Friday, November 14, 2014

Plata/Coleman Sequel: We Can't Release Inmates - We Need Their Labor!

If you've followed the litigation in Plata/Coleman from the mid-2000s forward, you probably think you've seen it all: the dawdling, the evasion maneuvers, the political blackmail. But today I have something really special for you. As you might know, the court has ordered a special parole regime to ensure early releases. What did the Attorney General's office have to say? The L.A. Times reports:

Most of those prisoners now work as groundskeepers, janitors and in prison kitchens, with wages that range from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour. Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.

Yes, you've read it right. The Attorney General's office now opposes early releases BECAUSE THOSE WILL DEPRIVE IT OF A CHEAP LABOR FORCE. The prisons can only function if prisoners work in them, so... we need to keep them in.

I'm sure I don't need to explain why this is a shockingly conscienceless rationale to keep people incarcerated and pay them abysmal wages, and much as I resist the unsubtle comparisons made in The New Jim Crow, this really, really reeks of postbellum resistance. Ugh. Shame on you, Ms. Harris.

Prop 47 Passed... What Now?

By now, gentle readers, you're probably done with celebrating the passage of Prop 47, which will have the effect of reducing charges and misdemeanors for many nonserious, nonviolent offenses. But what does this mean, practically, for inmates and for people with criminal records for felonies that are now misdemeanors?

Californians for Safety and Justice have compiled this neat resource answering your questions. There's even a form you can use to petition to change your record, from a felony to a misdemeanor. If you're unclear about how Prop 47 might affect your case, contact the Public Defender's office in your county.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Election Postmortem: YES on 47!

With enough information to comfortably call appointments and shots, and with some distressing news for Democrats in the Senate, I'd like to focus on the important news on the local scene.

The most important of these for CCC readers is the passage of Prop 47 with 58.5% voter support. The proposition will downgrade several nonviolent, nonserious offenses to misdemeanors, and will allow people currently serving felony time for these misdemeanors to petition for resentencing.

A few things that bear mentioning: First, many of the people whose offenses are affected by Prop 47 are already doing time in jails, as a function of Realignment, and some of them might even be doing a split sentence, which means they're not in confinement at all. As such, they are also already under the authority of local probation offices and not of the statewide parole apparatus. It would be interesting to know, therefore, how much resentencing would really need to happen. My suspicion is that the effects of Prop 47 will be mostly felt in the counties that did Realignment wrong--building more jails and not using split sentencing--rather than in counties that embraced the reform. The late awakening of the Los Angeles D.A. preceded this proposition only by a few months.

Second: if that's the case, and if Realignment already did most of this, what practical impact might this have? Well, for starters, think of all the offenders doing time who could not vote in 2014 because they were classified as felons--even though they were physically doing time in jail. Reclassified now as misdemeanants, these folks will be allowed to vote in 2016. This is excellent news that affect many thousands of Californians. Also, there are several Third Strikers whose third offense would now qualify as a misdemeanor, not a felony, and would therefore not trigger the law at all. Those folks are applying for resentencing anyway, as a result of Prop 36 and thanks to the efforts of the Stanford Three Strikes clinic, but I think their chances of prevailing may have improved.

And third: The passage of Prop 47 doesn't mean that people have become more humane or care more about offenders. The proposition was a classic humonetarian move, appealing to people's financial prudence, and it was supported by folks of all political stripes, including Newt Gingrich. I only regret that the proofs for Cheap on Crime are already set, otherwise I could add a few hefty paragraphs about this campaign. It's right out of the Cheap on Crime playbook.

Other than that: Prop 46 did not pass; it was a mixed bag of arguably good things and litigation-hungry things, and I'm not quite sure whether to celebrate or mourn its defeat.

And finally:

Dear Governor Brown, I congratulate you for earning a second term. As California limits governors to two terms, this is your opportunity to take the prison crisis seriously without worrying about reelection statistics. This is an opportunity to reform felon voting laws, to abolish the death penalty (which I know you think is ridiculous and expensive) and to make good things happen for formerly incarcerated people in their communities. This is an opportunity to outlaw Pay to Stay and to abolish long-term solitary confinement in California. Please, take this opportunity and let's make history. Don't let a serious financial crisis go to waste.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Federal Court Hearing: Declassifying Marijuana

On Monday, the federal court of the Eastern District held a hearing challenging the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Among the scientists testifying was Dr. Carl Hart, whom some of you may remember from the movie The House I Live In. There's a blow-by-blow account of the testimonies in the case, U.S. v. Schweder, in this blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CCC Endorsements for the November Elections: Yes on 47 and Other Matters

After a bit of a hiatus, CCC is coming back with some election endorsements for Californians. In this endorsement list, I point out only issues that are particular to crime, law enforcement, and corrections; of course, your vote may be influenced by other matters as well.


State Measures

Yes on 47


Prop 47 would reduce sentencing. According to Ballotpedia, which faithfully summarizes the proposition's text, if it were to pass, it would:

  • Mandate misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes," unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. A list of crimes that would be affected by the penalty reduction are listed below.
  • Permit re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates would be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
  • Require a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
  • Create a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund would receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
  • Distribute funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.

Right now, there is about 60% support for Prop 47. As the Chronicle observes, it seems to be stirring little controversy, and for good reason: it makes sense. You'll note that this is a classic humonetarian proposal--let's not throw low-risk people in prison who shouldn't really be there in the first place, and we'll save millions doing so. The money is going to a fund that invests in education, victim compensation, and various therapeutic projects. The arguments against it can be easily dispensed with: it won't "release dangerous people", because it takes risk into account. It is supported, in grand Cheap on Crime fashion, by people from the left and the right alike, and by victims of crime, who would rather see energy spent on violent offenders. By all means, go ahead and vote YES on 47.

U.S. House

House Representative: Jackie Speier

Speier is one of my favorite politicians. Her work to prevent sexual assault in the military and on university campuses is admirable, as is her sensible approach to databases that would enable tracking down gun ownership. I should say, however, that if you're a Republican on other maters, you could do far worse than Robin Chew, who would work to reverse climate change and who believes in sensible regulatory reform.

California Supreme Court

Of the three Justices up for retention, I want to mention and support Goodwin Liu, with whom I've had a chance to exchange views on criminal justice matters, and who is a sensible and careful interpreter of the CA constitution.

State Executives

Governor: No Endorsement


The race is between incumbent Jerry Brown and libertarian Republican Neel Kashkari. Kashkari has no platform at all on public safety, criminal justice, or corrections, which is truly astonishing given the amount of time the Brown administration spent on these matters, and his focus on "jobs and education" doesn't seem to include the close connections between these topics and corrections. Obviously, we can't recommend him. On the other hand, Jerry Brown has maintained that the correctional problem in California has been solved, has fought the Plata order tooth and nail to the point of almost contempt of court, and has practically extorted federal judges into giving him two more years for depopulation under threat of heavy privatizing. Between a bad track record on corrections and no interest in the topic at all, I think it's a toss-up.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom 


Yes, I know. Newsom is responsible for sit/lie in San Francisco. But do we really want Ron Nehring in the lieutenant governor's chair? He wants to repeal Realignment and build more prisons. It's a very antiquated and uninformed conservative position, one that most reasonable conservatives have already rejected. This one is a no-brainer.

California Attorney General: Kamala Harris, with Reservations


Having recently heard, with a heavy heart, about Harris' intent to appeal Jones v. Chappell for reasons that don't make any sense to me, and watched, with concern, her battle against truancy stigmatize kids and parents along the way, this one is not a no-brainer for me. The correlation between truancy and crime does not necessarily imply causation, and the cause of both--poverty and social neglect--is the one that should be addressed. This campaign is failing to excite voters, but I think it's for the opposite reasons to those the Gold campaign assumes. We're disappointed because we want Harris to be smarter on crime, not because we want Gold to be tough on crime. Gold supports legalization of recreational marijuana, but he is inexperienced and does not have thought-out policies on all the issues we are addressing. For what it's worth, he urged Harris to appeal Jones v. Chappell, so death penalty issues are a toss-up. There doesn't seem to be much of a platform for rehabilitation, though Harris can cite her collaboration with the Public Defender's office on Operation Clean Slate.

California Secretary of State: No Endorsement


With Leland Yee, who despite his alleged involvement in corrupted dealings was a big champion for juvenile delinquents in the State Assembly, out of the race, we're left with a choice between Alex Padilla and Pete Peterson. No one has asked them the important question--do they interpret the CA constitution as Debra Bowen did, to exclude Realigned felons doing time in jails as ineligible to vote? While both candidates speak about the need to improve civics education, Padilla seems to be more interested in actually reaching out to people to expand the vote, but Peterson has some good suggestions for increasing the vote via early voting and other options of convenience.

State Legislature: Notable Issues


Tom Ammiano is not running for reelection, and we thank him for his consistently incredible, sensible, and humane service to folks without voices and voting rights, including the thousands of people on solitary confinement. Neither in Nancy Skinner, who was an important voice for eliminating long-term solitary confinement. In District 17 (San Francisco) you'll have to pick between David Chiu and David Campos. People I respect support each of these candidates for good reasons. I'm leaning toward an endorsement of Campos, because of his important anti-gang work, but am open to hearing more.

***

If all you remember from this post is to vote YES on 47, I've done my job.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

All Counties Committed to Enrolling Inmates in Health Care!

A new report by Californians for Safety and Justice and the Local Safety Solutions Project announces good news: pretty much all California counties are committed to enrolling their criminal justice populations in health care, and 70% of counties are actively doing so.


Where does the funding for this welcome activity come from?


This is excellent news. As we know, many formerly incarcerated people don't necessarily have the resources or know-how to deal with the intricacies of Obamacare and are walking out of jail systems whose health care services are sometimes truly deficient. This guarantees that, as people return to life on the outside, they'll be covered and protected.