Rina Palta

Criminal Justice Reporter/Editor

Rina Palta reports on criminal justice for KALW News.  Through stories of those affected by the system, she hopes to bring insight to an often misunderstood, polarizing, and politicized issue.  Rina came to KALW from a print background, having worked in magazines for a number of years before being pulled into broadcast while earning a masters degree at UC Berkeley's School of Journalism.  Along with KALW, her work has been published in Mother Jones magazine, the San Francisco Weekly, and Hyphen magazine.  Rina edits and writes for KALW's criminal justice blog, The Informant, where you can find news and analysis on all aspects of California's criminal justice world.

Ways to Connect

Image courtesy of Flickr user http://www.flickr.com/photos/spike55151/

A note to our readers: the names of incarcerated men in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

At the moment, Bill Johnson is wearing an orange t-shirt, orange pants, and wrist shackles. He’s sitting in an interview room in the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno.

Here in the Bay Area, we’ve seen the immigration debate manifest itself mostly in a controversy over the federal immigration program Secure Communities. The program requires local jails to share fingerprints of everyone they arrest with immigration enforcement officials. KALW’s Rina Palta sat down with the California Immigrant Policy Center's Jon Rodney to talk about how things are going.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jonathan Macintosh

Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler has been a New York Times correspondent in Israel and Moscow. In his two most recent books, released earlier this year, he turns his attention to the erosion of civil liberties in the United States. In Rights at Risk and The Rights of the People, Shipler argues that both the War on Terror and the War on Crime have allowed the government to seep into Americans' personal lives in unconstitutional ways. Shipler discussed his new books with KALW's Criminal Justice Editor, Rina Palta.

Courtesy of Flickr user Shawn Thorpe.

This week, US Supreme Court took up the issue of life without parole for juvenile offenders. The question for the justices is whether children who commit murder should have the chance at some point in their lives to prove they should be let free.

In the 1990s, New York was considered a dangerous place. The crack epidemic was still in full swing, and the city was at the peak of a national crime wave. Twenty years later, everything’s changed. New York’s crime rate has dropped dramatically and so has the state’s rate of locking people up in prison. How did this transformation occur? KALW’s Rina Palta sat down with Berkeley Law Professor, Franklin Zimring, to talk about his new book, The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and its Control.

Rina Palta

A note to readers and listeners: only the first names of children are used in this story.

Christian is 15 years old. And like many teenagers, he’s made some mistakes. “Kinda stupid stuff,” he says. “Like vandalism. Not necessarily graffiti or anything. But yeah. Vandalism.”

And he got caught.

“It’s funny, one little incident can change everybody’s opinion of you,” Christian says. “Like, everybody. At school, like the teachers, from the students, to your family and stuff. But I try not to look at it as a negative or anything.”

This morning at San Francisco’s City Hall, members of the SAFE California Coalition submitted signatures to the Department of Elections to put an initiative on the November ballot that would end the death penalty in California. Proponents say they gathered over 800,000 signatures, which will now be reviewed by elections officials before they’re able to send the proposal to voters. If passed, the initiative would replace capital punishment with life without the possibility of parole.

Today, in San Francisco’s Superior Court, a judge heard motions in the case of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. Mirkarimi is accused of domestic violence, in the wake of a fight with his wife on New Year's Eve that prosecutors say got physical.

Mirkarimi’s not the only one having trouble in his new job. A number of local criminal justice officials are on rocky ground in the Bay Area. Holly Kernan sat down with KALW’s criminal justice reporter, Rina Palta, to discuss these and other happenings in the public safety world.

In downtown Oakland, on August 2nd, 2007, journalist Chauncey Bailey was shot to death on the street, as he walked to work. The murder was a brazen act – committed in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses. Yet the truth about who was responsible for the death of the longtime newsman – and why he died – was almost buried by a rushed criminal justice system.

Photo by Randy OHC (http://flic.kr/p/HfnoG)

Linda Starr is the Legal Director of the Northern California Innocence Project. She spoke with KALW’s Rina Palta about the criminal justice system and what happens when it sends the wrong person to prison.

RINA PALTA: So, just to start out, tell me a little bit about the Innocence Project and how it started.

Photo courtesy of Project What

Community Works started working with inmates in San Francisco's jail system in 1997. Since then, the program has grown to include programs for men who have committed domestic violence and for children with incarcerated parents. On Saturday, Community Works is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a benefit show at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. KALW's criminal justice editor Rina Palta sat down with a team from Community Works to discuss where the program has been, and where it’s going.

Photo by Rina Palta

If you’re convicted of committing a felony in California, you can end up in many kinds of prisons. Steal a lot of money in a Ponzi scheme – you might end up in minimum security. Locked up, but with little supervision. Commit a violent crime, and you could be sent to a medium-security prison, like Folsom. Kill someone, and you could be headed for supermax.

Photo courtesy of http://7thvictim.com/inmate-1577.php

Local author Alan Jacobson writes thrillers, including a popular series that follows the exploits of FBI profiler Karen Vail. His most recent book in the series, Inmate 1577, takes place in San Francisco – specifically, Alcatraz. Jacobson did extensive research on prison life in the 1960s, particularly at the Federal Penitentiary at Alcatraz.

Photo courtesy of Rosenberg Foundation

Nationally, women are the fastest growing prison population. And one of the highest female prison populations in the world is here in California. That's slated to change under the state's new realignment program. The number of women in prison is supposed to shrink drastically, by as much as half, over the next few years.

Dan4th Nicholas

As with much conventional wisdom on crime and punishment, popular notions of what actually causes recidivism--people cycling repeatedly in and out of prison--don't hold up when you look at the statistics. California's latest report analyzing its notoriously high (currently 65 percent) recidivism rate contains an array of numerical nuggets that shed new light on the cycle of crime. A sampling:

Joe Mud

Yesterday, officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation travelled to Chowchilla in the Central Valley to talk to locals about the pending conversion of Valley State Prison for Women into a men’s facility. Chowchilla, the closest town to two of the state’s three women’s prisons, has resisted the conversion, worried about the impact of bringing in thousands of male prisoners.

Rachel Towne

The previous year was a huge one for criminal justice in California, and 2012 promises to be just as dramatic. This year we’ll see the continued fallout of California’s prison overcrowding crisis, which coupled with the state’s financial crisis, is opening the doors to reforms never thought possible in our state. Here are three big issues to watch this coming year. Capital punishment A piece in Time Magazine today suggests that capital punishment is “slowly dying” in the United States.

The state came close to meeting its first court-imposed benchmark for reducing the prison population last week. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, readying its January 10 report to the federal court in the Northern District of California, announced it’s currently operating at 169.2 percent of its designed capacity. That number nearly hits the 167-percent figure the court demanded California meet by December 27, 2011.

Under CC license from S_falkow. http://www.flickr.com/photos/safari_vacation/5929769873/

It’s been a significant year for criminal justice in the Bay Area, but many of the challenges have come late in the year.


Earlier this week, the California Department of Justice released its annual report, “Homicide in California.” This most recent report, a good barometer for the state of violent crime, shows the homicide rate, now at 4.7 per 100,000 people, dropping for a fifth consecutive year to reach its lowest point since 1966. Other interesting facts from the report include:

In 2012, a big shift will hit California’s electoral system: open primaries. Open primaries, brought in by voters through 2010′s Proposition 14, will allow the top two vote-getters in any primary for state office to advance to the general election, which means we could see districts with two Republicans or two Democrats competing in a general election.