Saturday, March 31, 2012

Realignment Report by the ACLU of California

A new report by the ACLU of California examines realignment so far, including the allocation of funds to counties. Their executive summary finds four troubling themes:

  • A troubling lack of state monitoring, data collection, outcome measurements and funding incentives to help counties successfully implement realignment.
  • A dramatic increase in spending on county jails—facilitated by billions of dollars in state funding—particularly in those counties that have historically sent more people to state prison for low-level, non-violent offenses.
  • A shockingly high number of people who present no real threat to public safety being held in county jails before having their day in court, incarcerated without trial simply because they cannot afford bail.
  • A promising commitment—though not yet realized—by many counties to adopt alternatives to incarceration and evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism. A few counties are adopting innovative programs and approaches that can serve as models for the rest of the state, but all too often our analysis revealed few, if any, resources allocated for such programs.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Data Collection. Mandate standardized data collection and analysis across the 58 counties in order to monitor which policies and programs are working to reduce recidivism and reliance upon incarceration, and base policy and budget decisions on those findings.
  • Funding Formula. Revise the state funding allocation formula to incentivize counties to reduce recidivism and incarceration.
  • Sentencing Reforms. Enact statewide front-end sentencing reforms to help counties implement realignment.
  • Pretrial Detention Reform. Amend statewide pretrial detention laws and implement new local pretrial release policies to keep behind bars only those who truly pose a risk to public safety.
  • Alternatives to Incarceration. Create and fund concrete plans to develop community- based alternatives to detention for both the pretrial and sentenced population.
  • Utilize New Sentencing Options. Encourage local courts to utilize realignment’s new sentencing options that authorize judges to replace all or part of a jail sentence with community sanctions or treatment programs.
  • Stop Jail Expansion. Halt or significantly reduce jail expansion and construction plans, including AB 900 funding and projects.
  • Limit Use of Immigration Detainers. Review the impact of immigration status and immigration detainers on inmates’ detention to prioritize public safety needs.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Gated Community Mentality

So much has been written in the last few days about Trayvon Martin's death, that everything I might add seems superfluous. But this New York Times piece by Rich Benjamin is really worth a read.

I remember interviewing for an academic position at an excellent academic institution located in an area where gated communities proliferated. As part of my interview, I had a chance to talk to the local grad students for an hour. One of them asked me, "what don't you like about the campus so far?" I replied that I'd strolled around campus in the morning and didn't see a single living person in the streets. "Oh, there are no streets," the students said. "Everyone lives behind gates."

Here's Benjamin's experience:

From 2007 to 2009, I traveled 27,000 miles, living in predominantly white gated communities across this country to research a book. I threw myself into these communities with gusto — no Howard Johnson or Motel 6 for me. I borrowed or rented residents’ homes. From the red-rock canyons of southern Utah to the Waffle-House-pocked exurbs of north Georgia, I lived in gated communities as a black man, with a youthful style and face, to interview and observe residents.

The perverse, pervasive real-estate speak I heard in these communities champions a bunker mentality. Residents often expressed a fear of crime that was exaggerated beyond the actual criminal threat, as documented by their police department’s statistics. Since you can say “gated community” only so many times, developers hatched an array of Orwellian euphemisms to appease residents’ anxieties: “master-planned community,” “landscaped resort community,” “secluded intimate neighborhood.”

No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and overzealous in its demands for “safety.” Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders. These bunker communities remind me of those Matryoshka wooden dolls. A similar-object-within-a-similar-object serves as shelter; from community to subdivision to house, each unit relies on staggered forms of security and comfort, including town authorities, zoning practices, private security systems and personal firearms.

Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor.

Benjamin goes on to discuss how this real-estate mentality translates itself to criminal justice concepts, where the increased privatized justice system touches public criminal doctrine:

“Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws like Florida’s expand the so-called castle doctrine, which permits the use of deadly force for self-defense in one’s home, as long as the homeowner can prove deadly force was reasonable. Thirty-two states now permit expanded rights to self-defense.

In essence, laws nationwide sanction reckless vigilantism in the form of self-defense claims. A bunker mentality is codified by law.

Those reducing this tragedy to racism miss a more accurate and painful picture. Why is a child dead? The rise of “secure,” gated communities, private cops, private roads, private parks, private schools, private playgrounds — private, private, private —exacerbates biased treatment against the young, the colored and the presumably poor.

This is true, but there's more to it. I think the gated regime of locking oneself in, and the "my home is my castle" mentality, harms the white and affluent as well as the poor, minority "outsiders," albeit not to the same extent. This atomistic, non-organic way of interacting with one's surroundings is bound to suffocate and limit one's human experiences in ways whose intangible price we pay not only with Trayvon Martin's life, but in public discourse, partisanism, intellectual property and social boredom.

Finally, the perception that gated communities are safer, or have less crime, than cities is problematic when one considers the proper definition of crime. Think about sexual assault, domestic violence, drug abuse in the privacy of one's home, and the countless ways in which people who know each other, and often live with each other, can abuse each other behind closed doors, guaranteeing not only a lower rate of detection but also underreporting by victims. A quote from Arthur Conan Doyle comes to mind:

["]It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

"You horrify me!"

"But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

Thinking of this in the context of Benjamin's piece is sobering and disturbing.

Props to Amir Paz-Fuchs for the link.

Private Prison Management Offers to Buy Prisons in Exchange for Occupancy Rates

Our four-year foray into the changes in correctional policies since the fiscal crisis has taught us that various states are scaling back their correctional apparatus to respond to money difficulties. California is no different. But as is the case with every regime, there are always folks who would benefit and make a quick buck from a broad social and economic problem.

This astonishing recent story in USA Today is a case in point. Many states are working on closing down their prisons for fiscal considerations. So, Corrections Corporation of America, of which we've written here before, is angling to purchase said prisons and operate them. But therein lies the rub:

The $250 million proposal, circulated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to prison officials in 48 states, has been blasted by some state officials who suggest such a program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates.

"You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits," says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. "The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position."

Corrections Corporation spokesman Steve Owen defended the company's "investment initiative," describing it as "an additional option" for cash-strapped states to consider.

The proposal seeks to build upon a deal reached last fall in which the company purchased the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution from the state of Ohio for $72.7 million. Ohio officials lauded the September transaction, saying that private management of the facility would save a projected $3 million annually.

Linda Janes, chief of staff for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the purchase came at time when the state was facing a $8 billion shortfall. The $72.7 million prison purchase was aimed at helping to fill a $188 million deficit within the corrections agency.
Ohio's deal requires the state to maintain a 90% occupancy rate, but Janes said that provision remains in effect for 18 months — not 20 years — before it can be renegotiated. As part of the deal, Ohio pays the company a monthly fee, totaling $3.8 million per year.

This is not new. CCA had AB 1070 passed in Arizona to guarantee prison occupancy, and built a prison on speculation in California. But it's astonishing to see the machinations presented so matter-of-factly out in the open.

In these days of dire straits and realignment from state prisons to county jails, is it conceivable that California could cut a similar deal? I very much doubt it. CCPOA, the prison guards' union, would object it with all their might, and might win the battle again, as they have before. But it's a somber reminder that prisons are, above all, an industry, and subject to cynical manipulation by profiteers.

Props to David Greenberg for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Toward a Jurisprudence of Plea Bargaining Defense

The above scene from David Simon's masterpiece The Wire shows Levy, an attorney for a drug cartel, at the top of his game, negotiating a structured plea for drug kingpins. It's only one of several examples of media representations of plea bargains, which tend to highlight the ingenuity of defense attorneys who use their experience and savvy to get their client off as cheaply as possible. But is this representation true to the quality of defense provided to clients thinking on whether to take a plea bargain?

Last week, the Supreme Court decided Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, which bring up issues pertaining to the quality of defense counsel in the context of plea bargaining. In Lafler, the defense attorney advised the client not to take the plea, supposedly by convincing him that the prosecution would not be able to prove intent to kill given that the defendant shot the victim below the waist. Both parties agreed that this advice was deficient; the client took his attorney's advice and ended up convicted of murder and sentenced to a lengthy mandatory minimum. In Frye, defendant was charged with driving with a revoked license and had one prior. The prosecutor conveyed two possible plea bargains, one of them including a misdemeanor charge in lieu of a felony charge; the lawyer failed to communicate the offers to Frye, and a week before the preliminary hearing, Frye was caught driving with a revoked license again. He pled guilty to a felony with no underlying agreement and was sentenced to three years in prison; on appeal, he argued that, had he known of the offer, he would have pled guilty to the misdemeanor and would therefore not be convicted of the felony.

To understand the decisions in Lafler and Frye, it's a good idea to provide a bit of background on quality of defense, an issue we've tackled here before. Arguments about ineffective assistance of counsel often come up on appeal and in habeas corpus proceedings, where they serve as gatekeepers for other arguments; for example, since Fourth Amendment arguments are not allowed in habeas proceedings, petitioners will often argue ineffective assistance of counsel instead, thus bringing the Fourth Amendment argument in through the back door (e.g., rather than "the cops had no warrant to search my home", the argument would be, "my lawyer was so deficient that he didn't try to suppress the evidence the cops found in my home with no warrant.") But arguing ineffective assistance is tricky. Under Strickland v. Washington (1984), the appellant or petitioner has to prove two things: That the attorney did such a poor job that it falls below a minimum of competence ("the performance prong"), and that had the attorney provided competent services, the outcome of the trial would be different ("the prejudice prong").

Both of these arguments are very difficult to make. The Court has repeatedly ruled that defense work is art, not science, and excused many examples of abysmal lawyerly performance as "strategy". The Court has also often assumed that even an improved performance by the attorney would not change the result of the trial, thus making the argument more difficult.

Recently, the Supreme Court seems more concerned with the quality of defense, and with good reason. In Padilla v. Kentucky (2010), the court ruled that advising a Green-Card-holding client to take a plea whose collateral consequence could be deportation is inefficient assistance of counsel. Last week's decisions are a continuation of this trend, and great news in two important ways. First, they raise the standard of performance for defense attorneys. And second, they bring plea-bargaining defense--a huge deal of what defense attorneys actually do--from the shadows into the light, and require accountability for professional dealings in the plea bargaining context.

The problem Lafler faced was convincing the court that his failure to accept the plea bargain was prejudicial. The government made an effort to argue that the trial Lafler received was fair, but the Court argued that defendants are guaranteed efficient assistance of counsel even in pretrial stages, including during plea bargaining. The government, and lower courts, also maintained that after having rejected the plea bargain Lafler received a fair trial, which eliminates any gripes he might have about the plea bargain process. But such an interpretation, said Justice Kennedy, ignores the reality of criminal practice, in which the vast majority of cases are settled via plea bargain. Fixing this problem is tricky; you can't merely resentence the defendant, as he might have been charged with a less severe offense had he taken the plea. So, the correct solution is for the state to re-offer the plea, and for the defendant to consider anew whether to take it.

This understanding of the basic duties of defense attorneys in the plea bargaining process is repeated in Frye, where the Court yet again highlights that the duty to provide effective assistance pertains to all critical stages of the criminal process, not just criminal trials. How, then, is prejudice to be judged? An older case, Hill, requires that the defendant show "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” But that's not the only path for prejudice; in Frye, the defendant shows that, but for counsel's errors, he would have actually taken the earlier plea. Because of the subsequent offense, though, Frye might face some challenges showing that the prosecution would not have withdrawn the plea upon hearing of the new arrest.

The remarkable thing about the decisions is their willingness to talk about the plea bargaining process as one that requires competence and professionalism, and to provide defendants with relief when their plea bargaining was botched by faulty defense attorney performance. This is hugely important, as much socio-legal research shows that an important reason why people plead guilty is pressure by defense attorneys. While prosecutors have an immense amount of discretion in charging, and therefore many bargaining chips during the negotiation process, defense attorneys play a huge role in interpreting the bargain and bringing the clients to agree to the plea. This process, largely unregulated so far, will now attract more attention and scrutiny. And that is a very, very good thing.

Both decisions were given as an unsurprising 5-4 majority, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority and supported by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor. Justice Scalia wrote resentful dissents about the creation of a new "jurisprudence of plea bargains." Well, it's about time. Since 94-97% of all trials end in plea bargains, where else should we focus our efforts when attempting to raise the bar for quality defense lawyering?

Props to Rory Little and Amanda Leaf for motivating me to write this post, and to Dmitry Stadlin for our conversations about plea bargains in popular culture.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Unnecessary" Medical Treatment Ban Passes Senate Committee

The Senate Committee passed today SB 1079, initiated by Democrat Senator Michael Rubio. The proposal, whose full text is here, would amend the Penal Code to prevent CDCR from providing medical services unless they are "based on medical necessity and supported by outcome data as effective medical care." The proposition gives the treating physician the discretion whether to provide a certain medical treatment.

This, in itself, is interesting. In the lacuna created by the end of the Receivership health services, questions about the quality and quantity of medical services are bound to arise. And, one of the trends stemming from the financial crisis is saving on health care. But wait, there's more; SB 1079 provides a list of treatments that it deems "medically unnecessary." Some highlights follow:

  • The proposal proclaims that mononucleosis and mild sprains "improve on their own without treatment" and therefore will not be treated.
  • The proposal proclaims that some conditions are so severe that they don't respond well to treatment, and will therefore not be treated, and includes in the list multiple organ transplants and grossly metastatic cancer.
  • Then, we are regaled with a list of conditions that are "cosmetic;" some of these include conventional plastic surgery, but some of them include surgery for the purpose of sex reassignment and removal of tattoos (which could save someone's life in a prison environment for obvious reasons.)
  • And finally, we're explicitly told that gender reassignment surgery is not "medically necessary."
  • Interestingly, the proposal goes as far as to explicitly rule out acupuncture and other methods, expressing not only a preference for Western medicine, but also a rejection of techniques that may be preventative and might actually save the state money in terms of disease prevention.
I'm dismayed, particularly about the classification of gender reassignment as not "medically necessary." Try and tell a trans woman who is serving her sentence at a men's prison that reassignment is not essential not only to her health, but to her immediate safety and well being. People do not pursue these operations on a whim; they do so because their gender expression does not match who they really are, and in a prison environment, it can save them from rape and torture. This is proposal, of which Michael Rubio brags on his website, is deplorable and should be protested and fought.

Props to Caitlin Henry for alerting me to this.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Should CA Learn from Mississippi and Rethink Solitary Confinement?

Mississippi State Penitentiary isolation cell.
Credit Josh Anderson for the New York Times.
A recent New York Times story, titled Rethinking Solitary Confinement, tells of Mississippi's surprising reaction to violent incidents in the solitary confinement unit:

They allowed most inmates out of their cells for hours each day. They built a basketball court and a group dining area. They put rehabilitation programs in place and let prisoners work their way to greater privileges.

In response, the inmates became better behaved. Violence went down. The number of prisoners in isolation dropped to about 300 from more than 1,000. So many inmates were moved into the general population of other prisons that Unit 32 was closed in 2010, saving the state more than $5 million.

The transformation of the Mississippi prison has become a focal point for a growing number of states that are rethinking the use of long-term isolation and re-evaluating how many inmates really require it, how long they should be kept there and how best to move them out. Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Ohio and Washington State have been taking steps to reduce the number of prisoners in long-term isolation; others have plans to do so. On Friday, officials in California announced a plan for policy changes that could result in fewer prisoners being sent to the state’s three super-maximum-security units.

The article goes in depth into the creation of solitary regimes, beginning with the days of Eastern State Penitentiary (an institution we visited and reviewed a while ago) and chronicling the correctional authorities' constant concern about gang warfare. And, as always these days, there's a financial angle.

Segregation units can be two to three times as costly to build and, because of their extensive staffing requirements, to operate as conventional prisons are. They are an expense that manyrecession-plagued states can ill afford; Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois announced plans late last month to close the state’s supermax prison for budgetary reasons.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Juvenile Realignment Delayed

The Senate Budget Sub-Committee has decided to delay their approval for the Governor’s proposal to stop intake of juvenile offenders at the State Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) on January 1, 2013, shift responsibility for the juveniles to local governments, and fund local governments $10 million in 2011-2012 for the planning of the incoming youthful offenders. This is after Budget Sub-Committee staff recommended waiting to move on the Governor’s proposal to realign DJJ to the local governments until the May Revise.

Budget Sub-Committee staff noted "potential hurdles" in implementing the Governor’s proposal including: an increase in direct files; court commitment changes; "sight and sound" barriers for minors housed in adult institutions; and statutory changes, as counties can only house wards until age 21 while DJJ houses wards up to age 25.

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair and Commonweal Juvenile Justice Program Director David Steinhart spoke about these items on a panel at the hearing. Macallair recommended pushing back the deadline for DJJ closure to 2015-2016 to allow more time for planning. He also recommended Ventura Youth Correctional Facility be closed, and encouraged the Legislature to take advantage of private foundation support. Steinhart proposed more housing options for older and more violent juvenile offenders. He also recommended penalties for counties that have high rates of direct files. Sumayyah Waheed of the Ella Baker Center also testified, noting concerns with the current progress on implementing the stipulations from the Farrell v. Cate case regarding unconstitutional conditions at DJJ facilities, including problems such as guard harassment and “room sweeps.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Amicus Brief Submitted in Felon Disenfranchisement Case

"Vote" by Anthony Papa,
Today I filed an amicus brief on behalf of a list of leading criminal justice scholars, supporting petitioners in All Of Us Or None v. Bowen. AOUON and other organizations have filed a petition asking that the Secretary of State allow people serving their sentences in jails post-realignment, or under community post-release supervision, to vote in the elections. In doing so, they rely on the California Constitution, which grants the vote to everyone except those “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony". The Secretary of State, however, guides inmates not to vote if they are felons, even if they are serving their sentence in jail.

Here's the summary of our argument in support of the petition:

Following the California Criminal Justice Realignment, inmates convicted of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenses will serve their sentence in county jails, rather than in state prisons. The legislative history of AB 109, as well as its language and the practices it directs and encourages, suggest that the legislature intended to use local facilities not merely as a cost-saving measure, but rather as a tool in recidivism reduction through community corrections, reentry and rehabilitative programming. Amici posit that the local setting of jails is an ideal locus for implementing community reintegration goals, and that civic involvement, including enfranchisement, is paramount to these goals. A broad interpretation of the right to vote as including all population in local jails—convicted of non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent offenses, felonies and misdemeanors alike—is fully congruent with these goals. Moreover, enfranchising a broader population, as a result of AB 109, would increase democracy and encourage participation of underserved low-income communities and communities of color in the political and civic process. Finally, Amici rely on empirical research findings to suggest that enfranchisement of all jailed and formerly jailed individuals can positively contribute to recidivism reduction, a socially and economically desirable outcome.

The full brief can be downloaded from Dropbox.

25 Years of Sentencing

The Sentencing Project has a new collection of essays out, celebrating 25 years of existence and envisioning the sentencing and corrections of the future.

Alan Jenkins' essay features the following analysis of the changes in public opinion:

A 2006 survey by the National Center for State Courts, for example, showed that crime was regarded as the country’s
top problem by only 2 percent of Americans, while another 2 percent considered illegal drugs to be the top prob- lem. By contrast, in 1993, crime topped a majority of the U.S. public’s list.

According to the NCSC survey, and others, 58 percent of Americans favor prevention and rehabilitation as the best way to deal with crime over enforcement and punishment, and 8 in 10 believe something can be done to turn someone into a productive citizen after they’ve committed a crime. By a huge margin (76 percent vs. 19 percent), the public pre- fers to spend tax dollars on programs that prevent crime rather than building more prisons.

While the death penalty remains popular standing alone, a 2010 poll commissioned by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 61 percent of voters favor clear alterna- tives like life in prison with restitution to victims’ families.

And, more so than in past years, significant segments of the public also see bias based on race and income as real and troubling problems. Large majorities, moreover, see socio- economic bias in the system. These are still tough debates, but ones we can win.

Low crime rates, diminished crime reporting by many news outlets, rising budget pressures, and smart communica- tions by advocates have driven this shift in public opinion. That mix has made possible changes that seemed unthink- able a decade ago: reform of New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, reentry and drug treatment alternatives in Texas, res- toration of voting rights in Rhode Island, abolition of the death penalty in multiple states, lessening of federal crack/ powder cocaine sentencing disparities, and the bipartisan Second Chance Act.

Moving toward a model criminal justice system, then, is more achievable today than at any time in recent memory. Now is the time to build on public support and channel it toward more transformative change. That means adding a more effective and collaborative communications strategy to the innovative advocacy, organizing, litigation, research, and policy analysis that reformers are already pursuing around the country.

I think Jenkins is right and the tides are turning, but I can't help but ask myself whether it really is profound ideological change or scarcity-induced pragmatism. Not that the latter can't be a basis for change.

Tomorrow at Public Safety Committee: Juvenile Realignment

Tomorrow, March 22 at 9:30 am, the Senate Budget Sub-committee for Public Safety will be hearing testimony on the Governor's juvenile justice realignment proposal. The location is Room 113.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

New SHU Regulations Published by CDCR

CDCR has just published their new regulations pertaining to the placement of inmates in SHU units and the process followed to get out of the SHU. The regulations do not say so explicitly--rather, they claim to rely on a report from 2007--but their timing cannot have been coincidental, given the promises given to hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and elsewhere.

The regulations group known gangs into two risk groups, referred to as STGs in the report. New gangs can be assigned to an STG through documentation about their activities.

As to the process of validating inmates as gang members, CDCR currently groups people into Gang Members and Gang Associates. The report adds two new categories: Suspects (folks not officially validated) and Monitored (folks who are in the process of disentangling their association with the gang and returned to general population). The current sources required to tie a given inmate to a gang remains essentially the same, except that the reliability/weight of sources is assessed based on a number of "points", and a certain number of "points" is required for each category. Symbols are assigned two points; debriefing (snitching) sources are assigned three points; harder evidence, like documents and photographs, are assigned four points. Self confession is assigned five points, and conviction of an offense, as well as tattoos or body marks, entails six points.

It seems that the great novelty in the report is the gradual debriefing system it sets up. When gang members who went through the validation process are assigned to the SHU, they are to be shown a "gang diversion video" and instructed on the multi-step process required for leaving the SHU. Moving from step to step could take at least a year, as offenders have to show that they are progressing from step to step (currently, there is only one step, and there is a minimum of six years at the SHU). The passage of each step entails special privileges, such as television, phones, and packages of personal property. While inmates may study and take college exams on all levels, folks on Step 3 are eligible for enhanced rehabilitation programs, including anger management and group meetings.

Another important point has to do with gang groupings. STG-I gang members are routinely placed in the SHU, while STG-II gang members would only be assigned to the SHU if they were involved in severe and repetitive criminal activity.

The debriefing process is demystified, including the provision of the following information:
Reason for disavowing the gang
History of the criminal gang
Identity of other known gang members
Leadership structure within and outside of the prison Identity of person(s) ordering gang incidents
Reasons for gang incidents (if known) Gang symbols
Mail drops
Communication networks (mail, phones, notes, visits, etc.)
Crimes (escapes, narcotics trafficking, weapons, etc.)
Misuse of legal and or religious programs
Associates/suspect information (family, friends, etc.) providing support for the gang. Community gang activities
Future plans for the gang

Should this plan be approved, it remains to be seen whether it has a salutary effect on SHU population and practices.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Update to the Realignment Report Card

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB, published a very helpful report ranking counties' realignment plans back in October when realignment took effect. Now CURB has issued a new, updated report card comparing 12 large counties' realignment schemes. Take a look at this vital info!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Felon Disenfranchisement Policy Challenged

Today, several Californian civil rights organizations filed a new lawsuit with the First District Appellate Court, arguing against Secretary of State Deborah Bowen's policy of disenfranchising all felons, including those who, after realignment, serve time in jail.

And... CCC is involved! A group of criminal justice scholars, represented by yours truly, will be filing an amicus brief shortly in support of the lawsuit.

Here's what is going on: As some readers may know, Californians imprisoned in state institutions, or on parole, are disenfranchised, but jail inmates and probationers have a right to vote. The realignment, as we know, puts many formerly imprisoned felons in county jails, for part or all of their sentence.

The legal language gives the right to vote to all inmates who are not "imprisoned". Nonetheless, the California Secretary of State interprets the law as if the felons who will be doing time in jail should remain disenfranchised, and instructs the inmates accordingly. Several inmate rights organizations are now petitioning the Court of Appeals for an original writ, asking that voting rights be extended to everyone serving time in jail or on post-jail community supervision, whether felon or misdemeanant.

We are putting together an amicus brief on behalf of criminal justice scholars to support the petition. The main argument in the brief is that the Realignment was informed by a perspective of reentry and community-based corrections, and as such should encourage civic engagement. We also argue that jails, especially post-Realignment, are the ideal setting for encouraging reintegration through civic rights. The Realignment gives us the opportunity to make that argument on sound legal ground at least with regard to non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenders doing time in (or out on supervision from) county jails.

I will post the finished brief after filing. For now, here's a link to the petition.

Examining Realignment: How Will We Know if it's Working

Join the Association for Criminal Justice Research for its 75th Semi-Annual Conference March 22-23 at the Lion's Gate Hotel in Sacramento (McClellan Campus). The theme is Examining Realignment: How Will We Know if it's Working? Speakers include: Matt Cate, Diane Cummins, sheriffs, chief probation officers, DAs and judges, representatives from the LAO, PPIC, RAND, the Senate and many other organizations. For complete program information, scholarship applications, and registration, please contact Rebecca Blanton at

New Paper on Realignment

Our friends at the Warren Institute have published a new paper by Rebecca Sullivan Silbert, titled Thinking Critically about Realignment in California, which you can read in full here. The nice thing about this publication is its clear and understandable language; Silbert breaks down technical complexities and makes this policy change much more accessible for all of us. Here are some highlights.

Silbert starts by delineating the difference between county jails and state prisons prior to realignment, including implications of jails' smaller size, mandatory parole for state prisoners, and state costs stemming from the return to custody of parolees.

The paper then discusses overcrowding in state prisons, which it attributes to four factors: The gradual increase in sentencing, the labeling of more crime as violent and serious, the inability to cope with addictions and mental illness, and the mandatory parole mechanism with the potential return to prison for violations.

The main changes due to realignment are concisely discussed. They include serving one's sentence in jail; split sentences between prison and jail, at judicial discretion;  having some state prisoners come under the auspices of community post-release programs in lieu of state parole; and sending parole violators to jail in lieu of prison.

The report then goes on to discuss the level of readiness of county institutions for the task of incarcerating more people and for longer terms, as well as the concerns about the medical and mental health needs of the new county inmates. Silbert then brings up concerns about "charging up" as well as about defense attorneys negotiating state prison because of the shorter post-sentence supervision implied.

The report does not discuss juvenile realignment, but there are plenty of other sources of information on that.