Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Bill Proposes Allowing Counties to Import/Export Inmates

One of the declared purposes of the Realignment was to benefit from the added rehabilitative value of doing time within one's community, close to one's family and social network, and in the context of one's future housing and job opportunities upon release. But this concept turns out to be more malleable than we might've thought in 2011. A new bill, AB 1512, aims at allowing counties to import/export inmates from/to other counties. The introduction to the bill elaborates:

Existing law, until July 1, 2015, authorizes the board of supervisors of a county, where, in the opinion of the county sheriff or the director of the county department of corrections, adequate facilities are not available for prisoners, to enter into an agreement with any other county whose county adult detention facilities are adequate for and accessible to the first county and requires the concurrence of the receiving county’s sheriff or the director of the county department of corrections. Existing law also requires a county entering into a transfer agreement with another county to report annually to the Board of State and Community Corrections on the number of offenders who otherwise would be under that county’s jurisdiction but who are now being housed in another county’s facility and the reason for needing to house the offenders outside the county.

This bill would extend the operation of those provisions until July 1, 2020.

Existing law, operative July 1, 2015, authorizes a county where adequate facilities are not available for prisoners who would otherwise be confined in its county adult detention facilities to enter into an agreement with the board or boards of supervisors of one or more nearby counties whose county adult detention facilities are adequate for, and are readily accessible from, the first county for the commitment of misdemeanants and persons required to serve a term of imprisonment in a county adult detention facility as a condition of probation in jail in a county that is party to the agreement. Existing law, operative July 1, 2015, requires these agreements to provide for the support of a person so committed or transferred by the county from which he or she is committed.

This is not a particularly original solution to jail overcrowding. After all, we already export thousands of CA inmates to other states, where they are housed in private facilities. Compared to the uprooting and difficulties of out-of-state incarceration, this is really small potatoes. On the other hand, at least with state prisons there was no pretense of trying to rehabilitate people close to their communities. California is a very large state; a family visit to Corcoran or Pelican Bay requires many, many hours of driving from the Bay Area. Large scale import/export of inmates by counties wishing to utilize their facilities to improve their budgets works against the idea of local justice, frustrating one of the purposes of Realignment.

UPDATE: CURB has circulated a petition against the bill. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Judge Karlton Declares Prop 9 Unconstitutional

I am thrilled to report another important legal development: Judge Karlton of the Northern District has declared Prop 9, otherwise known as Marsy's Law or the Victim Bill of Rights, unconstitutional. He has also struck down Prop 89, adopted in 1988.

This is very good news for the CCC blog, as we fiercely advocated against Prop 9 and were truly dismayed at its passage. We pointed out how pointless it was to advance the rights of victims by denying parole to offenders, showcased research proving that the proposition did nothing to actually increase victim rights, and followed up litigation against the law from its inception through oral arguments and the partial dismantlement of some provisions of the law.

We said it in 2009 and we'll say it again: Propositions that purport to advance victim causes and avenge the cruelties done to them through committing more cruelties do not address the needs of all victims and certainly not of the victim population as a whole. The best thing we can do for victims is to make sure they cease being victims as quickly as possible by empowering them and putting in place social structures that offer chances for rehabilitation and transformation for perpetrators. Any wholesale effort to curtail the ability to offer people a window of hope at the end of a long sentence does no favors to victims, and is unnecessarily cruel and wasteful.

Behind the Hunger Strike

Todd Ashker. Photo courtesy CDCR,
reproduced from New York Magazine
In the aftermath of the hunger strike against conditions in the SHU, we are witnessing legislative interest in improving conditions in solitary confinement. We recently reported on CDCR's changes to gang restrictions, on the legislative hearings in Sacramento, and on Tom Ammiano's proposition to limit gang-related SHU stays to 36 months. At this point, Benjamin Wallace-Wells' article in New York Magazine, The Plot from Solitary, is particularly welcome. The article is so interesting, thorough, and multifaceted that I strongly recommend you read it in its entirety. Here are just a few highlights that interested me the most:

The article does a very good job juxtaposing the position of inmates and their supporters to that of CDCR staff.

From the beginning, even the most basic matters about the strike—what Ashker and the others were after, why so many people joined them, what the strike ­demonstrated—were opaque, and profoundly disputed. To the prisoners and their supporters, this was a protest against barbaric treatment, and the SHU was both an outrage in itself and a symbol of the arbitrariness and brutality of the prison system across the nation. The strike’s leaders had challenged the SHU’s constitutionality in court, arguing that the limits it placed on social interaction violated the Eighth ­Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and they had watched closely as a few other states, some pressured by prisoners and others mandated by judges, had de-emphasized solitary confinement. They believed they were part of a human-rights movement. But the prison officials saw something far simpler at work: a tactical maneuver by the gangs, acting in collusion, to end a system that had made it much more difficult for them to operate as they pleased.

We also get fairly in-depth backgrounds of the Short Corridor strike leaders, complete with their lives before incarceration and some information about their standing vis-a-vis their own gangs, which adds to the complexity of the organization. And, we also get a blow-by-blow description of how news of the strike were transmitted across SHU cells:

Jamaa thought his fellow inmates might need some concrete encouragement. His private fast the previous fall had lasted 33 days, and he believed he could have gone longer. Soon after last summer’s strike began, the four leaders were moved from the SHU to a unit called Administrative Segregation, and Jamaa, entering the unit, started to holler, “Forty days and 40 nights! Forty days and 40 nights!” If prisoners can be counted upon to know any literature, it is the literature of suffering that in the Bible precedes redemption. Jamaa had chosen his slogan with intent: They were Moses in the desert. At night, Jamaa would drop on his knees, put his mouth to the crack between the door and the floor, and yell: “Forty days and 40 nights!” Soon, new hunger strikers arriving in AdSeg were shouting the slogan as they were hustled in. It was then that Jamaa began to believe their movement had some possibility, some momentum. 

And a very sophisticated explanation of the gang leadership controvresy from Craig Haney:

Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

And this bit about the effects of Judge Henderson's ruling allowing force-feeding of inmates:

Until this point, the prisoners had thought of the guards—and, more broadly, the state—as their captors. But the state is also their warden and their protector: A prison is designed to separate convicts from society and prevent them from doing more harm, but also to shelter them and keep them alive. The judge’s order returned repeatedly to the problem of coercion. The specter of gang influence was so strong, Henderson’s ruling suggested, that the state could not trust that a prisoner’s advance medical directive had been made freely—that he had made his own decision about the terms under which he was willing to die. The strike leaders had thought that by volunteering to risk their own deaths they could compel the state to see them as individuals, and that in at least this one instance they could reassert freedom of control over their lives. But they had been wrong.

Read the whole thing. It's fascinating and very well written.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Saturday: SSDP's Western Regional Conference

Students for Sensible Drug Policy are holding their annual conference at UC Hastings in San Francisco this coming Saturday. Yours truly will be speaking, but the real reason to show up is to hear the amazing array of health professionals, dispensary businesspeople, advocates, legislation experts, and the keynote speaker, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Here's the program for the day:

The conference is free and open to the public, but requires your preregistration here. What better way to spend your Saturday than learn more about drugs, and particularly marijuana legalization?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Sentence Apart: Watch Free Documentary about Families of Inmates

The powerful short film A Sentence Apart depicts the lives of three people with family members in California prisons. And until March 15, you can watch it for free with the code ASA14 by clicking this link. It's only 11:52 minutes long, and the thoughtfulness and humanity of the protagonists really shines through.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

More Voting Controversies

“Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Holder said. “They could not vote.”A couple of years after the failure of the effort to interpret voting regulation in CA so that folks doing time in jails as a result of realignment can vote, civil rights organizations are trying again. This time, the petition focuses on folks who are under mandatory supervision, who are told by the Secretary of State they can't vote.

The petitioners might have just felt some wind in their sales, blown by the federal government. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder urged states to repeal felon disenfranchisement laws.

“Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Holder said. “They could not vote.”

Holder was addressing life-long bans in Southern states, a holdover from the nadir of race relations in the 1920s, which render, for example, 10% of Florida citizens ineligible to vote. By contrast, California offers more opportunity for redemption (and has done so since 1974.) But this governmental animus toward enfranchisement is important to notice.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Juveniles in Solitary: News

Lots of things moving in the right direction in the world of solitary confinement. For one thing, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has just introduced AB 1652, the product of the legislative hearings, with the intent to limit usage of solitary confinement in California. Among other things, the bill text limits confinement to serious offenses, and creates a 3-year maximum confinement if the assignment to solitary is based on gang status alone.

But there are other news as well. As some readers know, there is an ongoing lawsuit against the Contra Costa Juvenile Hall for locking up youth with disabilities for 23 hours a day. Today, the feds have joined the battle - on the side of the inmates. Disability Rights Advocates reports:

Youth with disabilities generally are disproportionately represented in juvenile correctional facilities and by Contra Costa County’s own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. Despite their disabilities, youth at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for days and weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the width of a hand and length of an arm. Indeed young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison. The results of such conditions are devastating. For instance, named Plaintiff W.B. was placed in solitary confinement for more than 90 days, during which time he deteriorated mentally to the point where he was smearing feces on the wall and, ultimately, was held in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks.

“The United States Department of Justice and Department of Education have singled out Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall for a reason,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Managing Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “Contra Costa County and Contra Costa County Office of Education's refusal to accept their legal obligations cannot continue, too many young people with disabilities are suffering and that must end.”

“United States Department of Justice and Department of Education involvement in this case should be a wake-up call to Contra Costa County and the County Office of Education,” said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director. “Every day more young people are harmed by their failure to take responsibility and follow federal and state law. These flagrant violations of children’s rights to education and rehabilitative services must stop.”

Note that the feds are dressing their objections to this practice as an educational issue: that is, the problem is not that segregation is cruel and unusual per se, but that it hampers these students educational opportunities. Even on such a narrow basis, it's remarkable that the feds have found it politically sayable to oppose these practices and place themselves squarely on the side of the inmates.