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New, More Expensive Los Angeles Jail Proposal, LASD Deputies Planted Guns in Marijuana Clinic, DCFS Director on Foster Care Reforms, and the New Clemency Criteria

April 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES JAIL REPLACEMENT PROPOSAL RELEASED, AND IS EVEN MORE PRICEY THAN THE LAST TWO BIDS

On Wednesday, Vanir Construction Management Inc. released a report detailing five options for replacing the aging Men’s Central Jail, as requested by the Board of Supervisors. The proposed options range in price from $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over a ten year period.

This isn’t the first jail construction bid presented to the county. Last July, the jail-replacement proposals ranged in price from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.

A few months before that, in March of 2013, LA County CEO Bill Fujioka and Sheriff Lee Baca proposed a $933 million jail building project.

We presume there’s a good reason for the repeatedly escalated price, and we hope that will be a topic of discussion by the Board of Supervisors.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the latest on the construction proposals. Here’s a clip:

The county supervisors, concerned about deteriorating facilities and poor living conditions for inmates with mental health issues, want to tear down the aging Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and replace it. The new facility would be primarily focused on housing inmates with physical and mental health needs and substance abuse issues.

Officials are also contemplating creating a new 1,600-bed women’s jail at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, to replace the overcrowded women’s jail in Lynwood.

The plan is not expected to increase the county’s total number of available jail beds, but officials said it would help the county comply with federal mandates on the treatment of mentally ill inmates, and would allow women — who are typically lower risk than male inmates — to be housed in a less restrictive environment with more options for job training and other programs.

The report by Vanir Construction Management laid out five options, all of which involve replacing the Men’s Central Jail. The new facility would hold between 4,860 and 5,860 inmates, depending on the option chosen, with the bulk of the beds set aside for inmates needing medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and a smaller number of beds for high-security inmates. Four of the five options also include a new women’s jail.

The construction is projected to cost between $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over the next 10 years, and after that would add $162 million to $300 million a year to the county’s jail operating costs.


LOS ANGELES DEPUTIES PLANT GUNS IN MARIJUANA CLINIC, FALSELY ARREST TWO MEN

In an alarming story, two former LA County deputies, Julio Martinez and Anthony Paez, are accused of planting two guns in a marijuana dispensary in order to arrest two men. Over a year later, an internal investigation found inconsistencies between the deputies’ report and the dispensary’s surveillance tape.

The ex-deputies face more than seven years each behind bars, if convicted.

ABC7′s Hanna Chu has the story. Here’s a clip:

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged on Wednesday with one felony count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and peace officer altering evidence, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office announced. Martinez was also charged with two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

Prosecutors say the deputies wrote a report saying they “witnessed a narcotics transaction and observed one suspect with a firearm” while they were on patrol in the area of West 84th Place on Aug. 24, 2011.

Martinez apparently followed one suspect inside a pot clinic, where he allegedly found a firearm near a trash bin and another next to ecstasy pills. One man was taken into custody for possession of an unregistered firearm, while another man was arrested for possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.

Charges had been filed against the two men falsely arrested. The case against one of the men was later dismissed, however the other suspect had pled before the corruption was discovered. The district attorney’s office said it was in the process of notifying the man’s defense attorney.

An investigation into the incident about a year later found that the deputies’ report was inconsistent with a video recording from the pot clinic. According to a criminal complaint, Martinez kicked at a wall outlet to shut off electricity inside the room during the incident, while Paez “opened a drawer and retrieved a handgun and placed it on a chair.”

Charges were dropped against one of the two men falsely arrested, but the other was sentenced to a year in jail (according to the LA Times’ Kate Mather).


DCFS DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT

On Wednesday’s Air Talk, host Larry Mantle talks with Philip Browning, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services about the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report.

Browning has some interesting things to say about the commission’s recommendations, so take a listen.

Here is a clip from the episode’s summary:

The department’s director, Philip Browning, says they have an oversight body already – the Board of Supervisors. He says many of the ideas have been instituted already – “about 96% have been partially or fully implemented.”

He goes on to say new social-worker training incorporates home-call simulations and promotes critical thinking and common sense. Was the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection more of the same – or critical to overhaul DCFS? What will the Board of Supervisors decide?


DOJ ANNOUNCES NEW CLEMENCY CRITERIA

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative by the Department of Justice to open up the possibility of clemency to low-level drug offenders sentenced under outdated federal guidelines.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the new, broader criteria for clemency applications.

Here’s a clip from the Justice Dept. website:

Under the new initiative, the department will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following factors:

They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;

They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;

They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;

They do not have a significant criminal history;

They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and

They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole. “Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.”

Posted in Foster Care, jail, LASD, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Supervisors on Recommended Foster Care Reform, From Prison to Campaigning for State Assembly, Federal Recidivism Study…and More

April 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RESPONDS TO COMMISSION’S FINAL FOSTER CARE REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors responded to final recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. The Supes did not all agree on specific DCFS reforms—Supe Zev Yaroslavsky called the creation of a separate oversight panel “a non-starter”—but did agree to study the final report before acting on any recommendations.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Citing years of reforms, reports, and even court cases aimed at overhauling the Department of Children and Family Services, commissioner Leslie Gilbert-Lurie told the board that the county needs an oversight team to make sure the reform proposals don’t gather dust on the shelves in the county building.

“Recommendations will come and go,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “As we can all now recite in our sleep, there have been hundreds of them. The problem fundamentally is not a lack of good ideas or of good people.”

An oversight panel is the reform several commissioners called the most important. It’s also the most controversial among county leaders.

The panel has also suggested creating an Office of Child Protection to coordinate amongst the numerous agencies (DCFS, law enforcement, District Attorney, Department of Health) that touch on child welfare going forward.

“A solid structure that takes in good ideas, assesses them, funds them, implements them, and holds people accountable for better results than in the past will lead to sustainable change,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted against creating the blue ribbon panel in the first place, called the idea a “turkey.”

“What this issue needs is not more bureaucracy and more commissions, it needs results,” Yaroslavsky said.

The supervisor said moving resources from one under-funded department to a brand new one is hardly a solution.

“It’s a non-starter with me,” he said, though he said many of the ideas contained in the report were worth pursuing and more practical.

Board President Don Knabe has also expressed skepticism that more county agencies and commissions is that way to go.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pushed for the blue ribbon panel, said he’s “undeterred.”


PROPHET WALKER: FROM LOCKUP TO RUNNING FOR STATE ASSEMBLY

To say that Prophet Walker had a rough beginning, would be a rather large understatement. He grew up in the projects in Watts, was abandoned as a young child by his mother, and landed himself in prison at age 16. While in prison, Prophet made impressive use of his time, getting a college education, and helping to persuade the CDCR to allow certain young offenders to pursue education in lower security prisons.

Now, ten years later, Prophet is running for a state Assembly seat with the help of some serious mentors and supporters (namely “Hangover” producer Scott Budnick and Carol Biondi, commissioner of the LA County Commission for Children and Families).

James Rainey has a very cool Column One story about Prophet. Here’s how it opens:

The kids at Compton YouthBuild can be a tough audience. Many come from broken homes, flunked out of multiple schools, even spent time in jail.

By the last day of Black History Month, some at the alternative school — which looks boarded shut from Compton Boulevard — had gotten their fill of talk about hope and perseverance.

On this late Friday afternoon, though, a tall young man strode into their big multipurpose room and flashed a flawless smile. He looked a bit like the rapper Drake. Or so said a girl near the front, giggling.

When the visitor began, “How many people here are familiar with Nickerson Gardens?” some of the students stopped mugging and poking one another. They not only knew the housing project where their guest came up, they knew other young men not unlike him whose mothers struggled with addiction, who had children while still nearly children themselves, who had let violence win them over.

But his story didn’t end like most. He found a way to keep learning while behind bars, went to college, then got a job overseeing big-ticket construction projects. He told the students of knowing Kendrick Lamar from back in the day and how he recently visited the hip-hop star backstage at one of his shows. Hearing that, one boy in the audience whistled in admiration and exclaimed: “Damn!”

Not only had their visitor played fate for a fool, he had a name that seemed plucked straight from a Spike Lee drama: Prophet. Prophet Walker.

“A lot of people who came from the ‘hood don’t do anything. But he came back,” student Jonathan Chase Butler said after Walker’s talk. “He is trying to speak to us and inspire us, and I see I can actually push forward and keep going. That is huge.”

Now Walker, just 26, is trying to build on his unlikely story. With no experience in politics or government, he’s running for the California Assembly, hoping to represent a district that stretches from South L.A. to Compton, Carson and a slice of Long Beach.
Such is the power of his resurrection tale that actor Matt Damon has donated to his campaign and television pioneer Norman Lear sponsored a fundraiser.

His high-powered supporters tend to focus on Walker’s inspiring rise out of bleak beginnings. As he steps onto a bigger public stage, though, he will also have to address more directly what happened during his fall…

Read on.


NEW FEDERAL STUDY ON RECIDIVISM

Two-thirds of inmates released in 2005 were rearrested within three years, and three-quarters were rearrested within five years, according to a new study released by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The study samples former prisoner data from 30 states, including California, between 2005-2010, and is the first large-scale federal study of its kind in almost 20 years.

Here’s a clip of some of the study’s key findings from the BJS announcement:

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year…

During the five years after release, prisoners in the study were arrested about 1.2 million times across the country. A sixth (16 percent) of released prisoners were responsible for nearly half (48 percent) of the arrests. About two in five (42 percent) released prisoners were either not arrested or were arrested no more than once in the five years after release.

The longer released prisoners went without being arrested, the less likely they were to be arrested at all during the follow-up period. For example, 43 percent of released prisoners were arrested within one year of release, compared to 13 percent of those not arrested by the end of year four who were arrested in the fifth year after release.

Among prisoners released in 2005 in 23 states with available data on inmates returned to prison, about half (50 percent) had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new crime within three years that led to imprisonment, and more than half (55 percent) had a parole or probation violation or an arrest within five years that led to imprisonment.

Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.

Released prisoners who were incarcerated for a violent, property or drug crime were more likely than other released inmates to be arrested for a similar type of crime. Regardless of the incarceration offense, the majority (58 percent) of released prisoners were arrested for a public order offense within five years of release. An estimated 39 percent of released prisoners were arrested within five years for a drug offense, 38 percent for a property offense and 29 percent for a violent offense.

Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.


MAN WITH ALCOHOLIC TRIAL LAWYER STILL HEADED FOR EXECUTION

In yet another example of a flawed capital punishment system, a “borderline” mentally disabled man, Robert Wayne Holsey, faces execution in Georgia—a fate he would not likely be faced with had he been provided competent counsel. Instead, Holsey was represented by Andy Prince, a lawyer who says he drank a quart of alcohol per day during the death penalty trial.

Mother Jones’ Marc Bookman has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the early hours of December 17, 1995, Robert Wayne Holsey was arrested and charged for the murder of Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson, who pulled over Holsey’s car following the armed robbery of a Jet Food Store in the county seat of Milledgeville. As with any killing of a police officer, it was a high-profile affair. Most of the county’s judges attended Robinson’s funeral, and many sent flowers. To ensure an impartial hearing, the trial had to be moved two counties away.

Like the great majority of people arrested for serious crimes, Holsey could not afford a lawyer; he had to depend on the court to appoint one for him. But it is reasonable to wonder why any court would have chosen Andy Prince for the job. Beyond his chronic alcohol problem and the financial judgments piling up against him, Prince did not generally handle cases in the Milledgeville area.

As it turns out, little thought was given to his suitability. The selection process in the Holsey case conjures up the old military trope about volunteering by means of everyone else taking a step backward. “Because of who the victim was, nobody within the circuit wanted to be appointed to this case,” Prince later testified. “And I told [the judge], sure, I’d take it.”

On one condition: He insisted on picking his co-counsel. Prince had handled capital cases before, and with some success, but he’d only worked on the more traditional guilt/innocence part of the representation—never the crucial sentencing phase. He contacted Rob Westin, the lawyer he’d collaborated with previously. Westin said he’d do it, but then reversed himself in short order. Westin “had gone to the solicitor’s office in Baldwin County,” Prince later explained, “and had been told that they couldn’t believe that he was representing Mr. Holsey and that if he continued to represent him he would never get another deal worked out with that office.”

His next attempt to secure co-counsel failed as well; the lawyer quit after a few months on the case and took a job with the state attorney general’s office. Seven months before the trial date, Prince finally found his “second chair” in Brenda Trammell, a lawyer who practiced in Morgan County, where the case was to be tried: “She was about the only one that would take it.”

As for Trammell, she assumed she was selected “based on proximity,” as she later testified. “I had not tried to trial a death penalty case and I waited for him to tell me what to do, and there really was not a lot of direction in that way.”

There was still one thing missing. What distinguishes capital murder trials from noncapital ones is the penalty phase, wherein the jury hears additional evidence and determines the appropriate punishment—usually choosing between death and life without parole. During this phase, a “mitigation specialist,” whom the American Bar Association (ABA) describes as “an indispensable member of the defense team throughout all capital proceedings,” gathers information that might convince jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Indeed, the court provided Holsey’s defense team with sufficient funds to hire a mitigation specialist, but no one was ever able to account for the money. Prince later said that he didn’t remember what happened to it, only that he was certain no mitigation specialist was ever hired. Which may explain Trammell’s response to this question from Holsey’s appeals lawyer.

Q: When you got into the case, was there any theory with respect to mitigation in the event that he was convicted?

A: No, sir.

Mitigation theory or not, Holsey went on trial for his life in February 1997.

Read the rest.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

When the LASD Spied on the City of Compton—and Forgot to Tell Anybody

April 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this month, The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED ran a jointly produced story about the future of high tech surveillance. As the story’s centerpiece, the reporters focused on a 2012 program of aerial surveillance that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department operated for nine days in the city of Compton.

Here’s the opening clip from the story produced G.W. Schultz and Amanda Pike:

When sheriff’s deputies here noticed a burst of necklace snatchings from women walking through town, they turned to an unlikely source to help solve the crimes: a retired Air Force veteran named Ross McNutt.

McNutt and his Ohio-based company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, persuaded the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to use his surveillance technology to monitor Compton’s streets from the air and track suspects from the moment the snatching occurred.

The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.

“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”

So did the people of Compton know about this eye in the sky?

Uh, no. As it turns out they didn’t. At least not when it was going on. Here’s what Sergeant Doug Iketani, who supervised the project, told KQED.

The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

The CIR/KQED report of a “hush-hush” surveillance program in LA County sparked a rash of stories in which people—–some of them Compton residents—–expressed their distinct displeasure at the whole notion.

For example there were stories in CBS Los Angeles….Reason Magazine.The Atlantic….and TechDirt.…among others.

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon of this week, the LASD put out a press release, saying that in the end the department decided not to use the system past its nine day experiment. According to the release, the main reason for nixing the surveillance system had to do with the fact that the images it produced weren’t high resolution enough for the watchers to be able to ID law breakers. In fact, it turned out it was also difficult to tell autos apart.

So nobody needs to get all upset, the release implied, although not in so many words.

“Hawkeye II Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System” was simply a system tested and evaluated as an option which would supplement cameras already deployed in the city of Compton. No notification to the residents was made because this system was being tested in a city where cameras were already deployed and the system was only being evaluated. Additionally, the limitation of the system would not allow for the identification of persons or vehicles. The system’s lack of resolution in no way compromised the identity of any individual. The recordings reviewed by Department personnel were found to have no investigative value as discernable detail of gender, race, hair color or any other identifiable feature could not be made.

The Sheriff’s Department utilizes several forms of technology as a tool to provide communities and citizens of Los Angeles County with a safer environment and better quality of life. The Department has used aerial surveillance in the form of helicopters since the 1950’s; beginning with Sky Knight, a program still in use today. The Department is committed to taking advantage of new technology to assist Deputies in the field and improve the service to the communities we serve.

Don’t get us wrong. We too want our law enforcement to be vigorously up to date on the latest technology for keeping our communities safe. But when it comes to strategies that could affect our rights and our privacy, we’d strongly prefer that they let us know what they were doing—before they actually do it.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, LASD | No Comments »

The Power of LASD Inspector General…Breakdown of Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…DOJ to Consider Thousands of New Clemency Requests…and More

April 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DOES LASD CIVILIAN WATCHDOG MAX HUNTSMAN HOLD ENOUGH SWAY TO CLEAN UP THE DEPARTMENT?

In January Max Huntsman took on the role of Inspector General over the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But as civilian oversight of a department with an elected sheriff, Huntsman does not have the power to enforce reform. The only way he can turn up the heat on the department is by focusing a public spotlight on areas in need of reform, and making recommendations.

Monday NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at Huntsman’s power as IG, and whether it will be enough to bring some lasting change to the department.

Here’s a clip (but go take a listen):

Max Huntsman’s job — in the newly created role of watchdog — is to help clean up the department. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any real power.

In a sign perhaps of how unglamorous his new job will be, Huntsman’s new digs are a cramped collection of dark offices and cubicles, two floors above the famous food stalls of LA’s Grand Central Market.

On a recent visit, he had just one employee — a receptionist — but soon a team of 30 lawyers, auditors and retired law enforcement officers will be in place here. They’ll help Huntsman set up a system to monitor the Sheriff’s Department — namely its jails.

Just blocks from here, at the Men’s Central Jail, deputies are accused of beating and choking inmates without provocation, harassing visitors, then conspiring to cover it all up. In the indictments last fall, federal prosecutors portrayed a “culture of corruption” inside the agency.

“The bottom line is, I think you need to have people looking over your shoulder and knowing what you’re doing in order to make sure those cliques don’t develop, that you don’t get a group of people in the jail who think of themselves more as a gang than as deputy sheriffs,” says Huntsman. “That’s when you don’t have that light shining that that happens.”

That “light” is really the only tool Huntsman will have. Unlike a police chief in a big city who answers to the mayor or a civilian commission, LA’s sheriff is elected and enjoys a lot of autonomy. Huntsman can only present his findings and recommend reforms.

So far he’s gotten a warm welcome and promises of cooperation — but it’s early.

“They really, really want to respond to all these problems,” says Huntsman, “as they should. I mean, there are federal indictments on the table, there’s talk of a federal consent decree, or a memorandum of understanding.”


THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON FOSTER CARE’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORMING DCFS AND BETTER PROTECTING LA’S MOST VULNERABLE

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has a helpful analysis of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s recommendation for a new and separate entity to oversee and unite the Department of Children and Family Services and other county departments involved in child welfare.

Kelly also breaks down the rest of the commission’s final report and recommendations presented to the Board of Supervisors, including lower caseloads for social workers and boosted funding for relatives taking care of children in the DCFS system who would otherwise be in foster care.


DOJ OPENING UP CRITERIA FOR CLEMENCY APPLICATIONS TO PRE-FAIR SENTENCING ACT NON-VIOLENT DRUG OFFENDERS

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (mostly) balanced out the 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sale convictions and those for crack cocaine sales. Still, there are thousands of drug offenders serving longer sentences than they would be given under the FSA.

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Dept. is launching an initiative to grant clemency to non-violent crack cocaine offenders sentenced under pre-FSA outdated and harsh mandatory minimums.

The DOJ will also be beefing up the number of attorneys in the pardons office to handle the influx of clemency applications.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder has announced a series of initiatives to tackle disparities in criminal penalties, beginning in August, when he said that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would not be charged with offenses that call for severe mandatory sentences. He has traveled across the country to highlight community programs in which nonviolent offenders have received substance abuse treatment and other assistance instead of long prison sentences.

Underlying the initiatives is the belief by top Justice Department officials that the most severe penalties should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. On April 10, after an endorsement from Holder, the U.S. Sentencing Commission — the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges — voted to revise its guidelines to reduce sentences for defendants in most of the nation’s drug cases.

In the meantime, however, thousands of inmates are still serving federally mandated sentences that imposed strict penalties for the possession of crack cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed in 2010, reduced the disparity between convictions for crack and powder cocaine, and Obama has called sentences passed under the older guidelines “unduly harsh.” The law also eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the simple possession of crack cocaine.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said Monday. “This is simply not right.”

[SNIP]

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce details about the new criteria the Justice Department will use in considering clemency applications and how the department plans to review those applications.

The department has asked the American Civil Liberties Union and other nonprofit groups to help identify candidates for clemency. Some of those groups are likely to help inmates submit the necessary paperwork.


PARTISAN SHIFTS IN SENTENCING REFORM STANCES

As sentencing reform is picking up steam at national and state levels, once stark party lines are blurring. The realities of mass incarceration, especially the fiscal consequences, have created a shift in positions. Conservatives, formerly of a tough-on-crime mindset, are now some of the strongest supporters of sentencing reform.

For instance, the Texas-based conservative program Right on Crime has—successfully—led Texas’ prison reform agenda. Once faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis, the state has built up rehabilitation programs and incarceration alternatives. Instead of building new prisons and leasing more space in private facilities (looking at you, California), Texas is closing prisons and saving millions.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has more on the partisan shift. Here’s a clip:

…As the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most far-reaching changes in years to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups seeking to rehabilitate convicts.

A surprising number of high-profile Republicans are working arm in arm with Democrats on legislation to shorten jail terms and hasten prisoner releases. At the same time, in their own reversal of sorts, key Democrats are arguing against the legislation in its current form.

“It’s a little counterintuitive,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a conservative former judge who is co-sponsoring a proposal to let tens of thousands of inmates out of federal prisons early if they complete rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

As soon as this month, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that combines two bills that easily passed the Judiciary Committee. One cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and the other makes it easier to win early release. The combined measure would also make retroactive a 2010 law that reduced sentences for those previously convicted of possessing crack cocaine.

The legislation has attracted strong support from Republican conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. “I think it’s a mistake for people to assume that all conservatives or all Republicans have the same view in this regard, that we should kill them all and let God sort it out,” said Paul Larkin, a criminal justice expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Sentencing nonviolent offenders to decades in prison is “costly, not only in dollars but also the people involved,” Larkin said. “Sending someone to prison for a long time is tantamount to throwing that person away.”

But the new politics of crime remain complicated, with some old-line Republicans still opposed to the proposals. “Do we really want offenders like these out on the streets earlier than is the case now, to prey on our citizens?” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a recent Senate speech, referring to the bill to ease mandatory-minimum sentences. Grassley, however, supports the early-release proposal.

In a twist, some key Democrats are also opposed to the efforts to relax mandatory minimums and allow early releases, while others remain on the fence. Facing a Republican campaign to seize control of the Senate this fall, Democrats are concerned about appearing soft on crime, a vulnerability that has haunted them in the past.

Posted in Foster Care, Inspector General, LASD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 15 Comments »

Are We Creating “Monsters?”….Education: The Next Juvenile Justice Reform….A Former “Bad Child” Speaks Out…Oregon Prisons Rethink Their Family Visit Policy

April 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


MAKING MONSTERS: A NEW LOOK AT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Beginning on Tuesday, April 22, PBS’s Frontline takes a look at the consequences of the use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

In addition to examining the effects that solitary has on prisoners, Frontline looks at what it does for the rest of us. Do we gain anything by imposing this kind of extreme isolation on those whom we lock up? This is a question that is particularly relevant when we isolate prisoners who will one day be released.

Admittedly, the matter of the use of solitary confinement is not simple.

As California in particular has struggled with the hold that prison gangs have on all of our lock-ups, solitary has has been viewed as one way to keep the various gangs’ shot callers from communicating with their troops. (Not that it appears to have worked. But that’s another conversation altogether.)

The truth is, most people in prison eventually will be released, and that includes those in solitary. And even in the cases of those who will never leave prison, do we have the moral and legal right to impose conditions so dehumanizing that they produce mental illness and the disintegration of an individual’s personality?

While the Frontline broadcast doesn’t air until Tuesday, the Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen has seen it it, and here’s a clip from his musings about what the program presents.

“This is what they create in here, monsters,” one inmate tells Frontline’s reporters. “You can’t conduct yourself like a human being when they treat you like an animal.”

“It’s like being buried alive,” another prisoner says off camera.

Now, every inmate in the history of the world likely has complained about the conditions of his confinement. But the point of the film, I think—and perhaps the best argument against the continued use of solitary—is that regardless of how inmates feel about it, there is no redeemable value to it to the rest of us.

Solitary confinement surely makes prisons safer—that’s the argument wardens use over and over again to justify its continued use. But it also creates or exacerbates mental illness in the men who are condemned to it. And that illness, in turn, pushes inmates in solitary to engage in harmful or self-harming conduct that, in turn, prompts a severe disciplinary response from prison officials.

That, in turn, causes the men to turn deeper into their own insanity. And then these broken men are released back into the world without adequate mental health treatment or “step down” services that will help reduce their chances of recidivism. It’s a cycle everyone recognizes but cannot seem to change. It’s madness upon madness.

Adam Brulotte, one of the inmates featured in the film, gets caught in this cycle. He’s a young man who says he wants to study for his GED so he can get a real job, instead of selling drugs, when he is released. Because he has broken the rules, he is placed in isolation. And because he is in isolation, he goes mad. And because he goes mad, he breaks more rules. The prison is safer but we see Brulotte broken before our eyes. If this young man is not treated now, how much will the rest of us pay when he is ultimately released?

Also, on April 29, Frontline begins airing a second documentary that looks at our reliance on incarceration in general.


THE NEXT JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: A FOCUS ON EDUCATION

The new study released last week by the Southern Education Foundation looking at how poorly kids are being educated in the nation’s juvenile lock-ups—California’s kids priminently listed—has been stiring up a lot of well-deserved attention. (We linked to the study last week here.)

Among the commentary the study stimulated was Sunday’s New York Times editorial stating that education should be the next area of focus for juvenile justice reform. While the essay is slightly clumsy in places, its primary point is an important one. Here’s a clip:

…It is a mistake to assume that all children held in juvenile facilities represent “hard cases” beyond redemption. Indeed, a new study, by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta, shows that nearly two-thirds of the young people who were confined in 2010 were confined for nonviolent offenses.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Even those kids who are in for violent offences, do not represent "'hard cases' beyond redemption. Good grief, NYT Ed Board! What are you thinking??]

Moreover, disproportionate numbers of these young people have special needs. Federal data from 2010 show that 30 percent had learning disabilities, 45 percent had problems paying attention and 30 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse. It should come as no surprise that most of the young people entering juvenile residential institutions are behind in reading and math.

These children do not get the attention in school that they need to succeed and get even less of it in juvenile justice facilities. A federal study showed that in 2009, fewer than half of students in state juvenile justice programs earned even one course credit and that fewer than one in 10 earned a high school diploma or a G.E.D. This makes it unlikely that most of them will succeed at school once they are released and more likely that they will get in trouble again.

The good news is that it is possible to create strong schools inside juvenile facilities that actually help the most troubled children. This can be done by improving coordination between the public schools and the juvenile justice system. States can also seek to emulate models like the one used at the Maya Angelou Academy in a juvenile facility in the District of Columbia, which hires talented teachers with high expectations, uses individualized instruction to meet particular student needs and weaves special education services throughout its lessons.

It is also good news that, while it has a long way to go, LA County Probation and its partner in the matter, The Los Angeles County Office of Education, has taken important steps forward in instituting some new and effective educational programs in some of its juvenile probation camps, and it is expected to take still more steps in the fall.

More on all that soon.


CAN A CHILD BE BORN BAD?

Juvenile justice advocate, Xavier McElrath-Bey, was sentenced to 25 years in prison at age 13 after he was involved in a gang-related murder. In this recent TEDX talk at Northwestern University he discusses his early life, the physical abuse by his father, worse abuse by his step father, his mother’s mental illness, the horror of his foster care placement that should have provided safety, and his eventual path to a string of criminal convictions, involvement in a murder, and prison.

Underneath all his trauma, McElrath-Bey was a smart kid and, at 18, he managed to find enough sense of self to turn his life around when he was inside. By the time he was released at age 26, McElrath-Bey had acquired a degree in social science and a Master of Arts in human services, both from Roosevelt University.

These days, he works for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing for Youth. And just prior to his new job, McElrath-Bey worked for five years on a clinical research project at Northwestern where he conducted more than 800 clinical field interviews with formerly incarcerated teenagers as part of a longitudinal study of the mental health needs and outcomes of individuals who are locked up for long periods as kids.

He was startled to find how similar the backgrounds of those in the study were to his own. Kids “who had been virtually abandoned.”

“Despair was the dominant theme of my life and the lives of my friends,” he said. “….It was natural for me to join a gang. …I felt safer in the streets than I did in my home.”

Listen to his story.


OREGON PUSHES INMATE FAMILY VISITS BECAUSE RESEARCH SHOWS—IT WORKS: CONTACT HELPS PRISONERS DO BETTER ON RELEASE

The whole thing started after Oregon Department of Corrections officials read a November 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections that concluded “visitation significantly decreased the risk of recidivism,” and that “visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in reducing the risk of recidivism…” (Interestingly, visits from ex-spouses, did not have such a positive effect.)

This is not the only such study. For years, research has shown that family contact is one of the most important predictors of who is going to do well on the outside, and who is likely to cycle right back in. But the Minnesota study was a large, new longitudinal study that followed 16,420 offenders from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007, and came up with some significant data. So the Oregon folks paid attention.

Bryan Denson of the Oregonian has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Oregon Department of Corrections officials read the Minnesota study and were staggered when they crunched the numbers and found that 59 percent of the roughly 14,000 prisoners in their lockups got no visitation.

Officials looked at their own visitation policies, according to spokeswoman Betty Bernt, and asked themselves tough questions: How much of the poor visitation rate was their fault? What were their policies on keeping nuclear families together? What about their policy of not allowing people with criminal backgrounds to visit?

Corrections officials from across the state set up a working group to improve the dismal percentage of inmates connecting with their families.

They recently passed out a survey to a large segment of inmates to help guide ways they could improve visitation. The questionnaire asked them questions about what type of support might be helpful to their transition from prison to home. Responses are due by April 30.

Corrections officials also considered setting up prisoners with trained volunteer mentors and relaxing visitation rules for inmates who are in disciplinary housing units.

They also increased visiting hours and special events. Salem’s Santiam Correctional Institution, for instance, began Thursday visiting hours earlier this year designed for inmates to spend time with their children.

One of the most startling and intriguing things about the way Oregon officials approached the matter was that they aggressively questioned their existing policies rather than assuming that the reasons for the lack of prisoner visits should be laid solely at the feet of the prisoners and their families.

The new programs have not been in place for long enough for Oregon to determine if the family contact will affect prisoners’ outcomes when they are released.

But more prisoners are getting visits from family members. More prisoners are having contact with their children. The first step has been taken.



Solitary photo/Frontline

Posted in crime and punishment, Education, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

What Does CA’s Use of Juvie Isolation Look Like?…..Stop Locking Up Truant Kids in CA! ….The Lousy State of Education in Juvie Lock-Ups, CA’ s included….North Carolina Sheriff Takes On Wrongful Convictions….Farewell to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

April 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING LOOKS HARD AT CA’S JUVIE SOLITARY

In addition to the shock and perplexity felt by many over California State Senator Leeland Yee’s arrest for what is alleged to be extravagant corruption and wrongdoing, the even larger disappointment is over the loss of his extremely valuable work in the arena of juvenile justice now that he’s been disgraced.

A case in point is, the legislation Yee (Dem-San Francisco) introduced earlier this year to ban solitary confinement as a form of punishment for juvenile inmates in California. Now, sadly, bill appears to have nearly zip chance of passing after Yee’s indictment last month on corruption charges.

Trey Bundy reporting for the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a look at the way California juvie lock-ups are still using solitary confinement. Here is what he found in one of the state’s most progressive juvenile facilities in Santa Cruz, CA.

Although solitary confinement for extended periods is considered one of the most psychologically damaging forms of punishment – particularly for teenagers – no one knows how many juveniles are held alone in cells in California.

Neither the state nor the federal government requires juvenile halls to report their use of isolation for minors – and no laws prohibit them from locking down youth for 23 hours a day.

One thing is clear: Even the county considered one of the most progressive in the state sometimes resorts to solitary confinement to control adolescents.

The Center for Investigative Reporting was given a rare glimpse inside juvenile isolation cells at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. Considered a model youth detention facility by many juvenile justice experts, Santa Cruz still places youth in 23-hour isolation, sometimes for days on end.

But amid a growing national debate over juvenile solitary confinement, the way Santa Cruz manages its youth population could serve as a guide for lawmakers as they attempt reform in various states.

The cells at Santa Cruz look like what you would find in a prison: gray concrete floors, cinderblock walls, a bunk, a window, a heavy green door and a metal sink-toilet combo.

When isolation is used at the hall, teenagers usually are kept in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. Guards check on them every 15 minutes, and they can receive visits from nurses, lawyers, pastors and administrators. Officials refer to the practice as room confinement. In extreme cases, inmates can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows that sit behind two sets of doors off the main hall. It’s clear by talking with youth here that even a few days alone in a cell can take a toll.

Sitting on a bunk in his 8-by-10-foot cell, one 15-year-old boy described throwing a fit when he thought he was unfairly locked inside for several days.

“I started, like, banging on my wall all day,” he said. “I got all kinds of toilet paper and I covered my light and was throwing up on my walls and making a big old mess.”

Santa Cruz probation officials allowed CIR to interview juvenile inmates on the condition that their names not be revealed.

The boy, who is now 16, has been detained at the hall nine times since April of last year on charges ranging from gun possession to auto theft. His stays lasted between two days and three weeks. This time, he was in room confinement for trying to pick a fight with an inmate from a rival neighborhood.

His mother has had drug problems and doesn’t always have a fixed address, so he couch-surfs a lot. He sometimes has to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of release. Occasionally, he said, life becomes so draining and chaotic and that he violates the monitor on purpose to get back here.

“I kind of feel safe here,” he said. “I come here back and forth, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be back in here.”

The boy was released a week after speaking with CIR and, as he predicted, was back 14 days later. “I’m probably my own worst problem when I’m in here,” he said.


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA

It doesn’t happen in every county, but the locking up of kids for so called status offenses like truancy has to stop says head Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash, explaining that kids are just made worse by this kind of incarceration, and that most often truancy is a symptom of a family situation or an emotional issue that the kid is dealing with.

The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.

Here’s a clip:

With all the talk about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, many people may be surprised to learn that California still, in the year 2014, allows kids to be locked up for not going to school. On its face, state law prohibits this, but court decisions have created a loophole that allows incarceration when truants are deemed to be in contempt based on their truancy. Although a majority of California counties do not use this practice, a few persist in locking up truants. Senate Bill 1296 — the Decriminalization of Truancy Act, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, would close the loophole. It deserves widespread support.

The loophole stems from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which originally prohibited the incarceration of “status offenders” — including truants, runaways and incorrigible youth — because Congress didn’t want youth who had committed no crime to be treated like criminals. Unfortunately, the law was later amended to allow confinement if the young person continued to violate court orders. A few California courts have used that amendment to justify locking up truants.

Over the past decade, there has been increasing opposition to the needless incarceration of truants through loopholes in state law. Fourteen states have changed their laws already, and elimination of the federal exception has been a central part of efforts to reauthorize the law. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles has introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act aimed at eliminating the exception once and for all.


HOW BAD ARE THE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN AMERICA’S JUVENILE LOCK UPS? VERY, VERY BAD.

A new study by the Southern Education Foundation looks at how well or poorly various states are doing in getting kids who are locked up to the goal line of a high school diploma. The answer in most states—California prominently included—we are doing very, very badly.

Here’s a clip from the report’s introduction:

There is every reason to predict that today most of these students, like those who came before them in the juvenile justice systems, will never receive a high school diploma or a college degree, will be arrested and confined again as a juvenile or adult, and will rarely, if ever, become self-supporting, law-abiding citizens during most of their lives. Yet, substantial evidence shows that, if these children improve their education and start to become successful students in the juvenile justice systems, they will have a far greater chance of finding a turning point in their lives and becoming independent, contributing adults. The cost savings for states and state governments could be enormous.


NC SHERIFF BECOMES INNOCENCE CHAMPION—AND SAYS ITS GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

One day, after reading a nonfiction novel by popular author John Grisham, North Carolina Sheriff Chip Harding arrived at a blinding conclusion; one of the best ways to convict the right person for a serious crime, he concluded, is to avoid convicting an innocent.

Lisa Provence has the story for C-Ville.com Here’s a clip:

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has always approached his work as a cop through his background as a social worker and through his Baptist faith. But after a four-decade law enforcement career that includes nearly 30 years putting criminals behind bars as a Charlottesville Police Department investigator, he had a come-to-Jesus moment reading John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. The true story of a once major-league baseball player named Ron Williamson who spent 11 years on death row for a brutal Oklahoma rape and murder before being cleared by DNA evidence hit Harding like a punch to the stomach.

“It embarrassed me, that I’m part of law enforcement that did that,” he said.

Last month, Harding sent a rallying letter to the 123 sheriffs and 247 police chiefs in Virginia asking for their support in forming a justice commission to help prevent wrongful convictions like Williamson’s in the Commonwealth.

“I think we can change practices to lessen the likelihood of convicting the innocent while strengthening our chances of convicting the actual offender,” Harding wrote. “If police chiefs and sheriffs were to propose and or support reform—we would be taken seriously.”

That Harding would be the one leading the charge to overhaul the criminal justice system, one known for its resistance to change, shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s long been on the cutting edge of investigative work as the guy who pushed for the General Assembly to fund Virginia’s DNA databank in the 1990s. And while he aggressively—and successfully—pursued hundreds of felony cases during his years as a detective, he also serves as the vice chair of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which provides Bible classes and counseling services to inmates at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Realizing he was part of a system that put innocent people behind bars—or worse, to death—was “humbling and shameful,” Harding said. “And it induced a rage. From there I started wondering how often that was going on.”

Here’s a hint at how often: Nationwide, 1,342 people have been exonerated, often after spending decades in jail, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools. In Virginia, 36 people have been cleared of committing heinous crimes, 17 of those thanks to DNA evidence.

“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding, who went on to read UVA law professor Brandon Garrett’s Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, an examination of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA.


FAREWELL TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, LATIN AMERICA’S MYTHO POETIC TRUTH TELLER, COLUMBIAN ALCHEMIST WITH WORDS, IRREPLACEABLE GENIUS

Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at age 87. He had been ill for a long time.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Garcia Marquez to literature in general, and to Latin American writing specifically.

And of course to his legions of entranced readers. (Your editor included.)

To glimpse the power of the man referred to in the Spanish speaking world as Gabo, one has only to read the opening sentence to Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, long considered one of the best first line’s in literature:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

(What book lover with any sense would not wish to read on after that?)

Each of his ten novels produces its own kind of revelation. But for me, after One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book of his I most treasure is Love in the Time of Cholera Gabo’s novel about lovers whose story takes fifty years, nine months, and four days to finally entirely bloom.

It has its own great opening line as well:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

NPR’s Mandalit del Barco has more in a wonderful appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez here.

Gabo, rest in peace. We will miss your light, of course. But we are grateful beyond words that you left so much of it behind for us.

Posted in art and culture, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Life in general, literature, solitary, Trauma, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

$$ for Relatives Caring for Kids in the DCFS System, LASD Tightening Use-of-Force Policies & Putting Body Scanners in Jails….LAPD Commission Responds to Vehicle Camera Tampering….and Wolves

April 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: GIVE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO RELATIVES CARING FOR CHILDREN IN THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would funnel some CalWORKS money directly to relatives caring for children removed from their homes.

An LA Times editorial says this bill is a step in the right direction, but that more funding support should be given to grandparents and relatives caring for children in the DCFS system.

Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

A little funding to allow a child to stay with relatives — $8,000 or so a year — is a drop in the bucket compared with the more than $100,000 a year it costs the public to maintain a child in a group home. And because children raised by family members have higher rates of graduation and lower rates of homelessness, drug abuse and arrest as adults, it’s smart policy to give grandparents and others living in retirement and on Social Security enough information and money on the front end to buy their young charges clothes and food and to pay for gas or bus fare to get to doctors and parent nights at school.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection wisely argued in its draft final report that funding and services for a child removed from his or her parents should be determined by the child’s needs, not by the status of the placement family. State lawmakers are considering a bill — AB 1882 — that would go part of the way toward helping to direct funding to relative caregivers, and it’s a good start. But so much more could be accomplished in Los Angeles County if the Board of Supervisors would make child welfare a priority across all county departments and not just at the Department of Children and Family Services.


LASD REVAMPING USE-OF-FORCE POLICIES, AND REPLACING JAIL PAT-DOWNS WITH BODY SCANNERS

LA County Sheriff’s Department officials are attempting to really solve the problem of excessive force by revising the department’s use-of-force policies. Deputies will be held accountable not only for their actions during a force incident, but also for any negligent actions that trigger the physical conflict.

The department will also launch a pilot program to replace pat downs and invasive cavity searches in county jails with body scanners, in an effort to relieve tension between inmates and deputies. To start, two scanners will be placed at the Inmate Reception Center downtown.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here are some clips:

Under the new policy, investigators will consider how officers acted prior to an incident when determining whether they acted properly. Previously, they were just supposed to focus on the moment when force was used.

“It’s so dramatic, it’s like an about-face from how this county has been doing it,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.

Under the ruling, force could be deemed unreasonable if the deputy acted negligently leading up to an force incident, attorney Richard Drooyan told supervisors.

Drooyan, who’s been tasked with monitoring the sheriff’s implementation of recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, said current department policies focus on the moment when force is used.

[SNIP]

The ruling may also increase the county’s potential liability from previous cases that are already headed toward litigation, prompting Molina to ask for a team of attorneys to review those cases again.

[SNIP]

…A major step forward in reducing jailhouse tensions will start testing Monday when the department puts a pair of body scanners to use at its Inmate Reception Center…

Once in place, [Assistant Sheriff Terri] McDonald said, the scanners will allow inmates to avoid physical searches, while more effectively keeping drugs and other contraband out of jails.

“It allows them in a more dignified way to be subjected to a search,” McDonald said.


LAPD COMMISSION NOT PLEASED WITH LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY REGARDING IN-CAR CAMERA TAMPERING

Last week, we pointed to a story about LAPD officers’ unauthorized dismantling of 80 in-car video cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate. (While it is no excuse, a story on the LAPD union’s blog provides some extra context.)

On Tuesday, LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, had to answer to the department’s civilian oversight commission regarding the lack of accountability and department transparency displayed in handling the issue.

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

Commissioner Kathleen Kim was especially troubled by the lack of accountability.

“The inability to investigate is probably as troubling as the incident itself,” Kim said. “Because the ability to investigate serves as a deterrent for these kinds of things happening in the future.”

[SNIP]

An investigation into the missing antennas didn’t lead to any disciplinary action against individual officers or supervisors. LAPD commanders told the police commission Tuesday it would be difficult to single out misconduct among the 1,500 officers at the South Bureau. That’s because officers on different shifts share patrol cars and they are often transferred in and out of the bureau.

“For me personally I didn’t see the potential for an outcome of holding anybody accountable,” said deputy chief Robert Green, in charge of LAPD’s South Bureau.

Green said he put all his officers on notice: “to make sure that they understood the importance of digital in-car video, the importance of the perception of missing antennas and the fact that if an antenna or a part of the system was tampered with, it was considered very, very serious misconduct.”

With president Steve Soboroff absent Tuesday, police commissioners Paula Madison, Robert Saltzman and Kim took turns questioning three high-ranking LAPD officials, including Chief Beck. They asked why individuals were not held accountable for the tampering and why the department didn’t notify the police commission sooner of the problem.

Deputy Chief Stephen Jacobs took responsibility for not notifying the L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general of the problem, calling it as an oversight and not an intentional act.

“The simple answer is this: If the commission believes that it was not notified correctly, then the commission is right,” Beck said.


CALIFORNIA WOLF NEWS

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission considered placing the gray wolf on the endangered list, in anticipation of a future generation of the wolves in the state. (Back in the early 1900′s California wolves were killed off by hunters. When the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, crossed the border in 2011, he was the first wild wolf in California since 1924.)

The commission opted to delay the decision for another 90 days in order to hear more public comment on the issue.

The AP’s Scott Smith has the story. Here’s how it opens:

While much of the country has relaxed rules on killing gray wolves, California will consider protecting the species after a lone wolf from Oregon raised hopes the animals would repopulate their historic habitat in the Golden State.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday postponed for three months a decision on whether to list the gray wolf as endangered. Commissioners heard impassioned arguments from environmentalists who want the wolves to again to roam the state and from cattle ranchers who fear for their herds.

“I think we made them blink,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection. “I think they heard our arguments.”

State wildlife officials say they don’t support the listing because wolf packs haven’t roamed in California for nearly a century and there’s no scientific basis to consider them endangered.

Recent interest in protecting the species started in 2011, when one wolf from Oregon — called OR-7 — was tracked crossing into California. The endangered listing has been under review for the last year.

[SNIP]

Wildlife officials oppose the listing because wolves have been absent from California, so researchers have no way of measuring threats or the viability of the animal in the state, said Eric Loft, chief of wildlife programs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yet, the animal is iconic of the western landscape and California could easily become the home to functioning wolf packs within a decade, said Chuck Bonham, director of the wildlife agency.

The hearing was in Ventura. Hopefully the next will be in reasonable driving distance of certain wolf-loving Los Angeles residents.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, wolves | No Comments »

LA Times’ Sheriff Stories, Lower Recidivism Rate for Kids on In-Home Probation vs. Probation Camp…and More

April 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO NOTEWORTHY LASD-RELATED LA TIMES STORIES

The LA Times has two worthwhile sheriff’s department-related stories we don’t want you to miss:


CHECKING IN WITH SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT AND THE POST-BACA LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

Since he replaced Lee Baca in February, Sheriff John Scott has made significant adjustments to the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. One of Scott’s first acts as sheriff was to turn the controversial members-only smoking patio into an open barbecue space for all LASD employees. It was a symbolic move.

Since then, Scott has dismissed seemingly politically-placed field deputies and reserve deputies, and bolstered the department’s hiring requirements and academy, among other changes.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang takes a look at how (interim) Sheriff Scott has started the task of turning the department in a new direction. Here’s a clip:

Soon after taking office, Scott got rid of the four politically connected field deputies who drew six-figure salaries and answered directly to Baca.

Recently, his housecleaning extended to some volunteer reserve deputies who carry badges and, in some cases, guns. About 40 of the department’s roughly 800 reserves have been let go, officials said. The reserve program came under scrutiny several times during Baca’s tenure, often over allegations of politically connected people being given special treatment to become reserves.

In 2010, a state report found that the department gave reserve badges to people who flunked mandatory law enforcement tests. As a result, 99 reserves were stripped of their badges.

One of the reserve deputies who recently was asked to resign was Gary Nalbandian, a Glendora auto shop owner and Baca fundraiser. Nalbandian made headlines in 2006 when as head of Baca’s homeland security support advisory board, he distributed official-looking photo identification to 48 local business owners and political donors who made up the group.

In a letter to The Times, Nalbandian said he was being forced out because he is not supporting the candidacy of two sheriff’s captains seeking to replace Baca. “It is my strong belief that I was politically targeted,” he wrote.

Scott did not say why he pushed Nalbandian out. But in describing several of his moves, Scott argued that he was trying to take the politics out of the department.

“There were a lot of people brought into this department for political reasons,” he said.

Scott is both an insider and an outsider, a 36-year department veteran who retired in 2005, then became undersheriff in Orange County. After Baca resigned, the Board of Supervisors brought Scott, 66, back to lead the troubled agency until the winner of a seven-man election takes over at the end of the year.

Nearly three months into his tenure, Scott has ruffled a few feathers but is generally winning praise as he treads the line between not doing enough and doing too much.


PATRISSE CULLORS AND THE COALITION TO END SHERIFF VIOLENCE IN LA JAILS

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has an excellent profile on Patrisse Cullors, an activist against the “culture of violence” in LA County Jails. Spurred on by her brother and father’s encounters with the LASD and jail system, Cullors formed the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in LA Jails. The advocacy group has kept meaningful pressure on the LA County Board of Supervisors to establish civilian oversight.

Here are some clips:

Outside the bunker-like county jail complex, bail bondsmen hover by the visitors’ entrance, thrusting fliers at potential customers as they file in to see husbands, sons and friends. Along the sidewalk, taxi drivers hustle for fares among newly released inmates who pace about, dialing cellphones, reconnecting and searching for rides.

A young woman with a short shock of dreadlocks atop a mostly shaved head set off by chunky gold earrings joins them. She has a brisk walk, a broad smile — and a clipboard.

Patrisse Cullors, self-described “freedom fighter, fashionista, wife of Harriet Tubman,” comes to the jail complex regularly in search of recruits to her 18-month-old campaign to upend what she contends is a culture of violence among deputies inside the walls.

[SNIP]

Cullors and a small group of fellow activists have helped gain new respect and momentum in the halls of power for a once-floundering idea: creating a civilian commission to oversee the troubled L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

For more than a year, Cullors’ Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails has applied steady pressure on the county Board of Supervisors, in part by trying to organize a large and unlikely bloc of county voters — former jail inmates. The coalition hopes it can become a constituency with clout in the June election to replace former Sheriff Lee Baca, who unexpectedly stepped down in January.

His department had been under scrutiny by media and advocates for years over alleged abuses in the county jails. A federal investigation led to criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies late last year.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has pushed for civilian oversight of the department, lent support to Cullors’ effort from the start. But others are skeptical of setting up a commission with no legal power over the elected sheriff.

“They have a legitimate point of view, a point of view that I actually agree with,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “Where we have a parting of ways is, doing what they want to do is not going to accomplish what they want to accomplish.”

Still, Cullors’ group made sure the issue stayed on the supervisors’ radar — in part by recruiting dozens of former inmates to call Yaroslavsky’s office.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the board-appointed blue ribbon commission that studied jail violence in 2012, appreciates the group’s efforts:

“The constant drumbeat that they were able to sound underscored for everyone on the commission the importance of the work we were doing.”


LOS ANGELES KIDS SERVING IN-HOME PROBATION HAVE LOWER RECIDIVISM RATES THAN THEIR PEERS IN PROBATION CAMPS (AND GROUP HOMES)

Kids who are sentenced to in-home probation are far less likely to re-offend than kids sentenced to time in probation camps, according to a paper published in Social Work Research, by scholars Joseph Ryan (University of Michigan), Laura Abrams (UCLA), and Hui Huang (Florida International University). Using data predominantly from the LA Department of Child and Family Services and the LA County Dept. of Probation between 2003-2009, the paper’s authors found that kids in probation camps and group homes were more 2.12 and 1.28 times more likely to re-offend than kids serving probation at home, respectively.

Alexandra Raphel of Journalists’ Resource has a helpful summary of the paper, which is stuck behind a paywall. Here are the key findings:

Rates of re-offending varied significantly relative to youths’ punishment and treatment: “Compared with in-home probation, the likelihood of recidivism was 2.12 times greater for youths assigned to probation camp and 1.28 times greater for youths assigned to group homes.”

“Within the first year only, 13% of youths assigned to in-home probation experienced a subsequent arrest. Twice as many (26%) probation camp youths and 17% of group-home youths experienced a subsequent arrest within the same time period.”

“At five years, 39% of in-home probation cases, 47% of group-home placements, and 65% of probation camp placements were associated with a new offense.”

“Male youths are significantly more likely to recidivate [re-offend] as compared with female youths, and African American youths are significantly more likely to recidivate as compared with both Hispanic and white youths.”

However, “African American and Hispanic youths were more likely to receive placement in either a probation camp or group-home setting as compared with white youths adjudicated for a similar offense.”

Certain family-related factors were correlated with negative outcomes: “The risk of recidivism was 1.36 times greater for youths with an open child welfare case.”


A WELCOME MOVE BY THE LA DA’S OFFICE TO BOOST ELECTRONIC REPORTING OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE

In anticipation of the forthcoming recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, the LA County DA’s office has been hearteningly proactive, requesting the hiring of three paralegals and an attorney to the office that manages the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS). This software, a crucial inter-agency (DCFS, LASD, DA, LAPD, etc.) database for reporting child abuse, is currently underfunded and under-utilized.

Daniel Heimpel has the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has asked the county’s chief executive to pay for three paralegals and an attorney to beef up the underfunded unit that oversees electronic tracking of suspected child abuse.

The request suggests that officials are anticipating increased costs and accountability for electronic reporting, which is expected to be one of many recommendations offered by the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission at the end of the week.

The allocation, which was not included as a line item in CEO William Fujioka’s recommended budget released on April 15, would be used “to create a unit within the Department’s Family Violence Division to more efficiently and accurately comply with its duty to audit Suspected Child Abuse Reports (SCARS) cross-reporting in the County, as recommended by the Board-approved Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.”

[SNIP]

Since being launched in 2009, the system – which provides a database for all child abuse allegations and the disposition of follow up investigations – has been administered by one full-time and one part-time employee in the district attorney’s Family Violence Division.

There has been no money to pay for software updates. Further, there has been little capacity to ensure that DCFS, the district attorney, the Sheriff’s Department and the county’s 45 other law enforcement agencies were acting on the child abuse reports coming into their computer terminals.

ESCARS “can tell the operator how long it took law enforcement to open a SCAR [child abuse report] and close it,” [Commissioner Dan] Scott said. “We saw huge discrepancies.”

Scott pointed to the percentage of calls of suspected child abuse that wound up being charged as crimes. At some agencies, “six to seven percent turned into crimes, while at other agencies the number was around 30 percent. There is something wrong there.”

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Probation | 61 Comments »

Sex Trafficked Boys Overlooked as Victims….Trials for Sheriff’s Department Members Indicted for Hiding Federal Informant Schedules for May…..Pulitzers…and More

April 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SEXUALLY TRAFFICKED BOYS ARE SEEN AS VICTIMS LESS OFTEN

It is heartening that kids who are involved in sex trafficking are now being seen—for the most part anyway—as victims to be protected and helped, rather than lawbreakers subject to arrest.

Unfortunately, this understanding that kids are the victims in the equation does not apply equally to both genders, writes Yu Sun Chin in his reports for the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

According to Chin, although boys represent over 50 percent of the kids commercially trafficked for sex in the U.S., they are still too often seen as perpetrators not victims by law enforcement.

Here’s a clip:

For years, the sex trade was ‘their’ problem, a heinous part of culture in poorer nations. But attention here to sex trafficking has slowly increased in recent years with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and other federal state laws.

Still, males remain a largely invisible population within the dialogue on sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in fact, boys comprised about 50 percent of sexually exploited children in a sample study done in New York, with most being domestic victims.

However, the percentage of male victims may be higher due to the underreported and subversive nature of the crime, said Summer Ghias, program specialist for the Chicago-based International Organization for Adolescents.

“We’re conditioned as a community to identify female victims more readily,” she said, “because that has been the more prominent focus of the anti-trafficking movement.”

Despite these high percentages of commercially sexually exploited boys, a 2013 study by ECPAT-USA indicates that boys and young men are rarely identified as people arrested for prostitution or rescued as human trafficking victims, and are arrested more for petty crimes such as shoplifting.

Experts say that the law enforcement’s attitudes toward male victims are still weighed down by gender biases in trafficking discourse, which pins females as victims and males as perpetrators. Therefore, male victims in custody often fall through the cracks of services that could be offered to help them because they are not properly assessed for sexual exploitation.


THOSE INDICTED FOR THE HIDING OF FEDERAL INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN WILL BEGIN TRIAL IN MAY SAYS JUDGE

In a hearing on Monday afternoon, Federal Judge Percy Anderson ordered that trials begin in mid-May for LA Sheriff’s Department defendants charged for their alleged part in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.

At the same hearing, Anderson agreed to grant a motion to sever the trial of Deputy James Sexton from that of the six other defendants (lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long., and deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo.)

As expected, Anderson denied a list of other motions brought by attorneys representing Sexton and several of the others, including motions to dismiss charges. (WLA reported on some of the motions filed by defendants here and here.)

As the cases speed toward trial, the main question that hangs in the air is whether the U.S. Attorneys Office will eventually indict any of the higher-ups who are said to have ordered the hiding of Brown, or if only those allegedly following those orders (including whistleblower Sexton, who will now be tried separately from the other six) will be threatened with prison terms and felony records.


KPCC INTERVIEWS PAUL TANAKA

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Paul Tanaka as part of Stoltze’s continuing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates for KPCC.

Here’s a clip:

Early on, Tanaka had little interest in being a cop. It’s hard to imagine now, but the buttoned-down Tanaka once wore a ponytail. “A lot of people had long hair back in the 1970s,” he explains.

He also adhered to the cultural rules in his strict Japanese-American household in Gardena, earning a black belt in Aikito and respecting his parent’s wishes.

“In an Asian family, you’re going to be a doctor or an attorney or a CPA,” says Tanaka, sporting a dark suit and tie on a recent afternoon at his campaign headquarters in Torrance.

He was an “A” student, studying accounting at Loyola Marymount University and holding down two jobs — one as a janitor, one making sports trophies — when his life changed. He spent a day on patrol with a sheriff’s deputy as part of a class and fell in love with policing.

It took years for Tanaka’s father to fully accept his eldest son’s decision. The young man had to adjust too:”One of the more traumatizing things was I had to do was cut my hair.”

Early in his career, Tanaka says he faced racial epithets in a mostly white department. He ignored most, chalking it up to ignorance. Over the years, the certified public accountant gained a reputation as detail-oriented — a commander who knew more about your job than you did.

Tanaka grew close to Baca, who eventually appointed him undersheriff. Tanaka became the heir apparent. The jail violence scandal that surfaced three years ago changed all of that.

Did he know about deputy abuse of inmates when he ran the jails from 2005-07? Tanaka claimed ignorance to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

“It was never brought to my attention,” he said in his testimony.

What about violent deputy cliques inside Men’s Central Jail?

“That was never, ever mentioned as a problem,” he said.


CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CONTINUE TO UP THE ANTE WITH EACH OTHER IN DEBATE MONDAY

All seven candidates for the office of LA County Sheriff squared off again on Monday night. KNBC 4 reports on some fiery moments.

Last Monday night’s mistaken fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of aspiring television producer, 30-year-old John Winkler, during a hostage stand-off, could not help but provide an emotional backdrop for the debate, some of those present reported.


THE PULITZER PRIZES EVOLVE

Much is rightly being made over the fact that one of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism was awarded jointly to the Guardian US and the Washington Post for their coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations.

It is also notable, however, that the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting went—not to any conventional news outlet—but to reporter Chris Hamby who writes for the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, non-profit news site that is one of many throughout the U.S. (WitnessLA included) that have filled in the gaps left as traditional news organizations cut back their coverage, often leaving vital issues underreported.

Both prizes are cheering signs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we’re on the subject of Pulitzers, I happen to heartily approve of the Pulitzer judges’ choice of Donna Tartt’s deliciously Dickensian novel The Goldfinch as the winner for the prize in Fiction.


And, speaking of literary prizes, here are the winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, announced this past Friday night.

(I was on the judging panel for the Current Interest Prize and my fellow judges and I are very proud of our winner—Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital—as well as all five of our finalists.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, FBI, Future of Journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney, writers and writing | 29 Comments »

Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for Sheriff

April 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS

In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.

Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.

Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:

California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.

When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.

But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.

Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.

“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.

Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.

Even the laundry became a battleground.

Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.

Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.

“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”

But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.

Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.

“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”

The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.

Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.

The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.


MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY

On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:

“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…

[SNIP]

According to the report:

• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;

• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;

• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;

• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”

“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.

But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”

“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.

He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.

Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.

He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.

On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.

Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.

An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.


FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.

The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.

Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.

Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.

Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.

The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.

Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.

[SNIP]

Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.

He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.


LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:

[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.

Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.

The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.

Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.

The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”

He’ll have to live up to that…

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, LASD, Mental Illness, prison policy, solitary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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