40 years for four shots

Brandon Spencer is paying a 40-year price for four shots that killed no one

By Olga Grigoryants and Daina Beth Solomon

brandon-spencerLike any proud father, James Spencer is eager to show off photos of his son.

Seated at a desk in his Inglewood apartment on a recent Friday evening, the 59-year-old shuffled legal documents, news clippings and letters until he unearthed a photo of a young man wearing a white dress shirt and a black tie — Brandon Spencer at age 18, suited up for work as a security guard.

Now the younger Spencer wears a different uniform. He has recently begun serving a 40 year prison term for opening fire at a Halloween party two years ago at the University of Southern California. 

When neighbors, friends and family heard that Spencer had been charged with four counts of attempted murder, many reacted with disbelief. They thought: “Nah, it can’t be Brandon.”
[Read more…]

OPINION: Mad science or school-to-prison? Criminalizing black girls

High stakes test question: A female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explodes in a classroom, but it causes no damage and no injuries. Who gets to be the adventurous, teenage genius, mad scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall?

If you’re a white girl check box A. If you’re an intellectually curious black girl with good grades check box B.

When 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested and expelled from Bartow High School in Florida for a science experiment gone awry, it exemplified a long American-as-apple-pie tradition of criminalizing black girls.

In many American classrooms, black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages, shoved into special education classes, disproportionately suspended and expelled, then warehoused in opportunity schools, juvenile jails and adult prisons.   [Read more…]

California makes parole easier for convicted felons

California’s budget crisis will make parole much easier for about 24,000 nonviolent convicted felons, The Associated Press reported. This number includes many people already on parole and those expected to be paroled over the next year.

Burglars, drug offenders and fraudsters will face relaxed restrictions under a new law that aims to reduce the number of parole violations that typically send ex-convicts back to prison.

Some ex-cons will qualify for less supervision. Although nonviolent offenders will still be required to register their addresses, a state parole officer will not check up on them. Local law enforcement, if anyone at all, will be left responsible for unannounced home visits and searches.

But some local law enforcement agencies worry less supervision will lead to a spike in crime.

“It is a pretty significant concern from the public safety standpoint,” Todd Rogers, a commander from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said. “There is a really good chance these guys will go out and caper again.”

The rules, which took effect Jan. 25, will hopefully close the state’s $20 billion budget gap. Nearly 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons, Los Angeles Watts Times reported. If everything goes as planned, officials estimate the measures, coupled with an early release program that will free about 3,000 current inmates, will save the state about $500 million its first full year.

With the changes, the prison population will shrink, freeing up state parole officers to focus on violent criminals, whose 70 percent relapse rate is more than double that of nonviolent ex-cons.

“Our supervision will be higher on those more likely to re-offend,” said California Corrections spokesman Gordon Hinkle, because the state hopes dropping some restrictions will cut California’s inmate prison population, and therefore free up state parole officers.

But Caroline Aguirre, former state parole officer, said the absence of supervision will result in more crime.

“It is because they are not being supervised and they know they are not being supervised,” Aguirre said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department expects about 7,700 felons to qualify for the easier restrictions. But Rogers said the department still needs to do what the state’s parole officers once did.

“We still want them to know they need to behave themselves,” Rogers said of the ex-cons.