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About that More Guns in Schools Thingy, Californians Surveyed Say No

January 31st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


A new poll indicates that California voters strongly believe that more mental health services
and better emergency response training for school staff are the best strategies for preventing violence in schools. This is according to a survey of 1,200 voters released Thursday by The California Endowment. When asked whether hiring a school counselor or a police officer would be more effective at preventing violence, voters chose counselors by a margin of more than two to one (67% to 26%).

According to the Endowment:

“California voters understand that counseling and mental health services can help prevent senseless tragedies on campus—and frankly, that focus on prevention has been the missing ingredient from school safety efforts in recent years,” said Barbara Raymond, Director of Schools Policy for The California Endowment.

“Addressing gun policy and smart policing strategies are important pieces of the puzzle, but we can’t make schools safe without also improving mental health services. Counselors, nurses, and other support services are part of a range of strategies that will help make Health Happen in Schools, because we know the physical and emotional well-being of students is essential to their academic success,” Raymond said.

Among the findings are the following:

· 96% of California voters support training school staff in emergency response (including 78% “strongly support”);
· 96% support requiring every school to have a comprehensive safety plan (79% strongly—California law currently requires schools to maintain safety plans and update them annually by March 1);
· 91% support training teachers in conflict resolution techniques (64% strongly);
· 91% support expanding mental health services in communities (69% strongly);
· 91% support providing mental “first aid” training to school staff, so they can recognize the signs of mental illness in young people (64% strongly);
· 84% support increasing the number of trained counselors in schools (55% strongly);
· 50% support putting armed police officers in every school (23% strongly); and
· Only 31% support allowing teachers trained in firearms to carry guns on school grounds (16% strongly).

When asked to compare policy options directly, voters surveyed backed improving mental health services over installing more security cameras and metal detectors by a margin of 66% to 27%. By a similar margin, they preferred counselors over police (67% to 26%).

According to the Endowment:

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents (65%) agreed that too many guards and gates on campus risks creating a tense, fortress-like environment that can be detrimental to a school’s educational mission. Regardless of their position on placing police in schools, 88% of voters agreed that officers assigned to schools should get special training in youth development, so they better understand teens and can work more effectively with students and teachers

The opinions of California gun owners are similar to those expressed by all voters. By a margin of 58% to 36%, gun owners agreed that placing school counselors in every school was a more effective strategy than placing armed police officers in every school. Gun owners also backed increasing mental health service in communities (93%) and providing mental health “first aid” training to school staff (87%). California gun owners were evenly split on allowing teachers to carry firearms on school grounds (49% support; 48% oppose).


For the rest of the survey graphics go here.

Posted in children and adolescents, Education, guns, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

Are LA County Tax Payers Getting What They’ve Paid for When it Comes to the Sheriff’s Department? Or Are Some Areas Getting Preferential Treatment?

January 31st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE SUPES WANT TO KNOW: WHY ARE SOME AREAS OF LA COUNTY GETTING MUCH BETTER SERVICE FROM THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT THAN OTHERS?

The fact that the residents of the unincorporated areas of LA County appear not getting the patrol services from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that they have paid for was a cause for angry frustration at last week’s LA County Supervisors meeting. The frustration level shot still higher at Tuesday’s meeting after a newly released county audit showed in hard numbers that sheriff’s patrols had, indeed, been cut substantially in the unincorporated areas when the sheriff was running over budget and needed to snip some spending. As a consequence, the department’s response time for the county’s unincorporated communities was a full minute slower than that of the contract cities the LASD serves, which did not receive cuts.

Last week, Supervisor Gloria Molina had questioned the sheriff angrily on the issue since some of the crime-prone areas in her district were among those the most affected. This week, it was Zev Yaroslavsky who first opened fire (although the sheriff wasn’t in attendance).

“I don’t believe that the sheriff’s department has undertaken a serious effort to prioritize their spending,” said a very irritated Zev. “You cannot tell me that the first place that the department has to cut when they’re overspending their budget is patrol. That just doesn’t make sense!”

LASD sources we spoke on the budget issue said Yaroslavsky is right, that the department has a habit of loaning deputies from patrol and other basic departmental functions to pet projects favored by the sheriff and/or the undersheriff, whether the department can afford to do so or not. They said that inadequate patrols in the unincorporated areas are one of the unintended results. Years of under-supervised jails are another.


THE 17 PERCENT GAP—AND OTHER INEQUITIES

The 18-page audit, issued January 25 by the county’s Auditor-Controller, Wendy Watanabe, laid out specifically the amount of policing services the unincorporated areas of LA County are receiving from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and how that policing compares to the services received by the so-called the “contract cities,” for which the LASD also provides law enforcement.

The supes were understandably unhappy to find that the unincorporated areas (or U/As as the audit called them) were measurably receiving the short end of the stick when it came to LASD patrols, response time, and more.

For instance, there was the aforementioned response time to an emergency call: in the unincorporated areas it was 5.8 minutes, whereas in the contract cities it was 4.8 minutes—a difference of 17 percent, or an average of a minute.

Overall, on a day-to-day basis, the contract cities got an average of 99 percent of the patrol hours and personnel they were promised. Whereas the stepchild U/A’s got an average of 91 percent of the promised patrol services that their taxes were funding. For some unincorporated areas like Santa Clarita, Pico Rivera and Malibu/Lost Hills that figure was somewhere in the 83-89 percent range.

When Sheriff Baca was asked about the discrepancy, he explained that the cuts to his budget in the last couple of years had caused him to have to slash 65 people out of patrol for the unincorporated areas, and that had slowed down the response time.

The sheriff did not explain, however, why the department had not seen fit to make commensurate cuts in the contract cities.

By the end of last week’s meeting, the supervisors agreed to order a forensic audit of the LASD to find out just where in the world the sheriff’s money was going, and what budget items were so essential that they could have necessitated the U/A patrol cuts.


CONTRACT CITIES V. UNINCORPORATED

For those of you who don’t remember (or never were clear on the matter in the first place), the policing of the various areas in LA County falls into three different categories: First, there are the incorporated cities that have their own police forces. These include Los Angeles, Long Beach, Inglewood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Gardena and more.

Then there are the many unincorporated areas of the county like parts of Whittier at the eastern end, and Agoura, Calabasas and Las Virgines Canyon toward the west, with a long list of communities in between. The sheriff’s department provides policing for all these areas. In fact, at a core level, policing the U/As is arguably the department’s primary raison d’etre.

Then in a third category, there are the incorporated cities that don’t have their own police departments but instead pay the sheriff’s department on a contract basis to provide their law enforcement services. These are the 42 “contract cities.”

It’s important to note, however, that the contracts are purely discretionary on the part of both parties. Again, the sheriff’s department is required to provide policing services for the U/As, yet not required to agree to police any of the contract cities. He enters into those contracts because he chooses to do so.

Hence the supervisors were upset when they discovered the U/A patrol services were slashed while those provided for the contract cities remained intact.


UNDERPAYING AND OVERPAYING

To make matters worse, according to the auditor-controller’s report, the U/As were not only having their services cut, they were in part footing the bill for the contract cities, which it seems are only paying $371 million for their services, while it costs the county $552 million to actually provide the services.

Part of this was because state law won’t let the county bill the contract cities for non-patrol services provided countywide—things like the Homicide Bureau, the Major Crimes Bureau, Narcotics, Internal Affairs, and so on, even though the contract cities benefit as much as the U/A does.

Nor did the department bill the cities for the shared costs that were related to patrol—like Aero Bureau (the department’s air support service) and Special Enforcement Units, or for the basic shared budget items like the costs of operating the various sheriff’s stations.

All those countywide expenses were charged 100 percent to the U/As, according to Watanabe.


MOVING THE CHESS PIECES

This week, the sheriff reportedly was moving LASD personnel around to rectify the problem. According to department spokesman Steve Whitmore, 22 officers have come out of GET—the sheriff’s gang enforcement unit. Evidently the GET officers had originally been pulled out of patrol and loaned to the gang detail. Now those 22 were being returned to their rightful posts, with more perhaps to follow.

It was floated earlier that another 90 were coming out of administrative posts, but Whitmore said Wednesday that no such large scale moves had, in fact, been made. “The sheriff wants to maximize coverage,” he said, adding that Baca wanted to get a better handle on the situation before making any more big changes.

Sheriff’s department sources say that part of the problem is that, in the last few years, personnel have been pulled in large numbers out of patrol and, as with the GET officers, sent on long-term loan to other units that, for one reason or another, the sheriff or undersheriff personally favored, but which were, in many cases, less than crucial. So, although these people were on the books as being at the various patrol stations, in practical fact they were working elsewhere—and the U/As suffered.

Whitmore admits to the long term loans, but disagrees with the rest.

“There is no fat in this department,” Whitmore said. “So redeployment is a challenge.”


FOR THE REAL NUMBERS, LASD GUIDES NEEDED

Judging by what Yaroslavsky, Molina and others have said in the last two weeks, the supervisors no longer seem to buy the “no fat,” concept, and are hoping that an audit will give them a more accurate picture than they believe they are getting from the sheriff.

Department insiders, however, tell us that in order to get to get the real figures regarding where and how the LASD spends its $2.4 billion budget, it is essential for the forensic auditors to have guides who know the ins and outs of the department’s finance secrets.

“Otherwise, they’ll hide and disguise the stuff they don’t want you to see,” said a department source. “That’s what happened the last time the supervisors ordered an audit.”

With those warnings in mind, we at WLA would like to respectfully suggest to the Board of Supervisors that it make sure its auditors avail themselves of just such consultants.


Photo by Mussklprozz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement | 20 Comments »

The LA “Charity Buccaneer” Still Rides….Jail Strip Search Payout In SF…. Star Gay Marriage Opponent Reverses Direction…and More

January 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


RICHARD WALDON AND OPERATION USA: THE “CHARITY BUCCANEER” STILL RIDES AFTER 35 YEARS

In Wednesday’s LA Times, Patt Morrison interviews Richard Waldon, the LA guy who, as the founder of Operation USA, has managed for 35 years to bring medicines, food and other aid to areas of the world deeply in need—sometimes when others could not or would not venture in.

International relief work is a little outside WLA’s normal story area But I’ve known Richard for all of those 35 years and, as a reporter and friend, was on a couple of Op USA’s earliest wild adventures in aid bringing.

Richard’s the real deal, and I thought you might enjoy the interview as a change of pace, (Be sure to read the whole story. Otherwise you’ll miss such excellent tidbits as how Richard uses the latest issue of Playboy Magazine as a rarely-fails bribe to get past certain roadblocks in certain countries.)

Here are some clips:

Almost on impulse, almost 35 years ago, Richard M. Walden and a friend rounded up six tons of relief supplies and a jet to ferry them to Vietnamese boat people in Malaysia. Thus was Operation California — now Operation USA — born. A Times headline soon called him the “charity buccaneer,” a red-tape-slashing contrarian who fretted about the “international web of neglect,” and who still has sharp words for relief efforts unmet and relief agencies that don’t measure up. He has steadfast celebrity supporters, like Julie Andrews, but the advent of social media that let anyone text a few bucks to Lady Gaga’s favorite charity in the middle of a concert has made things harder for brick-and-mortar charities like Operation USA. Walden soldiers on, boldly going where too many charity-come-latelies can only try to go.

[SNIP]

What sort of dangers in general do you face?

We were not far from Abbottabad, Pakistan. We had an ambulance to evacuate women in complicated labor from the frontier to Islamabad hospitals. It went up with no English-language markings [but] it got stopped, trashed and burned. They didn’t harm the lady in labor and the driver, but that kind of stuff goes on.

How does Operation USA work?

In most cases we look for partners, from U.N. agencies to small, in-country NGOs.

One of our all-time bests is in Jacmel, Haiti, where for $1 million we built a public primary school which has 1,000 kids, no fees, and is a center of community activities, with free architecture from L.A.-based Gensler, money from Honeywell Corp.’s foundation and quake-proofing engineering from Sacramento-based Miyamoto; 100% Haitian-built. Another is a seniors center in Ofunato, Japan, for abandoned seniors in a small port mostly destroyed by the quake. [Again] free architecture, free engineering, free land, all from Japanese partners with money from Honeywell’s foundation.

We [ran] the first U.S. aid to Cambodia after the war, the first to Vietnam, to Ethiopia [in 1984]. Operation USA predates nearly all the major entertainment industry-driven causes by years. In 1980 we had a two-hour prime-time special on the Cambodian famine which featured Julie Andrews, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Jane Fonda and others.

I can’t say we are still unique, only that we were often the “only Indians in a cowboy town….”


DECADE OLD STRIP & CAVITY SEARCHES IN SF JAIL MAY GARNER COUNTY PAYOUT OF $450,000

Thirteen male and female plaintiffs appear about to receive $450,000 from San Francisco County for being subjected to strip and body cavity searches after being arrested on minor charges more than ten years ago.

The settlement, that has been recommended by the SF City Attorney, is interesting in light of the fact that, last spring the U.S. Supreme Courted ruled in a 5-4 decision that strip searches in the nation’s jails were perfectly constitutional, even absent any kind of probable cause.

However, in the case of the 13 San Francisco plaintiffs, there was some kind of cavity searche—either “visual” or…the more invasive kind—in addition to the strip search, hence the settlement offer.

When I spoke to an LASD spokesman, Sgt. Pena, he confirmed that, yes, strip searches in LA County Jail are indeed standard operating procedure, regardless of why one has landed in lock-up. But real cavity searches require the okay of a judge, just as one would need for a search warrant.

KCBS San Francisco also reports on the upcoming settlement.


STAR WITNESS FOR PRO-PROP 8 IN CALIFORNIA COURT NOW WANTS A GAY-STRAIGHT COALITION TO STRENGTHEN MARRIAGE (OKAY. THAT WORKS.)

Mark Oppenheimer has the story in Wednesday’s New York Times. Here’s a clip:

David Blankenhorn, a traditional-marriage advocate and star witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California in 2010, shocked his allies with an Op-Ed article in The New York Times last June announcing that he was quitting the fight against same-sex marriage. “Instead of fighting gay marriage,” Mr. Blankenhorn wrote, “I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.”

He is about to find out how much support such a coalition can get.

On Thursday, Mr. Blankenhorn’s research group, the Institute for American Values in New York, plans to issue “A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” a tract renouncing the culture war that he was once part of, in favor of a different pro-marriage agenda. The proposed conversation will try to bring together gay men and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with heterosexuals who want to do the same.

The document is signed by 74 well-known activists, writers and scholars, on the left and the right, including the conservative John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine; John Corvino, a gay philosopher; Robert N. Bellah, a sociologist; Caitlin Flanagan, a social critic; and Glenn C. Loury, an economist — once conservative, now less so.

“While the nation’s attention is riveted by a debate about whether a small proportion of our fellow citizens (gays and lesbians) should be allowed to marry,” the statement reads, “marriage is rapidly dividing along class lines, splitting the country that it used to unite.”


IMMIGRATION REFORM AND THE PROBLEM OF MISINFORMATION

Marcos Breton at the Sacramento Bee speaks rather plainly about the fact that much of the split among Americans on immigration reform has mostly to do with misinformation.

Here’s a clip:

As President Barack Obama gave the most important speech on immigration reform in years on Tuesday, it became clear that his greatest foe is not the Republican Party on this terribly divisive issue.

It’s misinformation.

There is so much we think we know about immigration that is wrong. Some don’t want to know the real truth or seem addicted to having little brown people to blame for all of America’s woes.

What’s more American than one group dumping on another?

For most of my 50 years, the punching bags of choice have been people with roots in Mexico…

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, jail, LGBT | 1 Comment »

Man Found Dead in Men’s Central Jail Cell….Fontana School Cops Buy Semi-Auto Rifles….Congressional Committee Wants Info on Aaron Swartz Case….And More

January 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


MAN FOUND DEAD IN CELL IN LA COUNTY’S MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

An inmate was found unconscious in his multi-inmate cell in the 2200 section of Men’s Central Jail, at approximately 5:30 pm Sunday, January 27,

The inmate, who was African American and in his mid 30s, was later pronounced dead at the hospital, according to the jail’s watch commander, Lt. Albert Muldonado, who said paramedics were called.

Other LASD officials said that, although, it appeared preliminarily that the deceased inmate had likely died of heart failure, the cause of death had not been confirmed. Thus, due to the fact that other inmates were present in the cell when the inmate’s condition was discovered, detectives were called in order to rule out any foul play.

The inmate’s name has not as yet been released.


GOVERNOR JERRY GETS HANDS ON TO RESTORE DAD PAT’S LEGACY IN THE STATE’S HIGHER EDUCATION

Jennifer Medina for the NY Times has the story. Here’s a clip:

During a 1960s renaissance, California’s public university system came to be seen as a model for the rest of the country and an economic engine for the state. Seven new campuses opened, statewide enrollment doubled, and state spending on higher education more than doubled. The man widely credited with the ascendance was Gov. Edmund G. Brown, known as Pat.

Decades of state budget cuts have chipped away at California’s community colleges, California State University and the University of California, once the state’s brightest beacons of pride. But now Pat Brown’s son, Gov. Jerry Brown, seems determined to restore some of the luster to the institution that remains a key part of his father’s legacy.

Last year, he told voters that a tax increase was the only way to avoid more years of drastic cuts. Now, with the tax increase approved and universities anticipating more money from the state for the first time in years, the second Governor Brown is a man eager to take an active role in shaping the University of California and California State University systems.


FONTANA SCHOOL POLICE BUY SEMI-AUTO RIFLES—FONTANA SCHOOL BOARD NOT THRILLED

Jim Steinberg reports for the San Bernardino Sun. Here’s a clip:

Fontana Unified School District police have bought 14 military-style rifles to protect students and faculty in the event of a shooter on campus.

But the $14,000 purchase of the semi-automatic guns has infuriated some school board members, who say that arming school police officers with rifles represents a huge departure in policy.

The weapons are stored in locked compartments strategically located throughout the district, said Billy Green, chief of the Fontana school district’s police.

Board members Leticia Garcia and Sophia Green are concerned that Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks committed the district to a change in policy with no input from the board – nor the community.

Garcia and Sophia Green said they both have received calls from community members upset with the decision to upgrade the school police department’s firepower.

But several parents and students interviewed Wednesday afternoon said they generally approved of the purchase – which came before a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

But they had reservations, too.


CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE ASKS FOR HEARING REGARDING PROSECUTION OF AARON SWARTZ

Brendan Sasso of The Hill has the story. Here’s a clip:

The top lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday demanded a briefing from Justice Department officials about the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself earlier this month.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said there are “many questions” about how prosecutors handled the case.

They demanded a briefing from DOJ officials by Monday, Feb. 4.

In 2011, Swartz was charged with breaking into a computer network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloading 4.8 million documents from JSTOR, a subscription service for academic articles.

Swartz was an accomplished programmer and activist who argued that more online information should be free to the public.

Critics, including Swartz’s family and members of Congress, have accused prosecutors of seeking excessive penalties in the case.


KENTUCKY COUNTY FINDS DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF MINORITY KIDS ARE COMING IN CONTACT WITH THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM SO…THEY LAUNCH A STUDY TO FIND OUT WHY, AND WHAT CAN BE DONE

It seems like such an overwhelmingly sane approach. Rather than blaming the kids, Madison County, Kentucky, resolved to find out why so many minority kids were ending up in the system, and then to figure out how the County could turn things around.

In other words, local officials acted as if all the kids in the county were everyone’s children, by extesworthy of help and care.

(It would be nice if that attitude was contagious.)

Crystal Wylie of the Richmond Registor has the story. Here are some clips:

Several years ago, the state Department of Juvenile Justice released data indicating that Madison County had a “disproportionate minority contact” problem, or DMC.

The data indicated that too many minority youth were involved in the court system, were arrested, were on probation, or were sent to institutional placements, according to Dr. Preston Elrod, an Eastern Kentucky University criminal justice professor.

The report suggests that minority youngsters are disproportionately found in the juvenile justice system, although they are a fairly small percentage of the population, he said.

The Madison County Delinquency Prevention Council, of which Elrod is a member, is working to find out if that is the case. And if so, the council will discuss what the community can do to change that, he said.

[SNIP]

Another interest of the council is prevention, [Elrod] said. Children are subjected to “potential harm when they are involved in the juvenile justice process.”

In 2010, Madison County School’s Bellevue Ed Center was labeled as “the model alternative education program for the state of Kentucky,” Elrod said.

But with school districts experiencing budget cuts, he said, some support services for at-risk students are being eliminated.

“This is the population of youngsters who need the most attention, but because of reduced funding, they are not getting the support they need in schools,” Elrod said.

However, delinquency problems then appear in the community, he said.

“And eventually, somebody has to pay. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of support coming from Frankfort and Washington these days.”

A concern of the council is to address the “school-to-prison pipeline”— a national trend of children being funneled out of the public schools into the juvenile and criminal justice systems…

Like I said, I hope this attitude is contagious. Go Madison County!


Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD | 1 Comment »

40 Years of Roe…..Coroner Says Man Killed by Deputies Shot in Back….Controversy Over Restitution for Victims of Child Porn…..3 Strikers Getting Out Face Challenges

January 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


40 YEARS OF ROE V. WADE MARKED WITH RALLIES AND COUNTER RALLIES IN SF AND ELSEWHERE

THere were rallies marking the 40′s anniversary of Roe v. Wade all over the county this past weekend. Matthai Kuruvila from the San Francisco Chron has an account of the rally and counter rally in San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

The account of the events in San Francicso. Abortion activists on each side of the issue converged on San Francisco Saturday, creating parallel universes testifying to what 40 years of reproductive rights have wrought.

At Justin Herman Plaza, pro-choice activists danced and spoke about liberating women from the horror of back alley abortions conducted by coat hanger-wielding quacks.

Before legal abortions, what might happen to you “was a terror in the back of your mind,” said Chris Malfatti, 64, of San Francisco, who knew someone who lost her fertility to an illegal abortion.

Katheryn Smith of Politico covered the events in DC.


RELEASE OF CORONER’S REPORT FUELS CONTROVERSY OVER CULVER CITY MAN SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES BY DEPUTIES

The newly released autopsy report on the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of Jose De La Trinidad shows that De La Trinidad was shot 7 times, all from the rear, five of the shots striking the Culver City father in the back.

The LA Times Wesley Lowery has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.

De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.

“Here’s a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff’s Department…


THE PRICE OF A STOLEN CHILDHOOD

In a deeply affecting story for this week’s New York Times Magazine Emily Bazelon writes about two young women with the first names of Nicole and Amy who, as children, were sexually abused, with their rapes recorded on video and distributed to thousands of men. In the cases of Nicole and Amy, however,the court has ruled that they can both obtain monetary restitution from those who downloaded the videos of them to mitigate the harm that was done to them. Bazelon’s article explores, among other things, if financial restitution actually helps victims of child pornography.

Here’s a clip:

The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.

The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.

Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.

Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”

When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone…..

The idea of the kind of restitution Bazelon’s story describes is not without controversy. It seems that, as terrible as such crimes are, creating tough laws that don’t also capture in their net the wrong people along with the predators, can be challenging, as Jennifer Bleyer of Slate points out.


THREE STRIKERS NEWLY RELEASED FACE A MULTITUDE OF CHALLENGES, OFTEN WITH NO HELP

Tracey Kaplan at the Contra Costa News has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison “gate money” and the clothes on their backs.

These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.

The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of “strikers” alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law — as well as the inmates themselves.

“I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing,” said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

[SNIP]

“We want these people to succeed,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project. “We don’t want them committing crimes and creating more victims.”

Proponents say the main reason they didn’t foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly — after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36.

Under California’s realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Romano said the issue is now being litigated in Los Angeles County, where a prosecutor claims strikers should be supervised by probation officers. But even if they are, he said, many counties lack the resources to help the mostly male population of former lifers make a successful transition….



Photo of San Francisco rally for 40 years of Roe v. Wade by Christine Duong

Posted in Child sexual abuse, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Human rights, LASD, Life in general, Prosecutors, Reentry, Sentencing, women's issues | 1 Comment »

The State of the State…Innovative School Strategy in Oxnard,

January 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



GOV. JERRY BROWN’S STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS

Governor Jerry Brown’s state of the state speech, delivered Thursday morning was inspired and inspiring, quirky, literary, with Old Testament flourishes, and mostly policy-free, but it set the tone for a clear direction. “A political speech like no other,” wrote Steven Harmon of the Oakland Tribune, ” “delivered by perhaps the one politician who could pull it off.”

The speech has been analyzed by every newspaper around the state, so rather than add to that stack I’ve simply reproduced a few of my favorite snippets, all of them pertaining to education.

We seem to think that education is a thing–like a vaccine–that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level……Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured. I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work – lighting fires in young minds.

With regard to higher education:

….tuition increases are not the answer. I will not let the students become the default financiers of our colleges and universities.

About giving schools and school districts extra funds based need.

This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more helpEqual treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.

In case you didn’t see or hear Jerry’s speech, here’s the full text.


AND SPEAKING OF EDUCATION, THIS INNOVATIVE PROGRAM AT AN OXNARD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, HAS LOWERED SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS DRAMATICALLY, AND RAISED TEST SCORES.

Jason Formanek at the Ventura County Reporter has the story. Here are some clips:

The recent tragedy in Newtown has sparked heated debates about gun control and school-related violence. There is a lot of talk, but what’s actually being done?

“In light of what happened in Connecticut, everybody’s talking about security,” said Anna Thomas, principal of Marina West Elementary School in Oxnard. “We have to be proactive and look at how we’re preventing those sorts of things.”

To do this, Marina West has incorporated an educational program created by Lesson One, a Boston-based nonprofit foundation, into its daily curricula. The program teaches students accountability, self-control and resiliency.

“Each of these skills is equally important, they’re sequential,” said Jon Oliver, program founder and author of Lesson One: the ABCs of Life. “It’s like saying any letter in the alphabet is more important than the others. We need all the skills together.”

[SNIP]

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently recognized the program on its list of evidence-based practices for mental health.

Locally, McKinna Elementary has seen an 80 percent reduction in suspensions and a 13 percent increase in standardized test scores since implementing the program. As a result, the Oxnard School District Educational Foundation hopes to bring the program to additional schools.


LIGHT POSTING TODAY. HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

Posted in California budget, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

Which LA Police Departments Will Get the $7 Million in Realignment Funds? (And What’s the Deal with Gardena?)

January 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LA POLICE DEPARTMENTS TO GET $$ TO HELP WITH ADDED BUDGET BURDENS CAUSED BY REALIGNMENT

When California’s prison realignment kicked in on Oct 1, 2011, nearly $400 million was allocated to LA County to offset the added costs. One of the two main recipients of the money has been the LA County Probation Department, which oversees the post-prison probation of many former inmates who, in the past, would have been on state parole. The other main recipient, is the LA County Sheriff’ Department, which has had the considerable added expense of jailing thousands of extra lawbreakers who, pre-realignment would have served their sentences in state prison.

Yet the various police forces in and around LA County have been complaining loudly for more than a year that, while their budgets aren’t hit as hard as those of Probation and the LASD, they too have substantial added costs.

For instance, in 2011, the Los Angeles Police Department moved 150 police officers out of street patrol duty to help probation officers who, unlike state parole officers, do not carry weapons, and thus often rely on local police to help with house visits and other forms of probation enforcement.

With all this in mind, last year, the state legislature voted to allocate $20 million in grants for California’s city police departments, an amount that was tentatively upped to $24 million last week according to the California Board of State And Community Corrections, which voted to distribute the money to each county according to a formula based on the various counties’ relative needs. (The extra $4 is still pending the approval of the state legislature, which has ’till mid February to act on the matter.)


GARDENA? SERIOUSLY, GARDENA?!

Los Angeles County is set to get nearly $7 million of the $24 million, which is to be divided among the county’s various city police forces.

However, until the money is divvied up, one city in each county is given “fiduciary responsibility” for the cash and then will “allocate the funds based on the collective decision of local law enforcement.”

According to documents obtained by WLA, most California counties logically chose their largest city to administrate the grant funds. For example, Alameda County chose Oakland, San Francisco County chose San Francisco, Kern chose Bakersfield, San Diego chose San Diego….and so on.

That is why it was something of a surprise to find that LA County—which has within it the city that receives, far and away, the most parolees and probationers returning from prison of any other municipality in the state—did not choose Los Angeles to manage the grant, although surely LA would have been the obvious option. Nor did it choose Long Beach, which might be the fallback position. Instead, LA County’s administrative city is…..Gardena.

Now, no doubt there is perfectly good reason that the 6-square mile city of Gardena was selected. We weren’t able to find anyone before press time who could tell us who exactly made the decision, although since Sheriff Lee Baca is on the 12-member board for State And Community Corrections, one assumes he at least had something to do with it. After all, his Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, along with being the main person who oversees the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s budget, is also the mayor of Gardena.


WILL THE LASD CONTRACT CITIES WANT THEIR CUT?

It will be interesting to see how the allocation of $7 million plays out, as the various police agencies make their bid for a piece of what is, in reality, a very limited pie.

One would normally assume that the Los Angeles Police Department would get the lion’s share of the money, for obvious reasons, with Long Beach and possibly Burbank running at a distant 2nd and 3rd place.

However, here’s the thing: according to the rules of the grant, in addition to city police departments being eligible for a share of the grant money, county sheriff’s departments that contract to police incorporated cities within their counties (in addition to the unincorporated areas that are their core responsibility) can also put themselves in the running for the new grant dollars. The LASD has contracts to police 42 cities within LA County. Taken cumulatively, one could make the case that the LASD should get a very large piece of the $7 million funding pie—despite the fact that, as mentioned above, they’ve already received a a good share of the nearly $400 million allocated to the county in the last 2 fiscal years.


AND WHAT ABOUT THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S RECENT BUDGET TROUBLES?

Added to the ever-more-interesting mix, right now the Sheriff is facing large cash flow woes to the degree that, as of this week, is rumored to be running substantially over his $2.8 billion budget.

In fact, at the Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting, Baca announced that he was going to have to cut patrols in the unincorporated areas of the county, in order to manage his cash flow, which was “hemorrhaging,” he said, in part due to runaway overtime. (It seems that the LASD’s overtime costs have doubled between the past fiscal year and this one, jumping by more than $30 million.)

Things got so heated at the meeting over the LASD budget issues, that the Supervisors ordered a forensic audit of the department’s budget, to find out where all the money is going.

Moreover, one of the issues that came up in the meeting is that the LASD is providing the contract cities with services that it is not charging them for.

All this is to say that, it would not be any kind of shock to hear the sheriff make a hardball pitch for some of those nice new realignment funds.

So does any of the above have to do with the otherwise unlikely choice of the City of Gardena to administer the police department grant funds?

Oh, who knows?!

But, it is at least a matter worth watching.


Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Police, Probation, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca | 5 Comments »

Are Californians on Probation or Parole Committing the Majority of the State’s New Crimes?

January 23rd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION MAY SURPRISE YOU

It has long been assumed by many law enforcement and corrections officials, politicians and pundits, that people on parole and probation are the biggest contributors to the overall crime rate. To put it another way, those under state or county supervision for a previous crime, account for a big, bad chunk of all new arrests.

We hear some version of this assumption whenever the topic of state prison realignment comes into the conversation.

But is it true?

The Chiefs of Police for Los Angeles, Redlands, Sacramento, and San Francisco (this list obviously includes the LAPD’s Charlie Beck), along with some other criminal justice experts and leading law enforcement officials in California, decided they’d like to find out. So in 2010 they commissioned a rigorous study to learn the reality of the matter.

Between then and now, researchers at the Council for State Governments Justice Center collected and matched more than 2.5 million arrest, parole, and probation records generated between January 1, 2008 and June 11, 2011, in those four different areas. Along with the four police forces, data and help was provided by four matching probation departments, the California Department of Corrections, and two sheriff’s department, most notably Lee Baca and the LASD.

The resulting report, which was released Tuesday afternoon, had some surprising results:


COUNTER TO EXPECTATIONS, THE BIG ARREST NUMBERS DID NOT COME FROM PAROLEES OR PROBATIONERS

It turns out that a startling 78 percent of those arrested for a crime in these four California areas, between Jan. 2008 and June 2011, were not on either parole or probation.

And 62 percent of those arrested had no parole or local probation history at all.

That, of course, left 22 percent—or one out of every five arrestees—that came out of the parole/probation pool. Interestingly, the majority were on probation, not parole. And the crime those probationers or parolees were most likely to commit was drug related.

The time period covered by the 52-page study [which you can access here], stopped just short of when California’s prison realignment kicked in during October 2011, opening the door for a similar study to be done a year or two years from now, using this one as a baseline.


BUT WHAT ABOUT VIOLENT CRIMES?

The percentages were even more dramatic when it came to adult violent felony arrests.
In Los Angeles, out of 51,749 violent felony arrests, 6,001—or 11.5 percent—of those arrested were on probation.

A far lower amount 3,653—or 7 percent—of those arrested for violent felonies in LA were on parole.

The remaining 42,095—or 81 percent—were not under any supervision.


PREDICTING THE PROBLEMS

The report has a lot more in the way of intriguing information for those who take the time to read it closely.

For instance, obviously, there is a “subset” of probationers and parolees who do commit more crimes and get rearrested—for drug, property and/or violent crimes.

So the question is, how successful are we in picking which people are the most likely to go off the legal rails again—and thus who needs the most supervision and help.

The answer turns out to be mixed. Weirdly, the systems in place for parole classification—designating the high risk people who need lots more controls, and those who are generally low risk, and all in between—turn out to be fairly accurate most of the time:

Of those on parole, the people who were labeled high risk were more likely to offend than lower risk people. Specifically, 51 percent of those parolees who were arrested were in the high risk category. The moderate risk category made up 33 percent of the parole re-arrests. Those labeled “low risk” accounted for 13 percent.

However when it came to those on probation in the various counties, all predictive powers and effective assessment tools seemed to go out the window. Only 5 percent of those probationers who were arrested for new crimes had been classified as high risk, 38 percent of the new arrestees were labeled medium risk, while 37 percent were labeled low risk.

San Francisco was the one exception. Their risk assessment methods paid off. Their arrestees were: 73 percent from the high risk category, 11 percent moderate, only 2 percent were labeled “low risk.”


WHAT ABOUT THOSE “NON-REVOKABLE” PAROLEES?

In January 2010, CDCR instituted a parole supervision policy known as Non Revocable Parole.
The strategy was, to a large degree designed to lower the prison population because, for years, approximately 40 percent of those coming into California prisons were not coming in because they had been convicted of new crimes, but because they had violated a technical condition of their parole. These “conditions” were strictures that varied from testing dirty on a required drug test to showing up in the area of town where you weren’t allowed to be because it’s where your former gang hung out, never mind that your mom and your girlfriend also lived on those same blocks—plus a list of other infractions.

The idea of Non-Revocable Parole (or NRP) was to reserve that laundry list of ways that you could land back in prison for the high risk people who needed the structure the most, and lift it from the low-risk people who were then, it was hoped, were more likely to start just living their lives.

To be eligible for NRP, the parolee could not have a criminal conviction for any one of various serious offenses (sex offenses, murder, voluntary manslaughter, robbery, 1st degree burglary), and had to be assessed as low risk.

Releases of prisoners to NRP began in earnest in March 2010 and by October 2010 there were nearly 17,000 NRP parolees in California communities.

So, how did the NRPs do? Obviously, more study is needed, but contrary to The Sky Is Falling pronouncements from many, of the 170,336 adult arrests that occurred in the four jurisdictions during the 15-month period of the study that overlapped with the implementation of NRP, 216 arrests involved people on NRP. That’s under 2 percent.


Surely there is much room for improvement when it comes to screening for risk. And we need to become more effective at helping people successfully reroute the trajectories of their lives so as to avoid returning to prison.

But this study—The Impact of Probation and Parole Populations on Arrests in Four California Cities— is a good, smart, informative place to begin the next stage of work.

So a round of applause for the 4 Chiefs of Police and 2 Sheriffs who made it possible.


AND IN OTHER NEWS, BE SURE TO READ THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ’S COLUMN ON CARDINAL MAHONY—AND AND THEN READ PATT MORRISON’S

Here’s a clip from the column:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, parole policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 2 Comments »

Obama, the Inaugural Address, Gay Rights & Other Social Justice Issues

January 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


There is a lot of news that is worth your attention this week: a significant new report with implications about California’s probationers and parolees.
..some action on LA County probation’s use of solitary confinement for kids…additional LASD news….and more. But we’ll get to those issues tomorrow, and in coming days.

Today we are pausing to focus on Monday’s inauguration as it relates to a couple of the social justice topics that we discuss here at WitnessLA.

With that in mind, here are some stories, essays, and op eds that attempt to decode the import of the president’s speech, specifically, and the inauguration, in general:

(Here’s the text of Obama’s inaugural address, in case you need it for reference.)


AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT GAY RIGHTS SPEECH?

Well, Richard Socarides of the New Yorker thinks so, and makes his case.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

No one anticipated it, but President Barack Obama used the occasion of his second Inaugural Address to give what was perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history. Inaugural Addresses are, by their definition, important and defining occasions, when Presidents set the tone and direction for the coming four years. President Obama used the occasion to make the first direct reference to gay-rights in an Inaugural Address, and he did so with a power and forthrightness we have not heard before, even from him.

About two-thirds of the way into the speech, Obama referred to Stonewall, a gay bar where, in 1969, a police raid provoked a riot, in the same sentence as Seneca Falls and Selma—thus comparing the women’s and African-American civil-rights movements to the gay-rights struggle. Had he stopped there, it would have been historic—particularly coming from the first African-American President—but, in keeping with the tradition of politicians who refer to gay-rights obliquely or with code words, stopping short of directness.

But the President continued:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Not only was this a call to end discrimination, but an unambiguous argument for the recognition of same-sex marriage across the country. For a President who announced his support for marriage equality less than a year ago, after more reluctance (and suggestions about what could be left to the states) than many would have liked, this was a bold declaration….


THE DIFFERENCE FOUR YEARS MAKES

NY Times columnist, Frank Bruni, comments on the difference between Obama’s first inauguration and Monday’s when it comes to gay rights. Here’s a clip:

Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The alliteration of that litany made it seem obvious and inevitable, a bit of poetry just there for the taking. Just waiting to happen.

But it has waited a long time. And President Obama’s use of it in his speech on Monday — his grouping of those three places and moments in one grand and musical sentence — was bold and beautiful and something to hear. It spoke volumes about the progress that gay Americans have made over the four years between his first inauguration and this one, his second. It also spoke volumes about the progress that continues to elude us.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” the president said, taking a rapt country on a riveting trip to key theaters in the struggle for liberty and justice for all.

Seneca Falls is a New York town where, in 1848, the women’s suffrage movement gathered momentum. Selma is an Alabama city where, in 1965, marchers amassed, blood was shed and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood his ground against the unconscionable oppression of black Americans.

And Stonewall? This was the surprise inclusion, separating Obama’s oratory and presidency from his predecessors’ diction and deeds. It alludes to a gay bar in Manhattan that, in 1969, was raided by police, who subjected patrons to a bullying they knew too well. After the raid came riots, and after the riots came a more determined quest by L.G.B.T. Americans for the dignity they had long been denied.

The causes of gay Americans and black Americans haven’t always existed in perfect harmony, and that context is critical for appreciating Obama’s reference to Stonewall alongside Selma. Blacks have sometimes questioned gays’ use of “civil rights” to describe their own movement, and have noted that the historical experiences of the two groups aren’t at all identical. Obama moved beyond that, focusing on the shared aspirations of all minorities. It was a big-hearted, deliberate, compelling decision.

He went on, seconds later, to explicitly mention “gay” Americans, saying a word never before uttered in inaugural remarks. What shocked me most about that was how un-shocking it was.


OKAY, THAT’S ALL VERY NICE, BUT DOES IT SIGNAL A CONCRETE POLICY SHIFT THAT WILL RESULT IN ACTION?

In this LA Times Op Ed, Ken Dilanian and David G. Savage of the paper’s Washington Bureau, discuss the possible policy shifts the speech suggests—particularly when it comes to the stand the administration may or may not take with regard to the gay rights matters coming soon before the Supreme Court. Here’s a clip from their story:

“….Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he continued, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

The passage “was definitely one of those moments that took your breath away,” said Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian and Gay Band Assn., whose 215 members later marched past the president in the inaugural parade. “We understand the historical significance of it. What political significance it has remains to be seen.”

Obama, who only last spring hesitated to declare his public support for gay marriage, soon will have to decide whether his administration will take the potentially huge step of arguing before the Supreme Court that gay marriage is an equal right under the Constitution.

The court will soon review two cases, one of them involving California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that limited marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Gay rights lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to declare the ballot measure unconstitutional, potentially striking down the laws of 41 states.

To several legal scholars, Obama’s equating of Selma and Stonewall strongly implied he is prepared to side with gay rights activists. But doing so would mark a sudden departure from the caution with which he has typically approached most issues….

[SNIP]

Theodore Olson, the former George W. Bush administration solicitor general and lawyer for the gay couples challenging Proposition 8, said the president sounded ready to back a constitutional right to gay marriage.

“I was very gratified to hear the president state in clear and unambiguous language that our gay and lesbian citizens must be treated equally under the law,” Olson said, “and that their loving relationships must be treated equally as well. That can only mean one thing: equality under the Constitution.”

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of New York-based Freedom to Marry, noted in an interview that Obama’s speech “was an inaugural address, not a legal brief, and we will see over the next several weeks exactly what positions the Justice Department takes.”

“I am confident the president knows that the Constitution requires equality in the freedom to marry,” he added…



AND, WHILE ON THE SUBJECT OF ACTION, WHAT’S WITH THE PREZ’S INACTION ON CLEMENCY?

“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

Doug Berman over at Sentencing, Law and Policy wants to know if Obama’s clemency record will match his inaugural rhetoric.

Here’s a clip:

Blogging four years ago during the last day in which a US President took the oath of office, I commented in this post about the tendency of chief executives to invoke great rhetoric and wax poetic about freedom and liberty in America despite our country’s recent record of locking up a record number of persons in jails and prisons. I also asked in this follow-up post on the same day whether it was too early to start demanding President Obama use his clemency power to live up to our country’s traditional commitment to personal freedom and liberty.

Sadly, as P.S. Ruckman effectively documents and highlights in this new post, President Obama’s first-term record on the clemency front is at once disgraceful and disgusting:

Barack Obama’s first term has come to an end and we are now ready to report that his four-years as president represent the least merciful term for any modern president (Democrat or Republican) and, quite possibly, the least merciful in the entire history of the United States (see footnote below).

This is, of course, an incredible distinction for a president who repeatedly notes that America is a place where people get “second chances,” from a president who complained bitterly about overly-harsh sentences given to criminal defendants simply because they were African-American, and from a president who promised us “hope and change.”


AND TWO MORE OPINIONS ON WHETHER OR NOT THE RHETORIC WILL TRANSLATE INTO ACTION

The Atlantic’s James Fallows points out that, in addition to the significance of the paragraphs in the president’s speech on gay rights, gender equality, et al, the other significant section is the one that comes earlier in the speech, and contains this:

“For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”

In other words, for whatever it is worth, POTUS intends the speech as more than rhetorical; it is a specific call to action.

Fallows says he has ” no illusion, delusion, allusion, or even dog-whistle conceptions that this speech will change the partisan power-balance affecting passage of anything Obama mentioned, from climate legislation to reforming immigration law.”

And yet, Fallows’ colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests in his reflections on the speech:

Obama’s speech is different. To some extent it exposes people to new ideas. But to a greater extent, perhaps, it shows how movements which only a few years ago were thought to be on the run have, in at least one major party, carried the day. This is not a small thing.

For details, one presumes we should stay tuned for the State of the Union address in February.


AND NOW….back to our regularly scheduled programming


PS: While Beyonce and the others were wonderful to see and hear at the inauguration, for me it was that lovely, unnamed soprano who—along with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir surrounding her—truly blew the doors off the joint.


Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, gender, immigration, LGBT, Obama, Sentencing, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Guidance, Not Guns….More on Aaron Swartz…A Cold Case Leads to Revelations of Forensic Misconduct

January 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


POST SANDYHOOK, LIZ RYAN ABOUT WHAT WORKS TO PROTECT KIDS FROM VIOLENCE

Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (among other accomplishments), has this thoughtful and informative essay at The Crime Report on the initiatives that, in combination—–according to some of the nation’s best youth advocates—are the most likely to reduce gun violence against children and teenagers, in addition to reducing violence in our communities.

Yet, one of the advantages of this essay is that, while Ryan is very knowledgeable, she does more here than opine. She provides lots of good links to recent and relevant studies and reports, thereby giving you the resources with which to make up your own mind about the issues.

Here’s a clip from Liz’s essay:

….the nation’s educational leaders, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have stated emphatically that, “Guns have no place in our schools.”

Others have suggested more police presence.

But research has shown that increased police presence has not made schools safer. In fact, it has resulted in the criminalization of young people in the justice system.

University of Delaware Professor Aaron Kupchik, author of “Homeroom Security” says that while armed guards are already in many schools, “their presence has effects that help transform the school from an environment of academia to a site of criminal law enforcement.

Instead of more guns and more police presence, education experts such as Barbara Raymond of The California Endowment point to the importance of counselors, social workers, psychologists and evidence-based programs. One example is the school-wide positive behavior support program to improve learning environments in schools and help children resolve conflict.
The Sandy Hook killings also underscore the need to improve access to quality, community-based behavioral mental health services for children and young people.

An interdisciplinary group of more than 200 violence prevention researchers, practitioners and professional associations recommends that, “these efforts should promote wellness, as well as address mental health needs of all community members while simultaneously responding to potential threats to community safety.

“This initiative should include a large scale public education and awareness campaign, along with newly created channels of communication to help get services to those in need.”
Additionally, a comprehensive approach must address the root causes of violence, and focus resources on proven violence prevention and juvenile delinquency prevention programs such as the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence’s “Blueprints for Violence Prevention” programs.

Easy access to guns that kill 7 young people a day and injure 43 more is a challenge addressed by the bipartisan national coalition of 750 mayors led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. The coalition has created comprehensive recommendations to severely reduce the easy access to guns and assault weapons in the U.S.
Finally, there must be a focus on healing….

There’s more. Ryan points to the huge report that was just released by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, that looks at the affect that deleterious effects that exposure to violence has on kids, and what we can do about it. Anyway, take a look.


US ATTORNEY SAYS PROSECUTION OF AARON SWARTZ WAS “APPROPRIATE”

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz evidently spoke to reporters after an unrelated news conference, saying she was terribly upset about Aaron Swartz’s suicide, but that the federal prosecutors acted appropriately.

David Kravets at WIRED has the story about the MA U.S. Attorney’s . Here’s a clip:

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, said Thursday the government’s “conduct was appropriate” in its handling of the Aaron Swartz prosecution.

The President Barack Obama appointee’s first public comments on the matter come nearly a week after the internet sensation, who was under federal indictment in Massachusetts on hacking and other charges, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment.

Swartz’s family, in part, blamed the suicide of the executive director of Demand Progress on what they said was an overzealous prosecution. Prosecutors in Ortiz’s office had offered the 26-year-old a six-month prison sentence in exchange for his guilty plea to more than a dozen counts of computer hacking and wire fraud over the illicit downloading of millions of academic articles from a subscription database at MIT. It was a plea agreement Swartz rejected.

“As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life,” Ortiz said. “I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably.”

The Boston Globe (among others) also has a report that, for those slightly obsessed with this story, is worth a read.

Also, while—whether one agrees with her legal POV or not (I don’t happen to at all), Ortiz at least handled the press interaction with dignity and respect.

Not so, it seems her husband, Tom Dolan, who early on took his feelings about criticism of his wife to Twitter. (His account has since been deleted.)

FireDogLake (among many others) has that story.

Dolan evidently forgot that in such unbearable circumstances the grieving family gets to say whatever they want, especially about a public figure, like a U.S. Attorney. The public figure’s spouse does not have such license, and certainly does not get to start shooting back through social media at the people who lost their son/brother/friend.

One more thing, just to be clear, yes, Aaron Swartz was offered a plea deal (as we mentioned in an earlier story), but when the defense and the prosecution couldn’t agree upon a deal, the 35 year sentence comes back into play.

So to those who contended that a 35 year was not in fact a threat, it was, actually. The big bad possible sentence is the gun that prosecutors hold to a defendant’s head, to get him or her to plead out. That’s the game. And it’s an ugly one.


A TALE OF A MISSISSIPPI COLD CASE AND A DECADES OLD MISSISSIPPI SCANDAL THAT MAY HAVE COMPROMISED A FRIGHTENING NUMBER OF CASES OVER DECADES

Huffington Post’s talented criminal justice writer/reporter, Radley Balko has this fascinating two-parter about the solving of the 15-year-old murder of Kathy Mabry by the unlikely team of two Innocence Project attorneys, in the course of which, a brewing subrosa scandal involving a pair of shoddy forensic analysts has been brought irrevocably into the light, finally (hopefully) making it impossible for Mississippi officials to ignore.

Here’s a clip:

The [Mabry] case went unsolved for 15 years, until December, after a casual courtroom conversation led lawyers from the Mississippi Innocence Project to investigate it. That two attorneys for an organization better known for getting the wrongly convicted out of prison would take it upon themselves to solve a cold case is remarkable enough. Their search covered the state, from Columbus in the northeast, to Oxford in the northwest, to the crime lab in Jackson, to a dusty attic in the Humphreys County courthouse, deep in the belly of the Delta.

The reason they felt compelled to act is part of a larger scandal currently unfolding in Mississippi. The original police investigation into Mabry’s murder hinged on the forensic analysis of Steven Hayne, a longtime Mississippi medical examiner, and Michael West, a dentist and self-proclaimed bite-mark expert. Hayne was a doctor in private practice who at the time performed nearly all of the state’s autopsies. West was one of his frequent collaborators. The two men have been at the heart of the Mississippi death investigation system for two decades. West has testified in dozens of cases, Hayne in thousands, including a number of death penalty cases.

Media investigations over the years, however, including my own for The Huffington Post and Reason magazine, have revealed that both Hayne and West have contributed critical evidence that led to the convictions of people who were later exonerated, and routinely and flagrantly flouted the ethical and professional standards of their respective fields. West, for example, once claimed he could match the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich found at a murder scene to the teeth of the prime suspect. In a more recent case, Hayne claimed the bullet wounds in a murder victim showed that two people held the gun when it was fired, not one. In the Mabry case, West used bite-mark analysis to nab an innocent man for Mabry’s murder. That man spent nearly a year in jail. But the Mabry story also shows that the victims in this scandal include not just the wrongly accused, but the families of the victims, the future victims of the actual perpetrators, public officials like Roseman, and even entire towns.

Mississippi officials have thus far resisted calls for a thorough review of Hayne and West’s work. In particular, the Mississippi Supreme Court has shown little concern over the possibility that Hayne and West may have put an untold number of innocents behind the razor wire at Parchman penitentiary. Neither has Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office continues to defend convictions won primarily on the testimony one or both of the men have given on the witness stand. To concede there’s a problem would implicate many state officials who used the two men during tenures as prosecutors. It would also open hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases to review.

Tucker Carrington, the director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, says he and his colleague Will McIntosh decided to pursue Mabry’s killer themselves after they attempted to bring the case to the attention of the prosecutor in Humphreys County, and then to Hood’s office, and received no response from either.

“When you take on a case and it reveals a glaring injustice like this — something that could easily be taken care of if someone would just give it some attention — you can’t just turn a blind eye to that,” Carrington says. “In the end, I guess we saw this through because no one else would.”


Photo from Library of Congress collection, 1930-1940, (Creative Commons)

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