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At the Public Commission Meeting, A Shattered Father Speaks… by Matt Fleischer

May 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


by Matthew Fleischer

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence held its first—and possibly only–community meeting at the EXPO Center at the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium Wednesday night. Three commission members, Chair Lourdes G. Baird, Vice Chair Cecil L. Murray, and Commissioner Alexander Busansky, were all in attendance to hear public testimony about the state of LA County’s jails, along with the commission’s executive director Miriam Krinsky and the group’s legal director, Richard Drooyan.

The results were a mixed bag, as the speakers’ lineup frequently seemed dominated by pro-LASD plants from Sheriff Baca’s Citizens Advisory Board, and well-intentioned social justice do-gooders looking for a soapbox. The night found its footing, however, thanks mostly to the striking testimony of Stephen Rochelle.

Stephen is the father of Matthew Rochelle–-a 24-year-old former Twin Towers inmate now serving an indeterminate sentence of 15-years to life in Patton State Hospital for the murder of a fellow inmate.

In 2006, Matthew—-a bright, personable kid, in his senior year of high school-—was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. With treatment and medication he was able to stabilize his condition, but in November of 2008, he went off his meds and, in a confused state, was arrested for breaking and entering a residence. While he waited to stand trial, he was to have been placed in Patton State Hospital. But Patton didn’t have a bed, so Matthew was taken to LA County’s Twin Towers jail—which houses a sizable population of mentally ill inmates.

“It was our hope to get Matthew stabilized and get him admitted to Patton State Hospital,” his father, who works as an LAUSD high school principal, told the captivated audience at the jails commission.

Instead, inside Twin Towers, Stephen said, things got far worse—due in large part to deputy treatment of his son. “They taunted him and called him a ‘piece of shit,’” said Stephen, his powerful voice betraying the slightest hint of a quaver. “They stopped feeding him for several days and shut off the water to his cell.** They broke his pinkie. And they orchestrated inmate fights. On one occasion Matthew was escorted to a hostile gang member’s cell and was locked in while deputies watched him get beaten up.”

Delivery of his medication was reportedly intermittent at best.

Eventually, in August of 2009, Matthew was placed inside a cell with a 56-year-old fellow schizophrenic inmate named Cedric Watson. Matthew had never been more unstable.

“He had stopped eating,” recalled Stephen. “His weight dropped from 165 to 126.We got a call from his lawyer telling us ‘your son is in a lot of trouble.’”

Soon after, an altercation ensued between Matthew and his fellow mentally ill cellmate that left Watson dead–and Matthew on trial for first-degree murder. This despite the fact that Matthew was clearly in a delusional state after the killing.

“He told investigating deputies that he was Hotep from Egypt” among other elaborate hallucinations, Stephen told me after the hearing.

Although the district attorney’s office pressed hard for a first degree murder conviction, Matthew was found not guilty of that charge, by reason of insanity. But he was convicted of second-degree and sentenced 15-to life in Patton State Hospital—the same facility that said they couldn’t admit him before the killing despite his parents’ desperate attempts to find him a bed there.

When the commission meeting ended at around 8:30 p.m., the commissioners each thanked those assembled, but several made a special point of thanking Stephen and Nina Rochelle, in particular, for coming forward.

Commissioner Cecil Murray was, on this night, the most expressive of the members. “Who will protect us from our protectors?” he said to the crowd, who nodded and murmured in response. “Who will defend us from our defenders?”

He also told the audience that, if they were worried the commission would be nothing more than “fluff,” to check back with them in September when they deliver their report.

“My expectations were low coming in here,” Stephen told me after the hearing concluded. “But I felt the commission was thankful and it renewed their commitment to do something substantive.”

“Our lives are an open book at this point. We just hope something comes of our son’s story.”

**EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s important to say that, although, like most people present Wednesday night, we found the Rochelle parents very compelling, we have in no way vetted any of their claims. And while some of the allegations—the verbal abuse and physical abuse, the inmate fights, the failure to deliver medication consistantly—are in keeping with other, better validated inmate experiences we are aware of, the charge of non feeding and turning of water to the cell, as it is described does not strike us as terribly logical, nor is it common to the other inmate experiences we have run across in the course of the past two years of reporting on the matter. Thus we surmise that part of their story may be misinterpretation of events by distraught parents. But we will let you know more, as we know more.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 30 Comments »

Mentally Ill Housed in Jails, Families’ Rights to Autopsy Photo Privacy, and more…

May 30th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


California’s mentally ill who are accused of crimes, but deemed incompetent to stand trial, often have to wait upwards of three to six months in county jail while they wait to get into mental facilities. In some cases, this means inmates spend the entirety of their incarceration time without proper medication or treatment.

The Sacramento Bee’s Jocelyn Weiner has the story. Here’s a clip:

For Kim Green, the latest chapter of a recurring nightmare began last fall.

In October, her 24-year-old daughter, who suffers from severe bipolar disorder and a mood disorder related to schizophrenia,
was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail after being arrested on a probation violation. In December, a judge declared the young woman incompetent to face charges and ordered her to Napa State Hospital to get well.

But with no beds available at Napa, Green said, her daughter instead spent five months in the jail. Green, a registered nurse, said her youngest daughter has been sick since she was a little girl; at the age of four, she tearfully told Green that she didn’t want to be alive anymore. By age six, she was hearing voices. Now her family watched, helpless, as she waited in jail, off her medication and increasingly lost in her delusions.

“I guarantee that, with no help, she will end up dead or in the system,” Green said.

California Healthline also reports on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The state reduced mental health funding by $765 million — more than one-fifth of its mental health budget — from 2009 to 2012, according to a report from National Alliance on Mental Illness. Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has determined that the number of state prison inmates with mental illnesses has increased from 19% in 2007 to 25% in 2012.

Randall Hagar — director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association — said that in many counties, patients with serious mental health conditions often wait three to six months in jail before a state hospital bed becomes available. According to data from the sheriff’s department in Stanislaus County, the number of inmates with mental illnesses in the local jail increased by nearly 50% in the past six years.

PS: Just a reminder–the LA County Jail system houses the LARGEST mental institution in the nation.


The California Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that under the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, families have a right to control whether or not autopsy photos get released to the press.

Business Insider’s Erin Fuchs has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Ninth Circuit was weighing in on Brenda Marsh’s suit against former San Diego District Attorney Jay Coulter over his release of her allegedly murdered son’s autopsy photos to a newspaper and TV station.

Marsh’s 2-year-old son, Philip Buell, died of a severe head trauma and her then-boyfriend went to prison for second-degree murder. However, his conviction was overturned.

The former San Diego DA — who had kept an autopsy photo as a memento — then released the image to the media along with a piece called “What really happened to Philip Buell?” according to the court opinion.


“Grand Park will make our Civic Center bloom,” said LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina of the $56 million park that will open in the middle of downtown Los Angeles early this summer. “In a sea of concrete, Grand Park will be a welcome urban oasis.” Molina, who sent out a lengthy and informative press release on the park Tuesday afternoon, is one of a group of county officials who have worked on the Grand Park project. The park is a very welcome addition to the downtown landscape, and is especially heartening at a time when a growing number of state parks are at risk because of budget cuts. It also will provide a much needed new green space for kids in LA’s surrounding urban communities, who have long been short on parkland.

The LA Times’ Sam Allen has more on the park. Here’s a clip:

As Downtown L.A. has seen a boom in residential and commercial development in the last decade, one complaint is heard over and over: There is not enough green space in the heart of the city.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officials announced that is about to change. A 12-acre park stretching from the steps of City Hall to the top of Bunker Hill will open this summer. It will be downtown’s largest park and its completion marks the first step in an ambitious effort to revitalize the civic center and surrounding areas.

The so-called Grand Park runs between 1st and Temple streets from Grand Avenue to Spring Street. The hillside will include two large lawns, a renovated fountain, a three-quarter mile promenade, gardens and groves, officials said. Events will be coordinated by the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, which also oversees the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum.

You can learn more about the project (and check out a very cool map) at Grand Park’s website.

Posted in California budget, Courts, criminal justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | No Comments »

Jail Commission Has Community Hearing Wednesday Night, Wants Your Input

May 29th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Both the Christopher and the Kolts Commissions
made good use of public hearings in creating their lengthy and important reports. (To remind you: the Christopher commission was formed in July 1991 to examine LAPD practices after the March 1991 beating of Rodney King. The Kolts Commission was formed in December of 1991 to look at practices of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department after a series of allegations of excessive force.)

Like its predecessors, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, appointed last fall by the Los Angeles County Supervisors in the wake of the sheriff’s department’s widening jails scandals, wants to hear from members of the public.
With this in mind, those who wish to share their own experiences and informed concerns about violence at the LA County Jails will have their chance to be heard by members of the Commission at a community meeting Wednesday night.

This is from the Commission material on the hearing:

This forum will provide an opportunity for members of the community to learn about the work of the CCJV and also offer perspectives that might enlighten the Commission’s work. Commission Chair Lourdes G. Baird, Vice Chair Cecil L. Murray, Commissioner Alexander Busansky, as well as Executive Director Miriam Aroni Krinsky and other Commission staff, will be present to discuss the Commission’s work and timeline and to listen to the perspectives of members of our community. Attendees will be given the opportunity to address the Commission in regard to concerns or recommendations they may have in regard to the Commission’s focus – alleged inappropriate use of force by deputies against County jail inmates.

They’re hoping for a good turnout, so com’on down.

Here’s the relevant info:

May 30, at 6 p.m. at The EXPO Center
at the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium
3980 Bill Robertson Lane,
Los Angeles CA, 90037

Parking: Available in Lot #1 (entrance on corner of Bill Robertson Lane (formerly Menlo Ave.)

Photo by Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD | 1 Comment »

Louisiana Prison Capital of the World, Brian Banks Exonerated, and more…

May 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Louisiana has more people behind bars per capita than anywhere else on earth, with a rate of one in 86 residents incarcerated. From the for-profit prisons that keep their facilities over-crowded to keep cash flowing, to the minimal rehabilitation opportunities at the local level, to the preposterously lengthy prison sentences–New Orleans Times-Picayune’s eight part series sheds light on the poor infrastructure that makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

NOLA’s entire series is worth reading, but here is a clip from Part 4: Unusual Punishment:

Brian Martin is serving 24 years behind bars — without the possibility of parole — for a car burglary. The 22-year-old had two other burglaries on his record when he was arrested near Abita Springs on June 8, 2011, after stripping a BMW of its stereo and steering wheel. If charged as a three-time offender, he could have received life without parole. His attorney, Doyle “Buddy” Spell, persuaded prosecutors to consider only the two most recent car break-ins, taking a life sentence off the table, but doubling the 12-year maximum for a first-timer.

Martin, a drug addict with a mop of unruly blond hair, will be 46 when he is released from prison in 2036. “I would suggest that we just threw away a life and that the punishment did not fit the crime,” Spell said.

Sentences of several decades, or even life, for nonviolent crimes are not unusual in Louisiana. The state’s prisons are filled with Brian Martins — petty criminals who in another state would have received a much shorter sentence or no jail time at all. Unusually tough sentencing laws are one major reason Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

“We see the only goal that is being reflected accurately might be retribution,” said Katherine Mattes, a professor at Tulane Law School and interim director of the university’s Criminal Litigation Clinic.

In Texas, no bastion of liberalism, a two-time car burglar would be guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a maximum of six months. California’s famous three-strikes law does not kick in unless at least one of the crimes was a rape, murder, carjacking, residential burglary or other major felony. There, Martin would have received no more than a year behind bars.

In Louisiana, about 160 habitual offenders whose most recent crime involved nothing more harmful than marijuana are serving 20 years or more. More than 300 people serving life without parole in Louisiana have never been convicted of a violent crime.


Brian Banks was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction with help from the California Innocence Project. His accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was secretly recorded admitting the accusation was false during a meeting with Banks. Now Banks suing California for his false imprisonment.

KPCC’s Patt Morrison had Brian on the show to tell his story. Here’s a clip:

Banks, who was 17 at the time of his trial, pleaded no contest to the charges in order to avoid the possibility of facing 40 years to life in prison in a conviction. He spent six years in prison and was under very restrictive parole until his accuser was recorded saying she wasn’t raped and that she is afraid of coming forward because she might have to return the $1.5 million her family won from the Long Beach Unified School District in a civil suit.

“I received a Facebook friend request last year from the woman who accused me of raping her, where she wanted to reconnect and, in her words, ‘let bygones be bygones,’” said Banks. After receiving this message, Banks hired a private investigator to set up and record their meeting, in which his accuser admitted to falsely accusing him. “From there I took that information to the California Innocence Project, who accepted my case. The rest is history, and here I am today, a free man,” said Banks.

Justin Brooks is the defense attorney handling Banks’ case. He said that in the history of the California Innocence Project, they have never taken a case of someone who had already been released from prison.

The Daily News has the story on Banks’ lawsuit against the state, and includes a video of the emotional hearing. Here’s a clip:

Brooks said that Banks is entitled to $100 a day for every day he was falsely imprisoned under State Law 4900.

If successful, the lawsuit against the state of California would net Banks about $188,500.

Banks, a football standout at Poly, had been heavily recruited by colleges, and had a verbal offer for a scholarship at USC.


Andrea Lopez, 17-year-old LA Youth writer, felt extremely under-prepared for the SAT prep course she attended at UCLA. Lopez was surprised that she could be one of the top students in her grade, and still be so far behind other students from the same school district. Like many other kids in minority communities, she began to worry that her Sylmar public school education was not adequate enough to get her into a good college.

Here’s a clip from the LA Youth story:

I thought I had a great vocabulary, but I had never heard words like “spurious,” “cogent” and “plaudits.” It’s disappointing that the schools I’ve been to didn’t give me as good an education as these kids. Usually I’m proud of getting some of the best grades in my classes, but I was jealous of what these students knew.

I realized that these kids probably grew up with parents who spoke English and used impressive-sounding words. But having Spanish-speaking parents, I learned most of my grammar and vocabulary on my own. I’ve never been ashamed of having parents who weren’t born here or didn’t graduate high school but sometimes I wish they were more educated so they could help me in school.

Be sure to read the rest of Andrea’s story–it has a very inspirational ending.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LAUSD, National issues, prison, prison policy, Probation, Reentry, Sentencing, social justice, Social Justice Shorts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

For All Our Service People, Present and Past, With Gratitude

May 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Above is Karl Marlantes, the author of the excellent Vietnam novel,
Matterhorn and, more recently, his nonfiction book, What It’s Like to Go to War.

And this is the author Tim O’Brien, author of many fine books,
but author most indelibly, most immortally of The Things They Carried, about his time in Vietnam. They don’t come much better than this book.

Both are works that help us understand and honor our combat veterans better.

It is our job to do so.

PS: Yes, we know that it’s Memorial Day, not Veterans’ Day, but were taking this opportunity anyway.

Posted in War, writers and writing | No Comments »

WitnessLA is a Finalist for Three LA Press Club Awards

May 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

WitnessLA is very happy to report that we are a finalist in three categories
for this year’s Southern California Journalism Awards given by the LA Press Club.

The categories in which we are shortlisted are:

Best Online Investigative Story or Package….for Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails Part 3: The Prince.

Best Advocacy Journalism…….for the coverage—reporting and commentary-–documenting a complex system of corruption inside the LA Sheriff’s Department.

Best Group Weblog….for WitnessLA in general.

You can find a full list of all the finalists here.

The winners will be announced on June 24 at the 54th SoCal Journalism Awards Gala at Biltmore Hotel.

Posted in media | 9 Comments »

Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices Vs. Everybody Else by Matthew Fleischer

May 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


by Matthew Fleischer

In October of last year, a 26-year-old Naples, Florida man named Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca
was sentenced to life in prison. Despite the gravity of his sentence, Vilca was no murderer. He hadn’t assaulted or raped anyone. Vilca was convicted of possession of 454 images of child pornography. The prosecution treated each photograph as a separate crime. Vilca received a 154-year sentence when all his crimes were stacked on top of one another. His sentence was longer than it would have been if he had actually molested a child.

Vilca certainly isn’t the only American serving a Kafka-esque sentence for a non-violent crime. You’ve probably heard the stat before, but 730 out of 100,000 people are currently behind bars in the United States–a rate 6 times higher than authoritarian China. Rwanda—which less than two decades ago saw upwards of 1 million people slaughtered in the streets in a genocidal bloodbath by their neighbors—only has 595 out of 100,000 people in prison. Most of us have some idea that the United States is an outlier when it comes to our astronomical rates of incarceration. But a new report released this week by the University of San Francisco School of Law’s Center for Law and Global Justice puts those numbers in a true global context. The authors surveyed the criminal justice laws of all 193 member states of the United Nations—and the results were shocking.

“There’s a reason we have the incredible prison population that we do, and it’s not because of higher crime,” says Amanda Solter, one of the report’s authors who spent nearly two years studying international sentencing laws. “It’s because of our sentencing policies—the majority of which were implemented the last 30 years.”

There’s plenty gone haywire in our sentencing laws, but a big part of the problem is that the U.S. is categorically alone in its propensity to lock up children. According to the report, there are an estimated 2,594 juveniles offenders serving life without parole sentences in the U.S. and zero in the rest of the world. “Argentina is one of the few countries aside from the U.S. whose law allows for such sentences,” explains Solter, “they just don’t actually sentence anyone. And if they did, the sentence would be overturned in court.”

That’s because Argentina signed the international Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty—which prohibits sentencing juveniles to life without parole. International treaties take precedence over domestic law in Argentina’s constitution.

The CRC treaty also stipulates no child under 12 should be held criminally responsible for their actions. The U.S. has no such age limit. Any one of the 92,000 juveniles currently in detention in the U.S. can be tried as an adult—no matter their age.

Incidentally, Somalia and South Sudan are the only countries in the world that, along with the U.S., elected not to sign the CRC treaty. Nice company.

The U.S. is also part of the minority group of countries—21 percent of the world’s nations-–that allow “uncapped” consecutive sentencing like the kind that put Daniel Vilca in prison for 154 years multiple counts of the same non-violent crime. The vast majority of countries around the world allow for enhanced sentencing for multiple counts of the same offense, but within limits—with “capped” maximum sentences. In Switzerland, for example, Vilca would have received the maximum sentence allowed for one count of possession of child porn, and then had his sentence bumped by 50 percent for the additional counts.

Perhaps most interesting is how the U.S. deals with retroactive application of ameliorative law—meaning how prisoner sentences are dealt with when legislators revise the sentencing guidelines. Unlike 66 percent of the world, the U.S. has no law that guarantees prisoners the right to ameliorative relief once they’ve been convicted.

For instance, if Congress were to outlaw the death penalty overnight, current death row inmates could still be executed—unless Congress (or a state legislature, if the change is on a state level) explicitly states the law applies retroactively. This is rare, says Solter: “New Mexico recently abolished the death penalty but it doesn’t apply to current death row inmates.”

In Connecticut, which is the latest state to do away with the death penalty, the situation is the same; despite the change for everyone who comes after, those on death row, will stay on death row.

Here in California, our state Supreme Court has ruled that retroactive amelioration should apply implicitly if legislators leave the issue unspecified. But legislators are within their rights to specify that laws won’t apply retroactively. If the state decides to decriminalize marijuana trafficking, for instance, there’s no guarantee any current weed offenders would be let out of prison.

And of course there is California’s infamous “three strikes” law—which can put an offender away for life for a trivial, nonviolent offense if that offender has two previous “strikes,” even if those strikes are 20 years in the offender’s past. While most countries around the world authorize enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, only 33 countries take away judicial discretion in sentencing like California does. Japan is the only first world country among this group, which includes, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan and The Philippines. Not exactly bastions of democracy.

“Individually–with the exception of the juvenile stuff–when you look at a lot of these issues they’re not that shocking,” says Solter. “But when you step back and see how alone we are in using all of these controversial policies in conjunction with one another, it’s astonishing. We can’t even afford it and yet we still continue to do it.”

There’s a whole lot more worth reading in the report. Check it out in full here.

Posted in Sentencing | No Comments »

Veteran PTSD Stigma, Homeboy & the Solar Industry, and Twitterature…

May 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


In honor of Memorial Day–and because it’s an issue of great import–we thought veteran PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the attached stigma an appropriate topic. PTSD is not given the same validity as visible injury. Veterans who return home from service with invisible injuries such as PTSD are often perceived as weak, instead of deserving of honor and support. Maybe if we were to stop stigmatizing our veterans, we could move next to understanding our inner city kids with PTSD on par with that of service members.

Time’s Frank M. Ochberg addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

There are a few dozen of us who are considered the pioneers of the modern era of traumatic-stress studies, and most of us are worried  – deeply worried — on behalf of the current generation of veterans with invisible wounds.

We thought that by now there would be access to care whenever needed. We thought that by now there would be clear understanding that PTSD is a wound, not a weakness. We thought that a veteran who served honorably and received a compensable medical diagnosis for PTSD due to his or her service on the field of battle, would receive a medal for sacrifice.

But instead of honor, there is stigma. And this stigma must stop.


Chris Warren, editor of a photovoltaic magazine called Photon, chanced upon two seemingly out of place Homeboys at a solar panel convention in Huston, TX. Warren approached them and learned of Homeboy Industries and the Homeboys’ preparatory training for careers in the solar power industry.

Photon’s Chris Warren’s editorial introduction to the article, alone, is a very worthwhile read. Here’s a clip of the actual article (which made the cover story, but is not available online without a subscription):

In a weak economy, many struggle to get jobs. But the task is much more daunting for those who have been in prison or involved with gang activity. Since 2008, Los Angeles, California-based Homeboy Industries has provided in-depth training for former inmates and gang members to become PV installers. Despite successes, placing graduates in jobs remains difficult.


The New Yorker is testing out Twitter literature with Jennifer Egan, author of 2010′s big prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad‘s new story Black Box. The New Yorker fiction feed (@NYerFiction) will tweet 10 daily installments (the first was May 24th), each beginning at 5:00p.m. PST and lasting an hour.

The L.A. Time’s book blog has more details. Here’s a clip:

Each evening’s Twitter postings constitute one installment, and that installment will appear on the New Yorker’s revamped book blog, Page-Turner, after the installment has finished. Read it there or complete, in the magazine, when it hits newsstands May 28 — look for the science fiction issue, dated June 4 and June 11.

That’s the logistics: In real time (or real-ish time) on Twitter over 10 nights, or serialized on a blog, or all at once in print. It’s an interesting experiment, one which seems designed to cover all the bases — if you don’t have the patience for the online serialization, just read the printed version.


Posted in Books, Gangs, Homeboy Industries, medical care, PTSD, Uncategorized, War | 1 Comment »

Bill to Lift Media Ban on Interviewing Inmates, LAUSD Police Still Ticket Too Many Kids, and More…

May 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A controversial new California bill, if passed, would rescind the 1996 ban on in-person interviews of inmates by the media. The purported intent of the ban was to keep inmates from promoting themselves and attaining celebrity status, it has actually served to shield areas of the corrections system that need serious reform from public scrutiny.

This LA Times editorial has the details. Here’s a clip:

Under court order, the state is finally addressing the overcrowding problem by sending newly convicted nonviolent offenders to county detention facilities. But there are indicators that inhumane conditions persist; hunger strikes have arisen to protest the state’s use of Security Housing Units, where suspected gang members are isolated in tiny cells under solitary conditions that psychologists consider mentally destabilizing. Some inmates have been warehoused in these units for decades.

How bad is the situation? In truth, we don’t really know, because inmates in these units have no visitation, telephone or interview privileges. A much-needed bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would change that.

AB 1270 allows the media to request interviews with California inmates, including those in Security Housing Units. Officials at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could still turn down these requests for reasons such as excessive risk to the reporter or prison guards, but they would have to submit a written explanation for such denials.

KPCC Air Talk’s Larry Mantle interviews Julie Small, KPCC’s Sacramento Reporter, and  Jim Ewert, California Newspaper Publishers Association and General Counsel and Legislative Advocate on the issue.


The non-profit Center for Public Integrity has compiled data pointing to the fact that not only did LAUSD school police write an excessive number of tickets for African American and Latino students in 2011, but that 40% of those tickets were for kids under the age of 14. There were 438 citations given to middle-school-aged African Americans, 1394 citations given to Latinos, and 28 given to all other ethnicities for things like tardiness, vandalism, and disturbing the peace.

KPCC’s The Madeline Brand Show addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

The district recently reported that during the last three years school police issued more than 33,000 tickets for alleged violations like vandalism, tardiness, and disturbing the peace.

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity is one of several groups compiling data about school policing throughout the country. It reviewed L.A. Unified’s numbers and found that 40 percent of those tickets went to kids 14 and younger — mostly middle schoolers.

The Center also found that school police wrote an overwhelming number of tickets at schools with large numbers of Latino and African-American students.


Through the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. High School, Claudia Gomez interviews students who have been incarcerated to shed light on juvenile corrections and those youth that have come out on the other side.

The California Story’s Jake de Grazia interviews Claudia Gomez about her work at Free L.A. Here’s a clip from the introduction, but the entire interview is extremely worthwhile:

South Los Angeles has a long history of feeding California’s overflowing prisons. And for a school that accepts previously incarcerated youth, the goal is to prevent young people from flowing back in. This is the story of a young woman who wants to make change through intimate conversations widely broadcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. site:

FreeLA High School, a partnership between the John Muir Charter School, the Youth Justice Coalition and the Workforce Investment Act, is dedicated to helping young people earn a high school diploma and find work with a focus on careers in social justice movement building. We serve 16-24 year olds based on their probation requirements and difficulty enrolling in other schools. Most of our students have been pushed out of several other high schools before coming to FreeLA, including Probation School or Los Angeles County Education programs within juvenile facilities.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, Education, jail, journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, race | 3 Comments »

California’s Foster Care Bubble Kids: Will We Help or Abandon Them?

May 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

For years we have known that a high percentage of the state’s foster kids who age out of the foster care system tend to do catastrophically poorly
in the first years after all support is yanked from them on their 18th birthday. With this in mind, in 2010, California passed AB12, allowing foster youth to retain support and guidance until they are 21.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that when the state legislature passed the bill, lawmakers were also trying frantically to save money, so they phased in the support so that the state wouldn’t take the $$ hit all at once. In practical terms this meant that in 2012 the state would continue to help kids until they were 19 years old. In 2013, fosters kids would get help until they were 20. Then AB12 would finally be fully operational for all foster care kids in 2014.

So while the state didn’t take as big a hit, a lot of foster kids did.

The more than 2000 youth who have fallen between the age cracks-–those who are 19 years old this year and thus lose all state support—have been dubbed the “bubble youth.”

Some California counties have voted to pick up the slack for their bubble kids. (Thankfully Los Angeles, along with San Francisco, Alameda and some others, is among the counties who are stepping in to fill the funding gap..)

Daniel Heimpel, the director of Fostering Media Connections, has written a story about one 19-year-old living in Contra Costa County who is affected by the funding bubble and who has sued to get coverage, with with an uncertain outcome.

Here’s a clip:

David walks out of the courthouse with his attorney Darren Kessler and Shawn Nunn, a private social worker with a non-profit organization called Triad Family Services that subcontracts casework with the county.

The presiding judge, Joni Hiramoto, terminated David’s case, but granted a 90-day stay so that David could file his appeal. David, who according to court documents tested positive for methamphetamine at birth and was subsequently diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, is concerned about the judge’s order.

At first he thinks he will have to pack up and leave his foster home that day, but Kessler re-assures him that the stay means he can remain in his Contra Costa County placement until August 3rd, nearly two months after his high school graduation.

“At the end of the day she is splitting the baby,
” Kessler says of Hiromoto’s decision. “She is giving him what he needs in the meantime.”

David is relieved that he won’t have to move out before graduation. He looks forward to starting at UC Berkeley in the fall to study physics, but remains perplexed about the fate of the other kids in his situation. “It is hard, very hard, tricky,” he says.

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