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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 »

An “Epidemic” of Brady Violations…ATF Agents Behaving Badly…. Fed Judges Now Add Solitary to CA Prison Talks

December 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI FOR THE 9TH CIRCUIT SEZ THERE IS AN EPIDEMIC OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

The Huffington Post’s Radley Balko (one of our favorite criminal justice journalists and the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop) reports on the series of statements by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Alex Kozinski—and what is behind Kozenski’s blistering fury. Here’s a clip:

The dissent by Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, from a decision not to rehear U.S. v. Olsen starts off with a bang:

There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.

Brady, of course, is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. In Olsen, a ruling from a three-judge 9th Circuit panel in January detailed extensive questionable conduct on the part of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks (*see clarification below), who works for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. (Kozinski’s opinion this week doesn’t name Hicks, nor do most press accounts of the decision, but I will. These prosecutors need to be identified by name.)

[BIG SNIP]

The U.S. Department of Justice is stingy when it comes to releasing information about disciplining federal prosecutors for misconduct, but it seems unlikely Hicks will face any real sanction. Recent media investigations have found that such discipline is rare. Even in cases involving high-profile, egregious misconduct, like the prosecution of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, prosecutors can usually duck any serious sanction. In the Stevens case, the DOJ imposed light suspensions on the offending prosecutors, and even those were later overturned by an administrative law judge. (You could make a strong argument that federal prosecutors have more protections against professional sanction than criminal defendants do against violations of their constitutional rights by federal prosecutors.)

Offenbecher says it’s unlikely that he’ll file a complaint against Hicks. That isn’t uncommon, either. Defense attorneys have to work with prosecutors on behalf of other clients, including negotiating favorable plea bargains. Putting yourself in the cross-hairs of a U.S. attorney’s office can make it very difficult to be an effective advocate. That’s a lot of risk to take on, especially if it’s unlikely that anything will actually come of the complaint.


FEDERAL ATF AGENTS PAY TROUBLED 19 YEAR OLD TO GET JOINT SMOKING SQUID TATTOO….AND WORSE

This story falls into the please-tell-us-you’re-kidding category.

The Atlantic Monthly’s Coner Friedersdorf and Andrew Cohen draw attention to an astonishing, and largely ignored story broken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’s alleged use of a string of mentally disabled locals in a number of US cities to drum up business for their various stings, later arresting the people they’d used.

And then the ATF’s behavior really got crazy.

Here’s a clip:

Lately infamous for the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, the ATF now has the dubious distinction of bankrolling even-more-questionable behavior, which my colleague Andrew Cohen details here. The newspaper leads its latest investigative article with a headline-friendly anecdote about Aaron Key, a mentally disabled 19-year-old who started hanging out with the guys who ran a smoke shop near his house, taking them for friends. As it turns out, they were undercover ATF agents. And they paid the troubled teen and a friend $150 apiece to tattoo the fake shop’s emblem on their necks.

But digging into the story, it’s evident that undercover employees were engaged in far more objectionable behavior.

In cities around the United States, the ATF set up fake stores—often but not always pawn shops—set up surveillance cameras, conducted lots of illegal business over many months, and arrested various customers at the end of the sting. Normally federal law-enforcement agencies don’t set up operations guaranteed to mostly snare low-level individual criminals operating at the local level.

Questionable resource allocation aside, the really shocking parts of this scandal involve what happened at the neighborhood level as several of these stores were being operated. Just take a look at the newspaper’s bullet-point summary….

To find the summary, click here. And for the whole series, go here.


FEDERAL JUDGES ADD THE ISSUE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO THE CALIFORNIA PRISON NEGOTIATIONS

As the mandated negotiations continue to try to nail down a long-term plan that will lower California’s prison population, as ordered by the US Supremes, a new element has found its way into the talks, reports the LA Times’ Paige St. John. Here’s a clip from St. John’s story:

Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding have asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday said he had accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges issued an order extending negotiations to Jan. 10, and pushing the state’s deadline to reduce crowding to April 18.

Karlton is holding hearings on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and also sits on the federal three-judge panel that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding.

California has been ordered to remove 7,000 inmates from state prisons, reductions that judges say are needed to remedy unconstitutionally dangerous conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care. In Wednesday’s order, the judges said they expect no further extension in the talks, “absent extraordinary circumstances,” but that does not preclude additional delays in the actual crowding deadline.

[SNIP]

Transcripts of courtroom hearings show the talks took a twist after Thanksgiving, when Karlton said he was concerned about some 230 mentally ill prisoners currently housed in isolation cells, though they have committed no infraction. State prison officials say they are there for their own protection, or while awaiting space in a mental health unit.

Karlton said he told the other federal judges “that as far as I was concerned” the state’s request for an extension to reduce prison overcrowding should not be granted as long as those mentally ill inmates were being held in isolation units.

Lawyers for California made it clear that the state is eager to address the judge’s concerns about solitary confinement. Transcripts show that at one point last week, state officials were rushing documents to the judge for review. At another, they offered to produce Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to speak with Karlton. The judge said he was told Brown’s office responded that it “understood the nature of the problem” and promised a quick remedy….

Posted in CDCR, Courts, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, How Appealing, law enforcement, solitary | No Comments »

Federal Indictments, Part 2: Where—and To Whom—-Will They Lead?

December 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



On the day after United States Attorney Andre Birotte unveiled five criminal cases that have thus far resulted in the 18 federal indictments, it is instructive to look beyond Monday’s charges to see what they might mean in terms of the feds ongoing probes.


MONDAY’S INDICTMENTS POINT TOWARD FEDERAL CHARGES YET TO COME

Birotte made it clear that the 18 indictments unsealed on Monday—which he characterized has alleging “a wide scope of illegal conduct”—-were by no means an endpoint, that investigations were aggressively ongoing into these and other areas.

When asked by Warren Olney how high up the food chain he expected future indictments to go, Birotte said that the feds would “go where the investigations take us.”

If looked at as auguries of things yet to come, the three groups of indictments pertaining to the LA County jails are particularly interesting because they point to much broader indictments possibly on the horizon alleging a “pattern and practice” of abuse of inmates by deputies, and of related corruption in the jails.

For instance, one of the five clusters of indictments pertains to incidents at Twin Towers jail facility in which a training officer, Bryan Brunsting, along with Twin Towers deputy Jason Branum, is charged with planning an assault on an inmate “to teach him a lesson,” and then together with several other deputies, allegedly assaulting the inmate with kicks, punches and pepper spray to the point of “bodily injury.”

The indictment further alleges that Brunsting used deputies he was training to file reports that covered up the abuse and caused the beaten inmates to be falsely criminally charged to mask the beatings.

This alleged strategy of using accusations of violence against inmates to cover-up deputy assualts is one that has frequently turned up in high ticket lawsuits and incidents like the one WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on here last week. In other words, it suggests something more widespread than a few bad apples, but rather “pattern and practice.”


ALLEGED ASSAULTS ON NON-INMATE VISITORS

The second cluster of indictments, labeled “the visiting center indictment,” charges that a sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, and four deputies, with civil rights violations, and alleges they arrested or detained five victims—including the Austrian consul general and her husband—when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail.

According to Birotte, one of those victims suffered injuries that resulted in a permanent disability.

The indictment further alleges that Gonzales, who is no longer with the department, “encouraged deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force”….and to “criticize deputy sheriffs’ who were not aggressive.”

When Gonzales left Men’s Central Jail, the indictment charges that the attitudes he promoted continued.

Again, this cluster suggests possible “pattern and practice” allegations to come.

The visiting center indictment is also interesting because none of the people who were allegedly unlawfully detained and/or assaulted, were inmates. Instead they were simply the friends or family of inmates who had come to the jail to visit.


A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP

So how responsible are Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka for the actions alleged in the indictments?

When Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, was interviewed Monday on KCRW as part of the station’s coverage of the indictments, Krinsky talked about “failures of leadership at the highest level,” leadership that, among other things, failed to address a culture in the jails where “a code of silence and excessive force was the norm.”

A failure for leadership to address such attitudes, “…causes small problems to become large problems,” said Krinsky.

You can listen to the rest of what Krinsky had to say here.


HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE ELECTION?

Kevin Roderick of LA Observed made an interesting point in his KCRW segment on Monday, when he suggested that one of the reasons the sheriff, who has rarely spoken to the press these past months, felt he had to hold a press conference Monday afternoon after the indictments were unsealed, was because he feared a gaggle of reporters with cameras and mics would show up at his Monday night $1500-a-plate campaign fundraiser co-sponsored by Grey Davis, Carmen Trutanich, and attorney Mark Geragos. (“They probably showed up anyway,” Roderick said.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze went even further with his report on what the indictments might mean for Baca’s reelection race. Here are some clips.

When Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca woke up Monday morning, he was probably looking forward to the fundraiser being held that very evening for his 2014 re-election campaign.

But his mood probably changed about 9:30 a.m., when news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice had indicted 18 current or former members of the Sheriff’s Department on a wide range of misconduct charges that include excessive force, unlawful arrests and obstruction of a federal investigation.

At a morning press conference, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. pointedly said the incidents “did not take place in a vacuum – in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”

[BIG SNIP]

…The sheriff faced a daylong deluge of criticism from various corners.

Former federal judge and former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, Robert Bonner, served on a blue ribbon commission that just over a year ago issued a report that faulted both Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

“I think [the charges] are reflective of what we found on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence,” said Bonner, “that there has been, in the past, a culture within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that fosters the use of unreasonable and unnecessary force.”

Bonner called the indictments something akin to a thermonuclear bomb delivered by the U.S. attorney, noting how unusual it is for the federal government to indict law enforcement officials.

Since, along with his other past jobs, Jails Commissioner Bonner also ran the DEA, and the US Border Patrol, he is likely in a position to know a bit about law enforcement.


SHERIFF’S CHALLENGER BOB OLMSTED SPEAKS OUT ON THE INDICTMENTS

Bob Olmsted, the retired LASD commander who is challenging Lee Baca for sheriff, pointed unequivocally to the involvement of Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka in the alleged hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown, which resulted in seven indictments on Monday.

Olmsted was on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney, and spoke to Frank Stoltze at KPCC, along with putting out a statement of his own about the indictments.

Regarding the cluster of indictments stemming from the Anthony Brown matter, Olmsted told Stoltze that the directions to hide FBI informant Brown, and to try to intimidate his FBI handler, could not have originated with the lieutenants and two sergeants who were indicted.

“Lieutenants do not have the capability to make decisions,” Olmsted said. “Those came from higher-ups. Being an investigator for years and years and years, I can tell you what’s going on: The Feds grabbed the low-lying fruit.”

Olmsted also pointed out that when Paul Tanaka was interviewed by the LA Times, and by ABC-7, Tanaka claimed that Baca ordered him to hide prisoner Anthony Brown. “He said it was Lee Baca’s idea and I was just following orders,” Olmsted noted both to WitnessLA and to Olney. “This could not have occurred without being condoned all the way to the top.”

Interestingly, when asked by Olney, if he would have the wherewithal to challenge two very well financed candidates with deep pockets—meaning Baca and Tanaka—Olmsted said he did, that by the end of the year he expected his fundraising to hit the same dollar amount that now LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey had raised at the same point in her campaign against the better financed and better known Carmen Trutanich.


LASD WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES RETALIATION

Backing Olmsted’s observations about the involvement of top leadership, Bradley Gage, attorney for department whistleblower, LASD Lt. Katherine Voyer (among others), told KNBC reporters on Monday that Voyer—-who was a supervisor in the jails at the time when Anthony Brown’s identity as an informant was discovered—was told that if federal agents showed up to see inmate Brown, Paul Tanaka was to be called immediately on his personal cell phone, and that no one should use department phones or email, because those forms of communications might be tapped by the feds.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS GLORIA MOLINA AND MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS WEIGH IN ON THE INDICTMENTS

Molina issued a statement late Monday that read, in part:

“This morning’s Department of Justice arrests are disappointing but not surprising – and, in some ways, expected. These arrests reveal that Sheriff Lee Baca’s claim ‘there is no institutional problem within the Sheriff’s Department when it comes to correcting itself’ is untrue – especially since 18 current or former Sheriff’s Deputies were arrested. Saying you embrace change is not enough. Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform – they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years…..”

Ridley-Thomas also put out a statement, and told LA Times reporter Seema Mehta that the indictments were yet another indication of the need for strong oversight of the department.

“Ultimately, the next step in this process of reform is oversight and this should not be taken lightly because of the need to make sure that we are building a culture where no one operates under the impression they are above the law,” he said in an interview.
Ridley-Thomas said the mechanism would be a blue-ribbon panel that he and Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed earlier this year that has stalled for the lack of a third vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors. They will revisit the proposal in January.


NOTE: Obviously, there are lots of important news stories that have nothing to do with the sheriff’s department or with new federal indictments. And we’ll be diving into those issues tomorrow morning.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 24 Comments »

Supes May Vote on LASD Oversight Commission & Questionable Electronic Monitoring Contract….A Glitch in 3-Strikes Reform…Police & Sheriffs Given Leftover Iraq War Trucks…An LASD Detective & a Steamy Cold Case

November 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



SUPES COULD VOTE TUESDAY ON LASD OVERSIGHT COMMISSION….& THE CONTRACT TO HIRE THE SAME ELECTRONIC MONITORING FIRM THAT ORANGE COUNTY FIRED

The LA County Supervisors may vote on Tuesday about whether they should create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department.

(And on the subject of oversight, no word yet on the whether an Inspector General has been hired to oversee the sheriff’s department, although we do know there were candidates interviewed earlier this month.)

Oh, and also back on the agenda is that iffy contract to rehire the same company for electronic monitoring that Orange County fired for incompetence.

More on all this when we have it.


SOME 3-STRIKERS HOPING FOR RELEASE AFTER THE LAW WAS REFORMED, HAVE FOUND THAT CERTAIN “NON-VIOLENT” THIRD STRIKES, ARE CONSIDERED “VIOLENT” AFTER ALL (IT’S COMPLICATED.)

The LA Times Jack Leonard has the story. Here’s a clip:

After nearly two decades behind bars, Mark Anthony White saw a chance for freedom last year when California voters softened the state’s tough three-strikes law.

Within weeks of the election, White asked a judge to reduce his 25-years-to-life sentence under the ballot measure, which allows most inmates serving life terms for relatively minor third strikes to seek more lenient sentences.

White would have walked free if his request had been granted. But a San Diego County judge refused to reduce White’s sentence. The judge ruled that the 54-year-old prisoner’s last crime, being a felon in possession of a firearm, made him ineligible for a lighter punishment.

A year after state voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, judges around the state are handing down conflicting decisions on whether prisoners given life terms for gun possession can qualify for shorter sentences.

The ballot measure specifically excluded prisoners whose third strikes were either violent or serious, or who during the commission of their last crime were armed with a firearm or deadly weapon.
Whether someone convicted of simply possessing a firearm was in fact armed during the commission of a crime is a more complicated legal question than it might appear.


18-TON LEFTOVER IRAQ WAR MILITARY ARMOURED TRUCKS COMING TO A POLICE AND/OR SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT NEAR YOU

They’re humungous, they’re distressingly tippy, they’re “intimidating,” and they’re free. But are they needed?

(When Radley Balko wrote about the militarization of America’s police forces in his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, this is the kind of thing he meant.)

The AP has the story. Here’s a clip:

Coming soon to your local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S. answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war.

The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000 each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of equipment that the Defense Department is giving to law enforcement agencies under a national military surplus program.

For police and sheriff’s departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up.

“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, among five county sheriff’s departments and three other police agencies in New York that have taken delivery of an MRAP.


AN LAPD COLD CASE REVISITED—WITH MUCH HOPE….AND AN AMBIGUOUS CONCLUSION

Twenty-two years ago, Sheriff’s Department investigators thought that they likely had their man in the case of the murder of a married LAPD officer’s girlfriend (who was the wife of another LAPD cop). But they could make no arrest.

Twenty-two years later, a new sheriff’s detective opened the cold case.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the melancholy and intriguing interactive story.

Here’s a clip. (But you have to read the whole thing to find out what happens!)

She was both a sister and wife of Los Angeles cops, and worked as a clerk for Police Chief Daryl Gates. Nixon was one of the LAPD’s rising stars, on his way to taking over a coveted position as the chief’s official spokesman.

Their affair began on a spring day in 1985 when they checked into a Holiday Inn. Browne left her husband a few weeks later.

For three years they met regularly, often at her house during the day. At night, he’d go home to his wife in Pasadena.

Then, one morning, Browne was found beaten and strangled on her bathroom floor.

The crime scene was outside the Los Angeles city limits, so it fell to the L.A. County sheriff’s department to investigate. Detectives looked at Nixon as a suspect, but they gave up on the case without filing charges. Nixon, who over the years has maintained his innocence, worked another decade before retiring and moving to Oregon.

Twenty-two years after the killing, in 2010, Robert Taylor, a cold case investigator in the sheriff’s office, reopened the file.

Read on.


Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Police, Sentencing | No Comments »

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