Prop. 47 and Diversion Courts, Judge Michael Nash Interview, and Solitary in CA Jails


Before Prop. 47 reduced certain low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with non-violent drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process.

But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses (some of the courts even require a felony for eligibility). Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is currently not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.

In the latest installment of the LA Times’ editorial series on Prop. 47, Superior Court Judge Stephen V. Manley, who founded Santa Clara County’s mental health and drug courts, says the current drop in alternative court participation doesn’t mean we should give up on Prop. 47.

Instead, Judge Manley says the reentry courts need to evolve.

Here’s a clip from Judge Manley’s op-ed:

…this trend doesn’t mean we need to throw up our hands or scrap Proposition 47. On the contrary, it suggests that drug courts should adapt, as they have before, to the new order. Because Proposition 47 has downgraded most drug offenses, drug courts should accept those convicted of misdemeanors. Misdemeanors still carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail, more than enough to serve as a disincentive.

Not all existing drug courts work exclusively with felons. Many in California and elsewhere, including my own, already work with lower-level offenders who cannot be sent to state prison. Even when participation is not a prison alternative but merely a required term of probation, drug courts are effective.

A recent report by the Judicial Council found that reentry drug court participants in California who faced a maximum of six months in jail for their violations had their parole revoked less often and ultimately spent significantly less time in prison than a comparison group.

Even without adapting, drug courts can do a lot of good. Drug courts, remember, frequently work with felons who commit crimes other than drug possession — addiction is a common factor in many crimes — and are therefore unaffected by Proposition 47. And Proposition 47 certainly has not reduced these programs’ ability to assist offenders who enter treatment. Success stems from positive reinforcement and motivation, not the hammer of incarceration.



So far, nearly 4,500 people have been released from prison under California’s Prop. 47, which reduced certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, according to a study by Stanford Law’s Justice Advocacy Project.

In the coming years, the 2014 law will keep around 3,300 misdemeanor offenders out of prison annually, saving California an estimated $93 million each year, and saving counties $203 million that can be put back into rehabilitation and reentry and alternative court programs. But critics of Prop 47 say that recent upticks in crime points back to the release of so many low-level offenders.

PBS’ Evening Edition host Peggy Pico discussed the study’s findings with two law enforcement officials on either side of the debate: former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who was a major supporter of Prop. 47, and San Diego Chief Deputy DA David Greenberg, who opposed the measure.

Here’s a clip (but you can watch the discussion in the video above):

“The biggest takeaway is approximately 13,000 people have been released from state prisons and county jails,” Milena Blake, staff attorney for the Stanford Law School’s Justice Advocacy Project, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “That results in pretty significant savings.”

Before Proposition 47, county jails would release inmates before they fulfilled their sentences in order to create more space, said Blake, who co-authored the report.

“Because of the excess room in county jails, people are now able to serve their full sentence,” said Blake, who noted the recidivism rate is about 5 percent statewide.

Former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who backed Proposition 47, said lower inmate populations mean more money for other services.

“We’re the country that incarcerates more people than anyone in the world,” Lansdowne said. “We need to change that. Not everybody needs to go to jail.”


On November 3, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to appoint Judge Michael Nash to be the county’s child welfare czar.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change, Judge Nash discusses his top concerns about the Department of Children and Family Services as awaits final confirmation from the LA Supes. Here’s a clip (and here’s some backstory, in case you missed it):

“No problem can sustain the assault of sustained thinking,” Nash said. “That’s Voltaire, okay. That is the philosophy that has governed how I have worked with others.” He added that his role would primarily be one of a convener, “working with and for a board of supervisors that really cares for children.”


Nash said the county dependency court has been “drowning in petitions” to remove children for the past two years.

“What I want to know is how the department is maximizing its efforts to safely divert families from the court system, so that we can keep families together when appropriate,” he said.

The question of increasing numbers of children entering foster care is one that Nash has been outspoken about. While he did concede that media coverage like that surrounding the death of Gabriel Fernandez could create a situation where DCFS brass grew fearful of keeping kids in their homes, he said that wasn’t a good enough reason.

“The question is, are kids being removed out of fear of political repercussions or are kids being removed because of good social work?” Nash said. “At the end of the day, it has to be the latter. Simple as that.”

Despite his criticisms of the rising number of children entering foster care under Browning’s watch, Nash said that there was no friction between the two of them.

“I don’t have any personal issues with the director of DCFS or anyone else at this point,” Nash said. “Quite frankly, we work together. Have I at times been critical? Yes. But people have misinterpreted that we don’t get along, and that has not been the case.”


In an excellent longread for the Intercept, Kelly Davis takes a closer look at why California jails continue harsh and punitive solitary confinement practices despite major reforms at the state level.

Back in September, California settled Ashker v. Governor, drastically limiting the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. The settlement, while important, had no effect on the 123 county-run jails across the state. Many sheriff’s departments say they are in compliance with the state’s Minimum Standards for Local Detention Facilities, or “Title 15.” But as the number of jail inmates who have committed suicide in recent years continues to grow, advocates say Title 15, which only requires three hours of out-of-cell recreation time, needs a serious overhaul.

Here’s a clip from Davis’ story:

California agreed to drastically reduce the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, the result of a 2012 lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed on behalf of inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax facility located just south of the California-Oregon border. The lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, argued that Pelican Bay’s reliance on prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement — one plaintiff had been in isolation for 43 years — was unconstitutional.

To settle the case, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to system-wide changes, including limiting the use of solitary confinement to punishment for serious rule violations and not, as had been the practice, to house inmates with gang ties. The settlement also establishes procedures to prevent inmates from being held in a prison’s security housing unit, or SHU, indefinitely.

But the Ashker settlement has no bearing on California’s 123 jails and their roughly 73,000 inmates, which are under the control of county sheriffs’ departments.

But while each jail system sets its own policies, those policies are guided by the state’s Minimum Standards for Local Detention Facilities, also known as Title 15. That’s where the policy that allowed Christopher Carroll only one hour of dayroom time every 48 hours comes from. Title 15 recommends that jails allow inmates a minimum of three hours of recreation time each week. “Recreation,” however, isn’t defined, and in urban jails that lack outdoor space, this could mean an hour in a concrete room with nothing but a pull-up bar, or, as watchdog group Prison Law Office found in one county facility, an hour to walk around an empty cell. And even though Title 15 says three hours of out-of-cell time is the minimum for all inmates, in secure housing in many facilities, it’s the standard.

“A lot of staff will say, ‘We meet the Title 15 requirements,’” said Anne Hadreas, a staff attorney at Disability Rights California (DRC), which recently found widespread use of solitary confinement during jail inspections in several California counties. “Our response is that doesn’t actually save you in terms of liability. Just because you have a state regulation doesn’t overcome your constitutional liability.”

The damaging effects of isolation are well-documented, though the focus, understandably, tends to be on prolonged solitary confinement, like that experienced by Pelican Bay inmates who, as social psychologist Craig Haney testified in the Ashker case, experience a “social death” — the loss of the ability to simply interact with people. But even short-term confinement can cause lasting harm. More than a century ago, in an 1890 opinion in a case challenging a Colorado inmate’s placement in solitary confinement, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller described a Philadelphia jail “experiment” that found that inmates placed in isolation for “even a short confinement” fell into “a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide.”

The inmates who didn’t crack in isolation, Miller wrote, “were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

1 Comment

  • What is important is the mandatory rehab programs and if they fail the program, they should do the year with no good time/work time benefits. I would like to know how many of the felony drug charges were actually filed as a felony. We all know that 95% of all cases were plea bargained?

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