by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker
While WLA was dark earlier this week, a few things happened that we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss:
DEATH PENALTY REPEAL WILL BE ON NOVEMBER BALLOT IN CALIFORNIA
First of all, on Monday, the initiative known as the SAFE California Act, officially qualified for the ballot. This means that, in November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on a measure that would ban the death penalty in the state, in favor of life without the possibility of parole.
The death penalty is alarmingly disproportionately applied to people of color, particularly African Americans.
Jeanne Woodford, who was formerly the head of the California Department of Corrections, and the former warden of San Quentin prison, is one of the ballot measure’s most vocal supporters, and was quoted in the press release announcing the measure’s official approval by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
“I oversaw four executions at San Quentin,” said Woodford. “I can tell you as a law enforcement officer with 34 years of experience those executions did not make any one of us safer. What they did do was consume millions of dollars in resources that would be better spent on solving crime. Now, Californians will have a real chance to improve personal safety by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, and directing some of the savings to solving more rape and murder cases.”
The fact that the initiative has qualified in California is eliciting a lot of comment from outside the state.
For example, there is this from the International Business Times by Ashley Portero:
….Studies conducted in multiple states have concluded that carrying out inmate executions is ultimately more expensive than sentencing them to life without parole, further leading capital punishment opponents to question the logic of the system.
California taxpayers alone have spent more than $4 billion on the 13 inmate executions the state has performed since 1978, according to a three-year study published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review last year. The study estimated the costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for death penalty defendants adds $184 million to California’s budget each year.
Similar studies have been conducted in at least 9 other states since 2000, all of which have concluded imposing the death penalty is exorbitantly more expensive than a life-without-parole sentence. A 2001 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that capital crime trials place huge and unexpected burdens on country budgets, often leading them to counter those high costs by defunding public projects and increasing taxes….
Also, the Death Penalty Information Fact Sheet has some interesting statistics pertaining to the topic….such as these:
-California had 723 death row inmates as of Jan. 2012 (the second highest, Florida, had 402).
-Over 130 people have been exonerated since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973.
-“A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder.”
There’s more, so check it out.
THE CANDIDATES FOR LA’S DISTRICT ATTORNEY SPEAK ABOUT THE DEATH PENALTY AND REALIGNMENT…BADLY
The LA Times video-taped five of the candidates for DA speaking on questions that are crucial for any potential LA D.A. to be able to answer coherently. In the videos posted on Wednesday, nearly to a person, the candidates’ answers seemed to indicate a horrifying cluelessness on realignment. On the issue of the death penalty, there’s mostly a lot of pandering and very little reasoned opinion.
Watch the videos here and then read the LA Times editorial that takes the candidates to task for their inexcusable lack of willingness to say anything that might be actually thought through, fact-based and responsible.
Here’s a clip:
Voters should expect the six candidates for district attorney to have mastered the facts of realignment and to be able to present well-thought-out policies for re-creating the justice system in Los Angeles County and making the reforms stick.
But today, none of the candidates seems completely prepared to grapple with what to do next. Some repeat falsehoods as if they were gospel: Los Angeles County’s jails are overcrowded (false; they are at about half capacity). California’s recidivism rate is 70% (meaningless, without distinguishing between a new criminal offense that should land an offender back behind bars and a technical parole violation, such as failing to report to an agent in time). Realignment puts parolees on our streets unsupervised (a blatant falsehood). State prisoners are being released early under realignment (false). But it’s true that if prosecutors, the courts and the sheriff are not careful, they will release people whom they should keep. And it’s true that under realignment, more jail inmates (as opposed to prison inmates) may be unsupervised upon release.
Alan Jackson has two answers to realignment: repeal it (which is not going to happen, and Jackson knows it) and allow counties to send prisoners out of state instead of seeking alternative treatment and supervision for those who can respond to it. Carmen Trutanich repeats the old saw that “we cannot start crying, ‘The sky is falling.’ ” We know that, but what would he do as D.A. to make realignment work? “This is a terrible mistake,” Jackie Lacey offers somewhat wearily. “But it’s also an opportunity.” Very well, but how will she respond to that opportunity?
JERRY BACKS CARMEN
Did we mention that Governor Jerry Brown announced on Thursday that he would be supporting City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the upcoming Los Angeles District Attorney’s race? Okay, consider it mentioned.
THREE STRIKES INITIATIVE ALSO CLOSE TO QUALIFYING
An initiative to modify California’s Three Strikes Law is headed for the November ballot with almost twice as many signatures as necessary. SF DA George Gascon (who is also the former Assistant Chief of the LAPD), and LA DA Steve Cooley, have both publicly endorsed the measure which would eliminate the mandatory 25 to life for non-violent and less grievous third strike felonies.
Sacramento Bee’s Torey Van Oot writes:
…Under the proposal, only offenders convicted of a “third strike” felony that is violent or serious would face a minimum sentence of 25 to life in prison. The measure, which is modeled after proposed legislation, would also allow some offenders currently behind bars for a “third strike” that was a minor crime to seek a re-sentencing.
Voters rejected a similar measure, Proposition 66, in 2004.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has endorsed the new measure, said in a statement that the initiative “saves California taxpayers money and restores the original intent of the law,” which was approved by voters in 1994, “by focusing on truly dangerous criminals.” A fiscal analysis estimates the measure could reduce prison costs by up to $100 million a year in the future.
Tracy Kaplan for the San Jose Mercury News has a nicely informative piece on the newly ballot-ready initiative, in which she quotes Steve Cooley and others.
CDCR CALLS EMERGENCY MEETING IN ONGOING NEGOTIATIONS WITH HUNGER STRIKER GROUP
Isaac Ontiveros reports for the San Francisco Bay View. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not entirely clear if the meeting is really an “emergency meeting,” or if the “emergency” part is a bit of hyperbole from the Bay View editors.) In any case, here’s the deal:
A little over a month after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” which proposes new gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) step down procedures, the department has called a meeting with members of the mediation team advocating on behalf of SHU and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg or ASU) prisoners around the state as well as legislative aides in Sacramento….
20 YEARS AFTER THE LA RIOTS….WHICH WAY LA? DOES A WEEKS WORTH OF PROGRAMS
SUPERVISOR RIDLEY THOMAS ORGANIZES A DAY OF DIALOGUE FRIDAY
This is from the press statement:
At 9 a.m. Friday, April 27, 200 civic leaders will return to the First A.M.E., gathering at the FAME Renaissance building at 1968 West Adams Boulevard, to participate in a Day of Dialogue. In small groups, participants will discuss the causes and impacts of the 1992 upheaval, and they will assess what progress has been made and what challenges remain….
I know from talking to various community organizers that this is going to be a very large and interesting event that will be well worth your time if you can get over there.
MAYOR OF UPLAND PLEADS GUILTY TO A BRIBERY CHARGE…
This is from Thursday’s U.S. Attorney’s Office statement:
The former mayor of Upland pleaded guilty today [Thursday] to a federal bribery charge, admitting that he accepted a $5,000 payment in exchange for helping a business obtain a conditional use permit from the city.
John Victor Pomierski, 58, who resigned as mayor last year after he was named in a grand jury indictment, pleaded guilty this morning before United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips. Pomierski becomes the third defendant to be convicted in relation to a corruption investigation in the city of Upland.
As a result of today’s guilty plea to the bribery charge, Pomierski faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Judge Phillips is scheduled to sentence Pomierski on August 6.
(We don’t usually report on Upland. But we thought that a lot of you might like to know that the feds are on a roll—since they’re also very busy with ever widening investigations closer to home.)
EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA has linked before to the TED talk about justice and injustice by civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
But, it’s worth listening to again. (And again.)
Stevenson was the dinner speaker on the first night of the symposium I attended in New York, and the 31 experienced and sometimes jaded reporters in the room were utterly riveted