Veggie Sushi

I was going to write a post about the latest Plata hearing, vaccines, and the sad stories that the Davis Vanguard has been uncovering (great journalistic job, guys!) but my heart is heavy, so we rallied our spirits by having family sushi-making night. I only wish we could share the tray with everyone we are in communication with, including families, currently incarcerated folks, formerly incarcerated folks, frontline health workers… after all ***this*** (insert expansive hand motion here) is over, perhaps we can all get together as a community for a potluck?

In the meantime, I’m extending all of you an invitation to our upcoming symposium about mass incarceration and the COVID-19 crisis. Attendance is free, but you do have to register to participate. And hey, we give MCLE credits!

Re the sushi: it’s pretty easy if you have the right ingredients on hand. Here’s what I use:

  • 2 cups Sukoyaka Genmai (the best gently milled brown rice, which the wonderful Tanaka Sensei introduced our family to)
  • 4 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp vegan furikake (we have some but you can make your own)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 carrot
  • 3-inch cube of butternut squash
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 block of Hodo Soy tofu
  • 1 package nori sheets
  • sushi rolling mats
  • saran wrap

Cook rice in instant pot or rice cooker. Get out of cooker, let cool to room temperature, then mix with mirin and furikake.

Image may contain: food

While rice is cooking, slice vegetables into very thin matchsticks. The butternut squash can be cut thinly and then baked until soft.

Place a bowl with tap water near the rice, veg, and sushi mat. Cover the sushi mat with a piece of saran wrap, then put a nori sheet on top. Moisten you hands in the water bowl; take a few big spoonfuls of rice and layer them, patting them down on the nori (1/4-inch thickness) and leaving about 2 inches at the end. Then, toward the beginning, place the vegetable sticks of your choice.

There are lots of tutorials on how to roll sushi–anyone will do. The lesson I learned was not to overfill. Use some water on a fingertip to seal.

Take your best knife, moisten it with tap water, and resolutely slice up the roll into little maki sushi (each about an inch long.) Sprinkle furikake or black sesame if desired. Enjoy!

Kuku Sabzi

In my continuing mission to introduce more greens into my breakfasts (previous attempts included lots of smoothie bowls) I came up with a wonderful solution that can be made ahead and provide convenient, protein- and nutrient-rich breakfasts for the whole week. Kuku Sabzi is a Persian dish of dense greens and herbs bound with egg. My version substitutes the egg with chickpea flour, plant milk, and olive oil, and incorporates lots of herbs and spices. You can make lots of variations, depending on the greens you have on hand. This version uses Stonehouse spice mixes, which I find incredibly useful.

  • 8 big collard leaves
  • 8 big kale leaves
  • 100g or so of spinach or baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 heaping tbsp OMG (or your own combination of onion powder, garlic powder, and salt)
  • 1 heaping tbsp Aglio Olio (or your own Italian seasoning)

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Lightly oil a shallow, rectangular baking dish (I use this 9”x12” one, but anything will do) and line with parchment (don’t forget the parchment–this will pay off dividends at the end.)

Remove the stems from the collards and kale and tear into pieces. Place all the greens and herbs in your food processor and chop into tiny pieces–you may need to do this in batches.

Place all the chopped greens in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the chickpea flour, plant milk, olive oil, and spices, into an eggy-textured mixture. Transfer the mixture into the bowl with the greens and mix well with your hands, until the mixture binds the greens together. Then, transfer the lot into the baking dish. Using damp hands, push the mixture into the bottom of the dish, until it is very dense and covers the whole dish. Flatten the top.

Bake for about 45 mins, or until the kuku has solidified. Remove from oven, lift using the parchment, and gently place on a cooling rack. After it cools a bit, you can cut it into squares, triangles, or any other shape, and store in the fridge. This is delicious when eaten cold, straight from the fridge, or dipped into this fabulous dressing.

BPH, Parole Hearing Transcripts Are Public. Give Researchers Access Immediately

*** UPDATE: I just heard from the researchers that they won the lawsuit and got their data. They shared that “[t]he judge told off CDCR in no uncertain terms.” I’m leaving the post up because some of you may need it to get data from CDCR in the future.***

I just found out something that upset me greatly: Back in May, the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) refused to provide a team of researchers access to parole hearing transcripts because they didn’t like their findings from a previous study. Nichoas Iovino from the Courthouse News Service reported:

In April 2018, four researchers requested 15 years of parole board hearing transcripts and race and ethnicity data for parole candidates from 2002 through 2017, later expanding their request to cover records through Nov. 1, 2019. The researchers from the University of Oregon and Stanford University intend to develop a machine-learning platform to help analyze and detect patterns of bias in California parole decisions.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released the hearing transcripts but refused to disclose records on race and ethnicity, arguing state law does not require it to turn over information that “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The department also refused to release the data through a separate “research review” process after a Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) administrator said she disagreed with University of Oregon researcher Kristen Bell’s prior findings of racial bias in parole decisions for people sentenced to life as juveniles.

In October 2019, the board’s executive officer Jennifer Shaffer said she disagreed with Bell’s conclusions and objected to her research being used in legal filings to oppose CDCR’s positions in court cases, according to the lawsuit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court on Wednesday. Shaffer also reportedly said she would only release the requested records if Bell was no longer involved in the project.

Before going into the problem of viewpoint discrimination and how it chills correctional research, I want to point out the simple fact that, under the California Public Records Act, parole hearing transcripts are public. In fact, on its very webpage, CDCR states that they provide free electronic transcripts upon request, and printed copies for a reasonable fee, as they should, because there’s no need for a FOIA request for parole transcripts.

In Yesterday’s Monsters I qualitatively analyzed parole hearing transcripts for seven people, spanning almost 50 years.

I contacted CDCR and requested all hearings for all original members of the Manson Family who have been incarcerated at CDCR. For a reasonable fee, and without giving me any grief at all, CDCR, to their credit, did exactly what they should have done: they put everything I needed on a CD and mailed it to my office address. Within two weeks, I had all the archival materials I needed for transcript analysis.

The complaint is worth reading in its entirety (here it is) and the notion of censoring a particular researcher because their previous findings are not to your liking is outrageous. But, as someone who has worked with the very materials the Oregon and Stanford researchers are trying to obtain, my question is this: If you’re heading an agency and qualified, capable, expensive people tell you that they have the capability to apply machine learning to your agency’s output and find whether you guys are discriminating on the basis of race, wouldn’t you want to take them up on it?

First, even if one believes that race is “irrelevant,” as Ms. Shaffer does, to parole decisionmaking, aggregate analysis can reveal a different picture. My book did not include quantitative linguistic analysis, and it only examined the cases of seven people, all of whom were white, but even so, the interviews and the transcripts raised racial concerns. One of the lawyers I interviewed–Keith Wattley, executive director of UnCommon Law, pointed out that when he represents a client who is a large African American man the Board often says, “you look angry.” Keith, who is himself a large African American man, finds himself often trying to educate the Board about racial stereotypes (this, by the way, is exactly the sort of thing that a machine learning method can help flag.) In addition, I found out that mischaracterization of fights between racial groups/gangs was also a theme. Year after year, the Board denied parole to someone who was the victim of the Aryan Brotherhood because of his “involvement in a fight with a baseball bat” (he was attacked with the baseball bat.) This sort of commentary comes from Board members of various races and ethnicities, and there’s a plausible explanation: even though the Board is diverse in terms of gender and race, it is not diverse in terms of professional background. Almost all BPH commissioners come from a law enforcement background, either in a police or sheriff’s department or in corrections. That racial biases exist among law enforcement officers of color is not exactly news, and for the history of this, read James Forman’s Locking Up Our Own or this wonderful review by Devon Carbado and Song Richardson. Why would law enforcement officers with decades of experience in Petri dishes of implicit bias not take the bias with them into the parole hearing room?

Second, if your agency does not racially discriminate, why wouldn’t you want to prove it via a quantitative, empirical study? You can always dispute the methods, but you’ll have more control over how the algorithm is used if you cooperate. If you deny the information, doesn’t that tell all of us that you’re concerned about what the team may find?

And third, if the study happens to find that there is racial discrimination in parole grants, wouldn’t you want to know this, so that you can do better? It makes me heartsick to consider all the situations in which agencies–particularly correctional agencies–that don’t want to look bad sandbag research projects that can help them actually be less bad. As one example, recently I was struck by the complete absence of any attitudinal research about correctional officers. Last week I sat through a long case management conference in which the judge, CDCR lawyers, prison lawyers, and CCPOA lawyers all wondered, how could it possibly be that the guards are not wearing masks, getting tested, or agreeing to get vaccinated. Judge Tigar asked, “does anyone have thoughts on this?” Crickets. Sheesh, amigos, wouldn’t it come in handy, for example, to have a survey of Trump support among correctional officers? Or a survey about the prevalence of COVID denialism among correctional officers? Don’t you think that would help craft the strategy for gaining compliance, and in the future, guide some hiring decisions? Don’t you think that reluctance to follow science-based healthcare guidelines is a relevant consideration in hiring, retaining, and promoting personnel who work in congregate settings with a chronic health care problem? Wouldn’t you want to include some parameters measuring racism and support for autocracy in your interviews, surveys, or other recruitment tools?

I very much hope the EFF prevails in this case and the research team receives the information they are legally entitled to. My hope with Yesterday’s Monsters was to start a public conversation about parole–especially when we’re faced with big questions about the exit door of prisons in times of crisis, this conversation must continue.

Announcing FESTER Under Contract

Beyond the obvious, today has been auspicious in a personal way, too. I’m elated to share that my book with Chad Goerzen, FESTER: Carceral Permeability and the California COVID-19 Prison Crisis, is under contract with the University of California Press. This will be my fourth book (after Cheap on Crime, The Legal Process and the Promise of Justice, and Yesterday’s Monsters) and my third with UC Press. It will also be Chad’s first book. Chad is a superb research engineer and data scientist with the San Jose State Research Foundation and my partner of 17 years.

The book will bear witness to the COVID-19 catastrophe in California Prisons and will feature multiple sources and research methods. We rely on archival and journalistic sources, oral histories and interviews with people who experienced the crisis, and quantitative modeling and analysis of data from CDCR, the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and the BSCC.

The theoretical framework of the book–the concept of carceral permeability–relies on a synthesis of carceral geography, situational crime prevention, and prison health scholarship.

We are hard at work on the book and hope you will have it in your hands, at the latest–COVID and our son’s preschool permitting–in early 2024. In the meantime, you can continue to read about this catastrophe on this blog, or follow the book on Twitter using the hashtag #FESTER.

COVID-19 Horrors at CMF, and the Limits of Litigation

Late last week I received the second joint request by the parties in In re Von Staich to reschedule the deadline for briefs. The parties cite workload and other pressing cases. Given the inscrutability of the California Supreme Court decision, I bet no one knows exactly what to write; remember, the Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeal with instructions to “reconsider the cause in light of People v. Duvall“–in other words, to reconsider whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary.

But what does an evidentiary hearing even mean at this point? Litigation thrives on dissecting the wrongs of the past, based on an unchanging (if disputed) set of facts. COVID-19 is anything but unchanging. When we held our press conference outside the main gate at Quentin, and when I filed our amicus brief in Von Staich in August, San Quentin was amidst the most serious outbreak in the country; UCSF doctor Peter Chin-Hong referred to San Quentin as “the Chernobyl of COVID-19.” Even in September, when oral argument took place, Justice Kline understandably bristled at CDCR representative Kathleen Walton’s argument that there was “no need to act hastily.”

And now? Look at this morning’s snapshot from the CDCR infection ticker. Every single prison has cases, but not all places are alike. San Quentin has only four active cases; like a few of the prisons who had horrific outbreaks just a couple of months ago, it is not a hot spot. By contrast, some of the places that were COVID-free for months are now seriously afflicted. Disturbingly, one such place is CMF in Vacaville, which is a medical facility with large numbers of aging and infirm people and was one of the initial vaccination grounds. This just came in from one of the activists helping people at CMF:

On December 11, the number of positive cases at CMF was 2. On December 12, the prison went under lockdown. Within five days, the number of cases had risen to 58. As of last night (1-17), the number of positive cases on the tracker was 260 (about 13% of the population). At the height of the outbreak, the total was 463. In all, 520 people (about 26% of the population) have been infected, and seven have died. Also, there was not a single drop in numbers until 1-6, 25 days into the outbreak, with the numbers going up as much as 50 or 58 in a single day on a few occasions.

Before the outbreak began, reports from incarcerated people and their loved ones of correctional officers refusing to wear masks and the incarcerated population not having access to cleaning supplies had persisted for months. Additionally, some incarcerated people have said that they had not been given new masks when their old ones wore out to the point of being ineffective–until 12-24, that is (a whole 12 days into the outbreak), when new masks were finally distributed.

Since the outbreak, we have heard horrific accounts of conditions inside. D- dorm at CMF is currently being used as a triage / Covid positive dorm. The dorm was formerly used to house the dogs that were part of the Paws for Life program. The dogs were removed shortly after the start of the pandemic, and the dorm was not cleaned prior to being used for quarantine. It is filthy. There are no porters available to clean because they are all sick with covid. Staff are not stepping up to help clean, and the few incarcerated who are well enough to clean are not being given adequate cleaning supplies. Laundry is not being picked up. The strain of covid that is moving through CMF is causing severe diarrhea. Several people have soiled themselves and do not have access to clean clothes. Each person is only being given one roll of toilet paper per week. This is nowhere near enough for those experiencing diarrhea.

Nurses are refusing to go bed to bed to check on people. They expect sick and bedridden people to line up in the middle of the dorm to have their vitals taken, with the result that the people too ill to get up are being missed completely and not getting help when their conditions become life-threatening. Around the end of December, a man fainted and defecated on himself. When medical staff refused to respond to calls for help, other incarcerated people in the dorm, who were themselves ill, cleaned him up and carried him to his bed before he was finally taken to an outside hospital. In a similar incident, a man fainted and was refused medical attention for hours before finally being carried out on a stretcher. Staff are hesitant to call ambulances because they are concerned about how it will look with regard to the Plata litigation. Correctional officers tell the nurses to call for ambulances, and the nurses ignore them. They would rather refuse to get people the proper medical attention they need than make it look like they’re incapable of caring for them at the prison.

The incarcerated who are too sick to cook for themselves are still being given raw vegetables like onions, on top of the already deplorable food situation. Food amounts are proportionally small, not enough for an adult. Some correctional officers are not wearing masks or refusing to wear them properly. Many refuse to wear gloves. Some are moving around from positive to negative units, socializing with other COs. Many believe this is intentional for the purpose of spreading the virus around the prison. People who are sick are not being given access to over-the-counter medications, and only a select few are being given antibody treatments. The incarcerated have been moved from one area to another in hopes of containing the virus. This, apart from being completely ineffective, has presented additional problems of loss of property.

Access to phones has been restricted drastically, so families are not in contact with their loved ones to know what is going on. The hearing impaired are further restricted, as they are barred from the specially-equipped phones they would normally use. In fact, phone use was completely suspended on 12-21 in part of the prison on the grounds that this was the cause of the spread. Quite apart from being untrue, this had the effect of further restricting people\’s access to their loved ones, which was severely detrimental to the mental health of all involved until the restrictions were modified. The disabled population at CMF, who are supposed to have assistance with various daily living tasks from other incarcerated people (people who are employed to do this specific job as their work assignment), have seen this help severely hampered by the outbreak. People with disabilities are required to be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and no alternative accommodations for the disabled at CMF have been offered.

Many of the population at CMF are over 60, and many have medical conditions such as diabetes, AIDS, and high blood pressure–all of which put them at higher risk of serious complications if they were to be infected with covid. Some are already being held in a hospice unit due to terminal illnesses. Some have covid risk scores, as defined by California Correctional Health Care Services (the office responsible for healthcare in prisons after conditions were declared unconstitutional), as high as 16. Hospitals in some parts of California have already begun to turn away the incarcerated, and many are talking of rationing medical care. If they do, they will deny treatment to those they deem to be less likely to survive a covid diagnosis. This would be catastrophic for anyone from CMF in need of hospitalization. There is a dorm at CMF that holds 21 wheelchair users. There are not enough wheelchair-accessible single cells to facilitate the quarantine of these people, resulting in the spread of the virus through this dorm. Poor ventilation within the prison is also a facilitator of the spread.

I don’t know how the parties in Von Staich are going to pretzel their arguments around the shifting map of COVID, and because this is a blog, not a courtroom, I’ll be brutally honest. The vagueness of the Von Staich remedy (strongly urging CDCR to release aging and infirm people, but explicitly stating that transfers are a viable path to compliance too), coupled with the moral paralysis at the governor’s office and at CDCR, led to a situation in which the “relief” that CDCR was willing to provide–i.e., transfers from Quentin to other prisons–was worse than no relief at all. People wrote to me from inside saying that programs they deeply cared about, which are not offered anywhere else in the system, were going to be denied to them; others wrote and said that there was historical bad blood between Quentin people and people in other prisons, compounded with its identification at the time as “the COVID prison” and that they were worried of retaliation if transferred elsewhere. In the Marin consolidated cases, the AG representative, Denise Yates, twisted this to argue that “petitioners can’t have it both ways.” I lost sleep wondering if our big win in Von Staich hadn’t made matters worse for everyone (Von Staich himself was released from CDCR, and immediately found himself ensnared in the federal court system via an ancient Bureau of Prisons hold from before his incarceration in 1981, which in itself raises serious questions.) We’re seeing the Achilles heel of trying to litigate this horror via state courts, which have jurisdiction only over a particular prison based on district.

Are we faring better in federal courts? The federal system has been the classic venue for prison litigation, but its ability to do something has been seriously curbed by the PLRA. As Margo Schlanger shows in her 2015 article, case filings took a serious nose dive after the PLRA’s enactment in 1996 and never bounced back, while prison and jail populations (and, subsequently, problems and grievances) continued to grow.

We are seeing the fruit of this problem in Plata v. Newsom. In my recap of the last case management conference I quoted Judge Tigar, who said, “if I could let people out I would do it today,” but “my view of the law is that I’m not allowed to do that.” I was not entirely clear, during the conference, how much of this is Tigar’s analysis of the extent to which his hands are formally tied by the PLRA–he has shed tears more than once over the COVID prison crisis, including at its initial statement–and how much of this is his judicial psychology of catching flies with honey by bringing CDCR and the CCPOA on board. And now we learn, per my source at CMF, that the need to perform compliance for the purposes of the Plata litigation is obstructing, in horrible ways, actual compliance that can save lives.

Where does this leave us? When dealing with bad faith and obfuscatory antics, there’s very little point looking for justice in places that champion gentleness and restraint. Vague remedies that allow transfers, rather than just releases, invariably and immediately lead CDCR to embrace transfers as their go-to strategy, and then use the ensuing horrors to come to court, shrug their collective shoulders, and say, “but we thought that’s what you wanted!” Petitioning and cajoling the governor, unsurprisingly, is not nearly as effective as ordering him to release people would be. Documentation amasses, judges and parties complain about caseloads and information overloads, and in the meantime people continue to die.

Speaking of the ultimate horror, I neglected to report on the first wrongful death suit filed against CDCR, on behalf of the survivors of Daniel Ruiz who died at San Quentin. Here is the full claim:

Claim Form.govt Code Claim.091020 by hadaraviram on Scribd

The claim articulates the facts of the San Quentin disaster as we already know them, with an extra wrinkle of cruelty: “Due to the policies promulgated and enforced by [CDCR, the hospital and medical personnel] were prohibited from informing [Ruiz’s] family. . . that he was there, or gravely ill, or dying from COVID-19. Respondents denied Daniel any contact with his family for many days, until shortly before he died.”

I initially thought that the heartlessness and trickery of the AG’s office was an effort to preempt an avalanche of wrongful death lawsuits and the prospect of high amounts in damages. But securing a law firm that can litigate a case like this, even on behalf of one person, is a tall order, especially for people who are impoverished already and trying to survive in the pandemic. The result is that even this path makes it a steep uphill battle to seek redress or make any changes.

The only thing that can make a dent in this crisis is an initiative to release aging, infirm people en masse. But the good will necessary for this is not forthcoming. The very people nationally hailed as heroes of the anti-Trump resistance have consistently defended untold villainy on the local stage, resulting in horrific sickness and death. This is something to ponder as we dance around the Trump Administration’s funeral pyre tomorrow.

Vegan Sabih

Sabih, the sensational eggplant/egg/tahini/amba sandwich, is a mainstay in Israel, and there’s even a place that serves it in Oakland. It’s easy to make at home whenever you like if you have the main ingredients on hand. Here’s a vegan version:

  • 2 pitot (we make our own sourdough pitot, recipe some other time)
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • 1/2 package firm or medium-firm tofu
  • 1 tsp kala namak salt
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour
  • 1 tbsp plant milk
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp amba powder
  • 2 tbsp raw tahini
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, green onions, parsley, thinly sliced

Heat up the oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds. Place on silicone baking sheet and top with minced garlic and salt.

Slice the tofu into very thin slices. Make a mixture out of the kala namak, chickpea flour, plant milk, and turmeric. Coat each tofu slice in the mixture on both sides. Place on silicone baking sheet alongside the eggplant. Bake for about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant and tofu are baking, mix the amba powder with some boiling water to make a bit of amba. Mix the tahini with lemon juice and garlic to make a bit of tahini. Slice all veg and herbs thinly.

Halve the pitot and toast them (if you like). Smear tahini and amba inside each pocket. Pack the pita full of tofu, eggplant, and vegetables. Serve alongside a nice salad with some mint tea.

Series Review: Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer

Netflix’s new docuseries about the hunt for Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, comes to our computer screens at an interesting cultural moment, in which national and state responses to heinous crimes are in flux. As the bicameral Democratic legislature of the Biden administration prepares to get rid of the federal death penalty, the Trump administration finishes its four-year tour of gratuitous cruelty with gratuitous executions happening at the eleventh hour with the blessing of SCOTUS and to the horror of the court’s progressive minority; several people have observed the irony of lethal injections happening at the federal level just as death row people here in CA get the first injection of the COVID vaccine. This throwback to bloodthirstier decades comes as a majority of Americans, for the first time since the sixties, now support life imprisonment over the death penalty. Half the states retain the death penalty and half (growing since the recession) have abolished it or placed moratoria upon its use; if Virginia moves forward with abolition, not only will it be the first Southern state to abolish capital punishment, but also a majority of states will have abolished/sunset the death penalty. Here in California, more people have died on death row from COVID-19 under Gov. Newsom’s moratorium than we have executed since the return of the death penalty in 1978. Ramirez himself–the subject of the new docuseries–was the 85th person to die on California’s death row of natural causes in 2013. And just recently, Joseph DeAngelo, whose horrific crimes as the Golden State Killer are eerily similar to Ramirez’s, was sentenced to life imprisonment, raising the fair question–if not him, then who?

Against this backdrop, the choice to focus now on Ramirez and his heinous crimes is a curious one, and the series does not offer a lot in the sense of narrative or cinematic innovation to justify the subject. The story is told from the perspective of two intelligent and sympathetic LAPD detectives–then-newcomer Gil Carrillo and veteran Frank Salerno–and several retired crime scene technicians, who in four episodes follow through the trail of horrific murders. The still shots from the various murder scenes are enhanced through cinematography that somewhat brings them to life and accompanied by chilling music. Thankfully, at least the victims themselves–both those deceased and those who survived–are portrayed with restraint and respect, and on occasion (albeit not always, which struck me as somewhat distasteful) their relatives comment on their lives, evoking sympathy and humanity. These graceful interview scenes lift the series from a sequence of excessive gore, and I wish there were more of them.

As to Ramirez himself, the show does not delve much into his own mind beyond short, clichéd quotes about the “inherent evil in all human kind” and “Satan [as] a stabilizing presence” displayed between scenes. Having read and watched a lot of the Manson literary and cinematic canon, I think a deliberate choice was made here not to glorify Ramirez in a similar way. At some point, one of the detectives even said that they considered whether Ramirez was a Manson copycat, which strengthens my belief that this approach was carefully considered. The choice not to follow the legacy of Mansonist efforts to delve into the minds of heinous murderers a-la Dahmer, only recently continued with Aquarius and Mindhunter, means the focus of the show is mostly on the police investigation.

But even here, the show’s coverage of the LAPD’s eponymous “hunt” offers some contradictions. Carrillo and Salerno are sympathetic, interesting interviewees; Carrillo’s background is explored in depth, including his early prescient conclusion that seemingly unrelated crimes were perpetrated by the same person. He attributes this insight to a class he had taken, in which Robert Morneau referred to “a deviancy that says, ‘I like to see the frightened look on your face.'” Rather than digging into the motivation, this illuminated Carrillo’s crime scene analyses and explained why the murders were perpetrate in a particular way (i.e., why the killer had waited for the victims to see him, rather than kill them from behind or in their cars.) But at the same time, we get glimpses into what appears to be epic incompetence in interagency collaboration. A golden opportunity to zone in on the killer through a distinctive sneaker shoeprint was wasted, even though only one pair of black sneakers of that brand had been shipped to Los Angeles. Similarly, the opportunity to fingerprint a car that the suspect had touched in the course of a traffic stop was squandered. And amazingly, a clever trap at Ramirez’s dentist’s office did not function. Eventually, Ramirez was caught not by police officers, who allowed him to walk before them unnoticed after his appearance was already well known, but by alert members of the public. The focus on Carrillo and Salerno’s solid crime scene investigation draws attention from the sad conclusion that, had the LAPD had their act together and collaborated, Ramirez would have been caught earlier and lives would have been saved. Having studied the Manson murders in detail, it seems that little was learned since the fiascos of the Tate-LaBianca investigations, which were also characterized by department siloing and insularity (Bugliosi is full of braggadocio about his own heroic role in the case and very eager to throw blame onto the LAPD, but at least in that instance the objective facts seem to support his perspective.)

Even as the focus on audacity, deductive work, and targeted legwork draws attention away from omissions and organizational hurdles, Night Stalker is a reminder of what good policing should be. It is poignant to watch an investigation in the 1980s, with 1980s technology, as the FBI pieces together last week’s insurrection at the Capitol and attempts to track down the perpetrators, a job much easier than Carrillo and Salerno’s because of the plethora of social media evidence and the availability of facial recognition technology. It is also poignant to think about the most recent example of excellence in policing: Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman’s clever, creative, and courageous act of baiting and tricking the mob away from the unguarded door behind which the legislators hid, armed only with a nightstick and facing dozens of angry insurrectionists yelling racial epithets at him. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the problem is too little or two much policing; it’s the wrong kind of policing altogether, which relies on crude, humiliating, and ineffective methods like stop-and-frisk at the direct expense of the classic crime solving work features in the Night Stalker. Give me a police force full of Eugene Goodmans, Gil Carrillos, and Frank Salernos, and I’ll be a happy camper. If the show reminds us (and the FBI, and the LAPD) that good policing is valuable and scarce, then it has been a worthwhile endeavor.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is available on Netflix.

Judge Tigar in Plata: Pleas to Governor to Release on Large Scale “Have Fallen on Deaf Ears”

Today, Judge Tigar held a two-hour case management conference in Plata v. Newsom to discuss the latest developments as described in the joint case management statement. On the agenda were specific issues such as vaccination plan and staff compliance, but in the background loomed the basic problem: the solution to this catastrophe is a mass release but none is forthcoming.

The conference opened with CCHCS Receiver Clark Kelso offering an overview of the vaccination progress and plans. So far, in skilled nursing facilities, they have vaccinated 2300 incarcerated people. In combination with people who recently had COVID, they are approaching 80 percent coverage in these institutions. The good news are that the refusal rate is very low–between 8 and 10 percent–especially compared to previous vaccination campaigns such as flu vaccines. In response to Judge Tigar’s question, Mr. Kelson explained that they will have a full documentation of the refusals.

Judge Tigar’s next questions were an effort to find out how far CDCR/CCHCS were from vaccinating the entire COVID-naive population behind bars, assuming that appropriate vaccine dosage would be available. Kelso explained that the next step is to offer the vaccine to everyone aged 65 and up (2000 people, if you exclude people who have been infected.) After that, the next priority would be people who have not been infected with COVID and have risk scores of 3 and above (CCHCS uses a scale based on CDC risk assessment, where they assign points to preexisting conditions.) Kelso estimated that this group–approximately 5200 people–could be vaccinated in about 7 days. The next scenario would be to tackle 42,000 people–the remaining people in CDCR custody who have not been infected–which would realistically take about 4 weeks. The severe nursing shortage was mentioned, of course.

The problem, as I explained in a previous post, is not buy-in from incarcerated people but from staff. Kelso explained that, so far, they have vaccinated 19,351 staff members, out of which 110 have received the second dose. In the three skilled nursing facilities, staff buy-in is 95% and full vaccination will be completed in a few days. The percentage of compliance among the staff is declining, and even though no one at the hearing provided a breakdown, it was widely assumed (probably with good reason) that the problem is with custody staff rather than with health care professionals.

At that point, Judge Tigar talked about the elephant in the room: the institutional unwillingness to take the obvious best step, which would be releases. “I have sometimes become emotional when discussing this,” he said, referencing the previous hearing, in which he mentioned people who died by name and showed their pictures. He said that he “cajoled and begged the governor to release significant numbers beyond the current numbers so we can avoid unnecessary sickness and death. So far these requests have, again, with all appreciation for the efforts that have been made, fallen on deaf ears. The consequence is now becoming more apparent. COVID has spread more easily than it had to, and we’ll never know for sure, but there is unknown number of people who got sick and died who didn’t have to.” Judge Tigar highlighted the importance of granting people the good time credits they are unable to earn because of the lockdowns, saying that “we’re overincarcerating and doing worse precisely when we were supposed to do later.” He also pointed out that he “[could not] overemphasize the need to release elderly infirm people. There is an alarming increase in deaths” (56 since the previous case management conference) and “we must ensure it does not continue. I take this case personally. I asked CDCR to send me the records of all the inmates from CMF and CHCF who died from COVID since the last CMC. The vast majority were elderly.” Judge Tigar was visibly emotional when describing incarcerated people who have to use commode chairs when going to the bathroom–and “when the virus came, they were defenseless, and they died.”

Judge Tigar then pressed CDCR counsel Paul Mello on whether the “primary reason” for the alarming infection rates was people’s refusal to move to safer housing. Mello replied that “in some instances people aren’t moved quickly enough but [refusal] appears to be the primary reason.” Judge Tigar urged to increase education, so that people “may appreciate the efforts being made to protect them.” This, again, led to the discussion of the thorny problem of the staff: refusals to wear masks and get tested. Judge Tigar probed as to what the reasons might be, getting very little input from the parties (here on the blog, I’ve looked into the twisted priorities of CCPOA, as well as at the possibility that the rank-and-file, like the rank-and-file of other law enforcement orgs, is a hotbed of Trumpist COVID denialism. I have searched high and low for surveys of correctional officers’ political opinions and found none.)

Even in the face of all this, Judge Tigar insisted that he is not yet at the point at which the PLRA enables him to release people pursuant to a finding of “deliberate indifference.” “if I could let people out I would do it today,” he said, but ” my view of the law is that I’m not allowed to do that.” The plaintiffs, of course, disagree, but Tigar seems very convinced that, legally speaking, his hands are tied, which he says is a “source of incredible frustration” to him. While he is not ruling out a future finding of deliberate indifference, he says, “we’re not there yet.”

While listening to the hearing, I was trying to ponder what was behind this sense Judge Tigar had that his hands are tied. Partly, it seems to stem from his reading of the PLRA, and partly from what seems to be his judicial psychology of this case, according to which “litigation is a very bad way to resolve this… communication is the right way.” A case in point was his effort to get to the bottom of the staff noncompliance. Tigar made an effort to get everyone on board: “Everyone doesn’t like low staff testing rates. We need to get them as high as possible. Why are they where they are to begin with?”

At this point, he turned to the CCPOA representatives, the union lawyer David Sanders and labor attorney Gregg Adam, in an effort to get the union’s collaboration at “[a] moment when CCPOA can become an invaluable partner if they want to, to keep their brothers and sisters safe.” This opportune moment, in my opinion, was ten months ago, but okay. Judge Tigar hammered home the need to get complete buy-in from the leadership: “If the captain says you have to wear a mask, then you have to wear a mask, no exceptions. If that becomes policy, that is how this is going to work.” The back-and-forth between the judge and union counsel offered another insight into Judge Tigar’s cooperative psychology: he told them that the benefit would be that compliance orders from above “create[s] an environment where you can publicly take the position that you don’t like masks but I wear one because I have to, because I don’t have a choice. If leadership is uniform, it creates a position where it is much easier for staff to be uniform. Consistent, off the job too. I’ve been hoping that CDCR/CCHCS would create videos for staff using staff. I asked and asked and asked more than you will ever know. Then I gave up. Then they did it and they’re great, I just saw them yesterday. Your staff will see them. And they make this point. You can’t be in the car with your friends driving to work or going to someone’s backyard thinking, I know these guys. COVID doesn’t care who your friends are. Need to wear is the same, on and off. On that level. [high command gives] order to do on job, expect[s] [compliance] off job, do it myself.”

One of Judge Tigar’s ideas was to solicit a volunteer in each prison who is “down with the goal” to report to a member of Kelso’s staff who “comes from custody and speaks the language.” He also seemed to set a lot of store by Prof. Amy Lerman of the Goldman School, regarding correctional culture and fostering compliance (this is good news, because insights into correctional culture is what we need.) Happily, Adam, one of the CCPOA representatives, also seemed to have respect for Lerman and also mentioned that they were planning to speak to Prof. Elizabeth Linos (whom Tigar referred to as the “persuasion guru” about compliance strategy. At that point, CCPOA counsel Sanders offered what seemed to me a very partial and revisionist history of CCPOA’s involvement in this issue, presenting CCPOA as the great champions of the original Plata release order, both because of the safety of their own employees and because they apparently thought that it was “morally and professionally wrong, what happened in our prisons – warehousing human beings and literally seeing them die because of conditions.” None of this explains why CCPOA, in the same breath, invested 4 million dollars in punitive propositions just in the last elections, while their own members were dying of COVID, or why they are suddenly in a rush to jaunt to Vegas amidst all this, but okay. Another thing we learned from Sanders is that Tigar’s exhortation to model good conduct would likely go nowhere because “we don’t represent captains” and because “sergeants and lieutenants don’t have collective bargaining power.”

At this point, when the conversation turned to isolation and quarantine, the hearing again touched on the heart of the matter. In the previous status conference, the plaintiffs asked that CDCR comply with the Receiver’s directives, but as infections and deaths soared, they changed tacks and asked that CDCR procure vaccinations for everyone. Mello’s reaction to this request was to resort to legalese: not only did they get the request too late, he said, “we think an order will be unnecessary and will constitute undue intrusion on authority.” There are also practical hurdles, he explained, and CDCR was not out of line by addressing this within the confines of current CDC health directives. Getting back to the PLRA hurdle, Mello opined that the plaintiffs face an uphill battle showing deliberate indifference with expert testimony.

While Tigar did not lose his temper–and seemingly agreed with Mello about the legal point–he clearly found the resort to legalese somewhat tasteless. “I think about this in a simplistic way,” he said, “I heard Mr. Kelso say that he needs 40,000 doses to get the job done. Two and a half million doses have already rolled in to the state. 40,000 is couch cushion money. Do we think that the governor can shake 40,000 doses loose? We can litigate this, and by the time the litigation will be resolved, this will be a dead issue. There are things I can do to expedite matters, but I have a much simpler question. Do we think the governor could shake loose whatever the number is, 40,000 doses to protect the population that he has already recognized is defenseless, deeply in need of this vaccination, and because of the role of prison [in the larger infection story] greatly affect public health in a positive way? Do you think he would shake them loose if I asked him to?”

Sara Norman of the Prison Law Office responded with a moral call to action. “This is not litigation about vaccination,” she explained, “it’s about quarantine, hundreds of thousands quarantined with shared air, which has resulted in significant illness and death.” The solution, she said, “has been obvious”; releasing people “is their choice and they have continued to place our clieets, their patients, at significant risk of harm. . . We are now saying there’s another solution.” Vaccination of incarcerated people–mandated by virtue of their classification as 1.B.2. in the priority list–is “within [CDCR’s] reach, they can do it.” Norman ended by quoting Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no try. It is up to them to do it.”

I’m left with a lot of questions. First, when will someone tackle the elephant in the room–Trumpist COVID denialism among the staff? Second, is “shaking loose” 40,000 doses a mere issue of friendly persuasion of the Governor? Most importantly, if all the horrors of the last ten months have not persuaded Judge Tigar that the PLRA’s deliberate indifference standard has been met, what is it going to take?

Friends Want Friends Safe: A Special Message from Rasheed Lockheart

Rasheed Lockheart, a formerly incarcerated firefighter, encourages friends behind bars to take the COVID-19 vaccine: “Your chances of survival are much higher with this vaccine. I’m getting it and I hope you’re getting it, too, because until we break those walls and get everybody out, it’s the best thing you can do to protect yourselves. Please.”

To hear Arnold Trevino’s encouragement, click here.

To hear Ken Hartman’s encouragement, click here.

For FAQ about the COVID-19 vaccine from AMEND, a 100% credible source, click here.

Friends Want Friends Safe: A Special Message from Arnold Trevino

Formerly incarcerated people continue to urge their friends and loved ones behind bars to make the right choice and take the COVID-19 vaccine. Today’s message comes from Arnold Trevino of Insight Garden Program, who was incarcerated for 28 years:

For Ken Hartman’s video, click here.

For 100% credible information about the COVID-19 vaccine from AMEND, click here.