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Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

ABC 7 Obtains Evidence From LASD Obstruction Trial…In Depth on California’s Sex Trafficked Children…3 Roads Out of Foster Care….& More

October 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


ABC7 SHOWS WHAT THE JURY HEARD & SAWA IN LASD OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIALS

The video that shows Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long confronting FBI Special Agent Leah Marx outside her home and threatening her with arrest in September 2011, (even though they never intended to arrest her) was one of the pieces of evidence that resulted in felony convictions for the two sergeants and for four other former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (All six are expected to surrender for their respective prison terms on January 4.)

ABC7 News has obtained that video plus various other recordings and documents that were considered crucial to the jury’s guilty verdict.

Here are a couple of clips from the excellent expanded web version of Tuesday night’s story by investigative producer Lisa Bartley.

By late September 2011, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “Special Operations Group” had FBI Agent Leah Marx under surveillance for more than two weeks. Her partner, FBI Agent David Lam, was under surveillance as well.

“Locate target and establish lifestyle,” reads the surveillance order for Agent Lam.

Surveillance logs on Agent Marx turned up nothing more nefarious than the young agent picking up after her medium-sized brown and white dog. The surveillance team notes in its report that the dog went “#2″.

It’s highly unusual for a local law enforcement agency to investigate and conduct surveillance on FBI agents, but this is an incredibly unusual case. Seven former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants stand convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their roles in trying to block a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in L.A. County Jails.

[LARGE SNIP]

Lying to the FBI is a crime, as Sgt. Craig would soon find out. Marx was not “a named suspect in a felony complaint” and Craig knew he could not arrest the FBI agent for her role in the FBI’s undercover operation at Men’s Central Jail. The FBI sting included smuggling a contraband cell phone into inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown through a corrupt sheriff’s deputy who accepted a cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent.

Craig did not have probable cause to arrest Marx because the contraband phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI investigation. No less than the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office had told then-Sheriff Lee Baca that himself more than a month before the threat to arrest Agent Marx.

The federal judge who oversaw all three trials delivered a harsh rebuke to six of the defendants at their sentencing last month.

Judge Percy Anderson: “Perhaps it’s a symptom of the corrupt culture within the Sheriff’s Department, but one of the most striking things aside from the brazenness of threatening to arrest an FBI agent for a crime of simply doing her job and videotaping yourself doing it, is that none of you have shown even the slightest remorse.”

The story also features other evidence such as the audio of Sgt. Long lying to Agent Marx’s FBI supervisor, Special Agent Carlos Narro, when he called to inquire about the arrest threat. (Then, after hanging up, Long appears to laugh with a sort of gloating amusement at Narro’s reaction, as the recorder was still rolling.)

In addition, there are examples of former Lt. Stephen Leavins and Sgt. Craig attempting to convince various witnesses not to cooperate with the FBI—AKA witness tampering.

For the jury—as those of us sitting in the courtroom who heard these and other recording snippets played over and over—the evidence could not help but be very potent.

ABC7′s Bartley has still more, which you can find here.


GONE GIRLS: LA MAG LOOKS AT SEX TRAFFICKING OF CALIFORNIA’S CHILDREN

In the US, California has become a tragic growth area for sex trafficking of children. Out of the nation’s thirteen high intensity child prostitution areas, as identified by the FBI, three of those thirteen are located in California—namely in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas.

In the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, Mike Kessler has a terrific, in depth, and very painful story about those who are fighting to help the young victims of repeated rape for the profit of others.

We’ve excerpted Kessler’s important story below.

The sex trafficking of minors, we’ve come—or maybe want—to believe, is limited to developing nations, where wretched poverty leaves girls with few options. But too many children in Los Angeles County know that the sex trade has no borders. They can be runaways fresh off the Greyhound, immigrants from places like Southeast Asia and eastern Europe, aspiring “models” whose “managers” have them convinced that sexual favors are standard operating procedure. Uncovering the sale of children is difficult at best. While some authorities suspect that boys are sexually exploited as often as girls, nobody knows for sure. Boys are rarely pimped, which isn’t the case for girls. And what little law enforcement agencies can track usually happens on the street, at the behest of pimps, albeit in areas that society tends to ignore. In L.A. County that means poor black and Latino neighborhoods such as Watts, Lynwood, Compton, and parts of Long Beach, along with Van Nuys and Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. “This is the demographic that’s most afflicted,” Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Marymount University’s law school, a member of L.A.’s police commission, and an expert on human trafficking, told me. “It’s a problem among marginalized children.” According to the district attorney’s office, 29 confirmed cases of child sex trafficking were reported in L.A. County in the first quarter of this year. That’s roughly 120 minors sold for sex annually, but, authorities agree, the statistics fall short of reality when there are so many ways to hide the crime.

LAPD Lieutenant Andre Dawson is a 32-year department veteran who, for the past four years, has run an eight-person team dedicated to slowing the commercial sexual exploitation of children, whom he once thought of us prostitutes. Now he sees the kids as the victims they are.

Fifty-six and a year away from retirement, Dawson is six feet three inches, bald, and handsome, with a graying mustache. When I met him on a recent Friday evening, he was sharply dressed in a black Kangol cap, chunky glasses, a collarless white shirt, and dark designer jeans. In his cubicle he keeps binders documenting the lengths to which pimps go to lay claim to the children they sell. There’s a photo of a girl’s chest, the words “King Snipe’s Bitch” tattooed on it. King Snipe, or Leroy Bragg, is in prison now. Girls are stamped in dark ink with their pimp’s nickname, “Cream,” an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” One bears his name on her cheek. The girl was 14 and pregnant at the time she was branded. The burn mark on a different young woman’s back was from an iron applied by her pimp, Dawson said. He brought out a twist of lime-colored wires that was two feet long and as thick as three fingers, duct tape binding them together. “We call this ‘the green monster,’ ” he said. “It’s what one of these pimps used to discipline his girls. He beat one of them so bad, he pulled the skin off of her back.”

Once the sun went down, Dawson draped a Kevlar vest over my torso and drove me through “the tracks,” stretches of city streets where money is exchanged for sex. They’re also known collectively as “the blade,” owing to the risks one takes when walking them. Threading his SUV through the crush of downtown traffic, he recounted how he used to regard the kids he arrested as willing participants. They were defiant toward police, he said. Invariably the girls protected their pimps and went back to the streets. But as he talked to child advocates, he came to the realization that most of the kids lacked the emotional maturity to know they were being abused. “The chain is around the brain,” he said, passing the big airplane by the science museum at Fig and Expo. “The more I work with this population, the more I understand that 12- and 13-year-old girls don’t just call each other up and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out prostituting.’ They’re not just using bad judgment. They’re doing it because they’re desperate for love or money or both. They think they’re getting what they can’t get somewhere else.” Even more tragic, Dawson said, is that “these girls think the pimp hasn’t done anything wrong.”

While poverty, parentlessness, and crushingly low self-esteem are all factors, there’s another reason so many kids wind up in “the game,” or, as some call it, “the life”: Dawson estimates “nine-and-a-half or ten out of ten” of the girls he encounters were victims of sexual abuse that began long before they turned their first trick. I asked him how many adult prostitutes he encounters started when they were underage. “Ninety-nine percent,” he said. “It’s all they’ve known.”

Kessler met up with LA County Supervisor Don Knabe in Washington D.C. when Knabe—who says he has grandchildren the age of some of the sex trafficking victims—was working to shake loose federal dollars to fund some of LA County’s programs, like LA’s STAR Court (that WLA posted about here), that prevent underage girls from being bought and sold for sex. The supervisor brought with him a trafficking survivor, who predictably had more of an affect on the D.C. crowd at a press conference on the topic, than the gathered politicians.

Knabe has been a vocal supporter of California legislation introduced by Republican state senator Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar, and Democrat Ted Lieu, of Torrance. Their “War on Child Sex Trafficking” package consists of bills that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain wiretap warrants on suspected pimps and list pimping as an official gang activity, since pimps often have gang affiliations and sentences can be stiffened for crimes committed by members. Consequently Governor Jerry Brown this year created a CSEC budget of $5 million, which will go toward training and services; next year that budget will jump to $14 million. At the federal level Knabe has been a point man for Democratic Representative Karen Bass, whose district encompasses several South L.A. County neighborhoods, and for Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe, both of whom are pushing tough-on-trafficking legislation.

Knabe had brought Jessica Midkiff, the survivor I’d met at the diner in L.A., to D.C. for the press conference. After the supervisor spoke, she took the microphone and addressed the 30 or so reporters in the room. Choking back her nervousness, she said, “I was exploited beginning at the age of 11 and was arrested several times across the United States before the age of 21. For a lot of young women like me, trauma began at an early age. Before the commercial sexual exploitation, abuse was a major factor in most of our childhoods. In my case, I was raped, beaten, and mentally abused from 3 to 11 years old by a number of men.” She made no effort to conceal the blot of ink on her neck, the indecipherable result of one pimp’s tattoo being covered by another’s over the course of a decade. She spoke of the violence and coercion, the desperation and loneliness that victims suffer, the cruelty of pimps and the ubiquity of johns. “Our buyers can be members of law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, and business owners,” Jessica said. “Why would anybody believe us?” One of her johns, she added, was an administrator at a school she attended “who followed, stalked, and harassed me to get into his car” when he was “in his forties and I was only 14 years old.”

During the Q&A afterward, a reporter asked what Jessica or her pimps charged for their services. She demurred at first. Asked again a few minutes later, she reluctantly said, “It starts at 50 dollars and moves its way up to a couple hundred and even thousands. The younger the child, the higher the cost.”

There’s lots more to the story, so be sure to read on.


THREE BROTHERS & THREE VERY DIFFERENT TALES OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On a Sunday in 2006, three brothers escaped from the home of their alcoholic, abusive grandmother. (Their mother was a drug addict so they no longer lived with her.) A month later, social services showed up at their sister’s door and took the three boys—Matt, 14, Terrick, 12, and Joseph, 11—into the foster care system. A social worker told them they would not be separated. The promise turned out not to be true.

Brian Rinker of the Chronicle of Social Change looks at the experiences and subsequent paths of each of the three boys, and what those paths say about the foster care system in California.

Here’s a clip:

They stashed a black plastic garbage bag full of clothes next to a dumpster outside their grandmother’s apartment in Whittier, California, and wore extra socks, shirts and pants underneath their church outfits. Their older sister, 23, would pick them up at a nearby Burger King. From there, according to the brothers, she would whisk them away and raise them as her own.

So instead of stepping onto that church bus as they had done every week past, the Bakhit brothers walked to Burger King praying that whatever lay ahead was better than what they left behind.

Matt, the eldest, was the mastermind. At 14, a wrestler and high school freshman, Matt said living in the strict, abusive home stifled his maturity. How could he grow into a man?

“My grandma, over any little thing, would pull my pants down and whoop me with a belt,” Matt, now 22, said in an interview.

But freedom from his abusive grandmother didn’t mean an end to his and his brothers’ hardships.

Child protection intervened less than a month later at their sister’s San Diego home. The brothers remember a social worker telling them they would not be separated. They packed their belongings once again into plastic bags and piled into the social worker’s car. The brothers cried.

Despite the promise, 20 minutes later the social worker dropped Matt off at a foster home. Terrick and Joseph were taken to the Polinsky Children’s Center, a 24-hour emergency shelter in San Diego for kids without a home, or as Joseph calls it, “purgatory.”

[BIG SNIP]

The tale of the brothers Bakhit exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of a foster care system struggling to care for thousands of abused and neglected children. The same system that nurtured Joseph also alienated Matt, and lost Terrick to the juvenile justice system, which cut him from foster care and cast him out on the streets: broke, hungry and with nowhere to go.

[SNIP]

Despite a traumatic childhood, Joseph, the youngest, now 19, grew up a success by most standards. He graduated as valedictorian from San Pasqual Academy, a residential school for foster youth. The academy gave him a car: a black 2008 Toyota Scion XD.

When he got accepted to UC Berkeley, scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth paid his full ride. And because of a 2010 law extending foster care to age 21, he gets a $838 check every month until age 21.

Now in his second year of college, Joseph works at a dorm cafeteria and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.

Terrick and Matt’s experience was totally different.

By the time Joseph graduated from high school, Terrick and Matt were homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego….

Read on.


AZ PRISONS & JAILS CAN NO LONGER PEPPER SPRAY SCHIZOPHRENICS FOR ANY OLD REASON…AND OTHER SETTLEMENT TERMS

Across the nation, 45 percent of those in solitary confinement are mentally ill, notes Shane Bauer, of Mother Jones Magazine in a story about a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and by inmates at 10 of Arizona’s state prisons, which reached a settlement Tuesday with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care—including mental health care—and solitary confinement conditions in Arizona’s prisons.

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story about the settlement:

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—–the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—–are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country’s three largest mental health care providers are jails.

Tim Hull of the Courthouse News also has a story on Tuesday’s settlement that even requires Arizona to pay $5 million in attorneys’ fees.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, crime and punishment, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 37 Comments »

Crime Decline Higher in States That Also Reduced Incarceration, California Foster System Behind on Investigating Mistreatment, Inmates Average Only Two Visits, and SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

September 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE COMPLICATED CONNECTION BETWEEN HIGHER INCARCERATION AND LOWER CRIME RATES

Since 1994, when Congress passed the “tough-on-crime” Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the national incarceration rate has risen 24% while the crime rate has dropped 40%. But the link is not that simple.

A new Pew Charitable Trusts infographic shows that some states have successfully lowered both crime and imprisonment. California is among the top three states with the biggest reductions of crime and incarceration, along with New York and New Jersey.

For further reading on the issue, Vox’s German Lopez has an interesting story explaining a bit more about mass incarceration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which was enacted when violent crime levels were already falling), and what the Obama administration is doing to counteract the outdated law.


CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE SYSTEM NOT INVESTIGATING MISTREATMENT COMPLAINTS QUICKLY ENOUGH

The state’s Department of Social Services has nearly 1,000 pending investigations of child mistreatment that have sat unaddressed past the three-month deadline. More than half of those complaints—for things like abuse, malnourishment, and poor living conditions—have been pending for more than six months.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Agency officials blame the problem on chronic staffing shortages and warn that the backlog is likely to persist for at least another year.

“We didn’t get into this overnight, and we are not going to solve it overnight,” said Pam Dickfoss, who was appointed deputy director of social services earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The majority of the lagging investigations — which include allegations of serious abuse, inadequate food, homes in disrepair or other licensing violations — have remained open for more than six months, according to data obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.

The delays can make investigations more difficult, officials said. Witnesses become unavailable or memories fade. And children could remain in potentially substandard homes as inquiries back up.

In one case, investigators took four months to confirm that a child’s hands had been placed under scalding water by other children, resulting in second-degree burns, records show. It also took four months to determine that another child was not being fed regularly and that his surroundings were filthy and stank of mildew.

The backlog has grown steadily since Brown took office in 2011, when the department probed 3,491 complaints and finished 60% on time. This year, complaints against state-licensed foster homes requiring investigations are on pace to exceed 4,000, and only 40% of those inquiries are being completed on time, records show.

And this isn’t just a state level issue, it’s happening at the county level, as well:

More than 6,100 current county investigations have remained open for more than 30 days, a nearly eight-fold increase since 2011. Cases open more than 60 days have increased from from 2,700 to 3,559 in the same period. Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning said he has deployed a strike team of top managers to develop a new plan to reduce the backlog.


PRISONERS RECEIVE JUST TWO VISITS DURING INCARCERATION ON AVERAGE

Using Florida prison data, a study in Crime and Delinquency found that inmates received an average of only two visits throughout the entirety of their incarceration. Not surprisingly, the Florida research found that inmates who received more visits had better outcomes while behind bars and once released.

The study showed that inmates receiving the most visits were around 20-years-old, had fewer offenses, were white or latino, or had come from communities that had either high incarceration rates or were considered socially altruistic. Black inmates and those who were older or had multiple offenses received fewer visits.

University of Minnesota sociology professor and author, Chris Uggen, has more on the study for Sociological Images. Here’s a clip:

There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.

These are common problems nationwide, particularly in large states like California, Texas, and Montana.


SUPREME COURT MAY SOON SET NATIONAL STANDARD ON GAY MARRIAGE

Federal judges across the US have been overturning state bans on gay marriage. There have been more than twelve rulings, so far, this year. But none of these rulings (nor last year’s Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act) have set the national standard. For now, gay marriage rights are in the hands of the states.

That may change as SCOTUS has decided to review a package of seven gay marriage cases from lower courts, and experts say the high court will most likely choose to take up one of the cases, if not more.

Each of the seven cases challenges a state’s right to ban gay marriage. And all but one case would call on the court to decide whether gay marriages should be recognized in other states.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova has more on the issue (as well as a rundown on each case). Here’s a clip:

This cluster of cases centers on two key questions: All seven ask SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also raise the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled on two landmark gay marriage cases in 2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned California’s Proposition 8, and US v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act. But neither weighed in on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, leaving the choice to allow gay marriage up to each individual state. If the court takes one of these new cases, it’s likely that its decision will have a broad and more definitive impact. “Should they decide that the 14th Amendment actually protects the rights of same-sex marriage, that would have the effect of being binding on the federal government,” says Jane Schacter, a professor at Stanford Law School.

The cases before the court involve the 14th Amendment’s guarantees to equal protection under law and due process. If the high court rules that it is a violation of either promise for one state to deny a marriage license to a same sex couple, then it would become unconstitutional for any state to do so. Any state that failed to comply with the ruling, Carpenter elaborates, “would face immediate lawsuits—a complete waste of time and money.”

It’s anyone’s guess which case (or cases) SCOTUS may choose…



Above visual taken from a portion of this Pew infographic.

Posted in crime and punishment, Foster Care, LGBT, prison, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Isla Vista & the 2nd Amendment…..Paroling Lifers in CA…..LASD Opens Inmate Reentry Center….A One-of-a-Kind Sheriff’s Race….Next LASD/Fed Trial Begins Tuesday

May 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ISLA VISTA & THE SECOND AMENDMENT

Three days before Elliot Rodger went on his murderous rampage on May 23 in Isla Vista, a new non-fiction book called The Second Amendment: A Biography was published to generally good reviews.

In it, the book’s author, Michael Waldman, examines the Second Amendment and our nation’s history with this short (27 words) and weirdly punctuated clause in the Constitution that has become freighted with so much acrimonious controversy. (Walman is a former Bill Clinton speechwriter who now heads up NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to “improving the systems of democracy and justice.”)

The timing of the book’s release turns out be painfully serendipitous, in that the horror of a mass shooting, like the tragedy of a few days ago, inevitably brings up a discussion of guns and what legislation would or would not help prevent a the next Columbine or Sandy Hook or Isla Vista (or—if one is bothering to look at statistics—the everyday shootings that regularly tear irrevocable holes in America’s most violence-haunted communities).

It would be nice to think that Waldman’s scholarly, but lively in tone, “The Second Amendment” could bring some much-needed sanity, and perhaps some facts, into that discussion.

LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, reviewed Waldman’s book on Sunday. Here’s a clip from what Ulin wrote:

….Guns, after all, represent a microcosm of an America divided between left and right, urban and rural, collective and individual rights. It’s complicated further because it is encoded in the Bill of Rights — one of our foundational documents, to borrow a phrase from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who famously sparred with Dianne Feinstein at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013.

“[W]ould she consider it constitutional,” Cruz asked of Feinstein, “for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?”

Cruz’s showboating aside — Feinstein responded that she was “not a sixth-grader” and didn’t need a lecture on the Constitution — these are important questions, not so much for pro-gun advocates as for supporters of privacy and free speech rights. What happens if we unravel one amendment, regardless of the way we feel about it? What does it mean for those amendments we prefer?

This is the puzzle of the 2nd Amendment, which, Waldman admits, is a problematic text at best. “Let’s be clear,” he writes: “the eloquent men who wrote ‘we the people’ and the First Amendment did us no favors in the drafting of the Second Amendment.”


PAROLING LIFERS IN CALIFORNIA: JERRY BROWN & THE NEW NORMAL

Governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed nearly all of the parole recommendations for lifers that crossed their desks.

Governor Jerry Brown, in contrast, only reverses around 20 percent of the lifer parole approvals that he sees.

(And by lifers, in this case, we’re talking about people who got indeterminate sentences of, say 15-years-to-life, 25-to-life, 40-years-to-life—-or any such indeterminate sentence with with an “L” after it.)

When NPR’s Scott Shaffer asked Brown about the difference in reversal rates between him and his predecessors, Jerry said that his approach to the matter was “”to follow the law and evaluate very carefully each case, which I do every week.”

Although some suggest that Brown’s policy poses a risk to public safety, in fact, lifers have among the lowest recidivism rates of all released prisoners with less than 1 percent of paroled lifers winding up back in jail or prison.

Here’s a clip from Shaffer’s story:

….As for the difference between his rejection rate and those of previous governors, Brown says, “I don’t know what they did and whether they read the record or whether they looked at the law.” And, he points out, the law has changed.

He’s referring to the 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court that ruled that parole denials could not be based on the viciousness of a crime alone. Instead, the justices said, there must also be evidence that an inmate is still a threat.

The case involved Sandra Davis Lawrence, who fatally shot and killed a woman during a jealous rage. The parole board recommended her release four times, but it was reversed by three different governors. The state Supreme Court cited “overwhelming” evidence that Lawrence was rehabilitated and therefore no longer dangerous.

Jennifer Shaffer, executive director of the State Board of Parole Hearings, says that decision changed everything. “As you can imagine, if their crime alone could keep them from being paroled forever then that was really not life with the possibility of parole. So there had to be something else,” she explains.


WELCOME NEWS: THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT OPENS FIRST COMMUNITY REENTRY CENTER

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department formally took a much welcome step in opening the county’s first Community Reentry and Resource Center, or CRRC, that is designed to help inmates make the crucial transition out of lock-up and back into life in their respective communities.

Christina Villacorte at the Daily News has more. Here’s a clip:

For the first time, jail inmates who have served their time can walk out of their cells and go straight into a one-stop shop for finding a place to live, staying sober and getting a job.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Thursday opened the first-ever Community Reentry and Resource Center at its jail complex in downtown Los Angeles.

“One of the challenges for newly released inmates is avoiding a return to drug use and crime,” Sheriff John Scott said during the grand opening ceremony. “It can be a difficult road — their families may not accept them, finding a job may be difficult, and old friends may be eager to support bad habits — and that often contributes to an offender’s return to criminal behavior and, ultimately, to jail.”

Scott said the CRRC, located at the lobby of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street from Men’s Central Jail, would give newly released inmates a “better chance for a successful transition.”

“This is designed to give hope to people,” added Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

Read the rest here.

We look forward to giving you additional details once we’ve seen the CRRC for ourselves. But for now we are simply cheering this smart step by the sheriff’s department in helping combat offender recidivism.


A SHERIFF’S RACE LIKE NO OTHER (NO, REALLY!)

The LA Times Rob Greene explains why this particular 7-candidate race for LA County Sheriff is so unique.

Here’s a clip:

….We’re still digging to find a time when voters actually chose a new sheriff, with no incumbent or incumbent’s designee on the ballot.

You’d think this would be easy to nail down. But Los Angeles was so different then — before voters adopted the 1913 “home rule” charter, with its civil service protections and other progressive reforms. Candidates were anointed by political bosses and nominated at county party conventions instead of selected in primary elections. Sheriffs’ tenures were brief, deputies were openly hired and fired based on political support, and the sheriff was paid in part by the fees and fines he collected.

In the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, four men wrestled over the office — Cline, Hammel, John Burr and William White — along with their respective factions of job seekers and patrons. When Burr was elected in 1894, he went into hiding to avoid a throng of would-be deputies, and in so doing, he failed to show up at the proper time and place to take office. The job was declared vacant, and the Board of Supervisors ended up appointing him.

So when was the last time the choice was this wide open, with no incumbent and no front-runner, and with voters firmly in charge of who the next sheriff would be? In the era in which county politics were something we’d recognize today?…..


AND SPEAKING OF THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT….THE NEXT ANTHONY BROWN/OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIAL BEGINS TUESDAY

On Tuesday, attorneys for the prosecution and for the defense in the second of two obstruction of justice trials, involving federally indicted members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, will deliver opening statements at 8 a.m. sharp Tuesday morning in the courtroom of Judge Percy Anderson.

Now that the trial of Deputy James Sexton resulted in a mistrial last week, with the jury split six-six down the middle, it will be interesting to see how Sexton’s case affects the way defense attorneys and prosecutors reposition their arguments, and retool their witness lists.

Just to remind you, this second trial involves six defendants: Lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith.

We’ll keep you up to date on what happens.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, guns, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, parole policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney | 5 Comments »

When the LASD Spied on the City of Compton—and Forgot to Tell Anybody

April 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this month, The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED ran a jointly produced story about the future of high tech surveillance. As the story’s centerpiece, the reporters focused on a 2012 program of aerial surveillance that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department operated for nine days in the city of Compton.

Here’s the opening clip from the story produced G.W. Schultz and Amanda Pike:

When sheriff’s deputies here noticed a burst of necklace snatchings from women walking through town, they turned to an unlikely source to help solve the crimes: a retired Air Force veteran named Ross McNutt.

McNutt and his Ohio-based company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, persuaded the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to use his surveillance technology to monitor Compton’s streets from the air and track suspects from the moment the snatching occurred.

The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.

“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”

So did the people of Compton know about this eye in the sky?

Uh, no. As it turns out they didn’t. At least not when it was going on. Here’s what Sergeant Doug Iketani, who supervised the project, told KQED.

The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

The CIR/KQED report of a “hush-hush” surveillance program in LA County sparked a rash of stories in which people—–some of them Compton residents—–expressed their distinct displeasure at the whole notion.

For example there were stories in CBS Los Angeles….Reason Magazine.The Atlantic….and TechDirt.…among others.

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon of this week, the LASD put out a press release, saying that in the end the department decided not to use the system past its nine day experiment. According to the release, the main reason for nixing the surveillance system had to do with the fact that the images it produced weren’t high resolution enough for the watchers to be able to ID law breakers. In fact, it turned out it was also difficult to tell autos apart.

So nobody needs to get all upset, the release implied, although not in so many words.

“Hawkeye II Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System” was simply a system tested and evaluated as an option which would supplement cameras already deployed in the city of Compton. No notification to the residents was made because this system was being tested in a city where cameras were already deployed and the system was only being evaluated. Additionally, the limitation of the system would not allow for the identification of persons or vehicles. The system’s lack of resolution in no way compromised the identity of any individual. The recordings reviewed by Department personnel were found to have no investigative value as discernable detail of gender, race, hair color or any other identifiable feature could not be made.

The Sheriff’s Department utilizes several forms of technology as a tool to provide communities and citizens of Los Angeles County with a safer environment and better quality of life. The Department has used aerial surveillance in the form of helicopters since the 1950’s; beginning with Sky Knight, a program still in use today. The Department is committed to taking advantage of new technology to assist Deputies in the field and improve the service to the communities we serve.

Don’t get us wrong. We too want our law enforcement to be vigorously up to date on the latest technology for keeping our communities safe. But when it comes to strategies that could affect our rights and our privacy, we’d strongly prefer that they let us know what they were doing—before they actually do it.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, LASD | No Comments »

Are We Creating “Monsters?”….Education: The Next Juvenile Justice Reform….A Former “Bad Child” Speaks Out…Oregon Prisons Rethink Their Family Visit Policy

April 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


MAKING MONSTERS: A NEW LOOK AT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Beginning on Tuesday, April 22, PBS’s Frontline takes a look at the consequences of the use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

In addition to examining the effects that solitary has on prisoners, Frontline looks at what it does for the rest of us. Do we gain anything by imposing this kind of extreme isolation on those whom we lock up? This is a question that is particularly relevant when we isolate prisoners who will one day be released.

Admittedly, the matter of the use of solitary confinement is not simple.

As California in particular has struggled with the hold that prison gangs have on all of our lock-ups, solitary has has been viewed as one way to keep the various gangs’ shot callers from communicating with their troops. (Not that it appears to have worked. But that’s another conversation altogether.)

The truth is, most people in prison eventually will be released, and that includes those in solitary. And even in the cases of those who will never leave prison, do we have the moral and legal right to impose conditions so dehumanizing that they produce mental illness and the disintegration of an individual’s personality?

While the Frontline broadcast doesn’t air until Tuesday, the Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen has seen it it, and here’s a clip from his musings about what the program presents.

“This is what they create in here, monsters,” one inmate tells Frontline’s reporters. “You can’t conduct yourself like a human being when they treat you like an animal.”

“It’s like being buried alive,” another prisoner says off camera.

Now, every inmate in the history of the world likely has complained about the conditions of his confinement. But the point of the film, I think—and perhaps the best argument against the continued use of solitary—is that regardless of how inmates feel about it, there is no redeemable value to it to the rest of us.

Solitary confinement surely makes prisons safer—that’s the argument wardens use over and over again to justify its continued use. But it also creates or exacerbates mental illness in the men who are condemned to it. And that illness, in turn, pushes inmates in solitary to engage in harmful or self-harming conduct that, in turn, prompts a severe disciplinary response from prison officials.

That, in turn, causes the men to turn deeper into their own insanity. And then these broken men are released back into the world without adequate mental health treatment or “step down” services that will help reduce their chances of recidivism. It’s a cycle everyone recognizes but cannot seem to change. It’s madness upon madness.

Adam Brulotte, one of the inmates featured in the film, gets caught in this cycle. He’s a young man who says he wants to study for his GED so he can get a real job, instead of selling drugs, when he is released. Because he has broken the rules, he is placed in isolation. And because he is in isolation, he goes mad. And because he goes mad, he breaks more rules. The prison is safer but we see Brulotte broken before our eyes. If this young man is not treated now, how much will the rest of us pay when he is ultimately released?

Also, on April 29, Frontline begins airing a second documentary that looks at our reliance on incarceration in general.


THE NEXT JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: A FOCUS ON EDUCATION

The new study released last week by the Southern Education Foundation looking at how poorly kids are being educated in the nation’s juvenile lock-ups—California’s kids priminently listed—has been stiring up a lot of well-deserved attention. (We linked to the study last week here.)

Among the commentary the study stimulated was Sunday’s New York Times editorial stating that education should be the next area of focus for juvenile justice reform. While the essay is slightly clumsy in places, its primary point is an important one. Here’s a clip:

…It is a mistake to assume that all children held in juvenile facilities represent “hard cases” beyond redemption. Indeed, a new study, by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta, shows that nearly two-thirds of the young people who were confined in 2010 were confined for nonviolent offenses.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Even those kids who are in for violent offences, do not represent "'hard cases' beyond redemption. Good grief, NYT Ed Board! What are you thinking??]

Moreover, disproportionate numbers of these young people have special needs. Federal data from 2010 show that 30 percent had learning disabilities, 45 percent had problems paying attention and 30 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse. It should come as no surprise that most of the young people entering juvenile residential institutions are behind in reading and math.

These children do not get the attention in school that they need to succeed and get even less of it in juvenile justice facilities. A federal study showed that in 2009, fewer than half of students in state juvenile justice programs earned even one course credit and that fewer than one in 10 earned a high school diploma or a G.E.D. This makes it unlikely that most of them will succeed at school once they are released and more likely that they will get in trouble again.

The good news is that it is possible to create strong schools inside juvenile facilities that actually help the most troubled children. This can be done by improving coordination between the public schools and the juvenile justice system. States can also seek to emulate models like the one used at the Maya Angelou Academy in a juvenile facility in the District of Columbia, which hires talented teachers with high expectations, uses individualized instruction to meet particular student needs and weaves special education services throughout its lessons.

It is also good news that, while it has a long way to go, LA County Probation and its partner in the matter, The Los Angeles County Office of Education, has taken important steps forward in instituting some new and effective educational programs in some of its juvenile probation camps, and it is expected to take still more steps in the fall.

More on all that soon.


CAN A CHILD BE BORN BAD?

Juvenile justice advocate, Xavier McElrath-Bey, was sentenced to 25 years in prison at age 13 after he was involved in a gang-related murder. In this recent TEDX talk at Northwestern University he discusses his early life, the physical abuse by his father, worse abuse by his step father, his mother’s mental illness, the horror of his foster care placement that should have provided safety, and his eventual path to a string of criminal convictions, involvement in a murder, and prison.

Underneath all his trauma, McElrath-Bey was a smart kid and, at 18, he managed to find enough sense of self to turn his life around when he was inside. By the time he was released at age 26, McElrath-Bey had acquired a degree in social science and a Master of Arts in human services, both from Roosevelt University.

These days, he works for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing for Youth. And just prior to his new job, McElrath-Bey worked for five years on a clinical research project at Northwestern where he conducted more than 800 clinical field interviews with formerly incarcerated teenagers as part of a longitudinal study of the mental health needs and outcomes of individuals who are locked up for long periods as kids.

He was startled to find how similar the backgrounds of those in the study were to his own. Kids “who had been virtually abandoned.”

“Despair was the dominant theme of my life and the lives of my friends,” he said. “….It was natural for me to join a gang. …I felt safer in the streets than I did in my home.”

Listen to his story.


OREGON PUSHES INMATE FAMILY VISITS BECAUSE RESEARCH SHOWS—IT WORKS: CONTACT HELPS PRISONERS DO BETTER ON RELEASE

The whole thing started after Oregon Department of Corrections officials read a November 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections that concluded “visitation significantly decreased the risk of recidivism,” and that “visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in reducing the risk of recidivism…” (Interestingly, visits from ex-spouses, did not have such a positive effect.)

This is not the only such study. For years, research has shown that family contact is one of the most important predictors of who is going to do well on the outside, and who is likely to cycle right back in. But the Minnesota study was a large, new longitudinal study that followed 16,420 offenders from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007, and came up with some significant data. So the Oregon folks paid attention.

Bryan Denson of the Oregonian has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Oregon Department of Corrections officials read the Minnesota study and were staggered when they crunched the numbers and found that 59 percent of the roughly 14,000 prisoners in their lockups got no visitation.

Officials looked at their own visitation policies, according to spokeswoman Betty Bernt, and asked themselves tough questions: How much of the poor visitation rate was their fault? What were their policies on keeping nuclear families together? What about their policy of not allowing people with criminal backgrounds to visit?

Corrections officials from across the state set up a working group to improve the dismal percentage of inmates connecting with their families.

They recently passed out a survey to a large segment of inmates to help guide ways they could improve visitation. The questionnaire asked them questions about what type of support might be helpful to their transition from prison to home. Responses are due by April 30.

Corrections officials also considered setting up prisoners with trained volunteer mentors and relaxing visitation rules for inmates who are in disciplinary housing units.

They also increased visiting hours and special events. Salem’s Santiam Correctional Institution, for instance, began Thursday visiting hours earlier this year designed for inmates to spend time with their children.

One of the most startling and intriguing things about the way Oregon officials approached the matter was that they aggressively questioned their existing policies rather than assuming that the reasons for the lack of prisoner visits should be laid solely at the feet of the prisoners and their families.

The new programs have not been in place for long enough for Oregon to determine if the family contact will affect prisoners’ outcomes when they are released.

But more prisoners are getting visits from family members. More prisoners are having contact with their children. The first step has been taken.



Solitary photo/Frontline

Posted in crime and punishment, Education, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

More on That Calderon Corruption Case—involving FBI Stings, Many Millions in Double Billing, and Fake Film Companies

February 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


California State Senator California Senator Ronald Calderon
was taken into custody Monday morning after surrendering to federal authorities to be arraigned Monday afternoon on 24 counts that include corruption, mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery, conspiracy, money laundering….and more.

Thomas Calderon, the former speaker of the California state assembly, and Ron Calderon’s brother, surrendered this past Friday when federal charges against both men were announced by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte.

As you may know by now, Ron Calderon is accused of being involved in two elaborate schemes in which he allegedly solicited and accepted around $100,000 in cash bribes along with trips to Las Vegas, expensive dinners, and gratis stays at golf resorts, plus a couple of high-paying jobs for his son and his daughter (requiring little or no work). In return Calderon allegedly exerted influence on state legislation that was favorable to those doing the bribing.

In one of the bribery set-ups that resulted in the charges against Calderon and his brother, the state senator allegedly took money and favors from a guy named Michael Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, which is a major provider of two kinds of expensive and delicate spinal surgeries that are often billed to workers’ compensation programs. (Drabot has accepted a plea agreement and is cooperating with the feds.)

The California law that Calderon reportedly worked to keep on the books (it has since been repealed), allowed a hospital to essentially bill twice for an expensive piece of hardware used in the surgeries. (First the hospital got to bill workers comp for the full cost of the surgery—which amounted to a 20 percent more than the facility would have gotten if it was being paid under Medicare. Then it got to bill all over again for the hardware—the average price of which, was already paid for in the original billing).

In the companion case filed on Friday, Drobot admitted that his hospital exploited this law, which was known as the “spinal pass-through,” law, by billing insurance providers at highly inflated prices for the device in question that had been bought from shell companies that Drobot controlled.

“Drobot allegedly bribed Ron Calderon so that he would use his public office to preserve this law that helped Drobot maintain a long-running and lucrative health care fraud scheme,” said the US Attorney’s office in one of its official statement.

In addition, Drobot had reportedly been paying kickbacks to doctors and chiropractors who, in return, recommended to what would amount to thousands of patients that they have their pricey surgery at Drobot’s Long Beach hospital, even if they lived a hundred or more miles away from Long Beach, and there was perfectly appropriate facility far closer to their homes.

“The co-conspirators lined their pockets by ripping off insurance companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.


THE AFFIDAVIT AND THE STING

The charges against the Calderons were, to a great extent, previewed last October when reporters from Al Jazeera America managed to get their hands on a sealed 125-page federal affidavit that was used to get a judge to sign off on the FBIs raid of Calderon’s office some months earlier.

The affidavit (which was redacted by Al Jazeera to block out the identities of the undercover FBI agents involved in a sting against Calderon) is replete with lots of alleged dialogue between Calderon and the three FBI undercovers, who were posing as the head of a new (and fake) LA film company, the film company’s money man, and the film guy’s good-looking girlfriend, who was in need of a job. Calderon allegedly provided said girlfriend employment on the state’s dime—until such time as the fake film guy “was no longer with” his fake girlfriend. (Nope. Not making this last part up.) Oh, yes, and Calderon allegedly solicited and accepted bribes from the undercover FBI agents in return for pushing legislation that would be favorable to their “film company.”

US Attorney Birotte looked grim as he talked to reporters on Friday about the case against the high-living Calderon brothers. “Holding elected office means accepting the public trust…” said Birotte. “And the vast majority of officeholders do so with dignity, honor and the well-being of their constituents. When you selfishly line your pockets, it’s up to us to take steps to hold these individuals accountable.”

Indeed.

Posted in Community Health, consumer affairs, crime and punishment, FBI | No Comments »

Don’t Close Child Dependency Court…Lee Baca’s Approval Rating… Baca Uses the “B” Word: Bitter…..”Circle It!” Don’t Suspend Say TX Students….Graduation & Crime & Money

December 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


PLEASE DON’T CLOSE CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT. JUST DON’T DO IT!

On Wednesday there was a hearing in front of the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals that is to determine whether or not the order issued by Judge Robert Nash in January 2012 to finally open Los Angeles County’s child dependency courts to the press under certain controlled circumstances was legal.

These are the courtrooms where foster care cases are heard, that have too long been secretive and disastrously short of sunlight.

The LA Times editorial board asks the 2nd Circuit to leave the situation as is. As does Christie Renick for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip from what the Times had to say, with which we strongly agree:

Has openness perfected the Dependency Courts? No. But parents who felt their cases were being rushed through by overburdened lawyers and social workers have expressed relief to have outside eyes present; lawyers who complained of judges delaying cases have welcomed coverage that creates a disincentive to dawdle; judges say coverage has focused attention on questionable lawyering. Meanwhile, the tentative ruling cites no instance in which any child has been harmed by the presence of reporters.

This is an important work in progress; the appellate court should not end it. If it tries, the Legislature should pass a bill keeping the courts in Los Angeles open or, even better, extending the principle of Nash’s order to the entire state.

We’ll let you know when we learn more.


IS LEE BACA’S APPROVAL RATING DIVING? A CHALLENGER’S TAKES A POLL

Early Wednesday morning Los Angeles County Sheriff’s candidate and Lee Baca challenger Bob Olmsted released a poll that showed that incumbent Baca’s approval ratings could be in the midst of a bad slide.

The poll was a live telephone survey of 406 likely June 2014 voters in LA County conducted December 16th – 17th 2013. Olmsted’s campaign paid for the survey.

Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly got the fastest story up on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca has had a rough couple of years, but it’s gotten really bad in the last two weeks, ever since federal prosecutors brought corruption charges against 18 of his deputies.

Baca is up for re-election next year, and the unending scandals have taken a toll on his approval ratings. That’s according to a new poll released today by one of Baca’s opponents.

The survey shows that Baca’s favorability rating has plunged in the last two years, and a majority of likely voters now disapprove of Baca’s handling of his job. Not a good sign for the 71-year-old lawman.

[SNIP]

As with any internal poll, take it with a grain of salt.

With that, the results:

Baca (job approval)

Positive: 34%
Negative: 52%

Baca (favorability):

Favorable: 41%
Unfavorable: 33%

His favorability rating has declined sharply since the fall of 2011, according to another poll the Weekly obtained last month.

Baca (2011 favorability)
Favorable: 66%
Unfavorable: 23%

That’s a 35-point drop in his net favorability rating in the last two years.

As Maddaus said, one should take insider polls with a dash of good sel de mer. Plus the sheriff has a big powerful political machine plus nearly two decades worth of popularity that one would be unwise to discount.

Yet, there is without a doubt blood in the water.


BACA FINALLY TALKS & CALLS HIS OPPONENTS “BITTER & A QUITTER”,

After not meeting with the press for months, Sheriff Lee Baca has emerged from his bat cave to speak with reporters a number of times in the last week. On Wednesday he met with KCAL 9′s Dave Lopez.

Be sure to watch the video, which includes a change of clothes on the part of the sheriff so that he could speak about the election legally—AKA out of uniform.

After talking about what he describes as his utter non-involvement with the FOS—Friends of the Sheriff—hiring program, he did his clothes change and chatted emphatically about his campaign.

Here’ a bit of what he said:

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” he said. “Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy.”

Baca’s two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle. [Actually that isn't accurate, but whatever]

Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.

“My opponents – one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you’ve got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter,” he said.

Okay, I count three in that statement. One bitter, one a quitter, and “one who is bitter but should have been a quitter.’

Who’s the third guy, sheriff? Just asking.

NOTE: ABC-7 has a story on the Friends of the Sheriff issue, that is worth checking out as well.


“CIRCLE IT!” SAN ANTONIO, TX, SCHOOL USES INNOVATIVE STRATEGY TO SUCCESSFULLY REDUCE SUSPENSIONS

The term “circling it” has become an important part of the vernacular at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Jim Forsyth at WOAI Radio has the story. Here’s a clip:

Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it ‘Restorative Discipline’ and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.

“What’s happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate,” she told 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board. “Not just change the kids’ behavior.”

She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal’s office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers ‘talk out’ the issues in what are called ‘restorative circles.’

“When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven’t had before,” Armour said.

She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior…


STUDY SAYS H.S. GRADUATION PREVENTS CRIME AND SAVES $$

A recent report draws a correlation between graduation rates and entry into the criminal justice system—and then does the math. Obviously one cannot draw a straight line of cause and effect, but the relationship is there, and the study is worth noting.

Isabelle Dills of the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

strong>Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.

[SNIP]

There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.

“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.

The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.

It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, Education, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 40 Comments »

Former Boston Prosecutor Gets Self Arrested in NY to Examine System…..Sheriff Admits to 80 Bad Hires, Talks Reform….LA County Plans to Lobby CA for Realignment $$$.

December 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FORMER BOSTON PROSECUTOR GETS SELF ARRESTED TO LOOK INSIDE THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, DOESN’T LIKE WHAT HE SEES

Former Boston prosecutor Bobby Constantino decided to find out first hand what New York’s criminal justice system looked like from the perspective of a lawbreaker, and if he—as an upscale-looking white guy—would be treated differently than someone who looked less affluent and/or was non-white.

The answers Constantino got are both interesting to read and disturbing.

Here are some clips from Constantino’s story, written for the Atlantic.

Ten years ago, when I started my career as an assistant district attorney in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, I viewed the American criminal justice system as a vital institution that protected society from dangerous people. I once prosecuted a man for brutally attacking his wife with a flashlight, and another for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub. I believed in the system for good reason.

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.

[LARGE CLIP]

I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me” on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.

As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.

I woke up the next morning and Fox News was reporting that unknown suspects had vandalized City Hall. I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done…

[BIG SNIP]

In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge—in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him—went over the prosecutor’s head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.

At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.

“Wait, what?” I blurted out. “This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?”

“Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.”

After the orientation, I went straight to my probation officer and requested permission to spend Christmas with my family in Massachusetts. I listened in disbelief as she denied my request—I’d worked with probation departments in several states, and I knew that regular family contact has been shown to reduce recidivism. My probation officer also refused to let me go home for Easter and birthdays……

Read the whole thing.


SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SAYS IT MADE 80 BAD HIRES, WILL REFORM HIRING PRACTICES, BLAMES BAD CHOICES ON PEOPLE CONVENIENTLY RETIRED

In a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca explained to the board members the broad strokes of the hiring practices that resulted in a list of questionable hires three years ago when the department merged with LA County’s Office of Public Safely—or OPS—and was asked to absorb what officers it could from that small county police force.

According to an LA Times investigation into the matter, out of 290 new hires, around 100 were inappropriate candidates for law enforcement. Some were droppingly inappropriate. like, for example, the woman who had a fight with her husband then, in a fit of pique, blasted away at the man with her service weapon as he frantically ran a zig-zag-pattern in order to dodge her bullets.

The supervisors were not at all thrilled with Baca’s one-and-a-quarter-page letter, which did not answer many of the question that the board deemed pertinent—namely how in the world did this happen? The letter mostly blamed the hires on retired undersheriff Larry Waldie. This was not an explanation that the board members appeared to find satisfying, particularly Supervisor Antonovich who made a motion that Baca be required to report again to the board in two weeks.

In the meantime, LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston talked to Assistant Sheriff Todd Rodgers about the matter and Rogers said that he and the sheriff admit that there had been 80 bad hires, but that reforms were being put into place to prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore reiterated to WitnessLA that former undersheriff Larry Waldie had been an extra layer in addition to the usual hiring protocols, and it was he who made the improper hiring selections.

“The sheriff takes full responsibility, and has decreed that we will do what is necessary to reform the system,” said Whitmore. “But it was Undersheriff Waldie who was in charge of that project.”

Former LASD commander Bob Olmsted, who is running against Baca in the 2014 sheriff’s race, said that from what he knows of the situation, the problems with department hiring practices are “systemic,” and not limited to merely those 80-100 problem hires from the OPS.

Olmsted also said he’d spoken to another retired undersheriff who told him that the sheriff would have had to sign off any and all people hired from the county police.

“All the paperwork absolutely would have gone straight to the sheriff,” Olmsted said.

AND FOR ONE MORE TAKE ON THIS ISSUE:

In an LA Times editorial about the bad hires that ran on Tuesday morning before the board meeting, editorial board member Rob Greene writes that the hiring issues point to other problems in the department.

Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca had his hands full last week responding to the arrests of 18 of his current and former deputies amid a continuing investigation into abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County’s jails, so let’s hope he hasn’t forgotten that he is due to report today on the previous week’s scandal: the hiring of dozens of deputies with personnel records that showed lying, cheating, excessive force and irresponsible use of firearms.

The two matters aren’t related in any formal sense; none of those arrested Dec. 9 was among the group that moved over to the Sheriff’s Department in 2010 when the county’s public safety police force was dissolved. But it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to recognize a link between bad hiring practices and bad deputy conduct, especially if the sheriff’s hiring of those 280 public safety officers three years ago followed standard policy….


LA COUNTY TO LOBBY FOR MORE REALIGNMENT MONEY FROM STATE & PROBATION CHIEF POWERS OUTLINES PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES 2 YEARS IN

The serendipitously-named Luke Money of the Santa Clarita Signal reports about LA County’s determination to get a larger slice of California’s realignment dollars. Here’s a clip:

With state savings likely totaling more than $2 billion and county resources strained to provide adequate services for thousands of offenders, county supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to dole out more dough to fund the cost of the controversial state prison realignment program.

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided during their meeting Tuesday to request more funding from the state to help supplement services that have been strained by an influx of inmates under the 2011 law, which shifted responsibility for some criminals from the state to counties.

“Realignment resulted in a 25 percent increase in the jail population over the first two years of the program,” reads a board report. “The population count was 15,463 on Sept. 30, 2011, and 19,225 on Sept. 30, 2013.”

The state will likely save in excess of $2 billion as a result of realignment, according to Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, while sending out less than $1 billion to California’s 58 counties to help offset the cost of the prisoner shift.

AND… PROBATION CHIEF JERRY POWERS REPORTS ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF REALIGNMENT IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, Probation Chief Jerry Powers presented an extensive two-year report on how realignment is going in LA County, which Powers said, gets 30 percent of the realignment prisoners. Among his points, Powers outlined some parts of the county’s approaches to the realignment challenges that are beginning to succeed, such as the use of “flash incarceration,” short jail terms of around 10 days, that are used for small infractions instead of parole revocation.

Allison Pari of KHTS AM Radio has more on Powers’ lengthy and comprehensive report:

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers opened the report by explaining that L.A. County is currently the only county in the state that has created a year two report on the results of AB 109.

He and the other presenters also emphasized that some of the data from year two is not complete, because those offenders released during 2013 may not have completed their probation or treatment.

During the first two years, more than 18,000 prisoners were released into the county under the Post-Release Community Supervision program, but the active probation population peaked at 10,300, according to the Probation Department’s full report, available here.

Powers said that of those 18,000 who have gone through the program so far, 1,900 have outstanding warrants, a similar ratio to other counties in the state.

He also said that flash incarcerations have significantly increased between years one and two–from more than 2,500 to more than 9,700–primarily because the Probation Department has become more comfortable with using this method of dealing with probation violators.

Flash incarcerations are seven to 10 day sentences given to AB 109 offenders for technical violations, such as failing to report to their probation officer.

Concerning recidivism, Powers said that the percentage of rearrests has been cut in half between years one and two– 43 percent rearrested vs. 21 percent rearrested…

Posted in Board of Supervisors, CDCR, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy, Realignment | 9 Comments »

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