CDCR Update: Re-Notice of the Proposition 57 Regulations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Vicky Waters

November 29, 2017 (916) 445-4950

CDCR Issues Amended Proposition 57 Regulations

SACRAMENTO – Today, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) published a re-notice of the Proposition 57 regulations. The public will be given a 15-day period to submit comments on these revisions.

The revised regulations are the result of a previous public comment period. The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) had approved emergency regulations for Proposition 57 in April. CDCR received comments from approximately 12,000 individuals earlier this year, and the department has worked diligently to prepare responses to these comments, which will be provided to OAL in a final statement of reasons, per the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) process.

“Our decisions were not made lightly nor were they made in a vacuum. CDCR heard arguments representing a wide range of views, and concluded that many of the suggested changes would be contrary to existing law or would result in disparate treatment of inmates,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “Our intent is to incentivize inmates to participate in rehabilitative and self-help programs that will make them better individuals, and to do so in a way that enhances public safety. I remain committed to putting in place a fair credit system that acknowledges good behavior and hard work.”

In the re-noticed regulations, credit-earning opportunities continue to be awarded prospectively (except for the Educational Merit Credits) to inmates for good behavior and successful program participation and completion, since inmate participation and documentation of programming was not uniform prior to Proposition 57. In addition, Third-Strike inmates will not be included in the nonviolent offender parole review process.

The Proposition 57 regulations include an increase in credit-earning opportunities for inmate participation in in-prison programs and activities, as well as parole consideration for nonviolent offenders once they have served the full-term of their primary offense. The emergency regulations approved in the spring have allowed CDCR to fully implement the provisions of the proposition, including the expansion of the Good Conduct Credits, which began on May 1, 2017; the nonviolent offender parole review process on July 1, 2017; and the credit-earning opportunities for Milestone Completion, Rehabilitative Achievement, Educational Merit, and Extraordinary Conduct, which went into effect on August 1, 2017.

The revised text of the regulations codifies the historic reform overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2016 and gives inmates a strong incentive to participate in and complete rehabilitative programs. Furthermore, the most dangerous offenders remain in

prison; taxpayer dollars are spent as prudently as possible; and we avoid the release of offenders by the court due to the federally-imposed population cap on CDCR.

Proposition 57 does not apply to condemned inmates and those serving life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentences.

Read the Proposition 57 revised regulations, as well as responses to the top issues raised during the public comment period.

For more information, visit www.cdcr.ca.gov/proposition57.

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CLICK BELOW FOR:

Proposition 57 Regulations – Public Comment Period: Responses to Frequent Comments

 Proposition 57 – Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 – Fact Sheet

What It Feels Like to Be a Teen in Solitary Confinement

Ending The Practice Is A Big Deal For Juvenile Justice Reform

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy

Jaki Murillo was 12 years old when she first entered the juvenile justice system in California. When she was 9, she tells Teen Vogue, she was arrested for making “terrorist threats” after telling a teacher that she was going to send her uncles to hurt the teacher; she was then put on probation. A few years later, Jaki started running away from home and skipping school, a violation of her probation. At 12, she was sent to a juvenile detention hall in Los Angeles.

When she arrived there, she was immediately placed in a secure housing unit (SHU), also known as room confinement or solitary confinement. It was due to her age — because she was under 14, she was not able to be in “general population” with the rest of the minors in the juvenile hall due to departmental protocol at the time. Jaki was kept locked in her room all day, and only allowed out of the room for two hours a day. Even then, she describes her interactions as limited to “TV and food” — and only with the adult staff who would facilitate both of those things. As a young juvenile offender, the confinement that Jaki experienced was meant to keep her safe from older youth in general population. But the true effect she remembers was that she was isolated, largely barred from interacting with others.

For various reasons, Jaki stayed in the juvenile hall longer than she had anticipated, and because of her age, that meant more time in SHU. “I was supposed to be there for three months and it ended up being over a year,” Jaki tells Teen Vogue.

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Jaki recalls how alone she felt, isolated in her cell without contact. There were times she would scream for hours on end out of anger or frustration. There were times she would throw her food or just bang on her cell door over and over and over again, for lack of anything else to do. She had hardly anyone to talk to.

Eventually, she says, “I was in there for so long that I got used to it.”

Spokespeople for the LA County Probation Department and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Teen Vogue that a lot has changed since the time Jaki was in the system. The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion in 2016 to restrict how solitary confinement is used in the county’s juvenile detention facilities, like where Jaki was, and the state has enacted reforms based on a 2016 state law and also as part of a legal settlement, a spokesperson said.

However, justice advocates say more needs to be done on the issue. “As long as there is one child in one facility who is being unnecessarily isolated, we can do better,” Cheryl Bonacci, director of communications and program director for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and a former Catholic chaplain in the juvenile system, tells Teen Vogue. “We must continue to evolve the way we see and treat our children in the criminal justice system, listen to how they got to where they are, and work together as a community to help them heal in order to be able to move forward productively.”

The effort to end solitary confinement — the practice of isolating people in a closed cell for 22 to 24 hours a day — for minors is growing around the country. The 2016 California law limits the use of room confinement for juveniles in detention. Now, room confinement in California is banned for youth as a form of punishment, and only allowed in narrow circumstances, such as for the safety of the youth or staff — and even in those cases room confinement is limited to four hours. Over two dozen states and the District of Columbia now have laws that limit or prohibit solitary for youth, and others have seen a reduction in the use of solitary confinement for minors as a result of litigation, as has happened in Wisconsin and Illinois. In 2016, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum banning the use of solitary confinement for minors in the federal prison system. However, the majority of minors presently in custody are in state, county, and city jails and prison systems — and it’s up to individual states to determine whether the practice can be used in their jurisdiction.

There are a number of reasons that a young person in custody might be placed into solitary confinement. While solitary is sometimes used to isolate and punish children who are fighting, causing disturbances, or otherwise acting out in detention facilities, minors can also find themselves in solitary confinement as a means of protecting them from other children in a detention center, during initial processing until a facility determines how best to manage a seemingly disruptive child, or even for medical reasons, such as having contracted a contagious disease or having expressed suicidal ideation.

2003 survey by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that one-third of all youth in custody had been held in solitary at some point. And 87% of those children were held in solitary for more than two hours, with 55% of those children being held for longer than 24 hours. A 2009 DOJ report found that 62% of minors in juvenile detention centers who died by suicide had a history of room confinement.

Advocating for Change From the Top Down

This year, both chambers of Congress have introduced bills to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a law that expired almost 10 years ago. Back in May, the House of Representatives passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 with broad bipartisan support, including the 14 Democrats and nine Republicans who co-sponsored the bill alongside its original sponsor, Rep. Jason Lewis, a Republican from Minnesota. The bill includes measures aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system. Proposed initiatives include community-based gang prevention programs and new measures to ensure that kids can’t be detained in the system for “status offenses,” which are behaviors like skipping school or running away from home that are against the law for minors but not adults.

A few months after the House’s bill passed, the Senate passed its own version in August. Because each chamber of Congress passed slightly different bills, it is now up to a conference committee, comprising representatives from both the House and Senate, to agree on a final version of the bill before it goes to President Trump for his signature.

“Reform on this issue is past overdue. I’m pleased that we were able to pass this thoughtful legislation in a bipartisan way to help ensure a better future for our children,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), one of the most vocal champions for juvenile justice reform in Congress, said in a statement after the bill’s passage in the House in May. “We cannot lose another generation of children to failed criminal justice policies.”

This is just one of several bills that Cárdenas introduced this spring aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system in the U.S. Another, the Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act (H.R. 1926), aims to ban the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons for minors. It would not only make permanent at the federal level the work done by President Obama’s presidential memorandum, but help model and inspire states and local municipalities to ban the practice in their own systems.

“All the studies show that young minds are still developing and still impressionable. Solitary is one of the worst things we can do to any human being and it has really negative effects for juveniles,” Cárdenas tells Teen Vogue. “We need to stop being the only [member country of the United Nations] that does solitary for minors.”

“We’re not good at listening to best practices and learning from other countries,” Cárdenas adds. “Rehabilitative processes have been studied here in the U.S., but we don’t implement them. Solitary for juveniles is one of the worst things you can do to a young person’s brain, psyche, and abilities, [and] to their ability to feel that eventually, they are going to be cared for. When you do that to a young human being, you’re increasing the chance that they won’t be very well-suited when they get back out in society. It’s just a glaring example of what’s wrong with our criminal justice system.”

The Long-Term Effects of Solitary Confinement

It’s certainly true for Jaki, now 26. She says that today, she is too comfortable being alone, inside, in the dark. She’s reluctant to leave the house, even to do seemingly fun things like take her children to the park. Solitary ended up providing its own dangerous sense of comfort. The effects of having spent time in solitary, and in the system, have a lasting impact on her to this day.

“I don’t want anyone to ever think that’s OK to just be in a room by yourself,” Jaki says of her hope for seeing the practice banned everywhere in the U.S. “I do not believe [juveniles] should be in a room for the endless amount of hours and [be] treated like they’re nothing.”

For example, Jaki says it took her two years from the time she ultimately left detention to finally feel comfortable being in big crowds. Her experience of having been in solitary confinement left her wary of large groups of people and seemingly everyday socialization. The only place she really felt comfortable after getting out, she says, was in her room, by herself. Being isolated in a small, empty room eventually felt like home.

“For a kid to feel that was all they have — it messed me up,” Jaki says.

Since getting out of custody, Jaki has completed her GED and begun professional coursework. She has plans to train as a mortician with the hopes of starting a nonprofit where she can provide no-cost and low-cost mortuary services to families whose children have died while incarcerated.

Looking back on her time in the system, Jaki says she wishes that instead of being put into solitary confinement, she would have had access to family system–oriented counseling and therapy. Without therapy for both children and families, she says, no one is able to learn how to change behaviors and improve relationships.

“Sometimes It Was Unbearable”

Jesse De La Cruz was first arrested at the age of 14 for possession and sales of drugs, he tells Teen Vogue. At the age of 15, a more serious juvenile conviction got him sentenced to a state juvenile detention facility in California. He was in custody for four and a half years. During that time, he experienced room confinement multiple times. His longest stretch in room confinement lasted three months, he says, and had him alone in his cell for 23 hours a day (a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Teen Vogue that the state’s juvenile justice system has since changed its policy on room confinement). For one hour a day he was allowed to either be outside or could shower. The outside area was fenced in — “like a cage,” Jesse remembers — and both outdoor time and showers were monitored by staff.

According to Jesse, he was being targeted while in general population by gang members, so placing him in solitary was the facility’s way of protecting him.

“Sometimes it was unbearable,” Jesse, now 26, says of his time in room confinement. He describes it as being placed in a “tiny” cell with a concrete slab and a small toilet. The little window in his cell had been blurred out, leaving him without any way to see the outside world.

His experience made it difficult for him to transition into more social situations afterward, both when he was introduced back into general population in the prison and when he exited the system and re-entered life on the outside. He says solitary left him uneasy around authority figures in particular. Even now, he says, “before I approach someone to talk to [them], I have to feed myself thoughts like, This is normal and this is regular.”

He says he wishes the practice of solitary for minors was banned everywhere. For those who experience it, he says, “you start building up negative thoughts about yourself, others, the world.”

The nonpartisan American Bar Association itself has published several pieces on its website coming out against the practice of solitary confinement for minors, including a recent piece that points to the developmental impact that solitary, even for short periods of time, can have on the still-maturing adolescent brain. According to the article, it is because of this that solitary does more damage to a juvenile brain than an adult brain, as teens’ brains are developmentally less able to cope with the psychological effects of isolation.

How Federal Laws Can Inspire States to Change

Cárdenas’s legislation might just signal some kind of tide shift on the practice. The congressman says his office has been receiving calls since he introduced the bill to ban solitary for minors on the federal level from those wondering how it would look at the state and local level.

“My team is always ready to help coach through to anyone who wants to make an argument for why this is something both Republicans and Democrats need to listen to and do something about in their own environment,” he says. “It’s encouraging that we’re getting these inquiries.”

When it comes to seeing juvenile criminal justice reform taken up on a broader level in the U.S., however, one thing that concerns Cárdenas is the actions and policies of the Trump administration. A member of Cárdenas’s office tells Teen Vogue that while Rep. Cárdenas has not asked to meet with President Trump on this issue yet — the congressman met with both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue during their respective campaigns for the presidency — he hopes that President Trump will assemble members of Congress most actively involved in juvenile justice reform to discuss how to best implement policies. The congressman says he would certainly be open to attending such a gathering, should Trump call for one.

“I hope Trump does not change the executive order Barack Obama signed,” Cárdenas says. “I hope that someone on his team brings this issue to his attention that understands it from a fiscal vantage point. We spend $80 billion a year in this country on incarceration — not prosecution, not other facilities and other aspects of the justice system. Just incarceration alone costs $80 billion. If you’re a fiscal conservative, you should be for good juvenile justice reform to reduce the recidivism rate instead of opting to spend more money on incarcerating people.”

Thus far, Trump’s stance on juvenile justice reform has been mixed. While Trump did send his son-in-law and special advisor, Jared Kushner, to discuss criminal justice reform with several senators in March, he was vocal about the need to address what he called “American carnage” and “the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential” in his Inaugural Address back in January. The regression to this “tough on crime” language of the 1990s has only been bolstered by Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator, to lead the Department of Justice as attorney general. Sessions himself was not actively supportive of the JJRA reauthorization while in the Senate, and has already reintroduced the old sentencing regulations that have been abandoned by the Justice Department in recent years.

Teaching Change

What minors in the system need is the same as any other child — not to be locked away without any context, but to have someone to talk to, to help them understand themselves and their situation, ARC’s Cheryl says.

“Our approach to incarcerating children could look more like parenting to me,” Cheryl says. “If we don’t listen to our children and help them develop tools along with learning consequences, we miss the opportunity to truly teach.” She emphasizes that only isolating a child, for instance, is meaningless if a parent doesn’t also sit down with that child and teach them how to deal with difficult situations and emotions.

That’s why Cheryl insists that if a child is put into solitary, the system fails when “we just say, ‘You’re a bad kid.’ Why don’t we say, ‘What’s going on?’”

Jesse, who currently works and attends school full-time and hopes to get involved with community development or the foreign service some day, echoes Cheryl’s sentiment: “I feel that solitary confinement, if you spend enough time in there or all your time in there, there’s no positive. You’re not learning [anything].”

Jesse adds that a young person can’t be expected to grow or learn while in custody if you spend all of your time in complete isolation. Solitary confinement, he says, is an experience that denies young people the opportunity to make any kind of change in their behavior by restricting a person’s ability to interact with others and learn for the better.

While it remains to be seen whether Congress will pass the bill to ban solitary for minors on the federal level and whether state legislatures will follow suit with similar bans of their own if they haven’t already, Jaki says there is one big thing that can be done in the interim: talk to people like her about their experiences, give space for their stories, and allow them to be told in their own words.

Solitary confinement, Jaki says, “only changes you for the worse, but no one even wants to ask you about it. I don’t ever hear people having a conversation about what it is.”

Related: How the School-to-Prison Pipeline Works

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Woman to Watch: Film director and philanthropist Patty Jenkins

Arturo Garcia

October 28, 2017

Before the 2017 release of the blockbuster hit “Wonder Woman,” screenwriter and director Patty Jenkins was relatively unknown. Her climb to success is an inspiration not only to those who aspire to work in the film industry but to all women as well. She may have experienced a slow start. However, it was a steady rise to where she is right now, making her one of the women to watch.

Before breaking into the film industry

Born in Victorville, California, as Patricia Lea Jenkins in 1971, her childhood mostly involved studying and living in places like Germany, Thailand, and Kansas. Her father’s job as an Air Force captain being the reason for the latter. She also learned a great deal from her father, particularly about being reliable, confident and calm. She applied these lessons in her directing career, which is proven effective given the results of her directorial efforts.

Jenkins spent her college years studying painting at the Cooper Union in New York City. However, during her attendance there, she also studied experimental filmmaking. Following her graduation, she focused her efforts on music videos and commercials. Nine years later, she attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and took a master’s degree in directing.

In the recent digital release of “Wonder Woman,” Jenkins detailed how she entered the film industry. Her passion for film led her to write some sort of an application letter to the makers of her favorite movies, asking them if she could work under their tutelage for free.

A cameraperson gave Jenkins the opportunity to work and train under him. She did not receive any wages for more than six months. But she then started getting paid, and more projects came her way until her career in the film industry became a bit more stable.

Initial success with “Monster” and television projects

Her name first emerged when she wrote and directed “Monster.” It was a critically acclaimed biographical crime drama film starring Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The film debuted in 2003 as the closing movie for the AFI Film Fest. In 2004, it received a limited release in the United States.

Made for a budget of $8 million, “Monster” became a box office success. It gained $34,469,210 and $25,909,374 at the domestic and overseas box office, respectively, bringing the worldwide gross to $60,378,584.

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Aside from critics raving over the film, it received several nominations and awardssuch as Movie of the Year at the 2004 AFI Awards. Particularly, Charlize Theron earned many accolades and even won the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Patty Jenkins was also nominated for a Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival.

After her success in “Monster,” Jenkins turned to directing episodes of television shows in order to spend more time with her family. Some of her works on TV include episodes of “Entourage” and “Arrested Development.” She also directed the pilot of “The Killing,” for which she got an Emmy nomination.

 

“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins has been producing quality work which puts women in the spotlight. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0)

Making “Wonder Woman”

2010 came, and Jenkins gave her idea for a “Wonder Woman” film to Warner Bros. However, the studio has chosen Michelle McLaren, who directed episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” at the time. When McLaren parted ways with the studio because of creative differences, Jenkins helmed the project, making “Wonder Woman” her second film. She turned it into a period piece, which the studio allowed.

Jenkins’ directorial effort in “Wonder Woman,” made quite a buzz upon announcement. She became the first female director of a live-action superhero film released by a major studio, giving her the edge to stand out in a male-dominated industry. The studio trusted Jenkins and gave her a production budget of $150 million, and she did not disappoint.

Record-breaking

After the release of “Wonder Woman,” Jenkins earned further recognition as the film broke several records at the box office. It became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman. With the Israeli actress Gal Gadot as the titular character, the film also earned the biggest domestic opening weekend for a female director. It currently has a worldwide gross of $821,629,810, and on its opening weekend, it earned $103,251,471 domestically.

She even helped save the DC Extended Universe from sinking further when it comes to critical reception. Fans and critics alike loved the film. This was very much unlike the lukewarm reception for predecessors “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Gadot’s character first appeared in the latter.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Jenkins said that directing “feels like a very natural job for a woman. It’s incredibly maternal in a way.” However, there is the vibe of decreasing opportunities for female filmmakers. But her recent achievements could make waves and help other studios consider giving more film projects to female directors.

Bumping up the paycheck

Following the success of “Wonder Woman,” a sequel is obviously in place. But Jenkins already broke another record as she reportedly will get an estimated salaryof $7 million to $9 million for directing the upcoming sequel.

According to Jenkins, she fought hard to receive the same amount of pay as a male director would get on a film project. She stated that women would keep receiving a low pay if they do not do something. Jenkins encourages women to start asking for higher pay, especially if they know that they deserve such a pay.

Anti-recidivism efforts

When her production of “Monster” concluded, Jenkins began conversing with prisoners all over the United States and learned that they are having difficulties in having a normal life after their release. Jenkins stated that people still see them as prisoners. She then talked with Scott Budnick, the producer of the two “The Hangover” films, and became a supporter of Budnick’s Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

ARC aims to assist men and women who were recently emancipated from prison to reintegrate themselves into the society. The group even provides mentoring programs, counseling, housing assistance and education. They even teamed up with popular establishments like Home Depot and Starbucks to help former prisoners land jobs.

Budnick said that Jenkins helped them by mentoring ex-prisoners. She also conducted screenings of “Wonder Woman” at a juvenile camp and at a women’s prison. She even held Q&As after screenings to have discussions about empowerment and personal responsibilities.

Jenkins’ anti-recidivism efforts drew the attention of Variety, resulting in her receiving an honor at this year’s Power of Women event. Other honorees include Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Clarkson and Michelle Pfeiffer.

The event recognizes the philanthropic works of women in Hollywood that made a powerful influence to their cause. Variety also featured the honorees on the covers of its October 10 issue.

(Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0)

Los Angeles Board Of Supervisors Votes To Launch ‘Historic’ Juvenile Diversion Plan

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ambitious plan to divert thousands of the county’s youth away from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, connecting them instead to a comprehensive array of supportive services.

Speakers stepped to the microphones to declare their ardent support for the 78-page report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” which provided the framework for the sweeping strategy proposed.

Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, speaks to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

“This is an historic day in the history of justice reform,” Dr. Robert Ross told the board. Ross is president and CEO of The California Endowment, one of the largest foundations in the U.S.

“We know that 80 percent of the youth now being arrested in the county could be diverted to community-based services if the plan is realized,” he said. The county could “lead the nation.”

The report said that 13,665 arrests and citations were issued to the county’s young in 2015, according to the Department of Justice Statistics. And approximately 11,000 of those 2015 arrests — “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies” — would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, had the proposed program been up and running.

Ross also told the board that the Endowment had been supporting restorative justice and diversion programs in California communities such as Long Beach, San Diego and Oakland. And they had promising preliminary data, he said, particularly from Oakland.

In the course of these programs, “young people come face-to-face with the people they have harmed,” and then make a plan for “making it right with the folks they’ve harmed,” he said, plus get health services that address many of the their needs. The programs are “proven to work better than incarceration and cost considerably less,” he said.

 

Michael Nash, director of the Office of Child Protection, said the program will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion

Another enthusiastic speaker was Michael Nash, the former presiding judge of the Juvenile Court, now the director of the county’s Office of Child Protection.

As a judge, he’d long been supportive of youth diversion, Nash said. And now he was “very concerned” by the numbers of youth crossing over from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system. “But this program,” he said, will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion.

Several of the speakers described the 18-month process of designing the proposed new strategy as an unusually inclusive one, involving law enforcement leaders, local judges, county officials, health experts, community advocates and young people who had themselves been incarcerated.

The point was emphasized by Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) who, with her young colleagues, had come before the board many times, often to protest a vote, such as previous motions having to do with plans to expand the county’s jail system.

But on Tuesday, McGill talked of the honor she and other YJC members felt to be “a part of the youth diversion work group,” and how they “fully support” the plan moving forward.

She also highlighted some additional areas of focus her group thought “should be robustly included in the implementation.” They believe it is essential to protect youth from the “databases that track arrests.” This was mentioned in the report, she said, but it would require oversight.

Another of McGill’s concerns had to do with California’s Senate Bill 395, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. The new law guarantees that every young person of age 15 or under will speak to a lawyer before being interrogated by law enforcement. She stressed the necessity of including LA’s Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office as “key partners moving forward,” so that “even young people who are being diverted have an opportunity to speak to counsel.”

Jessica Ellis, the director of Centinela Youth Services, was also on the subcommittee that created the diversion program-to-be. She told the board how “critical” it was to have “system-involved youth” continue to be part of the “implementation phases” of the project. Centinela Youth Service has partnered since 2013 with the Los Angeles Police Department on a successful restorative justice diversion program, which has frequently been cited as evidence that the newly presented countywide strategy is on the right track.

Peter Espinoza, the director of the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, had some suggestions along with his praise: the wish that “our menu of services is robust and diverse” and would include “a very serious focus on education and job readiness.” Most of the work he previously did as Superior Court judge, he added, “was aimed at the intersection of educational failure and justice system involvement.” The new diversion

When  it was time for the five board members to vote,  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board’s chairman, asked the board’s executive officer to record a unanimous vote.

“Giving youth access to supportive services as an alternative to arrest and incarceration is both morally imperative and fiscally responsible,” he said later, after the vote was finished.

Motion co-author Janice Hahn agreed: “The best juvenile system is one that keeps kids out of it in the first place.”

This story was written for WitnessLA.

The California Endowment funds coverage in California for Youth Today and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

He Went to Prison for Life at 17. More Than 20 Years Later, His Life Started Over

October 18, 2017

On a summer evening in late June, a few months after he was paroled on what was supposed to be a life sentence, Tyree Dabney returned to the corner of 45th and Western. The West Liquor and the parking lot with the payphones were gone, the doughnut shop was a cash advance place, and there was a new junior high named after Barack Obama. But the changes were mostly superficial.

The car’s AC was broken and heat drifted in through the lowered windows. Dabney had just left his part-time construction job in Torrance and was heading to the halfway house where he lives east of Culver City. When he stopped for the light at Vernon and Western, the traffic backed him up precisely to the burger stand where he almost died when he was 15.

Master Burger was as square and yellow as he remembered it. From his spot in traffic, he could see down the driveway to the alley where he’d escaped that night. Someone had put up a tall metal fence that blocked the exit. Had the fence been there that night he would have had nowhere to run.

The outward signs of gang membership have become more subtle in the years since Los Angeles police began enforcing gang injunctions, court orders that make it a crime for suspected members to congregate in known gang territory. One such hotbed was the Vernon Avenue corridor — home to gangs the Rolling 40s, 46 Top Dollar Hustler Crips and 46 Neighborhood Crips. But Dabney didn’t need to see anyone decked out in blue. “You can tell by where they’re hanging at,” he says.

There was a young man with an easy air about him standing with his back to a wall near the barred window where customers ordered burgers. Gold earring, skinny jeans, a new T-shirt and sneakers bright as fresh linen. “Same gang, different people,” Dabney says.

The traffic light turned green and the cars ahead of him began rolling northward on Western. Dabney kept his eyes on the gangbanger; it was like being shown an alternate reality, one in which he hadn’t been locked up and had never left that corner.

“I was shot in the same spot there,” says Dabney, who has a symmetrical face with round eyes that convey at turns a childlike openness and an adult wariness. There is one single bristle of gray in his trim beard.

He shows three dark scars in the shape of cigar ends rising above his skin at the hip, ankle and leg. He uses short sentences when prodded to relate unpleasant memories: “Place was surrounded. They had AK-47s. I happened to be off to the side and escaped.”

On the morning of Feb. 22, Dabney was jogging around A Yard at the California State Prison at Lancaster when he was called to the prison program office and told he was being released after 23 years. “I was nervous,” he says of his reaction to the news. “I spent more time in jail than I had on the streets.”

Dabney had been waiting 133 days for word from the office of the governor. He got rid of nearly everything in his cell, keeping only an address book, a few letters, and a tracksuit and sneakers wrapped in plastic under his bed. He’d bought the latter in 2014, the day a judge made him eligible for a chance at parole.

Not everyone agreed with the judge’s decision. Those letters under his bed, sealed in a Ziploc bag, include ones addressed to the court from two of his victim’s adult children. He says he has read them many times. “The innocent victim who gets killed leaves without suffering,” one of the letters states. “The innocent victim’s … family, friends … are the ones who suffer.” Another letter says there’s no place for Dabney in society and informs the judge: “Regardless of your decision, I cannot forgive nor forget.”

Asked why he has kept the letters, Dabney says they reminded him of one of the sources of his own anger: not having a father. “I read them and I realized I did the same thing that was done to me — and there wasn’t a reason why.”

It is very uncommon for someone like Dabney — who was sentenced to life without parole for a homicide he committed as a juvenile — to be granted parole in California. Had it not been for recent changes to state law, he almost certainly would have had to be carried out of prison in a box. But in 2013, California became the first state to give a shot at parole to formerly violent offenders who have served long sentences and are deemed to no longer pose a threat to society.

Over the last 25 years, more than 2,600 juvenile offenders in California were sentenced to life in prison. Of them, between 268 and 283 (estimates vary between advocacy groups and state officials) were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Even with the reforms, fewer than 10 juvenile “lifers” have been paroled in California, according to Elizabeth Calvin, a senior advocate in the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. An additional 60 juvenile lifers have become eligible for parole and are going through the parole process, Calvin says.

The underlying premise of the revised law is that even a crime as heinous as the one committed by Dabney shouldn’t carry a mandatory life sentence if the offender was under age.

 

Tyree Dabney is part of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, an innovative program for ex-cons founded by Hollywood producer Scott Budnick.

In 1994, Dabney had recently turned 17 years old and had no criminal record. “I scalped tickets and sold weed,” he says.

Nineteen-year-old Ricardo Grant was Dabney’s closest friend, a sort of antisocial older brother. Grant beat up boys who gave Dabney trouble at middle school. He taught Dabney how to survive on the street, how to fight, how not to walk with the direction of traffic lest he be shot in the back. They came from similarly broken homes; Dabney, deserted by his father, his mother absent for much of his childhood, quit school and left home in eighth grade. He lived at Grant’s house and hid in the closet when Grant’s grandmother was home.

His voice softens as he recalls the crime. “Rick asked me to help him out.”

Grant had done “lifts” before, armed robberies, though he was no master criminal. Dabney says they drove around aimlessly for a while before stopping at a furniture store near the USC campus. “Long story short: I don’t even think he knew who he was going to rob.”

Dabney says the harebrained plan was for him to pose as a customer and distract the sales lady while Grant lingered at the front. They both went in carrying loaded guns. Dabney recalls that he would hurry out in a daze, dragging his crime partner’s body.

“We go in for the robbery … and he never initiates it,” Dabney says. “The lady shows me bunk beds. I’m standing at the desk. She gives me a pen and I fill out the invoice. I gave her a deposit. I wrote my real name on the invoice. Then the shooting erupts.”

Dabney says his back was turned and his first thought was that they were near Bloods territory and rival gangbangers must have followed them into the store. In truth, the store’s owner had shot Grant once in the chest. Dabney says he dove for cover beside the sales lady, who was the owner’s wife.

The emotion rises in his voice and his sentences shorten: “I take out the gun. Counted to three. Jumped out. I shot toward him. I went down, waited again. Didn’t see him. He was on the ground.”

The car ran out of gas about a mile from the furniture store. Grant made an awful gurgling noise that sounded to Dabney like a death rattle. Dabney pulled his friend’s body from the passenger seat to the curb. He ran into the street and flagged down a bus; the driver called 911.

Dabney was arrested about a month later.

For the first 14 years in prison, a period of life that spanned what would have been his junior year in high school until his early 30s, Dabney says his life was a desert. Sentenced to “life without,” the law required he be locked up at Level 4 — the most violent prisons in California.

Every disagreement was a challenge to one’s manhood. There were stabbings, riots, rapes. Guards shot inmates. Inmates joined gangs. No one in maximum security even knew his name; he went by a nickname bestowed by a gang that today he is too ashamed to tell me.

As a result, he has immense gaps in his knowledge, like a man awakened from a coma. Ask him anything to do with computers or the internet, for one, and he is guarded. “I’m still not too good on computers,” he says. “I was focused on how not to get killed.”

Juvenile offenders who, like Dabney, have been locked up for more than 20 years entered prison at the peak of the tough-on-crime decade. “It was this big wave pushing for more people getting locked up for an incredible amount of time, with very few people getting out,” says Marc Morjé Howard, director of Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

The stiff sentencing reforms of that time launched the era of mass incarceration, including California’s three-strikes law.

“They entered California prisons at perhaps the darkest point in California prison history,” says Calvin of Human Rights Watch, “with high levels of overcrowding, high levels of violence, decreasing access over the years to programming and treatment. You can talk with anybody who was young when they entered prison in the ’90s and they’ll tell you they walked into prison and everyone, including their lawyer, told them they were never getting out.”

Calvin has worked closely with juvenile offenders serving life without parole in California, including Dabney. She says many of them undergo a kind of personal transformation in their mid-20s. “Something happens that helps them decide I don’t want to live like this anymore. They’re being told this is a sentence to die in prison. Yet many of them make a decision that they’re going to live as if they’re going to be released.”

Dabney says that after a lost decade behind bars, one night he was up late watching TV in his cell at Folsom when Nightline came on with a program about child soldiers in Africa, and it affected him deeply.

“One of the things prison taught me was don’t live your life in fear. A lot of bad things that happen happen because people are living their lives in fear.” —Tyree Dabney

Dabney changed his group of prison friends. (“Started hanging with people trying to teach me something.”) He started to read books, beginning with the self-help section of the library and Anthony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within. He gravitated to stories about people he found were resilient in the face of great difficulty. People, he says, “who failed and refused to accept the failure.” Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Elie Weisel, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X.

He was struck at how the warlords on the Nightline program became like surrogate parents to the child soldiers, even though in many cases they had killed the boys’ real parents. “They would feed and clothe and shelter the boys, and the boys were loyal to them in return,” he says. “That’s sort of how I became a gang member.”

While still at Folsom, Dabney had a religious conversion. According to state records, he completed a 12-step program for ex–gang members, founded a support group for lifers and stayed violence-free for his final 13 years in custody. In 2012 he was admitted to a pilot program for model inmates and downgraded to a Level 3 area at Lancaster. He worked as a plumber on an inmate construction crew.

“One of the things prison taught me was don’t live your life in fear,” he says. “A lot of bad things that happen happen because people are living their lives in fear.”

Ali Zarrinnam, a presiding commissioner of the Board of Parole, praised the transformation at Dabney’s second parole hearing, on Oct. 13, 2016.

“There are a few individuals, very few, a minority of the population, that change because they want to change,” Zarrinnam said. “Irrespective of … how their life has gone, they just change because they want to become a better human being. And you fall into that class of individuals, and [it is] a testament to your behavior and your work.”

And in the course of an afternoon, Dabney — after spending more years of his life locked up than not — was determined to be fit for the free world again.

“Ultimately, we have made a decision, Mr. Dabney, to grant you parole,” Zarrinnam said, “finding that you … do not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society.”

Of the 392 lifers released by Board of Parole Hearings, 0.8 percent returned to prison with a new term, according to a 2015 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The return-to-prison rate for non-lifers was 43.6 percent.

At 7:30 on a Monday morning in late August, a dozen tough-looking men dressed in buttoned-up work shirts and wrinkle-free slacks — and two women in pantsuits — sit in desk chairs arranged in a semi-circle. The stems and loops of inked-in letters and drawings peek above many of their starched collars. A black outline of Darth Vader’s helmeted face glares from the back of one man’s head.

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition occupies the ninth floor of an office building off Pershing Square. The nonprofit is perhaps the preeminent organization in California in the field of re-entry services for the recently incarcerated. The men and women in the office — nearly all of whom have been incarcerated for the better part of their adult lives — are enrolled in ARC’s 12-week “boot camp,” which prepares them for a career in the building trades. Dabney is one of nine ex-lifers (and the sole juvenile lifer) in the cohort of 27.

When I first saw him he was standing in the hallway, a cellphone pressed to his ear, waiting on hold. He was following up with a foreman who had mentioned the possibility of hiring him. “Yes, I’m a new member of the union,” Dabney said. “I’m calling about the construction job with Metro in Burbank.”

Scott Budnick is a Hollywood producer (he did The Hangover movies) and a prominent advocate for youth in the criminal justice system (he was named California’s Volunteer of the Year by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012). Budnick is the ARC’s founder, and he pulled together the boot camp in partnership with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, L.A. Trade Technical College and the L.A./Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

Budnick has an unvarnished way of speaking that appears to resonate with members of the program. He says the idea here is simple: “Folks who were formerly incarcerated were not reliable. They did not show up on time. They would relapse and have to go to a rehab or would get rearrested. The building trades and L.A. Federation of Labor said to me if you find the right guys and you train them and you prepare them and they can compete and outwork the rest of the people applying, then these jobs will be available for them. And so we started this training.”

He says he set the bar high for the people in the program. “I want you guys to strive for a career,” he says. “I want you guys to be put into something where you can have a livable wage, you can pay rent, you can have a car, you can raise a family, you can send your kids to school.

“To me it’s like the greatest public safety program, because you can stop the cycle of crime.”

“To me it’s like the greatest public safety program, because you can stop the cycle of crime.” —Scott Budnick, Hollywood producer and prominent advocate for youth in the criminal justice system

Every person who has completed the program — about 50 men and women — has secured a union job in the building trades since the program began, says Isaac Lopez, the program’s coordinator.

Dabney was one of five members from the program who completed a grueling physical test the previous Friday at the Laborers’ Local 300 Union. Like participants in a cage match in mixed martial arts, the men had a singular focus on not tapping out. You arrive late for the 6 a.m. start time, the union taps you out. (ARC members were waiting outside at 3 a.m.) Fail the drug test, they tap you out. Struggle to haul a 60-pound bag of cement or a 12-foot plank or cement block after cement block after cement block — get your stuff, leave your helmet and get out of here; this is not for you.

Sergio Rascon, business manager of Laborers’ Local 300 Union, says the program is a testing ground to see who can do the work. “We want to make sure that people who are interested in it understand and know what they’re getting into.”

All five of the ARC members made it through. No one from the program has ever tapped out.

There is a lot of work in L.A.’s booming construction trade: the $2.6 billion Rams stadium in Inglewood, the $2 billion Crenshaw/LAX Metro line, the $1.8 billion Regional Connector, the $6.3 billion Purple Line extension. The men and women dream aloud of the union wages for electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters, sheet metal workers, laborers, ironworkers, painters and operating engineers.

“Right now we’re in the biggest building boom since the 1920s,” says Ron Miller, executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. “A lot of our members are baby boomers and within five to 10 years of retirement. We have to supplement our ranks.”

Miller says the building trades are working with various programs to recruit more women and more veterans. But there’s nothing like its partnership with the ARC.

“This is not a job readiness program, this is not a job handout program — this is an economic opportunity program,” says Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “It’s up to the individual to grab hold of that opportunity and take full advantage of it. I really see the role of the labor movement as helping to train workers to gain opportunities that they may not have had ever before.”

Tony Vergara got a life sentence when he was 18 years old and served 23 years. Vergara completed the electricians boot camp with IBEW Local 11 and gave a valedictory speech at the ARC’s graduation ceremony at L.A. Trade Tech.

“No one takes a chance on you,” Vergara said of the difficulties he experienced finding work. “You either check the box or lie. Thank you for giving us a chance and an opportunity to succeed.”

Dabney says people look at him through a different filter after he tells them he went to prison. The scars, the tattoos, the muscles, how he stands and how he holds a fork. Everything looks different the moment they know.

“I used to love telling people where I was from,” he says. “Now I despise it.”

The flow of traffic up and down Western Avenue, from Dabney’s halfway house to his job and back, carried him past the Master Burger dozens of times. He was hoping to find better work in another part of town. He’d joined the Laborers Union and was angling for an $18-an-hour job grading the earth for a Metrolink subway platform in Burbank.

Over the course of weeks that he commuted to Torrance, he had ample opportunity to observe that one particular gangbanger — his self-contained movements, his effortless rapport with people in the street. Dabney says he studied his stylish clothes and sometimes thought of pulling over and sharing some pearl about the dangers that lie in wait. It was too dangerous to pull over. “Besides, someone like that isn’t going to listen until they’re ready for change,” he says. “Just like I wasn’t when people used to talk to me.”

On a Friday afternoon in late August, Dabney’s drive up Western Avenue was blocked by a police cruiser parked sideways in the street. Officers were diverting traffic. Dabney caught a glimpse of yellow tape. He saw the things he knew to look for. “If it’s just a black-and-white [car], then it’s nothing. But suits and Crown Victorias, you just knew.” The men at the scene were homicide detectives. The gangbanger was dead.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 31-year-old Gerome Lee Thomas was standing in front of the Master Burger at about 6 p.m. when a person walked up to him and shot him multiple times.

“He put himself in a closed space,” Dabney says. “He was trapped. There was nothing he could do.”

Dabney got the job in Burbank. The days are long and tiring but the money is good. As a prison inmate at Lancaster he did the same work and it paid $1 an hour. “I tell the construction guys all the time,” he says.

“I’m 40 and I’m starting over. But it feels good to accomplish something.”

Juvenile justice groups celebrate new California laws to ease punishment, criminal fines for young people

Oct. 12, 2017, 11:42 a.m.

California Legislature

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed nine bills to aid young people facing charges and serving time, a victory for a statewide coalition of criminal justice groups that brought together celebrities and former youth offenders in a push to divert children from a path to prison.

The new laws will increase parole opportunities and ease punishment for people who committed crimes as children or teens. They will allow courts to seal certain juvenile records and limit the administrative fees that counties charge families with children in juvenile detention.

Five of the bills were part of a package of proposals introduced at the beginning of the year by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). The legislation, they said, was based on studies showing that adolescent brains have not fully matured and research that found court practices and fines disproportionately affect low-income and black and Latino children.

“Sadly, too many poor kids and kids of color today are more likely to end up as victims of the juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said in a statement. “If one believes that our children will be tomorrow’s leaders then we must look through a child-development lens.”

 

Legislation to alter California’s approach to juvenile justice brought hip-hop artist Common to the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers and publicize the cause with a free concert. At committee hearings and Sacramento rallies, former youth offenders shared their stories of clashes with police and incarceration.

Among supporters of the juvenile justice legislation was media commentator Van Jones. A nonprofit co-founded by Jones, #cut50, is working to revamp criminal justice policies and sponsored some of the bills, including a measure that will allow offenders who committed a crime before the age of 23 to apply for the youth offender parole process.

Jessica Jackson, national director and co-founder of #cut50, said she and Jones plan to embark on “a listening tour” in the 10 counties in California that have seen the largest upticks in crime, including Los Angeles, Alameda and San Bernardino.

Their hope is to gather with local elected officials, law enforcement and business leaders to discuss what their communities need to implement the legislation and to ensure offenders are not revolving through jail or prison doors.

“This is a historic victory that brings us one step closer to justice for youth,” Jackson said of the legislation’s approval.

Advocates made some early gains. One bill signed by Brown in July requires defendants to pay for their court-appointed lawyers only if they have been convicted of a crime.

Among the most significant bills signed Wednesday is one that limits cities and counties from collecting fees from families with children under 21 in juvenile detention.

Under its provisions, parents and legal guardians will no longer be liable for the costs of transporting minors to juvenile justice facilities or for their food, shelter, drug tests or other care while there.

Those fees vary widely by county, and momentum to revamp the payment systems had been building as the burdens on families steadily continued to climb. Juvenile hall costs range from $3.18 to $49 a day, while daily charges for electronic monitoring are between $3.50 and $30.

At least four counties — Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa — have repealed or suspended their collection of fees, according to a study released in Marchby the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School.

That analysis found that many counties engage in fee practices that violate state and federal laws, while some make little revenue or even lose money due to the work it takes to obtain payments from parents and guardians.

Among vocal critics of the court fees is California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. More than 60% of the $1.7 billion generated by the payments goes to fund court programs and services at the state and local levels, she said last year in her judiciary address to the Legislature.

“We have a system of fines and fees that has morphed from a system of accountability to a system that raises revenue for essential government services,” she said.

Among the former youth offenders to applaud the changes was Joel Aguilar, who told lawmakers at a hearing that he was sentenced to life without parole at 17 for his involvement in a robbery and a murder. After serving 25 years in prison, he is now a college student studying philosophy.

“My punishment told me that I was unworthy of redemption,” he said in a statement. “But as I began to meet people who were good, talented, sensitive and generous, I began to believe that I could do good in the world.”

jazmine.ulloa@latimes.com

@jazmineulloa

Governor Brown Signs Historic Package of Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

Governor Brown Signs Historic Package of Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

Dear Supporters,

We are thrilled to inform you that Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a series of bills that will significantly improve public safety and bring hope to thousands of incarcerated men, women and their loved ones across California. ARC Founder and President Scott Budnick recognized the significance of these bills, saying, “[t]hese smart-on-crime bills, many [of which] passed with a bipartisan vote, embrace the concepts of public safety, accountability and redemption.”

ARC co-sponsored four of these measures (SB 190, SB 312, SB 394 and SB 395), and worked hard alongside extraordinary advocates throughout the state to educate legislators about the importance of these specific justice reforms and other critical pieces of legislation. In the process of walking the halls of the State Capitol to advocate for these measures, ARC members demonstrated what is possible when you provide hope and invest in human life. We believe that these living examples of rehabilitation and redemption had a huge positive impact on legislators and Governor Brown.

SB 190 will end the harmful, unlawful, and costly assessment and collection of administrative fees against families with youth in the juvenile system. SB 312 would restore a youth’s ability to seal a juvenile court record, and therefore increase their chances of finding and maintaining stable employment and other critical opportunities. SB 394 would give individuals serving life without parole for crimes they committed as young people under 18 years-old the opportunity to have a parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration. SB 395 would safeguard young people’s rights under the United States and California Constitutions by requiring that youth under 15 consult with counsel prior to waiving their Miranda rights.

These bills build upon our previous advocacy work in providing second chances to young people in the system, and now serve as a foundation for extending the conversation of hope and redemption to those who were young adults when they entered the system. “California’s children and youth deserve the hope and opportunities these new laws will give them,” says Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Senior Advocate Elizabeth Calvin.

This is an exciting time for justice reform work in California.  We are enthusiastic about the ways in which opportunities for redemption are being spread throughout California’s prison system.  The enactment of these bills also places California at the forefront of this reform work nationwide.  “Our futures are all bound, and California’s leadership on this issue can benefit the state while helping guide the country,” commented Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative Founder and Executive Director.

While helping to fight for the dignity of incarcerated individuals, we are continuously inspired by the strength of your support.  Whether through volunteering your time, providing your expertise, or serving as mentors to our members, you let us know each day that you are deeply committed to helping to heal families throughout the state.

We look forward to your continued support in 2018 and beyond as we work to heal our communities in California and around the county.

Click here to view, Governor Brown’s press release describing the criminal justice bills he signed into law yesterday!

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Patty Jenkins Funnels Ideas of Female Empowerment Into Anti-Recidivism Efforts

After making the 2003 independent film “Monster,” about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, director Patty Jenkins started to correspond with prisoners around the country. “I became educated in how incredibly difficult it can be for people to get out of prison — even when they are innocent, even when they are reformed,” she says. “The world brands a person a prisoner forever.”

While doing research for another project, she connected with producer Scott Budnick, who experienced a similar epiphany when he volunteered to teach creative writing to incarcerated juveniles in Los Angeles. In 2013, Budnick officially started the nonprofit Anti-Recidivism Coalition to help men and women leaving prison navigate ways to reenter society.

CREDIT: Art Streiber for Variety

ARC offers counseling, mentoring services, education and assistance with housing. It also has partnered with chains like Starbucks, Home Depot and The Cheesecake Factory to facilitate job placement. Budnick uses his connections to the movie industry when he can. “I had a few folks straight out of prison work on ‘The Hangover,’” says Budnick about the hit comedy that he produced. “They worked their butts off.”

The organization also has been educating legislators on a need for reform, including working on a bill that grants juveniles a second chance to come home. Budnick says that Jenkins has been one of his most important allies from the start. “She dove into the work and helped us, mentoring folks, visiting our housing programs,” he says. And the director recently hosted two “Wonder Woman” screenings — one at a juvenile camp for girls and one at a women’s prison — followed by Q&As where she talked about personal responsibility and empowerment.

“ARC has been a place that is setting the groundwork to give a real education and a real head start and a real chance to a lot of people who are recent parolees,” Jenkins says. “Very few people are born wanting to be a lifelong prisoner or even a criminal. When given a path out, everybody wants to be a hero in their story.”

This California Bill Would Erase Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

by Michael Fitzgerald
October 3, 2017

A bill awaiting California Governor Jerry Brown’s signature would end mandatory, life-in-prison sentences for youth offenders in the state.

Under the proposed law, Senate Bill 394, anyone under the age of 18 with a life sentence now or in the future would be entitled to a parole hearing by their 25th year of incarceration.

It would help California catch up with a growing number of states that have banned the sentencing practice known as a juvenile life without parole (LWOP) sentence, which the Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional.

Brown has until October 15th to sign the bill, which passed the California state senate by a wide margin earlier this month.

“Young people have a huge capacity to learn and change, and even those who commit crimes deserve a second chance. SB 394 will allow the parole board to take another look at people sentenced decades before, and it keeps us on the path to restore the value of rehabilitation to our criminal justice system,” State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) told The Chronicle of Social Change in an emailed statementLara authored the bill with state Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), including it in a package of three other bills aimed at reshaping the juvenile justice system in California.

Advocates and lawmakers that supported SB 394 are cautiously optimistic the governor will sign it. The bill would expand Brown’s expansive legacy on parole and sentencing reform, as well as California’s effort to fulfill a 2012 court order to reduce overcrowding in the state prison system, one of the country’s largest.

Brown also reportedly has a relationship with the former Hollywood producer Scott Budnick, who leads an organization that co-sponsored the bill, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. And one of Brown’s key aides, Nancy McFadden, tweeted favorably about 394 after an August criminal justice reform event that featured the hip-hop star Common. But advocates aren’t celebrating yet.

“[Brown] is an independent thinker, and no one is telling him what to do,” said Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights advocate with the Human Rights Watch, which also co-sponsored the legislation. (Brown vetoed last year a similarly progressive bill that expanded Miranda rights protections for kids and teens who are interviewed by law enforcement.)

Calvin helped organize the dozens of child and teen welfare groups, Christian evangelical groups, and even some victims’ advocacy groups that supported SB 394. Budnick’s Anti-Recidivism Coalition marshaled reformed former inmates to testify in committee hearings, alongside public defenders and psychology experts. Opposition was limited to the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) and the San Diego District Attorney’s office, who spoke out strongly against the bill on the grounds that it was unfair to youth offenders who were not sentenced to life but would be eligible for parole at the same 25-year mark as those prison lifers who had received life sentences for committing more egregious crimes.

“[Senate Bill 394] seems neither right nor proportional,” the CDAA argued in testimony to the state Assembly’s Public Safety Committee in late June. The CDAA and the San Diego District Attorney’s office declined to comment on whether Brown should now veto the bill.

A string of U.S. Supreme Court cases dating back to 2005 has pushed the states and cities housing most of America’s inmates to rethink how they evaluate youth offenders. Decades of psychology and neuroscience research has demonstrated that adolescents are much worse than adults at evaluating risks and consequences in decision making, while also being more likely to be able to learn from their mistakes.

The 2005 decision Roper v. Simmons barred the death penalty for juveniles, then a 2012 decision, Miller v. Alabama, declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for youth to be an unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment.” Some states and lower courts nationwide were slow and inconsistent in adapting to Miller, so the Supreme Court clarified in a decision last year, Montgomery v. Louisiana, that the 2012 decision also applies retroactively.

While California has been among the states slow to respond to Miller, Brown has signed several other juvenile justice bills in recent years that do take the recent research into account, including legislation that mandated parole boards take youth psychology into account in hearings for prisoners who committed their crimes before age 25.

“[The] states are all over the place. California is ahead of the curve on this,” said Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University who was the lead author on the amicus briefs submitted by the American Psychological Association to the Supreme Court for the Roper and Miller cases.

Steinberg was a pioneer in the developmental research and legal logic that informed the Supreme Court’s thinking, and continues to shape the arguments made by activists hopeful Brown will sign 394. The malleable, impulsive teenage brain usually matures, the logic goes, so the parole board may have more reason to trust any good behavior and contrition an underage offender demonstrated during decades of incarceration.

“Many of our [formerly incarcerated] members personally advocated for this bill, sharing their story, always paralleling it to the brain science, and to public safety in general,” said Jose Gonzalez, a coordinator with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

If the lopsided votes in favor of 394 in the California state Assembly and Senate are any indication, that was a winning recipe. We’ll know soon if the governor agrees.

Michael Fitzgerald is a California-based freelance writer.

Fusion Partners With The Anti-Recidivism Coalition To Launch Internship Program For Formerly Incarcerated Youth

9/19/2017 11:00 AM

FUSION today announced a partnership with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) to create an internship program that will provide opportunities for recently incarcerated youth. The six month program will provide participants with a chance to learn the basics of multiplatform storytelling including how to write, research, produce, and edit a video report. While participants will work with TV producers, they will also have an opportunity to collaborate with teams across Fusion Media Group’s (FMG) digital portfolio.

“We are committed to putting a spotlight on the social justice issues that matter to diverse youth, and that has included telling the stories of those impacted by our broken criminal and juvenile justice systems,” said Daniel Eilemberg, President of FUSION. “By providing opportunities to formerly incarcerated young men and women as they re-enter society, we hope FUSION can help drive some positive change through this relationship with Anti-Recidivism Coalition.”

“I am deeply grateful for our partnership with FUSION as they are offering a game changing opportunity to an often forgotten group of young people. ARC members can bring a new and fresh insight and perspective to the entertainment industry, one that is often lacking. I’m glad that FUSION is leading the charge to move in the direction of greater diversity and creating true career pathways for a population of young men and women striving for a second, and often times a  first, chance,” said Scott Budnick, Founder/President of The Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

The launch of this program marks a step the network is taking to address one of the social justice issues it has been reporting on for years. With the award-winning documentary “Prison Kids: A Crime Against America’s Children” FUSION reported on the America’s broken criminal justice system through the eyes of juveniles. The network was recently recognized by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) with the 2017 NABJ Gannett Foundation Al Neuharth Award for Innovation in Investigative Journalism for its documentary “Numbers Game,” which examined the inadequate and outdated collection of crime statistics and how this practice skews policing and public policy. In early 2017, FUSION announced a new cross-platform content initiative to elevate conversations around social justice issues that impact young, diverse communities, and often don’t receive the media coverage these issues merit.