LOOKING AT REALIGNMENT AS WE HEAD INTO NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks reelection on Nov. 4, California Report’s Scott Shafer takes a look at the state of criminal justice in California under Brown, particularly with regard to Realignment (AB 109). Many critics argue prison realignment was implemented too quickly, without adequate advanced planning, and thus left counties to struggle with little preparation under the burden of supervising and housing would-be state prisoners.
California counties received a combined $2 billion to adapt to realignment, yet the various counties are not using the money uniformly. Some are funneling the money into rehabilitation, reentry, and diversion programs as reformers had hoped they would, while others have beefed up their sheriff and probation staff. And still other counties have used the money to build new jails able to handle the influx of inmates serving longer sentences than preexisting county facilities were designed to house.
Three years after its launch, in short, the jury is still out. Even supporters agree we won’t really know if realignment had the effects proponents had hoped for until years from now.
Here’s how Shafer’s story opens:
It’s not the focus of this year’s campaign for governor, but under Jerry Brown the state’s approach to criminal justice has gone in a dramatically new direction.
Underlying it all: too many inmates and too few cells.
In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned the state Legislature that the prisons were powder kegs.
“Our prisons are in crisis,” the governor said. “We have inherited a problem that has been put off year after year after year.”
Schwarzenegger did take steps to reduce the inmate population, but not nearly enough to satisfy the federal courts. Finally, in 2011, with the state’s back to the wall, the Legislature passed the most fundamental reform of California’s criminal justice system in more than a generation.
AB109, known as “realignment,” transferred responsibility for tens of thousands of low-level criminals from state prisons to county jails and probation officers.
These perpetrators of non-serious, non-sexual, nonviolent crimes would now become the responsibility of local law enforcement officials, rather than the state.
“Probation [departments] were not ready,” says U.C. Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg, who for years has advised the Legislature on criminal justice matters.
Krisberg says California adopted realignment so fast that counties struggled to keep their heads above water.
“I mean, if you had done this logically, you would’ve announced to everyone, ‘We’re gonna do it.’ You probably would have spent a year or so planning it out, training and making it happen,” Krisberg says.
“But that’s not how realignment happened. It just happened.”
Five months after Brown signed AB109 (and a companion bill, AB117), realignment took effect.
LAPD OFFICER ALLEGEDLY KICKED RESTRAINED SUSPECT IN THE HEAD
An LAPD officer has been accused of kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground by other officers. Police officials were able to view footage of the incident taken by a nearby store’s security camera. The officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.” The police officer (as well as three other officers and a sergeant) has been relieved of duty with pay pending the investigation. The officer’s lawyer said the kick landed on Alford’s shoulder and was an acceptable use of force.
The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:
Alford said he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk along Avalon Boulevard near 55th Street when a car pulled up behind him. A man shouted a command to stop, but Alford said he continued pedaling because the man did not identify himself as a police officer. When someone grabbed the back of the bike, Alford said he jumped off and ran.
After a short foot pursuit, two officers caught up to Alford. Footage from the security camera on a nearby building captured Alford voluntarily laying down on the street and putting his hands behind his back, according to several people who viewed the recording. The officers restrained Alford, who made no movements and did not resist, the sources said.
Seconds later, a patrol car pulled up and a uniformed officer, who the sources described as “heavyset” or “very large,” rushed from the driver’s side, according to sources. The officer moved quickly over to Alford, who was still held on the ground by the other officers, and immediately stomped or kicked, the sources said.
The officer then dropped to the ground and delivered a series of strikes with his elbows to the back of Alford’s head and upper body, sources said. Alford’s head can be seen on the video hitting the pavement from the force of the strikes, two sources recounted. Afterward, the officer leaned his knee into the small of Alford’s back and, for a prolonged period, rocked or bounced with his body weight on Alford’s back, the sources said. At one point, the officer put his other knee on Alford’s neck, a source said.
Throughout much of the altercation, two officers restrained Alford but eventually they moved away.
Two officials who viewed the video said it was clear to them Alford was handcuffed as soon as he got on the ground. Others said it is difficult to tell from the video when Alford was placed in handcuffs.
Alford said he had already been handcuffed when he was first kicked.
When it was over, Alford’s body was limp and motionless, according to sources who viewed the video. It took several officers to carry him to a patrol car, they said.
“He looked like a rag doll,” one person said of Alford.
Gary Fullerton, an attorney representing the officers, declined to discuss details of the incident but disputed that Alford had his hands behind his back when the officers used force.
INNOCENT MAN RECEIVES $41.6 MILLION FOR 15 YEARS IN PRISON, UNPRECEDENTED PAYOUT
A New York man, Jeff Deskovic, won $41.6 million in a lawsuit against Putnam County and the sheriff’s investigator who coerced his false confession. Deskovic was exonerated in 2006 of raping and killing a 15-year-old schoolmate, for which he spent 15 years in prison.
While Deskovic’s sum is reportedly the largest in US history, in a whopping 21 states, people who are exonerated after spending years in prison do not receive any compensation at all. In states that do pay, it takes years for the money to work its way through the court system, and in many cases the payouts are capped to prevent large payouts like Deskovic’s. Most Exonerees are not even given the reentry assistance provided to other released inmates.
The NY Daily News’ Stephen Rex Brown has the story on Deskovic. Here’s a clip:
Deskovic was given three lie detector tests over the course of a six-hour interrogation in which he eventually confessed.
He said on the stand this week in federal court in White Plains that he was scared for his life during the ordeal.
He was convicted in 1991 after prosecutors successfully argued that Deskovic did the deed — despite DNA taken from semen on the body that didn’t match the teen’s.
EXCERPT FROM BRYAN STEVENSON’S NEW BOOK
We introduced you to Bryan Stevenson last week, and didn’t want you to miss this essay by Stevenson in the NY Times Magazine that was adapted from his new book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
Here’s a clip (it’s a short one, so be sure to go read the rest):
“The lawyers at S.P.D.C. sent me down to tell you that they don’t have a lawyer yet,” I said. “But you’re not at risk of execution anytime in the next year. We’re working on finding you a lawyer, a real lawyer.”
He interrupted my chatter by grabbing my hands. “I’m not going to have an execution date anytime in the next year?”
“No, sir. They said it would be at least a year.” Those words didn’t sound very comforting to me. But he just squeezed my hands tighter.
“Thank you, man,” he said. “I mean, really, thank you! I’ve been talking to my wife on the phone, but I haven’t wanted her to come and visit me or bring the kids because I was afraid they’d show up and I’d have an execution date. Now I’m going to tell them they can come and visit. Thank you!”
I was astonished. We began to talk. It turned out that he and I were exactly the same age. He told me about his family and his trial. He asked me about law school and my family. We talked about music and about prison. We kept talking and talking, and it was only when I heard a loud bang on the door that I realized I had stayed long past my allotted time. I looked at my watch. I had been there three hours.
The guard came in and began handcuffing him; I could see the prisoner grimacing. “I think those cuffs are on too tight,” I said.
“It’s O.K., Bryan,” he said. “Don’t worry about this. Just come back and see me again, O.K.?”
I struggled to say something appropriate, something reassuring. He looked at me and smiled. Then he did something completely unexpected. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. I was confused, but then he opened his mouth, and I understood. He had a tremendous baritone that was strong and clear.
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on heaven’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.