Category Archive: California Prisons

Nov 22 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: November 22, 2011

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The California Legislature is not in session.

On to today’s headlines:

New challenge to California’s “top two” primaries

Candidates and voters who belong to the Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom political parties are holding a news conference today to announce a new lawsuit challenging Proposition 14.

They don’t like last year’s initiative that created a new election system in which the top two vote-getters advance to a general election – regardless of party affiliation. The minor parties argue that the new system puts them at a disadvantage.

They’ll announce details of their suit today at 11 a.m. in front of the Secretary of State’s office at 1500 11th St.

Dan Walters: California government reformers occupy two camps

California’s political dysfunction has evolved from a theory first advanced by a few jaundiced observers a generation ago – including yours truly – to a widely embraced axiom that has spawned endless journalistic, academic and civic discourse.

While there’s broad agreement on symptoms of California’s malaise, such as chronic budget deficits, there’s wide disagreement on its causes and what might be done to correct it.

Reformers divide roughly into two camps: Those who believe that tweaking political processes incrementally can make government work again, and those who contend there’s a more fundamental disconnect that can be cured only by creating a new structure attuned to 21st-century reality.

Wal-Mart ramps up ballot threats to speed new stores

In a push to expand across California without interference, Wal-Mart is increasingly taking advantage of the state’s initiative system to threaten elected officials with costly special elections and to avoid environmental lawsuits.

The Arkansas-based retailer has hired paid signature gatherers to circulate petitions to build new superstores or repeal local restrictions on big-box stores. Once 15 percent of eligible voters sign the petitions, state election law puts cash-strapped cities in a bind: City councils must either approve the Wal-Mart-drafted measure without changes or put it to a special election.

As local officials grapple with whether to spend tens of thousands or even millions of taxpayer dollars on such an election, Wal-Mart urges cities to approve the petition outright rather than send it to voters.

Inmates harass victims via Facebook

Lisa Gesik hesitates to log into her Facebook account nowadays because of unwanted “friend” requests, not from long-ago classmates but from the ex-husband now in prison for kidnapping her and her daughter.

Neither Gesik nor prison officials can prove her ex-husband is sending her the messages, which feature photos of him wearing his prison blues and dark sunglasses, arms crossed as he poses in front of a prison gate. It doesn’t matter if he’s sending them or someone else is — the Newport, Ore., woman is afraid and, as the days tick down to his January release, is considering going into hiding with her 12-year-old daughter.

“It’s just being victimized all over again,” she said.

Across the U.S. and beyond, inmates are using social networks and the growing numbers of smartphones smuggled into prisons and jails to harass their victims or accusers and intimidate witnesses. California corrections officials who monitor social networking sites said they have found many instances in which inmates taunted victims or made unwanted sexual advances.

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Nov 21 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: November 21, 2011

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Santa Monica looking towards Malibu, California

The California Legislature is not in session.

On to today’s headlines:

Voters think teachers unions are too powerful, new poll finds

About half of California voters believe that teachers unions are too powerful, a new poll has found.

The bipartisan survey, conducted by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times, also found that the views of voters aligned fairly closely with teachers unions on key issues, such as funding for schools. But that didn’t prevent many from having reservations about the role of unions in education and politics.

Overall, 52% of voters agreed with the statement that teachers unions are too powerful; 36% disagreed. And more voters took the position that teacher unions “are resistant to reforms that would improve schools.”

Dan Walters: California’s economic recovery is weak and rocky

Technically, California’s economy is recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression. But it sure doesn’t feel like it.

The housing market is still in the sewer, retail sales are weak, and more than 2 million California workers are unemployed – not counting tens of thousands who have given up looking for work or are getting by with off-the-books jobs.

With their families, an educated guess would be that recession still seriously affects a quarter or more of Californians.

While employment has stopped its decline, it’s now growing scarcely fast enough to keep pace with population (and labor force) growth, and thus only marginally affects the unemployment rate, which hovers around 12 percent.

It’s difficult to find an economist who is bullish about the state’s near-term future. The consensus seems to be that California, with the nation’s second-highest jobless rate, will be experiencing double-digit unemployment and other effects of malaise for at least several more years.

Catch up on Think Long’s California tax overhaul

The Think Long Committee for California is rolling out a sweeping proposal for fixing the Golden State, and it includes overhauling the tax system.

Read the full Think Long report here. (draft obtained by the Bee)

Shifting prisoners to counties could strain local services

California needs to pay attention to potential strains on county services as it implements Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to shift nonviolent criminals and parolees to counties, a RAND Corp. study says.

The study [PDF], “Understanding the Public Health Implications of Prisoner Reentry in California,” released last week, said the plan to shift low-level offenders to county custody could strain local health care and social services programs that already have been ravaged by budget cuts.

California began sending low-level felony offenders and parole violators to county jails on Oct. 1.

“There’s no turning back,” Brown said at a Sept. 29 press conference. “The only way is forward in a collaborative way.”

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Oct 27 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: October 27, 2011

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Balboa Island, Newport Beach, California

The California Legislature is not in session.

California Governor Jerry Brown will announce his plans for California Public Employee Pension Reform today.

Gov. Jerry Brown will unveil a 12-point plan to overhaul the state public retirement system Thursday, proposing a payout for new state workers that combines elements of traditional guaranteed government pensions with a 401(k)-style savings plan, according to people who were briefed on his plan.

Brown will also raise the age at which state workers become eligible for their full pensions. Details of the governor’s plan were provided by numerous labor leaders, who received an outline of the proposal from the governor late Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Brown asked them not to reveal details to the media.

Brown is expected to formally unveil his plan Thursday in Sacramento. His spokesman, Gil Duran, refused to confirm any specific provisions, saying: “The current system is not sustainable. I think the governor made that clear back in March,” when he released an outline of his suggested pension changes.

On to today’s headlines:

California Supreme Court rejects challenges to political districts

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously rejected two legal challenges to state Senate and congressional districts drawn by a citizens commission.

The new districts were drawn after voters approved initiatives to transfer authority for drawing the political boundaries from the Legislature to the commission. The transfer is intended to take politics out of the redistricting process and possibly produce candidates with more centrist views.

But Republican leaders balked at the district boundaries certified by the commission in August and filed suit. They asked the state’s high court to nullify the districts and draw new ones.

Some minority groups, particularly Latinos, also have complained that the new districts would dilute their clout in the voting booth.

Opponents of the commission’s work have been circulating petitions for a new ballot measure to repeal its districts.

Senate map fight boosted by $1 million donation to state GOP

A $1 million contribution from the owner of Mercury General Insurance Corp. to the California Republican Party this month has helped the GOP push a referendum challenge to the state’s newly drawn Senate districts.

But George Joseph did not earmark his million-dollar donation for any specific purpose, said Mark Standriff, state GOP spokesman.

“Obviously, our focus right now is the Senate map referendum, but we also have a number of other programs, including what is probably the most aggressive and comprehensive voter registration program in our history,” Standriff said.

Jeff Green, Mercury General spokesman, released a written statement Wednesday that said Joseph contributed the money “with no restrictions” on the Republican Party’s use of it.

“The redistricting referendum was part of the discussion, which included many topics, but it’s up to the party to decide how the money should be spent,” Green said.

Joseph’s contribution to the state GOP on Oct. 13 represents more than half of the $1.86 million in recent donations to the party’s coffers, from which $936,000 has been sent since late September to bolster the referendum effort, records show.

Other major contributors to the state Republican Party include AT&T, California Cable TeleComm Political Action Committee, and Doris Fisher, wife of the late Donald Fisher, who founded the GAP clothing chain. Each donated $50,000, according to documents filed Tuesday.

Reform could transfer hundreds of inmates out of isolation units

Hundreds of California prisoners locked in stark segregation units could be transferred to regular prison cells under new policies being developed by state corrections officials.

The transfers could include inmates who have been held for decades at Pelican Bay State Prison’s windowless Security Housing Unit, which was the center of two recent hunger strikes that drew participation from thousands of inmates.

Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are planning to review the files of every prisoner now housed in the state’s four Security Housing Units. They will retroactively apply new criteria determining who is placed in the facilities and for how long, according to an Oct. 13 memo signed by corrections Undersecretary Scott Kernan, who retired last week.

“Those who no longer meet the criteria would be released from the SHU (Security Housing Unit),” states the memo, which also was signed by representatives of four advocacy groups and distributed to inmates. Officials confirmed the document’s accuracy.

At issue is the system used by the department to identify, or validate, inmates as members or associates of one of seven prison gangs.

According to state law, an associate is an inmate who is “involved periodically or regularly” with members or associates of a gang. Formal identification of the inmate by the corrections department requires three independent pieces of evidence.

But advocacy groups say the evidence used by the department, such as tattoos or drawings, often is vague and inaccurate. What’s more, they say the process does not always identify men involved in violent or illegal acts.

Once validated, the inmate is locked in the special unit for an indeterminate term. Those inmates include so-called associates.

According to department data obtained by California Watch, 79 percent of the inmates being held in the special units are classified as prison gang associates rather than full-fledged members.

In an interview prior to his retirement, Kernan said a new policy was needed to move some of those inmates out of Security Housing Units to make room for other prisoners who pose a greater security threat.

No final show on KLOS for Jim Ladd

Ladd, let go Tuesday from his third stint at rock station KLOS (95.5 FM), tells the Register’s Gary Lycan that he was stunned to be told he was laid off. “My disappointment is I didn’t have a farewell show,” Ladd says. “I have been through this before, but it is always traumatic.” The last song he got to play after 14 years at this stay with KLOS was “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd.

Ladd is still associated by many radio listeners with KMET, L.A.’s legendary Mighty Met, where he began in 1974 and stayed through most of the ’80s. He hosted the nationally syndicated interview show “Innerview.” For many, Ladd’s role as cultural guide for music fans in the hours and days after the 1980 murder of John Lennon is still remembered. [Yes, upside down.]

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Oct 25 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: October 25, 2011

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San Diego Mission

The California Legislature is not in session today.

Governor Jerry Brown is in Los Angeles and President Obama is fundraising in San Francisco.

On to today’s headlines:

California’s unemployment insurance fund debt grows

California has borrowed $11 billion from the federal government in recent years to prop up its insolvent unemployment insurance fund. The loans kept benefits flowing to millions of laid-off workers, but now the bill is coming due.

The state recently sent $303.6 million to Washington, the first of what could be many years of interest payments required to service its debt to Uncle Sam. It will have to pony up at least a half-billion dollars in 2012 and even more in coming years. The state, which already is struggling to close a massive budget deficit, probably will be forced to make even deeper cuts to schools, law enforcement and other basic services.

In the meantime, California employers in January will be hit with a mandatory surcharge of about $25 per employee to begin paying down the principal on the federal loan.

California operates one of the nation’s most expensive unemployment insurance systems. But the taxes needed to fund it, 100% of which are paid by employers, aren’t sufficient to support the system.

Although jobless benefits are about the same as the national average, costs have exploded because so many Californians have lost their jobs and been unable to find new ones quickly. California’s September unemployment rate of 11.9% is the second highest in the nation, behind only Nevada at 13.4%. About 2 million Californians are unemployed; a third of them have been out of work for a year or more.

Other states are struggling as well. Thirty-four states have borrowed $39 billion to pay unemployment benefits that have mounted during the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Still, experts say California’s system is fundamentally out of balance and in need of a major overhaul to return it to solvency.

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown still hazy about upcoming tax initiative

California voters are certain – as certain as anything can be in the topsy-turvy world of politics – to pass judgment on a multibillion-dollar tax increase measure next year, but what kind of measure is very much up in the air.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who tried and failed to persuade some Republicans this year to place taxes on the ballot, has often declared his intention to seek more tax revenues from voters via an initiative in 2012.

However, Brown has ducked when asked by reporters what he would include in his tax measure, saying in several ways that he’s still working on it.

He can’t delay much longer, however, because realistically, he and his allies – most likely public employee unions – would have to launch their initiative drive early in 2012 to assure placement on the November ballot.

The governor is caught, it appears, in something of a political vise.

Los Angeles jails see surge in inmates

Authorities are keeping a wary eye on swelling inmate populations as hundreds of extra criminals are sent to Los Angeles County jails under a broad shakeup of California’s corrections institutions.

Since Oct. 1, when the new rules took effect, the county has seen more than 700 extra inmates sentenced to county jail instead of state prison – a greater-than-expected rate that could mean the county’s 17,000 or so beds are all taken by Christmas, Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo Jr. said Monday.

“We expected 170 a week,” Rhambo said. “This is 235 a week.”

In a bid to save cash and reduce recidivism, the state passed rules requiring judges to no longer sentence non-violent, lower-level offenders to state prison for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft and drug possession for sale.

Under the restructuring, post-release supervision for all but the most violent offenders is also being pushed down to the county level.

Rhambo said it’s likely the initial high rate of inmates could be attributed to defense attorneys stalling for time in recent months so their clients could be sentenced locally instead of to state prison.

More than 40 percent of the new inmates were sentenced for drug offenses. Rhambo said his department would consider releasing some of those inmates early to ensure there’s always room for more serious criminals.

“We want the jail for the ‘Oh my Gods,’ not someone who’s a drug abuser,” he said.

Prison officials say 3,400 could lose jobs, not 26,000

California’s prison agency made big headlines Friday when officials announced they were beginning to send out a whopping 26,000 layoff warnings to employees. At the time, they said far fewer people were likely to lose their jobs, but they couldn’t predict how many.

Today, they’re saying it’s likely to be far, far fewer than 26,000 — in fact, they’re predicting that closer to 3,400 positions could be eliminated by the end of February, when the layoffs are scheduled to take effect.

The discrepancy is based both on standard operating procedure (the state usually notifies three times the number of employees than they actually plan to layoff) and the fluidity of Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan. That plan, which will leave many lower-level offenders in county jails instead of state prison in the coming months and years, is an attempt to curb the state’s exploding prison population — and is the reason prison employees are at risk of losing their jobs at all.

But unlike normal layoff procedures — where a department is given a cold, hard number to cut out of its budget — there are a lot of uncertainties tied to realignment. Robert Downs, who heads up the prison department’s office of personnel services, said state officials have had to rely on inmate projections from counties, courts and others to come up with estimates on how many staff members they will need next year.

Things get even more complicated when you start factoring in that employees at risk of losing their jobs may choose to transfer to similar positions within the prisons system or volunteer for a demotion to a previously held position. Employee retirements could also impact the final number, Downs said.

“A lot of people want to know how many staff will be laid off, and though we are unable to say that, as a starting point we can say at this point in time that its likely 3,400 positions will go away,” Downs said, adding that more employees — likely those that work in the parole division — could lose their jobs next year in the one or two more rounds of layoffs that are currently anticipated.

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Oct 12 2011

California Cities Warn of Public Safety Crisis Over Prison Realignment

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An inmate talks on a phone in Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A.

This complaint is all about money for the cities, but California Governor Jerry Brown is going to live to regret this massive policy shift.

As California begins redirecting new inmates and parolees to counties this month, nine big-city mayors are asking the cash-strapped state for money to address a “brewing public safety crisis.”

The mayors, including Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa, contend in a letter they sent Thursday to Gov. Jerry Brown that his “realignment” plan will result in higher police costs. Villaraigosa led the charge earlier last week by calling the program “political malpractice” and saying his city needed to move 150 police officers to help the probation department supervise offenders.

The mayors have asked Brown for “an immediate guaranteed funding stream for city-related realignment costs.” Cities also want funding as part of a November 2012 ballot initiative being considered by the governor to enshrine realignment dollars in the state constitution, said Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Sheahan.

“On behalf of millions of Californians who reside in our cities, we respectfully request your immediate attention to a brewing public safety crisis that could threaten the success of the recently-launched realignment program,” the mayors’ letter states. “As a result, we believe the safety of our cities could be at risk.”

Jerry Brown’s state budget was a “rosey scenario” and not based in reality. Under a federal court mandate to relieve state prison crowding rather than try to raise taxes, cut spending in other areas, or let a bunch of criminals out of prison and county jails, Brown derived this scheme.

It won’t work and will cost the cities and counties much more. This plan is nothing but a shell game with Brown shifting state costs to local governments who cannot pay for them.

So, what does this mean?

More criminals on the streets and a less safe California. 

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