On politics in the Golden State

Category: crime

California lawmakers to hear testimony on state's gun laws

Photo: Senator Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles). Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press
Looking at possibly tightening the state’s gun and ammunition laws, California lawmakers will hold a special hearing in Sacramento next week to review the state’s firearms policies and its history of gun violence.

The special joint hearing of the Assembly and Senate Public Safety committees comes as President Obama is pushing for federal restrictions on certain types of weapons. Many of those guns are already illegal in California, which has among the toughest gun laws of any state in the nation.

In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December, many California lawmakers have already introduced bills in this state urging further restrictions on access to various weapons and ammunition.

Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) has introduced a bill that would require anyone who wants to buy ammunition to first obtain a permit and undergo a background check.

Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is pushing legislation that would require gun owners to reregister their weapons annually and limit devices that allow for faster reloading of semiautomatic weapons.

Gov. Jerry Brown has in recent weeks avoided questions when asked about whether the state should have tougher gun restrictions.


California lawmakers set to tackle healthcare expansion

No criminal investigation for parks department, letters say

Gov. Brown calls for environmental law reform to 'cut needless delays'

--Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Senator Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles). Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

Groups disagree if California crime rise related to prison plan

Public policy groups are seizing on new statistics from the FBI to claim California's prison realignment plan is causing "significant increases" in crime, even as others say the numbers show no connection at all.

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation said the FBI numbers released this week show a 7.6% increase in homicide and double-digit increases in burglary and auto thefts the first half of 2012 when compared to the first six months of 2011. Foundation President Michael Rushford said the cause is obvious: Gov. Jerry Brown's 2011 plan to cut state spending and ease prison crowding by making nonviolent felonies county jail offenses. He said the numbers give credence to anecdotal stories of increased crime across California since the plan took effect.

“This report tends to confirm what police chiefs, sheriffs, parole officers, and even some judges have been warning us about over the past year. Crime in California is increasing under realignment,” Rushford said.

Not so fast, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

The center agrees that violent and property crimes in California rose in 40 of California's 69 large cities, the biggest crime increase the state has seen in 20 years. Those crime rates varied greatly by community, rising as high as 33% in San Mateo and dropping as low as 13% in Santa Barbara.

Researcher Mike Males said there was no connection between those changes and places with the largest proportion of "realigned offenders," individuals who would have gone to prison in the past but are now the wards of counties. In fact, crime rates dropped in five counties receiving a disproportionate share of those new prisoners.

"Analysis of the best data available to date suggests that offenders and parolees who have not committed violent or serious crimes can be supervised at the local level without jeopardizing public safety," Males said.


Court upholds order to end race-based prison practices

Lawmakers applaud optimism of State of the State address

Gov. Jerry Brown calls for special session of Legislature on healthcare

-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Appeals court upholds order to end race-based prison practices

Lancaster prison yard

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

A California appeals court Wednesday upheld an order for the state's super-max prison to stop punishing inmates by race, following four-year lockdowns of southern Latino inmates because officials feared their gang ties.

The warden of Pelican Bay State Prison contended race-based practices were forced by "long-standing and constant hostilities between rival Hispanic prison gangs," whose "repeated efforts to attack each other at every opportunity" threaten prison safety.

California prison manuals identify seven prison gangs along racial lines, including Latino inmates from Southern California with the Mexican Mafia and Northern California Latinos with La Nuestra Familia. A Del Norte County trial court found Pelican Bay "has an unwritten policy of using race as the primary factor determining housing assignments, activity levels, and restrictions among the general population of inmates."

The trial court found a prison committee divides inmates in five racial or ethnic groups: white, black, northern Latino, southern Latino, and a fifth group of mostly Asian inmates. Cells are even color-coded by those assignments, such as red for southern Latinos. Prison officials testified that the system merely reflects the way inmates themselves break into groups.

The court case was filed by the Prison Law Office on behalf of a Latino inmate who was denied visits and other privileges because of his race, and contended the prison uses race "as a proxy for gang membership" without proof of any gang affiliation.

[Updated 4:55 p.m. Jan. 23: State prison officials responded by calling management of gang-related violence "complex and challenging." Agency spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is reviewing the decision, to decide if updated policies address the issues raised by the court, and whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

While the San Francisco appellate court concurred Wednesday that racially motivated violence is a problem at Pelican Bay, the justices said the prison takes the practice too far, using race to segregate prisoners, deny family visits and to issue assignments for work, religious services and yard time years at a time.

Pelican Bay imposed a general lockdown after a 2000 prison riot, but only southern Latino inmates were kept on lockdown and denied exercise for four years after. At another time, only Asian inmates were given work assignments and the privileges that go with them. Those practices were to end under a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but were reinstituted at Pelican Bay sometime before 2009.

The appellate decision notes Pelican Bay has been ordered to cease race-based practices as far back as 10 years ago.

"If the warden doesn’t cease these racially discriminatory practices he will be in contempt of court," said Don Specter, lead attorney in the case for the Prison Law Office.


California starts emptying solitary confinement cells

Special Master says California not ready to shed prison oversight

Those on parole, probation involved in one out of five arrests

 -- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Image: inmates in 2010 on the exercise yard at California State Prison in Los Angeles. Photo by Gary Friedman/ Los Angeles Times.

Study: Those on parole, probation involved in one out of five arrests

  LA Arrest

A national research group that monitored crimes in four California cities says one out of five adults arrested for a crime is someone on parole or probation.

California corrections officials said the findings released Tuesday by the Council of State Governments' Justice Center suggest public perceptions that those on parole and probation are a high crime risk are not supported. The study found that nearly two-thirds of those arrested, 62%, had never been under law enforcement supervision.

Terri McDonald, undersecretary for prison and parole operations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the report's findings that parolees and probationers are twice as likely to be arrested for drug-related offenses points to the need for alternatives to incarceration.

"You cannot just use the jail bed for every problem," she said. "This reinforces the importance of us focusing on substance abuse treatment." 

The study examined criminal patterns in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and Redlands from 2008 to June 2011. It did not directly capture the impact of California's prison realignment law, which in October 2011 shifted responsibility for low-level offenders and parole violators to counties.

Arrest rates for supervised offenders varied greatly by community. In San Francisco, just 11% of adults arrested were on parole or probation. In Sacramento, that figure was 30%. Los Angeles and Redlands had roughly the same rate of arrests of supervised adults -- between 22% and 23%.

The report also does not look at recidivism. State corrections officials in October reported that nearly two out of three people released from California prison are arrested for a new crime within three years.


While California considers fracking rules, legal battles flare elsewhere

Jerry Brown to attend Cal State trustees meeting

-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Photo: A man is led by LAPD officers in 2010. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Court grants reduced sentence to juvenile lifer

A Riverside County judge on Friday granted a new sentence to Sara Kruzan, originally sentenced to life without parole for murdering the man for whom she worked for three years as a prostitute. She was 16 at the time.

Kruzan's case was cited repeatedly by politicians seeking to overturn California's law allowing juvenile offenders to be sentenced to life without possibility of parole. However, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2011 reduced her sentence to 25 years to life.

A Riverside judge's decision to convert her conviction to second-degree rather than first-degree murder further reduces her sentence to 19 years minimum, making Kruzan immediately eligible for parole.

California lawmakers in 2012 passed legislation allowing courts to review other cases involving juvenile offenders and to grant similar 25-to-life sentences to those who have served at least 15 years in prison.

“There are many more Sara Kruzans out there who also deserve a more appropriate sentence and fortunately under SB9 they will have that chance," said Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a sponsor of that bill.

Kruzan contended her abuser assaulted her when she was 11, and then groomed her for prostitution. She said she began working for him at 13, and killed him in 1995 when she was 16.


State watchdog trains eye on veterans agency

Assembly speaker warns UC officials against fee hikes

Special master says prison mental health care inadequate, suicides increase 
--Paige St. John in Sacramento

State says crowding report for Valley State Prison was overstated


California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says that its past reports showing male inmates packed at 350% capacity in Valley State Prison near Chowchilla were in error.

The agency on Thursday revised its population reports for the prison, showing 1,562 men in space intended for 1,468, or just 5% over design capacity. The women's portion of the prison is being emptied as they are shipped out. California has converted a substance abuse treatment facility adajcent to Folsom State Prison to house female inmates.

"We learned from our Data Analysis Unit that the design capacity on our population report was incorrect," said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. "The shifting of men and women in and out of the facility resulted in some confusion about the design capacity where the men were being moved."

The error was included in material California filed with a panel of three federal judges hearing the state's case that prison crowding is no longer a serious enough problem to require federal oversight. The state failed to meet a Dec. 27 benchmark of 145% crowding overall, and has acknowledged it is unlikely to comply with a June 30 deadline to reduce crowding to 137.5%

The federal judges, presiding over class-action lawsuits that claim substandard prison mental, dental and medical care, have yet to respond to California's request that the caps be lifted. A federally appointed receiver in control of the state's prison medical care is due to file his own status report Friday.

Advocacy groups seeking to lower the state's incarceration rate and beef up community programing criticize the shift of female inmates from Valley State in Madera County in California's Central Valley to Folsom outside Sacramento.

"Opening 400 beds in Folsom and converting Valley State to a prison for men doesn't solve the state's crowding crisis," said Debbie Reyes of the California Prison Moratorium Project. "CDCR has reverted to their old line that they can build their way out of any problem."


Gov. Jerry Brown commits to major Medi-Cal expansion

Gov. Jerry Brown wants changes at state university systems

Democratic legislative leaders relieved by Gov. Brown's budget

-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Photo: Valley State Prison near Chowchilla has been converted into a men-only facility. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

State misses prison benchmark on overcrowding

It's official. In a federal court filing Tuesday, California told federal judges that its prisons remain crowded beyond benchmarks set by the court nearly two years ago.

The state said its 33 prisons on average are at 149.4% of design capacity. Nearly half of the individual prisons are much higher than that: 172% at North Kern State Prison, 187% at the Central California Women's Facility, and the men's section of Valley State Prison in Chowchilla is now at almost 352%.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Wednesday that the last female inmates at Valley State have been moved out, freeing up 1,536 beds that can now be used for the male prisoners housed there. Starting next week, the state will begin moving female inmates into a converted 403-bed women's facility adjacent to Folsom State Prison.

The court-ordered target was 147% crowding by Dec. 27, and California is required to bring its prison population down to 137.5% capacity by June 30, a target the state for months now has admitted it can't meet.

The state's monthly status report to the court notes what Gov. Jerry Brown made very public last week -- that California contends it has improved living conditions within its prisons to the point it no longer needs to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding.

"Based on the evidence submitted in support of the state's motions, further population reductions are not needed because the prison system already provides healthcare that far exceeds what is legally required under the Constitution," lawyers for the state told federal judges Tuesday.

The three judges, each overseeing class actions over inmate medical, dental and mental healthcare, have not yet responded to California's motions to shed federal oversight of the prisons. The state's federally appointed healthcare receiver, J. Clark Kelso, is expected later this month to provide his own report on the status of medical care in those prisons.


Brown takes a new tack with regents

Gov. Jerry Brown cheers new CSU online pilot project

Jerry Brown predicts California budget surplus by end of next year

--Paige St. John in Sacramento

--updated 10:57 a.m. to note transfer of female inmates out of Valley State Prison.


Lawmakers condemn school shooting, say more gun control needed


The shooting and wounding of a student at Taft Union High School near Bakersfield on Thursday happened  as momentum was already building for new gun control laws in California.

"I don’t think we need another tragedy to motivate us to do something real and significant in this area," Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said when asked how the Taft shooting might affect the gun control efforts. "We’re willing to take this on."

The real change in the dynamic of the debate happened after the December mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school killed 20 children and six adults.

In the weeks that followed, lawmakers introduced more than a half dozen bills, including a measure to track the sale of ammunition and restrictions on kits that can allow rifles to fire more shots more quickly.

"No law can prevent 100% somebody who is sick or twisted from doing awful things," Steinberg said, but he argued that additional restrictions could help reduce gun violence.

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris noted that the budget proposed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown will help in the effort, by providing "support for law enforcement programs that reduce the number of illegal firearms on our streets."

Assemblyman John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) began a news conference on the new state budget by acknowledging the latest shooting in California.

"It really is just another very sad moment as we deal with the ongoing reality of gun violence that has captured so much of our attention this last year," Pérez told reporters.


Gov. Jerry Brown commits to major Medi-Cal expansion

Gov. Jerry Brown wants changes at state university systems

Democratic legislative leaders relieved by Gov. Brown's budget

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Parents, family members and friends wait behind police tape outside Taft Union High School on Thursday morning. Credit: Casey Christie / The Californian


County probation departments lose incentive funds

The success of California's prison realignment plan is causing an unintended casualty: smaller rewards for counties that figure out how to cut recidivism.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget includes only $35 million in what are called community corrections performance grants, down from $138 million this year. The grants are given to county probation departments that reduce the number of felons they send back to state prison for violating probation or committing a new crime.

The 2009 program was designed to give counties a share of the money the state saves when it doesn't have to lock someone up.

However, under AB109, there are fewer felons returning to state prison. Low-level offenders and parole violators are now responsibility of counties. The shift is the primary driver behind large drops in California's prison population, and continued crowding in some county jails.

The Administrative Office of the Courts calculated that probation departments kept 9,500 felons out of prison this year, including 3,890 in Los Angeles. For that, Los Angeles received nearly $53 million in performance grants.


Gov. Jerry Brown details budget numbers at Capitol

California conservation chief faces grilling over fracking

Skelton: Brown correct to target federal control of prisons

 --Paige St. John in Sacramento



Assemblyman Roger Hernandez won't face domestic violence charges

AP120517141483Prosecutors have decided not to file domestic violence charges against state Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), saying there is insufficient evidence to back a former girlfriend’s allegations she was physically abused by the lawmaker, officials said Wednesday.

Hernandez also has filed court papers denying  allegations in a separate civil lawsuit by Carolina Taillon that he whipped her with a belt and bragged about using cocaine.

The decision by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office stems from an incident in October when Hernandez and Taillon got into a loud argument at the Lazy Dog Cafe in West Covina. The D.A.’s report said Hernandez said during the argument that "he was going to call police about (Taillon) threatening a member of the state Assembly." Instead, Taillon called the police, "considering the comment as a threat to her."

Taillon told the responding officers Hernandez had assaulted her on two separate occasions in July, "once 'whipping her with his belt' as he is the 'Assembly Majority Whip,' " said the report by Deputy Dist. Atty. Manuel Garcia Jr.

In rejecting the case, Garcia said there were no independent witnesses to the two alleged assaults, Hernandez did not admit to the allegations, Taillon was late in reporting them and she was arrested in 2002 on domestic violence allegations, "creating possibility of self-defense claim."

The decision was welcomed by Aldo A. Flores, an attorney for Hernandez. He predicted the same result in the civil case filed by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred. "We believe it's frivolous and we will make short work of it," Flores said of the civil suit.

The lawsuit alleges that on one occasion, Hernandez told Taillon "that the Speaker of the Assembly had called a medical team to come to the building because defendant Hernandez felt like he was going to die after using cocaine."

Flores said there was a medical incident in which Hernandez sought treatment from a nurse working at the Capitol, but it had nothing to do with drugs. "That was from exhaustion," Flores said. "He works very hard."


Two San Gabriel Valley candidates under fire

Assemblyman Hernandez passed a drug test, attorney says

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez found not guilty of drunk driving

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina). Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press



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