Monday, May 21, 2018

Daily Corrections Clips


Rams inspire troubled teens on visit to Ventura Youth Correctional Facility

Gary Klein, The Los Angeles Times

A rapt group of young men listened intently as Ethan Westbrooks leaned back from the round table and asked them a question:

What do you want when you get out?

"A good place for my daughter to live," one answered.

"A scholarship," another said.

"A career," a third said.

Westbrooks, a Rams defensive lineman, was participating in Saturday's "Cleats for Character" session at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in Camarillo.

Westbrooks and defensive backs Troy Hill and Dominique Hatfield were part of a Rams contingent that included former players Reggie Doss, David Hill, Johnnie Johnson, Isiah Robertson, George Andrews, Joe Sweet, Ivory Sully, Phil Olsen and LeRoy Irvin.

About 100 of the 194 young men incarcerated at the facility — where the median age is 18 — earned the opportunity to meet the players and former players as well as participate in a football skills clinic. The Rams also donated jerseys and cleats.

"I see it as the Los Angeles Rams coming here to provide hope where it doesn't exist and maintain it where it does," said Johnathan Franklin, the Rams' director of community affairs.

The genesis of Saturday's event was born after Kevin Demoff, the Rams' chief operating officer and executive vice president of football operations, toured the Los Angeles County Jail as part of a project sponsored by Scott Budnick, a movie producer, prison mentor and founder and president of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Demoff told Budnick he would like to help.

"It doesn't hurt that I'm a huge Rams fan," Budnick said, laughing. "Sharks see red meat, so I pounced on it…. If someone's going to say something, I'm going to hold him to his word."

Chuck Supple, California's director of the division of juvenile justice, welcomed the Rams' visit.

"The road between from turning a dream into a reality requires meaningful relationships with adults and organizations and the development of skills to be able to reach those goals," Supple said. "So, you bring the Rams organization in … it's going to inspire them, to have them know their dreams are real."

The session began with an inspirational video about underdog boxer Buster Douglas' historic 1990 victory over Mike Tyson.

Then Franklin, a former Dorsey High, UCLA and Green Bay Packers player, told his personal story about perseverance.

The players and former players then took seats at tables that seated seven or eight, telling their stories, asking questions and overseeing the completion of a "Vision Board" worksheet.

"The kids here, yeah, they've made mistakes, but it's how you get up off the mat," said Irvin, who played cornerback for the Rams during the 1980s. "A lot of them need love and support and [to] know that someone really cares about what their life is going to be like, and believe that they can change.

"That's the message I sent them: I believe in you, and I believe you can change. Now what are you going to do?"

Westbrooks, Hill and Hatfield all overcame run-ins with the law, including Westbrooks and Hill while they were with the Rams. All three players said they were motivated to participate because of their own experiences, and those of friends or family, with the criminal justice system. All said that despite the circumstances, they saw and heard hope.

"If it's one person that hears your message, that's going to be a blessing for me," Hill said.

Said Hatfield: "I challenged them, when it's that first day out, what are you going to do? Are they going to go back to being the person that they was or are they going to take my advice and run with it?"

After the group work, the players and former players walked to an athletic field and led the participants in football drills.

Robert, 19, said that visits from professional athletes such as the Rams can change perspective.

"Sometimes we feel like we're forgotten," said Robert, who hopes to pursue a soccer career. "It's a good reminder to kind of tell us no, we are important. We are able to be something better than we are here."

As the football activities concluded, the group gathered in the middle of the field. They took a photo and then huddled.

"Rams!" they shouted in unison.

"It's a lot easier to understand than to judge when you communicate," Westbrooks said. "When you listen, when you actually take an ear to listen to where they're coming from."

L.A. Rams aim to inspire with players' first visit to Camarillo youth facility

Gretchen Wenner, Ventura County Star

There they were: pro football players, seated at tables around the visiting center of the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in Camarillo.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Rams made their first — and what many hope will be inaugural — visit to the facility, aiming to inspire the young men inside to set goals and aim high.

Three current Rams players, including St. Bonaventure High alum Troy Hill, joined nine former players in a “Cleats for Character” session held inside a correctional institution for the first time, organizers said.

“It’s a big deal,” said Chuck Supple, director of the state Division of Juvenile Justice. The division, part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, provides treatment and education for youthful offenders up to age 25 with the most serious criminal backgrounds. The facility houses serious and violent offenders, according to staff, including those who have committed crimes such as carjacking and murder.

“Rams Day,” as Supple called Saturday’s activities, provided an opportunity for the young residents to “take that spark of a dream and blow it into a flame,” he said.

Sports often provide “the first motivation and avenue into pursuing a college education” for young people like those in attendance, Supple said, many of whom are gifted athletes.

The Camarillo site is one of four Division of Juvenile Justice facilities in California, with the other three in Northern California. About 194 residents are currently housed at the local institution, the facility’s staff said. Twenty-six females reside at the site, although Saturday’s event was not coed.

The session started in the visiting area, an open, light-filled room where each round table seated six to eight people.

After introductions and a motivational speech by team executive Johnathan Franklin — a former Green Bay Packers player whose on-the-field career was cut short after 12 games by a spinal contusion — the players sat at tables and worked with the young men, helping them fill out personal “vision boards” that delineated talents, goals and areas for improvement.

“My question to you all is: What is your ‘why?’” Franklin asked the group, describing his own journey through depression and redemption after suffering the injury that ended his football dreams.

Franklin said he discovered dreams bigger than football: dreams for his community, dreams of being a role model. He described growing up in South Central L.A. with a “coked-out” family and “abusive stepdad,” saying he was a man who had nothing.

“But the power of my ‘why’ gave me something,” he told the group. “... Today, the Rams are here to show you that we believe in you, in spite of the past, the choices and mistakes.”

The engagement between players and attendees was evident. The young men were focused and attentive, at times breaking into laughter as players shared stories.

Some players, including Hill, who was arrested on a driving-under-the-influence offense in 2016, were able to use personal stories as motivation.

“I felt like they could relate to me a little bit better,” Hill, 26, a cornerback, said after the indoor session. “I felt like we made that connection, and once we made that connection, they got more comfortable with me. ... It gave them kind of a good outlook that they can still do some things.”

Another current player at Saturday’s event, defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks, 27, was arrested in September near Bakersfield on a gun-related charge. The charismatic player clearly held the interest of the group he worked with.

Defensive back Dominique Hatfield, 23, was also on hand along with former players including Reggie Doss, David Hill, LeRoy Irvin, George Andres, Johnnie Johnson, Phil Olsen, Joe Sweet and Isiah Robertson.

About 96 residents of the facility took part in Saturday’s session. Participation was earned through good behavior for about a month, officials said.

Attendees wore team jerseys that they were allowed to keep. They also got lightly worn cleats from the Rams’ 2017 roster.

One attendee, 19-year-old Christopher Flores, said he was interested in hearing the athletes’ stories of growing up and learning how they made it.

“It’s good to see them and shake their hand,” said Flores, who plays soccer and baseball.

After setting goals indoors, participants moved outside to the facility’s football field. There, Rams players carried out receiving drills and agility and footwork exercises with participants on a grass field marked with gopher holes.

Attendee Rodkei Royal, 19, watched the action from the sidelines before rotating back in.

“I’m just happy to see everybody out here enjoy the moment while we can,” Royal said. 

The Cleats for Character sessions previously have been held at high schools, including Camarillo High and Hueneme High, but never before in a correctional facility.

Saturday’s event grew from a chance meeting between the team’s executive vice president, Kevin Demoff, and Scott Budnick, a former movie producer who left the film industry to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, or ARC.

Budnick, who was at Saturday’s event, said he was giving a tour of Men’s Central jail in Los Angeles when Demoff was on the tour. The two started talking about a month ago and pulled together the first-ever session behind locked doors.

“The players know where these kids come from,” Budnick said while the pros coached participants on the field.

He said he hoped Saturday’s session would be the first of many at the youth facility.


California Today: Should the Case of the Death-Row Inmate Kevin Cooper Be Re-examined?

Nicholas Kristof and Charles McDermid, The New York Times

Last week, Nicholas Kristof, an Op-Ed columnist at The Times, published a piece on what he believes to be an injustice in California — a case in which a life hangs in the balance. We asked Mr. Kristof to discuss reaction to his column.

Pressure seems to be growing on Gov. Jerry Brown to allow advanced DNA testing in the case of Kevin Cooper, a black man on San Quentin’s death row for the brutal 1983 murder of a white family.

After my in-depth column in the opinion section on the case, Senator Kamala Harris has called on the governor to allow testing and so has John Chiang, the state treasurer and a candidate for governor.

As my column notes, I believe Mr. Cooper is innocent and was framed for murder by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office. What’s striking about the case is not only that the evidence against Mr. Cooper has mostly been discredited, but also that there’s growing evidence against a particular white man who also happens to be a convicted murderer (he wasn’t happy to hear from me).

Even federal judges have said that Mr. Cooper was framed. (That’s what drew my attention to him: a cri de coeur from the Ninth Circuit appeals judge William Fletcher.)

And the “ask” isn’t a pardon or commutation. It’s simply to allow advanced DNA testing of evidence, which the defense is willing to pay for. Yet Mr. Brown has so far resolutely refused to allow that testing.

I had criticized Ms. Harris for failing to allow testing when she was attorney general. But she called me after the article appeared online to say that she felt terrible about the case, and then she issued a statement calling on California and the governor to allow the testing.

The issue is getting more attention in the California press, and I hope Mr. Brown will similarly reconsider. Likewise, I’m hoping that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Senator Dianne Feinstein and others will call for testing in the case.


Bill Passes Senate Allowing Judges to Strike Sentence Enhancement for Prior Convictions

Post Staff

The California Senate recently passed Senate Bill 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act,  which reinstates judicial discretion to the application of the five-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person’s record at the time when a person is currently charged with a serious felony.

The bill, which passed with a vote of 23 to 14, is part of the Equity and Justice Package of 2018 authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara that seeks justice reforms for juveniles and adults.

“Mass incarceration is a massive moral failure and policy failure. It’s a moral failure because we now know that it is injurious to families and to the economies of low-income communities, and that its violence has been directed overwhelmingly at Black men and Black women, Latinos and Latinas,” Mitchell said.

“As a matter of public policy, paying for long prison sentences is the worst use of public safety dollars. We must stop wasting taxpayer dollars on a failed policy.”

California has some of the most severe sentence enhancements for prior convictions in the nation. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “California has more than 100 separate code sections that enhance sentences” based on a person’s current offense and/or record of prior convictions.

As of 2016, 79 percent of people under California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation custody had some kind of sentence enhancement attached to their base sentence; 25 percent had three or more enhancements stacked on.

Communities of color have been the most severely impacted by the application of these punitive policies. According to data from CDCR, there are close to 100,000 years’ worth of the 5-year enhancement applied to people currently under CDCR custody.

The Fair and Just Sentencing Reform bill would help restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system by allowing judges to decide what is best in the interest of justice.

“The financial and emotional stress of having a loved one in prison is extremely difficult, and sentence enhancements only add to the strain,” said Zakiya Prince, a member of the Ella Baker Center. “My husband committed an offense in which no one was hurt or even threatened, but because of mandatory enhancements my family must cope with 10 additional years of financial, emotional and mental hardships.

The passage of this bill builds on the national bipartisan momentum to enact criminal justice reforms that divest from ineffective mass incarceration policies and invest in community-based solutions like mental-health care, education, and substance-use treatment.

This bill also builds on the efforts of the California Legislature, which last year passed SB 180, The RISE Act, or Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancement Act), authored by Mitchell, which repealed the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions; and SB 620 authored by Senator Bradford, allowing judges to strike unwarranted gun sentence enhancements.  These efforts are in line with California voters who have also shown their support for such reforms in recent years by voting for Propositions 47, 64 and 57.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Daily Corrections Clips


Swedish musician’s hip-hop San Quentin band offers friendship, escape

Paul Liberatore, Marin Independent Journal

In a hot, cramped loft inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison, David Jassy, a Grammy-nominated musician serving 15-years-to-life for second-degree murder, spent a recent evening rehearsing with his six-piece hip-hop band, singing songs he wrote about his dreams of freedom, his longing to return home and his regret over the fatal mistake that landed him behind bars at the peak of his music career.
A Swedish hip-hop star, songwriter and producer, the 44-year-old, boyish-looking inmate has been in prison in California for a decade after being convicted of a violent act of road rage that took the life of a Hollywood jazz pianist named James Osnes.

Jassy, who’s from Stockholm and is of Gambian and Estonian descent, was halfway through a 90-day working vacation in Los Angeles when Osnes, a pedestrian, slapped Jassy’s rented SUV after it edged into a crosswalk one late night in 2008.

The two men didn’t know each other, so there was no personal grudge involved. Jassy had the option of letting the incident go and driving away. Instead, he got out of the car and confronted the 55-year-old musician. That’s a decision he’s regretted ever since.

“Jassy punched and kicked Osnes in the head and then drove over his body as bystanders screamed for him to stop,” according to a Los Angeles Times account of that night, quoting witnesses.

The jury wasn’t buying the defense argument that Jassy was defending himself and his girlfriend from “an angry drunk.” And the judge denied a request by his lawyer to have the second-degree murder conviction reduced to manslaughter.


“I was only supposed to be in this country for 90 days, and I’ve been in here for 10 years,” Jassy says ruefully, looking back on that day in court. “It’s been a long, tough vacation.”

The hip-hop band, Contagious, one of four official inmate music groups at San Quentin that perform at various yard shows, graduations and events inside the prison during the year, gets together every other Monday night for two and a half hours under the supervision of staff technician Raphaele Casale.

“This is about music, but it’s also about how to work together,” Casale says. “It’s about how to be humble, how to problem solve and do other things within the music. A lot of things get worked out personality-wise.”

You get the feeling that the band is also a kind of brotherly support group for a group of guys who are all serving long sentences and who look to each other for friendship, encouragement and camaraderie.

“We’re like a family,” says 54-year-old keyboardist Kevin Sawyer, who’s been in prison for 21½ years for assault and burglary.


For guitarist Lee Jaspar, who wears a yarmulke and a Star of David on a long silver chain around his neck, band practice is a spiritual experience. A professional guitarist and music teacher before he was convicted of assault under the three strikes law, Jaspar, who’s 62, has been locked up for more than two decades.

“To have the opportunity to write our own music and create our own arrangements is a sacred moment for me,” he says. “If you take that in the context of this environment — you’re in prison, it’s supposed to be hell — then you see how sacred it actually is. We have this opportunity to be creative, to express something that’s deep in our soul. How sacred is that?”

As the band’s primary songwriter and front man, Jassy and his songs about the reality of prison life have been the focus of the group since he was transferred from high security Solano Prison to lesser security San Quentin five years ago.

“This is a great way to express emotions,” he says. “Whatever you feel throughout the week, when we come to band practice we get back to our true selves. It’s kind of like an escape from the prison world.”

On the night I was there, I was struck by his song “Not the Mistakes I Made,” which seemed to sum up the feelings of everyone in the room who’d screwed up in their life at one critical point and was now facing the long-term consequences. The whole band chimed in on the chorus:

“I’m in prison, but I’m not the mistakes I’ve made/Made decisions I’m ashamed of, but I’m not the mistakes I’ve made/No, I’m not the mistakes I’ve made.”

After rehearsal, Jassy talked about what that song means to him and his bandmates.


“It’s basically saying, Yeah, we’re all in here because we made a terrible mistake and committed a horrible crime,” he says. “But that crime doesn’t define who we are as people. We’re humans with emotions, with families, and we’re just trying to rehabilitate as much as possible. We’re not trying to minimize what we did, but there are humans behind those mistakes. We’re trying to change, to become better men. That’s the story we tell. And that’s what that song is about.”

That message rings especially true for band member Paul Comauex, a 64-year-old vocalist who’s been in prison for 39 years on a first-degree murder conviction.
“Change does happen, even with us over the years,” he says. “I have 39 years in, and there’s no way you can tell me I’m the same individual I was when I committed that crime. I am not that person.”

In the late 1990s, Jassy was half of the Navigators, a Swedish hip-hop duo that released an album and scored a hit single that stayed 11 weeks on the Swedish pop charts.

After the duo broke up, Jassy went on to write music and produce other artists. He’d come to Hollywood to work with American actress and singer Ashley Tisdale, a Disney Channel star who has recorded a pair of albums for Warner Bros.

He also collaborated on a Britney Spears album and wrote songs for No Angels, Darin, Cherise and Heidi Montag. At the time of his arrest, he was dating a fashion model and, according to his probation report, earning $100,000 a year through his Jassy World Entertainment.


“I was at the peak of my career,” he says. “I had an offer from Disney to sign with their publishing arm, I had a management deal. Things were going really good for me. And then it was a case of bad timing, being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Jassy left behind an 11-year-old son, who’s 20 now, lives in Sweden and visits his father twice a year. The band’s drummer, James Benson, a 62-year-old inmate who’s been in prison 21 years on a 25-years-to-life sentence for nonviolent, drug-related offenses, remembers the time the band played Jassy’s poignant song “Coming Home” during a prison graduation ceremony. Jassy’s son was in the audience.

“Of all the songs we do, that’s the one that gets me emotionally,” Benson says. “Seeing this guy singing it to his son, I teared up. I just melted.”

In the spring of 2017, Jassy was featured in a TEDx performance inside San Quentin. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he sang a bittersweet song called “Freedom” that he wrote when he was stuck in his cell during a lockdown at Solano Prison.

“This song is dedicated to everybody incarcerated,” he sang. “To everybody locked up worldwide.”
In it, he sings about “praying for the man who lost his life in this tragedy/praying for my son growing up without his daddy.”


Lately, Jassy hasn’t had much time for song writing. He’s been too busy creating beats for the acclaimed prison podcast “Ear Hustle,” and producing music by the sudden influx of younger men who came into San Quentin last year, new arrivals he’d seen rapping on the yard.

“When they came here a lot of them were lost, involved in drugs and gangs and fights,” he recalls.

To redirect some of that misguided energy, he created something called the “YOP Mixtape,” a recording project within the state’s Youthful Offender Program (YOP) — established by the state assembly in 2015 to keep young inmates away from more serious and violent criminal influences in high-security prisons.

Jassy produced and recorded 30 songs by 15 young men, serving as a mentor to some of them. He had two requirements: that they refrain from using profanity and that they dig down deep and honestly express what they had been through, to paint a true picture of what prison life is like — not the glorified image portrayed in gangster rap.

Jassy sees the Mixtape not only as an opportunity for the young rappers to express their feelings and frustrations in a positive way, but also as a cautionary tale, a deterrent for young people on the outside who are at risk of committing crimes and going to prison.

So far, he points out, the Mixtape has caught the attention of music industry celebrities like Common and DJ Khaled, both supporters.

“We have an opportunity to change the narrative of rap, and to change the story of what actually happens when you go to prison,” Jassy says in a video about the project. “We in here live this life for real, and we know it’s not the life.”

Cal Fire recruits and trains North Coast inmates to help fight wildfires

Andy Krauss, Bobby Kroeker, KRCTV

REDWAY, Calif. — Cal Fire is training inmates from prisons throughout Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino Counties to help combat wildfires.

The agency said it expects the upcoming fire season to be just as deadly and destructive as last year's, which is why Cal Fire is using every resource they can.

They are training 20 different crews that consist of inmates all throughout the week.
"They'll be doing approximately six to seven hours of training," Cal Fire Public Information Officer Suzanne Van Meter said. "It started this morning at 8 o'clock when they rolled in."

Prisoners who show good behavior can sign up for the base training for wildfire fighting. Then, they are assigned to a crew to learn about fire behavior and how to combat it.

"They get tested on how their conduct in base camp is, then they're going to go out to a fire line," Van Meter said. "They'll go out to a piece of property where they'll actually put boots on the ground and tools into the soil and clear a fire lane."

The crews are inspected yearly to prepare them for the fire season. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Paul Duncan oversees those inspections.

"It's a head-to-toe inspection, so we're ensuring all their safety gear is in place, all the equipment gear with the buses is in place, all their tools are there," Duncan said. "We make sure tools are sharp, bus is in good shape, and the crew has all their safety briefings. They're ready to go engage a fire."

Once training is completed, these crews are ready to answer the call for duty wherever they are needed.

"These are available statewide. So these crews can go anywhere in the state within about an hour's notice," Duncan said. "They could be in southern California this evening fighting fires down there, because we are a statewide organization."

Look out for the second part of this report coming soon, as North Coast News details how Cal Fire trains these inmate crews after their training is complete.

NY Times Calls For DNA Test To Exonerate Death Row Inmate

CBS SF Bay Area

SAN QUENTIN (KPIX 5) — A new report is intensifying the push to give a death row inmate who has been sitting in San Quentin for decades a new DNA test.
The report is raising questions about whether he really belongs there and argues that advanced DNA testing could potentially prove that Kevin Cooper is an innocent man.

On Thursday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pleaded his case to California Governor Jerry Brown

“You don’t expect this in California,” said Kristof.

The journalist believes that Cooper is sitting on death row because he was framed. And Kristof is not the only one advocating on Coopers behalf.

Judge William Fletcher from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals spoke out for the inmate during a 2013 address at the NYU School of Law.

“He is on death row because the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department framed him,” Fletcher said during that address.

The crime was the murder of three out of four members of the Ryen family in 1983 in Chino. Also killed was friend, a young boy who was sleeping over. The boy’s father came over to pick him up.

He found the mother and the father, the daughter and his own son dead. Killed during the night. They had been chopped with a hatchet, sliced with a knife or knives, stabbed with an ice pick or screwdriver, Fletcher told gathered law students in his 2013 speech.

Kristof says the San Bernardino district attorney was under tremendous pressure to solve the crime.

And in a nearby house was Kevin Cooper. He was hiding out after escaping from prison where he was serving time for burglary.

“The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department deputies who responded to the call decided almost immediately who was the likely killer,” said Fletcher.

Cooper was convicted of all four murders and sentenced to death. But in the decades since then, DNA testing has been invented and improved.

The state allowed one round of DNA testing in 2001, but Cooper’s lawyers say it was not done properly.

They want new DNA tests using something called “touch DNA.”

“DNA testing can detect microscopic amounts that come from touching an object or wearing an object,” explained Kristof.

With touch DNA, there’s no need for blood or hair. The test can be done on traces of skin. Cooper’s lawyers want several items tested, including a hatchet and a t-shirt found at the scene

But the crime was committed in 1983. The question: is there anything left to test?
“DNA will degrade over time. Part of it is how much did you start out with,” said Dr. Monte Miller, the Director of Forensic DNA Experts. “With touch DNA, you don’t start out with a great deal, so if it degrades you may lose it.”

Dr. Miller says if items are properly stored, DNA can be recovered 40 or 50 years later.

But what about Kevin Cooper’s case?

“That’s a great question. We don’t know,” said Kristof. “It’s indeed possible that it’s too late. It may be that too much time has elapsed for to kind touch DNA on the handle of the hatchet for example. We just don’t know. But let’s find out.”
Lawyers for Cooper sent a request to Governor Brown in February of 2016, but the governor has not responded

On Thursday, the governor’s office told KPIX 5 the request remains under review.
But one gubernatorial hopeful has weighed in. State Treasurer and candidate for governor John Chiang released a statement today saying “DNA testing should immediately take place to resolve the Ryens case and finally ensure justice is served.”

During KPIX’s interview, Kristof was also critical of Senator Kamala Harris. He said back when she was California’s Attorney General, Cooper’s lawyers requests permission for new DNA tests, but her office refused.

Thursday, Senator Harris had no comment .

Fowler gets June retrial

Jason Cowan, Calaveras Enterprise

A trial date was set for next month in the case of a minor who had a 2015 murder conviction voided in February.

Isaiah Fowler, who is now 17, will go to trial June 19, said Judge Susan Harlan Tuesday after defense attorney Mark Reichel, Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook and others emerged from a closed discussion in court chambers.

Seconds before the judge’s announcement, Fowler emerged from a detainment room in a tied up ponytail with a gray-collared polo shirt, blue slacks and gray shoes. As he walked to his seat beside Reichel, he smiled in the direction of his family members seated in the audience.

He was convicted and sentenced in 2015 by Judge Thomas A. Smith, sitting as a juvenile court judge, for second-degree murder in the stabbing death of his sister, Leila, at their Valley Springs home in 2013.

Under the rules of the Division of Juvenile Justice, Isaiah Fowler was scheduled to be in jail for eight years until he turned 23.

The conviction was overturned earlier this year because a state court of appeals found the trial judge improperly accepted testimony obtained during police interrogations under circumstances in which the minor was not likely to understand that he had a right to remain silent and not answer police questions.

Attorneys will return to court on May 25 to discuss what testimony they need to present again during trial and what information can be read from previous transcripts. The first trial lasted 13 days. Reichel said the next should take a week.
According to Reichel, there will be no resolution of the case by plea bargain. Defenders want to prove Fowler is innocent.

Yook did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Reichel, who worked pro bono on Fowler’s case earlier this decade, was appointed by the county as his attorney Tuesday. He said afterward that saves money because he will be compensated at the county’s rate.

Since the crime occurred before Fowler was 14, proceedings will continue in juvenile court even if he turns 18. He will not get a trial by jury. Decisions will be made by a judge.
Fowler was relocated from the California Youth Authority in San Joaquin County to the El Dorado County Juvenile Detention Facility last week. Harlan ruled Tuesday he will remain at the facility through the proceedings.

Reichel said before the hearing that only the judge can determine if Fowler should be released to a suitable nondetention environment. Attorneys have asked that Fowler be released home.

After the 3rd District Court of Appeals voided the 2015 conviction in late February, the Office of the Attorney General had 40 days to file an appeal of that decision. When no appeal was filed, Fowler’s case was placed back on the county’s calendar.
In its decision, the appeals court determined it was inappropriate for the trial judge to accept some of the testimony presented during the 2015 trial from statements made in the course of police interrogations before Fowler was represented by an attorney.

He was interviewed on four separate occasions by a combination of local law enforcement and an FBI agent.

According to Steven Plesser, an attorney who represented Fowler during the 2015 trial, Fowler was in a fragile emotional state at the time, but he never confessed. Representatives from the district attorney’s office, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations continued to “push him.”

Leila was found with more than 20 puncture wounds and lacerations. Many were described as “prod” wounds that did not cut deep. A stab wound that pierced her heard was named the official cause of death.

Fowler’s defense attorneys and family insisted during the 2015 trial that he was innocent and that his sister was killed by an intruder who came into their Valley Springs home and hurt the girl.


Kale, Not Jail: Urban Farming Nonprofit Helps Ex-Cons Re-enter Society

Patricia Leigh Brown, The New York Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — Even by the standards of the Bay Area, where sourcing local, organic chicken feed is seen as something of a political act, the spectacle of 30,000 fruit and nut trees being tended by formerly incarcerated orchardists is novel.

The green thumbs are there because of Planting Justice, a nine-year-old nonprofit that combines urban farming with environmental education and jobs for ex-offenders. From its headquarters in a pair of salvaged shipping containers on a dead-end street in East Oakland, Calif., Planting Justice has forged a trail in which revenue-generating businesses help subsidize the group’s core mission: hiring former inmates, many from nearby San Quentin State Prison, and giving them a “family sustaining” wage, along with health benefits and a month of paid leave annually. About half the total staff of 30 have served time in prison.

Two years ago, the group’s founders — Gavin Raders, 35, and Haleh Zandi, 34 — established an orchard on a weedy, vacant lot in this area of stubborn poverty, where the pruning is serenaded not by birds but droning trucks from the adjacent freeway. Planting Justice’s Rolling River Nursery now sells and ships some 1,100 varieties of potted trees and plants — among them, 65 different kinds of pomegranates, 60 varieties of figs, and loads of harder-to-find species such as jujubes (Chinese dates), Japanese ume plums and rue, an aromatic herb used in Ethiopian coffee. Signs warn visitors that they have entered a pesticide- and soda-free zone.

Though still young, the organic orchard generates roughly $250,000 of Planting Justice’s yearly $2 million operating budget. Another $250,000 comes from an edible landscaping business, in which roving horticulturalists hired by well-off clients install beehives, fruit trees, chicken coops, massive barrels for harvesting rain water and “laundry to landscaping” systems that funnel used washing machine water into the garden. The money helps subsidize pro bono edible landscapes in low-income neighborhoods.

In addition, there are the 2,000 or so “subscribers” who make monthly pledges to Planting Justice, which brings in another $450,000 annually, and grants from a variety of nonprofit organizations, among them the Kresge FreshLo program, the Thomas J. Long Foundation and Kaiser Permanente’s community benefit programs.

Planting Justice cultivates metaphors along with the food. “We’re composting and weeding the things in our lives we don’t need and fertilizing the parts of ourselves we do need,” Mr. Raders explained, sitting on a eucalyptus stump.

The guiding principle: kale, not jail.

Mr. Raders and Ms. Zandi, who are partners and have two children together, got their start as door-to-door peace activists. Mr. Raders had spent some time in India protesting a Coca-Cola bottling plant that was depleting groundwater. The couple eventually decided they wanted to commit to something tangible, particularly since “there was a war happening in our own community — violence and multigenerational poverty,” Mr. Raders said.

The two began volunteering at the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin, part of a broader “green prison” movement that includes career pathways. The San Quentin program is intended to provide horticultural skills, positive social interactions and a sense of agency to medium-security inmates.

Studies of the garden programs at San Quentin and at Rikers Island in New York City indicated lower recidivism rates than state averages, perhaps not surprising given the bleakness of prison environments and the relief that access to nature can bring, said Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge.

Of the 35 formerly incarcerated workers hired by Planting Justice since 2009, only one is known to have returned to prison, Mr. Raders said. Employees must commit to staying sober and drug free. A few have gone into detox programs and rebounded, but two were let go because of poor job performance, he said.
Anthony Forrest, 56, who served 25 years at San Quentin for armed robbery, started his job at Planting Justice five days after his release, earning $17.50 an hour. (He now makes $25 an hour.)

“Working in the garden calms me down,” Mr. Forrest said. His first assignment was building vegetable gardens for clients and planting fruit trees at the county juvenile justice center. He now leads weekly educational programs at four Oakland schools, another part of Planting Justice’s mission, helping students plant and maintain raised vegetable beds, whipping up nettle smoothies for dubious teenagers and teaching a health- and nutrition-oriented class “about what goes into your body,” as he put it.

“We live in the ghetto,” he added. “Everything you see on the shelves is not nutritious and has been sitting around.” Mr. Forrest also recently started teaching meditation and gardening at the prison where he once served.

Jennifer Sowerwine, an urban agriculture specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension at Berkeley, said that Ms. Haleh and Mr. Raders have “shifted the conversation around food justice.”

“It’s not just about food security, but the security of providing living wages,” she said. That’s no mean feat in a foodie monoculture.

Planting Justice has also had success with crowdsourced funding. When offered the chance to buy 30,000 trees from a nursery that was closing, Ms. Haleh and Mr. Raders raised $100,000 through Kickstarter and secured additional funding. Then there was issue of where to put 30,000 trees: The Northern California Community Loan Fund came through with a $600,000 loan to help finance the acquisition of the East Oakland land.

Carla Javits, the president and chief executive of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, which funds and advises social enterprises, said that the entrepreneurial approach taken by Ms. Haleh and Mr. Raders is on point. “It used to be embarrassing for nonprofits to talk about revenue,” she said. “But a new generation of leaders recognize they have to be intentional about their business model.”

Once East Oakland is paid off, Planting Justice plans to transfer ownership of the property to an indigenous land trust — one led by women, no less. It’s an effort to redress the trauma done to the Ohlone people, the Bay Area’s original inhabitants, and the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust has already started building ceremonial grounds on the site. Planting Justice also has a long-term lease on another farm for propagating trees.

But for now, the main focus is on aiding these former inmates, and trying to help ease their way back into life in the outside world.

No one is suggesting that it’s an easy task. Bilal Coleman, a current employee of Planting Justice who went to prison at age 17 and was released 20 years later, wrote in his blog The Freedom Chronicles about the challenges of his first year of freedom, including the stresses of housing a family in Oakland. Now, he makes kale smoothies for high school students and tries to engage the ones who seem most at risk.

“I believe I have an edge up,” he said of his own experience, which has been hard-won. “In East Oakland, what’s fashionable are the hustlers. Now my hustle is the garden.”


Community Voices: Prop 47 report card is full of holes

Brik McDill, The Bakersfield Californian

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation news: “Results from the study out of UC Irvine suggest the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014 ‘has had no effect on violent crimes, including homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery,’ UCI said Wednesday.”

That was said to allay the fears of those many (including myself) who predicted an upsurge in crime. Some history and context is in order. Two laws enacted not long ago were meant to reduce prison overcrowding, nothing else and nothing more: AB 109 (Prison Realignment which introduced the notion of triple-non criminals – nonviolent, nonsexual, nonserious) and Prop. 47 (Reducing certain nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors).

State prison kept control of more serious and violent offenders (murder, rape, assault, and the like listed above). The kinds of criminals affected by AB109 and Prop 47 where the “property crime” criminals who had very high rates of recidivism – and still do.

It should surprise no one that the more “serious crime” criminals – those kept behind state prison bars – have been kept from repeating their crimes and are unaffected by AB109 and Prop. 47.

For UCI to state that after years of research they found no increase in violent crime due to AB109 and Prop 47 is to state the painfully and embarrassingly obvious: the violent crime rate has not gone up because of AB109 and Prop. 47 because the two laws had nothing to do with “violent crime” criminals or crime.

To repeat: they had nothing to do with violent, serious, or sexual crime. They were designed specifically and solely to reduce prison overpopulation by remanding lower level triple-non “property crime” criminals to county lockups.

Virtually everyone (again including myself) working in corrections at the time AB 109 and Propg 47 were being discussed and then enacted predicted that property crime would go up – which it has, resulting in over 400 California cities – including Bakersfield – begging the Governor to revisit and rethink the two laws because of surging local property crime rates.

The embarrassing UCI study is tantamount to a medical research firm announcing that after years of research they have found that insulin since the inception of its use has had no effect on tuberculosis or valley fever. Insulin has no effect on either — in the same way that AB 109 and Prop. 47 by their very definition have no effect on serious crime, but everything to do with triple-non property crime and its now soaring rates.

Let’s not forget that two serious immediate and direct effects of AB 109 and Prop. 47 were that county probation workers were overwhelmed with state referrals and could not keep up with their work supervising their charges, and that local county jails were likewise overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up with the flood of new inmates no longer being remanded to state prison custody.

The results of both in combination were that county jail remandments were booked and released within hours of arrival, and that probationees were “forced-error” neglected and ran amok due to overly thin supervision, no fault of probation workers.

Property offenders knew they were by wrinkle of law freed to do whatever petty crimes they wanted. Arrests were a matter of catch and release. Indeed older gangsters would often re-offend to get jailed in order to recruit new gang members. Jails were not equipped to deal with seasoned gang members who brought into jails new political gang dynamics and serious assaults and various and sundry other misbehaviors.

The UCI research was fatally flawed from the start. It’s surprising that any serious scholar would not immediately have seen the problem. If A is foreknown by definition to be wholly unrelated to B, one would expect and predict no connection between the two. And UCI unsurprisingly finds there isn’t. That’s nothing more than Research Methodology and Statistics 101.

The research wasn’t even necessary. The results were foregone ‘ere the research began. The fact that graduate level UCI did a research project that would have failed Community College lower division standards is disappointing. More than that though, it puts out information that misconceives the problem and misleads the public into thinking that everything’s OK when it’s not.

Back to the drawing boards for CDCR and UCI.

Dr. Brik McDill is a retired correctional psychologist. The opinions expressed are his own.