Wednesday, October 22, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

CDCR


Rigid New Screening Process for Visiting CA Prisoners, Black Girls Face Harsher Discipline at School, Risk Assessment in Sentencing…and More

September 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR ANNOUNCES MORE RIGOROUS SCREENING PROCESS FOR CALIFORNIA PRISON STAFF AND VISITORS, IN ATTEMPT TO CURB DRUGS ENTERING PRISONS

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced that, starting mid-October, state prison staff and visitors will be subject to much tougher screenings, in an effort to cut off prisoners’ access to illegal drugs. Both staff and visitors will be randomly chosen to submit to hand swabs and drug-sniffing dogs. Visitors will be strip-searched if either test suggests contact with drugs. While visitors would be allowed to walk away without submitting to a strip-search, anyone found to have drugs on them would be referred for possible prosecution.

Inmate advocates say the significantly more invasive screening process will rely on methods that are often faulty, and will also likely dissuade inmates’ loved ones from visiting them. This is of particular concern, since visits from family and friends have shown to produce better outcomes for inmates, both during the time they are behind bars, and once they are released back into their communities.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here are some clips:

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition said in a statement.

Corrections officials say they are taking the steps to control a growing problem in California’s 34 adult prisons.

“The whole point is to deter and detect trafficking into our prisons,” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said. “It’s a serious issue.”

Drug-sniffing dogs discovered 404 pounds of illicit drugs last year and another 29 pounds through the first half of this year, prison officials said. Since July 1, another 26 pounds was discovered without the use of dogs. Each time, marijuana accounted for most of it.

So far this year, the department has had 546 visitors arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs and cellphones into prisons.

The state plans to spend at least $30,000 for each of the ion scanners that will be used to test the hand swabs. The machines are identical to those used by airport security to detect traces of explosive materials, but in this case will be programmed to scan for traces of the four drugs: marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

California plans to install at least two of the detectors at each state prison if funding permits, starting with 11 where illicit drugs are the biggest problem. The emergency regulations are expected to go into effect on a test basis in October.

[SNIP]

Prison advocacy groups criticized the new policy, saying it relies on two methods that sometimes provide false-positive test results. They said the Federal Bureau of Prisons abandoned its use of the ion-detector hand-swabbing machines in 2008 because of complaints about unreliability.

Representatives of national associations representing state prison and county jail officials and state legislators said they were unaware of any other state or local jail currently using the ion scanners.


BLACK FEMALE STUDENTS FACE EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE DISPARITIES

Black girls frequently receive more severe punishments than white girls for the same offenses at school, despite not being any more likely to act out than their white counterparts, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

According to the Dept. of Education, black girls make up 17% of enrolled female students, but receive 31% of girls’ referrals to law enforcement, and comprise 43% of school arrests of all female students.

The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Klein has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

When Georgia high school student Tiambrya Jenkins was in ninth grade, the teen, who is black, got into a fight with a white classmate. Both girls were transferred to an alternative high school as a result, but the white student returned to regular school after 90 days. Jenkins had to stay in the alternative school for a year.

“It was like being in prison,” Jenkins, now 16, said in a press release for the National Women’s Law Center. “The classrooms had no windows. There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang. A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school. But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me.”

Jenkins’ experience isn’t unusual for black female students, who are routinely given harsher punishments than white students — even though no evidence shows black students are more likely to misbehave, according to a report Tuesday from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report outlines the discipline disparities for African-American girls, and notes that pervasive racial and gender biases in education often prevent students from succeeding.

While black male students are the most frequently suspended, African-American girls also disproportionately receive harsh punishments, the report says. The discipline disparities for black girls are likely related to racial and gender stereotypes that portray African-American females as “loud, confrontational, assertive, and provocative,” the report says.


TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT RISING USE OF RISK ASSESSMENT IN SENTENCING

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo has an intriguing story about the complexities of judges’ increasing use of risk assessment tools to aid in sentencing rulings.

Risk assessment efforts have been touted as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by estimating an offender’s risk of reoffending. Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using risk assessment look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives. But while risk assessments are potentially useful, they are also extremely controversial because of a number of possible pitfalls.

In August, in response to a risk assessment bill making its way to Obama’s desk, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against using risk assessment to calculate drug sentences, saying that a number of the criteria (like education and location) may have an adverse effect on minorities and the poor. (California, for instance, uses a misguided form of risk assessment to tack on extra time behind bars via “sentence enhancements.”)

Palazzolo’s WSJ story is behind a paywall. Here’s a relevant clip, for those who don’t subscribe:

Many parole boards now weigh risk scores when considering early release, and prison officials use them to determine the level of security offenders need during their stay. But the adoption of such tools has sparked a debate over which factors are acceptable. Attributes such as age or sex, which employers are generally forbidden from including in hiring decisions, are considered by criminal-justice experts to be strong predictors of whether an offender is likely to commit a crime in the future.

The measures vary widely but generally are based on an offender’s criminal history and, in addition to age and sex, may include marital status, employment and education, according to Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Pennsylvania, one of the latest states to turn to actuarial tools in sentencing, is building a test that weighs the nature of offense, criminal history, age, sex and county of residence. The last factor is the most controversial as it could be considered a proxy for socioeconomic status. Missouri takes into account current offense and criminal history, age, whether the offender has a history of substance abuse, education level and employment.

Judges aren’t bound by the evaluations, but there is evidence they are taking them into account. Virginia officials attribute a more than 25% drop in the number of nonviolent offenders sent to prison annually to the assessments, used to score felons convicted of fraud, larceny and drug crimes since 2003. In the past decade, the percentage of offenders serving prison terms for violent crime has risen to 74% from 61%, said Chief Judge Bradley B. Cavedo of Richmond Circuit Court. “It doesn’t really control the outcome, but it is useful information,” he said of the measures.

The efforts have drawn skepticism from Attorney General Eric Holder, who told a group of defense lawyers in Philadelphia last month that basing sentencing on factors such as a defendant’s education level “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities.”

There is no research yet on whether the use of risk evaluations in sentencing has aggravated, for example, the gap between sentences for black and white men for similar crimes. Ms. Starr said the disparities created by risk measures are evident. “When it comes down to it, these assessments stand for the proposition that judges should sentence people longer because they were in foster care as children or had too many bouts of unemployment,” she said.

Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University law professor, said the alternative was potentially worse. “At least these risk-assessment instruments don’t explicitly focus on race or poverty, unlike what might occur in a sentencing regime where judges are making risk assessments based on seat-of-the-pants evaluations,” he said.


UNDOCUMENTED AT HARVARD

Dario Guerrero found out he was an undocumented immigrant at age 16. All at once, he learned that he could not obtain a California driver’s license, legally work, visit his family in Mexico, or receive financial aid to attend most US colleges. But a few private colleges, and all Ivy League schools, did offer assistance and full-rides to students in need, and Guerrero found himself accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship.

Here’s a clip from his story for the Washington Post:

A few weeks later, Oscar and I sat down, college applications in hand, to share what we had learned on our travels. We created a Web site for other undocumented students with everything we had learned by e-mail, phone, and in person. We got to work on our applications. Although we were undocumented applicants, most schools still asked to see some proof of income so they could determine our financial-aid award. Thankfully, my parents had filed taxes since the year we arrived; I sent our latest returns.

I applied to every Ivy League school, the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Wesleyan, Washington and Lee, and College of the Atlantic. On Jan. 11, as I sat in the library doing research for a government class project, I got a call from a Massachusetts area code. The Harvard Admissions Committee had voted to send me a likely letter of admission. (Oscar later got a call from Cornell.) And they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard’s dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I’d finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have.

I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different. But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity — as an undocumented Chicano — that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have.

Posted in CDCR, Education, prison policy, race and class, Sentencing | No Comments »

More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | 7 Comments »

Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 110 Comments »

Suspended 20 Times Now Valedictorian…. Mental Health is Key Say Legislative Dems….More on the Child Welfare Czar…..in the LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial a Defendant Takes the Stand

June 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


“YOU’VE BEEN THE BOTTOM STUDENT, HOW DOES IT FEEL BEING THE TOP?”

Ralph Bunche High School in Oakland is a continuation school that—like a small but growing number of schools around the state—is using the restorative justice model to work with kids who in the past have been suspended multiple times, expelled or, in the case of some of Bunche’s students, locked up in juvenile facilities.

The video above made by StoryCorps tells the tale of Damon Smith, one of the school’s much-suspended students who had a habit of using his fists way too easily when somebody looked at him wrong. This month Smith was Bunche’s valedictorian.

Damon Smith had been suspended more than twenty times before entering Ralph Bunche High School in Oakland, an alternative high school for chronically expelled students. After working with Eric Butler, a restorative justice counselor at the school, Damon left behind the gang violence he had been embroiled in, earned a 3.7 GPA and graduated valedictorian in his class..


CALIFORNIA DEMS SAY MENTAL HEALTH IS KEY TO CORRECTIONS BUDGET

The combination of mental health and inmates continues to be in the news. But, in this case, the topic is a far-sighted group of democrats in the California state legislature want to see mental health be a significant part of the state corrections budget. Thus far, however, they are getting some push back from the governor and from county sheriffs who want that available money used to build new jails facilities.

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

Democrats in the Legislature want the state corrections budget to spend tens of millions of dollars more on mental health services as a way to improve treatment and increase rehabilitation options.

They are making their case as lawmakers have just days to craft a budget deal before Sunday’s deadline and as the state and a handful of counties deal with lawsuits related to the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the state prison and local jail systems.

But it’s far from certain that Democratic lawmakers get all they want in this week’s budget negotiations.

Gov. Jerry Brown and county sheriffs, for example, want $500 million in bond money to expand jails so they can adequately house the thousands of new inmates that counties are receiving under the governor’s three-year-old realignment law, which diverts lower-level offenders from state prisons.

Senate Democrats are seeking to broaden how that money can be used. They want to give county boards of supervisors the ability to spend it on mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, transitional housing or other jail alternatives.


THE IMPORTANCE OF A “CHILD WELFARE CZAR”

The fact that the LA County Board of Supervisors created a County Office of Child Protection on Tuesday, complete with real powers, is a big deal.

The LA Times editorial board explains why. Here’s a clip:

Call it the art of letting go. In agreeing Tuesday to create a new Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection, the Board of Supervisors in effect acknowledged that its five members can’t meet their responsibility to protect children at risk of abuse or neglect — not without the help of a more independent and more focused oversight agency.

Ideally, the new office will coordinate the work of more than a dozen county departments, including mental health, the district attorney, child support services, community development and others, all of which have particular roles in protecting children but none of which now takes responsibility for ensuring that their work fits together in a rational, productive and efficient way.

The supervisors have argued for years that it is they who are charged with that kind of coordination and jurisdictional silo-busting, and they have been dead set against surrendering or sharing any of that authority. But Los Angeles County and its challenges are too vast and the supervisors’ responsibilities too disparate for them to provide a constant focus on an integrated child welfare network. The result has been repeated tragedies, frustrations and emotion-based decision-making.

In advocating for the new office, Supervisor Gloria Molina suggested that a similar effort might be appropriate for the county’s mission to provide mental health services — and she may be correct. It might also be appropriate for dealing with homelessness, poverty and any one of a number of issues. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Also, Victor Valle from the Chronicle of Social Change has information about what kind of person the supervisors are looking for to head up this new office, plus more on what powers the “czar” heading it will have.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County is looking for a brave soul to head its newly formed Office of Child Protection, and anyone can apply.

“It will be a national search, and it is one of the most significant assignments that anyone in the nation can have in respect to child welfare services,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of five members of the County’s Board of Supervisors. “It will be handled by the executive office, and it’ll be a fully publicized search.”

[Tuesday], the Board voted four-to-one to create an Office of Child Protection (OCP), which will have the authority to alter the budgets and move staff in various child-serving departments to better respond to and prevent child maltreatment. The director of the office will be responsible for all child protection services in the county and would also report directly to the board of supervisors.

According to the final report from the Blue Ribbon Commission that came out in April, “the director of this entity [OCP] must have experience in leading change in complex organizations and have a passion for protecting children.”

Along with this, the czar will work together in improving communication between departments that deal with child protection services, including the Department of Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Children and Family Services, Public Social Services and Probation. First 5 LA and other commissions will also be a part of this process.


IN THE 2ND LASD OBSTRUCTION OF TRIAL A DEFENDANT TAKES THE STAND

The federal trial involving six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, all of whom are charged with obstruction of justice, is expected to go to the jury next week. But before the proceedings reach the stage of closing arguments, three of the six defendants—Lt. Steve Leavins, Sgt. Maricela Long, and Sgt. Scott Craig—are expected to each take the stand to testify.

Leavins began his testimony at the end of the day on Thursday, but got only as far as reciting his history in the department. Friday is when he will get have his say.

Trial watchers speculate that Leavins, more than possibly any of the other defendants, may be able put former sheriff Lee Baca and/or former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in the picture as the people who gave the orders for the various actions that have precipitated federal charges for the six men and women on trial here.

Stay tuned.

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, FBI, Foster Care, jail, LA County Jail | No Comments »

Other Los Angeles Jail Plan-Related Stories, an Inmate Suicide at Twin Towers, More Discretionary Power for California Judges Sentencing Teens, and Arts Return to State Prisons

May 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE VANIR LOS ANGELES JAIL PROPOSAL, LA’S HANDLING OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES (AND AN ARGUABLY PREVENTABLE INMATE SUICIDE AT TWIN TOWERS)

Yesterday we reported on the latest Los Angeles sheriff candidate debate as it related to plans being considered by the Board of Supervisors to tear down Men’s Central Jail and replace it with a costly new facility. The main problems are as follows: the decision should wait until a new sheriff is elected, the proposed plans do not address the issue of how to provide better treatment for more than 3000 mentally ill inmates, and other counties are successfully diverting mentally ill inmates to community treatment (while LA County thus far has no plans to do so).

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze also had good coverage of the sheriff’s debate. Here’s a clip:

“I think the new sheriff needs to be consulted on what we’re going to do with our jail system,” said current assistant sheriff Todd Rogers during a candidates’ debate Sunday at the Westside Jewish Community Center. The primary election is June 3. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the top two face each other in November.

“I think we have plenty of jail beds,” Rogers added.

“We need to take a step back,” said another candidate, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “A new sheriff is a major stakeholder in this.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the expansion plan Tuesday.

McDonnell also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering suing L.A. County over its handling of mentally ill inmates, which could lead to new federally required reforms under a consent decree. “Part of that consent decree may be mandates as to what our jails look like,” McDonnell said.

And in a tragically timely illustration of why a building is not going to solve LA County’s problematic handling of the mentally ill…

A Twin Towers inmate, Li Zhu, placed on suicide watch strangled himself during a period of nearly three hours in which deputies reportedly failed to check on him. While deputies are required to look in on suicidal inmates every fifteen minutes, deputies allegedly last checked on Zhu at 6:46p.m. the evening after his arrest, and did not check again until he was found dead at 9:30p.m.

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

An autopsy report by the L.A. County Coroner’s Department says Zhu, 68, was arrested on January 8 on suspicion of murdering his daughter-in-law, Xiaolin Li. The Arcadia police department arrested Li Zhu after finding Li Xiaolin stabbed to death, in an apartment where the two lived, along with a number of family members.

When he arrived in L.A. County’s jail system, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department placed Zhu on suicide watch in a Twin Towers cell due to having attempted “suicide in China during the late 1990’s by jumping off a building…and also telling family members that he did not want to live anymore after the assault on his daughter-in-law.”

Deputies are supposed to check on inmates on suicide watch every 15 minutes. The last reported check on Zhu, according to the coroner’s report, was at 6:46pm He was found dead at 9:30pm when a deputy attending to an inmate in a neighboring cell noticed Zhu sitting at an odd angle on the floor. A surveillance video viewed later showed him last walking around his cell at 8:18pm.

According to the coroner’s report, Zhu had torn off a strip of the side trim seam from his mattress, created a noose, and strangled himself by attaching the noose to the bed. There was blood on the floor and Zhu had an open bite mark and bruises on his arms. No suicide note was found.

Suicide watch protocols in L.A. County’s jails stem from an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice the county entered into in the late 1990’s, after federal inspectors found “constitutional deficiencies” in the jails. Allegations included use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates, inadequate mental health screening, and inadequate suicide prevention.

An LA Times editorial further explains why, although Men’s Central Jail needs to be torn down and replaced, a new jail facility is not going to end LA’s over-incarceration of a mentally ill inmate population that would experience better outcomes in community treatment. Here’s a clip:

Even with the Justice Department breathing down their necks over poor treatment of ill inmates, the supervisors asked for mental health treatment plans not from experts in recidivism or treatment but from a jail construction firm. The proposals naturally revolve around constructing jails.

Let’s be clear: Men’s Central does indeed need to be put out of its misery and replaced with a facility that includes treatment space for mentally ill offenders who are too dangerous to be diverted to community treatment. But any competent study must discuss protocols for distinguishing between those who could and those who could not be successfully and safely treated in community clinics. It would then project how many costly jail beds for the mentally ill will still be needed, and how much savings can instead be reaped by using a wiser non-jail diversion program. And it would be based on diversion programs already underway — if only the county would actually begin some. Other jurisdictions do it, and they save money and stop sick people from cycling in and out of jail. When will L.A. wise up?

Go read the rest.


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT GIVES JUDGES MORE DISCRETIONARY POWER IN SENTENCING JUVENILES

On Monday, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled to give judges more discretionary leeway in sentencing juveniles convicted of certain crimes for which judges would normally hand down a sentence of life-without-parole. The decision will give California judges more room to sentence teenagers to a lesser sentence of 25-to-life.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has more on the high court’s decision. Here are some clips:

Prior to the unanimous ruling, California law had been interpreted as requiring judges to lean toward life without parole for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds convicted of certain offenses. The decision overturned decades of lower-court rulings.

The court’s action gave two men who were 17 at the time they killed the opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by trial judges.

The court said the sentences should be reviewed because they were handed down before the court clarified state law and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that judges must consider a juvenile’s immaturity and capacity for change.

[SNIP]

Some juvenile offenders became subject to life without parole when voters passed Proposition 115, the 1990 “Crime Victims Justice Reform Act.”

State appeals’ courts ruled that the law required judges to favor imposing life without parole over a life sentence that allowed for release after 25 years.

For two decades, those rulings stood.

But Monday’s decision said the lower courts had erred in the interpretation of the law.

“Proposition 115 was intended to toughen penalties for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder by making them eligible for life without parole upon a finding of one or more special circumstances,” Liu wrote.

But he said neither the wording of the ballot measure nor any of the official analyses resolved whether “the initiative was intended to make life without parole the presumptive sentence.” The court concluded it was not.


ARTS IN CORRECTIONS TO RETURN TO CALIFORNIA PRISONS WITH RENEWED STATE FUNDING

Late last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made a welcome announcement that it would be spending $1 million on bringing art programs back to state prisons.

Here’s a clip from the CDCR announcement:

The Arts in Corrections programs will offer an array of performing, literary and visual arts disciplines, such as theater, music, creative writing, poetry, painting, drawing and sculpture.

“Research has shown that structured arts programs improve inmates’ problem-solving skills and self-discipline and increase their patience and their ability to work with others,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “These programs also direct inmates’ energy in a positive direction, promote positive social interaction and lower tension levels, resulting in a safer environment for inmates and staff.”

CDCR has a long history of providing arts programs, as institutions and community organizations have partnered to offer visual and performing arts programs to inmates. CDCR has committed $1 million funding to add structured, contracted Arts-in-Corrections programs in select state prisons. CDCR is also committed to a second year of support for fiscal year 2014-15. The funds will be administered by the California Arts Council. Use of funds is subject to review by state control agencies.

“This investment will help inmates develop skills that may help them get jobs when they are released, which would help reduce recidivism and victimization,” Beard added.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LWOP Kids, Mental Illness | 7 Comments »

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 | 40 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 »

« Previous Entries