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Examining the Causes of 10 Years of Child Deaths in LA County

March 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday, LA County’s Chief Executive Office (CEO), Bill Fujioka
released a report reviewing the deaths of children in LA county whose families were under the supervision of or had been investigated by the Department of Children and Family Services—DCFS. Fujioka compliled the report in response to a motion authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley Thomas and Mike Antonovich, who asked for 10 years of figures on kid deaths, so that the causes might be better assessed and future deaths might be prevented.

[The full report may be found here, helpfully posted by Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. Wexler's commentary on the report is here.]

The motion was, in part, a response to some articles in the LA Times (like this one) that suggested more kids were dying while left with their families after being investigated by DCFS. The Times implied that the increase in deaths could be due to a change in foster care policy called the Title IV-E waiver, that meant an effort to keep more kids with their families and provide support for those families, rather than removing them to the foster care system.

Many foster care watchers, myself included, questioned the Times’ conclusions and worried that a bad diagnosis might have the unintended consequence of more kids being damaged by being unnecessarily yanked from their families.

The CEO’s report helps to clarify matters by teasing out more details on those awful yearly deaths.

This is from Ridley-Thomas’s office’s statement regarding the new report:

It is particularly important to resist the temptation to exploit child deaths to push ideological agendas, the Supervisor said: “The CEO’s report shows we cannot honestly link child deaths to specific policies or the performance of particular government departments or individuals.”

In 2010, the total number of child deaths for children with DCFS histories was 175, in line with the annual average since 2000 of 166. “It would be negligent to be satisfied with any total more than zero; but it is also reckless to suggest there are quick fixes,” he said.

“We must shun policy gimmicks that produce sound bites for news conferences but yield no true solutions. We must not trivialize the enormity of the challenge, and we expect that all in society understand this is a problem for all of us to solve.”

It is particularly important to resist the temptation to exploit child deaths to push ideological agendas, the Supervisor said: “The CEO’s report shows we cannot honestly link child deaths to specific policies or the performance of particular government departments or individuals.”

In 2010, the total number of child deaths for children with DCFS histories was 175, in line with the annual average since 2000 of 166. “It would be negligent to be satisfied with any total more than zero; but it is also reckless to suggest there are quick fixes,” he said.

“We must shun policy gimmicks that produce sound bites for news conferences but yield no true solutions. We must not trivialize the enormity of the challenge, and we expect that all in society understand this is a problem for all of us to solve.”

Yep.

And to demonstrate the complexity of the problem there was this saddest of facts in the report: Nearly one-in-five (17%) of the children who died in LA County in 2010 had a parent who had themselves been referred to DCFS as a child.

Posted in Death Penalty, Foster Care | No Comments »

Budget Talks Collapse Causing Terrible Cuts to Community Colleges

March 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The California budget situation is anything but easy.
Yet, at least we finally have a clear-eyed governor who is taking hold of the problem in a tough, even handed manner.

Still many of those in the legislature—specifically the Republican leadership— insist on playing party politics, rather than coming together to do what is best for the state in these dire times.

Brown has warned that without the additional taxes he hopes to get on the ballot (and hopes that California voters will pass into law), the already draconian cuts he has proposed will go far deeper than most Californians have really grasped.

On Wednesday, we saw a preview of the future that Brown is describing with the news that, in addition to the drastic fiscal surgery already in Brown’s budget, a startling $800 million more must be slashed out of the state’s community college system.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera has some of the specifics:

Facing a state funding cut of up to 10%, California’s community colleges will enroll 400,000 fewer students next fall and slash thousands of classes to contend with budget shortfalls that threaten to reshape their mission, officials said Wednesday.

The dire prognosis was in response to the breakdown in budget talks in Sacramento and the likelihood that the state’s 112 community colleges will be asked to absorb an $800-million funding reduction for the coming school year — double the amount suggested in Gov. Jerry Brown’s current budget proposal.

As it now stands, the budget plan would raise community college student fees from $26 to $36 per unit. The fees may go even higher if a budget compromise is not reached.

During a telephone news briefing, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said the funding cuts, under either scenario, would be a tragedy for students and a deep blow to the state’s economy….

MEANWHILE….. the San Francisco Chronicle reports that, even without Brown’s budget cuts—or the bigger, badder cuts that no additional taxes could bring—a new study found that nearly half of the state’s community college students reported being unable to enroll in courses because classes were full — nearly twice the rate of community college students nationwide.

Additional details are here.

If the class situation is that bad now, how in the world can the system function with the new cuts coming its way?

Posted in California budget, Education | No Comments »

Michelle Rhee, DC’s Miracle Schools—and Cheating on Test Scores

March 30th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


D.C. SCHOOLS AND THE ERASURE PROBLEM

This week the chatter among education wonks and watchers has run at a high pitch around the twinned topics of:

1. USA Today’s series on possible widespread cheating on standardized tests in many of Washington DC’s public schools.

2. The less-than-graceful reaction to the series by former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Here’s the deal: This week, USA Today began an excellent investigative series that explored the implications of an unusually high incidence of wrong-to-right erasures on the standardized tests that all public school students are expected to take. In particular, USA Today reporters Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello, focused on Washington D.C. public schools, many of which had been notoriously low-performing, but that in the last three or four years had demonstrated big jumps in test scores.

The DC chools’ rise began when education reform superstar, Michelle Rhee, was appointed school chancellor in mid-2007. Among her other reforms, Rhee reportedly pushed school principals hard to raise their student test scores by 10 percentile points every year—or, if possible, more than that. Noble goals, ot be sur

One of the schools where the progress was the most dramatic was called Noyes.

Here’s what USA today reported:

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemedin need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.
Click to view documents

This is a series of documents obtained by USA TODAY through public-records requests. It details a back-and-forth between two District of Columbia agencies on test-score investigations.

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.

Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.’s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

Michelle Rhee, then-chancellor of D.C. schools, visits with J.O. Wilson Elementary third-grader Kmone Feeling last August.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

But Noyes was far from alone. The USA today reporters found that, from 2008 to 2010, D.C. schools’ testing company, CTB/McGraw-Hill, recommended that the school district investigate higher than typical answer sheet erasure rates at 103 of its 168 schools—possible evidence that adults had corrected students’ mistakes. The D.C. schools honchos instead did a skin deep investigation of the possible cheating—and reported that they found basically nothing.


MICHELLE RHEE TALKS SMACK ABOUT USA TODAY

After the series broke, Rhee, who left the chancellor position in 2010, appeared on the Tavis Smiley Show on Monday night and, when asked about possible cheating, simply trashed the reporters and said the investigation “absolutely lacked credibility.”

It isn’t surprising that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved for DCPS students unless someone cheated,” Rhee said. “It is surprising to see USA Today proceed down this path in the face of a statement from the independent investigators that there was no evidence of cheating. This story is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels.”


LOTS OF PEOPLE TALK SMACK ABOUT MICHELLE REE

By Tuesday night, a list of people had blasted Rhee for her kill-the-messenger remarks, including Daily Best Education writer, Dana Goldstein, former US Education Secretary Diane Ravitch, and the WaPo’s Mike DeBonis, who wrote about what he called Rhee’s “flat-earth response to testing reliability…”

And so, as the discussion of value added ratings of teachers continues, DC schools’ erasuregate cannot help but add a new wrinkle to the already complicated notion of ranking teachers according to how much their students improve on standardized tests.

NOTE: The District of Columbia’s Board of Education will hold a hearing next week
on the “irregularities” in school test scores.


IN LA EDUCATION NEWS….

LA TEACHERS UNION HOLDS ELECTIONS AND DARK HORSE CANDIDATE FLETCHER WINS

Now that AJ Duffy—he of the two-toned shoes and the hatred of charter schools—has termed out, his pick-to-click successor, Julie Washinton, was predicted as the easy winner.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Non-ruling junta candidate, Warren Fletcher, emerged with the most votes.

Fletcher campaigned saying he wanted to “turn UTLA around and make it a serous, credible union.”

Yeah. That’d be refreshing.

Posted in Education, media | 3 Comments »

Steve Barr & Green Dot Divorce, Cali School Sups Apply Pressure, & More on Value Added

March 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS’ FOUNDER, STEVE BARR, GOES A NEW DIRECTION

I’m not sure why no LA media seem to have reported on this story since Barr has been such a significant figure in LA’s education reform movement, but….in any case, this story from the NY Times has the basics on Barr’s parting of the ways with Green Dot. He’d stepped down as head of Green Dot a couple of years ago, but had remained on the board of directors. But now, it seems, the divorce is complete.

It sounds like it would be a good time for WLA to check in with Steve and find out more. But until then, here are some clips from the NY Times article.

On Friday, Mr. Barr and Shane Martin, the college dean who succeeded him as chairman of the Green Dot board in 2009, issued a joint statement announcing that Mr. Barr would no longer use the Green Dot name as he sought to open charter schools in New York and elsewhere.

The Green Dot organization will continue, under the leaders who have replaced Mr. Barr
, to run its network of 16 charter schools in Los Angeles.

[SNIP]

Alexander Russo, the author of a coming book on the efforts of Mr. Barr and Green Dot to overhaul the troubled Locke High School in Los Angeles, said, “Steve is a hard-charging visionary, as many founders are, and as Green Dot got bigger, people struggled to find an appropriate place for him in the organization.”

[SNIP]

For more than a year, Mr. Barr has been in discussions with school and union officials in several cities, exploring ways of extending his vision of overhauling schools nationwide.

He has been operating as Green Dot America, and recruited a six-member board for that organization that includes two other directors who also sit on Green Dot’s board: Susan Estrich, the prominent Los Angeles lawyer, and Jeff Shell, the president of programming for Comcast.

On Friday, Green Dot America changed its name to Future is Now Schools. [Not the most felicitous of names, IMHO, especially with its acronym of "FINS." But maybe it'll grown on me.] Mr. Barr said the name was inspired by President Obama’s call in the State of the Union address to “win the future” by improving American education.

In an interview, Mr. Barr said that the use of the Green Dot name had become confusing as he sought to build the new organization, which he said would explore using a lot of technology in classrooms to augment traditional instruction in what he called a “hybrid model.”

Read more here.

As always, it will be intriguing to track what becomes of Barr’s newest venture.


SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS ARE PRESSING REPUBS HARD ON A JUNE TAX VOTE

Let’s hope that it works. The Fresno Bee has the story.

Here’s a clip:

With time running out for a budget deal, a group of California school superintendents is pressing for a tax vote, saying that the state’s schools will see debilitating cuts if tax extensions are not approved in June.

The superintendents told reporters Monday at the Capitol that they have urged Republican lawmakers to accept Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax election, a big part of his budget plan.

If the measure fails, Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson said, “We will spend the ’11-’12 school year decimating, devastating and tearing down programs … across this entire state.”


THE LA TIMES HAS A RUNDOWN ON VALUE ADDED TEACHER RATINGS STRUGGLES ACROSS THE NATION AS LAUSD GEARS UP

I’d still like to see a far more robust conversation about the advantages and pitfalls of the various approaches but Teresa Watanabe moved the ball down the field at least a bit, which is good.

It was slightly curious that the LA Times part in the controversy was so undermentioned. On the other hand, maybe that was a good thing as otherwise the Times part in the kerfuffle might have intentionally high-jacked the article.


(photo by Kris Krug, Flickr)

Posted in California budget, Education, Green Dot | 3 Comments »

The Chicago Prof Whose Theory May Affect the Women v. Wal-Mart Case

March 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



In a class action law suit that is potentially bigger and badder and of more consequence
than any before it, the case that comes before the Supreme Court on Tuesday is less about whether Wal-Mart has discriminated against women for years (everyone but Wal-Mart itself pretty much admits that they do), but more about whether a group as general as simply a gender can constitute a “class” in the law-suit-bringing sense of the word.’

USA Today has an article that explains the general outline, of the case and Richard Thompson Ford at Slate outlines why he believes Dukes v. Wal-Mart is the most important case that SCOTUS may hear all year.

But perhaps most intriguing are these articles by Adam Liptak of the NY Times
and Kim Jannsen of the Chicago Sun Times who about a U of IL professor with a controversial theory could have a measurable effect on Tuesday’s arguments.

Here’s a clip from Jannsen’s story:

A University of Illinois at Chicago professor’s theory that white men have an unconscious bias against women and minorities is likely to be center stage Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether nearly 1.5 million women can join in an employment discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart.

Sociology Professor William Bielby — who has taught at UIC since 2007 — has served as a star witness in dozens of discrimination cases against big business. His testimony has proved crucial because it doesn’t rely on “smoking gun” evidence of prejudice, such as a sexist e-mail or memo, to take on what supporters say are “check-box” corporate equality policies.

Legal experts say the Supreme Court’s ruling in the multi-billion dollar Wal-Mart case could have major implications for employment law.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege the world’s largest public corporation has a “culture that is rife with gender stereotypes demeaning to female employees.” They say the company pays women less than men to do the same work and unfairly passes women over for promotion, even though its own data shows women are more experienced and effective.

Wal-Mart denies the charges and argues the handful of California Wal-Mart workers who filed the case aren’t representative of the “potentially millions of women supervised by tens of thousands of different managers.” More than 20 major corporations including Bank of America, Microsoft and Costco are backing it in the fight.

But Bielby, who declined to give an interview, wrote in a report for the trial court that Wal-Mart doesn’t do enough to examine why two-thirds of its low-level hourly paid workers are women while two-thirds of its salaried managers are men. Its policies allow managers in the field to apply gender stereotypes in hiring, promotion and pay decisions, he argued.

Even people “whose personal beliefs are relatively free of prejudice or bias are susceptible to stereotypes,” he wrote, adding that managers make unfair assumptions that women are less ambitious and more interested in their families than their career.

A federal appeals court ruled 6-5 in favour of the plaintiffs last April, with the court finding that “Dr. Bielby presented scientifically reliable evidence.”

The NY Times’ Liptak writes about how a great many respected sociologists believe that Bielby’s theory is bad science—while still other high profile social scientists are fans of his “social framework analysis.”

We’ll know more about where the SCOTUS justices come down on the matter after today’s hearing.

Posted in Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Brittany H, He’s Really, Really Sorry!

March 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Actually, we don’t know for sure that it is a he who is begging forgiveness
of Brittany via a banner-draped truck parked Monday in the 700 block of Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica. But one sometimes makes assumptions.

The apologizer was evidently worried that his/her vehicle plus banner might be towed away in an untimely fashion before dearest Brittany could see it and, one hopes, forgive, so left this clever note stuck under the truck’s windshield wipers.

Certainly there is nothing about this banner that overtly suggests any social justice issue is at work here, but the photos seemed worth posting anyway—purely for their humanness.

PS: If anyone knows Brittany H, we would really love to know her side of the story.

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »

Is Lying Protecting Speech? 9th Circuit Sez Yes. Supremes May Eventually Decide

March 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


In 2005, the Congress passed what is known as the Stolen Valor Act
, making it a crime to claim one was a military hero if that doesn’t happen to be true. One can get get six months in jail plus a fine if one “falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States.”

Falsely awarding yourself the highest military honors like a Purple Heart or a Medal of Honor can get you a year in prison under the act.

The law was tested in California when a So Cal politician named Xavier Alverez made extravagant public claims regarding his past as US Marine.

The Washington Post reports:

There’s no question Alvarez lied. After winning a seat on Southern California’s Three Valleys Municipal Water District board of directors in 2007, he introduced himself by saying: “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy.”

None of that was true. But a district judge overturned Alvarez’s conviction by declaring the law a violation of the First Amendment. A panel of the 9th Circuit agreed, and earlier this month the full court refused to reconsider the panel’s decision.

In his concurring statement, 9th Circuit’s Chief Justice Alex Kozenski explained in great and often witty detail why, except in certain instances, lying needs to be protected:

So what, exactly, does the dissenters’ ever-truthful utopia look like? In a word: terrifying. If false factual statements are unprotected, then the government can prosecute not only the man who tells tall tales of winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, but also the JDater who falsely claims he’s Jewish or the dentist who assures you it won’t hurt a bit. Phrases such as “I’m working late tonight, hunny,” “I got stuck in traffic” and “I didn’t inhale” could all be made into crimes. Without the robust protections of the First Amendment, the white lies, exaggerations and deceptions that are an integral part of human intercourse would become targets of censorship, subject only to the rubber stamp known as “rational basis review.”

The WaPo also quoted Kozinski:

“We lie to protect our privacy (‘No, I don’t live around here’); to avoid hurt feelings (‘Friday is my study night’); to make others feel better (‘Gee, you’ve gotten skinny’); to avoid recriminations (‘I only lost $10 at poker’),” Kozinski wrote recently in a case about an inveterate liar named Xavier Alvarez who, just to drive home the point, is also known as Javier Alvarez.

Kozinski listed 28 other reasons we avoid the truth, including to “avoid a nudnick” and to “defeat an objective (‘I’m allergic to latex’),” and ending sweetly with “to maintain innocence (‘There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop’).”

Kozinski’s entertaining treatise was in service to his point about the Constitution.

“If all untruthful speech is unprotected . . . we could all be made into criminals, depending on which lies those making the laws find offensive,” he wrote. “And we would have to censor our speech to avoid the risk of prosecution for saying something that turns out to be false.

“The First Amendment does not tolerate giving the government such power.”

The issue is expected to eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

You can read Kozinski’s full—and very entertaining—statement on the essential nature of lying starting on page 14 of the 9th Circuit panel’s order.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

The Aftermath of One Moment of Teenage Sexting

March 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


On impulse, a depressed 8th grade girl named Marguerite snapped
and sent a naked photo of herself to her new possible boyfriend.

What followed after involved criminal charges and altered a bunch of young lives.

This well-written story by Jan Hoffman from Sunday’s New York Times is well worth the attention of anyone who is raising or who cares about teenagers.

One day last winter Marguerite posed naked before her bathroom mirror, held up her cellphone and took a picture. Then she sent the full-length frontal photo to Isaiah, her new boyfriend.

Both were in eighth grade.

They broke up soon after. A few weeks later, Isaiah forwarded the photo to another eighth-grade girl, once a friend of Margarite’s. Around 11 o’clock at night, that girl slapped a text message on it.

“Ho Alert!” she typed. “If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” Then she clicked open the long list of contacts on her phone and pressed “send.”

In less than 24 hours, the effect was as if Margarite, 14, had sauntered naked down the hallways of the four middle schools in this racially and economically diverse suburb of the state capital, Olympia. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of students had received her photo and forwarded it.

In short order, students would be handcuffed and humiliated, parents mortified and lessons learned at a harsh cost. Only then would the community try to turn the fiasco into an opportunity to educate.

Around the country, law enforcement officials and educators are struggling with how to confront minors who “sext,” an imprecise term that refers to sending sexual photos, videos or texts from one cellphone to another.

In a sidebar article the NY Times notes how states disagree about how to handle the transmission of sexual images by teenagers to other teenagers.

California appears to still be dithering.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

About Immigration, the LA Times, the Bell Scandal, and a Pulitzer Contender

March 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


I don’t want to give away the end,
but I’ll give you the beginning of this story written by former LA Times reporter Shawn Hubler for Orange Coast magazine.

Here’s how it opens:

When our kids were small, we had a nanny, a Guatemalan woman with a young daughter and a teenage son. My husband and I were employed at a big daily newspaper. The nanny and her kids spent a lot of time at our house. We told people they were like members of our family, though the real story was more complicated, as real stories always are.

The nanny’s story was like a lot of nannies’ stories. She had come north to be with the man she loved, but the relationship didn’t work out. At first, her plan was just to make enough money to return to Guatemala. But one job led to another, and she got a green card, and before she knew it, years had passed and she was the single mother of two extremely Southern Californian children. Her son rode a skateboard; her daughter watched Cartoon Network. At a certain point, going back to Guatemala just wasn’t an option. She became an American citizen several years after coming to work for us.

Her son was a 17-year-old high school student then. Quiet. Polite. Smart, too—college-smart, we’d tell the nanny, who’d just smile. Proud, we thought.

He was about six months shy of his 18th birthday when she told us the real story: Her son had been born in Guatemala and brought into the country as a little boy. She had left him with his grandma, had saved every spare cent to pay the coyote. For the first six years of his life, she’d scarcely seen him; when she had swept him into her arms, he barely recognized her. She’d never told him that his papers had expired, that he was here illegally. She had assumed they were all going back to Guatemala. Now, though, she was reading that her citizenship wasn’t enough, that at 18, he could be deported. Her boy, she said, desperately wanted to go to college. What had she done?

Southern Californians tend to see hard lines on immigration. You’re either here legally, many declare, or you’re violating the law. Breaks for undocumented kids, like the proposed Dream Act, annoy us. They remind us all that real stories stray outside the lines, that they can get complicated, that laws affect real people. People we depend on. People who depend on us….

Read to the end. it’s not going where you think. But it’ll make your day.

Posted in immigration, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

Cracked Justice, the California Version

March 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday The Sentencing Project released a report that looks at the sentencing disparities
in 13 states between offenses involving crack or powder cocaine.

As you may remember, the sentencing gap has been nearly closed on a federal level, but 13 states still punish people far more severely for possession of crack than if the crime involves powder.

Some states have closed the sentencing gap. But 13 have not, California included.

Missouri has the worst gap of the 13 with a 74-1 disparity.

California is, fortunately no where near that bad, yet it still needs to get with the program.

Here’s what the report says about our state:

CALIFORNIA

In California the crack-powder disparity varies. Defendants convicted of possession with intent to sell 57 grams of powder cocaine are subject to sentences of three to
five years in prison depending on aggravating or mitigating circumstances, whereas
crack cocaine offenders face the same penalties for only 14.25 grams of the drug.

Policymakers in the 1980s sought to control drug use by adopting sentencing
enhancements
and a tough on crime approach. While several bills introduced in the
California Assembly would have provided assistance to counties to operate drug
treatment facilities, the prevailing sentiment among elected officials was that drug
users needed to be punished rather than helped.

“The number of people who have requested services has skyrocketed on us,” said William Edelman, deputy assistant director of the Orange County Health Care Agency. “At the same time, for whatever reasons, we have been unsuccessful in convincing people that there is a need for treatment services.”

Moreover, state policymakers focused on drug quantity as the primary factor in determining drug penalties, often excluding factors such as a defendant’s role in the offense, age or mental condition. The California state legislature approved the “penalty-by-the-pound law” in the mid-1980s, which sought to focus law enforcement priorities on major dealers of cocaine and other drugs.

However, lawmakers also focused sentencing policies on lengthening sentences for low-level drug offenses.

California lawmakers have attempted reform in recent years. During 2008,
lawmakers considered a measure that would eliminate distinctions for crack and powder cocaine from the criminal code resulting in the equalization of penalties as a strategy to make sentences fairer. The bill was voted out of the Public Safety Committee on a 5-2 vote and the Appropriations Committee on a 9-6 vote, but failed to be scheduled for a vote on the Assembly floor.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Sentencing | No Comments »

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