People with Felony Records Approved to Serve on Juries in CA

KTVU reports:

The California Legislature approved “The Right to a Jury of Your Peers,” allowing people with a prior felony conviction to serve on juries in California for the first time. 

Current California law excludes from jury service people who may have had a graffiti conviction when they were 18 or a marijuana conviction from high school.  

Under SB 310, those with a felony record would be eligible to serve on a jury, unless the person is on parole or probation, or a registered sex offender for a felony conviction.

Here’s the text of SB 310, which suggests that there’s now an overlap between voting and serving on juries–with the exception of registered sex offenders.

CCC Voting Endorsements in Upcoming San Francisco Election

San Franciscans go to the ballot boxes on June 5. Here are the CCC blog endorsements for this election:

We utilize a 1-2-3 ranked choice vote. My #1 choice is, without any reservations, Mark Leno. I’ve known Mark as an assemblyperson and a senator fr a very long time, especially through his activities at the Public Safety Committee. He has a pragmatic and compassionate approach toward crime control and vast experience in handling a variety of issues, and what’s more, he knows how to create coalitions – a very important skill in our city. His politics, and those of Jane Kim, align, but I think he brings to the role experience and cohesion that make him the superior candidate.

#1 Mark Leno
#2 Jane Kim

Prop 68: $4B Bond for Parks, Drought Protection, Climate Adaption – Yes
Prop 69: Require Diesel Tax to Be Spent on Transportation-Related Items – Yes
Prop 70: Give Republicans & Corporate Democrats Power on Cap’n’Trade Funds – No
Prop 71: Delay Effective Date of Ballot Measures Until All Ballots Are Counted – Yes
Prop 72: Rainwater Capture Systems Won’t Trigger Property Tax Assessments – Yes

Regional Measure 3: Raise Bridge Tolls $3 Over 7 Years to Fund Transportation Projects – Yes

Prop A: Authorize Public Utilities Commission to Issue Clean Energy Bonds – Yes (of course.)
Prop B: Commissioners with conflicts of interest must quit these jobs before becoming political candidates for Board of Supervisors – Yes (this is just sensible, clean politics)
Prop C: Commercial rent tax for child care and early education for all – Yes. Sensible proposition and laudable goal.
Prop D: Commercial rent tax for housing – No. This sounds like a good idea, but the proposition itself is not very sound and would support very little housing.
Prop E: Upholding the ban on flavored tobacco products – Yes. You’ve probably seen the ads around town stating that “prohibition doesn’t work.” They are, of course, funded by Newport, the biggest maker of menthol cigarettes. This is a facet of prohibition that exists even in regulatory schemes: these flavored products tend to appeal particularly to teens, which is a segment of the population that needs special protection from tobacco and its harms. Even in Prop. 64, which legalized marijuana, we retained prohibitions and crimes for selling to minors. For more on the tobacco companies’ stubborn fight against warning the public of their deadly products, read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s excellent book The Emperor of All Maladies.
Prop F: This is crucial: It offers a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. Sometimes this is a fate worse than what the criminal justice system could dish at you, and civil Gideon rights make a lot of sense. Yes.
Prop G: Parcel tax to offer a raise for teachers. Yes.
Prop H: The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association (POA) is strongly pushing this measure, which would give them control over tasing policies, essentially allowing them to establish regulations that will allow San Francisco police to use a taser on someone who is unarmed and poses no immediate physical threat, or on someone who disobeys the police due to mental illness. Vote No. Tasers are extremely dangerous and unhealthy, which is why our Chief of Police, our District Attorney, and our Public Defender oppose the measure.
Prop I: A proposition requiring that San Francisco not steal sports teams from other cities. Do what you want, who cares.

Governor: Gavin Newsom. I will not apologize for this. Newsom is a solid choice with lots of experience in politics, and given that California will be opposing Trump in and out of court, experience and backbone is more important than political purity.
Lieutenant Governor: Gayle McLaughlin
Secretary of State: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Treasurer: Fiona Ma
Attorney General: Dave Jones
Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara
Board of Equalization, District 2: Malia Cohen

U.S. Senator: Kevin de León, who is taking a brave, strong position against the Trump Administration and its Nazi bans and policies. (I’ve heard valid points in support of Diane Feinstein, and I think that would also be a reasonable choice here: experience is arguably very important in the situation in which we find ourselves.)
Congress, District 12: Nancy Pelosi
Congress, District 14: Jackie Speier

State Assembly, Districts 17: No Endorsement
State Assembly, Districts 19: Phil Ting


Good arguments on both sides of this one. I was initially inclined to support the defense attorneys running for judge:

Superior Court Judge, Seat 4: Phoenix Streets
Superior Court Judge, Seat 7: Maria Evangelista
Superior Court Judge, Seat 9: Kwixuan Maloof
Superior Court Judge, Seat 11: Niki Solis

It’s important to mix things up on the bench, and judges with public defender backgrounds are woefully rare. We need people on the bench who come from the opposite end to dilute the prosecutorial groupthink that prevails there.

But folks who are familiar with the sitting judges remind me that just because something makes political sense in general does not mean it is relevant on the particular. The way to diversify the judiciary is to elect defense attorneys in the first place, not to replace folks that might not necessarily be the ones that need replacing. So, consider your options.

Which brings me to another judicial issue. This is hugely important.

I’d like to add a word here on the Santa Clara ballot. As many readers probably know, there’s a huge effort there to recall Judge Persky because of the much publicized Brock Turner sentence. This is a cynical effort to exploit #metoo sentiments and our distaste for Turner to unseat a fair and balanced judge who has followed probation recommendations and who does not discriminate against defendants of color (we know; we checked his record.) Scaring judges with public mobbing yields only one result: harsher sentences, and the first people in line to suffer are defendants of color that look nothing like Brock Turner. This is pointless virtue signaling and identity politics on steroids, designed to appeal to well-meaning but misinformed voters, and while it purports to be about feminism and equality, its outcome will be the exact opposite. Vote on the facts, not on hype and mob hysteria. VOTE NO ON THE RECALL. SUPPORT JUDGE PERSKY.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond

Reform and Unintended Consequences: The Case of Ban the Box

In early February, Malcolm Feeley won the President’s Award from Western Society of Criminology. It was a real treat to be able to recognize and reward, if only modestly, all he has been and done for me over the years with a mentorship award, and even more of a treat to hear him give a breakfast keynote titled The Failures of the Adversarial Process. In his talk, Malcolm revisited some of his arguments from Court Reform on Trial, and made the sobering observation that, where criminal justice reform is concerned, failure is the norm; it is the occasional success that should surprise us. Malcolm ascribes this to the structural/organizational context in which the reforms happen, and to the underpinnings of racism and hypercapitalism; according to him, the criminal process is in a constant state of market failure, and it’s only outside innovators that have to bail us out once in a while (seems like this is what this new PAC is trying to do.)

I was thinking about Malcolm’s wise words today, when I was invited to an event to support Ban the Box. As my regular readers probably recall, I’d been fighting for Ban the Box for a long time, until finding out in 2015, to my dismay, that it has had disastrous unintended consequences.

I was speaking at a conference in Sacramento when I ran into the good folks from the Urban Institute, whom no one would suspect of being cryptofascist double agents, and talked to them about this. When they mentioned the findings of this study I was beside myself with disillusionment and shock. Essentially, what they found is that, when criminal record information is unavailable to progressive employers, they tend to discriminate against young men of color–possibly because they see race as a proxy for criminal history (which, in itself, is sometimes used as a proxy for race. Sick, sad world.) In their words:

Research on ban the box has shown that it increases callback rates for people with criminal records (Agan and Starr 2016). Agan and Starr (2016) find that ban-the-box policies “effectively eliminate” the effect of having a criminal record on receiving a callback. Case studies from specific cities support these results, showing that hiring rates for people with criminal records increased after ban the box was implemented (Atkinson and Lockwood 2014; Berracasa et al. 2016). Additionally, ban the box as a social movement has drawn attention to the plight of people with criminal records and has increased awareness of the challenges they face beyond employment.

But recent research has concluded that ban the box also reduces the likelihood that employers call back or hire young black and Latino men (Agan and Starr 2016; Doleac and Hansen 2016). These findings suggest that when information about a person’s criminal history is not present, employers may make hiring decisions based on their perception of the likelihood that the applicant has a criminal history. Racism, harmful stereotypes, and disparities in contact with the justice system may heavily skew perceptions against young men of color.

Several other studies have found similar outcomes. So, I’m no longer on the Ban the Box bandwagon. But what should we do instead? The Urban Institute team runs us through some options and their pros and cons:

My grim conclusion, inspired by Malcolm’s talk, is that as long as we have the nexus race-crime so embedded in the conversation (read Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s book to figure out where this came from) nothing we try to devise to avoid discrimination will get rid of it entirely.

BREAKING NEWS: 50,000 New Voters in 2016!

Just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, a legal team comprised of various rehabilitation and reentry organizations has triumphed in returning the right to vote to 50,000 men and women who are under mandatory supervision!

A little bit of background: The California Constitution disenfranchises felons who are “imprisoned or on parole”. In League of Women Voters of California v. McPherson, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that these categories did not include people who were in jail as a consequence of violating felony probation. After Realignment, thousands of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual felons were sentenced to jail terms. A prior litigation effort on their behalf was unsuccessful (though we raised some important questions that were left unanswered.)

The current litigation effort was more modest, but also perhaps more realistic, seeking to restore the right to vote not to all realigned felons, but only to those under mandatory supervision. Folks under supervision serve time on the outside, under conditions strongly resembling probation. The prospective voters’ advocates were successful on the first round. The former Secretary of State appealed, and just as the parties were ready to go forward, the current Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, withdrew his appeal, with the outcome that voting is restored. And here’s what Secretary Padilla had to say–here at CCC we wholeheartedly concur:

“Passage of the Voting Rights Act was not easily won,” Secretary Padilla said. “People marched. People struggled. People died. They bravely sacrificed for each other – for friends, family, for our country so that each of us could be empowered with the opportunity to participate meaningfully in our democracy.” 

“Civic engagement and participation in the election process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society.  If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage—not shun—former-offenders. Voting is a key part of that engagement; it is part of a process of becoming vested and having a stake in the community,” Padilla added. 

“The United States Supreme Court eloquently proclaimed, “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.” 

“Our California Supreme Court has made similar pronouncements: “No construction of an election law should be indulged that would disenfranchise any voter if the law is reasonably susceptible of any other meaning.”   

“Today’s announcement is in line with these statements, the arc of California history, and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act,” Padilla said. 

See you at the ballot, fellow Californians!

Obama’s Post-Punitivism

President Obama’s speech yesterday at the NAACP was a dream come true for American prison reformers, who have waited for decades to hear a U.S. president retreat from the punitive proclamations we have gotten so used to hearing.

I highly recommend listening to the speech in its entirety, but wanted to point out a few highlights:

1. In the spirit of the events of the last few months, Obama links the NAACP’s activism in the area of criminal justice reform and poverty to their historical standing up to lynching and voting restrictions.

2. “For the first time”, said the President, “the crime rate and incarceration rate both went down at the same time.” This is the first time a U.S. president is acknowledging low crime rates.

3. “Crime is like an epidemic; the best time to stop it is before it starts. . . if we make investments early in our children we will reduce the need to incarcerate those kids.” Obama references investing in early childhood and in summer jobs, mentioning that these will “save the taxpayers money, if we are consistent about it.” These statements are reminiscent of President Ford’s statements on crime (for more on this, see Cheap on Crime.)

4. Obama states an unwavering commitment to enfranchising felons: “If folks have served their time, and they’ve re-entered society, they should be able to vote.”

5. As befitting the setting for the speech, Obama spends a great deal of time “un-othering” crime, by speaking about how “other people’s kids” should be treated like “our kids”, speaking directly about the urgent need to restore trust between the police and the communities it serves.

6. Obama discusses sentencing reform and urges a sentencing reform bill that should be “passed through Congress this year”, which will restore judicial discretion and invest in diversion programs, which “can save taxpayers thousands of dollars per defendants each year.”

(read more about the speech on Slate.)

Some of this is right out of the Cheap on Crime playbook: diversion, nonpunitivism, and rehabilitation are cheaper, make sense in the face of declining crime rates, and should therefore be a bipartisan concent. But there is also a concept of dignity as a communitarian value that is being advanced here. Echoing sentiments that remind me of his days as a community organizer, Obama expect solidarity from his constituents, and he expects them to feel responsible for even the weaker links in the American social chain. Toward the end of his second term, Obama wants to galvanize his supporters to fix some of the things that are wrong in the criminal justice system.

It bears to mention that Obama’s criminal justice mandate extends only to the federal system, which houses a small minority of the inmates in the United States. But even so, changes to the federal sentencing laws may become an important influence on state legislation and, perhaps, also on federal judicial review of state practices. It is also worth mentioning that most presidential candidates for the 2016 elections–from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz–are not opposed to the ideas that Obama articulates in this speech; notably, Bill Clinton expressed enthusiasm and relief for his wife’s platform of reversing the punitive excesses of his own presidency. In short, being panicky and punitive is passé, and being fiscally conscious and community-oriented is “in”.

How much of this will translate to real-life policies remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to think that Obama still has a year and a half left to wrangle Congressional Republicans on criminal justice. And he’s dealing with less opposition from the Right than he would have in, say, 2006.

Lots of Big News

I’m hard at work on book revisions and other projects, and updates have been scarce. But there are lots of big news, so here is a roundup of links:

A new lawsuit by civil rights organizations tackles the voting rights of people who, post-Realignment, are under a regime of Mandatory Supervision.

There’s more talk of creating a California sentencing commission.

The Brown administration has received a two-year reprieve from the three-judge panel on the decrowding timeline.

More on these in the days to come.