Prison Prison Policy

A Cluster of Post Holiday Must Reads

Yes, yes, we’re still on hiatus, but here are some quick stories that surfaced while everyone was drinking eggnog, and we didn’t want you to miss ’em.


In the 60-second video above, 33 California teenagers have some strong words about what will or will not help to keep American kids safe.

Here’s a clip from the statement by the video’s sponsors at The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative:

“Don’t lock down our schools,” said one teenager in the video. “A solid plan doesn’t begin and end with who has access to guns and how many police officers we have,” said David Valdez, Director of the Youth Institute at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, who helped coordinate production of the video.

“Students want schools to be safe,” said Valdez. “But they are wary of solutions that only call for more police in schools. Instead, they’re calling for more school counselors, mentors, health services on school campuses, and other approaches that help young people in need of support.”

An average of 14 young people are murdered every day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a U.S. Department of Justice report released last week found that two out of three American youth experienced violence in the last year….


The conversation about guns will continue after the new year, so it helps to have a good, quick primer on the topic of assault weapons for the civilian market. My pal Tom Diaz is arguably the nation’s expert on the topic, and he runs it down cleanly and clearly on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air.

It’s worth your while to listen.


While the California Department of Corrections is nowhere nowhere close to discontinuing controversial use of isolation cells—or Secure Housing Units (the SHU)—it is experimentally overhauling its system for determining who is put in those units and what they can do to get out.

The Ap’s Paul Elias has the story. Here’s a clip:

Prison officials tossed convicted killer Todd Ashker into California’s notorious Security Housing Unit 25 years ago after “validating” him as a member of the Aryan Brotherhood gang.

He’s still there today, along with some 2,000 other SHU prisoners classified as gang member or associates serving indeterminate sentences in windowless cells in almost complete isolation.

They say their only way out of the 8-foot by 10-foot cells with few creature comforts for many is to inform on other gang members, which they say is really no choice because they face deadly retaliation if they do “debrief.”

A recent system-wide hunger strike by 6,000 inmates called attention to the living conditions of the thousands of prisoners held in the units. But the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says they are the worst of the worst — inmates who when not isolated threaten other inmates and run gang and drug operations from inside prison walls.

Nonetheless, CDCR is in the midst of what it calls a “dramatic” policy shift in how it determines who belongs in isolation and what SHU inmates need to do to return to the general population. It intends to review the case file of thousands of SHU inmates to determine if they should be transferred to better living conditions.

Since October, CDCR officials have reviewed 88 SHU cases and decided that 58 SHU inmates will be transferred. Another 25 have been placed in a “step-down” program and can work for their transfer to the general population….


Former state senator, Tom Hayden, has some additional thoughts about why the federal charges were dropped earlier this month against well-known gang intervention leader, Alex Sanchez.

Here’s a clip:

In a development few imagined possible, US Attorney Andre Birotte, on December 17, recommended the dismissal of all charges against Salvadoran gang peace leader Alex Sanchez, admitting that the prosecution’s case was “flawed.” Sanchez, his wife and two young children were rousted by police and federal agents at dawn on June 24, 2009, when Sanchez was handcuffed and accused of gang conspiracy to murder and sell drugs.

Those charges were dropped quietly this week, with none of the ceremony and fanfare that occured when Chief William Bratton, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the FBI held a nationally broadcast press conference to announce the indictments three-and-one-half years ago. It was widely assumed, even among leading local civil liberties figures, that Sanchez was either guilty or had zero chance of overcoming the odds. Some feared his indictment would harm the fragile reputation of the gang prevention and intervention program then being launched at City Hall.

The record now shows that the prosecutors knowingly fed false evidence to the grand jury, and failed to admit for three years that their case was wrong on the facts.

Even in admitting its “flaw,” the prosecution vowed its “express intention of re-filing” certain of the dismissed charges against Sanchez. The government has a six-month window to make the decision. Meanwhile, federal judge Dale Fischer has until January 16 to accept or amend the terms of the government’s request.


  • Happened across a speech at the National Book Awards on Book TV over the weekend, where Elmore Leonard said his favorite review was given by an outfit called the New Musical Express of London, called him the `Poet Laureate of wild ass____s with revolvers’.

    On closed captioning that got changed to wild Afro’s…

    Not very PC, CSpan.

  • Your “expert” on assault weapons is also a pretty good propagandist.

    He writes that he “only difference” between a civilian assault weapon and a military one is that the latter continues to fire as long as you hold down the trigger. That’s not a minor difference – it’s a huge difference, both practically, and in the law. He also doesn’t mention that so-called assault weapons are very rarely used in crimes.

    He says that the 5.7 is used to penetrate body armor, but just accidentally (yeah, right) fails to mention that the ammunition for doing so is not legal for civilians to buy in the US. He also fails to mention that the 5.7 is not actually very popular, because it is not very effective at stopping attackers and its ammunition is quite expensive.

    One might suspect that his article is not written to inform, but to inflame. His statement that he “switched sides” makes that clear.

    Expert, no. Propagandist, yes.

  • “He also doesn’t mention that so-called assault weapons are very rarely used in crimes.”

    But they are making quite a name for themselves in mass shooting, no?

    Nice to see you’re still out there, John!

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