Smart Justice? Rethinking Public Safety in California

Part I: California’s Corrections Systems and the Lives They Impact

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
James Austin, Ph.D., President, JFA Institute
Susan Burton, Founder and Executive Director, A New Way of Life Reentry Program
Emily Reisner, Research Assistant, Tomás Rivera Policy Institute
Jennifer Moore, Research Assistant, Tomás Rivera Policy Institute
Moderated by: Roberto Suro, Director, Tomás Rivera Policy Institute

March 27th marked the first discussion in a special 3-part Students Talk Back panel series focusing on criminal justice and safety issues in California.

James Austin, President of the JFA Institute and criminal justice research expert, opened the discussion with statistics that painted the harsh and stark reality of the state’s overuse of imprisonment as a correctional tool. Austin advocated for more sensible strategies that would remove low-level, non-violent prisoners and rebuild county jails that will provide sufficient capacity for the influx of new prisoners under the county’s jurisdiction.

Founder and Director of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, Susan Burton, shared her personal experiences entering and then exiting the criminal justice program and the difficulties she faced in transitioning back into a “normal” life with no resources, guidance, money, or identification.

Jennifer Moore and Emily Reisner, graduate students of Public Policy at USC, spoke about their research project analyzing the disparities of Latinos within the criminal justice system. More about this research project can be found here.

VIDEO of panel discussion: “California’s Corrections System and the Lives they Impact” 


Part II: The Conditions, Costs and Impact of L.A. County’s Jail System

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director, Los Angeles County Citizens’ Commission of Jail Violence
Patrisse Cullors, Lead Organizer, Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails
Alex M. Johnson, Deputy for Public Safety and Education, Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
Jesse Reyes, Master of Public Administration, Sol Price School of Public Policy; Intern, Children’s Defense Fund
Moderated by: Roberto Suro, Director, Tomás Rivera Policy Institute

The second discussion focused on the management of local county jails and the rise of jail violence. The moderators, Roberto Suro, Director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, and Jesse Reyes, Master of Public Administration student at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, provided the panel with insightful questions for discussion.

Alex Johnson, Deputy for Public Safety and Education of Los Angeles County, began the discussion highlighting some of the biggest issues and problems with Los Angeles County’s jail system. Johnson described Los Angeles jails as having “combustible environments with significant tensions between inmates and correctional officers” making them difficult to manage.

Rising tensions and mismanagement of jails were attributed to driving factors of violence within jails by panelist, Miriam Krinsky. Miriam Krinsky leads L.A. County’s Citizens’ Commission of Jail Violence, which was tasked with performing a comprehensive review and investigation on violence within the jails. Some of the most salient findings reported by the Commission included a pervasive pattern of abusive force by correctional officers, a failure of leadership to address problems, and a “code of silence” developed by correctional officers. Krinsky noted the importance of holding those in charge accountable. Read the Commission’s full report.

Patrisse Cullors, Lead Organizer of Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails, echoed Krinsky’s sentiments of accountability and noted that it is the community often feeling the repercussions of ill-managed jails. Cullors shared how her brother was incarcerated and brutalized by sheriff deputies to the point of unconsciousness. Her family was restricted from reaching him and when he was released they found him overly medicated on drugs he didn’t need. “We need civilian oversight because the community needs to access their loved ones in jails and a space to make complaints”, said Cullors.

VIDEO of panel discussion: “The Conditions, Costs, and Impact of L.A. County’s Jail System” 


Part III: Community Supervision and New Public Safety Strategies for California

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Lenore Anderson, Director, Californians for Safety and Justice
Jerry Powers, Chief Probation Officer, Los Angeles County
Katelyn Leenhouts, Master of Public Policy student, Sol Price School of Public Policy

This discussion put the spotlight on the latest changes taking place in California post A.B. 109. Realignment is one of the most drastic changes to the criminal justice system in decades and serves as a tremendous opportunity for study and critical thinking about best practices. The panelists discussed that the state is slowly evolving from a prison-first approach to a more comprehensive plan that incorporates treatment, rehabilitation, and community supervision.

Jerry Powers, Chief Probation Officer of Los Angeles County, supervises over 90,000 individuals on a budget of about $820 million. Overseeing one of the largest probation populations in the United States, Chief Powers offered a unique perspective on the challenges for LA’s criminal justice system and the changing role of probation. He raised the point that it is unfortunately crisis that ultimately drives many criminal justice policy decisions in the county, rather than careful and thoughtful negotiation.

Lenore Anderson, Director of Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), founded the organization in the San Francisco Bay Area to advance best practices during realignment. The overarching goal of CSJ is to replace wasted resources with smart justice by increasing safety and reducing costs at the same time. Ms. Anderson advocated long-term community investment strategies and emphasized the importance of paying attention to the victims of the crime as well as the perpetrators. She suggested understanding someone’s risk of committing crime to help inform the best ways to hold people accountable. Looking at more comprehensive examples of dealing with crime, such as pairing probation officers with drug recovery experts, CSJ hopes to build off of examples of smart justice, and beginning to systematize these practices.

VIDEO of panel discussion: “Community Supervision and New Public Safety Strategies for California”