AD visits largest womens prison

Arrested Development visit Prison
Four members of AD: Eshe, 1 Love, Tasha & I, (Speech) visited the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, the largest women’s prison in the country. AD & Jamie Catto (1 Giant Leap), recorded the Solomon Burke song, "None of us are Free" with the prison gospel choir and we're happy to hang with every woman there! Yet a particular inmate/choir director, Deborah Peagler caught our attention earlier on. Debbie's a battered woman who has been in prison since 1983 (25 years) for alleged involvement in the murder of the man who abused her, forced her into prostitution, and molested her daughters. Her incarceration became controversial in 2005 after Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley offered Peagler a deal to facilitate her release from prison, then refused to honor his own written word. Peagler's supporters have established a website to publicize her cause. ( In 2008, a California Superior Court Judge removed Cooley's entire office from Peagler's case due to allegations of misconduct and conflicts of interest. Peagler never had a trial by jury. Prosecutors threatened to pursue the death penalty against her, and her attorney urged her to plead guilty in order to save her life. She was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison. In 2002, lawyers Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran began working pro bono to free Peagler. Their work relied on a unique California law enacted in 2002. The law gives battered women in prison the chance for a new hearing if the original court never considered evidence relating to abuse. In 2005, Peagler’s attorneys met with Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley at his office and showed him their evidence. Cooley concluded that Peagler had indeed been abused, and in writing he offered for her to plea to voluntary manslaughter, a crime that had a sentence of two to six years. At the time Peagler had been imprisoned for 23 years, so according to the deal she would be set free for time served. Soon after authorizing the deal, however, Cooley withdrew from it. The Los Angeles County Superior Court then denied Peagler’s petition for release. Peagler’s attorneys have since appealed the ruling, and in 2007 they filed suit against the Los Angeles District Attorney over the broken agreement to free their client For my wife Yolanda & Eshe, it was a very emotional experience. They shed tears as various inmates shared about childhood abuse, battery and the controversial 3 strikes law that has changed so many of these women's lives. The first true "three strikes" law, with virtually no exceptions provided, was not enacted until 1993, when Washington voters approved Initiative 593. California followed one year later, when that state's voters approved Proposition 184 by an overwhelming majority of 72% in favor to 28% against. The initiative proposed to the voters had the title of Three Strikes and You're Out, referring to de facto life imprisonment after three felonies had been committed. The concept swiftly spread to other states, but none of them chose to adopt a law as sweeping as California's: By 2004, twenty-six states and the federal government had laws that satisfy the general criteria for designation as "three strikes" statutes — namely, that a third felony conviction brings a sentence of life in prison, with no parole possible until a long period of time, most commonly twenty-five years, has been served. The exact application of the three-strikes laws varies considerably from state to state. Some states require all three felony convictions to be for violent crimes in order for the mandatory sentence to be pronounced, while others — most notably California — mandate the enhanced sentence for any third felony conviction so long as the first two felonies were deemed to be either "violent" or "serious," or both. Some unusual scenarios have arisen, particularly in California — the state punishes shoplifting and similar crimes as felony petty theft if the person who committed the crime has a prior conviction for any form of theft, including robbery or burglary. As a result, some defendants have been given sentences of 25 years to life in prison for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs (Gary Ewing, previous strikes for burglary and robbery with a knife), nine videotapes (Leandro Andrade, previous strikes for home burglary), or, along with a violent assault, a slice of pepperoni pizza from a group of children (Jerry Dewayne Williams, four previous non-violent felonies, sentence later reduced to six years). In one particularly notorious case, Kevin Weber was sentenced to 26 years to life for the crime of stealing four chocolate chip cookies (previous strikes of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon). However, prosecutors said the six-time parole violator broke into the restaurant to rob the safe after a busy Mother's Day holiday, but he triggered the alarm system before he could do it. When arrested, his pockets were full of cookies he had taken from the restaurant. In California, first and second strikes are counted by individual charges, rather than individual cases, so a defendant may have been charged and convicted of "first and second strikes", potentially many more than two such strikes, arising from a single case, even one that was disposed of prior to the passage of the law. Convictions from all 50 states and the federal courts at any point in the defendant's past, as well as juvenile offenses that would otherwise be sealed can be counted (although once a juvenile record is sealed, it cannot be "unsealed;" it does not exist any longer and there is no longer any record to be used as a prior conviction), regardless of the date of offense or conviction or whether the conviction was the result of a plea bargain. Defendants already convicted of two or more "strike" charges arising from one single case potentially years in the past, even if the defendant was a juvenile at the time, can be and have been charged and convicted with a third strike for any felony or any offense that could be charged as a felony (including "felony petty theft" or possession of a controlled substance prior to Proposition 36 and given 25 years to life. (e.g.: A defendant who accepted a plea bargain to 2 counts of residential burglary in one juvenile case 20 years before the passage of the law would have both counts regarded as first and second strikes, and would face a third strike if charged with any offense potentially chargeable as a felony, such as possession of a controlled substance or "felony petty theft"). It is possible for a defendant to be charged and convicted with multiple "third strikes" (technically third and fourth strikes) in a single case. It is also possible for multiple "third" strikes to arise from a single criminal act (or omission). As a result, a defendant may then be given two separate sentences that run consecutively, which can make for a sentence of 50 (or 75, or 100) years to life. 50 years to life was the actual sentence given to Leandro Andrade.
As of 2007, California's state prison system holds over 170,000 prisoners in custody in a system designed for 83,000, and most California prisons currently hold populations more than double their design capacity. Using design capacity to measure prison capacity is a term unique to the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. According to the California Legislative Analyst, the actual prison bed shortfall is 16,600, beds based on nationally recognized American Correctional Association standards. The state has progressively been forced to manage this overcrowded system year by year through various workarounds, including referring nonviolent drug offenses to special "drug courts" that mandate treatment rather than incarceration, early releases of prisoners, raising funds to build more prisons, and transfers of prisoners to the federal system or out-of-state privately run institutions with whom the state has contracted. The system's healthcare system and several of its institutions have been found inadequate or inhumane by federal courts in successive cases, which have resulted in their being placed under special oversight. The three strikes law has further contributed to the strain on the system by causing aging of the prison population. In turn, as a result of all these factors, three-strikes sentences have prompted harsh criticism not only within the United States but from outside the country as well. Arrested Development's visit to this women's facility will be part of a documentary by, Yoaff due next year. Speech


Lisa Diegelman said...

I just saw the documentary Crime after Crime at the New Orleans Film Festival and would love to download the song that you all recorded with Debbie. I do not see it on ITunes. Is it somewhere to download?

Speech said...

Hi Lisa,

I'm glad you loved the film. That particular song is not up for sale, however, the group is doing many cool things lately. You can get caught up at our website...