Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Black Lives Matter (Page 2 of 2)

Women Dying in California Prison

Women Dying in California Prison

In our discussions about mass incarceration, the plight of women in prison is often ignored. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners is sounding an alarm. The alarm says that since 2013, there is an epidemic of dying women in the California Institution for Women (CIW) including suicides.

On November 10, 2016, inmate Bong Chavez hung herself from a ceiling vent. For 2 weeks before she killed herself, Bong requested mental health services. She also allegedly told an officer she was suicidal. Bong was serving time for killing her own child in 2011. When she killed her child, she reportedly suffered from “significant mental health issues” including a brain tumor. She ended up in CIW after pleading “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter.

High Suicide Rate Documented

CIW is in Chino, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles. The suicide rate at CIW is 5 times the suicide rate of all California prisons and 4-5 times more than the national average for female prisons.

In January 2016, Lindsay Hayes, a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention within jails, prisons and juvenile detention, completed a court-ordered suicide prevention audit of all of California’s prisons.  Hayes found that CIW is “a problematic institution”  which “exhibited numerous poor practices” in the area of suicide prevention. His report found that CIW staff recorded more than 400 emergency mental health referrals for suicidal behavior in a six-month period in 2015, but only nine were entered in the mental health tracking system. Staff apparently was not completing required forms to refer inmates for mental health services.

Consequences of Overcrowding

Overcrowding in California’s prisons is normal. As of October 2013, CIW was designed to hold 1,398 inmates. In fact, the number of women housed there was 2,155, almost 800 more than its maximum capacity. In July 2016, the total number of inmates was still almost 500 women over capacity at 1,866.

With overcrowding comes a lack of supervision of officers and prisoners. Overcrowding causes a widespread inability to access programs, as well as delays and inadequate medical and mental health care. Safety and security, the hallmarks of CDCR’s mission, are severely comprised inside the institution. CIW reportedly has a very high rate of methamphetamine use. “Jackie,” currently incarcerated at CIW, blames the overcrowding for what she calls “an extreme increase in the internal drug trade in the prison system and all the associated fights, lockdowns and increased restrictions.”

In July 2016, a woman formerly incarcerated at CIW sued CDCR for rape and sexual assault.  She alleged that her assailant, Officer Michael Ewell, had sexually assaulted a female correctional officer at another institution and impregnated another female inmate before he sexually assaulted her.

Preventable and Mysterious Deaths

On July 30, 2014, Margarita Murugia was found hanging in her cell. She was reportedly distraught because her requests to see her dying mother were denied.

dae-dae-headshot-300x225Before her, Shadae Schmidt, better known as DaeDae to her friends, was found dead in her cell on March 14, 2014. She suffered a stroke in February 2014 but was placed in solitary confinement less than 3 weeks later where she died.

 

On April 14, 2016, Erika Rocha committed suicide.

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Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult in LA County. Facing a double life sentence for attempted murder, Erika took a plea deal for to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison. At the time of her death, she was serving her 21st year of incarceration. She suffered from mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years each in solitary confinement.

shaylene-momShaylene Graves died in June 2016, also an alleged suicide. She was only six weeks away from being released. She was planning how to work to help others after she got out. Shaylene had served 8 years for being the getaway driver in an armed robbery. She was just 19 years old when she was arrested. Her family is doubtful that she hung herself and continues to demand answers and accountability.

What Can You Do?

There is a petition online asking Governor Brown and the California State Senate to investigate the deaths at CIW.  I urge you to sign it and support the efforts to address this tragic situation.

Will He Keep His Promises?

Will He Keep His Promises?

I woke up Wednesday morning in Trumpland. My worst fears are coming true. Will he keep his promises?  In the first days I am upset and depressed. I feel better as I hear others calling out to fight back. In the months between Trump’s election as President and his inauguration, most of us will gather our thoughts and renew our passports (just in case).

The media tries to push the country into denial. Even elected officials maligned by Trump insist that he did not really mean what he said. They say he will be “different” as the President than the person who ran for President.

If He Keeps His Promises

If he is true to his word, on Day 1, President Trump will issue an Executive Order suspending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and any funding to support the Act. His actions may send the economy and world markets into a downward spiral.

If he keeps his promises, President Trump will direct the FBI to re-open its investigation of Hillary Clinton. We should not be surprised if newly appointed Attorney General Rudy Giuliani orders Hillary’s arrest.

first-they-cameIf he keeps his promises, President Trump will invest millions of dollars to ramp up the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). ICE will develop a comprehensive plan to locate and deport millions of working and poor people suspected of immigrating from Mexico, South America, Syria or Haiti. We should expect that vigilantes will volunteer to assist in the effort to deport these “illegal aliens.” He will also immediately start construction of the wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

We should not be surprised if President Trump rejects the Obama administration’s position on private prisons and directs the Bureau of Prisons to renew all of the private contracts.  We should expect that funding for re-entry of formerly incarcerated persons, community policing and mental health services will be severely reduced. California will continue to be the leader if not the only state committed to working against mass incarceration in America.

If he keeps his promises, President Trump will champion laws to defund Planned Parenthood and declare abortion completely illegal. Led by Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican-controlled Congress will likely pass these laws.

What President Trump labels “locker room talk” may became more prevalent in our schools and public places. Our efforts to stop violence against women and eliminate commercial sexual exploitation of women and under-age girls are likely to receive minimal support in the new Trump administration.

Packing SCOTUS with Scalia Clones

If he keeps his promises, President Trump will immediately appoint a Scalia-like judge to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia was a rabid opponent of affirmative action appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan. In 2015, Justice Scalia appeared to openly endorse a racist argument that Black students do better at “slower-track schools” stating:

Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them. . . . I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer [Black students]. Maybe it ought to have fewer.

President Trump will likely have more opportunities to “pack the court” with Scalia-inspired justices, based on suggestions from the Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation, two right-wing conservative think-tanks.

The Good News

The good news is that already, everywhere, resisters to the Trump Presidency are organizing. In the Democratic Party, progressives are organizing to redeem the party. One of the most poignant “calls to action” was issued “the day after” by former Emerge Director, Kimberly Ellis.  She’s running to change the face of the Democratic Party.

Outside the party, thousands, perhaps millions, have joined Bernie Sanders’ ourrevolution.org. Black Lives Matter continues to be an inspiring movement rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country and committed to the empowerment of our community. And I really believe that if there ever comes a day that Latinos and immigrants are being hunted down en masse and sent off to concentration camps, most of us will not watch silently and fail to “speak out.”*  We are our brother’s keeper.

Finally, I was honored by Hillary’s final words to the Obamas: “To Barack and Michelle Obama, our country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude. We thank you for your graceful, determined leadership.” The Obamas together, made all of us look kindly on and feel better about America. I hope that once we recover from the shock of Trump’s election, we will “shake the dust off our feet” and keep stepping toward the light. The race is clearly not given to the strong or the swift but to he that endureth.  “Banish the darkness with light.”

*  Quote from “First They Came for the Socialists”.  Martin Niemoller (1946).

Simple Justice – Abolish Juvenile Fees

juvenile-defendants-jailedI am standing in the chambers of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.   There are many other advocates for justice who came to speak in favor of a moratorium on juvenile fees.   I remind the Supervisors first, that Black Women Vote and Black Votes Count.

I represent BWOPA, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Richmond-Contra Costa Chapter.  Why is that so important?  Because these types of fees have devastated Black and Brown families for decades and no one said anything.  And too often, when we have a conversation about institutional racism, there is no Black voice at the table.

What Are These Fees?

In California, juvenile administrative fees are imposed on families whenever a child comes into contact with a County’s juvenile justice system.  In Contra Costa County, the fees include cost of care when a child is placed in any detention facility and electronic monitoring fees when a child is released but still under probation supervision.  The law allows counties to charge parents for public defender services as well as the cost of drug and substance abuse testing.

The fees are first determined by the probation department.  The parent then receives a letter telling her that she owes money as a result of her child’s arrest and incarceration.  The probation officer is supposed to tell the parent that she has a right to a statement of the fees, and there is a time limit to contest the fees.  The officer is also supposed to tell her that she has a right to a hearing in the juvenile court, and warn her that if she fails to appear, the probation officer will recommend that the court order her to pay the entire amount.  (California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 903.45)

Creating Racially-Based Economic Disparity

The imposition of these fees on low-income families clearly undermines the family’s integrity.  It also reinforces the economic disparities so prevalent in our society.  If the parent does not pay the costs, eventually the debt goes into collections and may become a judgment against her.  In Contra Costa County, the probation department has records of almost $17 million of uncollected juvenile fees.  The uncollected fees  go back as far as 1990.  Probation admitted that its practices and policies for the collection of these fees (both the ones previously collected and the $17 million uncollected fees) might not exactly comply with State law.

In a recent bankruptcy case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote ‘burdening a minor’s mother with debts to be paid following his detention . . . hardly serves the future welfare of the child and hardly enhances the Probation Department’s attempt to transform him into a productive member of society.”  (In re Maria G. Rivera.)  In that case, the son was incarcerated for 593 days.  The family got hit with a bill of almost $20,000.00.  The mother paid ½ of it.  When she filed bankruptcy after several years, Orange County opposed her discharge in bankruptcy of the remainder of the fees.  The Ninth Circuit questioned the County’s actions, stating  “the County raises yet another obstacle to Rivera’s efforts to provide her son with the support about which the County claims to be so deeply concerned.”

“Not only does such a [juvenile fee] policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating “as a regressive tax,” but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.”  In re Maria G. Rivera, No. 14-60044 (9th Cir. 8/10/16).

“The New Jim Crow” in Contra Costa County

Researchers have documented that in Contra Costa County, a Black child is 8.4 times more likely than a white child to be arrested.  That same child is 10.7 times more likely than a white child to be referred to the juvenile court, 10 times more likely to be found delinquent, 15.7 times more likely to be detained before a hearing, and 23.3 times more likely to be incarcerated.  (CA Dept. of Justice, published online at www.data.burnsinstitute.org).

Pervasive racial disparity in the juvenile justice system creates massive racially-based economic disparity for families caught up in the system.  Black and brown families are devastated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system overall.  The realities of “the new jim crow” are particularly heart-breaking when it comes to our children.  Research concludes that legal indebtedness contributes to poverty “in three ways: by reducing family income; by limiting access to opportunities such as housing, credit, transportation, and employment; and by increasing the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice involvement.”  (Harris A., Evans H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary United States, American Journal of Sociology, 115, p. 1756.)

A Step Forward

On September 25, 2016, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors took an important  first step.  The Court adopted a full moratorium on juvenile fees.  The Board suspended the assessment and collection of all fees.  Contra Costa joined two other Bay Area counties that have taken similar action.  Alameda County repealed the policy.  Santa Clara County adopted a moratorium.  This is a victory for all children and families.  The policy hit Black, Brown and low-income families the hardest.

Advocates to Be Grateful For!

This victory is a direct result of advocacy by the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition, the University of California Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic and the Reentry Solutions Group.  Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for the advocacy of everyone who participated in this effort, including Supervisor John Gioia.

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

I’m sitting in a small crowded courtroom in the Hayward Hall of Justice.  Lots of reporters and cameras on tripods, court personnel and a few civilians.  I’m thinking about my next blog, “the Politics of Trust.”  Then, a funny thing happened on the way to justice.

An elderly Caucasian man stands on the side of the courtroom looking over the scene.  Most don’t notice him – I realize that he is the judge waiting to take the bench.  Soon he does.  The Judge very quickly goes through the steps of arraignment for former Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Perez.

perez-court-v2Ricardo Perez is charged with felony oral copulation with my client, Jasmine.  It is apparently well known that he was “one of her regulars.”  Since she was still a minor, he was actively engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child (CSEC).  He reportedly worked as a Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy for several years.

Who Is the Judge?

Judge Joseph J. Carson was first appointed as a judge by Governor Ronald Reagan in June 1972.  In  April 1984  Governor George Deukmejian elevated him to serve as a Superior Court judge.  Judge Carson was a Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County between 1966 and 1972 before he became a judge.

The district attorney asks Judge Carson to set Perez’ bail at $60,000.  After reading Perez’s probable cause statement, Carson smiles and says, “Fish Ranch Road?  I haven’t been there since high school.”  Carson then let Perez remain out of custody on his own recognizance.

Judge Carson’s decision to let defendant Perez out on his own recognizance (OR) is in stark contrast to the $300,000 bail Jasmine was held on in Florida a month ago.  Judge Carson’s OR  decision was obviously based on his own world view about CSEC and perhaps, his own fond memories of hanging out on Fish Ranch Road.  When he made the comment, he seemed to snicker at the thought of whatever happened to him the last time he was on Fish Ranch Road.

What A Difference Race Makes

Judge Carson’s decision to OR defendant Perez on a felony charge is very different from bail decisions issued for most Black and Brown defendants in our criminal justice system in Alameda County.  The experience of racism is still channeled through the bail system in America. Study after study has documented the disparity by race in bail decisions across the country. 

In her 2013 analysis of bail practices, Washington College of Law Professor Cynthia E. Jones describes how judges “exercise virtually unbridled discretion in making bail determinations, which are too frequently corrupted by the random amount of money bond imposed, the defendant’s lack of financial resources, the implicit bias of the bail official, and the race of the defendant.  These factors combine to create an extreme dysfunction in the bail determination process” resulting in severe over-crowding of jails and racial disparities in bail outcomes between African-Americans and whites.  (Jones, C. E. (2013). “Give Us Free”: Addressing Racial Disparities in Bail Determinations.” New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, 16(4), 919–62.)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 2008 and 2011, Alameda County was one of the largest jail jurisdictions in the United States, (in the top 15) with an average daily population of more than 4000 inmates.  Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of our average daily jail population that was un-sentenced but remained detained was consistently much higher than the state average.  Typical reasons for staying in jail before sentencing are the inability to post bail, public safety or flight risk, or slow criminal justice processing.  The population of detainees “presumed innocent until proven guilty” is overwhelmingly Black and Brown.

The Racial Divide in Alameda County

Justice in Alameda County has historically been racially imbalanced.   In 2002, the rate of felony arrests in California for African Americans was 4.4 times higher than for whites.  Our rate of incarceration in Alameda County was 7.5 times higher; the rate of incarceration for second strikes was 10 times higher.   African Americans were incarcerated at a rate almost 13 times higher than whites under the three-strikes program.

In 2004, in Alameda County, African-Americans were only 14.61% of the population; we were 52.85 of all felony arrests.  In contrast, 41% of the population was White and only represented 22% of all felony arrests.

In 2008, 55.0% of the inmates in Santa Rita Jail were African American, while only 18.1% were White.  At that time, 12.2% of adult residents in the County were African American and 40.5% were White.

There is clearly a legacy of racial injustice in Alameda County.  Yet, we can count the number of police officers criminally charged for criminal misconduct in Alameda County on one hand.  When an officer who clearly abused his position and power and exploited a young girl is actually charged, no bail is his reward.  Judge Carson’s decision adds “insult to injury.”

How do you feel about that?  Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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