BERKELEY STUDENTS’ PATH FROM LOCK-UP TO COLLEGE GRADUATION
On Sunday, UC Berkeley held its first ever graduation ceremony honoring 14 formerly incarcerated Berkeley graduates.
The ceremony was organized by the Underground Scholars Initiative, founded by two former Pelican Bay State Prison inmates, Danny Murillo and Steven Czifra, who made it out of solitary confinement and into UC Berkeley. The group’s focus is on supporting fellow former offenders-turned-Berkeley-students through their college years.
One of the graduates, David Maldonado earned his master’s degree in education this year, and hopes to continue on at Berkeley and earn a PhD in social and cultural studies. Maldonado earned his GED while in prison, then went to Berkeley City College before transferring to UC Berkeley.
CA Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) delivered the keynote speech, praising USI’s work to “build a new pipeline, the prison-to-school pipeline.”
The Daily Californian’s Logan Goldberg has the story. Here’s a clip:
Pride was a central theme for the 14 formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley graduates who were honored at a special ceremony held Sunday afternoon in Anna Head Alumnae Hall. The ceremony — organized by the the Underground Scholars Initiative, a campus student group that advocates for current and prospective students affected by the prison system — was the first of its kind.
The USI was founded in 2013 by Danny Murillo and graduate Steven Czifra, who met at UC Berkeley and quickly realized that they had both been incarcerated at the Security Housing Unit in Pelican Bay State Prison. The pair has since worked tirelessly, alongside other formerly incarcerated students, to assist, support and “provide a safe space” for those with similar backgrounds, according to Murillo.
“We’re resilient overachievers,” Murillo said at the ceremony, adding that for the USI, “this is just the beginning.”
The ceremony’s keynote speaker, state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, said the state plans to have community college and degree programs in every California prison by year’s end. She noted that such efforts to reform the prison system are driven by success stories like those of the graduates.
“Having spent so much time trying to break a pipeline, the school-to-prison pipeline, it’s amazing now to work with the USI to build a new pipeline, the prison-to-school pipeline,” Hancock said at the ceremony.
THE LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS TO SEEK A “MILLIONAIRES TAX” TO HELP HOMELESS
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to seek—via state legislation—a new “millionaires tax” that would fund housing and other crucial services for the county’s homeless population.
LA County and the City of LA are working on a collaborative plan to help and house homeless residents, but much of the funding is still in limbo.
Through the motion, proposed by Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the board would lobby the capitol for a law—likely a budget trailer bill—to give the county the power to tax millionaires’ income. The board unanimously approved a related motion by Supes Don Knabe and Hilda Solis to take a closer look at the county’s spending on homeless adults using mental health treatment, public assistance, emergency medical services, as well as how much the county spends locking homeless people up in jail.
The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl proposed lobbying the state for legislation that would give the county authority to impose a new tax on personal income over $1 million a year to fund efforts on homelessness.
The question would still need to go to voters and receive two-thirds approval before it could take effect, but because the county does not have authority to increase income taxes, it would first require a change in state law.
A recent county-commissioned poll that looked at various possible funding measures for the November ballot found that likely voters were most supportive of the millionaires tax option, which would raise an estimated $243 million a year, with 76% of those surveyed being supportive.
The city and county of Los Angeles passed plans earlier this year aimed at reducing the region’s growing problem of homelessness, and the county has approved $150 million in initial funding, but the source of ongoing funding to build housing and provide services remains in question. County analysts say almost $500 million a year would be needed to make significant reductions in the countywide homeless population, which currently stands at nearly 47,000.
But Supervisor Hilda Solis last week put the brakes on the proposal to move toward a millionaires tax, raising questions about the methodology of the polling and of the most recent homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
She said Tuesday that the majority of her concerns had been addressed and joined Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl in voting to pursue authority for counties to impose a millionaires tax for homeless services, probably through a budget trailer bill that would take effect in July.
SPEAKING OF THE SUPERVISORS…HERE ARE THE 4TH DISTRICT CANDIDATES’ VIEWS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE ISSUES
LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has a helpful guide on the contenders for LA County Supervisor Don Knabe’s 4th District seat, including background information and their thoughts on criminal justice and other relevant issues.
The candidates are Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), Steve Napolitano, Knabe’s senior deputy, and Ralph Pacheco, a minister and board member of the Whittier Union High School District.
(Earlier this month, we posted a story about the top five candidates for Supe. Michael Antonovich’s seat, and their views on child welfare and juvenile justice.)
Here’s a clip:
Hahn, who has served as a congresswoman since 2011, said she wants more sheriff’s deputies hired to keep up with rising crime. She also wants more community policing efforts in the wake of the highly publicized jail abuse scandal that has the county “reeling right now.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to prevent crime if we don’t have real trust between the Sheriff’s Department and the people they serve,” she said in a phone interview.
While serving as a member of the Los Angeles City Council, Hahn created in 2005 the Watts Gang Task Force, which included law enforcement, clergy and community activists who met each week in her office. That group was credited with building trust between police and the community and helping to reduce gang-related crime, she said.
Napolitano said he would also work to put more sheriff’s deputies on the streets, and he’d like to work with the Sheriff’s Department and Veteran’s Affairs to launch a veterans hiring initiative to help fill as many vacant Sheriff’s Deputy positions as possible. The Sheriff’s Department has funding for nearly 500 deputy vacancies, according to a department spokeswoman.
“We’ve got troops coming back from overseas who needs jobs,” Napolitano said in an interview. “We need sheriff’s (deputies). They make great public safety officers.”
Napolitano, a former Manhattan Beach mayor and councilman, said the county also needs better diversion programs with “measured outcomes” for the mentally ill and addicts as well as probation programs that end recidivism. The Board of Supervisors recently created an Office of Diversion and Re-Entry to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates who are low-level offenders, he said, but it’s the next board “that will really determine how that looks … and what the outcomes are going to be.”
Pacheco, an ordained minister and chairman and CEO of the Whittier-based nonprofit LC Foundation, said he wants the newly authorized civilian oversight commission to empower Sheriff Jim McDonnell “to take action to eradicate corruption in the department.”
While much of the jail abuse scandal has been adjudicated and resolved, “there are still pockets within the department that need to be addressed,” he said in an interview.
“The commission needs to be empaneled, needs to be given teeth with the addition of subpoena power to assist the sheriff in helping to restore accountability and confidence in the Sheriff’s Department,” Pacheco said.
By the way, the LA Times has officially endorsed Janice Hahn for the position.
RECOMMENDED READING: LA MAG INTERVIEW WITH LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK COVERS HIS LAW ENFORCEMENT HISTORY, PROP. 47, CRIME RATES, COMMUNITY POLICING, AND MORE
In an LA Magazine interview with Gabriel Kahn, a USC Annenberg Journalism professor, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck discusses his time as an police officer in the ’80s and ’90s, through the crack epidemic, the Rodney King beating, and the LA riots, and how the LAPD’s policing strategies have evolved since then.
Chief Beck also talks about the impact he believes California’s Proposition 47 has had on crime rates and rehabilitation services, as well as discusses racism and officers’ use of deadly force, community policing, and the legacy the Beck wants to leave behind. Here’s a clip:
Your first big challenges as an officer were dealing with the PCP craze in the late 1970s and then the crack epidemic of the ’80s. How did those periods shape your experience?
It was a frenetic time. I worked in South Los Angeles, and we would routinely have these huge battles with people on PCP because they were so violent. As we went into the ’80s, the crack epidemic started to take hold. The crime rate was about three times what it is now. Homicide rate, too. You could just watch lives disappear on the street. People would succumb to the addiction, and families would break up and life became very cheap.
How did the LAPD combat that?
This was in the time of rock houses. There was major gang influence. People would take over a home and set up retail cocaine or crack sales. They’d put up an armed gate with one guy inside with the product and a gun, and he’d sell all day. We would hit five or six of those houses a day—send in an undercover, do a buy, pry the door off, and make the arrest. We would do that over and over; our arrest rate was about 1,000 a month. We had phone lines set up for people in the neighborhood to tell us where the crack houses were, and the tips would just flood in. We would start work at around noon, and we would work off our list and do the raids. The next day we’d come back in, and there would be a new list.
Did it feel as if you were on the losing side of a war?
Oh, yeah. All of that led up to Rodney King and then the riots, when we were having 1,100 murders a year. My conclusion as a police officer up through the late ’90s was that it would always get worse. And it always did. It was kind of idyllic when I was a young cop, and then it got more violent, more dangerous. The infrastructure of the city was deteriorating. So that was my conclusion. I was a lieutenant in the mid-’90s. And that’s when I began to see that there were ways to work this. I began to go in the opposite direction and think that we could do better and more effective policing.
The first thing you have to accept is that you can make a difference. You have to accept that crime is not inevitable. That was Bratton’s litmus test for police management: “Do you think crime is a given?” I moved firmly onto the side where I thought, “If you put in the right pieces in the landscape, you could change a neighborhood.”
A NOT-TO-BE-MISSED SAN DIEGO EXONERATION SERIES
The San Diego Union-Tribune has an excellent series on exonerations in San Diego County that we didn’t want you to miss. SD District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ recently launched a task force to investigate wrongful convictions. The conviction integrity unit’s two full-time prosecutors work in conjunction with the SD Public Defender’s Office and the California Innocence Project to right justice system wrongs.
Between 1989 and 2015, in San Diego County, there were 15 exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The Union-Tribune’s series tells those exonerees stories.
One of those exonerees, Kevin Baruxes spent 7 years behind bars, and survived a near-fatal stabbing, after a neighbor falsely accused him of raping her when he was 18 years old. Here’s a clip from Baruxes’ story:
Despite discrepancies in Mahaffy’s changing story, a lack of physical evidence and Baruxes’ alibi that he was home with family, the jury convicted him.
Baruxes said he had to keep most of the other inmates from finding out his charges.
“I didn’t go to the bathroom for like four days,” he recently recalled of his first nights behind bars. “That’s how scared I was.”
Baruxes managed to stay out of harm’s way until about five years into his sentence.
He said he got a new cellmate, who, unlike the others, wasn’t willing to keep quiet about why Baruxes was in prison. Later that day, he was stabbed twice with a seven-inch knife made out of a cookie pan from the kitchen. The blade nicked his lung and his kidney, almost killing him.
As courts denied appeal after appeal, Baruxes decided to go into protective custody.
“I was thinking, man, I might have to do 20 years. I wouldn’t make it without them killing me,” he said.
In 2002, the district attorney’s office received an email from Mike Chaney, Mahaffy’s ex-fiance, according to court documents. Chaney said that Mahaffy confessed to him that Baruxes did not rape her. He also said she was a chronic liar.
Baruxes’ lawyer hired an investigator to find others who could corroborate Chaney’s statements. He found an ex-boyfriend, a former roommate and her ex-husband. They all talked about fake illness and injury stories that she used to get attention and told the different versions they’d heard of her rape.
Meanwhile, a prosecutor tracked down Mahaffy, who admitted over the phone that she didn’t think Baruxes had raped her.
Baruxes went free soon after. He received $258,000 in compensation.