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LA Supes Votes YES on Controversial ICE Partnership….Prop 47 Gathers Support & LA Times Endorses……& A New Tanaka Fan

October 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to keep a controversial immigration policy
known as 287(g), making LA only one of two counties in the state to continue to implement the 1996 statute that permits the federal government to delegate immigration enforcement powers to state and local law enforcement.

Both Riverside and San Bernardino recently chose to halt participation with 287(g), making Orange County and LA the sole California holdouts.

LA would use 287(g) only in the the LA County jails, where immigration agents are embedded, and custody personnel are trained to screen inmates for immigration status.

Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe voted for the measure, while Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.

According to KPCC's Leslie Berestein Rojas, one of the biggest reasons that the Supes and the LASD leadership favored the policy has to do with money.

Here's a clip from Berestein Rojas' story:

"It helps us maintain better records for the purpose of reimbursement from the federal government," said Anna Pembedjian, justice deputy for County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a supporter of 287(g).

What Pembedjian is referring to is a federal grant program known as SCAAP, for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Counties like Los Angeles are partially reimbursed by the Department of Justice for incarcerating certain foreign-born criminals, and the better they can document their inmate population, the better their reimbursement chances.

[SNIP]

But in recent years, funding has been cut. Los Angeles County’s annual SCAAP award has gone from roughly $15 million in the late 2000s to about $3.4 million in 2014.

The county now gets reimbursed roughly 10 cents on the dollar for every SCAAP-eligible foreign inmate, Pembedjian said. Less than before, but it’s money the county would otherwise still have to spend.

“When these individuals are arrested and serving time in our jails, we have no alternative but to provide them with the housing, the mental health care, the medical care, food and security, which costs the county taxpayers millions of dollars every year,” Pembedjian said. “It is imperative for the county to recover the money from the federal government, otherwise if forces cuts in other vital services.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who was one of the three on the board who voted to keep the program, cited public safety as the her primary motivation.

But Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said such a rationale was flawed.

"Sadly, the supervisor has chosen to ignore a mountain of evidence, including DHS’ own published statistics on the program that clearly indicate that vast majority of individuals deported under the 287(g) agreement had not been convicted of a serious crime, or had no criminal history. In 2010, 80% of the people identified for deportation under this program were not convicted of a serious felony."

Indeed, according to a 2011 report by the Migration Policy Institute, nationally, 50 percent of those snatched by the program have committed felonies or other crimes that ICE considers serious. The other half of those detained have committed misdemeanors and/or have been involved in traffic accidents.

Prior to the vote, Villagra and the So Cal ACLU had urged board members to wait until a new sheriff is chosen in November to make up their minds on 287(g). But, as with the two billion dollar jail building decision (about which they were similarly asked to hold off until November) the board declined to delay the vote.

"It is inconceivable that our County leadership has chosen to continue a failed program that has already been abandoned in over 250 jurisdictions throughout the nation- including the City of Los Angeles," said Maria Elena Durazo, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Angelica Salas, Director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in a joint statement.

Yes, well, apparently it's not so inconceivable. But it is very disappointing.


PROP 47 AHEAD IN THE POLLS & THE LA TIMES ENDORSES IT

The New York Times' Erik Eckholm reports that, at the moment, Proposition 47 appears poised to pass, with the September poll by the Public Policy Institute showing 62 percent of voters in favor, 25 against. As you likely know, Prop 47 is the initiative that would reclassify a list of low-level felonies as misdemeanors making them punishable by at most one year in a county jail and, in many cases, by probation and counseling. The changes would apply retroactively, shortening the sentences of thousands already in prison or jails.

Although most district attorneys, and many law enforcement organizations (including the California Police Chief's Association) are against the initiative, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, the former SF police chief and former second in command for the LAPD, has become one of the measure's champions. And 47 has gathered strong support among some prominent conservatives, as well as liberals, and moderates, writes the Times' Eckholm.

Large donations in support have come from the Open Society Policy Center, a Washington-based group linked to George Soros; the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, based in New York; Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix; and Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook.

But the largest single donor is B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman and philanthropist based in Malibu. In one of the most tangible signs yet of growing concern among conservatives about the cost and impact of incarceration, Mr. Hughes has donated $1.255 million.

Mr. Hughes said he had been inspired by the late Chuck Colson to start prison ministry programs in California, and that his firsthand contact with prisoners and their families convinced him that the current heavy reliance on incarceration is often counterproductive.

“This is a model that doesn’t work,” he said in an interview. “For the $62,000 cost of a year in prison, you can send three kids to college,” he said. “But for me, it’s not just about the money, it’s about our fellow citizens who are hurting.”

Mr. Hughes was joined by Newt Gingrich as co-author of an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times urging citizens to vote yes....

The LA Times is the latest to endorse Proposition 47, saying that it will help California make more intelligent use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources, including the allocation of resources "to curb the likelihood of [lawbreakers] committing new crimes."

The San Francisco Chronicle endorsed 47 late last month.

Here's a clip from the Times' endorsement editorial:

Proposition 47 would do a great deal to stop the ongoing and unnecessary flow of Californians to prison for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and would, crucially, reduce the return flow of offenders from prison back to their neighborhoods in a condition — hardened by their experience, hampered by their felony records, unready for employment or education, likely mentally ill or addicted — that leaves them only too likely to offend again. It is a good and timely measure that can help the state make smarter use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources. The Times strongly recommends a "yes" vote on Proposition 47.

The measure has three parts. It would reduce sentences in California for a handful of petty crimes — drug possession and some types of theft, such as shoplifting — that currently are chargeable as either misdemeanors or felonies but should be just misdemeanors. It would open a three-year window during which inmates serving felony sentences for these crimes could apply to have their sentences reduced. And it would direct the savings from lowering the prison population to be spent on the kinds of things that, as data have shown time and again, keep significant numbers of former inmates from re-offending: substance abuse and mental health treatment, reentry support and similar services that also help crime-battered neighborhoods. Much of the savings would also be spent on truancy prevention and support for crime victims.

Opponents offer arguments that are familiar for their fear-mongering tactics but are new in some of their particulars: baseless yet ominous warnings that waves of dangerous criminals will be released; odd predictions about, of all things, date rape; acknowledgment that current sentencing is often excessive and counterproductive, but excuses for not previously having made sensible changes.

The LA Times board notes that it's too bad that such sentencing reform requires an initiative, that changes of this nature should ideally be accomplished by a non-political sentencing commission, or at the very least by state lawmakers but....dream on.

...experience shows that lawmakers, so comfortable with adding new crimes and increasing sentences, are generally incapable of lowering them in the face of pressure from law enforcement and victims' interest groups, even when overwhelming evidence points to better safety, greater savings and other positive outcomes from decreased penalties.

So a proposition is what we have---and one the Times contends will be a boon for even some of its critics:

One likely benefit of Proposition 47 is not advertised but could make a real difference: With fewer crimes charged as felonies, there would be far fewer preliminary hearings (they are not needed for misdemeanor charges), which means fewer police officers pulled off the streets to wait around in courthouses to testify, less preparation time needed by deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders, and less of a drain on local law enforcement and criminal justice budgets. It is one of many ways in which Proposition 47 would be a step forward for California.


FORMER CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF ENDORSES PAUL TANAKA. (YES, REALLY.)

In a slightly odd turn of events, former candidate for LA County Sheriff, retired LASD lieutenant Patrick Gomez, just endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the job according to a release from Tanaka's campaign.

This wouldn't be quite so peculiar were it not for the fact that Gomez spent part of nearly every candidate debate during the primary slamming Tanaka in particular.

For instance, here is what the Daily News reported after one of the early debates:

“Gomez, meanwhile, attacked Tanaka, who had been Baca’s second in command…. “I’m going to request that the FBI request a forensic audit,” Gomez said. “Tanaka talked about being a CPA, yet the auditor released a report in January that said $138 million were mishandled from special accounts within this department. Who was responsible for that?

‘These people talk about there’s been a lack of leadership — (but) these are the leadership people — they’re the assistant sheriff and the undersheriff, current and past. We’ve got to hold them accountable when we vote on June 3rd.’ ”

We guess that everyone's entitled to change his mind if he so desires. We'd just be very curious to know what new points of view persuaded Lt. Gomez to change his in this matter.

Posted in immigration, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 32 Comments »

Contra Costa County’s Awful Juvenile Hall…..Holder to Announce Sentencing Reform…….7 Shells = 15 Years….and More

August 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.

Posted in crime and punishment, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

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

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

[BIG SNIP]

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

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

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


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

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


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

The NY Times on CA’s Trust Act, the Fiscal Incentives for ICE Enforcement….the MacDonald Murders… and More

September 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


THE NY TIMES SAYS JERRY BROWN SHOULD SIGN THE CALIFORNIA TRUST ACT

The Trust Act is one of the bills that are sitting on Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting a signature. This weekend the NY Times features an editorial explaining why he should sign it.
Here is how the NYT opinion piece opens:

There is a significant and immediate step Gov. Jerry Brown of California can take to protect community safety and civil liberties in his state.

He can sign the Trust Act, a recently passed state bill that prevents local police departments from turning their jails into immigration holding cells for noncriminals or minor offenders whose sentences are up or who should otherwise be out on bail. The act would require the police to let such people go, even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have issued voluntary requests, known as detainers, that they be held until they can be picked up for deportation. Only those who have been convicted of or charged with serious or violent felonies would continue to be detained at ICE’s request.

The purpose of the act is to bring state enforcement in line with federal deportation priorities — which is to focus on dangerous criminals, national-security threats and repeat offenders. It was prompted by a troubled ICE program called Secure Communities, which enlists local authorities in immigration enforcement by doing checks on everyone they fingerprint. The program has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of minor offenders or those with no criminal records. The Trust Act is one state’s way to prevent such overkill.

Most of the state’s sheriffs, LA’s Sheriff Lee Baca most prominently included, oppose the Trust Act saying that it would force them to decide whether to violate State law or federal law.

Baca has gone so far as to say he won’t enforce the thing, even if it is signed by the governor.

Only Santa Clara Sheriff, Laurie Smith, has broken from the pack to announce that she is fine with the Trust Act. In fact she took the same stance that the LAPD has long taken with Special Order 40, maintaining that forcing local police to engage in immigration enforcement to makes immigrants less likely to report the kind of serious crimes that are a genuine threat public safety, simply because they’re fearful of being deported.

And about the claim that the Trust Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will force local law enforcement to break either federal or state law, according to more than 30 legal scholars, this either-or interpretation of the law’s potential affect is utter nonsense. Here’s the letter the profs from such schools as Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, NYU, Penn State, Davis, Georgetown, UC Irvine, Hastings, Brandeis, and more, sent to the governor on the issue.

The letter is 8-pages of legal language, which you may find interesting, but it’s bottom line may be found in the following two statements:

The Constitution does not allow the federal government to command that local sheriffs enforce a federal regulatory regime. The regulation of immigration is no exception to this rule.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that local participation in immigration can only take place with the consent of localities.


SO IS THERE A $$$ ANGLE TO ALL THIS LEGAL CONTROVERSY?

Interestingly, while most of the state’s sheriffs oppose the Trust Act and embrace Secure Communities or S-Comm, many police chiefs, like San Francisco’s and Oakland’s— are in favor of the Trust Act.

LA’s Charlie Beck has long expressed concern about the potential negative effects of enforcing S-Comm while, as mentioned above, Lee Baca is an ardent S-Comm supporter and says, if the Trust Act is passed, he won’t enforce it.

So what could cause such a difference in perspective between county and city law enforcement agencies?

Perhaps Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff has the key. Sniff, who wrote an letter urging Brown to veto the Trust Act, told David Olson of the Press-Enterprise that the bill would “… jeopardize federal funding to help pay the cost to house illegal immigrants.” Riverside, he said, has received up to $1.8 million annually for S-Comm enforcement. In other words, not locking up as many immigrants would make most or all of those nice dollars vanish.

So maybe the Trust Act isn’t a legal problem for the sheriffs as much as it is a fiscal one.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to jump one way or the other on the bill.


THE UNENDING FASCINATION WITH THE JEFFERY MACDONALD MURDER CASE CONTINUES

On Tuesday, Sept 4, the third major book on the Jeffery MacDonald murder case is being released. It is called A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and in it, author Errol Morris, pretty much decides MacDonald is innocent of the murders of his wife and two young daughters, although Morris concedes he cannot prove MacDonald’s innocence to a certaintly.

When I say Morris’s is the third major book, I mean there have been several lessor volumes other than the two well-known examinations of the case, Fatal Vision, the monster best seller by The Selling of the President author, Joe McGinnis, and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, a book that—love it or hate it—is now a staple in non-fiction literature courses.

The author of the newest book is, of course, the highly regarded writer/director of such stellar documentaries as The Thin Blue Line, which actually exonerated a man after it was released, and The Fog of War, which completely reframed the reputation of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara while winning Morris an Academy Award.

Sunday’s NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and others have features on the new book.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Atlantic:

It was not quite the case of the century, but Americans of a certain age are likely to remember the savage, 1970 murders of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and daughters and his subsequent convictions on first and second degree homicide. Or, they remember the story of the case popularized by Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and, perhaps, the story of McGinniss and MacDonald, told by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer.

Now comes documentary filmmaker Errol Morris with his new book A Wilderness of Error, a devastating expose of the incompetence and corruption that enabled MacDonald’s conviction and continues to obstruct his appeals. MacDonald, now 68, has been imprisoned for 30 years, denied parole because he continues to deny his guilt, as his efforts at exoneration continue, decades after conviction. Last April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in his case, scheduled in September 2012.

As Morris observes, it’s impossible to know “with absolute certainty” whether MacDonald is guilty or innocent. But evidence of innocence wrongly excluded from his trial, including multiple confessions from other suspects, seems considerably stronger than evidence of guilt, and Morris, a dogged, discerning investigator, makes clear that MacDonald was “railroaded.” Personally, I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that in a fair trial, a relatively unbiased jury would not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (and I’ve contributed to his defense fund).

What went wrong in this case? The short answer, Morris suggests, is that military police and, eventually, civilian prosecutors assumed a conclusion and selected evidence to support it. “When police arrive at a scene, like any of us, they try to formulate an idea of what happened … they take the seeming chaos of a crime scene and interpret it. Often the explanation is based on convenience. It’s easier to pick one narrative about an explanation than another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to be clear, we aren’t taking a side in this. We’re just noting that the case continues to fascinate and frustrate a bunch of smart people, each of whom seems to read a different answer in the facts available.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO STOP AN EXECUTION

In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak takes a look behind the metaphorical curtain to find out what kind of process the Supremes and their respective staffs go through when they deal with requests to stay executions.

This isn’t a news story but rather a peek backstage to look at one small part of the way SCOTUS works and it’s quite intriguing. Here’s a clip:

John Balentine was an hour away from being put to death in Texas last month when the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution.

The unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline, with the condemned inmate waiting for word of his fate just outside the death chamber, may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.

But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that’s where I come in.”

Mr. Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work at a hotel here last month, Mr. Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

It starts with a weekly update…..

Posted in American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, LAPD, LASD, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Sunday/Monday Must Reads

September 20th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


UH, OH. SCALIA SAYS THE CONSTITUTION DOESN’T COVER SEX BIAS (OR BIAS AGAINST SEXUAL PREFERENCE)

Oh, Antonin, honey! Are you having one of those bad old we-don’t-need-not stinking-stare decisis moments again?

Supreme court justice Antonin Scalia said during a question-and-answer session with a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law on Friday, that the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal protection doesn’t apply to sexual discrimination, or discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Never mind that about a zillion rulings since 1970 say otherwise about gender-based discrimination.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle.

PS: Can’t imagine what possible future SCOTUS case Scalia might be winding up for, can you?


COVERING TRIALS IN THE AGE OF TWITTER

The New Haven Register reports how the coverage of a high profile murder trial is affected by madly tweeting reporters.


9TH CIRCUIT TO DECIDE WHO OWNS THE EXPENSIVE SOFTWARE YOU JUST BOUGHT

First the bad news: A three-judge appeals panel recently decided that if you think you might want to resell that expensive piece of software you bought and don’t need anymore—tough luck, Jack! You don’t own it. The manufacturer does.

This could set a not very fun precedent for books, movies and music.

Now the maybe good news: the full, 11-judge 9th circuit court of appeals, has agreed to rehear the issue. (Whew!)

After the 9th Circuit, it could go to SCOTUS—because, my dears, precedent-wise, this ain’t no small issue we’re talking here.

UPI has lots more.


The NEW YORK TIMES TAKES UP THE STORY ON JUDGES CONSIDERING THE COST OF A SENTENCE BEFORE RULING

The NY Times writes about the pros and cons of Missouri’s new Cost of Crime policy. Here ‘s a clip:

For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.


LA WEEKLY ON CITY HALL’S SHAMEFUL SLASHING OF LIBRARY BUDGETS

Some of us have been quietly bemoaning the cuts in the Los Angeles Public Library system. But, in the current LA Weekly Patrick Range McDonald lays out the city’s slash-and-burn library policy for us in all its awfulness and detail.

Among other things, library hours have been cut back to five days a week, meaning libraries all over the city are closed on Monday.

The ranks of librarians and library staff have been cut by one third.

McDonald points out that New York and Chicago (and most other large cities, save Detroit, have protected their library systems from such ravages—particularly the two days of closures.

But not LA.

McDonald suggests that we should be cutting the GRYD gang programs instead, which I don’t agree with. (He has other suggested cuts as well.) But it’s one among a few small quibbles with an otherwise important story that should be read and contemplated—and then talked about—by all who care about the health and well being of our very precious, very desperately needed libraries.

PS: Did I mention that library usage is going up, not down, in the troubled economy? Consider it mentioned.


NYT DAVID CARR PRATTLES ON IN A CLUE-FREE MANNER ABOUT STEWART AND COLBERT’S OCT 30 MARCHES

There are some interesting points to be made regarding the dueling “I Have a March” announcements Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert made on their respective shows on Thursday night, but NY Times media critic David Carr didn’t make them in his annoyingly condescending and insight-free Sunday column on the matter.

If for some reason you don’t know about the Stewart/Colbert Oct 30 marches on the national mall, watch the videos here.

(Even if you do know about the marches, you should watch the videos.)


AND SPEAKING OF LIBRARIES, BEHOLD THE HIGHLAND PARK BOOK BOOTH!

This is brilliant. I think we should each start one in our own neighborhoods. (And if you do, please send a photo, okay?)

<strong(This photo was posted by the LA Review of Books—a new literary website launching in January 2011.)


Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Posted in Must Reads | 8 Comments »

Post Fireworks Round-Up

July 6th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Later this week, I’ll have a new story on the mess that is LA County probation
and some additional information on the circumstances surrounding the heartbreaking death of Zac Champommier.

But for now, here’s a round-up of weekend news that I thought you’d find of interest.


IF DEATH ROW INMATE TROY DAVIS PROVES HIS INNOCENCE, THEN WHAT?

Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court granted Georgia death row inmate, Troy Davis, a new hearing before a federal judge in which Davis and his attorneys would be able to to try to prove Davis’s innocence of the 1989 murder of an Atlanta police officer. [Back story on Davis's case here.] It is, as the AP points out, “a chance afforded no American facing execution in nearly half a century.”

But the AP also discusses the fact that it isn’t at all clear what is to happen even if Davis and company persuade the judge that Davis didn’t do the crime.

Some experts say the judge could order a new trial. Others say the judge could make a recommendation to the Supreme Court that Davis be freed from prison. There’s also a possibility the judge could find Davis innocent, yet rule he’s powerless to spare Davis’ life.

“There is some ambiguity,” said John H. Blume, a Cornell Law School professor who specializes in death penalty appeals. “Whenever you’ve got something this new, that hasn’t happened all these years, you’re really making your best guess.”

Read the rest.


REASON # 4598 WHY SO MANY PEOPLE ARE GOING ELSEWHERE FOR NEWS OTHER THAN TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA

For weeks, I have found myself in a state of quietly growing rage at the way the so-called journalism establishment has taken endless snide little potshots (and some not-so-little shots) at Michael Hastings and his scoop-of-the-season Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General,” in which then-General Stanley McChrystal and his aides made the smart-mouthed remarks that cost the general his job.

And so who did the ever vigilant Washington press corps attack after the release of excellent Hastings article? Why Hastings of course.

Thus it was relief to read Eric Alterman’s scathing round-up of nearly all the instances of what Rolling Stone’s Matt Tabbai had earlier and accurately described as Hysterical Backstabbing Jealous Hackfest 2010!

Here’s a representative clip:

But almost as impressive as the article itself—and, of course, the commotion it caused in the administration’s Afghan policy resulting in McChrystal’s firing and his replacement by Gen. David Petraeus—has been the Washington journalistic establishment’s reaction to it. Reporter after reporter has complained that by accurately reporting what McChyrstal and his aides said in explicitly on-the-record conversations to a reporter with a tape recorder and/or notepad in his hand, Hastings has violated the tenets of professional journalism. (A few of the reporters did this, it should be added, after stealing his work for their own websites.)

And about that work-stealing issue that Alter mentions: I flagged it at the time, but was astonished to find that few others seemed to notice. Here’s what Alterman says on that matter:

The other decidedly comical aspect of the journalistic establishment’s reaction to the piece they so disdain was the eagerness a few of them showed in trying to steal it. Not only did website after website post the highlights of the general’s shocking quotes before Rolling Stone did, but two of them—Politico and Time—stole it outright, posting the results of months of research and tens of thousands of dollars of investment on their own sites without even bothering to ask permission from the people responsible for them.

Asked by an NPR reporter whether this behavior “cros[ed] a line,” Bill Grueskin, who is dean of academic affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism, replied, “I think they crossed the line in the same way that a bank robber who goes into a bank and takes money out of the cashier’s drawer crosses a line.” New York Times media reporter David Carr titled his column on the controversy “Heedlessly Hijacking Content,” and termed it “a clear violation of copyright and professional practice, and it amounted to taking money out of a competitor’s pocket.”

And do keep in mind that these people who excoriated Hastings (but thought nothing of stealing his work), are the same folks who regularly beat their breasts about the icky “non-professionalism” of bloggers.

Right. Sure. Whatever you say, boss.


A YEAR OUT OF PRISON BRUCE LISKER MEETS WITH ONE OF HIS JURORS

On LA Observed, Photojournalist Iris Schneider has been doing an occasional and quite wonderful series on Bruce Lisker, who was released from prison nearly a year ago after serving 24 years for murdering his mother, Dora Lisker. Monday Schneider posted her latest installment in which she accompanied Lisker when he met with Lorraine Maxwell, one of the twelve jury members who convicted him when he was 17-years-old of the 1983 murder.

Earlier installments are here, here and here.


THE LA TIMES GETS AERIAL EXPERT’S REPORT THAT CONTRADICTS OFFICIAL ACCOUNT OF HOW THE STATION FIRE MIGHT HAVE BEEN STOPPED

The LA Times’ Paul Pringle has gotten his hands on a very credible report that suggest that the official account of the way the disastrous Station Fire was handled may be troublingly inaccurate.


OBAMA TELLS CONGRESS: HANDS OFF FEDERAL RACE TO THE TOP FUNDS

The NY Times editorial board rightly approves of Obama’s threat to veto any spending bill that slashes money from his Race-to-the-Top school reform program. Find the cuts elsewhere people.


CLAY SHIRKY EXPLAINS WHY THE (INTERNET) KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

If you don’t recognize the name of web prognosticator/author/astonishingly fine thinker Clay Shirky, suffice it to say that, if you are interested in the whole Future of News thingy, he’s the guy you want to read. He has a brand new book out, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, which is already selling at a rapid clip.

To get a glimpse of what’s inside, read his essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal titled “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?

Or better yet, read the interview in the Guardian in which the self-described techno-luddite interviewer admits she finds herself hanging on Shirky’s every word.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, media, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Wednesday RoundUp

June 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


A KID DIES AS DCFS OUT-OF-CONTROL BACKLOG OF ABUSE ALLEGATIONS INCREASES

LA Times’ Garrett Theroff reports on this case that is tragic and also deeply disheartening because of what it illustrates.

Here is the opening:

The tip that abuse was taking place in the Long Beach home where 2-year-old Joseph Byrd lived came to Los Angeles County child welfare officials nearly two months ago.

But 57 days after opening an investigation into the allegations, social workers had yet to determine if Joseph was at risk when the toddler was pronounced dead Saturday. Coroner’s officials have listed the case as a homicide.

At the time of Joseph’s death, social workers were still looking into allegations of abuse and neglect in a family that already had been investigated five times, according to sources familiar with their history. Three of those cases were substantiated, sources told The Times.

Joseph’s case is a grim illustration of the growing number of abuse and neglect investigations still open past the state’s 30-day deadline.

Despite pledges to resolve Los Angeles County’s mounting backlog, the crisis has deepened significantly in recent weeks. At last count, cases involving more than 20,000 children reported at risk of abuse or neglect had not been fully investigated within 30 days — up from 18,000 in May

There’s lots more, so read on.


SUPREMES RULE AGAINST SCHOOL GROUP THAT EXCLUDES GAYS

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t case that I flagged a few months ago. The NY Times’ Adam Liptak reports.

A public law school did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay students, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case, involving a clash between religious freedom and antidiscrimination principles, divided along familiar ideological lines, with the court’s four more liberal members and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority….

And here’s the best majority quote, from Justice Stevens:

….Justice Stevens said groups that “exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks and women” must be tolerated in a free society. But “it need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur or grant them equal access to law school facilities.


CALIFORNIA NAACP BACKS POT LEGALIZATION, CITING RACIAL DISPARITIES

An unusual amalgam of supporters are turning up to back the marijuana legalization initiative.

On Tuesday, the California NAACP became the latest, as the AP reports:

The NAACP’s California chapter pledged its support on Tuesday for a marijuana legalization ballot measure, saying current laws are unfairly used to target minorities.

The group highlighted findings it says show the arrest rate among blacks for low-level marijuana crimes far exceed those of whites in the state’s largest counties.

“Justice is the quality of being just and fair and these laws have been neither just nor fair,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.



AMID ALL THE BAD PROBATION NEWS, A LOCKED UP KID WINS AN ACADEMIC TROPHY

It seems that the Los Angeles County Office of Education stages an annual academic decathlon-style competition for kids who are locked up in various probation-run facilities in Los Angeles County.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has a story of one 17-year-old who was locked up at Dorothy Kirby Center, a residential probation facility that caters to kids with emotional issues, and who co-captained the team that won.

Here’s a clip:

For more than two months, Riley and his six teammates spent two hours after school every day and 2 1/2 hours on Saturdays drilling for the competition, which focused on the American Old West this year. Riley put in extra time on his own, practicing on his guitar to play the national anthem and a rendition of country classic “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” at the competition.

After picking up his shiny red and gold trophy, Riley sat down in a daze.

“It feels so . . . real. This is life, this is what I can make it,” he said.

In another week, the aspiring musician from Lancaster will leave and face life in the real world, which will include junior college and eventually a four-year degree at Cal State Northridge, he said.

Read it and be encouraged.

Posted in Medical Marijuana, Probation | No Comments »

Supremes, Gay Rights and Christian Campus Clubs

April 20th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Supreme-Court-blue-sky-2

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard the case of the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.
You remember this case. It is about whether the UC Hastings College of the Law has the right to yank funding and school support from an on campus group called the Christian Legal Society because the CLS excludes gays from becoming voting members or officers of the group.. More specifically, it excludes anyone down for “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” which CLS defines as (among other things) “all acts of sexual conduct outside of God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman, which acts include fornication, adultery and homosexual conduct.” Like I said, gays.

As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explains it:

Hastings advised CLS that because its ban on gay and nonbelieving leaders and officers violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy, the group could still operate but would not be treated as one of about 70 registered student organizations, with access to school funding, facilities, e-mail, and bulletin boards. CLS sued, Hastings won in the lower federal court and again at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Yet, lest those of you reading this rush rapidly to your habitual ideological corners, Lithwick also points out that, if we are to consider the case fairly, it will require thinking outside left/right parameters. Unfortunately, says Lithwick, that’s not at all what the Supremes did.

This is an unbelievably hard case, pitting a religious group’s basic right to define and preserve its core beliefs against a publicly funded university’s effort to ensure that school-sponsored and -funded groups do not discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. But judging from the ideological zeal of today’s battle, you’d think the case was open-and-shut. The liberals are for nondiscrimination. The conservatives are certain that liberals plan to infiltrate unpopular Christian groups for nefarious purposes. If there was any hugging, I missed it entirely.

The NY Times Adam Liptak, on the other hand, sees CLS v. Martinez as one of a couple of upcoming proxy cases testing the water for the 900-pound gorilla of a case regarding gay rights that will be plopping on SCOTUS’ collective desk a few years from now: Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Plus there is this other case, next week, writes Liptak:

The divide between the two sides is even starker in the case to be argued next week, Doe v. Reed, No. 09-559. The question there is whether Washington State’s open records law violates the free speech rights of people who signed ballot petitions by requiring their names to be made public. Some of those people say they fear retaliation and harassment from advocates of same-sex marriage.

(Read on for a further preview of that intriguing case.)

And, for those of you who simply want to know what went on in court today with regard to the CLS/Hastings case, here’s Nina Totenberg.


UPDATE:

SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS LAW BANNING SALE OF ANIMAL CRUELTY VIDEOS

Tuesday morning, in a 9-1 decision (Alito the hold out), the Supreme Court ruled that videos depicting animals being illegally killed or tortured are protected under the First Amendment. The LA Times has the rest of the story.

Posted in LGBT, Supreme Court | 10 Comments »

Tuesday’s Social Justice Shorts

December 8th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



WHEN DOES RESTRAINING AND SECLUDING KIDS TURNS ABUSIVE AND DANGEROUS

On Wednesday, December 9, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) plan to introduce a bill that prevents the misuse of restraint and seclusion on school kids. (Miller is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. McMorris Rodgers is a member of the Committee.)

One would imagine that such a bill as this one would not be necessary in this day and age. But one would be wrong.

It seems that, unlike with hospitals, and like facilities that receive federal funding, there are currently no federal policies that provide guidelines as to how restraint and seclusion can be used in schools, and the state laws are ridiculously uneven.

As a consequence, there have been reports of horrific cases of adults sitting on kids who are face down until they have stopped breathing, adults placing mentally disabled kids in closets for extended periods of time, in certain cases with fatal results, and on and on.

(The video above shows the Congressional testimony of a mother named Toni Price about once such incident. Price’s account is dignified, clear and heartbreaking.)

A look at the report
on the matter from the US General Accounting Office is quite sobering.

Anyway, this is a bipartisan bill. Take a look.

The video above is of one mother’s testimony at a Congressional hearing on the issue this past spring.


ROBBER APOLOGIZES TO VICTIM

Evidently on Sunday night, a gun-wielding robber who jacked $70 from a Christmas tree salesman apologized to his victim saying, “Times are tough,” according to the LA Times.

I know several young able bodied men who are about to apply for General Relief because, despite daily searches for any kind of work they can find nothing, and they need some way to put food in the house but do not want to turn to the same desperate strategy as the gunman.

I got a call from one of them last night. He does not want a government hand out, he said. “But what can I do?” he asked me. I had no answer.



CAN A CAMPUS CHRISTIAN GROUP BAN GAYS AS VOTING MEMBERS?

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case which pits issues of religious freedom against a college’s policy of nondiscrimination. Moreover, the case has views of two circuit courts at odds with each other, one of them California’s beloved and sometimes notorious 9th Circuit.

The Christian Science Monitor has a very thorough write up. Here’s a clip:

The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco was stripped of its registered student organization status at the college because it refused to allow gay and lesbian students to become voting members or officers of the group.

Under the Hastings nondiscrimination policy, student organizations must allow fellow students to join and potentially seek leadership positions in any organization without regard to their status or beliefs….

Starting in the 2004-2005 academic year, the CLS required prospective members to sign a statement of Christian faith. The statement includes a pledge that the undersigned student trusts in “Jesus Christ as my savior.”

Prospective members must express belief in several religious tenets, including “one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The statement includes a pledge of belief in the virgin birth, eternal life, Jesus’ resurrection, a divinely created heaven and earth, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

In addition, the national Christian Legal Society developed a policy position stating its view of biblical principles of sexual morality. The position, adopted by the Hastings chapter, said that “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” was inconsistent with the group’s statement of faith and would disqualify an individual from membership.

Great case! Morally complex and legally ambiguous. Go Supremes!


JUSTICE BREYER: “GET ME THE REWRITE GUY!”

And Speaking of the Supreme Court…based on another case that went before the court on Monday, it looks quite possible that the nation’s Miranda warning may get rewritten. The case—Florida v. Powell—concerns one Kevin Dwayne Powell who did not understand, even after the warning was given, that he could have an attorney with him during questioning—as that fact is not really spelled out.

(Although if Mr. Powell had watched a little more episodic television, surely he would have known his rights a bit better.)

As the AP explains the rest.


STILL MISSING DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

This isn’t really a social justice issue at all, it’s a literary issue. But if you care about such things, the new posthumous piece of fiction by David Foster Wallace in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker, is a reminder why so many of us are, more than a year later, so devastated that Wallace could seem to find no way out of his personal psychic pain other than to silence it in the most permanent of manners.

Still and all, no matter how bittersweet, another encounter with DFW’s huge and humane talent is utterly thrilling.

The New Yorker published short story is an excerpt from The Pale King, the unfinished novel he was working on before he committed suicide in September 2008.

Posted in children and adolescents, Civil Liberties, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LGBT, Social Justice Shorts, State politics, Supreme Court | 15 Comments »

“California is going no place in terms of changing our laws”

April 7th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

keaton-behind-bars.gif

In a well-reported story, the AP’s Deborah Hastings
finds that “States pull back after decades of get-tough laws”—but not California.

Here’s how it begins:

For the last four decades, the laws of the land were all about dropping the hammer on crime by locking away criminals for a very long time.

Some carried scary names like “Three Strikes and You’re Out,”
as in cast out of society. The harshest penalties for drug offenders, the Rockefeller laws, were named after a New York governor battling a 1970s heroin epidemic.

Nearly half the country and the federal government
have adopted some kind of hardcore laws, while “get tough on crime” became the mantra of politicians running for everything from the local city council to the president of the United States.

The public, too, was enamored.
The laws promised to make life safer in increasingly unsafe times by putting away bad guys and hiding the keys for years — no more slaps on the wrist, no matter if the ultimate offense was having drugs in your pocket or stealing golf clubs.

But after cracking down and incarcerating hundreds of thousands, cash-strapped states including New York, Kentucky and Kansas are pulling back. They face an uncommon confluence of dire economics and prisons bursting at the seams and several have changed, in whole or in part, their stances on hard punishment.

Their reasons: the get-tough laws didn’t always work….

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice | 2 Comments »

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