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Sprung 2! (A very brief respite from the frey)

March 31st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Lupine, Topanga Canyon Blvd., March 31, 2007

No, no, for once I’m not
nattering on about people who need to be sprung from lock-up. We’re talking early California lupine here, lovely things that have sprung up by the roadside in the last few days.

Why am I posting this? Just because. (Does one need a reason to contemplate lupine? No, one does not!)

Don’t worry, it’s back to justice and injustice, comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable and generally attempting to right wrongs….later this weekend.

IN THE MEANTIME, feel free to send us tips regarding issues you think WLA really, really ought to cover. (We’ve gotten some good ones already, but we’re open to more.)

Posted in environment | 8 Comments »


March 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Shaquanda Cotton and her mother

One bright spot as you go into the weekend:
It looks as if 15-year-old Shaquanda Cotton is going to be released today. If you’ve not run across this story, Shaquanda is the Paris, Texas, high school girl who was sent to juvenile facility for shoving a hall monitor a year ago, when she was just 14. The indeterminate sentence she was given could have kept her locked up until her 21st birthday. As it was, her existing sentence was extended for possession of “contraband.” She had an extra pair of socks in her cell.

After an excellent Chicago Tribune article drew national attention to the her story earlier this month, Shaquanda became the focus of attention among civil rights groups who saw her as emblematic of everything that’s gone wrong with the abuse-ridden Texas Youth prison. (See earlier story, Worst Scandal.)

For weeks, the Texas Youth Commission has been in the throes of a massive, system-wide scandal, and a special conservator has been hired to steam clean and overhaul the TYC from top to bottom. Friday, conservator, Jim Hurley, said he would release Shaquanda on Saturday.

This NPR story gives both background and updates

Posted in crime and punishment, juvenile justice | 17 Comments »

Friday’s Paranoia Report

March 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Section of 1940 U.S. Census form

The US government has taken pains to assure us the information it gathers in the official census
will be kept private, and not used for, you know, unpleasant purposes. Not that we believed them, of course.

Well, now that paranoia has been officially validated.

This morning, two scholars of census history at Fordham University released the results of a study that substantiates long-denied rumors that the US Census Bureau provided detailed information that resulted in the rounding up of 120,000 Japanese American citizens and legal residents during World War II.

And if, by some chance, you were delusional enough to think the government did away with those bad old habits, the Fordham researchers also revealed the creepy fact that, in 2004, the Census Bureau provided at least zip code level info tracking where Arab Americans could be located.

(Gee, with an upsurge in xenophobia against undocumented immigrants, how else might census information be used?)

I was alerted to the story in the early A.M. hours by the office of California Congressman Mike Honda (Santa Clara County)—-who, spent his childhood in the Southeastern Colorado internment camp of Amache—. (Local Note: LA’s Japanese American residents were shipped, in some cases, to nearby Manzanar, but also out of state to Amache, Gila River, Arizona, and the antonymically-named Heart Mountain in Wyoming.)

Furious at the news, Honda calls the practice “contrary to the fundamental American principle of protecting civil liberties, and promises to explore legislative remedies.

Legislative remedy or no, as the 2010 census approaches, the Census folks might want to remember that, in the early 1980s in West Germany, a massive boycott followed by a court injunction blocked that country’s census for several years. Eventually Germany’s top court ruled that there were a lot of questions the Germans simply didn’t have to answer.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 5 Comments »

LAUSD’s Unholy Union Dues

March 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Two days after the Los Angeles Unified School District got news that its high schools were doing cumulatively worse than last year, not better [See yesterday’s story, “Still Failing After all These Years”] the LAUSD school board made a move that, as usual, had everything to do with politics, and exactly zero to do with what’s best for the city’s kids.

In a decision that surprised even the most cynical of us edu-watchers, the board denied eight charter petitions requested by Green Dot, the city’s largest charter school operator.

Green Dot had hoped to open most of the charters in Watts, specifically in the area of one of the city’s most troubled schools, Locke High School.

But the board said…..mmmmmm….NO.
It didn’t seem to matter that Green Dot’s schools do uniformly far better (higher test scores, lower drop out rates, more kids going on to college) than their LAUSD counterparts.

Nor did it matter that the district’s main legal consultant told the board that it had to approve the charters because, according to State law, such requests could only be turned down if they failed to meet certain criteria—all of which the Green Dot proposals met handily.

But the board didn’t care. It turned the charter requests down anyway.

And the reason? The three NO voters said they were “skeptical” of Green Dot’s “reform model.”

Hahahahahahahahaha. Right.

Surely it had nothing to do with the fact that UTLA, the local teachers’ union, didn’t want the charters approved. Or the fact that all three board members who voted against Green Dot have taken big money in campaign contributions from the union, in the case of two of them—Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Jon Lauritzen—a total $1 million in the last election alone.

Couldn’t have been that.

In the absence of any other, like, logical reason, I think the smart money’s on the venal one.


Have a nice day.

(The LA Times has the rest of the story.)

Posted in Education, LAUSD | 5 Comments »

With Liberty and Justice….Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

March 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Pledge of Allegiance - by Corbis

“The President’s Prison”
is what the New York Times called Guantanamo in Thursday’s blistering and dead on editorial.

“George Bush does not want to be rescued,” it begins.

“The president has been told countless times, by a secretary of state, by members of Congress, by heads of friendly governments — and by the American public — that the Guantánamo Bay detention camp has profoundly damaged this nation’s credibility as a champion of justice and human rights. But Mr. Bush ignored those voices…”.

And there are new voices. The president’s new Sec Def, Robert Gates, has told him that Guantanamo has to got to go. Now. That it’s really, really hurting the country. Even Bush’s top yes-girl, Condi Rice has said the same thing for a long time. .

Of course it’s not just Guantanamo that’s trashing American credibility (and it’s soul, if we are to be honest). Let’s see, there’s extraordinary rendition…and the kidnapping and torture of a Canadian citizen who later turns out to be quite innocent. Then, there’s the refusal, by the Bush administration to allow the tortured Canadian, and a number of others like him, to bring suit for the beatings and abuse, citing—wink-wink–”state secrets” as the reason. Now, there are the just-started Guantanamo detainee tribunals, which no one expects to be much more than kangaroo courts.

We are witnessing nothing less than the shredding of American norms of justice.

Yet, there is one very small possible glimmer of light on the horizon. (Possible being the operative word here.)

In a private conference today, the Supreme Court will decide whether to take up a case that would look at whether the Guantánamo procedures authorized by the (odious) the Military Commissions Act, passed last year, are legal and constitutional. The suit is brought by two groups of detainees who have been held in Git’mo since early 2002. Did I mention that none of the dozens of prisoners involved in either law suit have been charged with any crime?. In fact, only 10 out of the 386 people held at the navel base have been charged with anything at all.

“At issue in this case is nothing less than this country’s commitment to the rule of law,” reads the brief filed for one group of detainees, according to today’s New York Times.

Well, yes. That is exactly what is at issue here.

Loosely defined, the rule of law embodies the principle that all government officials, whether elected or non-elected, should act within the law and the Constitution. . The principle goes back to Aristotle who said that the best government involves the “rule of laws, not of me.”

It’s a concept we Americans made of point of insisting that both the Afghanis and the Iraqis built into their respective constitutions.

It’s even embedded in that funny little thingy recited by school kids all across the country every morning. You know what I’m talking about: The Pledge of Allegiance, specifically the final four words. “….And justice for all.

In fact, the principles are a matched pair. justice requires the rule of laws, not of me.

George Bush clearly doesn’t get it. Let’s hope the Supremes do.

Posted in crime and punishment, Government | 2 Comments »

Still Failing After All These Years

March 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


As anyone with even a passing acquaintance with public education knows,
these days even schools get report cards. In the State of California the main form of measurement is the system known as the API scores—Academic Performance Index. The 2006 API scores were released Tuesday afternoon, and the news for the Los Angeles School District high schools is godawful.

Instead of improving over last year’s already dismal scores, this year’s LAUSD high school scores actually dropped 20 points.

The API system is slightly confusing so here’s very smart Daily News education writer, Naush Boghossian, to explain it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education | 5 Comments »

This Week’s WORST SCANDAL Award

March 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


It’s still unfolding and it just keeps on getting worse and worse.
And, no, it has zero to do with U.S Attorneys. It has to do with wrecking kids‘ lives.

Here’s the deal: The entire Texas juvenile justice system—known as the Texas Youth Commission—is in meltdown due to a recent series of revelations, each more horrifying than the last.

First there was the news a month ago that, according to an investigative report issued by the Texas Rangers, two administrators at a youth prison in west Texas had been having coerced sex with kids in their care for years. (And in their spare time, the same two viewed pornography on the job. Charming.) Yet, although prison officials and local prosecutors knew about the abuse, they chose not to pursue the cases. And the abusers remained on the job.

Once the Texas Rangers got going, they found that awful stuff wasn’t going on at just one youth lock-up. Within a week or two, investigators turned up evidence that similar abuse was going on in a number of other juvenile facilities.

Next came the discovery that that the Texas Youth Commission employs dozens of convicted felons—including at least one registered sex offender. (It is not clear yet whether the rest of the felonies are serious or comparatively minor.)

The scandal moved up one more notch last Friday when the superintendent of the holding facility that processes all juveniles into the Texas system arrested for his part in covering up physical and sexual abuse.

Still other administers have been caught file shredding.

The next set of discoveries made clear that a whole lot of officials had good reason to shred:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, juvenile justice | 4 Comments »

Good Guys Win

March 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency gives yearly awards called the PASS Awards to folks working in print, literature, broadcast media, television, and film for helping to illuminate problems—and solutions—in the criminal and juvenile justice arena.

This year’s list of winners is both worthy and eclectic. It includes a particular episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the terrific PBS film about a powerful prison gang, “Nuestra Familia, Our Family,” the painful but fascinating book, Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison ” plus a special award to the producers of HBO’s brilliantly Dickensian series “The Wire”.…and a lot more.

The full list is after the jump,
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, media | No Comments »

If California Can’t Lead, Try Being a Good Follower

March 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Prisoners walking

When it comes to prison numbers and prison policy, the only way that California seems to be leading the nation is with the sheer magnitude of our failures.

This morning, a New York Times editorial lays down a clear suggestion as to what the next step in smart corrections policy has to look like—for the fiscal, social, and moral well-being of the individual states and the nation. Oh, yeah. It’s also better for public safety.

As a positive case in point, it points to excellent pending legislation in the state of Washington.

Here’s how it begins. I recommend reading the whole thing. Then write your governor. That would be Arnold for us California folks.

With corrections costs going through the roof, states and localities are beginning to figure out the long-term costs of just shoving inmates out the door when their sentences are finished. To prevent people from ending up right back inside, states will need to embrace re-entry programs that provide ex-offenders with training, jobs, places to live and a range of social services that don’t exist in most places.

This month, the Washington State Senate passed a farsighted bill that could be a model for the nation. It would require the state Corrections Department to fashion individual re-entry plans — detailing job training, drug treatment and educational goals — for every inmate…..

Posted in crime and punishment, prison, State government | 4 Comments »

Homeboy Radio

March 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Bo Taylor at March 22, 2007 gang panel put on by Los Angeles County Young Democrats

Those making gang policy in the city of Los Angeles (and elsewhere, for that matter) would do well to tune their radios to FM 100.3
midnight to 2 am every Sunday night, effective immediately. That’s the time slot in which the Bo Taylor Show now streams over LA’s airwaves once each week. The show is part back fence gossip, part therapy group, part storytelling down at the local bar. Except that many of those doing the talking on Taylor’s show are either locked up or heavily armed.

Or have been in the past, anyway.

The show has been on the air only since February 4, but word of its existence appears to have spread quickly to an unusual mix of listeners. People call in from California state prisons as well as from their cars as they drive around South or East LA in the wee hours. Both active and reformed gang members call. USC head football coach, Pete Carroll, called earlier this month. So did civil rights lawyer/LA gang report maven, Connie Rice. On the show this past Sunday, one guy who knew Taylor from back in his street days, called from South Africa.

People who’ve lost family members to gang violence also call.
“This is Sidney,” says a woman, her diction soft and cultured. “I am having problems forgiving a young man who’s incarcerated,” she says—then her voice quavers. “In 2004, he shot and killed my niece….”

When she begins to cry, Taylor tells her that his own mother-in-law was murdered some time back.

“I have lot of mixed emotions, a lot of things I’ve wished on that person,” he says, his tone now low and confiding “A lot of people cry out like you’re crying out, and a lot of people’s voices go unheard. That’s why we need to talk to each other…”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, media, prison | 6 Comments »

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