Politics

Prop. 47 will make Californians less safe: Dianne Feinstein

Posted on October 24, 2014. Filed under: Crime, Politics |

Prop. 47 would do two things. First, it would reclassify a wide range of crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor. This would mean shorter prison sentences for serious crimes like stealing firearms, identity theft and possessing dangerous narcotics such as cocaine and date rape drugs.

Second, Prop. 47 would result in the resentencing and release of thousands of individuals already convicted of these crimes.

The crimes that would be reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor are not minor crimes.

For instance, the penalty for stealing a firearm valued at up to $950 would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, reducing a sentence from up to three years in prison today to a maximum of just 12 months under Prop. 47.

Stolen firearms often end up in the hands of felons and others who cannot legally possess them, where they are used to commit violent crimes. Theft of a firearm should be punished as a felony, plain and simple.

Penalties would also be reduced for possessing dangerous narcotics such as cocaine, meth, heroin and GHB, a common date rape drug. While laws regarding marijuana would remain untouched, penalties for having the most dangerous, most addictive drugs would be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

Stealing from a business while it is open—known as commercial burglary—could also no longer be charged as a felony if the value of the items stolen was $950 or less. This could signal to criminals that stealing from small businesses may be worth the risk.

Agricultural crimes like stealing livestock valued up to $950, as well as many instances of identity theft crimes such as forgery, would also be treated as misdemeanors.

These are not minor crimes and the penalties associated with them should not be reduced.

Another danger from Prop. 47 is that it will result in the resentencing—and often outright release—of thousands of California convicts.

Supporters of the proposition estimate that approximately 10,000 felons will be resentenced, with many of those felons being immediately released after they are resentenced. These estimates appear to be significantly low.

Alameda County alone estimates that more than 2,000 inmates there would be eligible for resentencing. This suggests that many more than 10,000 felons statewide would be eligible for resentencing and release.

Unfortunately, there are no firm statistics on how many prisoners would be affected, and that’s a big problem with this proposition.

Courts would also have little or no discretion over which individuals would qualify for resentencing. Unless an individual poses an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety,” resentencing must be granted.

The problem is the definition of “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety” is extraordinarily narrow. It covers only those who are at risk of committing eight specific crimes: three specific sex offenses, murder or solicitation to commit murder, assault with a machine gun on a peace officer or firefighter, possession of a weapon of mass destruction or an offense punishable by life in prison or death.

This means an individual at risk of committing serious crimes other than the eight listed above, such as carjacking or robbery, would automatically qualify for resentencing if he is serving time for a crime covered by Prop. 47.

Let me offer an actual example of how this law would work.

A criminal is currently serving a prison sentence of more than seven years for stealing a handgun. He has a long prior record, including convictions for residential burglary, vehicle theft, receiving stolen property, drug possession, evading police and resisting arrest.

None of this individual’s prior convictions, including the one for residential burglary, would make him ineligible for resentencing under Prop. 47. In fact, the proposition’s narrow public safety exception means it’s a near certainty that this offender’s sentence would be reduced, regardless of his prior record and even if the court believed he was likely to commit more crimes.

Another weakness of Prop. 47 is that it would seldom apply to first-time offenders.

Only rarely is an individual convicted of a felony covered by the proposition actually a first-time offender. It’s well known that true first-time offenders rarely end up in prison.

First-time drug offenders often receive treatment instead of jail time. And many other first-time offenders negotiate their crime down to an infraction or otherwise participate in a program that allows them to avoid a felony conviction and jail time.

In fact, of the 3,177 offenders in state prison who would be eligible for resentencing under Proposition 47, only 77 are first-time offenders.

By the time a person has been convicted of a felony covered by the proposition, he has most likely been through the judicial system several times.

Simply put, the reduction in sentences proposed by Proposition 47 would ultimately lead to the release of thousands of dangerous criminals, and a wholesale reclassification of many dangerous felonies as misdemeanors would put the people of California at continued risk going forward.

Dianne Feinstein is California’s senior U.S. senator. She is a Democrat.

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California wins two-year extension in fight over inmate releases

Posted on February 11, 2014. Filed under: California State Budget, Courts, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Published: Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 – 11:15 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 – 8:05 am

A panel of federal judges Monday gave California two more years to cut its prison population to a level originally ordered in 2009, a move that once again gives the state more breathing room to comply, but also establishes a non-negotiable deadline.

Under Monday’s order, the state has until Feb. 28, 2016, to reduce the inmate population in its 34 adult prisons – designed to hold 81,574 inmates – to 137.5 percent of its current design capacity. State prisons now house roughly 117,600 inmates. The order requires the number to be reduced to 112,164 and bars the state from sending inmates to out-of-state prisons to get to that level.

The order essentially adopts a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration that promised the judges the state would not seek further delays or court appeals if an extension was granted.

The order comes from a specially created three-judge court consisting of 9th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the San Francisco-based Northern District of California, and Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California. The panel found in 2009 that overcrowding in California’s adult prisons has pulled the quality of medical and mental health care for inmates well below constitutional standards.

The three judges acknowledged they were “reluctant” to grant yet another extension of an order originally issued in August 2009. But they added that promises from the state not to further appeal a case that has twice been to the U. S. Supreme Court will help achieve the “durable solution” to overcrowding that has harmed the state’s ability to provide a level of medical and mental health care to inmates that is not “cruel and unusual.”

“This should bring an end to defendants’ continual appeals and requests for modifications of this Court’s orders,” the judges wrote.

The order is a win for Brown, who is expected to seek re-election and already is facing criticism over his “realignment” program that shifted responsibility for nonviolent, low-level offenders from prisons to county jails.

In January 2013, Brown declared that the state had done enough to reduce its inmate population and asked the court to return oversight of the state’s prisons to California, something the judges rejected.

On Monday, after more than a year of intense legal fights, the governor indicated he was pleased with the decision.

“It is encouraging that the Three-Judge Court has agreed to a two-year extension,” Brown said in a statement. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer.”

The order also is a victory for Senate Democrats who championed the idea last summer of restricting prison expansion in favor of sentencing reform and enhanced rehabilitation programs to reduce the number of inmates, something Brown initially opposed.

“I’m very pleased,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview from Washington, D.C. “It’s what we’ve been pushing for since August.

“It was very clear back during the summer that the choices were pretty untenable: release people early or spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lease jail space outside our existing prisons.”

But the order is a setback for attorneys for the state’s mentally and medically ill inmates, who have argued that immediate population reductions are needed to combat high suicide rates, deaths from lax treatment, and related chronic staffing shortages in the prisons’ medical and mental health treatment units.

“We’re disappointed that the court didn’t order the state to comply with the Supreme Court’s order more quickly,” said Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, which has been in the forefront of the fight to improve the lot of inmates. “The conditions are still overcrowded and it’s still cruel and unusual punishment.”

Specter, whose staff and co-counsel had won a string of legal victories over the state until Monday, said no decision had been made yet on whether an appeal will be filed. Any appeal from the three-judge court goes directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The deadline extension “is dangerous and unjustified,” declared Michael Bien, lead counsel for the inmates. He cited a recent series of hearings before Karlton on the handling of mentally ill inmates as proof that “the violations (of previous court orders) are so extreme that it is dangerous to do this. People are dying all the time. I hope the state takes this undeserved opportunity to improve the unconstitutional conditions that persist, but there’s no assurance it will.”

Others warned that the judges’ order eventually could increase crime.

“This court order is tragic; it turns our justice system upside down,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a statement.

“Once released, these dangerous felons will threaten our local communities, where residents are already suffering from increased crime and where police agencies are overburdened,” added Nielsen, a former chair of the state Board of Prison Terms.

The judges said the reductions to be achieved over the next two years can come from immediately increasing good time credits for nonviolent, second-strike offenders and minimum-custody inmates, expanding parole for medically incapacitated inmates, creating new rules to allow for parole hearings for inmates 60 and older who have served at least 25 years, and from other means.

The panel also noted that Brown’s administration has agreed to consider establishing a commission to reform state sentencing laws and wrote that the extension will allow for hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds to be directed at a “recidivism reduction fund” rather than housing more inmates.

But, an obviously agitated Bien said: “There is nothing in the order mandating a revision of the state’s criminal justice policies. It’s just maybe this and maybe that.”

The judges also indicated that it will not allow California to increase its use of out-of-state prisons, where 8,900 inmates currently are housed and where the state had said it would send many more if ordered to immediately meet the population cut.

“This solution is neither durable nor desirable,” the judges wrote of using more out-of-state prison cells. “It would result in thousands of prisoners being incarcerated hundreds or thousands of miles from the support of their families, and in hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent on long-lasting prison reform being spent instead on temporarily housing prisoners in out-of-state facilities.”

The judges have noted repeatedly that they take a dim view of the state’s foot-dragging in complying with their orders, and in Monday’s order they wrote that California officials have failed to adopt any of the measures the judges have approved, other than the realignment plan Brown enacted to reduce prison populations by tens of thousands of inmates.

They made clear in their order that they expect the state to meet certain deadlines and said they would appoint a “compliance officer” to ensure it does so.

That officer will make sure the state reduces the inmate population to 143 percent of design capacity by June 30 (116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

The compliance officer will have authority to release the necessary number of inmates to meet those levels if the state misses any of the benchmarks, and the judges conceded that they should have acted more forcefully and sooner to deal with prison overcrowding.

“We recognize that these measures should have been adopted much earlier, that (inmates’) lawyers have made unceasing efforts to obtain immediate relief on behalf of their clients, and that California prisoners deserve far better treatment than they have received from (the state) over the past four and a half years,” the judges wrote. “Similarly, California’s citizens have incurred far greater costs, both financial and otherwise, as a result of (the state’s) heretofore unyielding resistance to compliance with this court’s orders.”

The appointment of a compliance officer is the only positive part of the order from Bien’s point of view.

“To that extent,” he said, “it represents the judges’ frustration with the state’s defiance and their reluctance, for whatever reason, to utilize their powers of contempt.”

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Federal judges deny California bid to end prison oversight

Posted on April 12, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons |

dwalsh@sacbee.com

Published Friday, Apr. 12, 2013

A three-judge federal court on Thursday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to avoid the court’s order to reduce California’s prison population, saying if his administration does not further relieve prison overcrowding, the governor and his top prison officials will face contempt of court.

Since the motion was filed in early January, Brown and Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard have said that, if their request was denied, they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three judges said in a 71-page order that if Brown and his top corrections officials do not comply with the order, they would be held in contempt “individually and collectively.”

They wrote that they make such a threat reluctantly, “but with determination that defendants will not be allowed to continue to violate the requirements of the Constitution of the United States.”

The ruling was the second major setback in less than a week for the Brown administration’s all-out push to get prison health care out from under control of the federal judiciary.

In a stinging rebuke of that effort April 5, Sacramento U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton not only denied the state’s motion to terminate his oversight of prison mental health care, he struck down part of the state’s evidence in support of the motion, finding Brown, corrections officials and their lawyers from the attorney general’s office stooped to unethical tactics.

He said prison mental health care is still woefully short of adequate when measured against constitutional requirements.

Karlton also sits on the specially convened three-judge court that has the population issue before it, along with 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt and U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson of San Francisco.

That panel first ordered the population reduction in 2009, finding after a non-jury trial that overcrowding was the primary reason for unconstitutional health care in the prison system. California’s prison inmate population must be reduced by the end of this year to 137.5 percent of the design capacity of its 33 adult prisons.

An appeal of the panel’s initial order to the Supreme Court went against the state in 2011.

The state’s January motion says it has slashed inmate population as much as it can without risking the public’s safety.

The Brown administration is adamant that, even though it has another 9,000 inmates to go before the population has sunk to the level required by the court, prison health care is no longer in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and it can be maintained that way without further reduction.

“The truth of the matter is that California has invested more than a billion dollars to transform its prison health care system into one of the best in the country,” said Deborah Hoffman, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation assistant secretary, late Thursday. “Our prisons now provide timely and effective health care to inmates that far exceeds what the Constitution requires. Further forced reductions to the prison population would unnecessarily jeopardize public safety. We will appeal.”

Attorneys for the inmates vigorously dispute the claim that their clients’ health care is constitutional.

They acknowledge much progress has been made, but insist much is yet to be done.

In Thursday’s order, the judges agree with the attorneys’ assessment.

In a separate six-page order Thursday, the three judges give the state 100 days to submit a report to them on actions taken thus far “to identify prisoners who are unlikely to re-offend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release.”

The judges noted that this was something the Supreme Court suggested in its decision two years ago. “Given the passage of time and defendants’ failure to take all steps necessary to comply … we now order” state officials to do so, “to the extent that they have not already done so.”

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Gov. Jerry Brown’s 65 Easter pardons include murderer

Posted on April 1, 2013. Filed under: Crime, Politics |

by Paige St. John

latimes.com

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday continued a pattern of pardons tied to Christian religious days, granting clemency to 65 convicted criminals, including a Los Angeles man who spent 15 years in prison for a 1977 murder conviction.

Brown’s pardon of Robert Phillip Brown provided no details of the convict’s crime, nor his case for clemency, other than to say the man had obtained a Superior Court order last year testifying that since release from prison, “he has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character, and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen.”

The governor also gave clemency to Francisco Nunes, who served two years in prison for a 1996 involuntary manslaughter conviction in San Diego County, and James Vercillino, convicted of vehicular manslaughter in 1987 in Santa Clara County.

The remaining pardons involve drug-related convictions.

Brown granted 128 pardons in 2012, up from 21 his first year in office, and surpassing the 16 pardons and 10 commuted sentences that his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed in seven years in office. Seventy-nine of Brown’s 2012 pardons were announced on Christmas Eve. Saturday’s press release announcing the latest batch of pardons tied them to “the eve of Easter.”

As a young man, Brown spent four years in a Jesuit seminary studying to be a Catholic priest.

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AB 109 probationer kidnaps 10 year old girl – suspect at large

Posted on March 30, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

Suspect ID’d in Case of Abducted Northridge Girl

Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, was released from prison last summer under California’s realignment program.

By Jason Kandel, Samantha Tata and Christina Cocca
|  Saturday, Mar 30, 2013  |  Updated 8:38 PM PDT
Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, is wanted in connection with the kidnapping of a 10-year-old Northridge girl, the Los Angeles Police Department announced Saturday. He has a distinct tattoo on his right arm. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on March 30, 2013.

Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, is wanted in connection with the kidnapping of a 10-year-old Northridge girl, the Los Angeles Police Department announced Saturday. He has a distinct tattoo on his right arm. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on March 30, 2013.

Investigators named a 30-year-old parolee as wanted in the case of a missing 10-year-old Northridge girl, who turned up barefoot and wounded in Woodland Hills last week.

Tobias Dustin Summers, who has a distinct tattoo on his right arm (pictured below), is wanted in connection with the girl’s abduction, LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said at a Saturday afternoon news conference.

Summers has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 2002, Albanese said. He was released from prison in July 2012 under California’s AB 109, an initiative aimed at easing prison overcrowding, and was on “post-supervised release,” Albanese said.

Probation officials believe the 30-year-old is a transient known to frequent the North Hollywood and Devonshire areas. Summers is about 6 feet tall, 160 pounds, with blue eyes and cropped blond hair. He not a registered sex offender and authorities said there is no indication that the victim or her family knows the suspect.

“We really need the public’s help to take this guy into custody. If they see him, we can’t emphasize enough, call 911,” LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.

Investigators said Summers is the only person they are looking for right now, though the victim told detectives that two men took her from her bedroom, police said last week.

Detectives from LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division are petitioning the court for an arrest warrant.

The FBI is assisting in the investigation. Federal authorities said they are prepared to issue a federal warrant for Summers’ arrest if he leaves California.

“Should he leave the state, we will have multitude of resources throughout the United States and international, if necessary, to take him into custody,” Bill Lewis, of the FBI’s Los Angeles division, said.

The case involves a 10-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her home March 27 between 1 and 3:30 a.m.

She was taken to an abandoned home near a storage facility in Chatsworth before being dropped off at a Kaiser hospital in Woodland Hills.

She walked about a mile to a Starbucks where a passerby recognized her from media reports and alerted police.

She was found barefoot and with bruises and cuts on her face at 3 p.m. the same day she went missing, police said.

Since the girl has been found, NBC4 is no longer identifying the girl by name or in images that had been released by authorities.

The girl told investigators two men she did not know took her from her home and held her for more than 10 hours before dropping her off.

She said she rode in a black pickup truck, which police found during a search of a Bekins A-1 Moving Solutions yard in Chatsworth, police said.

Police were searching for a second vehicle they believe was used in the case.

Police — working with the FBI — fanned out across the San Fernando Valley, to conduct interviews and search locations where the girl said she believed she was taken with the hope of finding the men responsible.

As many as 20 detectives were believed to be working on the case. Police established a tipline for people to provide information about the investigation: 213-486-6890.

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Counties now facing inmate lawsuits

Posted on March 20, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
Updated 10:26 am, Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has spent billions of dollars and endured years of federal lawsuits to improve conditions in its state prisons, but the problems it has been trying to correct are now trickling down to local governments as county jails deal with thousands of additional inmates.

Law firms advocating for inmates’ rights have sued or threatened lawsuits against a handful of California counties because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to send lower-level offenders to local jails instead of state prisons as a way to comply with a federal court order.

The lawsuits allege the subpar conditions that led to legal actions against the state’s prison system — overcrowding, poor medical and dental care, inadequate mental health treatment — are repeating themselves at the county level. They note that jails designed for short-term stays are now being flooded with thousands of new inmates, many of whom are serving long-term sentences.

Riverside County is the latest to be sued and will be served with the legal papers on Tuesday, attorneys say. Fresno County is trying to negotiate a settlement to a lawsuit filed shortly after Brown’s realignment plan took effect in October 2011. Alameda County was sued in November, and Monterey County is expecting to be sued.

“It was a masterful stroke by Governor Brown to shift all the state’s prison problems to county jails,” Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller said.

His jail has become so crowded that he set out to buy triple-stacked bunk beds to handle the flood of inmates. Then a nearby state prison donated surplus beds it had been using when prison crowding there was at its worst.

“Ironically, the state of California gave us triple bunks they no longer need,” Miller said. The stacking of inmate beds in state prisons was one of the conditions that persuaded federal judges to order a drastic reduction in the prison population.

Nick Warner, the California State Sheriffs’ Association’s legislative director, said counties are concerned they will be exposed to the same liabilities under Brown’s so-called realignment plan that the state has spent billions of dollars trying to solve.

“They had problems before, but realignment makes it worse because people are spending more time in jail,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Berkeley-based Prison Law Office.

As of February, more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more were in jails designed for stays of a year or less, and that number is expected to grow in the years ahead.

The Prison Law Office’s lawsuit against Riverside County claims that medical care is so poor in its jails that some of its 4,000 inmates go months without seeing a doctor. When they do, the lawsuit contends they receive only cursory medical exams, inadequate follow-up and are rarely referred to specialists even when outside care is clearly needed.

As an example, the suit notes the case of a female inmate who entered the Riverside County Jail with Stage 4 colon cancer.

“Nobody paid attention to her complaints that the cancer had returned,” said Sara Norman, the lead attorney filing the lawsuit.

Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff said funding for jail mental health and medical services was cut during the recession but was being restored when Brown’s realignment law took effect, flooding the jail.

Inmates who previously would have been sent to state prisons now fill about a quarter of the county’s jail beds, forcing the early release of less-serious offenders. The county cannot keep up even with alternative custody programs such as tracking detainees with GPS-linked ankle bracelets, he said.

“We have more and more of these special circumstances we never had to deal with,” Sniff said.

The Prison Law Office’s lawsuit against Fresno County alleges that its inmates are routinely denied treatment for physical or mental illness or dental problems, and are vulnerable to attacks from other inmates because of the jail’s poor design and lack of staffing. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said she could not discuss conditions because of the settlement talks.

Monterey County has inadequate facilities and programs for inmates who use wheelchairs, are blind or have other disabilities, or are mentally ill, said Michael Bien, whose San Francisco-based firm is considering a lawsuit.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children sued Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern last fall over his jail’s treatment of disabled inmates, with both sides blaming the increase in disabled prisoners entering the jail since realignment.

“Unfortunately, you can’t just knock down a wall and make handicapped-accessible cells. It takes time,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson.

To comply with the federal lawsuits, state spending on inmate medical, dental and mental health care has more than doubled over the last decade to a projected $2.3 billion this fiscal year. The state also has spent billions of dollars on new medical facilities and equipment, while the number of prison medical, mental health and dental workers more than doubled over six years, to 12,200 in 2011.

State officials decided California could not comply with the federal court orders simply by building more prisons, so under Brown’s direction decided to sentence lower-level offenders to county jails. Those convicted of crimes that are considered serious, violent or sexual still go to state prison.

Counties are receiving about $865 million to help with jail operations under realignment this fiscal year, an amount that is expected to exceed $1 billion next year. Given the number of new inmates, some sheriffs are questioning whether that will be enough, especially if lawsuits force them to spend even more so conditions meet constitutional standards.

Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres has proposed legislation, SB144, that would funnel any money the state saves through realignment back to local communities. His office estimates that would give local governments about $777 million more each year.

Counties also would receive immunity from realignment-related lawsuits under a bill announced Tuesday. State Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, is in the process of amending AB1106 to limit counties’ liability for poor conditions caused by the influx of long-term jail inmates.

In addition to the operating money, the state has given $1.2 billion to 21 of California’s 58 counties for jail construction, plus another $500 million to renovate existing jails. The money is expected to build space for nearly 15,000 local inmates over the next several years.

State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard and the governor acknowledge that counties are facing a surge of more serious criminals as a result of the realignment law. Yet the Democratic governor is steadfast in his view that local governments are better able to make punishment decisions.

“People commit crimes in the local community and they are now, to a greater degree, being supervised, being rehabilitated or being incarcerated locally. We’re transferring billions of dollars to achieve that goal,” Brown said in January. “We want the community that spawns the crime to handle the crime.”

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Gov. Jerry Brown takes notice of realignment complaints

Posted on March 20, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

By David Siders
dsiders@sacbee.com
Published: Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 – 6:15 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 – 7:47 am

As lawmakers stepped up pressure to modify California’s historic prison realignment – most recently at a news conference Tuesday featuring a crime victim in a wheelchair – Gov. Jerry Brown is taking notice.

The Democratic governor traveled to Palo Alto this month to confer with researchers about the impact of the law, which shifts responsibility for certain low-level offenders from the state prison and parole system to the counties.

In a private meeting, Brown told two Stanford Law School professors and their students that he was concerned about the way counties are managing their jail populations, among other matters, according to the professors with whom he met.

Later, Brown said he is “looking at realignment” and is considering “some ideas” about potential changes to the law.

Yet on the most basic questions about realignment, including its impact on crime rates and recidivism, neither the Stanford researchers nor Brown’s own administration can provide meaningful answers.

Nearly 18 months after the law took effect, evidence is scant.

“This is a big, historic shift, and, you know, we need to do a better job of looking at what’s happening and what’s occurring,” Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said after a meeting in Sacramento last week.

Asked if it was even clear what would make realignment a success or a failure, Beard said, “I don’t think it is. I think that’s part of the problem, is we haven’t defined even … what is the criteria for success.”

In the absence of broad evidence about realignment’s impact on public safety, critics of the legislation highlight incidents involving offenders they say would have been incarcerated if not for realignment.

Among the lawmakers presenting a package of bills to roll back realignment Tuesday was state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who calls realignment “the carnage that’s occurring on our streets.”

Republican lawmakers say an increase in crime in many cities during the first six months of last year is attributable to realignment, though researchers are skeptical.

Ryken Grattet, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said any fluctuation in the number of crimes committed over a small period of time could be attributed to a variety of factors and that “tracing it to realignment is tough.”

“It’s not just sufficient to report the statistics,” Grattet said. “You want to do the kind of analysis that would allow you to isolate the impacts.”

Robert Weisberg, one of the Stanford professors who met with Brown, said, “It is much too soon to tell. … Everything at this point is anecdotal.”

Politically, anecdotal evidence is problematic for Brown. If state budget conditions remain favorable and the economy doesn’t deteriorate, public safety may provide an opening for any candidate challenging the Democratic governor in his likely re-election bid next year.

Brown was attacked by Republican Meg Whitman in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign for his veto of death penalty legislation and controversial appointment of Rose Bird as chief justice when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983.

“He’s got a certain vulnerability here, to be honest” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who at times has been critical of Brown. “I hope that everything goes hunky-dory. But when you engage in a very large-scale program of turning people out of prison, whether they go out on the streets under supervised parole or whether they go into the local jails, there’s a huge risk involved.

“Ask Michael Dukakis,” South added, referring to the former Massachusetts governor pummeled in the 1988 presidential campaign by an ad featuring released killer Willie Horton.

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers brought to their news conference a 21-year-old woman who was brutally attacked last year by a former boyfriend. The man had been arrested for violating parole and failing to register as a sex offender the month before the attack, they said, but he was out of jail due to overcrowding.

“This is beyond statistics,” Nielsen said, motioning to the woman in a wheelchair, Brandy Arreola. “There, ask Brandy if crime is going up.”

Nielsen said, “Let’s not get into statistical arguments, folks. This is real.”

The prospect for the Republican lawmakers’ legislation is dim. The first of their bills, a measure by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, was rejected last week by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Democrats opposing the measure, which would send sex offenders who violate parole back to state prisons instead of county jail, said the legislation runs counter to the state’s effort to reduce its prison population under a court order.

Yet it is not only Republicans challenging Brown. In response to reports of thousands of paroled, high-risk offenders disarming court-ordered GPS devices, Democratic Sen. Ted Lieu, of Torrance, proposed legislation to send offenders who remove those devices to prison.

Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced legislation to let parole violators be returned to state prison for up to a year.

Eggman was motivated in part by the case of a parolee accused of raping and murdering his grandmother in Stockton. Eggman is generally supportive of realignment, but she said changes are required to give local authorities “flexibility to address violence in the streets.”

Brown acknowledged the pressure he faces from lawmakers to act on realignment, but the burden of the court order to reduce California’s prison population remains intact, as well.

“We are witnessing calls to increase the number of people in prison, and we are under pressure to reduce the number of people in prison,” Brown told reporters in San Francisco last week. “Luckily, contradiction is one of my specialties, so I feel I can deal with it.”

Brown went on to suggest that certain shortcomings of realignment may be the fault of counties – not the state.

“I can tell you this: Some counties do better than other counties, and the challenge here is that locking people up at state expense is a free good when people have a problem with criminal activity, and now we’re saying, ‘No, you have to handle criminal activity where you are.’ ”

Researchers at Stanford, the Public Policy Institute of California and other institutions are beginning to study realignment in earnest. Grattet said “we’re close” to finding and reporting significant data.

Last week, California’s Board of State and Community Corrections endorsed an effort by the Public Policy Institute of California to collect data from 10 counties to identify the most effective practices being used to prevent recidivism.

Meanwhile, Weisberg’s colleague, law professor Joan Petersilia, is meeting with lawmakers at the Capitol this week to discuss research she and her students are conducting.

At the meeting in Palo Alto, Petersilia said Brown listened to students present research on realignment for more than an hour and appeared to be interested in learning more.

Following the meeting, Petersilia said Brown told her, “Send me your best students.”

Petersilia, a former adviser on corrections issues to Brown’s predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, lamented the limitations of the research that has been done so far.

“What you’d like to know is what’s the impact on the crime rate, and what’s the impact on recidivism,” Petersilia said. “Those are two questions that we don’t know.”

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California jail overhaul assessed after 6 months

Posted on August 26, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Crime Victims, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment, The Law |

By Kurtis Alexander
Fresno Bee
Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The overhaul of California’s criminal justice system last year was billed as a way to get more felons into treatment and out of the vicious cycle of crime, prison and more crime.

So far, this has hardly been the case.

Most offenders who qualify for rehab services instead of incarceration under the state’s new realignment policy are still being sentenced to time behind bars, reports show. Only a fraction are ordered to programs that include mandatory drug counseling or job training.

Additionally, the majority of these offenders, because of the way the new policy works, don’t get supervision after their release from custody. This supervision was common before the realignment began.

These shortfalls are adding to concern that the restructured criminal justice system, nearly a year after its October start, may not live up to promises of rehabilitating criminals.

“Inmates are going to be coming out of custody unprepared, and they’re going to be more likely to reoffend,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. “This defeats the whole purpose of realignment.”

The realignment shifts responsibility for most nonviolent felons from the state to counties. (Violent offenders still go to state prison.) Gov. Jerry Brown saw it as a way to relieve the state’s overcrowded prison system and, on this front, it’s been a success. The prison population has shrunk by more than 15 percent.

Counties, it was expected, would do a better job of managing low-level criminals than the state, by offering treatment services tailored to local needs.

During the first six months of realignment, about 72 percent of the nearly 15,000 statewide offenders newly sentenced to counties instead of the state were given straight jail time, according to a recent report by the Chief Probation Officers of California.

That happens despite the fact that realignment allows judges to sentence low-level felons to terms in local probation programs. County probation departments are where the treatment services are run.

“I think judges are still stuck in the old mind-set where they say, ‘Hey, this guy deserves a harsher sentence,’ ” said Allen Hopper, who has studied the realignment and works as criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

Six percent of the state’s low-level offenders were sentenced to probation programs during the first six months of realignment, while 21 percent were sentenced to a combination of jail and probation, according to the recent report.

In addition, offenders serving their entire terms in county jails also don’t get supervision upon release. Had those inmates gone to state prison, as they would have before the realignment, many would have been monitored and assisted through state parole offices. But parole is no longer an option for these offenders.

“We can’t change that person’s behavior who is walking out of jail without having some sort of jurisdiction putting together plans to help them,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California.

Pank and her organization are encouraging judges to sentence more low-level offenders to probation. That way, she said, they’re likely to get treatment as well as follow-up supervision once they’re on their own.

Many judges say it’s not that simple. Under the new policy, when a judge sentences an offender to a probation program, it eats up part of the total sentence, meaning less jail time. And that’s not necessarily what is warranted, they say.

“This is just part of the formula,” said Fresno Superior Court Judge Jon Conklin. “If a judge wants to give that person some supervision or services, they have to reduce the amount of custodial time that they would give.

“This is not our decision,” he added. “This is the Legislature reacting.”

The problem is especially acute in the San Joaquin Valley, where counties are handling more felons than had been expected under the prison realignment, according to the probation officers group.

The 12 counties between Kern County and San Joaquin County have been managing 8 percent more probationers, on average, than what the state projected they would under the realignment, the group says. Fresno County, for example, is supervising more than 1,100 additional offenders in its Probation Department, say county officials. The state had estimated less than 700 at this point.

By contrast, counties in the Bay Area and the Sacramento area have averaged 5 percent fewer offenders than what the state projected, according to the report.

In Fresno County, nearly 30 percent of offenders were sentenced to a probation program or a combination of probation and jail – instead of straight jail time – according to the recent report. That’s slightly above the state average of nearly 28 percent. But the percentages vary significantly from county to county, with some counties, such as Contra Costa, above 80 percent and others, such as Kern, closer to 10 percent.

Conklin called Fresno County’s numbers a good start. He said he expects the percentage of offenders going into probation to increase, not just because judges will see more benefit in probation programs but because the higher cost of locking people up may become too burdensome.

State officials overseeing the realignment said they are not in a position to comment on how judges are doing with the sentencing. They said it is a matter for each county to work out.

But California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said that the new policy encourages counties to make use of alternatives to jail.

In Fresno County, the Probation Department, like other probation programs across the state, has begun to beef up its alternative services, from drug rehab to vocational assistance to daily check-in centers.

“We would like to get a shot at these offenders and get them into a program,” said Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner. “We feel strongly that a period of intervention, some sort of program, is meaningful.”

Penner noted that the policy of realignment is not even a year old, and she’s optimistic that its effectiveness will improve with time.

“It’s still pretty early,” she said. “As programs strengthen and more alternatives are out there, I expect judges are going to have a higher comfort level and we’ll see more people in programs.”

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State officials: Clerical error led to accused killer being released from parole

Posted on August 2, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Crime Victims, Parole, Politics, Prisons |

Posted:   07/02/2012 06:12:01 PM PDT

 

Charles Edwards, accused of killing Shannon Collins, appears in court in May. The state Department of Corrections has acknowledged that a clerical error led to Edwards release from parole supervision. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel file )

SANTA CRUZ – The state’s top corrections official recently informed local prosecutors and a slain woman’s family that a clerical error by his agency prematurely ended parole supervision of a man accused in the killing.

Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee said Monday that Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matt Cate traveled to Santa Cruz about two weeks ago to notify him, as well as members of the Santa Cruz Police Department and Shannon Collins’ family, about the mistake.

“It’s a crushing, unspeakable tragedy for Shannon’s family and for our community,” Lee said. “It’s hard to imagine a typo costing someone their life.”

Charles Anthony Edwards III, 43, is accused of stabbing Collins to

Shannon Collins

death May 7 as the 38-year-old downtown store owner walked on Broadway to a hair appointment. The two didn’t know each other and the attack is believed to have been random, according to prosecutors.Edwards, who has a lengthy criminal rap sheet that began at age 13, was discharged from state parole supervision in December. While participating in a state mental health program as part of parole, he was put on the street after the state failed to conduct a required review.

“He basically said they were ultimately responsible,” Lee said of Cate.

Violet Smith of Boulder Creek, a good friend of Collins for years, said her grief was deepened by learning Edwards should not have been out.

“That is just horrible,” Smith said. “The complete randomness of everything that had to happen is completely unbelievable. I’m grieving, still just trying to figure it out. But I know that she would never want anyone to be angry. That just wasn’t in her being.”

HOW IT HAPPENED

The error, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, happened when a corrections employee set the wrong date for a mandatory hearing.

“If the state misses (an individual’s) review period for any reason, we lose the ability by law to retain that person on parole,” said Terri McDonald, undersecretary of the Department of Corrections. “There are very strict guidelines.”

McDonald said the agency has a program built in to its computer system that alerts officials to the proper time for a parolee’s one year-review period.

Edwards was placed on parole in November 2010 after being handed down an 8-year prison sentence in Los Angeles County for resisting an officer with threats or violence. As such, his review date would have been in November 2011.

However, for reasons McDonald said are still under investigation, someone entered the wrong date into the computer system, listing Edwards’ review period as April 2012.

“In January, when we went into the system to review his case, we realized the error and we realized he had to be discharged,” McDonald said.

Parole officials researched possibilities for legally maintaining his parole, but found none, McDonald said. Edwards, who was at Atascadero State Hospital, was therefore removed in January.

The Times reported that Edwards’ brother, a federal employee who asked not be named for fear of being stigmatized at work, said Edwards had spent two brief stints in a state-run outpatient program before returning to the hospital at his own request.

“He was scared,” the brother said. “He said he wasn’t ready.”

At some point after being released, Edwards, a San Francisco native, showed up in Santa Cruz, where he spent a few nights at the Homeless Services Center before the killing. Employees there said he had been cooperative and docile, and expressed an interest in connecting with a Christian community.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

McDonald said such errors by the state corrections system are rare, “but even a rare event is something we’d sought a legislative change for.”

That change, McDonald said, is coming in the form of a new bill, passed last week by the Legislature. Among other provisions, the bill eliminates the automatic discharge in favor of individuals being retained on parole unless their parole agent acted to discharge them.

The change won’t affect those currently on parole, though it will apply to those sentenced after its passage, McDonald said.

“No matter how well-trained and hard-working our employees are, an individual can make an error,” she said.

Lee acknowledged the corrections department’s willingness to take responsibility, but said “nothing anyone can ever say can ever lessen the tremendous pain.”

Collins’ husband, Ken Vinson, declined to comment about the error Monday.

“I am still deeply grieving the loss of Shannon, and that’s all I’m really thinking about these days,” he said in an email to the Sentinel.

Edwards remains in County Jail, where he is being housed in a special unit for persons with mental health issues. He’s pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and related allegations and is due back in court Aug. 13 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.

His attorney, public defender Anthony Robinson, was not available for comment Monday.

Collins’ death occurred even as county and city leaders were considering increasing resources for a mental health outreach program targeting downtown. Maintaining Ongoing Stability through Treatment, or “MOST” program, which pairs outreach workers with police to perform crisis intervention and case management for clients, will see its staffing nearly doubled starting this month.

County Supervisor Neal Coonerty sought to expand the program after the Legislature last year passed Assembly Bill 109, which redirects many nonviolent offenders away from the overburdened prison system and in to county jails or diversion programs.

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Chowchilla School bus Kidnapper to be Released from Prison!

Posted on June 20, 2012. Filed under: Courts, Crime, Crime Victims, Parole, Politics, Prisons |

LA Now

June 15, 2012

Thirty-six years ago, three men kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren for ransom before entombing them in a San Joaquin Valley rock quarry.

The 1976 crime has become part of California lore — and many of those in the small town of Chowchilla,  where it happened, thought those responsible would stay behind bars for life. But later this month, one of the three kidnappers will be a free man.

A spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Richard Schoenfeld’s release became necessary after the state Supreme Court decided not to intercede in a lower court’s decision to release Schoenfeld. The state parole board had initially hoped to keep him behind bars at least until 2021, but the appellate court deemed the board’s formula of two years for every victim unfair.

Schoenfeld, the youngest of the three kidnappers, went to prison at age 22. He, his brother and another young man — all from wealthy families — kidnapped a school bus carrying 26 schoolchildren and their driver and buried them in the largest kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history.

The kidnappers made each victim climb down a ladder into a buried moving van equipped with two air tubes. Along one wall were dirty mattresses and containers of water. The men then poured dirt over the van.

All of the victims survived despite about 16 hours underground, but word in recent years that Schoenfeld might be granted parole disturbed many in Chowchilla.

For security reasons, authorities declined to say when or where Schoenfeld, 58, would be released, other than that it would be this month. He has been serving his time at a state prison in San Luis Obispo, along with his two accomplices.

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