Archive for January, 2012

Judge tosses Calif. standards for revoking parole

Posted on January 30, 2012. Filed under: Victims Rights |

The Associated Press
Posted: 01/27/2012 05:36:54 AM PST
Updated: 01/27/2012 03:45:44 PM PST

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California’s voter-approved standards for revoking parole violate parolees’ rights to legal representation and tips the scale toward sending them back to prison, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento issued Tuesday’s ruling on parts of Proposition 9, which was approved in 2008 with 54 percent of the vote.

Known as Marsy’s Law, the initiative was intended to add crime victims’ rights to the state constitution.

Parolees had filed a class-action lawsuit against the state over provisions that didn’t guarantee them a right to present evidence at hearings when they were accused of violating terms of their release and allowed parole agents to testify about incriminating statements by witnesses who were not in court.

Proposition 9 also required the parole board to consider the safety of victims and the public when deciding whether to revoke parole, without weighing the costs and burdens of imprisonment.

Karlton said in his ruling that it “violates parolees’ right to a neutral decision-maker by placing a thumb on the scale of justice and tipping the balance towards incarceration,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported ( http://bit.ly/x16DyH).

The judge previously struck down the parole provisions in 2009, saying they violated a previous order he had issued to protect parolees’ rights. But an appeals court sent the case back, telling him to reconsider it by constitutional standards.

In Tuesday’s decision, Karlton cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that parolees have a right to present evidence at revocation hearings and question all opposing witnesses, unless the state has a legitimate reason to keep a witness out of court, Karlton said.

Other provisions of Proposition 9, including one that extends the amount of time that prisoners must wait between parole hearings, remain intact.

Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told the Chronicle that officials are reviewing the ruling.

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Sheriff releases inmates to avoid overcrowding

Posted on January 30, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Public Safety Realignment |

By Dana Littlefield

San Diego Union Tribune

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SAN DIEGO — A recent surge in the population at county jails has prompted Sheriff Bill Gore to start shaving up to 10 percent off jail terms for some inmates to avoid overcrowding.

The number of men held in custody this month in San Diego County swelled to 96 percent of capacity. Most of the increase can be traced to a law Gov. Jerry Brown sought and the Legislature approved last year that allows some lower-level criminals to be sentenced to local jail instead of state prison.

Around Jan. 19, Gore authorized the release of about 260 inmates, most of whom were serving misdemeanor sentences or were nonviolent felons ordered to serve jail time as a condition of probation. The average number being released now is about 35 to 40 a day, he said.

“Most of them would have been released within a couple weeks,” Gore said Thursday. “We had the immediate need to create bed space.”

He said none of the inmates released early had been sentenced under the state law that took effect Oct. 1.

“This is not new,” Gore said of the 10 percent early-release credits, which grew out of a pair of lawsuits filed in the 1970s and 1980s aimed at improving conditions for San Diego County inmates.

He and previous sheriffs used that discretion for more than 20 years until early 2010, when the number of jail bookings started coming down, he said.

Since Brown proposed in April shifting responsibility for some state inmates to county jails, local officials have voiced concern about potential overcrowding and other possible dangers associated with the plan known as “realignment.”

It has been described by law enforcement officials as the biggest change to criminal justice in California in decades. It shifted responsibility for certain nonviolent and nonserious offenders from the state to the counties to help close a massive budget gap and ease prison overcrowding.

About 500 felony crimes have been identified for which offenders can be sentenced to county jail instead of prison. They include vehicular manslaughter, grand theft and sale of illegal drugs. Sex offenders who would have gone to state prison before realignment will continue to do so.

County Supervisor Greg Cox was one of the local officials who expressed trepidation about realignment when the Board of Supervisors approved the local implementation plan in September.

“I just have this sinking feeling that somewhere down the line somebody is going to be out that shouldn’t be out and do something that they shouldn’t do,” Cox said at the time.

In an email Thursday to U-T San Diego, he said, “I have full faith in Sheriff Gore and how he operates our County jails and trust his judgment on early release. Ultimately, the reason for early release is due to the state’s poor management of its budget and prison system, which has put more inmates into County jails.”

San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said Thursday he did not expect the early releases to significantly affect crime in the city, which continues to see historic lows in overall crime rates.

“I don’t think it will cause problems,” he said, although he acknowledged some offenders may “slip through the cracks.”

Judge David Danielsen, assistant presiding judge of the San Diego Superior Court, said he was not surprised to learn of the recent releases because it was inevitable overcrowding would occur under the state law.

But, Danielsen said, “It’s always best if the court’s orders for custody are fully honored.”

As of last week, San Diego County’s inmate population had grown to about 5,200. Total capacity, which is set by the courts, is capped at 5,600 — 4,600 men and 1,000 women.

“That’s why we felt we had to implement some of these early releases,” Gore said.

Only men have been released so far because that’s where the crowding is. The female inmate population is around 70 percent of capacity.

Because of realignment, the jails are housing hundreds of inmates who previously would have been sent to prison as well as parolees who violated the terms of their parole. Gore said parole violators are spending an average of 60 days in local custody, when the previous estimate was around 30 days.

The situation wasn’t helped by a succession of holiday weekends, when arrests for DUIs and other crimes are often higher and suspects have to wait an extra day to have their bail set by a judge.

It remains unclear how long the sheriff will continue to impose the 10 percent sentence reductions.

“If our population stabilizes, we’ll stop that,” Gore said.

Staff writer Kristina Davis contributed to this report.

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Counties Struggle With New Probationers

Posted on January 12, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Parole, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

Capital Public Radio

(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

County parole departments in California are in the third month of trying to integrate former prison inmates into county probation systems. Such inmates are classified as non-violent, non-serious, non-sex-offenders.  So far, Sacramento County has processed 700 of them, including one man, Aaron Suggs, who was arrested this week for sexually assaulting a woman and robbing her in her home.

Suggs was released to Sacramento County Probation as a non-serious offender under the state’s new “re-alignment” policy.  He had been in prison for drugs.

Alan Seeber is with Sacramento County probation.  He says the state’s classification of some parolees is flawed.

SEEBER:   “Say somebody was committed to state prison for assault with a deadly weapon and served five years of state prison time.  They were then paroled, completed their parole and then were subsequently arrested for something like a vehicle theft.  That vehicle theft would then qualify as a non-serious, non violent, non-sex offense.”

Suggs’ ten convictions in Sacramento were mostly for property crimes or drugs.

Sacramento County Probation is not sure how many of the 700 have already reoffended.   Dana Toyama with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says the state is not tracking the number of offenders who re-offend, but counties are encouraged to.

TOYAMA:  “In June, funding will be re-allocated to the counties based on the actual impact of re-alignment to the counties. So, it’s important for counties to maintain good records and good accounting for how may offenders they’re seeing.”

Toyama says nearly 8,000 inmates were released statewide to the supervision of probation departments in November and December.  Both Toyama and Seeber say studies have shown local supervision of parolees can reduce the recidivism rate from two-thirds to about one-third.

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County Jails Maxed Out Due to New State Law

Posted on January 11, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Reported by: KPSP Local 2 News Services

1/6/12

Riverside County’s jails are on the verge of reaching maximum capacity because of the influx of low-level inmates from state prisons, sheriff’s officials said Friday.

The county’s 3,906 jail beds are 99 percent occupied, and the resulting overflow of inmates will leave the Sheriff’s Department little choice but to start releasing some offenders before their sentences are served, Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez noted that the county’s five jails now house 735 prisoners whose felony convictions met the criteria set by Assembly Bill 109.

The law states individuals convicted of crimes that fall into the non-violent, non-serious, non-sexually oriented category, and whose principal offense results in a sentence of three years or less, are to be incarcerated in county jails.

AB 109 led to a 20 percent jump over the last three months in the number of convicted felons being sentenced to time in county jail, sheriff’s officials said.

The governor and various lawmakers pushed AB 109 as part of his “realignment” strategy, which involved shifting more state responsibilities onto counties. Supporters argued it would lead to greater efficiencies, but opponents countered that already burdened local resources would be stretched to the limit.

Gutierrez said a federal court order requires that every inmate in a local jail has a bed.

To avoid overcrowding, sheriff’s officials will have to exercise alternative measures, “such as electronic ankle bracelet monitoring, return parole violators to the supervision of parole, and early release of some lover-level inmates.”

The state has allocated the county $24 million in the current fiscal year to cover costs stemming from the new law.

But most public safety officials don’t believe that will be enough, and doubts linger as to whether adequate funding will be made available in the future given the state’s unending budgetary red ink.

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Man arrested in Sacramento burglary, sexual assault

Posted on January 11, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

Sacramento Bee 911
January 10, 2012

suggs.jpgA man accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her Sacramento home Monday morning has been arrested.

Aaron Suggs (pictured), 29, was booked into Sacramento County Jail on suspicion of burglary and multiple sexual assault crimes, and is being held without bail.

Sacramento police officers were called to a home on E Street at 8:46 a.m. Monday. The victim told police that she had gotten out of the shower and found that the back door of her home was open. When she went to close the door, a man grabbed her, then sexually assaulted the woman and ransacked her home before leaving with several of her possessions.

Detectives and crime scene investigators responded and an investigation led them to identify Suggs as a suspect, according to a Police Department news release.

At 8:07 p.m., patrol officers spotted Suggs at Seventh and L streets. He was quickly arrested, and officials said several items belonging to the victim were found in his possession.

Police said Suggs was recently released from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as part of the Post Release Offender Program and his supervision assigned to Sacramento County Probation because he was considered not to be a serious or violent offender.

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Parolee charged in strangulation of 21-year-old Huntington Beach woman

Posted on January 11, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Uncategorized |

Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/10/2012 11:13:01 AM PST
Ean Keith Brown, who was freed from prison and on parole for burglary, was living in the vehicle in a driveway in the 8300 block of Danbury Circle, Huntington Beach Capt. Russell Reinhart said. (Google Map)

HUNTINGTON BEACH – A 38-year-old parolee was charged today with strangling a 21-year-old woman in a recreational vehicle parked in his parents’ driveway in Huntington Beach over the weekend.

Ean Keith Brown was charged with murder and faces sentencing enhancement allegations for two “strike” convictions and serious felony convictions for second-degree robbery in 1995 and burglary in 2008, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Brown, who was freed from prison and on parole for burglary, was living in the vehicle in a driveway in the 8300 block of Danbury Circle, Huntington Beach Capt. Russell Reinhart said.

The victim, Dolores “Arias” Fagan, 21, was living with relatives in the same block, according to prosecutors. The last time they saw her was when she left home about 5 p.m. Friday.

Brown is suspected of strangling Fagan in the vehicle between Friday and Sunday and leaving the body wrapped in a blanket, according to prosecutors.

Brown’s parents called police just after noon Sunday and asked them to check the vehicle, Reinhart said. Police found the body inside the vehicle, but Brown was not there.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies and the California Highway Patrol began a chase of Brown about 4 p.m. Sunday on the northbound Ontario (15) Freeway, Reinhart said. Police caught up to Brown and arrested him just short of the border with Nevada, Reinhart said.


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State convicts arrive in L.A. County with costly mental illnesses

Posted on January 9, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Newly released state prisoners are arriving in Los Angeles and other counties with incomplete medical records and mental illnesses that have officials struggling to provide treatment.

By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times

9:16 PM PST, January 8, 2012

As California begins shifting supervision of thousands of newly released state prisoners to local probation agencies, ex-convicts are arriving with incomplete medical records and more serious mental illnesses than anticipated. And mental health officials are scrambling to provide appropriate — and often costly — treatment.

“At the start, every day … there was a crisis,” said Dr. Marvin Southard, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “There was somebody we didn’t know what to do with.”

In some cases, he said, released inmates have had to be immediately transferred to hospitals or residential centers for psychiatric care.

A new state law designed to reduce prison crowding and cut costs requires that certain nonviolent convicts serve their time in county lockups rather than state prisons. It also makes counties — rather than the state parole agency — responsible for supervising such inmates after their release.

The transition, called “realignment” by Gov. Jerry Brown, has raised well-publicized concerns among law enforcement officers across the state, as they try to accommodate more inmates in already crowded local jails. But realignment also presents less-visible challenges for local probation and mental health officials dealing with an influx of patients with drug and alcohol addictions, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

Mental illness and drug addiction are common in California prisons, where more than half of inmates report a recent mental health problem and two-thirds report having a drug abuse problem, according to a Rand Corp. study. Many don’t receive the treatment they need while incarcerated and may skip care once released, said the study’s author, Lois Davis.

“If you have individuals struggling with depression and anxiety … they are going to have a much harder time linking to services,” she said. “It limits their ability to find a job and reunite with their family, and they will be at greater risk for recidivism.”

Roughly 3,300 people have been released to Los Angeles County so far. The probation department is expecting about 6,000 more. County mental health officials estimated that about 30% will require mental health services and about 60% will have drug addictions.

Continuing treatment after inmates are freed is essential to preventing them from relapsing, having mental breakdowns, ending up in hospitals or landing back behind bars, officials said.

“We took it very seriously from the start,” said Reaver Bingham, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. “We knew that if we didn’t address those risk factors, people would revert to what they know, and that is committing criminal activity.”

Realignment, which began Oct. 1, has been bumpy. Many released inmates came without comprehensive medical records. It was up to the patients to pass along information about their diagnoses and medications to probation and mental health staffers. When county workers requested mental health records from the state, they often were told to get the information from individual prisons.

Communication has improved, but getting complete medical and mental health records remains difficult, officials said. One complication: Prisoners can block the transfer of records.

“A lot of it depends on the inmates’ attitude at the point of the release — do they want to be treated more or to be left alone?” said Don Kingdon, deputy director of the California Mental Health Directors Assn.

Kingdon stressed the importance of counties having complete information on prisoners before they are released to local supervision. “That can create a problem in the community if they release prisoners and they have mental health needs and you didn’t know,” he said.

California prison officials “made a whole lot of effort to make the [transition] be as smooth as possible,” said Denny Sallade, deputy director of the state’s Division of Correctional Health Care Services. But inmates may be in one mental state when they leave the prison and another when they arrive in the community, often because they stop taking their medication along the way, she noted.

The inmates also may turn down help once they arrive. In Los Angeles County, about 30% of the released state inmates seen by mental health staff refused to either meet with clinicians or be referred for treatment.

Bingham, of the probation department, said the state has tried to address problems. “If we can be successful in Los Angeles County, we can be successful in the rest of the state,” he said.

But county officials are warning there may not be enough resources to accommodate former inmates in need of supervision. The state allocated $18 million to Los Angeles County to pay for mental health and substance abuse treatment and other social services. But the money isn’t guaranteed to continue past June.

“Supervisor Mike Antonovich is very concerned about the inadequacy of realignment funding to effectively rehabilitate this population, which includes costly mental health services, housing and supervision,” said his justice deputy, Anna Pembedjian. “It all boils down to resources.”

Los Angeles, like most counties around the state, is already stretched thin after years of budget cuts and may not be equipped to close gaps in health and social services for the newly released inmates, said Davis, of Rand. To help defray some costs, counties across the state are working to enroll the eligible released prisoners in public programs such as Medi-Cal.

Counties are at the very early stages of understanding how to make realignment work, especially for those former inmates with mental illness, Davis said. “It is going to be a challenging time for the next couple years,” she said.

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