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Part 3: “Drugging Our Kids,” Kindergarteners Carry Stresses to School, Lawsuit on Behalf of Disabled LA Jail Inmates Settled…and More

November 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“DRUGGING OUR KIDS” PART 3: A SWEET DEAL BETWEEN FOSTER CARE PRESCRIBING DOCS & PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

In August and September we linked to parts one and two of Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury on the widespread and unchecked use of psychotropic prescription drugs to medicate California’s foster kids. (links)

In part three of the powerful series, de Sá exposes pharmaceutical companies’ major targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care, who are covered under Medi-Cal. On average, these foster care prescribing doctors are rewarded—with money for travel, meals, profitable speaking gigs, and research trials—more than double what regular California doctors receive in payouts from drugmakers. In fact, between 2010 and 2013, pharmaceutical companies gave $14 million in payouts to doctors who prescribe to kids in foster care. And doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions for foster kids per year received four times as many payouts than the lower-prescribing doctors.

Here’s a clip from the findings:

Foster care prescribers reap nearly 2½ times more than the typical California doctor: From 2010 to 2013, almost 30 percent of all California doctors — and about 35 percent of foster care prescribers — received at least $100 from drug companies. But while the California doctors in that group received an average of $10,800 apiece over the four-year period, foster care prescribers typically received far more, nearly $25,000 each

Frequent prescribers are generally rewarded the most: Doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions to foster children in a year received more drug company payments than those who wrote fewer. While the margin fluctuated from year to year, on average the higher prescribers in the most recent fiscal year collected almost four times — or about $10,000 more — than the lower prescribers in 2013.

The bulk of the payments fund drug company-sponsored research: The 17 drugmakers who reported payments steered more than $11.3 million in research funds to doctors who prescribe psychotropic drugs to the state’s foster kids, with Eli Lilly — maker of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa — leading the pack by spending $6 million.

The companies kept some of their big researchers busy in other ways: Six of the doctors who earned among the largest research grants also tallied a cumulative total of almost $400,000 in speaking and consulting fees and another $45,000 in travel and meals.

We really hope de Sá’s editors put this excellent series up for prizes when the time comes.


KINDERGARTNERS IN HIGH-VIOLENCE COMMUNITIES BRING STRESSES OF FAMILY AND NEIGHBORHOODS INTO THE CLASSROOM

in an op-ed for the LA Times, Judy Belk, president and CEO of the California Wellness Foundation, tells of her daughter Casey’s experience teaching a kindergarten class in a St. Louis school not too far from Ferguson, MO.

Belk noted that many parents really strive to give their kids what they need, but often found the challenges stacked against them are overwhelming.

Here’s a clip:

Casey quickly figured out that schools are not closed systems. When a family is dysfunctional or broken, the problems follow the student into the classroom. Her principal waited with a student for hours to be picked up by a parent who never appeared. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., the principal had to turn the child over to child protective services.

Still, Casey has been impressed at how, with limited resources and parenting skills, and brutal work schedules, the parents try their best to provide for their children. She also sees a large number of involved, caring fathers countering the stereotype of the absent black male.

But the families and the school struggle to make everything work in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Shortly after school started, there was a drive-by shooting at a convenience store directly across the street from the school. Classes had just been dismissed, and several of Casey’s students were in the store as bullets flew, though none was wounded.

Casey’s text messages are discordant. One day she sends cute pictures of her kids in Halloween costumes; the next she alerts me that the school is on lockdown because of nearby gunfire. Recently, after yet another shooting, her principal canceled all outdoor recess. And now, in anticipation of a violent response to the upcoming Ferguson grand jury announcement, emergency supplies have been delivered to the school in case it becomes too dangerous for students or teachers to leave the building for a day or so.

But I’m trying hard to stay calm and take my guidance from Casey. She says she’s not scared — just angry that her kids have to live under these conditions. She intends to stay at least until the end of her two-year commitment. And after that? She’s already thinking about what more she can do: “I thought by teaching kindergarten, it would be early enough to make a difference, but … we’ve got to intervene earlier, focus in on parenting.”


LA COUNTY SETTLES COSTLY, SIX-YEAR LAWSUIT ALLEGING MISTREATMENT OF INMATES IN WHEELCHAIRS

A lawsuit challenging alleged mistreatment and appalling living conditions for inmates in wheelchairs within Men’s Central Jail has finally been settled after a six-year-long fight from the county.

Some of the changes required by the settlement have already been implemented. Wheelchair accessible toilets and showers are now in two wings of the jail, for instance. The settlement also calls for work and education opportunities for inmates with ambulatory disabilities, as well as working wheelchairs. In addition, the settlement will pay $2.2 million in attorneys fees.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two wings of the Twin Towers jail have already been fitted with wheelchair-accessible toilets and showers, as required by the settlement. The county jail system now employs an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and inmates may appeal to the jail’s chief physician if they are denied the use of a wheelchair or walker.

The Sheriff’s Department’s new inspector general will monitor the agreement for three years.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jessica Price of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said conditions have improved recently. But she questioned why the county fought the lawsuit when the jails clearly were not providing for disabled inmates’ basic needs.

“There was no rational basis for the county to dispute the fact that there were bathrooms that wheelchairs could not access,” Price said. “That was not a factual question, yet the litigation went on for six years.”

We had that same question, too.


RECENTLY RELEASED FROM PRISON AND STRUGGLING TO GET BY ON THE OUTSIDE

As part of KQED’S Vital Signs series, Aus Jarrar, who was recently released from prison, and now interns at a service center for former inmates, shares his story. Because Jarrar is ineligible for food stamps, he struggles to eat—missing the hours the food bank is open—in order to maintain his internship toward a drug and alcohol counseling accreditation.

Here’s how his story opens:

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat?

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, LA County Jail, Trauma, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Are Inmate Fire Camps in Danger Due to Prop 47?…and Thoughts on Obama’s Immigration Speech

November 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


COULD PROP 47 KILL CALIFORNIA’S INMATE FIRE CAMPS?

As it was when California’s Realignment strategy ushered in sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system in 2011, there is now is much speculation about what collateral effects will result from Proposition 47.

There are worries about spiking crime, of course. (More about that at a later date.) And some officials have expressed serious concern that the state’s well-regarded inmate fire program will be deeply wounded by the newly passed ballot measure.

Earlier this month, the LA Times went so far as to write a story claiming that the future of California’s inmate fire crews was “now in doubt” after the passage of Proposition 47.

It is good news, therefore, to learn that, according to sources inside both the California Department of Corrections and the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the fears for the inmate fire camps, at least, are reportedly groundless.

“We’re not worried about Prop. 47 harming the program,” said CDCR spokesman Bill Sessa, although he admitted that the initiative targeted the same general inmate group that the camps drew from, so there might be some changes. “We have approximately 4300 inmates in the program right now. And, the bottom line is, post Prop. 47, we’ll still be able to find 4300 inmates to fight fires.”

At present, those 4300 are deployed from 42 adult fire camps, and one juvenile fire camp. In case of a wildland fire, the inmate firefighters work side by side with crews from the U.S. Forest Service and CALFIRE crews, saving state and county taxpayers an estimated $80-100 million a year.

Sessa said that while most of the inmate fire crews come from state facilities, 200-250 come out of various counties. LA County provides the most, with San Bernardino a close second.

As for the qualifications inmate firefighters need, Sessa explained that, in general, candidates must be physically fit, and their most recent offense must be non-serious and non violent. “We take no sex offenders,” he said, “and obviously no arsonists.”

Lifers are also excluded because the temptation to try to escape is deemed too great. And anyone with chronic behavior issues is quickly axed from the list.

“The fire teams can’t have people who question authority or are still involved in gang rivalries,” said Sessa, “because everybody’s life depends on the others on the crew—literally. They have to be able to work as a team.”

Despite the stringent qualifications, Sessa said, there are still plenty of candidates.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official who works with LA County’s fire camp program agreed. “From what we gather,” he said, “we’re not going to take as big a hit as we originally thought because a lot of the Prop. 47 people are first time offenders, and our people usually have multiple offenses. They’re drawn from the group we call the non-non-nons.” (Non violent, non serious, non sexual offenders.) “But those are all the people we got sent by realignment, and there are a lot of them.”

At present, LA County has 122 inmates in their program, which has been operational for three years. “I’ve seen it change plenty of lives,” said the official (who asked not to be quoted by name). “I even know of one guy who was part of the CDCR’s program who is now a Battalion Chief for the Forest Service. We always tell his story during our training program because it inspires everybody.”

While there are other instances of former inmates going on to careers in firefighting, according to Sessa, most of the men and women in the program do not plan to become wildland firefighters. “It’s more that they learn discipline, about working with others, and they learn to see something through to the end.” Plus the inmate crew members gain a sense of self worth by providing tangible help to people and communities, he said. “And all that helps them when they get out.”

(Indeed, the fire camps have a recidivism rate that is 18 percent lower than the system as a whole.)

As the fire camp program is prized by inmates, the inmate crews provide help to California counties that can be crucial.

“Most of us are flatlanders,” LA Fire Inspector Steve Zermeno told WitnessLA in 2009 after the huge and deadly Station fire, the largest in recorded LA County history. “We’re the ones who are going to be used for structure protection. These guys, the inmates, are the people who are trained in wildland firefighting, which is a whole different thing. So when we get a big fire like the Station fire, we really count on them.”

As it is with all those who battle wildland fires, the CDCR’s inmate firefighters do a truly dangerous job. This fact became tragically clear during the worst of the Station Fire when two veteran firefighters who had, for years, trained inmate crews, were killed trying to save 55 of their CDCR crew members plus three CDCR staffers, who nearly didn’t survive the inferno that descended on Camp 16, which was then located on Mt. Gleason. (WLA reported on the heartbreaking deaths of Captain Ted Hall and Specialist Arnie Quinones here and here.)

Despite such dangers, the number of inmates who want to enter the fire camp program still greatly exceeds the number that can be accepted, said Sessa.

A California prison inmate named Danny Cabral, who is a lifer thus ineligible for fire camp, told me why. “A lot of guys I know have been to those fire camps, and risked their own lives to fight fires,” he said. “And they were glad to do it. Really glad. It makes them feel like they’re doing something that matters.”

For this and other reasons it is heartening to hear that the state’s inmate firefighter program itself—for the moment at least—appears to be in no real danger.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..

….OBAMA GOES BIG ON IMMIGRATION

Obviously the biggest news of the last 24 hours—criminal justice-related or otherwise—is Obama’s plan to offer deportation relief for as many as 5 million immigrants—the majority of them parents. Yet, since nearly every other news outlet is covering the matter rather extensively, we’ll confine ourselves to pointing out a few commentaries that you might otherwise miss.


THE NEW YORKER TALKS STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

New Yorker columnist Jon Cassidy reviews the style of the president’s speech as well as the content.

Here’s a clip:

For a two-term President whom his critics used to call “the speechifier,” Barack Obama has given surprisingly few memorable speeches, and none for quite a while. Sometimes his speechwriters over-egg it, and his language seems a bit stilted. On other occasions, he goes on for too long and his delivery is flat. Thursday night’s much-anticipated address on immigration, which he delivered from the East Room of the White House, was an extended statement rather than a full-blown speech, and it was much better for it. It was direct and to the point; it had some uplifting moments, particularly at the end; and it was relatively short—about fifteen minutes.

With a crowd of immigration-reform supporters gathered across the street, in Washington’s Lafayette Square, and with Univision interrupting its coverage of the Latin Grammys to show the speech live, there had been suggestions on conservative Web sites that Obama would be preaching to the converted rather than to the country at large. As soon as he started talking, though, it was clear that he was making his pitch to the mass of voters who, opinion polls suggest, are in favor of some sort of path to citizenship for the undocumented but also have concerns about the President going it alone.

After a hat tip to immigration’s historical role in keeping America “youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial,” and a quick reminder that he has beefed up border security, deported a lot of uninvited foreigners, and overseen a decline in illegal border crossings of more than fifty per cent, Obama put the blame for what he was about to do squarely on his adversaries: the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives who had refused to allow a vote on a bipartisan immigration-reform bill. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common-sense law,” Obama said. “But, until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President—the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me—that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

If there had been any hecklers, or Fox News reporters, on hand, one of them might well have shouted that no previous President has taken executive action on the scale that Obama is proposing, which will remove the threat of deportation for perhaps as many as five million illegal immigrants. But the President had the stage to himself, and he used it to appeal to the better nature of his countrymen and countrywomen. “Most of these immigrants have been here a long time,” he said. “They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours. As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: ‘They are a part of American life.’ ”

Mentioning George W. was another not so subtle reminder of how the G.O.P. has drifted to the dark side on this issue….


THE WSJ HAS 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM OBAMA’S SPEECH

The Wall Street Journal lists “5 Things to Note on Obama’s Immigration Overhaul. (So far this is not hidden behind the paywall. Let’s hope it stays that way.)

They are:

1. Broadcast blackout.
2. Protecting Parents
3. More Dreamers
4. Obama’s Backtrack
5. Timing.

Now that we’ve given you the teaser, for details go to the WSJ and read the rest.


LA TIMES SAYS PROBLEM MUST ULTIMATELY BE SOLVED LEGISLATIVELY

The LA Times Editorial Board liked most of what Obama had to say, but felt the problem of immigration reform must ultimately be solved by Congress. Here’s how their editorial opens:

After years of debate and division, President Obama announced Thursday that he would use his executive powers to revamp the nation’s immigration system. But wait, you say, isn’t that Congress’ responsibility? Well, yes, it is, and if Congress had done its job, the nation wouldn’t be at this juncture. But here we are.

On the substance, the president is absolutely right. The immigration system is broken and unfair; it has resulted in a permanent class of illegal workers, it separates families and it denies a place in society to immigrants who work hard, pay taxes and have deep ties to the country. There are 11 million immigrants living in the United States without authorization — more than 3 million in California alone — and it makes practical and moral sense to legalize their status and offer them a path to citizenship.

But even though Congress has been discussing these issues for more than a decade, it has repeatedly failed, for reasons both political and substantive, to move a bill through both houses. A frustrated Obama finally announced — after initially saying he lacked the legal authority — that he would act on his own. His decision will, we hope, offer some breathing room to millions of immigrant families who have been living under the threat of deportation. But it also raises serious questions about the limits of executive authority.


WHO ARE THE WINNERS & LOSERS OF OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ACTION?

Mother Jones’s Erika Eichelberger lists those who benefit from the president’s executive action and those who lose out. Below you’ll find the two bare bones lists, but—as with the WSJ takeaways—you’ll have to go to Mother Jones to read the details and the analysis.

Winners

Undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or permanent residents

DREAMers

Families

Noncriminal undocumented immigrants

Highly skilled workers

Immigrants with pending cases

Immigrant victims of crime

The Border Patrol

Entrepreneurs

Losers
Undocumented immigrants who have been here since 2011

Undocumented agricultural workers

Ag workers with papers

Other types of legal immigrants

Foreigners attending American universities

Immigrant detainees

Read the meat of the story here.



NOTE: The inmate firefight photo at the top of the page is courtesy of the CDCR. The second photo taken in Malibu is by WitnessLA.

Posted in CDCR, Fire, LASD | 1 Comment »

Helping Treatment Programs Access Funding, LAPD to Implement Discipline Recommendations, CA Attorney General Discusses Marijuana Legalization, and Montana Gets Gay Marriage

November 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TOWARD MAKING IT EASIER FOR TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION PROGRAMS TO GET FUNDING

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas to look at possibilities for expanding eligibility requirements for the competitive bid process for county funding, so that community treatment programs that do great work serving at-risk kids, but don’t fit into the county’s “square peg” system, can still win crucial funding.

For instance, Don Knabe said he would like to find a way to provide funding for Homeboy Industries, which cannot engage in the county’s competitive bid process because participants are not referred to Homeboy. Instead, gang members seek help at Homeboy of the own volition.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

About 1,500 juvenile delinquents are released from Los Angeles county youth camps each year and the county spends at least $11 million annually on rehabilitation programs, according to Knabe’s office.

Most of the money goes to traditional “fee for service” programs where a juvenile offender is referred to a specific rehabilitation program after release from camp. Knabe referred to those programs as “square pegs” that fit the county mold because it’s easy to track which services were provided.

He said other successful programs that help troubled youth turn their lives around are left out.

“These are not square peg issues,” he said. “They are issues that have to be met with head-on services,” he said. “And you have to look at all the different models that may be out there.”


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK TELLS COMMISSION HE WILL IMPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM DISCIPLINE SURVEY

An internal LA Police Department report released late last week analyzed a survey of 500 sworn officers and employees regarding the LAPD’s disciplinary practices.

Those surveyed said they felt the department discriminated based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. However, when analyzed, respondents’ perceptions of bias were not generally representative of the discipline data gathered by the department. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Yet the department figures show that, for the most part, referrals to the Board of Review and terminations of latino, white, black, and asian officers were proportionate to the department’s overall ethnic composition.

The report was presented to the LA Police Commission Tuesday. In response, Charlie Beck told the police commission the department would implement recommendations from the report. Among the recommendations to be put into effect are:

- Utilizing new penalty guidelines to ensure consistency and fairness
- Gathering and analyzing Board of Review and complaint data for potential bias
- Developing an anti-nepotism policy

Other reactions to the report were mixed at the commission meeting. LA Police Protective League president Tyler Izen said he felt department officials were unfairly blaming the survey results on officers’ inadequate understanding of discipline policies, and that the report was missing information.

LA police commission president Steve Soboroff said that the report did its job—putting numbers next to claims of gender, minority, or rank-related bias—and that it was not intended to analyze every type of disparate discipline claim (like favoritism by the chief).

The LA Times’ Richard Winton, Kate Mather, and Joel Rubin have more on the the issue. Here’s a clip:

The review looked for disparities in whether officers of certain ranks, gender, or race were ordered to the hearings and ultimately penalized, concluding that data showed there was little merit to the complaints of bias.

Left unexamined, however, was the vast majority of the LAPD’s misconduct cases, which are handled by officers’ commanders.

The president of the union that represents the department’s roughly 9,900 rank-and-file officers dismissed the report Monday as a disappointment.

Tyler Izen was critical of what he said were efforts by officials to blame officers’ concerns on their poor understanding of how the discipline system works.

“They are saying the employees don’t get it…I think [officers] are afraid they are going to be fired,” he said. “I would like to see all the raw data because this report doesn’t tell me much.”

Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, acknowledged that some officers believe the discipline system favors those with connections. But he praised the report, saying that it did a good job of analyzing claims of bias based on gender, rank and ethnicity. He said it would have been impossible to quantify all the complaints of disparities in punishments.

“You’ve got a perception that if you’re a friend of the chief’s, then all of the sudden it’s better,” Soboroff said. “You can’t quantify that. How do you do the statistics on that? So that’s a perception issue for the chief to work on. Nobody else but the chief. And he knows that.”

[SNIP]

Capt. Peter Whittingham, an outspoken critic of Beck who has sued the department over retaliation that he claims he suffered for refusing to fire an officer at a discipline hearing, said the report was “deeply disappointing.”

“I thought this was an opportunity for real transparency and for the department to show it really wants to address the core issues raised by officers,” he said.

Questions about discipline had dogged Beck before Dorner surfaced. The chief clashed repeatedly with members of the commission over what they saw as the chief’s tendency to give warnings to officers guilty of serious misconduct and the department’s track record for handing down disparate punishments for similar offenses.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS TALKS MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION WITH BUZZFEED

California Attorney General Kamala Harris told Buzzfeed’s Adam Serwer that she has “no moral opposition” to marijuana legalization, and that it seems inevitable. Harris said a lot has to be figured out for California to make legalization a workable reality, and that she is glad that Oregon and Washington have been paving the way. Here’s a clip:

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

[SNIP]

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” Harris said. “The detail of these things matters. For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. Maureen Dowd famously did her piece on that… There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.

“We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states; if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest,” Harris said.


MONTANA BECOMES 34TH STATE TO ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris overturned Montana’s ban on gay marriage. Couples were immediately allowed to wed following the ruling. Congrats Montana (a state of which we at WLA are particularly fond)!

The Associated Press’ Lisa Baumann has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Idaho and Nevada’s bans are unconstitutional. Montana is part of the 9th Circuit, and Morris cited the appeals court’s opinion in his ruling.

“The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws,” he wrote.

Four same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in May challenging Montana’s ban. The plaintiffs included Angie and Tonya Rolando.

“Calling Tonya my partner, my significant other, my girlfriend, my perpetual fiancée has never done justice to our relationship,” Angie Rolando said. “Love won today.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Marijuana laws, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

CA’s Poorer Students Lose Weeks of Instruction…LAUSD Fires Lawyer Who Blamed 14-yr-old for Sex With Teacher….Kids, Trauma & Schools…and LAPD Braces for Ferguson Decision

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


STUDY FINDS CA’S LOW INCOME HIGH SCHOOLS LOSE 25 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION A YEAR

Teachers in California’s “high poverty” high schools provide their students with an average of 25 fewer days of classwork per year than do their higher income school counterparts, according to a new study released Tuesday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA) and funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the rough equivalent of shutting down classes in the state’s low income area schools as much as five weeks earlier than schools in more affluent areas.

The causes of this disparity in productive class time primarily fall into two categories, according to the UCLA report:

1. Incidental interruptions during each class period chip away at instructional time to the tune of around 1/2 hour per day in the state’s low income schools.

2. In this same way, in high poverty schools there are more in the way of large interruptions that cut into scheduled instructional time across the school calendar–things like emergency lockdowns, chronic teacher absences, overlong preparation for standardized tests, underprepared substitute teachers and more.

In addition there are community and personal sources of stress—unstable living conditions, neighborhood violence, concerns about safety, immigration issues, hunger—that can adversely affect a higher percentage of students’ ability to concentrate in high poverty schools than those affected in low poverty schools.

The result is a measurable lack of equality of opportunity, say the study’s authors:

“California holds students to a common set of assessment standards and requirements for university admission,” write UCLA researchers John Rogers & Nicole Mirra in the conclusion of their report. “Yet students have access to markedly different amounts of instructional time depending on the neighborhood in which they live. It is true that schools can use available learning time in more or less effective ways. But the amount of available learning time creates a ceiling, limiting the capacity of the school to promote student achievement and development.”

Jill Barshay writing for the Hechinger Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Interruptions, substitute teachers and test prep account for a large portion of the lost instructional time, according to a UCLA study released Nov. 18, 2014.

“These findings push us to think again about inequality in the schools,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, a co-author of “It’s About Time: Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools,” published by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “You have a quarter of the kids [here] in schools with concentrated poverty, and you see how unequal learning time is for these students.”

The inequities outlined in this report have little to do with school funding. In California, the state plays a large role in allocating school funds. That reduces the ability of wealthy towns to fund their schools more than low-income communities can.

“Differences in learning time between high and low poverty schools might actually be much more pronounced in states where high poverty schools receive less funding than schools in more affluent communities,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, which funded the UCLA study.

[SNIP]

A common disruption, for example, was a phone call from the main office during a lesson. Teachers reported that simple routines, such as settling the class down or distributing materials, take longer at high poverty schools. It may take only a minute, but the minutes add up. In a high poverty school, about 18 minutes per period are lost this way, compared with 13 minutes in a low poverty school — a five minute difference per class period….


LAUSD BELATEDLY FIRES LAWYER WHO ARGUED THAT 14-YEAR-OLD MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRL WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SAY YES TO SEX

Last week, KPCC’s Karen Foshay broke the story that one of LAUSD’s hired gun law firms had argued in a civil suit in August that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher—hence the district shouldn’t be liable for any of the teenager’s alleged injuries.

The former math teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The district’s attorney in the matter, W. Keith Wyatt of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, also brought the middle-schooler’s past sexual experience into court. (One is legally prohibited from such trash-the-victim tactics in adult rape cases, but evidently all bets are off in civil cases brought by the parents of young teenagers whose teachers had felonious sex with their students.)

Here are some clips from that first story:

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified’s trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Not content to stop there, Mr. Wyatt went on to opine:

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

In any case, last Friday, embarrassed LASD officials announced that they wouldn’t work with attorney Wyatt anymore but that they would continue to work with his firm—which was representing the district in a bunch of cases.

Then on Tuesday, KPCC’s Karen Foshey and Paul Glickman reported that LAUSD had changed its mind and was now yanking most of the cases.

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

When LAUSD said it would cut its ties with Wyatt, it said it would maintain its relationship with his firm, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which was representing the district in 18 cases.

On Tuesday, LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that Wyatt had been counsel on all 18 cases. His firm will continue representing the school district in four of the cases, but Wyatt will no longer be handling them, Rossall explained. The remaining 14 cases “are being reassigned to other firms,” he said.

There has also been fallout in Sacramento from KPCC’s report. State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) said that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS ADVISES SCHOOLS DEALING WITH STUDENTS & CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: “DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the San Francisco pediatrician and researcher who has become a national expert on the effect of “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—on a kid’s future health and behavior, spoke last week at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to the event, Burke Harris was interviewed by Ann Schimke at Chalkbeat Colorado about kids and toxic stress and how schools can unintentionally make things worse.

(WitnessLA wrote about Burke Harris and childhood trauma here.)

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

…First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

Calls have already gone out for a peaceful rally at Leimert Park (Crenshaw and Vernon) following the Missouri grand jury announcement expected later this month regarding whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the controversial shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Like law enforcement agencies all over the country, the Los Angeles Police Department is preparing for reactions to the grand jury’s decision, but Chief Charlie Beck also expressed hope that recent meetings by department members with LA’s most affected communities will aide in keeping the city calm.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Police departments nationwide are bracing for the grand jury’s decision — expected by the end of the month — in the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. The August shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparked protests nationwide along with criticism of police.

Beck told the city’s Police Commission that his department is “working very closely” with authorities in Missouri and hoped to get “some advance notice of the decision and the announcement.”

“This is an issue that we’re all concerned with,” he said.

The LAPD has also stepped up community outreach in anticipation of the decision, Beck said, and is prepared to deploy extra patrols when it comes.

“We will facilitate lawful demonstrations, just as we always do,” he told reporters after the meeting. “But we will not, and cannot, condone violence or vandalism. We want to help people to express their opinions, but we want them to do it lawfully.”

Beck stressed his hope that the outreach efforts would help quell potential violence in Los Angeles.

“I believe that the relationships with the Los Angeles Police Department and the communities that are most concerned is very strong,” the chief said.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, Education, LAPD, LAUSD, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

Choosing Third-Strikers to Release, AG Eric Holder Interview, Child Welfare Post-2014 Elections, and a Newt Gingrich Op-Ed

November 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DIFFICULTIES IN SELECTING THIRD-STRIKERS TO RELEASE, AND WHY PROP 47 MIGHT PLAY A ROLE IN DETERMINING FUTURE RELEASES

Since the 2012 passage of Prop 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), more than 1000 third-strike inmates have been resentenced and released in California.

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the petitions, says many of the earlier resentencings were relatively easy and obvious decisions, and they were often supported by the District Attorney’s office. But for the number of inmates who still have pending resentencing requests, things get a little more complicated. The DA opposes resentencing for the inmates in this remaining group of petitioners, and Judge Ryan is having to comb through inmate records, looking for job training and other rehabilitative efforts to ascertain whether an inmate is appropriate for release, or if they pose a threat to society.

And now, recently-passed Prop 47, may play a role in deciding the fate of these inmates, with its defining a person as a “danger to public safety” who is at risk of committing crimes such as murder, solicitation to commit murder, sexual offenses, and certain gun crimes.

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the issue and tells the complex story of third-striker Lester Wallace, a mentally ill man whose troublesome prison record is also indicative of justice system failures. Here are some clips:

In California prison, Lester Wallace was hardly a model inmate.

He spat at a correctional officer, fought with another convict and grabbed a prison guard by the neck before punching him in the stomach.

Wallace racked up more than 20 disciplinary charges while serving a life prison term under the state’s “three strikes” sentencing law for trying to steal a car radio.

Still, he says, he deserves another chance.

[SNIP]

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the cases, said many of his previous decisions were “no-brainer” calls involving inmates who prosecutors agreed deserved release. For another large group of inmates, the district attorney’s office opposed resentencing but didn’t demand hearings when Ryan indicated that he favored reducing punishments.

The latest round of cases, which include Wallace’s, are more contentious.

“I think the calls will be closer and closer,” Ryan said.

The district attorney’s oppositions have helped slow the pace of resolving resentencing requests in Los Angeles, which is well behind other counties.

In examining each case, Ryan said, he has been reviewing the criminal and prison records of the inmates, checking to see whether they have taken vocational training, substance abuse counseling or anger-management classes. The judge said he wants to make sure that people leaving prison after serving so much time have the skills to find jobs to take care of themselves and keep out of trouble.

His future decisions may well be influenced by this month’s passage of another criminal-justice ballot measure, Proposition 47, which defined “danger to public safety” as an unreasonable risk of committing specific serious or violent crimes, including murder, sexual assault and child molestation.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, which changed the three-strikes law. They were swayed in part by tales of inmates with nonviolent histories serving life terms for the pettiest of crimes, such as stealing a pair of socks.

In some ways, however, Wallace better fits the profile of the average third-striker helped by the ballot measure. He has a lengthy rap sheet and a checkered prison record. But he also suffers from mental illness and spent more time behind bars for a petty offense than many prisoners do for child molestation, rape and other violent crimes.

Wallace’s case, like many of the others confronting Ryan, offers an inside look into the usually hidden world of prison discipline and how the state’s correctional system treats mentally ill inmates.

[SNIP]

Wallace’s attorney said his client, who is 5 feet 4 and 120 pounds, sometimes lashed out behind bars to ward off unwanted attention from other inmates. He said Wallace was sexually assaulted during an earlier prison stint.

At a hearing on Wallace’s request for resentencing earlier this year, the inmate arrived in a downtown L.A. courtroom in a wheelchair and carrying a legal pad covered in handwritten notes. He flashed a smile at his attorney, Mike Romano, who directs the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law and helped write Proposition 36.

Romano argued that many of his client’s prison rule violations were for small things, such as sticking a paper clip into a socket to light a cigarette. Wallace’s prison behavior, he said, vastly improved seven years ago after he was diagnosed with kidney disease and he started getting improved treatment for his hallucinations and mood disorder.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER ON HIS LEGACY, BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT, AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In an interview with Bill Keller and Tim Golden of the Marshall Project, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder discusses his biggest criminal justice win and loss, issues that are bringing the right and left together, drug sentencing reform, and mass incarceration, among other issues. Here are some clips:

The Marshall Project: You’ve been pretty outspoken on criminal justice issues across the board – more outspoken than your boss, actually. What would you single out as your proudest accomplishment in the area of the criminal justice system, and what would you single out as your biggest disappointment?

Holder: In January 2013 I told the people in the Justice Department after the re-election that I wanted to focus on reforming the federal criminal justice system. I made an announcement in August of that year in San Francisco, when we rolled out the Smart on Crime initiative. It was a way of breaking some really entrenched thinking and asking prosecutors, investigators, the bureaucracy – to think about how we do our jobs in a different way – to ask the question of whether excessively long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders really served any good purpose, how we used enhancement papers, moving discretion to prosecutors and asking them to make individualized determinations about what they should do in cases, as opposed to have some big policy sent to them from Washington.

And I think that by and large – not without opposition, to be totally honest – the federal system has embraced that vision. And I think that we have started to see the kind of changes that I hoped we would see.

And the biggest disappointment?

I’m proud of the fact that – in 2010, I guess – we reduced that ratio, the crack-powder ratio, from 100-to-1 to about 17- or 18-to-1. I’m still disappointed that, given the lack of a pharmacological distinction between crack and cocaine, the ratio is not 1-to-1. You know, it was the product of a lot of hard work that the president was intimately involved in. But I think he would agree with me that that number should be at 1-to-1.

Before the second term is over, could there be a push for a 1-to-1 ratio?

That is something that I know the president believes in, that I believe in. One of the things that I’d like to see happen before the end of this administration is that there would be a drug court in every district in this country. As I speak to my successor, the 83rd Attorney General, and as I speak to the president, I’m going to push them to make that a goal for this administration, to have a drug court in every district by the end of Barack Obama’s second term.

[SNIP]

Looking at the Realignment process in California and other experiments that are out there in reducing incarceration, do you worry at all about the danger of a race to the bottom, in which states and counties are much more eager to get people out of prison and stop paying for it than they are to pay for the housing and social services that will assure a lower crime rate in the future?

If this is done correctly you not only save money, you keep the American people safe by cutting down on the recidivism rate.

But this cannot be seen as simply something that is cost-saving, because that would potentially lead to states’ doing exactly what you say: racing to the bottom, and just trying to push people out of prison.

I think people who have responsibility for the criminal justice systems around the country understand that if you do that you’re really only putting people out for some short period of time before they ultimately come back. So there has to be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation while people are in prison, and then reentry efforts to prepare them to exit prison.


HOW WILL CHILD WELFARE EFFORTS BE AFFECTED BY A REPUBLICAN-LED CONGRESS?

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Sean Hughes examines what effects on child welfare policy we might expect from our new Republican-led Congress. For example, funding for crucial child welfare and juvenile justice services would be at risk. And Hughes says that if Republicans succeed in gutting, or repealing the Affordable Care Act, foster kids will lose out on having Medicaid until they are 26. Hughes spent 10 years as a Congressional staffer, and is a Social Change Partners policy consultant. Here’s a clip from his story:

When fully implemented, the mental health parity provisions of the law should ensure that all children who have experienced trauma and are suffering from mental health challenges – especially children who have been abused or neglected – will receive better treatment. Repeal, replacement, or interference with the ACA, for which Republicans continue to advocate, would jeopardize these hard-won victories for children and families.

We should also expect a return to budget brinksmanship. As they didn’t suffer any long-term political repercussions for shutting down the government last year, the Republican Party will surely be further emboldened to play budgetary hardball.

Congress will almost certainly seek further federal spending reductions and could very well try to replace the defense cuts scheduled to go into effect next year via sequestration with increased cuts to social service programs.

Critical programs supporting child welfare services will be in the crosshairs and could see their funding levels cut, including:

Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), which House Republicans have already tried to eliminate

Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act programs (CAPTA)

Title IV-B Child Welfare Services

Promoting Safe and Stable Families

Juvenile Justice Programs


NEWT GINGRICH TELLS MICHIGAN TO REBUILD THEIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Newt Gingrich, who, along with some of his other Right on Crime colleagues, was instrumental in getting both Prop 47 and Prop 36 passed, calls for a complete reconstruction of Michigan’s criminal justice system. Here’s a clip:

The state’s correctional system churns through $2 billion each year, and now consumes $1 out of every $5 of the general fund. And because of broad parole board discretion and complicated sentencing guidelines, people incarcerated in Michigan serve longer prison terms, on average, than any other state in the nation.

This approach might be justified if it was making us safer, but that’s not the case. Recidivism rates remain unacceptably high and, at a time when most American communities are safer than they’ve been in decades, several Michigan cities are experiencing alarmingly high crime rates — up to five times the national average.

I’ve never hesitated to support long prison sentences for violent and repeat offenders, and I will continue to be hard on violent criminals. But I’m also convinced that, given the discouraging track record of our current criminal justice system, we can no longer cling to expensive, business-as-usual approaches when better options exist.

Many other conservatives — from Ed Meese, former attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and anti-tax champion Grover Norquist — share my view and have joined me in a national movement called Right On Crime. United by our refusal to accept the status quo, we support a criminal justice system that reflects fiscal discipline, a belief in redemption, support for crime victims and a reliance on proven strategies that make the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Posted in 2014 election, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

LAPD Discipline Survey, the Marshall Project Launch: Missed Habeas Corpus Deadlines, and CA Ordered to Start Paroling Second-Strikers,

November 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD SURVEY SHOWS OFFICERS FEEL THEY ARE UNFAIRLY, INCONSISTENTLY DISCIPLINED

An LA Police Department discipline survey of 500 officers and civilian workers in response to former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner’s rampage over his alleged biased termination from the department. While the department found the firing of Dorner justified upon review, it opened up a discussion among other officers who felt they had experienced discriminatory or otherwise unfair discipline.

The survey indicated that officers and other employees commonly feel the LAPD discriminates based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. But the results were mixed, in some cases. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Similar contradictory opinions were given regarding female officers.

A considerable number of officers felt the department takes too many complaints made against officers, particularly ones that are “obviously false.” According to the survey, a yearly average of 28% of LAPD employees have at least one complaint filed against them.

The survey recommends updating and distributing complaint, discipline, and penalty guides, as well as regularly gathering and analyzing department data on these issues.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The survey was done shortly after former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner was killed in February. The disgruntled ex-officer murdered four people and prompted a massive manhunt before fatally shooting himself during a standoff in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Though officers expressed disgust with Dorner’s actions, some said his grievances about disciplinary bias within the police department sounded legitimate. After a review of Dorner’s disciplinary hearing, the department declared his firing was justified.

The LAPD asked focus groups of employees to give anonymous feedback using a computer system. A group of academics and human relations consultants analyzed the feedback to look for trends.

Below is a sampling of some of the comments published in the survey report.

“Females are held to a lesser standard due to fear of lawsuits or claims of bias.”

“Race is a factor in the discipline system.”

“The media and public pressure have a direct impact on how discipline investigations are handled.”

“Discipline is not imposed when it involves managers and supervisors.”

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck has been criticized for inconsistent discipline for several years now. It surged in the last year or so when a few LAPD captains filed lawsuits alleging unfair discipline and retaliation, saying Beck did not follow top brass recommendations for disciplining other officers. It has been one of the complaints of the L.A. police union that represents the rank-and-file.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Jack Leonard also reported on the survey. Here’s a small clip:

The report…contained data that raised doubts about some of those perceptions of bias. Statistics compiled by the LAPD show that the ethnic, gender and rank breakdown of officers sent to disciplinary panels for suspensions or termination roughly matches the demographics of the LAPD as a whole. White officers, for example, make up 36% of the department and 35% of officers sent to a Board of Rights disciplinary hearing for a lengthy suspension or termination. Black officers account for 12% of officers and 14% of those sent to such hearings.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ordered the report more than 20 months ago after Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer, went on a shooting rampage across Southern California, killing police officers as well as the daughter of an LAPD captain and her boyfriend. In a rambling online document, Dorner claimed that he was seeking retribution after being unfairly fired and was the victim of racial discrimination within the department.

The civilian Police Commission is expected to review the report at a meeting next week.


NON-PROFIT PUBLICATION, THE MARSHALL PROJECT, LAUNCHES WITH TWO-PART SERIES ABOUT DEATH ROW ATTORNEYS MISSING LAST-CHANCE APPEAL DEADLINES

Ken Armstrong, of the new non-profit news organization launched over the weekend, the Marshall Project, has an excellent two-part series in the Sunday Washington Post about what happens when lawyers miss the final deadline for their death row clients’ last-chance appeal.

The first story tells of the 80 death penalty cases in which lawyers miss the final appeal deadline, by an average of nearly two and a half years (but in several cases by a single day). Of these 80 death row inmates thus denied habeas corpus, 16 have been executed. The reasons attorneys miss the cut off run the gamut from failing to overnight documents, to misunderstanding the complicated habeas law, to neglect. Here are some clips:

An investigation by The Marshall Project shows that since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law — enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America — the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed — the most recent was on Thursday, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida.​

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. “The Great Writ,” as it is often called (in Latin it means “you have the body”), habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law.

For example, of the 12 condemned prisoners who have left death row in Texas after being exonerated since 1987, five of them were spared in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In California, 49 of the 81 inmates who had completed their federal habeas appeals by earlier this year have had their death sentences vacated.

The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims. Some of them challenged the evidence of their guilt, and others the fairness of their sentences. One Mississippi inmate was found guilty partly on the basis of a forensic hair analysis that the FBI now admits was flawed. A prisoner in Florida was convicted with a type of ballistics evidence that has long since been discredited.

[SNIP]

Some of the lawyers’ mistakes can be traced to their misunderstandings of federal habeas law and the notoriously complex procedures that have grown up around it. Just as often, though, the errors have exposed the lack of care and resources that have long plagued the patchwork system by which indigent death-row prisoners are provided with legal help.

The right of condemned inmates to habeas review “should not depend upon whether their court-appointed counsel is competent enough to comply with [the] statute of limitations,” one federal appeals judge, Beverly B. Martin, wrote in an opinion earlier this year. She added that allowing some inmates into the court system while turning others away because of how their lawyers missed filing deadlines was making the federal appeals process “simply arbitrary,” she added.

In the second story, Armstrong explains how only the death penalty inmates suffer the consequences of these lawyers’ missed deadlines. Here’s a clip:

Among the dozens of attorneys who have borne some responsibility for those mistakes, only one has been sanctioned for missing the deadline by a professional disciplinary body, the investigation found. And that attorney was given a simple censure, one of the profession’s lowest forms of punishment.

The lack of oversight or accountability has left many of the lawyers who missed the habeas deadlines free to seek appointment by the federal courts to new death-penalty appeals….

In 17 of the country’s 94 federal judicial districts, special teams of government-funded lawyers and investigators monitor the capital cases coming out of their state courts to make sure deadlines are recognized and met. In some other districts, the federal defender’s office helps to evaluate the private attorneys who might be appointed to handle those appeals.

But for lawyers outside the government, the work is difficult and often unpopular, with limited funds available for investigators and experts. And in most districts, where judges screen candidates themselves or with the help of review committees, the quality of legal counsel varies widely.

Federal judges sometimes appoint lawyers “who are not good enough to handle these cases,” says habeas expert Randy A. Hertz, a professor at the New York University School of Law.

However well-meaning, such lawyers may be inexperienced or overmatched. Some may know the judges who make the appointments, but not the voluminous and complex law surrounding habeas corpus. Others have been found to have mental-health problems, substance-abuse issues or other complications that were missed in their screening.

In about one-third of the 80 cases where habeas deadlines were missed, the federal courts eventually allowed prisoners to go forward with their appeals, often because their attorneys’ failures went beyond what the courts would categorize as mere negligence.

Yet even when attorneys have been chastised in federal court rulings for work described as “inexcusable” or “deeply unprofessional,” they have managed to evade any discipline from bar associations or other agencies. One lawyer castigated by the U.S. Supreme Court for “serious instances of attorney misconduct” still has an unblemished disciplinary record.

A prominent death-penalty defense lawyer, Gretchen Engel of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina, offered a simple reason for the discrepancy between the magnitude of some lawyers’ mistakes and the paltry consequences they face: “The people who were hurt by it are prisoners.”

The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone speaks with Marshall Project founder Neil Barksy and editor Bill Keller (formerly NY Times editor-in-chief) about the Marshall Project, its mission, and what we can expect from the new publication. Here are some clips:

Neil Barsky has taken on varied roles over the years, from Wall Street Journal reporter to Wall Street analyst, hedge fund manager to documentary filmmaker. Now he has returned to the newsroom as founder and chairman of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice and edited by New York Times veteran Bill Keller.

Barsky’s interest in criminal justice and the inequities of the U.S. system was ignited in recent years by two books: The New Jim Crow, which tackles mass incarceration and the over-representation of African-Americans in prison, and Devil in the Grove, which focuses on a 1949 rape case fought by Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and later the first black Supreme Court justice. The project gets its name from Marshall — and for Barsky, its inspiration.

In an interview at The Marshall Project’s midtown New York offices before Sunday’s launch, Barsky said he wants to push criminal justice issues into the national spotlight. There’s a lack of urgency in dealing with the system’s flaws, he said, despite “how abysmal the status quo is.”

[SNIP]

Keller said he likes coming out of the gate with Armstrong’s piece because it shows readers that The Marshall Project won’t expose flaws in the system only when they concern the wrongly convicted.

“The easiest way to get reader sympathy is to write about people who are innocent,” Keller said. “Everybody feels a sense of unfairness if the law sends somebody away to jail for something they didn’t commit.”

Keller recalled how early on, he and Barsky visited different advocacy organizations, including the Innocence Project, which fights to exonerate those wrongly convicted through DNA evidence. After their meeting, Keller recalled that Barsky said, “You know, we’re sort of the Guilt Project.”

“Most of what we’re going to write about is people who are not innocent,” Keller said. “But people who are not innocent are entitled to a fair trial. They’re entitled to not being raped when they get to prison. They’re entitled to competent defense. They’re entitled to prosecutors who don’t withhold exonerating information. They’re entitled to cops who follow Miranda. All these things that are built into our criminal justice system are there for the guilty as well as the innocent. That’s one of the reasons I particularly liked this piece as a debut.”


FEDS ORDER CALIFORNIA TO START PAROLE HEARINGS OF INMATES WITH NON-VIOLENT SECOND-STRIKE FELONIES

On Friday, federal judges ordered California to begin early parole hearings for non-violent second-strike felons by January, overriding the state’s projected hearing launch time-frame of July 2015. The state has been meeting mini-goals set toward a two-year population reduction goal by expanding parole and sentence reduction programs and policies. But because the prison population is still expected to grow, the federal judges are pushing for more lasting solutions. (For backstory on California’s prison population problems, go here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the topic. Here’s a clip:

In February, California officials were ordered to take a number of steps to reduce inmate numbers. At the same time, federal judges agreed to the state’s request for a two-year extension to meet population caps the courts had been trying to enforce for years.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s corrections department did move thousands of inmates out of state-owned prisons while expanding parole programs for frail and elderly inmates. Corrections officials also increased the sentence reductions some nonviolent felons could earn.

Those moves cut California’s prison population by 1,000 inmates, meeting short-term goals even though state projections show inmate numbers will continue to rise. Judges had sought additional actions to produce a “durable” long-term solution.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has failed to adopt those steps, including the granting of early parole to second-strikers, the judges noted. In October, prison officials told judges that creating such a parole program was “a time-consuming process” and moving faster would “endanger the public.” They did not expect to finish until July 2015.

In an order several weeks ago, the judges said they were “skeptical” of such a delay. On Friday, they gave the state until Dec. 1 to finish plans for the parole program and ordered it in place by January.

Posted in Charlie Beck, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, LAPD, The Feds | No Comments »

Juvenile Records, Paroled Despite Innocence Claims, Solving Mass Incarceration, and the Supervisors’ Decision-Making Haste

November 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MOST STATES FAILING TO PROTECT JUVENILE RECORDS AND PROVIDE REASONABLE ACCESS TO EXPUNGEMENT

While California does a reasonably good job of protecting kids’ juvenile records, many other states have harsh policies with regard to expungement and the privacy of juvenile records. And when states don’t protect records, they create massive roadblocks for kids and young adults trying to get jobs, go to college, and find housing.

A new study by the Juvenile Law Center gives states a performance score based on how well they protect kids’ sensitive records and how available expungement is for the kids. Here’s a clip from the JLC website (click over to the report to see each state’s score card):

Millions of youth are arrested each year in the United States; 95% of these youth are arrested for non-violent offenses. Arrests and court involvement leads to the creation of juvenile records – all containing details about a child’s family, social history, mental health history, substance abuse history, education. and involvement with the law.

While access to this information by law enforcement and youth-serving agencies is necessary to provide treatment and rehabilitative services to youth, many states also allow widespread access to media, employers, government agencies and victims or sell the data to for-profit companies. Once disclosed, this information is difficult, if not impossible, to recall and can permanently stigmatize youth – interfering with their ability to obtain a job, secure housing, pursue higher education, join the military, or access public benefits. To ensure that records do not limit future opportunities, sealing (closed to the public) and expungement (destruction) of juvenile records should be available to all youth.

“The juvenile justice system is intended to rehabilitate youth and prepare them for a productive future, yet our mishandling of juvenile records creates a paper trail that can lead to failure,” said Lourdes Rosado, Associate Director of Juvenile Law Center. “These records can follow children and youth into adulthood and often limit opportunities for success.”

Many youth and parents are completely unaware that they need to proactively seal or expunge their records until they run into a roadblock as adults. In many states, the process to seal or expunge a juvenile record is also lengthy, costly and may require the services of an attorney.

“There is a misperception that juvenile records are confidential and automatically destroyed when a youth is no longer under court supervision. The reality is that juvenile records are widely accessible long after a young person has become an adult,” said Riya Saha Shah, Author of Scorecard Report and Staff Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. “Retention of juvenile records does little to improve public safety but creates significant barriers to success for youth who are trying to move beyond the mistakes they made as a kid. Permanent, open records are like a ball and chain that prevents youth from becoming productive adults, reducing opportunities for employment, eroding the tax base and can lead to increased recidivism due to reduced job prospects.”

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Lynne Anderson tells the story of Dina Sarver, a young woman whose childhood offenses prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a nurse, or even chaperoning her kids’ field trips. Here’s a clip:

She was so determined to become a nurse that after this she sent 242 emails to different nursing schools, she said, hoping she could be admitted to a program without her juvenile record being held against her. As it turns out, she cannot even be a chaperone for her children’s field trips. Her juvenile offenses block her.

At age 12, Sarver became “defiant,” she said, about the time her parents divorced. She moved from a nice home in the suburbs into Section 8 housing with her mother and several of her brothers and sisters. Because her mother is Haitian and needed help translating complicated forms for vouchers and Medicaid, Sarver became her mother’s helper. It took a toll.

“I couldn’t concentrate in school,” she said. “I acted out.”

Her first arrest, she said, was for getting into a fight at school at age 12.

By age 15, she was serving time for auto theft. And, she was pregnant.

Having a baby was the best thing that ever happened to her, she said.

“I realized I had another life I was responsible for,” she recalled. “It was time to get my life together.”

She did. She got her GED, married and went to college…

Read the rest of Dina’s story.


SMALL TREND OF PEOPLE CLAIMING INNOCENCE BEING GRANTED PAROLE, WITHOUT HAVING TO EXPRESS REMORSE

Thanks to increased awareness about wrongful convictions via media attention and DNA testing, a small, but growing number of inmates—some in NY, California, and Alaska—are winning parole despite their continued claims of innocence, an outcome virtually unheard of until recently.

One New York man, Freddie Cox spent 28 years behind bars for second-degree murder. Cox went before the parole board three times, maintaining his innocence (backed by a co-defendant’s admittance of his own guilt and Cox’s innocence), and was turned down. Inmates have consistently had better chances of winning parole if they admit guilt and express remorse. But Cox was granted parole on his fourth try, with help from a petition by Exoneration Initiative lawyers.

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has more on the issue, as well as the rest of Cox’s story (and a lovely video). Here’s a clip:

The predicament that had confronted Mr. Cox is known as the parole paradox: Admitting guilt has historically given inmates a better shot at parole. “Claiming to be innocent was, in the past, considered to be denial,” said Daniel S. Medwed, a professor at Northeastern School of Law.

But now, as New York and other states confront a growing number of wrongful-conviction claims, lawyers, inmates and parole experts say the beginnings of a change are occurring.

On his fourth try, Mr. Cox’s request was granted. Lawyers from the Exoneration Initiative successfully petitioned this summer that there was enough evidence to cast Mr. Cox’s guilt in question, and that his claim of innocence should not be held against him.

Rebecca E. Freedman, one of his lawyers, said they would soon ask a review unit created by the Brooklyn district attorney to review his case.

At least three other men, convicted in Brooklyn courts, have won their freedom despite not admitting guilt: Derrick Hamilton, charged with a 1991 Bedford-Stuyvesant murder, got parole after 20 years in prison; Sundhe Moses, who was convicted in a 1995 shooting that killed a 4-year-old child, was granted parole last year; and Robert Hill, who was convicted of a 1988 murder, was granted parole in May.

“They’re considering actual innocence,” said Tom Grant, a New York State parole board member from 2004 to 2010. With DNA evidence and news media coverage of wrongful convictions, he added, “you can justify a release now.”

On the West Coast, men in California and Alaska who maintained their innocence were granted parole this fall; lawyers in those states said such decisions were exceedingly rare.

“Parole commissioners, like the rest of society, have come to recognize that there are far more innocent people in prison than we had ever imagined, so they’re more receptive to that argument,” said Ron Kuby, a civil rights lawyer who represents Mr. Moses.


DOES THE PRESIDENT ALONE HAVE THE POWER TO SOLVE AMERICA’S OVER-INCARCERATION CRISIS?

The Atlantic’s Stephen Lurie makes the argument that President Barack Obama has the ability to fix the nation’s mass incarceration dilemma, as neither Congress, nor courts, nor public movement can. Here’s how it opens, but do go read the rest of this provocative essay:

Today, like any other day, there are around 2.4 million people incarcerated in America’s federal, state, and local prisons and jails. Together, the nation’s inmates would constitute the fourth biggest city in the United States, knocking Houston down a notch. Expand that grouping to everyone under correctional control, including probation and parole, and you’d have a metropolis of nearly 7 million, second only to New York. Finally, reunite the number of people that see the inside of a jail cell in a given year, and you’d have a prison city with a population as big as New York and Los Angeles combined (11.6 million).

This is not because society is struck by criminality. Incarceration has increased by 700 percent in 40 years despite crime rates dropping. It is a result of deliberate choices. As it spends more than $50 billion each year on the War on Drugs, America still hands down life sentences for non-violent drug crimes, incarcerates African-American males at six times the rate of white males (Latino men 2.5 at times the rate of white males), and has a justice system with proven racial disparities in sentencing, death-penalty verdicts, the granting of probation or parole, and employment prospects after incarceration.

Mass incarceration cripples families and communities, perpetuates poverty, recreates conditions for crime, and institutionalizes a form of racial control. As a result about one in four American adults (65 million) now have a criminal record.

Consider that for a moment—even in the context of historically disastrous periods of American history. One quarter is also the proportion of Americans unemployed in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, which included the “worst month for joblessness in the history of the United States.” It’s the same proportion as the casualty rate for Civil War soldiers. It’s almost three times the percent of Americans enlisted in World War II.

The issue has been slow to enter public discourse, perhaps because the most affected populations are also the most marginalized. From scenes of armored vehicles and snipers in Ferguson to the totalitarianism of the prison system as presented in Orange is the New Black, that may slowly be changing. Various advocacy groups are organizing movements, some in Congress see an opportunity for bipartisan reform, and litigators continue to seek incremental victories against practices like stop-and-frisk.

But these efforts will not be enough to significantly affect a problem of this scale—at least not alone. Like the critical junctures of past generations, the Civil War or the Great Depression, this is a problem that requires presidential leadership. As the executive, Obama wields straightforward and fundamental power to reduce the scale of mass incarceration; as president, and in particular as a black male president, his ability to address the racial dimension of the system is significantly less clear. Nonetheless, with Attorney General Eric Holder stepping down, the Democrats’ loss of the Senate in the midterms, and and the end of Obama’s presidency looming ever closer, the time and space for action continue to shrink and all signs point in one direction.

It isn’t that presidential action is necessarily a great choice. It’s that other options are structurally impossible or temporarily unavailable. For most policy issues, change can come about three ways, besides from the executive: popular movement, Congress, or legal challenge in the courts. The nature of mass incarceration in the U.S., though, prevents serious change through these alternative routes—even despite some recent signs for hope.


LA TIMES: BOARD OF SUPERVISORS SHOULD WAIT TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS UNTIL TWO NEW SUPERVISORS TAKE OFFICE

An LA Times editorial (we didn’t want you to miss) urges the LA County Board of Supervisors to wait on key decisions until the two Supervisors-elect, Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, take office on December 1.

On Veteran’s Day, the current board met in a closed session to discuss appointments to two important positions, the child protection czar, and the director of public health. They are also looking for a new county CEO. (We would also like to point out that the Supes forged ahead in discussions of $2 billion plans to replace Men’s Central Jail, despite the fact that all sheriff candidates supported the board tabling the issue until the new sheriff was elected.) Here’s a clip:

…It is the incoming supervisors, and not the termed-out incumbents, who should select top staff.

These are not small decisions. The CEO virtually runs the county, preparing what was this year a $26.1-billion budget and overseeing thousands of employees delivering services to 10 million county residents. The successor to William T Fujioka must have the confidence of all five supervisors to whom he will report, not merely three of them plus two who will be gone.

There is a serious question as to whether the CEO position will even exist, given that two holdover supervisors, Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas, have called for eliminating the post and reverting to the pre-2007 model — a chief administrator with less authority. That decision, obviously, is also one that belongs to Kuehl and Solis and not Yaroslavsky or Molina.

As for the chief of the Office of Child Protection, it is a new position overseeing a still nonexistent office. Whoever is to hold the job will report directly to the Board of Supervisors and must deftly navigate through unexplored political territory. The new supervisors, clearly, should be in on that appointment too.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, parole policy | 4 Comments »

LA Supes Set $41M Toward Mental Health Diversion, Prison Banker Cuts Controversial Fees, LBPD’s New Chief…and More

November 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY’S MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PUSH LEADS SUPERVISORS TO ALLOCATE $41M FOR TREATMENT, OTHER SERVICES

On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report to the Board of Supervisors detailing how the county is failing the mentally ill by funneling them into the criminal justice system.

Thanks, in part, to Lacey’s urging, the Supervisors voted Wednesday to devote $41 million in state funding to opening up more 24-hour psychiatric emergency rooms, expanding the county’s mobile crisis response teams by 14 units, and increasing residential treatment programs’ capacity by approximately 560 beds.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here’s a clip:

The money will be used in part to expand mobile crisis support teams that work in tandem with police officers and sheriff’s deputies to identify mentally ill offenders.

A consultant hired by Lacey concluded that not enough law enforcement officers have been trained on how to deal with people undergoing a mental health crisis, and recommended more resources.

Health officials also plan to open three new 24-hour urgent care centers and expand residential treatment programs for the mentally ill by about 560 beds.

Civil rights activists — who protested outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration prior to speaking before the board — have been pushing the county to fund community-based programs in lieu of increasing the number of jail cells.

Lacey acknowledged that the county will need to do both, noting the state of deterioration of the Men’s Central Jail.

“It’s unfit even if you’re not mentally ill,” she said.

Effective community-based crisis treatment can cut costs associated with inpatient or emergency room care and jail time, officials said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky highlighted the expense involved.

“The cost of checking somebody in (to the jail) is probably greater than the cost of checking into a Four Seasons hotel,” Yaroslavsky said.

An LA Times editorial says having DA Lacey spearheading the mental health diversion endeavor has made all the difference. Here are some clips:

In the ideal world, police responding to a disturbing-the-peace or petty crime call arrive at the scene with the training to discern whether the subject’s behavior is due at least in part to a mental health problem. They defuse the situation and turn the subject over to the just-arrived psychiatric evaluation team, or else they take the subject to a crisis center where the intake process is efficient, allowing the officers to go back on patrol while the subject is stabilized, diagnosed and monitored by mental health professionals. Or, if the alleged crime is dangerous and the alleged criminal poses a risk to public safety, he or she is taken to jail.

The family is quickly contacted, and if jail is not the right track, trained experts identify available funding and choose the most appropriate clinic bed from an ample supply across the county. Services continue after the subject is stabilized. County workers and contractors find housing, if it is needed, connect the person with medical care and help him or her find work.

[SNIP]

In the real world, jail remains the easiest and sometimes the only option for police arresting mentally ill people…

But the gap between the real and the ideal worlds is slowly shrinking…

Lacey’s efforts have given renewed vigor to mental health and law enforcement professionals who got into their lines of work to help people but for too long have been beaten down by the sheer scope of Los Angeles County’s mental health needs.

Read the rest.


PRISON BANKING COMPANY DROPS FEES FOR MONEY ORDERS TO INMATES

Private financial institution, JPay, has stopped charging families fees to send money orders to inmates in Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma, benefiting around 100,000 families with incarcerated loved ones. After the change, Kansas is the last state in which families are charged a money order fee. (There are, of course, still tons of fees charged by JPay and other companies, but this is a step in the right direction.)

The Center for Public Integrity’s Daniel Wagner has the story. (For more backstory, read some of Daniel Wagner’s earlier reporting on this issue.) Here’s a clip:

The move comes after a Center for Public Integrity report showed that the families of hundreds of thousands of U.S. inmates had no way to send money to their incarcerated loved ones without incurring high fees. Several of the prison systems that had no free option for money transfers contracted with JPay for their inmates’ financial services.

JPay is one of the largest prison bankers, companies that provide financial services to inmates and their families, sometimes charging high fees and sharing their profits with the agencies that contract with them. The company handled nearly 7 million transactions last year and expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year.

JPay and other prison bankers have become central players in a multi-billion dollar economy that shifts the costs of incarceration onto families of prison inmates, according to the Center’s report. Families must send money to help pay for necessities like toilet paper and winter clothes that used to be provided by the government. JPay says it handles money transfers for 1.7 million offenders, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

JPay did not respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment about the decision to eliminate some fees. The company’s founder and CEO Ryan Shapiro earlier said The Center’s questions about money order deposit fees forced him to consider the impact of policies that affect the company’s poorest customers. He said he would seek to convince states to provide families with a free deposit option.

The change was confirmed by John Witherow, director of Nevada CURE, an inmates’-rights group. Witherow said he received an email announcing the change from JPay’s public relations manager sometime in the past two weeks. A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Corrections also confirmed the change. Spokesmen for the Ohio and Oklahoma departments did not respond to requests for comment.


DEPUTY CHIEF ROBERT LUNA TO BECOME LONG BEACH’S FIRST LATINO POLICE CHIEF

On Tuesday, Long Beach officials appointed Deputy Chief Robert Luna the city’s new police chief. Luna, who will replace outgoing chief, Los Angeles Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell, is the first Latino to serve as an LBPD chief.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Luna, 48, has been with the police department for 29 years. He commanded the patrol bureau and was second-in-command to McDonnell. He will be the city’s 26th police chief and the first Latino to serve in that role.

Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West announced the selection of Luna on Tuesday at police headquarters.

“I truly have a passion for this profession, this city and I absolutely love this police department,” Luna said after the announcement.

Luna said he plans to meet with the community to learn where the police department needs to improve. Last year, the department had a spike in officer-involved shootings compared to 2012. The deaths of several unarmed civilians have cost the city millions in legal settlements.


THE MAJORITY OF STATES SUCCESSFULLY CUT INCARCERATION RATES AND CRIME RATES

A Pew Charitable Trusts infographic released this week takes a look at the FBI’s newly released crime data against the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ incarceration data, and shows that in the 33 states where imprisonment numbers decreased, the crime rate was lowered an average of 13%. In the 17 states with increases in incarceration, crime rates still fell an average of 11%.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Police | No Comments »

THE TRAUMA FILES: An Inner City Pediatrician Has an Epiphany…and the First Ever Summit on the Medical Effects of Trauma on Kids Kicks Off

November 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHEN CHILDHOOD BECOMES TOXIC

In 2008, a colleague handed pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris an article that had appeared, with little fanfare, in a medical journal six years before.

At the time, Burke Harris was running a pediatric clinic located in Bayview-Hunters Point, a largely African American neighborhood that is arguably San Francisco’s poorest and most violent.

While Burke is, herself, African American, her upbringing is very different from that of most of her patients. The doted on daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, both of whom are highly educated professionals, she got her medical degree from the University of California at Davis, her master’s in public health from Harvard, and did her pediatric residency at Stanford. After the stint at Stanford, she went to work for a private hospital group called the California Pacific Medical Center. Burke Harris talked California Pacific into letting her open the Bayview-Hunters Point clinic in 2007, which included allowing her take all pediatric patients who came through the door, regardless of their ability to pay.

In short order, the clinic was seeing 1000 patients a year. But, although Burke Harris loved the work, she was bothered by her sense that many of the ailments she was treating in the kids who came to her—things like asthma, ADHD, obesity and chronic bronchitis—were in some way related to the emotionally traumatizing things that were going on in the children’s lives—violence in the household, gang violence in their neighborhoods, homelessness, sexual abuse, incarcerated family members, extreme poverty, and more.

She wasn’t yet sure how to define the relationship between emotionally debilitating life events, and the physical conditions and illnesses she was treating. Still she felt sure there was a tangible link.

It was in this context that Burke Harris read the medical article titled The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning gold into lead.” It was written by a researcher named Dr. Vincent Felitti, the Chief of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente who, together with Dr. Robert Anda from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), had conducted a study from 1995 to 1997 where they asked more than 17,421 Kaiser patients about ten categories of childhood trauma, which Felitti and Anda termed adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. After analyzing the data that resulted, in 1998 Felitti and Anda published findings that showed an irrefutable relationship between their subjects’ ACE scores and their physical and emotional health later in life.

Burke was utterly gobsmacked at what Felitti was saying. The article—and the study to which it referred—explained a phenomenon she’d been witnessing daily yet had been unable to adequately interpret.


FIRST EVER ACES SUMMIT

“It’s like the clouds parted and the angels sang,” Burke Harris said last week when she told the story to a ballroom full of 200 health professionals, policy makers and advocates who had gathered in San Francisco for a first-of-its-kind summit to talk about the widespread and profound health and behavioral effects produced by adverse childhood experiences.

Burke Harris explained that four or more ACEs, or what she and others now called toxic stress, could produce long term changes in a kid’s brain structure. High ACE scores compromised the immune system, and dramatically expanded the likelihood of high risk behavior, of depression, of suicidality, of later incarceration.

Moreover, the original Kaiser study—which was conducted on mostly white and mostly college education subjects-–showed that these ACEs were extremely common: Two out of three—or 67 percent—of the 17,000 people studied at Kaiser had at least one ACE, and 12.5 percent had four or more ACEs.

In addition, there was a dose-response relationship between the number of ACEs a child experienced, and his or her risk of developing certain illnesses later in life. The same was true for emotional conditions and behaviors such as depression, violent behavior, or being a victim of violence.

But ACEs don’t have to be destiny, Burke Harris told the crowd. “There is an opportunity for healing throughout a lifetime.”


STAR POWER

When Burke Harris had her 2008 epiphany, the medical effects of childhood trauma and toxic stress that she recognized as obvious were still being studiously ignored by most of the medical establishment and those who make public policy—nevermind the fact that Felitti and Anda’s research had been out for a decade.

Yet, by the time she was the featured speaker at last week’s summit, the volume of parallel research into the issue had become increasingly difficult to disregard. Now in pockets all over the country, progressive health professionals are advocating for pediatric ACEs screening, and a growing group of forward-looking lawmakers are starting to talk about trauma-informed policy.

(This newly-ignited interest in California was demonstrated at the summit itself when state senator Mark Leno, state Secretary of Health and Human Services, Diana Dooley, and Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, were among the officials who cheerfully agreed to be on one of the event’s panels.)

Meanwhile, Burke Harris is deservedly becoming one of the superstars of the ACEs movement.

At the beginning of this month, Google gave a $3 million grant to Burke Harris’s Center for Youth Wellness—the health organization she founded to operate with her clinic in order to respond to the expanded needs she recognized in her patients. The pediatrician said the Google grant will allow her team to develop a clinical protocol to test for toxic stress.

Last week (as WLA reported) the Center for Youth Wellness released a new California-based study called “A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California.” Using data from 27,745 California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys between 2008 and 2013, the study found that one in six Californians (16.7%) have four or more ACEs making them:

• 2.4 times as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 1.9 times as likely to have asthma; 1.7 times as likely to have kidney disease; and 1.5 times as likely to have a stroke.
• 5.1 times as likely to suffer from depression, and 4.2 times as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
• 2.9 times as likely to currently smoke, 3.2 times as likely to engage in binge drinking, and 3.3 times as likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
• Nearly 12 times as likely to be the victim of sexual violence (or forced sexual encounters) after the age of 18.
• 21 percent more likely to be below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, 27 percent more likely to lack a college degree, and 39 percent more likely to be unemployed…

Burke and others estimate these numbers to be on the low side. A newer study likely to come out later this year is expected to have findings that are even more dramatic.


INTRODUCING…..THE TRAUMA FILES

We’re going to be looking at the issue of toxic stress and related topics, on a regular basis in an ongoing series called The Trauma Files.

In the series, we’ll be reporting on trauma in the world of juvenile justice, trauma and its affect on law enforcement, and lots more.

So stay tuned.

Posted in ACEs, Public Health, Trauma | No Comments »

New Report: DA Lacey’s Push to Divert Mentally Ill from Jails, LA Child Welfare Check-up, Post-Prop 47 Recommendations, and Gratitude to All Our Veterans

November 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY TO PRESENT REPORT ON HOW LA COUNTY JUSTICE SYSTEM COULD BETTER SERVE THE MENTALLY ILL

On Wednesday, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey will present to the Board of Supervisors a report on how the county’s criminal justice system is failing the mentally ill.

The report includes recommendations for each point of contact at which a mentally ill person might be diverted from the justice system and into a treatment setting. These points of contact are law enforcement and emergency services, a person’s first detention and court hearings, jails and courts, and community corrections and community support.

According to Lacey’s report (prepared by Policy Research Associates, Inc.), a higher percentage of law enforcement officers need to be trained to have better interactions with people suffering from mental illness. There is also a shortage of funding for county Psychiatric Mobile Response Teams.

The report points out that police officers can either wait 3-5 hours to drop someone in crisis off at a psychiatric emergency center, or they can book them on a minor charge and get back to work. Drop off centers for law enforcement must be established to make early diversion possible, according to the report.

It should be noted that the report also recommends law enforcement crisis response for veterans.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on Lacey’s report and what it means. Here’s a clip:

The report describes a system in need of significant changes: In the jails, mentally ill people are receiving inadequate care. At the courthouse, prosecutors, judges and social workers often “lack alignment” when deciding whether its safe to divert someone from criminal prosecution into treatment.

Once someone is released from jail, there’s often no place to go for help. The Department of Mental Health “needs more resources to keep pace with the high volume of referrals and short time frames with which to link individuals to needed services.”

The report identifies five points at which the criminal justice system can divert a mentally ill person into treatment – starting with the moment of police contact. It recommends the Board of Supervisors fund more training for police officers and expand diversion programs. It also recommends creation of a resource center for “criminal justice/mental health technical assistance,” so the justice system can collect and share data on mentally ill offenders.

[SNIP]

“We think the report exposes tremendous suffering for mentally ill people,” said Marc-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now. The report also is further evidence the county should abandon plans to spend $2 billion to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail, he added.

“We think the Board of Supervisors should stop the $2 billion jail plan and move forward with a mental health diversion program that is comprehensive.”

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported that in his acceptance speech, Sheriff Jim McDonnell pledged to work with Jackie Lacey on mental health diversion.


SECOND LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM CHECK-UP SAYS: PROGRESS!

Fostering Media Connections has released a 24-page “check-up” report on how LA County is fairing as it works to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. This check-up is the second in a series of quarterly progress reports after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with 42 recommendations.

The report says, among other recent improvements, $1.23 million has been allocated for boosting Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS), an inter-agency database for reporting child-abuse, and DCFS has completed a new risk-assessment model to target and prevent critical child abuse threats.

Fostering Media Connections founder Daniel Heimpel has more on the report over at the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

The BRC is not the first commission or task force created out of tragedy to improve child protection. But, having watched L.A.’s child protection reform process progress, I am hopeful that what is happening across sprawling Los Angeles County will somehow be different. Further, there is the unique possibility that if this process yields real gains, it will serve to enlighten other jurisdictions currently reeling under the pressure of seemingly preventable child deaths.

Today, we at Fostering Media Connections released our second quarterly “Checkup” on the developmental health of Los Angeles County’s child protection reform effort. In the 100-odd days since we last took such a comprehensive look at the reform process there have been some notable gains:

The Board of Supervisors approved $1.23 million to beef up law enforcement’s response to child abuse.

DCFS finished designing a risk-modeling tool to help prevent critical incidents of child abuse and death.

The department took the first step towards accessing a new pot of state funds to increase foster care payments to family members who take in their kin.

The BRC’s “transition team” charged with maintaining the reform effort made headway towards naming a child protection czar to oversee a new Office of Child Protection designed to integrate services to better protect the county’s children.

Such gains are important, not just for Los Angeles, but across the country.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LAWMAKERS, POLICE, AND PROSECUTORS POST-PROP 47 PASSAGE

Within mere days following the Nov. 4 passage of California’s Proposition 47, low-level offenders are already being resentenced, and released.

An LA Times editorial says the voters made it undeniably clear how the public feels about the war on drugs and tough-on-crime laws and policies of the previous decade, but that it would have been preferable for the legislature to have adopted 47′s changes.

The editorial says lawmakers entering the state capitol (as well as law enforcement and prosecutors) should take heed of voters’ wishes and begin working on a better justice system. Here’s a clip:

Lawmakers could begin by designing and establishing a sentencing commission. Such a step could at long last provide a buffer between the emotional urgency of high-profile crimes and the knee-jerk legislative response of ever-longer sentences. A commission that carefully weighs sentences against evidence of their effectiveness in reducing crime and recidivism could help stop the state from swinging back and forth, every 30 years or so, between punishment that is too tough and costly and punishment that is too lenient and dangerous.

Sacramento should also reject additional prison spending. Californians want and deserve to be protected from crime, but prisons that are too packed to offer the services that encourage inmates to recognize their mistakes or give them opportunities to change, and laws that make it harder rather than easier for former offenders to reenter society safely and productively, are not the answer. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown should focus on rehabilitation, reentry programs and alternatives to incarceration now — even before the additional funding from Proposition 47 for such programs kicks in a year from now.

Police and prosecutors, many of whom opposed the ballot measure, have it within their power to undermine it even after its overwhelming passage. Prosecutors could choose to reject the spirit of the measure and “charge up” — for example, to seek felony charges for possession for sale of a controlled substance in a case they might have charged last month as simple possession.

They could — but they should not. Their challenge is to implement the will of the voters in changing their stance toward drug users and petty criminals rather than looking for excuses not to.

Read the rest.


DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO ALL UNITED STATES MILITARY VETERANS – AND CALIFORNIA READS THE INVALUABLE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR

This year, the theme of Cal Humanities’ statewide initiative, California Reads, is “War Comes Home.” More than 340 libraries around the state will host their own programs and activities, including readings and discussions about the featured California Reads book What It Is Like to Go to War, by Marine Corps veteran and Rhodes Scholar Karl Marlantes.

Sebastian Junger (of The Perfect Storm and Restrepo) says Marlantes’ book “not only illuminates war for civilians, but also offers a kind of spiritual guidance to veterans themselves,” and predicts that Marlantes’ writing will save lives.

And the New Yorker suggests that one of the three purposes of the book is to let lawmakers know exactly what they’re asking military men and women sent into war.

(We at WLA urgently recommend you read this book.)

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, Mental Illness, Sentencing, Veterans | 1 Comment »

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