Custom Realignment Probation in San Luis Obispo, Digging Into the OC Snitch Scandal, Death Row Art, and Prop. 47 Success in San Diego


A two-part San Luis Obispo Tribune series by Matt Fountain explores the county’s use of funds from California’s Public Safety Realignment (AB 109) for customized post-release supervision of low-level offenders.

(We pointed to part one in Monday morning’s California Justice Report news round-up, which you can access here, and sign up for here.)

Part two of the series takes a look at what the probationers must do to fulfill the requirements of the risk-assessment-based probation program, which is individually tailored to each person under supervision.

The probation program requires participants go to regular counseling sessions (often geared toward substance abuse treatment) and submit to unannounced probation checks. The program also provides custom services and resources, like sober living housing, help with job training, and other support systems to better equip the former offenders to successfully remain in their communities and out of trouble.

Here’s a clip:

When state lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 109 in 2011, the goal was to reduce severe overcrowding in California’s prisons by sentencing nonviolent low-level offenders to county jails and sending nonviolent prison parolees to county probation departments for post-release supervision.

To sweeten the deal, counties got state funding to handle the influx. In San Luis Obispo County, millions of dollars have been spent to create programs to help the offenders stay on track once they are released.

The individualized programs help offenders navigate the rough waters of finding housing, transportation, counseling for substance abuse or mental health issues, and steady work.

But post-release offenders are far from coddled. There are rules to follow, meetings to attend and goals to meet. Most will be regularly visited by their probation officers, who can show up at their homes, their jobs or anywhere else, dressed in full tactical gear.

For John Stafford, 51, the abundance of services was in stark contrast to his previous experiences on parole for a string of low-level crimes fueled by drugs and alcohol. This time, he said, “I noticed the difference right away. My P.O. was going to help me succeed.”

Once post-release offenders begin their supervision, most are required to attend regular group counseling sessions, many of which are related to substance abuse treatment.

Alcohol and drug abuse have been identified as high-risk factors in more than half of the people on post-release community supervision (PRCS) and 33 percent of those under mandatory supervision, according to the county Probation Department.

On a recent Friday evening, about 12 people on post-release supervision — some had gotten out of prison just a few weeks prior — met for a “Power of Addiction” meeting at the San Luis Obispo County Drug and Alcohol Services building in San Luis Obispo.

The group had become tight over the weeks and months they got to know each other. Stafford is one of the more outspoken members of the group.

“When I drink, I drink to get drunk. It’s made a mockery out of everything,” Stafford said. “I know if I drink again, it’s either death or life in prison.”

Many of the stories shared around the circle were similar.

“My addiction has killed and stolen everything I ever loved,” another client said. “It keeps you sick, keeps you dead.”

Group members credited county services available thanks to AB 109 funding for helping them get through those pivotal first days and weeks out of custody.

“I was so scared. I had no job, but the program paid for the first three months (at a sober living home). That way my only care is staying sober. It gave me a buffer,” one said.


OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley digs deeper into the Orange County District Attorney snitch scandal in a not-to-be-missed story about one of the murder cases “solved” by OC DA Tony Rackauckas in the 80’s, through heavy (and questionable) use of eleven different jailhouse informants. (Backstory on the DA’s snitch scandal: here.) Here’s a clip (but be sure to read the whole wild story):

Two gunmen wearing wigs, sunglasses and grotesque facial makeup entered John Seigman’s unlocked Los Alamitos-area residence not long after sunset in August 1976. Startled family members had been watching television in the den when the intruders ordered them to lie on the floor, then tied their hands behind their backs with twine. Hoping for a $70,000 windfall, the bandits ordered Seigman, the manager of a Long Beach grocery store, to return to the business, empty the safe and, without contacting police, surrender the ransom. In exchange, they promised to release his family—wife Johann and three kids—who were placed in back of the family’s van and taken away.

Seigman drove to his store, retrieved about $8,000 in cash and waited for a call at a nearby, outside payphone. But he’d disobeyed orders by contacting cops, who sent an undercover narcotics crew to stake out the area. Perhaps keen to the hastily arranged trap, the thieves never called. A few hours later, authorities found the abandoned van with Seigman’s unharmed children. Two days later, their mother’s corpse was spotted in an oil field ditch adjacent to the Long Beach freeway near Dominguez Hills. She’d been shot five times in the head at a range of less than 10 inches.

Although suspects were arrested and sent to prison, they steadfastly maintained their innocence. Now, 39 years later, the issue of whether the Seigman murder case was actually solved remains an open question, one that has everything to do with a major, ongoing law-enforcement crisis in Southern California.


By early 1984, Rackauckas juggled several cases while working on the Seigman murder. The major contributor to his file remained Eddy. But detectives had accumulated other snitches. Their statements were contradictory, suspiciously vague and, as you might expect, given with expectations of benefits to make their own incarcerations shorter or more comfortable. Some claimed Gullett bragged about being the shooter. Others said he’d bragged about being an accomplice. All described him as remorseless, a line sure to inflame a future jury if deemed believable.

For example, a month after the murder, Orange County Jail inmate Richard Allen Robledo told investigators his story: “I says, ‘You shot her?’ and [Gullett] says, ‘Yeah, I shot her.'” That same month, other snitches joined the bandwagon. Inmate Carl Richards alleged that somebody in prison named Bill admitted killing Seigman; a police detective noted the rumor in an official report and added, “possibly Gullett.”

And William Earl Archibald, another inmate, reported he’d had “a long conversation” with Gullett in preceding days. “I can’t recall all of it,” Archibald stated, according to an interview transcript obtained by the Weekly. “Just, I think . . . [pause] . . . I’m convinced in my own mind that’s what he said, although he didn’t come out and say, ‘I killed the woman.’ He said enough to indicate that he did actually, you know, he was actually involved in it. Whether he was the one who pulled the trigger or not, I don’t know. Uh, that’s about it. That’s what he had to say.”

By the time he was done, Rackauckas had stockpiled a whopping 11 informants and, rightly or wrongly, accepted all their incriminating assertions as truthful. The most troubling snitch might have been James Dean Cochrum, who’d been placed in what we didn’t know then but know now was an informant tank run by deputies inside the Orange County Jail (OCJ). That area housed more than half a dozen accused killers awaiting trial—including Gullett and, oddly, Cochrum.

The identity thief, forger and drug addict, now deceased, would have had us believe he was incredibly lucky. In a span of a few years, Cochrum claimed he repeatedly entered and exited jail and accidentally overheard five separate murder confessions…


Around 70 framed drawings and paintings by death row inmates as well as political cartoonists from across the nation currently line the walls of USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

The exhibit, called “Windows on Death Row,” is meant to spark conversation on the polarized issue of capital punishment in America, which “touches politics, race, morality, and the question of equality under the law.” The exhibit will be open to the public in Los Angeles until December 18, after which it will travel to North Carolina and Ohio.

KQED’s Avishay Artsy has more on the art. Here’s a clip:

Kevin Cooper has been on death row in San Quentin State Prison for 30 years. He’s on a short list of at least 17 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals and would be the first to be put to death if executions resume in California. He spends much of his day in his cell.

“I live in a cage that is 4½ feet wide by 11 feet long,” Cooper says. “And everything that I do within this cage I do mostly to stay sane. But I have a TV, a typewriter, my art supplies and my books.”

There’s a tray slot in the door where guards pass him his meals or a cellphone. In 1985, Cooper was convicted of murdering four people in the Chino Hills area of Southern California. His case is controversial. People have marched to have him executed, while others have protested to demand his release. He has always maintained his innocence.

In 2004, Cooper was scheduled to be executed. Less than four hours before he was set to receive a lethal injection, it was postponed to allow for more DNA testing, which still failed to exonerate him. Still, he’s become a figurehead in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

“I knew after I survived that stuff that my life wasn’t my own no more, that it belonged to this movement. And I’ve been involved in this movement for a very long time. And that is where I get my strength,” Cooper says.

Cooper is one of a couple dozen inmate artists represented in “Windows on Death Row,” an exhibition at the University of Southern California. His acrylic paintings draw connections between slavery and prison labor. One, called “It’s a Generation Thing in America,” shows three black men — a grandfather, father and son — all wearing prison uniforms. Another piece, “Free Me,” shows a man cupping his hand to his mouth and shouting.

“Sometimes when you’re in a place like this and you tell people certain things, it’s just like they don’t hear. You have to scream it,” Cooper says. “And sometimes when you scream, they still don’t hear you.”


Following the 2014 passage of Proposition 47, California counties, including San Diego saw considerable drops in jail populations. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore says that thanks to the law—which reduced six low-level felonies to misdemeanors—the county has been able to do away with early releases (caused by jail overcrowding).

The vacant jail beds have also allowed the county to book people for misdemeanor offenses, rather than handing out citations to people accused of misdemeanors. (Note: Los Angeles has had a much different reaction to Prop. 47. In LA, officers have stopped booking people on these reduced offenses, instead handing out citations. In a series of video op-eds, LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell says the low-level offenders are receiving the citations because Prop. 47 did away with consequences for those crimes.)

But as more offenders are serving their whole sentences, and more misdemeanor offenders are booked into the jails, there has also been an uptick in the number of inmates in need of mental health services.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dana Littlefield has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Prison overcrowding has long been a problem in California, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to approve a plan known as Public Safety Realignment, which became law in October 2011. By shifting responsibility for housing and monitoring certain nonviolent offenders from the state to the counties, the law helped California comply with a federal court order to trim the prison population by tens of thousands of inmates.

While no offenders were moved directly from state prison to county jail, realignment allowed certain offenders to be sentenced to years in local custody. It also allowed people who had completed their prison terms to be sent to jail if they violated parole.

A consequence of that law was that the number of inmates in the county jails throughout the state rose quickly. In September 2014, the total inmate population in San Diego’s jails reached a high of more than 5,800 inmates, well over the state-mandated cap of roughly 5,300.

“Historically, we did not book for misdemeanors in San Diego County because of our overcrowded situations in our jails,” said Gore, who noted exceptions for arrests in certain types of cases, including domestic violence and DUI.

In most cases, people accused of misdemeanor offenses were cited then released.

That’s no longer necessary, Gore explained, because there is room in the jails.

He said he decided shortly after Proposition 47 passed that all of the detention facilities would continue to accept bookings on those crimes — such as drug possession and thefts of property valued less than $950 — that had once been felonies but are now misdemeanors.

“We said we would continue the same standards in our facilities,” the sheriff said, adding that it took some time for all agencies to adapt. “If you arrest somebody for a theft of $800, which used to be a felony now it’s a misdemeanor, or drug possession, we’ll continue to book them.”

And no more early releases. Except for the credits inmates earned for good behavior, “you’re doing all your time,” Gore said.

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