The whole thing reportedly began around eighteen months ago when an LA County jail informant, who had been providing information on another criminal case, told his deputy handler that he knew of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies working patrol in one of the farther flung stations in the department, who had done contract killings for a Mexican drug cartel.
The allegations were specific. The informant described the dollar amounts that the deputies were allegedly paid for the hits, with some contracts paying more than others, depending upon what was required. Descriptions of how and where bodies were buried were mentioned, as were the kind of cars allegedly used for each murder-for-hire operation.
The deputies doing the initial investigation and their supervisor, a lieutenant, were flabberghasted at the string of allegations but, after some checking, reportedly began to fear that the seemingly outlandish tales might be credible.
However, according to Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore, the LASD’s criminal investigative division is around a week from finishing its lengthy probe into the murder-for-hire accusations (“They’re 98 percent finished”), and investigators have found the allegations to be “totally untrue.”
In fact, said Whitmore, the two patrol deputies who were accused were not relieved of duty when the investigation began, “because it was all so frivolous.”
Yet, others in the department say they fear a cover-up and a rush to clear the deputies rather than investigate properly—a charge that Whitmore dismisses as “ridiculous.”
“We investigated it and found out it was completely unfounded,” spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “People make allegations all the time that are just completely ridiculous.”
A sheriff’s lieutenant, however, contends that the allegations are being covered up by the department and has gone to the FBI to get the matter investigated thoroughly, her attorney said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined comment. The attorney, Bradley Gage, said federal agents interviewed Lt. Katherine Voyer and were recently given investigative documents.
Voyer is in the midst of a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department in which she alleges she was retaliated against for being a whistle-blower. In a recent sworn deposition, Voyer said the allegations originated from a reliable inmate informant, according to Gage.
Gage did not provide The Times with a transcript of the deposition.
He said the inmate informant’s allegations were brought to Voyer because she was a supervisor at the Inmate Reception Center, one of the sheriff’s jail facilities. The inmate’s allegations of a murder-for-hire scheme first gained credibility, Gage said, because he was implicating himself in the matter and providing a slew of specific details.
Attorney Brad Gage told Faturechi that many of those details checked out.
Another jail investigator confirmed for WLA that the informant was “validated” in previous cases.
Whitmore, however, said that the informant made repeated false claims and listed details of the allegations that, he said, did not check out at all. “None of what the informant said checked out,” he said.
Whitmore also told WLA that the LASD brass will turn their investigation over to the FBI when they are finished.
According to other LASD sources, several in the department have already spoken to the FBI about the case.
SUPES COULD VOTE TUESDAY ON LASD OVERSIGHT COMMISSION….& THE CONTRACT TO HIRE THE SAME ELECTRONIC MONITORING FIRM THAT ORANGE COUNTY FIRED
The LA County Supervisors may vote on Tuesday about whether they should create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department.
(And on the subject of oversight, no word yet on the whether an Inspector General has been hired to oversee the sheriff’s department, although we do know there were candidates interviewed earlier this month.)
Oh, and also back on the agenda is that iffy contract to rehire the same company for electronic monitoring that Orange County fired for incompetence.
More on all this when we have it.
SOME 3-STRIKERS HOPING FOR RELEASE AFTER THE LAW WAS REFORMED, HAVE FOUND THAT CERTAIN “NON-VIOLENT” THIRD STRIKES, ARE CONSIDERED “VIOLENT” AFTER ALL (IT’S COMPLICATED.)
After nearly two decades behind bars, Mark Anthony White saw a chance for freedom last year when California voters softened the state’s tough three-strikes law.
Within weeks of the election, White asked a judge to reduce his 25-years-to-life sentence under the ballot measure, which allows most inmates serving life terms for relatively minor third strikes to seek more lenient sentences.
White would have walked free if his request had been granted. But a San Diego County judge refused to reduce White’s sentence. The judge ruled that the 54-year-old prisoner’s last crime, being a felon in possession of a firearm, made him ineligible for a lighter punishment.
A year after state voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, judges around the state are handing down conflicting decisions on whether prisoners given life terms for gun possession can qualify for shorter sentences.
The ballot measure specifically excluded prisoners whose third strikes were either violent or serious, or who during the commission of their last crime were armed with a firearm or deadly weapon.
Whether someone convicted of simply possessing a firearm was in fact armed during the commission of a crime is a more complicated legal question than it might appear.
18-TON LEFTOVER IRAQ WAR MILITARY ARMOURED TRUCKS COMING TO A POLICE AND/OR SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT NEAR YOU
They’re humungous, they’re distressingly tippy, they’re “intimidating,” and they’re free. But are they needed?
(When Radley Balko wrote about the militarization of America’s police forces in his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, this is the kind of thing he meant.)
Coming soon to your local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S. answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war.
The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000 each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of equipment that the Defense Department is giving to law enforcement agencies under a national military surplus program.
For police and sheriff’s departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up.
“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, among five county sheriff’s departments and three other police agencies in New York that have taken delivery of an MRAP.
AN LAPD COLD CASE REVISITED—WITH MUCH HOPE….AND AN AMBIGUOUS CONCLUSION
Twenty-two years ago, Sheriff’s Department investigators thought that they likely had their man in the case of the murder of a married LAPD officer’s girlfriend (who was the wife of another LAPD cop). But they could make no arrest.
Twenty-two years later, a new sheriff’s detective opened the cold case.
Here’s a clip. (But you have to read the whole thing to find out what happens!)
She was both a sister and wife of Los Angeles cops, and worked as a clerk for Police Chief Daryl Gates. Nixon was one of the LAPD’s rising stars, on his way to taking over a coveted position as the chief’s official spokesman.
Their affair began on a spring day in 1985 when they checked into a Holiday Inn. Browne left her husband a few weeks later.
For three years they met regularly, often at her house during the day. At night, he’d go home to his wife in Pasadena.
Then, one morning, Browne was found beaten and strangled on her bathroom floor.
The crime scene was outside the Los Angeles city limits, so it fell to the L.A. County sheriff’s department to investigate. Detectives looked at Nixon as a suspect, but they gave up on the case without filing charges. Nixon, who over the years has maintained his innocence, worked another decade before retiring and moving to Oregon.
Twenty-two years after the killing, in 2010, Robert Taylor, a cold case investigator in the sheriff’s office, reopened the file.
Paul Tanaka is very emphatic—and often colorful—in his replies. (He mainly says that everyone is spouting fiction and/or straight-up lying, but his way of putting it is a lot more interesting and detailed than what I’ve just written here.)
In any case, I don’t want to try to summarize this interview. I strongly recommend that you listen for yourself.
PROGRAM TO TRAIN TWIN TOWERS INMATES FOR FUTURE JOBS WITH TECH START-UPS
A relatively new business tech program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison expanded this month to serve inmates at LA County’s Twin Towers Jail. Participants take classes twice a week for six months where they learn how to create and launch tech companies—from actual experts.
If inmates graduate the course, they are guaranteed paid internships upon their release from prison or jail. The program has been a successful anti-recidivism tool thus far: the five released San Quentin graduates are all employed in the tech sector.
The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.
“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today’s high-tech, wired world,” says co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has launched thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange…
“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?’” [Redlitz] recalled.
After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.
Now, during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google— practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.
The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and now a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.
They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.
NEW PROGRAM TO HELP LA’S HOMELESS MOMS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET
A new program will provide 60 homeless mothers with desperately-needed housing, mental health services, and help finding employment with funds raised by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The program is an extension of Project 50, a homelessness initiative created by Supe. Yaroslavsky to locate and house Skid Row’s 50 most at-risk residents.
The LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here are some clips:
Named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.8 million wing inside the Didi Hirsch Via Avanta building on Glenoaks Boulevard was hailed by county leaders and nonprofit groups as proof that collaboration can help solve one of the biggest problems in the region.
About 54,000 people were counted as homeless in Los Angeles County this year, an 18 percent increase compared with the last survey in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. About 15 percent of the county’s homeless are from the San Fernando Valley, which also is an increase, especially among families, the LAHSA figures show.
To help the homeless, Yaroslavsky championed Project 50 in 2010, an initiative to identify Skid Row’s 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless, and get them housing, medical care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment so they can live off the streets. But the supervisor acknowledged that it’s a massive undertaking, especially in Los Angeles, which continued to see an increase among the homeless this year compared to 2012, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Didi Hirsch program is an extension of Project 50, organizers said.
Didi Hirsch President and Chief Executive Officer Kita S. Curry said the new wing will help 60 women with children for six months. Afterward, the women will move into housing, thanks to vouchers secured by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.
A SUSPICIOUS SUICIDE AND A SHODDY INVESTIGATION: DEATH OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S GIRLFRIEND STILL LEAVES TROUBLING QUESTIONS
In September 2010, in St. Augustine, FL., a young mother died from a wound inflicted by her boyfriend’s sheriff’s dept.-issued handgun. The young deputy, Jeremy Banks, said he heard the gunshots from several rooms away, and found his girlfriend Michelle O’Connell bleeding to death.
Investigated by Banks’ own department, the crime scene DNA was left untested, the neighborhood uncanvassed, family and friends uninterviewed, and O’Connell’s suspicious death was quickly pronounced a suicide. And, although new pieces of the puzzle turned up and pointed to Banks, including alleged domestic violence, efforts made to re-open the case were stamped out.
At 11:25 p.m., the three St. Johns County officers arrived at 4700 Sherlock Place, a one-story suburban house in this historic seaside community. A young deputy, Jonathan Hawley, was already there. “Oh my God,” he cried, seeing a young woman he knew lying on the bedroom floor, an inert, bloody mess.
Michelle O’Connell, 24, the doting mother of a 4-year-old girl, was dying from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was a semiautomatic pistol that belonged to her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a deputy sheriff for St. Johns County. A second bullet had burrowed into the carpet by her right arm.
Ms. Maynard quickly escorted Mr. Banks, who had been drinking, out of the house. “All of a sudden he started growling like an animal,” she said. With his fists, Mr. Banks pounded dents in a police car.
“I grabbed him and tuned him up,” another deputy, Wesley Grizzard, recalled. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”
Within minutes of the shooting on Sept. 2, 2010, Mr. Banks’s friends, family and even off-duty colleagues began showing up, offering hugs and moral support. He huddled with his stepfather, a deputy sheriff in another county, before a detective interviewed him in a police car.
With his off-duty sergeant listening from the front seat, Mr. Banks gave this account: Ms. O’Connell had broken up with him and was packing to move out when she shot herself with his service weapon. He said he had been in another room.
Ms. O’Connell’s family, immediately suspicious, received a starkly different reception from the authorities. Less than two hours before she died, Ms. O’Connell had texted her sister, who was watching her daughter: “I’ll be there soon.” Yet when her outraged brother tried to visit the scene, officers blocked his way. The family’s request for an independent investigation was rebuffed, as was one sister’s attempt to tell the police that in the months before she died, Ms. O’Connell said she had been subjected to domestic abuse by Mr. Banks.
Before the sun rose the next morning over this place that calls itself “the nation’s oldest city,” the sheriff’s investigation was all but over.
Ms. O’Connell, the sheriff’s office concluded, took her own life. Detectives were so certain in their judgment that they never tested the forensic evidence collected after the shooting. Nor did they interview her family and friends, who would have told them that she was ecstatic over a new full-time job with benefits, including health insurance for her daughter.
Over time, though, the official narrative began to change. The sheriff asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-examine the case, and investigators found two neighbors who said they had heard a woman screaming for help that night, followed by gunshots. Their account prompted the medical examiner to revise his opinion from suicide to homicide, a conclusion shared by the crime reconstruction expert hired by state investigators.
Eventually, however, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and closed the case early last year. But that was hardly the final word. The state law enforcement agency asked for a special inquest into the death, saying significant questions remained. The sheriff, David B. Shoar, struck back in support of his officer, prompting an extraordinary conflict between two powerful law enforcement agencies.
And through it all, the O’Connell family continued to believe that the sheriff’s office, investigating one of its own, had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence.
Domestic abuse is believed to be the most frequently unreported crime, and it is particularly corrosive when it involves the police. Taught to wield authority through control, threats or actual force, officers carry their training, their job stress and their guns home with them, amplifying the potential for abuse.
Yet nationwide, interviews and documents show, police departments have been slow to recognize and discipline abusers in uniform, largely because of a predominantly male blue wall of silence. Victims are often reluctant to file complaints, fearing that an officer’s colleagues simply will not listen or understand, or that if they do, the abuser may be stripped of his weapon and ultimately his family’s livelihood.
The Times examined the case in collaboration with the PBS investigative news program “Frontline,” reviewing police, medical and legal records, interviewing dozens of people connected to the case, and consulting independent forensic and law enforcement experts.
The examination found that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors. Because detectives concluded so quickly that the shooting was a suicide, investigators failed to perform the police work that is standard in suspicious shootings, including collecting and testing all available evidence and canvassing neighbors.
(We highly recommend you go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)
BILL TO REQUIRE FAKE GUNS TO BE PAINTED IN BRIGHT COLORS TO BE REINTRODUCED
Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require all fake guns—BB, airsoft, etc.—to be manufactured in bright colors. The revived bill comes in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County deputy who mistook his airsoft gun for an assault rifle. (Read more about the shooting, and the previously failed legislation, here.)
The death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, who was carrying a replica of an AK-47, might have been prevented if deputies could have determined the gun was not a real assault weapon, lawmakers said.
“When officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child.”
De Leon plans to reintroduce a measure he wrote in 2011 that would have required BB guns to be painted a bright color.
That bill was requested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in response to an incident in which 13-year old Rohayent Gomez was shot and left a paraplegic when police mistook his replica firearm for a real weapon. That bill failed passage in an Assembly committee.
After Wanda Coleman died on Friday, most of those writing obituaries to honor her noted that she was widely thought to be the poet laureate of Los Angeles. Certainly, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who fit that bill better than Coleman.
Yet, for me, author and LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, goes more to the heart of the matter of her significance to LA literature in this essay he wrote remembering this woman he rightly described as a force of nature:
Coleman was the conscience of the L.A. literary scene — a poet, essayist and fiction writer who helped transform the city’s literature when she emerged in the early 1970s…..
…She was the keystone, the writer who shifted L.A. writing, irrevocably and to the benefit of all of us, from an outside to an inside game, a literature of place.
The importance of this can’t be overstated; without Coleman, there’d be a lot less here for the rest of us. She taught us to write about the city we saw, the city in which we lived, to turn our backs on the stereotype and stare down the reality instead.
In terms of worldly accomplishments, Coleman wrote 22 books, won an Emmy for her TV writing on “Days of Our Lives,” won a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry in 1984, and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1999. Her collection, “Mercurochrome,” was a finalist for a 2001 National Book Award.
Literarily speaking, she was, to use a faddish word, a disrupter. As Ulin suggested, she challenged the rest of us to ground ourselves in the real, to make art out of only that which mattered, to cut the B.S. or get outta the way.
Thankfully, for anyone with any sense, she was impossible to resist.
If you’d like to hear a bit more of Coleman’s work, listen to this 2012 reading on KCRW of some of what she wrote in response to the Watts and the Rodney King riots.
CALIFORNIA AG HARRIS LAUNCHES INITIATIVE TO FIGHT RECIDIVISM
California AG Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that she will be spearheading a new division of the California DOJ to research the state’s sky-high recidivism rates and to bring in grant money to expand effective programs across county lines. (Way to go, Kamala!)
Her overall message was that, thus far, the system has been more focused on tradition than outcomes. She pointed out the state’s notoriously high incidence of former prisoners committing new crimes within three years of release – referred to as the “recidivism” rate. Recidivism in California has hovered above 60 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 67 percent in recent years.
“If we were talking about a business that had a failure rate of that number, we would reorganize, we would reexamine and we would guide our approach by a well proven method which asks us to think about what is the return on our investment,” Harris said.
Instead, she said, the system’s been all about “business as usual,” meaning that it is dependent on imprisoning repeat wrongdoers, at a cost of about $47,000-per-year, per prison inmate. Harris said cutting the recidivism rate by just 10 percent could save the state $233 million annually.
The attorney general said that a new division of the state’s DOJ – which will be paid for with current resources – will act as a clearing house for aggregating data and reports on innovative, successful programs around the state. DOJ staff will also help local law enforcement agencies find grants to fund such projects and develop technology to bring law enforcement into the digital age.
“You’d be shocked at how obsolete we are,” Harris said.
When realignment rolled out two years ago, the hope was that counties would develop innovative ways of handling such offenders. The problem, Harris said, is no one’s been tracking any of that progress.
[Harris:] Why not take advantage of what we can do—look at the issues statewide, and then highlight the best practices capable of replication?
Harris said her first task will be creating a way of measuring recidivism rates in each county.
Even the seemingly minor task of establishing a state-wide definition of recidivism will be an important undertaking for the division. Here’s a small clip from the Associated Press:
“We have a huge state with 58 counties with 58 different ways of doing things,” said Dean Flippo, president of the California District Attorneys Association, who added there may be 58 definitions of recidivism.
“How do we measure if every one of us are measuring under something different?” he asked.
YOUTH SOLITARY IS NOT A TRIP TO THE “REFLECTION COTTAGE” OR A “TIME OUT,” SAYS ACLU
The ACLU released a new report on juvenile solitary confinement this week detailing the crushing mental, physical, and developmental effects isolation has on young people, in particular. Here’s a clip from the report’s accompanying article:
“I developed techniques to survive. I’ve learned to play chess with other [kids] through a six-inch wall to keep myself occupied. But for others, it breaks them, makes them either violent or suicidal.”
These are the words of Lino Silva, who had been incarcerated in a juvenile facility for over seven years when she wrote them. The “it” she mentions is solitary confinement, a practice that juvenile facilities routinely use on the approximately 70,000 kids in this country who are in their care on any given day.
For Lino, the conditions of solitary were so devastating she believes many of the kids subjected to it will not be able to “function anywhere other than adult prison.” She writes:
Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag.
For children, a short time alone may sometimes be necessary to defuse a moment of crisis. But this does not give license to juvenile facilities to hide their practice of subjecting kids to prolonged isolation behind seemingly innocuous euphemisms like “time out,” “room confinement,” “restricted engagement,” or a trip to the “reflection cottage.” These terms mask the fact that hours of isolation can be extremely damaging to young people.
The report also calls on lawmakers and detention facilities to ban solitary confinement of minors and to collect meaningful data on use of isolation practices. Here’s a clip from the report:
Solitary confinement of children under 18 should be banned. This practice can be ended by state legislators, local officials, and juvenile facility administrators. Other, shorter-term isolation practices should be strictly limited and regulated because of their harmful and traumatic effect on children and because they are often accompanied by other serious deprivations (like denial of education).Children should never be subjected to any practice that involves significant levels or durations of physical or social isolation. Isolation should only be used as an emergency measure and for as short a duration as necessary. Separation practices to protect, manage, or discipline youth should be used sparingly and should never rise to the level of solitary confinement…
Governments rarely systematically collect data on the use of solitary confinement or other isolation on young people in juvenile detention facilities—or make public what is available. Reforms to solitary confinement and isolation practices must be accompanied by monitoring of isolation practices, recording of data, and public reporting about policies and practices as well as data about their use. Such transparency is necessary to give public and elected officials, and the general public, the information required to meaningfully engage in debate and appropriate oversight.
CHICAGO’S HISTORY OF KIDS’ NIGHTMARISH FALSE CONFESSIONS
Cook County, Illinois—Chicago, in particular—has the most proven false confessions in the entire United States. (For our previous post on 60 Minutes’ “false confession capital” story, go here.)
Steve Drizen, a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern, and his colleagues, turned up 18 shockingly detailed contaminated confessions from juveniles from 1986 to 1999 in Cook County. In a story for the Huffington Post, Drizen says his prior assumption that all false confessions were accidental, resulting from shoddy police-work, is long-gone. Here are some clips:
Many of Cook County’s false confessions have involved juvenile offenders. My colleagues and I at Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth have documented at least 18 false confessions from children under the age of 18 between 1986 and 1999. All of these false confessions were to murders, rape-murders, or rapes. All of the false confessors were black.
Most of these false confessions were highly detailed, often containing facts of the crime that had not been released to the public and thus could only have been known by the true perpetrators. The fact that these juveniles supposedly knew this “inside information” became the centerpiece of the State’s cases and the main reason why most of the defendants who took their cases to trial were wrongfully convicted.
Because DNA and other evidence has proven them innocent, we now know that these defendants did not have specialized knowledge of the crimes to which they confessed. Police officers and prosecutors contaminated their confessions by feeding the details to them.
Law professors who have studied false confession cases, including me, have suggested that contamination is inadvertent, the result of sloppy police interrogation practices like using leading questions, showing suspects crime scene photos, or taking them to visit crime scenes. Such tactics leak details to innocent suspects who use them to cobble together seemingly credible confessions after their wills have been broken by hours of coercive questioning. But after reviewing the content of some of Cook County’s juvenile false confessions, I am no longer persuaded that all such contamination is accidental.
In Cook County’s juvenile false confession cases, police officers and prosecutors have taken confession contamination to a new level. Not only did they feed facts to suspects, they scripted entire narratives for them. These story lines often contained false characterizations of the crimes, the defendants and their motives and even made-up bits of dialogue between the defendants that were clearly designed to demonize the juvenile defendants, inflame the passions of jurors, and ensure that jurors would convict them.
And here are two disturbing accounts of kids’ contaminated confessions (but do go read the others):
In April 1997, 14-year-old Don Olmetti confessed to shooting to death a Chicago school teacher in the school’s parking lot — a confession later proven false when evidence showed that Olmetti was sitting in class at the time of the crime. At Olmetti’s bond hearing, a Cook County prosecutor, pointing to Olmetti’s confession, urged the court to deny him bond, arguing that Olmetti lacked remorse because he “took the bus home afterward to take a nap and watch cartoons.”
This same cartoon-watching callousness appeared again a year or so later in August 1998 in perhaps Chicago’s most infamous juvenile false confession case. In that case, a Chicago detective obtained a confession from a 7-year-old boy in which implicated himself and his 8-year-old friend in the murder and sexual assault of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. According to the detective, the boy said that after killing her, he “rode his bike home and watched cartoons.”
But Illinois is working to prevent future false confessions:
The good news is that Illinois has taken steps to fix the problem of confession contamination. Laws requiring the electronic recording of the entire interrogation of all homicides and other serious felonies will now expose contamination if it exists and allow judges and jurors to see what, if any, details were fed to unknowing suspects.
What has caused so many of our nation’s prisons to abandon any attempt at rehabilitation in order to keep large numbers of prisoners in isolation, or near isolation, in “Special Housing Units” (SHUs} or in “Special Management Units,” (SMUs)?
Justin Peters, writing for Slate, looks at that question with an analysisof what happened to the the prison at Lewisburg, PA, that in the 1930s started out as a model of innovation, and that now typifies the trend toward SHUs and SMUs.
Here’s a clip:
Last month, I wrote about Marion, the notorious federal prison that helped pave the way for all the supermax-style facilities that are so popular today. Though Marion was under lockdown for an astounding 23 years, the prison itself became a medium-security facility in 2006, and is no longer a repository for the most troublesome prisoners in the federal system. That honor arguably now belongs to USP Lewisburg, a Pennsylvania facility where violent or obstreperous federal inmates get sent for ostensibly short-term “attitude adjustment” stints. (Before transferring out, inmates are expected to complete a four-stage, 18-to-24-month resocialization program that can actually last much longer than that.) USP Lewisburg might be the worst place in the federal prison system, so bad that some inmates there actually dream of being transferred to the famously isolating Supermax facility in Florence, Colo.
A recent article from the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space helps explain how Lewisburg got that way. The article, by Bucknell University geography professor Karen M. Morin, recounts the transformation of USP Lewisburg from a progressive facility to an isolating and restrictive “Special Management Unit,” or SMU—a shift that mirrors the evolution of the U.S. prison system in general. (Morin is also a member of the Lewisburg Prison Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for prisoners’ rights.) Whereas model prisons 75 years ago were designed to rehabilitate prisoners, the best-known prisons today seem specifically designed to drive their inmates mad.
Also read Peters’ October 23 story in Slate about how, in 1983, two horrific murders at the United States Penitentiary near Marion, Ill, ushered in America’s infatuation with Supermax prisons.
In addition, take a look at the report released earlier this year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of a Congressional committee that wanted to know more about why the US Bureau of Prisons was making increasing use of SHUs and SMUs, and whether all this isolation made the prisons safer.
In their report, the GAO stated it wasn’t at all sure that widespread use of isolation did increase institutional safety and pointed to the five states that had reduced their reliance on the segregated units.
“While these states have not completed formal assessments of the impact of their segregated housing reforms, officials from all five states told us there had been no increase in violence after they moved inmates from segregated housing to less restrictive housing. In addition, Mississippi and Colorado reported cost savings from closing segregated housing units and reducing the administrative segregation population.”
WHY BIG DATA MATTERS FOR CALIFORNIA’S CRIMINAL AND JUVENILE JUSTICE POLICIES
This is one of those issues that one would hope would be obvious:: In order to make good criminal and juvenile justice policy (or any kind of policy, for that matter) we need good numbers—specifically, we need stats that tell us which policies work, and which do not.
Yet, incredibly, all too often, lawmakers and others fail to bother.
Take, for instance, the matter of realignment. For all the money, stress and time spent on the state’s two-year-old prison realignment policy, there was no provision in the law for any kind of evaluation to determine what part of realignment worked—either on a statewide level, or in the individual counties—and what did not.
Yes, some federal dollars and foundation money has found its way to Stanford, allowing Joan Petersilia and company to do limited research. But it isn’t the kind of money needed for meaningful programatic evaluation. So, in its most recent report, Stanford was left to make do by asking various “stakeholders’ around the state—law enforcement, probation, district attorneys and such—for their opinions of how things were going with realignment. (And we wrote about the resulting report earlier this month.] All very well and good. But—as Petersilia would be the first to point out—opinions are not numbers.
Brian Goldstein (of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) elaborates further on the numbers issue in his short but must read essay.
Here’s a clip:
Data analysis is the basic metric to measure the success or failure of public policy. Absent useable data, researchers, policymakers, and the general public cannot accurately judge whether an approach is working and must make uneducated guesses. For example, national polling finds that people often mistakenly exacerbate crime trends. In 2011 a majority of Americans believed crime was getting worse as the country was experiencing a steady 15-year decline. Crime data is the only way to fight the undue influence of misperception and anecdotal evidence.
Corporate America recognizes the need to develop long-term strategies for collection and utilization of data. Books on “Big Data” top bestseller lists and statisticians, such as Nate Silver, have well-deserved influence over electoral politics, business, and health practices. Unfortunately, government has been slow to use data analysis for decision-making.
Data collection standards remain a central issue in California-albeit one that rarely gets the attention it certainly deserves. California’s data collection systems, specifically in the criminal and juvenile justice field, demands continued attention and resources to best serve our state.
Specifically, Goldstein points out the failure to collect usable data that plagues California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC)—AKA the board that is specifically tasked by state law with such data gathering. To wit:
“The [BSCC] board shall seek to collect and make publicly available up-to-date data and information reflecting the impact of state and community correctional, juvenile justice, and gang-related policies and practices enacted in the state…” California Penal Code Section 6024-6031.6.
So do they?
Goldstein says, No. Not really.
In March 2013, the BSCC released the Third Annual Report to the Legislature on the Youthful Offender Block Grant. The report tracks YOBG expenditures, with a total $93.4 million given to California counties in FY 2011-12. However, with the release of the report, the BSCC admits significant challenges in tracking performance outcomes. They note,
“The nature of the data collected precludes our ability to draw inferences about cause and effect relationships between services and outcomes….
Collecting unusable data is unacceptable. Governor Brown, state legislators, and policy advocates must ensure that the BSCC has the staffing, resources, and leadership necessary to meet its mandate on data collection.
Yep. What he said.
INNOVATIVE SOLANO COUNTY FINDS SMART WAYS TO HELP HIGH RISK LAW BREAKING KIDS
Speaking of numbers: The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) has just released a new report that looks at the innovative juvenile programs in Solano County that specifically address high risk youth.
In the report, CJCJ analyzes seven years of data to determine how Solano’s programs have affected the post lock-up outcomes of the kids they served. The report also compares Solano’s cost per kid with those of the state.
Here’s a clip from a story on Solano’s programs by Selena Teji, CJCJ’s Communications and Policy Analyst:
…In 1959, Solano County dedicated itself to taking responsibility for its high-risk youth. Fouts Springs Youth Facility was built as a regional alternative to reliance on the state youth correctional system, and it accepted youth who had serious, violent delinquent histories and who had failed to successfully complete other placements. The decision to create a local custody option for high-risk youth was developed out of a recognition that youth eventually return to their communities, which made reentry planning and aftercare essential components of effective juvenile justice programming. Unfortunately, the state has not been able to provide adequate reentry services to the youth in its care due to the sparsity of its facilities and parole services.
A new study of youth served by Fouts Springs from 2005 to 2011 shows that not only was the program more successful than the state facilities, with a 35 percent recidivism rate compared to the state’s 75 percent recidivism rate, but it was also significantly cheaper to operate. Fouts Springs cost approximately $32,100 per youth for its average length of stay, whereas an average placement in the state youth correctional facilities costs around $778,500. While counties paid a nominal $213 per month to commit youth to the state facilities until 2012 (when a larger flat rate fee was introduced), a commitment to Fouts Springs would set a county back $4,200 per month. The fiscal disincentive paired with the decrease of youth crime statewide lessened the demand for a regional program and resulted in the closure of Fouts Springs in 2011.
Yet, Solano County has continued to aggressively pursue adaptable, individually-focused, holistic approaches to serving justice-involved youth…
$50,000 REWARD GOES TO $100K FOR INFORMATION REGARDING HIT & RUN DEATH OF POPULAR LA COUNTY PROBATION OFFICER
The Los Angeles City Council put up the first $50,000 and now LA County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina pushed for another $50,000 to be added to the pot, in the hope of uncovering information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver who caused the death of a well-like LA County Probation officer, high school coach, and father of three, Kenneth Hamilton last month.
CBS-2 News has more on the story. Here’s a clip:
Kenneth Hamilton, 54, was leaving his job at the Eastlake Juvenile Facility around 6 a.m. on Oct. 28 when he was hit at the intersection of Soto Street and Lancaster Avenue in Boyle Heights.
He died instantly, the Los Angeles Police Department said.
“Someone out there knows something, saw something or may even know the driver who fled,” Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said. “The reward money is a reminder that Los Angeles has not forgotten, the LAPD has not forgotten and that this crime must be solved and the driver brought to justice.”
Police identified the suspect vehicle as a late 1990s silver four-door Honda Civic DX from a side mirror that was sheared off in the crash.
“This is like losing one of our own,” LAPD Det. Michael Kaden said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact Det. Kaden at (213) 972-1837.
A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE PRISON-OVERCROWDING TUNNEL?
On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown sounded hopeful for the first time regarding coming to a potential agreement with California prisoners attorneys. Brown also again called for an extension on the state’s deadline for a workable plan that would persuade federal judges to grant a larger extension on the court-ordered prison population reduction. Part of that plan will require successful negotiations (months in the making) with inmate attorneys that have brought suit against the state over prison conditions.
(Brown was also to meet this week with all of California’s 33 wardens and a number of prison administrators to discuss prison conditions.)
As ordered by federal judges, the Brown administration has been in talks with attorneys for inmates whose lawsuits led the court to declare the prisons unconstitutionally crowded.
“I’m reasonably optimistic that we’re going to come to something that we can make work,” Brown said at a charity event in the capital.
The governor said the meetings, moderated by state appellate Judge Peter Siggins, have “been collaborative and informative.”
But he declined to provide details. The parties are under orders not to discuss specifics of the negotiations.
Lawyers for the prisoners declined to assess the progress of the talks.
“I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment at this point,” said Don Specter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, “though I’m glad to see that the governor is optimistic about it.”
The optimism is a shift for Brown, who had previously dismissed any suggestion that the two sides could reach an accord. He declared in September that he would not let inmates rewrite prison policies.
On Tuesday, the governor called for more time to comply with the court. He cited the recent problems with the new federal healthcare rollout as a reason to proceed with caution.
“When government embarks on major programs, it should do so with humility and caution and a lot of planning,” he said. “So whenever people say ‘Hey, we need 10,000 fewer people in prison, do something,’ I want to do that something very carefully.”
EFFECTS OF HUGE FEDERAL FUNDING CUTS TO STATE AND LOCAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS
A new report from the Vera Institute found that between 2010 and 2013, federal funding decreased by 43% for such state and local criminal justice areas as law enforcement, juvenile justice programs, victim assistance, courts, and community-based strategies.
Here’s what some of those seeing the detrimental effects of the cuts have to say:
“When funded we have been able to reduce criminal recidivism by up to 50 percent by providing education, resources and social services intervention to persons returning to the community from custody. When cuts are made, these same persons are more likely to return to custody, which results in more substantial costs of incarceration, and families returning to social service assistance.” — Manager in education and prevention in California
“Our federal [Byrne] JAG funds help to support our juvenile diversion program which has a 96 percent success rate. With the reduction in funds we will no longer be supporting this program with federal dollars. Over 80 children are served annually in this program.” — Juvenile justice manager in Florida
“Our Behavioral Health Therapeutic Drug Court program recently completed a review of our success for recidivism. We found that, before Drug Court participation, defendants recidivated (new felony charges over a two-year period) at a rate of approximately 75 percent. After Drug Court participation, that rate decreased to 25 percent; for our graduates, the rate decreased to 11 percent. The costs savings can almost not even be computed, when one considers the impact for improving public safety and return- ing citizens to productive, tax-paying status. Without federal discretionary funds, our program (and others across the country) would have to be reduced or eliminated.” — Manager in Washington state
“We’ve experienced a total loss of funding for a residential program serving juvenile males with sexual assault histories; those youths are now being served at residential treatment centers in other Texas communities, away from home and not in coordina- tion with local treatment providers. There has also been a loss of funding for First Offender Programming, which enables law enforcement to refer youth charged with minor crimes and their parents to an educational/skills-building program. Drug Court funding has also been severely decreased, pushing eligible youth further into the juvenile justice system without treatment.” — Texas budget and administration manager in juvenile justice
BUILDING THE LAPD’S “LIBRARY OF HOMICIDE”
The LAPD, through a helpful new partnership with the FBI, is digitizing thousands of cold case files into a homicide database that detectives can access instantly—instead of spending anywhere from hours to weeks searching through boxes of binders for information when victims’ loved ones have unanswered questions.
The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz has the story. Here are some clips:
Adrian McFarland awoke in a panic. His brother had come to him again in a dream. In this one, McFarland walked into a bar and there his brother stood, flashing a toothy smile.
But Charles had been gone for nearly two decades, shot to death in Los Angeles when he was 27.
McFarland, younger by four years, knew little about the crime. The dreams, he thought, were a sign. After all these years, had anyone been caught?
A few days later, LAPD Det. Mark Hahn’s phone rang. McFarland was on the line from Monroe, La., with questions long unasked…
Usually, answers would have been hard to come by, especially for a case so old.
But this time, Hahn knew where to turn: to the detectives creating the Los Angeles Police Department’s first library of homicide…
A large lecture room serves as the homicide library’s headquarters. It’s lined with blue and black binders labeled with names and dates, and in the middle of the room files are neatly organized in rows. This is where Det. Teddy Hammond maintains a spreadsheet tracking the location of each file…
For two years, Hammond and several other detectives have organized the binders, getting them ready to be scanned. They’ve seen crime scene photos, Polaroids of witnesses, medical reports, notes scrawled on yellowing paper.
The task wasn’t feasible before because of a lack of resources, but this first-of-its-kind partnership with the FBI will place sought-after information a click away for detectives, who sometimes spend weeks tracking down a file’s location. When the database is complete, investigators will be able to search any aspect of a murder book, including license plate numbers and gang monikers.
First, the department plans to digitize more than 4,500 files from the southern part of the city — long the deadliest — between 1990 and 2010. Eventually, cases from the entire city will be included. Officials plan to open the doors to a brick-and-mortar library where families can go for answers and detectives can check out files.
“No case will be lost,” said Tom McMullen, a recently retired LAPD captain, who oversaw the group of detectives who handle the area covered in the database.
McMullen called the database a “one-stop shop” that will make it easier to piece together cases involving multiple murders, such as the Grim Sleeper serial killer.
LA EVENT TO ADDRESS SUPPORT FOR CRIME SURVIVORS AND COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS
On November 21 (Thursday) LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino and Californians for Safety and Justice will co-host an event on public safety and how to help individual victims of crime, as well as communities plagued by high crime rates.
Here’s more on the event:
Leading voices from the survivor community, service providers and elected officials will share insights on:
em>How survivors and communities can recover and be safe;
How to reduce repeat victimization, assess gaps in services;
Better understanding crime and closure rates of serious offenses; and
Exploring how a city and/or county task force could improve the use of resources and policies for survivors of crime.
Thursday, November 21, 2013, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium, 100 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Keynote Speaker: Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer
Speakers on the “What Survivors Need” panel:
Aqeela Sherrills, Survivor Outreach Strategist, Californians for Safety and Justice (moderator)
Adela Barajas, Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts
Stinson Brown, Los Angeles Police Department, Gang Intervention Liaison
Vickey Lindsey, Project Cry No More
Eve Sheedy, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Domestic Violence Policy
LA SUPES DELAY VOTE ON QUESTIONABLE ELECTRONIC MONITORING DEVICE CONTRACT
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors postponed a vote on a contract for an adult electronic monitoring program (EMP) through Sentinel Offender Services, a company recently fired by Orange County. (Read more on the issue in the post below this one.)
The vote on the Sentinel Offender Services contract was postponed until next Tuesday, November 26.
WHAT IS SENTINEL OFFENDER SERVICES AND WHY IS LA COUNTY OFFERING THEM A CONTRACT—AGAIN?
On Tuesday, November 19, the LA County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a pending contract to provide an adult electronic monitoring program (or EMP) for offenders, so that some of those who might have served their sentences in jail can instead spend their time at home—with restrictions.
However, in November 2011, Probation and the LA County Sheriff’s Department hoped to expand their collective use of EMP to help better deal with the influx of AB109 inmates that, post realignment, had been landing in the county’s care, not the state’s.
With this in mind, the county began a search for the best firm to replace Sentinel.
An RFP went out on November 16, 2012, and out of a cluster of potential applicants, two finalists emerged—one of them, Sentinel Offender Services. When the smoke cleared this summer, according to the most recent report from Probation Chief Jerry Powers, Sentinel got the highest rating.
And so it was that the brand new EMP provider that the board is slated to approve on Tuesday, turned out to be the old EMP provider.
HOWEVER, TWO RATHER LARGE CAUTIONARY NOTES HAVE EMERGED WITH REGARD TO SENTINEL OFFENDER SERVICES
It turns out there are issues with Sentinel that the Board of Supervisors might want to consider—or at the very least discuss—before it rubber stamps the proposed contract.
Large Cautionary Note Number 1: In June of this year, Orange County Probation found that Sentinel—which was also OC’s provider—had been guilty of what amounts to gross incompetence.
When OC Probation notified the company of the problems it had discovered, Sentinel assured probation officials that the people responsible for the issue had been reassigned or let go.
Most of the failures in the units appear to have been discovered by probation officials June 4, when deputy probation officers and supervisors reviewed the tracking data for 13 convicts wearing ankle devices, a June 13 memo said.
Officers found a number of the units had stopped providing coordinates for days, yet the company never notified officers
In one case, the last location sent by the unit was May 7 – that’s 28 days without a signal even though the devices are supposed to transmit coordinates every 60 seconds.
In another incident, officials found one convict required to use a breath-alcohol testing device failed the test 81 times in a 35-day period, yet probation officials were never notified. After the error was discovered, the convict was arrested for violating the terms of his release.
Documents reviewed by the Register show Sentinel attributed most of the errors to mechanical failures, including water damage of internal computer boards, defective units and “sporadic and insufficient length of battery recharging.”
“Fortunately, these issues were not universal, and there were no absconded clients, but the extent of these reporting failures is greater than we have ever experienced,” a June 27 letter from the company said. “We are confident that these oversights will not occur again.”
But in their report to supervisors, probation officials said problems persisted.
“It was alarming,” [OC Supervisor Todd] Spitzer said in the statement. In a June board meeting, he suggested the board consider issuing a 60-day notice of termination. “These untracked individuals posed an immediate threat to public safety, and I could not just sit back and watch.”
Later OC Probation Department officials also found that the company failed to take photos of participants in the monitoring program, a requirement under their contract.
BUT ORANGE COUNTY ISN’T THE ONLY GROUP THAT HAS HAD SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH SENTINEL
This brings us to Large Cautionary Note Number 2: In September 2013, the story broke that Sentinel had, on its own, illegally extended the sentences for hundreds—and possibly thousands—of Georgia probationers in order to make extra bucks in the form of fees that probationers were required to pay the company for monitoring them.
(Unlike California, the state of Georgia has contracted with private for profit companies to handle its probation services altogether, not just their EMP.)
In January, Nathan Ryan Mantooth was sentenced to 12 months of probation for an improper lane change by a county judge in Georgia. He was ordered to pay a $420 fine, attend a driver improvement course, and pay a monthly probation supervision fee of $35 to Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation firm. He paid the fee and completed the course within a week of his sentencing. Twice, he went to Sentinel to submit his certificate of completion but was told his name was not yet in the computer. But when he was pulled over two months later for failure to wear a seatbelt, police found an outstanding warrant filed by Sentinel for a probation violation, and took him into custody.
Last week, a Georgia county judge ruled that Sentinel Offender Service had illegally extended the sentence of Mantooth and potentially thousands of others who were required to pay the firm monthly probation fees, and was illegally ordering electronic monitoring for misdemeanor offenders — prohibited by state law — while charging probationers for their own monitoring.
So should LA be concerned about what happened in Georgia, where the system is so different than ours? We think LA should be concerned. The Sentinel that got in trouble in Georgia, is the same Irvine-based company that operates here. Moreover the apparent fraud it was perpetrating on low-income lawbreakers, was not a brief flurry of wrongdoing. To the contrary, it went on over time.
For instance, in 2012 NBC News reported on lawsuits by Georgia probationers against the company that, along with documents obtained by NBC reporters, suggested a history of overcharging and or defrauding probationers going back to 2009, meaning even in the face of a bunch of legal action and bad press, Sentinel was mighty slow to learn its lesson—and didn’t appear to cease and desist with this ethically loathsome behavior until it was absolutely forced to do so in 2013.
MAYBE THERE ARE VERY GOOD REASONS WHY THESE TWO RECENT LARGE-ISH SCANDALS PLAGUING A SINGLE COMPANY AREN’T DEAL BREAKERS FOR LA COUNTY.
But they are big enough red flags that the Supervisors must not rush to vote on the Sentinel contract without asking some very probing questions.
And those questions must be asked in public—not behind closed doors.
A SAN DIEGO JAIL’S ENCOURAGING NEW PROGRAM FOR VETERANS
San Diego County’s Vista Detention Facility has a separate wing (called the N-Module-3) for veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The N-Module-3 program “Veterans Moving Forward” offers the incarcerated vets—often wrestling with any combination of PTSD, substance abuse, and other issues—a chance to deal with the the struggles of life after active duty that helped put them behind bars, through daily classes, and by being in the company of other veterans.
Thirty-two veterans serving sentences or awaiting trial have volunteered to live in the module separate from the other prisoners and participate in classes meant to increase their chances of making a law-abiding return to civilian life.
“We’re all dedicated to making this work, nobody wants to go back,” said Jeremy Thomas, 22, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and lost his left hand when a roadside bomb exploded.
Each of the veterans has agreed to take classes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to assist with problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, substance abuse, parenting and other issues.
“We hope that by putting them together we can rekindle that esprit de corps they had when they were serving their country,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department runs the jails. “It’s a great population to work with.”
The program was spurred both by a sense of obligation toward the veterans and also an increased need to reduce recidivism to accommodate the state’s prison realignment program that threatens to overwhelm the capacity of local jails.
“We’ve got to do things differently,” Gore said.
Angela Simoneau, a social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego, said she and others participating in the program will be watching for numbers to support expanding the program to other local jails. “Data is on everyone’s mind,” she said.
And here’s a snip of what’s being done for incarcerated vets in LA County and the California prison system:
The California prison system does not house veterans separately from other prisoners but does encourage formation of veterans-only discussion groups at its 34 institutions, a spokesman said. VA “reentry specialists” regularly meet with prisoners on the verge of being released to tell them of benefits and therapy programs.
In Los Angeles County, where the Sheriff’s Department runs the largest jail system in the country, 291 prisoners are housed in veteran-only dorms where they participate in programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and classes in art, computers and relationship counseling.
The most recent national data is, unfortunately, almost ten years old (and doesn’t offer county jail statistics): a 2004 DOJ report revealed that one in ten federal and state prisoners had prior military service. Programming for these locked up veterans is a good step toward reducing recidivism in California’s overcrowded facilities and an important tool to help vets successfully return to civilian life.
FORMER 3RD-STRIKERS: A YEAR INTO PROP 36′S REFORMS
KQED’s Michael Montgomery kept in touch with three men released under the measure. In this California Report story, Montgomery says Prop 36′s results are generally good so far, but many of the former third-strikers have served so much time, they are not put under county or state supervision, and often miss out on crucial reentry programs.
Convicted of stealing two car alarms from a Walgreens store, Richard Brown spent 18 years in prison under California’s notorious Three Strikes law. Then, quite suddenly, he was standing outside the gates of San Quentin earlier this year, a free man.
“They told me to get off the property,” he says. “I asked if there was a phone booth or something. They said no.”
For Robert Watts, who served 13 years for receiving stolen property, getting out of prison involved an emotional legal tangle with local prosecutors who insisted he was an unredeemed career criminal and should remain behind bars.
“It was unpleasant,” he says. “But at least it’s over.”
For both men, freedom came as the result of Proposition 36, the ballot initiative approved last year by voters in every county in California.
The measure changed the 1994 law that had allowed judges to impose life sentences for low-level felonies such as petty theft and drug possession. The new law focuses on serious and violent crimes. It’s also retroactive, allowing current inmates whose third strike was non-violent and non-serious to petition the courts for resentencing and possible release.
Opponents of the measure have argued that the original Three Strikes law worked well and contributed to a dramatic fall in violent crime over the past two decades. Granting some inmates early release, they said, would lead to a spike in crime…
But so far, Prop. 36 does not appear to be endangering public safety, according to a recent report by Stanford Law School and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Citing state data, the report concluded that of the more than 1,000 inmates released from prison under the measure, fewer than 2 percent have been charged with new crimes. By comparison, the average recidivism rate over a similar time period for non-Prop. 36 inmates is 16 percent.
Several former three strikers say their challenge has been coping with life on the streets without the structure of prison and support normally provided to newly released felons.
Most three strikers who qualify for release have served so much extra time they’re not placed on parole or probation. Often that means that don’t have access to substance abuse, mental health and other re-entry programs as well as housing.
“They give you $200 and kick you out, and they don’t give you any type of papers to indicate that you can go down to this program or (that) program,” said Brown. He considers himself lucky to have a job, home and support network.
“For many people coming out, it’s a nightmare,” he said.
SCOTUS DISMISSES CASE CHALLENGING ALABAMA JUDGES’ ABILITY TO OVERTURN JURY DEATH PENALTY DECISIONS
On Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of an Alabama man who was sentenced to life in prison by a jury, only to have it overridden by the trial judge who then sentenced him to death. (Alabama is one of only three states that allows judges to reverse a jury’s decision in death penalty cases.)
Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.
If (as Alabama has done) you give judges the power to override jury verdicts in capital cases, and if (as Alabama also has done) you then make those judges accountable to public opinion by having judicial campaigns and elections, you are going to end up (as they have in Alabama) with judges who disproportionately feel it is in their self-interest to sentence people to death even when a jury has recommended a sentence of life.
Citing the trenchant work done in this area by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, Justice Sotomayor wrote that such a scenario must be unconstitutional…
One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment. One of these ads boasted that he had “‘presided over more than 9,000 cases, including some of the most heinous murder trials in our history,’” and expressly named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death, in at least one case over a jury’s contrary judgment…
By permitting a single trial judge’s view to displace that of a jury representing a cross-section of the community, Alabama’s sentencing scheme has led to curious and potentially arbitrary outcomes. For example, Alabama judges frequently override jury life-without-parole verdicts even in cases where the jury was unanimous in that verdict.In many cases, judges have done so without offering a meaningful explanation for the decision to disregard the jury’s verdict. In sentencing a defendant with an IQ of 65, for example, one judge concluded that “‘[t]he sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.’”
Another judge, who was facing reelection at the time he sentenced a 19-year-old defendant, refused to consider certain mitigating circumstances found by the jury, which had voted to recommend a life without-parole sentence. He explained his sensitivity to public perception as follows: “‘If I had not imposed the death sentence I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.” (citations omitted by me).