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Judge Nash Issues Order to Open Juvenile Dependency Court…and More

January 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash did a brave and important thing on Friday—and then again on Monday.
On Friday he issued a draft order to open the Juvenile dependency courts to the press, allowing fresh air into a system in Los Angeles County that has long been disastrously closed. Then on Monday, he had a hearing on the matter and announced that he planned to make the order permanent.

In case you’ve forgotten, Juvenile dependency courts are the places that hear child abuse and neglect cases.

Nash was originally going to open the courts to the public as well as the press, but he ran into a lot of resistance.

So, according to Friday’s draft order, the courts will remain closed to the public unless a certain set of criteria are met in individual cases. However, the new default position will be that press will be allowed in— unless anyone can show clear cause that having reporters in a hearing will harm a child.

As the order itself states:

Members of the press shall be allowed access to Juvenile Dependency Court hearings unless there is a reasonable likelihood that such access will be harmful to the child‟s or children‟s best interests.

Richard Wexler of the NCCPR—the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform— expressed the view of the many child welfare experts who have been advocating for LA’s court to get some fresh air. Here’s a clip from Wexler’s blog post on the topic:

If Judge Nash proceeds with this order as written, it will be a significant step forward in holding the county Department of Children and Family Services and the courts themselves accountable for what the system does to children and families in Los Angeles. As we explain in our Due Process Agenda, none of the many other state and local systems that have opened these courts has closed them again because all the fears of opponents proved groundless…

Not everyone agrees. Former foster child, Marcy Valenzuela wrote an Op Ed for the LA Times last fall explaining why she felt the courts should stay closed.

Juvenile dependency courts exist to protect children and youths who have been neglected and abused, so it’s shocking that the presiding judge who oversees the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s juvenile division is pushing a plan that puts foster children and youths at risk of further harm.

If Judge Michael Nash’s order stands, vulnerable children, youths and their families, who are already dealing with painful consequences of neglect and abuse, would face the additional burden of proving why the most intimate details of their lives should be kept private.

The primary movers against letting light into the courts, are not child advocates, but the unions for the grown-ups, those who represent the social workers, et al. They have fought hard to keep the hearings secret.

However, Nash is clear on the issue.

There is a lot that is not good [in the dependency courts], and that’s an understatement,” the LA Times reported that Nash said earlier this year at a Sacramento hearing on the issue. “Too many families do not get reunified…. Too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case.”

Exactly.

According to advocates who were present at Monday’s meeting, Nash said he would issue a final order very soon.


AND LEST WE STRAY TOO FAR FROM THE LASD & JAILS…THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL SAYS: YES, LA COUNTY’S JAILS ARE BROKEN, BUT EVERYBODY NEEDS TO THINK BEFORE PRESCRIBING A $1.4 BILLION DOLLAR ONE-DIMENSIONAL, BUILD-A-JAIL FIX

Or words to that effect. Mainly, Monday’s very well written editorial echos what we said last week before and after the board of supervisors meeting, regarding the need to look at the whole picture before rushing off and throwing a billion and a half dollars at jail building.

And by “the whole picture, this includes the suggestions contained in the very lengthy and very smart Vera Institute report on the county’s jail over crowding issue and what to do about it ( a report that was, by the way, ordered and paid for by the county). And it also means waiting to look at the upcoming report on the same issue from jails and prison expert Jim Austin, due in late February.

Anyway, a big thank you to the Times editorial board, who said all of the above more elegantly than we did.


THEN WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF WISE GOVERNANCE….WHAT’S UP WITH GOV. JERRY TRYING TO DO AWAY WITH THE HAYDEN BILL, WHICH HAS PROTECTED CALIFORNIA’S PETS FROM NEEDLESS EUTHANASIA SINCE 1998?

Former California senator Tom Hayden (and current critter owner) explains everything. (See above video.)

Yes, yes, we’ve heard that the legislative analyst says that doing away with this bill will save the state money. Okay, sure. And having no shelters at all will save the state even more money. BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT A GOOD IDEA.

Raise fees. Whatever. But do not even think of trying to vaporize the law that prevents precipitous critter euthanasia—which could, in turn, mean that if by some chance our four-footed family members get lost, get out of the house for an unscheduled walkabout, or get separated from us by some unforeseen force majeure, they could be killed dead before we’ve had the chance to track them down.

No. Not a workable solution, Jerry.

Seriously—Ask yourself, WWSD? What would Sutter do?

Okay, see? I rest my case.

Posted in bears and alligators, Courts, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, State government | 4 Comments »

The Friends of Paul Tanaka Campaign Donations List: 2008

January 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



We have received quite a number of requests from people working for (or retired from) the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department asking us to post
The Friends of Paul Tanaka campaign contributions lists that WitnessLA/the LA Justice Report acquired through public records act requests.

Although we expect to be posting more of the lists in Dangerous Jails: Part 5, you can find the 2008 campaign donations list here: Tanaka 2008 campaign donations

The names of contributors from the LASD begin on Page 10.

As reported in Part 3 of Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails series, various department insiders have suggested that there are correlations between LASD promotions and donations to Undersheriff Tanaka’s mayoral campaigns. (The undersheriff also serves as the mayor of the city of Gardena.)

(Individuals’ addresses are redacted in the interest of privacy.)

Posted in jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 35 Comments »

Prez of Law Enforcement Union Writes That Baca Should Fix Problems in LASD, Instead of Hunting Department’s Leakers to Media

January 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Stop trying to find those Sheriff’s Department insiders who are leaking to WitnessLA and other media outlets,
and focus on fixing the problems of “Corruption, abuses of power and ‘codes of silence’” within the department itself, writes PPOA president, Lt. Brian Moriguchi, in a new strongly worded message to Sheriff Lee Baca.

Moriguchi, the head of the board of directors of the PPOA (one of two primary employee unions for Los Angeles Sheriff’s department), wrote the essay—which mentions WitnessLA by name—as part of the President’s message in the January issue of Star & Shield, the PPOA’s monthly magazine.

Here are some clips from the essay:

The past several months have resulted in a barrage of attacks against LASD, from the allegations of deputy abuse in our jails to the corruption and “pay to play” allegations posted on the Internet at www.witnessla.com. To some insiders, these allegations come as no big surprise as rumors of abuses of power by some individuals have circulated within the Department for many years. To other insiders, these allegations are nothing but disgruntled or former employees taking out their anger against the Sheriff ’s Department, or more succinctly, against certain people within the Sheriff ’s Department. Regardless of your position on this heated topic, what is unique is the shift to “release” the information through media channels instead of going through internal channels.

The PPOA prez then talks about how many LASD employees feel that when they try to handle department problems internally, they are met with “cover-ups.”

As a consequence of their “dissatisfaction with the internal process,” LASD deputies are turning to the media—and, in some cases, to lawsuits.

“So how do you put an end to the problem?” asks Moriguchi. His answer:

Sheriff Baca needs to look within, as tough as that may be, and fix the problem whereby employees do not believe things can be resolved internally. Corruption, abuses of power and “codes of silence” need to end before we can begin to rebuild this organization. If not addressed, the Department will be riddled with scandal, face government intervention (i.e., consent decrees and indictments) and take decades to rebuild its once formidable reputation, something none of us wants to see happen. We need to focus less on the leaks and more on the cause of our problems.


Then in another section of the magazine, the PPOA has an article that advises LASD employees as to how they can best protect themselves if they need to act as whistleblowers regarding misconduct within the department.

Here’s the rather interesting editor’s note that precedes the article;

This article was written at the request of PPOA. It is especially timely in view of the current issues affecting custody including WitnessLA reports and L.A. Times articles. If you have concerns about reporting misconduct or “whistleblowing” or want to speak with an attorney, please call PPOA at (323) 261-3010.


The full text of the essay may be found here, beginning on page 4. The whistleblower article starts on page 14.


Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

LASD Deputy Says Dept. Captain Spiked His Investigation of Alleged Drug Dealer

January 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Bernice Abram, the personable captain of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department station in Carson,
was placed on administrative leave last April when FBI agents believed they may have heard Abram’s voice on a wiretapped phone conversation involving Compton drug dealers. (Abram’s niece, a sheriff’s custody assistant named Chantell White, was placed on leave at the same time.)

Now the LA Times reports that a sheriff’s deputy working in the department’s Compton station has filed a complaint alleging that Abrams not only got in the way of his investigation of suspected narcotics ring leader, Dion Grim—with whom Abrams reportedly had some sort of ongoing friendship—but that the Carson captain actively plotted with Grim to drum up citizen complaints against the deputy in order to get him out of the area.

Here’s a clip:

Although Abram denied knowing Grim in an interview with The Times last summer, Grim’s attorney, Marilyn Bednarski, said her client did in fact know the captain. She said she knew of nothing to suggest the relationship was improper.

A top Sheriff’s Department official said Abram brought Grim to department functions.

“I had no reason to suspect that anything was other than on the up and up,” Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo said. “She’s in law enforcement. She’s a friend. I still don’t even know what’s going on with this; of course I’m shocked.”

But one sheriff’s deputy is accusing Abram of conspiring with Grim to deflect law enforcement attention away from his alleged gang associates in Compton.

Deputy Michael Haggerty filed an administrative complaint against the county last year, alleging that he had been unfairly transferred from a coveted assignment because of Abram. In his sworn statement, Haggerty alleged that the FBI secretly recorded Abram talking to Grim and plotting to manufacture citizen complaints against him so he’d be transferred out of Compton. At the time, Haggerty said he had been aggressively investigating Grim and the Front Hood Crips.

Abram, if you’ll remember, is one of those whom department sources told us was part of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s inner circle.

To date, the department’s internal investigation into the allegations against Abrams has been going on for nine months and the Carson station remains without an active captain.


NOTE: More about non-LASD news tomorrow, I promise. We actually do know there are other events going on the world.

For instance, it’s REALLY important for us all to note that California’s newly arrived, two-ish-year-old lone wolf—known as OR 7—has strayed still deeper into our fair state looking for love (the poor thing). Kevin Roderick has more at LA Observed.

By the way, OR 7 is reportedly a descendent of the Yellowstone Pack that was reintroduced into the greater Yellowstone area in 1995 after being hunted out of existence in the region in the 1930s.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 21 Comments »

Friday Justice Round Up: Old Prisoners, Why LA’s Media Should Ride Buses

January 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


NEW STUDY SAYS AGING PRISONERS FASTEST GROWING LOCKED-UP POPULATION

The fact that aging prisoners are a growing issue has been reported on a lot lately as reporters and policy makers start to snap awake to the fact that locking up more people for longer is going to eventually produce a bunch of old guy (and old girl) inmate.

California, with its long troubled prison health care system, is one of the states that cannot help but be hit hardest by the demands of an aging inmate population.

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report that looks at the scope of the problem nationally. Here’s a clip from their press release:

Human Rights Watch found that the number of sentenced state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010. The number of sentenced prisoners age 55 or older grew at six times the rate of the overall prison population between 1995 and 2010.

“Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities,” said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Yet US corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars.”

All in all, HRW has produced a thoughtful, informative report that surveys the issue, makes some practical recommendations, and then asks a series of questions that challenge us to ask ourselves from a common sense perspective about when imprisonment might no longer be justified or sensible, as certain kinds of prisoners gets older.

Read the whole report here.

The New York Times also has a story on the issue.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PRISON COSTS: A NEW VERA INSTITUTE REPORT SAYS THE REAL COST OF PRISONS TO TAXPAYERS HIGHER THAN REALIZED

The Vera institute has just released a new report titled The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers. The report shows that however much we think our prisons are costing us as taxpayers—we’re likely wrong. They’re costing us more than we think.

On a state by state basis, the Vera people looked at such extra costs as staff pensions and retiree benefits— and more—that, in many cases, are not listed in a state’s corrections budget.

In California, for example, our corrections budget is $7 billion. But when we look at the full cost, as Vera calculates it, the budget goes up to $7.9 billion—nearly a billion dollars more than our corrections budgets would suggest, bringing the cost of locking up each inmate in our prisons to $48 thousand per year, one of the higher price tags in the nation..

And if we look at the collateral costs of incarceration, (costs that Vera mentions as important, but that they did not cover in this report) the taxpayer’s bill goes still higher:

When a person is in prison, taxpayers may incur additional—or indirect—costs, such as the costs of social services, child welfare, and education, for example. For the most part, these indirect costs are borne by government agencies other than the department of corrections. They are not included in the calculations presented here, however.

Incarcerated men and women also bear economic and social costs associated with prison—as do their families and communities.* As a 2005 study concluded, “Incarceration impacts the life of a family in several important ways: it strains them financially, disrupts parental bonds, separates spouses, places severe stress on the remaining caregivers, leads to a loss of discipline in the household, and to feelings of shame, stigma, and anger.”** Although these costs—typically referred to as collateral costs—are important for policy deliberations, they are no tallied in this report.


LA MAGAZINE EDITOR MARY MELTON TALKS ABOUT WHAT’S MISSING IN LA JOURNALISM

A smart new LA blog called Frying Pan News did an interview with LA Mag’s editor Mary Melton about what the LA Times is doing wrong—and more.

Here’s a clip:

What is missing from the city’s journalistic landscape?

The mainstream press needs to reintroduce beats, cover California and L.A. issues, have more reporters devoted to local politics and politicians. Websites don’t have the resources to do deep reporting.

If you were editor of the L.A. Times, what would you do to change things?

The first thing I would do is hire a fleet of buses and have everyone in the building get on one and go see the city. Too many people at the Times never leave the building. I remember during the 2000 Democratic Convention, which was in downtown. I was working at the Times, and I decided to go over to check it out. I tried to get some folks to come with me, and everyone said, “It’s so far.” What?

I like the bus idea. (But way better to get on public transportation, not that hired fleet.)


THE IDIOTIC “I MIGHT HAVE A TACO” MAYOR GETS MORE THAN 2000 TACOS

The group Reform Immigration for America delivered a whole lot of texts and tacos on Thursday to East Haven, CT, Mayor Maturo—along with an invitation to have an open dialogue with the Latino community in his city, following his insensitive remarks this week.

MSNBC has more on the story-–and the back story:

A Connecticut mayor who sparked a firestorm of criticism for quipping “I might have tacos” when interviewed by a TV reporter about the arrest of four town police officers accused of racially profiling and bullying Latino residents got more than he bargained for.

More than 2,000 tacos were delivered to the office of East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo on Thursday, ordered by people who found his comments insensitive racially offensive. The send-the-mayor-a-taco campaign, which took off via tweets, cellphone texts and social-media shares, was organized by Reform Immigration for America, a group that advocates comprehensive immigration reform.

Posted in Los Angeles Times, media, prison, prison policy | 6 Comments »

The New Yorker: Why Do We Lock-Up So Many People?…& Other Must Reads

January 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Most Americans honestly don’t want to spend much time,
energy or emotion thinking about people in jail or prison—unless, by chance they have a family member who is locked up.

We harp on the issue here at WitnessLA since criminal justice is, after all, central to the mission of the site. But if the topic comes up in a social setting, I see eyes starting to glaze over, even among friends who try to be interested.

That’s why the article by Adam Gopnick in the current New Yorker, The Caging of America, is so heartening.

Gopnick is a critic and commentator with no particular expertise in criminal justice matters. But he’s also a very smart guy and clear headed thinker. Somehow the topic grabbed his interest, and he dove deeply.

The result is part think piece, part book review. (He examines the new book by Berkeley criminologist, Frank Zimring, The City that Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control.)

In any case, it shouldn’t be missed.

I won’t try to summarize Gopnick’s work here. The essay is carefully crafted, thought by thought, and should be read in it’s totality. But some clips will give you an idea of what he’s on about.

To wit:

The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education.

Conservatives and other law and order types insist that the nationwide 40 percent drop in crime we’ve seen in the past few years can be laid at the feet of all this incarcerating. But, as Gopnick, channeling Zimring, points out, that assumption falls apart when one looks at New York’s crime stats, which happen to be another 40 percent lower still than the rest of the nation—the lowest since 1900—while its incarceration rate, rather than rising, has also dropped precipitously.

One fact stands out. While the rest of the country, over the same twenty-year period, saw the growth in incarceration that led to our current astonishing numbers, New York, despite the Rockefeller drug laws, saw a marked decrease in its number of inmates. “New York City, in the midst of a dramatic reduction in crime, is locking up a much smaller number of people, and particularly of young people, than it was at the height of the crime wave,” Zimring observes. Whatever happened to make street crime fall, it had nothing to do with putting more men in prison. The logic is self-evident if we just transfer it to the realm of white-collar crime: we easily accept that there is no net sum of white-collar crime waiting to happen, no inscrutable generation of super-predators produced by Dewar’s-guzzling dads and scaly M.B.A. profs; if you stop an embezzlement scheme here on Third Avenue, another doesn’t naturally start in the next office building. White-collar crime happens through an intersection of pathology and opportunity; getting the S.E.C. busy ending the opportunity is a good way to limit the range of the pathology.

And still we go on locking people up at a ferocious clip—even though, in terms of our incarceration rates, we increasingly stand alone in the world.

To catch sharks and not dolphins, Zimring’s work suggests, we need to adjust the size of the holes in the nets—to make crimes that are the occasion for stop-and-frisks real crimes, not crimes like marijuana possession. When the New York City police stopped and frisked kids, the main goal was not to jail them for having pot but to get their fingerprints, so that they could be identified if they committed a more serious crime. But all over America the opposite happens: marijuana possession becomes the serious crime. The cost is so enormous, though, in lives ruined and money spent….

So how do we go about ending this plague of imprisoning? Gopnick suggests that we must start thinking and acting sanely—in a thousand small ways.

Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. “Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges” is usually the very best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently and, eventually, you get to its heart. To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave. The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)—many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime….

Anyway, read the thing. It’s worth it.


HOUSE PANEL QUESTIONS US ATTORNEY GENERAL ABOUT PARDONS OFFICE AFTER PROPUBLICA INVESTIGATION ON RACIAL DISPARITIES IN PRESIDENTIAL PARDONS

In December of this past year, in an investigation co-published by the Washington Post, ProPublica reporters Dafna Linzer and Jennifer LaFleur found that, in the past ten years of presidential pardons, white criminals seeking pardons were nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities pardon seekers. Black pardon seekers had the lowest chance of all.

Here’s a clip:

Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered.

“I’m just astounded by those numbers,” said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department’s pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office’s practices that would have skewed the recommendations. “I can recall several African Americans getting pardons.’’

The review of applications for pardons is conducted almost entirely in secret, with the government releasing scant information about those it rejects.

The facts uncovered by the reporters’ investigation caused the House Judiciary Committee to pose a series of probing questions to Attorney General Eric Holder about what he was doing to look into this issue.


A WOMAN RELIVES THE TRAUMA OF FORCED STERILIZATION AND THE NIGHTMARE OF EUGENICS

This LA Times Column One story story by David Zucchino is dizzyingly painful to read, but also essential.

Here’s how it opens:

Elaine Riddick was a confused and frightened 14-year-old. She was poor and black, the daughter of alcoholic parents in a segregated North Carolina town. And she was pregnant after being raped by a man from her neighborhood.

Riddick’s miserable circumstances attracted the attention of social workers, who referred her case to the state’s Eugenics Board. In an office building in Raleigh, five men met to consider her fate — among them the state health director and a lawyer from the attorney general’s office.

Board members concluded that the girl was “feebleminded” and doomed to “promiscuity.” They recommended sterilization. Riddick’s illiterate grandmother, Maggie Woodard, known as “Miss Peaches,” marked an “X” on a consent form.

Hours after Riddick gave birth to a son in Edenton, N.C., on March 5, 1968, a doctor sliced through her fallopian tubes and cauterized them.

“They butchered me like a hog,” recalls Riddick, now a poised and determined woman of 57.

Between the years of 1929 and 1974, reports Zuccinno, close to 7,600 people were sterilized under orders from North Carolina’s Eugenics Board. Nearly 85% were women or girls, some as young as 10…

Read on.


Photo by Steve Liss for the New Yorker

Posted in American voices, crime and punishment, criminal justice, prison, prison policy, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

RESCUE ME: LASD Deputies Make Multiple Hillside Rescues on Weekend

January 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Normally, it’s our business to investigate more than it is to praise.

However, this story is just to remind everyone that we do also notice the everyday heroism performed week after week, year in, year out, by the men and women of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (and the Los Angeles Police Department too, of course, although the LAPD is not the topic of the story today).

In any case, both multi-person rescues shown in these cool helmet cam videos took place this past Sunday.

A 14-year old boy trapped with three of his friends on an Azuza Canyon cliff managed to get cell phone reception and called 911.. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Air-5 Rescue pilots were alerted and flew in with deputy paramedics to rescue all four of the boys, lifting them off the cliff, one at a time.


In order to rescue a 19-year-old woman trapped on a ledge, a deputy paramedic was lowered from an LASD Air-5 helicopter via a hoist as the craft hovered hundreds of feet above Millard Canyon. The deputy then hooked the hoist to the woman and got her safely into the helicopter

Meanwhile, two more teens, a 17-year-old boy, and an 18-year-old girl, trapped 40 feet above the canyon bottom, were also rescued by the Sheriff’s Altadena Search and Rescue Team, using rope lines. (For more details of the rescue go here.)

Posted in LASD | No Comments »

Supes Balk at $5.7 Million Jails Report & Want Alternatives to Rebuilding CJ

January 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


At Tuesday’s board meeting, several of the LA County Supervisors surprised many observers
by balking at rubber stamping a $5.7 million planning package to design various jail building and jail renovation options. Instead the Supes sent the high ticket planning package, jointly proposed by County CEO, Bill Fujioka, and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, back to the drawing board.

The $5.7 report was ostensibly aimed at exploring all possible options for addressing the overcrowding issues that plague the county’s troubled jail facilities, and that are expected to get worse under the state’s new realignment policy, even though the County has somewhere upwards of 4000 empty jail beds, even as I type.

Yet, the Sheriff has strongly suggested that what he really wants is for the Supervisors to authorize $1.4 billion to build a brand new jail that would replace Men’s Central Jail, an old and ghastly facility that everyone agrees has to be torn down, thus the suspicion is that he means the $5.7 design report to lay down track that will lead inevitably to his desired goal of construction.

However, Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, in particular, made it clear they were not all that willing to climb on the Sheriff’s construction train just yet. Instead, they asked for a better discussion of creative alternatives to lowering the jail numbers before rushing any further toward billion dollar building projects.

In the course of discussion, Zev brought up a recently commissioned report-in-progress by prisons and jails expert Dr. James Austin, that is to be completed next month. The Austin report will make recommendations about ways to lower the jail population numbers, by the use of such strategies as a well-run pretrial release program, which other cities have successfully implemented to lower their own jail numbers. (WitnessLA mentioned the existence of the Austin report in Monday’s post.)

Yaroslavsky also mentioned a 289-page study by the Vera institute, titled the Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project, that had been previously commissioned by the CEO’s office. (The report was first completed in 2008, then revised in Sept. 2011.)

“There are counties and cities and states all over the country that have rethought the way they deal with their prison populations that could save us hundreds of millions of dollars without compromising anything,” Zev said. “At least we have to look at that and go into this whole discussion with open minds about what can be done…….We have the opportunity here to look at alternatives to spending close to a billion and a half dollars on this kind of undertaking—money that, frankly, we can’t afford.” (Yaroslavsky made sure to note the inconvenient fact that has recently come to light—namely that the billion and a half dollar proposed new jail would only net the county around 400 new beds.)

Molina echoed Zev’s skepticism and raised it a notch. “We have the Department of Justice looking at us,” she said. “We have the ACLU lawsuit….We have all these issues and they all boil down to one thing: how we handle our jail populations. Yet all we ever talk about on this board is building.”

Molina too was high on the Vera Institute report, much of which she appeared to have read—or at the very least she had been fairly well briefed on its contents.

The Vera report has a detailed section about pretrial release and how and why LA’ County’s bail system needs to be rethought. It shows with plenty of graphs and pie charts how the current system lets wealth, or lack thereof, decide who gets out on bail, and who languishes in a cell while they wait for trial, when the deciding factor really ought to be “risk assessment”—namely who is most at risk of not showing up for trial, or might be a danger to public safety.

Molina pounced on Fujioka about the issue. “I’m asking you a simple question,” she said. “Here’re all the recommendations from Vera. Why aren’t we implementing them?….I don’t understand why we are waiting… Why can’t we do [some of these things]? We already have the report. It’s very thorough.”

Good question.—an inquiry that will likely be repeated after the report from the Austin group is delivered next month.

The fact that the Austin report will exist at all, required a confluence of events. Since 2007, Sheriff Baca had been offered Jim Austin’s services gratis, but the sheriff repeatedly declined to let Austin look at his jails data in order to make recommendations as to how best to reduce overcrowding—even though the ACLU said it would pay the tab for the study. In the summer, Baca semi-relented and said he’d let the study go ahead, on the condition that the report was sealed, and not in any way made public. Appalled, the ACLU said no to the secrecy required. Then finally, early this past November, Baca gave a total go-ahead. He was no doubt motivated in part by the media storm around the jails abuse scandal, and the FBI investigation. Yet, by all accounts Baca is now being very cooperative and seems anxious to see what Austin and his group will recommend.

Once the Austin report is delivered in February,—as Molina suggests—everything depends on whether it becomes one more stack of paper to be filed, or a roadmap for action.

And, if the county implements some of Vera’s and Austin’s solutions, will building a new jail still be necessary?

Maybe not, say some experts.

The ACLU, the Vera Report and others have pointed out that the vast majority of the inmates in Men’s Central Jail are pretrial detainees—many awaiting disposition on charges of low-level, nonviolent or trivial offenses. This means that a significant percentage of those in jail at any given moment, are there, not because a judge thought they were a danger, but because their families are simply too poor to post bond.

Still, if such policies are reformed, will they and related strategies be enough, or will we need creative building strategies too?

Mr. Fujioka has pledged to come back to the board with a proposal for a new uber planning, analysis and design package that will look at the whole picture and come back with recommendations by the summer.

So stay tuned.


PS: The Supervisors did approve an application for $100 million in state funding for a women’s jail, but the application does not commit them to taking the money and doing the construction.


Photo courtesy of the Youth Justice Coalition

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Sheriff Lee Baca | 4 Comments »

Supes Will Address Jail Planning & Building Options—But Is It Too Soon?

January 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



I’m in the middle of working on another project today, so just one quick bit of news on jails:


The LA County Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday on a proposal to allocate $5.7 million for a study to explore various options to lower the inmate population and improve conditions in the county’s jail facilities —particularly in light of the new influx of prisoners due to the state’s realignment policy.

Nearly all of the options being studied have to do with some combination of building new facilities and renovating old facilities.

The proposal is expected to pass.

Plus, the Supervisors are also likely to authorize an application** for $100 million in state money toward building a new women’s jail.

Then, if Sheriff Baca has his way, the planning will lead to the allocation of really big bucks for jail construction, $1 billion plus to tear down the horrid old Men’s Central Jail and build a nice spanking new jail to take its place.

Critics like the ACLU argue that while the very troubled Men’s Central building, should have been torn down years ago, there are safe and cost-efficient ways to solve the jails population problem without going on a building spree.

For one thing, says the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg, there are several thousand empty beds in the system right now, between the unused space in the Twin Towers and more unused beds up at Pitchess Detention Center. (Eliasberg says 7000 empty beds, but I’ve not confirmed that with the LASD. But suffice it to say, a lot of unused beds.)

For another thing, right now a study of the LA County jails and its population issues is in the works. It’s being conducted by Dr. James Austin, a national expert on prisons and overcrowding, who has helped other jurisdictions solve their jails population problems, without compromising public safety..

Dr. Austin is expected to meet with Sheriff Baca again in the early days of February to discuss his findings and recommendations, and hopefully to institute a pilot for a pre-trial release monitoring program. This program simply means that people who are given a reasonable bail (because the judge doesn’t consider them a flight risk or a danger to public safety) have an alternative method of getting out of jail before trial (which in some cases may mean electronic monitoring to make sure that they show up for trial) other than simply coming up with the money to hand to a bondsman—which many people don’t have the resources to do.

As it is now the bail system discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, who must languish in jail—away from jobs and family —while waiting for trial, while the wealthy get to go home—and our current system does nothing for public safety, plus it causes crowding in the jails, at the taxpayers expense.

(The only people who benefit from the current bail system are those in the bail industry, who really, really hate pre-trial release and monitoring programs.)

It’s all this stuff and much more that the Austin report and pilot program will ostensibly address in detail. So wouldn’t it be wiser to wait a few weeks until we can get the info Jim Austin has to offer before starting to allocate planning and building money?

In any case, more on all this later. I’ll let you know how the Supes vote goes.


** I originally reported that the $100 million was for a straight county allocation of funds, but it refers to an application for state funding.

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Sheriff Lee Baca | 5 Comments »

Jails Commission Anonymity, Warrentless Tracking & Juvenile LWOP

January 23rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES CAN’T BE GUARANTEED CONFIDENTIALITY IN JAILS COMMISSION TESTIMONY

The controversy over whether or not those testifying before the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence
can be offered anonymity may have just been settled.

LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard spoke to the Commission’s lead attorney, Richard E. Drooyan, who explained that legally, a promise of anonymity wouldn’t hold up if deputies were asked to testify in future criminal or civil cases in court.

(By the way, Drooyan is also the president of the Los Angeles police commission.)

Here’s how the LAT story opens:

A commission investigating allegations of deputy brutality inside Los Angeles County jails cannot guarantee confidentiality for deputies who want to testify, dealing a blow to efforts to combat what has been described as a code of silence among some jail guards.

Members of the special commission created by the county Board of Supervisors had raised the possibility of allowing deputies and others to provide anonymous testimony as they attempt to determine the scope of any brutality against inmates.

But Richard E. Drooyan, the panel’s general counsel, has told commissioners that a court could compel them to provide the identities during a criminal investigation or civil litigation. Allegations of excessive force against inmates is the subject of an FBI probe as well as civil lawsuits, including one filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

In an interview with The Times on Saturday, Drooyan said he hoped former deputies and current guards would be willing to come forward despite the limits on confidentiality.

“There is at least some chance that we’ll be able to preserve confidentiality, but it’s not something we can guarantee,” he said.

Drooyan notes that the Commission will be looking at systemic issues, not criminality by individual deputies. In other words, the issue is reform, not nabbing people. So hopefully everyone with something important to say will say it anyway, even without anonymity.


A CALIFORNIA CASE OF WARRANT-FREE TRACKING HEADS FOR THE SUPREMES

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News has this well-reported story. Here’s how it opens:

A year and a half ago, a Silicon Valley community college student wound up in the cross hairs of a shadowy but common law enforcement practice now at the center of an unfolding legal drama in the U.S. Supreme Court.

On his way to school, Yasir Afifi, an Arab-American, stopped for an oil change and later discovered that the GPS tracking device he found on the underbelly of his car had been put there by the FBI without a warrant.

Now the Supreme Court is expected to decide any day whether the government has a right to use that tactic without a search warrant in a case that highlights the tensions between law enforcement needs and the privacy implications of new technologies that can track our every move.

In a Washington, D.C., case, the Supreme Court is considering whether warrantless GPS tracking violates the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure, one of the core rules in any criminal case. The scope of the court’s ruling could have far-reaching implications when everything from smartphones to dashboard gadgets offer authorities a generous menu for tracking suspects.

The Obama administration and law enforcement groups say GPS tracking is no different from ordinary police surveillance on public streets. There is no constitutional barrier to GPS tracking in public places, they argue.

Really? Really?? Yeah, okay, we all know that privacy’s a thing of the past, but this sounds a little police state-ish.

The problem is that if the Supreme Court rules against the tracking, some righteous convictions will be tossed out. On the other hand, if one has a warrant, no problem with slapping on that tracker.

No one seems to have a clear bet as to which way SCOTUS will go.Yet, whatever their ruling, it will be significant, as this case will set the course for other technologies that have yet to appear.

UPDATE: THE SUPREMES REJECTED WARRANT-CHALLENGED TRACKING: GO, SCOTUS!

Ars Technica has a very interesting write up on the split in thinking on the court that went into the unanimous decision.


JUVENILE LIFE FOR NON-HOMICIDE CASES—LOUISIANA STRUGGLES WITH WHAT TO DO

In a 2010 decision (Graham vs. Florida), The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that kids convicted of crimes that don’t involve murder cannot be locked up for the rest of their lives.

The states with cases affected by the ruling are now struggling with how things should play out with their non-homicide LWOP cases. Louisiana is one of those states. Here’s the opening to a story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, that deals with one such case that has pushed the issue into the open.

Giovanni Brown was 16 when he and another teen forced their way into a home in an upscale Harvey subdivision in 1999, armed with pistols and intent on mayhem. After holding four people against their will for hours, ransacking the home and trying in vain to force the homeowner to withdraw cash from an ATM, the teenagers stole two cars loaded with the family’s property.

Brown was prosecuted as an adult and convicted of aggravated kidnapping and four counts of armed robbery. He was sentenced in 2000 to life in prison with no chance of probation, parole or suspended sentence for the kidnapping, and another 40 years for robbery. Under Louisiana law, Brown would never leave prison, a reality his public defender Marquita Naquin argued during the trial.

“What can a 16-year-old do in the first 16 years of his life that demands that we throw him away?” Naquin asked the jury just before it unanimously rejected her plea.

Her argument proved prophetic.

Louisiana’s DA’s Association is arguing that inmates like Giovanni Brown should not be eligible for parole until they are 60 years old.

And while we’re having this discussion, at the risk of doing my broken record thing again (which I’ll be doing once more in the next week or so because California’s legislative attempt to modify juvenile LWOP may be coming up for a vote soon), please do remember that the U.S. is the only country in the world—IN THE WORLD— that imprisons kids for life. So either we have a much worse class of kid in this nation, or we’ve got a policy that……let’s just say it needs some improvement.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LWOP Kids, Supreme Court | No Comments »

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