November 3, 2008
The Criminal Justice Reform Battle in California: Cynical Politicians and Powerful Interests Attacking the Public Good
Here is picture that sums up much that is wrong with American politics. Five governors of California, Democrats and Republicans, joining forces to oppose something that is indisputably in the public interest.
This is an image that could be repeated, with different faces, in region after region of our country, involving issue after issue. Public officials standing against the public good, with the disastrous results on display from Detroit to Wall Street. All suffering from the same destructive force: the power of entrenched special interests to cloud the vision of our leaders, causing them to thwart good sense, good legislation, and the will of the people.
In today's version, we have Jerry Brown, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, George Deukmejian, and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming together to oppose Prop 5, a common sense ballot initiative that seeks to effectively and intelligently tackle the chronic problems facing California's deeply flawed criminal justice system.
California's prisons are a budget-busting debacle. There are currently more than 170,000 inmates crammed into prisons designed to hold 100,000 people. Around 70,000 of these prisoners are nonviolent offenders, with over half of them incarcerated for a drug offense.
A large part of the problem is a parole system the New York Times recently called "perhaps the most counterproductive and ill-conceived" in the U.S.. California's recidivism rate is 70 percent -- twice the national average. This stems in no small measure from the state's insistence on treating paroled murderers the same way as paroled nonviolent drug offenders. They all spend 3-5 years on parole. This overburdens parole officers, who end up spending very little time with any of their charges -- violent or nonviolent (According to the Times, 80 percent of California parolees have fewer than two 15-minute meetings with their parole officer per month.) Wouldn't it make more sense to keep a closer watch on rapists and killers than on nonviolent drug offenders? [Mark Godsey]
November 2, 2008
Susan N. Herman Brooklyn Law School Professor of Criminal Law
Professor Herman is a widely regarded expert on the Supreme Court, particularly in the area of criminal procedure. She regularly speaks to judges and lawyers around the country on behalf of the Federal Judicial Center, bar associations, and CLE providers and appears in panel discussions on a range of issues at law schools and other venues. Among her many professional activities, she serves as President of the American Civil Liberties Union. Herman also served on the ACLU’s national board for 20 years and on the executive committee for the last 16, and acted as the board’s general counsel for the last 10.
Professor Herman has written a number of amicus briefs for U.S. Supreme Court cases in the area of criminal procedure and constitutional law, and is often quoted in the media on important Supreme Court cases. She is also the author of numerous law review articles, including recent articles in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (The USA Patriot Act and the Submajoritarian Fourth Amendment), in a Willamette symposium on federalism (Collapsing Spheres: Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Federalism and the War on Terror), and in numerous other law reviews, including Columbia, UCLA, and Iowa. Her book, The Sixth Amendment Right to Speedy and Public Trial, part of the Praeger Press series on the Constitution, was published in 2006. She has also written sections of books on criminal law and procedure, law and film,prisoners' rights, and civil rights and articles and essays for non-academic publications. Professor Herman’s seminar, Terrorism and Civil Liberties, is an outgrowth of her interest in post 9/11 constitutional issues, including both civil liberties issues and federalism issues. (See "Our New Federalism? National Authority and Local Autonomy in the War on Terror," 69 Bklyn. L. Rev. 1201 (2004) (symposium).
Prior to joining the faculty in 1980, she was a staff attorney and Associate Director of Prisoners' Legal Services of New York, and was the Pro Se Law Clerk to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Professor Herman has been named as Centennial Professor of Law.