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Thurs. am: Cold Ridden….Will Do Catch Up on Monday

July 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: I’m laying low for the rest of Friday the weekend. I’ll do a round up on Saturday Monday.

Then watch for a story on Controller Wendy Greuel and her savvy women’s strategy for Tuesday..and more.

Posted in Life in general | 1 Comment »

Dear LA Times: WTF? Tim Rutten?

July 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

I missed this news although LA Observed had it on Wednesday afternoon. Amid a group of new layoffs at the LA Times, veteran columnist Tim Rutten has been….ankled, as they say in Variety.

What a truly stupid move on the part of the Times. Rutten has been—and remains—a valuable, vibrant and deeply insightful voice at the paper on so many matters.

I cannot imagine what the LA Times is thinking. Who’s next, Steve Lopez?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Thursday Must Reads

July 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


SYSTEM OVERLOAD: THE SORRY STATE OF PUBLIC DEFENSE

Wednesday the Justice Police Institute released a report on the alarmingly under-resourced state of public defense offices across the nation. Here’s how it begins:

The 6th Amendment holds that people charged with a crime have a right to counsel, yet for many people who cannot afford private attorneys, there is a chasm between a “right to counsel” and a right to quality representation in judicial proceedings. Public defense systems serve millions of people in the United States every year.1 Yet many systems across the country have been in a state of “chronic crisis” for decades. The defender systems that people must rely on are too often completely overwhelmed; many defenders simply have too many cases, too little time and too few resources to provide quality or even adequate legal representation….

Read the full report here.


APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS SCHOOL DISCIPLINE OF A STUDENT WHO BULLIED A CLASSMATE ONLINE.

On Wednesday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said that school officials had the right to discipline a student who created a creepy Facebook page about another student. Ed Week has the story

Here are some clips:

“Such harassment and bullying is inappropriate and hurtful and ... it must be taken seriously by school administrators in order to preserve an appropriate pedagogical environment,” said the unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va……

The 4th Circuit case involves Kara Kowalski, who was disciplined for creating a MySpace page targeting another student at Musselman High School in Berkeley County, W.Va.

According to court papers, Kowalski in 2005 created a page called “Students Against Sluts Herpes” and invited other MySpace participants from her school to join it. About two dozen Musselman High students joined the group, including one who accepted his invitation on a school computer. That male posted photos of the female student who was the target of ridicule by the group. One photo was altered to show the female student with red dots on her face, to suggest that she had herpes. The participants posted comments such as “lol [laughing out loud]” or “haha screw her.”

The parents of the targeted girl complained to school officials, who disciplined Kowalski. (It isn’t clear whether officials disciplined the male student who posted the photos of the ridiculed girl, or any other students who joined the MySpace group.) But school officials concluded that Kowalski had created a “hate” Web site in violation of school policies against harassment, bullying, and intimidation.She was suspended from school for five days and given a “social suspension” of 90 days, meaning she was barred from certain school activities, including the cheerleading squad.


ONE MORE ARTICLE ON THE FAILED DRUG WAR

This one’s from the Houston Chron. Here are some opening cllips:

Here’s the opening:

But for its problematic pedigree, Mexico’s marijuanaa might be hailed as a marketing miracle.

The much-maligned weed has suffered decades of punishment — burned, poisoned, ripped from the earth by its roots. Customers have been jailed, suppliers battered by literally cutthroat competition. Better products from Colombia, California and countless suburban back-rooms have somewhat eroded its popularity. Governments refuse to make it honest.

Yet, this pot has persevered. Production grows, quality improves and exports northward hum along. Despite decades of U.S. officials’ efforts against it, Mexican marijuana remains widely available, frequently used and commonly disregarded as a danger.

“They are never going to stop it,” said Dan Webb, a recently retired anti-narcotics lieutenant with the Texas Department of Public Safety, who now teaches drug enforcement at Sam Houston State University.

“It is just like Prohibition,” Webb said, comparing Mexico’s cannabis trade to the boom in liquor smuggling after the U.S. government outlawed alcohol sales decades ago. “As long as there is a demand, somebody is going to come up with a supply.”

Then again, there’s that dark legacy. Marijuana sales to American consumers largely finance the gangster warfare that’s killed upwards of 40,000 Mexicans in less than five years….


THE NEW YORKER’S SASHA FRERE-JONES CONSIDERS AMY WINEHOUSE—IN 2008

It’s interesting—and saddening— to read this meditation on Winehouse written three years ago.


Posted in Must Reads | 1 Comment »

Policy Trumps Politics as LA County Sups Give Probation the Nod for Parolees

July 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



At Tuesday’s meeting, the LA County Supervisors wisely put aside personal feelings
and worries about political ramifications and made the correct and rational choice—even if the circumstances were not ideal—when they finally voted to designate Probation as the lead agency in monitoring the group of parolees who will begin to be funneled to California counties for oversight beginning on October 1.

There were tense and fractious moments during the meeting. Supervisor Gloria Molina hectored Probation Chief Donald Blevins at length about making sure that a detailed plan for the oversight of the parolees got drafted by mid August.

The Sheriff got out of sorts and accused Blevins of not adequately power sharing, and then harrumphed that, as an elected official, he understood the BOS’s concerns better than anyone at Probation.

But in the end the Sups tuned out the interference (even their own) and did the right thing. They are to be strongly commended for doing so.

A rough transcript of the relevant parts of the meeting may be found here. {Baca’s comments start on p. 79. Molina is just above him.]

And here’s a more detailed account of the ups and downs of the discussion by Robert Jablon of the AP.

Also, the LA Times Robert Faturechi perfectly captures the spirit and context of Sheriff Baca’s unhappy speech at the meeting in his story on Tuesday’s decision..

Here’s a clip:

Baca accused Probation Chief Don Blevins of viewing the sheriff’s department “as some sort of threat” even after Baca had backed down in his bid to take sole responsibility for supervising of hundreds of state parolees who will soon be passed from state custody to the county.

Baca’s initial proposal was an unprecedented attempt to take the task from county probation officers, who already do that sort of work. No law enforcement agency in the nation handles parole or probation supervision, a task decidedly more oriented toward social work.

But after months of lobbying for the responsibility — and the funding that comes with it — Baca suddenly endorsed a hybrid plan this month that would leave his deputies out of rehabilitation casework. Despite that, sheriff’s officials said they believed Blevins was attempting to further diminish the role of the sheriff’s department.

On Tuesday, the L.A.County Board of Supervisors voted to make the Probation Department the lead agency in parolee supervision, with the hopes that the sheriff’s department will offer support, particularly for higher level offenders. However, the details of the plan are still being worked out in a special committee of county officials that includes Baca and Blevins.

“I offered to eliminate any sense of competition,” Baca said. “I was willing to say to the chief probation officer ‘You go ahead and run the whole program.’ ”

But Baca, visibly irritated, said Blevins had built a “moat around his department.” Baca said that with that kind of attitude Blevins could be “an unreliable partner” in any eventual hybrid arrangement for parolee supervision.


Next post we’ll go back to non-parolee-related topics, I promise.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Probation | No Comments »

Probation, LASD, Those Parolees and the Board of Supervisors Vote (Maybe)

July 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Today, Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will face round four-hundred and thirty-seven
(approximately) of the question of who should take charge of the 13,000 or so non-non-non parolees—-the non violent/non serious/non sex-offending among those being paroled from prison yearly—all of whom, up until now, have been under the supervision of the state.

The idea behind this switch in jurisdiction, just to remind you, is that California’s various counties can do the supervision cheaper than our budget strapped state can. Plus the county agencies have a good chance of doing it better.

“Better” would mean that the parolees are helped and supervised in such a way that they stay out of incarceration altogether, rather than returning over and over again to do “life on the installment plan,” thus clogging our prisons and gobbling up horrendously large portions of the state budget.

This so called “Public Safety Realignment” is considered to be the cornerstone of the governor’s plan to reduce the state’s prison population as ordered by the US Supreme Court this past spring.

Okay, so originally both LA County Probation and the sheriff’s department were pitching to be given the new parolee contract, but after it turned out that it would cost tens of millions of dollars under the LASD, in addition to the fact that Probation Chief Don Blevins gave a strong and detailed presentation of why Probation should get the gig—-the sheriff suddenly bowed out of the race saying he wanted to share responsibility—and the state $$$ that would accompany the parolees—with Probation.

As a supposed compromise plan, the County CEO, Bill Fujioka put out a hybrid strategy of shared power between Probation and LASD. However the strategy was so sloppily thought out it was rumored to have been withdrawn by the time I write this.

Tomorrow, Don Blevins will try to persuade the Board of Sups to name Probation the lead agency and let him draft a plan.

Under normal circumstances such a proposal would sail through with a strong YES vote but, because of the bad blood that has risen between Blevins and some of the Supervisors, in addition to Blevins and the various probation workers’ unions, it is tough to say how things will play out.

NO CONFIDENCE

Matters are complicated by the no confidence vote that was handed to Chief Blevins last week by the three main unions governing probation workers.

As Chief Blevins said when I spoke to him Monday morning, such a vote from the unions is usually “a death sentence” for someone in his position.

The Probation Chief, who is a very likeable guy who seems to have good ideas, programatically, disputed many of the conclusions and rumors put out by the union heads, like the intimation that Blevins was away from town too much.

“I’ve taken no vacations since last September,” he said, “And I work all day most Saturdays.”

(NOTE: The record shows this is true, although he seems to attend a lot of out of town meetings and conferences. However maybe that simply comes with the territory.)

Blevins also commented on the puzzling timing of the No Confidence thingy—since, presumably the unions want Probation to get this contract. If they do, why would they choose this precise moment to deliver what could be a mortal wound to the head of the agency? Blevins wanted to know.

Good question.

Let us hope that the Supervisors are wise enough to put aside whatever problems and political concerns they might have with Don Blevins long enough to realize that the right policy decision is to give the AB 109 parole contract to Probation. Period.


NOTE: TUESDAY MORNING I’M GOING TO BE ON A PANEL TALKING ABOUT PRISONER RE ENTRY to a group of health journalists from all over the country. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Probation | 1 Comment »

On Which Way LA? Monday Re: the Bryan Stow Beating Case

July 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


I’m on Which Way LA? Monday night on KCRW 89.9 as one of the people talking
about the first arrest made in the vicious beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium.

As you likely remember, in late May a highly tattooed gang member named Giovanni Ramirez was arrested for Stow’s beating based on a tip from Ramirez’s parole officer and then a witness ID from a police lineup.

Last Friday the LAPD declared Ramirez innocent and two new men have been arrested on what appears to be much stronger evidence.

I was on the show along with the LA Times Joel Rubin and USC law school prof, Rebecca Lonergan.

Terrence McNally was sitting in for Warren Olney.

Our segment begins around 7:30 or 7:40 pm, but I’ll post a podcast link as soon as I have it.

Posted in LAPD | 1 Comment »

Catching Up With the Solitary Confinement Hunger Strikers

July 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



The hunger strike that began on July 1 at the Pelican Bay SHU
eventually spread to somewhere between 1700 to 6600 prisoners in 13 of the state’s prisons, according to the SF Chron.

Now that the strike has ended, it is unclear what it has accomplished since, as the LA Times pointed out in an editorial last week, the CDCR won’t let reporters into the SHU to talk to any of the prisoners.

However one measurable effect the strike has had is to stimulate articles about solitary and whether we ought to be engaging in the practice.

The very best of the Op Eds on the topic is an excellent editorial from the NY Times. Here is a big clip:

Solitary confinement has been transmuted from an occasional tool of discipline into a widespread form of preventive detention. The Supreme Court, over the last two decades, has whittled steadily away at the rights of inmates, surrendering to prison administrators virtually all control over what is done to those held in “administrative segregation.” Since it is not defined as punishment for a crime, it does not fall under “cruel and unusual punishment,” the reasoning goes.

As early as 1995, a federal judge, Thelton E. Henderson, conceded that so-called “supermax” confinement “may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” though he ruled that it remained acceptable for most inmates. But a psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Stuart Grassian, had found that the environment was “strikingly toxic,” resulting in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. In a “60 Minutes” interview, he went so far as to call it “far more egregious” than the death penalty.

Officials at Pelican Bay, in Northern California, claim that those incarcerated in the Security Housing Unit are “the worst of the worst.” Yet often it is the most vulnerable, especially the mentally ill, not the most violent, who end up in indefinite isolation. Placement is haphazard and arbitrary; it focuses on those perceived as troublemakers or simply disliked by correctional officers and, most of all, alleged gang members. Often, the decisions are not based on evidence.

Also notable are the letters to the editor that came a few days later. I’ve included a fragment of one of them:

Re “Barbarous Confinement,” by Colin Dayan (Op-Ed, July 18):

Mr. Dayan vividly captures the cruelty of long-term solitary or “supermax” confinement, which has increasingly become business as usual in American prisons. Supermax units like the one at Pelican Bay State Prison in California cost two to three times as much to build and operate as conventional prisons, and prisoners released directly to the community from solitary are more likely to commit more crimes than comparable prisoners released from general prison populations.

Fortunately, some states are beginning to change course. In Maine, the new commissioner of corrections has cut the population of the state’s supermax unit by more than half. Mississippi depopulated its supermax unit and eventually closed it entirely, leading to a dramatic drop in prison violence and a savings of $8 million a year….

Interesting that conservative states like Mississippi are reforming their SHUs, while liberal California cling to the concept.


FRANK SOTOMEYOR WRITES ABOUT THE DEATH OF PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST GEORGE RAMOS

The essay appears in LA Observed.


NOTE: I had a late event on Sunday night, hence the short post. More later today.

Posted in CDCR, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Amy Winehouse – Back in Black: 1983 – 2011

July 24th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

I hoped—as did many—that she would make it, that her super-sized talent would somehow carry her past the danger. But, as with the others in the bad, sad 27 Club, the big gifts turned out not to be enough.

Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse. You were the real deal.

Posted in American artists | 15 Comments »

Can Probation Chief Blevins Survive the Unions’ No Confidence Vote?

July 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



On Thursday, the four primary unions that represent all those (save management)
who work in the LA County Department of Probation announced what union leaders are calling an unprecedented “No Confidence” vote that was delivered in letter form to Probation Chief Donald Blevins.

Blevins, who took over the catastrophically troubled agency in the spring of 2010, was greeted with much hope when he was appointed nearly 15 months ago. But although Blevins is a very bright, experienced, likeable guy, with a much-needed progressive attitude toward juvenile probation, he has thus far demonstrated himself to be politically and managerially tone deaf.

For instance, during his first months on the job, through clumsy actions, he managed to actively alienate two of the five LA County Sups and has righteously irritated a 3rd.

At a management level, he failed to clean house at the top but instead allowed a lot of the holdovers from the previous administration (the one that caused much of the ghastly mess to begin with) to remain in place. Thus LA’s juvenile probation camps, which were already teetering on the verge of federal receivership, failed to make the progress that was demanded of them, and in certain crucial areas have actually back slid in ways that, according to the last report from the feds, endangered kids in some of the camps.

Then, most recently, when every other probation agency in every one of the other 57 counties in the state of California was preparing to take on the supervision of a pile of state parolees (bringing with them a pile of state money) through the new corrections policy known as “realignment,” in LA County, Blevins nearly lost the parolee contract to Sheriff Lee Baca and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. For one thing, Sheriff Baca went around and personally pitched his case to the Sups and others, while Blevins, whose pitch was a much better one, seemed lackadaisical, and even left town the for much of the last week before the Supervisors were expected to vote. (The vote has been delayed until next week, and the Sheriff has, in part, pulled out of the running.)

Plus, Blevins is rumored to have been out of town more this past year than makes any kind of sense for a guy who took over the most scarily troubled agency in Southern California.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the unions’ press release:

The L.A. County Probation Department’s juvenile division is in turmoil and the Chief Probation Officer has until October 2011 to resolve outstanding issues or risk having the Department taken into receivership by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). This threat has not been without warning. Not only has DOJ long since advised the County of what needs to be done to comply, but Probation Department employees, through their respective unions, have been raising many of these same issues for decades – even filing lawsuits against the County of Los Angeles to demand remedy.

With the risk of DOJ action against the juvenile division, coupled with the reality that under AB 109, Public Safety Realignment, as many as 15,000 parolees will soon be the responsibility of the Probation Department’s Adult Field Services division, the time for fixing the Department is past due.

Probation Department employees – group supervisors, detention services officers, deputy probation officers, supervising deputy probation officers, and probation directors, as well as the staff who support our work – are deeply concerned with the pace of progress and, simply put, we can wait no longer.

I like Blevins. But, after talking to people in and out of county government for the past few days as the No Confidence announcement was brewing, its hard to know how he can survive this blow.

The LA Times and the LA Weekly also reported on the story.


NOTE: IN DILLON, MT, AND HEADED HOME: Since I’m writing this in the wee hours from my lodging in Dillon MT, although there is much other news, it will have to wait until I’m back in our fair city.

Posted in Los Angeles County, Probation | 1 Comment »

The Sheriff Backs Off LASD’s Parolee Proposal

July 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Tuesday’s Board Of Supervisor’s meeting involved much drama,
lots of side players, gobs of backroom gossip, weeks of lobbying and finally two presentations—one by Sheriff Lee Baca, the other by Probation Chief Don Blevins— both aimed at gaining LA County’s new state parolee contract. The meeting also featured the revelation that the Sheriff’s plan costs quite a bit more money than that of Probation.

Now, however, everything has changed.

Thursday afternoon the word floated around that the Sheriff had backed off on his proposal and said he was willing to share the contract with Probation. It isn’t clear whether the LASD mainly means they want to share the money that accompanies the contract. In any case, they are willing to step aside and let Probation do what it is clearly better equipped to do than law enforcement, meanly to oversee and aide parolees as they attempt to reenter law-abiding life.

I’m up in the wilds of West Glacier cadging WiFi from a cafe, so I’ll turn the rest of the story over to Robert Faturechi of the LA Times:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has backed down in his bid for the department to take on sole supervision of state parolees, an official confirmed Thursday evening, opting instead for a hybrid plan that would leave his deputies out of rehabilitation.

Baca’s initial proposal was an unprecedented attempt to handle the thousands of parolees being passed from the state to the local level instead of the county’s probation officers, who already do that sort of work.

No law enforcement agency in the nation, officials say, handles parole or probation supervision, a task decidedly more oriented toward social work.

Critics blasted Baca’s plan, saying that it presented potential conflicts of interest because the same deputies who were arresting and jailing criminals would have also been serving as caseworkers after the inmates were released.

Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo said Baca decided to allow the county’s Probation Department to handle reentry and case management, while sheriff’s deputies and possibly LAPD officers do traditional suppression work and compliance checks.

“I don’t know that it was a back-down,” Rhambo said. “At the executive meeting today, listening to all the nuts and bolts as to what it takes to manage this, as people were throwing out the labor-intensity of it all, [Baca] thought what might work better is a hybrid version…..”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy | No Comments »

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