Transcript: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Q&A with Attorney Donald Specter on the role of federal courts in California’s prison reform before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Q&A with Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office, on the role of federal courts in California prison reform. The hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment was held on Oct. 21, 2013:

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
…I do want to say in fairness to the CDCR and the receiver through a snafu that they were invited rather late in the game and that’s why they’re not here today, not because they’re avoiding it. Frankly a matter of scheduling.

What is the role of the receiver?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Well, the role of the receiver is to run the medical care system. They took it away from the state prison system because the court held that the prison system was essentially had what it called “trained incapacity” – in other words, they couldn’t identify, fix, and resolve problems that were brought to their attention.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
And what would be the consequence of failing to comply with the court order?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Which court order?

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Well, the one that says you cannot – the latest court order that was appealed and the appeal was refused.

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Well, that’s a good question. The court has been this far away from holding Governor Brown in contempt for failing to comply with it. I think the signs we’ve been getting so far from public statements indicate they finally realized that they have to comply and are trying to do that in some fashion.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Is there still legislative or constitutional roadblocks to implementing some of the solutions that were suggested by the LAO and I think you were here for that presentation – split sentencing and things like that?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Yeah, there’s a lot of things that you guys can do – that can be done even without legislation. For example, you can provide – well, of which – and some with legislation. You can provide counties with incentives – the counties that have room to take prisoners in the last 6 months of their sentence for re-entry programs.

You can expedite – there are thousands of prisoners, a lot in LA County, under the Proposition 36 Three Strikes initiative. I think there are about 1,000 cases that haven’t even been acted on.

You passed and the Governor signed a bill juvenile parole just recently. You can expedite those hearings. There are thousands of those prisoners.

You can send prisoners who are immigrants who have detainers to the federal government.

There are lots of life prisoners who have been incarcerated for 20, 25, 30 years who are over 55, 60 years old. You can get them parole hearings and get them out because their risk of re-offending is virtually zero.

You can explore ways of accelerating alternative custody programs.

There’s lots of things you can do.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
We’re going to be looking at that at our second hearing too but I wanted to hear what your ideas are.

Is the prohibition from contracting with other state prisons a permanent order or is it temporary?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
It’s temporary.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
The administration recently contracted with two private facilities to house inmates. Does that get us – how close does that get us to the target?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
As I understand it, it would take 1,000 or 2,000 prisoners out of 8,500 that remain.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
And are there any other state facilities either county or privately owned that could be used to house inmates?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Well, there are some space in the county jails and in the county jails, one thing to remember – I was just in Fresno County where we have a case. 70% of their population is there based on pre-trial confinement. That means they’re there because in a lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them are there for one reason only is that they’re too poor to get bail.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
And then just lastly, do you have a ballpark about how many prisoners might be eligible for medical parole and compassionate release? I’m sure it fluctuates.

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
I don’t really. I don’t have those numbers.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
We’ll try to find that data.

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