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Who has the right to be educated in LA County Jail?…Homeboy Goes to Scotland…Gov’t Sued Over Not Protecting Endangered Species…and More

May 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Michael Garcia, who is about to turn 23 in a California state prison, was sentenced as an adult to 12 years in lock-up for his part in a gang-related crime that occurred in 2006 when he was 15. Garcia will be released in 2016, when he’s 26, at which point he is determined to reboot the trajectory of his life toward a positive—and legal—future. One important step along the way to that new life, Garcia knows, is a high school diploma.

Garcia, however, has a learning disability meaning that he does not fit well into conventional classes or instruction. Nevertheless, until he turned 22 years old, the state of California is legally required to provide him with the rest of his high school education, if he desires it, even if he’s incarcerated.

But once Garcia was moved from a juvenile facility to the LA County jail, no state or county educational agency seemed to want to be the ones to provide him with that education—although everyone seemed to cheerily agree that it was in the best interest of society, and all that good stuff, for someone to do it. The question was: who?

Joanna Lin, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, has the story about Garcia and the growing number of young, learning disabled inmates like him who are falling through a yawning gap in the special education laws, never mind that education is one of the biggest predictors when it comes to determining how well or poorly a person does when he or she gets out of prison and attempts to reenter the legal, working world.

Here’s a clip from Lin’s story:

School ended for Michael Garcia with a routine transfer from juvenile hall to adult county jail. There was no fanfare, diploma or cap and gown. He hadn’t graduated or dropped out.

He’d simply turned 18.

For the next 19 months, he was in limbo, unable to receive the high school diploma that he’ll need for most jobs and to attend college. Despite being eligible for special education under state and federal laws – Garcia has a learning disability, an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment – in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, he was a student that no one wanted to teach.

California and federal laws allow students with disabilities to receive special education services until age 22. But the laws are vague enough that deciding who should provide that education is unclear.

Garcia has spent nearly five years in legal battles trying to hold someone accountable. This year, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear Garcia’s case to determine whether an incarcerated student’s local school district – the one in which his or her parents reside – is responsible for his or her special education.

The case has implications for county inmates with disabilities and school districts across the state that could be required to send teachers into jails to instruct special education students. In L.A. County jails alone, attorneys for Garcia estimate, between 400 and 700 young adults are eligible for special education on any given day.

The court’s decision will come too late for Garcia, who is incarcerated at a state prison – a system beyond the scope of his petition. Still, said Garcia, who turns 23 in June, “it’s the least I can do.”

“I know other people are struggling to get education too but don’t have the courage to keep pushing,” he said. “I already went through that struggle. Why not keep going to help everyone else?”

NOTE: just to be clear, it is not the job of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to educate people like Garcia. It’s LAUSD and/or the state of California that is dropping the ball with young inmates with learning disabilities. (The LASD’s Education-Based Incarceration program is an entirely different kind of program.)


Father Greg Boyle and former prison lifer, James Horton (who now works for Boyle’s Homeboy Industries) were asked to visit Scotland in order to consult with local law enforcement about the uptick in crime and violence that is plaguing the country’s poorest urban areas.

Now Boyle and Horton—plus my pal, UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap—are on the ground in the land of kilts and poets, and the local media has been reporting on their peregrinations. Here’s a clip from the BBC’s coverage by Huw Williams :

Former gang member James Horton spent 12 years on death row in the US but was later cleared of a murder charge. He now works with Homeboy Industries.

“Joining a gang was like a rite of passage, and you did it because you wanted to be accepted by those in your community,” he said.

“I was drug dealer too. I was a criminal. Every opportunity that I had to do something to make some money I was most likely involved in doing that.

“You have to deal with the issue as a whole. You can tell someone ‘come join us, be with us’ but if you don’t give them no hope, or no job, then the gang will always have access to them.

“Father Greg teaches us that you can never take away a person’s hope.”


Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) said one of the biggest challenges for ex gang members and those recently out of prison was finding a meaningful job, so they could contribute economically and socially.

Father Greg Boyle and former gang member James Horton are in Glasgow working with the VRU
The VRU said Braveheart Industries, a social enterprise based on the Los Angeles experience, could improve public safety, make communities healthier and safer, and break the cycle of gang violence.

VRU director Karyn McCluskey added: “Giving people an opportunity and a job has a huge impact on their life and it has a halo effect on their family, it affects the lives of their children and their partners, and I think we can use that experience here.

“We’ve had great policing, Stephen House has driven down violence in Scotland, but the thing that really stops reoffending is giving people a positive destination and I think we can really take some of the experience from Father Greg and Homeboy Industries and use it in Scotland.”

Meetings are to be held in Glasgow, with similar sessions planned in Edinburgh and Kilmarnock later in the week, to see if the work can be replicated across Scotland.


This is one of those bureaucratic gaps that needs to be fixed immediately.

The California Report has an podcast on the topic.

Anna Challet of New America Media has still more on the issue. Here’s a clip from her story:

There are over 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system, and almost all of them are enrolled in Medicaid. Brooke Lehmann, the founder of Childworks, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., says that 80 percent of foster youth have one or more chronic medical conditions that must continue to be treated after they age out of care.

“There’s simply a cliff where they were once provided for,” she says.

To qualify for the extended coverage [to age 26], youths must have been in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday or have aged out of foster care based on their states’ age limits, and have been enrolled in Medicaid. Until now, states had an option (known as the Chafee Option), but not a mandate, to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster youths, and only until age 21. Only 33 states had adopted the Chafee Option. Now all states will be required to cover eligible youth through age 26.

But, under the extended eligibility provision, there is not currently a requirement that states must cover former foster youth who aged out of care in a different state.


The US Department of Justice, which is not exactly having a good month (what with their poorly received new habit of spying on journalists and all), is now rightfully being sued by environmental advocacy groups for their weak-kneed enforcement of protections against killing endangered species.

Julie Cart of the LA Times has the story. Hee’s a clip:

Environmental groups are taking the Justice Department to court over a policy that prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be proved that they knew they were targeting a protected animal.

Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves.

The policy stems from a Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing a wolf near Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog.

McKittrick appealed the conviction and lost, but the Justice Department nonetheless adopted a policy that became the threshold for taking on similar cases: prosecutors must prove that the individual knowingly killed a protected species.

The lawsuit charges that the policy sets a higher burden of proof than previously required, arguing, “The DOJ’s McKittrick policy is a policy that is so extreme that it amounts to a conscious and express abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility to prosecute criminal violations of the ESA as general intent crimes.”

WLA agrees

And to validate the casualness with which the feds seem to view the protection of endangered species, there is this story from early last month regarding the “mistaken” killing of a highly endangered Mexican Gray wolf by a USDA Wildlife Services employee, who said he thought he was killing a coyote.

Posted in bears and alligators, Education, environment, Foster Care, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Jail, LAUSD, wolves | 5 Comments »

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

October 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

The wolves and Pomeranians at WitnessLA approved this message.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WitnessLA is on vacation today due to tech-related matters beyond our immediate control

September 12th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

I just arrived in West Glacier, MT,
where the mountains and rivers are gorgeous but the Internet hook-up is temporarily nonexistent.

Back up tomorrow.

Posted in bears and alligators, Life in general | 7 Comments »

Protesters Greet Ringling Bros. In LA, FBI’s Largest Review of Forensic Evidence, and…Bears

July 12th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


With more than 35 municipalities in the US restricting use of animals in circuses, the Ringling Bros. residency at the Staples Center this week is not without controversy. Hundreds of activists rallied Wednesday (opening night) to protest the “Cruelest Show on Earth” PETA’s undercover investigation of Ringling’s elephant conditions produced some pretty shocking footage of treatment of the animals (some in the above video narrated by Alec Baldwin).

KPCC’s blogdowntown’s Omar Shamout has the story. Here’s a clip:

Hundreds of animal rights activists gathered outside Staples Center Wednesday at a PETA-organized rally against Ringling Bros. Circus – an organization protestors say abuses the wild animals in its traveling show.

Clad in tiger suits, paper-mache elephant heads and faux-ringleader outfits, the contingent lined both sides of Figueroa Boulevard to greet patrons with posters showing what they say is photographic evidence of the inhumane treatment of circus elephants by Ringling Bros. trainers. Most of the circus’ endangered Asian elephants are raised from captivity at the company’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Central Florida.

PETA spokesman Matt Bruce called on Angelenos to boycott [Ringling Bros.] and argued there is no such thing as a humane circus that uses animal performers. Bruce said the baby elephants on display inside Staples Center were “torn from their families, forced to perform under the threat of extreme punishment, gouged with bull hooks, and even tied to the concrete floor of a barn for up to 23 hours a day to break their spirit.”

KPCC’s Larry Mantle had Feld Entertainment’s Stephen Payne on AirTalk, along with animal rights activist Catherine Doyle. Here’s a clip from the show:

“In essence circuses are inherently cruel for wild animals, whether it’s Ringling or any other circus,” Catherine Doyle, spokesperson for In Defense of Animals, said. “These animals are separated from their families, brutally trained to perform unnatural tricks, they’re chained, confined to small cages and pens, and transported around the country in cramped train cars and trucks for months at a time.”

Doyle is opposed to any form of circus, saying that the humane treatment of animals cannot be done in those conditions.

“If you cannot meet the animals needs. If you cannot meet their physical, social and psychological needs, you should not hold those animals,” she added.


“We are very, very proud of our animal care and to have the ability to showcase these animals to families around the country who really can’t see them in any other forum except ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’,” said Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. Circus.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus raises most of its animals from captivity in their Central Florida compound, according to Payne.

“Unfortunately, this idealized wild that everyone speaks of really no longer exists. Asian elephants are highly endangered, there’s only about 35,000 left in the world. And really the animals at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey are ambassadors for their species,” Payne said.


The FBI announced that it will be conducting the largest ever review of forensic evidence in post-conviction cases–possibly reaching back past 1985–to determine if there were any wrongful convictions due to flawed evidence data.

The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The Justice Department and the FBI have launched a review of thousands of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted or deserve a new trial because of flawed forensic evidence, officials said Tuesday.

The undertaking is the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI. It will include cases conducted by all FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985 and may reach earlier if records are available, people familiar with the process said. Such FBI examinations have taken place in federal and local cases across the country, often in violent crimes, such as rape, murder and robbery.

The review comes after The Washington Post reported in April that Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases. In addition, prosecutors did not notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.


Bears have been spotted in and around LA County quite a bit this summer–looking for food, swimming in pools, and getting trapped in garages.

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story on some of the recent bear sightings in the area. Here’s a clip (and a video!):

Fish and Game officials announced they’ve captured one of the black bears suspected of going domestic in Duarte Monday.

It was a little one:

City News Service reports the 150 pounder was tranquilized in Duarte late yesterday by Fish and Game officials. It was captured in the 900 block of Swiss Trail Road about 3:30 p.m., according to CNS.

Fish and Game officials were triumphant, tweeting, “Bear captured!” yesterday.

It was believed to have been the juvenile, who was travelling with his mom and a sibling, that got into a garage in the 200 block of Greenbank Avenue in Duarte Monday. The same day a bear sighting was reported outside a home near Mount Olive Drive and Mount Olive Lane in neighboring Bradbury. Yet another sighting was reported near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena Tuesday.

Here’s a very cool video clip of a mama bear rescuing a cub from a South Lake Tahoe garage (no known relation to the Duarte bear):

By the way, the Department of Fish and Game has some helpful pointers for avoiding (and, if necessary handling) bear encounters.

Posted in bears and alligators, criminal justice, DNA, FBI, Innocence | 2 Comments »

Santa Monica Lions & MT’s Citizens United Knight, and More

May 23rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


I live in Topanga where we very occasionally see these critters, thus my neighbors and I had a lot of questions about why Santa Monica PD and Fish and Game couldn’t somehow get its act together enough to dart the confused big cat who unaccountably wandered into an enclosed courtyard in Santa Monica on Tuesday morning, then curled up in a state of nervous bewilderment.

Santa Monica PD had few convincing answers.

“Attempts to tranquilize the lion and return it to the wilderness were unsuccessful,” the spokesperson told the LA Times. “Unsuccessful” meaning they shot tranquilizer darts at the cat and missed. Then they started shooting non-lethal projectiles, squirting it with a firehose in an attempt to herd it, and succeeded in totally freaking the lion out, at which point a cop shot it a bunch of times.

Yes, we understand it was downtown, and that there was a preschool nearby, and certainly lethal force is called for if a mountain lion threatens’ children. Still we know that officials were smart enough to send somebody over to said preschool to tell teachers to keep kids inside until the cat was secured, thus removing children from danger, so what was the rush?

Perhaps I’m wrong, but mostly it sounds like the humans blew it—acting clumsily, and spooking the lion then killing him. (The cat was a three year old male, officials say.)

By the way, I’d give you more useful details on the matter but SMPD also bobbled their spokesperson thing rather dreadfully when I called three different times yesterday. My neighbor didn’t fare much better.

I spend a part of most summers in West Glacier, MT, where they deal with mountain lions and grizzlies rather routinely with the rare need to kill an animal in order to protect the common good. (This would include the at least a dozen different griz who have wandered into our MT yard over the years). So forgive me if I suspect the SM cops and Fish and Game could have done better.


And speaking of Montana, the state—specifically in the person of its Attorney General— is entirely serous about its challenge to Citizen’s United that the Supreme Court will soon decide whether or not it will hear.

Mike Sach’s at the Huffington Post has the details. Here’s a clip:

WASHINGTON — Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock says that he has been so personally involved in the Citizens United sequel soon to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court that his coworkers say he is the case’s “attorney specific.”

It is a role Bullock welcomed following the 2010 ruling in Citizens United, which held that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Bullock, a Democrat, led 26 states in submitting a brief to the Supreme Court for that case, in favor of the federal law that restricted such corporate spending and was ultimately struck down as unconstitutional. He is the top lawyer for Montana, the only state not to abandon its own corporate spending regulations in that decision’s wake.

So when an out-of-state conservative interest group now known as American Tradition Partnership brought suit in Montana to topple the state’s century-old Corrupt Practices Act as invalid under Citizens United, Bullock took it upon himself to fight back.

I dove down deep early on when the first challenge came into the case,” Bullock told HuffPost. “I’ve been working with my sleeves rolled up ever since on it.”


Sean J. Miller writing for the Christian Science Monitor has a terrific story on prisoner reentry, much of the reporting based in LA. As the CSM points out, these days roughly 700,000 ex-cons are hitting US streets each year, thus it would be in everyone’s best interest if the rest of us found good ways to help the men and women trying to make it on the outside.

Here’s a clip:

Jason Corralez donned a freshly pressed collared shirt. He had shaved neatly around his salt-and-pepper goatee. He looked like a man about to go on a job interview, which he was. It was a job he desperately wanted, but one question gnawed at him: Would they be willing to hire a convicted murderer?

Corralez didn’t leave out why he went to prison, either. “I’m an ex-felon for the offense of second-degree murder,” he told the manager. A former member of The Mob Crew, an East Los Angeles gang, he served 24 years for killing a member of the rival MS-13 gang in a drive-by shooting. “This is the person I was,” he said, “and this is the person I am now.”

According to Corralez, the manager stepped back, stunned. “Thank you for being honest,” Corralez recalls him saying. As the ex-prisoner walked to the bus stop, he knew what it meant. “I took everything that I had accomplished, everything that I had to do to get a second chance,” he says. “But I could see it in his reaction. It was like the nail in the coffin.”

Corralez’s struggle to transition from prisoner to free member of society is one that thousands of inmates across the country are going through as states trim their prison populations on a scale unseen in American history.essed collared shirt. He had shaved neatly around his salt-and-pepper goatee. He looked like a man about to go on a job interview, which he was. It was a job he desperately wanted, but one question gnawed at him: Would they be willing to hire a convicted murderer?

Posted in bears and alligators, Reentry, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Friday’s Juvenile Justice Must Reads (Plus Bear & Wolf Stories)

May 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Taylor Walker


The Juvenile-in-Justice project, created by Photographer Richard Ross, documents the conditions youths live in within the juvenile justice system. The project is intended to raise awareness and will include traveling exhibit and a book–both due Fall 2012. The Juvenile-in-Justice book will include over 1000 photos of incarcerated juveniles and over 200 photos of staff and essays from This American Life’s Ira Glass and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Bart Lubow. The website and blog about the project features amazing images and interviews and is absolutely worth visiting.

Here’s what Ross has to say about the project in a personal statement:

In the past I have photographed for major magazines, newspapers and institutions. At this phase in my career I am turning my lens towards the juvenile justice system and using what I have learned in 40+ years of photography to create a body of work of compelling images to instigate policy reform. My medium is a conscience. My products are photographic and textual evidence of a system that houses, on any given day, over 90,000 kids.


A 14-year-old was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of shooting and killing his father, a Los Angeles-based ICE agent. Authorities say the boy shot his father, Myron Chism, in the back of the head with Myron’s federal-issued handgun.

AP’s Greg Risling has the story. Here’s a clip:

The father was found dead after the boy called 911 late Wednesday and said the man had been shot in the back of the head by a bullet fired through a window from the backyard of their home in Carson, near Los Angeles, sheriff’s officials said.

“Evidence gained from the scene and statements made by the suspect” led to the arrest, sheriff’s Lt. Holly Francisco said.

The boy was taken into custody at the home and booked for investigation of murder.

No motive for the killing was released.

LA Times’ Matt Stevens and Kim Christensen also covered the story.

Larry Altman of the Long Beach Press-Telegram too has a lengthy report.

Let us hope that prosecutors don’t compound this tragedy by racing to try the boy who killed his dad as an adult so they can give him the usual LWOP sentence.


In a 2-1 split decision this week, a California appeals court upheld a 50-to-life sentence given to a 16-year-old. Quochuy “Tony” Tran was charged in 2007 with killing 15-year-old Ichinkhorloo “Iko” Bayarsaikhan at an Alameda park after two groups of kids yelled insults at each other. Tran’s five friends, who were with him the night of the shooting, were also tried for murder, but in juvenile court, while Tran was tried as an adult for the killing, which appeared to be the result of an angry impulse and a single shot. As a result, a girl is dead and a young man will live out most of his life in prison.

Here’s a clip from the story by Bob Egelko from the SF Chron:

Tran’s sentence was “proportional to his crime,” said Presiding Justice William McGuiness in the ruling by the First District Court of Appeal. He said Tran was the instigator of the killing and an attempted robbery that preceded it. And under legal precedent, McGuiness said, the U.S. Supreme Court has only shielded minors from sentences of death or, in non-homicide cases, of life without the possibility of parole. The high court is considering whether to extend those rulings to a ban against all life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, but McGuiness said that wouldn’t apply to Tran because it’s possible he will be paroled within his lifetime.

But dissenting Justice Stuart Pollak said the logic of the previous rulings should also apply to a youth like Tran whose crime, while “horrible and tragic,” was the result of “a single sudden and impulsive act.”

Pollak said a counselor who worked with Tran after he was jailed described him as ”a child … angry, impulsive, and dangerous,” who matured into “an admirable, independent-minded young man.” Although the crime deserves severe punishment, the justice said, Tran is capable of rehabilitation and should have a chance to live some portion of his adult life outside prison.

The state Supreme Court has already agreed to decide whether another 16-year-old, who was sentenced to 110 years in prison for three attempted murders, is constitutionally entitled to a realistic chance at parole. Tran’s lawyer, Frank McCabe, said he’ll ask the court to review his case as well.

You can read the Bay City story on his conviction here.


Okay, admittedly not a juvenile justice story, although there were bear cubs involved…

However, after the often painful stories we deal with here, we figured perhaps some cool bear footage was called for.

And while we’re on the general topic, it looks like OR7, the young male wolf who’s been wandering between Oregon and northern edge of California, is back in our fair state again as of May 1.

For those interested who live in No Cal, wolf biologist Carter Niemeyer (whose work I know from the state of Montana) will be in the Bay area talking about wolfish topics in a four event tour that kicks off on May 6.

Posted in American artists, American voices, bears and alligators, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids | No Comments »

LAUSD Cuts, What KCET Found Inside Children’s Court, How the CDCR is Changing Methods…and More

March 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times Stephen Ceasar reports:

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved a preliminary, worst-case $6-billion budget Tuesday, a plan that would eliminate thousands of jobs, close all of the district’s adult schools and cut some after-school and arts programs.

But Supt. John Deasy presented a less severe deficit than initially expected to the board and several scenarios that would restore millions in funding and save some programs from either elimination or partial cuts before the budget is finalized. Much of that, however, is contingent on voters’ passing the governor’s tax initiative in November, which he hopes would stave off more education cuts.

“I can say that this budget, even with its clear and present dangers, remains a budget of hope,” said board member Steve Zimmer. Deasy then interjected, “I don’t want to hope, I want to plan.”

The very excellent Tami Abdollah of KPCC has LOTS more.


KCET’s So Cal Connected (which has been on a roll in the past year) brought cameras inside LA’s children’s dependency court, and saw a lot that alarmed producer Karen Foshay, and correspondent Jennifer London.

The first of the resulting episodes aired last Friday. The second will air this coming Friday, March 16.

Both episodes demonstrate why Judge Michael Nash’s controversial order to open the court to the press is so important—despite the loud protests by those who thought reporters would trample on the rights of the children whose lives were being decided at these formerly closed proceedings.

Here’s what KCET had to say about episode 2, titled Courting Disaster.

Los Angeles County’s Dependency Court is the largest in the nation, handling 25,000 children. For the first time television cameras were granted access, revealing in graphic detail how deep budget cuts are devastating our justice system and putting our most vulnerable citizens at risk. We profile Judge Amy Pellman who is scheduled to hear 33 family cases in six hours, sometimes deciding a child’s fate in as little as three minutes. We meet parents who have completed counseling programs and are hoping the judge will grant them custody of their son. But other parents are stuck, unable to get into overcrowded programs that are required in order to get their children back.

We see how judges and attorneys often learn the facts of a case only minutes before the case is heard; how attorneys who are supposed to represent 160 children are burdened with 240 cases. More delays and backlogs are inevitable as 300 layoffs and 50 courtroom closures are scheduled to occur in L.A. County, following a statewide $650 million slash in funding.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakaueye says “I think its devastating to be told to come back in four months and that we’ll hear your case on child custody. What’s a person to do in four months?”

Hell, we certainly wouldn’t want reporters looking into any of that.

And, by the way, So Cal Connected focused on exactly the sort of thing that has rarely been adequately reported. We will hear about the ghastly tragedy of a child dying at the hands of abusive parents, but we rarely hear about the everyday tragedies that occur when a system with the power to save or ruin the lives of children and families is overburdened.


As the CDCR rightly states, California prisons manage “the most violent and sophisticated prison gangs in the nation.” Sadly, yes. That’s about right. And much of that management in the past has been to crack down hard, and then crack down some more.

How has this strategy worked out? Not all that well, actually—at least in the long term. Or as the CDCR put it, “Although this [suppression only] strategy reduced violence in prisons, it lacked prevention, deterrent and interdiction components.”

So what did the CDCR do? To their great credit, after 25 years of ever-more aggressive crack downs, they decided to stop and really examine the problem, and then try to institute the most effective methods to solve it, rather than the methods they’d always used.

Here is the report on the new methods that have resulted.

I’ll tell you about the report in more detail in the future, but for now, suffice it to say that it’s quite smart—and, among other things, gives gang members who are willing, a step-by-step road out that is rehabilitative rather than punitive.

It is also good news to note that, in a separate but related report, the CDCR has redone it’s risk classification system. In short, they found that they were overclassifying and/or misclassifying prisoners, which they discovered did greater damage to the prisoners and to public safety, then did underclassing them. Research showed that prisoners who were overclassified—i.e. put in more restrictive units than their behavior warranted—were more likely to act out, more likely to learn criminal behavior from the truly hard cases, and more likely to do poorly when they paroled. (Here’s the report.)

More on this too at another time. In any case, it’s really, really good to see the CDCR stepping up and doing the right thing in these crucial but difficult areas.


PS: It’s important to note that many of these reform elements were requested by the prison hunger strikers of last year, during the hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay’s SHU (Secure Housing Unit) and then spread throughout the system.

PPS: As the CDCR points out, these changes are made possible by the population relief brought by realignment, which is exactly right. Despite all the wailing, realignment is wise and necessary. Change is painful in the beginning, but under Jerry Brown’s governorship, Matt Cate and the CDCR is actually starting to slowly but steadily make genuine progress.


Commissioners resigning, euthanasia is up, three of the five commissioners who oversee the Department of Animal Services have recently resigned thus paralyzing the department, a million dogs are running around LA unlicensed, is LA’s critter oversight a mess? Warren Olney with Which Way LA? wades into the issue.


LAT’S Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard report.


Read this very cool Column One story in the LA Times by Thomas H. Maugh II.

Photo by KPCC’s new education reporter Tami Abdollah

Posted in bears and alligators, California budget, CDCR, DCFS, Education, Foster Care, LAUSD, prison policy | No Comments »

Judge Nash Issues Order to Open Juvenile Dependency Court…and More

January 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash did a brave and important thing on Friday—and then again on Monday.
On Friday he issued a draft order to open the Juvenile dependency courts to the press, allowing fresh air into a system in Los Angeles County that has long been disastrously closed. Then on Monday, he had a hearing on the matter and announced that he planned to make the order permanent.

In case you’ve forgotten, Juvenile dependency courts are the places that hear child abuse and neglect cases.

Nash was originally going to open the courts to the public as well as the press, but he ran into a lot of resistance.

So, according to Friday’s draft order, the courts will remain closed to the public unless a certain set of criteria are met in individual cases. However, the new default position will be that press will be allowed in— unless anyone can show clear cause that having reporters in a hearing will harm a child.

As the order itself states:

Members of the press shall be allowed access to Juvenile Dependency Court hearings unless there is a reasonable likelihood that such access will be harmful to the child‟s or children‟s best interests.

Richard Wexler of the NCCPR—the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform— expressed the view of the many child welfare experts who have been advocating for LA’s court to get some fresh air. Here’s a clip from Wexler’s blog post on the topic:

If Judge Nash proceeds with this order as written, it will be a significant step forward in holding the county Department of Children and Family Services and the courts themselves accountable for what the system does to children and families in Los Angeles. As we explain in our Due Process Agenda, none of the many other state and local systems that have opened these courts has closed them again because all the fears of opponents proved groundless…

Not everyone agrees. Former foster child, Marcy Valenzuela wrote an Op Ed for the LA Times last fall explaining why she felt the courts should stay closed.

Juvenile dependency courts exist to protect children and youths who have been neglected and abused, so it’s shocking that the presiding judge who oversees the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s juvenile division is pushing a plan that puts foster children and youths at risk of further harm.

If Judge Michael Nash’s order stands, vulnerable children, youths and their families, who are already dealing with painful consequences of neglect and abuse, would face the additional burden of proving why the most intimate details of their lives should be kept private.

The primary movers against letting light into the courts, are not child advocates, but the unions for the grown-ups, those who represent the social workers, et al. They have fought hard to keep the hearings secret.

However, Nash is clear on the issue.

There is a lot that is not good [in the dependency courts], and that’s an understatement,” the LA Times reported that Nash said earlier this year at a Sacramento hearing on the issue. “Too many families do not get reunified…. Too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case.”


According to advocates who were present at Monday’s meeting, Nash said he would issue a final order very soon.


Or words to that effect. Mainly, Monday’s very well written editorial echos what we said last week before and after the board of supervisors meeting, regarding the need to look at the whole picture before rushing off and throwing a billion and a half dollars at jail building.

And by “the whole picture, this includes the suggestions contained in the very lengthy and very smart Vera Institute report on the county’s jail over crowding issue and what to do about it ( a report that was, by the way, ordered and paid for by the county). And it also means waiting to look at the upcoming report on the same issue from jails and prison expert Jim Austin, due in late February.

Anyway, a big thank you to the Times editorial board, who said all of the above more elegantly than we did.


Former California senator Tom Hayden (and current critter owner) explains everything. (See above video.)

Yes, yes, we’ve heard that the legislative analyst says that doing away with this bill will save the state money. Okay, sure. And having no shelters at all will save the state even more money. BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT A GOOD IDEA.

Raise fees. Whatever. But do not even think of trying to vaporize the law that prevents precipitous critter euthanasia—which could, in turn, mean that if by some chance our four-footed family members get lost, get out of the house for an unscheduled walkabout, or get separated from us by some unforeseen force majeure, they could be killed dead before we’ve had the chance to track them down.

No. Not a workable solution, Jerry.

Seriously—Ask yourself, WWSD? What would Sutter do?

Okay, see? I rest my case.

Posted in bears and alligators, Courts, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, State government | 4 Comments »

Short Takes: Presidential Pardons, 9th Circuit on Grizzlies, & Bratton on Pepper Patrol, The LA Times on Jails Building

November 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Late Monday, the President pardoned five people and issued one commutation.

This is all very nice, of course. But many of us who follow such things wonder why he has only pardoned a grand total of 22 people (plus that single commutation) while by the same time in his presidency, Jack Kennedy had pardoned or commuted the sentences of 600 Americans. Why, people ask, has Obama has has left such an important presidential power lying nearly fallow?

Julie Stewart, the President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is one of those who thinks Obama could have done a lot more by now. She writes for the Huffington Post. Here’s how her column begins:

This week, President Barack Obama won’t just be pardoning turkeys. He decided to throw some human beings in the mix, too. He pardoned five people, restoring their civil rights, and even issued his first presidential commutation to Eugenia Jennings, reducing her sentence so that she can return home to Missouri to recover from cancer and watch her daughter graduate high school.

Her commutation is long overdue.

In 2001, Jennings was a survivor of domestic abuse and had a long-standing struggle with drug addiction. She began selling small quantities of crack cocaine to support herself and her three children. When she sold a mere 13.9 grams of crack cocaine to a police informant, Jennings received a 22-year sentence. No guns were involved; no one was hurt.

Jennings spent her decade in federal prison conquering her addiction, educating herself, and speaking publicly to students, warning them of the consequences of drug use. Earlier this year, Jennings was diagnosed with cancer. She has received chemotherapy treatments in prison and shows positive signs of an eventual recovery.

Jennings’s commutation is no fluke — her pro bono legal team from the Washington, D.C. firm of Crowell & Moring built a wide network of supporters and advocates, including Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Sen. Durbin first learned about Eugenia’s outrageous sentence when her brother, Cedric Parker, testified before Congress. Sen. Durbin and Jennings’s lawyers fought tirelessly for her release for three years.

Unfortunately, the use of the pardon power has become seen as such political anathema that this kind of herculean effort — and lengthy wait — is what it takes to get justice. It wasn’t always this way. President Obama has now been in office as long as President John F. Kennedy, but Kennedy granted over 600 pardons and commutations during that time. President Obama has granted 22 pardons and one single commutation…..


In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted Endangered Species Act protections from the grizzlies scattered through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.—contending that they were a recovery success story. However, US District Judge Donald Malloy granted summary judgment that vacated the feds’ delisting plans at least for the 500 or so bears in the Greater Yellowstone area. A three judge panel ruling for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, concurring with advocates who said that the Fish and Wildlife folks had not adequately guarded against changes in circumstances that could once again reduce the bears’ numbers.

Reuters has more.

The LA Times also has a good story on the griz issue.

PS: Since I spend some time in West Glacier, MT, every summer, an area that like greater Yellowstone is grizzly central, I’ve observed bear management up close for nearly 30 years. It’s a delicate matter. I’ve also been able to observe my share of grizzlies of various sizes, ages and genders, over those same years. It’s a privilege I treasure. Thus I’m personally deeply grateful to the three judges of the 9th Circuit panel, and also to Judge Malloy before them, for erring on the side of caution when it comes to protecting the great bear.


Does the UC System really need former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and his New York-based Kroll security consulting firm in order to aggressively investigate the insanely shocking pepper spraying at UC Davis? Uh, no, it’s a bit of overspray.…uh overkill.

On the other hand, one could also argue that it’s a great PR move designed to communicate that UC President Mark G. Yudof is taking this really, really, really seriously.

Which is good.

As long as the price Bill and group charge isn’t too high.

Larry Gordon of the LA Times has more.


Good call, Times editorial board! (This is, by the way, the second good jails-related editorial from the Times in the last few days. There was also this on Tuesday.)

Here’re a couple of clips from Wednesday’s editorial on the matter:

In the coming weeks, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide whether to approve a $1.4-billion jail construction project that would help ease overcrowding at Men’s Central Jail and prevent the early release of some inmates. The county’s chief executive and Sheriff Lee Baca argue that the plan, which calls for rebuilding one facility and expanding a second, would make the nation’s largest jail system safer and cheaper to operate.

It’s hard to argue with the need or the logic. The Men’s Central building is so dilapidated and so overcrowded that in 2006, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson described conditions as “not consistent with human values.” Renovations would make it safer for deputies as well as for inmates. What is questionable, however, is whether Baca should be given new or refurbished jails when he’s so clearly struggling to run the ones he has.


Yes, the county’s jails need help, and Men’s Central needs to be replaced. But the Sheriff’s Department should demonstrate that it can properly operate the jails already under its control before it asks taxpayers to spend another $1.4 billion.

Posted in bears and alligators, Board of Supervisors, How Appealing, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Obama, Occupy, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

5 Monday Must Reads

April 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


In a completely incredible move that flew beneath the radar of many, and completely bypassed the interest threshold of others, Senator Jon Testor and Rep. Mike Simpson from Montana and Arizona respectively, managed to get an inconspicuous, 11 line rider on this month’s must pass budget bill, that removed the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho. What is more, the rider forbids judicial review.

In other words, screw the science or the legality of the wolves survival, politics and special interest groups won out.

The LA Times’ Kim Murphy has a good factual story on the matter here.

But it is Friday’s NY Times editorial that best gets to the heart of the matter. Here is a clip:

As part of its budget bill, Congress approved a brief rider, 11 lines long, that removes gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The rider overturns a recent court ruling, prohibits further judicial review and cannot be good for the wolf. But the worst part is that it sets a terrible precedent — allowing Congress to decide the fate of animals on the list.

The law’s purpose is to base protections on science. Now that politics has been allowed to trump science when it comes to the gray wolf, which species will be next?

The rider’s sponsors, Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, were responding to the demands of ranchers, who sometimes lose livestock to wolves, and hunters, who complain that wolves reduce deer and elk populations.

Sadly and surprisingly, they were abetted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who declared last month that he would accept what he called a “legislative solution” to the status of the wolf in the Rocky Mountains. One Interior Department official has argued that without this concession, the rider might well have been far more radical — possibly removing wolves everywhere from protection.

There is so much emotion and disinformation on the issue of wolves in the Rockies.

It is very disappointing that Jon Testor, whom I usually like, was one of this wrong-head bill’s sponsors.


Read this painful NY Times Op Ed. It has no easy answers but contains much sorrow, anger, confusion and humanness.


It looks like the case of Albert Florence is headed to the Supreme Court this fall. The question is whether it is a violation of the 4th Amendment to automatically strip search everyone who passes into a jail cell. It’s an interesting case, and one that bears watching.

Read more at the NJ Star Ledger.


Monday the New York times begins its series called The Guantanamo files, based on the latest pile of Wikileaks—all a definite Must Read.


The California Department of Corrections took strong issue with the Sac Bee’s editorial criticizing Jerry Brown’s recently negotiated contract with the CCPOA—the prison guards union—and they make a good case.

Posted in bears and alligators, environment | 2 Comments »

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