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Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for Sheriff

April 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS

In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.

Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.

Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:

California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.

When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.

But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.

Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.

“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.

Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.

Even the laundry became a battleground.

Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.

Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.

“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”

But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.

Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.

“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”

The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.

Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.

The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.


MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY

On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:

“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…

[SNIP]

According to the report:

• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;

• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;

• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;

• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”

“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.

But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”

“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.

He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.

Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.

He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.

On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.

Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.

An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.


FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)

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

[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.

The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.

Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.

Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.

Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.

The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.

Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.

[SNIP]

Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.

He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.


LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:

[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.

Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.

The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.

Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.

The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”

He’ll have to live up to that…

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, LASD, Mental Illness, prison policy, solitary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

LA Foster Girls Get Ready for Prom with Help from Glamour Gowns, California Leasing More Private Prison Space, Enforcing PREA, and Children of Re-entry

April 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CASA’S GLAMOUR GOWNS GIVES LOS ANGELES GIRLS IN FOSTER CARE THE FULL PROM TREATMENT

Glamour Gowns, an event organized by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Los Angeles, pulls out all the stops to help girls in foster care get ready for prom. The girls get to “shop” for a brand new prom dress, shoes and accessories—all brand name items donated by sponsors—for the big night. They are assigned their own personal shopper, a seamstress to tailer their dress, and industry professionals to do their hair and makeup.

For 10 years, CASA has used Glamour Gowns as a way to help foster kids feel important, and to give them a special prom experience that might not have been possible otherwise. So far, Glamour Gowns has provided over 5000 dresses to teenage girls in foster care, and are aiming for 500 more in 2014.

Neon Tommy’s Janelle Cabuco has more on the event. Here are some clips:

Each year, organizers and volunteers aim to make each participant feel like a princess as they go through the dress selection process.

“We are really giving girls in foster care the gift of the prom experience, which is a rite of passage in American culture,” said Dilys Tosteson Garcia, the executive director of CASA Los Angeles. “They get to remember that they are beautiful, that they look beautiful, that we value them, and that the world values them.”

When this event first started, Glamour Gowns provided girls with gently-used garments, but with the help of partners – such as David’s Bridal, Jenette Bras, and Chinese Laundry, to name a few – everything that is now provided is brand new.

“All the dresses, jewelry, makeup, shoes and handbags are donated by sponsors,” said Garcia.

“We have folks from the hair and makeup arena who donate their time to be here today to help the girls come up with a makeup scheme that works with their look. We also have seamstresses that volunteer to do the alterations so when the girls walk out today their dress is ready to go.”

Glamour Gowns started in a conference room as a pretty small event. Once it outgrew the conference room, it moved to a children’s court cafeteria, and then moved into community churches. In more recent years, Glamour Gowns has held their yearly event at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where they have been provided a space free of charge. Since their costs are minimal, those who work with Glamour Gowns are able to help hundreds of girls rather than just a few dozen.

[SNIP]

In the last decade, Glamour Gowns has provided more than 5,000 dresses to young women in the foster care system. Last year, Glamour Gowns helped about 300 girls find outfits for their prom; this year, volunteers expected to help over 500 girls create lasting memories.


ANOTHER CALIFORNIA FOR-PROFIT PRISON DEAL

On Tuesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation signed an agreement lease more private prison space through GEO Group, to the tune of $9 million a year for 260 women (with options to expand). The McFarland Community Reentry Facility is located north of Bakersfield, and will begin housing the female inmates by this fall.

The LA Times Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

The four-year contract for the McFarland Community Reentry Facility will house women serving the final portion of their prison terms. The Florida-based prison operator said in a statement to investors Tuesday that it expects to begin accepting inmates by this fall, and that the contract allows occupancy to be doubled within the year. GEO already has contracts to house 2,000 male prisoners in McFarland and Adelanto.

One out of 10 California inmates is serving time in a leased or private prison as the state grapples with federal court orders to reduce crowding in its own institutions. Women’s prisons are the most cramped: The Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla is listed at 182% capacity in last week’s state prison census report, with 1,600 prisoners more than it was intended to hold.

In a report to the Legislature on Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration said it was 500 inmates over judges’ interim goal of reducing crowding statewide by June to 143%. The administration has yet to roll out elderly and expanded medical parole programs the judges had also ordered to ease crowding.

(In the above Public Policy Institute of California video, Joe Hayes, a PPIC research associate, provides a quick status update on the state corrections system—incarceration rates, realignment, etc.)


STATES COMING INTO COMPLIANCE (OR NOT) WITH THE PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION ACT, AND WHY IT MATTERS

In 2003, a federal law called the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), was passed. It took a commission almost ten years to decide (and agree upon) a set of “zero-tolerance” standards to eliminate rape in state and federal prisons. Now, the DOJ is enforcing compliance.

If the states don’t pass an audit, or choose to forego it (looking at you, Texas), they will forfeit 5% of their federal prison funding. But even more important than the funding, is if a sexually abused inmate brings a lawsuit against a state, non-compliance with PREA may be viewed as deliberate indifference.

NPR’s Laura Sullivan has more on the complications of implementation, and how states are responding. for All Things Considered. Here’s a clip from the accompanying piece (but do go listen to the short segment):

All states have to put the new standards into place, including things like training staff to stop sexual assaults and report them properly, and providing victims with rape kits and counseling. Then states have to pass an audit. If they don’t pass, or don’t want to go through the audit, they will lose 5 percent of their federal prison grant funding.

“What we are hearing from the field is, this is challenging, it’s difficult to put this policy into action. But it is absolutely the right thing to do,” Leary says.

This 5 percent of grant funding isn’t much for many states. Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said his state will not adopt the standards, calling them “ill-conceived.” Most other states seem to be getting on board, though.

Experts say the real power of the law is in liability. If an inmate is raped repeatedly in a facility in a state that has refused to adopt national standards, that could look an awful lot like deliberate indifference to a jury in a civil lawsuit.

Plus, there appears to be a problem. At least 4 percent of adult inmates reported being victimized in 2012, according to the Justice Department. In juvenile facilities, one in 10 kids reported being raped, sexually assaulted or victimized in the preceding year — and 80 percent of those kids said they were victimized by staff.

“The audit process is an audit of your culture,” says Steven Jett, who runs the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center. “It’s not a policy audit.”

Last month the Detention Center became the first facility in the country to pass a PREA audit.

“I could have said, ‘We don’t need it here. We don’t have any incidents like that.’ I could have taken that attitude,” Jett says. “But it is best practices that we don’t let our inmates or our residents in our facilities be abused sexually or any other way.”


SIDE-EFFECTS OF PRISON AND RE-ENTRY ON KIDS WITH LOCKED-UP PARENTS

Over the last two years New American Media has offered a glimpse into the lives of kids and adults with incarcerated parents through a series of videos called “Children of Re-entry.”

Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) held a forum in March to examine how the criminal justice system affects the families of California’s incarcerated, especially their kids—these “Children of Re-entry.” Leno’s forum was sponsored by the California Homeless Youth Project of the California Research Bureau and the California Council on Youth Relations (a project of New America Media).

Here’s a clip from New American Media’s Anna Challet’s reporting on Sen. Leno’s forum:

On March 5, Senator Mark Leno convened a discussion on the impacts of post-incarceration release on children and families. The event, “Children of Re-entry: A Media Showcase & Policy Forum,” was sponsored by the California Homeless Youth Project, California Research Bureau, California Council on Youth Relations and New America Media. Nationwide, over 2 million children have a parent in prison or jail, and over 7 million have a parent on parole or probation.

Leno cited Attorney General Eric Holder’s work at the national level to end mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders. Law enforcement leaders who have been tough on crime, he said, are now realizing that the funding going to excessive incarceration is not money well spent, especially without reentry services that prevent recidivism.

In California, it costs about $50,000 a year to incarcerate one inmate. And in addition to state spending, advocates made clear that children have had to pay a huge price.

Nell Bernstein of the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership said, “If we collectively don’t take responsibility … in whether or not we prepare people for reentry and in what barriers we do or don’t place in front of them … it falls to the kids.”

She points to “post-prison punishments,” such as laws that prohibit people with drug convictions from accessing public housing.

Leno agrees. “We scratch our heads and wonder [why we have] a 65 percent recidivism rate when we’re setting people up for an obvious opportunity to fail,” he said.

Bernstein says that the key variable is whether or not those released have family support. “The single greatest predictor of successful reentry is an ongoing connection with one’s family during incarceration,” she said. “If we do start supporting family connections, we’ll see success on a system level and on a family level.”

This story is from late last month, but we didn’t want you to miss New American Media’s “Children of Re-entry” series (we’ll be keeping an eye on it in the future).

Posted in CDCR, Foster Care, prison, Reentry | No Comments »

CDCR to Hire Staff to Speed Up Internal Investigations, Sen. Leland Yee Update, Baca’s Q&A with Loyola Marymount Students, and Todd Rogers’ “Reno 911!” Ads

March 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR TO HIRE MORE EMPLOYEES TO INVESTIGATE PRISON STAFF MISCONDUCT CASES

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will be hiring more employees to the Office of Internal Affairs to help expedite prison staff misconduct investigations, according to CDCR spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. Among other changes, the CDCR will also require wardens to refer cases of alleged misconduct to the OIA within 45 days.

The reforms come in the wake of a lengthy 341-page semi-annual report by the California Office of the Inspector General highlighting issues within the prison system.

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

The changes come as a state inspector general released a two-volume, 341-page report criticizing the department for often failing to meet interim deadlines for investigating and disciplining cases of employee wrongdoing, including smuggling of cellphones and drugs, and having sexual contact with inmates. The report covers incidents between July and December 2013.

Hoffman said the department is drafting a new policy requiring wardens to refer cases for investigation within 45 days, fixing what the inspector general called “a heretofore neglected policy gap.” She could not immediately say how many more employees will be hired to fill vacant positions in the department’s Office of Internal Affairs to help reduce backlogs and delays.

She and the inspector general said their disagreement on the department’s handling of employee dishonesty cases involves a small but significant proportion of all allegations against employees. The department agreed to have supervisors review dishonesty allegations if there is a dispute with the inspector general’s office over whether formal disciplinary charges should be filed.


MORE ON THE BIZARRE LELAND YEE CORRUPTION CASE

If you missed it on Wednesday, California Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was arrested in an FBI corruption sting for alleged gun trafficking in exchange for donations to his campaign for California Secretary of State.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has a roundup of eight of the weirdest things in the affidavit against Yee, his associate Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and twenty-four others picked up in the sting. Here are the first four highlights:

Yee allegedly offers to connect the FBI’s undercover operative (who claims to be in an East Coast mafia family) with a weapons dealer. The dealer claimed to have contact with Muslim dissidents in the Philippines who can sell $2 million worth of that country’s military weapons, including shoulder-mounted missile launchers. Yee’s response: “Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money.”

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow claims to be the “Dragonhead” of Chee King Tong, described as a fraternal organization that fronts for an organized crime group in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the affidavit says. Chow tells the FBI’s undercover operative that he can approve killings by group members. He’s also identified as a top player in an international organized crime group known as a triad.

Ex-con Chow and Yee’s campaign consultant Keith Jackson allegedly arranged to have a state Senate proclamation presented to Chow’s group. The cost? Just $6,800 in donations to one of Yee’s campaign committees. The ex-fugitive Chow also wanted to pay Yee to use his influence to have his bracelet monitor removed.

Yee allegedly confesses to the FBI’s undercover fake mafioso that he is unhappy in his life as a high ranking California politician, and that, at age 65, he just wants to run off and hide in the Philippines. Yee to undercover agent: “There is a part of me that wants to be just like you…Just be a free agent out there.”

Yee pulled out of the Secretary of State race, but had not yet stepped down from the Senate, as of Thursday night. His colleagues at the capitol are urging Yee to do so of his own volition, but are also preparing to vote, likely today (Friday), to suspend him with pay.

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Melanie Mason have more on the Yee scandal and its implications in Sacramento. Here’s a clip:

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has called for a Friday vote to sideline the San Francisco Democrat — with pay — if he does not leave voluntarily, action supported by the leader of the Republican minority.

Yee, arrested by the FBI in a criminal sting operation that also ensnared a notorious Bay Area gangster known as “Shrimp Boy,” abruptly ended his campaign to become California’s secretary of state in this year’s elections. But as of late Thursday, he had not quit the Senate.

“Leave,” Steinberg had said in an open plea to Yee at a news conference Wednesday. “Don’t burden your colleagues and this great institution with your troubles. Leave.”


BACA DISCUSSES HIS TIME AS HEAD OF THE LASD, IN RETROSPECT, AND THE CURRENT SHERIFF’S RACE WITH LOYOLA MARYMOUNT STUDENTS

Not one for the spotlight since he announced his retirement in January, former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca spoke with students in a rare Q&A session at Loyola Marymount about his 15 years as sheriff, and what he would do differently in hindsight.

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

“What I’d do differently is … manage more,” said Baca, looking relaxed during the two-hour question-and-answer session.

The former sheriff said he’s also coming to terms with criticism over his leadership of the department, which has been mired in various scandals including an FBI investigation into inmate abuse.

“You won’t hear anyone giving me credit for much of anything, which is OK,” he said. “Did I give it my heart and soul? I didn’t leave much space for anything else but the Sheriff’s Department.”

Baca said when he looks back, he realizes he spread himself too thin and should have focused more on the inner workings of the department. Baca was known for his community outreach as well as his frequent trips abroad for various cultural and law enforcement events.

“It’s amazing how hindsight is always clearer than foresight. I think what I can be clearly faulted for is I tried to do all things for all people. That’s asking for the impossible,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the public doesn’t come first. It just means that your time comes first.”

One student asked Baca if he would have stayed on “if the scandals were not front page news.”

Baca, 71, blamed his age instead, saying that being sheriff “is definitely a younger man’s type of work.”

“People who were political professionals” told him he would have been the front-runner, but that the campaign was going to be tough. “I decided to say this is one for the future. I’m not the future,” he said.


“RENO 911!” CAST REUNITES IN ADS FOR LOS ANGELES SHERIFF CONTENDER TODD ROGERS’ CAMPAIGN

On Thursday, all but one cast member from the comedy television show “Reno 911!” reunited to film ads for sheriff candidate Todd Rogers’ campaign.

The Daily Breeze’s Beatriz Valenzuela has the story.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Todd Rodgers’ Reno 911 campaign moment was definitely our favorite elections news of the week. In the midst of all that is at stake with this sheriff’s race, it’s nice to be able to take a break for a well-costumed injection of law enforcement humor.

Posted in CDCR, environment, prison, Sheriff Lee Baca | 39 Comments »

Influx of Second-Strikers in CA Prisons, Smarter Sentencing & Recidivism Reduction Bills, Investigating Alleged DOJ Misconduct…and More

March 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRISON ADMISSION NUMBERS FOR SECOND STRIKERS JUMPED 33% LAST YEAR

In 2012, California amended the “Three Strikes” law to only trigger a sentence of 25-to-life if a person’s third strike was categorized as a violent or serious felony. As of September 2013, over 1000 third-strikers were freed, and more than 2000 were still awaiting approval for resentencing. But another part of the “Three Strikes” law pertains to those with two strikes, and doubles a person’s sentence if the second strike follows a serious or violent first strike.

According to state prison officials, 5,492 people went to prison on second-strike convictions during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, a jump of 33% over the previous year.

This sudden increase may prove problematic as Gov. Jerry Brown works to lower the prison population to the federal judge-ordered level.

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

Enacted in 1994, the Three Strikes law did two big things. The first is that for anyone who has committed two previous serious or violent felonies, it increased the penalty for any third felony to 25 years to life in prison. And for “second strikers” — anyone who commits any felony after previously committing a serious or violent felony — their sentence was automatically doubled.

Third strikers have gotten a lot of attention since the law passed, like the story of the L.A. man sent to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza (from a group of children, to be fair). A judge later reduced his sentence, and he spent about six years in prison, but the “pizza thief” remained an emblem of a movement to reform Three Strikes. Which California voters eventually decided to do in 2012 with Proposition 36, which required a third strike be a serious or violent felony, not a lower-level crime like drug possession — or pizza theft.

The lesser-publicized second strike rule, however, hasn’t changed. And now state officials worry the proliferation of second strikers is making it difficult for California to lower its prison population enough to meet court-ordered levels.

[SNIP]

The approximately 35,000 second strikers, with their lengthy prison terms, are proving a major obstacle. About 24,000 of them are in prison on a non-violent second-strike offense.

“We’re certainly concerned that if this trend in increased admissions continues, it is going to make it harder for the state to comply,” said Aaron Edwards, senior analyst at the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. “The state will have to figure out some kind of way to accommodate them.”

That means either finding a facility for them, or figuring out a way to cut admissions, Edwards said. And cutting admissions likely means figuring out why the population has increased in the first place.

(In his proposed 2014 budget, Gov. Brown did help non-violent second-strikers by increasing their ability to reduce their sentences with good-time credits from 20% to over 30%, in addition to credits for completing rehabilitation programs.)


TWO MEANINGFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILLS MAY HAVE A CHANCE AT MAKING IT THROUGH CONGRESS

According to a NY Times editorial two good and important bipartisan criminal justice reform bills may actually have a chance of making it past Congress, where nearly all bills “go to die.”

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.

Here’s how the NYT editorial opens:

Two bipartisan bills now under consideration aim to unwind our decades-long mass incarceration binge and to keep it from happening again. This fact is remarkable not only because of Congress’s stubborn standstill, but because crime and punishment has long been one of the most combustible issues in American politics.

And yet the depth of the crisis in the federal system alone has been clear for years. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws have overstuffed prisons with tens of thousands of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders serving excessively long sentences. Federal prisons now hold more than 215,000 inmates, almost half of whom are in for drug crimes. Many come out more likely to reoffend than they were when they went in, because of the lack of any meaningful rehabilitation programs inside prison and the formidable obstacles to employment, housing and drug treatment that they face upon release.

The proposed legislation would address both the front and back ends of this problem.

The Smarter Sentencing Act — introduced in the Senate last year by Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, the Utah Republican — would halve mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes, which currently stand at five, 10 and 20 years. It would also give judges more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some cases, and it would provide a chance at early release for thousands of inmates sentenced under an older law that disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders.

The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs.


ALLEGED DOJ MISCONDUCT ONLY RECEIVES INTERNAL INVESTIGATION, BILL WOULD GIVE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL JURISDICTION

Between 2002-2013 650 instances of Department of Justice misconduct (by federal prosecutors and other DOJ officials) were documented, according to a new report by the Project on Government Oversight, but very little information about the misconduct is ever released to the public.

Currently, the Dept. of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) handles all investigations of alleged DOJ misconduct.The process is entirely self-contained: the OPR answers directly to the head of the DOJ—the Attorney General.

A bill introduced late last week by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would remove the conflict of interest and grant the Office of the Inspector General, an independent entity, complete jurisdiction over DOJ misconduct investigations.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Lee’s website:

The Inspector General Empowerment Act would eliminate a problem in the law that requires allegations of attorney misconduct at DOJ to be investigated by an agency that reports directly to the Attorney General rather than the autonomous Office of the Inspector General. The bill would remove this obvious conflict of interest and grant the OIG complete jurisdiction throughout the department. Senators Grassley and Murkowski are also original cosponsors.

“The rules that apply to inspectors general in other federal agencies should apply at the Department of Justice,” said Senator Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Current law invites undue influence from the Attorney General’s office into the process and should be changed to ensure the integrity of investigations of misconduct within the Justice Department.”

Here’s what Sen. Lee’s announcement says about the misconduct report:

A report just released by the Project on Government Oversight revealed that the Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency overseen by the Attorney General, documented more than 650 instances of misconduct, yet details on if and how these cases were handled are not available to the public.

For example, a 2013 report from USA Today revealed that complaints from two federal judges who said Justice Department lawyers had misled them about the extent of the NSA surveillance program were never investigated. Had the OIG been in charge, it could have investigated these complaints without conflict of interest and the results of their report would have been made available without requiring a Freedom of Information Act request.

And here’s why Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she’s supporting the bill:

“When Americans pledge to abide by ’Liberty and Justice for all,’ that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions – it means everyone that in America everyone is held equally accountable,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.


AND SPEAKING OF QUESTIONABLE FEDERAL CONDUCT

Earlier this month, on This American Life, Boston Magazine reporter Susan Zalkind told the baffling story of Ibragim Todashev, a man loosely connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. In May 2013, Todashev was was shot seven times in his living room after attacking agents at the end of a five-hour FBI questioning about a triple murder in 2011.

The FBI says that Todashev verbally confessed to the crime and implicated Tsarnaev as his accomplice, but there is no signed confession. The FBI has been silent about the incident, except to say that it is being investigated. But nine months after the fact, as questions and theories multipy, there is still no word from the FBI. Go take a listen.


DON’T FORGET: LIVE STREAM PROGRAM ABOUT CREATING RESILIENCE IN TRAUMA-PLAGUED COMMUNITIES

On Friday, we alerted you to a California Endowment event (“Health Happens with Everyday Courage”) that will explore ways to build up community and individual resilience to trauma and stress.

The program is today (March 17) at 1p.m., and can be watched via live-stream, but you need to SIGN UP – here.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma | No Comments »

Program Helps Kids in CA Lockup Repay Victims While Learning a Trade…LASD to Propose Early Release Risk Assessment Program…Sheriff Candidate Updates…and More

March 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM IN CALIFORNIA YOUTH FACILITY ALLOWS KIDS TO LEARN TECH INDUSTRY WHILE EARNING MONEY AND PAYING BACK VICTIMS

Through a tech business program called Merit Partners operating in a California juvenile facility, kids receive training and experience in the tech industry while repaying victims. The program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility gives kids a way to take responsibility for their crimes, and becomes a healing process for many young participants.

Workers earn $8.00 an hour recycling and reselling electronics. Twenty percent of the money they earn goes into a victim fund, another portion to their own restitution fines. The rest goes into a savings account to help kids learn about personal finances and budgeting, and to help them get on their feet when they leave “Chad.”

Alice Daniel has the story for KQED’s California Report podcast. Here’s a small clip from the transcript:

Michael Casaglio introduces himself and some of his colleagues at Merit Partners, an environmentally certified electronic recycling business that’s located within the walls of the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. There’s floor leader Terrance Turner, upcoming floor leader Jordan Rutkes and IT tech Chandler Luce.

“Cables, wires, computers, laptops, computer chips, motherboards,” says Casaglio, as he reels off the types of electronic equipment they resell and recycle.

Merit Partners is the only operation of its kind in a California correctional facility. The incarcerated youth do most of the work; a small support staff trains them. The job pays $8 an hour and teaches valuable skills, Casaglio says.

It’s a far cry from his drug-dealing past. He spent his youth in and out of foster care; his own parents were addicts, he says. He smoked pot at age 9, used hard drugs at 11 and, at 15, held his gun to another dealer.

“And during the course of the robbery, somebody tried to prevent us from getting away, so I shot him five times,” says Casaglio, who has been at Chad five years.

The murder haunts him. “I took somebody’s grandparent away,” he says. “I took somebody’s husband, I took somebody’s dad, and there’s nothing I can do to repay or replace that.”

But he is giving back. Twenty percent of the money he and his peers earn goes directly to victims. The youth contribute to a local victims fund every year, and also compensate the people harmed by their crimes by paying restitution fines.

The compensation is mandatory, but 18-year-old Chandler Luce says he would donate some of his earnings to make up for his past, even if it were optional.

“You look in here, and this is a place full of people who caused harm to the world. And I was part of that,” he says.

(The clip doesn’t do it justice. Go listen to the whole story.)


LASD CONSIDERS NEW PROGRAM TO IDENTIFY LOW-RISK INMATES FOR EARLY RELEASE

The LA County Sheriff’s Department plans to propose (to the Board of Supervisors) a new system for selecting low-risk inmates for early release by predicting the likelihood of each inmate reoffending.

Currently, the state system looks only at the inmate’s last offense, and fails to take into account any previous offenses, even those of a serious nature. Critics (WLA included) have long thought that there should be a more nuanced form of risk assessment that looks at a variety of elements, rather than the broad strokes system that is presently in place.

It is therefore good news that interim Sheriff John Scott and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald want to try an inmate release strategy that they say will be more finely calibrated.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Jack Leonard have the story. Here’s a clip:

The proposal calls for a significant shift for the nation’s largest jail system, which currently determines when inmates get released by looking at the seriousness of their most recent offense and the percentage of their sentence they have already served. Officials say the current system has weaknesses because it does not take into account the inmate’s full record, including serious crimes that occurred years ago.

Supporters argue the change would help select inmates for early release who are less likely to commit new crimes. But it might also raise some eyebrows. An older offender convicted of a single serious crime, such as child molestation, might be labeled lower-risk than a younger inmate with numerous property and drug convictions.

The Sheriff’s Department is planning to present a proposal for a “risk-based” release system to the Board of Supervisors.

“That’s the smart way to do it,” interim Sheriff John L. Scott said. “I think the percentage [system] leaves a lot to be desired.”

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said at the center of the new system would be a computer program that uses each inmate’s criminal history to calculate the chance he or she will reoffend, and release those deemed lowest-risk first.

In addition to making release decisions, the tool could be used to assign inmates to education and treatment programs while in jail, and to decide which are eligible for alternatives to jail such as home confinement.

“It’s more sophisticated to look at risk,” she said. “It makes common sense to most people.”

The department could choose to override the automated risk scores for inmates convicted of certain crimes, but McDonald said it’s too early to say whether it would.

The Sheriff’s Department has not calculated the cost of the system but hopes to seek bids on the project soon if the Board of Supervisors approves.

(Read more about the proposed program, and how Riverside County is faring with its own version of early-release risk assessment.)


GETTING TO KNOW LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JAMES HELLMOLD

KPPC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of LA County Sheriff hopeful James Hellmold (currently an assistant sheriff) that’s worth reading. Here’s how it opens:

A few years ago, when James Hellmold commanded L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in the gang-riddled Lynwood area, he drew the ire of some colleagues.

“They had a legitimate question,” Hellmold recalled. “Why [was I] speaking at a gang member’s funeral?”

Hellmold attended the services for 25-year-old Branden Bullard, who’d been shot by rival gang members, to focus, he said, not on the “the negativity” in the young man’s life, but on the good things.

“In more recent days he had mentored some kids who were athletes, and trying to stay away from gangs.”

When the questions persisted from deputies, Hellmold challenged them.

“I asked them what they’ve done to help somebody else.”

Hellmold, 46, now one of four assistant sheriffs in the sprawling L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, seems just as interested in lending a hand to the needy as handcuffing criminals. Asked for a war story from the streets, he doesn’t talk about the time he shot an armed bank robber. He tells of taking foster kids to UCLA football games….

And as for the ongoing, controversial department issues, Hellmold says he is in favor of more civilian oversight, but denies the notion of “systemic misconduct” within the LASD:

“There have been some mistakes made, and there are some more reforms that need to occur,” Hellmold said. “But it is not true that there’s systemic misconduct happening.”

Hellmold once served as a personal assistant and driver for Baca. He owes his rise in the department in part to the retired sheriff and to another candidate, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. They groomed and promoted him. Baca and Tanaka also faced scathing criticism in a blue ribbon report for failing to stop abuses in the jails. But Hellmold remains reluctant to criticize them publicly.

“It’s very trendy right now to jump on the bandwagon of talking negative of Undersheriff Tanaka,” Hellmold said. “But we can’t deny some of the good things that he’s done for the department.”

Author Joe Domanick, who has written extensively on law enforcement in Los Angeles, wonders how much an insider like Hellmold can reform the agency.

“If he’s risen that high in the department, it’s a rare bird indeed who hasn’t been part of the problem,” said Domanick, adding that Hellmold likely wouldn’t have the big picture view of the department a candidate from outside the agency would bring.

“He’s part of that culture,” Domanick noted. “He’s trained to think, and act within the culture of that department.”


IN OTHER SHERIFF CANDIDATE NEWS: CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS THROWS HER SUPPORT BEHIND JIM MCDONNELL

Late last week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her endorsement of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the Los Angeles Sheriff race.

Here’s a small clip from AG Harris’ announcement:

“Chief Jim McDonnell is an excellent choice, and the best choice to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era,” Harris said. “McDonnell has the integrity, experience and professionalism necessary to protect public safety and earn the trust of the people of Los Angeles.”



FEDERAL ATTENTION ON STAFF RESPONSE TO SUICIDES BY MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Questionable handling of two successful suicide attempts by mentally ill inmates in California prisons has prompted internal investigations and caught the attention of U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (also on the three-judge panel enforcing California’s prison population reduction).

In both instances, guards would not allow medical staffers to enter the cell and attempt to intervene or revive the inmate.

Judge Karlton has held hearings on the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, and will address one of the two incidents in a court session today (Monday).

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

At 6:10 a.m. on Oct. 15, a medical technician handling the morning “pill pass” at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County spotted inmate David Scott Gillian hanging inside cell No. 164 from a bedsheet tied to an air vent.

“Gillian is hanging in his cell,” the tech called to a nearby guard, then rushed off to grab the “cut down scissors” and begin the process – mandatory under corrections department policy – of trying to revive the inmate through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to an internal department review of the incident.

Guards and medical staff converged at the cell door, according to the internal report. A sergeant and the medical technician entered the cell where Gillian was housed alone and found no pulse or signs of breathing.

“We need to cut him down, we need to do CPR,” the tech told the sergeant.

Instead, the sergeant refused, according to the review team report; he ordered the cell door closed and locked, even after a doctor and another medical staffer demanded they be allowed to perform CPR. Gillian, 52, would remain hanging for nearly four hours before he was cut down.

The confidential corrections department report, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, summarizes the findings of a suicide review team assigned to investigate Gillian’s death. All suicides in California state prisons are reviewed by a team of corrections officials. The report obtained by The Bee, based on the review team’s interviews with prison staff and inmates, chronicles events leading up to and following Gillian’s hanging.

Gillian’s death has sparked a series of internal investigations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In the review team report, corrections officials investigating the suicide express “several concerns” about the circumstances. Among the concerns cited: that prison guards prevented medical staffers from trying to revive Gillian; and that guards may not have made their regularly scheduled rounds that day, possibly causing a delay in discovering his suicide.

The incident is at least the second documented case in recent months of disputes between medical staffers and guards over when a cell door should be opened to provide emergency medical care and assistance to an inmate.

On Sept. 7, Joseph Duran, 35, an inmate at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County who suffered from mental illness, died hours after he was blasted in the face with pepper spray, according to an internal department review of that case. Duran had undergone a tracheotomy years before, and breathed through a hole in his throat. Agitated and coated with spray, he yanked out the tube he relied on for air, according to the review team report. Guards refused to intervene, despite repeated demands from medical staffers to allow them to enter his cell, decontaminate him and reinsert the tube, according to staff interviews contained in the internal report. Duran was found dead, alone in his cell, seven hours later.

That incident, laid out in a January story in The Bee, prompted U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton to reopen an evidentiary hearing in Sacramento federal court inquiring into the alleged use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates in California prisons.

[BIG SNIP]

The two cases come as the corrections department battles legal action on several fronts tied to medical and mental health care inside California’s 34 adult prisons. Last month, a three-judge court agreed to give California two more years to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, a benchmark designed to reduce the overcrowding that the court in 2009 found is the primary reason for subconstitutional levels of medical and mental health treatment for inmates.

Revelations about Duran’s death have complicated matters for the department in a separate inquiry: the hearing before Karlton involving use of force on mentally ill inmates. Attorneys representing the state’s mentally ill inmates did not learn of the circumstances of Duran’s death until they were contacted by The Bee in January, and they have accused the state of covering up his death and the fact that pepper spray was used. The hearing on use of pepper spray and discipline against mentally ill inmates began Oct. 1 and went into November in Karlton’s court in Sacramento, during the same period that corrections officials were reviewing Duran’s death.

Corrections officials deny they were suppressing the Duran incident, but Karlton ordered a hearing on use of force reopened and has scheduled a court session partially devoted to Duran’s death for Monday afternoon.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Mental Illness, prison, Reentry, Restorative Justice, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

More on the NY Mag Prisoner Hunger Strike Story, LASD Inspector General Wants Town Hall Meetings, a Rundown on Sheriff Candidates…and More

March 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR’S FRESH AIR: HOW CALIFORNIA’S LARGEST PRISON HUNGER STRIKE WAS COORDINATED

On Tuesday, we pointed to an NY Magazine story by Benjamin Wallace-Wells about how an unusual foursome of California prison gang leaders in solitary confinement coordinated a hunger strike over isolation conditions that more than 30,000 prisoners participated in.

NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross speaks with Wallace-Wells about the NY Mag article. Gross also talks with UC Santa Cruz professor of psychology Craig Haney, who has been studying the psychological effects of solitary for decades (and is cited in the NY Mag story).

Here’s a clip of the transcript (but definitely take a listen, especially if you missed the NY Mag piece):

Wallace-Wells: In 2006, prison officials at Pelican Bay reorganized the SHU; they reallocated the prisoners into different spots in the Security Housing Unit. They thought that the gangs had found ways to work even within these extremely isolated environments. Gang leaders ended up next to gang lieutenants and they wanted to break that up.

So what they did, effectively, was they took all the people who they thought were the most influential, of whom they were the most scared, and they put them all together in one small part of the SHU — it’s called the Short Corridor. The theory was you would separate the guys who were very heavily monitored … from the guys who had become accustomed to doing their bidding, the more junior players. One thing that this did, effectively, was it brought all of the most senior and most influential men in the prison system into physical proximity with one another …

Every cell in solitary is part of a pod of eight cells, and though the prisoners don’t see each other, they can shout to the people in those other seven cells. Also, prisoners are ingenious, and they have figured out how to shout through toilet drains in their own cell to people in other cells and nearby parts of the prison. They figured out how those drain networks go.

On how long it took for the strike leaders to come together:

Wallace-Wells: I think it took a long time. These four men who led the hunger strike — Todd Ashker, [allegedly] of the Aryan Brotherhood, had the initial idea; Sitawa Jamaa, who is allegedly from the Black Guerilla Family; and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly a senior leader of the Mexican Mafia; and Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of the three “generals” of Nuestra Familia — they were put together in basically the same space years ago, in 2006, and it took five years for them come together.

That was a long process. They were very wary around one another at first, but they are each in their own way political and both Ashker and Sitawa Jamaa in particular had been reading revolutionary texts for years. In their own way, each of them had come to see their fight as fundamentally with the system itself rather than fundamentally with each other.

They also are all about the same age. They’re now in their late 40s and early 50s and they had a ton of time in the pod and they had nothing to do but talk. So what they will say is that they first came together, they first developed some intimacy, not by talking about the abuses that they believed they were suffering and not by talking about gang politics, but by talking about their families. The kind of catalyst, after all, of that was Ashker and the other white inmate on the pod … had become a kind of revolutionary book club and they would talk about these books by shouting through the pod. The impact for Ashker was to kind of highlight that they were members of a prisoner class, that the racial divisions among them were artificial and had been coached along by the guards.


LASD IG MAX HUNTSMAN WANTS INPUT FROM COMMUNITY REGARDING DEPARTMENT ISSUES

Inspector General for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, says he wants to hold town hall meetings to give LA County residents a voice regarding the Sheriff’s Dept. matters. Hunstman, who was hired in December to provide oversight of the LASD, says he wants to build a stronger connection between the department and the community it serves.

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I view my job to be, in part, reaching out to the community and getting input from them over to the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll act as a buffer because there are certainly some people in the community who have very extreme views, and you can’t just vomit out that whole collection of thoughts on the Sheriff’s Department.”

Patrisse Cullors, who founded the community organization Dignity and Power Now after accusing deputies of assaulting her mentally ill brother in jail, believes town hall meetings are critical to restoring public trust. She even offered to help host and organize them.

“People who have been impacted by deputy violence are extremely angry,” she said. “They expect to get answers at these town hall meetings about what happened to their loved ones, who may have been beaten, shot, brutalized.”

American Civil Liberties Union legal director Peter Eliasberg said town hall meetings could indicate the seriousness of problems at the LASD.

“If people are coming in routinely angry, it doesn’t mean everything they say is true, but it’s a form of early warning.”

A Sheriff’s Department representative pointed out town hall meetings have been held at various stations for years. Those, however, suffered from a lack of public trust.

Huntsman wants his town hall meetings to create a bridge between the people and the LASD.

“It certainly has its limitations, but it’s very helpful,” he said. “I’d like to create something like that, because my job is to bring the community and the Sheriff’s Department together, try to get them to the same place as much as possible about what they want policing to look like.”


A GUIDE TO THE SEVEN LA SHERIFF HOPEFULS

WLA’s editor put together a comprehensive LA County Sheriff candidate rundown for LA Magazine. Here’s the intro:

In the March issue of Los Angeles, Celeste Fremon details the jaw-dropping details about the breakdown in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Sheriff Lee Baca. This June, L.A. County voters have an opportunity to cast their vote for a new sheriff and, hopefully, a new approach to policing within the LASD. You can’t complain if you don’t vote, but how to vote if you don’t know much about the candidates? Here, Fremon provides a rundown of each of the men who want to run the fourth largest police force in the country.


STATE BAR OF TEXAS TO INVESTIGATE PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT CLAIMS MADE BY EXONERATED DEATH ROW INMATE

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has a worthwhile story about Texas death row exoneree Anthony Graves, who is taking on the prosecutor in his case, after being wrongly imprisoned for 18 years (where he faced scheduled execution twice). Graves announced on Wednesday that the State Bar of Texas would be investigating the grievance he filed against Charles Sebesta, a former Burleson County district attorney.

Here’s a clip:

Graves was convicted in 1994 of killing a 45-year-old woman, her 16-year-old daughter and four grandchildren in a single stoplight town about 90 miles northwest of Houston in 1992. The victims were variously beaten, stabbed, strangled and shot.

The sole witness to the crime, Robert Carter, was also charged and initially implicated Graves, but later recanted.

Sebesta said he did not withhold a statement from Carter, and that it was the job of Graves’ attorney to question Carter more closely.

Both Carter and Graves were convicted. Carter was executed in 2000. Sebesta retired the same year.

Graves appealed. In 2006, his conviction was set aside by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the prosecutor not only withheld evidence that would have helped Graves, but that he also encouraged witnesses to commit perjury. Four years later, the new district attorney dismissed the charges and declared Graves innocent…

Graves’ attorney filed a grievance with the state bar against Sebesta in 2007, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, he said (Sebesta disputes this). This year, Texas lawmakers extended the deadline for filing.


Above photo courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Posted in CDCR, Innocence, LASD, solitary | 1 Comment »

After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Fighting Zero-Tolerance in a North Carolina County…Why States Turn to Private Prisons…Foster Kids’ Need for Consistent Education…and Disney Cuts $$ to Boy Scouts Citing Anti-Gay Policy

March 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“MISSION CRITICAL” DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS KIDS BEING PUSHED THROUGH THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

In the nationwide push to end the school to prison pipeline, many school districts are turning away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline practices (LAUSD included). Last week, President Obama launched an important initiative to keep kids of color in school and out of the justice system, but there is still much work to be done.

A new documentary produced by Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina) looks at the battle raging in Wake County, North Carolina, where 10% of kids were suspended during the 2011-12 year.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the documentary (which can be watched in its entirety in the above video). Here’s a clip:

The lawyers and staff of the organization bought a $200 camera and over 18 months shot raw interviews of parents and students who’ve been affected by the pipeline. After piecing it together, “Mission Critical: Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Wake County” was released last week at a community screening.

“We really wanted to humanize and personalize what really is a civil rights crisis in our community,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services and one of the film’s directors.

Wake County Public Schools has one the biggest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation, Langberg said. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district gave out 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions. The figure amounts to one suspension given for every 10 students, according to a report by Advocates for Children’s Services.


PRIVATE PRISONS: EXTRA SPACE FOR STATES WITH OVERCROWDING PROBLEMS, BUT IS IT WORTH IT?

For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America claim to save states money, but often have less than desirable track records, and employ lock-up quotas. (WLA previously pointed to CCA’s run-in with contempt of court in Idaho.)

Politico’s Matt Stroud takes a closer look at why states, including California, (and even the feds) enter into contract with private prisons. Here’s a clip:

In October, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison behemoth, onlookers might’ve wondered if he’d been following the news.

The same could be asked of Wall Street in general. Over the last five years, CCA’s stock price has increased by more than 200 percent and earlier this month Jim Cramer’s investment website The Street praised the company’s “strengths” on Wall Street, enthusiastically rating its stock a “buy.”

As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government. Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013, its most ever and more than a hundredfold increase since the company went public ten years ago.

But while privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea.

[BIG SNIP]

Yet companies such as CCA continue to get contracts—and Congress has been one of the industry’s benefactors. A 2009 change to the Department of Homeland Security’s federal spending bill requires officials to keep 34,000 people in federal immigration detention centers operated by private prison companies. The federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service all contract with private prison companies.

Again: Why?

Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.

Gilroy is director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to government problems and has also received financial support from both CCA and the GEO Group. He explains the lure of private prisons as a simple matter of cost and convenience: “It costs a lot of money to open a prison,” he says. “And to have it fully ready, you need a full contingent of staff, you need to set that staff up with health care, arrange for maintenance workers, provide food and utilities. And that’s a big order, particularly if you’re in a rush.” Private prisons can fill that rush order, he says.

A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California

(Read on.)

Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for CCA wrote a lengthy reply to Stroud’s Politico story. Owen says that Stroud only focused on the company’s problem areas, or “challenges,” and says there are many positive things CCA is doing for states and inmates. Here’s a clip:

The opinion writer opens his piece with ill-informed commentary about CCA’s relationship with California. In fact, there is perhaps no better example of the important role we can play in addressing corrections challenges. The difficulties the state has faced with overcrowded facilities are well documented, and for more than seven years, CCA has provided an important relief valve to help them manage their inmate population. Our facilities and professional staff have alleviated unsafe conditions and created opportunities for offenders to access a wide range of programs that prepare them to re-enter their communities once their time is served. The most recent iteration of our partnership is an innovative agreement that allows California to lease needed space from our company and staff the facility with public employees.

Additionally, the tools we are providing to help manage this difficult situation are being delivered at a significant cost savings. Overall, economists from Temple University, in an independent study receiving a partial grant from our industry, analyzed state government data and found companies like ours save 12 percent to 58 percent in long-term taxpayer costs.

The opinion piece moves on from California to cherry-pick stories of incidents that portray our company and industry through a lens that is not only incomplete but also often factually inaccurate and disingenuous. It is an unfortunate reality that no corrections system—public or private—is immune to challenges. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working each and every day to address concerns head on and learn from our mistakes, as we have recently in Idaho…

And here’s what Owen has to say about those pesky lock-up quotas:

I also want to address the issue of minimum-occupancy guarantees. Fewer than half of our contracts have them, and those that do contain explicit provisions allowing our government partners to terminate the agreement in a short period of time if the capacity is no longer needed. The idea that somehow our partners are locked into space they aren’t using is grounded more in politics than in fact…


FOSTER KIDS WHO REPEATEDLY CHANGE HOUSES AND SCHOOLS LOSE MONTHS OF EDUCATION, LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE

The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey has a worthwhile story about how frequent uprooting and instability in a foster kid’s life create significant gaps in learning and reduce their likelihood of graduating high school. Here are some clips (but do go read the rest):

When 12-year-old Jimmy Wayne’s parents dropped him off at a motel and drove away, he became the newest member of the North Carolina Foster Care system. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended 12 different schools.

“I don’t even remember what I learned—no, let me rephrase that—I don’t remember what they tried to teach me—after fifth grade,” he told me recently. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about science, I was thinking about what I was going to eat that day or where I could get clothes. When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

[SNIP]

Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster care children years behind their peers. Falling behind isn’t the only problem with frequent school moves: School transfers also decrease the chances a foster care student will ever graduate from high school.

[SNIP]

Kate Burdick, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Juvenile Law Center, shared the changes she’d make that would greatly improve the chances that children in foster care get the educational stability they need:

Schools must ensure school stability for children in foster care by requiring schools to be flexible around residency requirements in order to allow children to remain in the same school or district, and provide the supports to make that stability happen, such as reliable transportation and dedicated adult liaisons who can provide academic support.

Promote greater collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools in order to ensure that foster children’s particular educational needs are being met.

Collect tracking data on educational progress and outcomes, including attendance, school moves, enrollment delays and academic outcomes in order to reveal where policies and practices could be improved.

(For recent stories on the state of foster care in Los Angeles County, go here and here.)


DISNEY TO STOP GIVING MONEY TO BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OVER ANTI-GAY POLICY

The Walt Disney Company is cutting funding to the Boy Scouts of America starting in 2015 because of its policy banning gay scout leaders.

The AP has the story. Here’s a small clip:

The Boy Scouts organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect the organization’s ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.

[BIG SNIP]

The memo was posted on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that is critical of the Boy Scouts’ policy to ban adult gay troop leaders.

Last week corporate giants like Delta, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple threatened to move outside of Arizona if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto legislation that would have let businesses refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. (Bloomberg’s Thomas Black and Jennifer Oldham have that story.)

It’s heartening to see these two instances of corporate America standing up for LGBT equality.

Posted in CDCR, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LGBT, Obama, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and More

February 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES

The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”

[SNIP]

E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.

This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.

“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.

E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:

“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”

But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.

By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)


CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK

In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.

Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.

DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…

Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.


SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY

On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.

In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.

The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…

Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…

But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.


QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:

“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”

He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.

Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.

He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.

“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”

(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott | No Comments »

Potential Partnership Between LA County and Homeboy Industries…Supes Address Foster Care Commission Recommendations…ACLU Sues California for Disenfranchising Probationers…and More

February 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES TO EXPLORE PARTNERSHIP WTIH HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

The LA County Board of Supervisors agreed to collaborate with the Chief Probation Officer on a potential partnership with Homeboy Industries. (Last week, we pointed to a story by LA Times’ Steve Lopez regarding Father Greg Boyle’s dire shortage of government funds for Homeboy services.)

The last grant given to Homeboy for tattoo removal and other reentry tools expired last summer, according to the motion submitted by Supervisor Don Knabe.

Here’s a clip from Knabe’s motion:

Homeboy Industries has a proven, academically verified model for breaking the cycle of gang violence that impacts families and communities in very direct and tragic ways. Every day, gang members from all over the County are walking in to Homeboy Industries, asking for help to change their lives. These are often the very same young men and women who have been in the County’s foster care system, have been in and out of our juvenile detention facilities and have been the ones that have “graduated” to County jail or state prison, only to continue the endless cycle of violence and trauma…

I, for one, have been convinced for a long time that if we are serious about helping the most challenged people in our communities and if we are serious about reducing violence and recidivism, then we need to look seriously at a strategic partnership with Homeboy Industries.

We hope that they do work out a partnership that allows Father Greg to maintain Homeboy’s vital services.

(The above photo, which was taken by Homeboy photographer Jerry Condit, shows Father Greg bidding farewell to a homeboy who is moving on to a new job.)


SUPES ONLY MOVE FORWARD WITH TWO FOSTER CARE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON CHILD PROTECTION

The Board of Supervisors also discussed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s preliminary recommendations for reforming a dysfunctional DCFS. The supervisors only agreed on two of the recommendations, and requested a report on the financial feasibility of the other eight recommendations (to be presented to the board in 60 days).

The board did agree on both placing law enforcement officers within DCFS offices to facilitate background checks for potential caregivers, and developing protocols with local law enforcement agencies for reporting alleged child abuse.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The board directed law enforcement agencies to post staff inside offices of the Department of Children and Family Services so background checks for potential foster parents can be completed more quickly during emergency placements.

It also directed them to report all cases of child abuse to other agencies that can help victims.

The board balked when Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas endorsed the commission’s recommendation that nurses accompany social workers investigating allegations of abuse or neglect against infants younger than 1.

By the way, the motion to examine the state of LA County’s juvenile indigent defense system (which we pointed to on Monday) was moved to next Tuesday’s meeting. We’ll keep you updated as we know more.


ACLU SUES CALIFORNIA FOR DENYING REALIGNMENT PROBATIONERS THE RIGHT TO VOTE

The California ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing California Secretary of State Debra Bowen of illegally disenfranchising thousands of voters serving community probation under realignment (AB 109). In 2011, Bowen told election officials that former state prisoners moved to county supervision through realignment were ineligible to vote until their probation ended. Current state law does not address this new category of people, but bans those in prison or on parole from voting.

Here is a clip from the ACLU’s website:

According to the lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the state’s actions clearly violated state law when the secretary of state issued a directive to local elections officials in December 2011 asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision. These are two new and innovative forms of community-based supervision created under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes.

The Secretary of State should be working to increase voter participation, not to undermine it,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “California has dismal rates of voter registration and participation. The Secretary of State is making this even worse by disenfranchising tens of thousands of California citizens who are trying to re-engage with their communities. With voting rights under attack across the nation, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s disappointing decision striking down a critical law that protected the right to vote for people of color and language minorities, California needs more protection – not less – for voting rights.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people who have or will soon lose their right to vote, along with the League of Women Voters of California and All of Us Or None, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families.

The law clearly establishes a presumption in favor of the right to vote, with only limited and specific exceptions,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Secretary of State unilaterally expanded these exceptions, without any public comment or input, disenfranchising thousands of members of our community and creating confusion around the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. This unconstitutional disenfranchisement particularly impacts communities of color, who are too often excluded from the democratic process.”


CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ DISMAL REHABILITATION SITUATION

After receiving proposals from both Gov. Jerry Brown and prisoner advocates, a panel of federal judges is expected to order a solution to California’s prison overcrowding crisis. Gov Brown has until April to lower the prison population by around 6,000 inmates. He has requested a additional deadline extension of two years to meet the population goal through rehabilitation measures (and moving inmates into private prisons), but, as it stands, California has serious issues providing inmates with adequate substance abuse treatment.

In collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Michael Montgomery has the story for KQED’s California Report podcast. Here’s a clip from the transcript, but do go take a listen:

Inside a gleaming white modular building topped with barbed wire, two dozen state inmates are going through a response drill in a class dealing with addiction. Four prisoners lead the session. They’re lifers who earned state certification for substance abuse counseling. This was the scene two years ago at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. The class was part of an innovative program praised for its effectiveness by top corrections officials, treatment experts, and even some Hollywood celebrities…

Hundreds of prisoners got treatment at Solano, and some have been paroled, so it’s not surprising that many people were stunned when officials quietly closed the program last summer…

Solano Prison wasn’t alone. Over the past four years, as state officials talked about the need to expand rehabilitation efforts, enrollment in substance abuse programs plummeted nearly 90%. As of last July, when the Solano program was shut down, just over 1000 inmates were getting treatment—the lowest level in a decade or more.

[SNIP]

Shutting down the program at Solano wasn’t just a budget decision. [CDCR Director of Rehabilitation Programs, Millicent] Tidwell says the closure was part of a plan to move many programs to so-called “re-entry hubs,” places within the prison system designed to prepare inmates for release. Tidwell says finding vendors, hiring staff, and developing space for the new centers is slow and disruptive: “There’s a lot of moving parts…to bring up any effective program takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen overnight.” Problem is, only four of a planned 13 hubs have opened, due to contract disputes and other delays…

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

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