California State Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) have proposed a bill to expand the use of conservatorships to deal with the issue of mental illness and homelessness. The bill would allow local governments to conserve individuals “who suffer from chronic homelessness, accompanied by debilitating mental illness, severe drug addiction, repeated psychiatric commitments, or excessively frequent use of emergency medical services.”
There are currently two kinds of conservatorships in California: Lanterman-Petrie-Short (LPS) conservatorships for individuals who are “gravely disabled” and thus unable to care for themselves, and probate conservatorships for individuals unable to care for themselves due to physical health issues, cognitive impairment, or elder abuse. The legislation, if successful, would create a third category specifically targeted at the at-risk homeless population. According to the authors:
“California faces an unprecedented housing affordability crisis, accompanied by significant untreated mental illness and drug addiction. These conditions, coupled with the limitations of our state and local social services, have left some counties searching for more tools to provide help and support to those Californians in the most need. In San Francisco, many of the successful programs and services have still fallen short of providing meaningful rehabilitation to a small population of residents with severe mental illness and drug addiction who are deteriorating on the city’s streets. Los Angeles faces similar challenges. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is currently evaluating the efficacy and reach of their conservatorship system pursuant to a motion coauthored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger.
Many of these people routinely use social and emergency services and find themselves in law enforcement custody, effectively converting a health issue into a criminal issue. By allowing greater flexibility to conserve these extremely disabled individuals – who are unable to make decisions for themselves – we can keep people out of the criminal justice system and focus on their health and well-being.”
Please read this excellent article from the New Yorker about the Underground Scholars Initiative at Cal Berkeley, a group formed by formerly incarcerated undergraduates at Cal to provide mentoring, support, and advocacy – and eventually, create a prison-to-school pipeline. About the experience:
“When Czifra first got to Berkeley, he went looking for his people, by which he meant ones who had grown up poor, but they were hard to find. He told an adviser he wanted to work with the incarcerated, particularly children—he believed that imprisoning a child for any kind of crime was counterproductive and wrong. The adviser suggested that he volunteer, but the sign-up form mentioned background checks, and he never went back.
He found big classes hard to take. For a long time after he left prison, he’d had a raw, aggressive energy about him that scared people. He still had to remind himself when he entered a new situation that nobody was going to attack him; he didn’t have to be constantly on his guard. When he walked into a crowded classroom, he felt a rush of paranoia: he felt that everyone was looking at him, and that if they knew what he’d done and where he’d been he would not be welcome. And, in fact, he was not always welcome. He went to see a professor early on to ask why he was getting B’s. “The professor made some kind of comment like he knew I was a gang banger who was trying to change my life,” he says. “He was, like, I got your number—not in an accusatory way, but not in a warm, Kumbaya way, either. He said, If you get an A-plus, I’ll write you a letter of recommendation, if you get an A, you’re grad-student material, and if you get A-minus or below, forget it.”
Taking the lead in application of California’s Proposition 64, which legalizes, among other things, the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allows individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use, San Francisco’s DA George Gascon has ordered the review, recall, dismissal, and sealing of more than 3,000 marijuana-realted misdemeanors that were sentenced prior to Proposition 64’s passage. The law anticipated that individuals could petition the court to have their own records cleared, but the process is complicated and in SF only 23 petitions were filed in the first year. The preemptive action by the DA is, at this point, unique in California.
“So instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community,” Gascón said.
The move will clear people’s records of crimes that can be barriers to employment and housing.
ProPublica reports that the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners has pardoned Fred Steese, 26 years (21 in prison) after his conviction on a murder charge in which the prosecutors had proof of his alibi hidden in their files, five years after an Order of Actual Innocence from a district court, and five years after the same Clark County prosecutor’s office required an Alford plea from Steese as a prerequisite for release after the order.
Steese was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to two life sentences for the murder of Gerard Soules, a Las Vegas performer with a costumed poodle act at the Circus Circus casino. At the time of Soules’ death, Steese was several states away. But prosecutors didn’t reveal that they had evidence that Steese was telling the truth, instead telling jurors that Steese had fabricated his alibi with the help of his look-alike brother. During the trial, the prosecutors also concealed the nature of several photo lineups pointing to Steese’s innocence and accused the defense of manufacturing evidence.
The men who prosecuted him, Bill Kephart and Doug Herndon, are now district court judges in Las Vegas.
Read the whole sordid story here.
The Massachusetts Senate Friday passed an historic set of criminal justice reforms, including repeal of mandatory-minimum sentences for several drug crimes, legalization of sex between young teens close in age, and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 19, the highest in the nation. Reforms still require approval by the House of Representatives, and there is still a great deal of opposition – primarily from law enforcement officials – who hope the House of Representatives proposes a more prosecutor-friendly bill.
Massachusetts has already been a leader in combating over-criminalization and mass incarceration. In 2015, Massachusetts had the second-lowest imprisonment rate, with 179 sentenced prisoners for every 100,000 people, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nationally, 458 prisoners were sentenced to more than one year in state or federal prison per 100,000 US residents.
With the opioid crisis as a back-drop, the legislation also included a few tougher provisions, including heavier penalties for crimes such as trafficking fentanyl.
Restoration of voting rights has been an issue in the governor’s race in Virginia, one of four states where a person loses the franchise entirely after they are convicted of a felony-level offense. Current governor Terry McAuliffe tried to use his pardon power to restore the rights of 200,000 Virginians in one blow. Republican lawmakers successfully challenged the en masse order in court, so the governor began signing the orders individually, totaling more than 168,000 to date. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has started running TV ads challenging this policy. Of note is that while Gillespie challenges the “automatic” restoration of rights, he appears to endorse at least a process for restoration:
“Virginians who have paid their debt to society and are living an honest life should have their rights restored. But Ralph Northam’s policy of automatic restoration of rights for unrepentant, unreformed, violent criminals is wrong.”
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the issue of voting rights restoration is also in the public eye, witness this recent editorial in the New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Why N.J. must restore voting rights to those in prison, parole, probation”
The Collateral Consequences Resource Center has published two new guides to collateral consequence issues in criminal justice: a 50-state overview of the subject, “Forgiving and Forgetting in American Justice – A 50 State Guide To Expungement and Restoration of Rights”; and a California specific guide, “California Compilation of Collateral Consequences”. The California guide is a useful tool for anyone involved in the criminal justice system, a searchable online database of the restrictions and disqualifications imposed by California statutes and regulations because of an individual’s criminal record.
CCRC has previously published similar guides on federal laws and rules, and of two other state systems (Wisconsin and Vermont), all built on the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC), originally compiled by the ABA and now maintained by the Council of State Governments. The CCRC databases are streamlined and reorganized to allow more precise searches of the specific activities and rights affected by various consequences and make it possible to explore the relationship between consequences and their implementing regulations. They also add a set of searchable “Keywords” that allow users to accurately zero in on areas of interest with much more precision than previous versions.