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. 

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. 

A Cautionary Tale from the East Coast

By Michele Hanisee

As California suffers from a rising property crime rate thanks to Prop 47, prepares for a flood of felons getting an early release from state prison thanks to Prop 57, and contemplates refusing to jail accused criminals before trial, a cautionary tale has emerged from Washington, DC. A four part series in May by the Washington Post exposed the city’s “Youth Rehabilitation Act” and brought to light just how deadly the desire to give convicted criminals a “second chance” can be.

Washington, D.C. enacted the “Youth Rehabilitation Act” in 1985 to protect youths “from the stigma of lengthy prison sentences.” The Youth Act allows convicted offenders under age 22 to avoid either imprisonment or the lengthy sentences called for by mandatory minimums for certain crimes. The Youth Act also allows for the offender’s record to be expunged upon successful completion of the sentence. All crimes are eligible for this treatment, except murder and a second violent crime while armed.

The Post series focused on the period since 2010, when 45% of all offenders in Washington, D.C. received sentences under this Act. The results were horrid. As detailed in the Post, 121 people in Washington, D.C. are now dead, murdered by those sentenced under this Youth Act. Thirty of the offenders were still on Youth Act probation at the time they committed murder.

Given that 73% of those being sentenced under the Act had committed a violent or weapons offense, it was predictable that they would take advantage of the leniency of the Act to commit more crime. More than 136 of the offenders let loose by the law were subsequently convicted of armed robbery, and at least 200 sentenced for a subsequent violent or weapons offense. Not only were “second chances” given, but repeat “second chances” were the norm–at least 750 offenders were sentenced under this act multiple times.

Typical of the offenders are Tavon Pickney, a now 20-year-old offender convicted of murder in 2015. Pickney told the Post that he wasn’t scared when charged with robbery in 2014 because, “I knew they were going to let me off easy.” Indeed, he was given a suspended sentence and probation by a Judge who at sentencing stated she believed “people should have the opportunity to change their lives.” Pickney subsequently admitted to the Post that he had committed at least a dozen robberies before his initial arrest for robbery in 2014.

The mentality of those who excuse criminal behavior for a “second chance” or more is exemplified by Washington, D.C. Judge Anita Josey-Herring. With prosecutor’s agreement, she sentenced Bijon Brown to a six-month suspended sentence in 2015 for shooting at two taggers, wounding one. A scant 29 days later, Brown opened fire on a rival tagger who surrounded[MH1] a bus he was on. Over prosecutors’ objections, Judge Herring sentenced Brown to a year and a day under the Youth Act.

>Nine days after his release, Brown was charged with a carjacking at gunpoint. Per Post reporters, Judge Herring was a mite defensive when Post reporters visited her courtroom. From the bench, “she cast blame on the juvenile victims of the first shooting, saying they had been “terrorizing” the neighborhood. Then she said the Metrobus shooting had looked like “something out of Straight Outta Compton because of the ‘mob’ of men that confronted Brown.”

In California, there has been a rush in California to excuse criminal behavior, whether it be Governor Jerry Brown with his love of “second chances” via Prop 57, or allowing who were under 23 years old when they committed violent crimes resulting in life sentences early parole hearings.

Next up on the horizon are proposals to abolish bail schedules from State Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblyman Rob Bonta. Their source of inspiration is the Washington, D.C. pretrial release system, which releases 91% of arrestees and sees about 11% of those released get rearrested for new crimes. Naturally, when reached for comment on these rearrests, the head of the D.C. pre-trial release system sniffed; “when it comes to human beings, you can’t stop people from making bad decisions.”

No, you can’t stop human beings from making bad decisions. However, you can protect the public by removing them from society via incarceration, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to repeat their bad decisions at the expense of others. As the Washington Post series painfully illustrates, the desire to give those who choose to commit crimes a “second chance” puts the life and property of innocent citizens in danger. California apparently will have to learn that lesson the hard way, just as Washington D.C. has with its “Youth Rehabilitation Act,” which we have written about extensively in previous blogs.

To read our previous concerns with the bail reform proposals, click here and here.

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.