Reclassification as a Means for Integration: The Positives of Prop 47

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If you are in jail, imagine having your prior felony reclassified as a misdemeanor so that you no longer face six years in prison for stealing $10 worth of merchandise (anecdote to be shared below). Or, if you are released in society, imagine having your criminal record adjusted so you are no longer barred from receiving federal welfare, student grants, or medical care. (PDF pages 9-10). You also are no longer excluded from employment in care facilities, including child-care jobs, and you might no longer face automatic disqualification if potential employers discover your conviction records. (Although technically it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual based on an individual’s criminal record, it certainly still happens). Further, if you are an undocumented immigrant, a parent, and facing deportation, your adjusted criminal record may qualify you for protection under Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). (PDF page 5). Also, if you are undocumented, facing deportation, and entered the United States before you were sixteen, your adjusted criminal record may qualify you for protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). (PDF page 5).

All four groups of people described above did not have these freedoms or protections prior to Prop 47’s passage. In addition to reducing prison and jail populations along with infrastructural costs, Prop 47 strove to change certain individuals’ felony records, improving the social and financial status of these individuals who had previously committed non-violent drug possession or petty theft crimes. Reclassification is not instantaneous, but it helps nonviolent offenders receive the financial support and employment opportunities necessary to become more fully integrated in society.

Continue reading “Reclassification as a Means for Integration: The Positives of Prop 47”

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Will Dollars Bring the Right Change to Santa Clara Jail?

Main-Jail1-772x350-2Santa Clara County reports 50% of its jail inmates have mental health issues (see Augmentation of Behavioral Health Services to Inmates in County Jail, p. 2). The news reveals that Santa Clara County has a major problem effectively and humanely handling these individuals. This begs the question: how exactly are mentally ill individuals treated in the Santa Clara criminal justice system? This post attempts to point out specific areas during pretrial detention where the system in our county fails mentally ill inmates, effectively punishing them before conviction and thereby exacerbating their mental illnesses and increasing their chances of re-entering the criminal justice system after release. Continue reading “Will Dollars Bring the Right Change to Santa Clara Jail?”

Brown Better Have My Money! Part 2: Who manages Prop 47’s savings?

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Prop 47 reclassified several drug possession and petty theft crimes into misdemeanors. This change permitted state prison and county jail inmates to have their sentences adjusted in order to reflect this change. Ideally, this would decrease populations in both prisons and jails, decreases that would save both the state of California and California counties money. California counties fund and manage jails whereas the state of California manages prisons. Any money saved at the county level would be kept amongst the counties.

I.  How savings were supposed to be calculated

The California Director of Finance calculates Prop 47 prison savings and transfers that money from the General Fund into the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.” (PDF page 7). Then, the money will be distributed to local communities. 25% of the savings will go to K-12 public schools’ truancy prevention programs, 65% will fund mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, and the remaining 10% will go to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. (PDF page 8).

In January, Governor Brown released his proposed budget for the 2016–2017 year, reporting that there were 4,700 fewer inmates in California state prisons thanks to Prop 47. Accordingly, the Director of Finance calculated $29.3 million in savings that would be placed into the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.” But many felt that this amount is too small. The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), while agreeing with the 4,700-inmate decrease, disagreed with the governor’s estimate of how much housing a prisoner actually costs in California.

Continue reading “Brown Better Have My Money! Part 2: Who manages Prop 47’s savings?”

Another Tool in the Toolbox for Domestic Violence Pretrial Determinations

At the time of Laura’s death in 2013, her abusive ex-boyfriend, who was also her murderer, was out on bail awaiting trial for charges stemming from prior domestic violence attacks and threats. According to court records and family members, he previously had “allegedly beat her with a baseball bat, dragged her behind a car, strangled her until she blacked out on the floor and told her over and over how he would kill her if she ever left him.” This is one of various tragic cases we hear about each year. Alternatively, however, there have also been other cases where alleged abusers have been detained pretrial, have not been able to post bail either because it was denied or because they could not afford it, and after spending some time in jail had the charges dropped for a number of reasons.

Out of this wide range of cases there are special legal considerations at the pretrial stage for domestic violence cases due to the potential risk to the victim and the past or present association of the accused and the victim. Although our legal system in California recognizes that there must be extra precautions for the victims’ safety, in practice California does not have a validated evidence-based method to identify and manage the most dangerous domestic violence offenders while affording those others accused their due process rights during the pretrial stage. In this post I will describe the California procedures already in place when dealing with domestic violence cases, and recommend some evidence-based risk assessment tools that the courts and others involved can use. Continue reading “Another Tool in the Toolbox for Domestic Violence Pretrial Determinations”

Brown Better Have My Money! The Prop 47 Savings Controversy

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Original Prop 47 Advertisement

Photo Credit: Obey Giant, November 3, 2014

In order to pass Proposition 47, proponents needed to appeal to California voters and taxpayers. Hence, Prop 47 was entitled the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”. The proposition stipulated that its passage would save money due to the reclassification of nine felonies into misdemeanors and that these savings would be sent to local communities to be allocated for specific programs. Counties could use these funds to support substance abuse treatment programs and other mental health services for their parolee and inmate populations. In addition, counties could invest in victims’ services as well as K-12 public school truancy and dropout prevention programs. (PDF page 7).

Today, California voters are wondering if the state is filling its Prop 47 promise, the promise to spend fewer tax dollars on the punishment of nonviolent drug users and petty thieves. Voters wanted to spend more money on schools and mental health services, less money on long-term incarceration. Unfortunately, the state has recently reported that Prop 47 did not save the anticipated funds redirected to local communities.

Click here for details regarding Governor Brown’s contested report Continue reading “Brown Better Have My Money! The Prop 47 Savings Controversy”

Pretrial Detention and Legal Outcomes

“[C]lose to three quarters of a million people reside in America’s jail system…Across the country, nearly two thirds of all inmates who crowd our county jails – at an annual cost of roughly nine billion taxpayer dollars – are defendants awaiting trial…Many of these individuals are nonviolent, non-felony offenders, charged with crimes ranging from public petty theft to public drug use. And a disproportionate number of them are poor. They are forced to remain in custody – for an average of two weeks, and at a considerable expense to taxpayers – because they simply cannot afford to post the bail required.” This quote is from a speech given by the former Attorney General Eric Holder at the National Symposium on Pretrial Justice in 2011. It is encouraging to see the nation’s principal legal officer and head of the US Department of Justice acknowledging the issues of pretrial detention, especially within regards to misdemeanants. While the nine billion dollar figure noted above is concerning, the truly frightening cost of pretrial detention is the human cost. When I say “human cost”, I am referring to the negative effect that pretrial detention has on the mental and physical health, employment, and family and community interactions of those who are incarcerated. In other words, I am a referring to how getting arrested for a simple misdemeanor can destroy peoples lives and the lives of those around them.

Before we address the human cost of pretrial detention, it is important to look at why this problem exists. Why are so many un-convicted people spending so much time in county jails? Continue reading “Pretrial Detention and Legal Outcomes”

Jail Classification and How it Relates to Bail

Statistics show that the majority of county jail inmates are individuals who are awaiting trial. Understanding how people are sorted, managed and classified within the jail system is an important step in determining why this is so. Furthermore, important bail decisions and determination are often made at the time of booking and classification. An explanation of the process seems a necessary starting point to further exploration into these subjects.

So imagine you have just been arrested by the San Jose police for some crime. For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s say you stole a garden gnome worth $145 from your old English teacher’s yard. When the police stop you, they catch you red-handed with the gnome. You are handcuffed and put into a police car, and you’re driven to the Main Jail where you go down a sinister-looking ramp to what is known as Lower Booking.

Continue reading “Jail Classification and How it Relates to Bail”