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PCJP Hosts Second Annual “Lifer School”

Written February 12th, 2013 by

Heidi Rummel and Keith Wattley (third from left) joined by two former lifers.

 This past Saturday, the Post-Conviction Justice Project and UnCommon Law, a non-profit legal services provider in Oakland, California that specializes in challenging unlawful prison conditions including the parole consideration process for lifers, hosted the second annual “Lifer School” at the USC Gould School of Law.  Over the course of the all-day event, speakers addressed the various aspects of a parole-suitability determination, from both sides of the process. 

Attorney Keith Wattley of UnCommon Law, an experienced parole lawyer who has represented thousands of prisoners before all levels of state and federal courts and administrative boards, gave a presentation on the present state of the law.  Psychologist Yoshado Lang, Ph.D. discussed the critical role of psychological evaluations and risk assessments in the determination of suitability for parole.  Board of Parole Hearings Executive Officer Jennifer Shaffer and Chief Counsel Howard Moseley discussed aspects of the process from the administrative side and took questions from the participants. 

A panel, including Heidi Rummel and former lifers, answers questions.

Later in the day, former lifers Heid Smith, Carletha Steward, Teresa Ethridge, and Charlotte Henderson discussed how they overcame insight challenges inuring the parole process.  Experienced parole attorneys Heidi Rummel, Debbie Page, and Michael Parente, ’12, discussed client preparation and building an administrative record, followed by an open Q and A session where participants, lawyers, and former lifers discussed common pitfalls and the role of attorneys and law students in lifer parole considerations.  The event’s attendees included students from UCLA, USC, and Loyola law schools; lawyers; law professors; former lifers; and family members of inmates.  


Two Students Lecture on Parole Process at San Quentin Prison

Written February 6th, 2013 by

Third-year clinical students Ryan Appleby and Jackson Trugman, along with supervising attorney Heidi Rummel, recently presented a three-part lecture on California Parole Law and Lifer Hearings to members of Kid C.A.T. and their guests at San Quentin Prison. Kid C.A.T., which stands for Creating Awareness Together, is a group of inmates who received life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. To an audience of about forty inmates, Appleby and Trugman covered topics ranging from “insight” to parole plans over the course of three sessions.

To learn more about Kid C.A.T., and keep up-to-date with its going-ons, click here to view its Facebook page.

PCJP Files Request Urging Gov. Brown to Grant Parole to Terminally Ill Inmate

Written February 6th, 2013 by

Glenda Jo Virgil at California Institution for Women, January 2013

On Thursday, January 31, 2013, second-year PCJP student Julia Deixler filed an official request with Governor Brown to release Glenda Jo Virgil, 66, who has served 25 years for killing her physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive partner who, after beating Ms. Virgil for several hours, threatened to kill her to prevent her from leaving him.

Ms. Virgil is wheelchair-bound and in poor health. In September, doctors diagnosed Ms. Virgil with an aggressive form of lung cancer, and earlier this year she suffered four pulmonary embolisms. Ms. Virgil would like to spend the end of her life with her family.

In August, a panel of the Parole Board denied her parole for three more years for smoking cigarettes in prison. However, under California law, the Governor has 30 days to reverse the parole denial.

According to Heidi Rummel, co-director of PCJP, “the law has changed since the Board’s denial and we hope Governor Brown will do the right thing and grant her parole. Virgil has Stage III cancer and her health is rapidly deteriorating.”

See the press release by Gilien Silsby here.

Client Sentenced As Juvenile Gives Back, Is Found Suitable For Parole

Written January 22nd, 2013 by

Gary "Malachi" Scott at San Quentin Prison

Gary “Malachi” Scott has been incarcerated his entire adult life.  Despite this, he has matured into a thoughtful, kind, and talented adult.  On December 27, 2012, the Board of Parole hearing found him suitable for parole.  Governor Brown will make his final decision May 2013.

Malachi was born in South Los Angeles to a single working mother and grew up in a chaotic home and a violent neighborhood.  At thirteen years old, Malachi became involved with the local gang because it was the one place where he believed he belonged. At fifteen, he agreed to help an older gang member commit a robbery. The robbery victim was shot and killed during a struggle over the gun, and Malachi was sentenced to state custody at age sixteen.

A couple of years into his incarceration, Malachi removed himself from the gang and has since dedicated his life to speaking to at-risk youth about the dangers of gangs and repeating his mistakes. He and a small group of fellow inmates founded “Kid C.A.T.” (Creating Awareness Together), a group for inmates convicted as juveniles committed to addressing the underlying issues leading to juvenile crime and incarceration through education, mentorship, and restorative practices.  The group has partnered directly with community leaders to develop a curriculum to educate people inside and outside of prison, and has participated extensively in community service projects. Malachi currently serves as Treasurer of the Executive Board and hopes to continue Kid C.A.T.’s mission by forming a similar non-profit organization outside of prison. In addition to Kid C.A.T., Malachi is a leader in a variety of self-help groups including the Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG), Narcotics Anonymous, and the San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences and Studies (SQUIRES).

Malachi is the sports writer for The San Quentin News, the only prisoner-run newspaper in California. Recognizing his outstanding writing, The New York Times selected his piece about incarcerated juveniles for online publication. In the piece, he discusses the difficulty of rehabilitating juvenile offenders in dangerous prison settings.

Malachi is a remarkable man deserving of release. He has the support of numerous prison staff and volunteers.  He has firm parole plans, including a paid full-time job offer to work with at risk youth and a stable residence. Please join us in urging Governor Brown to allow Gary Scott’s grant of parole to stand.

If interested in reading some of Malachi’s work, click here for his New York Times article and here for the San Quentin News website.

To learn more about Kid C.A.T., and keep up-to-date with its going-ons, click here to view its Facebook page.

PCJP Alumnus Elected to Washington State Supreme Court

Written December 10th, 2012 by

Sheryl Gordon McCloud, USC Class of 1984 and alumnus of the Post-Conviction Justice Project, was elected to the Washington State Supreme Court on November 6, 2012.

For over two decades, Justice McCloud has been a criminal defense attorney with an active appellate practice — including hundreds of arguments before the Washington State Supreme Court.

She will assume office on January 14, 2013 and will serve a six-year term on the high court. She has promised “to uphold our rights as promised by the Constitution and ensure equal justice for all.”

Join Our LinkedIn Alumni Network!

Written November 1st, 2012 by

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Sign the Petition to Parole 65-year-old Glenda Jo Virgil

Written October 31st, 2012 by

Glenda Jo Virgil, 65, has served 25 years for killing her physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive partner who, after beating Ms. Virgil for several hours, threatened to kill her to prevent her from leaving him.

Ms. Virgil is wheelchair-bound and in poor health. In September, doctors diagnosed Ms. Virgil with an aggressive form of lung cancer, and earlier this year she suffered four pulmonary embolisms.

Ms. Virgil would like to spend the end of her life with her family. In August, a panel of the Parole Board denied her parole for three more years for smoking cigarettes in prison. It is now up to the full Board and the Governor to determine whether the three-year denial will stand — and whether she will spend her last days in prison. Sign the petition below to urge the Board and Governor to reconsider the denial.

Sign the petition, and view more information about Ms. Virgil, by clicking here.

Read the NPR article about Ms. Virgil and victims of abuse like her by clicking here.

Heidi Rummel, Students Talk Juvenile Justice on KXSC Radio

Written October 18th, 2012 by

Second-year law students Michael Hart and Joanna Hall, with Supervising Attorney Heidi Rummel, discussed representing inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without parole on KXSC Radio October 17.

The Post-Conviction Justice Project, which since 1981 has represented parole-eligible inmates serving indeterminate life sentences, recently announced its plans to expand representation to inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without parole.

The October 2012 announcement came on the heels of Governor Jerry Brown signing Senate Bill 9 (SB9) into law. SB9 gives inmates sentenced to life without parole the opportunity to petition for a reduction in their sentence — from life without the possibility of parole to 25-to-life. The inmate would need to have served at least 15 years and demonstrate remorse and rehabilitation to be eligible for a reduction.

You can listen to the full interviews below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

More information of KXSC Radio here.

Student Learns Empathy, Patience

Written October 4th, 2012 by

“PCJP Teaches USC Law Student Empathy, Patience”

by Chao Qi

My first year of law school can be summed up by various two-word phrases: Socratic method, reading cases, writing memos, outlining courses and taking exams. But after my first year of law school, I began a summer internship with USC Law’s Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP). I joined PCJP because I believed in its work: representing women serving life sentences for murder. Many of our clients have come from unfathomable circumstances, committed egregious crimes and yet have found the inner strength to rehabilitate themselves. I had no idea the impact that my time with the Project would have on both my personal and professional development.

When I was assigned to represent a new client, Nadine Hosman, I knew nothing about her except that we came from completely different worlds. I am a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a self-described “Harley-Davidson kind of gal” who spent her entire life in Bakersfield, California, until she was sent to prison for a 1987 conviction for conspiracy to commit murder. Nadine suffered a stroke in 1996 and had no recollection of her life before the stroke. She was essentially being punished for something she did not remember. Further, the stroke significantly impaired her ability to formulate and articulate her thoughts – she understood me, but she could not answer my questions much beyond simple yes or no responses.

Our meetings were short, and I admit I was envious of the other students’ relationships with our long-time clients who were more open, forthcoming and chatty. When I asked Nadine about her family, she would fix me with a stare and firmly say, “No.” But I continued to visit her every week, trying to get a glimpse into her life. In time, I learned that she watches Criminal Minds, reads Stephen King novels and listens to Led Zeppelin. At each meeting, I would press her on why she wanted to be paroled. Her answer was always the same: “Because I want to go home.”

For two months, our weekly meetings followed a standard script: I updated her on the case, asked if she had questions and discussed her upcoming parole hearing. Then one day when I asked her why she wanted parole, she became tearful for the first time. My persistence in asking her about her life had developed into a mutual bond of trust between us. We had our longest meeting that day, and I realized it was never that Nadine had nothing to say – rather, I never perceived what she was actually saying when she spoke. Her words were opaque, but her emotions were always clear. Instead of pressing her for details of her life, I needed only to observe and let her reveal herself to me. And so I learned to understand what she wanted to say before she was able to say it. When I saw her struggling, I would guide her with structured questions until she was able to respond. In this manner, we worked hard to prepare for her parole hearing.

I was anxious the day of her hearing. I knew her future depended on our work together. But I also knew that her memory loss and difficulties communicating would present unique challenges to obtaining a grant of parole. During her hearing, Nadine struggled and sometimes failed to answer the parole board’s questions – questions that we had prepared for. But when it was my turn to question her, I could ask open-ended questions and fill in the word gaps for her. She, in turn, responded with short statements and effectively communicated her thoughts and feelings to the board.

After extensive deliberation, the board found Nadine Hosman suitable for parole. She was shocked by the decision – but I was smiling. All her hard work had brought her one step closer to going home.
Before I left the room, the commissioner commented on the strangeness of the case and how my supervisors “gave [me] a weird one.” I cannot imagine being assigned to any other case.

My experiences with Nadine taught me that having patience, empathy and persistence with clients truly can make a difference. I have gained intangible skills beyond what I was able to learn in first-year classes, and these lessons will be with me for the rest of my life.

To see this article published in the USC Gould School of Law “Clinical Perspectives,” Fall/Winter 2012 issue, click here.

PCJP Expands Focus to Represent Youth Offenders

Written October 3rd, 2012 by

By Gilien Silsby

USC Gould School of Law’s Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP) announced today that it is expanding its client base to include representation of juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

The move comes as California addresses life-term sentences for 16- and 17-year-old youths. This week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act into law, creating a review process for juveniles sentenced to life without parole. They may now petition the court to be resentenced to a life term with the possibility of parole.

“We have taken on this issue because children are different than adults, and deserve to be treated differently in our criminal justice system,” said USC Gould Prof. Heidi Rummel, who co-directs the PCJP. “Courts and scientists, and now the California legislature and Gov. Brown, agree that adolescents are less culpable. Their brains are still developing. They are impulsive, vulnerable to peer pressure and often victims of their life circumstances. But most importantly, they have a much greater capacity to grow and change.”

PCJP has agreed to represent 12 juvenile offenders serving life without parole sentences. Sixteen USC Gould students are working on the cases under the supervision of Rummel and USC Gould Prof. Michael Brennan, who co-directs the PCJP.

Read the full article here.

Designed by PCJP in Los Angeles, California
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