By Kurtis Alexander
Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
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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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The Crime Victims Action Alliance formally opposed AB 109 today sending a strong opposition letter to the Governor and members of the Legislature.
As we have been reporting to you, AB 109 passed the legislature in matter of hours after being introduced. There was no opportunity for the public to comment on this legislation, no time for you to contact your representative. The vote was done without public input – period!
Now the bill sits on the Governor’s desk. He has until midnight tonight to take action on this bill. No action will allow the bill to go into law. We have asked the Governor to either veto this bill or send it back to enrollment.
Crime Victims Action Alliance has sent our letter of opposition into the Governor and a copy to every member of the legislature. In addition, Victims Action League in San Diego has also made their voice heard by sending in a letter of opposition.
Click the following link to read our letter sent to the Governor today. AB109 opposition letter
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By Dana Littlefield
Originally published October 21, 2010 at 5:54 p.m., updated October 21, 2010 at 6:04 p.m.
SAN DIEGO — A judge this week declined to grant a preliminary injunction that would have prevented some prison inmates from shaving additional time off their original prison sentences.
The ruling, by San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager, came as a result of a request from a crime victims advocacy group, which contended that the state’s “early release program” was unconstitutional and would put the public in danger .
But Prager said in his written ruling that representatives from Crime Victims United of California failed to adequately demonstrate any “imminent” injury or harm they would suffer without the preliminary order.
A trial has been scheduled for April 29, when either a judge or jury will decide whether to impose a permanent injunction.
In March, Crime Victims United filed a lawsuit in San Diego, claiming the state was violating Marsy’s Law, passed by the voters in 2008, by releasing some inmates early and failing to notify the victims. They contended that the state’s efforts to cut costs would put potentially dangerous criminals back on the streets.
State officials have maintained that a new law, which went into effect in January, allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to recalculate “custody credits” for some inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses. Some would earn one day credit for each day they spend in custody.
Those who qualify and complete specific rehabilitation programs can earn an additional six weeks off their sentences each year.
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New York Times
May 17, 2010
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:31 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal officials can indefinitely hold inmates considered ”sexually dangerous” after their prison terms are complete.
The high court in a 7-2 judgment reversed a lower court decision that said Congress overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions of considered ”sexually dangerous.”
”The statute is a ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the majority opinion.
President George W. Bush in 2006 signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which authorized the civil commitment of sexually dangerous federal inmates.
The act, named after the son of ”America’s Most Wanted” television host John Walsh, was challenged by four men who served prison terms ranging from three to eight years for possession of child pornography or sexual abuse of a minor. Their confinement was supposed to end more than two years ago, but prison officials said there would be a risk of sexually violent conduct or child molestation if they were released.
A fifth man who also was part of the legal challenge was charged with child sex abuse but declared incompetent to stand trial.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled last year that Congress overstepped its authority when it enacted a law allowing the government to hold indefinitely people who are considered ”sexually dangerous.”
But ”we conclude that the Constitution grants Congress legislative power sufficient to enact” this law, Breyer said.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan successfully argued the government’s case in front of the Supreme Court. Kagan has now been nominated to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Kagan in January compared the government’s power to commit sexual predators to its power to quarantine federal inmates whose sentences have expired but have a highly contagious and deadly disease.
”Would anybody say that the federal government would not have Article I power to effect that kind of public safety measure? And the exact same thing is true here. This is exactly what Congress is doing here,” she said.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the court’s judgment, saying Congress can only pass laws that deal with the federal powers listed in the Constitution.
Nothing in the Constitution ”expressly delegates to Congress the power to enact a civil commitment regime for sexually dangerous persons, nor does any other provision in the Constitution vest Congress or the other branches of the federal government with such a power,” Thomas said.
Thomas was joined in part on his dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia.
Chief Justice John Roberts last year granted an administration request to block the release of up to 77 inmates at a federal prison in North Carolina. These were people whose prison terms for sex offenses were ending. The justice’s order was designed to allow time for the high court to consider the administration’s appeal.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act also establishes a national sex offender registry, increases punishments for some federal crimes against children and strengthens child pornography protections. Those provisions are not being challenged.
State laws allowing civil commitments of sex offenders also are unaffected.
The case is U.S. v. Comstock, 08-1224.
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Capitol Alert – Sacramento Bee
March 25, 2010
A three-judge federal appellate panel today overturned Sacramento federal Judge Lawrence Karlton and reinstated the tough parole revocation procedures adopted by California voters two years ago in Proposition 9.
The measure, sponsored by state Sen. George Runner and a coalition of tough-on-crime groups, had been challenged by criminal defense groups, saying it “purports to eliminate nearly all due process rights of parolees and directly conflicts with the protections put in place by the injunction and established constitutional law.”
Karlton declared that Proposition 9 conflicted with a permanent injunction agreed to by the state as part of a 15-year-old class action lawsuit on behalf of parolees and issued an injunction against the measure’s application of the tougher procedures.
Attorney General Jerry Brown, now a Democratic candidate for governor, appealed Karlton’s ruling with support from Proposition 9’s backers, particularly the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
Today, the 9th District Court of Appeal decision by Judges Michael Hawkins and Milan Smith Jr., with partial dissent from Judge John Noonan, said Karlton erred. Their decision was filed just two days short of one year since Karlton’s decree.
“Because the district court made no express determination that any aspect of the California parole revocation procedures, as modified by Proposition 9, violated constitutional rights, or that the injunction was necessary to remedy a constitutional violation, we vacate and remand the March 2009 order for the district court to make that determination and reconcile the injunction with California law as expressed in Proposition 9,” the decision, authored by Hawkins, said.
“Today’s decision makes it clear that a judge’s order to grant more rights to parolees than constitutionally required does not trump a state constitutional amendment adopted by the people,” said the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation’s legal director, Kent Scheidegger.
The full appellate ruling can be found here.
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Reported on LA Times – LA NOW
February 10, 2010
More than 1,500 inmates have been released from county jails around California in response to legislation designed to cut the state prison population, prompting an outcry from some law enforcement officials.
More than 300 inmates have been released from Orange County Jail in the last few weeks and about 200 have been freed in Sacramento County, including a man who allegedly assaulted a woman hours after getting early release.
On Wednesday a judge in Sacramento ordered a temporary halt in that county’s early releases, saying the legislation applies only to state prisons and not to county jails. The judge sided with the deputy sheriff’s union, which filed suit against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to block the releases.
Officials for Sacramento, Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura, Riverside and other counties have said their legal counsels advised them that the law did apply to county jails, and they created release plans when the law took effect in January.
The legislation, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, was designed to reduce the state prison population in the wake of the state’s financial crisis and court rulings about prison overcrowding.
[Updated at 5:23 p.m.: Officials have said the law would reduce the state prison population by 6,500 low-level offenders over the next year. The state prison system has not yet released prisoners early under the terms of the law.
The law changes the formula by which prisoners receive time off for good behavior, speeding their release. The state legislative counsel’s summary of the law said it would “revise the time credits for certain prisoners confined or committed to a county jail or other specified facilities.”
David Tennessan, chief deputy of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, said his agency has had no choice but to release 200 inmates in recent weeks. B
ut officials have not done so happily. The law “was misguided,” he said, adding that he expects the county to ultimately release at least 600 inmates.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has not released any inmates early under the new law. The county requires that male inmates serve 80% of their sentences, and officials said they won’t reduce that requirement because of the new law.
“We have no plans to release anyone from county jail based on what the state is doing,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “We don’t think it applies to us.”
In San Bernardino County, 648 inmates have been released so far, according to the Sheriff’s Department. In Riverside County, more than 170 inmates have been released.
A previous version of this story said nearly 1,000 inmates had been released from county jails.]
–Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton
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by Andy Furillo
Published Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010
Saying it was a “formula for disaster,” a Sacramento judge today blocked the Sheriff’s Department from granting any more early releases to inmates it is holding in the county’s jail facilities.
Sheriff’s officials began the releases last week in response to a bill passed last year and signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that will have the effect of reducing the state prison population by about 6,300 inmates, mostly through parole changes.
In his ruling today, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster granted a temporary restraining order that was requested by the deputy sheriff’s union. McMaster said in his two-page written ruling that the new state law only applies to state prisoners, not county jail inmates. The judge set a March 3 hearing date for the union’s request for a preliminary injunction.
The union’s lawyer, David P. Mastagni, argued in a hearing today that the release of the estimated 200 inmates since Jan. 25 before their previously-set release dates, combined with the layoffs of 122 sheriff’s deputies since August, posed a public safety problem for the county.
“Releasing inmates early by the application of a law intended only for those in the state prison population at the same time that deputies in the field are being substantially reduced is a formula for disaster,” McMaster wrote.
The judge also agreed with Mastagni’s argument that the early releases violated the 2008 Victim’s Bill of Rights passed by the state’s voters. The so-called “Marsy’s Law” requires victims to be notified if and when the offenders convicted for the crimes against them are released early.
Mastagni, in his arguments in court today, argued that the “irreparable harm” of the early release program was evident last week when an inmate who got out of jail 16 days early was arrested for the attempted rape of a woman at the Loaves and Fishes complex for the homeless north of downtown.
“There’s nothing hypothetical about it,” Mastagni said.
Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness said he was “generally pleased” with the decision.
“My goal was not different from that of the Deputy Sheriffs Association,” McGinness said in a telephone interview today. “I did not want these people released.”
McGinness said he opened the jail gates to the inmates before their time was up based on “the opinions of counsel” that the new law applied to county inmates as well as state prisoners.
At today’s hearing, Deputy County Counsel James R. Wood argued that the deputies’ union did not have standing to bring the case that named the county and the state corrections department as defendants. Wood noted in his verbal arguments that the alleged attack at Loaves and Fishes occurred in city territory and not in the sheriff’s patrol jurisdiction.
Wood said that no deputies have suffered any injuries as a result of the releases, to which McMaster replied from the bench, “We have to wait ’til somebody gets hurt?”
The county lawyer also said there has been no evidence of increased criminal activity as a result of the early releases. He argued that the legislative intent of last year’s bill was for it to apply to county inmates as well as state prisoners.
Wood said the union incorrectly characterized the inmates who are being released as dangerous.
“When the plaintiff comes in and says we have these dangerous criminals being released, they want to classify all inmates as dangerous,” Wood said.
Last year’s bill said that only inmates not characterized as “serious” or “violent,” according to classifications outlined in the state’s “three-strikes” law, or as sex offenders, are eligible for the early releases.
In his ruling, McMaster said the early releases “put the deputies in the field more at risk than they would be” without them
McMaster said he believes the union is likely to prevail on the merits of the suit and that the “balance of hardship” if the releases remain in effect could hurt the general public.
“Public safety is compromised by releasing county jail inmates into (the) community when they have not completed their sentence,” McMaster wrote.
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Los Angeles Times
2:53 PM | March 26, 2009
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A key part of a victims-rights measure that voters approved in November has been overturned by a federal judge, who ruled the state must provide attorneys for parole violators when it is considering whether to send them back to prison.
Senior Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the U.S. District Court in Sacramento ruled against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state in issuing an injunction against that part of Proposition 9.
The initiative dictates that the state provide legal counsel to parole violators only under certain circumstances, including when the cases are unusually complex or when the parolee has issues of mental competency. Proponents of Proposition 9 said the measure provides for state legal counsel in about 15% of parole revocation hearings. They say that would save the state $40 million annually in prison expenses.
The judge said legal counsel must be provided in all hearings.
“This is a costly and unnecessary standard for California to use and should be overturned,” said Nina Salarno Ashford, executive board member of Crime Victims United of California. “Especially now, we cannot afford to be spending tens of millions of dollars on unnecessary privileges for convicted felons. Proposition 9 strikes the perfect balance by protecting the constitutional rights of parolees while saving the state tens of millions of dollars a year.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of parolees by prisoners-rights attorney Ernest J. Galvan, who was not immediately available for comment.
— Patrick McGreevy
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Posted: 02/26/2009 11:59:14 AM PST
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An appeal by Richard Allen Davis, who was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murdering 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma 16 years ago, will go before the California Supreme Court in San Francisco on Tuesday.
The court’s seven justices will spend an hour hearing arguments on the appeal and then will have three months to issue a written ruling.
Davis, 54, a former sheet metal worker with a long criminal record, was convicted in Santa Clara County Superior Court in 1996 of kidnapping the girl from a slumber party at her mother’s home in Petaluma on Oct. 1, 1993, and strangling her to death.
Her body was found near in the Cloverdale area two months after the kidnapping after Davis, who had been arrested for a parole violation, gave investigators information about the location.
The trial was moved from Sonoma County to Santa Clara County because of extensive publicity about the case.
All death penalty cases in California are automatically appealed directly to the state Supreme Court.
The direct appeal is the first step in a lengthy appeal process. If the state high court upholds his conviction, Davis can continue appeals through the state and federal court systems.
Davis’ case led to California’s voter-approved “three strikes” law, which provides lengthy sentences for repeat offenders.
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A state board says tight residency limits on sex offenders have driven many to homelessness, which could propel them back into crime. The state spends $25 million housing some of the offenders.
By Michael Rothfeld
January 14, 2009
Reporting from Sacramento — A state panel is urging the governor and legislators to change “Jessica’s Law,” saying its restrictions on where sex offenders can live are counterproductive and calling the nearly $25 million a year spent to house them a poor use of taxpayers’ money.
The residency restrictions, passed by voters more than two years ago in Proposition 83, have never been shown to prevent new crimes and may reduce public safety, the panel says.
Since 70% of voters approved the initiative, “the availability of suitable housing has plummeted,” the state’s Sex Offender Management Board said in a report sent to lawmakers this week.
The state previously had more modest residency limits that applied only to certain sex offenders. Jessica’s Law expanded the restrictions to all sex offenders and greatly reduced the locations where they could reside.
Barring sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other areas where children gather has driven many into homelessness, an unstable situation that can propel them back to crime, according to the board.
State corrections officials say they find housing and pay rent for about 800 who are on parole, but they cannot house them all; the number of homeless sex offenders on parole is 12 times as large as it was when the law was passed.
“It seems unwise to spend such resources as a consequence of residence restriction policies which have no track record of increasing community safety,” board members wrote.
Proposition 83 expanded both the categories of sex offenders included and the limits on where they could live.
Scott Kernan, undersecretary for adult operations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said his agency is discussing plans to scale back its housing of sex offenders, some of whom have their rent paid by the state for several years while they are on parole, to a shorter period such as 60 or 90 days.
“I don’t know that we can continue to pay long-term for sex offender housing in the current fiscal situation,” Kernan said.
He said the housing, often in motels or halfway-house settings where multiple sex offenders live, was always meant to be transitional. But with the passage of Jessica’s Law, he said, many have been housed for longer because they have little money and their families’ residences may fall in a prohibited zone.
And Kernan said some local officials have created extra barriers — for example, creating parks on highway medians to make certain neighborhoods off-limits.
The Sex Offender Management Board was created in 2006, with 17 members to be appointed by lawmakers and the governor. It includes state and local officials from law enforcement, judicial and social services backgrounds.
It has advocated for the state to focus on the offenders who pose the highest risk and to use practices — such as treatment — that have been shown to work. The state does not provide treatment while offenders are in prison. Jessica’s Law makes little distinction between high- and low-risk offenders, addressing all of them equally with lifetime residency restrictions and satellite tracking.
State lawmakers can alter the initiative with a two-thirds vote. Robert Coombs, a spokesman for the board’s chairwoman, said the members found it infeasible to call for abolishing the residency restrictions, given the sweeping voter approval of Proposition 83. He said state and local officials have the power to interpret the law to allow more housing for sex offenders, but the board believes that the likelihood of legislators fixing the problems in more comprehensive ways — at least in the short term — is slim.
“I can’t imagine a policymaker who would put their name on something that says we want to make it easier for sex offenders to find housing,” Coombs said. “Even though it’s a strong public safety concept,” lawmakers would be setting themselves up for political attack.
Responding to the criticism that residency restrictions have no benefit to public safety, state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), an author of the initiative, said, “I do believe the general public would say a child molester should not live across the street from a school.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a strong supporter of Proposition 83, has said he is open to revisions but has not suggested any.
Jeanne Woodford, a former state corrections secretary under Schwarzenegger, said the residency restrictions should be abolished. She said many states are reexamining their handling of sex offenders in light of studies showing that there is little utility in registration requirements and other laws the public has supported to keep track of them.
“The bottom line is, this is really what happens when we allow our emotions to get the best of us, as opposed to dealing with the facts,” she said.
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