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Bail, Blocked Video of a Fatal Shooting in Gardena, LA County Spending, and More on the Ezell Ford Decision

June 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

INEFFECTIVE BAIL BOND SYSTEM TARGETS POOR

Bail in America is a punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and contributes to overcrowding in jails and prisons.

One man protesting in Boston after the death of Freddie Gray was locked up with $250,000 bail—the same bail amount set for real estate mogul (and accused murderer) Robert Durst. Dominick Torrence spent a month in jail before the disorderly conduct and rioting charges against him were dropped.

According to a Vera Institute of Justice study, in 2013 in New York City, more than half of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, remained behind bars solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates had been charged with misdemeanor offenses.

The New York Times’ Shaila Dewan has more on the issue and what municipalities are doing to reverse the trend. Here’s a clip:

No amount of money, they say, should buy the freedom of someone who is truly dangerous. By the same token, the inability to pay should not keep defendants who pose little risk locked up. Instead, they should be released using a range of nonfinancial conditions like GPS monitors, pretrial supervision (similar to probation), or even unsecured bonds. With unsecured bonds, a defendant is released without having to pay but owes money if he or she fails to appear in court.

The critics say risk should be evaluated not in a quick, subjective hearing, but rather through a scientifically validated assessment that weighs such factors as the defendant’s age, lifestyle and previous record. The use of risk assessments is also supported by law enforcement groups that include the National Sheriffs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

As an example of a model system, advocates for change point to Washington, D.C., where money bail was effectively eliminated in the 1990s. About 15 percent of defendants are deemed too risky to release and are held on what is called “preventive detention.” Of the rest, very few fail to appear in court or are arrested on a new charge.

New Jersey is phasing in a system modeled on Washington’s, but elsewhere, change has been blocked. In Maryland last year, a pretrial reform committee appointed by the governor at the time, Martin O’Malley, issued a host of recommendations, including the use of risk assessments and the elimination of money bail. None have been adopted — in part, said Mr. DeWolfe, the public defender, because of opposition from the powerful bail bond industry.

Equal Justice Under Law, a civil-rights group based in Washington, has been trying a novel legal tactic to dismantle money bail: going after jurisdictions that use bail fee schedules, in which the amount of bail is fixed based on the offense instead of the flight risk or public safety concerns resulting in the unconstitutional imprisonment of people solely because they cannot pay.

In one of the suits, against the town of Clanton, Ala., the federal Department of Justice filed a rare supporting brief, writing that setting bail in this fashion, and without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay, “not only violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.”

In fact, the Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo points out, 22-year-old Kalief Browder’s tragic story would have likely turned out much differently, if his family had been able to pay $3000 to bail him out when he was first locked up. (In case you missed it, Kalief Browder spent three years on Rikers Island—around 800 days of which were spent in solitary confinement—without a trial, for allegedly stealing a backpack, charges that the prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Saturday, just a few years after his release, Browder committed suicide.)

Here’s a clip from Santo’s story:

Browder, who insisted on his innocence, sat in jail initially because his family could not afford to post bail. About two-thirds of America’s jail population — 450,000 people — are behind bars awaiting trial. And five out of six of those people are in jail because they could not afford bail or because a bail agent declined to post a bond.

Stuck in jail and without easy access to his lawyer, Browder was at a disadvantage in preparing a defense. He was also at the mercy of prosecutors, who offered to reduce his jail time or release him, but only if he pleaded guilty, an option he refused.

Such circumstances aren’t uncommon at Rikers, said Bryanne Hammill, a member of the Board of Correction who leads its committee on adolescents. “With regards to the adolescent and young adults I talk to and meet, many of them are in on low-level charges but with bail set,” said Hamill. “And bail essentially results in an incarceration because they nor their family have the financial wherewithal to post any bail.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the Browder case on Monday, in response to a question at an unrelated news conference.

“There’s just no reason that someone should be held for a long period of time if they can’t pay bail,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told the New York Observer. “[W]e need some type of bail reform,” de Blasio said, but he wasn’t specific about what type of reform, according to the Observer. “I deeply wish we hadn’t lost him — but he did not die in vain.”

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales. Watch his segment above.


THREE NEWSPAPERS FILE MOTION TO RELEASE VIDEO OF GARDENA OFFICERS’ FATAL SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN

In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, eight times, because he allegedly appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release video of the shooting, because of privacy concerns. Gardena officials also argued that making the videos available to the public might bring down unnecessary speculation.

Three news outlets submitted a federal court motion on Monday to release footage of the shooting, while Gardena still stonewalled.

The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg say the city is withholding the video to evade criticism and accountability.

It’s worth noting that former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was elected to his third term as mayor of Gardena in 2013, and two years later, indicted on obstruction of justice and other charges. The jury selection for his trial and that of former LASD captain Tom Carey is to begin on November 3. Tanaka has taken a leave of absence from his duties as mayor.

The Associated Press’ Amanda Lee Myers has the story. Here’s a clip:

…there’s profound public interest in the release against the backdrop of fatal police shootings around the country, the media outlets contend.

“Access to the videos is critical for the public to have a full and accurate account of the proceedings that occurred before this court, and the circumstances that led to the city defendants’ payment of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to settle allegations of alleged police misconduct,” the news organizations argued in their motion.

Videos of such interactions often prompt institutional change, it said.

The city in Southern California argued in February for sealing the videos, citing privacy concerns and saying release could cause unfounded speculation.

“This is a particularly legitimate concern given the anti-police sentiment which has recently become so prevalent,” according to the city’s arguments.

A judge granted the request before the case was settled.


MONEY TO RELATIVE CAREGIVERS “CHUMP CHANGE” WHEN COMPARED TO LA COUNTY’S SPENDING ON JAIL PLANS?

A motion by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl requests DCFS allocate $1.25 million to bolster services for relative caregivers, who are often overlooked, and thus, underserved.

That money would be split up: $250,000 would go to each district. That number may not seem like much, especially when compared with the approximately $6 million to contractor AECOM for work on the jail plan, to-date.

The county has already paid out several millions to Vanir Construction Management, Inc. just for coming up with the various high-priced jail construction strategies, of which the supervisors chose one that came it at approximately $2 billion. The county has approved $30 million in funding just for these jail plans.

One community member who spoke to the board about the kinship caregiver support funding, noted that $250,000 for 17 or 18 cities in a district is “chump change.”

Supe. Sheila Kuehl responded by saying that while it may not be a whole lot of money, “I don’t think that there’s one person in here who would say, ‘No, that’s okay. It’s only $250,000 for our district. We don’t need it.’ …It’s not much as a whole, but I’ll tell you what, it’s something.”


REACTIONS TO LAPD COMMISSION’S EZELL FORD DECISION

The Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally slammed the LAPD Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified. Lally said the ruling will make cops scared to do their jobs and make those split second decisions.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Joel Ruben have the story. Here’s a clip:

Lally said the commission’s ruling would probably make officers hesitant to patrol proactively. He said the decision, along with the impending department-wide rollout of body cameras, has prompted concerns that officers will be unfairly scrutinized for doing even routine police work.

“It’s going to be a different way of life,” he said. “They’re scared. They’re worried. What is an officer supposed to do?”

Although Officer Sharlton Wampler may have been in a fight for his life with Ford, the commission decided Tuesday that he did not have a reason to stop and detain Ford in the first place. His handling of the encounter, the commission concluded, was so flawed that it led to the fatal confrontation.

The decision marked a significant departure for the commission, which for decades when evaluating police shootings has looked only at whether an officer faced a threat at the moment deadly forced was used.

The commission instead relied for the first time on a small but significant change it made last year to its policy on shootings, requiring the panel to take a broader view of incidents. On Tuesday, the commission said it based its ruling on “the totality of the circumstances, and not just the moment in which the force was used.”

Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, is calling on LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to press charges. And the SoCal ACLU called the commission’s decision an important step in the right direction.

KTLA has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In a statement that called for Beck to go beyond a “slap on the wrist,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the commission’s decision marked an “encouraging step” towards the panel “reinforcing its independence.”

[SNIP]

Ford’s mother said her first reaction was, “hallelujah.”

“I didn’t believe God would allow my son’s life to be taken in vain,” Tritobia Ford said.

The ruling, “strongly, on the record, stated that what happened to Ezell was wrong,” she said.

However, Tritobia Ford said she was disappointed the second officer was most found not to have acted against policy, adding that she hoped Beck would do more than give the officers a “slap on the wrist.”

Lacey was also called upon to file charges.

“You need to step up,” Tritobia Ford said, addressing Lacey. “She needs to press charges and the court needs to figure it out.”

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Eric Garcetti, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | 6 Comments »

Alleged Abuse at a Boot Camp for LA-Area Kids….Disclosing LA County’s Legal Bills….LAUSD Program Re-Enrolls Kids Exiting Juvie Detention….Fight in Men’s Central Jail

June 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SEVEN KIDS SAY THEY WERE ABUSED DURING A BOOT CAMP PUT ON BY HUNTINGTON PARK AND SOUTH GATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS

Out of 36 kids who attended the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp program in May, seven say they were punched, slapped, stepped on, and beaten by officers running the program. LEAD is sponsored by the Huntington Park and South Gate Police Departments.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused them, stepping on them as they did push-ups.

The program leaders would take them into a “dark room,” where the they would hold kids against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers from an officer stepping on his hand.

The kids said those responsible threatened physical harm if the kids broke their silence.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating the allegations. The Gomez brothers have been suspended from the kids’ program, but are still on patrol, according to lawyers.

KTLA’s Ashley Soley-Cerro, Eric Spillman, Christina Pascucci, and Melissa Palmer have the story. Here are some clips:

Bridget Salazar said her 13-year-old son was punched, slammed up against a wall and choked.

“He just couldn’t stop crying,” Salazar said. “Right there, I knew something happened.”

Araceli Pulido said her daughters, aged 12 and 14, were among the seven alleging abuse. There are more campers who were hurt but they are too scared to come forward, Pulido said.

The children were allegedly told they were worthless and their parents did not love or want them, and that the camp was three months long rather than a week, according to Owen.

The “Gomez brothers” were primarily responsible for the mistreatment, the children reported.

“Many of the children are suffering from nightmares and other emotional trauma because the Gomez brothers are out on the streets. They are afraid the Gomez brothers will come after them,” Owen’s news release stated.


EDITORIAL: COUNTY SHOULD DISCLOSE TO TAXPAYERS $$ AMOUNTS SPENT ON PRIVATE LAW FIRMS FOR LAWSUITS AGAINST LASD

Last June, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel (particularly the ones alleging LASD misconduct, abuse, and excessive use of force that typically drag on for a year, or three, presumably while the meter is running).

But this April, an appeals court agreed with the county that any information between lawyer and client, including invoices, is confidential. Last week, Preven and the ACLU petitioned the CA Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision.

An LA Times editorial says the Supes answer to the public, and should be forthcoming with how much taxpayers are forking over for these lawsuits, and preferably before the Supreme Court has to deal with it. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven is one such county resident, and he sought the invoices for a handful of cases under the California Public Records Act. When the county rejected much of his request, he and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued. A judge ruled in Preven’s favor a year ago, but in April an appeals court sided with the county, accepting its argument that billing records — indeed, anything at all that passes between a lawyer and client — are protected from disclosure.

That’s an unduly expansive reading of the attorney-client privilege, which is widely understood to apply to a lawyer’s advice, a client’s directives and other substantive communications made in the scope of the lawyer’s representation, but not to billing records of the type sought by Preven and the ACLU, cleansed of sensitive information. In the case of Los Angeles County, where voters or residents might understandably believe they are collectively the clients and ought to have access to relevant information, the privilege protects not them but their elected representatives, the Board of Supervisors.

The public should be pleased that Preven and the ACLU are not taking the ruling lying down. Last week, they petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

As intriguing as the legal issue is, however, it should not obscure the basic fact that the supervisors, as the client, have the authority to waive the privilege and release the documents right now — but have opted instead to fight.


PROGRAM RE-ENROLLS AND RE-ENGAGES LAUSD HIGH SCHOOLERS WHEN THEY ARE RELEASED FROM JUVENILE DENTENTION FACILITIES

As of last year, California law mandates juvenile justice systems connect with school systems to keep kids who are released from juvenile detention facilities from slipping through the cracks. According to the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, more than 80% of kids leaving lock-up are not enrolled in school within the first month of their release.

An LA Unified School District counseling program works to catch those kids and help them re-enroll in school and keep up with classes, and also to direct them to other important services.

More than 100 LAUSD kids are released from lock-up every month. In fact, there are more LAUSD kids cycling in and out of the detention centers than in any other school district. But because of budget cuts, the program cannot sustain enough counselors to meet the needs of every justice system-involved kid.

And when the counselors do reach out, those kids have to be receptive to the idea of returning to (and completing) high school. Some are not.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the program.

Gilbertson’s story follows two formerly incarcerated high school kids, one who completes high school and moves on to community college while working for Homeboy Industries, the other who, unfortunately, does not triumph over the statistics. Here are some clips:

When 19-year-old Liliana Flores was in fifth grade, her parents immigrated into the United States from El Salvador. Her family was fleeing gang violence, but it only followed them to Los Angeles.

“I never had a happy home,” she said.

Social workers thought Flores would be safer in foster care. She was tossed from group home to group home packed with troubled teens.

“I started doing the same things they were doing,” Flores said.

She got into drugs, and it led to a series of stints in juvenile detention centers scattered throughout Los Angeles County. In between her time away, she attended continuation high schools filled with other at-risk students struggling to stay within the law.

[SNIP]

Even after her incarceration, Flores wears a uniform: a long-sleeve, button-down shirt with a neat collar.

It conceals the tattoos climbing her arms, inked across her chest and spread around her scalp. On her neck, a tattoo she got when she was 14 years old says “f— love” in swirling letters.

Valli Cohen, a nurse practitioner, is taking a laser to Flores’ tattoo at the Homeboy Industries medical office, which specializes in gang tattoo removal…

It’s hard to tell if the attempt to track students exiting juvenile detention is having an impact. LAUSD declined to provide the numbers of students who re-enroll and go on to graduate.

But Flores said it is working for her…

“Right now, I’m taking Criminal Justice I, and I’m taking Criminal Justice II,” she said.

Flores plans to transfer to University of California, Santa Cruz, and eventually become a probation officer. Her report card is full of Bs and she said the fact that she’s undocumented is her motivation.


FIGHT BETWEEN 80 INMATES AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

At 12:30p.m. on Wednesday, a fight broke out between around 80 inmates in Men’s Central Jail in downtown LA. Deputies succeeded in quelling the disturbance in about ten minutes. One inmate was stabbed and three others were wounded in the fight. There were no serious injuries. Both Men’s Central and Twin Towers jails, which are across the street from each other, were placed on lockdown.

CBS has more on the incident.

Posted in ACLU, California Supreme Court, children and adolescents, Education, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

LA County Selected for 1st Round of MacArthur $75 Million Jail Reform Challenge (This is a Very Good Thing)….& Holding on to Humanity at Pelican Bay

May 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY ONE OF 20 SELECTED OUT OF 200 ENTRANTS IN $75 MILLION NATIONAL CHALLENGE TO REFORM U.S. JAILS

On Monday, Los Angeles County received news that it has been chosen as one of 20 jurisdictions in the nation that will take part in the MacArthur Foundation’s ambitious Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative that hopes to “reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”

This is very good news.

The 20 areas selected for this first phase of the challenge include New York City, New Orleans, LA, Pima County, AZ, Harris County, TX, Pennington County, SD, and the entire state of Connecticut. (Full list below.) The idea is for these cities and counties (and one state) to be mentored by the nation’s experts in such things through the process of creating and refining a plan to reform their respective jail systems.

Then in phase two of the Justice Challenge, the 20 jurisdictions, will be whittled down to ten. Those fortunate ten will receive a second round of mentoring plus funding of between $500,000 and $2 million annually to implement their respective plans for reform.

In other words, those who are part of the 20 are, by their participation, committed to a real, no-kidding substantive plan for jail reform, which will include strategies to reduce the jail system’s population and more. Then if they’re chosen to be one of the ten, they’re committed to implementing that plan, and will get an infusion of cash to better make that implementation possible.

(The 20 that were recently selected have jails systems that range in size from 239 beds in Mesa County to LA County’s 21,951 bed system, so for the second phase, the yearly funding for the remaining ten, will depend on the size of the jurisdiction’s jail system.)

According to MacArthur, the criminal justice organizations that will provide “technical assistance and counsel” to the 20 jurisdictions as they design and prepare their “comprehensive plans for local reform” are the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

The Vera institute of Justice in particular, has been deeply involved in MacArthur’s jail reform initiative with two MacArthur-funded studies released this year that both illuminate problems in the nation’s jail systems and point toward the way toward solutions.

For instance, we learned from this month’s study by Vera that U.S. jails are draining a lot more dollars from our public coffers than most people think. And in February of this year, another Vera study, Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, showed the ways that the nation’s jail policies can do harm.

Vera’s February study makes clear that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

Yet, according to what the study’s authors found, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report states, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

It is these problems and others that the Justice Challenge of which LA County is now a part hopes to help cure.

The fact that jails can do harm is, of course, a fact with which LA is very familiar, what with the scathing report on our jails delivered in September 2012 by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, the looming federal consent decree pertaining to the way the mentally ill are treated in LA’s jails, and the recent landmark settlement of “Rosas v. Baca,” the giant federal class action lawsuit brought by the So-Cal ACLU that has resulted in a court enforceable roadmap to correct the use of force policies inside the jail that led to a pattern of brutality by sheriffs deputies against inmates.

Back in February, when the challenge was first announced we spoke to one of the MacArthur people, and also to one of the Vera study authors, both of whom said they hoped very much that LA County—the home of the nation’s largest jail system—would be one of those jurisdictions that applied.

To its credit LA County—which, in this instance, means the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Departmentdid apply and, as we know now, was selected.

We look forward to hearing about LA’s strategy for reform of its massive system as that plan evolves.

And, of course, but we cannot help but hope that LA will be one of the final ten that get MacArthur bucks to put their stellar plans into action.

The full list of jurisdictions selected for the first round of Justice Challenge is as follows:

· Ada County, ID
· Charleston County, SC
· Cook County, IL
· Harris County, TX
· Los Angeles County, CA
· Lucas County, OH
· Mecklenburg County, NC
· Mesa County, CO
· Milwaukee County, WI
· Multnomah County, OR
· New Orleans, LA
· New York City, NY
· Palm Beach County, FL
· Pennington County, SD
· Philadelphia, PA
· Pima County, AZ
· St. Louis County, MO
· Shelby County, TN
· Spokane County, WA
· State of Connecticut


AND IN OTHER NEWS…..A USC DEAN OF SOCIAL WORK ENCOUNTERS MEN WORKING HARD TO HOLD ON TO HUMANITY IN CALIFORNIA’S PELICAN BAY PRISON

In the Chronicle of Social Change, Wendy Smith, an Associate Dean and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work has written an extraordinary story about her trip to Pelican Bay Prison to meet with men who were incarcerated for crimes they’d committed as teenagers.

Smith traveled to Pelican Bay with a group of lawyers, advocates, and law students with the purpose of talking to 250 of these inmates convicted as juveniles about California’s Senate Bill 260, a law passed and signed in 2013, which allows youth offenders given life sentences, the possibility of a new type of parole hearing at their 15th, 20th or 25th year of incarceration.

But the trip was much more than simply an imparting of information. In many instances, it was a walk back into humanity with men who were terrified that humanity was lost to them.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole thing. It’s more than worth it.

During the small groups, we learned that some men had not been to the visiting room to receive a visitor for a long time; some had never been there. Some had exchanged no conversation with anyone but another prisoner or a guard in months or years. During the groups, described in the evaluations by many as the best part of the workshops, some men spoke and asked questions readily; others did not speak at all.

In the insight groups, some struggled with the distinction between excuses and explanations of crime, wondering if there was one. We spoke of examining and reflecting on the people and events in their early lives, and the environments in which they grew up as steps along the road that led to the crime and to where they are now.

Several men recognized aloud that they did not know how to begin this work. They wondered if there could be someone to ask the questions that could help them see into their own lives, to see the boy who was and the man who might yet be. Hope had entered the room, bringing with it fear and worry about how to make a turn from habitual ways of feeling and being, and especially, how to conceive of such a turn without help.

And then here’s a section from her meeting with men in solitary:

I told them that their crime was not the total of the person they were, and asked them to try to remember the very first illegal act they ever committed. In a moment or two, they all did. Most told me they were eight, nine, 10, or 11 at the time. A few were five or six, and a few were teenagers. All were old enough to remember a self that existed before that first act. I asked them to remember the boys they were before the crime.

We talked about how to begin to remember and piece together what happened after that, trying to dig deep to include the many steps along the road to the moment of a crime, and the decisions they made at the time and since. We acknowledged together the difficulty and shame of thinking and talking about their crimes.

In the SHU, as in the general population the day before, many men told me that they wished there were someone they could speak with on a regular basis to be able to do this work—they could not imagine how they would be able to do it. Some believed their inability to put things into words would make it impossible, now and at any parole hearing in the future.

Our conversations were brief and constantly interrupted by movement – our own as we rotated among the groups, and those of the guards and inmates, as bathroom trips and meal and water deliveries were made, as men were taken back to their cells and new groups of men were brought in.

Somehow, amid the locking and unlocking of cells and cuffs, and the congestion in narrow halls crowded with our group and guards, conversations continued. It became clear that for many of these men, we were the first people other than prison personnel or other inmates that they had spoken with in years. Some were nevertheless able to engage with little apparent difficulty, asking questions, enjoying the opportunity to interact with us.

For others, speech came slowly or not at all, and for some, even eye contact was too much to manage. These men spend all their time alone, in their cells or in the exercise area. The solitude of their confinement is absolute. Many had been there for five or ten years. Some had been there 20 years or more.

One man had spent the previous four months “debriefing,” telling what he knew about the gang life he had decided to renounce. Debriefing is the primary avenue by which inmates can obtain transfer out of solitary confinement. It is dangerous, as gang members often retaliate when someone leaves.

Those who debrief must be isolated from other inmates and their locations kept secret. For this reason, each of us met individually with this man in a separate visiting corridor. It was a relief to have the relative quiet of this space and a full twenty minutes in which my focus could be undivided.

He had been incarcerated at 17, already the father of two very young children. Now he is 41 and a grandfather. We spoke little about his crimes—he lived the gang life both before and during his imprisonment—but rather about the rocky course of his marriage over many years and how his wife helped him to get sober and to find the religious faith that strengthened his will to leave the gang life.

His eyes filled as he described his hopes for the future and his pain over how he had lived his life. Only lately had he begun to understand the impact of events of his early life: the loss of his baby brother, his mother’s wild grief that led her to cruelly abuse him, habitually pouring scalding water over his hands and body.

We wept together. There was much more he needed to say, but already the next advocate was waiting to meet and speak with him, and another group of inmates waited around the corner for me. It was awful to leave him with only the hope that he had found comfort in the humanity of those few shared moments….

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

40,000 Californians Download ACLU App…..Ferguson’s High Priced “Negotiation” With Justice….Chief Charlie Beck Thanks the Troops

May 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

APPROXIMATELY 40,000 CALIFORNIANS DOWNLOAD THE NEW ACLU MOBILE JUSTICE APP IN 5 DAYS

Last month a South Gate, California, woman was filming a police action when a Deputy U.S. Marshall saw her, strode over and smashed her phone to the ground.

As of last Thursday, the ACLU of California has an app for that with their new Mobile Justice CA, a free smartphone app that allows people to record video that, at a finger touch, is sent straight to the ACLU—or more specifically to their cloud storage.

The video also stays on your phone so that you retain a copy as well.

It is the transmission that is key, of course, because—as the above video demonstrates—it prevents anyone from deleting the only copy of a recording.

Since MobileJusticeCA was released less than a week ago, the app has been downloaded “around 40,000 times,” said the ACLU’s Peter Bibring when we talked on Monday. Bibring is director of police practices and senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Southern California branch, and one of those most involved with the project. “So we’re calling that successful,” he said.

No kidding.

(By the way, the ACLU of California is made up of the state’s three big regional branches: the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU of Northern California, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.)

MobileJusticeCA is not the first such application that the ACLU has distributed. The newly launched California app is an improved variation on an app introduced in New York a couple of years ago, when there was a push among activists to document stop-and-frisk incidents. A few other states, like New Jersey, and Oregon, followed suit.

Then California worked with the software developers to make various improvements over the original, said Bibring,.

For instance, unlike the New York version, which only allowed a short recording, the new version allows you to record as long as you want, or at least as long as your battery holds up.

Other improvements in the California incarnation include access—through your phone— to the ACLU’s full library of know your rights material. Plus, there’s a feature that allows someone who is recording a police action to send out an alert that will be seen by others nearby who may then show up to record too.

When I asked Bibring if he was at all concerned with some of the privacy issues that some critics have mentioned since the app was introduced.

“Actually, I’m proud of our privacy policies on this application,” he said.” For example, unless you submit it to us, we don’t collect any kind of information about you. We don’t have your name, or any kind of device ID, or anything else. We just have the video.”

The video exists on the Amazon cloud server, with whom the ACLU has contracted. “And they’re extremely exacting about not collecting access to any personal data.” said Bibring.

In truth, unless the video is flagged by the sender as evidence of possible civil rights violation, ACLU staffers will, in most cases, never look at it, and it will be purged in a few months.

The ACLU is partnering with the Ella Baker Center to do a six month campaign to engage people about ways to promote police accountability in their neighborhoods, said Bibring.

“People unquestionably have the first amendment right to film law enforcement,” he said. “So one of the things we are trying to do with this app is to make sure that people know their rights.”


FERGUSON HIRES 1,335 PER HOUR LAWYER TO FIGHT…ER…NEGOTIATE WITH THW D.O.J.

There’s no question about the fact that Dan K. Webb, 69, is a brilliant attorney. But the fact that Ferguson, MO, has hired one the nation’s highest paid lawyers, in a contract that grants him his full fee for guiding their negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice, has drawn criticism. In certain pro bono cases, Webb works for a lowered fee. Not this time. His hourly price tag is nearly twice that of the highest paid lawyers—$700 per hour—working in Missouri in the whole of last year.

According to St. Louis Despatch reporters Christine Byers and Stephen Deere, who broke the story after they managed to wrestle a copy of the engagement letter showing the hiring terms away from the Ferguson City Council, which tried very, very hard to keep the letter secret, then reportedly redacted it energetically after they realized they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on in the face of the Dispatch’s Public Records Act request.

Eventually, persistent reporters Byers and Deere got the whole thing which you can read here.

Yet, the most interesting part of the hiring of Webb is not so much that Ferguson, which has been reported to be skating perilously close to bankruptcy, has chosen to pay such an unusually high fee, it is why they were interested in Webb specifically, a story that the Dispatch reporters say came from Webb himself.

It seems that, after interviewing other suitable attorneys and firms with successful experience with this precise kind of negotiation process between the DOJ and a law enforcement entity in need of reform—like, for example, the firm that represented the city of Albuquerque recently to negotiate its consent decree—-Ferguson was attracted to Webb when they learned he had represented the infamous and very colorful Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, when Arpaio and company were facing a DOJ lawsuit.

Here’s a clip from Byers and Deere’s story:

it was Webb’s involvement in Maricopa County, Ariz., which is the subject of a Justice Department investigation, that attracted the attention of Ferguson, Webb said. The DOJ alleged that the Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Joseph Arpaio engaged in discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos.

In 2012, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Arpaio. In a press release, the DOJ wrote: “negotiations were unsuccessful, primarily because the county and Arpaio refused to agree to any independent oversight by a monitor.”

“They have been the most belligerent” of the communities in negotiations with DOJ, said Walker, the professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


CHARLIE BECK THANKS THE TROOPS FOR MAY DAY PEACE

Last Friday was May Day, which brought thousands to downtown Los Angeles for marches, demonstrations and celebration. Expecting big crowds, and a teensy weensy bit jittery about what the day might bring, what with the anger and grief still spilling out of Baltimore and elsewhere, the Los Angeles Police Department wisely called a tactical alert.

Happily, however, it was a peaceful day. And LAPD officers were reportedly helpful and firm, when need be, but not at all aggressive.

So, over the weekend, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck posted a thank you to sworn department members on the police union’s internal website.

To the men and women of the LAPD,

I want to personally thank you for showing the professionalism of the Los Angeles Police Department to the world on May Day. Your efforts allowed thousands of protesters and marchers to exercise their rights protected by our Constitution.

While there were some tense moments yesterday, I witnessed firsthand how LAPD officers exercised discipline and extraordinary professionalism while thousands of people took to the streets to express their views about a number of issues. The fact there was not a single incident, arrest or citation throughout the day is remarkable and indicative of your preparation, professionalism and respect for the communities we serve.

Despite the heat and the sensitive times we face in the law enforcement community across the country, each and every one of you shined. From the leadership team to the men and women working and walking with the various community groups, you did a phenomenal job and I am so proud of you. Like you do daily, you made the LAPD badge shine and the nation took notice.

Thank you and be safe out there.

Charlie

Nice.

Posted in ACLU, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, LAPD, Trauma | No Comments »

Judge Gives Final Stamp of Approval for ACLU Legal Settlement Prompting Jail Oversight After 2009 Jail Beating Victim Tells Story

April 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


There was no real question as to whether U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson
would give his final approval to the settlement of the massive lawsuit brought by the ACLU—Rosas v. Baca—which was approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors at the end of last year, and 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.

But the 10:30 AM hearing before Pregerson on Monday served as a reminder of how bad things have been in the nation’s largest jail system, in that it featured an appearance by Michael Holguin, a former inmate in Men’s Central Jail, who was one of the 70 Rosas victims or eyewitnesses who made declarations for the lawsuit.

Holguin—who is now 35, and works for a car auction company-–made his report to the ACLU after he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, among them Fernando Luviano, who was also one of the 21 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have thus far been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into wrongdoing at the LASD.

(Specifically Luviano is part of a group of five deputies charged with assaulting various visitors to Men’s Central Jail, along with handcuffing the Austrian Consul General. Their case is scheduled to come to trial later this year, but you can read the indictment here.)

“The hearing was important because technically there was no final settlement without the court okaying it,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg. But also, he said, having Holquin present was significant because “it was the first time that the court had ever heard from someone who was part of the lawsuit.”

Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013. (He declines to disclose the amount of the settlement.)

When the incident in the jail took place he had been charged with having an illegal weapon—namely a cop baton—in a compartment on his motercycle.

According to his civil complaint, in October of 2009, Holguin and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, then-Deputy Fernando Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy said “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after he had been knocked to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Hoguin with a long stream pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services [see above], Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

When he was returned to his cell after being released from the hospital, Hoguin was “placed on a 29-day loss of privileges” and reportedly “routinely denied” the use of a cane, wheelchair or crutch so that he could make his way around his cell and elsewhere without putting weight on his cast.

Eliasberg said Holguin’s presence was important at Monday’s hearing “because his complaint hits so many of the marks that are reflected in the settlement agreement drawn up by the experts that is now to be implemented.”

Holguin too hoped his presence had an affect. “I don’t normally like to take off work for anything,” he told me. “But when Peter asked me, I said yes, because I’d like to do anything I can to help him and the ACLU, They’ve helped me so much. So, if I can do something to show why the settlement agreement should go through the way it’s written, I wanted to do that.

“I know there’re a lot of great cops out there,” Holguin added. “I really do. But when you have people like I saw, it just ruins it for everybody. It’s not right.”

On Monday afternoon, Sheriff Jim McDonnell put out his own statement on the Rosas confirmation, which he called an “important agreement.”

“Today’s decision enables us to continue to move forward,” stated McDonnell. “From the time I served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (“CCJV”) and saw firsthand the challenges facing our County’s jails and the concerns regarding how we house and treat those in our charge, I have been deeply committed to this process of change.”

McDonnell pointed to the “great strides” made in the custody division since the CCJV report issued. More work remains to be done, he wrote, but he was deeply committed to “implementing and institutionalizing meaningful and lasting change” that would “insure that our jails are a safe, humane and appropriate place for those we incarcerate. as well as the dedicated men and women who work there.”

May it be so.

Onward.


ABC-7′S MIRIAM HERNANDEZ ALSO HAS A REPORT ON THE HEARING…so check it out.

Posted in ACLU, Civil Rights, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | No Comments »

SB Supervisors Swiftly Settle with Horse Thief After Beating…Bills to Protect CA’s Over-drugged Foster Kids…LAPD Won’t Release Video of Officer Charged with Assault…and Death Penalty in LA

April 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SAN BERNARDINO SUPERVISORS APPROVE LIGHTNING-FAST SETTLEMENT IN ALLEGED POST-HORSE-CHASE BEATING, SAVING TAXPAYER $$

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $650,000 to Francis Jared Pusok, who was allegedly beaten by a group of deputies for more than two minutes after an intense horseback chase earlier this month. (Backstory and video are here.)

Wishing to avoid costly legal fees, the San Bernardino Supes made the decision in a remarkably quick eight days, before Pusok’s attorneys even filed a claim.

Legal experts (and WitnessLA) were pleasantly surprised that the board assessed the situation and prepared a settlement so quickly.

The SB Supes efficiency in handling the issue was in stark contrast to LA County’s history of dragging out litigation, only to settle anyway, sticking county taxpayers with the legal bills.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

“I support the action by the Board of Supervisors to handle this matter promptly,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement…

“This is the fastest settlement I have ever heard in a case of alleged officer abuse,” said Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman. “Usually these things go on for months and years.”

He said the county likely saved money with the early deal. Cities and counties often hire outside counsel to handle police abuse cases, and that can be expensive. “Attorneys fees can really add up,” Goldman said.

[SNIP]

According to the terms of the agreement, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in closed session Friday, the county acknowledges no wrongdoing, according to the statement. The agreement settles all potential claims from Pusok.

“The sole purpose of this agreement for both parties is to avoid the costs involved in litigation,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos. “This agreement is a fair outcome for everyone involved, including the taxpayers.”


CA SENATE COMMITTEE PASSES BILLS TO PROTECT FOSTER KIDS FROM BEING OVER-PRESCRIBED PSYCH MEDS

On Tuesday, the California Senate Human Services Committee unanimously approved a package of four bills designed to combat the excessive and alarming prescribing of psychotropic medications to California’s foster kids. (For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.)

Among other changes, the bills will improve prescription tracking and oversight, and push doctors to choose non-medical treatments before psychotropic drugs.

The bills will have to jump through a few more legislative hoops.

De Sá has more on the bill package and what comes next. Here are some clips:

The foster youth told the Senate’s Human Services Committee they’d been kicked out of residential treatment programs for refusing drugs that caused them debilitating side effects, had been prescribed four and five medications at once, and often suffered in silence when no one was there to listen.

Joined by public health nurses, social workers, advocates, county leaders and welfare directors, the former foster youth urged support for four bills that would improve court oversight of prescribing, better track medication use and call for non-drug therapies before medication. The legislation — authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel — comes after a yearlong investigation by this newspaper called “Drugging Our Kids.”

[SNIP]

The chair of the Human Services Committee, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, insisted Tuesday the four bills were only the beginning. His committee will soon hold a hearing on the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the excessive prescribing to foster youth. California has to stop “drugging our kids,” McGuire said. “We have to take the tens of millions of dollars we are spending on psychotropic medications and put it into trauma care.”


LAPD OFFICER CHARGED WITH ASSAULT FOR ALLEGED BEATING, LAPD CHIEF EXPLAINS WHY THE VIDEO WILL NOT BE RELEASED

Last fall, a store security camera captured video of an officer allegedly kicked Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. LAPD officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

On Monday, the officer, Richard Garcia, was charged with assault for the alleged excessive use of force.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck (backed by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey) chose not to release the video of the incident, saying that it had the potential to compromise the criminal case against Garcia.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the case and Chief Beck’s decision. Here are some clips:

Beck acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident – which was captured by a security camera posted on a South L.A. building — but said Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.”

Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

“My desire here is justice,” Beck told reporters Tuesday. “I know that there are other things that could be met by the release of the video. … But I want to get justice. And I think that’s what this city deserves.”

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, Beck said that after watching the video, he called Lacey and asked her office “to not only look at this case but to file criminal charges.”

“I was shocked by the content of the video,” he said.


ACLU SLAMS US MARSHAL WHO REPORTEDLY DESTROYED WOMAN’S PHONE WHEN SHE VIDEOTAPED AN INCIDENT

The US Marshals Service announced an investigation into a video captured in South Gate, CA, in which a deputy marshal appears to grab, throw to the ground, and kick the cell phone of a woman who was reportedly recording an incident between marshals and a biker gang.

In response to the video, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California said, “The ACLU of Southern California is deeply disturbed by the video released yesterday on YouTube, showing a law enforcement officer approaching a woman who appears to be lawfully filming a police operation from the sidewalk, grabbing her phone, smashing it to the ground and kicking it.

“There is no situation in which an officer can intentionally grab and destroy a camera being used to lawfully record law enforcement. The officer’s conduct is a blatant and deliberate violation of the Constitution and his duties as an officer to abide by the law. Members of the public, on a public street, unquestionably have a First Amendment right to record law enforcement officers, acting in the course of their duties. Indeed, as recent events have shown, video recording of law enforcement activity plays a crucial role in holding police accountable for misconduct — particularly in California, where public access to information about officer misconduct is limited by state law.”

Andrew Blankstein, Robert Kovacik and Willian Avila have more on the story for NBCLA.


A TINY FRACTION OF COUNTIES IN THE US STILL SENTENCE PEOPLE TO DEATH, LOS ANGELES IS ONE OF THEM

The US is in the midst of a decline in the use of capital punishment. While the death penalty is still legal in 32 states, the real work is being done at the county level. Out of the nation’s 3,144 counties, only a handful of those are still carrying the torch: in 2012, just 59 of the country’s 3,144 counties gave all of the death penalty sentences.

Los Angeles was among the overachievers.

The Atlantic’s Matt Ford takes a closer look at the numbers and their implications. Here are some clips:

Los Angeles County is only twice the size of [Illinois’s] Cook County, but Los Angeles County sentenced nearly five times as many people to death from 2004 to 2009. [Texas’s] Harris County has roughly one million fewer people than Cook County, but Harris County sentenced almost three times as many people to death. [Arizona’s] Maricopa County is roughly the same size as Harris County, but Maricopa County sentenced thirty-eight people to death while Harris County rendered twenty-one death sentences. [Florida’s] Miami-Dade County, which has a population of approximately 2.5 million, only sentenced four people to death, whereas Oklahoma County, which has a population of approximately 750,000, sentenced eighteen people to death.

The effect is even more dramatic in the aggregate. Of the 3,144 counties or their equivalents in the United States, just 29 counties averaged more than one death sentence a year. “That 1 percent of counties accounts for roughly 44 percent of all death sentences” since 1976, Smith observed. A 2013 report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 59 counties—fewer than 2 percent of the total—handed down all U.S. death sentences in 2012.

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, Innocence, LAPD | 1 Comment »

LA Jail Settlement over Disabilities Law, Drunk CA Prison Guards with Guns, Recording Studio in Juvie Lock-up, and Gradual Reentry

March 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US DISTRICT JUDGE OKAYS LA COUNTY SETTLEMENT OVER NONCOMPLIANCE WITH AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson gave the final approval for an LA Sheriff’s Department settlement of a federal class action lawsuit alleging jail conditions that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Peter Johnson, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was arrested for petty theft in 2007. Johnson was shot in the spine when he was fifteen, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down and wheelchair-bound. There were no accessible toilets in the inmate reception center, so for more than 8 hours while being booked into jail, Johnson had to sit in his own waste. Neither were there accessible drinking fountains. Jail officials took Johnson’s personal wheelchair and replaced it with a broken jail-issued wheelchair. The seat was falling out, and there were no foot rests, so Johnson’s feet dragged on the floor. And because there were no brakes, Johnson would fall onto the floor when he tried to move from the chair to the bed or toilet.

Although, the battle over the lawsuit raged for the last seven years, the suit has, nonetheless, stimulated the county to make recent major changes to jail facilities’ accessibility for inmates with mobility disabilities.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell told ABC7 on a recent jail visit, “You’ve got to provide a location that is humane. You’ve got to treat people as well as you can treat them. When you look at the environment we’re in–ADA compliance, all of those issues–these facilities were built before any of those rules were in place.”

Here’s a clip from the Disability Rights Legal Center’s announcement detailing the progress:

The settlement has already resulted in significant changes in the massive jail system, including the construction of wheelchair accessible toilets in the Inmate Reception Center, new housing for inmates with disabilities in the jail’s Twin Towers complex, nearly doubling the jail’s capacity to accommodate inmates with mobility impairments, and a new system to deliver working wheelchairs to inmates. The County has also agreed to provide equal access to employment, educational and vocational programs, offer physical therapy in the jail, appoint an ADA coordinator to address complaints from inmates or family members, and create a new ADA complaint system that will allow secondary review of wheelchair accommodations.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the sheriff’s department said, “As exemplified by the settlement and its approval by the Court, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is committed to complying with the American’s with Disabilities Act, which includes housing mobility impaired inmates in accessible locations in the jails.”

Melinda Bird, Litigation Director for Disability Rights California, talked about the settlement as a “tribute to the persistence and courage of people like Mr. Johnson, who spoke out for the rights of people with disabilities…”

The ACLU SoCal’s Jessica Price said, “This settlement is a huge step in the right direction towards ensuring that inmates with mobility disabilities receive basic accommodations, but it is just the beginning. Now inmates, their family members, the Office of the Inspector General, and the lawyers must be vigilant to ensure these important protections are enforced.”


CDCR’S INSPECTOR GENERAL SEZ DEPT. NEEDS TO REVOKE CONCEALED CARRY PERMITS FOR DRUNKEN, GUN-WEILDING PRISON GUARDS

In a recent report, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Inspector General Robert Barton said many California prison guards are having trouble refraining from drunkenly brandishing their weapons in public, shooting them, and leaving them in their kids’ toy chests (yes, really).

This is the third time Barton has called on the CDCR to put a policy in place to revoke prison guards’ concealed carry permits when they are found to be carrying firearms while drunk.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Such behavior is not only dangerous to the public but brings discredit to the department,” Inspector General Robert Barton wrote in a report that tracks departmental and criminal investigations of Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees…

It’s the third time Barton has made the recommendation in the last 18 months, but the department said in its response that it is still working on “a statewide, comprehensive policy to address the issues surrounding concealed weapons permits.”

Meanwhile, Barton said the incidents keep piling up:

— A correctional officer was found to have a handgun in his pants pocket when he was arrested for being drunk and urinating outside a business.

— An officer was arrested for child endangerment after he drunkenly left guns scattered around his house where his three children could find them, including a loaded firearm in a toy box…


RECORDING STUDIO AN EMOTIONAL OUTLET FOR KIDS IN SF JUVENILE LOCK-UP

The San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department and the nonprofit Sunset Youth Services have teamed up to bring music recording equipment to kids in juvenile detention.

Through the unique program, locked-up kids record their own songs using one of Sunset’s mobile recording studios. The non-profit’s record label, UpStar, is run by at-risk kids and young adults, and has recently expanded into SF’s Juvenile Justice Center. UpStar provides a therapeutic outlet for kids behind bars, as well as those on the outside, to work through their emotions and past traumas.

The San Francisco Examiner’s Laura Dudnick has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Luis Recinos, director of the Juvenile Justice Center, said the partnership aligns with the center’s goal to give kids as many opportunities as possible while in custody. “Sometimes it takes a program such as this to spark something in them that changes the way that they want to live their lives,” Recinos said.

The recording equipment kept at the Juvenile Justice Center is one of Sunset Youth Services’ two mobile recording studios, which includes a portable sound booth and computer.

The mobile studios are also brought to San Francisco high schools for students to record music on their lunch breaks.
But professional-quality recording studios at the Sunset Youth Services center on Judah Street at 44th Avenue is where much of the music magic happens. There, in the brightly decorated facility, at-risk youths and young adults are offered hands-on experience recording, mixing, mastering, releasing, distributing and promoting their own music and videos.

Sunset Youth Services’ youth-run label UpStar Studios has even produced five albums that are annual compilations of the best work created by musically inclined, at-risk youths.

Through speaking with teens at the Sunset district center — many of whom are on probation — Dawn and Ron Stueckle, who co-founded what would become Sunset Youth Services in 1992, moved forward last year to bring the music to the juvenile inmates.

The program at juvenile hall allows inmates to use the recording equipment three days a week.

“Kids from different units on different days [gather] to record with staff,” Dawn Stueckle said. “What we’re doing right now is giving kids an opportunity to just write their own songs and learn the gear.”

Another male inmate at the Juvenile Justice Center, age 16, has been using the mobile recording studio since it arrived late last year. Before he was in custody, the youth first learned of Sunset Youth Services at age 14 through a friend.

“I grew up kind of troubled, but I always tried to make it better,” the Mission native said. “I didn’t find an outlet up until I came to Sunset Youth Services, where I could finally express all my anger.”

The 16-year-old participated in an internship at Sunset Youth Services before being hired as a studio technician, specializing in beat production.

His lyrics chronicle his personal experiences leading up to his life at the juvenile facility.
“Even tho I’m looked down my name is said thru all my fans / Shot at but never ran and I made another year / three bullets hit my body but I still ain’t got a fear.”

“We want the kids to make music they’re proud of ... but our goal is bigger than music,” Dawn Stueckle explained. “Music is the vehicle by which we can gain entry into their lives and begin to earn trust, and earn the right to journey with them and support them over the long haul.”


MERITS OF CAREFULLY LEADING OFFENDERS THROUGH GRADUAL REENTRY HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT

Vox’ Mark Kleiman, Angela Hawken, and Ross Halperin have a lengthy, but worthwhile essay exploring graduated reentry services (incremental freedom through housing and employment) as a way to greatly reduce mass incarceration and the seemingly neverending cycle of recidivism.

Here’s a clip:

Start with housing. A substantial fraction of prison releasees go from a cellblock to living under a bridge: not a good way to start free life. Spend some of the money that would otherwise have financed a prison cell to rent a small, sparsely furnished efficiency apartment. In some ways, that apartment is still a cell and the offender still a prisoner. He can’t leave it or have visitors except as specifically permitted. The unit has cameras inside and is subject to search. But he doesn’t need guards, and doesn’t have to worry about prison gangs or inmate-on-inmate assault.

Drug testing and sanctions can avoid relapse to problem drug use; GPS monitoring can show where the re-entrant is all the time, which in turn makes it easy to know whether he’s at work when he’s supposed to be at work and at home when he’s supposed to be at home. This makes curfews enforceable and keeps him away from personal “no-go” zones (the street corner where he used to deal, the vicinity of his victim’s residence). GPS would also place him at the scene of any new crime he might commit, thus drastically reducing his chances of getting away with it and therefore his willingness to take the gamble.

The apartment functions as a prison without bars.

In some ways, it’s a fairly grim existence, especially at the beginning: the offender starts off under a strict curfew, allowed out only for work, job hunting, and necessary personal business (food shopping, medical care, service appointments), as well as to meet the correctional officer in charge of his supervision. And he’s required to work full-time at a public-service job, earning a little less than the minimum wage. On top of that, he has to spend time looking for an ordinary paying job (being supplied with appropriate clothing and some coaching in how to do a job search). He never touches money except for small change; he makes purchases as needed with an EBT or debit card, and only for approved items. The “no-cash” rule both makes it harder to buy drugs or a gun and reduces the benefits of criminal activity. Since he’s eating at home, he needs food, some minimal kitchen equipment, and perhaps some simple cooking lessons. (Whether groceries are delivered or whether he’s expected to shop for his own food right away is another detail to work out.)

Minor violations — staying out beyond curfew, using alcohol or other drugs, missing work or misbehaving at work, missing appointments — can be sanctioned by temporary tightening of restrictions, or even a couple of days back behind bars, in addition to slowing the offender’s progress toward liberty. Major violations — serious new offenses, attempts to avoid supervision by removing position-monitoring gear — lead to immediate termination from the program and return to prison. Not, on the whole, an easy life. But it’s much simpler than the challenge of a sudden transition from prison to the street.

Moreover, if you were to ask a prisoner who has now served two years of a five-year sentence (for drug dealing, say, or burglary), “Would you like to get out of prison right now and into the situation I just described?” the odds of his saying “Yes” would be excellent. And if he didn’t, his cellmate would. Indeed, entry to the program could be offered as a reward for good behavior in prison, improving matters for those still “inside” — and those guarding them — as well as those released.

And — this is the central point — the offender’s freedom increases over time, as long as he does what he’s supposed to do.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, guns, Inspector General, LA County Jail, LASD | No Comments »

Keeping Kids in Communities, Victim-Focused Violent Crime Reform, CA Makes it Under Prison Pop. Limit, and Justice in Sweden

January 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: FAR BETTER OUTCOMES FOR KIDS SUPERVISED IN THEIR COMMUNITIES THAN IN DETENTION

A remarkable new report commissioned by the state of Texas found that kids housed in state detention facilities were 21% more likely to be arrested again within one year of release than kids under community supervision. And, when kids did recidivate, the kids who had been locked up were three times more likely to commit a felony than the kids kept in their communities.

The report collected and analyzed data from more than 1.3 million juvenile records, taken from 466,000 kids who had been in contact with the Texas’ juvenile justice system between 2004 and 2011.

The far-reaching report, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M, aimed to gauge the efficacy of a series of important state juvenile justice reforms. (Faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis around 2007, the state built up rehabilitation and reentry programs and incarceration alternatives spearheaded by the conservative criminal justice reform group, Right on Crime. These reforms so greatly reduced the prison population that Texas has been able to actually close state prisons.)

Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and Xavier McElrath-Bey of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth appeared on PBS Newshour to discuss the report’s findings and implications. You can watch the segment in the video above, but here’s a small clip from the transcript:

[MICHAEL THOMPSON:] We found that they were saving the state a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, by closing these facilities and really putting the emphasis on community supervision. Very few states could conduct an analysis like, this yet it’s the kind of analysis that states everywhere should be conducting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was — what was so different about the community incarceration care for these young men and women that was from the state-run facilities?

MICHAEL THOMPSON: Right.

I mean, when you hear it and you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, what we have been doing is we have been pulling kids away from their community, sending them to a facility hundreds or thousands of miles away, interacting with staff who don’t look like them, don’t necessarily speak their language, uprooted from any kinds of ties they had in the community, further away from positive influences they had, like maybe family members or a pastor or a sibling.

And we expect there to be some tremendous corrective action when we’re putting them with a bunch of kids who maybe will have a negative influence on them because they’re a higher risk of reoffending. So, really, when we talk about it that way, we shouldn’t be surprised that those kids actually end up doing better when they’re closer to home.

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, lays out ten meaningful takeaways for the rest of the nation. Here are the first two (but be sure to read the rest):

1. The report shows that dramatically decreasing the population of youth confined in state juvenile corrections facilities is good public policy.

CSG found that Texas youth released from state institutions were: 21 percent more likely to be arrested within 12 months than comparable youth who remained under the supervision of county probation departments and three times more likely to face felony charges if arrested. These findings were controlled for offending history, demographics and other relevant factors. CSG reports that the average cost of a stay in state custody exceeded $200,000.

Texas is not an anomaly. These results confirm the already overwhelming evidence that in virtually every recidivism study, the vast majority of youth released from large, state-run correctional institutions are rearrested within two or three years of release, and one-third or more are reincarcerated in a juvenile facility or adult prison.

Research also consistently finds that state-funded youth corrections facilities are dangerous, unnecessary, obsolete and inadequate for the serious mental health, educational and social service needs faced by many court-involved youth.

2. The CSG report shows that contrary to commonly held fears, there is not a substantial population of superdangerous youth beyond the capacity of counties to supervise.

CSG found no difference statistically between the population of youth committed to state-run secure facilities and those placed under the supervision of their county juvenile probation departments. Youth committed to state custody “look no different than many of those who are kept in their communities,” CSG commented. “This tends to suggest that many more of the committed youth could just as successfully be rehabilitated under the supervision of the county juvenile probation department.”


CONSIDERING THE VICTIM MAY BE ANOTHER STEP TOWARD SOLVING THE US’ OVERINCARCERATION CRISIS

Seattle Weekly’s current cover story introduces the ACLU’s Alison Holcomb, who is heading a $50 million political campaign to end mass incarceration. Holcomb, who used her new position to back the Californians for Safety and Justice’s Proposition 47 campaign, says she feels pulled to focus future efforts on developing victim-centered approaches to dealing with violent crime issues.

And Holcomb is coming from a place of devastating personal experience. When her husband, Gregg, was 24, his father was murdered by a 17-year-old at an ATM.

Here are some clips from Nina Shapiro’s story for Seattle Weekly:

Holcomb is beginning to focus on a rather revolutionary approach to criminal-justice reform—one that views the tremendous resources put into prosecutions and prisons as misguided, and that aims to siphon some of those resources instead to victims. “I’m just spit-balling,” she says, “but it seems to me that we could be a lot more creative and have a much more victims-centered approach to violent crime than we do right now.”

[BIG SNIP]

“It’s funny,” she begins. “The last month, I had an opportunity to talk with people thinking about violent crime.” They included Bass from the North Carolina group and a Brooklyn woman named Danielle Sered, who directs an organization that, as its website puts it, facilitates “a dialogue process designed to recognize the harm done, identify the needs and interests of those harmed, and develop appropriate sanctions to hold the responsible party accountable.”

“So how would the last 22 years have looked if that opportunity had been presented to Gregg?” she wonders. “Even if he wasn’t ready to take anybody up on the offer until year six or seven or 12 or 13. What might have changed if there had been a kind of support, if our criminal-justice system actually focused on the victims instead of . . . ”

She trails off into what she calls her “floating hypotheses”—that the fear of “vigilante justice” of the sort entertained in her husband’s darker moments has led the state into an outsized role. “We knights in shining armor, we prosecutors, we are going to step in and take care of this . . . on behalf of the victim.

“I think for a surprising number of victims that’s not what they want, not what they need…


CALIFORNIA FALLS BELOW FEDERAL JUDGES’ ORDERED PRISON POPULATION LIMIT

After several missed and extended deadlines, California has finally brought its prison population below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The number of inmates in state prisons dipped below the 113,722 limit by 259 inmates, hitting the marker more than a year in advance of the most recent deadline.

But the state must continue to take meaningful steps toward easing overcrowding through the final February 2016 deadline.

Contributing efforts to reduce the population average include realignment (AB 109), moving inmates to private and out-of-state prisons, early release programs for the elderly, the three-strikes reform law, and the recent passage of Proposition 47, which reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has more on the new numbers. Here’s a clip:

After years of legal battles that went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, the state’s prison population has been decreasing steadily, and a report posted online Thursday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation puts the latest inmate population at 113,463, below the court-ordered cap of 137.5 percent of capacity for the first time. The prisons’ design capacity is 82,707 inmates, and the population as of midnight was 137.2 percent of capacity.

The latest population figure is merely a snapshot and may fluctuate, and the corrections department did not have an immediate comment on the development.

But one of the lead attorneys in the effort to force the inmate population reductions said the announcement is a “significant moment.”

“We should all acknowledge it’s an important, significant and historic moment,” attorney Michael Bien said, but he added that the state must show that it can maintain the reductions over time.

Head over to the SacBee for more statistics and the backstory on California’s prison population saga, if you’re unfamiliar.


SWEDEN: LOW INCARCERATION RATES, LOW CRIME RATES, FOCUSED ON REHABILITATING OFFENDERS

Policy Mic’s Zeeshan Aleem has an interesting story comparing the oppressive and dehumanizing mass incarceration mechanism in the United States to Sweden’s rehabilitation-centric “open” prison system.

Sweden’s methods are geared toward releasing inmates back into the world as improved versions of themselves than when they arrived. And, while Sweden and the United States have different populations, Sweden’s results are certainly worth noting. Here’s a clip:

…in the past decade, the number of Swedish prisoners has dropped from 5,722 to 4,500 out of a population of 9.5 million. The country has closed a number of prisons, and the recidivism rate is around 40%, which is far less than in the U.S. and most European countries.

Öberg believes that the way Sweden treats its prisoners is partly responsible for keeping incarceration and recidivism rates so low…

While high-security prisons in the U.S. often involve caging and dehumanizing a prisoner, prisons in Nordic countries are designed to treat them as people with psychosocial needs that are to be carefully attended to. Prison workers fulfill a dual role of enforcer and social worker, balancing behavioral regulation with preparation for re-entry into society.

“Open” prisons: Even more remarkable than this is the use of “open prisons” in the region. Prisoners at open prisons stay in housing that often resembles college dorms, have access to accessories such as televisions and sound systems and are able to commute to a job and visit families while electronically monitored. Prisoners and staff eat together in the community spaces built throughout the prison. None are expected to wear uniforms.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, juvenile justice, Right on Crime, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

Sheriff McDonnell’s Thoughts One Month In….Jail Beating Victims Win $5M in Legal Fees….Ferguson Grand Juror Sues….and Foster Kids

January 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL MAKES MEDIA ROUNDS, DISCUSSES DUAL-TRACK SYSTEM, OVERSIGHT, REPLACING JAIL

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he has his sights set on a plan that would keep new deputies from having to spend years working in jails before heading out on patrol. The aim would be to fill all jail positions within the next three years, so that patrol-seeking deputies would be able to skip or reduce the customary time spent learning the custody division (which can last up to seven years).

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell said the original intent of the system was to have deputies spend a year or two in the jails to allow them to learn about the custodial division.

But, over the years, that assignment grew to as long as seven years and has hurt recruitment, McDonnell said.

“Young people today are very sophisticated and they look at what the different departments offer,” McDonnell said. “They joined to be in patrol cars and help people. I don’t think you are helping recruitment when you send them to the jails for so long.”

The proposal to reduce use of new deputies in the jails was contained in a 2012 report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which McDonnell was a member. The panel also recommended the use of custody assistants to help staff the jails and relieve the need for deputies.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, which has been critical of the jail system, said he supports McDonnell’s proposal.

“I always thought the claim that jails are the appropriate place to learn about bad people is not right,” Eliasberg said. “Patrol requires a different response and temperament than is needed in the jails.

Sheriff McDonnell, who was sworn in a little over a month ago, as part of a media circuit, spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk about the dual track recruiting system, as well as the fate of Men’s Central Jail, and civilian oversight.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick has a good round up of McDonnell’s other appearances.


OVER $5 MILLION IN LEGAL FEES AWARDED TO MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL IMNATES

A federal judge has awarded nearly $5.4 million in legal fees to five Men’s Central Jail inmates who say they were brutally beaten and tasered by deputies in 2008. (Read about the trial here.) This number is in addition to $950,000 in damages won by the inmates last year.

Legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, Peter Eliasberg, points out that the county could have avoided paying over $5 million in legal fees (more than $6 million of tax payers’ money) by settling for less $1 million.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here are some clips:

The amount, approved by a federal judge last week, is unusually large for such cases and may encourage more attorneys to represent indigent plaintiffs who claim abuse by their jailers. It comes on top of $950,000 in damages that a federal jury awarded to the inmates after a trial last February.

Heriberto Rodriguez and the other inmates say that they suffered broken bones in beatings by sheriff’s deputies when they refused to leave their cells at Men’s Central Jail on Aug. 25, 2008. The county argued that deputies took the steps they felt were necessary after a riot broke out, with inmates setting fires and throwing porcelain shards from broken sinks.

In a Dec. 26 order, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall accepted the winning attorneys’ assessment that they spent nearly 6,000 hours on the case at rates of up to $975 an hour. The attorneys said they had been willing to settle the case, including legal fees, for about $900,000, but the county refused.

Of the $950,000 jury award, $210,000 was for punitive damages and $9,500 will go to the inmates’ attorneys, in addition to the nearly $5.4 million in attorneys fees granted by the judge’s order.


GRAND JUROR, WANTING TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT DARREN WILSON CASE PROCEEDINGS, SUES COUNTY PROSECUTOR

An unnamed member of the grand jury that chose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, is now suing the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, seeking to negate a gag order prohibiting grand jurors from speaking about the case. Normally, grand jurors who discuss cases face misdemeanor charges, but the lawsuit filed Monday by the ACLU of Missouri, says the unusual proceedings (which included sharing all evidence with the grand jury instead of recommending a charge), warrants permitting the juror to speak. The lawsuit says that the presumption that the grand jury’s decision was unanimous is inaccurate, as is other information shared with the public about the proceedings.

On Monday, in a letter to St. Louis Circuit Judge Maura McShane, the NAACP requested that a new grand jury be convened to reconsider charges against Darren Wilson. The group also asked for an investigation into the grand jury proceedings and McCulloch’s actions.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel has the story. Here’s a clip:

“In [the grand juror]’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate — especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges,” the lawsuit says. (A grand jury’s decision does not have to be unanimous.)

“Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [Doe]’s own,” the lawsuit continued. “From [the grand juror]’s perspective, the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim than in other cases presented to the grand jury.” Doe also believes the legal standards were conveyed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner to the grand jury.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri argues that this case is unique and that the usual reasons for requiring the jurors to maintain secrecy should not apply.

In this specific case, “any interests furthered by maintaining grand jury secrecy are outweighed by the interests secured by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit says, adding that allowing the juror to speak would contribute to a discussion on race in America.

As the grand juror points out in the lawsuit, the Wilson case was handled in a very different manner than other grand juries. Instead of recommending a charge, McCulloch’s office presented thousands of pages worth of evidence and testimony before the grand jury. At one point, McCulloch’s spokesman characterized the grand jury as co-investigators.

CBS News has more on the NAACP requests.


A LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF DRUGGED FOSTER KIDS

In the fifth installment of Karen de Sá’s important investigative series for the San Jose Mercury, a video documentary gives us a more intimate look at the young lives affected by the unchecked overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Watch it here, especially if you missed any of the previous installments (which can all be accessed via the same link).


IMPROVING FOSTER KIDS’ HIGHER EDUCATION OUTCOMES

When foster kids age out of the system, the odds are invariably stacked against them. They often leave their foster homes with little or no money, support, or tools to prepare them for college or adult life. (A 2011 study by the Hilton Foundation found that only 2% of the 2,388 LA County former foster youth tracked by researchers received an associate’s degree.)

A growing number of states are working to help level the playing field for former foster kids by offering college tuition waivers and educational support programs. While California does have cross-agency collaborative support systems in place, the state does not offer tuition waivers to aged-out foster kids.

NPR’s Jennifer Guerra discusses this issue on All Things Considered. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

By the time she aged out of foster care, Jasmine Uqdah had spent nearly half her life in the system. On a summer day in 2008, Uqdah grabbed her duffel bag and two small garbage bags, and she stuffed everything she owned inside.

It wasn’t much — just some clothes and a few stuffed animals. She said her goodbyes to her foster family in Detroit and moved out. She was 18 years old.

“It was pretty scary, to be honest,” she says. “Every 18- and 19-year-old thinks they’re ready, but you’re not. You’re not ready for shutoff notices. You’re not ready for eviction notices. You’re not ready for car repossessions.”

Uqdah was one of the more than 20,000 young people who age out of foster care in the U.S. every year. For most, the outcomes aren’t great. They’re heading out into the world with next to nothing — no family, no money, no support.

Roughly half drop out of high school, and few of those who do make it to college graduate. One study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, found that only 2.5 percent of former foster children in the Midwest had graduated from college by age 26.

Some states like Michigan are trying to bring that success rate way up, finding the money and other support needed to give young people like Jasmine Uqdah a fair shot at success.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

An LA Times editorial urges the LA County Board of Supervisors to regain lost momentum toward implementing foster care reform recommendations (approved last April) and appointing a child welfare czar. (Find the backstory here.) Here’s a clip:

In response to a social worker strike, rather than the blue-ribbon commission report or the urging of the CEO, the board last year allocated funding for additional social workers, which should translate into more manageable caseloads. DCFS adopted a stronger training program. These are positive steps. But the county also needs someone to focus the attention of numerous government agencies on child protection without running afoul of the board.

In the end, if the supervisors are to protect children from abuse and neglect, they must also grapple with the more prosaic issue of how to successfully run a bureaucracy.

Attempts at plea bargains with Gabriel Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend have so far failed, and the two defendants could very well go to trial this year. The supervisors would be wise to remember the young victim’s plight now, and ensure that the reform efforts are well underway when the news stories once again focus on the horrors that the young boy endured and the county’s failure to protect him.

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 26 Comments »

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 | 6 Comments »

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