Thursday, December 5, 2013

Solitary Confinement: What Could the Legislature Do?

Two months have passed since the joint legislative hearing held by the California Senate and Assembly Public Safety committees. At the hearing, lawmakers heard testimony from CDCR personnel, academics, and families of  SHU inmates.

At the hearing, several of the lawmakers, especially Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock, and Nancy Skinner spoke up about their discomfort with SHU conditions. If this is truly the zeitgeist in the legislature, what can they do to modify the conditions?

It is highly unrealistic that California will do away with solitary confinement altogether. Short of extreme creativity, it's hard to repurpose a maximum-security facility. Nor is it realistic to express political consensus that the institution is unnecessary. But there are various ways to mitigate our use of SHU units. Many of these are detailed in Confronting Confinement, a 2006 report by the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons. In the California case, the legislature could decide to:

1. Limit long-term solitary confinement to, say, ten years.
2. Monitor the entrance to solitary confinement. One possibility would be to limit solitary to punishment for infractions, but if the legislature doesn't want to go that far, they could focus on demanding more evidence of danger before admitting someone to solitary confinement.
3. Monitor the exit from solitary confinement. The legislature could decide to abolish the debriefing process, or it could call for modifications, such as improving the criteria for establishing gang status.
4. Limit disciplinary measures. The legislature could flat-out forbid collective punishment, especially when race based.
5. Make a decision about double-bunking. I confess this one trumps me as well. Being locked up alone in a cell versus sharing it, in very close quarters, with a roommate not of one's choosing? This could be what Keramet Reiter once referred to as "differently horrible."
6. Add human contact, such as work with others or joint yard time.
7. Increase contact with the outside, including letters and visits.
8. Increase access to books and educational opportunities.
9. Set up parameters for safe and effective health care.
10. Seriously examine the quality of food and consider guidelines and improvements.
11. Take on the quality of staff training.

We will have to wait and see how things shape up.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Music Review: Johnny Cash at Folsom and at San Quentin

It's been a while since a CCC update, and this was partly because I was hard at work wrapping up my book manuscript, Cheap on Crime: How Recession-Era Politics Transform American Punishment, and sending it off to the good people at UC Press. For those wanting a wee preview, my paper with Ryan Newby Death Row Economics and my forthcoming paper The Inmate Export Business should give you a flavor of the book, though the framework will be much broader than in the papers. Until the manuscript reviews arrive, I'm working on some new and interesting projects, including one about marriage and companionship in California prisons in the post-DOMA era.

But in the meantime, I have been listening to some good music, including Johnny Cash's two albums recorded as live performances in prison: The famous 1968 performance at Folsom, and the 1969 performance at San Quentin.

Johnny Cash needs no introduction. At the time he started considering a performance in prison, he had already had several brushes with the law himself, and his formerly glamorous career suffered serious setbacks because of his increasing dependence on drugs. Having kicked the habit at the end of 1967, Cash, whose interest in Folsom Prison was awakened long before (his Folsom Prison Blues was written back in 1953) reached out to San Quentin and Folsom through his new manager, Bob Johnston, and Folsom responded first.

Listening to the witty, subversive tracks makes one wonder how it was possible to organize a performance of this scale behind bars. The photos accompanying the CD depict Cash in front of an audience of thousands. Notably, the audience is largely white in those pre-drug-war days. Putting the show together must have been a logistic nightmare, and that CDC was willing to put up with it for subversive, anti-prison, pro-inmate, funny songs from a man whose own legal background was shady, seems incredible in 2013. The only example I can think of is Metallica's performance at San Quentin. But Cash's songs are risky and revolutionary. His 25 Minutes to Go is a wry, gallows-humor account of the minutes before the execution. "San Quentin, what good do you think you do? Do you think I'll be different when you're through?" He sings elsewhere, and even says, "San Quentin, may you born in hell; may your walls fall and I will live to tell."

The inmates' immense cheer is palpable.

The other tracks are also subversive and funny, and Cash's rich voice rings jovial and powerful. The audience seems to be enjoying the performance a great deal; I bet they were expecting it for a long time. Highly, highly recommended.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Review: Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

For ten years, between 1993 and 2003, Adrian LeBlanc followed the lives of four young people living in the Bronx, their trials and tribulations, their families, love affairs, and friendships, their struggles and moments of happiness and despair. Random Family is a remarkable work of nonfiction, of special interest to those who see prison as part and parcel of the American social fabric.

The book follows Jessica, a beautiful and charismatic young woman who becomes a love interest of "Boy" George Rivera, a successful heroin dealer, from her early teenage years, through her tumultuous relationship with George, through the fall of his heroin empire and the eventual incarceration of both of them. Jessica, who worked in George's heroin mill, was sentenced to ten years in prison when George was sentenced to life without parole. A life of high excitement, sex, and three children, whom Jessica was too young and distracted to mother by herself, gave way to years of incarceration, away from her children and her familial support system. Jessica navigates the complex experience of out-of-state incarceration; becomes romantically involved with a guard, bears his children, and eventually sues the prison system for sexual abuse; and finally, in her early thirties, is released from prison and starts putting her life together and mending her relationship with her teenage daughter.

The other couple at the focus of the narrative are Cesar, Jessica's young brother, and Coco, his girlfriend and mother of two of his children. Coco's love for Cesar endures throughout his nine years in prison for offenses related to the death of a friend, and she struggles hard to maintain her optimism through several apartment moves, immense poverty, and the need to provide for five children from four largely-absent fathers. Cesar's time in prison, including stints in solitary, efforts to improve his education and visits from family members and the four mothers of his children, sees him grow and develop wisdom and some understanding of the bigger set of circumstances faced by his family.

An array of mothers, absent fathers, aunties and uncles, friends of the family, and kin-of-choice surround the characters in their adventures and misventures. Thirtysomething year-old grandmothers Foxy (Coco's mother) and Lourdes (Jessica and Cesar's mothers) confront the choices made by their children replicating the choices they made, under similar circumstances. I found Milagros--a neighborhood friend who volunteers to raise a small army of children born by her friends, and whose possibly-queer sexuality is never explored in depth--particularly engaging and intriguing.

The narrative itself is as engrossing as a soap opera or a good thriller, but it is extremely valuable because of the overarching themes. The first one that struck me as immensely important is the ubiquity of sexual abuse in the lives of girls and young women. Virtually all protagonists of the book experienced sexual abuse, most of them as victims of family members and acquaintances parading through perennially unstable households. Men are held on to and fantasized upon, but cannot be fully trusted even when they are fathers, brothers and lovers. This shared experience makes the illusion of sexual freedom and agency that Jessica, Coco, and their family members seek problematic and somber.

A large number of children are born in the ten years spanned by the book, and virtually all women become mothers in their teenage years. Children are a source of pride and love, but also of anguish; their needs are impossible to address in overwhelming poverty, and they are consistently used--as symbols of love, as reminders of former love, as weapons to wield against sexual rivals, as instruments of hope for parents behind bars. The incarcerated parents--Serena, Stephanie and Brittany's mother; Mercedes and Nautica's father--leave gaping holes in their children's hearts, and the letter exchanges and visits gain immense importance. The inability to count on any man--in prison or outside--for paternal stability saddles the mothers in the book with responsibilities that tax their young age and lack of experience. And the intricacies of love and family relationships are fascinating; nonmonogamies of various kinds are built and broken; protagonists alternate between tolerance, friendship, and hatred of their sexual and romantic rivals, acknowledging the fragility of the family unit; and the double standard, allowing for men's multiple partnerships and families while begrudgingly accepting (and condemning) women's, is present throughout the narrative.

The deep involvement in drugs, as users and sellers, permeates the lives of everyone in the book. They approach the world of narcotics as the only one available; in the words of David Simon in The House I Live In, it's like working for the company in a company town. Incarceration is an inevitable way of life; many characters cycle in and out of prison, for crimes they committed and did not commit. They continue living, in their own experiences, and for their family outside; the weight of visits to distance prisons and expensive collect phone calls lies on the shoulders of twenty-year-old mothers and their multiple children. The struggles within prison are mirrored by the struggles of the family outside; economic difficulties, rivalries, the price of misplaced trust and generosity, all need to be handled in a reality that is oppressive outside as well as in.

We also see the protagonists constantly battling their crippling poverty and navigating the institutional world. Changes in welfare and educational policy (food stamps, HeadStart) transform the everyday lives of Coco and her family. New living situations, supervised and paternalized, require compliance to different forms of discipline. Every time a character seems to get ahead a bit, a new institutional issue pops up and needs to be urgently addressed.

One of the wonderful things about the book is that it doesn't attempt to reduce the realities it describes to one of two frameworks: self-agency, which blames its subjects for their fate, or environmental factors, which absolve them of responsibility for their choices. LeBlanc herself, reflecting on her book ten years after its publication, speaks to some of this complexity in the context of female sexuality and its construction in the lives of her subjects:

From the distance of a decade, one thing that was operative—and it’s an ongoing interest—is the ways in which gender inequality, and the stigma of women’s sexual agency, narrows the road for female development. Teen-agers rightly fight the assumptions we place on them—many due to the fears in the adults around them, or the unlived lives of those adults, or the lies the culture tells. But, too often, consequences of attempts to explore freedom are attributed solely to sexual agency, or painted solely as victimization, and it’s much more complicated than that. Serena was keenly aware of how little all of it had to do with her, and that was something I felt was important to note.

This is something that is important to note not only with regard to the women's sexual agency in the book. It's true about criminal career paths, opportunities for financial development, and other issues. There are conscious choices being made by people who weigh the options in front of them to the best of their abilities. But the menu of choices is severely circumscribed by culture, class, locale, ethnicity, and gender.

This book, in its remarkable objectivity, in the narrator's removal of herself from the narrative, in its perceptive insights into the lives of the people that inhabit its pages, is a must-read for anyone, regardless of political beliefs or interest in the prison system.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Criminal Justice Bills Vetoed by Gov. Brown in 2013

Image courtesy the Los Angeles Times.
Our first post in this series reviewed the bills signed into law by Gov. Brown in 2013. This edition examines some of the bills vetoed by the Governor, complete with veto memos and some thoughts about the future of the ideas behind the bills.

We all heard, of course, with great disappointment about the vetoing of SB 649, which would have reclassified simple drug possession offenses as "wobblers", thus allowing their prosecution as either felonies or misdemeanors. The passage of the bill would have put California on par with several other states. Not all, however, is lost. Gov. Brown's veto message indicated that, while he wasn't comfortable with this change, he might be open to other drug law reform (a good example is his signing of AB 721, which effectively decriminalizes drug transportation for personal use.)

There were other disappointments, and they were for the most part along the lines of failed attempts to create broad health-care and rehabilitation reforms or to curb police power. Examples of the former are AB 994, which proposed creating a postplea misdemeanor diversion program in each county; AB 1263, addressing Medi-Cal for low-income people, which would have had important implications for formerly incarcerated folks and their families, as it would establish CommuniCal, which would dispense information to folks with low proficiency in English; and AB 999, which would require CDCR to develop a 5-year plan to extend the availability of condoms in all CA prisons. An example of the latter is the veto on SB 467, which would prohibit a governmental entity from obtaining information from an electronic communication service provider without a warrant, and require that the subscriber/customer receive a copy of the warrant.

Some of these vetoes are deeply disappointing, but it is important to observe that they addressed extensive medical reforms, which the Governor may believe he is solving with his proposition to spend an enormous sum of money on privatizing prisons and thus reducing overcrowding.

Criminal Justice Bills Signed Into Law by Gov. Brown, 2013 Season

Image courtesy NBC San Diego.
A month ago we provided a brief overview of the criminal justice bills on Gov. Brown's desk. With the end of the legislative session, we have some important updates on some of these bills. This is the first of two posts, reporting on bills signed into law; the second post reviews vetoed bills.

We've all heard the news about the passage of AB 4, otherwise known as the TRUST Act. Federal law authorizes federal immigration officers to advise state and local law enforcement agents that a given person under custody has to be held for deportation. Under the new bill, CA law enforcement officials are not allowed to detain someone based on an ICE hold after the person is eligible for release from custody, unless certain conditions apply, such as a conviction for specified crimes.

Regular readers may recall our failed attempt to restore voting rights to non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent offenders in jail or on community supervision. AB 149 requires each county probation department to maintain a link to the Secretary of State's voting rights guide, explaining clearly people's rights to vote, which is particularly important in the case of probationers, who are eligible to vote in California and may not know that.

And we all remember the happy announcement that AB 218, otherwise known as Ban the Box, passed and was signed into law. The bill prohibits state or local agencies from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction until the agency has determined the applicant meets the minimum qualifications for the position. From the reentry perspective, it is a laudable initiative that gives formerly incarcerated people a fair shot at being considered for a position on their merits and qualifications. Fewer people are aware of SB 530, which prohibit employers from asking about convictions that have been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed, except in special circumstances.

There were a multitude of gun bills on the Governor's desk, and the end result on those was fairly mixed. The higher-profile bills were vetoed, such as SB 374, which would have banned semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and require registration of even low-capacity rifles, and SB 567, which would have defined some rifles and shotguns as assault weapons. However, AB 231, which makes it a misdemeanor to store loaded weapons where children might have access to them, passed, and so did bills creating prohibitions for businesses from applying for assault weapons permits and two bills restricting firearms for mentally ill patients.

AB 494 increases CDCR's accountability for literacy programs for inmates. Current law requires CDCR to implement literacy programs that would bring inmates, upon parole, to a 9th grade reading level. ABA 494 requires CDCR to implement literacy programs that allow inmates who already have that level of literacy to acquire a GED certificate or its equivalent, as well as offer college programs through voluntary education programs. It also lists priorities. AB 624 is also a source of similar good news for inmate advocates. The bill allows sheriffs and other county directors of corrections to increase the number of programs that provide inmates with good credits toward release. Along the same lines, AB 1019 requires that the Superintendent of Education set goals for technical education programs in prison.

In helping folks reintegrate into their communities, record-cleaning and expungement issues are incredibly important. Now that AB 651 has been signed into law, defendants who did jail time for felonies may apply for expungement (withdraw their plea of guilty) after one or two years following the completion of the sentence, if they have an otherwise clean record; this makes their situation vis-a-vis expungements similar to that of defendants on probation. Defendants who completed prefiling diversion programs may also petition to seal the arrest records, under newly enacted SB 513. There are special rules about expungement of juvenile records, and AB 1006 creates an obligation to notify juvenile defendants of their rights to petition for sealing and destruction of the records.

There are other bills specifically geared toward juvenile defendants. SB 569 requires recording all interrogations of juveniles accused of murder (why only juveniles? why only murder? I suppose someone thought an incremental approach would be best.) And, of course, there's SB 260, which, as we pointed out in the past, extends SB 9 to allow resentencing petitions for juveniles sentences to lengthy periods of time.

And more good news on the health care front: AB 720 requires the board of supervisors in each county to designate an entity to assist certain jail inmates to apply for a health insurance affordability program, and will prohibit county jail inmates who are currently enrolled in the Medi-Cal from being terminated from the program due to their detention, unless required by federal law or they become otherwise ineligible.

While SB 649, intended to reclassify simple drug possession as a "wobbler" (in order to allow it to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor) was vetoed (and more on that on the next post), there are some developments. AB 721 redefines drug transportation as transportation for sale purposes, effectively decriminalizing transportation for personal use.

There are also some expansions to police authority and some new criminal offenses, but at least from my perspective they seem fairly reasonable--a far cry from the super-punitive voter initiatives of elections past. SB 255 prohibits "revenge porn", that is, distributing someone's nude photo to cause them distress. [EDITED TO ADD: Notably, the law does not cover "sexting" situations, that is, redistribution of photos the victim took him/herself.] SB 717 allows issuing a search warrant to authorized a blood draw from a pesron in a "reasonable, medically approved manner, for DUI suspects who refuse to comply with police request for a blood draw. There's also SB 57, which prohibits registered sex offenders from tampering with their GPS devices, which I suppose is good news for folks who think these devices are good tools for recidivism prevention (I have doubts.)

SB 458 tempers the legal requirements for including people's name in gang databases. Under the new law, a person, or his/her parent/guardian in case of a minor, now gets notified that there's an intention to include him/her in the gang member registry, and the person may contest, with written materials, said designation. Local law enforcement has to prove verification of the designation, with written materials, within 60 days.

And finally, SB 618 extends the ability to receive compensation for wrongful conviction to felons serving jail time. Also, the bill extends the time to apply for compensation to two years, requiring the Attorney General to respond within 60 days, and also removes the burden on the exoneree or pardoned person to prove that they did not intentionally contribute to bringing about the arrest or conviction.

Some important themes emerge. First, note the emphasis on reentry and reintegration in the job market, which is a healthy recession-era policy to allow formerly incarcerated folks at least a fighting chance finding employment and rebuilding their lives. We're also seeing particular care with regard to juvenile offenders, especially those charged with or convicted of serious offenses. There isn't a lot of hyperpunitive legislation, and the few new offenses seem tempered and reasonable. The next post deals with the vetoed bills.


Monday, October 21, 2013

CCA Signs Lease of California City Prison

The prison in California City.
Photo courtesy the Tehachapi News.
Your $315 million, gentle readers, are hard at work. The Tehachapi News reports:

Plans to ameliorate the state's prison overcrowding moved forward Oct. 15 when Corrections Corporation of America announced it struck a deal with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to lease out its correctional center in California City to house state inmates.

The state will lease CCCC for a three-year term, with unlimited two-year renewal options, at a rate of $28.5 million annually, according to CCA's press release.

The alliance was originally outlined in Senate Bill 105, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 12, and which allocates $315 million for the "prison fix" through June 30, 2014.

Of the allocation, CDCR will spend $28.5 million per year on leasing the facility and another $93.5 million on operating costs, said CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas. The sum amounts to nearly 40 percent of the $315 million budget.

"It is a good chunk," Simas said of the spending.

She contrasted the operating cost with that of a similar state-run facility, which would be $108 million per year.

As an interesting twist, CCA employees who want to be guards are now testing to be peace officers (and, obviously, join the CCPOA.)

But wait! There's more!

With the Jan. 27, 2014, deadline looming for reducing state-wide inmate populations to 137.5 percent of capacity, CDCR is in a crunch to relocate about 9,600 inmates. Simas said once the inmates are moved to CCCC, the state will still need to transfer about 4,000 more to meet the court-ordered capacity cap.

The state expects to transfer 2,381 low to medium Level 2 adult male inmates who are currently in California state prisons to CCCC. Per the prison's website, the facility is of medium/maximum security caliber and has 2,304 beds. Simas said the state plans to double-cell the inmates, which CCA was not previously doing with its federal inmates.

As an aside: I don't usually read the Tehachapi News, but maybe I should. Great piece of reporting by Emily Brunett. All the information you need, none of the information you don't need, all the numbers check out, and all angles objectively covered.

Props to Josh Page for the link.

TODAY! Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment Hearing Live!

Humonetarianism and cost-centered criminal justice policies in action: In half an hour, the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment will hold a hearing, which you can watch live by clicking here at 10am.

A few words of background: This committee was mentioned a week ago at the hearings about solitary confinement, and it will be examining Gov. Brown's bill to invest $315 billion of my money and yours in private prisons to alleviate overcrowding. Anyone paying taxes in California should pay close attention to these proceedings.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bail: Freedom, Capitalized

This video, produced by the ACLU and Beyond Bars, was posted in a story that appeared this week on The Nation, titled, Should It Cost Less to Get Out of Jail If You're Rich?  It is an introduction to the bail bonds industry, its budgetary backing, and the way it affects people of different economic backgrounds.

Bail research is fascinating. In the late 1980s, Michele Sviridoff found out that judges gave a "discount" to defendants making bail in cash. G.P. Monks found that the police was ineffective in assuring that people showed up for trial. But research from 2011 shows the extent to which the bond industry has been privatized. Mary Phillips, doing research in New York, finds that bail bondsmen's share of the industry has significantly grown, and that their actions magnify the alredy-existing socioeconomic gaps.  Brian Johnson and Ruth Stevens find that states place very few regulations on the bonds industry and on licensing to become a bail bondsman. According to this Justice Policy Institute report, the bail industry is not cheaper than the alternatives, and it is incredibly prone to overcharging and corruption. It is also backed by powerful profiteers. Shadd Maruna and colleagues even predict that people will be able to leave prison on parole after posting "post-conviction bail."

Conversations about prison privatization often ignore bail bonds, which are one of the first stops on the criminal justice train. It is worthwhile to take a look at costs, incentives, and class disparities even in these early stages of the criminal process.

Props to Amir Paz-Fuchs for The Nation link.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Community Mobilizing Against San Francisco Jail Expansion

Next Tuesday, San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi will be addressing the Board of Supervisors with a request for $80 million to fund construction of a new San Francisco jail. Construction costs are estimated to be at least $300 million--$700 with debt service--altogether.

Mirkarimi, who faces reelection in 2015 after a controversial arrest and reinstatement, argues that the new jail will be necessary when the seismically vulnerable Hall of Justice, which houses 828 arrestees, will be demolished. But opponents believe that existing facilities are underused, and that not all detainees awaiting trial need to be behind bars. Even law enforcement officials question the need for new construction.

If you are concerned about spending public money to build more jail space, call your supervisor and email to express your concerns.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

California Prison Overcrowding: State of the State, October 2013

And now, this is how things stood: the cat was sitting on one branch, the bird on another… not too close to the cat... and the wolf walked around and around the tree looking at them with greedy eyes.

                                                                           --Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf (1936)

Developments in the last few months raise grim questions about the wisdom of leaving California to its own devices in trying to solve its overcrowding problem. Since the initial three-judge panel order in Plata v. Schwarzenengger (2009), the state has fought tooth and nail against the order to reduce population, and the struggle against the court mandate continued even after the Supreme Court confirmed the order, 5-4, in Brown v. Plata (2011). Numerous state appeals and motions to change the order and delay the timeline for population reduction (some of them bordering on contempt of court) have been thwarted. The last of these is the Supreme Court's rejection of the state's appeal yesterday. The Chron reports:

The high court's one-line dismissal - which said only that the court lacked jurisdiction to step in - leaves intact a three-judge federal panel's directive to the state to slash its population of 120,000 inmates in 33 prisons.

. . . 

Brown has been fighting for years the prospect of releasing some prisoners early, saying he was worried it could increase crime. Advocates and attorneys for prisoners have pushed for reforms in sentencing that they say would safely shrink the prison system.

Through a spokeswoman, Brown referred Tuesday to a statement released by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman, which said officials were "disappointed the state's case won't be heard."

But this rejection is far from being the big victory that inmate rights advocates are seeking. The original order in Plata was to reduce overcrowding in prison to 137.5% capacity, but it famously left it up to the state to find the means to do so. Moreover, Justice Kennedy's celebrated opinion of the court in 2011 explicitly stated that one way of doing so could be via more prison construction. In 2011, activists and advocates felt comfortable in the knowledge that prison construction was impossible; the state was broke and public sentiment was that correctional expenditures were already excessive, to the point that former Governor Schwarzenegger suggested enacting a law that would prohibit correctional expenditures to exceed educational expenditures. It now, however, appears that "the money is there" to start privatizing California's prisons en mass, via lucrative contracts with Correctional Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

California never had dealings with private prison providers on its own soil, though it did send 10,000 of its inmates to CCA institutions out of state and was a significant source of income for the company. This was not because of some principled objection to privatization; rather, it was because the California Correctional Peace Officer Association (CCPOA) actively resisted privatization out of concern for the guards' employment. As Josh Page reveals in The Toughest Beat, CCPOA is so powerful in California that even a prison built in CA by CCA entirely on speculation was left empty. But these difficulties have been resolved: Governor Brown, historically a good friend and ally of the prison guards union, has promised them that they would be employed in these newly-constructed private prisons. This promise made old enemies - state prison guards and private prison providers - into allies, and sealed the deal toward a projected expenditure of $315 million of my money and yours on prison construction.

Obviously CCA is laughing all the way to the bank - a rare and enviable position for a corporation at the end of a recession and during a government shutdown. Here's how this lucrative contract looks from Tennessee, home of CCA. The Nashville post reports:

The lease agreement between CCA and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calls for the state — which is under a court order to reduce overcrowding in its jails — to pay Nashville-based CCA $28.5 million per year starting Dec. 1. If the two sides agree to two-year extensions after three years, the rent will begin to increase gradually. CCA also has committed to spending $10 million on improvements at its 2,304-bed California City Correctional Center; renovations beyond that will be paid for by California.

"We appreciate the opportunity to expand upon our longstanding relationship with the CDCR and the state of California," said CCA CEO Damon Hininger. "Our ability to react quickly to our partners' needs with innovative solutions that make the best use of taxpayer dollars exemplifies the flexibility that CCA is able to provide."

In conjunction with its California contract news — which had been expected since August — Hininger and his team also said CCA's fourth-quarter profits will be hurt by a number of factors, including the spending needed to reopen its California City complex. Among them: Lower inmate counts related to its contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which are believed to be "due to the furlough of government employees and other consequences of the federal government shutdown."

On top of that, CCA's leadership has begun spending money to prepare vacant prisons in anticipation of more business from California late this year. The total impact of those factors on Q4 numbers isn't yet clear, the company said. Analysts are expecting the company to earn 49 cents per share during the fourth quarter.

Investors chose to put more emphasis on the new California cash that will start arriving in December. As of about 1:35 p.m., shares of CCA (Ticker: CXW) were up about 1.5 percent to $35.81, putting them back in positive territory for the year.

If you're still capable of keeping your breakfast down, you didn't read carefully enough.

Governor Brown essentially put the ball in the hands of the federal courts, by saying - if you don't give us some time to cope with the expected releases, we'll have to recur to privatization and high-expense construction. This option was produced, as if out of a magician's hat, in the height of the California Criminal Justice Realignment, which presumably redistributes overcrowding and internalizes its expenses by making counties, who are responsible for charging and sentencing, think about incarceration alternatives and manage their own convict population. One has to wonder what good this experiment is if, suddenly, we're building private prisons in three counties and contributing $28.5 million per annum, to the foreseeable future and beyond, to CCA's bottom line.

We will continue following up on developments and reporting as we have for the last five years.

Props to David Takacs and to Jim Parker.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Ban The Box Signed Into Law

Thank you all for your civic energy a few weeks ago, making phone calls and Facebook noise on behalf of Assembly Bill 218 (Ban the Box). Governor Brown has just signed the bill into law.

The bill prohibits a state or local agency from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction until the agency has determined the applicant meets the minimum employment qualifications for the position, giving formerly incarcerated or convicted folks a fighting chance in getting their lives back on track as law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

RIGHT NOW! Solitary Confinement Hearings Livestream

The California Legislative Hearings on solitary confinement are streaming live, starting 1pm and ending at 3:30pm, at this link.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gov. Brown Signs Bill Promoting Health Access to Inmates

Assembly Bill 720, authored by Assemblymember Skinner, was signed by Governor Brown today. This bill allows the board of supervisors in each county to designate an entity to assist certain jail inmates to apply for a health insurance affordability program, and will prohibit county jail inmates who are currently enrolled in the Medi-Cal from being terminated from the program due to their detention, unless required by federal law or they become otherwise ineligible.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Solitary Confinement Hearings at Senate, Oct. 9

Next week, the California Senate Committee on Public Safety will hold hearings on solitary confinement. The promise to hold hearings was one of the reasons for the end of the third Pelican Bay hunger strike.

  1 p.m. - John L. Burton Hearing Room (4203)
                               INFORMATIONAL HEARING 
SUBJECT: Segregation Policies in California Prisons:
 Current Conditions and Implications on Prison
 Management and Human Rights

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ashker v. Brown: Guest Post by Hali Ford

A long line of high school students filed into the courthouse at 2 o’clock.  One attorney told me she had never seen such a turn out for oral arguments.  Judge Wilken interrupted the attorneys’ appearances to welcome the high school students.  She highlighted the importance of their attendance at a case involving such serious issues.

A group of Pelican Bay inmates seeks class certification to bring two claims against Governor Brown and CDCR.  Under current CDCR protocol, tattoos, reading materials, associations with other prisoners, and other factors earn inmates “points” towards being “validated” as a gang member.  Validated inmates are placed in solitary confinement, or, “the SHU” (secure housing unit), indefinitely.  The inmates claim this “indefinite SHU time for constitutionally infirm reasons” violates due process.  The inmates also seek to certify a “subset” of the class: inmates who have been in the SHU for longer than 10 years.  This subset brings an 8th Amendment challenge, arguing that 10+ years in solitary confinement poses an “unacceptable risk to prisoners.”   

Judge Wilken took issue primarily with the inmates’ method for defining the 8th Amendment class.   A key question cannot be answered except through discovery: how many, if any, inmates have been in SHU for longer than 10 years for reasons other than gang validation?   The inmates’ counsel stated that he suspects, but must determine through discovery, that no inmates have been in the SHU beyond 10 years for any other reason.  Judge Wilken expressed concern about certifying the class without knowing the characteristics of its members with certainty.   To bring a class action, the inmate group must satisfy the conditions of commonality and typicality.  She also explained that the 8th Amendment test to determine whether punishment is cruel and unusual compares the severity of punishment against the gravity of the offense.  The 8th Amendment balancing calculus would differ for the inmate who has been in the SHU for longer than 10 years because he murdered another inmate, for example, and the inmate in the SHU 10+ years for gang validation, and gang validation only.

Judge Wilken preferred to visualize the due process and 8th Amendment groups as a Venn diagram instead of an umbrella group and subset: all of the members of the due process group challenging gang validation in one circle, in the other circle, all of the 8th Amendment group members challenging 10+ years in the SHU, and in the overlap, those who have been in the SHU for more than 10 years for gang validation only.  The inmates believe all of the 8th Amendment group members also fit within the due process class.  That fact will be determined in discovery.

Neither party objected to defining the potential due process class as “all inmates serving indeterminate sentences at Pelican Bay SHU pursuant to Title 15 as of x date, on the basis of gang validation only.”  For the 8th Amendment challenge, Judge Wilken suggested the parties amend the complaint once they have determined the number, if any, of inmates in SHU for 10+ years for reasons other than gang validation.

Discovery will involve interviewing more than 100 inmates.  The discovery deadline is set for late March, summary judgment June 19, and bench trial nov 3-21 bench trial.  Neither party expressed enthusiasm when Judge Wilken discussed settlement.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Litigating Solitary Confinement: Class Certification in Ashker v. Brown - Guest post by Brittany Stonesifer

Around a hundred people – family members, activists, lawyers, reporters, and even a group of high school history students – gathered yesterday outside the Oakland Courthouse to advocate an end to long-term solitary confinement in California.  The rally and press conference was organized by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a coalition that provided support to California prisoners engaged in a recent 60 day long hunger strike.  With around 30,000 initial participants, the hunger strike centered around 5 core demands to end to the inhumane and unjust conditions of California’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) system.

The focal point of the prisoner hunger strike, Pelican Bay SHU, is also the subject of the lawsuit considered yesterday in Oakland.  In Ashker v. Brown, a group of prisoners is suing CDCR and Governor Brown to secure an injunction against indeterminate SHU sentencing based on gang validation.  The case, presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken, is being litigated by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and other co-counsel from around the country. 

Yesterday, Judge Wilken heard oral arguments on a motion to certify a class of plaintiffs in Ashker who would assert due process violations based on gang validation, as well as cruel and unusual punishment of those prisoners who have been in isolation for more than ten years.  Granting the motion, under Federal Rule 23, would mean these claims would be brought on behalf of a large group of prisoners who have each suffered solitary confinement, rather than on behalf of individual plaintiffs.  Among other things, Rule 23 requires that there are grievances common to all class members and that the claims of the named plaintiffs are typical of others in the group.

In yesterday’s oral arguments (see the motion for class certification here), Judge Wilken’s questions focused first on how the commonality of the class is affected by CDCR’s new gang validation pilot program.  Specifically, since the commencement of the Ashker case, CDCR has created a Security Threat Group (STG) pilot program that it claims resolves the due process violations of the prior validation system.

Judge Wilken expressed concern that those prisoners sentenced to indeterminate SHU terms under the old validation system would constitute a different class from those validated under the STG pilot program.  However, as CCR Attorney Alexi Agathocleous – who argued today on behalf of the plaintiffs – pointed out, CDCR has yet to provide any evidence that the pilot program addresses any of the due process issues raised in the complaint, such as being able to use the possession of artwork to sentence prisoners to indefinite isolation.

In addition to the due process claim, the lawsuit asserts that the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is violated when gang-validated prisoners are kept in solitary for more than a decade.  Though the Ashker case defines these prisoners as part of a “subclass,” Judge Wilken questioned whether there were potentially prisoners who had been detained in the SHU for more than ten years who were serving determinate sentences. 

It is worth distinguishing here that those sentenced to SHU terms can either serve set, determinate sentences for behavioral violations under Title 15 or be assigned indeterminate sentences on the basis of suspected gang association.  Plaintiffs yesterday pointed out that it is unlikely that there is a separate class of prisoners who have been in SHU for more than ten years because, under Title 15, even the most severe rule violation – murder of a non-inmate – is punishable by a maximum of five years in SHU.  (As an aside, the UN has stated that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days amounts to torture.)

To follow the litigation of Ashker v. Brown – including Judge Wilken’s ruling on the motion to certify the class - and the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement, visit LSPC, PHSS, or CCR.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

California Realignment Resources

This post will be continuously updated and serve as a bibliography of published works and works in progress on the California Criminal Justice Realignment. If you are working on similar topics or know of a project not mentioned here, please email me with the details and possibly a link.

Jones, Nicole. 2012. Realignment: California's Criminal Justice Experiment. KALW four-part radio show.

Macallair, Dan, et al. 2012. Lessons Learned:The Santa Cruz County Story, Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Owen, Barbara, and Alan Mobley. 2012. “Realignment in California: Policy and Research Implications.” Western Criminology Review 13(2):46-52.

Schlanger, Margo. 2013. Plata v. Brown and Realignment: Jails, Prisons, Courts, and Politics, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), 48(1).

Spencer, Jessica, and Joan Petersilia. 2013. Voices from the Field: California Victims’ Rights in A Post-Realignment World. Federal Sentencing Reporter 25(4).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Researching the California Criminal Justice Realignment

I am in Seattle, WA, for the West Coast Law and Society Retreat, where we just finished a panel examining various perspectives on the criminal justice realignment. The panel featured several folks doing work on criminal justice reform from various perspectives: W. David Ball from Santa Clara University, Mona Lynch from UC Irvine, Jonathan Simon from UC Berkeley, and Katherine Beckett from University of Washington. We all talked about the research that is being done, the research that should be done, how the research community can be relevant and influential in making healthy decisions about corrections in California, and the impediments and challenges that lie ahead.

David Ball spoke about the importance of communicating with decisionmakers in the field. His fieldwork (with Bob Weisberg) involves prosecutorial decisionmaking after realignment. They interview prosecutors about the existence, or lack thereof, of consistent prosecutorial guidelines. In presenting prosecutors with a series of hypotheticals, which they ask prosecutors to rate on a seriousness scale, they expose the discretionary nature of realignment prosecution: The choice what to charge a person with could impact whether s/he will be regarded as a "non-non-non" and therefore housed in a jail. They have also uncovered the subtle interactions between prosecutors and the police, primarily areas of non-enforcement and non-prosecution.

Mona Lynch mentioned that the two types of realignment research done most frequently are policy evaluation, which is the only thing that can be funded (and has been done by several organizations, notably CJCJ and the ACLU of Northern CA), and legal research that focuses on Eighth Amendment arguments. The challenges ahead lie in the "hydra risk" of bad conditions in many jails in lieu of a few prisons. She suggested two socio-legal avenues for research: returning to, and revisiting, the classic courtroom ethnographies in a way that would uncover the framing and understanding of offenders (think David Sudnow's Normal Crimes - first deciding what a person deserves based on a typology and then putting it together via the existing sentencing enhancements), and a study of the experience of jail incarceration (jails have been understudied; one great counterexample is Sharon Dolovich's study of the Los Angeles County Jail.) This research may entail access issues we should overcome.

Jonathan Simon reminded us that realignment cannot be framed as an improvement on the system, but rather as a cover-up for a human rights crime that we will some day grow to regret: "torture on the installment plan."He also encouraged us to challenge the assumption that rehabilitation and risk reduction programs need to be in place to combat the threat to public safety, problematizing the correlation CDCR draws between public safety and incarceration (with the drug war in the throes of death, are we reaffirming our commitment to locking up violent offenders for disproportionately long periods of time?).

Katherine Beckett provided a much-needed comparative context. She reminded us that other states are also punting their responsibilities to the county level. Also, many states have wobbler legislation, nonprosecutorial policies that yield county variation, and parole/probation reforms (as in Kansas), as well as drug law reform (New York State is an example). Her current project, reviewing prison admission data from 29 states, indicates that many states have seen a reduction in prison admission through these reforms, but these gains are offset by admissions for violence, public order, and property offenses, which are surprising given that arrest rates are falling. Beckett and other panelists highlighted the problem of entrenching the notion of "dangerous offenders", whose mass incarceration is being
kosherized via the decarceration of the presumably less-dangerous drug offenders.

We had a very lively discussion with audience members:

Are there opportunities for graduate students who want to do empirical qualitative analysis of the realignment? We should know what other people are studying, and maybe throw in some questions in questionnaires (the Federal Sentencing Reporter issue on realignment is a great example.)

What are the interactions with, and effect on, immigration law? Has realignment changed charging practices with offenses that may or may not trigger deportation?

How do institutional pressures - courtroom workgroups, profiteers, unions, the market - play a role? Nobody wants their organization to shrink, and therefore prosecutors have a vested interest in keeping mass incarceration at its current level.

What role does impact litigation and critical resistance play in the process of realignment? We should keep in mind that a third of the jails already have population cap orders.

With regard to policy evaluation studies, those are difficult to do, because realignment is not the only thing that has changed. Some panelists suggested longitudinal studies (following up on cohorts of offenders) and comparative between counties. But there is also a concern about how to frame the dependent variable: What would it mean for realignment to "work"? And from whose perspective? What do we want or expect from our criminal justice policy? And, how to measure recidivism?

One suggestion made on the panel was to look at home detention and GPS as a possible alternative for mass incarceration. While the prison is unique as an institution producing what we now know as a human rights disaster, replacing it by home detention would also have adverse and alienating effects.

We also discussed the problematic aspect of thinking that mass incarceration is "normal", and that we won't be able to really think outside the box given the stake so many institutions and organizations have in the existence of mass incarceration.

Finally, a workshop on realignment is being planned for October 2014, and we hope to be there and be able to say more about how realignment works.


I'd very much like to invite the panelists and audience to send over links to research on realignment, so we can have a repository of resources here at the CCC blog.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Gov. Brown's Desk

Gov. Brown signing a bill. Photo
courtesy the Examiner.
The legislative session has ended, and many criminal justice bills are on Governor Brown's desk, awaiting his signature or veto. Here are some of the important decision already made, or about to be made, at the gubernatorial office.

There is a whole lot of gun control bills. This legislative session, no doubt influenced by the Sandy Hook tragedy, included many bills to prohibit certain types of ammunition, outlaw the sale of fixing kits to create assault rifles, ban open carry, and require certification and licensing. The NRA has issued a call to its members to oppose all of these bills.

There's also AB 105, proposed by Gov. Brown himself, and signed a few days ago, which will spend $315 million of your money and mine on contracting with private jails. This is part of Brown's campaign to circumvent the Supreme Court order to reduce population; as BeyondChron pointed out time and again,  Brown's stubbornness on prisons and general punitive old-school approach to incarceration is difficult to reconcile with his otherwise progressive positions.

Happily, not all news are bad. Brown has signed SB 260, which will give juveniles incarcerated for lengthy periods of time a right to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings to demonstrate their suitability for release after serving at least 15 years of their sentence. This bill may affect the fate of as many as 5,000 California inmates.

Still awaiting gubernatorial approval is SB 649, which would convert all simple drug possession offenses in California into wobblers, allowing for their prosecution as misdemeanors. Ironically, approving SB 649 may work well in conjunction with AB 105, in terms of the monetary savings and inmate diversion that will result from it.

Also sent to the governor's approval is AB 218, otherwise known as Ban the Box, which prohibits asking job applicants about their criminal records until it is established that they meet the minimum qualifications for the job.

Also notable, SB 569, if signed by the Governor, will require the police to videotape all police interrogations of juveniles accused of murder. Why only juveniles? Why only murder? Presumably, you have to start somewhere, and the risks of procuring false confessions are greater with juvenile suspects. Even this partial requirement has police officers bristling, though I can see benefits to the police in the sense that proper interrogations can no longer be grounds for lawsuits or public upheaval.

If any of the bills to be signed is close to your heart, and you'd like to tell the governor, please do so!

Mailing address:
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Email here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ashker v. Brown: Solitary Confinement Lawsuit Seeking Class Certification

The struggle against long-term solitary confinement continues even after the end of the hunger strike. A group of inmates is suing Gov. Brown and CDCR, hoping for an injunction to end gang validations, confinement based on flimsy evidence, and solitary confinement for long periods of time. They did not get a preliminary injunction, but the motion to dismiss was denied as well.

In the lawsuit, the inmates bring up two types of constitutional arguments:

Due Process arguments, addressing the process by which people are placed in solitary confinement indefinitely. One can end up in solitary confinement for a defined period of time, for a violation of prison rules; this lawsuit addresses a different category of cases, in which people are classified as gang members based on problematic and scant evidence and placed in solitary confinement with no end in sight. If the court accepts this claim, it will order an overhaul of CDCR regulations regarding gang validation.

Eighth Amendment arguments, addressing the physical and mental health risks involved in confining human beings in segregated conditions for more than ten years. There is a solid body of evidence regarding the horrific and irreversible impact of spending dozens of years in a small cell by oneself for 22.5 hours a day, with no human contact, on a person's body and psyche (see fact sheet). If the court accepts this claim, the best case scenario is a cap on using solitary confinement for periods exceeding ten years.

The first step in court is to have the lawsuit class certified under Federal Rule 23. What that means, in legal parlance, is that the lawsuit becomes a petition on behalf of a group of inmates, rather than the individual petitioners. With regard to the due process argument, the appropriate class consists of all inmates who are in solitary confinement for an indefinite period following a gang validation process. With regard to the Eighth Amendment argument, the appropriate class consists of anyone doing time in solitary for more than ten years. Here's the petition for class certification.

Under Rule 23, the inmates will have to prove that they are too numerous a group to litigate individually, and that the representative inmates bringing the suit are adequate representatives with claims that are typical to the entire group. This has been a problem in the past sometimes, when inmates brought up common law questions that would require individually-tailored legal responses. It does not seem that this is the case here. What the petitioners are seeking is a change in validation policy and a cap on confinement length, a remedy that would address the concerns of the entire class. So, the petition for class certification seems to have a fairly good chance. As to the merits of the suit, we'll continue following it.

Interested in attending the oral argument? 

When: Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
Where: Oakland Courthouse, Courtroom 2, 4th floor, 1301 Clay Street, Oakland, CA, 94612 before Chief District Judge Claudia Wilken.

The Center for Constitutional Rights wants people to attend the hearing. If you plan on showing up, do your best to arrive 30 minutes to one hour early, in order to go through security. Everyone will need a current form of identification in order to get inside the building.

For those of you who can't make it, the CCC blog will cover the oral argument.
Thanks to my colleague Morris Ratner for our conversation about class certification.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Ban the Box Passes Senate Floor!

Thanks to your efforts, phone calls, and lobbying, Ban the Box has passed the Senate Floor, 21-16, and will now go to the Governor. Good things can happen when good people care.

Ban the Box Needs Your Help!

Cheauvon, and other honest and accountable formerly incarcerated people who are looking for work and want to take responsibility for their lives, need YOUR help!

AB 218, otherwise known as the Ban the Box initiative, would prohibit state or local agencies from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction until the agency has determined the applicant meets the minimum qualifications for the position. From the reentry perspective, it is a laudable initiative that gives formerly incarcerated people a fair shot at being considered for a position on their merits and qualifications.

The bill failed on the Senate Floor yesterday by a vote of 20 to 16, but was granted reconsideration. Which means there is something you can do to make things right. It's the last day of the Senate session and this is an opportunity to pass this important bill.

Call one of these senators (highest priority are Senators Pavley and Roth):

Fran Pavley: Phone: (916) 651-4027 District 27 incorporates and maintains the eastern portion of Ventura County, which includes the cities of Simi Valley, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills, and Westlake Village. It also includes the coastal area extending from Leo Carrillo State Beach to Malibu and on to Topanga Canyon. Additionally, it captures the communities of Calabasas, West Hills and a portion of Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County. It maintains the coastal mountain range and watershed. This district reunites the cities in Eastern Ventura County above the Conejo Grade and combines them with communities in the greater Santa Monica Mountain area and the western San Fernando Valley along the Highway 101 and 118 corridors.

Richard Roth: Phone: (916) 651-4031; District 31: Riverside County including the Cities of Corona, Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Moreno Valley, Norco, Perris and Riverside, Fax: (916) 651-4931

Hannah-Beth Jackson: Phone: (916) 651-4019; District 19 Santa Barbara County and a portion of Ventura County.Santa Maria, Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, Santa Barbara, San Buenaventura, the Santa Clara Valley (Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru) and Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Camarillo on the southeastern border. Agricultural nexus between the Santa Clara Valley, Oxnard plains, and the Santa Maria area.

Jerry Hill: Phone: (916) 651-4013; District 13; Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Mountain View, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Woodside and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County and unincorporated Santa Clara County.

Here's a suggested script for your call:

“I live in the Senator's district and I support AB 218. I want to urge the Senator to pass this bill. This bill is important to our community because ... ”
• “it will help reduce recidivism.”
• “it will increase public safety by making sure people with records have a chance at being employed.”
Use your own words and reasons.

If the idea is to make folks with criminal records contributors, rather than burdens, on the economy, the way to do it is to at least not make it impossible for them to find work. DO SOMETHING TODAY to help them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New CJCJ Data: The Problem is in the Counties

Jerry, hold your horses; perhaps a comprehensive state plan is not what we need. New fact sheets produced by CJCJ based on data from CDCR and the Criminal Justice Statistics Center indicate that the problem with reducing prison population is located at the county level.

The first fact sheet shows the county disparities in incarceration. CDCR data are broken according to prison admission rates. As the fact sheet states, "the 17 counties with higher than average prison admission rates per felony arrest have imprisonment rates 60.7 percent higher than the 40 counties with lower than average rates." Those counties, ranked from the highest to the lowest imprisonment rates, are Kings, Riverside, Butte, Monterey, Yolo, Yuba, Shasta, San Joaquin, San Bernardino, Madera, Amador, Sacramento, Kern, Tehama, Santa Barbara, Merced, and Sutter. Los Angeles County was analyzed separately because of its population size.

Following David Ball's awesome recent paper, which suggests that violence rates are a good way to allocate money to counties because they are good proxy for actual incarceration needs, I would love to see violent crime statistics on these counties, to see whether these incarceration rates are justified.

My concern is that this is actually not about an increase in violent crime. The second fact sheet from CJCJ indicates a disturbing trend of increase in new prison admissions for property and drug crimes (see graph).

Maybe we can save ourselves $350 million of your money and mine by finding a way to incentivize high-incarceration counties to incarcerate less?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Governor's Prison Plan Announced

Gov. Brown's website unveils the main features of his prison plan, AB 105, which:

  • Authorizes up to $315 million in immediate in-state and out-of-state capacity.
  • Lays the foundation for longer-term changes to the criminal justice system, in collaboration with the Legislature and stakeholders.
  • Strengthens existing local efforts (SB 678) to manage offenders by increasing the amount of funding that county probation departments receive if they can serve felony probationers locally and keep them from coming to prison.
  • Requires that if the court modifies the order in a way that reduces the cost of compliance, the first $75 million in savings will go to reducing recidivism.

The full text of the bill is here. Hear the Governor explain the plan here. More commentary on the plan in a later post.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Assembly to Consider Bill Allowing Parole for Juveniles Sentenced as Adults

SB 260, proposed by Senator Loni Hancock, offers the possibility of judicial review of sentences of juveniles who were tried as adults. From the bill [cleaned-up text]:

This bill would require the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct a youth offender parole hearing to consider release of offenders who committed specified crimes prior to being 18 years of age and who were sentenced to state prison and. The bill would require parole consideration to be given during the 15th year of incarceration if the person meeting these criteria received a determinate sentence, during the 20th year if the person received a sentence that was less than 25 years to life, and during the 25th year of incarceration if the person received a sentence that was 25 years to life. The bill would require the board, in reviewing a prisoner’s suitability for parole, to give great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner in accordance with relevant case law. The bill would require that, in assessing growth and maturity, psychological evaluations and risk assessment instruments, if used by the board, be administered by licensed psychologists employed by the board and take into consideration the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to that of adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the individual. The bill would permit family members, friends, school personnel, faith leaders, and representatives from community-based organizations with knowledge about the young person prior to the crime or his or her growth and maturity since the commission of the crime to submit statements for review by the board and would permit the individual to designate one person to attend the youth offender parole hearing and read a brief statement. 

This bill is, in a way, an extension of SB 9, which created a similar process for juveniles sentenced to life without parole. It would extend the courtesy of judicial review to juveniles serving long sentences. The release is not automatic or mandated, and as the text says, the offenders will have already served lengthy sentences - 20 or 25 years, depending on the original sentence. The bill will not apply to third strikers or to folks whose resentencing is covered by SB 9.

The bill hits the Assembly floor tomorrow.