Posted 6/16/23


When citywide crime “falls,” who really benefits?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Our attention was recently drawn to a Los Angeles Times piece with an unusually explicit Internet link: Entitled “What the latest police numbers show about crime in L.A., San Francisco and West Hollywood”, its message (greedy cops) was so obvious that progressively-minded readers might have been forgiven for simply nodding and moving on.

     But as a long-time, home-delivery subscriber, we dove in. And quickly realized that the supposedly well-researched article was really just another feel-good account about L.A.’s citywide crime decline. Citing police data, it reported that L.A.’s 2023 violent crime rate was “more than 10%” lower than for the same Jan. 1-May 20 period last year. Homicide, in particular, had plunged a substantial twenty-seven percent. (Click here for our saved version of an LAPD report containing city-wide crime numbers for January 1-May 27 periods in 2021, 2022 and 2023.)

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

     Forgive us if we're not impressed. As our neighborhoods essays have long harped, people live and work in places whose characteristics can’t be accurately depicted with citywide scores. “What’s Up? Violence. Where? Where Else?” compared neighborhoods across Los Angeles and New York City. “Don’t Divest – Invest” did so for Portland and Minneapolis. And “Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (II)” focused on  Memphis. It’s long been our practice to focus on crime rates in areas within cities. And we always bring their poverty rates along. No, it’s not because we think that poverty “causes” crime. After all, most poor people are perfectly law-abiding. But poverty has proven to be a worthy surrogate indicator for a host of more proximate factors, from gang activity to unemployment, that are closely linked to violence.

     Here we’re doing it again, and again for L.A. Our top image displays poverty and homicide rates per 100,000 population between January 1 and May 27, 2023 for six LAPD geographical Divisions (there are twenty-one) that populate the extremes of the homicide spectrum, with three at each end. L.A.’s “citywide” rate is in the middle. These tables extend that comparo to five Divisions at each end, and expands coverage to include the other two major crimes of violence: aggravated assault and robbery:

Crime rates were computed using LAPD Division crime stat’s and population figures. Division poverty scores were produced as in “Does Race Drive Policing?”, by overlaying precinct and ZIP code maps, then averaging Census poverty statistics. Divisions appear in both groups (“lowest” and “highest”) by their crime rate, from least to most.

     Within each crime type, comparing the five lowest and five highest crime-burdened precincts yields stark differences in crime rates and percent of the population in poverty. High-homicide rate precincts, for example, have an average homicide rate (9.1) that’s more than thirty times that of their low-homicide counterparts (0.3). Their average poverty score is also twice as high. Like contrasts are evident for aggravated assault and robbery. And that's not just something that came about in 2023. In the next set of tables we use saved LAPD data to extend our coverage to equivalent periods in 2021 and 2022 (# represents the actual number of crimes). We begin with homicide:

 Here’s aggravated assault:

And here’s robbery:

Average poverty scores for the highest-rate groups was substantially higher than for the lowest-rate groups for each year and crime type. Really, the pronounced connection between violent crime and poverty could hardly be more obvious. And unlike those comparatively benevolent “citywide” crime numbers (you know, the ones that the bosses like to brag about), the crime rates rates of “highest-crime” precincts didn’t consistently improve.

     It’s not that the worker-bees are ignoring the obvious. That violence/poverty connection clearly influences how cops go about their business. In “Does Race Drive Policing?” we used 2022 LAPD RIPA stop data along with 2019 LAPD arrest data and Census ZIP code data to confirm that Black and Hispanic persons are more likely to be stopped and arrested. No, it’s not because most cops are racists. It’s because Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately inhabit the economically disadvantaged areas whose chronically elevated levels of violence draw increased police attention. (It’s not the first time we’ve pointed that out, nor criticized the L.A. Times for jumping to conclusions. See our 2019 two-parter, “Did the Times Scapegoat L.A.’s Finest? [I] [II]”).

     That’s all well and good. But our exploration here has only touched on the extremes. LAPD has twenty-one field Divisions. What about the city as a whole?

These graphs arrange LAPD’s twenty-one field Divisions by percent of residents in poverty, from lowest poverty precinct (7.2 percent) on the left, to highest poverty precinct (36.3 percent) on the right. On first glance, crime rates appear to substantially worsen at the higher levels of deprivation. To more precisely assess the relationships between our “variables” – poverty and crime type – we computed “r” scores (coefficient of correlation) from January-May 2023 crime data. [The “r” statistic ranges from zero to plus or minus one. Zero means no relationship between variables: they move up and down independently. A substantial “plus” score – say, .50 or higher – suggests that the variables move up and down together. A substantial “minus” score also means that they change in sync, but move in opposite directions.]

     Our results show strong, positive r’s between poverty and each violent crime type: .64 between poverty rate and homicide, .73 between poverty rate and aggravated assault, and .68 between poverty rate and robbery. Here are the “scattergrams” (each dot represents a Division):

     Fine, poverty and violence go together. But does that extend to serious property crime? Say, burglary? Here’s that comparo:

As the near-zero r demonstrates, poorer areas of Los Angeles don't generally suffer from higher rates of burglary. And that's to be expected. Considering the places where material goods worthy of stealing can be found, serious property offenses should be far more evenly distributed across the economic spectrum than violent crime. (That’s especially so in California, which in 2014 reclassified as misdemeanors most thefts whose value doesn't exceed $950.)

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     So what's the uptake? As “Place Matters” pointed out, cities that are blessed with lots of prosperous neighborhoods (e.g., the Big Apple and L.A.) flaunt aggregate crime scores that don’t reflect the violent realities that their less well-off residents face. But leave honest reporting aside. How is the violence that besets poor areas best approached? Let's self-plagiarize from “Fix Those Neighborhoods!”:

    Yet no matter how well it’s done, policing is clearly not the ultimate solution. Preventing violence is a task for society. As we’ve repeatedly pitched, a concerted effort to provide poverty-stricken individuals and families with child care, tutoring, educational opportunities, language skills, job training, summer jobs, apprenticeships, health services and – yes – adequate housing could yield vast benefits.

Couldn't have said it better ourselves! Oh, wait…

UPDATES (scroll)

8/7/23  An unknown gunman opened fire during a gang-violence prevention gathering at a recreation center in LAPD’s violence-beset Harbor Division. Four persons were wounded, one critically. The Director of L.A.’s Urban Peace Institute bemoaned what area residents actually face. “Even though generally the numbers say L.A. is safer in the last couple years because shootings and homicides are down, the reality of this is it impacts a lot of people who live in those communities.”

8/3/23  “The safety numbers that are reflected citywide don’t necessarily reflect our reality.” That’s how the executive director of L.A.’s Urban Peace Institute described the gap between the city’s  favorable overall violence numbers and life in beset, poverty-stricken Watts, where shootings recently wounded nine and killed two. As a gang interventionist said, “it’s about safety. This isn’t a color thing.” Community leaders have advised residents to avoid congregating in groups for the rest of the year.

7/11/23  L.A.-area taco stands and fruit and vegetable vendors are beset by armed robberies. On July 9th there were four within an hour. Each was carried out by “three young men in dark hooded sweatshirts”, and each took place in the usual place: violence-beset South Los Angeles. In March LAPD’s 77th. Street Division, which covers that area, tweeted a bilingual alert warning that the danger seems to peak during the late night hours.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


Neighborhoods special topic

Confirmation Bias can be Lethal     San Antonio Blues     Does Race Drive Policing?

Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (II)     What’s Up? Violence. Where? Where Else?     “Woke” Up, America!

Don’t Divest – Invest     Place Matters     Fix Those Neighborhoods!

Did the Times Scapegoat L.A.’s Finest? [I] [II]     Repeat After Us: “City” is Meaningless

Posted 5/30/23


California authorized a new approach.
Los Angeles ran with it. But, yes, there are limits.

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. If you’ve labored in the criminal justice workplace, closing a major city’s principal jail (even if only “eventually”) while “ensuring public health and safety” might seem a reach. But the goal of Los Angeles County’s Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department (JCOD), which was formed last year, didn't arise from thin air. In January 2019 California enacted Penal Code section 1001.36, which authorizes trial court judges to grant pretrial diversion for up to two years in all but the most serious crimes (murder, voluntary manslaughter and rape are among the disqualifying) to persons who are seriously mentally ill.

     What’s needed? The burden of proof falls on the defense. It must submit an expert opinion that the accused suffers from a mental disorder recognized by the DSM, including “bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, but excluding antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and pedophilia.” What’s more, the malady must have been “a significant factor in the commission of the charged offense” and is amenable to treatment. Prosecutors are free to object, and jurists get a broad escape clause:

    (b)(1)(F) The court is satisfied that the defendant will not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety, as defined in Section 1170.18, if treated in the community. The court may consider the opinions of the district attorney, the defense, or a qualified mental health expert, and may consider the defendant's violence and criminal history, the current charged offense, and any other factors that the court deems appropriate (emphases ours).

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

Prospective patients must agree to a comprehensive plan, which can include treatment in a residential facility, and their progress must be regularly reported. If they succeed, charges are dismissed; if they fail or commit another crime, their prosecution is revived.

     With progressively-minded District Attorney George Gascon in charge, mental health diversion seems a particularly good fit for Los Angeles. (Check out the video on the DA’s website). But mental health diversion isn’t just something that progressively-inclined California dreamt up. In 2019 a Federal entity, the State Justice Institute, awarded more than a million dollars to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) “to develop resources, best practices and recommend standards” for dealing with mentally ill persons who commit crimes (grant SJI-19-P-019). NCSC’s final report, “Judge’s Guide to Mental Health Diversion,” came out in November. Throughout, its tone is unfailingly favorable:

    The incarceration of people with serious mental illness, often for minor crimes, is
    expensive and results in negative outcomes for the individuals, their families, and their communities. Even short stays in jail often make mental illness symptoms worse and increase the likelihood of recidivism. In response, courts and communities are increasingly looking to design and implement diversion strategies that identify those individuals who can and should be steered away from the criminal justice system, and toward appropriate treatment.

     Indeed, the notion of diversion has taken hold in jurisdictions across the U.S. (For examples in Florida and Kansas, click here and here.) But what do statistics show? Does diversion work? Does it reduce recidivism? Violent crime? Alas, L.A. County’s October 5, 2022 report indicates that methods to statistically “evaluate which programs and interventions are operating as intended and which have a disparate impact” remain on the drawing board (p. 48). Bottom line: none of the gushing opinions are supported with numbers. And there’s no relief in sight.

     In fact, what figures there are suggest that the practice faces immense challenges. On May 11, 2022 the Men’s Central Jail held 12,977 inmates. Of these, seventy percent (9,150) had been charged with or convicted of a violent felony, and forty-six percent (6,025) awaited trial. Of the latter group, “most” were accused of a “serious or violent” felony. Based on these sobering facts, the county’s jail closure team concluded that judges were unlikely to simply let folks go:

    While the Court is ultimately responsible for making release decisions, it is unlikely to release large numbers of individuals held on serious or violent felony charges — which includes the majority of people currently held in the County jail system — without significant investment and expansion of the infrastructure available to support a person if released (Attachment III, p. 2).

Problem is, as we recently reported in “A Broken System”, that “infrastructure” seems far from sturdy. A 2021 BJS report, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 24 States in 2008”, revealed that 81.9 percent of releasees were rearrested within ten years; 39.6 percent for a violent crime and 47.4 percent for a property crime (Table 11). Those charged with violent crimes were most likely to commit one again.

     L.A. County’s program, which launched in 2019, has reportedly served 1,500 clients during its four-year run. Three-hundred-fifty “graduated”, and seventy percent of those who remain are supposedly “on track”. Of the graduates, only five percent have again faced charges (so far). For drop-outs, recidivism stands at ten percent.

     Nick Stewart-Oaten, the lawyer who authored the diversion law, feels that these are promising numbers. But how could it be otherwise? Given the rules on who can apply, judges’ stringent selection practices, and the considerable oversight that’s exercised over active clients, one should expect minimal recidivism. (That it’s somewhat higher for drop-outs makes perfect sense.) As things stand, mental health diversions are relatively few. In the real world, it could hardly be otherwise. A key issue that none of the content-rich websites and reports deems worthy to address – the views and feelings of the victims of violence – is undoubtedly a key obstacle. Imagine the political repercussions should a wealthy or politically-influential victim of violence discover that their assailant was “let go.”

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     And that brings us to our final point. Set aside the propaganda: unless diversions increase a hundred-fold, they can’t substantially reduce the number of “Fearful, Angry, Fuzzy-Headed and Armed” persons who enter the criminal justice system. For that, prevention is key. Giving mentally-disturbed, violence-inclined persons the equivalent of “rapid diversion” before they strike is the purpose of California’s spanking-new CARE Courts. To be launched this October in seven counties, it will focus on adults who suffer from schizophrenia and other psychoses. Referrals can come from a variety of sources, including families, first responders and social service agencies. Clients get public defenders, and judges can impose treatment plans that last up to two years. Medication can be refused, but failure to succeed can set off the existing, old-fashioned involuntary commitment process.

     As one might expect, CARE’s compelled nature has drawn considerable blowback from civil libertarians. After all, de-institutionalization has been the watchword for decades. Yet, as we suggested in “Are We Helpless to Prevent Massacres?”, a land awash in AR-15’s and such might benefit from a bit of coercion. Sure enough, “Red Flag” laws sometimes get the gun. But underlying mental health issues often remain unaddressed.

     Will CARE fill that gap? Ask us in a couple of years. Meanwhile, keep your head down!

UPDATES (scroll)

6/6/23  A 31-year old San Jose, Calif. man with a “violent, delusional past” is in custody after an inexplicable series of attacks that left three persons dead and five injured. Kevin Parkourana, who was on felony probation and has a string of convictions and mental-health detentions, stole vehicles, stabbed drivers, and ran over pedestrians and a man on a scooter. Parkourana was most recently arrested in January for a knife attack but was not charged. Santa Clara Co. court history

5/30/23  A 20-year old Arizona man faces four counts of murder and one of attempted murder after confessing that he engaged in a Phoenix-area killing spree that left four persons dead and one wounded. Iren Byers told Mesa police that he was motivated by a hatred for drugs, and that his middle-aged victims, allegedly street persons who used fentanyl and other narcotics, “didn't deserve” help. Officers found the 9mm. pistol that Byers used in his grandmother's bedroom.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


Police and the Mentally Ill special topic

A Broken System     Fearful, Angry, Fuzzy-Headed. And Armed.

Are We Helpless to Prevent Massacres?     Red Flag (I) (II)     A Stitch in Time     Letting Go

Posted 3/20/23


Exploiting yet another break, a parolee absconds.
He wounds three police officers, and society shrugs.

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. We’re not privy to juvenile records. So all we can say is that the first significant criminal action against Jonathan Magana took place just a few months after his eighteenth birthday, when the Los Angeles resident was arrested for armed robbery. Two months later, after pleading “nolo” to a felony, the young adult drew a year in county jail and five years’ probation. As a felon, he became forbidden from ever having guns or ammunition.

     That’s the first entry in the table. Alas, Mr. Magana’s first adult brush with the law apparently had little effect. Our search of L.A. County Superior Court records reveals that he enjoyed quite the criminal career:

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

Punishment-wise, Mr. Magana always got a break. And except for a gap following his 2014 arrest, he was always convicted on new charges well before his existing sentence (had it run its full course) would have expired:

  • In December 2009, less than eight months after drawing a year for armed robbery, Mr. Magana was arrested for hit-and-run and unlicensed driving. He got a slap on the wrist.
  • In August 2013, less than twenty-eight months after getting thirty-two months for having ammunition, Mr. Magana was caught with a gun. That earned him county jail time and probation.
  • In October 2022, thirty-two months after being sentenced to two prison terms for two robberies – one for four-years, another for one year – Mr. Magana was again caught with a gun. He also battered a cop.

     Now facing a parole violation, Mr. Magana knew that he had run out of wiggle room. It might have been anticipated that he wouldn’t show for arraignment. Yet he was allowed to post bail. Five weeks later, on March 8, LAPD officers spotted the fugitive. He ducked into a residence. Police ordered him to come out, but he refused. So a K-9 team went in. Mr. Magana responded with gunfire.

     Three officers were wounded, fortunately none critically.

     SWAT took over and sent in a robot. Mr. Magana’s body was hauled out later that night. He had committed suicide.

    As one might imagine, “three officers shot” dominated the broadcast news. But when we turned to our main go-to source for happenings in Southern California, the Los Angeles Times, their coverage seemed to lack its usual depth. Click here for the first piece, and here for the second. Three days after the shooting, its weekly “The Week in Photos” feature was prominently tagged “A brutal killing devastates a family; meanwhile, California braces for flooding”. That “family” was unrelated to the officers’ shooting. As for the cops, their tragedy was accorded one measly picture, and it could only be reached after considerable scrolling. It depicts a patrol officer placing a flare on the roadway.

     Fortunately, other news outlets proved quite informative. A detailed account by the Associated Press featured some telling comments from the board of the L.A. police officers’ union:

    Although we believe they will recover physically, each of these officers will live with the memory of almost losing their lives at the hands of a wanted fugitive in a hail of gunfire. What occurred last night to these Metropolitan Division K-9 officers happens all too often to law enforcement officers and is a stark reminder of the inherent danger every officer faces when they put on their uniform each day.

KTLA, a local television station, posted a print version of its comprehensive on-air coverage. After exploring Mr. Magana’s criminal past and the breaks he got in some detail, it conveyed the heartfelt comments of L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, who spoke with two of the officers in the hospital:

    I think that it was just important for me to be here. This is a place that is familiar to me. I used to work here in the emergency room, in trauma, and so to go back to the emergency room now to try to bring comfort and support to officers was something that was very important and meaningful to me…It is worth repeating that we must do much, much more to protect our officers and protect our communities.

     To be fair, the Times did (briefly) allude to Mr. Magana’s criminal career. But its coverage was far less informative than what we found elsewhere. Say, in the Washington Times. Its detailed account was descriptively entitled “Another felon released early from prison shot three police officers in Los Angeles.”

     Alas, many such encounters have produced tragically lethal endings. Here are four recent Southern California examples (see updates to “Catch and Release”):

  • On June 14, 2022, a multi-convicted felon shot and killed El Monte, Calif. police officers Michael Paredes and Joseph Santana as they responded to a domestic violence call. Justin Flores wouldn’t have been running loose had progressive L.A. District Attorney George Gascon not barred his deputies from using sentencing enhancements. Instead, the known gang member was back on the streets after serving twenty days for felon with a gun.
  • On December 1, 2022 a multi-convicted felon shot and killed Riverside County (Calif.) Deputy Isaiah Cordero during a traffic stop. Two months earlier William Shea McKay was convicted of crimes including false imprisonment and evading police. But a judge released him on bail and repeatedly postponed sentencing. Police later shot McKay dead. To the Times’ credit, it published a piece that deeply probed McKay’s criminal past. It was entitled “Why a three-strikes felon — on bail twice over — was on the streets, where he gunned down a deputy.”
  • On January 31, 2023 a 23-year old ex-con shot and killed Selma, California police officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. Officer Carrasco, who had two years on the job, encountered Nathaniel Dixon on a suspicious person call. Dixon had served a brief prison term for robbery. Once released he accumulated a series of gun and drug convictions. But thanks to a considerate plea deal and California’s “Public Safety Realignment Act” (see below) he was on probation.

     “Cause and Effect” traced California’s easing of punishment to September 2010, when then-Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill raising the threshold for felony Grand Theft from $400 to $950. One year later came the “Public Safety Realignment Act”, which redirected “non-serious, non-violent” offenders from state prison to county jail. In 2014 Proposition 47 reclassified all thefts where losses don’t exceed $950 (including break-ins formerly treated as burglaries) to misdemeanors. Two years later came the alluringly entitled “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act”, which directed that persons convicted of non-violent crimes be paroled after completing their primary term, regardless of other charges or sentence enhancements. And in 2022, AB 2361 forbid transferring minors to adult court without proof that they couldn’t be rehabilitated if treated as juveniles.

     Progressive places are likely to “realign” until the proverbial cows come home. But coupling high-sounding concepts such as “realignment” and “rehabilitation” with “public safety” overlooks a chronic problem. According to a September 2021 BJS report, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 24 States in 2008”, 81.9 percent of the members of this population of releasees was rearrested within ten years; 39.6 percent for a violent crime and 47.4 percent for a property crime (Table 11). And when rearrested, those who had been imprisoned for a violent crime were somewhat more likely than property offenders to be charged with a violent offense (44.2% v. 39.7%).

     What’s more, the length of prison terms proved important (Table 14). Inmates who served sentences longer than the median (15 months) were less likely to be rearrested within ten years (75.5% v. 81.1%). That was particularly so for those who had been convicted of a violent crime. For this group, 78.3 percent who served terms less than the 29-month median were arrested within ten years of release. That dropped to 66.4 percent for inmates whose sentences had exceeded the median, a statistically significant difference.

     Still, as in virtually every other aspect of public policy, ideology rules. One day before Mr. Magana wounded the three officers, the Los Angeles city council put off a decision on whether to accept a $280,000 gift to acquire an advanced robotic dog. Although its donor, the LAPD Foundation, assured lawmakers that the newfangled creature “would allow authorities to avoid unnecessarily putting officers in harm’s way and potentially avoid violent encounters,” protesters argued that its true purpose was to help cops spy on minorities.

     Your blogger is no fan of harsh policing. Nor of harsh punishment (see, for example, “Tookie’s Fate” and “Lock’Em Up”). But what he learned during a law enforcement career makes him reluctant to endorse get-out-of-jail-free cards. As the BJS report mentioned on its very first page, “about 61% of prisoners released in 2008 returned to prison within 10 years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence.” Still, convicted persons can’t be locked up forever. While officers Paredes, Santana, Cordero and Carrasco would have certainly benefited had their assailants remained in custody, long prison terms provoke liberty concerns and are very expensive. At some point inmates must be let go.

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     So what could help? Progressively-minded California has a couple of intriguing approaches. At the state prison in Lancaster, an “Offender Mentor Certification Program” trains prisoners as alcohol and drug addiction counselors. Its intense eighteen-month program, which includes an lengthy, hands-on internship, has enabled many former inmates to secure related positions after release. And in a brand-new effort, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a re-do of infamous San Quentin prison – California’s oldest lockup and the home of its only death row (he halted its use in 2019). Based on a Scandinavian model, the “Big Q” will focus on rehabilitation, education and training.  California’s re-do (it’s already in place at SCI Chester, a Pennsylvania prison) has drawn interest from across the U.S.

     Yet for now, when it comes to punishment, the criminal justice “system” is clearly broken. Whether their disputes reflect differences in ideology or perspective, judges, prosecutors, cops and corrections officials can’t seem to agree on basics such as length of confinement, terms of release, and what to do when efforts to give someone a “break” don’t work. And it’s not just cops who suffer the consequences. So until “Little Scandinavia” (that’s what they call SCI Chester) becomes a universal reality, perhaps we ought to encourage everyone who participates in that imperfect “system” to take a deep read of that sobering BJS report.

     It couldn’t hurt.

UPDATES (scroll)

9/5/23  In 2019 California allocated $75 million to fund projects in 16 trial courts throughout the state to help judges make pre-trial release decisions and improve outcomes. Key components included expanding the pre-release process, using a specialized assessment tool, and furnishing special services for releasees, including a court date reminder system and mental health, housing and other programs. A recent assessment reported that pretrial releases increased by 5.7% for misdemeanors and 8.8% for felonies, while rearrests fell 5.8% and 2.4%. Misdemeanor FTA’s fell 6.8 percent; felony FTA’s increased 2.5%.

8/18/23  To reduce recidivism, SWIFT, a Tarrant County, Texas program, provides selected high-risk felony probationers, including gang members, with intensive supervision. An academic study that compared the outcomes of gang members in the program with gang members who were on conventional probation determined that revocations were less likely for participants. But members of both groups were equally likely to be re-arrested.

8/3/23  Actuarial risk assessments are used to help make decisions throughout the criminal justice system, from who must be detained pre-trial to who can be safely released. But a journal article warns that they’re imperfect tools, and false positives and negatives are common. They should accordingly not become the sole means for determining whether someone is detained or released. Instead, their results should be used alongside “other factors that may affect individuals being assessed that are not included in the algorithms.”

7/28/23  California Governor Kevin Newsom’s move to transform San Quentin prison into a Scandinavian-style rehabilitation facility is taking its first step with the gutting and re-do of a defunct warehouse that sits in a corner of the sprawling, maximum-security facility. It will become a site for job training, academic classes and mental health treatment. Prisoners with shorter terms will be the first beneficiaries, but it’s hoped that lifers will participate as mentors.

7/20/23  An 11-year old Washington D.C. boy committed “an assault and two robberies” in May. But in June charges were conditionally dismissed provided he kept out of trouble. Eleven days later he was arrested for “robbery while armed, threats to injure a person and carrying a pistol without a license” for  the brazen taking of a delivery person’s moped. But he’s been released again. A probation officer reports there’s been “issues” with the GPS bracelet; his mother admits that her son’s drug use was concerning.

7/19/23  On September 18 Illinois will become the first State to do away with cash bail.  On July 18 its Supreme Court ruled 5-2, with conservative Justices on the losing side, in favor of a hotly challenged provision of the reform-minded “SAFE-T Act”. To detain someone pre-trial, prosecutors will have to demonstrate by “clear and convincing evidence” that an accused “poses a real and present threat to the safety of a specific, identifiable person or persons.” Governor J.B. Pritzker said he’s open to making changes should they prove necessary.

7/5/23  Middle-aged Minneapolis resident Sylvester Vaughn got four years for causing a fatal December 2022 collision by speeding through an intersection at 85 mph while drunk. That sentence seemed wholly inadequate to the 22-year old victim’s grieving parents. Vaughn, “a repeat drunken driver operating on a revoked license,” will serve 2 1/3 years and the rest on release. He pled guilty to one count of vehicular negligent homicide, avoiding a second count that alleged he was impaired. His case follows that of Derrick Thompson, another Minneapolis drunk driver who killed five women in a similar accident last month. (See below update)

6/23/23  Five young Minneapolis women were killed when a 27-year old ex-con “blasted” through a red light and struck their vehicle. Along with vehicular homicide, Derrick Thompson faces drug and ex-con with a gun charges after police found a loaded pistol and a large quantity of drugs in his vehicle. Thompson’s criminal record dates back to a robbery conviction when he was 17.  His driving record includes a 2020 California hit-and-run that left a pedestrian with permanent injuries and led to a wild pursuit, the recovery of a large quantity of drugs and cash, and a prison term. But once released, Thompson was nonetheless able to have his Minnesota driver license reinstated. (See above update)

6/22/23  “We’re very disgusted, sick to our stomachs.” That was the reaction of a disbelieving relative as a California jury returned involuntary manslaughter convictions for the stabbing deaths of a 59-year old woman and her 82-year old mother. According to his lawyers, Shawn Shirck, 29, was in the throes of PTSD and far too intoxicated when he committed the crimes to be conscious of his acts, and thus have the requisite intent to commit murder. According to jurors, prosecutors failed to adequately rebut that contention. Shirck had spent nearly four years in jail awaiting trial, and he was released on parole.

6/12/23  An alleged gang member who is wanted for an Oakland murder and has “numerous” active warrants for gun violations in two counties reportedly opened fire during a block party in San Francisco’s Mission District. Nine persons, ages 19 to 35, were wounded. Javier Campos, who’s connected with the notorious Sureno gang, reportedly sped away from the scene in his vehicle. He is being sought by police.

6/6/23  A 31-year old San Jose, Calif. man with a “violent, delusional past” is in custody after an inexplicable series of attacks that left three persons dead and five injured. Kevin Parkourana, who was on felony probation and has a string of convictions and mental-health detentions, stole vehicles, stabbed drivers, and ran over pedestrians and a man on a scooter. Parkourana was most recently arrested in January for a knife attack but was not charged. Santa Clara Co. court history

6/5/23  In 1982 Texas man Raul Meza was on parole for a robbery and shooting when he pled guilty to the rape/murder of an 8-year old girl. He got 30 years and was released in 1993 after serving one-third of his term. Meza was then “run  out” of a string of cities. He’s now back in custody, charged with two murders in the Austin area (he turned himself in and admitted to one). Meza is also being looked at in ten “cold cases”. Austin’s City Manager complains that “somebody made a bad decision 41 years ago and let this guy for whatever reason manipulate the system and justice was not served.”

5/24/23  In a long-delayed decision, the Los Angeles City Council voted 8-4 to approve the donation of a “robot dog” for use by LAPD SWAT officers in high-risk situations. But opposition continues. According to the “Stop LAPD Spying Coalition”, its acceptance augurs an era where such devices will be “walking all over the place.” Others fear that the gadget will be used “to harm and spy on Black and brown communities.” Facing similar concerns, NYPD recently gave its version back. (See 4/12/23 update)

5/6/23  When he took office, George Gascon, L.A.’s progressive D.A., forbid prosecutors from seeking sentence enhancements. That allowed Justin Flores, a felon with multiple prior convictions, to be on supervised release instead of prison on the day he shot and killed El Monte police officers Michael Paredes and Joseph Santana. And now their families are suing the D.A. over his policy and the probation department, which allegedly failed to adequately monitor Flores.

5/5/23  Under attack about her office’s alleged failure to vigorously prosecute serious crime, St. Louis’ embattled chief prosecutor resigned. Kim Gardner, a “Blue” and the first Black person in that role, said she wanted to avoid giving the majority “Reds” an excuse to enact a law that would bypass her prosecutors altogether. But there’s also the matter of Daniel Riley, who was allowed to remain free while awaiting trial for robbery despite “nearly 100” bond violations. And while under “house arrest,” his speeding car struck a 17-year old Tennessee volleyball star and caused him to lose both his legs.

5/4/23  In 2017, while imprisoned for rape, Jesse McFadden was charged with using a smuggled cellphone to solicit nude photos from a teen. Even so, he was freed in 2020, three years before his 20-year term would have normally expired. On May 1, 2023, when McFadden’s trial on the solicitation charge was set to begin, he shot and killed his wife and five other persons, then committed suicide. (He blamed his accuser: “This is all on you.”) His victims’ survivors are now demanding to know why, given his looming criminal case, McFadden was granted early release.

5/1/23  In 2017, thirty-three years into a life-without-parole term for a double murder he committed as a 16-year old, Chicago resident Steven Hawthorne was a free man. Celebrated for his reformist work while in prison and after release, he had a seemingly bright future. But within a couple of years he was arrested for having a gun. He was arrested again in January with five guns, including an AR-15. But he was released. Hawthorne is now back in custody, accused in the April 15 double killing of an ex-girlfriend, whose head was crushed with a rock, and of her new boyfriend, whom he allegedly shot in the face.

4/19/23  A Maine man with an extensive criminal record was arrested for murdering four persons in a Bowdoin residence and killing three more as he fled on a highway in Yarmouth. Joseph Eaton, 34, posted recent accounts of his emotional struggles online. He was most recently released from prison in 2021 after serving three years for felon with a gun and aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. He also has prior convictions for felony assault and domestic violence.

4/8/23   George Sydnor Jr., 43, the D.C. man who allegedly murdered a Virginia woman who was visiting the District, had a long criminal record, including an armed robbery last October. But he was allowed to plead to attempt, as no gun was found. Sydnor also had a larceny warrant from a nearby jurisdiction. But the judge released him on probation on condition that he take care of that charge. D.C. has had 59 murders, 31% more than last year. According to the Post editorial board, it’s “failing victims.

3/27/23  On bail awaiting trial for a 2017 Arkansas murder, Kirkland Warren moved to Washington state. In 2020 and 2021 authorities in Vancouver investigated him for gun violations. Then on March 2, 2023 he was arrested for assaulting a woman and shooting into her apartment last December. But he was again released on bail. That woman and her daughter were recently found murdered. Warren hasn’t been charged with this crime. But Arkansas revoked his bail on the old murder, and he’s back in custody.

3/20/23  “Blue” moves to eliminate cash bail and facilitate pre-trial release have become the target of “Reds” who warn they would seriously compromise public safety. As an example they cite the murderous November 2021 rampage of Darrell Brooks, a multi-convicted felon and registered sex offender who was on $1,000 bail for domestic violence when he plowed his speeding SUV into a Waukesha (WI) Christmas parade, killing five and injuring 48.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


Bail and Sentence Reform topic

Is Diversion the Answer?     Cause and Effect     Must the Door Revolve?     Catch and Release

Tookie’s Fate is the Wrong Debate     Lock ‘Em Up (and Send the Bill to Venezuela)