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Alex Nieto and Gentrification, Criminal Justice Research Center Moves, and Catholics and the Death Penalty

March 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

WHY SAN FRANCISCO GENTRIFICATION MIGHT HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE DEATH OF ALEX NIETO

On March 21, 2014, four officers—three white and one asian—killed a 28-year-old Latino, Alex Nieto, in a hail of bullets on a hill in Nieto’s San Francisco neighborhood. The officers, whose stories are conflicting, said Nieto, who worked as a night club bouncer, pointed his tazer at them and took a shooting stance, and that they mistook the tazer and its laser light for a handgun. The four cops fired dozens of shots, 14 of which hit Nieto’s head and body.

Nieto was an aspiring probation officer, practicing Buddhist, and criminal justice degree-holder.

On the day he died, Nieto was wearing a new, red 49ers jacket. Unfortunately Nieto’s jacket color led responding officers, as well as the man who called the police, to believe that Nieto looked suspicious and might be a gang member.

Alex Nieto and his parents had lived in San Francisco’s Bernal Hill since the 1980′s. Gentrification—which involves spikes in property values that wipes out neighborhood diversity by forcing out poor and minority residents—has swept through the Bay Area, including Bernal Hill.

The Guardian’s Rebecca Solnit explores the dangerous side of gentrification and the role it may have played in Nieto’s death. Here’s a clip:

In that springtime of Nieto’s death, I had begun to feel that what was tearing my city apart was not only a conflict pitting long-term tenants against affluent newcomers and the landlords, estate agents, house-flippers, and developers seeking to open up room for them by shoving everyone else out. It was a conflict between two different visions of the city.

What I felt strongly at the funeral was the vital force of real community: people who experienced where they lived as a fabric woven from memory, ritual and habit, affection and love. This was a measure of place that had nothing to do with money and ownership and everything to do with connection. Adriana and I turned around in our pew and met Oscar Salinas, a big man who was native to the Mission. He told us that when someone in the community is hurt, the Mission comes together. “We take care of each other.” To him, the Mission meant the people who shared Latino identity and a commitment to a set of values, and to each other, all held together by place.

The sense of community people were trying to hang on to was about the things that money cannot buy. It was about home as a whole neighbourhood and the neighbours in it, not just the real estate you held title to or paid rent on. It was not only the treasure of Latinos; white, black, Asian and Native American residents of San Francisco had long-term relationships with people, institutions, traditions, particular locations. “Disruptive” has been a favourite word of the new tech economy, but old-timers saw communities, traditions, and relationships being disrupted. Many of the people being evicted and priced out were the people who held us all together: teachers, nurses, counsellors, social workers, carpenters and mechanics, volunteers and activists. When, for example, someone who worked with gang kids got driven out, those kids were abandoned. How many threads could you pull out before the social fabric disintegrated?

Two months before the funeral, the real-estate website Redfin looked at the statistics and concluded that 83% of California’s homes, and 100% of San Francisco’s, were unaffordable on a teacher’s salary. What happens to a place when the most vital workers cannot afford to live in it? Displacement has contributed to deaths, particularly of the elderly. In the two years since Nieto’s death, there have been multiple stories of seniors who died during or immediately after their eviction. Gentrification can be fatal.

It also brings newcomers to neighbourhoods with nonwhite populations, sometimes with atrocious consequences. Local newspaper The East Bay Express recently reported that in Oakland, recently arrived white people sometimes regard “people of color who are walking, driving, hanging out, or living in the neighborhood” as “criminal suspects.” Some use the website Nextdoor.com to post comments “labeling Black people as suspects simply for walking down the street, driving a car, or knocking on a door.” The same thing happens in the Mission, where people post things on Nextdoor such as “I called the police a few times when is more then three kids standing like soldiers in the corner.” What’s clear in the case of Nieto’s death is that a series of white men perceived him as more dangerous than he was and that he died of it.


CENTER FOR POLICING EQUITY MOVES FROM LOS ANGELES TO NEW YORK

UCLA’s Center for Policing Equity, a national research center aimed at improving police-community ties, is leaving Los Angeles and moving to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York—the perfect “laboratory for policing practices and innovation in law enforcement,” according to John Jay president, Jeremey Travis. The center will open this summer and begin gathering and analyzing data to find disparities in policing.

With $1.5 million in funding from the Ford Foundation and $1 million from Atlantic Philanthropies, John Jay will relocate the center’s president and co-founder, Phillip Atiba Goff, who will also teach at the college.

The New York Times’ Sam Roberts has more on the research center and its new home. Here’s a clip:

The move will place John Jay at the forefront of a national conversation on race and policing prompted by a spate of deaths at the hands of the police, including those in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.

The appointment was approved on Monday by the City University of New York’s board of trustees.

“We’re having a moment in police and criminal justice reform in the United States, and the beating heart of police reform begins in New York,” Dr. Goff said in an interview. “New York is in the vanguard, and when you have the entire of New York City agreeing on the need for some kind of a change, that’s a powerful thing.”

He will direct the center and also teach at John Jay.

Mr. Travis said, “John Jay is the most diverse of CUNY’s senior colleges, so these issues involving interactions with the police are not far removed from the lives of our students.”

“This research fits with the DNA of John Jay,” he added.

It also coincides with the Ford Foundation’s focus on inequality. Darren Walker, the foundation’s president, said one of its priorities was “improving relations between communities of color and law enforcement.” He described New York as “a laboratory for policing practices and innovation in law enforcement.”

In 2014, John Jay, in partnership with Yale Law School and U.C.L.A., among others, received a $4.75 million grant from the Justice Department to establish the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Directed by David Kennedy, it has a goal of improving relationships between communities and the criminal justice system. Dr. Goff was one of the principal partners in the initiative.


CATHOLICS’ PUSH FOR AN END TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT ACROSS THE GLOBE

Speaking the night before an international anti-death penalty conference in Rome last month, Pope Francis called for an end to capital punishment worldwide, urging Catholics to make the “courageous and exemplary gesture” of imposing a moratorium on executions in honor of the church’s Holy Year of Mercy.

In a story for the New Yorker, Paul Elie, author and senior fellow at Georgetown University, goes behind the Pope’s announcement to reveal the Catholic movement to end the death penalty worldwide, propelled in large part by the passionate work of a man named Mario Marazziti. Here’s a clip:

Popes have denounced capital punishment for four decades, drawing on a much longer history of religious revulsion toward the practice; but, by calling for a moratorium, Francis turned opprobrium for the death penalty into a simple step that governments and their executives can take.

Marazziti had hoped that Pope Francis would offer a statement of support for the moratoria. He and his compatriots in the Community of Sant’Egidio, a progressive Catholic movement based in Rome, were instrumental in bringing it about. They had asked Francis to consider making such a statement in advance of a conference against the death penalty they had planned for the coming week.

It’s the sort of request that Marazziti has made of public figures many times. He is a founder of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, an alliance of more than a hundred and fifty N.G.O.s, unions, bar associations, and other groups, which emerged out of a conference held at Sant’Egidio’s headquarters, in Rome, in 2002. Meanwhile, the Community of Sant’Egidio has made the Colosseum—where Christians were thrown to the lions—a symbol of resistance to capital punishment, arranging for it to be lit up especially brightly at night each time a government renounces the practice. Marazziti and the movement he represents have created a patchwork consensus against the death penalty, and, in countries that still have the death penalty, such as the United States—retentionist countries, the movement calls them—it is a consensus that politicians are finding harder and harder to resist.

He sat down to lunch with his family: wife, mother-in-law, son, daughter-in-law, grandson. They talked about what they had just seen and heard. After the meal, he sent an e-mail to several thousand people with whom he has made common cause over the years (myself among them). “I am very happy,” he said, and summarized Francis’s message: “No Death Penalty, no executions, during Mercy’s Year. And never again.”

Posted in racial justice | 1 Comment »

The Trial of Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to Begin on Wednesday

March 21st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE FED TRIAL OF FORMER LA COUNTY UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA

The federal criminal trial of Paul Tanaka, the former second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, begins jury selection on Wednesday, March 23.

Mr. Tanaka is charged with obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In thinking about what to expect from the trial, it helps to review the events underlying the federal charges for which Tanaka will be tried:

In early 2011, the FBI was actively investigating reports of brutality and corruption by deputies in the LASD-run LA County Jail system, most particularly Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) and the Twin Towers Correctional Facility (TTCF).

Yet, as their investigation continued, while the feds had become increasingly convinced that there was a pattern of abuse and corruption by deputies in the nation’s largest jail system, finding proof of these purported acts of brutality and wrongdoing that would stand up in court was not at all easy.

Back then, there were no cameras in the jails. (Cameras had been purchased by the county. But they were languishing in some LASD closet.) And, with extremely rare exceptions, the only witnesses to alleged acts of abuse—other than deputies—were inmates. But deputies backed each other up nearly unvaryingly, and inmates were likely to be viewed by a jury as less than dependable.

Moreover, the LASD’s internal investigative bureaus, Internal affairs (IAB) and Internal Criminal Investigations (ICIB) seemed to display little interest in investigating wrongdoing in the department’s own house—despite years of reports of what Southern California ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, described as “an epidemic of brutal beatings.”

With all this in mind, the FBI decided to launch an undercover investigation inside the system’s most troubled facility, Men’s Central Jail—using, among other tactics, an inmate informant. This informant’s name was Anthony Brown.

According to federal documents, the investigation using Brown “concerned alleged excessive use of force by deputies against inmates in MCJ and TTCF and the alleged smuggling of contraband into MCJ and TTCF in exchange for bribes.”

At first Brown reported to his handler via collect calls. But then a sting operation was launched in which Brown would offer a custody deputy cash in return for smuggling in a contraband phone for his use.

Deputy Gilbert Michel was the deputy who took the bait. The sting was accomplished in late July 2011, and Brown now had a phone with which he could contact his FBI handlers without the LASD listening in.

But, on August 8, 2011, an alert jail deputy found informant Brown’s phone. Jail investigators were called in to examine the contraband phone in order to find out who Brown was contacting. Anthony Brown is a convicted bank robber who was still in jail only until the California Department of Corrections called for him to be transferred to state prison. Thus investigators thought he might be using the cell phone to contact criminal confederates.

He wasn’t. He was calling and texting the FBI.

On August 18, then-sheriff Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka learned unequivocally that Brown was an FBI informant, that he’d gotten the phone as part of a sting involving a dirty deputy, and that the sting was part of an undercover FBI investigation into jail brutality.

Baca got the information through a telephone conversation with Steve Martinez, the man then heading up the FBI’s LA office. And then Baca told Tanaka.

From that point on, the government alleges, Paul Tanaka directed an operation that deliberately attempted to obstruct the FBI’s investigation through multiple means, including an elaborate plan to hide inmate Brown from his FBI handlers, along with alleged attempts to keep potential deputy witnesses from talking to the FBI.

According to federal prosecutors, Tanaka and department members under his direction, also used an array of methods to find out what the FBI had learned thus far in their probe into LASD wrongdoing. Among the methods used was for two LASD sergeants to accost an FBI agent outside her home and falsely threaten to arrest her.

Twice during the course of the operation Tanaka allegedly announced at meetings that this “was one of the most important investigations in the Department’s 160 year history”—or words to that effect.

For these and other alleged actions, on March 13, 2015, Paul Tanaka was indicted and charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Former LASD Captain Tom Carey was also charged but he has since made a plea deal with the government, in exchange for truthful testimony about the events leading to the federal indictment.

There are 29 names on the government’s witness list, Tom Carey prominently among them. (See POST SCRIPT below.)

Attorneys Dean Steward and Jerome Haig will represent Tanaka, and they are expected to launch a vigorous defense that will likely include the contention that Baca, not Tanaka, directed any and all of the actions in question, and that all were part of a lawful investigation in which inmate Brown was appropriately protected from possible harm.

The government is represented by Assistant US Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lisabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui.

US District Court Judge Percy Anderson will preside.

To date, seven former department members have been convicted of obstruction of justice in relation to the Anthony Brown matter, and related charges, and their convictions have been appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Additional former department members have been convicted of charges relating to the government’s jail abuse investigation.

There is another jail abuse trial still to come.


WITNESSLA & PPOA’S BRIAN MORIGUCHI TALK WITH KCRW’S WARREN OLNEY ON PAUL TANAKA’S TRIAL AND TRIBULATIONS

On Thursday night and Friday morning, WitnessLA was on KCRW’s Olney in LA talking with Warren Olney and Brian Moriguchi, president of LA County Professional Peace Officers Association, about what to expect from former Los Angeles undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s upcoming federal trial, due to start Wednesday.

You can listen to the podcast here.


2013 INTERVIEW WITH TANAKA MAY HOLD HINTS OF WHAT IS TO COME

In September of 2012, the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence issued its scathing final report that described a “troubling culture” inside the county’s jails, “which has produced both on duty and off duty aggressive misconduct.”

Much of the blame, according to the commission, was due to a failure leadership at the very top of the department. In particular, the commissioners singled out Paul Tanaka, of whom they wrote, “the troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them…”

A year later, in 2013, when Paul Tanaka was running for sheriff, KCRW’s Warren Olney interviewed the former undersheriff and asked him about what the commission had alleged.

Olney and his producer Jennifer Wolfe have reposted the 2013 interview, and it is very much worth revisiting as we move toward the beginning of the federal criminal trial of the former undersheriff who, for many years, was convinced he would be the next sheriff when Lee Baca finally stepped down.

You can listen to the interview here. But below you’ll find a couple of excerpts from the conversation between Warren Olney and Paul Tanaka to get you started.

Warren Olney: You were harshly criticized in the citizens Commission report at least as harshly criticized as the sheriff himself. How do you plan to convince voters under those circumstances that you’re the man for the job?

Paul Tanaka: First of all, it’s very convenient and unfortunate that the sheriff has resorted to something he’s become very accustomed to and that is pointing fingers and absolving himself, or attempting to, of any blame. If you look at the organizational chart during the years that the Commission did the report on the jail study 2008, 2009, 2010; those are the years in question that the commission did the report on. If you look at the organizational chart you’ll see the jails, you’ll see the captain of that particular jail facility you’ll see three or four commanders in that chain of command on the organizational chart on record. You’ll see a division chief over custody, you’ll see an assistant sheriff’s, name you’ll see an undersheriff ‘s name and you will see the sheriff’s name. You will not see Paul Tanaka’s name anywhere in that chain of command…. And so for him to point the finger at me is completely wrong. He knows that I was nowhere in that jail authority during that particular time period.

And then there is this:

WO: Whatever the Sheriff may say or think, Miriam Krinsky who is the executive director of the citizens commission says that you Undersheriff Tanaka interjected himself in jail issues even when the jails were not under his command and goes on to “We did see evidence that suggested that, at least in tone of what he said, the undersheriff did not create a spirit of compliance within the letter of the law.”

PT: Well, first of all I fundamentally disagree with the findings of that report. I made it clear during the Commission hearing and I’m making it clear right now. If you look at the people they spoke to, all the people that they quote, that they got their evidence from, those were folks had an axe to grind. Never in my 33 years never, ever, ever was I accused of misconduct or encouraging others or supporting others or condoning any type of deputy misconduct, be it brutality in the jails or misbehavior….

And this:

WO: Well, you’re not on trial. You’re running for Sheriff of Los Angeles County. Let me just read so our listeners will know what they report. It says: “The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the Undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct.” It sounds like they talked to an awful lot of people.

PT: That is a well-written piece of fiction. First of all they did not talk to a lot of people. I can tell you the handful of people that talked to you and if you were to look at the individuals they talk to you they were individuals who were disgruntled and who were concerned that if I were running for office and if I were to become sheriff, they would have to be held accountable to levels that they were not accustomed to and not comfortable with.

WO: So you’re saying that the people who were witnesses and gave thier testimony…to the commission were people who had it in for you and wanted to make sure you wouldn’t become sheriff?

PT: I’m saying that and I’m saying that they flat out lied to the commission.

It’s very much worth listening to the whole interview, which you can find here.

We will, of course, have lots more to report this week and next, after the trial begins.

So stay tuned.


POST SCRIPT:

For those who are interested, here are the potential witness for the prosecution:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LASD | 59 Comments »

The Prop. 47 Funding Debate, $30 Million Gang Injunction Settlement, and Merrick Garland

March 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

THERE’S A DISPUTE OVER HOW MUCH PROP. 47 IS SAVING CALIFORNIA, LEAVING FUNDS MEANT FOR REHABILITATION AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES IN LIMBO

In November 2014, 60% of California voters passed Proposition 47, which reclassified six non-serious, non-violent drug and property felonies as misdemeanors. The measure was supposed to ease overcrowding in prisons and save the state more than $100 million each year. That $100 million (or more) was to then be spent on preventing recidivism through mental health and rehabilitation programs, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services (via the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund).

Gov. Brown’s January budget tallied net savings from Prop. 47, which reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, at $29.3 million—$62.7 million in savings from smaller caseloads, fewer hospital stays, and fewer prisoners, minus $33.4 million in extra parole and resentencing costs. The budget allocated the net savings of $29.3 million for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.

A recent report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found a few problems with those figures: Brown’s budget underestimates savings by about $100 million, overestimates costs, and diverts money from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund—where all the Prop. 47 savings is supposed to end up—and sends it back into the prison system.

While the 2014 law has resulted in the release of more than 4,500 offenders, prison staff and operating costs have not dropped. In fact, prison costs are increasing. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s newly-appointed Secretary, Scott Kernan, says for any significant savings to occur, the state would have to close a prison.

State lawmakers will have to step in and decide what savings Prop. 47 is responsible for producing. The legislature has until this summer to settle the issue.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Though the administration found the measure eliminated the need for more than 4,500 prison beds, the governor’s office primarily based its savings calculation on a 400-unit decline in contract beds, spots in private prisons California pays for to keep prisons from becoming more crowded.

“The remaining population reductions resulted in fewer inmates being housed in CDCR’s institutions where there are limited possibilities for reduced expenditure,” said Jeffrey Callison, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in an email.

Despite the decline in drug offenders in prison, Callison said, prisons are not incurring savings in staffing and other necessary operating costs. For that to happen, he said, the state would need to close a prison.

Secretary Scott Kernan, who heads the prison system, said cutting money from his budget isn’t feasible. The system’s been beleaguered by overcrowding, inadequate mental health and health care, and a host of court orders to improve conditions.

“So I think that in this challenging environment there is going to be a base line cost,” Kernan said.

And, those costs are going up.

Despite 2011′s prison realignment, which shifted supervision for lower-level offenders to counties in an effort to stem overcrowding, the prison population is expected to rise over the next year, along with the prison budget.

Early budget proposals up the corrections budget to $10.5 billion in 2016-2017 - higher than the year before realignment went into effect. Cutting into the budget now, Kernan said, could compromise court orders.

The state’s obligated to provide “a constitutional level” of care, he said.


A $30 MILLION SETTLEMENT WILL GO TO JOB TRAINING FOR PEOPLE AFFECTED BY LA’S GANG INJUNCTIONS

On Wednesday, the LA City Council unanimously approved a $30 million settlement in a lawsuit accusing the LAPD of enforcing old gang injunction curfews that had been struck down years earlier, in 2007.

The settlement amount will depend on how many of the 5,700 people affected by the gang injunctions—and thus the unconstitutional 10:00 p.m. curfews—come forward. According to the terms of the settlement, over the next four years, at least $4.5 million and as much as $30 million will go to job training, tattoo removal, and other programs to help people designated as gang members by LA injunctions.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Emily Alpert Reyes have more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

City Atty. Mike Feuer urged council members to approve the deal in a confidential memo obtained by The Times. The settlement, one of Feuer’s deputies emphasized in the memo, would establish clear rules for enforcing injunctions and avoid the possibility of a jury verdict that could have forced the city to pay off gang members.

“The city must resolve this litigation,” the memo said. “The settlement creates opportunities for gang members to obtain basic job skills … that can turn their lives around, and does so without giving any direct payments to gang members.”

In an interview, Feuer called the deal “an opportunity for the city to grapple with one of its most important problems in a constructive way.”

Nearly four dozen injunctions are in place throughout some of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. They are court orders that aim to severely curtail gang activity by, among other things, prohibiting gang members and their associates from socializing with one another, carrying weapons or wearing certain clothing inside an injunction’s designated area — typically the neighborhoods where the gangs are active.

Although gang crime has climbed recently, the city has made large gains over the last decade in tamping down gang violence, drug dealing and other crimes. While officials credit the injunctions with playing a large role in that progress, critics point to the rosters of people ordered to abide by the injunctions, saying they include those who have no gang ties.

In 2011, attorney Olu Orange filed a federal lawsuit challenging curfew provisions included in 26 of the city injunctions, which prohibited people from being outside after 10 p.m.

In enforcing the curfews, police and city officials were willfully ignoring a 2007 California appeals court ruling that a similar curfew in another city violated individuals’ due process rights, Orange contended. In that ruling, the court found that an injunction against an Oxnard gang did not adequately define what it meant for someone to be “outside” during the hours of the curfew.

The wording was “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning,” the court concluded.


OBAMA’S SCOTUS NOMINEE, MERRICK GARLAND, AND THE FUTURE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Out of President Obama’s top three choices (the other two were Judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul J. Watford), Judge Garland, a white, 63-year-old federal prosecutor, appears to be Obama’s best chance at getting a nominee past the Republican Senate, which has vowed to oppose any nomination from the current president.

But by nominating the “old school” Garland, Obama has missed out on an important opportunity to “walk the walk on criminal justice reform” by appointing someone who has a public defender background, says Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy:

In this prior post, I (apparently foolishly) suggested that Prez Obama might be leaning to appointing a former federal defense lawyer to the Supreme Court given his comments about looking for a nominee with “a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook [but who has] life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom.” But Chief Judge Garland, like far too many of the current Justices in my view, is a career “inside-the-Beltway” lawyer having served in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration and having spent the last two decades serving on the most insulated and isolated of all the US Circuit Courts. Notably, at a time when American voters on both sides of the aisle have shown an interest in changing “politics as usual” in Washington DC, the President has decided to nominate the most “old-school” SCOTUS candidate I could imagine.

Readers will not be surprised to hear that what really has me irked about this SCOTUS choice is that it provides yet more proof that President Barack Obama is never actually willing to “walk the walk” on criminal justice reform when he has a real opportunity to use his power and platform to engineer real change. Appointing someone with a public defender background would be a powerful statement that lawyers who defend those accused of crimes have a critically important perspective on the operation and application of the rule of law. Instead, Prez Obama has nominated a former Criminal Division DOJ lawyer who supervised the Oklahoma City bombing case and the case against the Unabomber. Tellingly, in his announcement this morning, Prez Obama stressed Chief Judge Garland’s “sterling record as a prosecutor” and expressed admiration for his prosecutorial efforts to avoid the possibility that the Oklahoma City bomber “might go free on a technicality.”

So where does Garland stand on criminal justice issues? In 2010, when Garland was short-listed as a possible replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein wrote a profile of Garland, which included a review of the judge’s past decisions in specific areas of law. Goldstein found that Garland leaned moderate-to-conservative on important criminal justice issues, rarely voting in favor of criminal defendants. Here are some clips:

The most significant area of the law in which Judge Garland’s views obviously differ materially from those of Justice Stevens is criminal law. Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions. I identified only eight such published rulings, which should capture all the significant cases. Judge Garland did not author any of the opinions…

…in ten criminal cases, Judge Garland has disagreed with his more-liberal colleagues; in each, he adopted the position that was more favorable to the government or declined to reach a question on which the majority of the court had adopted a position favorable to a defendant. Because disagreement among panel members on the D.C. Circuit is relatively rare, this substantial body of cases is noteworthy…

In another case, Judge Garland dissented from a panel ruling by two of the court’s more conservative judges in favor of a criminal defendant.

Vox’s German Lopez explains why Garland may prove even more conservative than Justice Scalia on certain criminal justice issues, if he makes it past the Senate. Here’s a clip:

…while Scalia was broadly very conservative on criminal justice issues, he occasionally sided with liberals and reformers to defend criminal defendants’ rights — in a way that Garland may not.

“Casual observer or non-lawyers have not recognized that, even though Justice Scalia was very conservative in most criminal procedure cases,” Evan Lee, a law professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, told me, “there were a few really important cases in which he — and Justice Thomas — created new and important rights for criminal defendants based on their reading of the original intent of the framers.”

Scalia’s biggest decision to this end was, according to Lee, Apprendi v. New Jersey in 2000, in which the Supreme Court effectively expanded criminal defendants’ rights — despite a case that involved an allegedly racist defendant.

[SNIP]

Now, Scalia was certainly not a liberal on criminal justice issues. In his nearly 30 years as a justice, he had far more cases in which he sided against criminal defendants, particularly on the death penalty. In one case, Scalia argued that the Supreme Court had never found that executing innocent defendants violated the Constitution if they got a “full and fair trial.” Although an extreme example (and technically correct), Scalia’s tone reflects the approach he took for the bulk of criminal procedure cases.

But as conservative as his views in most cases were, Scalia still had a few moments in which he stridently sided with defendants. And the few examples show Scalia was not as conservative on criminal justice issues as liberals may think. So if he’s replaced by someone who’s moderate to conservative — like Garland — then criminal justice reformers could end up gaining little to nothing from the replacement.

[SNIP]

Another big distinction: While Scalia was more likely to overturn previous law and tradition to fit his view of the Constitution, Garland will likely avoid changing current precedent. “He is a centrist, a call-them-as-I-see-them, I-have-no-interest-in-changing-the-law kind of guy,” Goldstein said.

That could sometimes extend in favor of defendants when current law is in their favor. For example, Scalia despised the “exclusionary rule” — which requires courts throw out evidence that police obtained illegally — out of worry that it can ruin otherwise good cases against criminals, and he seemingly wanted to undo it. But Garland would probably be unwilling to overturn a standing rule, so he would be more likely to throw out illegally obtained evidence through the existing exclusionary rule.

Given Scalia’s extremely pro–death penalty views, Garland will also very likely be much more liberal on capital punishment. Goldstein said that Garland, for instance, will probably be more willing to let defendants challenge their death sentences if they claim to have received an inadequate legal defense. But Goldstein would be very surprised, he said, if Garland ruled to strike down the death penalty, which some of the more liberal justices have shown interest in doing.

Still, Garland has generally favored prosecutors and sided against defendants as a DC judge, and it seems unlikely he would create big, new rights for defendants as Scalia did in a few cases.

But it seems unlikely that the Senate Republicans will confirm Garland. During the judge’s first trip to the capitol as Obama’s nominee, Republican leaders said they refused to hold hearings or vote on Garland’s confirmation this year, no matter what.

The New York Times’ David Herszenhorn has the story. Here are some clips:

It was a strange day even for an often-fractious Capitol. Democrats moved forward with the traditional opening pageantry for a Supreme Court nominee, including staged photo opportunities and two largely ceremonial meetings. At the same time, the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, sought to dismiss the fight over the court vacancy as an irreconcilable difference that should be set aside, like some routine piece of failed legislation, as the Senate moved on to other business.

Tensions boiled over early after Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and others suggested that Republicans might take up Judge Garland’s nomination in the lame duck session — should Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the White House — and outraged Judiciary Committee Democrats called Republicans duplicitous.

[SNIP]

By the end of the day, Republican leaders made clear they were sticking to their original position and flatly ruled out any action on the nomination during the lame duck session.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday that he expected Democrats to keep repeating their demands for a confirmation vote, but he urged them to desist.

“It’s frankly a waste of time,” Mr. Cornyn said at the Judiciary Committee’s business meeting. “The decision has been made that we are going to wait for the voters to choose the next president and allow that president to make the nomination at which time that nomination, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican will be processed. But not before then.”

Even Mr. Hatch had retreated. “If it’s Hillary, it’s Hillary,” he told reporters with resignation at the Capitol, acknowledging that party leaders had decided Mr. Obama’s nominee would not be confirmed under any circumstance.

Posted in Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

Probation Chief Cal Remington Moves Quickly to Investigate Report of “Deplorable Conditions” In LA County’s Juvenile Hall

March 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


ALARMING REPORT TRIGGERS SPEEDY INVESTIGATION & “REMEDIATION”

Earlier this week we wrote about the release of a report that described “deplorable” conditions in some of the units where kids are living in LA County’s Central Juvenile Hall, which at present houses around 200 kids, both male and female. The report was written by Azael “Sal” Martinez, a member of LA County’s 15-member civilian probation commission, after he made an unannounced visit to the system’s largest juvenile hall on February 14, Valentine’s Day, and documented his observations, some of which were quite alarming.

Martinez’ report alleged, among other things, that there was a great deal of graffiti—much of it gang graffiti—on the walls and other surfaces of several of the units he inspected, including in the kids’ individual rooms, in the bathrooms and elsewhere.

Martinez also wrote about appallingly filthy bathrooms, and clogged toilets and urinals that filled one unit with an awful stench.

And there was lots more, including allegations of a kid kept in the hall’s solitary unit for an extended period of time over something trivial.

(You can find additional details here.)

After our story ran, we spoke at length with interim Probation Chief Cal Remington, who talked about the immediate steps he and the department have taken to investigate Martinez’ allegations, and then to remediate problems, as necessary.

Remington, if you’ll remember, is the interim replacement for former LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers who officially left his position on January 4. The highly regarded and well-liked Remington will be the person guiding the department until a national search results in the hiring of a new permanent chief to lead ongoing reform efforts at the nation’s largest probation department.

“We’re going to be transparent about these kinds of issues,” Remington said of Martinez’ report. “We don’t want to hide anything.” Remington said he welcomes input from the probation commission and its commissioners, but would like the process to be more formalized, to insure that staff doesn’t feel blindsided. “We all have the same purpose. We want things to improve. “

At Remington’s direction, the department’s internal affairs investigators divided Martinez’s complaints into eleven allegations, which investigators then scrutinized and, where necessary, corrected.

The confidential report that resulted from the investigation was delivered to each of the five members of the board of supervisors, the county CEO, Sachi Hamai, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Levanas, and others.

The three page report found four of the eleven allegations to be “substantiated.”

For example, as Martinez reported, the investigators found there was plenty of graffiti and the affected surfaces were washed and painted.

Similarly, investigators found that the tile floors surrounding some of the toilets were indeed filthy, and other bathroom areas afflicted with “grit, calcification, rust and corrosion.” The bathrooms were reportedly subsequently scrubbed and, in some cases, tiles flooring was scheduled for replacement, and a quarterly deep cleaning service is being procured.

Internal affairs and company marked as “unsubstantiated” Martinez’ allegation of a boy being wrongly put into in juvenile hall’s SHU for 16 hours, although the report offered no details as to the reasons behind findings.

Still, Chief Remington spoke to us about the changes that are in motion regarding the department’s policy when in comes to solitary confinement.

We’e going through a process right now where we’re going to get rid of solitary confinement,” he said. “You just don’t need to do it. You need some kind of time out. But you don’t need solitary. And we’re developing protocols to make sure that kids are only in for short periods. We’re going to change that culture.”


WE OWE IT TO A KID TO HAVE A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT

In addition, investigators reportedly found no evidence of the “stench,” that Martinez reported coming from the toilets.

Another allegation that was confusingly listed as “unsubstantiated” was Martinez’ report that probationers’ personal possessions were being used as doorstops to prop open doors in the purportedly stench-afflicted unit. These personal items included a kid’s shoe, and most alarmingly, a personal Bible.

While investigators did find the shoe and a book resembling a Bible were being used as doorstops, according to the internal affairs report, it turned out the offending doorstop was not actually a Bible, but rather some other kind of book with a binding that made it look like a Bible. In any case, real doorstops have now replaced probationers’ personal items to hold upon the unit’s doors.

And, on the topic of the “stench,” another probation source whom we spoke told us that, indeed, there has been an awful smell in one of the hall’s units, but it was due to the age of some parts of the building and its plumbing.

(Central Juvenile Hall is a badly aging complex that is overdue to be replaced, and Chief Remington said that proposals for renovation or replacement are in the works.)

Our source also reported that, in the case of Martinez’ visit to the hall, supervisors on duty failed to accompany him on his inspection, and the line staff in some of the problematic units he visited were mostly new and inexperienced, so were not able to provide needed information.

“The probation commissioners have every right to come unannounced to the facilities, since their job is to advocate for the kids,” said our source, who asked not to be named. But some of the staff, he said, foolishly see the commissioners as an inconvenience. “And that’s a big mistake. They are a reminder that we have a standard and we need to uphold it.”

John Tuchek, 1st vice president SEIU 721, the probation supervisors union, agreed. “I know that some of the staff doesn’t like what Sal [Martinez] wrote. But we need to hold staff accountable.” And things like graffiti on the walls, and filth around toilets in probationer’s living spaces, have a corrosive affect, he said.

“We owe it to a kid to have a clean environment.” But graffiti left unremoved “turns an area into a hostile environment for kids who have come out of a hostile environment at home,” said Tuchek who is also a longtime supervising probation officer who worked in the department’s gang unit earlier in his career.

Otherwise, he said, “a kid looks at the walls and thinks, ‘If they allow this go on, and they can’t stop it, how are they going to keep me safe?’ And it’s our job to make these kids feel safe.” A kid who doesn’t feel safe is more likely to act out, he said. “Staff needs to understand that.”

Near the end of our conversation, Cal Remington emphasized similar points. “We can’t forget that some of these kids have been through a lot of trauma in their lives,” he said. “We are finally understanding that.” The department is working to train staff to understand the role of trauma in kids’ behavior, Remington said. “A knowledgable staff makes a big difference.”

Likely so. Even when it comes to making sure layers of graffiti, grit and grime without reports having to force the issue.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

LAPD Commission Adopts New Use-of-Force Policy…Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Reform Efforts…and Criminalized Black Girls

March 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

NEW LAPD USE-OF-FORCE POLICIES FOCUS ON DE-ESCALATION

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission approved 12 recommendations from the Inspector General for revising the LAPD’s deadly use-of-force policies to prioritize de-escalation tactics.

Under the revisions officers attempts at de-escalation in a violent situation will be taken into consideration when determining the reasonableness of a particular use of force.

Deadly force, the IG’s report says, should only be used when non-lethal alternatives have been exhausted. And before engaging with mentally ill and homeless populations on Skid Row, all officers assigned to the Resources Enhancement Services and Enforcement Team will complete specialized training.

Some of the recommendations will likely be amended as LAPD officials work through them with the IG and commission.

KPCC’s Ashley Bailey has more on the changes and reactions from law enforcement, advocates, and criminal justice experts. Here’s a clip:

“Changes to policy are not done lightly or often so the intention is to build something that will work not just for today, but going forward,” said Police Commission President Matt Johnson at Tuesday’s meeting.

Johnson, along with Commissioner Robert Saltzman authored the recommendations, which are a skeleton framework for policy changes the commission, LAPD officials, and the Inspector General will hash out in the coming weeks.

Commissioners indicated that three of the most controversial recommendations will be amended as those talks go on. Those items deal with determining whether an officer’s use of force was reasonable, whether they used deadly force only as a last option, and limiting the use of rifles and slug ammunition.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he supported revisiting the use-of-force policy, but cautioned against creating policies that might put police officers at risk.

“I understand what the commission wants to do–they want to emphasize some of the things that the police department is doing to minimize use of force,” Beck said. “And one of those things is deescalation.”

“We’re not asking (officers) to endanger their lives, but if these strategies are implemented correctly, it should keep both our officers and the community safer,” Johnson said.


SANTA CLARA SHERIFF GETS TO WORK ON FIXING TROUBLED JAILS

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith proposed a package of important reforms to reduce the use of excessive force within county jails and improve mental health care for inmates.

The 13 reforms include appointing an inspector general, creating a permanent civilian oversight commission, boosting mental health training for guards, bolstering education programs for inmates, and beefing up background checks and minimum qualifications for prospective guards.

A recent report on conditions within Santa Clara County jails found numerous allegations of excessive force, delayed medical and mental health care, a broken grievance-reporting system, unchecked jail personnel misconduct, and other systemic problems. The report was commissioned by a blue ribbon panel formed after three guards were charged with the murder of a mentally ill inmate, Michael Tyree.

Sheriff Smith even installed an interim camera system for the jails after hearing that implementing new security cameras would cost $20 million and take until 2018. Smith took a trip to Costco, spending $761.24 on 12 security cameras to test in the Main Jail.

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracey Kaplan has the story. Here’s a clip:

In her jail reform plan, Smith lays out 13 goals, including significantly beefing up training to help guards cope with an increasingly mentally ill population of more serious offenders, improving inmate education programs, and increasing minimum qualifications and background checks for prospective guards. For instance, correctional deputies currently only have to have the equivalent of a high school diploma; Smith now wants to require they have some combination of college course work and/or experience in criminal justice work or mental health. She also wants to upgrade background checks on applicants, including by having them take two polygraph tests instead of one.

Only one other major urban county in California – Los Angeles County — has an inspector general and citizens commission to supervise the jails. An inspector general monitors custody operations and facilities, including medical and mental health care; issues reports, including on use of force; and makes recommendations for improvement.

“Before the death of Michael Tyree there were many reforms and initiatives being worked on to improve custody operations,” Smith said. “Michael’s unfortunate death accelerated these efforts.”

Reaction to Smith’s plan Tuesday was mixed. The head of Santa Clara County’s jail-improvement commission and one of the attorneys who filed the class-action suit against the jails both noted that Smith was being reactive, not proactive, but praised her for quickly moving ahead. Many of the sheriff’s recommendations echo what the commission has been urging, including support for an independent inspector general. The group’s formal recommendations are expected to come out in April.

“These are things every correctional system should be doing,” said attorney Kelly Knapp of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office. “But she’s headed in the right direction sooner than most, unlike many institutions that need to lose a court battle to make changes.”


PUSHING BLACK GIRLS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM AND INTO THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Black girls frequently receive more severe punishments than white girls for the same offenses at school, despite not being any more likely to act out than their white counterparts, according to a 2014 report from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

According to Dept. of Education data, black girls make up just 17% of enrolled female students, but receive 31% of girls’ referrals to law enforcement, and comprise 43% of school arrests of all female students.

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Melinda Anderson, author and co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute Monique Morris discusses her new book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, the racial and gender bias fueling the pushout, the victimization behind the “delinquency,” and the “healing power of the narrative.” Here’s a clip:

Melinda D. Anderson: The shocking statistics you cite in the opening chapter—on poverty, dropouts, incarceration, and homicide—paint a chilling picture of the plight of black girls and women today. Can you briefly discuss some of the complex dynamics, the social and economic factors, triggering this situation?

Monique W. Morris: The dynamics here are, indeed, complex. I believe it’s important for us to understand that the negative socioeconomic conditions for black women and girls are related to how race, gender, class, sexual identity, ability, and other identities interact with each other to undermine equal access to opportunity. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” which captures this idea. Black women and girls must often navigate through a landscape that reinforces multidimensional stereotypes and debilitating narratives that negatively impact how black femininity is understood. Implicit racial and gender biases may also inform how we read the behaviors and actions of black girls and women, and how all of this comes together to guide whether black girls are safe in their communities and whether they have access to quality employment, food, housing, and education.

Anderson: You write that black girls are frequently marginalized and criminalized by institutions that should be safeguarding their well-being. Talk about some of the ways that institutional racism, classism, and sexism overlap to portray black girls as “delinquent,” and in the process impede their hopes and aspirations?

Morris: The book talks about educational institutions as “structures of dominance” that can either reinforce negative outcomes and ghettoize opportunity or actively disrupt conditions that render black girls vulnerable to criminalization. Black girls are 16 percent of girls in schools, but 42 percent of girls receiving corporal punishment, 42 percent of girls expelled with or without educational services, 45 percent of girls with at least one out-of-school suspension, 31 percent of girls referred to law enforcement, and 34 percent of girls arrested on campus. Too often, when people read these statistics, they ask, “What did these girls do?” when often, it’s not about what they did, but rather, the culture of discipline and punishment that leaves little room for error when one is black and female.

Black girls describe being labeled and suspended for being “disruptive” or “defiant” if they ask questions or otherwise engage in activities that adults consider affronts to their authority. Across the country, we see black girls being placed in handcuffs for having tantrums in kindergarten classrooms, thrown out of class for asking questions, sent home from school for arriving in shorts on a hot day, labeled as “truant” if they are being commercially sexually exploited, and labeled as “defiant” if they speak up in the face of what they [identify] to be injustice. We also see black girls criminalized (arrested on campus or referred to law enforcement) instead of engaged as children and teens whose mistakes could be addressed through non-punitive restorative approaches.

For girls, education is a critical protective factor against involvement with the juvenile and criminal legal systems. Our first priority should be keeping them in schools, not finding new ways to render them “delinquent.”

Posted in LAPD | 2 Comments »

DOJ Tackles Profit-Focused Court Practices…the Healing Power of Poetry…the Human Toll of Jail…and More

March 15th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TAKES AIM AT UNJUST COURT FINES AND FEES

On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced a package of resources and a new task force aimed at curbing illegal and harmful profit-focused enforcement of court fines and fees that disproportionately affect the poor.

In a letter released Monday, DOJ officials called on state and local court administrators and judges to stop incarcerating indigent defendants for not paying fines, and to eliminate practices that keep people locked up who can’t afford to post bail.

“In addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents,” wrote Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta, and Director of the Office for Access to Justice Lisa Foster.

The letter also says safeguards must be set in place to ensure private contractors (like controversial for-profit probation) and court staff don’t violate the constitutional rights of those who come into contact with the justice system.

The DOJ will award $2.5 million in grants to state, local, or tribal jurisdictions and community partners seeking to reform these court system practices.


SACRAMENTO “SAYS” KIDS USE POETRY TO PROCESS EMOTIONS AND STAY OUT OF TROUBLE

A literacy program called Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) mentors Sacramento teens and empowers them through slam poetry and spoken word performance poetry in an effort to heal kids’ trauma, encourage self-expression, and close the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers.

The Sacramento Mayor’s Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force has awarded SAYS $60,000 to ramp up services.

The Sacramento Bee’s Ellen Garrison has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The grants come as Sacramento grapples with a sudden rise in violent crime, particularly in low-income neighborhoods where gangs have a significant presence. An annual FBI crime report recently showed that Sacramento had 1,830 violent crimes between January and June last year, a 25 percent increase over the same period in the prior year, the biggest jump among the 25 largest U.S. cities.

Khaalid Muttaqi, director of the anti-gang task force, said in the past, the city simply directed more money toward traditional law enforcement efforts to counter gang violence. This time around, Muttaqi and task force members recognized that community organizations are better equipped to handle some aspects of the problem.

“The city’s not going to go in when there’s a shooting, go into the home and console the family and try to go to the next family and say let’s not retaliate, let’s work together,” he said. “We don’t have the street cred.”

SAYS worked with students this week at Grant High School, which experienced one of last year’s highest-profile homicides near the Del Paso Heights campus. Football player Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo was killed as he and friends were driving back to Grant for a playoff game after getting a bite to eat. Police in February arrested 16-year-old Keymontae Lindsey and he faces trial as an adult on charges that include homicide with a gang enhancement.

SAYS will receive $60,000 from the anti-gang program. The group’s founder, Vajra Watson, said some of the funding will pay for more poet mentor educators and case managers, though she doesn’t like to call students “cases.” The rest will go to comprehensive training in how to counsel young people who have experienced trauma.


THE REAL, HUMAN COSTS OF LOCKING PEOPLE UP

The Vera Institute of Justice has an important ongoing series called the Human Toll of Jail that we didn’t want you to miss.

One highlight is a string of videos in which Santa Clara County’s reform-minded District Attorney Jeff Rosen talks about California’s Proposition 47, law enforcement transparency, stopping traumatized victims from going on to commit crimes themselves, wrongful convictions, and the importance of reserving incarceration as a last resort.


The story of a former offender’s return to Rikers Island
to visit his son
—20 years after his own incarceration at the jail—told in the form of a comic strip is another not-to-be-missed part of the series.

Another story gives a behind-the-scenes look at the public defense system.

Also among the series’ offerings is a story that focuses on the importance of volunteers in jails and prisons to provide inmates with education, employment training, re-entry preparation, and other important services. Here’s how it opens:

Although research on the role of volunteers in jails and prisons is limited, recent studies suggest that visits from community volunteers to incarcerated people may reduce the likelihood of re-offending. CeCe Gannon is one such volunteer. After her own son’s brush with jail, Gannon, then a therapist-in-training, realized how many people reentering society after incarceration—whether brief or extended—desperately need someone to talk to. She decided she could be that someone.

When Gannon’s son was 16, he was arrested at school for his involvement in the sale of a controlled substance, expelled for six months, and eventually sentenced to probation and community service. While he was being held at juvenile hall, Gannon visited him, and that opened her eyes to some of the barriers other people face while incarcerated, specifically, “There wasn’t anyone for him to talk to,” she says, recalling the lack of therapeutic services. “It stuck in the back of my mind when he got out. So when I had an opportunity and I went back there, the magnetic pull was incredibly strong.”

As a longtime teacher with a doctorate in psychology, Gannon began a second late-career act as a practicing therapist, and in time became a volunteer at the jail in Sonoma County, California. For her internship, she chose a juvenile hall, where young people await court hearings or placement in long-term care. She worked for more than two years, long enough to watch some people she had helped as teens get in trouble as adults and cycle back into the system. She has seen firsthand, over and over again, what a lack of rehabilitative services does to young people. “The nonviolent drug user who has gone to prison at 18, 19, 20—once these youngsters go to prison,” she says, “they don’t come back the same.”

John Mesker remembers his initial impression when he first met Gannon at the juvenile hall in the mid-1990s: “Who is this hippie lady?”

Gannon connected with Mesker, then 15, in a way other adults at the facility hadn’t been able to, despite his confounded first reaction. She taught him how to use visualizations and his breath to calm down.

“She wanted to do art therapy,” Mesker says. “Here I am trying to prove myself as a violent person, and she’s asking me, ‘Do you like Belgian chocolate?’ ‘Do you read books?’ ”

John Mesker who struggles with addiction and has been incarcerated several times since he was a teenager for crimes relating to his addiction, in Howarth Park, Santa Rosa, California, November 19th, 2015. AJ and John were in the Sonoma County Jail together and since this past August have been at a residential treatment center.

It was around this time that Mesker was made a ward of the court. His mother—who struggled with addiction—was no longer allowed to write or visit. “Cece was my first dose of a normal person,” Mesker says, reflecting on the drug use that was a backdrop to his childhood and the bouts of homelessness and instability that plagued his family.

After her internship at the juvenile hall, Gannon started going into the county jail with the support of a Catholic organization and later through a project called Earth Hope, cofounded by Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame.

She now volunteers her therapeutic services, acting as a reentry counselor and teaching four courses at the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California. Three are correspondence classes. The fourth she teaches in person, and its focus is cosmology, which she explains as a connection of science and spirituality, in which she weaves the history of the universe into self-inquiry exercises. “I’m here to help you wake up everything inside you to the best of my ability,” she says of her students. “The best insurance that they are going to do something differently is if they’re inside themselves more consciously.”

Gannon strives to make her class a respite from the otherwise stressful experience of jail. “I don’t corner people there ever,” she says. “They get cornered all day long.” She says that keeping the class interactive and varied helps her hold the men’s interest. She may do a 15-minute presentation, then show an excerpt from a DVD. She uses handouts. She breaks the students into racially mixed groups and has them work together. She never gives tests and she always plays music. These weekly interactions inspire her, Gannon says. “I’m just as excited going in every Tuesday as I was years ago, because something touches me and hopefully, I touch something.”


ONE OF OBAMA’S TOP PICKS FOR SCOTUS NOMINATION WOULD BE FIRST JUSTICE FROM SOCAL

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Paul J. Watford has reportedly made it into President Obama’s top three choices for nomination to the US Supreme Court. All three of Obama’s top picks have earned support from members of both sides of the aisle in the past, but Senate Republicans have vowed to shut down any Obama nomination.

If nominated and confirmed, Watford would be the third black justice, and the first justice from Southern California.

The LA Times’ David Savage and Maura Dolan have more on Watford. Here’s a clip:

When Obama nominated Watford, 48, to the 9th Circuit in 2011, he won glowing praise, including from prominent conservatives. Since then, he has won compliments from judges who serve with him.

“The bottom line is he is just really wonderful,” said Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee.

Watford clerked for Kozinski for a year early in his career, but “I can’t describe him ideologically,” the judge said. “He has been my colleague for three or four years, and I can’t pigeonhole him into anything. The guy is really, really smart. He is careful about applying precedent, but based on ideology, you cannot predict the guy.”

Two of Watford’s opinions were reviewed by the Supreme Court last year. Both were affirmed.

In one case, the pastor of a small church in Gilbert, Ariz., sued because the town would not allow him to post large signs along the roadside to direct people to a Sunday service, even though large signs for political events and real estate were permitted. The 9th Circuit upheld the ordinance, but Watford dissented, arguing that sharply different treatment based on the content of the sign violated the 1st Amendment.

The Supreme Court agreed with Watford’s view in June in the case of Reed vs. Town of Gilbert. The court’s 6-3 opinion was written by Justice Clarence Thomas.

The other case came from Los Angeles. This time, Watford was in the majority, writing an opinion for the 9th Circuit that struck down a city ordinance that said the police may enter a motel and check the guest registry at any time.

The city ordinance violated the 4th Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable searches” because the motel operators were given no opportunity to contest the inspections before a magistrate, Watford wrote. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the city’s appeal in Los Angeles vs. Patel, but affirmed the 9th Circuit’s decision. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for a 5-4 majority.

Watford was born and raised in Orange County and has degrees from UC Berkeley and from the UCLA Law School. After clerking for Kozinski in Pasadena, he was a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court.

After returning to Los Angeles, he spent three years as an assistant U.S attorney prosecuting cases of fraud and white-collar crime. For the next decade, he was an appellate lawyer at Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Posted in Courts | No Comments »

Report Alleges Deplorable Conditions, Misuse of Solitary Confinement, and Leadership Failure at LA County’s Juvenile Hall

March 14th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



LIKE A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY PRISON”

On Valentine’s Day of this year, which was a Sunday, Los Angeles County Probation commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez showed up unannounced at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall to do an inspection, and what he discovered alarmed him.

Much of the reason Martinez came to LA county’s largest juvenile hall that day was to bring bags full of valentine cards and candy for the kids who were locked up in the place. But he also came to juvenile hall to review conditions at the facility itself.

“My role is to make sure that the kids are okay, and that the plant is livable,” he has said in the past about these site reviews.

According to the official report he wrote after his visit, Martinez found instead “deplorable conditions” throughout much of the facility.

Sal Martinez is a former teenage gang member and drug dealer who rerouted his life to become a highly respected community activist who is on his second term as a member of the LA County’s Probation Commission, appointed for a seat on the 15-member body by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

(Former supervisor Gloria Molina selected Martinez for his first term on the commission.)

Martinez does not take his responsibilities lightly. In addition to attending the commission’s twice-monthly meetings, he is also what he describes as “a field commissioner.” In practical terms, this means he makes unannounced visits to the department’s various juvenile facilities, like central juvenile hall.

After each visit, he writes a report about what he sees, which is distributed to his boss, Supervisor Solis, to higher ups inside the probation department, including to the chief. And then, eventually, it goes to the commission, where it enters the public record.

Probation department officials who work at the sites Martinez visits are reportedly not always entirely thrilled by the commissioner’s habit of parachuting in without advance warning. But Martinez wants to see the house as it really is, so to speak, not after it has been tidied up to impress the guests.

Last year, for example, Martinez made unscheduled visits to four of the county’s regional offices where juvenile probation officers are supposed to meet with their young clients as part of the department’s new Camp Community Transition Program (CCTP). The program, which was put into place two years ago, is meant to provide services for young people transitioning from a juvenile camp, hall or other placement to their home community. However, what Martinez found at the four CCTP offices he visited, raised “serious issues and concerns,” he wrote. “The visit was alarming and extremely unacceptable.”

(WitnessLA has the full story on Martinez’ site visits to the CCTP offices here.)

Then, in February of this year, Martinez made the Valentine’s Day visit to Central Juvenile Hall, and the subsequent report describing “deplorable” conditions that he compared to a “Third World country prison.


THE AWFUL STENCH

This was not Martinez’ first site visit to Central Juvenile Hall, as he noted in his latest report. He comes here with some regularity. Thus he expected to find some of the improvements promised at the last visit.

Instead he found a startling list of problems, and what his report alleges to be the failure of leadership to take appropriate steps to solve the problems.

In one unit, for example, there was a pervasive “stench,’ due to urinals and toilets that were “broken, backed up, not cleaned and unsanitary.”

Some were so bad, he wrote, that if a kid attempted to actually use the urinal for its usual purpose, “fermented urine” would “splash back on their shoes and pants.”

When Martinez asked whose job it was to clean the toilets and urinals, he evidently got blank looks. “….No one knew,” he wrote.



DOORSTOP BIBLES AND GANG GRAFFITI

And there were other issues, like the use of kids’ possessions as doorstops to keep some of the probationer’s rooms open in order to let air in, because of the aforementioned ghastly smell that permeated the unit because of the clogged toilets.

“Due to the unbearable stench,” wrote Martinez, “the doors to the rooms are propped open.” But the items used as doorstoppers were the belongings of the probationers. In one case, Martinez noted, the doorstopper was “a minor’s shoe.”

In another case, he wrote, the item on the floor holding open the door was a probationer’s Bible.

Several units of 14-15 boys per unit had no running water at all except in the staff bathrooms.

All 54 of the girls out of the 200 minors in the hall on Valentine’s Day didn’t get their scheduled activity for the day. Instead, according to Martinez’s report, the girls sat around for the activity period, while the staff talked among themselves.

The list goes on.

Martinez also found graffiti—in particular gang graffiti-–in the children’s units, rooms and bathrooms. When he asked staff about this and other issues, according to the report, the staff he spoke with either seemed to feel powerless to change anything, or “saw no problems,” or viewed the issues as “not part of my job.”

Martinez wrote of a “disconnect” between “administration and staff,” leaving the staff with low morale, “complacent,” and feeling “that there will be no accountability.”

“…It appears that no one cares,” Martinez wrote.


OTHER FACILITIES MANAGE TO DO THINGS RIGHT

In his report, Martinez made a point of praising some of the county’s other probation facilities for doing a consistently good job, including Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, located in Sylmar, and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, located in Downey.

“Los Padrinos” he wrote, “has a daily graffiti inspection for both living rooms and bathrooms, and [the] rooms are spotless.”

Martinez also noted that not all the units at Central Juvenile Hall were in the same condition of filth and disrepair as those units that caused him such concern. Certain other units were clean and graffiti free.

So why were the bad units allowed to get so bad?


SOLITARY FOR 16 HOURS BECAUSE OF A FOOD TRADE

Another distressing part of Martinez’ Valentine’s Day report pertained to a boy who was sent for 16 hours to juvenile hall’s Special Housing Unit (SHU), which means solitary confinement. The boy’s offense was trading a carton of milk with another boy for a carton of orange juice—or vice versa.

Food trading with other kids is evidently against the rules. But, there are plenty of ways to appropriately sanction a boy who simply wants a little more of healthful beverage. Sixteen hours in solitary confinement is not one of them. Furthermore, it is against the department’s own rules—which are reportedly to send a kid to solitary for no more than a few hours as a time out, barring an exceptional situation. Martinez wrote that the juvenile hall director he spoke with about the matter admitted that he didn’t believe that the boy should have been sent to the SHU to begin with for such a trivial infraction. Yet, it appears that the boy might have been in isolation far longer than 16 hours, had Martinez not specifically asked for him to be sent back to his home unit.

Common sense suggests that, in all likelihood, if an abuse of solitary confinement for kids occurred during Martinez’ recent visit, it has also occurred in other instances. How many other instances, we have no way of knowing.

The truth is, any one of a number of mid and high level supervisors in the department could or should have walked through juvenile hall and seen these entirely unacceptable problems.

So why didn’t they?

Getting a plumber in to fix toilets and making sure gang graffiti is immediately removed from any wall or floor surfaces is hardly an impossible task.

And, when we have been assured that, in LA, the juvenile SHUs are not being used for prolonged isolation, why are we finding out due to Martinez’ surprise visit, that in fact the practice is still being wrongly used—and for the most preposterously trifling of infractions?

Certainly, there are many things going right in probation, including in juvenile probation. (And we’ll be running some articles on some of the success stories later this year.) But there is still a lot going wrong—especially on the juvenile side, as other reports we’ve covered here, here, and here have made clear.

For these reasons we are grateful to the dedication of probation commissioner Sal Martinez, for his willingness to go to bat for the kids who, as he wrote at the end of his report, “have no voice.”

Martinez, of course, was once one of those kids who spent time in the county’s juvenile halls and camps and felt he had no future—-until a dedicated and talented probation officer took the time to reach out to him and, he says, saved his life.

“I believe I got a second chance,” Martinez tells kids he meets in juvenile hall when he visits. And he wants to make sure they also get the help that they need to stay out of places like juvenile hall in the future.

“That’s why supervisor Solis appointed me.”

We’re very grateful that she did.

Now we wait to see what concrete change comes of Sal Martinez’ latest report.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Are LA’s Locked Up & Traumatized Girls Getting the Help They Need?

March 11th, 2016 by witnessla


THE CHALLENGE OF HEALING LA COUNTY’S TRAUMATIZED GIRLS

Incarcerated girls are more traumatized than boys, and less likely to get adequate treatment

by Xin Li and Phillomina Wong


Moriah, then 14, woke up to burns on her body one night along with physical evidence that she had been raped. She had been invited to a party the night before by someone she considered a friend. (We are just using Moriah’s first name to protect her privacy.)

She eventually came to realize that she had almost been looped into a human trafficking scheme. This event, among many other traumatic events, affected Moriah mentally, physically and emotionally.

“I just felt neglected,” Moriah said of her childhood.

When she was growing up her father was in and out of prison, and she turned to other kids in her neighborhood for comfort. She says she felt like she had no protection and felt lost. While she was never officially in a gang, she did hang around friends who were gang members when growing up in Fullerton, California. Many of those neighborhood friends had problems of their own.

With them Moriah started using drugs and soon struggled with addiction, she said. In high school she got hooked on methamphetamines. On one occasion, when she and her friend were trying to come up with money for drugs, they decided to steal a car.

Two days later, she was arrested for grand theft auto and spent eight months in a juvenile corrections facility. After getting out, Moriah was determined to turn her life around, but soon she started using again. She became friends with gang members and started stealing cars again for drug money. When she was 17, she was sentenced to Los Padrinos and then Camp Scott.

Girls like Moriah who experience high degrees of trauma are statistically more likely to act out than kids with fewer childhood traumas. As a result, they are also far more likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system, according to a growing body of research.

When girls come in contact with the justice system, however, new reports show it is usually for acts that present little or no threat to public safety, and for behavior that’s largely a reaction to “abuse, violence and deprivation.”

Yet, while girls are disproportionately pulled into the system, new juvenile justice reforms rarely focus on the specific needs of troubled girls or on the underlying reasons they landed in the justice system in the first place.

For example, when Moriah recalls her experience at Camp Scott, what stands out to her the most from the group counseling sessions she was encouraged to attend was how many girls in the camp revealed they had been sexually abused, or were in camp for being sexually trafficked, or both.

“I thought it was really crazy,” she said. The sex-trafficked teenagers “were basically brainwashed by people who these girls thought were their boyfriends.”


THE ISSUE OF TRAUMA IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

The number of girls in the U.S. juvenile justice system has been rising steadily in the last decade. Trauma is now increasingly being recognized as a driving factor for pushing girls into the system.

According to a study by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), youth in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to significantly higher rates of traumatic childhood events than youth with no contact with the justice system, with rates of trauma exposure ranging from 70 to 96 percent.

The NCTSN study also shows that girls in the justice system have experienced even higher rates of victimization than their male peers.

Nationally, more than one-third of girls in the system have a history of sexual abuse, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Similarly, a 2014 study of 64,329 kids involved in the justice system in Florida found that 31 percent of the girls surveyed reported having been sexually abused, 41 percent reported physical abuse, and 84 percent reported family violence—-as opposed to 7 percent, 26 percent, and 81 percent for boys in those same categories.

There are no definitive statistics showing the degree to which girls in the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles have experienced high degrees of trauma.

But a unique program called the Girls Health Screen, which has been running as a pilot program in one of LA’s juvenile probation camps for girls, reports that one-third of the girls tested report “urgent health needs” such as a recent history of sexual assault, a chronic sense of hopelessness and recent suicidal thoughts and actions.

The Los Angeles County Probation system as a whole is making some effort to include trauma-informed programs in its juvenile camps — both the boys’ camps, and the two facilities catering solely to girls. Probation officials hope that a brand-new boys camp facility due to open next year, Camp Kilpatrick, will provide a model of therapeutic and rehabilitative programing.

However, a prominent report released last year by the National Women’s Law Center suggests that, both nationally and locally, the mental and emotional health concerns specific to females are largely ignored by juvenile justice systems — including LA’s system. And girls suffer as a consequence.

Still, the LA-based Girls Health Screen is one promising new program that many local advocates hope will make a difference in outcomes for the county’s justice-involved girls.


THE VALUE OF SCREENING

The Girls Health Screen (GHS) is a gender-responsive medical health screen that assesses the physical and emotional health needs of girls entering juvenile justice facilities. It was developed by the Girls Health and Justice Institute and its founder Leslie Acoca.

The GHS, given on a laptop, requires girls in camp to respond to 117 questions that cover multiple areas of their lives. According to Acoca, the GHS is designed to be non-intimidating. The questions are worded simply, and require only Yes/No answers that the girls self-report. Even the look of the test, which includes inviting graphics, is designed to prevent an institutional appearance. Because of the test’s design and the way it is administered, said Acoca, girls are able to share their experiences privately, without feeling that they are being judged. Even the act of simply taking the GHS has its own therapeutic effect, she said.

Since 2012, Acoca said, approximately 400 girls at Camp Scudder, the second of LA County Probation’s two camps for girls, have been given the health screen. But the GHS has yet to move beyond the pilot stage in LA, due to bureaucratic roadblocks and lack of funding, she said. All that is due to change this year thanks to a much-needed $20,000 cash infusion that LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has managed to shake free from the county’s probation department.

“We are hoping the $20,000 will allow the program to roll out in all the juvenile halls in LA,” said Kuehl, who is one of the program’s strong supporters. The idea, she said, is that the information will connect girls to programs and health services they need while in camp or in juvenile hall, and that the information, while private, will also follow those same girls as they return to their communities, so that they can also be connected to needed programs when they come out of lock-up.

“The ETA for the Girls Health Screen to be ready to screen every incarcerated girl in LA is June/July of 2016,” Acoca said.


GIRLS AND GANGS: CAMP TO COMMUNITY

When Moriah was at Camp Scott, she said there were a number of programs that helped her work through her emotional issues, including writing workshops and counseling groups. One of the programs she said influenced her the most was run by an organization called Girls and Gangs.

“I just loved the support,” Moriah said. “The impression [the Girls and Gangs staff] gave me was that they genuinely cared.”

Girls and Gangs provides rehabilitation and transition services for girls who become involved in the juvenile justice system. Their model, which operates under the nonprofit umbrella of the Youth Policy Institute, focuses on pairing girls with mentors starting from their stay at the probation camps all the way through re-entry into their community. According to the Girls and Gang staff, matching each girl with a caring adult makes the program effective and positive for young women transitioning from camp to home.

Moriah was paired with mentor Vanessa Gutierrez while she was still in camp. Then, after Moriah left Camp Scott, she explained, Gutierrez helped her with getting clothes and generally provided support.

“I just got so much support from her and she did so much for me. I didn’t really know why,” Moriah said.

According to Ana Aguirre, program director of Youth Policy Institute’s YouthSource & Education Department, Girls and Gangs works because it encourages girls to share their painful experiences in a safe place where they don’t feel judged.

“They want to be heard. They want to express how they feel,” Aguirre said. “They’re carrying a lot of weight,” yet they often don’t understand the emotional weight they carry. “They might not understand that it’s trauma” they are dealing with, “but we’re able to identify that this was a traumatic experience that has shaped who [they] are.”

The next step in helping the girls heal, Aguirre said, is to ask them, “How can we use this to make you grow and make you stronger?”

Belinda Walker, who serves on the board for Girls and Gangs, said boys in the juvenile justice system have a high degree of trauma too.

Yet, in her observations about the nature of girls’ trauma, Walker echoed what Moriah and Acoca had described. “If you were to drop into any girls’ probation camp,” she said, “you would find that 70 to 90 percent of those girls have been sexually abused in their early adolescent years by trusted adults. In the conversations I have had with probation officers, they’ve said that every girl [they work with] has experienced some form of trauma or abuse. It can be emotional, physical or sexual.”


THE BROADER VIEW

Discussions surrounding trauma and trauma-informed practices are relatively recent, according to Dr. Marleen Wong, the associate dean for field education at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, and a nationally known expert in the field of psychological trauma and recovery.

All service sectors have begun looking at this issue of trauma and how to factor it into their services, she said.

“You can look at the national scene and see the Department of Labor talking about traumatized environments. How do you create a trauma-informed workplace? U.S. Department of Education is talking about trauma-informed schools,” Wong said. “Health and Human Services is talking about trauma-informed services. This is how our research is coming into its own, forming the foundation and the basis for thinking about ways to change the way we provide health and human services.”

A landmark legal settlement for which Wong served as the subject matter expert is helping to precipitate one of the most significant changes to how schools treat trauma.

In May 2014, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Compton Unified School District by Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm, and Irell & Manella LLP. The suit was filed on behalf of five students and three teachers, charging that the school system had not properly educated students who have experienced repeated trauma and violence. Their argument was based on research showing that exposure to trauma and repeated violence harm a child’s abilities to learn and function in school properly.

(WLA wrote about the lawsuit here.)

“All of the studies show that the kids with PTSD can’t concentrate because they have flashbacks, they think constantly about their safety, they never feel safe, they’re always anxious,” Wong said. “It’s generalized anxiety, even when they’re not in a dangerous situation.”

In October 2015, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald ruled that students who experience traumatic events while growing up in poor, turbulent neighborhoods could be considered disabled. (However, this does not mean any exposure to trauma can guarantee a child will have a disability and be afforded the protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

The settlement sought mandatory trauma-informed training for teachers, adequate mental health and counseling services, and classes teaching students how to cope with anxiety and their emotions.

According to Wong, looking at how trauma affects children is a way to address why some schools may have huge dropout rates and how those rates factor into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“It’s time for us to step up in the right way,” Wong said.


A PATH TO HEALING NEEDED

On Nov. 3, 2015, the National Crittenton Foundation published a toolkit to help identify children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Crittenton’s mission is to help girls and young women affected by violence and adversity become stronger, healthier and more engaged. The foundation has published a series of studies and reports relating to girls and trauma (the most recent in September 2015).

They found that girls and young women in the justice system had disproportionately high ACE scores, but were often marginalized and overlooked by that same system. The consensus is that young girls should not be given the same treatment as boys if they are to successfully heal from emotionally toxic experiences of their childhood and adolescence, according to Crittenton.

As for the Girls Health Screen, once Leslie Acoca gets the GHS to all the girls entering LA County’s juvenile facilities, she intends to take it nationwide.

Supervisor Kuehl said she is very aware that LA’s juvenile facilities are not doing all that is needed for girls.

“One of the interesting things I heard from women I’ve spoken to who’d been released from prison, who had also been in juvenile camps, and then had offended again as adults,” Kuehl said, “they said there were much better programs in prison for women than they ever had in camps. So they felt like they had a better chance to turn their lives around in prison. That really told me that we’re not seeing a lot of what is possible to really help our girls.”

Accoca went still further. “It’s impossible to do trauma care if you don’t know what traumas the girls have experienced,” she said. “With the level of injury we see with incarcerated girls, both emotional and physical, it is immoral to do anything less than identify those injuries so we can address them.”

Nevertheless, for Moriah, getting some of the proper care and guidance she needed through Girls and Gangs and her own mentor has helped her move forward. She is currently working full time and has plans to go back to school. She is also an ambassador to the Road to Success Academy at Camp Scott.

“A lot of girls got the same extended hand, but I grabbed it,” Moriah said. “You could have all the same things but if you’re not ready, it’s not going to happen.”

Moriah has come to realize that admitting the effects of trauma is not easy. Now that she has taken her own concrete steps into a better future, Moriah’s advice to girls is this: “Never quit on yourself. Your past does not define you.”



This story by Xin Li and Phillomina Wong is the third in a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The series is part of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


The photo of Leslie Acoca is by Jenny Gold/Kaiser Health Network

Posted in Probation, Trauma | 4 Comments »

The Cost of Wrongful Convictions in California

March 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A BREAKDOWN OF THE COSTS PASSED ON TO TAXPAYERS WHEN WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS OCCUR IN CALIFORNIA

Flawed convictions cost California taxpayers more than $282 million between 1989-2012, according to a report by researchers from UC Berkeley School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Together, incarceration expenses, legal costs, and compensation for wrongful imprisonment accounted for the millions spent on convictions that would later be overturned.

The report examined 692 adult felony convictions that were overturned during that time period—although the total number is likely even higher, as there is no single comprehensive database on wrongful convictions in California. All told, the men and women affected by these mistakes spent 2,186 unnecessary years behind bars before their flawed convictions were overturned.

Costs relating to faulty homicide cases accounted for 52% of the $282 million cost.

The biggest contributor to the enormous price tag was prosecutorial misconduct —including failure to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense—cashing in at $53 million.

Nearly 20% of the erroneous convictions carried life sentences or life without parole. If the wrongfully convicted lifers served their full sentences, taxpayers would have needlessly spent millions more on their incarceration.

“As with airline safety and medical mistakes, we should be aiming for zero errors in our criminal justice system,” said Rebecca Silbert, the co-author of the report, who is now Senior Vice President at The Opportunity Institute in Berkeley. “The costs are too high to ignore.”

The report points to the human costs of wrongful convictions:

The taxpayer cost counts only a portion of the damage done by the errors catalogued here, as it cannot quantify the effect on those who were wrongfully or illegally incarcerated and their families. The individuals in this report were often incarcerated in the prime of their lives, in the time when they could have been getting an education, starting a career, and building a family. More than half were 35 or younger at the time of their conviction, and 21% were between 15 and 24. Their prosecutions are typically a matter of public record, leaving these future job seekers vulnerable to employer Internet searches that disclose the prosecution but not the dismissal. Their incomes are likely to decline after release from custody. They lost their right to vote while incarcerated in prison. Their children are stigmatized and more likely to suffer long-term emotional and behavioral challenges. Indeed, a parent’s incarceration alone increases the risk that his or her children will live in poverty or suffer household instability.

Such long-lasting effects may not always be quantifiable, but they are nonetheless a rallying cry for reform.

While many of the 682 convictions tracked in this report resulted in full exonerations, a large portion of the convictions were overturned due to errors or misconduct during the prosecution of the crimes.

“Errors in our criminal justice system, whether convicting the wrong person or obtaining a conviction that does not comply with the law, are costly to California taxpayers, crime victims, and defendants,” said co-auther John Hollway of Penn Law’s Quattrone Center. “Many people justifiably focus on the unacceptable convictions of those who are innocent, but we also have to look at convictions that cannot be sustained due to error, mistake, or intentional wrongdoing.”

Besides prosecutorial misconduct, other reasons for overturned cases included faulty eyewitness testimony (link), ineffective defense counsel, untruthful testimony by law enforcement and others during trial, civil rights violations, improper police practices before trial—for example: failure to read Miranda rights, and judicial errors, like jury misconduct and failure to seat an impartial jury.

The report points out that in 2006, the CA Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice put out a comprehensive report chock-full of recommendations on how to remedy problems with eyewitness identifications, perjurious testimony from informants, DNA and other scientific evidence, prosecutorial accountability, false confessions, and more. Ten years later, the majority of those recommendations still have not been implemented statewide, while the state’s criminal justice system repeats the same failures over and over again.

Posted in Innocence | 2 Comments »

Breaking Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline

March 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

STUDENTS, PARENTS CALL FOR END TO HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

Kids and parents from across California are traveling as part of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to rally at the capitol Thursday, urging lawmakers and the Board of Education to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. State Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, Rob Bonta of Oakland, and Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles will also be taking part in the rally. (Bonta and Jones-Sawyer co-chair the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color.)

During the rally, students and their parents will talk about the importance of reducing the use of suspensions in California schools, particularly suspensions for actions considered “willful defiance.” Participants will also call for the savings from Proposition 47 to be fully represented in the state budget and allocated to mental health and rehabilitation, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services.

(Governor Jerry Brown’s budget undercounts the dollar amount Proposition 47 is saving the state by about $100 million, and wrongly puts the savings back into the prison system, according to California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.)

The group will urge lawmakers not to use the funds for school police forces.

“Nearly 70 percent of people in federal prison do not have high school diplomas. At least 44 percent of California inmates do not have high school diplomas,” said Luis Sanchez, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, Education Workgroup Chairman. “It is imperative that we as a public invest in effective and pro-active programs and strategies that will keep our young people in school.”

Posted in Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

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