Coming later this year: GRAY AREA, a podcast about justice.
Coming later this year: GRAY AREA, a podcast about justice.
Alberto “Bird” Larez was convicted in Operation Black Widow
By JULIA REYNOLDS
Herald Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
A high-ranking Nuestra Familia gang leader from Salinas was arrested this week in an FBI takedown of one of the gang’s largest street regiments, federal officials said.
Alberto Larez, 45, known in Salinas as “Bird,” was taken into custody Thursday morning at his residence in Red Bluff, a small town south of Redding. Federal agents also arrested 17 alleged members of the gang’s Sacramento regiment, including Vidal “Spider” Fabela, 45, another gang member well-known to law enforcement.
“Removing dangerous drugs and violent criminals from our neighborhoods is essential to ensure a bright future for our families,” said Herbert M. Brown, special agent in charge of the Sacramento Division of the FBI. “Takedowns such as these demonstrate that the FBI and its task force partners are committed to disrupting violent gang activity and improving the quality of life in our communities.”
Larez was one of two high-ranking Nuestra Familia captains who were released from federal prison in 2010. He and Henry “Happy” Cervantes, 48, both faced life sentences in the FBI’s sweeping Operation Black Widow conspiracy case in 2000.
Instead, they received 10-year sentences in a plea deal negotiated by the gang’s leaders after problems surfaced with case’s star witness and his role in a murder at Cap’s Saloon in Salinas.
Since then, law enforcement officials feared that when Larez and Cervantes were released from prison in 2010, they were given marching orders by the generals, who are serving life sentences in a Colorado federal prison.
Those orders, police said, included re-taking control of the gang’s diminished street regiments.
Police say the gang has been undergoing an internal power struggle because one group of leaders was sent to federal prison in Colorado after Black Widow, while a newer group of leaders in Pelican Bay is trying to exert its control over cities like Salinas.
Larez and those arrested in last week’s raid all answer to the Colorado generals, federal officials said.
Cervantes was arrested late last year and charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men found in a burning Oakland apartment.
In addition to the arrests, FBI officials said Thursday’s operation involved the seizure of drugs, cash and vehicles, including about 25 pounds of methamphetamine, 40 pounds of marijuana, and cocaine, heroin and oxycontin; about $35,000 in cash; 12 cars, including luxury brands such as Lexus and Cadillac; and about 30 weapons as well as ammunition.
All contents ©2012 MONTEREY COUNTY HERALD and may not be republished without written permission.
Ex-gang member admits role in murder
By JULIA REYNOLDS, Herald Staff Writer
Monday, December 12, 2011
Part two of two
Part one: The Long Journey
When Johnny Angel Martinez was released from prison just before Thanksgiving 2008, he was separated from his wife and jobless.
He moved to Santa Cruz County, where he attended Cabrillo College and volunteered at Barrios Unidos and other organizations helping at-risk youth. The work was exhilarating and helped pull him through an otherwise tough time.
He recalls that one day, while volunteering at an alternative school housed at Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz, he counseled a member of his once-rival gang who had been caught with a knife at school.
The youth asked Martinez why he would help his gang’s enemy.
“Why do you even care about me?” he said.
Martinez replied that he was not a gang member any more.
“The reason that I care is because you’re … a human being,” Martinez said.
Martinez not only convinced the boy to hand over the knife, he said he also talked him into staying until police arrived.
“You made one good decision,” Martinez told him. “If you keep on making good decisions, good things are going to come out of it.”
The contrast between the boy’s behavior and his own stung.
“Here are 15-year-old kids doing the right thing based on the information I’m giving them,” he says now. “I needed to practice what I preached.”
As his counseling career began to take off, the Williams Road slaying continued to haunt him.
He spent a year debating whether to follow his own advice and turn himself in.
He made excuses, he says, telling himself he could not willingly abandon his children, leave them fatherless while he served a long prison sentence. Why should they suffer for his past? But he also wanted to set a moral standard for his children.
Opposing thoughts nagged as well: If his role in the slaying was discovered, would it bring shame to the community organizations he worked with? If he ever decided to remarry, would the police come knocking and end the dream?
But more than any of those things, something deeper nagged at Martinez, a voice that wouldn’t be silenced, telling him he had to face what he had done.
Not because it was the right thing to do, not because he was afraid of being arrested, and not because he was overwhelmed by guilt.
Without fully understanding why, the inner voice simply told him he had to.
The act of surrendering was, he would later realize, what a normal person with a normal sense of responsibility would do.
The idea of sacrifice
In the summer of 2010, he spent several days meditating on the notion of sacrifice — “being able to give up everything that I know and I love” — while sitting in a park on Acacia Street in South Salinas.
Then one August afternoon, he stood up and began walking.
“I had one objective on my mind and that was ‘Get there.’”
As he made his way north along Main Street toward the Salinas police station, it seemed as if every temptation came along to try to turn him around.
A car full of relatives pulled up beside him.
“I felt like something was trying to do everything it could to stop me, because my nieces are like ‘Hey, Uncle Johnny!”‘
After that, the cousin he lived with drove up.
“And I just wave him off. I just put my head down and I’m walking … I remember this is the only thing I did tell myself: If I’m about to turn myself in, I want to smoke a cigarette.”
He bummed a couple of smokes before he passed the Steinbeck Library on Lincoln Street, two blocks from the police station.
He kept walking.
Once he faced the mirrored-glass doors, he took a drag, set his cigarettes carefully on the edge of a concrete stair, and stepped inside.
Police interview transcripts show he at first tried to take the full rap, claiming that he was the shooter.
“So what’s goin’ on?” a detective asked as Martinez took a seat.
“I was involved in a homicide,” he said.
“You were involved in a homicide.”
“OK,” the detective said, “how were you involved in a homicide?”
“I did it.”
Martinez hadn’t thought at all about what he would say. His aim had simply been to make it there without turning back.
He tried to convince the detectives he was the trigger man and could see the cops knew better. They had other sources, they said.
The officers did believe him when he at last admitted he was the driver.
Finally, another detective entered the room and said, “Can you stand up for me?”
Martinez whistled as the officers cuffed his hands behind his back.
While Martinez was confronting his own past, the gang had not forgotten his mother’s brazen act of testifying against its members a decade earlier.
Meanwhile, Martinez was detained on parole violation, but by the fall of 2010, he faced a felony murder charge.
The felony murder rule holds all participants in a felony crime, such as a robbery, responsible for any homicide that results no matter their role.
In sentencing terms, it was the same as if he’d committed a first-degree murder.
“The next thing I know,” his former probation and parole officer Dan Villarreal says, “(Johnny) wrote me a letter telling me he turned himself in because he felt if he was going to continue his work with youth it was important that he start with a clean slate and not worry about things he had done in his past.”
“This really didn’t come as a big shock to me,” Villarreal says.
Little by little, Martinez began to understand why he had to turn himself in, why justice demanded it, the community expected it and why the victim’s family needed it.
He says he even began to understand the rationale behind the felony murder rule.
“The moment I pulled over my car … I knew in my mind that something could possibly happen. And it did happen.”
His mother, who had quietly moved from her secret location in the Central Valley to South Monterey County, visited and wrote to him at the Salinas jail.
She told her son she was very proud of him. During visits, she made him laugh and he began to believe their strained relationship was on the mend.
Then one day last March, Martinez heard a quick announcement of breaking news on the jail television. A 57-year old woman was killed in Soledad. His thoughts raced. His mom was 57. She lived in Soledad.
Nah, he told himself. It isn’t her.
Straining to watch the five o’clock news through his cell door tray slot, he heard his mother’s name. She had been shot and killed that morning while warming up her car.
He called out for a guard and told him, “I just found out that my mom got murdered.”
A deputy took him to call a relative but no one answered. He spent the night in his cell without knowing anything more than what he’d seen on the news.
He says he’s grateful to the classification officers who let him listen to his mother’s memorial service on a jail phone. He dialed the phone of a relative who held it next to a speaker.
He is convinced his old gang is behind her death.
“Seeing the pictures told me a thousand words. I saw the bullet holes in the back, I knew already. Execution-style from behind, you know.”
This fall, he accepted a plea deal that offered 15 to life for a murder he did not commit but felt responsible for. He took it, even though it meant pleading to a charge of second-degree murder, saying he did not want to put Javier Tovar’s family — and taxpayers — through the agony of a trial.
At his Dec. 1 sentencing hearing, he asked Tovar’s relatives, who were in the courtroom, as well as the residents of Salinas for forgiveness.
“I am sorry beyond belief, beyond any comprehension,” he said. “I would think of how unfair it was that I was free, that I was alive. It didn’t seem right.
“I’ve heard the word courage being used … The fact is, the night Javier Tovar was murdered, he was murdered by three cowards. And I was one of the cowards that was there.”
He was, he told the court, especially moved by a letter written by Tovar’s sister that mentioned the way he smiled.
“It tore me to pieces when I read it. And it should have. And the reason being is one of the things I thought about was, do they miss his smile? You know, the light in his eyes.”
Martinez says he has no regrets about surrendering, despite evidence indicating he might never have been charged if he hadn’t. His plans now revolve around making the most of his time in prison. He’s eager to set up more men’s programs and perhaps conduct academic research behind the walls.
“He has always been a leader,” says Villarreal.
Despite the stacks of letters and commendations he’s received for what many describe as doing the right thing — Martinez says he does not consider himself brave or heroic or exceptional.
“What I did is not courageous,” he insists. “This is expected behavior of anyone in our society.
“Through doing this, I’ve gained so much more. I may be given 15 to life, but to me that’s not the end of the road. What has happened inside of me supersedes it all, way more than I even expected.”
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All contents ©2011 MONTEREY COUNTY HERALD and may not be republished without written permission.
Johnny Angel Martinez ended his search for redemption by turning himself in
By JULIA REYNOLDS, Herald Staff Writer
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Part one of two
Part two: Man who surrendered has no regrets
Editor’s note: On Dec. 1, 2011, Johnny Angel Martinez , 34, was sentenced to 15 years to life after turning himself in to police for his role in a Salinas murder 10 years earlier. This two-part series tells the story of Martinez’s decision to face justice.
On an August afternoon last year, Johnny Angel Martinez carefully set down his cigarette, walked through the front doors of the Salinas Police Department and told an attending officer, “I need to talk to a homicide detective.”
He told the officer it had to do with a homicide he was involved in.
“Excuse me?” he recalled her saying. “Not a homicide that you know about or that you witnessed?”
No — it was one he was involved in, he said. She asked him to wait. He told her he would be right outside finishing his cigarette. Martinez knew it could be one of the last smokes he would have for years, maybe forever.
As he inhaled and listened to his MP3 player, he told himself, “Don’t leave.”
A voice inside that he had been resisting for a year told him this was the necessary conclusion to a journey that began almost a decade earlier when he was ordered to help his gang kill his own mother.
It was a journey that would lead him on a difficult search for redemption and end with a new start on life that he knew could only come from facing justice.
A tough upbringing
The 34-year-old Martinez says he was just 5 when he saw a junkie die of an overdose in his mother’s home.
“Johnny had it real hard,” says his childhood friend Angel Botello of Martinez’s upbringing in Salinas and the Central Valley.
Martinez said he never even saw a picture of his Puerto Rican father. His mother was a heroin addict and her home frequently hosted other addicts. One of young Johnny’s first jobs was running and getting the spoon and the ice, tools his mother used for treating overdoses until paramedics arrived.
Other times he showed novice users how to shoot up while the grown-ups laughed and called it cute. When he played alone, he recalls, he pretended to inject a syringe into his arm. Miraculously, he never shot heroin in his life.
A year later, he says, his mother was boosting him through open windows so he could help her rob houses. He was told that a good man provides for his family, even if that means stealing and robbing to do it.
Largely because of his mother’s addiction, he went in and out of foster homes and seemed to live two lives. Throughout his childhood, Martinez says, he was a straight-A student who eventually moved into advanced placement classes. He was a brainy boy who skateboarded and listened to heavy metal.
Former probation and parole officer Dan Villarreal, now director of the Strengthening Families program in Salinas, has known Martinez since he was 12 years old.
“Even during his incarceration in juvenile hall, group homes or the California Youth Authority … many staff wondered, ‘What is this kid doing here?’” Villarreal says.
Martinez says his mother had her own expectations for him. Known to everyone as Chuca, she would brag to friends that one day her son Johnny Angel would be an important gangster.
The family lore was that Chuca was so dedicated to the gangs of Salinas that while she was in labor, she had a relative drive her from the Central Valley so that Johnny could be born in Salinas.
He was 14 years old when, in June 1992, he held his friend Prescott Torrez’s head in his lap as the boy lay dying. He had wandered into the crossfire of rival gangs outside the Breadbox Recreation Center in East Salinas. Prescott, 15, would be the first of more than two dozen friends Martinez would see murdered over the years.
Through his teens, Martinez graduated from stints in juvenile hall to sentences in the California Youth Authority and then prison, from throwing punches in the park to brandishing guns. He also started using drugs, smoking pot and later using cocaine and methamphetamine.
As he ascended the gang’s ranks, he was eventually ordered to kill homeboys who had been deemed “no good” by the bosses, but fate always seemed to intervene at the last minute and the hits never happened.
By his early 20s, his role in the gang had become that of an ambassador. He was good at keeping up morale, directing younger gang members, and coordinating drug sales.
He convinced himself he was helping promising youngsters by getting them real jobs. He shared his apartment, his clothes — and his guns — with them.
Wrapped up in a crime
On Memorial Day Weekend in 2000, Martinez spent a day at Lake Nacimiento with a couple of gang associates. He says the others fell asleep as he drove them back to Salinas.
Near the fire station on Williams Road, one abruptly told him, “Pull over,” and he did so.
Martinez says he heard the shots but never saw what happened. When his companions jumped back in the car, he says, he drove them away in silence while sirens blared behind them.
He later learned that Javier Tovar, 23, had been shot in the back.
Authorities have not named Martinez’s alleged accomplices, nor any other suspects in the crime.
He recalls feeling angry, not because an innocent man was killed, but because he was now wrapped up in a crime he had not consented to. He did his best to forget what happened, push it out of his mind.
A year later, he was in prison again at the same time an entire gang crew in Salinas was charged in connection with a murder at Cap’s Saloon.
When he paroled, Martinez reported to his gang regiment that he was “out and available.”
He and his colleagues arranged to meet at a pizza parlor on East Alisal Street.
Once inside, Martinez noticed the others ordered sodas, not beer. This meeting was going to be serious.
The boss asked if he knew what was going on. “With what?” Martinez answered.
The table fell silent, he says, until another man spoke up.
“Your mom is testifying and turning evidence,” the man said.
Martinez had no idea that she was involved in any of the gang’s business, and his first reaction was anger that his mother had been selling dope for the gang and no one had bothered to ask what he would think.
But he stayed quiet.
“We’re not asking for your approval,” the boss said, “but we need to know where you’re at because she’s going to be whacked and it’s your mother.”
He said what he knew he had to say. “We have to do what we have to do.”
The organization’s leaders weren’t so heartless as to ask Martinez to do it himself, and they promised his mother wouldn’t be hit in front of family.
But the gang did need his help.
Chuca was in a witness relocation program and only Martinez could tell them where she was. They asked for a full report on her location and habits.
Although Martinez readily said yes, something made him wonder if he would really go through with it. He’d been a prominent member of the gang, but he’d never killed anyone, much less a blood relative.
It would take years before he would understand that his mother had committed a truly courageous act, that despite all she’d done to push him into the gang, she was the first with the guts to stand up to it.
Meanwhile, as a newly minted member of the gang’s upper echelon, Martinez had to prove himself by helping his “brothers” carry out their mission.
He would have to choose which family deserved his loyalty.
‘A good robot’
Today, Martinez can’t recall the hours after the order was given, whether he even ate that day or not.
He told himself: This is what happens when people rat. He was, he now says, a “good robot.”
Yet something kept him from reporting back to the gang about his mother’s whereabouts.
It was then, too, that he learned he was about to become a father.
He says the decision to leave his gang so soon after he’d joined its elite circle came in small steps.
It didn’t happen overnight, and he realized he hadn’t made the decision, it was made for him — he was angry because leaders decided to “tax” young street gang members 25 percent of their criminal income. He was about to get married and become a father. And the gang had just ordered him to help kill his mother.
Despite so many good reasons to get out, walking away would feel like a failure, as if he’d committed a deep betrayal.
“It was like a very bad relationship,” he says. “You ignore all the evidence … You make excuses for being treated wrong. You’re so co-dependent, afraid to be alone, afraid to take a stand, to be confident and say, ‘Hey, I don’t deserve this, you are no good for me.’”
He told himself he was a gangster, so tough he could go through with a hit on his mother, but always, he says, “some sliver of goodness” stopped him from following through.
“That didn’t make me gangster,” he says now. “It made me incredibly stupid.”
It was the impending birth of his son, he says, that pushed him to a decision.
He’d stand outside smoking, looking up at a canopy of stars and think, “I’m going to be a father. There’s still hope.”
With his new wife supporting his decision, Martinez walked into his parole agent’s office and told him, “I’m done. I’m dropping out.”
After Martinez decided to leave his gang for good, the road to becoming “normal” was far from easy. In fact, it was pretty bumpy.
He was grateful the gang’s leaders respected his decision to focus on family. As long as he didn’t snitch or compete with their drug business and other crimes, they left him alone.
After his second child was born, he turned once again to his drugs of choice, cocaine and methamphetamine, when his relationship with his wife began to unravel.
By 2006, he landed back in prison after an argument with his wife turned physical.
This time, he decided, he had to make permanent changes.
He underwent counseling in domestic violence and relationships, parenting and substance abuse.
Soon he was trained to facilitate nonviolent conflict resolution. He co-founded “Freedom and Choice,” a men’s accountability group for inmates at the state prison in Jamestown.
He was a trained counselor for the “Seeking to Educate Endangered Kids” program, which provided mentoring and counseling to teens on probation.
He was especially moved, he says, by a course run by Criminon International, a group that runs prison and jail workshops addressing “the causes of criminality and restoring the criminal’s self-respect through effective drug detoxification, education and common sense programs.”
He discovered that the leadership skills he’d developed while in the gang were now useful for helping others get their lives together. He earned commendations from the associate warden and has a pile of certificates to prove it.
He earned a new moniker, “Justful Johnny,” because he had a reputation for being fair and holding himself accountable.
In 2008, Jamestown’s Associate Warden Ty Rawlinson wrote that Martinez was “instrumental in creating a new culture in this facility and quite possibly the California prison system.”
While he was locked up, he read a book about how to find happiness. It offered simple guidelines: not harming others; obeying the law; setting a good example.
Things normal people take for granted, he told himself. He began to consider whether he might one day be able to live a normal life.
He would soon discover that the more his prospects began looking up, the more that murder he’d been a part of would haunt him.
Read part two: While he is in jail awaiting trial, Martinez overhears a news report that his mother has been shot and killed. He will listen to her memorial service on a phone in jail.
All contents ©2011 MONTEREY COUNTY HERALD and may not be republished without written permission.
I just wrote a story coming off an afternoon of listening to Sacramento hearings about:
1) the horrifying conditions in the SHU; and
2) how inmates become validated as prison gang members and get sent indefinitely to the SHU.
Don’t get me wrong. As a frequent visitor to California prisons, it doesn’t take much to tick me off at the Department of Corrections. I mean seriously, prisons could do a few simple, cheap and decent things like provide shade and benches for elderly visitors who stand for hours in their freezing/blistering hot/rain-soaked parking lots just to see a loved one. They could quit setting the clocks forward and shaving 15 minutes off precious visiting time. Grrrr! They could allow a reporter a pencil and paper like the Department Operations Manual says they must.
And those are just the little things. And okay, maybe I’m ticked off I didn’t get invited by CDCR to go on their recent press junket to Pelican Bay. Double grrr!
Despite all this ticked-offness, I understand prison officials’ dilemma.
I lose patience with family members who are in denial about their loved ones’ gang involvement. There was a lot of talk at the Sacramento hearing about inmates being falsely classified as prison gang members. They are not ‘generals,’ one relative said.
Well, some of them are. There really are gang members and gang generals in the SHU. And I know this not because I take some cop’s word for it but because I’ve known more than a few of them personally. There really are people there who stab, strangle, slice, and beat other humans as a regular way of life. Even in the SHU, they find ways to smuggle out orders to kill. Yes, they do. I’ve seen the hit lists.
True, that doesn’t mean your loved one is one of them.
I guess what I’m thinking is that we’re asking the wrong questions. Rather than protest every SHU inmate’s innocence, maybe we should ask: Is long-term isolation in a Security Housing Unit really the best way to deal with the gang members who do beat and stab and slice?
The SHU hasn’t stopped the gangs from spreading. It hasn’t stopped the orders for hits. True, it has probably slowed some of these things, but I have to ask whether allowing SHU inmates to use colored pencils is really going to increase prison violence. Whether allowing inmates a little more fresh air and human contact is going to up the assault rates.
Maybe the problem isn’t who goes to the SHU, it’s the SHU itself.
One big question that did come up at the hearing — and it was a good one — was why prison officials have made it almost impossible to leave the SHU (and one’s gang) without debriefing. (Debriefing is what some would call snitching.)
I liked the answer I heard. They’re going to change that. That’s what I heard, I swear. Finally, prison officials told us they’re looking at ways to help guys step back without informing.
This is HUGE.
As they age, plenty of men grow tired of being in a gang, but still feel crappy about informing. The new approach would allow them to show (through their behavior) that they’re no longer in a gang. Without having to debrief.
I can imagine that prison officials will see a lot more men back off from prison gangs and out of the SHU.
Sure, there a risks. How do you know for sure the guy has really left the gang? Maybe he’s a sleeper. Things like that.
You don’t know. There’s always a risk. Leaving men with nothing on their minds but time in the SHU is also a risk. As one ex-gang general put it, they’ve got nothing to do “but sit and plot.” Hasn’t worked out too well so far, has it?
I spent a day inside Folsom in 2003, and it’s amazing how much has changed for the worse even since then, when inmates were already doubled up in cells designed for one. Back then, the vocational programs were impressive and the gardens around the old prison were quite beautiful. The inmates took pride in them, but according to this story, they’re gone now, too.
For press coverage of Blood in the Fields, go here.
Reporting on traumatic events
• When Crime is Just the Beginning of the Story
• Bringing What’s Buried in Folders to Life
• Strategies for Reporters Coping with Stress
Coverage of Julia Reynolds’ work at the 2009 Aftermath Conference at Harvard in Nieman Reports.
Gang prevention strategies
Sandip Roy interviews Julia Reynolds, Prof. Victor Rios of UC Santa Barbara and Stockton Peacekeepers Jose Gomez and Ralph Womack on San Francisco’s KALW 91.7 fm show “Your Call,” about Project Ceasefire and other strategies to deal with gang and youth violence. Oct. 14, 2009
Operation Knockout II
California Watch reports on Julia Reynolds’ coverage in the Monterey County Herald of Operation Knockout, the April 2010 take-down of Nuestra Familia associates in Salinas, and revives an earlier interview with one of the gang’s entrepreneurs.
by Michael Montgomery, California Watch, Apr 28, 2010
Operation Knockout Meets Ceasefire
In a television interview and panel with fellow Bay Area reporters, Reynolds discusses the April 22, 2010 Nuestra Familia takedown in Salinas. Hosted by Belva Davis, KQED-tv, “This Week in Northern California” Apr 23, 2010
Operation Knockout I
Radio interview with Julia Reynolds on the day of the Knockout raids in Salinas and how Ceasefire might help with the aftermath.
by Cy Musiker, KQED-fm, Apr 22, 2010
Nuestra Familia: Our Family
Radio interview with reporters Julia Reynolds and George Sánchez about the surprising origins of the NF and California’s gang wars
by Ben Adler, KAZU-fm, Apr 28, 2006
Documentary Goes Inside Nuestra Familia
by Brenda Moore, Monterey County Herald, Dec 2, 2005
Documentary Examines Salinas Gang Problem
Reporters follow current, former gang members
KSBW-TV, Nov. 11, 2005
Outed by Public TV Web Site, Fleeing Arms Dealer is Nabbed
June 24, 2002
The NAFTA Gang episode
In late 1999, our tiny bilingual magazine el Andar was threatened with a $10 million defamation lawsuit by one of Mexico’s most powerful families, the Hanks — over an article by yours truly, titled “The NAFTA Gang.” We refused to retract our reporting and with the support of first amendment groups and press coverage here and abroad, the family backed down within a year.
Drug War on Trial
by Mark Schapiro, The Nation, Sept 6, 2001
U.S. Based Hispanic Magazine Stands Ground Against Powerful Mexican Family
By Mary Jo McConahay, Pacific News Service, Oct. 22, 1999
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Calling the US criminal justice system “a national disgrace,” US Senators urged for a top-to-bottom review with an eye on reforms aimed at reducing America’s massive prison population.
Democratic Senator Jim Webb, backed by Republican Senator Arlen Specter, introduced legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel that would conduct an 18-month assessment and offer concrete recommendations for reform.
“America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace,” Webb said, noting that the United States has five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
The Virginia lawmaker noted soaring numbers of drug offenders in prison, and charged that four times more mentally ill people are incarcerated than housed in mental health hospitals.
Read the rest of this story here.
On another note, does the above link mean that Google is PAYING for news content? Hmmm… we must investigate…
From overcrowded prisons to life without parole for juveniles and problematic witness protection — our justice system offers plenty to write about.
The guns of Pacific Grove: Unraveling a police commander’s arms dealings | The Monterey Herald
The silent empire: the state’s largest for-profit jail health care provider | The Monterey Herald (funny how they change headlines on the web for search engine optimization)
Experts slam Monterey County Jail conditions | The Monterey Herald
(yes, they re-named our newspaper)
Down for Life series | The Monterey County Herald Day 1 • Day 2 • Day 3
>>PDFs Day 1 • Day 2 • Day 3
Down for Life series | KAZU-fm Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3
Multimedia: A Long Night’s Wait at Salinas Valley State Prison
Since 2002, I’ve reported on the Nuestra Familia and the law enforcement efforts to bring it down.
The NF is one of the nation’s most violent and sophisticated gangs, a drug-dealing mafia that for more than three decades has exerted powerful control over the West’s agricultural towns. In the Salinas Valley, second, third and now fourth generations of children are literally being born into this gang and raised to be criminals. My work chronicles the gang’s power and a community’s struggle to defeat it.
Nuestra Familia, Our Family | The PBS documentary
Our award-winning film about a father, a son, a gang and the FBI.
The FBI’s largest case against Nuestra Familia, with trials still underway.
Girlfriends, wives and sisters are an integral — and often expendable — part of gang organizations.
When people ask me how to end gangs, I usually say something useless like “end poverty first.” But there may be more immediate hope for stopping some of the killings. The Boston Ceasefire violence reduction strategy is gaining support and believers. I’m one of them.
I also continuously cover solutions to gang and youth violence, as well as prison and reentry issues as my regular beat at The Monterey County Herald.
In the world of gunrunning, money drives the engine. What starts with an illegal but booming worldwide arms trade ends with misery around the globe – including teen deaths in Northern California.