More on CA Prison Overcrowding…Beginning of Fed. Hearings on CA Mentally Ill Prisoner Abuse Claims…LA County Could Get More Out of Realignment…and Olmsted on Baca’s EndorsementOctober 2nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker
GOV BROWN’S CONTINUED FIGHT AGAINST PRISON OVERCROWDING RULINGS
Last week, federal judges gave Governor Jerry Brown an extra month past his impending December deadline to come up with a plan to fix the prison overcrowding crisis, before the state is ordered to release a further 8,000 inmates.
Brown is supposed to be coming up with viable rehabilitative solutions, but at the same time, he continues to fight orders at every opportunity.
The governor says that the judges have overstepped their authority and that there hasn’t been enough money for rehabilitative programs. Unfortunately, if Gov. Brown doesn’t come back to the three-judge panel with something meaningful, the state is going to be stuck with Brown’s proposed $315M private prison deal.
Reuters’ Sharon Bernstein has the story. Here are some clips:
…a combination of politics, budgetary constraints and a belief by Brown that the courts are wrong, have spurred the state to fight back at many levels, even in the face of a small olive branch from a panel of federal judges.
“They’re fighting everything at every turn,” said attorney Ernest Galvan, who represents inmates in one of two cases underpinning the overcrowding rulings. “Wherever possible they’re stalling for more time.”
Last week, the judges made a rare concession to California’s requests, granting a one-month delay in response to a promise from the state that, it would be able to reduce the prison population through rehabilitation, if only given more time.
In a move that many said was a hopeful sign, the judges ordered state officials to sit down with lawyers representing inmates to try to work out a deal. A longer-term extension, the judges wrote, was still a possibility if the talks were productive. The judges asked the state to refrain from seeking out-of-state beds for prisoners while the talks were going on.
But two days after the judges’ order, the Brown administration rushed an angry brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the panel’s ruling.
It is not clear, analysts say, whether the move will anger the federal panel, and Supreme Court consideration of the case at all is considered a remote possibility by many.
VIDEOS OF ALLEGED ABUSE OF CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL INMATES COME INTO PLAY AT FEDERAL HEARINGS
Federal court hearings began Tuesday over accusations that the level of force used on California’s mentally ill prisoners is excessive and unnecessarily brutal. Inmates’ attorneys played two of seventeen total videos showing mentally ill inmates being pepper sprayed, hit with batons, and wrestled to the ground. (For the backstory go here and here.)
It’s not just an issue on the state-level, the controversial federal hearings regarding treatment of California inmates is in addition to a current FBI investigation into allegations of abuse in LA County jails.
The Sacramento Bee’s Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton have the story on the videos and the hearing. Here are some clips:
In the first video, played to a hushed crowd of lawyers and reporters in Karlton’s 15th-floor courtroom in downtown Sacramento, an inmate in a mental health crisis unit at the prison in Corcoran is shown refusing to take medication from a psychologist visiting him in his cell.
“He refused to take it,” the psychologist tells a waiting team of guards wearing gas masks, helmets, padded vests, gloves, protective jumpsuits and shin guards.
The inmate, locked in his cell, was playing with his feces and threatening to throw two cups of an unknown substance on anyone who entered. Almost immediately after the psychologist emerged, the team began pumping pepper spray through the food port of the metal cell door, repeatedly dosing the inmate between warnings that he better come out.
Finally, the team opened the door, dragging the inmate out and wrestling him to the floor as he alternately sobbed and screamed, “Don’t do this to me,” “help,” or “I don’t want to be executed.”
On Tuesday, the inmate attorneys’ first witness described as “extraordinary” the amount of armaments he saw on a typical California prison guard’s duty belt. Eldon Vail, a corrections consultant and former head of the Washington state prison system, said he had never seen as many weapons in use in other states, and added that during his tour of California prisons he was surprised by inmates’ fear of leaving their cells.
“One common theme that emerged from inmates was that it was better to just stay in your cell so you wouldn’t get harassed by the staff,” Vail testified.
Vail, who said he frequently walked prison yards alone while he was secretary of the Washington prison system, also indicated he was surprised when the warden at a California prison tried to persuade him to wear an anti-stab vest before walking among inmates. That indicated “there is a great deal of fear” between staff and inmates, Vail said.
KQED’s Rachael Myrow has this quote from plaintiff’s attorney Michael Bien:
“We’re not talking about someone who’s rioting, or in a fight, or out in the yard. We’re talking about someone who’s locked in their cell, and not cooperating with clinical care. We think that’s a clinical problem, and they’re dealing with it like it’s a battle.”
(The LA Times’ Paige St. John also covered the beginning of the federal hearings.)
LA COUNTY’S NEGLECTED REFORM OPPORTUNITIES
This smart editorial from the LA Times editorial board (written by our pal Rob Greene) explains key reasons why LA County is so far behind other CA counties in taking advantage of opportunities for desperately-needed reform offered through realignment. Here’s a clip:
Millions of dollars of state AB 109 funding for drug rehabilitation and other community corrections programming remain unspent. The Board of Supervisors has failed thus far to empower the sheriff to free up jail space for convicts by releasing accused nonviolent defendants who are locked up merely because they can’t post bail. The Los Angeles County Superior Court, prosecutors and defense lawyers have rejected the opportunity to sentence AB 109 convicts to a portion of their terms in jail and a portion under mandatory substance abuse treatment and education in their communities — an approach known as “split sentencing” — despite evidence that such programs have the most chance of succeeding and of keeping offenders from breaking the law again.
Los Angeles County supervisors and judges have demonstrated their share of resentment about their responsibilities under AB 109, but so far have merely shrugged at the opportunities — funding for community rehabilitation, selective pre-trial release, split-sentencing — that the law provides. Leaders in other counties have used the last two years well. Los Angeles County leaders have used them poorly.
Greene does say, though, that all the blame does not rest solely on the shoulders of LA County. The state blundered on two important funding elements:
It failed to allocate enough funding for data collection and analysis, leaving counties insufficiently able to quantify what they have and have not achieved; and it provided counties funding without conditions or incentives. The state is now looking at new incentive funding under which counties would be rewarded based on the results they achieve in lowering the number of felons they send to the prisons. It’s a smart way to go.
OLMSTED WEIGHS IN ON SHERIFF BACA’S YOR HEALTH ENDORSEMENT
Bob Olmsted, whistleblower and candidate opposing Lee Baca for Sheriff, has released a statement about Baca’s controversial promotion of Yor Health. Here’s a clip:
“This is yet another revelation that Sheriff Baca’s judgment is clearly flawed. If he isn’t able to steer clear of involvement with multi-level marketing groups and commingling his role as Sheriff how can he possibly have the judgment to clean up the jails and keep families safe?”
(If you missed it, here’s the backstory.)