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Inmate Medical & Personal Data stolen at CA Prisons—-Symptomatic of Far More Serious Problems With CDCR Med System?

June 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Last month, I got a call from an California prison inmate whom I know, who is serving a little less than two years in Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. The inmate, whom we’ll call Javier although that is not his real name, told me he was worried because a laptop containing his personal data, and that of hundreds, or maybe thousands of other inmates, had been stolen. By “personal data,” Javier said, he meant health records, his social security number, plus any and all other private information of his that was possessed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

I should explain here that, because of my years of gang reporting starting in 1990, I often get collect calls from people residing in state and county correctional facilities. This is due to the fact that, during the most intense years of that reporting, I got to know a great many people who were active in the gang world. Those once-teenagers and young adults are now men and women in their late 30s to mid-40s, some even older. Most of those former gangsters I knew the best in those years have, against daunting odds, long ago rebooted their lives in healthy directions and are doing well as working people, taxpayers, husbands, wives, parents and, in some cases, grandparents.

But not all. Some of those I first met during the gang-haunted 1990′s are either dead or sentenced to prison for a very long time. Others, like my caller, are making progress. But, for a variety of reasons, they still struggle.

In any case, Javier was concerned that the laptop thief could and would engage in identify theft on a grand scale. “I’m getting out in a month,” he said. “And I want to do good for my wife and my kids. But this worries me. I can’t afford problems. I want to do everything right. I can’t afford to have some crazy thing go wrong”

It was Javier’s understanding that the laptop that contained all this personal data was never supposed to be removed from where it normally resided in a CDCR facility. But a staff member removed it anyway, he’d heard, for some reason or other. Then before the staffer could get home with the illegal laptop, somebody jacked the thing from his/her car.

I told Javier that the whole thing sounded awful, and took a few notes. Then I got busy with other stories and tasks, and did not investigate his stolen data tale any further.

This week, however, I began hearing from prison reform advocates who said that they too had been getting letters and calls from CDCR inmates who reside in a variety of California prisons. All of them told identical tales about the stolen data. And all—like Javier—-were very concerned.

One male inmate serving time at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego was spooked by the idea of outsiders getting his medical files and wondered how all that information had been allowed to go outside the prison.

Another inmate, a 28-year-old woman housed at the California Institution for Women (CIW), wrote “please help me by looking into this.” She’d been in prison for the past decade, since she was 18, and much of that time she’d been seeing a doctor for mental health issues. She’d also been put in isolation for long, traumatizing stretches. The thought of confidential files from those years, and those shrink sessions, floating around in unauthorized hands, understandably panicked her.


I called the CDCR to find if such a breach had indeed really occurred and, if so, what they had to say about it. The representative who got on the phone admitted that he was aware of the issue but said that they (the CDCR) were not the right people to comment, and that I needed to talk to someone at California Correctional Health Care Services [CCJCS]—the federal receiver’s office.

His tone was that of one who was lateraling a hot potato to someone else, and who was very glad to be ridding himself of the troublesome spud.

CCJCS is the organization formed by federal receiver J. Clark Kelso and his team as a consequence of a massive class action civil rights lawsuit (Plata v. Schwarzenegger) filed in 2001 against the State of California regarding the ghastly, and often deadly, quality of medical care in the state’s adult prisons, which it was determined violated the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a number of other statutes. When few changes were made after the settlement of the case, in 2005 the entire California prison medical system was put into federal receivership. Since 2006, Kelso and company have been tasked with reforming the massive health system that serves the CDCR’s approximately 125,000 adult inmates in California’s 34 prisons.

Ten years later, after much effort, oversight by a very attentive three-judge panel and federal receiver Kelso, plus one high-profile trip to the U.S. Supreme Court (Plata v. Brown), although many improvements have been made, alarming deficits remain.

But we’ll get back to those other Plata-related issues in a minute. First back to the breach.

When I called the CCJCS’s press officer, her voice mail told me she was out on vacation. And the person who is filling in for her had evidently left for the day. I did find, however, that the CCJC was in fact quite concerned with the data breach and had posted a statement about the problem on their website.

It reads in part:

A staff member’s non-encrypted, password-protected laptop was stolen from their personal vehicle. This laptop may have contained PII and PHI for patients within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation incarcerated between the years 1996 and 2014….

…Appropriate actions were immediately implemented and shall continue to occur. This includes, but is not limited to, corrective discipline, information security training, procedural amendments, process changes and technology controls and safeguards.

The statement also noted that the CCJCS staff had done its best to notify each individual whose “unsecured protected” information had been, or is reasonably believed to have been “accessed, acquired, used, or disclosed as a result of such breach.”

WLA has obtained a copy of the letter sent to each inmate, which begings like this:

Dear so-and-so,

We are contacting you of a possible information security incident involving your personal Information.

What happened:

On April 25, 2016, California Correctional Health Care Service (CCHCS) Identified a potential breach of your Personally Identifiable Information and Protected Health Information that occurred on February 25,2016. An unencrypted laptop Was stolen from a CCHS workforce member’s personal vehicle…

It goes on from there in a manner that appears to be fairly honest but not terribly reassuring.


It is possible, of course, maybe even probable, that no one’s information is being used in a compromising fashion, that the thief simply saw a laptop, broke into the car, grabbed the thing, then sold it after wiping the hard drive, having no idea what he/she was wiping.

But the staff carelessness and reported flouting of rules involved in the mess is not heartening when one looks at some of other problems remaining in the CDCR’s medical care system, after all this time in receivership.

There is, for example, the alarming rash of suicides at the California Institution for Women (CIR) that we wrote about last month. Specifically, after an eight-month examination of suicide prevention practices at all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the suicide prevention examiner found that CIW, specifically, was a “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”

As if to painfully make the point, a few months after report was released, on April 14, a 35-year old woman woman killed herself under heart-wrenching circumstances. Then, less than a week later still, another CIW woman made a serious suicide attempt that reportedly landed her in a coma.

And, if that isn’t enough, there is the fact that the California Office of the Inspector General has recently reported that one-third of the 17 state prisons inspected last year (as part of the Plata lawsuit) showed large deficits with the quality of medical care those prisons were providing to inmates.

For instance, the OIG’s May 18 report showed Mule Creek prison failed in a staggering 11 our of 12 “primary (clinical) quality indicators” applicable to the prison, and was adequate in only one.

In a report on Ironwood State Prison released on May 25, inspectors noted that the state of medical care at Ironwood wasn’t as hideous as that at Mule Creek. It seemed that Ironwood failed to hit only 2 out of 8 clinical quality indicators, instead of 11 out of 12. Still, two out of eight, for those who have not done the math, is a 25 percent failure. Overall, the inspectors deemed the medical care at Ironwood, like Mule Creek, to be “Inadequate.” (The benchmark, by the way, is adequate.)

In other words, today we’re talking about a troubling data theft–-which may or may not turn out to do harm to inmates. But it is difficult not to see that take-home computer breach as a symptom of an array of disturbing and potentially dangerous problems that still plague our state’s prison medical care system.

Posted in CDCR | 3 Comments »

NO SAFE PLACE: A Troubling Suicide at a California Women’s Prison & a Report Pointing to Chronic Failures in the Facility’s Suicide Prevention Practices

April 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Erika Rocha was 35 years old when she committed suicide on April 14 of this year,
in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Women (CIW).

Rocha had been locked up for 21 years, since she was 14 years old. But there was a real possibility that her life was on the verge of a large change for the better.

The day after she killed herself, Rocha had been scheduled to attend what is called an SB 260 parole hearing, a special kind of legal procedure for people who were given lengthy sentences in adult court when they were juveniles. Rocha was serving a sentence of 19-to-life for an incident that occurred in a Los Angeles foster care group home, involving a group of kids who hurt another kid. Rocha was the youngest of the group, but reportedly was also the one whom the police and prosecutor were able to most successfully lean on to take a deal.

Rocha’s friends at the prison said she was optimistic about the hearing. But she was also scared. “She talked about whether she could do it,” said Colby Lenz, who is a legal advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “She was nervous about whether she could make it on the outside.”

In the weeks before Rocha’s death, she had been on and off suicide watch multiple times. And she had made at least one serious attempt at suicide in the past, when another potential parole hearing loomed. So the risk was very real. Still, the day immediately before her death, when her feelings about the upcoming hearing would be running particularly high, Rocha was unaccountably transferred off suicide watch and into a mental health unit where she managed to hang herself.

“It makes me very angry,” said Lenz, who had gotten to know Rocha in the year she’d been working with her on her case. “She was actively suicidal. She’d just been released from suicide watch. It sounds like they didn’t do what they were supposed to do to prevent her death.”


Lenz is not the only person to express serious concern about whether or not the suicide prevention practices at CIW are adequate.

In January 2014, suicide expert Lindsey M. Hayes delivered a report that was the result of Hayes’ eight-month examination of suicide prevention practices at all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He found CIW, in particular, to be “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”

Hayes’ report, which was court ordered in response to a massive class action lawsuit (Coleman v. Brown) in behalf of the state’s mentally ill inmates, contained lengthy and detailed descriptions of the ways in which CIW was failing to keep its most vulnerable women safe.

It also came after 4 women at CIW had killed themselves in an 18 month period, along with a rash of 20 suicide attempts in addition, according to state records, giving CIW by far the highest suicide rate in the CDCR. Specifically, in 2015, the suicide rate at CIW was more than eight times the national rate for women’s prisons, and more than five times the rate for all California prisons.

The list of issues Hayes found were many and varied. For instance, according to the report, the agreed upon practice when someone is put into a “crisis bed,” for suicidality is for those crisis bed inmates to be checked either on an ongoing basis, or every 15 minutes.

At CIW, however, according to Hayes, inmates were being observed at 30 minute or 60 minute intervals, which was asking for trouble.

And when he toured the solitary confinement units, where the observations are less frequent, but still rigorous, Hayes found that even the supervising lieutenant was “unaware” that the inmates were supposed to be subject to 30 minute welfare checks—in other words, they were supposed to be eyeballed every half hour to make sure they weren’t harming themselves.

Hayes also found that many staff thought that women were faking when they claimed to be considering suicide, and their actions reflected that belief.

In response to Hayes’ report, and the court’s concern, the CIW administration agreed to make specific improvements.

Hayes returned to CIW in 2015 for a re-audit, to see what improvements had been made. He presented the court with the results of his re-audit in January of this year. Some issues had gotten marginally better, according to Hayes’s second report. For example, a grand total of 49 percent of the mental health staff had completed suicide training—as opposed to zero, which was the case the last time. However, 49 percent was nothing close to compliance.

In other categories he audited, Hayes found that the CIW staff had either not improved or they had lost ground.

In addition to looking at the institution’s general practices, Hayes reviewed two suicides in particular as part of his report, and was particularly alarmed by the second of the two.

Dismayed, he wrote in his conclusion, “As perhaps best symbolized by the…inmate suicide on March 6, 2015, this reviewer found that CIW continued to be a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention, including extremely low completion of required SREs [suicide risk evaluations] based upon emergency mental health referrals for SI [suicidal ideation], several cases in which inmates were discharged from alternative housing without completion of suicide risk evaluations, inadequate treatment planning, low compliance rates for annual suicide prevention training, and multiple inmate suicides during the calendar year.”

“Some of this is extremely, extremely concerning,” said Jane Kahn, a lead attorney for the Coleman lawsuit. “For instance,” Kahn said, “at one point in the report he said that CIW’s compliance is the worst of any of the CDCR’s facilities.”

Kahn then noted various specifics in the body of Hayes report, like the fact Hayes reviewed 38 health records “in which a suicide risk evaluation should have been done because the client said, ‘I’m thinking about suicide.’” said Kahn. “But the mental health clinicians completed a suicide risk evaluation in only 68 percent of the cases. And when Hayes was there the year before, he found the clinicians did them in 76 percent of the cases. So it got worse. It actually got worse.

Then, of course, as if in tragic illustration of his points, on April 14, a few months after Hayes delivered his second report, Erika Rocha killed herself. Then, less than a week after that, another CIW woman made a serious suicide attempt that reportedly landed her in a coma.

Last week’s suicide attempt is its own disturbing story…

We’ll have more on Erika Rochas’ suicide and the serious problems with inmate safety at CIR in Part 2 of NO SAFE PLACE.

So stay tuned.

Photograph of Erika Rocha courtesy of Linda Reza.

Posted in CDCR | 4 Comments »

CA’s New Prisons Chief, the Homelessness Plan, Baca’s Guilty Plea, and Chief Beck on the “Ferguson Effect”

February 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s new chief, Scott Kernan, wants to drastically change CA’s prison culture from an us-versus-them attitude to one in which guards are “engaged in the rehabilitation process.”

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Kernan, who was previously the CDCR’s undersecretary of operations, to the top position of CDCR Secretary following the January 1 resignation of Jeffrey Beard, the former top prison official.

When Beard took the helm in 2012, the CDCR faced a number of class action lawsuits challenging conditions within the state’s prisons, and an order from federal judges to reduce the prison population. Some of these issues, including the population mandate were resolved while Beard was in charge, but much work remains to improve the prison system.

Kernan is looking into what’s working in other states and will increase specialized training for guards and staff. Kernan also says that, moving forward, the department will do a better job of cooperating with the inspector general’s office.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Crowded conditions meant a violent atmosphere, few rehabilitation programs and an us-against-them attitude from guards, Kernan said.

“It’s just emotional survival. You tend to paint, for example, all inmates with a broad brush of negativity, and I think we’ve got to change that,” he said.

Altering that culture is his top priority as secretary, now that prisons are less crowded and state policymakers are emphasizing inmate rehabilitation, he said.

Kernan, 55, assumed the top post days after the state inspector general said the union that represents most correctional officers is encouraging a code of silence. The report came more than a decade after the department first tried to end a culture in which prison guards protect one another when they witness wrongdoing.

It was part of a scathing investigation that found guards at an isolated state prison created a culture of racism and used an alarming amount of force against inmates, among many other problems.

Kernan plans more training for rank-and-file employees, leadership programs for supervisors, and a search for practices that have worked in other states as he tries to change attitudes. He also plans to work more cooperatively with the inspector general’s office and inmates’ attorneys who filed the class-action lawsuits that largely drive prison policies and led to the federal population cap.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive plan to help and house thousands of the county’s homeless residents through interagency coordination within the county, and partnerships with the city of Los Angeles, non-profits, philanthropy groups, and businesses.

“The gravity of the crisis is profound and if we fail to act now, the problem will be compounded,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Urgency has to be the mantra of the day.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she was optimistic that the county’s homelessness plan will solve “one of the most challenging moral issues facing Los Angeles.”

The $100 million County Homeless Initiative will employ 47 strategies that fall under six main goals: preventing homelessness, increasing subsidized housing, boosting income, providing individual case management and supportive services, creating an inter-agency coordinated system, and increasing affordable housing and homeless shelters.

According to the initiative, phase one, comprised of twelve high-priority steps, is scheduled to launch by June 30 of this year. Phase one includes expanding outreach to inmates in jails to help them stay off the streets when they are released, creating short-term housing for those leaving lock-ups, expanding emergency shelters, providing disabled homeless residents with subsidized housing, and decriminalizing homelessness by training first responders in the complex needs of the population and how to connect them with appropriate services.

The LA Times editorial board, which has been vocal about the county’s new plan (as well as the county’s old, failed plans to combat homelessness) asks, “Whatever happened to Project 50?”

Project 50 was the first stage of a county program that put 50 chronically homeless residents in housing, rather than shelters, with access to mental health and substance abuse treatment services. Project 50′s two champions—former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and the county’s deputy chief executive officer, Miguel Santana—wanted to expand the original Project 50 to Project 500, and then Project 5,000. But instead of growing, the promising program fizzled out due to the supervisors’ lack of enthusiasm for spending more money, even if it would save big bucks in the long run.

The Times’ editorial board examines some possible reasons for Project 50′s demise and how the county can avoid letting the new homelessness plan meet a similar fate. Here’s a clip:

The county was spending $650 million annually dealing with homeless people in repeat visits to emergency rooms, clinics, jails and other county institutions. By spending some money upfront, hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to the county health department, the sheriff and others would be avoided.

The supervisors weren’t having it. That should have raised some questions then, and it raises them today, seven years later.

For example – Was the failure to move forward essentially a matter of bookkeeping? In other words, was the problem that all those the savings would be recouped by county departments other the ones that did the spending? Was the county seriously willing to pass up hundreds of millions of dollars in cost avoidance because the inter-departmental accounting was difficult?

It’s infuriating to think that might be the case. Yet the current board’s decision to merge three departments – health services, mental health and public health – just might help by allowing revenue and costs from the three units to be more easily exchanged. Meanwhile, let’s note that a recent report says the county now spends $1 billion dealing with homeless people without the initiative. So any new spending to keep people housed and treated should be balanced against the expected avoidance of at least part of that current $1 billion cost.

Or was it a question of territory? Yaroslavsky represented most of the wealthiest county neighborhoods, like Malibu, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, plus much of the San Fernando Valley – but Project 50 at first focused on people on skid row, in Gloria Molina’s district. That violated a county rule of the roost. Each supervisor is expected to keep his or her nose out of each other’s district.

Or was it personal? People who worked at the Hall of Administration in that era confide that the other supervisors flat-out disliked Yaroslavsky, and that their staffs didn’t like his, because Yaroslavsky and his people had a missionary zeal about Project 50 that the others found off-putting. And that reaction may be understandable – but what if Yaroslavsky was right about his program? So what if his colleagues were miffed? Did the welfare of thousands of people living on the street really depend on how chummy five elected officials were?

The supervisors say everything’s different this time; they all like each other, and they’re all on the same page on the homelessness initiative. Terrific. But the current line-up changes again at the end of the year when two supervisors are termed out and two new ones are voted in, and then the five of them will live with each other for years, much like strangers thrown together in a beach house on one of those reality shows. There will be disagreements, bruised egos and factions – but none of that can be allowed to undermine the county’s commitment to move people off the street.


On Wednesday, former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca pled guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when he was interviewed in 2013 by the FBI as part of an investigation into LASD corruption and civil rights violations.

An LA Times editorial says Baca’s guilty plea is an important signal to department officials that law enforcement members are not above the law, and to county officials that department oversight must be “muscular” enough to keep the department clean enough that the feds won’t have to intervene. Here’s a clip:

As the elected sheriff, he ran a complex of jails where brutality had become systematic and where would-be whistle-blowers were threatened with retaliation. He helped hide inmate and FBI informant Anthony Brown, and he lied about it.

In prosecuting the matter that became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office showed tenacity, yes, but also the true meaning of justice by not stopping with the convictions of a dozen or so lower-level players or with the ongoing prosecution of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is due to face trial soon. Baca’s guilty plea is important. It is vindication for those who resisted the sheriff’s active mismanagement of the jails and a reminder to those who come later that no one is above the law — and most certainly not those who are entrusted with its enforcement.

The final opinion we didn’t want you to miss was an op-ed by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who says the city of Los Angeles is experiencing its own kind of “Ferguson effect,” but not the “Ferguson effect” theory that other law enforcement agencies and certain media outlets are talking about. According to the theory, upticks in crime in some big cities across the nation are the result of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Missouri cop, and the protests that followed, and that public scrutiny makes police officers less inclined to engage in proactive policing, and less inclined to make arrests.

Chief Beck says that’s not the case in Los Angeles. While violent crime rates increased in LA last year, LAPD officers made 8% more arrests for violent crime in 2015 than in 2014.

Instead, Chief Beck says, the nationwide protests against law enforcement have muddied the public’s perception of cops and whether they are doing their job in a fair and just manner, lowering cooperation between Los Angeles communities and officers, and in turn, making crimes more difficult to solve.

(We would like to point out that although no one is exactly sure why violent crime numbers have risen, the LAPD misreported serious violent crime stats at least as far back as as 2005 and as recently as 2014. For years, the errors made violent crime rates appear lower than they were, so it’s possible that the department’s recent fixes have had something to do with the fluctuation.)

Here’s a clip from Beck’s op-ed:

There are any number of theories on what causes crime rates to swell, but nearly everyone agrees that public trust is essential to successful law enforcement. Police alone cannot reduce crime. Community partnerships, joint problem solving and open communication with the public are critical. When those links are weak, police are less effective, particularly at preventing crime.

The legitimacy of the whole criminal justice system, in fact, starts with the public’s perception of policing. Every day, officers have to take actions that are often misunderstood or unpopular, most especially the use of physical, even deadly, force. Every community — including people of color and residents of poor neighborhoods — needs to have faith that officers will apply force in the right way, at the right time and for the right reasons. It isn’t sufficient to simply say that police officers used force appropriately, to protect their own lives or the lives of others, after the fact. Without legitimacy, law enforcement will always struggle.

The Los Angeles Police Department has confronted and overcome many such challenges in recent decades. But we know there is still much work to do, especially in communities that have been underserved and suffered the most from violent crimes.

This is why the LAPD is taking a dual approach to responding to the city’s increase in crime. We have doubled the size of the Metropolitan Division, a squad of highly trained officers who concentrate on the most dangerous criminals and violent crime. This unit has the geographic flexibility to focus on areas where crime is rising, bringing extra help to make neighborhoods safer.

At the same time, we are investing in efforts to build strong bonds and promote mutual understanding between the police and the public. In August, for instance, we formed the new Community Relationship Division to better consolidate, coordinate and improve our public outreach efforts, which are so essential for building strong partnerships with the public.

Posted in CDCR | 22 Comments »

CA Prisons Chief Jeffrey Beard Resigning

December 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Jeffrey Beard announced he will resign, effective January 1, after serving three years as the state’s top prison official.

In a letter to CA Governor Jerry Brown, Beard highlights some of the progress the CDCR has made over the last several years, including reducing the state prison population below a cap set by a panel of three federal judges, and increasing rehabilitation efforts, which Beard says are “now a demonstrably key priority with the addition of programs in all of our prisons, especially the re-entry hubs.”

In response to Beard’s decision, Gov. Brown praised the prison chief for taking command of the state’s prison system “at a time of great challenge, including overcrowding and numerous federal lawsuits. Thanks to his outstanding leadership, today’s California correctional institutions are safer and more focused on rehabilitation.”

Before Beard was appointed CDCR Secretary in 2012, he spent nearly 30 years with the Department of Corrections in Pennsylvania. Beard was appointed to Secretary of DCP in 2001, where he remained until 2010.

Posted in CDCR | No Comments »

Gov. Brown Signing Bills, Hearing on Overmedication of Foster Kids, Defining Solitary, and the Folsom Riot

August 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


CA Governor Jerry Brown has signed several noteworthy bills, so far this week:

SB 411, the Right to Record Act, clarifies the First Amendment right to photograph and record video of law enforcement when officers are in a public place or where the recording citizen has a right to be.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, said, “With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reinforces our First Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians. At a time when cell phone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

And here’s why this bill is important, according to Sen. Lara’s website:

In California and beyond, members of the public have been arrested while recording or photographing police activity in public places. News accounts and videos have surfaced showing that some civilians have been arrested for recording officers in the cities of Los Angeles, Torrance, and San Diego, as well as the County of Orange. This conflict extends past police officers and civilians to professional photographers and media personnel. In Berkeley, CA a journalist was arrested after recording law enforcement officers in a public place. Last week, a bystander caught a police officer in North Charleston, S.C. in a shooting incident that has led to charges being filed against that officer.

In May, the ACLU of California launched a “Mobile Justice” app that allows users to take video (of an officer-involved incident, for instance) and immediately send it to the ACLU by pressing a button. According to the ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page, the app has been downloaded over 160,000 times as of this week.

Another bill, SB 227, bans the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases involving alleged fatal excessive use of force and fatal shootings by law enforcement officers.

The bill follows controversial secret grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson and Staten Island.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), SB 601, which aims to boost transparency and accountability by increasing the amount of required public data reporting from California prisons.

The data will be published quarterly online as a “data dashboard,” which will include inmate population numbers; rehabilitation program numbers, including enrollment and achievement statistics; the number and nature of deaths in the facility; use of force incidents; staff overtime, vacancies, pay, and positions; inmate appeals; solitary confinement population; budget and money spent; and information on lockdowns.


A three-hour joint oversight hearing between two CA Senate committees focused on a package of four California reform bills addressing the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsberg), chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, voiced frustration at the lack of data tracking and transparency to explain why foster kids are so heavily medicated.

Here’s a quick explanation of the bill package from California Healthline:

SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;

SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts’ process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;

SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and

SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 5/18).

The four bills are on their way to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week, and if passed there, will land on Gov. Brown’s desk.

(For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Seipel has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

The hearing was intended to look more closely at the standards and tools used by state and local governments in evaluating psychosocial services for foster care youth that minimize the need for the reliance on psychiatric drugs.

“You can imagine the challenges our vulnerable kids faced when they were trying to access care within the foster health care system,” McGuire said.

The senator said he was having trouble getting answers to basic questions, including: How many of the youths had been prescribed prescription drugs? How many were taking multiple prescribed drugs? How many doctors had the youths seen?

“How can we treat them if we don’t have their medical history?” McGuire asked, noting that much of this data is submitted to state departments on a voluntary, but not mandatory, basis.


On Tuesday, Hernandez told the panel that after this newspaper’s series brought the problem to his attention he wanted some answers.

“The questions I have are: Why is it that this population is being prescribed drugs at the rates they are being prescribed? Is that normal, standard protocol? How do we compare to other states?”

Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, told the senators that California lacks a system capable of tracking prescription practices about psychotropic medications for foster youth.

“Care coordination should be provided immediately upon entry into foster care,” Johnson said, noting that California can learn from states.


At a Senate hearing focusing on conditions in federal prisons, Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, insisted that solitary confinement is not used in federal detention facilities.

Samuels said that inmates are housed two to a cell. Because of this, even if the prisoners are held for 22 or more hours per day and experience every other aspect of isolation, the practice no longer qualifies as solitary confinement, according to Samuels.

(Read more about the Senate hearing: here.)

Vice’s Seth Ferranti and Robert Rosso gathered some reactions to Samuels’ statements from federal prisoners. Here are some clips:

“Reading what Samuels said was like watching Bill Clinton change the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ when he denied that Monica Lewinsky gave him head,” says Jay Martt, a federal inmate serving 14 years for robbery at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana. “He’s redefining what solitary confinement means in modern times.”…

“We do not, under any circumstances, nor have we ever had the practice of putting an individual in a cell alone,” while housed in the SHU, Samuels swore before members of the Senate.

“How can he get away with saying such a bald-face lie?” wonders Martt. ” Of course they put guys in single-cells in the SHU. All that one of these senators needs to do is subpoena any log-book from any SHU in the BOP and they could prosecute Director Samuels for lying to members of Congress.”…

“Prison officials like to tell the public and the courts that when we are put in the hole, or the ‘SHU,’ that we get one hour out of our cells every day for recreation. It’s a lie,” Martt, who gets released from prison next year, tells VICE. “Sometimes, when the staff feels like it, they might let us go from our cell into a cage that’s the size of two cells combined with up to six other people in it, and we stand around looking stupid. That’s what the BOP calls our ‘one hour’ out of the cell per day.”…

Troy Hockenberry, serving a ten-year sentence for a gun charge, says it’s the misuse of the special housing units that concerns him. “I know a guy who was sent to the hole for not tucking in his shirt. He stayed back there for over a month—for not tucking in his shirt! That’s absurd,” he said. Hockenberry argued that staff will target inmates that they don’t like and have them placed in the SHU for an “investigation.” According to BOP policy, an inmate can remain in the SHU under investigation for a period 90 days, at which time a decision must be made: Charge the inmate, or place them back into general population.

“But they’ve got a trick for that, too,” Hockenberry tells VICE. “They ask for an extension.” An officer investigating an alleged wrong doing can request three extensions, meaning that an inmate can be held in the SHU for nine months without ever being charged. “The bottom line is they can do whatever they want to us and nobody cares,” Hockenberry concludes.


On Wednesday, 71-year-old Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, one of the “San Quentin Six” inmates who attempted to break out of the state prison in 1971, was killed during a 70-inmate riot at New Folsom Prison in Sacramento.

Pinell and other inmates were reportedly stabbed with makeshift weapons. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals. No prison staff members were injured in the brawl.

Pinell was locked-up in 1965 for rape, and in 1971 was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after killing a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. That same year, Pinell was part of a prison break that resulted in the death of two guards and four inmates, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Richard Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.

Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, law enforcement, mental health | 11 Comments »

Juvie Solitary Confinement, College in Prison, Alleged Boot Camp Abusers Arrested, and Kelly Thomas’ Death Violated Police Policy

August 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bipartisan bill to end solitary confinement for kids in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.

The Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act of 2015 (MERCY) is cosponsored Rand Paul (R-KY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Specifically, the bill would ban solitary confinement except as a temporary placement when a kid poses a serious threat to themselves or others and after less restrictive methods (like deescalation techniques and meeting with a mental health professional) had been tried.

The bill would also require facility staff to explain to a confined kid why they have been placed in isolation, and that they will be released after they have calmed down or after a specific amount of time. And the isolation of kids believed to pose a risk to others would be limited to three hours (thirty minutes for kids who pose a risk to themselves).

“Not only is solitary confinement cruel and demeaning, it’s a violation of one’s human dignity,” said Sen. Booker. “When imposed on adolescents, it can cause serious long-term psychological and physical harm.”

Noting the increased risk of depression and suicide for kids locked in solitary confinement, Sen. Durbin said, “I am glad to join Senators Booker, Paul and Lee in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with them as we consider how to fundamentally reform our approach to this controversial practice.”


Four community colleges are launching classes inside nearby California state prisons as part of an 18-month, $2 million pilot program starting this fall.

The colleges will offer between two and three business-related classes each semester, through which inmates will have the opportunity to earn an associates degree in liberal arts.

Lassen College will hold classes at High Desert State Prison, Folsom Lake College at Folsom Women’s Facility, Antelope Valley College at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, and Chaffey College at California Institution for Women.

The push for education in prisons is also happening on the federal level. Last week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a pilot program to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 22-year ban on giving such grants to inmates.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The state also has been moving to boost education access for inmates, after a 2014 law that allowed community colleges to receive the same level of state funding for educating students behind prison walls as they do for students on college campuses.

The legislation called for collaboration between prison and community college officials to provide college instruction, resulting in a $2 million, 18-month pilot program launching this fall…

“Part of the proposal was to look for innovative programs that are not only face-to-face but offer a full student experience of orientation, advising, counseling,” said BJ Snowden, director of inmate education in the community college chancellor’s office. “We want this to be a sustainable and replicable model with real goals.”

One of the state’s most successful prison education programs, the Prison University Project, will provide training for community college faculty.

The privately-funded project operates at San Quentin and was founded after inmates lost Pell eligibility. Instructors come from the faculty ranks at UC Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State University, said executive director Jody Lewen.

Obama’s Pell grant initiative could greatly aid programs like hers, Lewen said, providing it is focused on offering a quality education.

“It could be fantastic, but if we allow institutions to come in and do it as cheap as possible with little investment, it will be garbage,” Lewen said. “It will be one of those things in the prison system that’s called better than nothing.”


Four Los Angeles-area officers were arrested this week in connection with alleged abuse of kids participating in a boot camp called Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) in San Luis Obispo.

Investigators identified fifteen kids who said they were victims of abuse at the hands of the officers leading the camp.

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

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

Marissa Larios and Patrick Nijland of the Huntington Park Police Department, and brothers Carlos Gomez-Marquez and Edgar Gomez of the South Gate Police Department were each arrested and released on $20,000 bail.

In June, at least two of the officers, the Gomez brothers, were still on patrol despite being subjects of investigation.

Here’s a clip from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department:

After a two month investigation which involved interviewing 37 participants at the camp, Sheriff’s Detectives were able to identify 15 male and female victims ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old who claimed they were assaulted by the drill instructors while at the camp….

Gomez and Gomez-Marquez were arrested on the following five charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal threats (felony), 3. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 4. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 5. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

Larios was arrested on four charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 3. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 4. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor)

Nijland was arrested for: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 3. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

All charges will be filed with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

KTLA’s Kennedy Ryan and Eric Spillman have more on the arrests.


Three former Fullerton police officers, Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe, violated department policy when they beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death (while he screamed for his father), according to an independent report released as part of a civil lawsuit.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Corporal Jay Cicinelli violated the Fullerton Police Department’s deadly force policy when he kneed 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the head twice and beat him in the face with his Taser “multiple times” on July 5, 2011, according to the report by independent auditors. The incident was caught on street surveillance video.

Former officers Manuel Ramos and Joseph Wolfe violated the department’s use of force policy when they used their body weight to subdue and arrest Thomas, the report said.

Thomas died five days after the beating. The coroner’s report determined Thomas died as a result of mechanical chest compressions and cranial-facial injuries.

“Ramos’ weight and the body weight of other responding officers on Thomas may have been partially responsible for Thomas’ ultimate demise,” according to the report. It used similar language for Wolfe.

In January 2014, an Orange County jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli, and the charges against Wolfe were later dropped. All three are still fighting to get their jobs back after being terminated.

Posted in CDCR, Education, juvenile justice, Police | 2 Comments »

President Obama – Pardons and Prisons….Feds Return Control of CA Prison Health Care at Folsom…Helping Out-of-County Foster Kids Retain Mental Health Care….and Solitary Confinement

July 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, President Barack Obama, who has previously faced criticism for seldom granting clemency, announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. This brings President Obama’s total number of approved clemency petitions up to 89. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton granted clemency to 61 offenders. There are still nearly 8,000 pending clemency petitions.

In a letter, Obama tells those given a second chance, “…it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change…but remember you have the capacity to make good choices.”

Neil Eggleston, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and criminal defense attorney, has more on Obama’s new push for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…federal sentencing practices can, in too many instances, lead nonviolent drug offenders to spend decades, if not life, in prison. Now, don’t get me wrong, many people are justly punished for causing harm and perpetuating violence in our communities. But, in some cases, the punishment required by law far exceeded the offense.

These unduly harsh sentences are one of the reasons the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system. Today, he is continuing this effort by granting clemency to 46 men and women, nearly all of whom would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today…

In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.

Obama will also become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he tours the El Reno prison in Oklahoma next week as part of a VICE special documentary for HBO on mass incarceration. The president, along with VICE founder Shane Smith, will tour the grounds and speak with prison staff, prisoners, and law enforcement officials. Here’s a clip from VICE’s announcement:

Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates convicted of violating federal law. It was home to Jason Hernandez, a prisoner convicted on drug charges who had his life sentence commuted by Obama in 2013.

The interviews will be part of a documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America’s approach to crime and imprisonment. The special is the latest in VICE’s ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.

“There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways,” Smith said. “Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one on one conversations with the men and women living this reality. It’s going to be fascinating.”

The President says he will also be discussing bipartisan-backed ideas for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia on Thursday. Stay tuned.


After nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system, the state will regain control in Folsom State Prison—the first from the federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso. Folsom is the first prison to be returned to state control.

Kelso says much progress has been made in Folsom and in other prisons, but U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson says federal oversight will only end after the state has had control of health care in all of its prisons for a full year.

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

“We’re pleased and ready to start taking back control of medical care,” corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in a statement. “We know that other CDCR prisons are ready to step up in the months ahead and we will continue collaborating with the Receiver’s Office to ensure inmates at all of our facilities receive appropriate health care.”

Don Specter, director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office that represents inmates in the lawsuit, said it’s good that care has improved at Folsom, but attorneys will continue monitoring.

“One of the things I’m most concerned about is whether the state has reformed its processes so that all the improvements that the receiver has made over the last 10 or so years are sustained,” Specter said.

Kelso reported in March that conditions statewide have substantially improved, though some prisons are doing better than others and more work remains to be done statewide.

Under the judge’s rules, Kelso could retake control of a transferred prison if conditions decline, but the goal is for the receiver to eventually monitor rather than run the health care system.


When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.

A California bill, which would ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties, will be heard California Senate Health Services Committee today (Tuesday), after passing out of the Assembly.

The bill, authored by CA Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), aims to fix a serious lack of collaboration between departments serving foster kids between counties.

In LA County, 17% of foster kids are in out-of-county and out-of-state placements, in comparison to Alameda and San Francisco—59% and 60% respectively.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

AB 1299, which was introduced by State Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), would require the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to create clear policies to guide the transfer of responsibility for mental health services to a child’s county of residence. The bill would also compel the Department of Finance to establish a system to ensure that counties are fully reimbursed for providing mental health services, during the fiscal year when the services are delivered, by May of 2016.

All California foster youth are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program. But under current law, when a foster youth moves to a different county, responsibility for providing mental health services—and any related funding—remains with the county of origin and its network of service providers

As a result, nearly 12,000 out-of-county foster youth—or about one in five of all youth in the state’s child welfare system—are routinely left in limbo, waiting for mental health services that often take months to begin.

A 2011 report from the state’s Child Welfare Council, which is responsible for improving collaboration among child-serving agencies, revealed disparities between children in and out of county who were receiving mental health services. An examination of the data for all 58 counties in California showed that out-of-county youth received fewer average days of mental health outpatient or day services when compared to children with in-county placements (2.3 days versus 2.9).

“Part of the issue is that the counties have been in control of the money up until this point, and the money has not been flowing as it needs to when these kids are moving from one county to another,” said Khaim Morton, chief of staff for Ridley-Thomas. “We want to get to the point where we can collaborate and reach a compromise that will enable more of the money to reach these kids and more swiftly.”

California may once again find itself back in court as part of a class-action lawsuit if there isn’t an agreement soon, according to mental health advocate Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project.

“If there isn’t a solution by the end of the year, either through negotiations under the auspices of the Child Welfare Council or through the work being done in the legislature, a judge is going to have to step in to fix this, because letting this continue is completely unacceptable,” said Gardner.


In 2011, California prisoners went on the first of three major hunger strikes over prison conditions and excessive and punitive use of solitary confinement.

Real efforts toward curbing solitary in state prisons began in late 2012. Prison officials reviewed the cases of prisoners in solitary, and released a modest number of long-isolated inmates back into the general population.

But the process has been slow and hard-fought.

In June, six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on California’s efforts toward limiting the use of solitary confinement. Here’s how it opens:

Even as it prepares for a courtroom showdown over the use of prolonged solitary confinement to keep order in its prisons, California has adopted emergency rules to dial down such isolation.

Inmates may no longer be put in isolation for refusing a cell assignment, for example, one of several prison infractions for which solitary confinement punishment has been reduced or dropped. And those being disciplined with segregation can cut that punishment in half with good behavior.

“This is part of an ongoing evolution in how we manage inmates in segregation,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. “There will be more changes.”

The new rules went into effect last month, ahead of public hearings scheduled for August. They come atop other changes that have cut the count of California prisoners held in near-constant lockdown from more than 9,800 in early 2014 to just under 8,700 last month.

The revisions also have been made amid an escalating debate over solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, of which California has the largest share.

Advocates for inmates are preparing to release research by a prominent corrections psychiatrist describing a malady he calls “SHU Post-Release Syndrome,” a reference to the Security Housing Unit, California’s name for long-term solitary confinement.

The study documents some of the same psychiatric effects raised last month by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in an unusual opinion in a California death penalty case. He essentially invited a constitutional challenge to long-term isolation and the “terrible price” it extracts.

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, mental health, Obama, prison, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds | No Comments »

Finding the Child Welfare Czar….”Overcorrected, Overdirected, and Overpunished” Kids…Dylan Roof and CA Prison Segregation…and More

July 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to interview two candidates to lead the Office of Child Protection, an entity recommended by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart much-needed reform efforts in the county child welfare system.

The Supes are slated to interview two more candidates today (Thursday), and could possibly issue their final decision today, as well.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, is reportedly among those being considered for the position.

Holden Slattery has more on the issue in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, who the board appointed as interim director of the office in February, is a candidate for the position, according to Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, which was one of 17 foundations to endorse the BRC recommendations in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s been a robust process. There are outside candidates,” Garen said. “I do believe that Fesia [Davenport] is a candidate and that her performance to date has been remarkable.”

Garen said she has no knowledge about the other candidates and, due to that, she does not know whether Davenport is the best candidate for the job.

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was the most prominent recommendation to emerge from the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon on Child Protection’s (BRC) December 2013 interim recommendations and again in its final report in April.

“I hope that the OCP director who the board ultimately hires is a person that is imbued with many of the traits that the child protection commission envisioned initially,” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with implementing the BRC recommendations, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A strong leader with experience in child welfare who is collaborative and imaginative, and not afraid to stand up to the existing institutions.”


Katherine Reynolds Lewis has an excellent longread for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine about psychologist Ross Greene’s game-changing discipline methods of teaching kids problem-solving skills instead of employing the now largely discredited punishment-reward system developed by B.F. Skinner in the mid-20th century.

The idea is that, punishing children who are acting out, and who are often called “challenging,” only exacerbates kids’ underlying problems and helps to push them through the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids brains have not developed enough to have control over their behavior and emotions, so punishing them, instead of helping them understand the “why” behind their behavior, is extremely counterproductive, according to Greene’s theory.

Here are some clips:

…consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

Schools and juvenile detention centers are starting to pick up Greene’s methods and are experiencing complete behavior turnarounds:

In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene’s workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about “that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach.” It wasn’t hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek’s one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. “The senior staff that resisted us the most,” Bouffard told me, “would come back to me and say, ‘I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.’”

Read on…


In an essay for the Marshall Project, James Kilgore, who spent the majority of a six-and-a-half year prison term in California facilities, considers how Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof might be received at a CA prison where inmates have been racially segregated for decades.

Kilgore calls for national dialogue on white supremacy in prisons and urges lawmakers and corrections officials to put an end to their “complicity in reproducing hatred and division” through racially segregated detention facilities.

Here’s a clip:

He would certainly find instant camaraderie with the Peckerwoods, the Skinheads, the Dirty White Boys, the Nazi Low Riders. His admirers, men with handles like Bullet, Beast, Pitbull, and Ghost, would vow to live up to Roof’s example, either by wreaking havoc when they hit the streets or maybe even the very next day in the yard.

Roof’s newfound fan club would be ready to provide him with prison perks — extra Top Ramen, jars of coffee, a bar of Irish Spring. The guards, many with their own Roofish sympathies, would cut him some slack — an extra roll of toilet paper here, a few illicit minutes on the telephone there. If Roof were so inclined, the guards might turn a blind eye to his indulgence in illegal substances, from tobacco to papers of heroin to the carceral Mad Dog 20/20 known as “pruno.”

If Roof played by the convict code, he might quickly rise in the ranks of the white-power structure in the prison yard. Maybe after a few years, he would earn the status of “shot caller,” the highest rank within the racial groups. Then he could order hits on young white boys who defiled the race by playing a game of chess with a black man or offering a Latino a sip of his soda. Like all his white comrades, Roof would use the white showers, the white phones, the white pull-up bars. The yard might spark visions of a segregated utopia for Dylann, a wonderland where everyone was in their right place — separate and unequal.

But white supremacists in prison also live in a world of racial enemies. Fueled by paranoia and buttressed by complicit guards and administrators, Roof would be the target of personalized vengeance attacks. Just like on the streets, he would be constantly looking over his shoulder to fend off real and imagined enemies. In particular, he would realize that in a prison yard, there are plenty of black lifers who have nothing to lose and the muscle power to break him in half, like a dry stick. A warrior who took down Roof would get a hero’s welcome in the torturous isolation blocks at Pelican Bay or Corcoran. All this tension would no doubt make Roof a little uneasy, perhaps force him to remain “suited and booted,” armed with a razor blade in his mouth or a sharpened shank up his rectum.

But even with danger all around him, Roof might find solace in the fact that the prison authorities would not assign any whites and blacks to share a cell and would enable the segregation of day rooms and exercise spaces. This would be a refreshing change of pace for Roof.


The parents of a 19-year-old robbery suspect, Rashad Davis, fatally beaten in his jail cell in May, want answers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department about why their son was assigned to a cell shared by a mentally unstable cellmate accused of beating a man to death with a baseball bat.

The SB Sheriff’s Dept. has not indicated whether or not Davis was housed with 22-year-old Jeremiah Ajani Bell due to a breakdown in screening protocol, but the department has recently been the subject of several scandals and investigations, including alleged excessive use of force and inadequate mental health treatment for inmates.

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

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, race, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

CA Cuts Prison Guard Training Time, a San Quentin Lawsuit, Graduating LA Foster Students Honored, and an Award for “Drugging Our Kids”

June 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Through an agreement between California Correctional Peace Officers Association and Gov. Jerry Brown, the training academy for California prison guards will be shortened from 16 weeks to 12 weeks starting in July.

The shortened training will allow for the CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation to graduate an additional class of around 250 each year, to help the department reach its three-year goal of hiring 7,000 new prison guards.

Some classes will be cut and some will be merged to account for the lost four weeks.

Concerned about their already maligned profession, CCPOA agreed to the shorter training on the condition that a training standards oversight commission be relaunched and funded.

The Sacramento Bee’s Jon Oritz has more on the issue. Here are some a clips:

CCPOA under founding President Don Novey, for years fought for a 16-week academy as part of an agenda to elevate the professionalism and safety of front-line prison staff. Part of the calculus was money: The more training and expertise required for the job, the stronger the argument for higher compensation.

So the union was well-positioned in the 1980s when lock-’em-up laws in California sparked a boom in prison construction and a demand for officers to staff those facilities. By the early 2000s, the confluence of politics and policy made California’s prison officers among the highest-paid in the nation.

Today, California state correctional officers earn from $3,172 per month at entry level to $6,644 per month for the most senior employees. The figures do not include officers’ overtime, which has climbed as the state has run short of staff.

Over the last several years, however, court orders to cut the state’s prison population and a shift to incarcerating more offenders in local jails reduced the number of inmates in state prisons. The state also shut down its cadet academy in Galt, effectively choking off the pipeline of new employees to replace hundreds who retired each month. Overtime among prison officers soared.


The union agreed to the shorter academy in exchange for reviving and reconstituting the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which lost funding during the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration.

The new six-member board will be comprised of three seats appointed by the governor and three rank-and-file seats. Before the board went dormant, the department appointed three members and the governor appointed three – essentially making the panel an extension of the executive branch.


Six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates, who are classified as gang-affiliated, are held between 21-24 hours per day, receive three showers per week, and say they don’t get enough sleep they are subjected to frequent suicide checks.

Courthouse News Service’s Nick Cahill has more on the issue, including the controversial gang-affiliation designation. Here’s a clip:

All are classified “Grade B” prisoners, subjecting them to “stark and cruel deprivations,” including 21 to 24 hours per day in their cell, just three showers per week and lack of sleep due to constant suicide checks by jailers.

Lopez claims that all condemned prisoners deemed to have gang affiliations are classified Grade B, whether they were in a gang or not. He claims the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violates their constitutional rights by making them Grade B prisoners though they have not participated in gang activity at San Quentin.

“The condemned unit has no process or quality control measures for assessing whether plaintiffs and the class remain active participants in prison gangs,” the complaint states. “As a result, plaintiffs and the class are often assessed as having gang allegiances because of their ethnicity and the region in which they grew up.”

Though prison regulations require review of Grade B classification every 90 days, Lopez calls it a “meaningless and perfunctory process.” Though several plaintiffs have no disciplinary infractions at San Quentin, they are subjected to Class B restrictions anyway.


More than 170 high-achieving students in foster care received scholarships and were honored at the Walt Disney Concert Hall late last week. In California, only 58% of foster kids graduate high school. Beating the odds, all students honored graduated high school with a 2.8 or higher, and are heading off to college or a vocational school.

KPCC’s Rina Palta and Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery reported on the event and some of the incredible challenges overcome by the students honored.

Palta has the story of quadruplets who were shuffled around in foster care before reuniting and completing high school together. Here’s a clip:

“People definitely look down on us and think you’re not going to make it out of college and stuff – we’re going to end up in jail, we’re going to end up homeless,” said Bianca Lucci, the fraternal sister amongst the quadruplets. “But I believe that’s not true. As long as you have determination and you work hard in school, you’ll achieve your goals.”

The quadruplets are among 175 high-achieving foster children who were honored with scholarships at an event at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday.

They entered the foster care system after abuse and abandonment.

Madison Lucci remembers the exact moment — on Christmas Eve — when the police showed up to take the girls from their home, where they had been left alone.

“Christmas is supposed to be when you’re with your family,” she said. But that day, the sisters were split up and spent the next few years in and out of foster homes and group homes. In 2011, they all finally settled in Rancho Palos Verdes, where they all graduated from high school this month.

Slattery follows the story of Destinee Ballesteros, a straight A student with dreams of becoming Chief Supreme Court Justice whose life was turned upside down when she entered foster care. Here’s a clip:

Destinee was accepted into the competitive magnet program at AV Soar High School, located right on the Antelope Valley College campus in Los Angeles County, where she could challenge herself with college classes.

But during those high school years, her mother began using methamphetamines, which made her hallucinate, Destinee explained in a recent interview. Destinee’s mother would take her and her brother away from their home to escape from “unsafe people.”

“Even though we had a house, she thought it was unsafe,” Destinee said. “So we would bounce from hotels to shelters.” Destinee started missing school because she had no way to get there, and because caring for her younger brother became her top priority.

After a hotel clerk called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), a social worker determined that the two siblings had been neglected. Destinee and her brother entered foster care, and Destinee was transferred to a different school. There, during her junior year, she got her first F.

“It [getting an F] was really hard,” Destinee said. “It really broke my heart, but then again, I realized that sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to appreciate the success.”


San Jose Mercury reporter Karen de Sá and photojournalist Dai Sugano have won a well-deserved Edward R. Murrow Award for the country’s best news documentary video by a large online organization, for their series “Drugging Our Kids,”—a powerful investigation into the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

De Sá and Sugano’s five-part series (which won three other national awards) sparked important legislative change and reforms. Read the series and watch the documentary: here.

Posted in CCPOA, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, prison policy, solitary | 2 Comments »

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

March 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Barton said the incidents keep piling up:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

The apartment functions as a prison without bars.

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

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

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

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

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

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