A “Spring Cleaning” of Our State Prisons

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A “Spring Cleaning” of Our State Prisons

By Eric Siddall

In January, we sent a Public Records Act (PRA) request to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) requesting:

  • All emails, correspondence, or texts between the governor’s office and parole board members, staff, and attorneys regarding the implementation of Proposition 57, including discussion of any rules and regulations proposed from November 4, 2016, to the present;
  • All telephone logs, voicemail recordings, and notes between the governor’s office and parole board members, staff, and attorneys regarding the implementation of Proposition 57

Rather than siding with transparency, the CDCR denied our request and refused to provide the documents. We requested these items because the governor made it clear during the Prop 57 campaign he would be active in helping to develop the regulations if the initiative passed.  Given CDCR’s dismal history in creating release programs and properly evaluating parolees for release, the public certainly deserves to know how these regulations were to be developed.That history includes a 2011 audit finding CDCR failed to properly implement the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) software program that that was to evaluate inmates likely to be successfully rehabilitated and integrated into public life upon parole.  Similarly, an audit in 2008 found CCDR simply ignored state law in parole decisions, with supervisors often ordering the release of inmates without properly documenting the reasons and altering the reports of parole agents to justify those releases.

However, the regulations have been developed. They were released by CDCR this past week: Guidelines for revisions to sentences and credits. We had repeatedly blogged that violent inmates would be getting early releases thanks to Prop 57, a charge Governor Brown hotly disputed. Well, it turns out the new guidelines call for inmates serving sentences for violent crimes to receive a 5% increase in credits awarded for “good time behavior,” meaning those inmates will be released earlier than they would have been before Prop 57.

As we also pointed out, the list of crimes most people and common sense would consider “serious” and/or “violent” don’t fall within the extremely narrow definition of Prop 57.  “The enhanced credits of one month per year for participating in “self-help” programs will now apply to crimes, such as assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious bodily injury, arson of forest land causing physical injury and many others. In short, even more violent inmates released to the streets earlier. In addition, a CDCR’s “emergency regulation” will classify as a “non-violent” offender an inmate currently in prison for a “violent” offense but who has completed serving time for that violent offense and is still serving time on other offenses.

Further, prosecutors and victims will only have 30 days to contest the parole release of the “non-violent” inmates who have completed their base sentence.   The opposition must be in writing and there is no anticipation that parole board hearings with attendance by prosecutors or victims will be allowed. That, of course, is in sharp contrast to Governor Brown’s promise during the campaign that he would work to address this lack of live participation by prosecutors or the victims.   Further, while inmates will be given the right to request review of a hearing officer’s parole decision, neither victims or prosecutors will be allowed that right.  Finally, unlike parole grants for inmates serving life with parole terms, there will be no review of any parole board decision by the governor.

The CDCR changes in parole eligibility are set to take effect April 12, 2107, if state regulators give approval, with final approval set for October 2017 after consideration of public comment. However, inmates will begin accruing early release credits while the public review is ongoing.

>As a result of these new rules, CDCR is expect to grant early release to at least 9,500 felons in the next four years, violent and serious offenders among them, with little opportunity for opposition by victims. As Senator Scott Wilk pointed out recently, “through a host of ‘reduce prison population at any cost’ measures, our governor and the legislature have already partnered to release nearly 50,000 criminals from our jails and prisons.”

The proposed new rules are yet another blow to victims of crime and the public. The only thing remaining is the inevitable spike in crime and subsequent denial by Prop 57 supporters that the early release of thousands of inmates led to that increase in crime.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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Sensible and Needed Reforms to AB 109 and Prop 57

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Sensible and Needed Reforms to AB 109 and Prop 57

By Eric Siddall

Assemblyman Ian Calderon has proposed a sensible reform to fix some of the problems of AB109 and Proposition 57. This legislation came about when it was clear that the gang member who murdered Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer was given repeated 10 day “flash incarcerations” for each of his five separate parole violations. Under the prior system, he could have spent a year in prison for just one violation.

AB 1408 implements three basic reforms. It requires county probation departments to seek parole revocations for a third violation. It requires consideration of an inmate’s entire criminal history by the parole board. Lastly, it increases information sharing between the state and the county regarding the criminal history.

AB 109 artificially deflated the recidivism rates. It did so by shifting parole responsibility for many felonies to county probation departments.  AB 109 also shortened parole violations by creating a new system of 10 day “flash incarcerations.” AB 1408 will help address these shortcomings.

In a recent blog we highlighted the violent history of the “Most Wanted” parolees being sought for parole violations by the LA County Probation Department. It certainly does not help public safety when repeated parole violations are dealt with by a slap on the wrist via a 10 day “flash incarceration.”

Assemblyman Calderon’s legislation is a sensible first step to advance public safety.  He noted this legislation was a product of intense discussion with law enforcement, and that it endeavored “to set some practical ground rules and enhance the tools available to law enforcement operating under these reforms.”

We noted in a previous blog the failure of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to publish offender information that had previously been available for years.   With the vast majority of parolees now supervised by county probation it is hard to assemble accurate information on parolee recidivism.  The state should certainly provide that information so the public can evaluate whether this attempt at “parole reform” has been effective, or simply a way to game statistics regarding recidivism rates.

The problems AB 109 has created can only be addressed via state legislation.  We applaud Assembly Calderon for taking the first step in that direction.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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What Is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Hiding?

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What Is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Hiding?

By Michele Hanisee

Trust us, they said. We know what’s good for you and the state of California.

That was the message hawked by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature when they pushed and passed a variety of initiatives that gutted the criminal justice system. They did so by weakening parole (AB 109), downgrading a host of crimes to misdemeanors (Prop. 47), and making dangerous felons eligible for release when they have served just a portion of their sentences (Prop. 57).

Governor Brown and his allies sold these laughably flawed programs by cynically invoking compassion, fiscal prudence and an obligation to open prison gates to comply with court orders.<

Crime began rising throughout the state shortly after the dismantling of our safety net began. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that state voters should not have bought the snake oil from its peddlers.

But what we don’t have is critical, big-picture data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Data, for example, on the rate at which felon parolees return to prison. Data on what crimes the prisoners committed. Data on the overall recidivism rate.<

The CDCR used to dutifully post the “Recidivism Rate Report” which contained valuable information in a prominent place on its website. But in 2012 and 2013 – not long after AB 109 became law – it stopped. While not one major media outlet questioned this abrupt end of public information, the question everyone must ask is why? Would publication of the data in an easy to find place expose issues in prison realignment?

The CDCR may argue that while they have not published a report in the same format as they did prior to AB 109, that they report on prison population changes and current makeup in reports like the one titled, An update to the future of California Corrections. One would first have to find the report buried on an obscure page of their website. Then, one would have to carefully review the 57-page report to find on pages 27-29 the information that the CDCR used to post in an obvious location.   While other areas of the report contain additional information about the population, similar to the 2013 and earlier reports, one has to wonder why the CDCR stopped assembling the critical information in an easily accessible format, but decided instead to bury the information in various other publications.

We do know that the prison population did not include those whose supervision was transferred to County Probation Departments.   Convicted felons like Michael C. Mejia, the gang member with priors for robbery and grand theft auto, and the suspect in last month’s murder of Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer. A beneficiary of AB 109, as documented by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, “the killer had been on parole following his release from prison in April 2016, and in the next few months violated parole-five separate times in seven months-for possessing drugs and failing to comply with police officers.

But we don’t know what the larger data sets show about who is in prison, for what crimes, and who has been returned to prison on parole violations. The CDCR, which promises “A safer California through correctional excellence” no longer posts the raw data on their website, which raises questions.

When the Governor and Legislature ask state voters to blindly trust them because they know what’s best for us, the least they can do is require the CDCR to post information that allows us to judge their statements through the prison of hard, clear data-data they posted year after year until after AB 109 went into full effect.

>Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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The Criminal Justice Shell Game

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The Criminal Justice Shell Game

By Eric Siddall

When criminal justice experiments are not supported by structural reform, the result is more senseless murders, like Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer. It is time for the state to stop its cheap attempts at fixes to the criminal justice system, and implement meaningful reform. AB 109, Prop 47, and Prop 57 have been failures. All were hastily crafted social experiments passed without input from law enforcement or victims’ rights organizations. They were passed because the state was being cheap. Sacramento has been derelict in its duty to the People of the State of California.

Here is the nasty little secret of these three experiments. Sacramento was tired of paying the bill for public safety, so they decided to pass the buck to the counties. AB 109, moved low level offenders from state prison, which the state pays for, to county jails, which the county pays for.

It also curtailed the power of parole agents (paid by the state) to monitor and punish parolees. Instead it shifted the responsibility to probation. Guess who pays for probation? The county. Guess who has next to no expertise in dealing with harden criminals? Probation.

Here is what we lost. Parole agents specialized in dealing with hardened criminals who had been sent to prison. If a parolee was found in violation, parole could send him back to prison for a year. Parole agents were no joke. They kept tight control over their wards. Today, thanks to “reforms”, a parole agent can only punish a parolee with 10 days in the county jail.<

Prop 47 reduced many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Misdemeanor offenders are sent to county jail. Again, the county pays the bill. Notice the trend.

Prop 57 gives the parole board (different from parole agents) unfettered power to release state prisoners. Interestingly, this reform did not address the issue at the county level. Again, the net result is less expense for the state.

So, while it is true that these reforms on their own did not cause Officer Keith Boyer to get murdered by Mejia, it is irresponsible to ignore the fact that the state has, over the last decade, wiped its hands of its public safety obligations and shifted the burden of monitoring harden criminals to probation-an organization not equipped to deal with the Mejia’s of the world. Did these reforms on their own allow Mejia to murder Officer Boyer? No. But the state exiting the public safety business did contribute!

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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Parole board once again wants to free a dangerous criminal

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Parole board once again wants to free a dangerous criminal

By Eric Siddall

The state parole board continues to demonstrate that it cannot be trusted with the public’s safety. We are especially concerned because this non-elected body now has unfettered power to release felons thanks to Prop 57.

Last week, parole recommended that Charles Manson follower Bruce Davis be granted freedom. While Davis is not one of the better-known Manson thugs, his involvement in two 1969 murders was no less brutal.

Davis admitted to attacking stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea with a knife and holding musician Gary Hinman at gunpoint while Manson sliced his face. Hinman was ultimately tortured for three days before being murdered.

This is certainly not the first time the board has unconscionably and irresponsibly proposed to free brutal criminals. Yet, under Prop. 57, it will have the ultimate power to decide which felons get released.

Prop. 57-falsely marketed as a crime stopper-makes felons eligible for early release from state prison. Sentences handed down by judges, statutory punishments determined by the Legislature, and plea agreements between prosecutors and defendants are now irrelevant. The release decision rests solely with the parole board.

Regrettably, the board has repeatedly shown it is incapable of shouldering this immense responsibility.

In addition to recommending parole for Davis, board panels recently proposed to free Manson family killer Leslie Van Houten and cop-killer Voltaire Williams, who played a central role in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams (no relation).

Gov. Brown rejected the panel’s parole recommendation for Van Houten, and he rejected an earlier parole recommendation for Davis in 2016. We hope he does so again.

Parole denial for Davis would be a small victory for public safety. Prop. 57 will unleash a torrent of offenders, many of them dangerous and violent, into our communities. Unlike murderers like Davis, the governor will have little authority to intervene with these felons. It’s a safe bet that it won’t take long for rising crime statistics to expose the tragic folly of this awful, radical experiment.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

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Proposal to free cop killer underscores threat of Prop. 57

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Proposal to free cop killer underscores threat of Prop. 57

By Eric Siddall

The state parole board has again demonstrated the folly of Governor Brown’s radical experiment with public safety– Proposition 57.

Under this initiative, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) would have the ultimate power to release inmates. The sentencing decisions by judges would be disregarded. The legislature’s assign punishment ignored. The plea agreements made between prosecutors and defendants would become meaningless. CDCR alone will decide when felons are released back on the street.

The argument for this shift of power from judges and prosecutors to CDCR is that the parole board is comprised of rational and thoughtful people who would never grant freedom to those who could pose an ongoing threat to society. However, their actions give us little confidence that this is a promise that will be kept.

Most recently, the board for a third time recommended that a brutal cop killer Voltaire Williams be granted freedom. Williams, as you may recall from a number of our previous blogs, played a central role in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams (no relation) in front of his young son.

Due to intense pressure from the ADDA and law enforcement agencies throughout the state, Williams was denied parole two previous times after parole board panels recommended he be freed.

However, the idea that someone who helped orchestrate the assassination of a law enforcement professional should ever be allowed to walk our streets simply defies reason. The parole board decision to grant parole to this killer or to Manson Family killer Leslie Van Houten, is evidence, that the parole board will gleefully distribute get-out-of-jail cards to the worst of the worst.

Disturbingly, with the election just a few days away, Prop. 57 appears to have solid support from state voters. A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey showed 57 percent of likely voters are backing this disaster of an initiative, while only 31 percent opposed it.

Prop. 57 represents a clear danger to public safety. It is imperative that all of us do everything in our power to educate voters about the chaos that passage of this initiative will unleash on every community in California. The challenge is enormous, but we must persevere to the very end.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.
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Governor Brown’s Statement in Support of Prop 57 Provide More Reasons to Vote “No!”

By Eric Siddall

Governor Brown is quoted in today’s Los Angeles Times, providing his reasons why voters should support Prop 57, the early release of felons initiative.  Every one of his statements lacks both merit and a basic understanding of the criminal justice system.

First, the governor claims that his act would restore “deliberative thought” to a process driven by district attorneys chasing headlines and seeking re-election with a “quiet parole board” making reasoned parole decisions.

The reality is that very few crimes make it into the newspaper or are featured on TV or radio.  The vast majority of prosecutions result in prison sentences known only to judges, prosecutors, victims, police, and defendants. The cases that capture media attention are ones that involve murder-which carries a mandatory sentence. This “quiet” parole board the governor champions will become an unaccountable Kafkaesque prison release machine so “quiet” that victims won’t even be aware that the felon who victimized them is back in the neighborhood.

Next, the governor claims that if prosecutors are upset that with his listing of crimes eligible for release, that’s their own fault because prosecutors “created the damn violent list.”  False. The problem is not the list. The problem is your “damn amendment.”  The “damn violent list,” as you call it, singles out certain violent crimes for harsher punishment; it didn’t absolve other crimes of their violent nature or lessen their punishments. It was you, Governor Brown, who wrote Prop 57 and decided what crimes should be eligible for early release under its provisions.  We are simply pointing out that your amendment is poorly drafted.

Further, Prop 57 gives state prison officials constitutional authority to invent early release credits for all inmates not serving life without parole or a death sentence.  Governor Brown assured the Times that credits will be limited. How? Not by the state legislature, because it takes that power away from them. Not by judges, because it takes that power away from them. Instead, all credit making power goes to the Department of Corrections. In other words, it goes to the governor. Small comfort since Governor Brown will only be in office for two more years. The truth is the governor’s deliberate failure to include in Prop 57 any restrictions on invention of new sentence credits means there can be no confidence this new power will be used wisely.

The real reason Governor Brown is pushing Prop 57 is because he wants to try something new. He wants to experiment with public safety and see what happens. He wants to turn back the clock to a time where sentences were short, victims had no rights, and the felon was king. We simply cannot afford this radical experiment.

We will continue to fight against Prop 57. Please like and share our video: https://www.laadda.com/no-on-prop-57

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.

Rapists, Human Traffickers & Other Violent Criminals to Be Set Free If Prop 57 Passes

By Eric Siddall

As the Sacramento Bee pointed out, “The term ‘nonviolent felony offense’ comes from the language of the governor’s sentencing measure itself. If the measure is approved by voters, it remains to be seen how ‘nonviolent felony’ will be defined.

Governor Brown is spending millions of dollars on false radio adspromoting Prop 57, repeating that it only applies to “non-violent felons.” This claim is an attempt to fool the public into believing inmates who have committed crimes involving violence will not be eligible for the measures’ early parole.

In prior blogs, we have highlighted the multiple crimes of violenceeligible for early parole under Prop 57: including rape of an unconscious person, rape with a foreign object, assault on a peace officer causing injury, assault with a  deadly weapon, and many others.  The Governor has pushed back, citing the Attorney General’s ballot description that it only applies to “non-violent” inmates amongst other defenses.

Turns out, as the italicized quote above highlights, there was absolutelyno analysis by the Attorney General of the type of offenses and inmates eligible for release.  Instead, the Attorney General has acknowledged they only parroted Brown’s description of crimes eligible for early parole under Prop 57.   In short, instead of doing their sworn job the Attorney General’s office played politics.

To set the facts straight, this past opposition law enforcement leaders from throughout Southern California, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Sheriff Jim McDonnell held a news conference to speak out againstProp 57.
The simple and undeniable fact is that Prop 57 makes numerous inmates who have  committed violent crimes eligible to be released years early from their prison sentence.  Any ballot argument or statement by the Governor that says to the contrary is completely false.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
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Proposition 57 Will Hit Minority Communities the Hardest

By Eric Siddall

We have an incarceration problem in this country. Minority communities bear the brunt of this harsh reality. We need to acknowledge this fact and discuss a smarter, nimbler, and more humane approach to this challenge.

But we also have another problem. Far too many people of color are victims of crime, a fact often overlooked in the current criminal justice debate. We need to acknowledge and address this harsh reality as well.

Prop. 57 presents itself as an answer to this problem, but a closer look at the initiative indicates it will only make things worse for California’s minority communities.
First, a few important statistics. Despite representing 6.5 percent of the state population, blacks comprise 24 percent of its prison population. Male blacks who drop out of high school face a 70 percent chance of going to prison, compared to 17 percent of similarly situated whites. These facts should give us pause and demand reflection.

However, behind these incarceration numbers are numbers that are equally terrible. In the United States in 2015, according to the FBI, more than 50 percent of all murder victims were black, despite the fact that blacks comprise only 12 percent of the US population. 7,039 African-American men and women were the victims of homicide, out of a total 13,455 homicides nationwide. This means blacks suffer a rate of victimization more than four times higher than their representation in the overall population – this is unacceptable.

To be sure, overall homicide rates have dropped substantially since the early 1990s, which is something for which we should be thankful. In 1993, the year before California’s Three-Strikes was enacted, there were 1,944 homicides in Los Angeles County. By 2015, this number had dropped to 649.

Despite this remarkable reduction in the overall rate of homicides, minority communities still face the most significant impact of crime. Today, within a 5-mile radius of the Compton courthouse, there are approximately 118 criminal street gangs. In the past six months, there were 528 violent crimes in Compton per 10,000 residents, including 21 homicides. Fourteen of the 21 homicide victims were black, despite the fact that Compton is 40 percent African-American. Compare this to Brentwood which had a mere 18 violent crimes per 10,000 residents and suffered no homicides.

Frankly, considering these numbers, it might seem easy for the Westside family to vote “yes” on Proposition 57. Crime is not something they experience on a daily basis. They don’t have to take a different route to school in the morning because there is a yellow tape blocking off a crime scene. Crime for that family is an allegory. It is a conversation piece.

For the family in Compton, crime is a daily reality. Every other week, there is a body bag carrying a young male away to the coroner’s office. Every night there is an airship hovering over the city while a pursuit occurs on the ground of a carjacking suspect. If you look at a gang map, almost every inch of Compton is covered by a gang claiming a part of the city. Brentwood doesn’t even have a gang map.

My opposition to Proposition 57 is personal. For the past eight years, I was assigned as a prosecutor in the South Central Judicial District. This is an area that covers Compton and Watts. When I see these numbers, it makes my blood boil, because behind each number is a wounded family and community. Too often, I have sat in my office with a mother and father grieving over their young son. What I find morally reprehensible is that we continue to allow neighborhoods like Compton and Watts to experience huge murder rates while Brentwood is safe and sound.

This is no doubt that we need to take a compressive approach to crime that goes well beyond incarceration. We need to acknowledge that our high incarcerations reflect a societal failure. We need to address the socio-economic issues that underline the many problems of lower income communities.

Proposition 57 does none of the above. Read the one-page summary – the Proposition allows tens of thousands of violent, dangerous and career criminals to be released early.

It disarms us from attacking the criminal element, it releases prisoners back into vulnerable communities, it does nothing to address recidivism, and it breaks the promise we made to victims and witness. Proposition 57 is a well-intentioned disaster that will only lead to more crime, more death, and devastated communities.

Prop 57 – A prescription for disaster

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Give me 2 minutes of your time and this video will explain why you should vote NO on Prop 57.
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