Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Daily Corrections Clips

CALIFORNIA INMATES

Mickey Rapkin, New York Magazine

You can imagine how this idea was received 10 years ago, but here’s the pitch: A tenacious British actress teams up with Oscar winner Tim Robbins to bring acting classes to maximum-security prisons. And not just any acting classes, but improv workshops that ask Crips and Bloods and convicted murderers and white supremacists to sit together, wear makeup and masks, and maybe even pretend to be women sometimes. The eight-week intensive is meant to help the incarcerated better handle their emotions. But if you think it sounds more like the treatment for an Orange Is the New Black spinoff than a serious attempt at criminal-justice reform, you’re not alone.

“People said, ‘Yeah, yeah, you want to give them crayons. You’ve got acting classes?’” recalls Robbins of the launch of the Actors Gang Prison Project. “We’re like, ‘No, we don’t want anyone to be an actor. There’s too much unemployment in that. It’s about changing behavior.” Fundraising was a slog. Correctional officers pushed back. And these actor-facilitators were dismissed as another merry band of liberals pushing what’s known in the Prison Industrial Complex as “hug-a-thug” programming.

Sabra Williams, the co-founder and executive director of the Prison Project — who also had a small part in Kristen Wiig’s Welcome to Me last year — remembers those early days. “There was so much opposition with lots of COs telling me, ‘Why are you wasting your time with these losers?’” she says. “A few haters thought we were giving inmates too much power. One spread rumors that I was having an inappropriate relationship with a student.”

CALIFORNIA PAROLE

Michael Montgomery, KQED

When Troy Williams was 27, he took part in a robbery that involved a kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison at San Quentin. Over the next 18 years, he went  before the parole board five times, and was denied release each time.

After his sixth hearing, Williams was released on parole with help from lawyer Keith Wattley, whose group UnCommon Law helps inmates navigate a parole system he sees as arbitrary and needlessly punitive. Forum talks with Wattley, Williams, another parolee and a former parole agent about their experiences. And a week after California voters approved reform to the state’s parole system, we’ll discuss what the coming changes mean to inmates, their families and victims.

DEATH PENALTY

Liliana Segura, The Intercept

As it became increasingly clear that Donald Trump was about to win the presidency on Tuesday night, mental health staff were on call at San Quentin Prison and at the Central California Women’s Facility, where anxiety was running high over a separate election result. By the next day the men and women on death row would know whether Californians had voted to spare their lives — by passing Proposition 62, abolishing the death penalty — or hasten their deaths, by passing Proposition 66, aimed to quicken executions. “They are understandably concerned,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Terry Thornton told me earlier that day, pointing out that many are already under treatment for mental illness. The results of the ballot initiatives “could be destabilizing.”

It’s hard to imagine a place more heavily monitored than California’s death row, where isolation, strip-searches, and suicide watch are a fact of life. Yet CDCR counts 25 suicides among the condemned since 1978, the year a ballot initiative dramatically expanded the crimes punishable by execution in California. With the same people responsible for that initiative now campaigning against the death penalty, no one had more at stake in their success on Election Day than the nearly 750 people facing execution in California.

Zye Angiwan, immortal News

Aside from deciding to legalize recreational marijuana, voters in California also agreed not to repeal the death penalty by supporting Proposition 66. The win is being opposed however, as a lawsuit has been filed questioning the legality of the measure. Ron Briggs, a former supervisor of El Dorado County, filed a lawsuit one day after the election, saying, “Proposition 66 violates the constitution by keeping the [state] Supreme Court and the appeals court out of the system.” He adds, “The proponents of Prop 66 put together a pretty shabby initiative.”

Under the proposition, death row inmates would not send their first appeal – a petition for writs of habeas corpus – to a higher court, but to the original judge on the case. All appeals after that would have to be conducted within five years of the original sentencing.

Jazmine Ulloa, The Los Angeles Times

Proposition 62, which would have repealed the death penalty in California, drew its strongest opposition among Republicans and those who voted for Donald Trump for president, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times post-election poll.

But analysts said the narrow defeat of the initiative at the polls last week came in as expected given a sharp divide over capital punishment nationwide. They also cautioned against attributing the loss to the so-called "Trump effect," a wave of mostly white, male voters from rural areas energized by Trump's presidential run.

CORRECTIONS RELATED

Jose Quintero, Daily Press

VICTORVILLE —San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said he will continue working with the Secretary of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to determine what impact the passage of Proposition 57 will have in the county.

California voters approved the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, better known as Prop 57, last week. It is supposed to help reduce the state’s prison population by providing more parole opportunities for some convicted felons. The proposition allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons, authorizes sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior and education and allows juvenile court judges to decide whether a juvenile will be prosecuted as an adult.