CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT REVIEW AND THE PLIGHT OF AB 109′S WOMEN
If you need to brush up on the nuts and bolts of California prison realignment, KPCC’s Rina Palta has a solid Q&A on the original purpose of AB 109 and the effects California is beginning to see two years after its inception.
Here’s a small clip:
Q: What exactly is realignment?
A: When California got the order to rapidly reduce prison overcrowding, the state had two options: build a bunch of prisons to increase capacity or reduce the prison population. Because of time constraints, budget problems, and the Great Recession, the state opted to cut the prison population. And it did so by telling county governments to take over punishing certain kinds of crimes, like drug crimes and property crimes. The hope was this would shrink the prison population and also inspire county governments to come up with new ways of dealing with people that might help cut the state’s high recidivism rate.
Q: Has it worked?
A: Yes and no. The prison population has shrunk, but not quite enough to meet court-ordered deadlines. Because of that, California Governor Jerry Brown has asked the court for extensions. He’s gotten minor ones, but California needs a supplemental plan for about 10,000 inmates…
And, in an excellent story published on Friday, Palta explains the effects of realignment on the thousands of California’s low-level female offenders sent to LA County Jails to serve out their sentences. Here are some clips:
Counties have treated this task differently. Some, like Riverside, Orange, San Francisco, and Contra Costa, have utilized jail alternatives like residential drug treatment programs or split sentencing, which allows an offender to serve a portion of their time on probation instead of in jail. Los Angeles, however, has almost entirely relied on jail terms in which offenders are not allowed to earn credits to get out early. For Quincey and other AB109 women, this has meant serving lengthy sentences in a place designed to house people for weeks or months, not years.
Prisons also generally allow for contact visits, where family members can sit in a room with an inmate for hours. In jail, visits are limited to two people, talking through phones, seeing each other through a glass wall.
Melinda Rodriguez says that’s made it difficult for her two teenage daughters to visit. Instead, she writes them cards every week.
Such women used to flood California’s state prison system, until the U.S. Supreme Court determined California’s prisons were massively overcrowded and the state realigned such women to the counties. The move cut the number of women in California prisons nearly in half because there had been so many lower level female prisoners.
But Susan Burton, of A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Watts, says those numbers don’t mean realignment has been successful.
“Overcrowded. Bad medical conditions. People stripped of their dignity,” Burton said. “It’s pretty much the same.”
She wants to see alternatives to incarceration for women who commit lesser crimes. Burton and a lot of prisoner advocates thought realignment would bring a shift towards more rehabilitation and less incarceration.
“But there’s no shift,” Burton said. “They’re still just packing people into jails.”
Los Angeles County is looking to build a new women’s jail in Mira Loma–a move that Burton and others see as a disincentive to look into incarceration alternatives. The county sees it as an opportunity to build a more suitable facility for women.
(In July, WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on how realignment has caused severe overcrowding in women’s prisons.)
SUPREME COURT SIDES WITH SAN DIEGO POLICE OFFICER IN “UNREASONABLE SEARCH” CASE
The US Supreme Court unanimously quashed a lawsuit against La Mesa police officer Michael Stanton for an “unreasonable search,” saying that the officer did not clearly violate the Constitution. The suit was brought by a homeowner who was knocked down when Stanton kicked in her gate in pursuit of a potential suspect, and was upheld in the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The LA Times’ David Savage has more on this interesting case. Here’s a clip:
The case began when Officer Mike Stanton responded about midnight to a call reporting an “unknown disturbance” in La Mesa. …upon arriving, Stanton saw one young man walk across the street toward a residence.
Stanton called out, “Police,” and told the man to stop. When the man entered a yard through a fence, Stanton pursued him and kicked open the gate. Standing next to it was Drendolyn Sims, the homeowner. She was knocked down and struck her forehead on the steps…
Sims sued officer Stanton, alleging he had violated her constitutional rights by entering her private yard. A federal district court judge disagreed.
But the 9th Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles, ruled that the officer had violated the law…
The officer appealed. Without bothering to hear arguments, the high court issued an eight-page unsigned opinion reversing the 9th Circuit in Stanton vs. Sims.
SIX LIFE SENTENCES, PLUS 118 YEARS FOR A NON-HOMICIDE OFFENSE
Virginia teen Travion Blount may be serving the longest sentence in America for a juvenile who did not commit murder—118 years and six life sentences for armed robbery committed when he was fifteen.
The Virginian-Pilot’s Louis Hansen has an interesting two-part story on Blount’s case, along with some helpful interactive tools. Here’s how it opens:
At the opening of the trial, a Norfolk circuit judge glanced down at Travion Blount.
“He looks young,” the judge said.
“He’s 17,” his defense attorney answered.
A clerk stood and read 51 felony charges against Blount: among them, illegal use of a firearm, robbery, abduction.
Blount said two words to each: “Not guilty.” He said little more during his three-day trial.
A dozen victims, a detective and two teens he once called friends testified against him. Witnesses described an armed robbery committed by two older teenagers and Blount, then 15, at a house party near Norfolk Naval Station in September 2006. The three collected cash and marijuana. No shots were fired, but one person was struck by a co-defendant.
After a few hours of deliberation, a jury foreman submitted a stack of forms to the judge. Blount was guilty on 49 counts.
In Virginia, juries play no role in juvenile punishment. Blount was ordered to return to Courtroom 7 for sentencing in four months…
On March 12, 2008, at Blount’s sentencing, the judge told everyone that gun convictions came with set punishments under Virginia law.
He stepped through the weapons charges, one by one. The count added up to 118 years.
Next, the judge addressed the remaining 25 felony convictions. He suspended several sentences. But for the crimes against three victims – all juveniles, robbed at gunpoint of purses, cellphones and wallets – he did not. The rulings: life, life, life, life, life and life.
Blount knew he would spend years in prison. He didn’t expect to die there.
Angela Blount watched her son turn and ask, “What happened, Mom?”
Travion Blount might be serving the harshest punishment delivered to any American teenager for a crime not involving murder, experts say. His case, and others like it, are forcing judges and lawmakers to ask: Can a young criminal life be redeemed?
Blount’s advocates argue his six life sentences for an armed robbery violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Nobody’s asking to let him out tomorrow,” said his attorney, John Coggeshall. He wants a new sentence for his client, comparable to the codefendants’. The older defendants – who, according to testimony, led the robbery – pleaded guilty and received just 13 and 10 years in prison.
In California, although we don’t generally hand out multiple life sentences to juveniles, because of laws like the gun enhancement measure known as “10-20-life” and the Juvenile Crime Initiative, Proposition 21, California teenagers can wind up with disproportionately long prison terms—even on first time offenses.