Friday, January 31, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: CDCR To Ease Gang Restrictions

Reported an hour ago by the Associated Press:

Prison officials revealed new rules Friday that they say will make California the first state to recognize that inmates can quit prison gangs and put that lifestyle behind them, allowing them to escape the tough restrictions that gang members are subject to.

However, gang associates would have to steer clear of gang activities for about a decade to qualify, while gang leaders would have to behave for a minimum of 14 years.

The draft regulations made public Friday are the latest changes to rules that keep some gang members locked in special isolation units for years and have led to widespread inmate hunger strikes. A spokesman for a coalition of reform groups that backed the hunger strikers called the changes "woefully inadequate."

The new regulations are an extension of a 15-month-old pilot program that has allowed gang members to get out of isolation units at Pelican Bay in far Northern California and other prisons without renouncing their gang membership.

Since the start of the pilot, the department has reviewed 632 gang members who were in isolation units. Of those, 408 have been cleared to be released into the general prison population and 185 were given more privileges but remain in isolation.

Those 2012 policies, which are being updated in Friday's filing with the Office of Administrative Law, let the gang members and associates gain more privileges and leave the isolation units in as little as three years if they stop engaging in gang activities, and participate in anger management and drug rehabilitation programs.

Officials said that change was based on programs in seven other states. California is now the first to go a step farther by removing the gang designation entirely if the inmate continues to behave, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR.

CDCR gives reasons for the new regulation:

Despite the successes the CDCR has had in removing violent and disruptive STG affiliates from the general population settings of the institutions, the Department has recognized a need to evaluate current strategies and implement new approaches to address evolving STG trends consistent with security, fiscal, and offender population management needs. Fortunately, the inmate population reductions associated with Public Safety Realignment is affording CDCR the opportunity to reconstruct aspects of its STG policy that are consistent with successful models used in other large correctional agencies. The Public Safety Realignment will result in easing overcrowding and providing CDCR with more housing options to support this effort.

And here are the actual regulations, which define the step-down processes that are to be taken. The multi-step process of being cleared of gang affiliation (referred to in the regulations as STG - security threat group) is lengthy and features various monitoring options.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

CJCJ Report: No Connection Between Realignment and Crime Rates

There has been a lot of scaremongering in the press about rising crime rates as a result of realignment; these stories often feature a cop offering his opinion about how scary the world has become since 2011. Alas, it seems that a systematic analysis of the data refutes these panicked impressions: a new CJCJ report published today examines the impact of Public Safety Realignment and county dependence on state prison in light of California’s 2012 slight crime increase and finds “no conclusive trends demonstrating a causal relationship between Realignment and crime.”
  • Nearly all counties had substantial decreases in prison admissions, but crime trends varied erratically, indicating no general correlation between crime and Realignment. Madera County experienced a 24% increase in overall Part I crime rates, while Placer County experienced a 14% decrease. Violent crime trends were also highly variable, with a 46% increase in Kings County to a 26% decline in Humboldt and Napa counties.
·         Los Angeles County presents a special case with a higher than average proportion of realigned individuals, yet continuing declines in crime worthy of further examination to determine if model practices exist for statewide replication.
  • CJCJ found no correlation between high realignment rates and motor vehicle theft. There was also no difference in violent crime rates between high realignment and low realignment counties.
  • Highly state-dependent counties experienced a larger increase in property crime. However, that even neighboring counties show large variances in crime trends, indicates factors other than Realignment are at work.
Additionally, the California Sentencing Institute (CASI) released its 2012 adult data, demonstrating the continuing prevalence of geographical disparities in county sentencing practices. New features for 2012 include more breakdowns by race, gender, and offense.

It is still too early to draw definitive conclusions about the impact, if any, of Realignment on crime. Policymakers should be cautious of adopting statewide policies that modify elements of Realignment based on narrow and anecdotal evidence from just one or a handful of counties. Instead, CJCJ recommends policymakers develop state resources to expand research capacity and leadership on tracking the impact of Realignment.

Read the entire thing here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

VA Federal Judge: Solitary Conditions for Death Row Inmates Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has issued a decision under which holding prisoners convicted of capital murder on “death row” is unconstitutional. The decision holds that the automatic and indefinite regime, consisting of solitary confinement and harsh conditions, violates due process. More from the Associated Press:

According to court papers, a death row inmate is kept alone in his cell 24 hours a day, with the only exceptions a 10-minute break three days a week for a shower and an hour of exercise five days a week in an outdoor cell not much bigger than his indoor cell. Inmates are allowed to purchase a television set and a compact disc player for their cells, and have access to some books from the prison library.

Brinkema said that the problem is exacerbated by the extended amount of time prisoners spend on death row. A prisoner could easily spend more than a decade on death row while the appeals process plays out, and never have an opportunity to join the general population.

This is the first ruling in the country holding indefinite solitary confinement conditions unconstitutional for all inmates, not just for the mentally ill.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gubernatorial Budget 2014-2015

The Governor's proposed budget for 2014-2015 is out and its full text is here. Public safety is addressed on pages 65-88 and the correctional budget is addressed on pages 89-93.

The budget proposes total funding of $9.8 billion ($9.5 billion General Fund and $320 million other funds), which is 9% of the state budget - only slightly less than our expenditures on higher education.

The report reviews the history of realignment and the Plata litigation, mentioning the state prison system's commitment to reentry as per the Blueprint titled The Future of California Corrections (here is the Blueprint, for your convenience.) The report emphasizes CDCR's commitment to expanding the rehabilitation menu to reach 70% of all inmates.

The report goes, at length, into the changes brought about with realignment, including the following useful classification of the prison population:

Still, the state prison population is higher than projected in 2013 - about 135,000 inmates vs. the 129,000 projected. The parolee population is expected to increase in 2013-2014 and decrease in 2014-2015, as a result of realignment and the transference of post-sentence supervisees to the counties. There are also more juvenile wards than projected, as a result of an increase in first admissions and in parole violations.

The budget report explicitly refers to the legal battle waged around the 137.5% capacity cap mandated by the federal court, and assumes that the deadline for meeting the cap will be extended by two years. Remember the $315 million that Governor Brown appropriated at the very last minute of the last legislative session? If there is an extension, the budget will allocate the first $75 million of the money to recidivism reduction (state reentry, substance abuse treatment, services for the mentally ill, and a special reentry facility) and the rest to the general fund. However, should the population cap deadline not be delayed, the money will be invested in private prisons "to avoid the early release of inmates." You can see where this is going; the money is essentially there to more-or-less extort the Three Judge Panel and circumvent its perceived intention. The message is - play nice and give us two more years, in which case we'll invest in rehabilitation, or you'll get private prisons galore.

More interesting stuff: A projected expansion of medical and elderly parole. The age cutoff for the latter is 60, which means 5.4 percent of male inmates and 4.4 percent of female inmates (as of June 30.) If they pushed the age cutoff back to 55, which makes criminological and gerontological sense (people age faster in prison, and people leave crime behind at an earlier age), you'd be releasing 11.2 percent of men and 10.4 percent of women. So - a step in the right direction, but plenty of room for improvement.

The report also mentions two other savings mechanisms: nonviolent third-striker releases per Prop 36 and juvenile parole per SB260. While the report doesn't explicitly take credit for them, it is a bit surprising to read such positive reports of these from an entity that fought the spirit of these initiatives for years.

A considerable amount of the money will be spent on improving health scores in state prisons so they can be wrangled away from the Receiver. Much of the money is allocated to fund litigation, to fight the Receiver and class-action suits in court; the rest of it on improvements to pharmacies, facilities, and staff training. The report mentions the impact of Obamacare on health care for county inmates as opposed to state inmates.

Lastly, there are some notable comments on realignment in the counties. There's a proposal to make split sentences the default, but it still leaves a considerable amount of discretion to county judges, and would still create big disparities between county. Also, the report notes that keeping long-term inmates in county jails is not a great idea, but does not volunteer to take them back into state institutions en masse (as Manuel Perez has just suggested) because of the need to comply with the Plata/Coleman caps. The state is willing to take in offenders who are serving 10 years or more - that's about 300 years annually - but that, of course, raises the question why people receive 10 years in prison for non-non-non offenses in the first place.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rolling Back Realignment

Yesterday, Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez introduced AB 1449, also to be known as the Realignment Omnibus Act of 2014. The bill, if passed, would significantly regress the achievements of realignment and increase overcrowding in state prisons. Here's what it purports to do:

(1) Under existing law, certain specified felonies are punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years or, where the term is specified, for the term described in the underlying offense. Notwithstanding these provisions, existing law requires that a sentence be served in state prison where the defendant has a prior or current conviction for a serious or violent felony, has a prior felony conviction in another jurisdiction that has all of the elements of a serious or violent felony, is required to register as a sex offender, or has an aggravated white collar crime enhancement imposed as part of the sentence.

This bill would additionally require a sentence to be served in the state prison when the defendant is convicted of a felony or felonies otherwise punishable in a county jail and is sentenced to an aggregate term of more than 3 years.

(2) Existing law requires that all persons released from prison after serving a prison term for a felony, be subject to postrelease community supervision provided by a county agency for a period of 3 years immediately following release, except for persons released after serving a term for a serious felony, a violent felony, an offense for which the person was sentenced pursuant to the 3 strikes law, a crime where the person is classified as a high-risk sex offender, or a crime where the person is required to undergo treatment by the State Department of State Hospitals because the person has a severe mental disorder. Existing law requires these persons to be subject to parole supervision by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation following release from state prison and the jurisdiction of the court in the county in which the parolee is released, resides, or in which an alleged violation of supervision has occurred.

This bill would also require any person who is released from prison who has a prior conviction for any of the above crimes to be subject to parole supervision by the department and the jurisdiction of the court in the county in which the parolee is released, resides, or in which an alleged violation of supervision has occurred.

(3) Existing law, the Postrelease Community Supervision Act of 2011, requires certain inmates released from state prison to be subject to 3 years of supervision by a county agency. The act provides that if the supervising county agency has determined, following application of its assessment processes, that authorized intermediate sanctions are not appropriate, the supervising county agency is required to petition the revocation hearing officer to revoke and terminate postrelease supervision of the inmate. Existing law allows the revocation hearing officer to order the person to confinement in a county jail for a period not to exceed 180 days, among other sanctions. This bill would, if the person has been found to have violated the conditions of postrelease community supervision on 2 or more prior occasions, allow the revocation hearing officer to revoke and terminate postrelease community supervision and order the person to confinement in the state prison for a period of one year.

What this means, in plain speech, is that the definition of "non-non-non" offenses, which now trigger judicial discretion to sentence a person to jail or to mandatory supervision, will dramatically change, sentencing people who received longer prison sentences to state institutions. That may not be all tragic, as many jails are very poorly equipped to handle people who are sentenced for long periods; but many of those folks shouldn't go in for such long sentences in the first place, and this would only solidify that.

It also means that the idea behind realignment, to supervise people locally in their communities, will be rolled back, and state parole will receive some of the power it lost back from county probation departments, some of whom did a stellar job retooling supervision as an instrument of reentry and hope.

This is a very disappointing bill, and for your good deed of the day, please call your representatives in the Assembly and Senate and tell them how you feel.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Know Your Rights Infographic

As a public service, we're sharing today a great infographic made by online paralegals. It's always a good thing to get a refresher on stop and frisk policies and on citizens' rights when encountering the police. Jay-Z's rendition of the Fourth Amendment, while amusing, is inaccurate, whereas this graphic is fairly accurate and useful. The original can be found here. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Corporal Punishment for the Mentally Ill? Judge Karlton to Decide

Two shocking videos depicting prison guards at Corcoran subduing mentally-ill inmates with pepper spray and batons are the subject of federal litigation aimed at ending such brutal corporal punishment. The videos are not available for sharing online, but they have been viewed in court, and the Sacramento Bee describes their content:

In the first video, played to a hushed crowd of lawyers and reporters in Karlton’s 15th-floor courtroom in downtown Sacramento, an inmate in a mental health crisis unit at Corcoran State Prison is shown refusing to take medication from a psychologist visiting him in his cell.

“He refused to take it,” the psychologist tells a waiting team of guards wearing gas masks, helmets, padded vests, gloves, protective jumpsuits and shin guards.

The inmate, locked in his cell, was playing with his feces and threatening to throw two cups of an unknown substance on anyone who entered. Almost immediately after the psychologist emerged, the team began pumping pepper spray through the food port of the metal cell door, repeatedly dousing the inmate between warnings that he better come out.

The team opened the door, dragging the inmate out and wrestling him to the floor as he alternately sobbed and screamed, “Don’t do this to me,” “help,” and “I don’t want to be executed.”

The motion focuses on Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations, including force against inmates manifesting symptoms of mental illness, excessive use of pepper spray and of expandable batons, and requests that the Court order CDCR to revise their use-of-force policies to provide training, quality and assurance processes.

As Bakersfield Now reports, things have not been looking good for the state in court:

In its response brief, CDCR argues that it has a comprehensive use-of-force policy, revised in 2010, that takes into account mentally ill inmates and includes appropriate training and discipline provisions. The brief also argues that the high standard for intervention under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) has not been met. The two videos, the defendants argue, do not demonstrate a "pattern or practice" of disproportionate force.

The state's own expert witness testified that guards use pepper spray far too often and in quantities that are too great. He also said previous recommendations for changes were rejected or ignored.

The Contra Costa Times quoted Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR's Division of Adult Institutions, who described the depicted incidents as "at best, controlled chaos."

Judge Karlton is to issue his decision in a few days.