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Governor’s Budget Proposal Banks on a Postponed Overcrowding Deadline…New Federal Guidelines on School Discipline…Must Read LASD Editorials

January 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN’S NEW BUDGET PROPOSAL AIMS TO REDUCE PRISON OVERCROWDING

Counting on a two-year reprieve on a looming deadline from federal judges to reduce the prison population by about 9,000 inmates, Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget proposal designates more than $23M for substance abuse treatment and mentally ill parolees, $40M for re-entry programs, $62M for prison guard training, and another $500M for new prison facilities. Brown also calls for, among other reforms, split sentencing and expanded parole eligibility for the elderly, mentally ill, and those with serious medical issues. (Go here and here for previous WLA posts on this issue.)

The Sacramento Bee has the story on their Capitol Alert blog. Here are some clips:

The imperative to depopulate prisons led Brown to ask the Legislature last year for $315 million to spend on housing inmates.

But California will spend only $228 million of that in the current fiscal year, the new budget blueprint predicts. The reason for not needing to spend it all?

“The Administration has assumed the court will grant a two-year extension to meet the cap,” the budget document states.

If true, that would buy Brown a substantial amount of breathing room as he seeks to mollify federal judges. If not, the budget proposal states, California will need to spend the full $315 million.

[SNIP]

Brown’s proposal would spend $11.8 million on substance abuse treatment and $11.3 million on mentally ill parolees while directing $40 million from the state’s Recidivism Reduction Fund to re-entry programs.

That’s not to say Brown is done pouring money into incarceration capacity. Despite spending $1.7 billion in jail construction, the administration argues there remains a significant need to house offenders. To that end, Brown proposes another $500 million for more facilities with a 10 percent county match requirement.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, also reported on the new proposal. Here’s a clip:

Under the new program, prisoners over 60 years old who have served at least 25 years would be eligible to be considered for parole. So, too, would inmates who suffer severe medical conditions or who are mentally impaired.

Brown’s budget says inmates serving doubled sentences under the state’s Three Strikes law, but whose second offense was not violent, will now be able to shave off a third of their time. Previously, they were limited by law to a 20% reduction.

Brown uses his spending plan to also announce support for split sentences, requiring judges to reduce local jail terms for felons but adding time for community probation. Judges would be able to sentence a felon to jail alone only if they identified a reason. Brown’s budget document says the change will help offenders get access to community services while helping jails reduce crowding.


NATIONAL STANDARDS ISSUED ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE POLICIES

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education released meaningful new federal guidelines addressing zero-tolerance school discipline. The guideline package includes resources for training school police and staff on constructive alternatives to kicking kids out of school.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss (who has done some excellent reporting on harsh school discipline, here and here) has more on the new guidelines. Here are some clips:

The ideas are a response to mounting concerns that overly punitive discipline is pushing too many low-income and minority students out of schools and toward failure rather than helping them engage academically. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice teamed up in a two-year effort to develop lists of resources and principles that educators have found effective at keeping campuses orderly without resorting to kicking out kids.

The package is intended to help schools chart new practices. Federal officials also emphasize that educators are obliged not to violate students’ civil rights when punishing them. The package also provides resources for school police training and employee training in discipline techniques considered more productive than ejecting kids.

[SNIP]

The U.S. departments of Education and Justice both have civil rights offices that have stepped up investigations into complaints of disparate and harsh disciplinary practices affecting special-education students and ethnic-minority children. Complaints have included excessive suspensions of black children compared to white children accused of the same cell phone use violations.

“Everyone understands that school leaders need to have effective policies in place to make their campuses safe havens where learning can actually flourish,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an announcement Wednesday. “Yet most exclusionary and disciplinary actions are for non-violent student behaviors, many of which once meant a phone call home.”

In his own statement, U.S Attorney General Eric Holder said: “A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct.”


THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE AND THE ABSENCE OF REHABILITATION AND EDUCATION FOR LOCKED-UP KIDS

Al Jazeera America has a worthwhile piece by Molly Knefel about the damage done by still-prevalent policies of dumping kids into the juvenile or criminal justice system for minor offenses and what activists are trying to do to change these counter-productive systems. Here are some clips:

When Marvin Bing Jr. was 12 years old, he was living in a foster home in central Pennsylvania.

One day he decided to take a kitchen knife to school in his book bag. He didn’t have any intention to use it, but he thought it would seem cool to classmates. When the teacher noticed kids gathered around Bing’s desk, oohing and ahhing, he was sent to the principal’s office.

But that was just the beginning. Bing was arrested, taken away in a police car and sent to a juvenile holding facility to await a court date. “It was lockup,” he said. “I had a cell. It was all blue. I had a little bed and a steel locked door. The whole thing, at 12 years old.”

In a single moment, something that happened in school changed Bing’s life, yanking him into the justice system — all before even becoming a teenager. But he is far from alone.

On any given day in the United States, about 70,000 children are held in residential juvenile centers like the one Bing was sent to, and at least two thirds of them are charged with nonviolent offenses. Another 10,000 are detained in adult prisons and jails. Each year, as many as 250,000 youths under 18 are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults.

In both the juvenile and adult systems, some critics say, young people are at a high risk of physical and sexual abuse, educational disruption and psychological trauma as they deal with institutions that might be unsuited to dealing with their problems and are focused more on punishment than on rehabilitation. “The more you treat people as criminals at younger and younger ages, the more damage you’re likely to do to their psyche,” said Niaz Kasravi, director of the criminal-justice program at the NAACP.

[SNIP]

Once a child is arrested, access to education may be limited or nonexistent, depending on the detention center. Wendy Greene, director of North Carolina Prison and Legal Services’ incarcerated-youth advocacy project, represents young people and is familiar with confinement conditions in the state. One of her clients — whom she declined to name — is a special-education student awaiting a court date in a North Carolina county jail. Though he has not been convicted of a crime, he has been there for months.

According to Greene, law-enforcement officials have refused to allow the local public school to send in a teacher to work one on one with the child, claiming there’s no space for such an arrangement. As a result, he has been receiving assignment packets from school but no instruction. She says his work comes back with scores of zero. Regardless of whether he is found guilty, she pointed out, his experience with detention has significantly set back his education.


EDITORIAL ROUND-UP: SHERIFF BACA’S RESIGNATION AND THE DEPARTMENT’S FUTURE

The LA Times and the LA Daily News each had two particularly good editorials regarding the unexpected resignation of current LA County Sheriff Lee Baca. (The backstory can be found here and here, if you missed it.)

In the first LAT editorial, Robert Greene says that the current sheriff election process and methods of oversight are “untenable” and need to be revamped. Here’s a clip:

…In this county, sheriffs simply don’t get bounced from office by voters. We have 10 million people, more than any other county in the nation, more than 42 states. Of those, close to half live in cities with their own police departments, so those voters don’t really have much reason to care who gets elected sheriff or whether the incumbent is doing a good job. Getting the attention of those voters is nearly impossible. Actual political and democratic oversight of the Los Angeles County sheriff has crumbled while the form — the veneer — of democracy persists.

Baca is the only Los Angeles County sheriff in modern times to get the job by defeating the incumbent, and he managed that in large part because the incumbent was dead (Sherman Block died in the final days of his 1998 campaign for reelection). Other than that instance, voters in this county haven’t removed a sheriff in living memory. The last time an L.A. County sheriff was ousted was in 1921 — and that wasn’t by the voters but by the spork, the Board of Supervisors. History records that the sheriff resigned.

Baca’s resignation follows at least the first part of the more common practice for sheriffs. For the pattern to be complete, he would have to name his own successor and the Board of Supervisors would have to rubber-stamp it, leaving voters with an incumbent to return to office.

Perhaps the sheriff should be elected but subject to removal by the board; or appointed by the board but subject to periodic approval by the voters, as with Superior Court judges; or appointed by the board but with carefully designed oversight. Like an inspector general. And a commission. Any of those moves would require a statewide vote.

And here’s a clip from what the Times’ editorial board had to say about Baca’s exit (also well worth a full read-through):

Even the most honorable deputies in a department struggling with a corrupted culture need to know that the old ways will not be tolerated. They must see persistent attention to the department’s problems, not the intermittent public focus that comes with elections or verdicts, or the occasional critique or initiative offered by the Board of Supervisors. Deputies must know they are working under a sheriff with the highest integrity, subject to a workable system of oversight.

Baca’s departure will allow for a more sweeping revamp of the department. But county leaders and the public should not view a change at the top, by itself, as sufficient. Baca was a problem, but he was not the only problem. He may not have been up to the task of balancing politics and law enforcement, and he may have been too flawed or tired or incompetent to imbue his entire force of deputies with his stated vision, but for any Los Angeles County sheriff to do better in a strange job that combines elected politics with jail management, mental health care, inmate rehabilitation and law enforcement, there must be a system of oversight that doesn’t rely merely on federal probes and periodic elections.

Exactly who the new sheriff will be and just how an effective oversight system will be structured should become the central debate of the sheriff’s race over the coming year. Candidates should make clear not merely how they would eliminate inmate abuse and misconduct by deputies but how and where they would draw the line between their own independence as sheriff and their accountability for reform.

The LA Daily News’ editorial board calls for a strong candidate for sheriff and permanent civilian oversight of the department. Here’s a small clip from the opening:

Lee Baca’s sudden resignation comes as a pleasant surprise. Now, with the old sheriff out of the way, Los Angeles County can get on with choosing new leadership for the nation’s largest sheriff’s department and cleaning up the scandals in its law-enforcement force and jail staff.

But let’s be clear: This cleanup is a huge task. As Baca departs, the culture of violence and corruption that developed in his 15 years in charge remains. It will take both a strong successor and forceful oversight to repair the damage…

And, in an op-ed for the Daily News, Long Beach city prosecutor Doug Haubert throws his weight behind Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who is expected to announce soon whether he will join the race. Here’s a clip:

Sometimes, police get blamed for everything, and rarely do they get the credit they deserve. I watched as Chief McDonnell slowly built up a confidence level within the department and the community. That’s the kind of thing the county could use right now.

Also, the chief came in at the worst budget time imaginable. His first days on the job, he saw his department’s budget cut from under him, like a carpet ripped out from under his feet. I know because I came into my office under the same circumstances, one-third of my prosecutors have been cut from my department.

The chief showed grace under pressure, and that’s the kind of mettle needed in the next sheriff. I don’t envy the current sheriff, nor the next one. However, we will need someone with the courage to make tough decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. I can’t think of a better person to do this than Chief McDonnell.

Posted in California budget, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, juvenile justice, LASD, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 34 Comments »

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

January 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



GOV. JERRY BROWN’S STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS

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

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

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

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

With regard to higher education:

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

About giving schools and school districts extra funds based need.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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


LIGHT POSTING TODAY. HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

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

Democrats and Republicans on Criminal Justice Policy, CA Corrections Spending Vs. Higher Education…and More

September 7th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

THE REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRATIC COMPARISON ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICY

While the Democratic and Republican parties have an especially large divide on most issues this election year, there are heartening parallels in the realm of criminal justice policy. With both conventions at an end, the Sentencing Project has released a report including a side-by-side comparison of what both parties have to say. Here’s a clip from their report:

Though the United States remains the world’s leader in incarceration — with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — and maintains harsh penalties with intolerable racial disparities, the recently approved Democratic and Republican party platforms indicate ways to make progress on criminal justice reform while increasing public safety. In a number of areas, from reducing recidivism, to enhancing reentry program and drug treatment alternatives to incarceration, the two major parties have taken positions that offer hope for bipartisan reform. Though there is much more progress to be made, we welcome this opportunity to compare each party’s position on criminal justice policy. We hope this memo is helpful for voters and policymakers alike as we forge a path to bipartisan criminal justice reform.

(You can check out the full report here. Also, be sure to check out WitnessLA’s previous post on the GOP platform’s call for better inmate rehabilitation.)


PRISON SPENDING SOARS AS HIGHER EDUCATION CONTINUES ITS STEADY DECLINE

According to a new report by California Common Sense, CA spends about 1,370% more on prisons now than was spent in 1980 due to a soaring inmate population and prison guard salary hikes. In contrast to the steady growth of the prison budget, spending on higher education has dropped consistently over the last 30 years. If the Democratic and Republican parties don’t get their respective acts together to repair our criminal justice system, we will continue to see the prison budget eat away at the education budget.

NBC’s Stephanie Chuang has the story. Here’s a clip:

It’s the first time a group has looked at 30 years worth of data and crunched the numbers to show a long-term trend between state spending on prisons and on higher education, according to Director of Research Mike Polyakov.

California spent $592 million on corrections in 1980, Polyakov said. That spending has jumped to $9.2 billion in 2011.

Meanwhile, higher education spending has decreased. Researchers found that there is a trend to pay University of California and California State University faculty less money than in the past.

“What we found is faculty salaries have decreased about 10 percent since 1990,” Polyakov said.

At the same time, Polyakov said prison guard salaries reached a record high in 2006.

“The average salary we calculated was somewhere in area of $100,000,” he said. “Today, it’s closer to $75,000.”

So even though the officers’ pay has come down in the last few years, CACS researchers found that correctional officers are still making anywhere from 50 to 90 percent above market rate compared to the rest of the country.

Here’s a clip of some of the report‘s key points:

Corrections’ growing slice of the State budget, High Education’s shrinking slice. As CDCR’s share of the State General Fund budget increased steadily through most of the last three decades, higher education’s share declined consistently.

Corrections inmate population explosion driving higher costs. Over the last 30 years, the number of people California incarcerates grew more than eight times faster than the general population. Our calculations show that 55% of the increase in the cost of the state prison system between 1980 and 2012 (after adjusting for inflation) can be traced to this rapid growth.


COMMON ERRORS THAT PAVE THE ROAD TO WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

The second story in an ongoing series by crime author Sue Russell exploring the hows, whys, and solutions to the issue of wrongful convictions takes a look at investigators’ use of misleading specialized knowledge to coerce a confession. (You can find our post about the first story in Sue’s series here.) Here’s a clip:

… ‘Contamination,’ takes place when investigators feed a suspect ‘misleading specialized knowledge’: non-public details of a crime. Later, for a suspect or defendant to merely possess such “insider” information can be misread as highly incriminating.

Presuming the innocent guilty, says Drizin, often stems from flawed interrogation training. Much of law enforcement personnel’s training convinces them that they are tantamount to human lie detectors (see more on this in this series’ next installment) with superior abilities to “read” guilt or innocence from a suspect’s emotional affect or body language. Deception research by social scientists like Bella DePaulo, however, show otherwise.

If detectives lock in on a suspect too early, cautions Itiel Dror of the University College of London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, tunnel vision kicks in along with “escalation of commitment” to their conclusions. And through confirmation bias, the brain seeks facts that confirm existing beliefs while it discounts or disregards information that conflicts.

Meanwhile, many errors in an investigation are effectively buried before a case goes to trial, says Drizin [co-founder of Northwestern University of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth]. They’re simply invisible to the types and level of scrutiny a case typically receives as it works its way through the system.

“Trial prosecutors,” he says, “who are often different than the ones who screen the cases, believe that somebody would not be innocent if they had gotten this far in the system.”

And once a suspect falsely confesses after a coercive interrogation, they’re in deep because post-confession any presumption of innocence simply dies.

When studying DNA exonerations involving false confessions, University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon L. Garrett, author of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, looked at 32 cases that went to trial and found that ‘misleading specialized knowledge’ was used to help convict innocents in 31 cases.


CEREMONIAL BELLS TOLL FOR FALLEN CHP OFFICER KENYON YOUNGSTROM

CHP Officer Kenyon Youngstrom died Wednesday evening following a Tuesday shootout during a routine traffic stop. It is a painful reminder that law officers risk their lives daily to protect and serve the rest of us.

San Jose Mercury’s Catherine Bowen details the bell-ringing ceremony held for the fallen CHP officer. Here’s a clip:

As part of the statewide flood of support for slain California Highway Patrol Officer Kenyon Youngstrom, hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered Thursday in West Sacramento for a bell-ringing ceremony to honor their fallen brother.

Youngstrom died at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday after being taken off life support at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where he had been listed in critical condition following a Tuesday morning shooting on Interstate 680 in Alamo, according to CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow.

Flanked by hundreds of uniformed CHP officers, cadets and other employees, Youngstrom’s wife, parents and children looked on at the CHP Academy as his name was read and the knelling of a memorial bell rang out across the quad.

The 5 p.m. ceremony was part of a tradition that began several years ago in which the bell is tolled at the end of the first business day after an officer is killed in the line of duty, and is a way for employees to honor the officer’s sacrifice and pay their respects, said Fran Clader, CHP director of communications.

Posted in 2012 Election, California budget | No Comments »

Cougar-Killing Head of Dept. of Fish and Game Replaced, State Parks Audit Accelerated…and More

August 10th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

HEAD OF DEPT. OF FISH AND GAME LOSES JOB AFTER KILLING COUGAR

The Dept. of Fish and Game Commission voted Wednesday to replace the department’s current president, Dan Richards, seven months after he shot and killed a mountain lion on a hunting trip in Idaho.

KPCC’s Julie Small has the story. Here’s a clip:

California banned the practice decades ago, but Idaho and other states allow it. Richards has defended his actions as “legal” and proper.

But animal activists and dozens of state lawmakers said as head of the agency that enforces California’s wildlife laws Richards showed “poor judgment.”

Pictures of Richards crouched over his kill that circulated on the Internet didn’t help his case. He further incensed critics when he told KFI’s John and Ken Show the mountain lion tasted “like pork loin.”


NATIONAL PARK SERVICE MEETS TWO NEW COUGAR CUBS

Richard’s actions are a sharp contrast to last week’s happier news: two mountain lion cubs were found in the Santa Monica Mountains. They were tagged by the National Park Service and released near their den in Malibu. You can read more about the cubs on the NPS website here.


AUDIT ON CA DEPT. OF PARKS AND RECREATION TO BE SPED UP

Last month’s discovery of a hidden $54M surplus in the supposedly cash-strapped CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation caused CA officials to order an expedited audit of the department, Wednesday.

LA Times’ Chris Megerian and Christine Mai-Duc have the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be conducted by the state auditor, will examine a hidden $54-million surplus discovered in parks accounts last month and an unauthorized program allowing employees to trade in unused vacation time for more than $271,000 in cash.

“It’s a victory for transparency in state government,” said Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Rocklin), part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had pushed for the audit.

The parks money, which had been stashed away for at least a dozen years, was found as the state was soliciting donations to keep as many as 70 parks open amid a budget crisis. Some local governments that forked over money to keep parks open have demanded it back, and lawmakers are concerned that the accounting scandal will create a rift between the state and a community of parks supporters.


HOLLYWOOD INTERSECTION TO BE NAMED AFTER OFFICER IAN CAMPBELL

The intersection of Carlos and Gower in Hollywood will be officially renamed after fallen LAPD Officer Ian Campbell, 49 years after his tragic murder, which became the basis for Joseph Wambaugh’s novel The Onion Field and the subsequent movie.

Here’s a clip from the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s press release:

A dedication ceremony to unveil the sign will be held at Carlos Street and Gower Street in Hollywood at 1:30 p.m. [Friday]. The case known as “The Onion Field” remains one of the great tragedies in LAPD history. On Friday, Officer Ian Campbell will be formally honored, while we keep his partner, Karl Hettinger, in our thoughts.

[SNIP]

Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger were assigned to a detail from Hollywood station known as a felony car. On March 9, 1963, both officers were in plainclothes and driving an unmarked police car. Their task was to identify and apprehend persons involved in street felonies such as car burglaries and liquor store robberies. The officers stopped a car containing two ex-convicts, Gregory Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith. The suspects “got the drop” on the officers and held them at gunpoint. The suspects demanded the officers to surrender their revolvers and that was done.

The officers were then taken by gunpoint and forced to drive out of town. When the foursome reached southern Kern County, they proceeded off the road to the middle of field where onions were being grown. The two felons believed they had violated the “Lindbergh Law” and thought they would be facing the death penalty when captured. As such, when all four were out of the car, Powell shot Campbell in the face. His own weapon malfunctioned, so Powell used one of the officer’s own handguns to kill Campbell while he was lying defenseless on the ground.

[SNIP]

Ian Campbell was a bagpiper. Bagpipes were played at his funeral, and have been at the funerals for all LAPD officers killed in the line of duty since then. Out of this horrible murder was born a lasting LAPD tradition.


LA COUNTY DA HOPEFULS FACE OFF IN FIRST DEBATE

Tuesday night the two LA County district attorney candidates, Jackie Lacey and Alan Jackson, squared off in their first debate. Thursday, Lacey announced that she had received the endorsement of Kamala Harris.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the debate.


First photo from Western Outdoor News. Cub photo credited to the National Park Service.

Posted in California budget, District Attorney, LAPD, LAPPL | 8 Comments »

A Brighter Perspective on Realignment, 69 Parolees Arrested Under Operation Guardian, CDCR’s Open Forum on Rehabilitation…and More

July 26th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

PREVIOUS REALIGNMENT DOUR REPORTS WERE OVERSTATED

According to a new report from the Chief Probation Officers of California, realignment is actually faring better than has been previously reported by news media sources (and even local officials). CPOC collected probation data from all 58 CA counties and found that, in many ways, realignment has statistically eclipsed the old parole system.

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

Fewer felons are skipping out on probation under California’s new criminal justice realignment than under the state’s old parole system, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report obtained by The Associated Press [and also by WitnessLA] is the first six-month snapshot of trends in all 58 counties.

It found that less than 4 percent of felons failed to report to their county probation officers after their release from state prison, compared to 14 percent who faced fugitive arrest warrants for failing to report to their parole officers under the old system.

More than 23,000 ex-convicts are supervised at the county level instead of by state parole agents after a law took effect in October to save the state money and reduce prison crowding.

The report by the Chief Probation Officers of California said early concerns that many felons might go unsupervised under the new law appear to be overstated.

Take a look at the Chief Probation Officers of California’s report, as it has more great data (and graphs!).


CDCR AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ARREST 69 PAROLEES UNDER OPERATION GUARDIAN

Meanwhile, the state officials have gotten busy: the CDCR, along with local law enforcement officers, conducted a compliance sweep on 340 parolees with known gang ties. The sweep, called “Operation Guardian” resulted in 69 arrests and large quantities of seized weapons, drugs, and paraphernalia.

The CDCR Star has the press release. Here’s how it opens:

Agents from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and their local law enforcement partners have just concluded Operation Guardian, one of the largest and most comprehensive sweeps in recent years focusing on parolees who have known ties to criminal gangs.

So far, Operation Guardian has resulted in the arrests of more than 69 parolees in Los Angeles County with known gang ties. One compliance check prompted an investigation after a naked parolee was found in bed with three children. There were 59 instances of guns, a shotgun, semi-automatic handguns and ammunition seized. More than 35 knives, four swords and a machete were also confiscated. CDCR agents and their law enforcement partners also confiscated 20 fully grown marijuana plants, 156 grams of marijuana, 30 grams of cocaine, a possible meth lab, drug paraphernalia and hundreds of dollars of suspected illegal drug money. Sixty out of 340 compliance checks are still being tabulated.

“This morning, while many of the potential suspects were still asleep, more than 400 CDCR agents and local law enforcement partners fanned out across Los Angeles County and searched the homes of parolees who are affiliated with criminal street gangs,” CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said. “The number of parolees who were arrested and the number of guns, ammunition and drugs taken off the streets show how important these proactive searches in cooperation with our local law enforcement partners are to public safety.”


CDCR HOLDS PUBLIC FORUM ON REHABILITATION

On a more upbeat note, the CDCR held a much-needed public forum for suggestions on improving inmate and parolee rehabilitation programs on Tuesday.

Mercury News’ Scott Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

The CDCR has tried to reform in years past, but those efforts were stymied, most recently by problems of prison overcrowding and statewide budget shortfalls. But over the past two years, as part of the realignment effort, some 40,000 inmates have been transferred from state prisons to county jails, freeing up space and resources for more aggressive rehabilitation efforts. At the same time, California has set aside $190 million this year alone to improve resources for inmates at all stages of their re-entrance to society. The goal, said Sessa, is ultimately to provide wrap-around re-entry services for at least 70 percent of the current prison population, starting the moment they enter to the first 12 months of their release.

As part of this effort, CDCR plans to build special facilities at three prisons within the next three years where outgoing inmates will receive special attention. Other services will be rolled out once CDCR has heard from the criminologists, community members, ex-offenders and members of the faith-based community who spoke Tuesday.

“We’ve waited so many years, literally prayed, and I wasn’t sure I would still be alive to see this day,” said Leslie Arroyo, 62, the director of the “Open Arms” Transitional Care Facility, speaking of the CDCR’s realignment initiative. Arroyo has worked in prisons across California and says the biggest problem is the inability of inmates to build and sustain lasting relationships with the people who want to help them the most.

“I think this is a beginning, but unfortunately every initiative we’ve seen in the past has gotten lost in the bureaucracy,” Arroyo said. “We are begging you at this point in time, please listen to us; we’re all trying to go in the right direction.”

Kyle Dunson, 44, a supervisor at a Richmond homeless shelter, spent 13 years behind bars for various crimes, including burglary and petty theft. Speaking at the panel Tuesday, he urged CDCR staff members to consider re-implementing programs that once worked, but were cut due to budget issues. He cited one such initiative, the Alternative Sentencing Program, a kind of bootcamp for inmates, which he said resulted in a drastically reduced recidivism rate for participants — 13 percent versus 83 percent for the San Quentin general population. “I think they should reinstate it,” he said. “Until that point, it was the hardest thing in my life.”

Other speakers repeatedly urged the CDCR to implement re-entry classes and programs long before inmates were released.

“We’re releasing men and women into crisis situations,” said Randy Haskins, who runs a ministry for ex-offenders. “Time has stopped for that inmate; it has kept going for everybody else, and that’s a burden we need to help fix.”


CA PARKS AND REC. HIDING ENOUGH CASH TO KEEP PARKS OPEN FOR TWO MORE YEARS

The CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation has been threatening closure of 70 CA state parks for quite some time now. Recently, (and after much fund-raising by concerned Californians) it has come to light that Parks and Rec. have been hiding almost $54M from the governor’s budget office.

LA Times has an excellent op-ed on the matter. Here’s how it opens:

Californians are feeling betrayed after learning that the Department of Parks and Recreation, while pleading abject poverty and begging for donors to keep 70 state parks from closing, was hoarding nearly $54 million in special accounts, underreporting its holdings to the state. Much of the money was earmarked for specific purposes, but even the remainder is enough to keep the 70 parks open for close to two years. Some of the donors who generously stepped forward to form nonprofits to run parks complain that they were duped. We on the editorial board were misled into calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to provide more money to keep most of the parks open. Taxpayers feel they were put through the wringer with baseless threats about the closures. (As it turned out, with various deals and fundraising, all but one of the parks are still open.)

The department appears to have concealed the money in two accounts for 12 years, reporting accurate figures to the state controller and inaccurate information to the governor’s budget office, an indication that this was intentional and not just incredibly bad bookkeeping. One account was funded by park fees, the other by fees assessed on off-road vehicles, which must be used for facilities or services for off-roaders. Traditionally, special funds have not undergone the same level of state scrutiny as money from the general fund. But that clearly has to end.


LASD SERGEANT SUSPECTED OF STEALING THOUSANDS

And, more hoopla for Sheriff Baca to address prior to testifying before the jails commission this Friday: LASD Sgt. Bonnie Bryant was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of heisting thousands of dollars from drug investigations.

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

Sgt. Bonnie Bryant III, a 28-year department veteran, allegedly was stealing the cash during investigations, not from evidence lockers, said sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The arrest of Bryant on Wednesday afternoon came after a two-week probe by the sheriff’s internal criminal investigators. Whitmore declined to say what stoked suspicions into Bryant, saying the investigation is ongoing.

“This department is bringing people that break the law, that are supposed to represent the law, to justice,” he said.

Posted in California budget, CDCR, criminal justice, LASD, Realignment | 5 Comments »

Edie & Thea v. DOMA…SF Does Smart Realignment…and More LAPD/Chalk Walk News

July 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


EDIE AND THEA V. THE DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT

Edie Windsor, who is now 83, was with the same partner, Thea Spyer, for 44 years. The two women met in 1963, got engaged with a circular diamond broach in 1967. Yet it took until 2007 before they were able to finally get married in Toronto.

It was a bitter-sweet celebration. Thea had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, and for 30 years the couple had struggled with the debilitating effects of the progressive disease. By 2007 an increasingly incapacitated Thea was told she likely had no more than a year and a half to live.

She died two years later, in 2009. Not surprisingly, she left her her wife and life-long love, Edie, everything.

New York State, where the women were residents, recognized their marriage, meaning Thea’s estate should have passed unencumbered to Edie.

But the federal government does not recognize gay marriage, in fact it has legislated against it, in the form of the Defense of Marriage Act – DOMA.

As a consequence, Edie had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes.

Octogenarian Edie has not taken this issue sitting down. She sued the feds for the tax money and won. Naturally, the case has been appealed, specifically to the 2nd Circuit, however Edie isn’t waiting around for the appellate decision.

Instead, on Monday, with the backing of the NY ACLU and a long list of amicus briefs, she and her attorneys asked the Supremes to hear her case, which is considered the 3rd major challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

(It remains to be seen if SCOTUS will take the case.)

Lots of people have the story, but this Village Voice piece by Steven Thrasher has some good side information that other media outlets have missed. (Plus I notice Thrasher’s facts are more….you know….factual than some of the other outlets.)

Here’s a clip:

Last month, the Voice reported about Windsor’s victory in a federal district court here in New York. Although the Obama Administration has stopped defending DOMA, believing parts are unconstitutional, House Speaker John Boehner has directed the Bipartian Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to keep defending it in federal court.

Asked by the Voice what she’d say to Speaker Boehner for seemingly wanting her to be the only person in America he wants to pay more taxes, she replied, ” I think I’d rather not talk to him.”

Some case regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage should be on the docket of the Supreme Court next year, although any such ruling could be limited enough in nature that the issue will go on for years. But both advocates of same-sex marriage, as well as opponents in BLAG, seem to want the Supremes to weigh in, come what may.

The stakes are getting higher, and the effects are getting felt on a broader basis, almost daily with the schizophrenic gap between same-sex marriages being legally performed at the state level which are not recognized by the federal government. Today, Windsor’s estate taxes and her relationship would be treated the same in New York State as if she were heterosexual; but the United States government wouldn’t recognize them at all.

This crisis is growing the fastest here in New York. As NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman wrote in the press release, “The impact of DOMA is felt most dramatically today here in New York,” because, “At least 10,000 same-sex couples have been married in New York since our marriage law went into effect.”

It’s great that they could wed here. But, as Lieberman notes, the Marriage Equality Act is also inadvertently allowing tens of thousands of Americans to enter into a perverse, more acutely obvious state of “second-class citizenship” in the eyes of the federal government.

And speaking of gay marriage and SCOTUS, this fall the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether or not they will take on California’s Prop 8 case.


IS SAN FRANCISCO THE REALIGNMENT LEADER? IF SO, WHY ISN’T LA FOLLOWING THEIR LEAD?

Now granted, San Francisco has much fewer realignment inmates to deal with than LA does.

But the No Cal county appears to be taking on the realignment challenge with creative fervor, while in many other counties, probation and sheriff’s department officials mostly talk mournfully about the need for more law enforcement and more jails—with LA often appearing to lead the latter uninspiring charge.

Damian Bulwa of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on the specific ways that SF is ahead of the curve. Here are some clips:

Under realignment, lower-level state prisoners are released to the supervision of county probation officers rather than state parole agents. San Francisco wants its jails to take custody of these inmates two months before their discharge date.

That way, said acting Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, the county could help them obtain such necessities as housing, job training and driver’s licenses before they hit the streets – “the things they are going to need to be successful.”

Nine months into realignment, San Francisco’s criminal justice leaders are united in embracing the change. They’re seeking to show that traditional incarceration is not the solution for lower-level crime.

“The realignment sky is not falling in San Francisco,” said Wendy Still, who as head of the city’s adult probation department has taken the lead in realignment. She spoke while displaying a blueprint for a $1.3 million, one-stop service center the city plans to open to connect convicts to social services.

Still said the changes would ultimately result in 100 to 200 additional convicts on the streets at any given time rather than behind bars. She acknowledged that there are “bad guys in there” with a history of backsliding, “and they’re going to do some bad things.”

But, she said, San Francisco is managing offenders better than the state had, in part by giving them services they need. She predicted a big drop from a past recidivism rate of nearly 80 percent for state parolees in San Francisco

[BIG SNIP]

Public Defender Jeff Adachi and others set up a re-entry council in 2005 to coordinate support for inmates awaiting release. Four years later, the state began giving grants to counties based on their ability to keep people on felony probation from returning to prison.

San Francisco’s adult probation department reduced such transfers by 48 percent [my italics] over two years, earning $2.1 million while overhauling the way it assesses the needs of probationers and links them to services.

Now, the city is moving even more aggressively.

For example, while some counties used state realignment funding to bring in more prosecutors, District Attorney George Gascón [who incidentally used to the the Assistant Chief of Police of the LAPD] hired an “alternative sentencing planner” to help prosecutors steer convicts to job training and drug treatment.

The state gave San Francisco $5.8 million for the first nine months of the program. This year’s award was bumped to more than $17 million.

Anyway, read the rest. As you do, it helps to remember that the majority of the people we put in prison eventually come out and return to our communities—a fact that law-and-order hardliners seem conveniently to forget.

One of the ideas behind realignment is the notion that the counties can do better than the state in enabling people to exit custody better prepared to lead stable and legal lives, instead of dumping them back on the streets far more broken than when they went in (which is what our resoundingly non-rehabilitative state prisons seem to do).

It also should be mentioned that Sheriff Baca’s Education Based Incarceration program is a step in the right direction. However, many, many more steps are needed.


CHARLIE BECK SAYS LAPD IS REVIEWING DEPARTMENT HANDLING OF CHALK WALK MELEE

Although not saying that officers did anything wrong, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told the LA Times Joel Rubin that he’s reviewing what happened, and what could have been done better.

Here’s a clip:

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that after an initial review of last week’s skirmish between officers and protesters during downtown’s monthly Art Walk event he believes the department “overall responded appropriately.”

He added that department officials are in the midst of conducting a more thorough review of the night’s events, in which they will look into whether the “hard line enforcement” approach that police took was necessary. “I would much prefer to resolve these things through negotiation and cooperation, rather than hard line enforcement,” he said.

“We will look to see if there were opportunities we missed,” he said. “At this point, I don’t know if this incident could have been handled any better or differently.”

Over at LA Weekly, Dennis Romero talked to LAPD Commander Andy Smith about the issue and Smith pointed out that when the protesters rushed into the streets and blocked the sidewalks forcing other pedestrians into the street, then police have to step in.

Here’s a clip from that coverage.

LAPD Commander Andrew Smith told the Weekly:

One thing that’s getting lost is, from my understanding, we had people writing on the sidewalks and, because so many were doing it, they were blocking the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to walk in the roadway.

There were lots of people amassing at Fifth and Spring streets for Art Walk on the warm summer night. So what?

Well, at the July Art Walk one year ago a 2-month-old boy was killed near Fourth and Spring streets after a Cadillac jumped a curb accidentally and hit the infant. Although the child was in his stroller on a sidewalk, some pointed to sidewalk overcrowding and called for streets to be closed for the event.

Cops, then, have been sensitive about keeping people off the streets.

But Smith says the Chalk Walk participants took it further by allegedly ignoring officers’ orders to get out of the way and by then purposely taking over the intersection of Fifth and Spring to start drawing in the street:

They refused to leave, were arrested, and then a whole bunch of people ran out and took over the intersection at 5th and Spring then unlawfully assembled, chalking in the intersection as well. They were rushing out en masse into the street.

Smith said people were given “an opportunity” to walk away without arrest, but many chose to challenge the cops.


Posted in California budget, CDCR, LA County Jail, LAPD, LGBT, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Chaka Khan’s Juvenile Reentry Program, Four State Parks Are Safe for Now…and More

July 2nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker

CHAKA KHAN LAUNCHES JUVIE REHABILITATION INITIATIVE

“Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan recently launched the “No Excuses National Initiative” in an effort to fight juvenile recidivism through community business mentors. The program partners with Avis Ridley-Thomas (wife of LA Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) whose program “Days of Dialogue” helps youth recently released from detention facilities reenter the work force.

You can read about No Excuses on the NC WFJA radio station website. Here’s a clip:

“In Los Angeles County, more than 60 percent of all incarcerated youth return to custody after their release,” Khan says in a statement. “These kids need our help.”

As part of the No Excuses National Initiative, local business leaders mentor youngsters upon their release from juvenile detention. A handful of businesses have stepped up to provide support, so now young people throughout Los Angeles will have an opportunity to learn basic skills that will help them land jobs and move ahead.


FOUR CA STATE PARKS TEMPORARILY SAFE FROM SHUT-DOWN

Four CA State parks that were expected to be shut down Sunday have gotten a reprieve, although not likely for long.

LA Times’ Chris Megerian has the story. Here’s a clip:

But the revised plan means four sites expected to close on Sunday — Benicia State Recreation Area, the California Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach and Zmudowski State Beach — will keep operating for the time being.

“We had the time over the last 24 hours to review operations and were able to determine they could stay open in the very short term, likely a few weeks,” said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Stapler said lawmakers created some breathing room by appropriating an additional $10 million in the budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday.


SAVVY LAW STUDENT TEACHES OFFICER ABOUT RIGHTS DURING ILLEGAL STOP

A Maine law student, illegally stopped by an officer for carrying a firearm, videotaped the incident and quoted his rights until he was told he was free to go.

The Police State Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a remarkable exchange that shows exactly why it pays to know your rights, a law student in Portland, Maine backed down a police officer who had stopped him for no reason other than he was carrying a gun.

After clearly stating that he did not consent to any searches or seizures, the student asked the officer what crime he had been suspected of committing.

The officer stated that he had received calls about a man carrying a gun.

“That is not illegal. Can I have my gun back and be on my way?” the student notes during the incident while filming it on his phone. “In order to stop me you have to suspect me of a crime.” the man notes.

As Maine is a traditional open carry state, it is perfectly legal and acceptable to carry a firearm openly.


Photo courtesy: Dwight McCann/Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, California budget, Civil Rights, environment, juvenile justice, Reentry | 3 Comments »

“Walstock” Protest Saturday, Gov. Brown Signs CDCR Blueprint Plan…and More

June 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

TOM MORELLO TO HEADLINE…CHINATOWN WALMART PROTEST?

Saturday’s protest against Chinatown’s new planned Walmart, expected to draw 20,000, has some surprising musical advocates. Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Ben Harper are said to perform at what LA Weekly is now referring to as “Walstock.”

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Walmart has been bracing itself for what union organizers are calling the largest ever protest against the big-box chain, scheduled this weekend. The store even hosted a traditional Chinese lion dance to ward off bad luck (really). But can Walmart really prepare for the rage against its non-union machine that is … Tom Morello?

As part of Saturday’s massive protest against the Chinatown Walmart (it’s actually planned as a little baby Walmart and not a fullsized, fill-your-SUV-with-crap-you-don’t-need Walmart)…

…labor leaders say Morello is going to perform. Ben Harper will be there with his blend of mellow anti-capitalism as well. And heck, Steve Earle says he’d be there if he wasn’t working in the studio in Nashville.


GOV. BROWN OKAYS CDCR’S BLUEPRINT PROJECT

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a huge corrections reform plan, called Blueprint, into the California budget Thursday. CDCR Press Secretery Jeffrey Callison told WitnessLA that the drop in prison overcrowding has made room in the budget to increase rehabilitation programs. (We’ll be tracking this to make sure it happens.) Blueprint also calls for the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center–an old, cost-ineffective facility that was once a resort for 1920′s-30′s biggest Hollywood names. Callison said that the CDCR will move those beds at the CRC into “more modern cost-effective facilities.”

You can read the press release on the CDCR’s blog. Here’s how it opens:

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Wednesday signed into law an historic reform of California’s penal system. Known as the blueprint, the plan will cut billions in spending, comply with multiple federal court orders for inmate medical, mental health and dental care, and significantly improve the operation of California’s prison system. The Governor’s approval of the blueprint follows its release by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in April and its approval by the State Legislature yesterday.

The multi-year plan for CDCR will cut billions in spending, enable the State to comply with multiple federal court orders concerning inmate health care, and significantly improve the operation of California’s prison system.

“We appreciate the confidence of the Legislature in our plan for a safer and more efficient correctional system,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. “The passage of our blueprint will show the federal courts that California is serious about ending the long-standing lawsuits overseeing much of our operations.”


“CRUEL AND UNUSUAL” PHOTO GALLERY SHOWCASES LIFE BEHIND BARS

Social justice photographer Pete Brook’s “Cruel and Unusual” exhibit–displayed in shipping containers in Brooklyn–has brought together photos depicting juvenile and adult incarceration across the nation.

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Daryl Kahn has the story. Here’s a clip:

The geo-physicist turned documentary photographer had never been behind the walls of the juvenile detention facilities that dot the outskirts of Los Angeles along the spine of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, but the following morning he was going to take his camera, walk in, and take pictures of killers and gangsters.

“I expected the worst,” he said. “The worst of the worst; The ones glaring at you in those orange jumpsuits. You see how they’re portrayed. I expected them to be standoffish, imminently violent, unstable. Ready to do anything.”

What he encountered subverted his anxious expectations. He found a teenager, a piano prodigy before he was tried as an adult and put behind bars. The young inmate was tinkering with an electric piano, and in the grey gloom of the facility echoed the same funereal, haunting sonata he heard in the comfort of his son’s nursery the evening before. The inmate played Beethoven with precision and feeling.

“What I met weren’t monsters,” Oshagan, now 47, said. “They were normal kids. I knew the system wasn’t working — I didn’t know exactly how bad it was until I started talking to these kids and seeing what happens to them.”

The pictures Oshagan took that day and for years after from 2001 to 2005, are part of a exhibition called “Cruel and Unusual” on display inside a massive 40-foot long shipping container stacked on the uplands of Pier 3 along the Waterfront in Brooklyn. The show features a collection of pictures by photographers from across the country chronicling life behind bars, some of which were gathered by co-curator Pete Brook during what he calls the Prison Photography on the Road.

You can take a look at Brook’s fascinating work here.


Photo taken from Tom Morello’s Nightwatchmen site.

Posted in art and culture, California budget, CDCR, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison policy | No Comments »

Three-Strikes Initiative, CA Budget Cuts Policies for Vulnerable Youth, and Famous LA Public Defender Dies at 90

June 13th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


THREE STRIKES REFORM INITIATIVE TO BE ON NOV. BALLOT

The CA Three-Strikes Reform Initiative officially made it on the November ballot. If passed, the initiative would eliminate the automatic 25-life sentence for minor third-strike felonies and shorten the sentences of some current third-strike inmates serving life in prison.

You can check out the initiative here.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

In 2011, there were about 32,000 second strikers and 9,000 third strikers in California prisons. Some of those third strikers are in prison on serious felonies like rape and murder, but there are a number (and the data is not available as to exactly how many) who’re serving life in prison for things like shoplifting and drug possession.

If passed, the new iniative would tweak existing law, making it so that a third strike would have to be a serious or violent felony. It would also reduce the sentences for some third strikers currently serving life terms.

Last year, the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated the changes could save the state tens of millions of dollars in the short-run, with savings exceeding $100 million annually in the longrun.


GOV. BROWN’S BUDGET SEEKS TO CUT BENEFICIAL POLICIES FOR FOSTER KIDS AND OTHER VULNERABLE YOUTH

In the ongoing effort to cut costs, the governor’s proposed California budget for the upcoming fiscal year seeks to discontinue two policies that greatly benefit some of the state’s most vulnerable youth–those kids in foster care or kids under the care of relatives because their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them.

Foster care journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has the story in his new publication, The Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s how it opens:

As Friday’s constitutional deadline for a California state budget looms, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Administration is at a loggerheads with advocates about the future of mandates supporting the educational success of vulnerable children.

In an effort to save nominal cash on the processing of a one-page form and photocopies of student records, advocates argue that the Governor’s Department of Finance is not only hurting the educational progress of [these foster kids or children cared for by relatives], but is also shooting itself in the fiscal foot.

Tucked deep in the Governor’s Trailer Bill outlining the policy changes accompanying the Administration’s 2012-13 state budget, Public Counsel Attorney Laura Faer found two obscure yet important policy changes that will affect vulnerable children. The Brown Administration plans to suspend re-imbursements to school districts as part of the Caregiver Affidavit Program and constrain California’s progressive policy on educational records for foster youth.

This sounds like an overly wonky issue, but for the kids it affects, it’s extremely important.


BELOVED FORMER HEAD LA PUBLIC DEFENDER DIES AT 90

The beloved former head of LA County’s Public Defender’s Office, Bill Littlefield, died Saturday morning at the age of 90.

His son, Jack, told WitnessLA this of Bill: “He believed in everyone’s constitutional right to a quality defense and had a storybook career as a public defender.” Former California State Supreme Court Associate Justice Arman Arabian once referred to Bill as the “Defender of the Damned.” Bill spent 36 years at the Public Defender’s office—17 of those as head of the office. He worked on high profile cases like those of the Hillside Strangler and the Nightstalker. Jack Littlefield said this of his father’s defense of serious criminals, “The potential for abuse if that quality defense is not part of our justice system is frightening. If we didn’t have public defenders, we’d have a prosecution with no restraint.”

Daily News’ Gregory J. Wilcox has an obit as does the Metropolitan News-Enterprise.

Former LA Deputy Public Defender Ken Green told the Met News that Littlefield tried more death penalty cases than any lawyer in L.A. County—”probably more than any lawyer in California and perhaps more than anyone in the country.”

And there is this from the Daily News:

“‘…He was one of the most dogged defenders of poor people I’ve ever seen in a courtroom,’ another friend, retired California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian, noted in [a] 2010 profile.”

His daughter also remembers her father’s softer side. “One thing I really remember about him was he really did have just such a big heart for the downtrodden and the disenfranchised. That was really the perfect job for him,” she said.

Even LA District Attorney Steve Cooley sent around a personal statement marking his passing. It began, “I am deeply saddened to inform you of the recent passing of my friend, World War II hero and retired Public Defender Bill Littlefield…..”

To the Met News Cooley went further calling Littlefield “one of my favorite people of all time in the Los Angeles County criminal justice system.”


PHOTO: ANGELA CARONE/KPBS

Posted in California budget, children and adolescents, criminal justice, Education, Foster Care, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Mentally Ill Housed in Jails, Families’ Rights to Autopsy Photo Privacy, and more…

May 30th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


STATE’S MENTALLY ILL WAIT IN JAILS FOR HOSPITAL SPACE TO BECOME AVAILABLE

California’s mentally ill who are accused of crimes, but deemed incompetent to stand trial, often have to wait upwards of three to six months in county jail while they wait to get into mental facilities. In some cases, this means inmates spend the entirety of their incarceration time without proper medication or treatment.

The Sacramento Bee’s Jocelyn Weiner has the story. Here’s a clip:

For Kim Green, the latest chapter of a recurring nightmare began last fall.


In October, her 24-year-old daughter, who suffers from severe bipolar disorder and a mood disorder related to schizophrenia,
was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail after being arrested on a probation violation. In December, a judge declared the young woman incompetent to face charges and ordered her to Napa State Hospital to get well.

But with no beds available at Napa, Green said, her daughter instead spent five months in the jail. Green, a registered nurse, said her youngest daughter has been sick since she was a little girl; at the age of four, she tearfully told Green that she didn’t want to be alive anymore. By age six, she was hearing voices. Now her family watched, helpless, as she waited in jail, off her medication and increasingly lost in her delusions.

“I guarantee that, with no help, she will end up dead or in the system,” Green said.

California Healthline also reports on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The state reduced mental health funding by $765 million — more than one-fifth of its mental health budget — from 2009 to 2012, according to a report from National Alliance on Mental Illness. Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has determined that the number of state prison inmates with mental illnesses has increased from 19% in 2007 to 25% in 2012.

Randall Hagar — director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association — said that in many counties, patients with serious mental health conditions often wait three to six months in jail before a state hospital bed becomes available. According to data from the sheriff’s department in Stanislaus County, the number of inmates with mental illnesses in the local jail increased by nearly 50% in the past six years.

PS: Just a reminder–the LA County Jail system houses the LARGEST mental institution in the nation.


FAMILIES HAVE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO CONTROL OF AUTOPSY PHOTOS

The California Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that under the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, families have a right to control whether or not autopsy photos get released to the press.

Business Insider’s Erin Fuchs has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Ninth Circuit was weighing in on Brenda Marsh’s suit against former San Diego District Attorney Jay Coulter over his release of her allegedly murdered son’s autopsy photos to a newspaper and TV station.

Marsh’s 2-year-old son, Philip Buell, died of a severe head trauma and her then-boyfriend went to prison for second-degree murder. However, his conviction was overturned.

The former San Diego DA — who had kept an autopsy photo as a memento — then released the image to the media along with a piece called “What really happened to Philip Buell?” according to the court opinion.


12-ACRE GRAND PARK TO BE OPENED DOWNTOWN MID-JUNE

“Grand Park will make our Civic Center bloom,” said LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina of the $56 million park that will open in the middle of downtown Los Angeles early this summer. “In a sea of concrete, Grand Park will be a welcome urban oasis.” Molina, who sent out a lengthy and informative press release on the park Tuesday afternoon, is one of a group of county officials who have worked on the Grand Park project. The park is a very welcome addition to the downtown landscape, and is especially heartening at a time when a growing number of state parks are at risk because of budget cuts. It also will provide a much needed new green space for kids in LA’s surrounding urban communities, who have long been short on parkland.

The LA Times’ Sam Allen has more on the park. Here’s a clip:

As Downtown L.A. has seen a boom in residential and commercial development in the last decade, one complaint is heard over and over: There is not enough green space in the heart of the city.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officials announced that is about to change. A 12-acre park stretching from the steps of City Hall to the top of Bunker Hill will open this summer. It will be downtown’s largest park and its completion marks the first step in an ambitious effort to revitalize the civic center and surrounding areas.

The so-called Grand Park runs between 1st and Temple streets from Grand Avenue to Spring Street. The hillside will include two large lawns, a renovated fountain, a three-quarter mile promenade, gardens and groves, officials said. Events will be coordinated by the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, which also oversees the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum.

You can learn more about the project (and check out a very cool map) at Grand Park’s website.

Posted in California budget, Courts, criminal justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | No Comments »

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