California Politics: The prison reform that divides California Democrats

A man exercises in an outdoor cage at California State Prison, Sacramento
Maurice League exercises in an outdoor cage at California State Prison, Sacramento, in an area for prisoners in solitary confinement.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Will this be the year California limits solitary confinement in state prisons and jails?

Even though the state’s voters and the Legislature’s Democratic majority have embraced a number of progressive criminal justice reforms over the last decade that have reduced the prison population, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last year vetoed legislation to limit the use of solitary confinement.

Many experts say the practice amounts to torture and argue that it runs counter to the state’s larger move away from tough-on-crime policies of the past, reports Times staff writer Hannah Wiley. Prison officials say it’s necessary to keep employees and inmates safe from the most violent people. The bill to limit solitary confinement is back this year, sparking a new debate over human rights and safety that has divided Democrats at the state Capitol.

Wiley’s report explains the policy debate and includes surprising details from her recent tour of a solitary confinement unit at a Northern California prison. Be sure to check it out.


I’m Laurel Rosenhall, The Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, here to share the week’s biggest news in California politics:

Feinstein’s illness threatens Biden’s judicial agenda

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s health problems that have kept her at home in San Francisco are threatening to imperil President Biden’s quest to remake the federal judiciary — but so far the White House is willing to be patient as she recovers and faces questions about whether she should step down from office, writes Times White House reporter Courtney Subramanian.

Republicans blocked a Democratic effort this week to temporarily replace Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the absence of the Democrat’s tie-breaking vote has left some of Biden’s judicial nominees languishing. The quandary has left Democrats divided on how to deal with the 89-year-old senator’s extended absence from Washington, which threatens to derail judicial nominations at a moment when the party’s priorities, including abortion rights, are being challenged in federal courts.

Feinstein announced in March that she had been hospitalized with shingles and said last week that her return to Washington was delayed due to related complications. Don’t miss these insightful takes on the potential consequences of her illness:

Julie Su’s California experience carves rocky path to Biden’s Cabinet

In Washington today, California civil rights attorney Julie Su faces her first Senate hearing to become President Biden’s labor secretary and the sole Asian American in his Cabinet.

Her path to confirmation is rocky, writes Times political reporter Melanie Mason, as Republicans construct a solid bloc of opposition and several Democratic senators remain uncommitted.

In the eyes of her supporters, Su personifies the promise of California: a daughter of immigrants who made groundbreaking advances in protecting workers’ rights.

Her detractors also paint Su as an embodiment of California. In their telling, though, she would replicate the state’s overregulation of business, bloated bureaucracy and coziness with organized labor on a national level.

Read more about Su’s successes and setbacks in this profile of the Southern California native who previously served in Newsom’s administration.

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Keeping up with California politics

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan dies at 92
The last Republican mayor of what became a liberal city, Richard Riordan promised voters a better business climate, more cops and improvements in basic services when he took office in July 1993. By the time he departed eight years later, much of his vision for a cleaner, safer, better-functioning city had been realized.

Amid budget concerns, Newsom pulls back funding increase for foster care advocate program
As the state grapples with a $22.5-billion budget deficit, Court Appointed Special Advocate foster care is facing a significant reduction in new funding that was meant to expand the program’s reach. While Newsom administration officials say the move is among many “difficult reductions” necessary to fill the looming budget gap, foster youth advocates are urging the governor and lawmakers to restore that funding, calling the program a “life saving” service.

Mayor Karen Bass’ first budget: more cops, more hotel rooms for L.A.’s homeless population
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass released the first budget proposal of her administration this week, calling for more police and greater spending on homelessness, anti-gang programs and the city’s struggling animal shelters.

Potential GOP presidential candidate Mike Pence urges continued American aid to Ukraine in O.C. speech
Former Vice President Mike Pence, weighing a White House run next year, delivered a powerful call for America’s continued aid to Ukraine, saying in a speech this week at the Richard Nixon Library & Museum in Yorba Linda that the intervention is critical for national and global security.

This exclusive island town might be California’s biggest violator of affordable housing law
Coronado is arguably the most flagrant resister of a state affordable housing law designed to give housekeepers and others, from teachers to nurses, a chance at an apartment in places that would otherwise be out of their reach. Its elected officials have thumbed their noses at Newsom and state regulators, assuring residents that it will be years before the state cracks down.

Column: Forget California’s travel ban on anti-LGBTQ states. Engage instead.
The state’s travel ban has been something of a bust, writes Times columnist Nicholas Goldberg. Now, seven years after the ban went into effect, there’s a movement underway to repeal it. And it’s long past time.


California’s shortage of diverse teachers is hurting students, educators say
Teachers, advocates and education policy experts gathered in Sacramento to discuss how to recruit and retain teachers of color in California. They called on state policy makers not just to pass legislation but to create structures that reinforce new policies.

Column: Can an anti-immigrant bill turn Florida blue the way Prop. 187 did for California?
The Proposition 187 effect doesn’t transfer to other places as easily as Democrats and Latino activists may think, writes Times columnist Gustavo Arellano.

At 19, he won a local school board seat. His first civics lesson? Age discrimination
Triston Ezidore, the recently elected 19-year-old member of the Culver City Unified School District Board of Education, is believed to be the youngest elected official in Los Angeles County. He is part of a wave of Generation Z youth running for and winning office.

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