Saturday, March 23, 2013

California Correctional Crisis: Realignment and Reform, Day 2

What an incredible second day we had. It started off with a conversation about prison and health care. Michael Bien of Rosen, Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld went head to head with Ben Rice of CDCR. Despite the ongoing litigation, we were able to get a preview of their arguments. Despite the elimination of "bad beds" and evacuation of prison gyms, there are still horrific practices, especially in the usage of cages for extended periods of time. Holding patients in cages for treatment and as waiting room acts as a huge disincentive for seeking treatment. And double-celling in cells that were clearly unfit for the practice is also documented in the photos. Dr. Harold Orr of the Alameda County jails talked about the influx of patients and the jail's preparation to handle their medical needs, and Azadeh Zohrabi talked about the cruelty and health risks involved in long-term solitary confinement.

Then, we shifted to a discussion of sentencing, with the help of Judge Richard Couzens, public defender Garrick Byers and prosecutor Lisa Rodriguez. One thing became pretty clear: While there are many holes in AB 109 and the accompanying legislation, it did get into quite a few wrinkles and offered a lot of possibilities. I hope that other legal practitioners have as much facility with the nuts and bolts of the new law as our participants!

Senator Leno's keynote address highlighted the way criminal justice legislation gets made in California. It was a sobering reminder of how partisan and divided the legislature is and how difficult it is to procure good will from the other side, which was especially illuminating in Senator Leno's tale of the failure to downgrade simple possession to a misdemeanor.

After lunch, we had a conversation about realignment in the counties. Wendy Still and Jody di Mauro talked about the concept of realignment and the change in perceptions and recidivism, and Manuel La Fontaine inspired the audience by turning around our conversation to a need to revolutionize our perception of crime and criminal justice.

Then, we talked about reentry with David Cowan of Alliance for C.H.A.N.G.E., who discussed the shortcomings of just "providing people with services" rather than seeing them as human beings. This was echoed by Robert Rubin's discussion of voting rights and felon disenfranchisement, and in Gerry Lopez's remarks.

And finally, we had a large panel discussion on the future of juvenile justice. Barry Krisberg of UC Berkeley and Dan Macallair of CJCJ offered dueling perspectives on whether the state or the county are better places for juveniles. Judge Elizabeth Lee told us about the juvenile mediation program, complete with anecdotes of its impressive success. Julia Sabory told us of interventions with juveniles, including bringing their awareness to the profit much of the system makes of their incarceration ("and how much did YOU make?"). And our closing speaker, Senator Leland Yee, told the story of SB9, and also gave us a new issue to fight against: The practice of solitary confinement of juveniles. Apparently, efforts at preventing this horrific practice have been politically blocked. Audience questions brought up the issue of school discipline and its disparate application.

Thank you to everyone who made our conference such an astounding success. Judging from the conversations in the foyer, our panelists sparked a lot of reflection and inspired many of our attendees to think deeper about the issues.

Two things stood out for me this time around. First, I was extremely impressed with the abundance of talent and hard work of so many people working on issues concerning California Corrections. We may disagree, sometimes passionately, about the solutions, but there is very little gratuitous malice (it's not non-existent, but very rare.) Folks all over the system take their work very seriously.

And second, I was blown away by the quality and civility of discourse, even on very contentious issues. The temptation to "make nice" and ignore serious legal, political and financial issues sometimes rivals the temptation to escalate arguments into ad hominem attacks and oversimplifications. Instead, our panelists considered, acknowledged, and respected divergent perspectives, even when passionately arguing for a particular take on an issue or situation. The resulting intellectual experience was precious because it is so very rare, and it made me hope and believe that such dialogue is possible.

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