Archive for November, 2011

No room in Fresno Co. Jail for parole violators

Posted on November 27, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Parole, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

By Kurtis Alexander – The Fresno Bee

Friday, Nov. 25, 2011 | 10:44 PM Modified Fri, Nov 25, 2011 10:51 PM

In another sign that Fresno County is struggling to manage more criminals, the sheriff has ordered that state parole violators no longer will be held at the county jail.

The parolees, who were once sent to state prison if they got into trouble, are now sent to local jails instead – part of the state’s recent realignment of the penal system. But in Fresno County, where the jail already is crowded, the Sheriff’s Office has determined there’s no room for the former convicts.

State parole officials, acknowledging counties are being asked to do more under the realignment, say they’ll try to find other ways to deal with problem parolees.

Orders to not lock them up began Thanksgiving Day. While the jail has long been releasing inmates early because of the lack of space, the directive to turn away parolees only reinforces concerns that criminals aren’t serving the time they should.

“They’re out in the community and they’re violating their parole, and when there’s no consequence for violating, that’s going to be a public safety issue,” said Kelly Keenan, chief assistant district attorney for Fresno County.

Sheriff’s officials said Friday they have no choice but to close the door to parole violators. The jail’s 2,427 beds, which are nearly full, need to be reserved for more dangerous inmates, and as the jail population has risen with the realignment, parolees have become a lesser threat, they said.

“Nobody likes to have to do this,” Undersheriff Scott Jones said. “We just had to select the best option available to us at this time.”

The sheriff’s order does not apply to parolees who commit new crimes. These criminals may still qualify for jail time, depending on their offense. The new order applies to those who break the terms of their parole, such as drinking alcohol or being somewhere they shouldn’t be.

The parolee’s prior offense, even if it’s a serious and violent crime, does not factor into the decision to release.

The number of parole violators sent to the county jail since realignment began Oct. 1 has been much greater than what the state projected.

And that’s what’s driving the directive to keep them out, sheriff’s officials said.

On Nov. 8, 139 state parolees were being held at the jail, records show. That’s more than all the inmates the county was expecting to hold at this stage of realignment. The bulk of new inmates will come from the courts, which are now sentencing low-level offenders to jails instead of prison.

The Sheriff’s Office has worried about getting stuck with too many criminals – and not enough funding – even before the additional responsibility came.

“We were very skeptical from the start of the numbers,” Jones said. “We’re doing our best to deal with this situation.”

Just two weeks into the realignment, a new jail floor the sheriff opened to help accommodate the influx of criminals was full. Most of the 432 extra beds were filled with inmates the county would have held before realignment anyway, and Sheriff Margaret Mims said then the space wouldn’t likely be sufficient for what’s to come.

State parole officials said Friday they would find a way to deal with parole violators that the jail is turning away.

“Parole agents can implement alternatives to incarceration, including GPS monitoring, day-reporting centers and home detention, in such situations,” said Oscar Hidalgo, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Hidalgo acknowledged that under realignment, counties won’t be able to jail as many criminals as they have in the past. But, he said, this provides an opportunity to find more effective means of dealing with criminals, such as rehabilitation.

“The idea of incarcerating everyone at the state level and the local level has not been economically sound, fiscally sound and hasn’t contributed much to curbing recidivism,” Hidalgo said.

The impetus behind the realignment was a Supreme Court order directing the state to reduce its prison population. Gov. Jerry Brown was a chief advocate.

Fresno County is not the only county to absorb more of the state prison population than it expected. Both Tulare and Kern counties have seen bigger numbers, as have many counties in Southern California.

Keenan said the county’s decision to turn away parolees is just one more example of how the state didn’t adequately prepare counties for the new workload.

Said Keenan: “It’s showing how the realignment was rushed through and creating problems.”

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California jails receiving more state prisoners than expected

Posted on November 16, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Parole, Prisons |

County sheriff’s departments are scrambling to adjust. Some officials predict the situation will lead to the release of some inmates.

By Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein,
Los Angeles Times

November 16, 2011

The number of state prisoners arriving in county jails under California’s controversial prison diversion program is significantly higher than officials had estimated, adding new pressure on sheriff’s departments to figure out what to do with thousands of extra inmates.

Prisoners convicted of some nonviolent crimes began serving their time in county jails last month as California complied with a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the state to lower its prison population by 30,000.

But the number of state prisoners being transferred has been much higher than officials had predicted, prompting counties to speed up efforts to reopen shuttered jail wings and find other arrangements for some inmates.

Los Angeles County was projected to add about 600 state prisoners by now but has booked more than 900. The tally in Orange County is running more than double what the state had estimated.

Based on the state’s initial projections, Orange County officials believed their jail system would reach capacity sometime in 2013, giving them time to find more jail beds. But if the trend continues, the county could reach capacity by May, said Assistant Sheriff Mike James.

In Kern County, the jail system got so full last week that the Sheriff’s Department freed 50 parole violators — including thieves — because they had no jail beds for them.

“Instead of 120 inmates, we got 150 inmates extra in October. That adds up over 12 months,” said Corrections Chief Kevin Zimmermann of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.

County jails are receiving extra state funding to help house the prisoners, but there are doubts about whether the money will be enough to avoid releasing some inmates. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he is considering a plan to release some inmates who are awaiting trial and outfit them with electronic monitors that chronicle their movements.

Other counties are also considering major expansions of house-arrest programs, as well as channeling some nonviolent inmates into mental health and substance abuse programs.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has the funding to open only an additional 1,800 beds, but the county is expected to receive 8,000 state prisoners in the next year, according to an internal report by the district attorney’s office. That report also said the jails could reach capacity in December. Sheriff’s officials said that it’s unclear when the jails will be full but that it could occur in 2012.

Some counties, such as Los Angeles, are under court order preventing jail overcrowding. So officials said it’s almost a foregone conclusion that some inmates will be released to make way for the state prisoners.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said none of the alternatives are ideal. For example, she said, she’s not sure how many inmates can be trusted to serve time wearing GPS-monitored bracelets.

“The question is how many can be put out safely on electronic monitoring? We are not going to have enough money to put everyone in jail. Jail is the most costly alternative,” Hutchens said. “In California, the public wants criminals to do their full time, but no one wants to build more county jails and prisons. So something has to give.”

State corrections officials said they hadn’t expected the plan known as realignment to be a smooth transition because it is such an unprecedented shift. They acknowledged that their estimates have been off but believe the surge will be short-lived.

“We do expect that the overall jail admissions will level out,” said Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She added that some estimates have turned out to be correct, including the number of prisoners sent to San Francisco.

State officials and some sheriffs believe the higher-than-projected number of state prisoners being sent to jails has occurred in part because defense attorneys waited until realignment took effect to settle their clients’ cases. By doing that, the attorneys were assured that their clients would receive jail time instead of prison time.

“We believe it has occurred because of publicity the realignment received. Defense attorneys delayed a lot of adjudications until after Oct. 1,” when the law took effect, said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn. “Those persons who pleaded guilty ended up in the local facilities when under the old course of events they would have gone to prison.”

Many county officials say it’s just a matter time before some inmates have to be released.

Riverside County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez said his jail is now at 93% capacity and will be full by January. In San Bernardino County, officials are planning to significantly expands their work-release and electronic monitoring programs, certain that the influx of state prisoners will force some releases.

“We just started the biggest system change in the history of California justice,” said Nick Warner, legislative director for the State Sheriffs’ Assn. “Anyone who predicts with certainty failure or success is premature in that judgment.”

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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Freed on Medical Parole – inmate is back in custody

Posted on November 16, 2011. Filed under: Crime, Parole |

LA Now

November 15, 2011

A California inmate paroled because doctors thought he was too sick to “perform activities of basic daily living” is back under guard after nurses said they caught him masturbating in his hospital bed.

Generally, an inmate has to be so incapacitated that they no longer posea threat to public safety, need 24-hour care and are “permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living,” according to a corrections department press release.

Since the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 24 inmates have been granted medical parole under a practice that has been somewhat controversial.

In the most recent case, convicted burglar Peter Post, 33, may now have to complete the rest of his 31-year sentence behind bars, if a prison doctor determines he’s not as sick as previously believed.

Citing healthcare privacy laws, prison officials refused to describe the illness that qualified Post for the state’s new controversial medical parole program Nov. 3.

He was only out for five days before the nurses reported him.

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INLAND: Realignment adds to jail woes in Riverside County

Posted on November 14, 2011. Filed under: Crime, Public Safety Realignment |

The Press Enterprise

RICHARD K. De ATLEY

rdeatley@pe.com

Published: 12 November 2011 09:04 PM

 

After one month, the state’s decision to put counties in charge of some nonserious offenders has caused a spike in Riverside County’s already dense jail population, putting it on course to reach capacity in January, officials report.

About 190 newly sentenced inmates who would have gone to state prison before the change, called realignment, were instead serving their time in county jail. In addition, hundreds of parole violators who also would have been sent to prison are now taking up jail beds.

The trend was one area of concern reported by probation, sheriff’s and court officials contacted in Riverside and San Bernardino counties after a month of realignment, which began Oct. 1. Officials in San Bernardino County, which has more jail space and sentencing options, said they are not worried yet about jails filling up.

The big inmate shuffle

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State Prison Shift Puts Skid Row at Risk

Posted on November 14, 2011. Filed under: Crime, Crime Victims, Public Safety Realignment |

Los Angles Downtown News

by Ryan Vaillancourt | Posted: Friday, November 4, 2011 3:52 pm

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – In September 2006, city officials launched the Safer Cities Initiative, a plan to crack down on petty crime in Skid Row. The bolstered police presence led to a plunge in criminal activity and steep reductions in the number of people sleeping and dying on the streets.

Five years later, the progress has eroded. There are more parolees on the street. Crime is edging back up. Homelessness is again on the rise.

Some local officials fear the situation may soon get worse, as a new prison reform law is poised to send more felons to the area.

The reason for the fear is Assembly Bill 109, the plan to reduce overcrowding in California prisons largely by shifting how the state deals with drug offenders, who comprise 41% of the inmate population. The measure that went into effect Oct. 1 sends certain non-violent felons to county jail, where early release guidelines dictate that they’ll do less time behind bars than they would have in state prison. It also shifts post-release supervision duties from the state parole system to the County Probation Department.

Upon release, those offenders will be steered toward substance abuse programs and other rehabilitative services – the kind found in Skid Row.

Last year, 47,000 inmates served 90 days or less in state prison, most of them on a parole violation. The education, addiction and other supportive services provided in state prison don’t start until after 90 days, so those inmates had little chance at meaningful rehabilitation.

“The fact is, prison does not do well with these short-term offenders,” said Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “We have to change the way we do business.”

If the so-called realignment plan works, officials say, more people will access rehab services, break their habits and ultimately reduce the state’s 67.5% recidivism rate. State lawmakers, who were ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce overcrowding, say the plan will translate to 33,000 fewer prisoners by 2013.

The question on the mind of stakeholders in Downtown is, what if it doesn’t work? Service providers and police officials expect that released offenders will flock to Skid Row, and although some will seek treatment, others will look for drugs.

Non-Violent, Asterisk

Officials point out that AB 109 applies only to non-violent, non-sex and non-serious offenders – known as non-non-nons, or N3s. However, the designation only considers the person’s most recent conviction. That means repeat lawbreakers, including violent criminals and some convicted of sex crimes, will still qualify for more lenient supervision.

The law relies on county agencies and service providers to do a better job than the state has done at rehabilitating chronic offenders. Funding for those groups, however, is tenuous, as the state transferred $33.7 million to Los Angeles County to cover costs associated with increased workloads for the Sheriff, Probation, Mental Health and other departments. The funds are only guaranteed for the current fiscal year.

“We have concerns about the permanence of the funding and also the adequacy of the funding,” said Reaver Bingham, deputy chief of the Probation Department.

Contrary to widespread fears, AB 109 does not call for or allow a mass early release, Cate said. However, there is a key change in how they are released: The N3s who get out early will no longer be subject to the supervision of the state parole system. Instead, they are released to the county Probation Department, which has more lenient standards.

Probation’s harshest penalty for violators is flash incarceration – a 10-day stint in county jail. Skeptics of the realignment plan fear that’s little incentive to stay clean for addicts and other chronic lawbreakers.

While realignment does not trigger an earlier release for current state prisoners, it will result in shorter prison stints for future N3s. Historically, state prison housed only felons sentenced to a year or more. County jail was for misdemeanor offenders and others serving less than a year.

Now, N3s will do their time in county jail, even if their sentence exceeds a year. This is important because, whereas people in state prison generally serve 50% of their sentence, low-level offenders in county jail often get released on probation after doing only 20% of their time, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca.

Voluntary Treatment

Gov. Jerry Brown and other champions of prison reform have likened realignment to a paradigm shift away from hard-on-crime tactics and toward a system considered to be smart on crime. In actuality, it’s a shift born out of necessity, said Baca, who joined Cate on a recent panel discussion on realignment organized by the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and Skid Row advocacy group Issues and Solutions.

“It’s clear to me if this trending continues that California is going to have to come to grips with the reality of where’s the best place to deal with drug addiction – in jail, or somewhere else,” Baca said.

Under AB 109, the somewhere else is the county Probation Department, with the help of community treatment programs. Although social service providers largely embrace a system that relies more on rehabilitative services and education than repeat incarceration, the emphasis comes at a time when shelters and nonprofits are facing diminished budgets.

More concerning, said Victoria Simon, executive director of Project 180, a Skid Row-based drug, alcohol and mental health services program, is that a month into the AB 109 era, the Probation Department doesn’t appear to be mandating treatment for those with drug and mental health disorders.

Bingham said the department is authorized to make treatment a condition for early release inmates, as long as their most recent offense relates to the need for supportive services.

Still, Simon, whose nonprofit received county funding to work with AB 109 inmates, said that so far, she’s not seeing treatment listed as a Probation condition.

“At this point it is 100% clear there is no mandated treatment. None,” Simon said.

Project 180 works primarily with parolees ordered by a court to use their services, which include aggressive treatment, sober living and constant monitoring. When treatment is voluntary, Simon said, it’s largely ineffective.

L.A. County expects that by the end of the year, some 5,000 early release inmates who would have entered the parole system will be funneled instead to county supervision.

It’s unclear how many offenders have landed in Skid Row, and because realignment starts by transferring supervision from the state to the county, it’s possible the area won’t see an imminent influx. The impact may only be manifested as new offenders avoid prison and instead get shorter terms in county jail, said Lt. Shannon Paulsen, who oversees the Safer Cities Initiative.

“We’re in a wait and see mode,” Paulsen said.

As Paulsen waits, she’s preparing for a spike in recently released felons. Skid Row has already seen an uptick in its convict population in the wake of a 2009 easing of state parole rules. Between June and August, SCI officers engaged with 250 parolees that officers had never before encountered in the neighborhood, she said.

Last year, a Los Angeles Downtown News analysis found that there were about 800 parolees living in the area bounded by Los Angeles, Alameda, Third and Eighth streets.

Police say homelessness is rising too. Every month, Central Division officers count the number of people sleeping on the street. Before the implementation of SCI, the number hovered at about 1,900. In April 2009 it had fallen to approximately 500. The trend started to reverse last year and in September 2011, officers counted about 1,600 people sleeping on Skid Row sidewalks.

Paulsen said that AB 109 does not necessarily pose a new challenge in Skid Row – it just threatens to heighten the dilemma that many say has long been at the heart of the neighborhood’s struggles: The city’s most vulnerable denizens live side-by-side with those who take advantage of their addictions and desperation.

“By the nature of Skid Row, this is where people are placed, where people who are addicted and mentally ill, who are your ready and available victims, end up,” she said. “It’s the homeless residents, the fixed income people, the addicted and mentally ill people who are going to be the victims of all of these social dynamics.”

Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at ryan@downtownnews.com.


Skid Row’s Perfect Storm

Five years after the launch of the Safer Cities Initiative, Skid Row has seen reductions in crime, homelessness and nonviolent street deaths. By most measures, the community is cleaner and safer, with more housing. Today, that progress is in jeopardy. In a three-part series, Los Angeles Downtown News looks at the state of Skid Row as it faces a new set of challenges.

This week: A prisoner realignment program has some fearing that more drug offenders and felons will wind up on the street.

Nov. 14: A recent court order that prohibits seizure of homeless peoples’ property on Skid Row sidewalks has had other consequences.

Nov. 21: In April 2010, the City Attorney tried a new tactic to combat the Skid Row drug trade. As police prepare to enforce it, the drug game is alive and well.

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Michael Jackson’s doctor likely to be paroled in 2 years

Posted on November 10, 2011. Filed under: Courts, Crime, Public Safety Realignment |

November 8, 2011 | Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch

Photograph – Al Seib/Reuters

 

Dr. Conrad Murray sits in Los Angeles County Superior Court as the jury returns a guilty verdict for involuntary manslaughter in singer Michael Jackson’s death.

Dr. Conrad Murray’s conviction on involuntary manslaughter charges for his role in Michael Jackson’s death likely will bring him years in jail.

Two years, that is, based on sentencing guidelines set out in state penal code and the formula the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation uses to calculate prisoner release.

Involuntary manslaughter is the lowest of murder charges. The crime is gross negligence or misconduct that causes death “in an unlawful manner,” according to Penal Code Section 192. The code states that this felony conviction can bring a term of two to four years, though Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor could sentence Murray to probation only.

The jury convicted Murray of administering to Jackson a lethal dose of propofol, a powerful and fast-acting anesthetic. The drug caused cardiac arrest and killed the singer on June 25, 2009.

Pastor can consider many factors as he weighs how to sentence Murray on Nov. 29. For involuntary manslaughter cases, judges often consider the convict’s history, said Peter Goodman, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney. In the case of physicians, the question becomes whether they have a record of complaints with state medical boards.

Records from the Medical Board of California show no disciplinary actions prior to Jackson’s death.

There have been multiple reprimands and restrictions on his ability to practice in the two years since. Regulators in Texas and Nevada, where Murray also has medical licenses, have prohibited him from administering anesthetics.

Prior to his sentencing, Murray will undergo an examination by the Los Angeles County probation department, and the findings might influence the judge’s decision.

Judges “rely heavily on probation for that kind of insight into the defendant,” Goodman said. “They also look for remorse. Is the person cognizant of the impact of the jury verdict, and do they accept any responsibility for what they did?”

The parole formula that California’s corrections department uses includes time served and other credits to determine the earliest and latest possible release dates for prisoners.

Under the worst-case scenario for Murray, the judge could sentence him to the maximum of four years.

The doctor was transferred to Los Angeles County jail on Monday, immediately after the verdict came down. If the judge allows the county jail time as credit for time served, Murray will subtract 23 days from his 1,460-day maximum sentence. It is unclear now what other credits he might earn before entering jail.

Therefore, Murray’s latest parole date is Nov. 6, 2015. But it’s unlikely he’ll be in a cell that long.

If Murray exhibits good behavior, he will get “incarceration credit” that cuts his sentence in half. Under the penal code, every six months served without an infraction earns Murray six months off his term. His 1,437-day sentence then becomes 718 days, according to California Watch’s calculation on the state corrections department worksheet.

His earliest parole date is Nov. 18, 2013. That would have him out of jail more than a week before Thanksgiving.

Clarification: 

An earlier version of this story said Murray would serve his sentence in prison. Under the state’s corrections realignment, Murray would most likely serve a prison sentence in Los Angeles County jail rather than state prison.

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South Carolina sheriff tells women to carry concealed firearms

Posted on November 1, 2011. Filed under: Crime, Politics |

November 1, 2011 |  7:37 am

 latimes.com

Woman fires a gun in Canada. In South Carolina, a sheriff urged women to carry concealed weapons. 'They got one called The Judge that shoots a .45 or a .410 shell. You ain't got to be accurate. You just have to get close'
The sheriff of Spartanburg County, S.C., turned a news conference about an attempted rape in his community into an extended rant Monday in which he slammed a criminal justice system preferred by “liberals” for failing to keep the repeat-offender suspect behind bars — and implored the women in his community to pack heat for self-protection.

“I want you to get a concealed weapons permit,” Sheriff Chuck Wright said at the Monday news conference, as reported by TV station WYFF. “Don’t get Mace. Get a firearm.”

The sheriff alleged that a 46-year-old man named Walter Lance abducted a woman while she was walking her dog Sunday afternoon and attempted to rape her.

Lance was arrested and charged with kidnapping, first-degree criminal sexual conduct and grand larceny, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported.

In the news conference, Wright said Lance had been convicted of 20 crimes dating back to 1983, including disorderly conduct, domestic violence, assault and battery with intent to kill, and resisting arrest, among others.

“Now if anybody sitting in this room had been charged with any of that stuff, they’d probably be finding a tall oak tree and a short rope for us,” Wright said.

“I can tell you that our form of justice is not making it,” he stated. “This fellow that has been charged numerous times for crimes against women and crime in society … he’s been in jail more times than I have, and I’m the dad-blame [guy] over the jail over there. And he seems to get out quicker than I can get out. And I am aggravated.

“I’ve had liberals call me and tell me, ‘The chain gang is not going to work.’ Well, let me inform you that your form of justice isn’t working either.”

Wright suggested that the women of Spartanburg carry their weapons in fanny packs. “You can conceal a small pistol in them,” he said. “They got one called The Judge that shoots a .45 or a .410 shell. You ain’t got to be accurate. You just have to get close.”

Gun control, he said, “is when you can get your barrel back on the target quick. That’s gun control.”

The rant is making the rounds of the Internet, and being warmly received by conservatives and weapons aficionados.

“Sounds like the kind of guy you’d want to elect,” a St. Louis-based member of the TaurusArmed.net firearms forum wrote. “Frankly, I thought all the ‘straight-shooting’ sheriffs were in Arizona.”

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