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The 5-Day, No Water DEA Detention, GA Gets Sensible, and Foster Kids Get New Apartment Keys

May 3rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

By Taylor Walker


Some of you may already have seen short versions of this flabbergasting story of Daniel Chong, the 24-year-old engineering student and UC San Diego senior who said he was swept up in a Drug Enforcement Administration raid near campus and was taken to a DEA facility where, after questioning, he was told he would be released shortly. But instead Chong put in a tiny holding cell—and forgotten about for the next five days.

Jeff McDonald of UT San Diego has been doing the best job with this story. You can read McDonald’s update about the DEA’s “apology” here, and the main story here. But here are the basics of Chong’s ordeal.

At the DEA field office in Kearny Mesa, Chong said, he was handcuffed and left in a holding cell for about four hours. He was then moved to an interview room, where he was told he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and would be released shortly. One agent even promised to drive him home.

He was then returned to a holding cell to await his release. The door swung closed sometime Saturday and didn’t open again until Wednesday. Chong said he was in one of the middle cells, with no toilet, no water.

“I had to recycle my own urine,” he said. “I had to do what I had to do to survive.”

Soon, Chong said, nothing made sense. He could hear agents chatting among themselves on the other side of the heavy door, and other detainees coming and going from holding tanks nearby.

Days crawled by. No food. No water. No bathroom. He remembers biting his eyeglasses and using the broken shards to scrawl a note onto his left arm.

“Sorry Mom,” he tried to write.

The DEA acknowledged, in a statement to U-T San Diego’s The Watchdog on Monday, that agents left someone in a cell
after a raid on April 21 — until they found him and had to call paramedics. San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said that medical call came on April 25.


Today, Thursday, Ashley Marquez, an 18-year-old who has recently “aged out” of foster care, will receive the keys to her first apartment, complete with rent-sharing roommate, with the help of First Place for Youth, a nonprofit that aids 16 to 24-year-old foster care kids in things like job training and placement, housing, education completion, and healthcare.

In the past, the stats on kids who age out of foster care have been heartbreakingly bad. But organizations like First Place for Youth are helping young men and women like Ashley break out of the trajectory that foster care has too often predicted.

As First Place for Youth explains the issue:

Each year in California, more than 5,000 youth age out of foster care when they turn 18 and lose access to all state-funded foster care services. Without housing, education or emotional support, 65 percent of foster youth will face imminent homelessness, 20 percent will be arrested or incarcerated, 46 percent will complete high school and only 1 percent will graduate from college.

Research has shown that providing intensive services—such as housing, education and employment support—at the critical juncture when youth are aging out, helps them avoid negative social outcomes and achieve real long-term self-sufficiency.

The kids that come through First Place For Youth seem to prove that a little help goes a long way. According to FPFY’s stats, the youth they work with are five times less likely to experience homelessness, three times less likely to give birth before the age of 21, three times less likely to be arrested, six times more likely to be enrolled in college, twice as likely to graduate from high school, twice as likely to be employed.

Congratulations to Ashley on her first place!


Georgia’s governor signed a criminal justice reform bill Wednesday that will save taxpayers about $264M over the next five years. The sentencing reform will make room for an expanded rehabilitation budget and hopefully curb Georgia’s high recidivism rate (1 in 3 prisoners released are again incarcerated).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Aaron Gould Sheinin and Bill Rankin have the story.

Here’s a clip:

Years ago, Georgia was among the states leading the nation in tough-on-crime sentencing laws. But Georgia now joins a host of other states — including Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina — that have enacted legislation to address soaring prison spending that was doing little to reform offenders. The legislation enjoyed extraordinary bipartisan support, with the final version being approved unanimously by both the House and Senate.

The sentencing reform package, which takes effect July 1, is part of a broader criminal justice initiative pushed by Deal. The Legislature also approved the governor’s recommendation to quintuple funding to $10 million for “accountability courts” that require defendants to work, seek treatment and stay sober.

“As we reserve more of our expensive [prison] bed space for truly dangerous criminals [we] free up revenue to deal with those who are not necessarily dangerous but are in many ways in trouble because of various addictions,” Deal said. “Our system is feeding on itself with our recidivism rate being as high as it is. We have the opportunity now to make a difference in the lives of future generations of Georgians.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Listen up, California lawmakers. Why are conservative states like TX and now GA taking the lead in forward thinking and intelligent incarceration policy reform, while y’all are still cowering behind the increasingly flimsy-looking Tough-On-Crime barricade? Yes, realignment was a step. But we need real top-to-bottom sentencing reform—which means, among other things, a sentencing commission that can make informed recommendations that lawmakers actually take seriously.

Really, don’t you feel a tad embarrassed letting Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina zoom past you into the future? Well, don’t you????

Okay. I’m glad we had this little chat.

Posted in Civil Liberties, DEA, Foster Care, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. Woody Says:

    Celeste: “Really, don’t you feel a tad embarrassed letting Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina zoom past you into the future? Well, don’t you????”

    Sounds like you have a little problem with prejudice.

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