ADDA’s Eric Siddall on Issues Today with Bob Gourley, October 2, 2017

The Association of Deputy District Attorney’s Vice President Eric Siddall discusses bail reform on Issues Today with Bob Gourley, on Monday, October 2, 2017.

It’s Time to Deal with Recidivism

By Eric W. Siddall

California needs a comprehensive approach to lowering incarceration rates – a plan that will not only lower incarceration levels, but preserve the historically low crime rates we currently enjoy. Sacramento’s current approach to this problem is mass early-release for felons – potentially at the expensive of public safety. A more ambitious and effective strategy – that simultaneously reduces incarceration and crime rates – would be to invest in comprehensive programs that reduce recidivism. This will require government spending on meaningful work programs for those released from state prison.

Since 1980, incarceration rates skyrocketed from 80 inmates for every 100,000 Californians to a peak of 701 per 100,000 in 2006. A combination of factors forced California to confront this problem, most notable of which was a 2009 federal court order mandating the state to abate prison overcrowding. State leaders had two options: Build more prisons or release prisoners.

Our leaders opted for the cheaper option by reducing our prison population by 55,000 inmates. This mass early-release was implemented by a combination of laws that shifted our prison population to local jails (Realignment), produced much-needed reforms to the Three-Strikes law (Proposition 36), and effectively decriminalized theft and drug crimes (Proposition 47). In 2016, the voters approved Proposition 57-another instrument designed to lower the prison population via mass release-under the false promise that lower sentences would increase public safety.

All of these measures were designed to lower incarceration rates on the cheap. However, despite the dramatically lower prison population, the budget for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) actually went up from $9.1 billion in 2006 to a proposed $11.3 billion in 2017.

Not only did the measures fail to reduce costs. They did virtually nothing to ensure a sustained reduction in the prison population in the future. That longer-term approach requires tackling recidivism- an underlying driver of continuously elevated incarceration rates. Yet recidivism rates continue to remain high despite the promises made during Realignment that local control and ending parole violations would reduce them. Again, the state decided to take the inexpensive approach to deal with this problem. The cheap solution was to not send parole violators back to state prison for their violations. Instead, they shifted supervision to county probation agents. These changes aimed to lower cost but not resolve the underlying problems.

The underlying problems turn on recidivism. If we want to lower recidivism rates that hover around 70 percent, we need to confront a fundamental question: how do we reintegrate felons back into society after they spend years in prison?

As with high incarceration rates, government leaders have opted for the cheap and narrow fix when it comes to high recidivism rates. Take the “ban the box” proposal. It costs government nothing. It sounds progressive. It’s not a counterproductive idea, but it is a naïve and cheap effort to resolve a complicated problem. It only takes an employer a Google search and basic arithmetic to figure out an applicant’s incarceration record.

Recidivism reduction is an area where government should take the lead. A key first step would entail creating the equivalent of the California Conversation Corp (“CCC”) for those leaving prison. The state will benefit because it will improve our infrastructure and our environment. Those leaving prison will benefit from the stability provided by the CCC and the skill set obtained by working on infrastructure and environmental projects.

For those unfamiliar with this program, the CCC was modeled after FDR’s CCC. It trains, employs, and houses young people and sends them out on projects across the state. It was founded in 1976 by Governor Jerry Brown who envisioned it as “a combination Jesuit seminary, Israeli kibbutz and Marine Corps boot camp.”

We could use this program to clean a felon’s criminal record of certain types of convictions. If graduates remain crime-free after a decade of being in the program, they could get their convictions dismissed. This program would create a real path towards redemption and reintegration. We would need the active participation of district attorney’s offices, parole, and the newly created CCC to recommend removal. Together this triad of stakeholders would then ask the courts to dismiss the conviction.

For those serious about redemption, this additional carrot is likely to improve an inmate’s performance pending release from prison. Inmates will be incentivized to do well in prison so that they will be accepted into the CCC with the hope that their record would be cleansed.

Since the societal value of a conviction diminishes with the time lapsed between the defendant being crime-free and the date of conviction, cleaning a felon’s record will pose little danger to public safety. This is because a prior conviction is only valuable to determine and enhance sentences. If the convict is living a productive and socially integrated life, the usefulness of the conviction actually acts against society’s interest by creating an unnecessary stigma on that person. This stigma includes a barrier to employment. Not only are felons barred from certain positions – including, ironically, the CCC – but they are less likely to be hired by the private sector because of their criminal background. Therefore the removal of a criminal record benefits society by removing an unnecessary barrier to otherwise productive people – a barrier that could lead criminals with fewer viable avenues other than crime.

It is time that Sacramento begins a real discussion that does not lead off with myopic approaches, such as early-release of prisoners or lower sentences, which may simply be counteracted by high recidivism and crime rates. We need to tackle this problem with long-term solutions that require a substantial investment capable of giving meaningful employment to our newly released felons. We need to give them the opportunity to clean their records. We need to give them the opportunity to remain forever free.

Eric W. 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.

Outright Lies Grease Passage of Bill That Eliminates Mandatory Gun Enhancements

By Michele Hanisee & Eric Siddall

Regardless of how you feel about the legislation, we are disturbed, and every legislator should be disturbed, that a witness called to testify in support of Senate Bill 620 told multiple lies to the California Senate. Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition sat next to the bill author, Senator Steven Bradford, as she addressed the Public Safety Committee on April 25, 2017. McGill claimed, “one case in particular, stands out” to exemplify the unfairness of mandatory gun enhancements and then detailed the “facts” of a robbery case involving Travis Manning.

Ms. McGill testified that Manning was a 19-year-old man who had never been arrested. According to McGill, he entered a GameStop, asked for a $100 game while holding a BB gun, and then took the same game back to GameStop a month later, not understanding the consequences of his act. McGill claimed the sentencing judge “stated under California law he could not make any adjustments due to Travis’ cognitive disabilities or his lack of a past criminal record.” PBS NewsHour, relying upon McGill and Senator Bradford’s information, repeated these statements in a story where Manning was made the “poster child” for SB 620.

The actual facts show McGill lied to the Senate Committee. On the day he robbed the GameStop, Manning was a 23-year-old convicted felon. His criminal history included possession of cocaine base for sale. The jury found — and it was affirmed on appeal — that Manning pulled out and cocked a real gun while committing the robbery. Manning did not request a “$100 game” as McGill testified but demanded and received a Wii console, games, accessories, as well as the $600-700 in the cash register.

Ms. McGill also did not tell the truth about Manning’s actions after the robbery. He did not take the “same game” back to GameStop. Instead, on two separate occasions Manning sold portions of the stolen loot to another GameStop store. This was not a misunderstood youth. Mr. Manning was a felon who after committing robbery then committed a burglary by entering a business to sell property he had stolen at gunpoint. The connection was finally made when the store clerks from two different locations independently identify Manning.

Finally, Ms. McGill was dishonest in her description of the judge’s remarks which she embellished to support her key point–that inflexible sentencing laws led to Manning’s sentence. Clearly the judge never claimed he could not adjust the sentence despite Manning’s “lack of a past criminal record,” since Manning did have a prior record at the time he committed the robbery. Mr. Manning was on active probation with a prior felony conviction (Case number MA029937) when he committed the robbery and that led to his being charged and convicted of being a felon with a firearm. (Case number TA095435)

Equally importantly, the sentence length proved McGill was dishonest when she purported to quote the judge. This is the point that first caused us to take notice of her claims. As Ms. McGill was weaving her tale about the judge’s statement, anybody who understands sentencing laws (be they prosecutor, defense attorney, or legislator sitting on the Public Safety Committee) should have instantly recognized without even knowing the facts of the case that McGill’s tale did not ring true.

The sentence length for the crimes charged reflected that the judge had selected the longer of possible terms for Manning’s sentence. California law allowed the sentencing judge to run Manning’s convictions for two robberies and a burglary concurrently, resulting in a shorter prison sentence than the 18 years imposed. Instead, the sentence length reflected consecutive sentences, emphatically disproving McGill’s recitation that the sentencing judge stated California law precluded a reduced sentence length.

We believe that McGill’s misstatements were deliberate and calculated. According to her own words when she testified, she was involved in the Manning case before his trial and sentencing. Ms. McGill stated to the committee that she helped Manning get a new lawyer pending trial, “packed the court,” and coordinated the presentation of “several powerful testimonies” at sentencing.

It is shocking that Ms. McGill felt comfortable sitting next to Senator Bradford while calmly uttering false statements during public testimony to a Senate Committee. Also alarming is that when the ADDA contacted PBS reporter Kamala Kelkar to request a correction of her inaccurate story, we were informed that Senator Bradford’s office repeated McGill’s false statements about Manning, including the absurd claim that he had no prior record. Didn’t the Senator or anybody on his staff wonder how Manning was convicted of being a felon in possession of a gun if he had never been convicted of a prior felony? Why didn’t the Senator or his staff verify any of the facts of the case they chose to use as the “poster child” for the need to overturn mandatory gun enhancements? The information is, after all, public record.

Criminal justice reform advocates who wish to take the system to task should remember that in criminal trials, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, and that everything is documented in the public record. If you misrepresent the facts that are in the public record, we will know. This sordid episode points out the need for legislators and the media to carefully vet the stories and ideas being peddled in furtherance of “criminal justice reform.”

Michele Hanisee is President and 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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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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

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:

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. 

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 ads promoting 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 violence eligible 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 absolutely no 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 against Prop 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.