Judges: Gov. Jerry Brown must fully comply with prison order
by Don Thompson
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A panel of federal judges on Thursday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to circumvent its long-standing order for reducing California's prison population, the latest step in an ongoing legal drama over how to improve inmates' medical and mental health care inmates.
Brown quickly announced that he will ask the courts to stay what he called an "unprecedented order to release almost 10,000 inmates by the end of this year." The governor already filed notice that he intends to appeal the latest order to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judges stopped just short of citing the Democratic governor for contempt of court, but again threatened to do so if he does not immediately comply with their latest order.
The plan submitted by the Brown administration in May to further reduce the inmate population failed to meet the judges' mandate because it fell short of the court-ordered population cap by 2,300 inmates, the judges said in their 51-page order. That previous population reduction order has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judges reiterated in their sharply worded ruling that the governor must comply with the original order to reduce the population to 110,000 inmates by the end of the year. They ordered Brown to take all the steps he outlined in May, as well as one more step - the expansion of good-time credits leading to early release. Brown had offered that as an option, but it was not one he was willing to embrace.
The governor's plan for getting closer to the required level called for sending more inmates to firefighting camps, leasing cells at county jails, slowing the return of thousands of inmates now housed in private prisons in other states, increasing early release credits for nonviolent inmates and paroling elderly felons.
The judges ordered the administration to implement all the measures regardless of whether they conflict with state or local laws.
At issue is how far the state must go in reducing its inmate population to meet a previous court order to improve medical and mental health treatment. The courts have said that prison overcrowding is the main cause of care that fails to meet the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.
The order leaves Brown with no more excuses, said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the lead attorneys representing inmates' welfare.
"The court's order is absolutely essential to maintaining prison conditions that protect prisoners from serious illness and death due to inadequate health care," Specter said. The court had no choice because Brown and Democrats who control the state Legislature were refusing to comply with its previous orders, he said.
However, the judges offered the state some flexibility in how it complies.
The administration can revise the expanded good-time credit program, so long as the changes still result in the required population reduction. It can also pick and choose among inmates, substituting those who are deemed less likely to commit new crimes for riskier convicts who would otherwise be released early. Or, it can pick any other measure that was previously on the administration's list of options.
But if the population goal is not met through other means by Dec. 31, "defendants shallrelease the necessary number of prisoners to reach that goal" by using a list of lower-risk inmates that the state has previously said it could develop.
Though Brown argues otherwise, the court has found that "there is no public safety issue" with the earlier releases, said Michael Bien, the lead attorney representing mentally ill inmates.
The state has reduced its prison population by more than 46,000 inmates since 2006, with more than half the decrease due to a 2-year-old state law that is sentencing lower-level criminals to county jails instead of state prisons. But the population remains about 9,400 inmates over the level required by the courts.
The state has said it can whittle the population further by the end of the year but would remain 2,300 inmates over the court-ordered number.
The administration said it is doing everything it can under California law, but that Brown's reluctantly adopted plan had little support from state lawmakers. Specter said Thursday's ruling removes that obstacle.
The judges warned Brown in April that he could no longer ignore its orders. They opted in their latest order not to cite Brown for contempt, though they said they would be well justified if they were to "institute contempt proceedings immediately."
They decided to delay a contempt citation until they see if the state complies with their new order. However, they warned that failing to comply now with the latest order "shall constitute an act of contempt."
Southern California police say they need more resources to confront potential inmate releases
by Andrew Edwards and Brian Charles
A court order that could, in what may be considered a worst-case scenario, lead to the early release of thousands of state prison inmates prompted outrage from Southern California police leaders, as well as liberal and conservative politicians who decried the ruling as a threat to public safety.
Gov. Jerry Brown immediately responded to Thursday's ruling by declaring he will seek a stay of what he described as an "unprecedented" order calling for the release of nearly 10,000 inmates by year's end.
The judges who issued the ruling demanded that California reduce its prison population by 9,400 inmates. Although it was not necessarily certain that, if the ruling is upheld, all of those inmates would be freed instead of confined in alternative facilities, the possibility remains that the order may result in thousands of inmates being released into communities where police services have been cut due to local government's budget struggles since the Great Recession.
"This puts us in a very tough position," Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said.
The Long Beach Police Department recently hired 50 officers, McDonnell said, which would put its total staffing of sworn men and women to just over 800 officers.
The Long Beach department had more than 1,000 officers about three years ago.
"When the economy is as tough as it is, and everybody's belt-tightening, in the Police Department, the most expensive resource we have is personnel," McDonnell said.
A UC Berkeley study published in April observed that budgeting decisions carried out from 2009 through 2011 in 25 California cities including Los Angeles, Long Beach, Glendale, Fontana and San Bernardino resulted in total police staffing in those cities shrinking from about 23,300 officers to about 22,100 officers. Those cuts did not exactly correlate to crime increases, and crime fell in many jurisdictions during the study period.
But researchers also warned that crime appeared to be rising in 15 of the cities under study at the start of 2012, and that California's existing attempt to relieve prison overcrowding, known as "realignment," places local agencies under greater strain.
Realignment went into effect in October 2011, following a ruling earlier that year that health conditions within California's overcrowded prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Corrections and probation officials tend to bristle when critics say realignment has burdened the state with an "early release" of criminals, rather than describing the policy as a means to shift the job of housing and supervising relatively low-risk offenders from the state to counties.Yet many law enforcement officials have blamed realignment for rising crime.
Torrance police, for example, say realignment explains a spike in burglaries this year. So far, the city has 88 residential burglaries compared to 73 at the same point last year and 78 two years ago.
Sgt. Robert Watt said that before the prison overcrowding relief program began, burglars received one day of credit for every three days served of their sentences. Since realignment, burglars receive a day of credit for every two days served.
Torrance police said that more than 90 percent of residential burglaries are committed by gang members because they know that they will receive short sentences under realignment.
"The revolving door in the jail system has become a turnstile," Torrance Police Chief John Neu said.
When Sacramento politicians enacted realignment, they also allocated funding for the probation and police departments required to be responsible for the policy. Proposition 30, the temporary tax increase passed by voters last year, secured the dollars for that plan.
Police chiefs in Fontana and Redlands said Thursday, however, that departments are not receiving enough financial support to take on the burdens that an actual release of thousands of prisoners may entail.
Police departments up and down the state share $24 million in realignment funding, compared with some $800 million for the county governments that are not only charged with maintaining sheriff's patrols, but also jailing and supervising a greater number of criminals than before realignment, Fontana Police Chief Rodney Jones said.
Fontana's share of the funding is $265,000, Jones said. Fontana's finances are stable enough for the city council to have approved the hiring of 10 new officers in its new budget, but other cities don't have that ability.
"I think the money that we're getting from the state comes nowhere near the demands and challenges that we're facing," Jones said.
In Redlands' case, realignment has enabled the Police Department to hire a single new officer, Chief Mark Garcia said. The department has partnered that officer with a San Bernardino County probation officer to monitor offenders who are under local supervision under realignment law.
Garcia also said he views realignment as a source of rising crime in the city. Redlands police report a near 18 percent rise in major crime from 2011 though 2012, including a 38.5 percent rise in aggravated assaults and a 30.3 percent rise in auto thefts.
Probation officials in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties said it's not yet certain whether any offenders who would be subject to early release will be monitored by probation officers or state parole agents. Although the court order gave state officials the option of releasing relatively low-risk offenders first, any inmates whose terms are reduced as a result of the judges' order may have committed offenses serious enough to fall under parole's watch.
But county officials are bracing for more work, and San Bernardino County Probation spokesman Chris Condon said he is sure the department will be able to handle it.
"We have to wait and see," Condon said. "I would imagine that probably a large number of them are PRCS offenders that would come to us."
The term PRCS refers to Post-Release Community Supervision, the policy in which relatively low-risk offenders are monitored by county probation officers.
Los Angeles County assistant probation chief Margarita Perez said officials in her department are working on assumptions that if the judges' order stands, most of the inmates who are to be removed from prison will be shunted to jails or other facilities instead of being put on the streets.
Even so, those assumptions include the prediction that nearly 4,200 offenders will be released, she said. Of that number, roughly 1,200 would return to Los Angeles County.
Whereas Assembly Republicans and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg both produced statements in opposition to the order, not all greeted the judges' decision with alarm, as prisoners rights advocates said Thursday's ruling signaled a needed change in California's approach to law enforcement.
"The state continues to lock up far to many people for far too long and that is really not necessary to keep the streets safe," said Will Matthews, spokesman for ACLU, California. "Realignment was a step in the right direction, but it was not the answer."
Matthews said the state's three-strike law, which voters overturned in 2012, and the influence of the law enforcement lobby has long been an obstacle to prison reform.
Senate immigration deal would double number of U.S. border agents
by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal agents on the U.S.-Mexican border would double to about 40,000 under a deal reached on Thursday in the Democratic-led Senate to draw more Republicans to a landmark immigration bill headed toward anticipated passage.
Some questioned the costs and benefits of up to $50 billion in the extra border security, which also will include high-tech surveillance equipment such as manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, radar and seismic devices.
But concerns were overshadowed by the deal's main goal: win votes for an overhaul of U.S. immigration law that will open a pathway to citizenship for up to 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid was expected to set a test vote for as early as Monday in a bid to have the deal added to the White House-backed bill in the form of an amendment.
A senior Democratic aide predicted the amendment would get upward of 60 votes in the 100-member chamber, more than enough to clear any procedural roadblocks.
A vote on passage of the bill is expected before the Senate departs at the end of next week for its Fourth of July holiday recess.
Backers are aiming for at least 70 votes on passage to increase pressure on the more resistant Republican-led House of Representatives to give the bill final congressional approval.
Republican John McCain, a member of the "Gang of Eight" senators who wrote the bipartisan bill, voiced doubt about the high cost of additional border security.
"I don't know if it's totally well spent," he said.
But McCain added, "I think it's important that we do this to give people confidence that we have border security, so in that respect it's well spent."
A leading conservative voice embraced the deal.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American lawmaker from Florida and another member of the Gang of Eight, said the deal was a "dramatic improvement in border security" during an interview on Fox News.
Rubio, touted as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, had hinged his support on improvements in border security. His endorsement is seen as crucial to winning conservative backing for the biggest changes in U.S. immigration law in a generation.
The proposal would double the overall number of U.S. border patrol agents, according to senior Senate Democratic aides.
That would mean assigning 21,000 new officers to the border with Mexico in an attempt to shut down illegal crossings by foreigners.
"I am now confident ... that the Senate will pass a strong, bipartisan immigration reform bill and that it will ultimately reach the desk of the president for his signature," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said.
The immigration bill, which is supported by President Barack Obama, currently calls for adding 3,500 Customs and Border Protection officers by 2017.
Besides doubling the number of border agents, the deal also calls for completing the construction of 700 miles of border fencing or walls, Senate aides said. About 650 miles have been built in one form or another, although some portions will have to be upgraded.
At an estimated price tag of about $40 billion to $50 billon, the amendment would represent a potentially massive investment of federal resources in securing the border at a time when conservatives are complaining about government outlays.
As originally written, the legislation called for about $6 billion in new border security spending.
CRITICS STILL UNHAPPY
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama mocked the deal even though he has called for tougher border enforcement. He noted that it was drafted after congressional analysts estimated the bill would trim illegal immigration by just 25 percent.
"The bill gets in trouble on the floor and they scurry around to get an amendment to throw 20,000 agents ... somewhere on the border in the future, we promise." Sessions said, adding that such promises have been made in the past but not honored.
Sessions and other conservatives have pushed for delaying any pathway to citizenship for 11 million people until the government virtually eliminates illegal border crossings.
But the Senate repeatedly has repelled such attempts. On Thursday, it voted 54-43 to kill an amendment by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, which would have delayed permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants until the government met strict border enforcement goals.
On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate's immigration bill would save the federal government nearly $900 billion over 20 years as illegal immigrants became legal, tax-paying residents.
A Democratic aide said those projected savings gave senators the leeway to craft such an expensive border security amendment.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican who has promised to consider an immigration bill this year, told reporters the CBO deficit-reduction estimates, if "anywhere close to being accurate, would be a real boon for the country."
While the legislation authorizes the beefed-up security programs, it would be up to Congress in the future to appropriate the funding.
A Senate aide said the newly legalized residents would not get "green cards" allowing permanent resident status until the border security measures were in place.
Gaining permanent resident status would take 10 years under the bill, giving the federal government the time to deploy the added border officers and equipment.
Grandma organizes ‘Glock Block' to shoot neighborhood criminals
Fed-up by the rise of crime in her neighborhood in Milwaukie, Oregon, 65-year-old, Coy Tolonen has decided to put matters into her own hands — using a Glock handgun.
The grandmother of three has organized a neighborhood “Glock Block,” a group of pistol-packing elderly neighbors seeking to deter crime, KOIN 6 News in Oregon reported.
Tolonen decided to start the group when her home was broken into last Thursday, she fears, by the same man who had stolen a bronze statue from her backyard earlier that day.
“It just made my blood run cold because our grandkids are playing here a lot, and one of them could have been snatched just as easily as the statue,” she told ABCNews.com.
Now the breast cancer survivor has taken a class and joined-up with other neighbors with concealed carry permits to try to keep their neighborhood safe. The neighbors have put-up fliers in their windows with their stated motto: “This is a Glock Block, We don't call 911.”
“These guys need to know if you're going to pick on a little old lady, then lots of the ladies I know are packing [guns]. They're sweet ladies but if it's their life, I'm sorry you're going to lose yours,” Tolonen said.
However, local law-enforcement isn't enthused.
Sergeant Robert Wurpes of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office told ABC News, “What we're really talking about here is property crime. We don't think firearms are the answer to this problem. However, we do understand gun ownership is a right. We understand that it's frustrating when people get things stolen or are victims of crimes. Our concerns come into play when guns are involved because they're dangerous.”
Tolonen is standing her ground, setting up meetings and firing range sessions with her neighbors.
Her ultimate goal? “I just want criminals to think twice. I want my grandkids to be able to play in the yard. It's time that we step up,” she said.
Police trading cards returning to Florham Park
by P.C. ROBINSON
FLORHAM PARK – It appears the borough police will once again be giving out those popular baseball-style trading cards kids love to collect and swap.
The Borough Council on Thursday approved a resolution endorsing Police Chief Patrick Montuore's request to re-initiate the program, which had been offered several years ago but was discontinued due to expense.
Montuore, however, wants the cards to return because they “have a pretty good local policing value."
Restoring the program, he said, “was a no-brainer.”
The cards typically contain a photo of police officers, as well as a little about them and the department. Kids typically collect the cards, and in doing so, also get to know more about the officers.
“It's a wonderful program and it breaks down barriers,” Montuore said.
Not only that, but the cards also help to keep youngsters “on the straight and narrow.”
The program isn't expected to cost taxpayers a cent.
According to Montuore, the Knights of Columbus have expressed interest in sponsoring the program, and will approach local businesses to help pay the associated costs. He said his department will do no soliciting.
According to the resolution, the cards “help stimulate dialogue between the police and the community and promote positive interactions with our young citizens.”
The council on Thursday also, as part of its consent agenda, approved a resolution officially thanking Fairleigh Dickinson University for a $7,000 grant to the Florham Park Trust Fund.
According to that resolution, the donation was made by the university, whose College at Florham is located in the borough, for “the high level of assistance and professionalism (the department) consistently provides, to their local campus and especially during Superstorm Sandy.”
The money, said Councilman Scott Carpenter, will be allocated for community policing, training and equipment.
Borough police aren't the only ones seeking greater rapport with the public.
During Thursday night's work session, Councilman Scott Carpenter said the Fire Department and first aid squad were considering holding a family day in late September.
The goal of that event, he said, would be to hopefully recruit new volunteers.
“The idea is to get people to think that (volunteering) is fun,” he said.
Oakland Police Unveil Neighborhood Commanders In New Strategy
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Oakland Interim Police Chief Sean Whent said Thursday that his department's new neighborhood policing plan is aimed at being more efficient in reducing the city's high crime rate.
“We want to better identify crime hotspots and react to them,” Whent said at a news conference at the police Eastmont substation, where he introduced the commanders of the five new police districts.
The Police Department had been divided into two large geographic districts in recent years but in March it started switching to five smaller districts, each with its own captain and about 66 officers.
Police officials say the new units will be able to focus on smaller beats and consequently improve response times and allow for more proactive policing.
Whent said the department also wants to “improve our relationship with the community” so that community members feel more comfortable talking with police officers and helping them solve crimes.
“As trust builds, cooperation increases,” he said.
Whent said he believes “there will be a significant crime reduction” by using the new system.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said, “I'm really excited” about the new system and said the city is “building a new Police Department” in which police work hard to develop better relationships with citizens.
“We want officers to slow down and smile,” Quan said.
Quan said “crime is beginning to level off a bit” since the new system began to roll out in March but admitted “we still have a long way to go.”
District 1 consists of Jack London Square as well as the adjacent downtown, Chinatown and Uptown districts.
Capt. Eric Lewis, who oversees the area, said, “We have a very serious robbery issue,” particularly in the Seventh Street corridor and around 14th Street and Broadway in the heart of downtown.
“It's unacceptable, the things that are occurring in the middle of the city,” Lewis said.
He said he's assigned officers to work in the areas most affected by robberies 24 hours a day and also pledged to do more bicycle patrols.
District 2 includes the Oakland hills and the Montclair, Temescal and Rockridge neighborhoods.
Lt. Chris Bolton, who assists Capt. Anthony Toribio in commanding the area, said he feels “a sense of personal accountability to our citizens” and he believes the new system will lead to “a better, safer Oakland.
District 3 consists of the city's Lakeshore, East Lake, Dimond and Laurel neighborhoods.
Capt. Ricardo Orozco, who commands the area, said he and his team will focus on reducing robberies and fighting human trafficking.
“We will target specific areas where crimes are occurring,” Orozco said.
Capt. Steven Tull said human trafficking also is an important issue in District 4, which runs east from Fruitvale Avenue to 62nd Avenue in part of East Oakland.
“I walked my district and people told me their primary issue is human trafficking,” Tull said.
He said he's also focusing on reducing robberies and burglaries.
“There's still a lot to be done but we're moving in the right direction,” Tull said.
Capt. Kirk Coleman, who heads District 5, which goes from 62nd Avenue southward to Oakland's border with San Leandro in a section of East Oakland adjacent to District 4, said he's been working to identify and crackdown on his area's most violent groups.
“We want to eliminate violent crime, including robberies,” Coleman said.
He said he is increasing bicycle and foot patrols by officers because “we want to get up and personal” with criminals.