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
MEET CA’S NEW REFORM-MINDED CORRECTIONS CHIEF, SCOTT KERNAN
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.
LA SUPES VOTE YES ON AMBITIOUS NEW HOMELESSNESS PLAN
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.
TWO MORE LA TIMES OPINIONS WE DIDN’T WANT YOU TO MISS: BACA AND BECK
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.