Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘parole

No Surprise: California Journalists Go with Fearmongering Instead of Contextualizing Recent Parole Reforms

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As I’ve noted before, California’s parole system is widely misunderstood by citizens throughout the state and too often the California press only exacerbates the confusion. Here’s the latest in the long line of fearmongering articles about released prisoners who go on to do bad things. In this case, the ex-prisoner in question is Alexander Diaz, a 36-year-old Cuban national released from Delano State Prison earlier this year who went on to steal a delivery van and drive it into a police officer on a motorcycle. Pursuant to recent reforms, Diaz had been among the recently released prisoners put on “non-revocable parole” (translation: no parole officer, no parole conditions, but still no Fourth Amendment rights), rather than full parole supervision:

On Tuesday, Diaz appeared in Alameda Superior Court for a preliminary hearing on charges of attempted murder and auto theft. If he is convicted, Diaz could return to prison for a long time.

Obviously, Diaz made a deplorable series of decisions that resulted in a terrible accident. (Thankfully, the police officer survived after intensive surgery for a compound leg fracture.) But is parole reform to blame? Here’s what’s not mentioned in the article: Read the rest of this entry »

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En Banc Ninth Circuit Upholds Felon Voting Ban in Washington State, Reversing Three-Judge Panel

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Thanks to a reader who alerted me that the en banc Ninth Circuit has issued its ruling in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, the Washington inmate voting rights case in which it heard oral arguments just a few weeks ago. The SF Chronicle reports:

A state can prohibit felons from voting even if the ban disproportionately harms minorities, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in a Washington state case that bolsters a similar law in California.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a 2-1 decision by one of its panels in January that struck down the Washington law on the grounds that the state’s criminal justice system was racially biased.

That ruling, the first of its kind in the nation, would have allowed prisoners as well as parolees to vote in Washington. It also could have invalidated laws in the eight other states in the circuit, including California, if courts found that a state’s system of arresting and prosecuting suspects was racially skewed.

Two quick thoughts upon my initial scan of the full ruling (PDF link here): Read the rest of this entry »

Goro Toshima’s Documentary Film on Reentry Challenges after Prison

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Filmmaker Goro Toshima has posted a 15-minute preview of his documentary, A Hard Straight, which follows its subjects for two years after getting out of California prisons. More information on the film is available at the PBS Independent Lens site, including a filmmaker Q&A:

… I think the problem has less to do with reentry programs and more to do with incarceration and the lack of rehabilitation that prisoners receive while locked up. I think the film shows that all three people in the film had problems/issues before going into prison. And during the time they were incarcerated, none of these issues were dealt with. The most effective change, I think, would be in focusing on trying to help people from the time they are locked up. Trying to help them once they are out, instead of while they are in, seems a little too late to try to help these people.

(h/t: Volokh Conspiracy)

Written by sara

October 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Ninth Circuit: California Can’t Get Out of Obligations to Disabled State Prisoners By Housing Them in County Jails

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In the latest ruling in the ongoing Armstrong litigation over the rights of disabled California prisoners and parolees, a Ninth Circuit panel ruled last week that California has the same obligations to those it holds under contract in county jails as it does to those in state prisons. Calling the state’s arguments to the contrary “barely colorable, constituting attacks on manifestly valid regulations,” Judge Reinhardt’s opinion noted that “even in the absence of a regulation explicitly saying so, a State cannot avoid its obligations under federal law by contracting with a third party to perform its functions.” The opinion opens:

More than a decade and a half ago, disabled prisoners and parolees brought this action against the California officials with responsibility over the corrections system and parole proceedings. They sought accommodations to their disabilities that are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Constitution. Defendants denied that they had any obligation to provide such accommodations, forcing plaintiffs to undertake years of litigation. Plaintiffs prevailed repeatedly in the district court and in this court. For most of the last decade, the litigation has been in a remedial phase.

Now, however, defendants are again denying any obligation to accommodate a set of disabled prisoners and parolees held under California’s authority. Defendants house significant numbers of prisoners and parolees in jails operated by California’s fifty-eight counties. Defendants contend that they have no responsibility for ensuring that any disabled prisoners and parolees that they so house receive accommodations. … That argument, and defendants’ other arguments contesting their obligations to their prisoners and parolees housed in county jails, are without merit. Accordingly, we affirm the portion of the district court’s decision that holds that defendants are responsible for providing reasonable accommodations to the disabled prisoners and parolees that they house in county jails.

However, the ruling was not a pure victory for the plaintiffs. The panel also found that there was insufficient evidence to support the district court’s sweeping remedial order, and remanded back to the district court for a fuller evidentiary hearing, though in a paragraph carefully spelling out for the plaintiffs what they need to do next: Read the rest of this entry »

Ninth Circuit to Rule on California’s Prop 9 (That’s Not a Typo)

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With all the press that California’s Prop 8 has been getting as it journeys through the federal courts, I’ve been remiss in failing to note on this blog that Prop 9 is also being challenged. Passed in 2008 (in the same election as Prop 8), Prop 9 or Marsy’s Law was marketed as the “Victims’ Rights and Protection Act,” and made a number of changes to parole hearing procedures in California. Among its major effects was to lengthen the time before indeterminately sentenced offenders are eligible for a parole eligibility hearing.* Opponents of Prop 9 noted that California already grants parole in an exceedingly low number of murder/manslaughter cases (<1%), and that many of the rights purportedly granted to victims by Prop 9, such as expanded rights to be heard at parole eligibility hearings, already existed either at the county level or pursuant to the Victims’ Bill of Rights of 1982 (otherwise known as the first Prop 8).

Nevertheless, the proposition passed with about 54% of voters in favor, and is now being challenged in the federal courts under the Ex Post Facto Clause. The Prison Law Office has summarized the law’s implications and possible objections to the law in a handy memo (PDF link). Although I have not had time to digest all the information about this case myself, I can confidently direct readers who want to know more over to California Corrections Crisis which has been following the case and summarized last week’s oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit. Stay tuned and I’ll be sure to keep you posted when the Ninth Circuit panel issues its ruling. The docket info is Gilman v. Schwarzenegger, No. 10-15471.

* Prop 9 also includes provisions that would curtail due process to parolees already out (who, given California sentencing law and policy, are usually determinately sentenced offenders), including imposing new limits on the right to appointed counsel at parole revocation hearings. However, California was quickly stayed from implementing these provisions because they appear to violate a previous injunction issued in an earlier lawsuit, Valdivia v. Davis. CDCR appealed the stay and I believe the most recent activity was the Ninth Circuit’s March 2010 ruling remanding the litigation back to the district court “to reconcile the Injunction and Proposition 9” (opinion PDF), but perhaps readers are aware of more recent developments.

Written by sara

August 17, 2010 at 11:57 am

“Prison Without Walls” and the Special Case of California

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The Atlantic has an interesting article called “Prison Without Walls,”* on supervised release programs like parole and probation, and the rise of GPS tracking and other ways of keeping track of “prisoners on the outside” — what Graeme Wood calls, in the article, “Panopticon justice.” As a California-based observer of prison law and policy, I only have one quibble with the article. Wood describes his subject as follows:

An underappreciated fact of our penitentiary system is that of all Americans “serving time” at any given moment, only a third are actually behind bars. The rest—some 5 million of them—are circulating among the free on conditional supervised release either as parolees, who are freed from prison before their sentences conclude, or as probationers, who walk free in lieu of jail time. These prisoners-on-the-outside have in fact outnumbered the incarcerated for decades.

This traditional definition of parolees — men and women “freed from prison before their sentences conclude” — is not accurate as applied to California, the nation’s largest prison system. While California does have a small population of prisoners sentenced to variable-to-life terms and thus theoretically eligible for parole in the sense of early release, California also uses its parole system to supervise the 95% of its prisoners who serve determinate sentences. From 1979 through this past January, every determinately sentenced offender in California faced a mandatory post-release parole supervision period of up to 3 years; as of January 2010, about 85% do, and even those not on full parole can still be kept on “banked parole,” meaning they can be searched without a warrant at any time. (I summarized California parole, and linked to some helpful overviews of the system, in a post back in January. Another good overview was recently published by the Bay Citizen. In light of the widespread confusion, I’ve also asked a couple of times if California shouldn’t change the name of parole supervision altogether.) Read the rest of this entry »

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August 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

The Former Prison Official’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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Via Doug Berman, I noticed this Trenton Times op-ed by David Shebses, who worked for many years as supervisor for education and then as executive assistant to the warden at New Jersey’s East Jersey State Prison. Shebses provides a list of recommendations for curbing corrections costs and restoring proportionality to the criminal justice system. Here are the first few:

1) Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all crimes. The Legislature should provide general ranges of time from which judges could impose more proportionate sentences that match up with the crime and its circumstances. Proportionality in sentencing serves the ends of justice.

2) Stop incarcerating most people who are convicted of using most drugs. The Legislature should figure out which illegal substances should be decriminalized, and to what extent. I would still prosecute drug dealers when their motivation is clearly profiting from the drug trade. But the guy who is mainly a user, or who deals drugs incidental to his own use, should not, generally, be incarcerated. Treated, yes; not imprisoned.

3) Abolish the parole system. Parole is based on a false premise, namely, that it is possible to predict human behavior. It is not possible. …

Written by sara

August 10, 2010 at 11:34 am

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