.
Andy emailed me after I wrote about a visit to L.A. County Jail, which houses about 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s a barbaric system, with many of those inmates repeatedly filing through the turnstiles at great public cost, with little or no chance of getting help that might break the cycle.
“Before 2004, I had spent MANY a time in the L.A. County Jail.” wrote Andy, explaining that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disease. “If you’d ever like some background on surviving … the jails, I’m available. I’ve been stable and productive since 2004, and living in sunny Santa Monica.”…
Read the rest. It’s worth it.