Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who Benefits from Arizona's SB 1070?

NPR reports:

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it's not about prisons. It's about what's best for the country.

"Enough is enough," Pearce said in his office, sitting under a banner reading "Let Freedom Reign." "People need to focus on the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing our border. It is the Trojan horse destroying our country and a republic cannot survive as a lawless nation."

But instead of taking his idea to the Arizona statehouse floor, Pearce first took it to a hotel conference room.

This is quite a shocking story. It turns out that private prison corporations are among the main financiers of Arizona's anti-immigration bill. This puts a shocking, cynical slant on what would be deemed a disgraceful bill even if it were sincere, and not profit driven.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Upcoming Film Event: Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty)

This Tuesday, the World Affairs Council, the Berkeley Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of Northern California will be hosting a special screening of the terrific film Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty). Filmmakers Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, currently graduate students at UC Berkeley and also lawyers in Mexico, have documented the horrors of a criminal trial in Mexico, in which justice is derailed and denied by a perverse justice system that, by law and by fact, presumes defendants are guilty and prevents them from confronting their witnesses. The film follows a particularly horrific example of such travesty of justice: the trial of this José Antonio (“Toño”) Zúñiga for a murder he did not commit. The filmmakers, whose film was crucial in exonerating Zúñiga, will speak at the event (yours truly will moderate the discussion). It's a wonderful, thought-provoking film, and you are all encouraged to attend.

When? This Tue, 10/26, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM (check-in starts at 5:30, please arrive early for registration)

Where? World Affairs Council Auditorium, 312 Sutter Street , Second Floor, San Francisco

To RSVP, please click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Black Alcatraz Screening Today

This evening we will be screening Black Alcatraz, a documentary about the African American experience at Alcatraz in the era of segregation. Director Kevin Epps ("Straight Outta Hunters Point") will join us for Q&A and dinner will be served.

Where: UC Hastings, 198 McAllister Street, 2nd Floor, Room F
When: 7pm

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Leno on Recidivism

I'm at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy West Coast Regional Conference (at SF State -- see where Senator Mark Leno is currently answering a question about Proposition 19. This initiative would reduce California's prison population by allowing adult possession and cultivation of 25 square feet of cannabis.

Senator Leno reminds us that California has the USA's highest recidivism rate, 70%, compared to the national average of 35%. California's prisons confine 170,000 inmates, 180% of their capacity of 90,000. Wow!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Slate/Daedalus new stats on Prison/Poverty cycle

WOW! Great statistics and charts and graphs in this new publication about the school-to-prison pipeline keeping people in poverty. Check out the summary at of the report by Western & Pettit at Here are some stand-out quotes:

"[I]f current incarceration trends hold, fully 68 percent of African-American male high school dropouts born from 1975 to 1979 (at the start of the upward trend in incarceration rates) will spend time living in prison at some point in their lives, as the chart below shows."

"After being out of prison for 20 years, less than one-quarter of ex-cons who haven't finished high school were able to rise above the bottom 20 percent of income earners, a far lower percentage than for high-school dropouts who don't go to prison."

"University of California at Berkeley professor of law Jonathan Simon writes that these men and women in many ways become the human equivalent of underwater homes bought with subprime mortgages—they are "toxic persons" in the way those homes have been defined as "toxic assets," condemned to failure."

Law Professors Endorsing Proposition 19

A long list of law professors and criminal justice experts (including my colleagues and me) are listed as supporting Prop 19. Here is our endorsement letter with some of the reasons for the endorsement.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Prop 19 Constitutionality: Fri @ noon

This Friday 10/15 at noon in room A,
Hastings Law Students for Sensible Drug Policy
and American Constitution Society present
Allen Hopper from ACLU
on the constitutionality of Prop 19 to legalize marijuana WITH FREE FOOD

Allen Hopper, Legal Director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, will address constitutional and other legal concerns raised by the text and context of Proposition 19, the November 2010 CA ballot question on taxing and regulating marijuana. Mr. Hopper will discuss the potential legal and practical interactions of Proposition 19 with federal law, including the Controlled Substances Act. Mr. Hopper will also discuss how Proposition 19 may affect the CA state medical marijuana regime, as well as its effects on CA employment law and employer policies.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Impact of New CA Budget on Corrections

The California budget passed by legislature this week includes "$1.1 billion from public safety, largely in lower medical costs for inmates".

The full budget report can be found here, and highlights the fact that the proposal to "realign" state inmates into local jails, which was strongly resisted by local authorities, has been abandoned.

How will medical costs be lowered? We'll follow up on these issues in the weeks to come.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What's He Building In There?

CDCR has rebuilt the Chino Institute for Men, destroyed in a riot a few months ago. Some information about the rebuilding process and its outcome, from the CDCR website:

Cost to rebuild the dormitories was reduced significantly by using inmate labor from the Inmate Ward Labor program. The program teaches inmates vocational skills that can be used to gain employment once they are released from prison. Inmates learned how to operate heavy equipment and were taught trades such as masonry, concrete mixing, drywall installation, wall texturing, carpentry, welding and general construction techniques.

The rebuilding effort also incorporated improved safety features.

“The materials used during the rebuilding and some of the systems built into the facility will provide a safer and more secure environment for inmates, staff and the public,” said Deborah Hysen, CDCR’s Chief Deputy Secretary for Facilities, Planning and Construction Management. “For example, porcelain sinks and fixtures, which can be broken into sharp pieces, were replaced with durable stainless steel.”

After the repairs were completed, CDCR changed the mission of CIM West from a reception center to a Level II facility, and the inmate population was reduced from 1,298 before the riot to an estimated 960 in October 2010.

“The mutual aid and cooperation by the city of Chino, law enforcement and surrounding fire departments were invaluable during this emergency," said Fakhoury. "We appreciate the long-standing partnership we share with our surrounding community,”

CIM is one of 33 prisons operated by CDCR. It opened in 1941. The peak population at CIM was 6,665 inmates in October 2003. It currently houses 4,751 minimum- and medium-security inmates and employs 2,327 people.

I'm trying to understand the discrepancy in inmate numbers. Does this mean that the institution as a 960-inmate capacity and it currently houses 4,751 inmates? Or that 960 people remained on the premises after the riot and now there are 4,751? If any of our readers know what the new capacity and population are like, please enlighten us in the comments. The other interesting feature here is the opportunity to make the rebuilding into a vocational program, which might be a successful idea depending on whether it is, indeed, a program shaped to help inmates develop skills such as getting to work on time and collaborating with supervisors, rather than merely cheap labor.

But more rebuilding is going on. The state is looking for a suitable site for a new reentry facility. Building in Fairfield is proving problematic, and CDCR is examining the possibility of building in Vacaville. More details on the Reporter:

As about 1,000 inmates are paroled to Solano each year, local leaders have embraced the need for a re-entry facility, which would house prisoners serving the final 12 to 18 months of their sentence. Through educational, career, life skills and other training, the inmates would be re-acclimated to the community and prepared for life on the "outside."

Choosing a site for the facility has been a challenge. Originally, expansion near Fairfield's Sentenced Detention Facility on Claybank Road was hotly pursued, but dropped when Fairfield officials withdrew their support.

The pitch to Vacaville, which already houses two institutions, has to do with job creation, as is often the case when introducing a correctional institution to a community. The advantage of building in a place that already has a prison is that persuasion might be easier, and the infrastructure, in terms of a cooperative community, is already in place. For more on this, I recommend the excellent documentary about Susanville, titled Prison Town, USA.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The "Un-Othering" of Crime: A New and Impressive Anti-Rape Campaign

Election season always brings with it an intensified focus on the quintessential modern American citizen according to Jonathan Simon: The victim. The Attorney General race, and the candidates' websites, are full of references to contacts with the "community", defining "community" as one of potential victims. This approach, supposedly, is the antithesis to a "soft on crime" approach focusing on coddling the offender and absolving him or her of all responsibility for the crime. This approach is often accused of "blaming the victim".

Reality is a bit more complicated than that.

There is something that brings together the stereotypical "blame the victim" and "tough on crime" approaches, even though they appear to be antithetical, and that is a sense that crime, as well as victimization, is a phenomenon that only occurs to "others". Victims of rape, for example, are either complicit in their own victimization through scandalous sexual behavior, or angelic creatures whose tragic fate calls for dramatic displays of legislative punitiveness. Rapists, on the other hand, are either predetermined biological beasts, or evil, conniving men. None of these people--assailants and victims--are real, and none of these scenarios go to the heart of what happens in most rape scenarios, in which the victim and the perpetrator know each other.

Which is why I absolutely love the new anti-rape campaign under the slogan "my strength is not for hurting". Propagated by Men Can Stop Rape, the campaign addresses common scenarios and offering directives for sensible, considerate behavior. Here are some examples:

Here is some of what I like about this campaign:

1. These posters are full of realistic scenarios in which any man, not just some pathological monster, could be raping a woman. Since we think of rape as a heinous crime, some may find it difficult to identify sleeping with an intoxicated woman, or choosing to ignore lack of full consent, as rape. These posters bring it home.
2. For once, full responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the potential assailants, as those in the best position to stop the bad situation from happening.
3. This campaign is a reminder that rape does not happen in some far away parallel universe, but in dates, and parties, and various other everyday circumstances.
4. Note how the posters endorse an image of masculinity which fosters responsibility, communication, and regard for the other person's feelings, instead of glorifying violence and humiliation.

In some ways, this is the natural complement to self defense programs such as Impact Bay Area, which empower people with the knowledge they need to get out of bad situations without placing blame or responsibility upon them. Impact, and MyStrength, are a successful pitch because they speak to real people about real phenomena and avoid the trap of stereotypes and cliches.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

This comes to us via our friends at the Prison Law Blog: A meditation program in San Quentin.

The Bad

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoes AB 1900, which would prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates. The reason? “CSA’s mission is to regulate and develop standards for correctional facilities, not establish policies on transportation issues to and from other locations. Since this bill goes beyond the scope of CSA’s mission, I am unable to sign this bill”.

The Ugly

The state has now restocked on sodium thiopental.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Education Protest Has Correctional "Edge"

Students, faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, my alma mater, are protesting fee hikes and layoffs today. Interestingly, one of the advertised rationales behind the protest is the comparison of yearly funding per student ($14,000) to the funding per inmate ($49,000).

Earlier this year, the Legal Analyst's office examined a gubernatorial proposed measure to limit correctional expenditure to 7 percent of General Fund support and to set a minimum of 10 percent for California public universities. LAO found the measure artificial and fiscally unwise. However, the bottom line stands: Our expenditures are an expression of our social priorities.

I wonder if the students protesting this morning realize that the expenditures per inmate do not mean an intimate investment in inmates' vocational and educational future, and that two thirds of the expenditure per inmate are medical costs, unevenly distributed among the inmate population and addressing primarily the needs of elderly, frail inmates, often incarcerated for unnecessarily lengthy periods. I also wonder what the students perceive as an appropriate solution for "evening out" the odds.

It was at UC Berkeley where I was privileged to study with Malcolm Feeley, Jonathan Simon and Frank Zimring, and was introduced to mass incarceration in the United States as an important social problem. I support the UC Berkeley struggle for funding, and my hope is that those participating in that struggle, who perhaps are reading us this morning, will realize that the university cuts are part of a broader flawed expression of social priorities.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

California Attorney General Race

The two candidates for Attorney General, a position which would provide its holder with plenty of influence over criminal justice policy in general and incarceration rates in California in particular, are Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris. The Chron summarized the candidates' exchange in a televised debate. Unsurprisingly, the media has portrayed Cooley's traditional "tough on crime" approach as clashing with Harris' "smart on crime" innovations.

Lest the death penalty issue, which is a bone of contention between the candidates, throw you off, Harris is a tough law enforcer, far from being soft on crime. Moreover, while her overall approach to criminal justice emphasizes evidence-based measures and tackling roots rather than symptoms, there have been some gaffes. This year, for example, we've seen Harris endorse some measures that we found questionable, such as the (unenforceable) prohibition for sex offenders to join social networking websites and the truancy courts. While the latter measure tackles a phenomenon closely associated with crime rates, there is little evidence that scolding parents in court will do the trick. Nevertheless, Harris has proven to be a thoughtful, impartial, collaborative policymaker, who among other things endorses San Francisco's Clean Slate program--a rare collaboration between the Sheriff's department, the DA's office and the PD's office.

Cooley's criminal justice policy does appear to be more traditional, but the L.A. District Attorney's office has some community collaboration programs (including one for monitoring truancy!). It also devotes energy to combating gang activity. His campaign seems to include, so far, some of the familiar symbolic tactics, such as using victims as symbols of fear and highlighting controversial issues such as the death penalty to his advantage.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Crime Policy At Forefront of Oakland Mayoral Race

For the readers who may not have caught this SF Chron piece, it provides some information about the crime policy of different candidates for Oakland Mayor. It makes for a fascinating read; and interestingly, not all the candidates are uniformly knee-jerk-tough-on-crime-for-the-sake-of-it.

City Councilwoman Jean Quan says the city needs to preserve its community policing efforts, bolstering neighborhood-based programs that many credit with cutting crime. She voted to keep some of those programs even at the expense of officers' jobs.

Former state Senate leader Don Perata is willing to throw many such programs out the window if it will keep more cops on the force, a stance that has earned him the support of the police union.

And City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan points to economic development strategies that could provide jobs for residents, rather than more funding for the Police Department, as the surest way to cut crime.

In other Oakland news, it appears that Johannes Mehserle, convicted of involuntary manslaughter in relation to Oscar Grant's shooting, is seeking a new trial. The relevance of his new evidence to the issue of his guilt seems rather tenuous, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Note About Our Logo

People often ask me about our "bear behind bars". The idea behind our logo was to communicate that, until the correctional crisis is solved, the entire state of California is imprisoned. The graphic itself is Chad Goerzen's and is an original creation for this blog. It was also the logo for our conference in March 2009. The reason I mention this is that I have just encountered a copyright infringement situation in which our logo was used for an event invitation without our knowledge or permission. In the future, dear readers, please refrain from using our logo, and if you'd like to do so with attribution, please email us to ask permission.

UPDATE: The offending party apologized and removed our logo from their website. Thanks!

Preemptive Move? Reclassifying Possession as an Infraction

Yesterday, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senator Mark Leno's Senate Bill 1449, which reclassifies possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as an infraction.

Existing law provides that, except as authorized by law, every person who possesses not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than $100. This same penalty is imposed for the crime of possessing not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana while driving on a highway or on lands, as specified.

Existing law provides with respect to these offenses that under specified conditions (1) the court shall divert and refer the defendant for education, treatment, or rehabilitation, as specified, and (2) an arrested person who gives satisfactory evidence of identity and a written promise to appear in court shall not be subjected to booking.

This bill instead provide [sic] that any person who commits any of the above offenses is instead guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $100. This bill would eliminate the above-described provisions relating to booking and to diversion and referral for education, treatment, or rehabilitation.

A preemptive move against Prop 19? The "civil unions" of marijuana, which are "almost like legalization, but not exactly"? Unclear. It is important to keep in mind, though, that prior to this amendment of the Penal Code, marijuana possession of less than an ounce was a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, a fact that many Californians were not aware of. It is therefore unlikely that this measure will have any impact, positive or negative, on usage patterns and rates.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Underage Prostitution: A Policy Conundrum

Yesterday, our Hastings Criminal Justice Film Club watched the excellent documentary Very Young Girls, examining teenage prostitution in New York City, and especially the vulnerability of the girls and their fragile dependence on their pimps. This morning's Chron highlights a similar phenomenon in California.

Peter Doesburg of Upland in San Bernardino County told The Daily Breeze of Torrance Thursday that he believes his daughter was abducted by Leroy Bragg, 34, while she was in Los Angeles a few months ago.

Vice officers arrested Bragg on Tuesday after a foot chase. He pleaded not guilty Thursday to trafficking of a minor, solicitation and other crimes in the abduction of another 13-year-old girl. He was being held on $1.3 million bail.

Upland police said Thursday they don't have evidence that Bragg kidnapped Doesburg's daughter, but believe she was abducted by people she knew.

"These subjects are believed to be associated with a group of individuals from the Los Angeles area involved in the exploitation and prostitution of young girls," Upland police Sgt. Greg Signorio said in a statement.

Doesburg said she was arrested last week in Los Angeles and returned home, but disappeared again because Bragg allegedly made threats toward her family if she did not return to work for him. He said she might not be aware that Bragg is in jail.

"Come home," Doesburg said. "Everything's OK and we will protect you. You've got nothing to worry about."

She described living in apartments with other girls who have been forced to meet with men for money and were beaten if they could not meet their quotas, he said.

These cases raise a number of questions about criminalization of special populations. As is the case in many US states (though not necessarily so in all countries), prostitution itself, not just pimping, is a crime. Section 647(b) of the CA Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor to--

(b) . . . solicit[s] or . . . agree[s] to engage in or . . . engage[s] in any act of prostitution. A person agrees to engage in an act of prostitution when, with specific intent to so engage, he or she manifests an acceptance of an offer or solicitation to so engage, regardless of whether the offer or solicitation was made by a person who also possessed the specific intent to engage in prostitution. No agreement to engage in an act of prostitution shall constitute a violation of this subdivision unless some act, in addition to the agreement, is done within this state in furtherance of the commission of an act of prostitution by the person agreeing to engage in that act. As used in this subdivision, "prostitution" includes any lewd
act between persons for money or other consideration.

This means that the girls, who incidentally would be legally beneath the age of consent for all other sex, are committing a misdemeanor by engaging in commercial sex. As you can see, the Johns are committing an offense, too. Incidentally, this offense does not carry automatic registration as a sex offender, but in some cases judges might order such registration. Some lawyers offer legal advice for Johns; for the girls, such legal advice is useless because of their young age and dependence upon the pimps for their livelihood. Many of the girls are very deeply attached to the pimps, which doesn't help. That makes them, in effect, more victims than offenders. Combine this with family lives and, frequently, drug problems, and you have a bundle of problems, which are not cured by criminalizing and prosecuting girls for the symptom.

It is a very tricky situation to legislate. In 2008, San Franciscans voted against Prop K, which called for legal prostitution in the city. While some thought it healthy to allow sex workers access to medical services and unionization, this would not solve the problem of underage sex and of exploitation. The other tricky aspect of all of this is prosecuting the pimps, often very difficult without the girls' testimony. The Alameda County DA's office is making efforts to shift their energy away from the girls toward the pimps and johns, including necessary changes in legislation.

Our attention to sex trafficking emerged as we learned of it as an international phenomenon. It appears, however, that it is a problematic and important issue on the domestic arena, as well. One hopes that organizations such as GEMS manage to survive in these difficult times.