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UTLA Blocks LAUSD’s Hopes for Race to the Top $$…The Advantages of NOT Locking Up Kids…AND Brain Surgery & the Storm (One Sandy Story)

October 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The Los Angeles Unified School District hoped to get $40 million in federal Race to the Top grant money with a 150-page grant application that envisioned a rigorous program designed to help 9th graders who didn’t have enough credits to move up to 10th grade, which has become a problem of depressing proportions at the district.

However the application required a sign-off from the LA’s teachers union.

And the UTLA higher ups declined to put their collective signatures on the dotted line. (The actual rank and file teachers were not consulted about their opinion in the matter.)

The deadline for the application’s submission was originally this week, but has now been extended because of the storm. (No one seems to know the date of the new deadline.)

UTLA Prez Warren Fletcher says his union’s objection to the grant ap is that the federal RTTT grant will leave the district holding the bag fiscally for some of the future costs of the program.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says this objection is nonsense—or words to that effect.

Most observers figure the real reason is something having to do with the union’s aversion to teacher evaluations, although Fletcher says otherwise.

This is not the first time a teachers union has spiked California’s chances for Race bucks.

According to reform advocates, the primary reason that California missed out on Race to the Top. grants for two years running in the past was due to a similar lack of enthusiasm (which some have called pig-headed obstructiveness) on the part of the statewide union, the California Teachers Association.

Tammy Abdollah for KPCC and Howard Blume for the LA Times and Hillel Aron at the LA School Report all have more.

Here’s a clip from Abdollah’s story:

Citing long-term budget concerns, the union for schoolteachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District has refused to sign off on the district’s Race to the Top grant application, effectively taking the nation’s second-largest school district out of the running for $40 million in federal funds.

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy, sounding deflated, said Tuesday morning that the district had tried to work with United Teachers Los Angeles and couldn’t understand why no deal was reached.

“They gave a number of different reasons and every single reason they gave we accommodated,” Deasy said.

Initial concerns about ongoing discussions to meet a Dec. 4 court-imposed deadline for a new teacher evaluation system were addressed by the district. The Race to the Top competition requires districts to adopt an evaluation system that incorporates student test scores. Deasy said L.A. Unified provided the union with a legal assurance that plans for Race to the Top would be treated separately from negotiations.

But UTLA President Warren Fletcher said “a big part of the problem” was the cost.

L.A. Unified’s 150-page application proposes a $43.3 million budget for reforms that would require $3.3 million in funds outside of the $40 million government award. Deasy said union officials were informed that the additional money would have been granted through philanthropy.

But Fletcher said it wasn’t just about the money for the grant right now that was the problem.

“When you sign on to a Race to the Top grant, you make commitments that go on long beyond the four-year period of the grant itself,” Fletcher said.



In a multi-part series, the Philadelphia Enquirer tells about a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that shows, among other things, how New Jersey found that, except for the most serious cases, kids who ran afoul of the law were less likely to reoffend if they were given some kind of alternative sanction that did not involve lock-up.

Here’s their report that ran Wednesday:

For years, New Jersey sent juveniles awaiting trial to county detention centers, locking them up even for minor crimes. But a new report on juvenile justice reform shows that there is another, more effective, alternative that saves taxpayer money and protects society.
The number of juveniles jailed across New Jersey has declined by more than half since the state started a program eight years ago to divert them to other options, according to the Kids Count Special Report.

Funded by a $200,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the program has been implemented in 16 counties. Similar programs have been adopted in other states. The results in New Jersey are staggering. Last year, there were 4,093 juveniles admitted to county detention centers, compared with 10,191 before the program began in 2004.

For young defendants not considered a threat to public safety, the program changed the misguided focus of solely locking them up to allowing alternatives, such as electronic monitoring and home visits. They also receive job training, counseling, and other services more in line with the intent of juvenile justice – giving youths a second chance.

Providing compelling evidence that some youths are good candidates for rehabilitation, the report found that only 3 percent of participants committed another crime while in the program.

According to the report released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, youths detained are more likely to commit another crime, more likely to have trouble in school, and more likely to have difficulty finding a job.

In a continuation of a disturbing trend, minority youths still make up the majority of those being locked up – about 89 percent. But that mirrors national statistics that must be addressed.

With fewer juveniles held in lockup facilities, some counties, including Gloucester, were able to close their detention centers. Across the state, $16 million a year has been saved as a result.

New Jersey’s laudable efforts should be replicated elsewhere to help prevent so many of today’s youthful offenders from becoming tomorrow’s adult criminals.

Here’s one of the earlier parts to the story.


It is just one of the many stories that will continue to unfurl from this still ongoing catastrophe, but the snapshot of fear, coping and caring by the New Yorker’s David Remnick is worth reading. Here’s how it opens;

Virginia Rossano is seventeen years old and has been suffering from epileptic seizures since she was six. She and her family live north of Boston. After consulting with Orrin Devinsky, a renowned neurologist and epilepsy specialist at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, the Rossanos decided to pursue a surgical course for their daughter. Virginia and her mother, Cathy, came to N.Y.U. last week, and on Thursday Virginia underwent a craniotomy. Surgeons removed skull tissue and connected electrodes to the brain to monitor her brain functions. The next step was to wean Virginia from her medications and induce a seizure. Doctors could then locate the source of the seizures and remove the offending tissue. “Dr. Devinsky said that surgery could be a home run for us,” Cathy Rossano told me.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Virginia’s first surgery was a success. While she and her mother waited, word came that the ominous storm approaching New York would be powerful beyond prediction. Doctors and nurses started discharging patients from the Langone Medical Center, in the East Thirties, near the East River. Hundreds of patients were sent home or to other facilities. But many of the sickest and most fragile patients—some of them infants—stayed in the hospital. What no one had counted on was that when the power failed all over downtown Manhattan on Monday night, so, too, did the hospital’s backup generator. Now everyone would have to be evacuated, and in terrifying conditions.

“It was incredibly frightening for the patients,” said Alyson Silverberg, a nurse practitioner at N.Y.U. “There were babies that had to be evacuated down nine flights. We had to do their breathing manually for some of them.” One of the patients that was evacuated was Kenneth Langone, the chairman of the hospital, who is suffering from pneumonia. Langone gave N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center two hundred million dollars in 2008….

Read on.

Posted in Education, LAUSD, Life in general, unions, UTLA | No Comments »

Once Lifer Mario Rocha Celebrates Anniversary of Freedom, FBI Stats on Weed Arrests & Funding for Smart Research on Realignment

October 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we keep an eye on the safety and well being of our family and friends on the east coast who are wrestling with Sandy, here are a few criminal justice stories from this end of the world.


As of Monday, Oct. 29, it has been four years that 33-year-old Mario Rocha finally knew he was really and truly, no kidding —- free. His double life sentence was overturned in March of 2005 after Mario had spent 10 1/2 years in prison for murder and attempted murder. But although he was out of lock-up, it wasn’t clear for how long. While Rocha had been released, he had not been cleared. The judge had merely determined that the young man had received unconscionably lousy legal representation by his asleep-the-wheel lawyer. This meant the DA’s office had the option of refiling charges. And while the hot shot lawyers who had taken on his case pro bono believed he was factually innocent, the prosecutor didn’t. Or, said he didn’t, at the very least. It is worth noting that the LA DA’s office has been notoriously loath to admit it may have screwed up on a case, and put away an innocent person.)

The legal battle that ended four years ago, had its genesis on the night of February 16, 1996, when Rocha was sixteen-years-old and attended a keg party in Highland Park where a bunch of high school kids were celebrating a win for Cathedral High School’s basketball team.

Here’s a clip from WLA’s coverage at the time:

There was drinking at the party, and eventually a fist fight broke out. An extremely well-liked 17-year-old honors student named Martin Aceves, tried to break up the fight, but matters escalated fast. Two kids had guns. Aceves was shot and killed. Another kid was shot in the hand.

A week later, police burst into Mario’s bedroom, guns drawn, yelling: “Don’t move! Hands up! Get down!”

Mario Rochas was tried as an adult and, although the case against him rested on the word of one eyewitness, he was defended by an attorney who spent little time on his case, and failed to call other witnesses who had exculpatory evidence. By the trial’s end, although Mario had no previous record or gang affiliation, he was convicted of murder and attempted murder, together with two other party goers—gang members who had been seen to flash weapons in the crowd.

Unlike most young men in such a position, Mario turned out to be lucky. When he was in Eastlake Juvenile Hall awaiting trial, he participated in a new writing program called “Inside Out,” that had been set up by juvenal hall chaplain, Sister Janet Harris. Although Mario had not been an underachiever during his time in high school, he was clearly very bright, with an intellectual bent and a real talent for writing—all of which the writing class at juvie seemed to bring out in him.
After reading some of his writing, Sister Janet became interested in Mario’s personal story. Although she meets kids on a regular basis who swear they are innocent, the more she looked into Mario’s case, the more convinced she became that Mario was the real deal. She couldn’t imagine he would be convicted. When he was, she said she was too stunned to cry.

“With Mario it was so egregious,” she told ABC News much later, “so horrible that I said to myself whether I win or lose, I am going to fight for justice,” Sister Harris said. “His life was stolen by a system that’s flawed. A system where we need to look out and say: Have we lost our moral compass?”

A slender woman in her 70′s with enough nervous energy to light several medium-sized cities, Sister Janet began working on Mario’s case on her own. She reviewed thousands of pages of trial transcript, and tracked down new witnesses. Armed with what she’d found, Sister Janet managed to interest others in Mario’s case, including the high-powered LA legal firm of Latham & Watkins, whose lawyers agreed to take the case pro bono after Mario passed a polygraph, and a review of case documents, plus Janet’s personal discoveries, indicated that his original attorney did not pursue evidence that indicated Mario was innocent….

Here, also, is a link to Jack Leonard’s 2008 story for the LA Times about the DA’s decision not to retry Mario for the crime.

Mario Rocha’s ordeal was portrayed in an award-winning and deeply affecting documentary, that you can check out here.

Right now Mario Rocha is a social justice activist living in Washington D.C. while he gets his degree in organization science from George Washington University. He will graduate in 2013.


On Monday, marijuana activist organizations like L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) latest FBI stats show that there were 1.2 million reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2011.

Of those arrests, according to the FBI, 81.8% were for possession only. And of those possession arrests, by far the largest portion (just under half, or 49.5% to be exact) were for marijuana.


Does this seem smart?

This is from LEAP’s Monday announcement:

“Even excluding the costs involved for later trying and then imprisoning these people, taxpayers are spending between one and a half to three billion dollars a year just on the police and court time involved in making these arrests,” said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “That’s a lot of money to spend for a practice that four decades of unsuccessful policies have proved does nothing to reduce the consumption of drugs. Three states have measures on the ballot that would take the first step in ending this failed war by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. I hope they take this opportunity to guide the nation to a more sensible approach to drug use.”

A-a-a-aaannnd we wonder why we have overcrowded jails and prisons.


So, beyond all the political rhetoric on CA’s prison realignment and the often lousy reporting on same (with some bright spot exceptions like Rob Greene on the LA Times Editorial Board and Michael Montgomery for KQED), it is refreshing that the Department of Justice and a list of other folks have forked over some bucks to Stanford’s stellar Criminal Justice Center in order for them to assess, measure, and analyze how this whole realignment thingy is really working, county by county. In other words, the SCJC folks are gathering the facts of the matter.

Whatta concept.

Here’re are some clips from the announcement from SCJC:

Realignment puts the onus back on counties to make decisions about how they wish to punish their local convicted offenders,” said Joan Petersilia, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “Counties can decide to expand jail capacity. They can expand drug treatment programs or mental health courts. They can hire new staff. They can expand the ranks of probation officers or sheriff’s deputies. We want to know what approaches are working best in California counties and why.”


“California has the largest prison system in the country,” said Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “And California Realignment represents the biggest change in sentencing and corrections in the last six decades. Through our research, we want the data to tell us exactly what the effects are of shifting responsibility and discretion from the state to the county— how that impacts rates of incarceration versus probation supervision versus community programs, and so on. We want our research to help California get Realignment right.”


Well, yeah.

$650,000 is not a lot for this kind of painstaking work. And the SCJC team is absolutely the best in the business, beginning with the amazing Dr. Joan Petersilia, who is the Center’s co-director.

It is essential, when the state (or the county or the city) makes a big policy change like the prison realignment program that the new systems be evaluated by competent outsiders (who know what they’re doing and can be trusted to keep politics out of it).

Fortunately, thanks to these grants and some others like them, that’s precisely what the SCJC is doing.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, How Appealing, Medical Marijuana, Realignment | 2 Comments »

Head of CA Prisons, Matt Cate, Leaving. Choice of Replacement Critical

October 29th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

CDCR Director, Matthew Cate,
is leaving his position as head of the California’s prison system in mid November. The news was made official on Friday.

Cate has accepted a new job as executive director of the California State Association of Counties, where—among other tasks—he will work to smooth out the problems in implementing the state’s realignment system as it continues to unfold in the state’s counties.

Since his appointment to the CDCR post in 2008 by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Cate has dealt with a series of crises in the state’s prison system, including an overcrowding problem so severe that it resulted in a critical US Supreme court decision mandating that the state’s facilities lower their population—or else.

Cate also oversaw the transition into the realignment system put in place by AB 109—in part to make the required reduction in the population.

In addition Cate dealt with a nearly system-wide hunger strike, which has resulted in, at least the beginning of some much needed policy changes and improvements in response to the prisoners’ demands, particularly those having to do with solitary confinement in places like the Pelican Bay secure housing units or SHUs.

Cate’s tenure also was plagued by severe budget cuts due to the state’s budget woes.

Through it all he was felt to have dealt with the problems with a steady hand, and seemed well liked by groups ranging from the conservative-leaning law enforcement unions to progressive justice advocates.

CATE’S REPLACEMENT REPORTEDLY HAS YET TO BE SELECTED. However, among those rumored to be considered are the following:

*Linda Penner, the Probation Chief for Fresno County.

*Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California.

*Martin Hoshino, currently undersecretary for program support at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Our sources tell us that the first two of these candidates, while capable people, are considered not ideal for this critical position by many of the state’s criminal justice experts, all of whom are watching with deep interest to see who will be chosen.

Hoshino is less well known by many on the outside, yet even before his position as the CDCR’s undersecretary, he has more than seven years of service with the department, previously serving as the executive director of the Board of Parole Hearings (appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008) after having served as the assistant secretary for the Office of Internal Affairs from 2003 to 2008. Prior to that, he served as Chief Assistant Inspector General in the office of the Inspector General, which is the watchdog for the state’s correctional system.

In any case, we at WLA hope that Governor Brown and his advisors choose carefully and wisely when selecting Cate’s successor.

Under difficult circumstances, Matt Cate has moved the CDCR in a hearteningly productive direction. We would hope that the next director will be someone with the experience and the temperament to build on Cate’s progress and momentum.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Realignment | 1 Comment »

Willingham Family Wants Posthumous Pardon, Gov. Brown and Madeleine Brand Talk Prop 30, and Underground Education

October 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


We are just over a week away from voting on California’s list of ballot propositions, among them Prop 34, the measure that would replace the death penalty in the state with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Therefore it is interesting timing that the now famous case of Todd Willingham, the Texas father of three who was executed in Texas in 2004 for setting a house fire that killed his daughters, is back in the news again.

Willingham is believed by many to be the first provably innocent man executed in the US—at least in modern times. (We wrote about the Willingham case here and here. Also, be sure to read the original 2009 New Yorker story—here.)

Now, eight years after his death, members of Willingham’s family are requesting a public hearing to clear his name.

Ethan Bronner of the New York Times has the story. Here’s a clip:

The case of Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana, Tex., has drawn attention because it seems to offer evidence that an innocent man was executed based on flawed science. Spurred partly by this case, the Texas fire marshal recently agreed to re-examine questionable arson convictions.

The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value for those fighting to end the death penalty. Six years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court wrote that he was unaware of “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”

Mr. Willingham’s conviction was based heavily on testimony by the Texas state fire marshal, who asserted that the scene offered clear signs of arson. Recent research has raised substantial questions about his conclusions and led to a review of other arson convictions in Texas. That research is scheduled to be presented to a panel of fire experts by January, and advocates say it could lead to the reversal of several wrongful convictions.

“Todd’s last words were: ‘Please clear my name. I did not kill my children,’ ” said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project, which has led the work on this case, with the pro bono assistance of the New York law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel. The Innocence Project is affiliated with Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University.

“All the evidence against him has been disproven,” Mr. Saloom said. “There have been nine reports issued about this case over the years. We are saying to the board: you couldn’t have known before, but now you have all this evidence before you.”

By the way, Jimmy Carter has an op-ed for the LA Times on why he believes CA voters should pass Prop 34. In another LAT op-ed, former prosecutor and judge, James A. Ardaiz, tells readers why he thinks Prop 34 deserves a “no” vote.


KCET SoCal Connected’s contributor Madeleine Brand will interview Gov. Jerry Brown on the first show of the season and Brand’s first outing since she left KPCC. Brand and Gov. Brown will be focusing on Prop 30, which would provide much-needed money for CA schools, including programs to keep kids from dropping out. Prop 30 would also provide money to the counties for reentry and rehabilitation under realignment, programs which aren’t adequately funded in many counties including Los Angeles. The show airs tonight, Monday, at 7:00p.m. and 10:30p.m. Here’s a clip from the KCET announcement:

They will talk about the propositions on the November ballot and the race for the presidency. Gov. Brown has been campaigning hard for Proposition 30, which would raise taxes to pay for funding gaps in the state, especially in education. Passage of Prop 30 seemed like a sure thing, but the latest polls indicate a very close contest. If Prop 30 fails, it automatically would trigger additional budget cuts to education. Political observers not only see Prop 30 as a referendum on whether California voters will support higher education through tax hikes, but a referendum on the Governor himself.


A new underground (literally) school, Freedom University, has sprouted up in response to a Georgia law that bans undocumented students from attending the top five GA universities and requires out-of-state tuition be paid at other public colleges.

NPR’s Cathy Lohr has the story. Here’s a clip:

About 35 students meet every Sunday at an undisclosed location in Georgia to study. They are undocumented and banned from attending some of the most prestigious colleges in the state.

Georgia is one of three states to bar undocumented students from attending schools. But a group of professors at the University of Georgia has created a fledgling school to provide a place for students to learn.

They call it Freedom University, named after the schools set up during the civil rights era to teach African-Americans in the Deep South. University of Georgia history professor Pam Voekel is one of the volunteer instructors.

“They really do see this as a civil rights struggle,” she says. “They are being excluded from higher education, and so we went with that as part of that kind of tribute to that prior struggle.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, immigration, Innocence | No Comments »

DOJ Blinks, Gives County’s Juvie Probation Camps a New 2014 Deadline for Reforms & No Consent Decree—Despite Discouraging Lack of Progress

October 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


It was reported to us this week that, instead of slapping the LA County Department of Probation with a nice fat federal consent decree over its chronic inability to fix 41 “areas of concern” in LA’s juvenile probation camps that the DOJ blinked, and instead gave us yet another extension to make the agreed upon fixes.

(The cynical among us might say that such a pronounced unwillingness to hold anybody accountable defines the term enabling, but, sure, hey, yeah, why not. Carry on!)

Here’s a little back story taken from the post we wrote last December on this very same issue:

When, on November 6, 2006, the US Department of Justice began investigating LA’s juvenile probation camps, investigators found the facilities rife with horrors. Probation officers batted kids around, instigated fights (some of which were caught on video and wound up on YouTube) or looked the other way when one group of kids pounded another. Staff also made kids stand or sit in body-stressing positions for long periods, kept them in solitary confinement for even longer periods as punishment, randomly denied them bathroom breaks, recreational time and/or medical treatment, failed to check on kids who were on suicide watch, pepper sprayed teenagers over trivialities, and drank alcohol on the job—among other transgressions and illegalities.

Now, said the monitors in the new report, the worst of the rampant abuse and neglect in the camps had pretty much been halted, although there was still lots of room for improvement.
And thankfully the staff, for the most part, wasn’t drinking on the job.

But, after 4 years under the watchful eye of the Department of Justice, although most kids weren’t being actively abused, they weren’t being helped either, said the monitors, particularly when it came to mental and emotional health, substance abuse—and overall rehabilitation. Probation has little or nothing in the way of positive outcomes to show for its supposed progress in these areas. And in many of the camps they have they don’t have the required rehabilitative programs in place at all.

“These camps are not meant to be punishment for the kids we send there,” said a source close to the federal monitors. “They’re supposed to rehabilitate. And that’s still not happening.”

So now the big question is: Will the Feds take over the the juvenile facilities with a Federal Consent Decree?

Answer to that question: Clearly not.

And ten months later, has anything improved? Uh, not really, according to the newest response from the feds. The camps still don’t have the needed rehabilitative programs for the kids in their custody.

Moreover, in some areas things might be getting worse. The monitors reported that in the next assessment they expect four of the areas that were previously in compliance—to have back-slid out of complience. Alarmingly, these areas are in the arenas of:

1. the staff’s excessive use of force against kids.

2. the staff’s “use of practices such as slamming’ or “assuming the bob-sled
position’ for punitive or abusive purposes”

3. the “reduction of youth on youth violence,” and..

4. “record keeping” to make sure there was adequate tracking of when kids were given medications and their side effects, which kids were given “psychotropic medications,” and “adequate tracking to identify youth receiving mental health services.”

Seriously, after 5 years, staff still can’t manage to stop slamming kids against walls, making them assume stress positions as punishment, can’t keep them reasonably safe from aggressively pounding each other, and can’t keep adequate track of who’s being given what medication and has received what mental health services.

It’s honestly hard to know what to say.

More on this next week.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County, Probation | 4 Comments »

LA Times Questions Baca’s Immigrant Jailing Policy….The Un-Tapped 10 Percent of Voters (Felons)…& When Bad Science Produces Bad Evidence

October 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday’s LA Times has an unsigned editorial (likely written by the very smart Sandra Hernandez) that holds Sheriff Lee Baca’s feet to the metaphorical fire on the issue of jailing immigrants with ICE holds reportedly longer than the law—or the feds—require.

Here’s a clip (but you really need to read the whole thing):

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is once again confronting questions about problems in the nation’s largest jail system. The latest allegations center on whether deputies in his department routinely denied bail to people arrested for minor offenses — even after they were ordered released by a judge — solely because of pending immigration investigations.

The sheriff’s office denies that such a policy exists, although it acknowledges that the department holds immigrants under a federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities. Baca says that program requires him to hold someone suspected of being in the country illegally, if called upon to do so by federal immigration officials, while the arrestee’s immigration status is confirmed.

But Secure Communities only allows the sheriff to hold people for up to 48 hours; it does not provide him with a free pass to ignore individuals’ constitutional right to due process or grant him the authority to deny immigrants bail after the 48-hour clock has run out….

Read on, because there’s lots more—including the $26 mil per anum to do this excessive jailing in our already overcrowded system.


Obama and Romney are reaching out to the many specialized constituencies some of which could, under the right circumstances, push things one way or the other, especially in battle ground states. But, in this close race, there is one constituency that, according to Reuters, may amount to as much as 10 percent of likely voters. And yet its a demographic that both parties have kinda….well…avoided.

Of course, men and women with felony records are defined by many other aspects of their lives and selves than the simple fact of a felony conviction.

Still Thomas Ferraro writing for Reuters has a bunch of interesting points.

Here’s a big clip from the story:

Felons could account for up to 10 percent of the roughly 130 million Americans expected to vote in the November 6 election, more than enough to affect the razor-thin margins that could determine the outcome.

But as in years past, neither Democrats nor Republicans are doing much to reach out to them.

“Criminals are not a popular constituency,” says James Hamm, 64, who spent 17 years in prison in Arizona for a drug-related homicide and now heads an inmate advocacy group with his wife, a retired judge. “Politicians don’t want to say, ‘Hey, I have the backing of people who committed crimes.’”

Still, both presidential campaigns have reason to be attentive to the estimated 13.4 million felons who are eligible to vote.

Felons traditionally vote Democratic, says Christopher Uggen, a University of Minnesota sociologist, who co-authored a 2006 book, “Locked Out: Felony Disenfranchisement and American Democracy.”

Ferraro says that the Obama camp has quietly reached out to felons in that swing state of all swing states, Ohio, where there are an estimated 784,0000 felons, only around 52,000 of them in prison thus prohibited from voting. However, he offers no additional details about this reported outreach so it’s difficult to know what exactly we’re talking about here.

And yet, it bears noting that in 1976, Jimmy Carter took Ohio from Gerald Ford by just 11,116 votes….so….


The Crime Report’s Graham Cates interviews David Harris, author of “Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

Both book and interview are worth our attention. Here’s a clip:

strong>On March 11, 2004, powerful bombs set by terrorists on four Madrid commuter trains killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. Two months later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer, after fingerprints found on a bag near the explosion site allegedly matched his.

Mayfield had not been to Spain. Nor had he been outside the U.S. for over a decade. But the FBI kept insisting the fingerprints were a “100 percent match”—until Spanish police tied another suspect to the fingerprints. And even after Mayfield was released two weeks later, the FBI continued to insist that their fingerprint-matching process was infallible.

It was a costly mistake. Mayfield eventually received a $2 million settlement from the U.S. government. But to David A. Harris, it also was—or should have been—a teachable moment. Harris, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, believes the FBI’s insistence on the accuracy of their analysis, even when the evidence failed to bear it out, reflects a law enforcement culture that relies too much on quasi-scientific forensic evidence—even while it resists the application of genuine advances in science-based investigative techniques…

Read on.

Posted in 2012 Election, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Innocence, Obama, Presidential race | No Comments »

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System, LAPD Chief’s Immigrant Strategies, Banning Puppy Mills, and More

October 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A new report from the Georgetown Center on Poverty says that things like diversion programs, staff training, and gender-specific programming need to be developed in order to help the fastest-growing group in the juvenile justice system—girls.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Experts say girls make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges every year. A new report by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy says the system isn’t doing enough to help those young girls.

Most girls who wind up tangled in the justice system have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse, says Georgetown University professor Peter Edelman, who co-authored the report, “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls.”

More than half of the girls detained these days don’t commit big crimes. More often their transgressions are things like skipping school, breaking curfew or running away from home, says Edelman, who has studied justice up close since the 1970s.

“Getting them back into school and getting them back on a path without invoking the sanctions of the juvenile and criminal justice system,” Edelman says, “that is so much better in terms of not leaving those wounds and scars and preserving the possibilities for the future.”


LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says that his recent immigration initiatives and policy changes are not based on his personal views on illegal immigration or political strategy, but directly related to public safety. (We’re a day late on this story about LAPD Chief Beck and immigration, but it’s important and we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it. For background, go here and here…and here.)

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the very well-written story. Here are some clips:

A decade ago, Charlie Beck watched as William J. Bratton arrived in Los Angeles and began rebuilding a department deeply tarnished by the Rodney King beating, riots and corruption scandals. Bratton made many changes as chief, but Beck was particularly taken by his aggressive effort to rebuild the LAPD’s broken relationship with the African American community, which over and over Bratton said was a cornerstone to his success.

Beck carried the lesson with him when he replaced Bratton three years ago as chief of the nation’s second-largest police force. With nearly half of the city’s population Hispanic and the federal government’s aggressive efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants sowing fear in immigrant communities, Beck believed that his success or failure as chief rested heavily on whether he could replicate Bratton’s success — but this time with Latinos.

His actions have made him a lightning rod for criticism, even from some of his own police officers. But they have also established Beck as a forceful national voice for a more restrained approach to illegal immigration, a high-profile counterpoint to hard-liners like Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in Arizona’s Maricopa County.


In an interview, Beck said he was driven to act on some level by his sense that he can and should help level the playing field for illegal immigrants, whom he said have suffered unfairly from crude federal immigration laws. But Beck said those personal views were not as important as his more practical belief that extending an olive branch to immigrants in Los Angeles was vital to the LAPD’s crime-fighting efforts.

“It’s not so much that I am a dove on immigration,” he said. “It’s that I’m a realist. I recognize that this is the population that I police. If I can take steps — legal steps — to make them a better population to police then I will…. I do have sympathy for their plight, but my actions are not based mainly on that. It makes absolute law enforcement sense. Any one of these things I’ve done is directly tied to public safety.”


LA City Council voted Wednesday in favor of banning the sale of non-rescue dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores. If it passes with a majority a second time, it will bring about a three year trial run to see if targeting puppy and kitten mills will bring down euthanization rates at shelters.

LAist’s Lauren Lloyd has the story. Here’s a clip:

City News Service explains that the ordinance “is intended to shut down puppy and kitten mills and reduce the tens of thousands of euthanizations performed on unclaimed animals each year.” While it clearly mandates that pet stores cannot sell animals obtained from commercial breeders, pet stores would still be permitted to sell animals from shelters, humane societies and registered rescue groups. Individuals would still be allowed to buy directly from breeders as well.

Penalties for stores caught disobeying the law include misdemeanor charges and a first-time penalty of $250. A third strike would carry a fine of up to $1,000.

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A 28-year-old LA gang member pleaded guilty Tuesday to the murder of well-liked LA Sheriff’s Dept. Deputy Juan Escalante, who at the time of his death was working at Men’s Central Jail. (For background on Deputy Escalante’s heartbreaking story, go here.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has the story. Here’s a clip:

Carlos Velasquez, 28, pleaded guilty to murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the Aug. 2, 2008, slaying of Dep. Juan Abel Escalante, right. The plea was accepted by Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen.

Velasquez was originally charged with capital murder and could have faced the death penalty. He admitted he killed the deputy as he was leaving his parents’ Cypress Park home to head to work at the Men’s Central Jail.

Escalante was shot in the back of the head as he reached into his car to adjust a child’s car seat.

Deputy Dist. Attys. Phillip Stirling and John Colello say Velasquez wrongly believed he was killing a gang rival and shot the deputy numerous times.

Posted in bears and alligators, Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, immigration, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, wolves | 2 Comments »

Does Prop 34, the Death Penalty Initiative, Have a Chance of Passing?

October 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


According to the latest CA initiative poll, 42.9% are in favor of Prop 34 abolishing the death penalty, while 48.1% surveyed are against it. (By the way, Prop 36, the three-strikes reform initiative, currently has 72% support, with 17.1% opposition.)


The Prop 34 campaign launched TV and radio ads Monday in a final push to sway undecided Californians before voting begins two weeks from now. Narrators for the ads include Franky Carillo, who was convicted of murder at sixteen and was exonerated by DNA evidence 20 years later, and Don Heller, the remorseful author of CA’s death penalty law who says he did not foresee the cost of implementing it.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has the story. Here’s a clip:

The ads emphasize how few inmates are executed — 13 since 1978 — and suggest the money would be better used for schools and crime fighting. California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has said the state could save as much as $130 million a year if the death penalty is abolished.

“Death row inmates get special legal teams that work for them, but they don’t work or pay 1 cent to the victim’s families, like other inmates do,” Olmos says. “They just sit in private cells, watching TV.”

The campaign’s television ad focuses on Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, who served 20 years in prison for a murder he said he did not commit. A judge overturned his conviction and released him last year.

“It took 20 years to prove he was innocent,” Olmos said, in English and Spanish ads. “With the death penalty, we always risk executing an innocent person.”


Franky Carillo, in an Op-Ed for the Huffington Post, talks about the ad campaign, his story, and why he believes voting yes on Prop 34 is so important. Here’s a clip:


It’s hard to imagine it being taken away without just cause. But it happens — more often than you might think.

When I was just 16 years old, I was stripped of my freedom, wrongfully convicted of a murder I did not commit. I spent twenty years behind bars before I was finally able to prove my innocence.

But I always wonder, if I had been sentenced to death, would I have been able to prove my innocence in time?

This is why I believe so strongly in Proposition 34, which will replace California’s death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. With the election just two weeks away, it’s a critical time to make sure California voters hear about the true costs of the death penalty.


Voting Yes on Proposition 34 makes sense for California. We can save $130 million every single year by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This money can be better spent on education and on tools that actually improve safety in our communities, like testing DNA evidence and investigating unsolved murders. We can also make sure that California never makes an irreversible mistake.


CA Correctional Peace Officers Association—CCPOA—an organization that has given millions of dollars in the past to defeat similar initiatives, has not so much as given an opinion on Prop 34 and 36 (three-strikes initiative).

Sacramento Bee’s Jon Ortiz has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a bygone era, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association would have unleashed a campaign carpet-bombing on a Nov. 6 ballot initiative that repeals the state’s death penalty and another that softens the “three-strikes” sentencing law that has become the union’s legacy.

But this year CCPOA has spent relatively little on politics. It hasn’t even taken a stand on the three-strikes measure, Proposition 36.

“We’ve taken some different positions than we’ve taken in the past,” said union spokesman JeVaughn Baker. “It’s not like the old days, when CCPOA championed every bill that was tough on crime.”

The union’s lower-profile political posture was shaped by a federal court mandate to shrink California’s prison population, and reinforced by CCPOA’s strained finances. With the prison population on the decline, the union’s long-standing strategy of advocating stiffer sentences and more prisons – stances that resulted in more jobs for correctional officers – has been upended.

Moreover, the state’s political climate has cooled to the lock-’em-up politics that fueled a prison-building boom in the 1980s and 1990s, swelled CCPOA’s ranks and gave it leverage to push on a range of issues, from higher pay to tougher sentencing laws.


This Thursday at 11:00a.m., the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) will be hosting a live online discussion on the death penalty with what looks to be a very interesting panel:

Join us for a fascinating discussion addressing the question, “does the death penalty actually keep us safer?” with Charles Ogletree, Harvard University and founder of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Ron McAndrew, former warden of Florida State Prison who conducted that state’s final electrocutions, Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated from death row using DNA evidence, and Jerry Givens, former corrections officer from Virginia who put 62 men to death during his 17 years as an executioner.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz will also host a live discussion this Thursday, Oct 25th at noon to discuss Prop 34. Jeanne Woodford, former San Quentin warden and CDCR director (now the Prop 34 campaign co-chair), will square off with former Sacramento U.S. attorney and No on 34 co-chair.

Posted in Death Penalty | No Comments »

Economics and Kids’ Brains, Pretrial Successes, and Overpaid Prison Doctors

October 23rd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Socioeconomic status plays a role in the development of certain parts of kids’ brains associated with memory, learning, and stress response, according to a Columbia University report.

Youth Today’s James Swift has the story. Here’s a clip:

According to the study, researchers observed a correlation between the education and income level of parents and the development of several areas of their children’s brains – in particular, the areas vital to stress reception, learning and memorization.

“Socioeconomic disparities in childhood are associated with remarkable differences in cognitive and socio-emotional development during a time when dramatic changes are occurring in the brain,” the report states.
Using a broad base of subjects, from families that lived at the poverty threshold to families that made more than $100,000 annually, researchers found that the hippocampi – the portion of the brain essential in memorization and learning functions – of children living with parents with higher incomes had a larger “volume” than those in subjects raised by parents with lower incomes. Similarly, researchers found that the amygdalae – the portion of the brain that processes stress – of children living with parents with more educational experiences had lower “volumes” than those in children raised by parents with less educational experiences.

The report, which is behind a pay wall, seems to focus on family income and parents’ education levels. The larger picture, however, points to the fact that children in poorer families with lower education levels are faced with more trauma than their more affluent counterparts.

In a phenomenal September episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass looks at, among other things, the relationship between brain development and education. About a third of the way through the show, Glass introduces SF pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, who explains why early childhood trauma stunts cognitive growth. Here’s his introduction to Burke’s work:

It’s well-documented that poor children do worse on tests and worse in school than better-off ones. This is the so-called achievement gap.

What this new science seems to indicate is that what is holding these children back is not poverty. It’s not the lack of money or resources in their homes. It’s stress. If you grew up in a poor household, it is more likely to be a household the just stresses you out in ways that kids in better-off homes are not stressed out. And that stress prevents you from developing these non-cognitive skills.

Be sure to listen to the whole thing—it’s important and we’ll definitely be coming back to these issues.


Pretrial release programs are seeing success in the Bay Area, with a reported 97% of San Francisco participants showing up to their court dates. Because of the developed pretrial programs, SF boasts jail populations far below capacity, unlike…you know…LA. Advocates say the release of qualified defendants awaiting trial would ease CA jail overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars, and allow nonviolent detainees to continue providing for their families while they wait.

The SF Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has the story. Here’s a clip:

Advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union and some Democratic lawmakers, say the programs promote both public safety and justice by using scientific evaluations to help judges decide whether it is safe to release a defendant before they go to trial. The current bail system, they say, favors wealth and strands low-income people behind bars because they cannot afford bail amounts. They also argue that a defendant who gets out of jail is less likely to accept a plea deal and has a better chance of an acquittal or a shorter sentence if they go to trial.

Opponents, including the bail bond industry and some law enforcement and victims rights groups, say defendants pose a lesser flight risk when they have put up money for a bail bond and that pretrial programs pose a risk to public safety, because they do not focus on the crime a person is charged with.

Under the programs, nonviolent defendants who qualify for pretrial release are either freed on their own recognizance – that is, only a promise to appear, though often there are restrictions on their behavior – or placed on supervised release, which can range from mandated group therapy to probation-like check-ins or electronic monitoring.

In San Francisco, for example, someone placed on supervised release may have to go to an anger management group once a week until the case is adjudicated and will have a case manager checking in to make sure that person appears in court.

Supporters believe the programs help counties better manage overcrowded jails. Jail populations in some counties have increased since Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment program started a year ago. Under the program, judges sentence some offenders to jails who in the past would have gone to state prisons.

But while some counties have overcrowded jails, San Francisco has been able to keep its jail population well below capacity for years, officials say, in part because of its 15-year-old pretrial release program.

“Last year, we released about 1,300 (pretrial defendants). … Our cases are predicated on public safety, and by and large, our folks are indigent,” said Will Leong, director of the city’s Pretrial Diversion Project, who said that as many as 97 percent of participants show up for their court date. “If they could afford to bail out, they do so before we can get to them.”


A 2001 class-action lawsuit (Plata v. Schwarzenegger) against the State of California over the ghastly quality of medical care in the state’s 33 prisons resulted in California’s prison health care system being handed over to a federal receiver in 2005 after the court found that things were SO bad that they violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment). But nothing is ever simple. And so it appears one of the unintended consequences was that the receiver’s unchecked power to set medical staff’s pay grades and make hiring decisions seems have sent him off the rails. The average salary of CA prison doctors last year was nearly $379,000, with the highest salary paid to a Salinas psychiatrist to the tune of over $800,000.

ABC News has the AP story. Here’s how it opens:

A doctor at California Medical Facility was paid more than $410,000 last year, while a registered nurse at High Desert State Prison made nearly $236,000 — more than twice the statewide average in both cases.

A pharmacist at Corcoran State Prison was paid more than $196,000, nearly double what is typical across the state.

Compensation for medical providers has soared in the prison system since a federal judge seized control of inmate health care in 2006 and appointed an overseer with the power to hire and set pay levels.

As the official begins to wind down his oversight, the medical hiring and salary increases have helped lead to an improvement in inmate care, but it has increased the bill for taxpayers too.

It has also led to criticism that the official — called a receiver — provided a “Cadillac” level of care for convicted felons. A state review found that only Texas pays its state prison doctors more that California.

“The problem that we had is that the receiver was not accountable to anybody,” said former state Sen. George Runner, a Republican who has frequently criticized the program.

“So the receiver could just do or choose to spend whatever amount of money he thought was necessary to solve his problem, and unfortunately now the state is stuck with that,” he said.

The receiver for medical care, J. Clark Kelso, said the state has been free to collectively bargain health care providers’ salaries since a court order increasing their wages expired three years ago.

The receiver’s goal was to correct a prison medical system that was ruled unconstitutional for its substandard care and, at one point, contributed to an inmate death each week through negligence or malfeasance.

To do that, the receivership increased salaries, created new positions at high pay and hired hundreds of employees to fill longtime vacancies.

Total spending on medical, dental and mental health care for inmates, numbering 124,700, has more than doubled over the last decade, from $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2003-04 to a projected $2.3 billion this year.

Posted in Education, health care, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, prison | 3 Comments »

CLARIFICATION Re: Those LASD Donations & the Promotions Lists

October 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


When we originally posted the data lists along with Matt Fleischer’s Pay to Play story, they were posted in a form that was extremely hard to read. As a consequence, a number of people erroneously believed that they or someone whom they knew were listed as having donated to one of Paul Tanaka’s campaigns—when in fact they had not done so.

In any case, as you’ll note below, we’ve now found a program that allows for easy posting of the files as Excel spreadsheets, which makes them far easier to read and navigate.

Hopefully these will cear up any confusion.

In the first spreadsheet, you’ll find the combined list of those who donated, and those who took tests to promote (designated as LtTEST or SgtTEST) and got “banded,” and then when and if they got promoted. In many cases there is overlap (people who got promoted, also donated, and vice versa). But in other cases not. This first spread sheet lists everything.

Below that spreadsheet, there is a second that shows only those who donated, when and how much.

A third spreadsheet notes testing to promote, and dates of promotions—exclusive of whether people donated or not. (Here, again, the UCLA guys have listed dates of the tests and subsequent banding, in this case with the word TEST, for landing on the Intent to Promote list as INT, and then the date of promotion, if and when that occurred.)

Again, we apologize for any confusion those messier versions may have caused.

PS: We were originally not clear ourselves that our UCLA guys were so thorough with their spreadsheets that they also charted the test dates, along with the promotion dates, so we could see who took tests and did NOT get promoted, along with noting those who did. This was another cause for confusion. But if you look at the spread sheets with this fuller explanation in mind, I think everything will be clear. (However, if you find any anomalies, don’t hesitate to let us know.)

The actual spread sheets are after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LASD | 32 Comments »

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