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Crime Decline Higher in States That Also Reduced Incarceration, California Foster System Behind on Investigating Mistreatment, Inmates Average Only Two Visits, and SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

September 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE COMPLICATED CONNECTION BETWEEN HIGHER INCARCERATION AND LOWER CRIME RATES

Since 1994, when Congress passed the “tough-on-crime” Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the national incarceration rate has risen 24% while the crime rate has dropped 40%. But the link is not that simple.

A new Pew Charitable Trusts infographic shows that some states have successfully lowered both crime and imprisonment. California is among the top three states with the biggest reductions of crime and incarceration, along with New York and New Jersey.

For further reading on the issue, Vox’s German Lopez has an interesting story explaining a bit more about mass incarceration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which was enacted when violent crime levels were already falling), and what the Obama administration is doing to counteract the outdated law.


CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE SYSTEM NOT INVESTIGATING MISTREATMENT COMPLAINTS QUICKLY ENOUGH

The state’s Department of Social Services has nearly 1,000 pending investigations of child mistreatment that have sat unaddressed past the three-month deadline. More than half of those complaints—for things like abuse, malnourishment, and poor living conditions—have been pending for more than six months.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Agency officials blame the problem on chronic staffing shortages and warn that the backlog is likely to persist for at least another year.

“We didn’t get into this overnight, and we are not going to solve it overnight,” said Pam Dickfoss, who was appointed deputy director of social services earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The majority of the lagging investigations — which include allegations of serious abuse, inadequate food, homes in disrepair or other licensing violations — have remained open for more than six months, according to data obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.

The delays can make investigations more difficult, officials said. Witnesses become unavailable or memories fade. And children could remain in potentially substandard homes as inquiries back up.

In one case, investigators took four months to confirm that a child’s hands had been placed under scalding water by other children, resulting in second-degree burns, records show. It also took four months to determine that another child was not being fed regularly and that his surroundings were filthy and stank of mildew.

The backlog has grown steadily since Brown took office in 2011, when the department probed 3,491 complaints and finished 60% on time. This year, complaints against state-licensed foster homes requiring investigations are on pace to exceed 4,000, and only 40% of those inquiries are being completed on time, records show.

And this isn’t just a state level issue, it’s happening at the county level, as well:

More than 6,100 current county investigations have remained open for more than 30 days, a nearly eight-fold increase since 2011. Cases open more than 60 days have increased from from 2,700 to 3,559 in the same period. Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning said he has deployed a strike team of top managers to develop a new plan to reduce the backlog.


PRISONERS RECEIVE JUST TWO VISITS DURING INCARCERATION ON AVERAGE

Using Florida prison data, a study in Crime and Delinquency found that inmates received an average of only two visits throughout the entirety of their incarceration. Not surprisingly, the Florida research found that inmates who received more visits had better outcomes while behind bars and once released.

The study showed that inmates receiving the most visits were around 20-years-old, had fewer offenses, were white or latino, or had come from communities that had either high incarceration rates or were considered socially altruistic. Black inmates and those who were older or had multiple offenses received fewer visits.

University of Minnesota sociology professor and author, Chris Uggen, has more on the study for Sociological Images. Here’s a clip:

There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.

These are common problems nationwide, particularly in large states like California, Texas, and Montana.


SUPREME COURT MAY SOON SET NATIONAL STANDARD ON GAY MARRIAGE

Federal judges across the US have been overturning state bans on gay marriage. There have been more than twelve rulings, so far, this year. But none of these rulings (nor last year’s Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act) have set the national standard. For now, gay marriage rights are in the hands of the states.

That may change as SCOTUS has decided to review a package of seven gay marriage cases from lower courts, and experts say the high court will most likely choose to take up one of the cases, if not more.

Each of the seven cases challenges a state’s right to ban gay marriage. And all but one case would call on the court to decide whether gay marriages should be recognized in other states.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova has more on the issue (as well as a rundown on each case). Here’s a clip:

This cluster of cases centers on two key questions: All seven ask SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also raise the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled on two landmark gay marriage cases in 2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned California’s Proposition 8, and US v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act. But neither weighed in on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, leaving the choice to allow gay marriage up to each individual state. If the court takes one of these new cases, it’s likely that its decision will have a broad and more definitive impact. “Should they decide that the 14th Amendment actually protects the rights of same-sex marriage, that would have the effect of being binding on the federal government,” says Jane Schacter, a professor at Stanford Law School.

The cases before the court involve the 14th Amendment’s guarantees to equal protection under law and due process. If the high court rules that it is a violation of either promise for one state to deny a marriage license to a same sex couple, then it would become unconstitutional for any state to do so. Any state that failed to comply with the ruling, Carpenter elaborates, “would face immediate lawsuits—a complete waste of time and money.”

It’s anyone’s guess which case (or cases) SCOTUS may choose…



Above visual taken from a portion of this Pew infographic.

Posted in crime and punishment, Foster Care, LGBT, prison, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Deputy James Sexton Trial, Day 4: Should the Prosecution Be Able to Edit Testimony?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Friday, the final “witness” for the prosecution in the retrial
of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was James Sexton himself.

Well, a version of James Sexton, at least.

As they had done in Sexton’s first trial, the government finished up its case with someone from the prosecution’s camp reading an excerpt from Sexton’s November 28, 2012 grand jury testimony, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

At Sexton’s first trial, the approximately 75-minute dramatic recreation provided the prosecution with plenty of legal ammunition since, in it, Sexton cheerfully admitted to such things as having helped to hide inmate Anthony Brown. Yet the testimony seemed to produce a variety of effects on its listeners, in that Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, rather than defensive or guarded, as if he was doing his best to be helpful to the feds, overly so, really–—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that much of many of his words would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

Interestingly, the jurors for that first trial took the grand jury testimony so seriously that, as they were deliberating, they asked to have the whole thing read to them, one more time. Then, although six of those jurors voted to convict, six voted to acquit.

Friday’s grand jury presentation was structured in much the same way as that of the first trial, with someone reading Sexton’s part, and prosecutor Liz Rhodes playing the prosecutor. Again, the reading was taken from Sexton’s November 28, 2012, grand jury appearance. (Deputy Sexton appeared in front of the grand jury twice, first in August 2012, then in November, more than a year after the events in question took place in August and September 2011.)

Yet Friday’s excerpt was quite a bit shorter than that of last May, lasting around 45 minutes, not the 75 minutes of the first trial. More importantly, various topics, contexts and shadings of meaning present in the first trial’s version, are absent from the second.

They have been edited out.

For instance, in a couple of instances in the first trial, Sexton talked about orders that he had been given having come from higher up than just his then immediate boss, Lt. Greg Thompson; that the orders were coming from Paul Tanaka, and/or Lee Baca. He also talked about how, in some cases, he and other deputies had to use Tanaka’s name to get others to cooperate.

In the version read on Friday, the references to higher ups, to the “big bosses,” or to Tanaka or Baca, are cut—leaving the impression that Sexton is not merely one more team member following orders that come from the department’s highest levels, but more of a planner and an originator of strategies, along with Lt. Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith and Deputy Micky Manzo—three of the six who have been convicted.

In another instance, a paragraph is deleted that explains the fact that the adversarial attitude to the FBI expressed by some of the OSJ personnel—namely by deputies Smith and Manzo—was not one shared by Sexton and his closer friends on the squad, and that they’d talked with each other about this division.

(Operation Safe Jails, or OSJ, was where Sexton worked in 2011, and was the squad that was tasked with hiding federal informant Brown.)

When the qualifying statements that separate Sexton and his buddies from this adversarial attitude toward the feds are edited from Friday’s version, one is left with the impression that the attitude is pervasive throughout the squad and that Sexton surely shares it—giving his actions with Brown a critical intent that might otherwise be absent had the edits been restored.

In other cases, some of Sexton’s impressions are made to appear as solid knowledge, rather than the gossip-driven surmises, or conclusions likely drawn after the fact, that they are shown to be in the longer, less-edited versions.

And so on.

In other words, a strong argument can be made that these and other similar edits change the context and meaning of some of Sexton’s testimony in very crucial ways.

Certain of the changes that the snips produce are subtle, but cumulatively they could make a difference to a jury.


THE LAWYERS OBJECT

So is all this snipping and trimming fair-minded?

Sexton’s attorneys say no, and point to legal precedents that agree with them.

In a motion in Limine [a pretrial request] made in August, Sexton’s lawyers asked the judge to fix the matter by ordering that the problematic cuts be put back in. The motion reads in part:

Deputy Sexton will and hereby does move for an order requiring the Government to present an accurate rendition of his testimony before the Federal Grand Jury on the grounds that the excerpts of testimony offered by the Government are misleading and incomplete and that Deputy Sexton will be prejudiced by the Government’s failure to include testimony (included in his first trial) regarding (a) the fact that Deputy Sexton was acting on orders issued by the command and control structure of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”); (b) the fact that Deputy Sexton did not have credible, first-hand knowledge necessary to find him guilty of obstruction of justice; and (c) the fact that Deputy Sexton offered demonstrably mistaken testimony regarding the facts of this action. Failure to include this testimony suggests, contradictory to his testimony as read into the record at the last trial, that Deputy Sexton was not acting on orders from LASD authority reaching as high as Sheriff Leroy Baca, and that Deputy Sexton was aware of certain facts of which he had no knowledge. This renders his testimony, as heavily edited by the Government, misleading.

Judge Anderson evidently sided with the government that the cuts were fine. Thus the edits remained.


AND IN OTHER SEXTON RETRIAL NEWS….PAUL TANAKA

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will testify Monday morning. Unless something changes, however, it now does not appear that former sheriff Lee Baca will be called.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

Groundbreaking for New “LA Model” Youth Probation Camp….CA’s Racial Divide in School Truancy…. Does Childhood “Toxic Stress” Fuel Poverty?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



FRIDAY CEREMONY KICKS OFF WORK ON A NEW MODEL FOR HELPING LAW-BREAKING KIDS IN LA AND BEYOND

“Rehabilitative, not punitive. That’s the message,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the demolition and replacement of Camp Vernon Kilpatrick.

The now-closed camp, located in the rural hills above Malibu, will be rebuilt as a new kind of juvenile facility that, if all goes as hoped, will not only positively redirect the lives of the kids it serves, but will also fundamentally reboot the direction of LA County’s juvenile probation as a whole.

Camp Kilpatrick is the county’s oldest juvenile camp, and its most run down. So when Probation (with the approval of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and aided by a $29 million state grant) began to develop ambitious plans to completely rethink and rebuild one of its juvenile facilitates, the half-century-old, 125-bed camp Camp Kilpatrick was an obvious choice.

The idea is to transform the aging Malibu facility—which, at present looks like a series of dilapidated prison barracks— into a cluster of homelike cottages that sleep a maximum of 12. Thus both the structure and the programmatic strategy of the new facility will be designed to promote a relationship-centric, therapeutic and educational approach to helping kids, rather than simply trying to control their behavior.

The $48 million project will borrow some elements from the famed “Missouri Model”—-developed by the State of Missouri, and long held up as the most widely respected juvenile justice system for rehabilitating kids in residential facilities. Planners also looked at innovative programs in Santa Clara County, and Washington D.C..

Yet, nearly everyone present on Friday was quick to emphasize that Los Angeles has a particularly diverse youth population, and so needs its own specially-tailored approach.

The goal, therefore, is to create a unique “LA Model,” which borrows from other successful programs, but imagines into being its own original strategy. Ideally, it is hoped that this LA Model will be comprehensive enough that it can be replicated throughout the county system and, with any luck, serve as a model for the state and the nation.

That is, of course, a tall order.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers pointed out that the project—which he calls “a blueprint for our future”—is an unusually collaborative one, with a planning committee that includes juvenile advocates like the Children’s Defense Fund (among others), along with the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), the Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Arts Commission, the Juvenile Court Health Services, the Department of Public Works, and so on.

There are even two formerly incarcerated youth who are part of the planning group.

Plus, in the end, it is probation’s project.. And, finally, there is the LA County Board of Supervisors, which has say-so over probation.

Getting this diverse array of people, agencies, and interests to agree on a coherent direction, without that direction becoming hopelessly homogenized, has reportedly been—and still is—challenging, and there have been a plethora of delays. (The new Kilpatrick is set to be completed in late 2016 and open in January 2017.)

All that said, a genuine sense of optimism and we-can-do-it commitment seemed to rule the day on Friday in Malibu.

“If we are going to remove young people from their homes and schools and community at a pivotal time in their development, we better get it right,” said Carol Biondi, of the Los Angeles Commission for Children and Families. Biondi is part of the planning group and was one of the day’s speakers. “There will be no warehousing in the LA Model because we know children do not thrive in storage.”

Indeed they do not.

Alex Johnson, the new head of California’s Children’s Defense Fund, put the optimism of the afternoon in context. “Today’s initiation of demolition efforts at Camp Kilpatrick marks an important step forward for Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system,” he saidy. “However, much work remains to ensure that all justice system-involved youth are treated humanely and fairly. We applaud the County’s leadership and vision on this initiative, and look forward to continuing to work together to make sure that the Camp Kilpatrick project becomes a springboard for system wide reform.”

Naturally, WLA will be reporting a lot more on this high importance, high stakes project as it progresses.


NEW STATE REPORT SHOWS CALIFORNIA’S DRAMATIC RACIAL DIVIDE WHEN IT COMES TO SCHOOL TRUANCY

On Friday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris released her 2nd annual report on school truancy. This time she also broke the numbers down according to race and income.

The results showed that african American students are chronically truant at a rate that is nearly four greater than California students as a whole. Researchers flagged poverty and school suspensions as significant causal factors.

The report also noted that this attendance crisis has largely remained hidden, simply because the critical data has not previously been tracked. And although the causes of the racial divide require further study, we do know, wrote the researchers, “that African-American children experience many of the most common barriers to attendance—including health issues, poverty, transportation problems, homelessness, and trauma_–in greater concentration than most other populations.”

Julie Watson of the AP has more. Here’s a clip:

The report by the California attorney general’s office is the first time the data has been broken down according to race and income levels. Officials say such data is needed to address the problem.

It comes as new research from the U.S. Education Department’s civil rights arm earlier this year has found racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, begin at the earliest grades.

Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools — even as tiny preschoolers, according to the March report by the Education Department’s civil rights arm.

The Obama administration has issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. And even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students. Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.

The data doesn’t explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended.

In California, the study found 37 percent of black elementary students sampled were truant, more than any other subgroup including homeless students, and about 15 percentage points higher than the rate for all students.

Overall, more than 250,000 elementary school students missed 10 percent or more of the 2013-2014 school year or roughly 18 or more school days. The absences were highest at the kindergarten and first-grade levels when children learn to read, according to experts.

Statewide, an estimated 73,000 black elementary students were truant last school year.


TOXIC STRESS: THE WAY POVERTY REGENERATES

The New York Times Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn have an op-ed essay on the effects of “toxic stress” in a child’s early life, how it helps fuel the cycle of poverty, and what can be done about it.

It’s not a cheery read, but it’s an interesting and makes some important points. Below are a couple of clips to get you started, but it’s really worth it to read the whole thing.

AS our children were growing up, one of their playmates was a girl named Jessica. Our kids would disappear with Jessica to make forts, build a treehouse and share dreams. We were always concerned because — there’s no polite way to say this — Jessica was a mess.

Her mother, a teen mom, was away in prison for drug-related offenses, and Jessica had never known her father. While Jessica was very smart, she used her intelligence to become a fluent, prodigious liar. Even as a young girl, she seemed headed for jail or pregnancy, and in sixth grade she was kicked out of school for bringing alcohol to class. One neighbor forbade his daughter to play with her, and after she started setting fires we wondered if we should do the same.

Jessica reminded us that the greatest inequality in America is not in wealth but the even greater gap of opportunity. We had been trying to help people in Zimbabwe and Cambodia, and now we found ourselves helpless to assist one of our daughter’s best friends.

[BIG SNIP]

The lifelong impact of what happens early in life was reinforced by a series of studies on laboratory rats by Michael Meaney of McGill University in Canada. Professor Meaney noticed that some rat mothers were always licking and grooming their pups (baby rats are called pups), while others were much less attentive. He found that rats that had been licked and cuddled as pups were far more self-confident, curious and intelligent. They were also better at mazes, healthier and longer-lived.

Professor Meaney mixed up the rat pups, taking biological offspring of the licking mothers and giving them at birth to the moms who licked less. Then he took pups born to the laissez-faire mothers and gave them to be raised by those committed to licking and grooming. When the pups grew up, he ran them through the same battery of tests. What mattered, it turned out, wasn’t biological parentage but whether a rat pup was licked and groomed attentively.

The licking and grooming seemed to affect the development of brain structures that regulate stress. A rat’s early life in a lab is highly stressful (especially when scientists are picking up the pups and handling them), leading to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. In the rats with less attentive mothers, the cortisol shaped their brains to prepare for a life of danger and stress. But the attentive mothers used their maternal licking and grooming to soothe their pups immediately, dispersing the cortisol and leaving their brains unaffected.

A series of studies have found similar patterns in humans

[SNIP]

Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, founder of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, has been a pioneer in this research. He argues that the constant bath of cortisol in a high-stress infancy prepares the child for a high-risk environment. The cortisol affects brain structures so that those individuals are on a fight-or-flight hair trigger throughout life, an adaptation that might have been useful in prehistory. But in today’s world, the result is schoolchildren who are so alert to danger that they cannot concentrate. They are also so suspicious of others that they are prone to pre-emptive aggression.

Dr. Shonkoff calls this “toxic stress” and describes it as one way that poverty regenerates. Moms in poverty often live in stressful homes while juggling a thousand challenges, and they are disproportionately likely to be teenagers, without a partner to help out. A baby in such an environment is more likely to grow up with a brain bathed in cortisol.

Fortunately, a scholar named David Olds has shown that there are ways to snap this poverty cycle.

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County, Probation, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LA Times Re-Endorses Jim McDonnell & Paul Tanaka Re-Starts Campaign

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LA TIMES ENDORSES JIM MCDONNELL (ONCE MORE) FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF

The LA Times endorsed Jim McDonnell for Sheriff in the primary, and they have just endorsed him again for the runoff vote in November. Yet, this time their endorsement is far more full-throated and detailed when explaining to voters why the paper’s editorial board believes McDonnell is the right person to lead the troubled and badly fractured department at this moment in the LASD’s history.

Here’s a clip:

….He is a consummate law enforcement professional, with an outstanding record as a Los Angeles police officer who rose from the academy to patrol to second-in-command at the LAPD at a time when the department was facing a crisis not unlike the Sheriff Department’s today. When the LAPD needed to leave behind the “thin blue line” style of occupation policing and commit itself to a community-engagement model, McDonnell was one of the department’s leading thinkers and implementers. When evidence of perjury and evidence tampering turned into the Rampart scandal, and when the U.S. Department of Justice threatened suit over civil rights violations, McDonnell helped overcome resistance to a consent decree and was instrumental in getting the LAPD to embrace it and meet its requirements. As second-in-command to Chief William J. Bratton, he guided a wholesale change in department culture, and he saw firsthand the degree to which that change was made possible by strong leadership and smart training.

McDonnell was qualified to lead the LAPD, but when city leaders instead chose Charlie Beck, McDonnell accepted the job as chief of the Long Beach Police Department. While there, he has piloted the department through some difficult times and has earned the respect of officers who were at first wary of an outsider as their leader. Significantly, he also won plaudits from department critics.

When reports of inmate beatings and management breakdowns at the Sheriff’s Department became too numerous and too shocking to ignore, and county supervisors convened a citizens commission to examine problems and recommend remedies, McDonnell was an inspired appointment, but also an obvious and perhaps even a necessary one. In the panel’s year of hearings, interviews, site visits and reports, McDonnell saw firsthand the depth of problems at the department and was in a position to be able to distinguish between those ills that could be attributed to individual deputies or leaders and those that were inextricably wound up in a culture of defiance and dysfunction.

As a candidate, McDonnell has boldly embraced structural reforms such as a civilian oversight commission, even though such a body could curb his power, or anyone else’s, as sheriff. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that position. All of the candidates embraced the concept, but McDonnell put himself on record in favor of particular structural details and demonstrated, in so doing, a commitment to transparency and public participation badly needed at the department. Some proponents back oversight to guard against the actions of a bad sheriff, and some consider the move less necessary with McDonnell at the helm. McDonnell, presumably, recognizes that oversight can make a good sheriff better and can help guard against the corrupting influence that unchecked power can have on even the most talented and well-motivated leaders.



PAUL TANAKA RE-STARTS CAMPAIGN—SORT OF—WITH SATURDAY VIDEO

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka is, of course, the other candidate for sheriff and he has been startlingly silent since the primary election in June, save for one tweet posted in early August (and again on his Facebook page) saying he was giving his supporters the summer off.

Then over the weekend, he directed supporters and others to the video above that was posted on YouTube on Saturday.

So Tanaka’s not out of the race. But is he really…you know…campaigning?

Hard to say.

Mr. Tanaka will be testifying for the defense on Monday morning at the Sexton retrial, so perhaps we will learn more at that time. (Or not.)

Posted in 2014 election, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 1 Comment »

Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 3: The Prosecutors’ Case….Prop. 47 Would Save LA Big $$ Says Report….and More

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, after the testimony of multiple witnesses,
the prosecution neared the end of its presentation of its obstruction of justice case against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton.

This is the second time Sexton has been tried on the same charges. In May, his previous trial resulted in a hung jury that was split 6 to 6.

The prosecutors worked to set a context for the charges against Sexton when two FBI agents—Special Agent David Dahle and Special Agent Leah Marx—testified about the importance of the government’s civil rights investigation into reports of alarming brutality by deputies against jail inmates along with other forms of corruption by LA County Sheriff’s Department members, especially those stationed in Men’s Central Jail.

Both Dahle and Marx also testified about the ways in which members of the department reportedly attempted to obstruct their investigation after their confidential informant, jail inmate Anthony Brown, was discovered to have a contraband cell phone that he was using to contact the FBI as part of an undercover investigation into wrongdoing inside the jails.

In order to demonstrate this obstructive activity and intent, prosecutors presented such evidence as audio clips of recently convicted department members, Deputy Gerard Smith, Deputy Micky Manzo and Lt. Stephen Leavins, interviewing Brown a few days after the discovery of the cell phone, and trying to get the inmate to reveal what he’d been telling the feds, while also expressing irritation that “somebody else”—namely the FBI—had come in to “clean our house.”

In addition, the prosecutors played the video of Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long waylaying Agent Marx outside her apartment and threatening her with arrest.

And there was more of that nature.

Yet surprisingly little of the evidence and testimony presented in the last two days has had anything directly to do with James Sexton, who is accused of helping to manipulate the department’s computer system in order to deliberately hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday, the feds plan to read sections from one of Sexton’s 2012 grand jury appearances, in which—a year after the the Anthony Brown affair took place—the deputy is self-incriminating in what the defense will argue is his eagerness to help the feds, whom he then believed did not regard him as a target.

The grand jury testimony is at the center of the government’s case against Sexton.

Then the government will rest, and it will be the defense’s turn.

Former undersheriff and current candidate for sheriff, Paul Tanaka, will be called as a defense witness, among others. It is still unclear whether or not former sheriff Lee Baca will also take the stand.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….NEW REPORT SAYS PROP. 47 COULD SAVE LA COUNTY $175 MILLION

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the potential county-level savings and jail population reductions resulting from Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The report contends that Los Angeles County would save $100 million to $175 million per year, with between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds freed. (LA County jails currently release approximately 1,500 people early each month due to overcrowding.)

According to the report, Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot, would reduce the status of certain low-level property and drug offenses from felonies or wobblers to misdemeanors.

The report also estimates that San Diego County would save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million, per year with the implementation of the proposition.

(The CJCJ report used Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin counties as examples to look at the potential savings for all California’s counties.)

The report calculates that the state-level savings would range from $100 million and $300 million—$$$ that would then be transferred to a fund that would support victim services, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy and drop-out prevention.


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

After learning that the LAPD was misclassifying violent crime as minor crime, the LA County Supervisors, led by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, asked Inspector General Max Huntsman to take a look at the LA Sheriff’s Department’s reporting.

Huntsman found misclassification at the LASD too but, weirdly, the trend seemed to be to overstate the number of violent crimes, rather than the reverse. Moreover the errors seemed to be something that could be cured with better training, and did not appear to be deliberate manipulation.

Out of all the LASD’s stations, only Marina del Rey had zero errors.

The LA Times’ Ben Poston has the story. Here’s a clip:

An initial review of crime statistics at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released Thursday found that the agency tends to overstate violent crime.

An audit of 240 assaults from six sheriff’s stations found that department personnel misclassified more than 31% of minor assaults as serious offenses, while incorrectly filing about 3% of serious attacks as minor ones.

The report was issued by Inspector General Max Huntsman, the newly installed Sheriff’s Department watchdog….

[BIG SNIP]

The overreporting errors at the Sheriff’s Department occurred primarily at the initial crime classification stage when deputies make a decision on how to title a crime report, according to the audit. Deputies commonly classify an assault case as a felony when the crime could be charged by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor, the inspector general’s report states.

In one example, Huntsman said, a deputy initially classified a domestic violence incident as an aggravated assault because the victim was struck repeatedly and sustained a bump and cut on the head. The case should have been filed as a minor assault. To meet the FBI’s definition of aggravated assault, a victim must suffer serious injury, such as a broken nose or a cut that requires stitches.

Of the six sheriff’s stations analyzed, Marina del Rey was the only one with zero errors. The other stations — Century, Compton, East L.A., Lancaster and South L.A. — overreported between 25% and 50% of aggravated assaults during the one-year period reviewed. Meanwhile, the Century station underreported 15% of its serious assaults as minor offenses.


DEFENSE DEPARTMENT HAS ISSUED 12,000 BAYONETS TO LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS SINCE 2006

Last month, President Obama asked for a review of what equipment the federal government has been supplying to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

NPR decided to take a look at what the president’s report might find. Their story appeared more than a week ago, but we didn’t want you to miss this rundown on bayonets and MRAPS distributed.

FYI: Los Angeles, it seems, has been a big winner in the world of combat gear distribution.

Posted in Department of Justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 24 Comments »

New Program to Help Kids Get to School Safely, Bill to Defer Sentencing on Certain Misdemeanors, No Nationwide Data on Police Shootings, and Celebrating Successful Family Reunifications

September 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CITY ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO REDUCE TRUANCY BY HELPING KIDS GET TO SCHOOL SAFELY

Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced an extensive new LAUSD pilot program to combat truancy by ensuring kids have “safe passage” to school.

Often, kids in high-violence neighborhoods don’t feel safe getting to school, so they just don’t go. The Neighborhood School Safety Program (NSSP), launching at four middle schools across the district, will create a “neighborhood school safety attorney” for each school. These attorneys will collaborate with parents and LAUSD administrators to keep kids safe by reducing gun violence and negative environmental factors. A number of parents from each school will also be trained to keep students safe on their walks to and from school.

The San Fernando Valley Post-Periodical’s Matt Thacker has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

A designated “neighborhood school safety attorney” will work with parents and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators to develop plans for improving safety for children who walk to school, reducing truancy, preventing gun violence and reducing environmental threats near schools.

One component of the program includes “safe passage to schools” – a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office, Casa Esperanza and school administrators. Feuer said they are recruiting and training 15 Vista parents to make sure children make it to and from school safely.

A number of other programs have been implemented, including the City Attorney’s Truancy Prevention Program which combats truancy through educational letters, parent and community meetings and enforcement hearings.

“Kids need to know they can be safe in school so they will go to school,” Feuer said. “School truancy issues are very important to all of us. We need our kids to stay in school.”

The neighborhood school safety attorney also organizes a “parent safety cadre” which educates parents how to address safety issues near schools. Following a recent meeting on tobacco enforcement, a parent contacted a local store which was selling e-cigarettes to minors, and the store’s owners agreed to stop the illegal practice immediately, according to Feuer.

A gun violence prevention coordinator will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to check that people who live near the schools and are not allowed to own or possess guns do not have firearms or ammunition. A multi-agency task force called “Los Angeles Strategy Against Violent Environments near Schools” began conducting compliance checks on parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders who reside near schools. On Aug. 12, nine felony arrests were made in an operation near Vista, while five children were removed from unsafe environments.


BILL WOULD ALLOW JUDGES TO GIVE SECOND CHANCES ON FIRST-TIME MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES

A new pilot program awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2124, would give judges the ability to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed. The defendant would have a year to complete restitution, participate in any required programs, and fulfill any other conditions. If the defendant meets all requirements, they will walk away free of a criminal conviction.

An LA Times editorial urges the governor to sign this smart piece of legislation. Here’s a clip:

Many people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced directly to probation, especially in counties such as Los Angeles, where jails are crowded and cells are generally held for the most serious criminals. For the offenders, that means they don’t have to lose their jobs or school placements while they sit in jail. But they still end up with criminal records that could hinder their full reintegration into society as law-abiding members.

Some states have recognized that they can do even better by putting probation on the front end. The defendant pleads guilty and complies with various conditions, including monetary restitution, and the judge can opt not to enter the plea or the conviction. At the end of the year, presuming the offender has made amends, he or she is on a better track and winds up with no criminal conviction. If the conditions aren’t met, the conviction is entered and the offender is sentenced.

Hawaii has had a great deal of success with a version of the program. Virginia has its own twist, with some good results.

So how about California? Lawmakers here have slowly — very slowly — come to realize that we convict and lock up too many people for less serious crimes and in so doing put people on a path that limits their chances to move on with a crime-free life.


WHERE’S THE NATIONAL DATA ON OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING NUMBERS?

The federal government does not have keep a comprehensive record of the number of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings by law enforcement officers. Instead, the Department of Justice lets police agencies “self-report” officer-involved shootings. Advocates say the uncollected data keeps law enforcement agencies from creating better policies and practices to lower the number of avoidable deaths.

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Police unions and some law-and-order conservatives insist that shootings by officers are rare and even more rarely unjustified. Civil rights groups and some on the left have just as quickly prescribed racial motives to the shootings, declaring that black and brown men are being “executed” by officers.

And, like all previous incarnations of the clash over police force, the debate remains absent access to a crucial, fundamental fact.

Criminal justice experts note that, while the federal government and national research groups keep scads of data and statistics— on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upwards of 64,000,000 according to 2010 numbers) — there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.

The government does, however, keep a database of how many officers are killed in the line of duty. In 2012, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, it was 48 – 44 of them killed with firearms.

But how many people in the United States were shot, or killed, by law enforcement officers during that year? No one knows.

Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.

That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.

[SNIP]

Law enforcement watchdog groups and think tanks say that the lack of comprehensive data on police shootings hampers the ability of departments to develop best practices and cut down on unnecessary shootings.


DCFS HONORS PARENTS WHO TURNED THEIR LIVES AROUND TO GET THEIR KIDS BACK

The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services has faced intense scrutiny since the horrific and preventable death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. But the department does have triumphs, including many successful and safe family reunifications.

On Tuesday, DCFS held its fifth annual Family Reunification Heroes ceremony to celebrate reunited families and honor the parents who turned their lives around to win their children back.

LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

On a clear night four years ago, Angel Ramirez got ready to sleep in a parking lot again. Homeless, strung out from years of heroin use, he thought this — after years of hitting bottom — was, in fact, rock-bottom.

He was alone. Broke and broken. His sister didn’t talk to him anymore, his children hardly knew him sober, and the weight of shame he carried on that patch of hard asphalt in East Los Angeles seemed to prove it was the lowest point in his life.

Ramirez said he just looked up into the dark sky and cried out.

The memory was fresh Tuesday when he recalled the gang ties, the jail time and the hopelessness. He stood up — sober since 2010 — and thanked Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials who helped him start to get his life back.

And his children back.

Ramirez, 49, of Los Angeles, joined three other parents honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting as DCFS officials marked the fifth annual celebration called Family Reunification Heroes. Each parent, who had been chosen from a board member’s district, received a scroll and a picture with a board member.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LAUSD, Sentencing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 2 – Opening Statements

September 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



We’ll have more on the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton
later in the week. In the meantime, take a look at this story by Douglas Morino of the Los Angeles Register about Day 2 of the proceedings.

The day featured opening statements by the prosecution and the defense, plus testimony from FBI Special Agent David Dahle.

Here’s a clip:

Jurors began hearing evidence Wednesday in the retrial of [James] Sexton, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. Sexton’s first trial ended in May with the jury deadlocked 6-6.

U.S. prosecutors say Sexton was part of an effort to block a federal probe into allegations of corruption and deputy violence against inmates inside the county’s jails. The conspiracy stretched through a roughly two-month period in 2011 and was aimed at blocking FBI agents from interviewing Anthony Brown, an inmate providing information about corrupt deputies and other misconduct, prosecutors said.

“James Sexton and his co-conspirators took steps to ensure the evils and troubles inside the jail system would never see the light of day,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the jury of five men and seven women in his opening statement. “The defendant knew what the goal was – he titled it ‘Operation Pandora’s Box.’”

Thomas O’Brien, Sexton’s attorney, said the deputy was simply following orders that came from the Sheriff’s Department’s highest levels – former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka – to protect Brown, a career criminal facing a 423-year sentence in state prison, from other inmates and rogue deputies who labeled him a “snitch.”

“A junior deputy is facing charges for doing nothing more than following orders and keeping an inmate safe and out of harm,” O’Brien told jurors during his opening statement….

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 25 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton ReTrial, Day 1: What Jurors Won’t Hear & Possible Arrest Warrants

September 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



THE JURY IS SELECTED & THERE IS TALK OF WHAT TESTIMONY THE JURORS WON’T HEAR

Tuesday, September 9, was Day One of the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, and the main thing that got accomplished was the selection of the jury, which is made up of seven women and five men.

Both the prosecution and the defense thought the court would manage to choose the jury panel, plus two alternates, and still have plenty of time for each side to deliver 30 minutes worth of opening statements. But it was not to be.

The attorneys also figured that Judge Percy Anderson would likely rule on the series of motions made by the prosecution having to do with areas of evidence and testimony that the government wanted excluded, even though most of the topics, material and possible witnesses had been part of the defense’s case in Sexton’s first trial, which ended up in a hung jury in late May of this year and thus a mistrial.

But Percy didn’t rule on those motions either.

In a hearing last month, however, Anderson had given a pretty good indication of how he was leaning.


A STORY WITHIN THE STORY

In fact, one of the stories of this trial is likely to be an analysis of exactly what Sexton’s newly selected jury will not be allowed to hear, that the jury from his first trial was able to take into account in their deliberation.

For instance, if Judge Anderson rules the way he previously indicated he was leaning, only 7—or at the most 8—of the 37 times that Sexton was interviewed by the FBI as a cooperating witness may be disclosed or mentioned to the jury. The rest of the deputy’s instances of cooperation with the feds are excluded.

Sexton’s extensive cooperation with the feds is one of the things that the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense has argued that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded. Nevertheless it appears that much of that cooperation is on the road to being nixed for this trial.

Another likely forbidden topic will be former sheriff Lee Baca’s emotional reaction to learning that the FBI was poking around with an undercover investigation into wrongdoing by LASD deputies in what he regarded as his jails. (Baca was extremely pissed off.)

For instance, the jury may hear about orders Baca gave to Paul Tanaka and others pursuant to the discovery of what the feds were doing, but not the fact that he was demonstrably angry when he gave the orders.

Also likely excluded will be the fact that, prior to the incidents on which the indictments are based—i.e. the hiding and moving of federal informant Anthony Brown—Sexton applied for jobs to a list of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

One more topic slated for exclusion is the matter of the reported threats had been receiving from members of the sheriff’s department began he began cooperating with the feds. According to the defense, Sexton had been threatened to the degree that the feds expressed concern about Sexton’s safety. (Interestingly, the threats were convincing enough that Sexton is the only one of the LASD’s federal defendants who was allowed to keep a firearm. He kept two of his guns. All the other defendants, had to surrender their firearms.)

We’ll talk more about these exclusions if and when they occur as the trial goes on.


WITNESSES & ARREST WARRANTS

On Tuesday, at the very end of the day a weird moment occurred when prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that one of the government’s witnesses, Deputy Jason Pearson, who is a work teammate and friend of Sexton’s, had—in a fit of fury at the feds—talked about not showing up on Wednesday, despite being subpoenaed. Fox said that the judge might need to issue an “order” on the matter. Some speculated that this meant an arrest warrant.

Others figured that—once the anger was passed—Pearson would just show up.

On the topic of witnesses, both Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka are still on the witness list for the defense. Of course, whether one or both will be called, remains to be seen.

Opening arguments will be presented Wednesday. Then the government will begin calling witnesses.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

LA Mayor Backs Jim McDonnell for Sheriff, PTSD in High-Violence Neighborhoods, and “Paws for Life”

September 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI TO ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

Today, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti will officially endorse Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Sheriff of Los Angeles County. He will announce his support at 1:00p.m. on the 1st Street Steps of City Hall.

Here are some clips from the announcement:

Chief McDonnell and Mayor Garcetti have been long-time partners in reducing crime, increasing public safety in the region and advancing smarter approaches to policing, including investing in reducing crime by improving opportunities and protecting the most vulnerable, instituting strong management teams and practices, and focusing on results.

Mayor Garcetti believes Chief Jim McDonnell, based on his 29 years’ experience at the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and four years as Chief of Police in Long Beach, has the experience, credibility and judgment to lead the LASD forward.

[SNIP]

Chief McDonnell is an outsider who will bring a fresh perspective to the Sheriff’s Department by rebuilding community trust and enhancing transparency within the Department. He supports the creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Commission and understands the importance of community-based policing, which he helped design and implement within the LAPD, and which Mayor Garcetti strongly supports.


THE UNDENIABLE COST OF PTSD ON KIDS AND FAMILIES IN INNER CITY NEIGHBORHOODS

Emerging research reveals that people living in high-violence neighborhoods experience rates of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rivaling that of war veterans. Despite this, not much is being done to combat trauma in inner-city communities, particularly concerning its effects on children.

Lois Beckett’s story for ProPublica explains the real cost of PTSD on families and communities and why it is such an important issue. (The story was co-published with Essence magazine.) Here’s a clip:

Last October, Aireana and her boyfriend were driving through Oakland when a man on the street opened fire on their car. Her two children, ages 6 and 1, were in the backseat. Aireana, who asked to be identified only by her first name, remembers feeling something slam into her jaw and hearing a sound like a firecracker popping in her head. Her boyfriend hit the accelerator and swerved down the street. He and Aireana turned at the same moment to check on the kids. They were safe. Then her boyfriend looked at her and saw blood spurting from her neck. “Oh, my God,” he said, panicking, and crashed into a parked car.

In the shock after the crash, Aireana had only one coherent thought: I cannot die in front of my kids. They cannot see me die. She unbuckled her seat belt and pushed herself out of the car. As she stood, she felt dizzy and closed her eyes. But the thought of her children propelled her forward. They can’t see my body lying here dead. Still dazed, she walked away from the car. She could hear her daughter screaming behind her, “My mom’s dying!”

[SNIP]

A bullet had smashed through her front teeth, grazed her tongue and broken her jaw. In the emergency room, the surgeons repaired her tongue. Later, they wired her jaw shut so that it could heal. Aireana stayed in the hospital for more than a month. When she went home, her face was still puffy and swollen, and she had a hard time talking. Fragments of the bullet were still lodged in the side of her neck.

“You’re so lucky,” her friends kept telling her. “Why are you still so sad? You’re okay—you’re alive.” But Aireana couldn’t stop thinking about the shooting. She felt guilty, as if it were her fault that she had been hit. Why hadn’t she lifted her arm to block the bullet? Why hadn’t she ducked? The shooting played over and over in her dreams. Sometimes, reliving it, she remembered to duck, and then the bullet passed over her and hit one of her children. She’d wake up in a panic, soaked in sweat.

[SNIP]

The burden of post-traumatic stress on low-income communities of color gets very little attention. What public recognition it does receive is often sensationalized: A TV reporter apologized this spring after a segment on young people dealing with trauma in Oakland referred to PTSD as ” hood disease.”

“Someone in the community has to stand up and say, ‘Because of all the gun violence, we have a lot of traumatized people—and it’s not just the people who are being shot and shot at, it’s the people who are witnessing it, the vicarious trauma,’” says Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., the commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. With the support of Mayor Michael Nutter, Evans has pushed Philadelphia to treat trauma as a major public health issue and to develop a comprehensive approach to PTSD. Over the past eight years, city officials have worked with hospitals, community mental health clinics, pediatricians, schoolteachers and police officers to increase awareness of the disorder and make sure residents are connected with treatment professionals. “We have to stop telling our kids they just have to live with this,” Evans says.

This past July, Aireana helped her kids overcome their terror of the firework noises they thought were gunshots outside their apartment:

As her neighbors set off firecrackers in the street, she kept her kids at a distance. She pointed to the lights: “That one’s cool.” A purple explosion: “Oooh, nice.” Gradually, they walked closer. Later, she gave her kids sparklers and watched them run around making glowing scribbles in the dark. She had always loved fireworks. It was good to see her kids not being afraid and enjoying them, too.


DOGS AND INMATES RESCUE EACH OTHER

Karma Rescue, a non-profit that saves animals at high kill-shelters, partnered with CA State Prison LA County in Lancaster to launch an inmate-dog training program called “Paws for Life.” Karma saved five dogs at risk of being euthanized, and brought them to the Lancaster prison where 14 inmates spent 12 weeks training the dogs to boost their chance of finding permanent homes.

The program was a huge success for both inmates and the dogs who brought unconditional love and happiness into a place largely devoid of both. Four of the five dogs have been adopted since their graduation on August 9, and the program is set to begin again in September with 10 new dogs in need.

We’ve reported on programs of this kind before in LA County, but this is the first to be performed in a high-security prison with lifer inmates.

The Huffington Post’s Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald has more on the program (and John DuBois and Shaughn Crawford have taken some powerful photos of the dogs and their incarcerated friends). Here are some clips:

Fourteen inmates were then selected to train five shelter dogs who stayed at the prison this summer for a 12-week program. From the very beginning, the program struck a chord with everyone involved. Karma Rescue’s founder Rande Levine wrote, “Men who had not seen an animal in decades were openly emotional at the sight of the beautiful creatures before them. Just petting our dogs brought many to happy tears. It was a day I will never, ever forget.”

Several times a week, professional dog trainer Mark Tipton and several dedicated Karma Rescue volunteers drove out to the prison to instruct the inmates on how to train their assigned dogs for ‘Canine Good Citizen’ certification, a designation that increases the chance that a dog will be successfully adopted.

I attended the graduation of the first class of Paws for Life on August 9th, and what made it so powerful was the pervasive sense that absolutely everybody involved in the program — the volunteers, the prison warden and staff, the inmates, the dogs, and everyone in their vicinity — was transformed by it.

[SNIP]

For Captain Crystal Wood, having the Paws for Life program represents a “lifelong dream” of hers to have a dog program at the prison. She noticed a huge change in the inmates in a relatively short time after the dogs entered the prison.

“A lot of times in this setting it’s so depressing and you don’t show emotion…feelings and when you have a creature that gives you unconditional love and licks you and doesn’t care – you see men who’ve been in prison for 20 and 30 years break down and cry just for the compassion and the humanity. It’s just generally made the yard a calmer place,” Capt. Wood said.

Mark Tipton, the trainer for the inmates, was beaming and proud of his students: “I had high hopes and they met them. When I first came I had one of the officers tell me, ‘I’ve never seen any of these guys smile and I’ve been here 14, 15 years and now they’re coming out smiling like Cheshire cats.’ They have smiles on their faces — happy, happy – and it gives them purpose.”

And here’s what some of the inmate participants had to say about the program:

DeAngelo: “The dogs have taught me how to be patient and how to continue to love no matter what’s going on around you and to you, just continue to learn how to love. No matter what’s going on with the dog, he responds the same way … he loves you, and that’s what I got out of that. Our trainer, Mark, he taught us patience, how to be gentle, how to love. He was very patient with us.”

John M.: “This program has saved my life. It’s pretty simple. I have been in prison for twenty plus years…The Paws for Life program came along with Karma and all of a sudden I can love again. I can feel love. I can experience emotions that I have been holding down for twenty plus years…I sleep better at night, I’m more able to speak with people, I’m a little bit more literate. All of this comes from having a dog.”

Oliver: “It gave me another chance at unconditional love. It’s changed the entire yard, there is a lot of peace with the C.O.s (Correctional Officers) and other inmates. It brought everybody closer.”

Posted in Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Mayor, prison, PTSD | 2 Comments »

Funding for Relatives Caring for Kids, Bill to Keep Kids Exiting Detention Enrolled in School, LA Metro May Boost Oversight of LASD Contract, and a Non-profit Prison Idea

September 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WILL LA COUNTY ACCEPT MUCH-NEEDED STATE FUNDING FOR KINSHIP CAREGIVERS?

In June, Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $30 million from the state budget for giving relative caregivers the same CalWORKS financial support as non-relative foster parents.

Counties have until October 1 to opt-in to receive the crucial funding. The LA County Department of Children and Family Services says it is considering whether to opt-in, but will make its decision by the deadline.

Giving equal funding to kinship caregivers was one of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s top recommendations for reforming a troubled DCFS.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue and why it is so important. Here are some clips:

With the highest number of foster children in the state, Los Angeles County could see as much as $25 million in state funds go to family caregivers, according to advocates with the California Step Up coalition. They say the county’s participation in the Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program would lead to greater placement stability, better outcomes for foster children and significant cost savings to the county by avoiding more expensive placement alternatives such as group homes.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer from where we sit,” said Laura Streimer, the legal director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Why not roll the dice and use it now? The majority of the $30 million allocation state budget would come to L.A. County because we have the most children who qualify for it. Why wouldn’t you take that?”

The county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is weighing whether or not to opt in. According to a statement emailed to The Chronicle of Social Change by DCFS Public Affairs Director Armand Montiel, Los Angeles County will “resolve the issue” by October 1.

“The Department supports equity for relative caregivers and is preparing a recommendation for our Board regarding this program,” Montiel wrote in an email. “At this point, the State has not finalized the methodology it will use to determine each county’s base caseload and funding level. Understanding the State’s methodology for determining the base caseload and funding is essential in making accurate projections regarding the potential county costs of this program for the first year and for outlying years.”

The clock is ticking.

[SNIP]

Despite recent research that shows that living situations with family members translate to better educational outcomes for foster youth than congregate-care placements like group homes, most relative caregivers receive a paucity of funding that lags behind the support given to unrelated caregivers.

Because of arcane eligibility rules based on the poverty standard from 1996, more than half of all foster children living with relatives do not qualify for federal foster care benefits. For relative caregivers who aren’t eligible for federal money, this means that the only support California offers them are CalWORKs benefits. This ends up being less than half the amount of money non-relative caregivers typically get from the foster care system.

The yawning gap in funding and support has hit family caregivers particularly hard, according to advocates. The scant funding and support provided to family caregivers is seldom enough to care for children who often have specialized care needs that result from experiencing trauma or abuse.

California is “forcing families—primarily low income, single women, and a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos—into deep poverty to keep their families together,” Kinship in Action Director Joseph Devall wrote in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. Kinship in Action supports the rights of family caregivers in South Los Angeles.

The LA Times’ editorial board is also urging the county to opt-in to boosting funding for relatives caring for kids that would otherwise be placed with strangers or sent to group homes. Here’s how it opens:

Thousands of California children who have suffered abuse or abandonment are sent to live with strangers in foster homes. That often happens even if there are extended family members ready and willing to take them in, despite California laws requiring placement with relatives when possible, and even in the face of countless studies that show the kids do better in the long run after stays with relatives rather than strangers.

So why do we keep doing it? Because so many of those relatives, retired or with their budgets maxed out raising their own kids, need a bit of financial assistance to be able to take in their nieces and nephews, siblings or grandchildren — and because under a complicated and outdated set of state, federal and local laws and rules, they can get only a tiny fraction of the funding that non-related foster parents get. Worse yet, there is a shortage of foster parents, so the children often end up being sent to group homes, which are the most expensive option and produce the least desirable outcomes. Government foolishly requires itself to pay more to get worse results.


BILL TO REQUIRE THAT KIDS LEAVING DETENTION CENTERS ARE PROMPTLY RE-ENROLLED IN SCHOOL

Over 42,000 kids attend school in California juvenile detention facilities on average each year, yet only 20% of those re-entering their communities re-enroll in public schools within the first 30 days of their release.

Experts say these kids fall through the cracks due to broken communication between the government agencies responsible for these kids.

An important bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2276, would address this issue by ensuring kids exiting detention facilities will be immediately enrolled in school.

New America Media’s Michael Lozano has more on the bill authored by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra. Here’s a clip:

In high school, Tanisha Denard struggled to get herself to class on time. Her walks from home to John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles were long, the buses were crowded and when there was space, Denard rarely had the fare. “I got passed by the bus a lot and I didn’t have money,” she recalls.

The truancy tickets piled up – Los Angeles municipal code allows schools to issue citations of up to $250 to tardy and absent students – and so Denard, now 20, whose family was unable to cover the cost, paid her debt by serving time at a county juvenile hall. When she was released, school officials informed her that reenrolling at her old public high school wasn’t an option — she would need to begin the much lengthier process of finding a new school and getting herself enrolled.

Although Denard was eventually able to navigate her way into another school, she is by far the exception. The story of young people leaving the juvenile justice system with no clear academic transition plan is a familiar one to youth advocates, despite existing laws that are meant to avoid such scenarios.

“They’re supposed to be coordinating – there are laws that talk about coordination and communication – but that’s not happening the way it needs to happen,” says Laura Faer, Education Rights Director with Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm.

What makes AB 2276 different from current laws, says Faer, is the requirement that juvenile probation and county education departments work together to form transition policies in collaboration with local education agencies. In addition, the bill would create a statewide stakeholder group headed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Board of State Community Corrections that would study best practices and be required to report back to the state legislature.

Faer has seen plenty of past instances where court school records are not transferred from probation officials to the county office of education immediately upon a child’s release, which in turn creates a negative outcome for the student.

“A student shows up at the school and the school says, ‘you don’t have any of your documents, so you can’t come.’ Or worse, even if they are allowed to go to school, [the schools] don’t know anything about them,” says Faer. “A child [may have] already taken algebra when they were in the hall or in the camp, then they’re put in the exact same classes. Then they get disaffected and they drop out, because they keep getting shuffled and doing the same things over and over again. So that handoff, that transition, is really critical.”


LA METRO WORKS TOWARD ROBUST OVERSIGHT AFTER AUDIT REVEALED LASD MISSED POLICING GOALS

In July, an audit found that the LA County Sheriff’s Department had fallen short of Metro policing goals for reducing crime. The audit came as Metro was considering renewing a three-year contract with the LASD.

Part of the problem, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says, is a failure to administer adequate oversight.

The mayor (who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has proposed a motion to hire several Metro staff to keep track of contract goals, and to have the department’s inspector general audit the LASD-Metro contract every two years.

The LA Times’ Laura J. Nelson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a motion proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the chairman of the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority, board members asked for several new Metro staff members who would keep tabs on key contract benchmarks, including fare evasion, system safety and response times. The board also asked Metro’s inspector general, the internal agency watchdog, to audit the transit police contract every two years.

The audit, written by an outside firm and commissioned by Metro officials, also faulted the transit agency itself for weak oversight of the contract.

“We didn’t hit some of the most basic things that are part of the contract,” Garcetti said during a meeting at Metro’s downtown headquarters. “We have failed on the oversight.”

The push comes as officials weigh awarding a three-year security contract expected to cost about $400 million. The transit police agreement with the Sheriff’s Department expires Dec. 31.

Sheriff’s Department officials said they agree with the majority of the findings and are working to correct the issues raised in the audit.


TRANSFORMING A PRIVATE PRISON INTO A NON-PROFIT FACILITY

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a 20,000-member activist group, has proposed that a privately run D.C. jail be transformed into a non-profit-run jail focused on rehabilitating rather than warehousing inmates.

The jail is currently operated by the controversial private prison group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), but its contract will end in 2017.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the unique idea. Here’s a clip:

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world. At this point, the idea is just that — an idea. The group, which claims some 20,000 members throughout the country, convened its first meeting about the proposal on Friday at D.C.’s Harrington Hotel, but has yet to figure out any of the logistics of what they admit would be a complicated, even quixotic effort.

Charlie Sullivan, the executive director of CURE, acknowledged that the idea might make him sound like a knight “chasing after one of those windmills.” Still, he argues that his idealism may be exactly what is needed.

“What both the private and government-run prisons are doing is just holding people,” said Sullivan. “They’re playing defense; we need to play offense. We need to give people an opportunity to change their lives.”

The group has set its sights on the Correctional Treatment Facility, one of the city’s two jails. For nearly two decades, the facility has been run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit, private prison company based in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the last few years, criticisms of such companies have grown louder, with advocates for inmates saying that private prisons are incentivized to lobby for harsh laws that keep beds filled while skimping on rehabilitation services, training programs for corrections officers, and anything else that could cut into their profit margins.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor | 1 Comment »

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