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In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Did Board of Supes Violate the Brown Act with $2 Billion Jail Vote?…WLA on KCRW’s WWLA? Monday Nite…and About That Rolling Stone UVA Rape Reporting Debacle

December 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SO CAL ACLU SEZ SUPES VIOLATED THE LAW WITH $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN VOTE

According to Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the ACLU of Southern California, the LA County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act last May when they voted to go ahead with a costly plan to replace Men’s Central Jail.

The problem, according to Eliasberg and his fellow ACLU attorneys, is that although the board listed on its agenda for the May 6, 2014 meeting in question that it would be discussing various possible pricey plans for rebuilding MCJ (along with a women’s prison at Miraloma) that had been submitted to the board by Vanir Construction Management, there was no specific listing nor any motion in the agenda that indicated the board might actually vote on whether or not to go ahead with one of the plans at the upcoming meeting, and all that such a go-ahead would entail.

But vote they did.

During the meeting, Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina—both of whom had been pushing for a robust jail rebuild and expansion—read a motion into the minutes calling for a vote to proceed with one of Vanir’s five plan options. The vote was taken and passed 3-1. (Zev Yaroslavsky voted against going ahead, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.)

Now it turns out that the non-agenda-ized vote may have been a no-no.


SO WHAT IS THE BROWN ACT ANYWAY?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the statute, the Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953 by the California state legislature (and authored by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown) to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The Brown Act, which has expanded in length over the years due to various amendments, governs certain ways that such meetings must be conducted in order to secure public participation.

One whole section of the Brown Act has to do with requirements surrounding meeting agendas—when they must be posted and what must be on them. To wit:

At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words.

Then in another section specifies:

No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a legislative body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by persons exercising their public testimony rights.

The motion for the vote was not on the agenda.

There are exceptions to the agenda rule, as in cases of emergency and the like. But the jail plan vote doesn’t appear to qualify for any of those exceptions.

On Tuesday of last week, the ACLU sent a letter to District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office asking Lacey to look into the matter. The letter—obtained by WLA—opens this way:

Please investigate whether the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act at its May 6, 2014 meeting when Supervisor Antonovich and former Supervisor Molina read into the agenda a joint motion calling for the Board to “adopt” one of five jail plan options presented by Vanir Construction Management, Inc in its Los Angeles County Jail Plan – Phase 2. The Board voted and adopted the motion by a vote of 3-1, with Supervisor Ridley- Thomas abstaining. The written agenda for the meeting did not provide for the Board’s voting on any of the options; it provided for only a discussion on the five options by Vanir. …we believe that the vote on the oral motion was a clear violation of the Brown Act. If you agree, we request you take all appropriate action….

Lacey’s office—which has acted previously on Brown Act allegations—has yet to reply but, if the past is any guide, the DA’s office will take a while before deciding what if any action to take.


IS A POSSIBLE ILLEGALITY AN OPPORTUNITY?

The issue is a timely one because, if the vote to approve that multi-billion dollar jail plan was taken today, it would likely have a different outcome. Gloria Molina’s successor, Hilda Solis, talked last Monday at her swearing-in about the “incarceration-industrial complex that will sink our economy as well as our society if we allow it to.”

Kuehl went even further, expressing in an interview, according to the LA Times, that she wanted to revisit the costly jail plan vote altogether.

That same day, newly sworn-in Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that, while he believed Men’s Central Jail needed to be replaced, he thought the size of the replacement plan might need to be “recalibrated” in that 20 percent of the inmates in LA County’s jail facilities are mentally ill. Thus, if the diversion programs that he and Jackie Lacey favor are put into place, fewer total beds would likely be needed in the county’s facilities

Eliasberg pointed out that the ultra-expensive Vanir plan put into motion in May not only failed to include the population drop in the jails that diversion programs for the mentally ill would surely produce, but also failed to take into account “the substantial downward effect Proposition 47 will have on the jail population.”

In addition, it neglected to factor into its jail population math such programs as a greater use in LA County of split sentencing (now required by the state) and the institution of strategies like risk-based pretrial release, that could lower the need for jail beds still further.

“In other words,” said Eliasberg, “the [existing jail building] plan is both flawed in concept and was adopted in an illegal manner. The new Board members have an opportunity to rectify these mistakes.”

Let us hope so.



WITNESSLA ON WHICH WAY LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY TALKING ABOUT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT…AND ALL THAT JAZZ

I’ll be on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney Monday night at 7 pm on KCRW 89.9. We’ll be talking about the likelihood of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and similar topics.

You can listen in realtime here.

If you missed realtime, you can listen to the podcast here.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..REPORTING ON RAPE: A NECESSARY LEVEL OF JOURNALISTIC DUE DILIGENCE DOES NOT EQUAL INSENSITIVITY

The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot has a level-headed, no nonsense take regarding the reporting debacle that erupted last friday when Rolling Stone magazine suddenly backpedaled madly regarding an explosive article they ran last month about an alleged brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, based on extensive, highly emotion-generating interviews with a student identified only as “Jackie.”

Talbot describes the situation, the subsequent storm of reactions that ignited among other journalists and activists, and what we can take away from the whole sad mess.

Here are some clips from her essay:

…..It now appears that key details of the story, reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, may not be true. Other journalists—notably, my friend Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt, at Slate, and Paul Farhi, Erik Wemple, and T. Rees Shapiro, at The Washington Post—raised doubts about the reporting late last month, but Rolling Stone dismissed them. Then, on Friday, the magazine issued a statement saying, “In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.” (An earlier version of the statement had emphasized the magazine’s trust in Jackie, and regretted that it had been “misplaced”—wording that seemed to settle too much responsibility for the story’s shortcomings on Jackie and not enough on the reporter or her editors.) Rolling Stone’s statement did not enumerate the discrepancies, but the Post did.

….According to Erdely’s story, Jackie was asked on a date, in September, 2012, by “Drew,” a lifeguard she worked with at the campus aquatic center. Drew brought her back to the Phi Kappa Psi house and invited her to an upstairs bedroom. There, she was shoved to the floor, fell through a glass table, and, while lying on shards of glass, was raped by seven men. Drew egged them on in what, horribly, seemed to be some sort of hazing ritual for new pledges. When Jackie stumbled out of the fraternity hours later, dazed and bleeding, and found her friends, they convinced her not to report what had happened to the police or campus authorities, because they were worried that it would jeopardize her social standing and theirs.

When the Post contacted the friends last week, they said the account of the attack she gave them that night differed from the version in Rolling Stone. Jackie had not appeared to be physically injured, when they saw her late that night, they said, and she told them she’d been at a fraternity party where she had been forced to have oral sex with multiple men. They offered to get her help, but she declined. While she may have given Erdely a fuller and more accurate description of the events—perhaps she was too shaken that night to tell the friends more—the discrepancies seem to be troubling her friends.

The Post also tracked down the man called “Drew” in the article, whom Jackie identified for the first time this week, and he said he had never met Jackie or taken her on a date. He could be lying, of course, but at the least, his account raises questions about Rolling Stone’s. He also was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi. The fraternity chapter issued a statement last week that said it would continue to coöperate with a police investigation into the charges, but had found no evidence for them. “Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiating process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.”

One of Jackie’s friends, “Andy,” whom the Rolling Stone article described as having advised her not to report what happened to her, told the Post he never spoke to a reporter from the magazine. (The original article leaves ambiguous whether Erdely confirmed this part of the story with anyone other than Jackie.) Andy said, “The perception that I’m gravitating toward is that something happened that night and it’s gotten lost in different iterations of the stories that have been told. Is there a possibility nothing happened? Sure. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.”

[SNIP]

Neither “Drew,” the central figure the Post tracked down, nor any of the other men at the fraternity party appear in the article outside of Jackie’s recollections of them. We don’t read about them denying the charge, or unwillingly lending support to it, or complicating or corroborating or casting doubt on Jackie’s account in any of the ways they might have. That makes for a remarkably weak piece of journalism, and an enormously frustrating situation. If this story does turn out to be largely false, it will do real damage to the important new movement to crack down on sexual assault on college campuses. “One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies emerging is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie’s who survived a rape and a rape attempt at U.V.A., said to the Post. “However, we need to remember that the majority of survivors who are coming forward are telling the truth.” She went on, saying, “While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: rape is far more prevalent than we realize, and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions, and society at large.” She’s exactly right.

When Hanna Rosin interviewed her on Slate’s DoubleX podcast, she asked Erdely several times about whether she attempted to contact the accused men, and this is what Erdely told her:

I reached out to them in multiple ways. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an e-mail, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.

That isn’t exactly journalistic due diligence in a case where such extreme allegations are being made. As a journalist, it’s hard to talk to sources who may contradict a vulnerable person with whom you empathize, and in whom you have invested your trust. I hate that part of reporting, and would skip it if I could—but you can’t.

[SNIP]

…“Believe the Victims” makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.

For additional backstory on the matter, read the story by the Washington Post’s T. Reese Shapiro, which originally questioned the Rolling Stone reporting.

Posted in ACLU, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Rape | No Comments »

Part 3: “Drugging Our Kids,” Kindergarteners Carry Stresses to School, Lawsuit on Behalf of Disabled LA Jail Inmates Settled…and More

November 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“DRUGGING OUR KIDS” PART 3: A SWEET DEAL BETWEEN FOSTER CARE PRESCRIBING DOCS & PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

In August and September we linked to parts one and two of Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury on the widespread and unchecked use of psychotropic prescription drugs to medicate California’s foster kids. (links)

In part three of the powerful series, de Sá exposes pharmaceutical companies’ major targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care, who are covered under Medi-Cal. On average, these foster care prescribing doctors are rewarded—with money for travel, meals, profitable speaking gigs, and research trials—more than double what regular California doctors receive in payouts from drugmakers. In fact, between 2010 and 2013, pharmaceutical companies gave $14 million in payouts to doctors who prescribe to kids in foster care. And doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions for foster kids per year received four times as many payouts than the lower-prescribing doctors.

Here’s a clip from the findings:

Foster care prescribers reap nearly 2½ times more than the typical California doctor: From 2010 to 2013, almost 30 percent of all California doctors — and about 35 percent of foster care prescribers — received at least $100 from drug companies. But while the California doctors in that group received an average of $10,800 apiece over the four-year period, foster care prescribers typically received far more, nearly $25,000 each

Frequent prescribers are generally rewarded the most: Doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions to foster children in a year received more drug company payments than those who wrote fewer. While the margin fluctuated from year to year, on average the higher prescribers in the most recent fiscal year collected almost four times — or about $10,000 more — than the lower prescribers in 2013.

The bulk of the payments fund drug company-sponsored research: The 17 drugmakers who reported payments steered more than $11.3 million in research funds to doctors who prescribe psychotropic drugs to the state’s foster kids, with Eli Lilly — maker of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa — leading the pack by spending $6 million.

The companies kept some of their big researchers busy in other ways: Six of the doctors who earned among the largest research grants also tallied a cumulative total of almost $400,000 in speaking and consulting fees and another $45,000 in travel and meals.

We really hope de Sá’s editors put this excellent series up for prizes when the time comes.


KINDERGARTNERS IN HIGH-VIOLENCE COMMUNITIES BRING STRESSES OF FAMILY AND NEIGHBORHOODS INTO THE CLASSROOM

in an op-ed for the LA Times, Judy Belk, president and CEO of the California Wellness Foundation, tells of her daughter Casey’s experience teaching a kindergarten class in a St. Louis school not too far from Ferguson, MO.

Belk noted that many parents really strive to give their kids what they need, but often found the challenges stacked against them are overwhelming.

Here’s a clip:

Casey quickly figured out that schools are not closed systems. When a family is dysfunctional or broken, the problems follow the student into the classroom. Her principal waited with a student for hours to be picked up by a parent who never appeared. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., the principal had to turn the child over to child protective services.

Still, Casey has been impressed at how, with limited resources and parenting skills, and brutal work schedules, the parents try their best to provide for their children. She also sees a large number of involved, caring fathers countering the stereotype of the absent black male.

But the families and the school struggle to make everything work in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Shortly after school started, there was a drive-by shooting at a convenience store directly across the street from the school. Classes had just been dismissed, and several of Casey’s students were in the store as bullets flew, though none was wounded.

Casey’s text messages are discordant. One day she sends cute pictures of her kids in Halloween costumes; the next she alerts me that the school is on lockdown because of nearby gunfire. Recently, after yet another shooting, her principal canceled all outdoor recess. And now, in anticipation of a violent response to the upcoming Ferguson grand jury announcement, emergency supplies have been delivered to the school in case it becomes too dangerous for students or teachers to leave the building for a day or so.

But I’m trying hard to stay calm and take my guidance from Casey. She says she’s not scared — just angry that her kids have to live under these conditions. She intends to stay at least until the end of her two-year commitment. And after that? She’s already thinking about what more she can do: “I thought by teaching kindergarten, it would be early enough to make a difference, but … we’ve got to intervene earlier, focus in on parenting.”


LA COUNTY SETTLES COSTLY, SIX-YEAR LAWSUIT ALLEGING MISTREATMENT OF INMATES IN WHEELCHAIRS

A lawsuit challenging alleged mistreatment and appalling living conditions for inmates in wheelchairs within Men’s Central Jail has finally been settled after a six-year-long fight from the county.

Some of the changes required by the settlement have already been implemented. Wheelchair accessible toilets and showers are now in two wings of the jail, for instance. The settlement also calls for work and education opportunities for inmates with ambulatory disabilities, as well as working wheelchairs. In addition, the settlement will pay $2.2 million in attorneys fees.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two wings of the Twin Towers jail have already been fitted with wheelchair-accessible toilets and showers, as required by the settlement. The county jail system now employs an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and inmates may appeal to the jail’s chief physician if they are denied the use of a wheelchair or walker.

The Sheriff’s Department’s new inspector general will monitor the agreement for three years.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jessica Price of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said conditions have improved recently. But she questioned why the county fought the lawsuit when the jails clearly were not providing for disabled inmates’ basic needs.

“There was no rational basis for the county to dispute the fact that there were bathrooms that wheelchairs could not access,” Price said. “That was not a factual question, yet the litigation went on for six years.”

We had that same question, too.


RECENTLY RELEASED FROM PRISON AND STRUGGLING TO GET BY ON THE OUTSIDE

As part of KQED’S Vital Signs series, Aus Jarrar, who was recently released from prison, and now interns at a service center for former inmates, shares his story. Because Jarrar is ineligible for food stamps, he struggles to eat—missing the hours the food bank is open—in order to maintain his internship toward a drug and alcohol counseling accreditation.

Here’s how his story opens:

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat?

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, LA County Jail, Trauma, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Prop. 47, the Releases Have Begun….McDonnell Makes Plans…. How Elections Affect LA….Monday’s American Justice Summit Live Streams

November 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



In the days since California voters passed Prop. 47 by a healthy margin
, real world responses to the initiative’s victory have been swift. For instance, Kristina Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that in San Diego County, teenagers were released from juvenile hall the day after voting day, while the SD Public Attorney’s Office was getting 200 calls an hour from inmates in the county’s jail hoping for reduced sentences.

In the Bay area, judges did not even wait for election results to be certified before resentencing inmates and reducing charges write Matthias Gafni and David DeBolt in the San Jose Mercury News.

And in Santa Rosa County one lawbreaker was very, very cheery when he showed up in court on November 5, according to the Press Democrat’s Paul Payne.

Here’s a clip:

When Judge Lawrence Ornell took a seat in his Santa Rosa courtroom the morning after Election Day, a man with an “I voted” sticker on his lapel walked up to the bench, beaming.

Ornell noticed the man’s sunny disposition then looked down at the charge. It was possession of cocaine, an offense that a day earlier was a felony but with the passage of Proposition 47 by California voters had been reduced to a misdemeanor.

His chances of receiving a stiff punishment vanished overnight.

“He was smiling ear to ear,” Ornell said Thursday, recounting the man’s good fortune. “He was a happy man.”

The scene is playing out frequently these days as courts, prosecutors and police grapple with a new reality intended to cut prison crowding and save hundreds of millions of dollars for rehabilitation.

Proposition 47 reclassifies nonviolent offenses that used to be felonies — including many property crimes valued at $950 or less, grand theft, forgery, shoplifting and simple drug possession — and reduces them to misdemeanors carrying lighter punishments.

Some estimate a third of all felonies, many drug-related, will be downgraded to lesser crimes, creating a domino effect that will keep petty criminals out of custody and free some who are already behind bars.

Statewide, as many as 40,000 people a year could be affected, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said.

State prison officials estimate 4,770 inmates would be eligible to petition the court for resentencing and possible release. Nineteen are from Sonoma County, local prosecutors said, and the Sheriff’s Office has identified 209 of its 1,200 jail inmates for possible consideration.

All would go before a judge who would review the details of their offenses and their records. Those previously convicted of violent or serious crimes would not qualify, Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker said.


SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL WILL GATHER INFO BEFORE STAFFING & FOCUS FIRST ON LA COUNTY JAILS

Soon-to-be LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was still in a post-election daze, with zillions of requests for meetings, interviews, and call-backs piling up, when LA Daily News reporter Rick Orlov talked to him about his plans.

Here’s a clip:

“I am not looking at any big transition team,” said McDonnell, who spent the bulk of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was second-in-command, and served as a chief of police in Long Beach since 2010. “I will reach out to different experts, but I want to talk to the people in the department and see the talent that is there.”

His first priority in rebuilding confidence in the troubled department, McDonnell said, will be a review of the county jail system to determine what changes have been made since the release of a critical report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which he was a member. Its jail system — the largest in the world — holds an average of 18,000 to 20,000 inmates a day, about 17 percent of whom are believed to have mental illnesses.

“I want to see what has been done and what can be done as quickly as possible,” McDonnell said. “It is our top priority.”

But before he does that, there is a long-delayed trip to Boston to see his 88-year-old mother and celebrate with his family back there.

“I’ll be there four days, but there is not a lot of time left before I take office,” McDonnell said. “I have just a few weeks before I take office on Dec. 1.”


NATIONAL ELECTIONS WON’T PARTICULARLY AFFECT SO CAL BUT STATE ELECTIONS WILL, WRITES LA TIMES JIM NEWTON

LA Times columnist Jim Newton lists those of last Tuesday’s races most likely to affect the actual lives of So Cal voters—most particularly the election of Jim McDonnell as LA County’s new sheriff, the passage of Jerry Brown’s water bond, and the victory of Sheila Kuehl in the LA County Supervisor’s race. Here’re are some clips:

The Sheriff’s Department has struggled for decades, resisting attempts to reduce violence in jails and impose meaningful civilian oversight. Sheriff Lee Baca often seemed overwhelmed by the task, and Baca’s former top deputy, Paul Tanaka, who ran against McDonnell in last week’s election, was widely seen as an impediment to reform.

McDonnell, by contrast, has pledged to move ahead with efforts to constrain excessive force and to lead the agency into a more sophisticated relationship with the public and county government. And he has the right credentials to make that happen. Most recently, McDonnell headed the Long Beach Police Department. Before that, at the LAPD, McDonnell helped lead the department to a new kind of policing that embraced community engagement, and he did it at a time when that department was trying to reconstruct trust after years of controversy — as the Sheriff’s Department is today.

It won’t be easy, but McDonnell has a chance to make real progress.

[BIG SNIP]

Most of the post-election commentary on Kuehl’s victory has focused on whether she can hold the line on county worker pay hikes, given the backing that public employee unions gave her. That’s a fair question, though Kuehl is famously stubborn and a little bit prickly, so I wouldn’t envy the person trying to call in a chit with her.

To me, the more intriguing aspect of her victory is what it might mean for one of the county’s gravest responsibilities: the operation of its foster care system, which cares for children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect and which has seen too much tragedy. This is an area that Kuehl knows and cares about.

Kuehl, whose sister is a judge in the Sacramento foster care system, speaks movingly of her determination to help young people. And as a state legislator, she wrote a slew of bills intended to protect children in the system.

Now she’s about to join a board that oversees the largest child welfare system in the nation, one that is responsible for more than 30,000 children at any given time.


DAILY BEAST’S TINA BROWN HOSTS AMERICAN JUSTICE SUMMIT LIVE STREAMING ON MONDAY

Tina Brown Live Media is co-hosting what is being called The American Justice Summit, which will live stream on Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, featuring the likes of John Jay College president Jeremy Travis, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Equal Justice Initiative founder and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Right on Crime’s Grover Norquist, and many, many more.

I’ve you’ve got an interest in criminal justice issues, it’ll likely be worth your while to tune in to this event.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, race, racial justice, Sentencing | 36 Comments »

Recommended Reading: Post-election News Roundup

November 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SHERIFF: JIM MCDONNELL TAKES OVER THE REINS

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell secured 75% of the vote, effectively trouncing former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. (If you missed it, WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, reported from McDonnell’s camp on election night.)

Of McDonnell’s decisive win, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said, “Today Los Angeles County residents made history. They elected an outsider to lead the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Their vote is nothing short of a mandate for reforming the department. We look forward to working with Sheriff McDonnell to bring about the much needed changes that voters deserve and that justice requires.”

On KPCC’s Take Two, McDonnell discusses his victory, coming into the department as an outsider, and the future of Men’s Central Jail and mental health diversion.

Here’s a clip from the transcript, but take a listen for yourself:

Your predecessor Sheriff Lee Baca left under a cloud of controversy. There were charges of corruption and violence in the jails, allegations by the DOJ that mentally ill were being housed in inhumane conditions. Some policies have been put in place to deal with this, but what do you think still needs to be done?

I think it’s a work in progress. The DOJ is looking closely at it. A lot has been done since the jail commission’s report with 63 recommendations for change. Many of those have been implemented and others are in process. Moving forward, infrastructure is one issue. Mens Central Jail needs to be replaced. But also the philosophy within the jail environment. We also talked about a two-track system where deputies aren’t sent from the academy directly into the jails for the next seven years, and then on the streets until they are promoted back in or get in trouble and go back into the jail. It was for too many years treated as a dumping ground for the organization, and it’s one of the most high-liability areas of the department, and to treat it that way, if we were a business, we’d be in trouble.

What would you most like to see a new Mens Central Jail facility have?

I’d like to see a secure facility that is state of the art. It also provides for treatment of inmates who are mentally ill, but before we even deal with that issue be able to have some screening on the front end where we don’t use incarceration as the first option for those who are mentally ill and have offended based on that illness. But have community-based mental health clinics and courts that would screen an individual and provide the appropriate treatment rather than just incarceration as the only option.


MOVING FORWARD WITH PROP 47

Proposition 47—the reclassification of certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors—passed on Tuesday with 58.5% of the vote.

Prosecutors, law enforcement, and advocates are already rushing to adapt to the changes. The LA City Attorney’s Office is looking to hire 15 new attorneys and staff to help manage the coming flow of downgraded misdemeanor cases, while social workers and drug courts are working to sort out what 47 means for substance abuse treatment.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John and Marisa Gerber have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown walked into a Pomona court Wednesday and saw first-hand the impact of Proposition 47 — the voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

His office had deliberately postponed sentencing for a defendant facing more than a year behind bars for possessing heroin and methamphetamine to the day after Tuesday’s election, waiting to see what voters would do.

The gambit worked. The man was sentenced and released from custody with no further jail time.

“They were felonies yesterday. They’re misdemeanors today,” Brown said. “This is the law now.”

The day after California voted to reduce punishments, police agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors and even some advocates were scrambling to figure out exactly how it was going to work.

The greatest effect, experts said, would be in drug possession cases, noting that California is now the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors. Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails.

City attorneys accustomed to handling traffic tickets and zoning violations are now responsible for prosecuting crimes that used to be felonies, including forgeries, theft and shoplifting. District attorneys who used to threaten drug offenders with felony convictions to force them into rehabilitation programs no longer have that as an option. Social workers said they worried that offenders who voluntarily seek treatment will have trouble finding services.

“It’s going to take a little while to figure out,” said Molly Rysman, who operates a housing program for the destitute who sleep on sidewalks in L.A.’s skid row. She is glad that drug users now face only brief stays in jail, if any time at all, but said options for someplace else to go in L.A. are “dismal.” Rysman said caseworkers now spend weeks trying to find an opening for clients who need a detox bed or room in a treatment program.

U.C. Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg says California’s passage of Prop 47 has the makings of a new national trend.

The Yes campaign brought together a wide assortment of interest groups that had not agreed about criminal justice policy in the past. Recent campaigns to challenge capital punishment and to reform the three-strike law helped forge a broad coalition of some victims’ rights groups along with powerful allies such as organized labor, the California Teachers Association, the California Nurses Association and state Democratic Party.

​The most visible advocates for Prop 47 were San Francisco district attorney George Gascón, Santa Clara district attorney Jeff Rosen and former San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne. These respected law enforcement officials viewed California’s mass incarceration policies as fiscally unsustainable and harmful to low income communities.

Even prominent national conservative figures like Newt Gingrich and Rand Paul announced their support for Proposition 47, arguing that current sentencing laws waste taxpayers’ dollars and do not curtail drug use. They prefer a focus on locking up violent offenders.

While Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke out against Prop 47, many other state leaders such as Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris remained neutral. One traditionally powerful lobby group, the Corrections Peace Officers Association took no position on Prop 47

It is significant that virtually all the past California governors and attorneys general almost always sided with the tough-on-crime position in ballot initiatives. In the case of Prop 47, their silence was deafening and hampered fundraising for the No camp.

[SNIP]

Public confidence in the state’s prison policies has eroded.

Even the US Supreme Court declared the prisons so crowded and inhumane that it ordered the release some inmates. This dramatic court judgment led Californians to reconsider who should go to prison. Harsh criminal justice laws have been on the books long enough for Californians to be able to weigh the cost and benefit of these measures. The well-publicized failure and financial drain of the so-called “War on Drugs” has created has an environment in which voters are seeking new ideas.

More generally, the popularity of Prop 47 resonates with a growing distrust of government overreach into citizens’ lives and a preference for decision making that is closer to where people live. The demographics of the voting public which is younger, more ethnically diverse, and more highly educated than ever before is also favorable towards more progressive social policies.

If California helped lead the national charge in favor of more tough on crime laws, the state could lead the charge in the opposite direction.

California has traditionally been ahead of national developments, but a good predictor of future political trends. Since California is the largest state in the country, if Prop 47 passes other states may well follow suit. As California goes, so goes the nation.


TOM TORLAKSON KEEPS HIS OFFICE AS CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT

Incumbent California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson landed a victory for teachers unions, with 52% of the vote, over reform-minded competitor Marshall Tuck. (Backstory: here.)

San Jose Mercury’s Katy Murphy has more on Torlakson’s win. Here are some clips:

“We knew that when Californians look for direction on how to improve education,” Torlakson said in a statement, “they don’t look to Wall Street. They don’t look to Silicon Valley. They look to the people who are in the schools in their neighborhood every day — the teachers, the school employees, the teacher’s aides, the nurses, the counselors.”

The latest tally from the California Secretary of State’s office showed Torlakson winning by about 4 points.

Tuck conceded the race Wednesday morning, releasing a statement that said: “Together we proved that in California there is a growing call for change and that parents, kids and families can have a voice in education.”

[SNIP]

The contest showed a growing rift within the Democratic Party on how to better educate poor and minority students who languish in low-performing schools.

The reform agenda carried by Tuck – and just as passionately resisted by its opponents, including the state’s teachers unions — promotes competition from independently run, taxpayer-funded charter schools and an overhaul of teachers’ pay, evaluation and job protections.

Tuck had vowed to reinvent the state superintendent’s office, turning it from a “mouthpiece for insiders” to a “voice for students and parents.”

Torlakson, the union and Democratic Party favorite, said he would bring stability and continuity as schools recovered from the devastating budget crisis triggered by the Great Recession.

“I think that resonated well in the education community,” said Maria Ott, a former superintendent and an executive in residence at USC’s Rossier School of Education Community.


SHEILA KUEHL WINS 3RD DISTRICT LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR SEAT

Sheila Kuehl beat out Bobby Shriver in a very tight race for outgoing LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze and Alice Walton have more on Kuehl’s win and what it will mean for LA County. Here’s a clip:

“It’s the biggest job I’ll ever have, and it’s a career capper for me,” Kuehl said from her campaign victory party at The Victorian in Santa Monica. “Being one of 80 0r one of 40 is very different than being one of five running something the size of Ohio. It’s a much tougher job.”

Kuehl, 73, will be the first openly gay member of the county board, which controls a $26 billion budget. Final ballots were still being counted into the morning. She won 53 percent of the vote.

Kuehl had campaigned on her experience as a member of the state Legislature. She argued it better prepared her to sit on the county board, which must implement a slew of state laws on health care, welfare and a range of other issues. She said Shriver was ill-prepared for the job.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 43 Comments »

CA Prisons Halt Race-based Lockdowns, Inequality for San Bernardino Gay and Trans Inmates, LAPD Fires Detective, and LA Jails Use-of-force #s

October 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR TO STOP LOCKING INMATES DOWN BASED UPON RACE, AND WILL ALLOW EXERCISE DURING LONG LOCKDOWNS

On Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to stop race-determined prisoner lockdowns, settling a 2008 lawsuit on behalf of male inmates.

The settlement says lockdowns will now apply to everyone “in the affected area” after a riot or violent incident, or will be conducted by assessing individual threat. The CDCR also agreed to give outdoor recreation time to inmates in the event of a lockdown lasting more than 14 days.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s how it opens:

When a group of prisoners attacked two guards at California’s High Desert State Prison in 2006, the warden declared a full lockdown that confined African Americans in one wing of the prison to their cells, and kept them there for 14 months.

No outdoor exercise. No rehabilitation programs or prison jobs.

This week, California agreed to give up its unique use of race-based punishment as a tool to control violence in its crowded prisons. Corrections chief Jeffrey Beard and lawyers for inmates have settled a six-year-long civil rights lawsuit, filed in 2008, over the High Desert lockdown.

The case was eventually widened to cover all prisoners and lockdown practices that had become common statewide. The agreement now goes to a federal judge for expected approval.


ACLU SUES SAN BERNARDINO FOR CONFINING GAY AND TRANSGENDER PEOPLE, DENYING THEM AVAILABLE PROGRAMS

A new ACLU class action lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses San Bernardino County of refusing gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates education, work and rehabilitation programs to which other inmates have access. According to the suit, GBT inmates at West Valley Detention Center are locked in their cells for 22 hours per day, unable to participate available programs. Jail officials say GBT inmates are segregated for their protection, but the ACLU says there’s no excuse for denying access to programs that may help inmates shave off lockup time or help them prepare for successfully returning to their communities.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s site:

The denials of education, work and rehabilitation are particularly galling, as participation in these programs can not only reduce the time they serve, but can also facilitate their integration back into society, reducing recidivism rates and the strain on our already overburdened criminal justice system.

Although in most instances WVDC staff have claimed that this harsh treatment is for their “protection,” protective custody and equal protection are not mutually exclusive. Jails and prisons cannot justify discriminatory treatment of LGBT prisoners under the guise of keeping them “safe.”

While there can be no doubt that LGBT prisoners are often vulnerable to harassment and assaults by other prisoners and many need protection, it is both possible and imperative that our correctional facilities ensure the safety of their charges while providing equal access to programs, privileges and facilities, as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act and our constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Jails are simply not Constitution-free zones.

For further reading, the San Bernardino Sun’s Ryan Hagen has some good reporting on the alleged inequality (and harassment from deputies) faced by West Valley inmates.


FRANK LYGA FIRED FROM LAPD FOR CONTROVERSIAL COMMENTS

On Wednesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed paperwork to fire detective Frank Lyga, who was accused of making inappropriate and racist remarks during a department training session. (Backstory: here.) Lyga is reportedly considering appealing or filing a lawsuit.

ABC7′s Elex Michaelson has the story. Here are some clips:

Ira Salzman, Lyga’s attorney, confirmed on Wednesday that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck signed paperwork to fire Lyga, who had been on home duty with pay since June.

“We didn’t get an opportunity to present our appeal,” Salzman said, adding that the firing was unfair. “Horribly disappointed.”

[SNIP]

In a letter to LAPD investigators, Lyga said he deeply regretted his poor judgment. He said there’s no excuse for what he did, but he learned valuable lessons.

“By no means does Frank, to his everlasting credit, or I say it’s OK what he said. It wasn’t OK,” Salzman said. “But that doesn’t at all justify a termination over words.”

Community activist Jasmyne Cannick, the blogger who first posted the recording online, disagreed with Salzman, saying in a statement, “Detective Frank Lyga wrote his own termination when he said what he said.”


YEAR-TO-DATE LOS ANGELES JAILS USE-OF-FORCE STATISTICS

New LA County Sheriff’s Department statistics show use-oF-force in county jails rose 11% so far this year. It’s not yet clear that this number is significant. The numbers were reported to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. According to LASD officials, the spike may be attributed to a number of things, including more thorough use-of-force reporting.

The jail that reported the highest percentage jump in use-of-force incidents, 40%, was at Castaic’s North County Correctional Facility, while Twin Towers actually saw a reduction of 12% over last year’s numbers. You can view the rest of the statistics here (on page five).

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the numbers. Here are some clips:

The biggest increase occurred at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, where Sheriff’s deputies used force against inmates 65 times – a 40 percent increase compared to the same period last year. The jail holds about 3,900 inmates.

“I’m not sure if the actual use of force is up, or if we’re doing a better job reporting it,” said Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the county’s sprawling jail system. “But I’m concerned it’s up.”

[SNIP]

In all, deputies used force 512 times during the first nine months of the year. Most of the incidents — 352 — involved “control holds” or the use of chemical agents like Mace. Punches, kicks, the use of Tasers or batons, “and/or any use of force which results in an injury or lasting pain” accounted for 157 incidents.

Three incidents involved shootings, strikes to the head, “and/or any force which results in skeletal fractures and/or hospitalization.”

In 53 cases, inmates accused deputies of using excessive force. The department determined 42 allegations were unfounded, ten remain under review, and one was determined to be true.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, LAPD, LASD, LGBT, prison policy, solitary | 46 Comments »

State Urged to Intervene at Two More LA High Schools, Kern County School Discipline Lawsuit, Prop 47′s LA Savings, and PPOA Interviews McDonnell

October 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO MORE LA HIGH SCHOOLS NOT GIVING KIDS NEEDED CLASSES, STATE CALLED ON TO STEP IN

On the same day that beleaguered LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy announced his resignation, the ACLU and Public Counsel filed a report at Alameda County Superior Court urged the state to intervene at two more LAUSD schools—Dorsey and Fremont—for failing to educate students.

Last week, Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered LAUSD to work with the state to come up with a plan to fix Jefferson High School’s scheduling system that was giving kids filler classes and sending them home early with minimal instruction. (Read that story, here.) On Tuesday, the state board of education approved the school district’s $1.1 million plan to fix the Jefferson crisis.

Jefferson and Fremont high schools are named in a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Public Counsel, Cruz v. California, challenging the state’s failure to provide an adequate education to kids attending nine schools in LA, Compton, Contra Costa, and Oakland.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the new action. Here’s a clip:

Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered state and local officials to intervene at Jefferson High School on Oct. 8. Less than a week later, Los Angeles Unified officials presented a plan to reschedule students, add more classes and lengthen the school day a half hour so students could catch up on lost time.

The state board on Tuesday approved $1.1 million to pay for the fixes.

The ACLU and Public Counsel found students Dorsey and Fremont high schools are also enrolled in courses they already passed, working as aides or going home early rather than being challenged academically.

In a status report filed in Alameda County Superior Court Thursday, attorneys argued Los Angeles Unified officials haven’t done enough to identify students losing learning time and haven’t clearly stated how they’ll fix the problem.

“Plaintiffs are further investigating the remaining high schools in this litigation and will be taking steps to seek prompt relief for all students at these schools, who like students at Jefferson, have been and continue to be deprived of instruction time due to assignment to course periods with no content or failure to finalize an appropriate master schedule in advance of the school year,” according to the filing.


AND OVER IN KERN COUNTY…A LAWSUIT AGAINST HARSH DISCIPLINE FOR MINORITY KIDS

Last year, we shared Susan Ferriss of Center for Public Integrity’s stories about Latino kids (many English-learners) and black kids in Kern County receiving disproportionate punishment and transfers to remote alternative schools and independent study.

Late last week, a lawsuit against Kern County School District was filed on behalf of a number of the kids in Ferriss’ stories. The suit says the district declined to fix racially disparate practices in accordance with California’s new discipline reforms.

Kern is also accused of misreporting expulsions as transfers, as well as “tricking” and “coercing” parents into waiving kids’ due process rights, allowing the school to immediately transfer disciplined students to alternative schools.

The suit was filed by a number of non-profit and advocate groups including, California Rural Legal Assistance and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund [MALDEF].

Here’s a clip from Susan Ferriss’ latest story on the issue:

…the suit accuses the Kern High School District of failing to comply with new state discipline policies and adopt alternative practices designed to diffuse problems without resorting to kicking kids out.

The suit also accuses the district of labeling students that its regular campuses kick out as “involuntary” or “voluntary transfers” instead of expulsions that must be reported to state and federal databases.

The suit notes that the district — under scrutiny after media reports — did cut its expulsions from 2,040 in 2011 to 256 students in 2013. But the groups argue that enrollment has not declined at alternative schools because of continuing transfers of students that parents — many of them limited English speakers — agree to authorize without fully understanding other options.

The district, the suit alleges, “has implemented a ‘waiver’ system, under which students and parents are convinced through intimidation, coerced or tricked into waiving the due process protections accompanying formal discipline and accepting immediate placement in alternative schools.”

The suit also argues that stark ethnic disparities persist among kids officially expelled from Kern’s high schools.

During the 2012-2013 school year, according to the suit, 67 percent of black students who were expelled were kicked out for infractions that did not include physical injury, possession of drugs or weapons. Only 42 percent of white students expelled were removed for similarly less serious infractions.


MORE PROP 47 STATISTICS ON COUNTY SAVINGS, AND MORE

The Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice has issued a new report on estimated savings and jail population reductions each California county can expect if Prop 47 passes next month. (If you’ve forgotten, Prop 47 would reclassify certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, incurring punishments like probation and treatment, or a max of one year in jail, instead of more lengthy prison sentences.)

The CJCJ brief says Los Angeles would likely save between $100-$175 million, free between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds, and affect nearly 10,000 offenders.

For further Prop 47 reading, the San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has more on the measure’s proponents, which include three three county district attorneys, Newt Gingrich, and a retired SD Police Chief, as well as opponents, which include other DAs and peace officer associations.


PPOA INTERVIEWS LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

A new 33 minute interview by Brian Moriguchi, the president of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), with Los Angeles Sheriff-hopeful, LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell, addresses questions about issues like civilian oversight, leadership, transparency, and field deputy positions. The interview is the first installment in a three-part interview with McDonnell. Watch the entire first video above.

Posted in ACLU, Jim McDonnell, LASD, LAUSD, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 26 Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

Mark Ridley-Thomas Asks for $20 Million for Mental Health Diversion & Jackie Lacey Lays Out the Issue

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome
and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.

“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”

(Um. Ya think?)

Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.

Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.

For example, there was this:

“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

And then later:

“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”

And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”

Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.

In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.

“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”

Indeed.

Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

Sen. Rand Paul and Cory Booker Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform…Filmmaking for Disadvantaged Kids…ACLU Sues Over Lack of Representation for Immigrant Kids…and More

July 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL BIPARTISAN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL

On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.

The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.

REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Rand Paul’s website:

The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”


LA FILM PROGRAM FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.

Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.

The LA Times’ Caitlin Owens has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.

Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.

“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.

Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.

The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.

The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.

“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”

Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.

It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…

Read on.


ACLU AND OTHERS SUE FEDS FOR NOT PROVIDING ATTORNEYS TO KIDS IN DEPORTATION HEARINGS

On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.

Here are some clips from the ACLU of Southern California’s website:

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

[SNIP]

Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.


BUT WILL THE LAWSUIT CAUSE FURTHER DELAYS IN IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS THAT COULD ALSO BE HARMFUL TO SOME OF THESE KIDS?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.

But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?

This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.


SENTENCING REFORM AND PUSHBACK FROM PROSECUTORS

NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)

Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.

And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.

“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”

Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.

Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.

In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.

“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.

So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.

One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.

“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.

Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.

[SNIP]

The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds, Uncategorized, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

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