Archive for June, 2010
By Warren Richey, Staff writer – Christian Science Monitor/ June 14, 2010
The US Supreme Court agreed on Monday to examine whether a three-judge panel acted properly when it ordered the release of more than 38,000 California inmates to remedy constitutional deficiencies in prison-supplied health care.
At issue in the case is whether the three-judge panel exceeded its mandate by addressing prison overcrowding, rather than limiting its oversight to reforming medical and mental health care services to inmates.
Lawyers for a group of California inmates have been fighting for 20 years for improved medical and mental health care. Courts have ruled that the level of care in overcrowded California prisons violates the Constitution. But efforts at reform have stalled or failed as California prison populations have ballooned to roughly twice the system’s design capacity.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act authorizes a panel of federal judges to issue prisoner release orders. But such a panel may only do so when prison overcrowding is the primary cause of a violation of a federal right, and when no other relief will remedy that violation.
In January, the three-judge panel acknowledged that prison overcrowding was not the only cause of the constitutional violations. But the judges said it was the “primary cause” of the state’s failure to provide constitutionally adequate mental and physical health care.
The judges concluded that it would be impossible to reform the prison health care system until California’s overcrowding crisis was addressed. They ordered California within two years to reduce its prison population to an occupancy rate of 137.5 percent of its total design capacity.
The order would require the early release of an estimated 38,000 to 46,000 inmates.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a group of Republican legislators are asking the high court to overturn the prisoner release order, calling it “the most sweeping intrusion into a state’s management of its correctional facilities in history.”
“This court has repeatedly instructed lower courts to exercise extreme caution in using their equitable powers to interfere with the management of prisons, particularly state institutions,” wrote Washington lawyer Carter Phillips in a brief on behalf of Gov. Schwarzenegger.
The California prison system is severely overcrowded. It was built to house 80,000 inmates but currently holds 165,000.
“Issuing such extreme and unprecedented prisoner release orders gravely threatens public safety in California,” said San Francisco lawyer Steven Kaufhold in a brief on behalf of California law enforcement and corrections officials.
Lawyers for the inmates said that some 10,000 prisoners are released on parole each month. “Releasing more low-risk prisoners on parole will not increase crime,” they wrote in their brief.
“The lower court’s opinion in this case is not, as the state suggests, policy reform hidden in judicial clothing,” Berkeley lawyer Donald Specter wrote. “It is a straightforward application of the rules set by Congress to a unique set of facts that can bear no other conclusion.”
Mr. Specter said in his brief that to reform the prisoner health care and mental health systems, it is first necessary to reduce the overall prison population. “The health care infrastructure is simply unable to deal with the vast number of prisoners,” he said.
The case, Schwarzenegger v. Plata (09-1233), will be heard during the court’s next term which starts in October.
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By MARY WESTON – Staff Writer
Posted: 06/09/2010 12:44:27 AM PDT
OROVILLE — The Oroville Police Department has arrested an Oroville man who is on non-revocable parole for the third time in nine days – twice on burglary charges and once on vehicle theft charges.Lt. Bill LaGrone said Jesse Samuel Horton, 26, of Oroville, is an example of how non-revocable parole is impacting police departments.
Non-revocable parole, enacted by the California Legislature, went into effect on Jan. 25. This law allows the state to release “non-violent” offenders from prison without supervision, according to an OPD press release.
Under this form of parole, parolees do not report to a parole agent, cannot have a parole hold placed on them, and cannot be returned to custody for a parole violation.
“I would think the citizens of California would be very upset with the Legislature,” LaGrone said.
In 2005, Horton pleaded no contest to statutory rape. He was sentenced to prison and released this year on non-revocable parole.
OPD first arrested Horton on May 28 after a long chase by officers down alleys and through yards in the downtown. He was taken into custody and arrested on charges of resisting arrest and burglary, police reported.
On Thursday, Oroville police arrested Horton again on burglary charges.
Then Saturday, officers took Horton into custody on suspicion of burglary when they found him trying to break into the trunk of a car in the parking lot of 85 Rancho Vista Drive, police reported.
If Horton had been on regular parole, he would have gone back to prison May 28, so he wouldn’t have been involved in the second burglary or the car theft, LaGrone said.
Parolees on non-revocable parole will be discharged within 30 days of having been on parole for one year.
This attempt by the California Legislature to reduce prison overcrowding has begun to impact local communities, OPD said.
“They are just moving the problem back on the county and the municipalities,” LaGrone said.
This time, Horton’s bail was set at $90,000.
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By DON THOMPSON Associated Press Writer
Posted: 06/02/2010 04:09:45 PM PDT
Updated: 06/02/2010 05:13:57 PM PDT
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SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California’s sickest inmates would be released on medical parole to shave millions of dollars from the spiraling prison budget under a bill approved Wednesday by the state Senate.The measure would let the parole board send severely disabled inmates to outside facilities without posting guards around the clock.
The move also would result in federal insurance programs paying more of the cost of the inmates’ care.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said his bill could save California $200 million annually.
It was sought by a federal court-appointed receiver who controls prison medical care after lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed cutting $811 million in inmate health care costs.
Prison spending now consumes 11 percent of the state’s general fund, more than California’s two public four-year university systems.
Leno’s SB1399 passed 21-13 and now goes to the Assembly.
Leno, said many of those who would qualify would be comatose, paralyzed or permanently disabled. His bill excludes those facing the death penalty or life without parole. If a parolee’s health improves, the person could be returned to prison.
“This is of no risk to public safety,” Leno said.
Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, countered that definitions in the bill were written so broadly that they could include inmates who are less seriously ill.
Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, said opponents of the move were confusing revenge and public safety. “We take a guy who’s in a coma and we say, ‘you’re going to stay in prison.’ Frankly, he doesn’t know where he is,” Wright said. “Why are we having people watch him lay in a hospital medical bed?”
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Controversial Measure Moving Forward in California
California is now one step closer to providing food stamps for convicted felons who sold drugs. The measure has strong support – and also plenty of criticism at the Capitol – where some say it’s a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.
Vinita Crenshaw is a convicted drug dealer – and just days away from delivering a baby. She supports a bill that would allow some 900 convicted drug dealers in California to receive food stamps. Crenshaw says food stamps might have stopped her from selling drugs years ago.
“I don’t think that I would have ended up resorting back to the behavior that If did,” she told CBS 13, then added, ” if I had just a little bit more help.”
Just last month, the State Assembly passed a bill exempting California from a federal ban on food stamps for convicted drug dealers.
AB1756 Fact Sheet (.pdf)
“Right now under current law, if you commit murder you get food stamps,” said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, the author of a bill that would alter the rules of eligibility.
Swanson is correct – the federal food stamp program has no restrictions preventing convicted murderers form getting food stamps upon their release.
But for drug dealers it’s a different story – with more than a dozen states banning the practice of providing food stamps for drug dealers – and California is one of them.
(See page 22 in link below)
State Options Report (.pdf)
But that may soon change.
“Why are we trying to do that?” Swanson asked out loud. The Democrat from Oakland then answered his own question. “We’re trying to make sure that there’s a rehabilitation package available that will prevent them from re-offending and coming back into prison at a cost of $50,000 a year.”
Supplying convicted drug dealers with food stamps would cost federal tax players an estimated one million dollars a year. Critics say the bill would reward criminals for bad behavior.
Lew Uhler, president of the Roseville based National Tax Limitation Committee told CBS 13: “Giving them the currency to remain in the drug world, which is food stamps getting traded off for drugs, is a silly and stupid approach.”
The controversial bill does not require drug dealers to go through any counseling to get the food stamps – and Capitol critics believe it’s a step in the wrong direction for California.
“Every dollar that you put towards someone who manufactured and distributed drugs is another dollar less that you have for a poor family – a law abiding poor family,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a Republican from Irvine.
The food stamp bill now goes to the State Senate for a possible vote later this month.
The California legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, previously approved two similar bills – both were vetoed in the past by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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By Jeff McDonald, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 12:03 a.m.
Background: State administrators are reducing supervision levels of parolees. Officials say the effort is not deliberate, but documents and data point to a systemic effort to save money.
What’s changing: A state assemblyman is asking the Office of the Inspector General to investigate.
State lawmakers expressed dismay Tuesday that California parole officials appear to be methodically lowering supervision levels for thousands of convicted felons to trim expenses.
Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who in April requested an Inspector General’s Office investigation into the department’s new parole program with no supervision for low-risk offenders, asked on Tuesday that the review be expanded to include “extremely disturbing” e-mails cited by The San Diego Union-Tribune on Sunday.
“It’s outrageous that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation supervisors are incentivizing the misclassification of parolees,” Lieu said in an interview Tuesday. “CDCR should not be rewarding employees based on how many downgrades of high-risk parolees they can accomplish.”
In a memo, Lieu said the agency should not “unilaterally start misclassifying high-risk criminals” and that to do so is an “abdication of its responsibilities.”
The Union-Tribune reported Sunday that state prison and parole officials for years have been lowering the classification levels of serious and violent felons, at times with an eye to budget considerations such as parole agents’ overtime.
The lower classifications mean parolees are not required to report to agents as often — and in many cases never have to visit their agents.
Dozens of parolees on low supervision or mail-in status committed new crimes after being released from prison, creating additional victims and jeopardizing local police and deputy sheriffs who respond to the calls, the newspaper reported.
Corrections officials deny that there is a policy directing parole administrators to lower parolee supervision levels to avoid agent overtime costs. They said the reclassifications are the result of due-diligence case reviews that could just as easily raise supervision levels for particular parolees.
On Tuesday, they said the department would welcome an inspector general’s review as requested by Lieu, who is running for attorney general.
“CDCR appreciates Assemblyman Lieu’s interest in this complex, parole-related issue,” said Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the department. “CDCR requires its parole administrators to review caseloads and classifications of parolees to determine that they are appropriately classified, based upon the unique factors of each case.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed his prison department’s handling of parole cases.
“The reforms passed by the Legislature and the governor last year concentrate the state’s resources on supervising those most likely to re-offend,” spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said. “The administration is committed to continual improvements in managing California’s parolees to better protect the public, and we welcome input from the Legislature and others.”
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the San Diego Republican working to pass Chelsea’s Law in honor of slain Poway teenager Chelsea King, said that nothing he learns about the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation surprises him.
“This just confirms what we’ve seen over the past few months: Corrections is a broken system,” Fletcher said. “It’s broken on so many levels.”
Before requesting any additional fixes, Fletcher said he is awaiting the inspector general’s review of how Chelsea’s killer, John Albert Gardner III, managed to remain on parole despite seven violations.
He also wants to see findings of a joint legislative audit into how the corrections department and the Department of Mental Health handle sexually violent predators.
Fletcher said he plans to meet with members of the state’s Sex Offender Management Board to consider that panel’s recommendations in light of the Gardner case.
“All of these efforts are designed to see what actions we can take” to improve corrections operations, he said. “Public safety has to be the highest priority.”
But the San Diego lawmaker said no one at the corrections agency has said what is needed to improve the monitoring of dangerous criminals.
“From Day One, we’ve asked them for ideas as far as what they need to better do their job,” Fletcher said. “Not one time have I ever got a single suggestion. They seem highly focused on defending a broken system.”
According to a 2009 memo cited Sunday, parole officials in Los Angeles moved 125 “high control” parolees to a level of supervision requiring them to see an agent once every other month instead of twice a month.
An additional 489 parolees were reduced to minimum service, which means they have to mail in paperwork once a month stating that they are in compliance with their release terms.
Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who is fighting the proposed release of a convicted sex offender into his district, said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has to do a better job keeping track of dangerous offenders.
“These people have got to be checked,” Knight said. “It’s a difficult situation for them, but the taxpaying citizens of California are going to demand that they are looking after these offenders.”
Former parole administrator Mark Epstein, who wrote one of the e-mails obtained by the Union-Tribune, said Tuesday that “considerations other than public safety” appear to be driving state parole decisions.
“We are asked to ignore the data over the last 20-plus years that shows offenders getting out of prison in worse shape than when they went in,” Epstein said. “They will continue to re-offend, with devastating results.
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Agents missed signs to stop molester-turned-killer
By DON THOMPSON (AP) – June 2, 2010
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State parole agents missed numerous chances to send a convicted child molester back to prison before he raped and killed two San Diego-area teenagers, the corrections department said Wednesday.
John Albert Gardner III wore a tracking device for a year before he finished parole in September 2008, but his parole agent did not review the data because he was considered a low-risk sex offender, Inspector General David Shaw said.
The data from the GPS ankle bracelet showed numerous violations by Gardner, including the apparent commission of a new felony by going to a state prison parking lot, the report said.
He repeatedly violated other parole conditions, including getting within 100 yards of places where children gather, that also could have put him back in prison, the report said.
Better monitoring “could have sent Gardner back to prison, making it impossible for him to murder two young girls and commit the attempted sexual assault,” Shaw said in his report. “The department did not identify Gardner’s crime and parole violations because it did not require parole agents to review the GPS data.”
In addition, the public is endangered because the department continues to poorly track 4,500 other sex offender parolees who are not considered high-risk, Shaw said.
After Gardner was released from parole, he raped and murdered 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois in San Diego County.
Gardner, 31, pleaded guilty to those crimes and was sentenced last month to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He also pleaded guilty to a separate attempted assault.
Gardner was a registered sex offender off parole and living in Escondido at the time of the attacks. In 2000, he was released after serving five years of a six-year sentence for molesting a 13-year-old girl.
Matthew Cate, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a letter to Shaw that the report criticized a parole policy that no longer existed. The department changed its policy in March to more actively supervise even parolees considered less dangerous.
Previously, the movements of lower-risk parolees were reviewed only when they were suspected of a new crime or misconduct. Now agents are required to randomly review their movements for two, 48-hour period each month.
Shaw’s report said the new policy, “though improved, remains deficient” because random reviews are unlikely to reveal violations. It still ignores 87 percent of the GPS data collected for lower-risk offenders.
Gardner told the inspector general that he drove to Richard J. Donovan State Prison on July 12, 2008, to drop off and pick up a friend so she could visit a prison inmate.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office told Shaw’s investigators that prosecutors would have charged Gardner with a third strike offense for visiting the prison, potentially sending him to prison for 25 years to life.
The report found Gardner violated at least three other conditions of his parole on a regular basis. The offenses included living within a half-mile of a school, renting a storage facility and leaving his home in violation of a curfew.
In hindsight, Cate said, the answer would be to review every offender’s movements every day. But he said it was unclear how this can be done, given limitations on technology and overworked parole agents.
Steps could include setting priorities for which suspicious movements or electronic violation alerts should be investigated or reviewing parolees’ movements in higher volume to detect patterns.
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