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PBS SoCal Shines an Important Narrative-Focused Spotlight on Child Welfare

December 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

PBS SoCal has unveiled a new public media project called “To Foster Change” that will address crucial child welfare issues in order to “spark dialog and progress,” Andrew Russell, President of PBS SoCal, said.

Through documentaries, web series, and PSAs, PBS SoCal hopes to “foster change” by telling the powerful stories of foster children, foster and adoptive parents, and the array of professionals who work with kids in the child welfare system.

In the video above, a former foster child named Jessie talks with pride about painting abstract murals for a living, and how a love of coloring books turned into a passion for graffiti art.

“That was my way of expressing myself and getting rid of all the frustration and emotions I had of dealing with all the dysfunction in the house,” Jessie says. The young man, who was in foster care from the age of 3 to 18, says he hopes his murals inspire those who pass by them. “I’m blessed to create something beautiful that derives from pain, and share it with the world,” Jessie says.

In the video below, Shelita, a singer and former foster child talks about how music and Maya Angelou’s most famous autobiographical book drastically changed her outlook on life. “”All of my music is expressions of my experience…about what I’ve gone through,” Shelita says. “One book that changed my life was Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It wasn’t until I read that book that I realized I wasn’t a victim anymore.”

In addition to providing a platform for foster youth to tell their own stories, PBS SoCal will also host community conversations among those whose decisions affect the lives of foster kids, including education leaders, representatives from government agencies, advocates, and service providers.

When foster kids age out of the system, the odds are invariably stacked against them. They often leave their foster homes with little or no money, support, or tools to prepare them for college or adult life.

Acknowledging the hardships associated with “aging out” of the foster care system, the initiative will give internships, mentorship, and other employment training opportunities to teens and young adults making the daunting transition out of the foster care system.

Head over to the ToFosterChange.org website to learn more about the initiative (which is funded by a three-year, $1.7 million grant from the Hilton Foundation), and to take in the rest of the not-to-be-missed videos.

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Chief Says LAPD Won’t Work with Trump on Mass Deportations, Texting Probation Officers, and LA’s Still Short on Foster Care Beds

November 15th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF, LA MAYOR SAY THE CITY WILL NOT HELP DONALD TRUMP DEPORT UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS

The LAPD will not change its immigration policies to help fulfill President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to deport millions of immigrants, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday.

The police chief told the LA Times that his department will not “engage in law enforcement activities solely based on someone’s immigration status,” or work with Homeland Security on any efforts to ramp up deportations. “That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”

The LAPD will continue to follow Special Order 40, a 1979 mandate that prevents police from questioning people with the sole intention of determining their immigration status, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. And, if faced with hostility toward the people of Los Angeles, “we will speak up, speak out, act up, and act out,” the mayor said.

Special Order 40 was implemented by then-LAPD Chief Daryl Gates along with the LA City Council, so that undocumented immigrants could feel safe reporting crimes and otherwise engaging with law enforcement without the fear of deportation. Under the mandate, officers are not to arrest or book anyone solely for violating immigration law.

In addition to Donald Trump’s “first 100 days” promise to immediately start deporting more than two million undocumented immigrants is Donald Trump has also vowed to take away US Department of Justice grants from cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco for their “sanctuary city” status.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Cindy Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

During Beck’s tenure as chief, the department stopped turning over people arrested for low-level crimes to federal agents for deportation and moved away from honoring federal requests to detain inmates who might be deportable past their jail terms.

[SNIP]

“Our law enforcement officers and LAPD don’t go around asking people for their papers, nor should they,” [Garcetti] said. “That’s not the role of local law enforcement.”

Capt. Jeff Scroggin, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said it is too soon to say how sheriff’s officials would react to any changes required by the Trump administration. Those changes could be tied to federal funding, he noted.

In the meantime, he said, sheriff’s deputies who patrol the county will continue their longstanding practice of treating all residents the same, regardless of background.

“We just want people to come forward so we have a better community. It doesn’t matter whether they’re an immigrant or going through the process of citizenship,” Scroggin said. “Whatever it is, we want to hear from them. We don’t want them to not cooperate. It’s important to keep the community safe. We never ask about immigration status.”


RIVERSIDE TESTING TEXT MESSAGING PROGRAM FOR PROBATION OFFICERS AND THEIR CLIENTS

The Riverside County Probation Department is testing a unique messaging program that allows probation officers to talk with their clients via text message. Senior Probation Officer Jaime MacLean has been testing the program, which is called CORE (Communicating Openly Requires Engagement), with her 30 clients since March.

Only three of MacLean’s clients have violated their probation in the months since March, compared with an average of around 3 violations per month that usually occur in caseloads of that size in Riverside.

MacLean says it has allowed her to engage with her clients in a way that she hadn’t been able to before that shows probationers that she cares about them and their success. Through the texting program, clients receive important updates, announcements for job fairs and other services, and can quickly communicate with their probation officer if they miss a meeting.

CA Fwd’s Nadine Ono has more on the promising program. Here’s a clip:

Part of building relationships with clients involves texting announcements and reminders for events such as job fairs, sending inspirational messages to lift their spirits in addition, checking-in as part of their probation, or allowing clients to text photos as proof of required activities.

The traditional way of communicating with clients is through phone calls and regular appointments, which is sometimes the only contact. And, if a client misses an appointment, unless he or she can connect by phone, the officer has no way of knowing what happened, which could lead to a violation.

McLean said the extra engagement is paying off. “They’re more willing to be honest via text message.” She explained that it is often hard for clients admit mistakes, such as using drugs or alcohol, over the phone or face-to-face. She added that sometimes clients will meet with her and say everything is OK, but then text her their problem after they leave the office.

“The whole point is trying to figure out how we can work on things together, instead of them feeling like they don’t want to come in and tell their probation officer what’s going on,” said McLain. “If they have a better relationship with me, they’re more willing to figure out what the next steps can be together.”

MacLean said she has one client with bad anxiety who is uncomfortable sitting in the waiting room. With the ability to text, the client can let her know when he has arrived, so that she can meet him at the door and bring him directly to the office. “Otherwise,” she said, “he just wouldn’t show up.” And not showing up could lead to a violation and possibly back in jail.


AS CA MOVES TOWARD ELIMINATING LONG-TERM GROUP HOMES, LA COUNTY STILL STRUGGLES TO BOOST AVAILABLE PLACEMENTS FOR FOSTER KIDS

A recent report from the LA County Department of Children and Family Services reveals that the county continues to struggle to find homes for kids in the foster care system.

While the number of children in foster care decreased by approximately 100, the number of open beds for foster kids also decreased by about the same amount.

DCFS has been working to increase the number of long-term placements with foster families as California moves toward a dramatic overhaul of the group home model slated to go into effect next year.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the report. Here’s a small clip:

The report also showed that there were 1,055 youth in group homes in 2015, a 4.4 percent increase over the year before.

California’s Continuum of Care Reform, which limits the amount of time a child or youth can be placed in a group home or congregate care facility, will take effect in January and will hasten the department’s efforts to find appropriate homes for older foster youth, who are often placed in residential institutions and small group homes.

Posted in Charlie Beck, children and adolescents, DCFS, Department of Justice, Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, immigration, LAPD | 11 Comments »

Next Fifth District Supervisor Will Face Highest Reported Rates of Child Abuse, Death in L.A. County – by Jeremy Loudenback

November 4th, 2016 by witnessla


BAD NUMBERS FOR CHILD SAFETY IN THE ANTELOPE VALLEY WILL GREET THE NEXT SUPE FOR LA COUNTY’S 5TH DISTRICT

by Jeremy Loudenback


Next week, Los Angeles County will elect a new supervisor to oversee an area that has the highest rates of reported child abuse and neglect and the highest infant mortality rate in the county.

The fifth district covers about 2,800 square miles, from the tony hills of Pasadena and Glendale to sprawling exurbs of the San Gabriel and Santa Clarita Valleys.

But it is the more distant, high-desert communities of the Antelope Valley that are cause for concern.

Located about 70 miles from the seat of county-government power in downtown Los Angeles, the sleepy bedroom communities of the Antelope Valley present worrying conditions for the health and well-being of young children.

The pair of candidates vying for termed-out Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are aware of the issues facing the Antelope Valley.

“It’s like one of these Hunger Games movies where the capital gets all the benefit,” said candidate Darrell Park, a clean-energy entrepreneur. “The farther north you go, the less benefit you get.”

Kathryn Barger, a chief deputy to longtime Supervisor Antonovich, said the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is “bursting at the seams” dealing with an uptick in child-welfare cases in the Antelope Valley as it prepares to hire more social workers.

“But it’s not just about bodies on the ground,” Barger said. “We’ve got to provide services and access to those services. Mental health is underfunded up there.”

According to Barger, the situation has long been challenging because of high rates of domestic violence and substance abuse and the difficulty of many in getting to services. She sees a role for public health nurses in child-maltreatment prevention by visiting first-time parents.

A 2015 analysis from the University of Southern California School of Social Work’s Children’s Data Network looked at the number of families with children ages 0 to 5 referred for child abuse or neglect to L.A. County’s child-protective service hotline operated by DCFS.

Across the county, the rate for the county as a whole is 14.6 percent, or about 1 in 7 young children.

But in the area representing the Antelope Valley, the rate is 20.6, the highest in the county.

In its most recent report on child abuse in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect identified Antelope Valley as having the highest rates of infant mortality and child death in 2013.

According to DCFS, more children are entering the system in recent years, causing the agency to hire 150 new staff and caseworkers to handle the increased caseloads at its Lancaster and Palmdale offices. DCFS is now seeking a bigger office there to accommodate its larger presence.

According to advocates and policymakers, the elevated numbers and child-maltreatment risk are a result of the area’s unique relationship to the rest of the county.


THE ISOLATION PROBLEM

Part of the reason is that the area remains geographically isolated. To get to the Antelope Valley, you have to travel up the 14 freeway, north of the San Gabriel Mountains, through the Angeles National Forest and into the edge of the Mojave Desert.

Sparsely populated, Antelope Valley is culturally and geographically distinct from other, more urban areas of the county. Cities like Palmdale and Lancaster have grown rapidly in recent years as many Angelenos have sought more affordable housing in the area or a slower pace of life.

But to get downtown or to other parts of the county often takes at least a couple hours, presenting challenges for the child-welfare system and others. Ferrying children to court either in Monterey Park or at the two L.A. County courts in Lancaster can take the better part of the day. Visitations with family members located in other parts of the county for children living in out-of-home placement in Antelope Valley stretches DCFS resources.

In recent years, many families have flocked to the Antelope Valley for cheaper housing after getting priced out of other areas in the county. But most still work in Los Angeles or nearby.

The availability of cheaper housing has also played a role in the area’s high maltreatment rate, according to Charles Avila, head of the Antelope Valley Child Abuse Prevention Council.

“In a normal household, a mom and dad leave for work when the kids go off to school, but here we have families leaving before the children are even up,” Avila said. “Because of that commute time, children are at home two or three hours before parents are even home.”

Jacquelyn McCroskey, a professor of social work at USC and a researcher with the Children’s Data Network, says that the huge land mass and long distances of the Antelope Valley present unique complications.

“Because of the commutes, there are fewer adults around in neighborhoods,” McCroskey said. “That means fewer community interactions and less time to get to know each other. Then you have the complications of a public transportation system that doesn’t get people to all the places they need to go.”

The population of Antelope Valley is relatively small, at about 390,000 — a fraction of the 10 million people who live in Los Angeles County as a whole. But services are not always available or easily accessed here.

“If you are looking for resources, whether that’s help finding a job, counseling or pre-natal care, you have to look harder for it,” McCroskey said. “You have to go further to get them, but it’s also hard to find the time to get to them even when you find them.”

For Avila, the key to preventing child maltreatment is a matter of education. The Antelope Valley Child Abuse Prevention Council hosts parent cafés, informal gatherings that allow parents to learn parenting skills and develop support networks that can decrease the risk of child abuse.

Despite the area’s struggles to prevent child abuse and neglect, Avila says it nurtures a sense of community.

“The Antelope Valley is very welcoming to new families coming in,” he said. “It’s still a quiet bedroom community. Neighbors know each other and neighbors take care of one another.”


For lots more on the race for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, see the excellent earlier coverage by the Chronicle of Social Change.


Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change, where this story first appeared.

Posted in DCFS, LA County Board of Supervisors | 2 Comments »

L.A.’s One-and-Only Native American Foster Mom – by Daniel Heimpel

June 21st, 2016 by witnessla


MEET L.A.’S ONE AND ONLY NATIVE AMERICAN FOSTER MOM

A look at the urgent need for foster families to give LA County’s Native American foster kids a place to belong.

by Daniel Heimpel


Lisa Smith and her two daughters peer out the front windows of their Diamond Bar, California, home.

“We were that anxious,” 49-year-old Smith says, recalling the afternoon in March.

They see a car pull up, and hurry to the curb. Inside are the two boys the family has been waiting for.

Smith immediately takes the younger boy, still a toddler, in her arms while her teenage daughter holds the hand of the older one.

Newly expanded, the family, alongside a pair of social workers, walks into the house and heads straight for the boys’ new room. For weeks, Smith, her husband and their three children have been stocking the bedroom with toys, baby clothes and the blankets that the Smith children slept in when they were little.

“This is home,” Smith tells the older boy. “These toys are yours forever.”

Smith cries with joy, overcome.

And while the transition is, on its face, easy, something about it concerns Smith.

The boys don’t ask when they will be going back home.

“They wanted to stay,” Smith explains. “And that’s hard – for them to not have that bond to where they came from.”

For Smith, the boys’ severance from their family strikes a chord. Like them, Smith grew up a member of the Cherokee Nation. She can track her roots back to the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s, when thousands of her ancestors were marched west from their native lands. For Native children, foster care is often the final tug that forever breaks the strands of shared tribal culture.

Smith wants to turn back the clock, rebuild the boys’ lives and strengthen her tribe. That’s why, only weeks before this bittersweet moment, she decided to become Los Angeles County’s one-and-only Native American foster mom.

“Within, you carry that pride, and you carry that pride onto the next generation,” Smith says. “And that’s what I am hoping, that with the children, I can serve to let them know that you’re a part of something larger, part of our [Cherokee] family here and across the United States.”

But for Native American children who enter the foster care system, being placed with a Native foster parent is far from guaranteed. Mistrust, a lack of accountability and a decades-long dearth of initiative has led many child welfare jurisdictions, Los Angeles included, to remain wildly out of compliance with federal legislation aimed at keeping tribes and Native families intact.


TERMINATION & RELOCATION = FOSTER CARE

L.A. County is home to one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country. Members of the great tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw and Navajo – are part of a diverse 152,000-person community, which also includes the local Tongva, Tataviam and some southern Chumash peoples.

Many, like Smith’s family, came during the Termination and Relocation Era, which started in the late 1940s and ran through the 50s, when the U.S. Congress set out on an explicit policy to assimilate Native Americans by forcing them to relinquish their lands and sovereignty. Tribes’ assets were liquidated, and their children were removed into foster care at increasing rates.

Relocation entailed offers of jobs, housing, job training and cash awards to Native families in exchange for moving off their lands and into urban centers like Los Angeles. These promised supports often did not materialize. Smith’s relatives fell into poverty, forcing her grandmother to engage in prostitution to support the family.

Smith holds onto photos of her uncle, James Cantrell, picking cotton and pears in the San Joaquin Valley in 1949, one year after the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officially launched its Relocation Program. She calls the photos “propaganda.”

“Who smiles when they’re picking cotton?” she asks sardonically.

For Smith’s family, and that of many other Native Americans, the dual policies of Termination and Relocation threatened to erase tribal bonds already frayed by successive waves of U.S. efforts to snuff out Native culture.

In Los Angeles and across the U.S., Native Americans, lured from their ancestral lands and the reservations they had been moved to, had to submit to the same laws that governed all Americans, including its child-protection policies.

In California and Los Angeles in particular, Native Americans soon found their children entering foster care at disproportionately high rates. According to the Children’s Data Network, a research institution housed within the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, nearly 9 percent of all 839 Native American children born in California in 2006 and 2007 would enter foster care by age 5, compared to 2.4 percent of white babies and 6.4 percent of black babies. The same held true in L.A. County, where 10.9 percent of Native children entered foster care by their fifth birthday, compared to 2 percent of white children and 7 percent of black children.


THE CHALLENGE OF RECRUITING NATIVE AMERICAN FOSTER PARENTS

Today, the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which oversees the county’s foster care system, says that it cares for 169 Native American children, 120 of whom are handled by the so-called “American Indian Unit.” Despite being established in 1999, the 10-person team has long struggled to recruit and retain Native American foster parents like Lisa Smith.

This struggle is rooted in the understandable mistrust the Native American community has of government agencies, and inconsistent efforts by the non-native child welfare system to let Native Americans lead foster parent recruitment efforts.

“Historically, when you look at the nature of the relationship between government and American Indians in general, there’s a history of distrust there,” says Robert Rodriguez, the American Indian Unit’s supervisor. “And, so, it has been very difficult, I think, for us to break through the barrier, to get that trust from the community and for them to understand the process.”

Rodriguez, who is of Yaqui and Comanche descent, is sitting next to David White, the regional administrator who oversees the unit, who has no Native blood.

The two cannot recall DCFS recruiting any Native foster homes despite both having spent years in the American Indian Unit. In 2014 they decided things had to change, and stepped up their efforts. So when Smith agreed to care for the two Cherokee boys this past February, it was a big moment.

“We are very protective of her,” White says.

Smith says she had serious misgivings about working with a foster care system known for dismantling Native families.

“It took me some time before I trusted DCFS and the American Indian Unit,” she says. “I had to see that they were coming with the right intentions and the right way to make a difference for our children.”

For Sherry White, a Ho-Chunk Indian originally from Wisconsin, and a close confidant of Smith’s within Los Angeles’ vibrant Native community, mistrust of the system started at an early age. White was placed into foster care with a white family at the age of 2. She refers to her foster mom as “Suzy Homemaker” and her foster father as “Satan.”

After leaving care at 17 to attend college, White had two children of her own. In 1982, after a particularly cold Wisconsin winter, she packed her two boys up and moved to Los Angeles.

Her boys now men and she now 61, White is seeing the system from a new perspective, as the informal foster mom to a brother and sister who hail from the Lakota tribe. Despite her own terrible experience with the foster care system, she decided that she needed to get involved.

“When I think about our Native children being placed in non-Native homes, which is something that is happening to about 200 children in L.A. County because of the lack of Native foster homes, [it] gets me a little riled up inside,” White says. “If the families do not let the children know they are Native and can’t teach them their Native culture, their traditions, their language, we’ve lost our children.”

The children grow up knowing they’re different, knowing that there’s something special about them, and they may grow angry, [and] they don’t know why they’re angry because nobody’s taught them that they are special.”

While Smith’s decision to take in two Cherokee boys gives the American Indian unit a sense of pride, it also points to a foster care system both here and across the country that gives federally mandated protections of Native American foster children short shrift.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 2 Comments »

Missed Deadlines and a Backlog of Searches for Family Leave LA Foster Kids in Painful Limbo

March 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has been having a terrible time
finding enough good foster families. As a consequence, too many kids wind up in group homes, the modern replacement for orphanages, where—even under the best of circumstances—there is no one person whose job it is to be emotionally present for a child who has been through the trauma of neglect and/or abuse.

On the flip side of that coin, when a child is placed with caring foster parents who are willing to invest personally in parenting, should the blood parents or other family not be able to do so, it seems that the LA system has repeatedly left kids in a legal limbo longer than 12 months the law dictates is the maximum time a child should remain in temporary foster care before his or her case it taken up by the court.

Within that time, DCFS officials are supposed to provide support and guidance to the mother and/or father in the hope that the child can eventually be safely reunited with one or both parents. Meanwhile, the system is also required to do a speedy and thorough search to find out if there are other family members available to take the children temporarily or permanently. If not, and if the child cannot be safely returned to a parent, eventually foster families may able to apply for permanency if they so wish. In any case, the goal is a stable loving outcome for the young person as soon as is possible, with family being the preferable placement.

But it turns out LA’s DCFS is backlogged in its ability to search for family or extended family who are willing and able to care for kids who have entered the system—and children suffer as a result.

The problems resulting from not prioritizing the location of potential family caregivers right away is illustrated by the recent high profile story of a six-year-Santa Clarita girl, who is part Choctaw Indian, who—after four plus years in a foster care family— went last week to live with relatives in Utah, who are also raising the girl’s younger sister. (The story has other complications, including a multi-year legal battle, most of which experts think could likely have been avoided had the family caregiver option been found by DCFS at the beginning.)

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has a story that looks at the various sides of this issue of children in foster care limbo. Here’s a clip:

…The Times filed a public records request to determine how often Los Angeles County courts miss statutory deadlines in child welfare cases, but the presiding judge of Los Angeles County juvenile court, Michael Levanas, declined to provide the information, saying the release would improperly interfere in his personnel decisions and the assignment of judges.

He did not deny, however, that a backlog exists.

“The number of new petitions [to remove children from their parents] filed in dependency court have risen almost 25% from 21,557 in 2010 to 26,457 in 2014 while funding to the court has been drastically cut,” Levanas said. “Cases and the law have become far more complex in the last 10 years.”

Marcia Robinson Lowry, a veteran litigator who has filed class action lawsuits aimed at reforming foster care systems around the country, and who leads a nonprofit law firm called A Better Childhood, said the pressures faced by child welfare officials are no excuse for the delays experienced by children and families.

“L.A. County has big problems in its foster care system and a real lack of accountability,” she said. “There is no question that there has not been a great deal of attentiveness to the consequences for children, and I think it’s a violation of the law and constitutional principles.”

Citing the adage “justice delayed is justice denied,” Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youth in Los Angeles County, said delays hurt everyone involved…

“Nobody saw it because there weren’t television cameras, but it was even more painful for the family that was waiting,” Heimov said.


MORE COMING ON PAUL TANAKA TRIAL LATER TODAY

So…stay tuned!

Posted in DCFS | 1 Comment »

DCFS’s $153 Tape Dispensers….and Are the Feds Doing the DA’s Job In Prosecuting Deputy Brutality in LA’s Jails?

December 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA is still on a break,
but there are a couple of local stories, in this case both of them from the LA Times, that we don’t think you should miss, so we’re very briefly coming out of our holiday cave to let you know.


AUDIT SHOWS PERPLEXING OVERSPENDING BY LA COUNTY’S DCFS—BUT NOT ON FOSTER CHILDREN IN ITS CARE

This is not the first time this year that LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services has been criticized for sloppy fiscal management. For instance, last spring WitnessLA wrote about an Auditor-Controller’s report, which indicated that, in a four month period, $571,000 worth of MTA passes and/or tokens were never given out by LA county social workers to the foster kids who urgently needed them.

Now Garrett Therolf from the LA Times reports on the results of a more recent audit showing a pattern of overspending on various kinds of office equipment that seems to defy any rational explanation.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

The Department of Children and Family Services, which Los Angeles County auditors have criticized for poor fiscal oversight, now is facing questions about its spending practices — specifically its office equipment purchases.

Among the items acquired in recent months: $374 headsets and a $153 automatic tape dispenser.

Philip Browning, head of the department, said that he has made equipment and technology upgrades a priority following years of neglect. Outfitting case workers with iPhones, dictation technology and ergonomically sound furniture makes them more efficient, he said.

“It’s appropriate to keep employees safe and healthy,” he said. “We spend a huge amount of money on workers’ comp. We need to address that.”

According to department records, the DCFS paid $348,000 in fiscal 2014 for supplies and equipment. That amount more than doubled, to $709,000, in fiscal 2015. And in the first four months of the current fiscal year, the department spent $700,000-plus on the equipment — more than the similarly sized probation department did the last two full years.

A review of invoices by The Times showed that the DCFS bought the wireless office headsets when a comparable, wired alternative was available for $20 — a potential savings of more than $350 each.

Officials said that employees were not required to choose the most cost-effective products to meet their ergonomic needs. And if workers say they need an item to prevent injuries, department policy dictates that they probably will get it, even if the same product has been provided to the same worker before.

No doctor’s note is required, according to department policy.

The variety of products available is vast. One employee requested and received the $153 electric tape dispenser. Another, records show, asked for a $49 doze alert — a device that wakes up someone who has drifted off. Request approved.

There’s more, so read the rest.


IF THE FEDS MANAGED TO FIND AND PROSECUTE INSTANCES OF DEPUTY BRUTALITY IN LA COUNTY’S JAILS, WHY DID THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND THE LASD REPEATEDLY FAIL TO DO SO?

On November 30 of this year, federal Judge George H. King sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, Sussie Ayala, 30, and Fernando Luviano, 37, to six and seven years respectively in a federal prison.

The sentencing followed Ayala and Luviano’s conviction on June 24, 2015, along with their supervisor, former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, of charges pertaining to the brutal beating of a handcuffed visitor to Men’s Central Jail, Gabriel Carrillo, along with a conspiracy to cover up the beating by falsifying official reports, thus causing Carrillo to be criminally charged as the aggressor, which could have resulted in a fourteen year prison sentence.

Yet, even after evidence suggested wrongdoing on the part of Carrillo’s accusers surfaced as Carrillo’s lawyer prepared his defense, neither sheriff’s department investigators or the DA’s office seemed to look past the accounts presented by the deputies involved.

Now most of those deputies are going to prison.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin reports on the issue in a story titled: Feds did what the L.A. prosecutors didn’t do: bring deputies in jail visitor’s beating to justice

Here’s a clip:

But be sure to read the whole thing.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department already was engulfed in a jail brutality scandal when a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office examined the beating of Gabriel Carrillo.

During a visit to the county’s main jail in February 2011, Carrillo had been left badly bloodied and bruised by a group of deputies, who broke his nose and pepper sprayed him in the face. The deputies claimed Carrillo had attacked them; Carrillo denied that and insisted he had been handcuffed during the beating.

The county prosecutor rejected Carrillo’s account.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the deputies acted inappropriately,” the prosecutor wrote in a 2012 internal memo that rejected filing charges against the deputies.

It took an investigation by federal officials to prove the district attorney’s office wrong.

This year, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office secured criminal convictions against five of the deputies, including two who admitted in court that they participated in an assault on Carrillo while he was handcuffed. Three have been given prison terms; two more are expected to be sentenced next month.

District attorney’s officials defend their office’s handling of the case, saying their review was hamstrung because Carrillo would not speak with investigators about the beating.

But Carrillo and his attorney accuse the office of discounting evidence of wrongdoing that proved key to the federal prosecution.

Advocates for inmates rights say the case shows that the district attorney’s office has not been aggressive enough at holding deputies accountable for abuses in county jails at a time when federal authorities and a blue-ribbon panel found evidence of persistent brutality.

“The D.A. is supposed to be a check on illegal behavior by law enforcement. In the jails, we have a very real example of its complete failure,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the court-ordered monitor in the jails.

Although accusations of abuse of inmates have dogged the Sheriff’s Department for years, prosecutions of deputies for excessive force in the jails have been rare.

Posted in DCFS, LASD | 10 Comments »

Does CA Have to Send So Many Foster Kids “Out-of-County?” by Daniel Heimpel

August 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



EDITOR’S NOTE:
This story by Daniel Heimpel about a former foster child named Heather Matheson, is the first of a series of stories exploring the good and the harm done by a strategy called out-of-county placement that is used by the various county agencies in California’s foster care system. The story was co-produced by WitnessLA & the Chronicle of Social Change, of which Heimpel is the founder and executive director.


OUT OF COUNTY, CA: THE PROBLEMS WITH GOING THE DISTANCE

What is the cost/benefit ratio of putting foster children—who have already lost so much—into “out-of-county” placement?

by Daniel Heimpel


Heather, slight and precocious, made her Los Angeles County high school’s track team as a freshman.

It was a major feat, something to be proud of in the maelstrom of the 14 year-old’s life. Only months before, the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had removed Heather from her home after a harrowing week of physical abuse and domestic violence.

After 15 months in what had been a promising foster-care placement near Taft High School, set in a pleasant part of the San Fernando Valley, things had started to fall apart. The department decided to move her in with relatives in neighboring Ventura County.

The only problem, one that seemed deceptively small in the context of her painful family history, was that she now had to take three buses to get to school, the only real support system she had left.

“Looking back on it,” Heather says, “it was this short period of time, but it was really stressful. It was a stressful year of life. I could have been going to school dances and football games, but I didn’t because the buses don’t run that late.”

In 2009, when Heather was put into what is called an out-of-county placement, California’s feudal foster care system was larger than it is today, with roughly 70,000 kids in the state’s care who had been removed from their parent’s custody and then placed with foster parents, in group homes or with extended family.

Yet, what hasn’t changed in the eight years since Heather began her foster care odyssey is the fact that 1 in 5 California foster youth will find themselves taken away from the county where they lived and placed in another county. At present, a total of 12,626—or 20 percent of all California children and youth in a foster care placement—live in a different county than the one that they previously called home.

The reasons why foster children and youth are forced to cross county lines so often boils down to conflicting goals within the system, simple geography, and the push and pull of housing costs.

One way to understand the out-of-county issue is to look at the different types of placements to which children are sent. In April, the Center for Social Services Research (CSSR) at the University of California, Berkeley, drawing data from California’s 58 counties, reported that there were 62,915 children in foster care, a number that has been steadily rising since a low point of around 55,000 in 2011. The main placement types for children are with kin, in privately run foster family agencies (FFA), in county-run foster homes and, finally, in group homes, which generally get the older and harder-to-place youth.

Data pulled from CSSR’s California Child Welfare Indicators Project shows that in 2015, 21 percent of kin (such as extended family members), 24 percent of FFA, 5 percent of county foster care and a whopping 36 percent of group home placements were out-of-county.

When it comes to kin—-the preferable foster care placement according to many child welfare leaders-—the reason why 21 percent of kids cross county borders has a lot to do with simple geography. If you live in L.A. County, but your aunt and uncle live in Ventura County, as was true for Heather, you’ll be placed in Ventura County since, all things being equal, that’s a better solution than asking you to live with strangers in L.A.

For children in FFA placements, the movement is, in part, due to the fact that privately run foster family agencies often span more than one county, and some of those counties do a better job at recruiting foster parents than others. So if the agency can’t find a child a foster home out of their list in one county, they’ll bounce them to a neighboring county.

When it comes to group homes, the cost of doing business is cheaper in suburban and exurban areas than the city centers where many high-needs youth come from. In addition, political pressure to reduce reliance on group homes has been felt most by the urban counties where anti-group home sentiment has taken deepest root. This means that in counties like Alameda and San Francisco, some group homes have been shuttered. As a result, the only place to send the kids who need to be in these higher-level placements is out of county.

The implications for children’s lives can range from the good, where foster youth are placed with family members who welcome and care about them, to the bad, where contact and eventual reunification with biological parents becomes strained by distance, and access to critical mental health services, and other services that the child needs, is often delayed or degraded, if ever delivered.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance for Children and Family Services, sympathizes with the limited choices court officers and caseworkers often have to work with when placing foster kids.

“They have to make these kinds of Solomonic decisions all the time, and they have to do it at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday,” Schroeder said.


IN COUNTY

Heather’s case fell into the part good, part bad category.

Her journey began on March 5, 2007. That was the day that DCFS took the 13 year-old from her parents.

The official status review report submitted six months later to the county’s juvenile dependency court described the details of the situation. On that day, “and on numerous prior occasions, the child Heather Matheson’s mother, [redacted], and father, [redacted], have engaged in violent altercations in the presence of the child including father chasing mother in his vehicle… Additionally, father got the child involved in the parent’s arguments by requiring the child to call the mother on father’s behalf.”

What the report neglects to describe is the run-up to her removal. A week before Heather’s father chased her mother in the car, Heather showed up to John A. Sutter Middle School in Winnetka with bruises on her arms, prompting her teacher, who was also her track coach, to report child abuse to DCFS. When a social worker showed up at her parents’ door to investigate, Heather says she was too scared to say anything in front of her father, whom she remembers as being “short fused.”

After the social workers left, Heather’s father flew into a rage. Her mother, who was planning to move to Idaho with a new man, was not at the house.

“He wanted her to come over,” Heather says.

The girl’s father had a gun in his hand, and told Heather to call her mother.

“When I made a big deal that I didn’t want to do that, he hit me with the gun,” Heather says.

The blow knocked the 90-lb. 13 year old unconscious. When Heather came to, she made the call.

“I said, ‘I am scared, Dad has a gun and I don’t want to be there,’” Heather recalls saying.

But she got no help from her mom.

“If you want to live with him, you have to learn how to deal with him. It’s not my problem,” Heather recalls her mother saying.

Heather’s father then forced her into the car, leaving the gun on the dashboard. As he drove wildly from street to street looking for his wife at every motel he could find, Heather remembers watching the gun slide back and forth in front of her.

When the DCFS investigator who had visited Heather’s home days before showed up at school the next day for a scheduled interview with Heather, the frightened girl told the social worker the whole story. After hearing her out, the investigator told Heather she would have to take her to an emergency shelter. At this point Heather’s teacher, who was also in the room, broke in.

“I don’t want her to end up with strangers,” Heather recalls the woman saying. “My husband and I can take her in.”

Despite the teacher’s initial good will, the placement would not last.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 1 Comment »

Brawl at LA Foster Care’s Controversial Youth Welcome Center is Caught on Video, Supervisor Wants Action

August 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


A “TRAGEDY WATING TO HAPPEN?”

Staff members say that LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services’ last resort center for kids, known as the Youth Welcome Center, is spinning out of control.

WitnessLA has obtained the video posted above that was recorded this past Saturday, August 8, and shows three DCFS youth brawling with several of the center’s security guards, as the guards try to contain the kids. Staffers and others close to the center told us that the brawl that was caught on video is far from unusual, and that some kind of event of this nature occurs multiple times a week.

“it’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” said a Youth Welcome Center staff member who has worked with LA’s foster kids for decades.

According to DCFS spokesman Armand Montiel, while there have been other incidents, they were comparatively minor, and that this particular brawl was far more extreme than usual. But on Tuesday there was “a follow-up incident with the same youth,” said Montiel. The youth, who may have instigated the fight, has now been arrested.

The video triggered action by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who issued a statement Friday afternoon directing the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) “to immediately implement key safety measures and protocols to ensure the safety and security of both the youth and personnel at the Welcome Center.”

The center is in Solis’ district and its problems have reportedly been on her radar for some time. But the alarming nature of the video reportedly caused the supervisor to decide that emergency action was called for—hence the statement.

“On the heels of a recent altercation between security guards and youth at the center,” Solis wrote, DCFS Director Philip Browning must “immediately help find alternative placement for the most at-risk minors, by providing the appropriate mental health services to address any issues with social-emotional behavior.”

ONCE A 23-HOUR HOLDING FACILITY NOW OFTEN A DROP-IN WAY-STATION FOR KIDS WITH NOWHERE TO GO

For those unfamiliar, the Youth Welcome Center and the Children’s Welcome Center are both emergency way stations that are the only LA County foster care facilities that turn no one away. The Children’s Welcome Center (CWC) opened in 2012 for DCFS children under 12, including infants. The Youth Welcome Center (YWC), opened in May 2014, and serves foster kids from 12 to 17, plus the “aged out” foster youth who, according to a law passed in 2010, AB 12, are eligible for various kinds of extended services that are supposed to help them get on their feet and enter adulthood successfully.

(Prior to AB 12, vulnerable foster care teenagers were abruptly asked to fend for themselves when they turned 18. The outcomes, statistically, were not good. AB 12 came into being with the intention of changing all that.)

The two centers, which are housed on the campus of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, were designed essentially as holding stations for children and teenagers who are harder to place. The idea is that the kids would stay in a safe, welcoming, well-staffed environment while social workers found foster homes, or group homes, or extended family care where the youth can live longer term.

However, many of the kids whom the YWC serves cannot be placed easily. Some suffer from mental illness or severe emotional vulnerabilities. Some are on psychotropic medication, which they may or may not be taking. Others are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender kids who’ve been subject to abuse or extreme bullying. Still others are kids who have been sex-trafficked. Most have been tossed out of string of foster homes and/or group homes.

None of the kids are supposed to be in the YWC for more than 23 hours. But over the weekend, the 23-hour rule is relaxed or waved. And, in many cases, the kids check out within the 23 hour time frame, then check back in the next night. When the revolving door kids return to YWC, they may be high, they may be stressed. Sometimes some of he youngerthe girls–according to staff—come back with unexplained cash, and tales of “dates,” with men that on of the older girls set up.

“The longer the Youth Welcome Center has been open,” said DCFS spokesman Armand Montiel, “the more it has become a destination for youth who,” for one reason or another, “are choosing not to stay in placement.” They look at the YWC as a “waystaytion, a respite” from all they’re dealing with.

And therein lies the rub say, staff. While the YWC provides an essential service to some of LA County’s most fragile youth, its present organization is a recipe for trouble. A staffer who asked not to be named said that to throw together in one small facility, kids of both genders, who range in age from 12-years-old to 21-years-old, many of whom have such formidable vulnerabilities, where they can essentially come and go with few restrictions… “It’s asking for trouble.” she said.

“We have one bathroom that is considered the youth bathroom, and one shower,” the staff member said. “Imagine. We have anywhere from sixteen to twenty-three kids.” The staff has a system for bathroom use and basic grooming. But showers are difficult, except when there’s a special need.”

DCFS is aware of the issues and is looking for a solution, said Montiel. The release of the video “just intensified the conversation. it’s a vivid example of how things can go wrong. We need to be better prepared with ways to keep our youth safe and our staff safe.”

More on the YWC soon.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, DCFS | 2 Comments »

LASD Civilian Oversight Report, Kids and Prop 47, and Still No Child Welfare Czar

July 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES TO CONSIDER WORKING GROUP’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CREATING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LASD

The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the shape that civilian oversight for the LA County Sheriff’s Department should take is expected to present a final report to the Supes next Tuesday, on July 28th. The report includes five key recommendations for the composition and reach of the oversight commission.

Arguably the most important recommendation is that the commission should have the power to subpoena LASD documents. In order to make that subpoena power possible, however, there would have to be changes to state law.

The LASD’s Inspector General, Max Huntsman, who is also a member of the working group, has had his own trouble getting personnel documents from the department.

“I used to be an attack dog,” Huntsman said, back when the Supes voted to create civilian oversight. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

At a KPCC panel discussion on police transparency last week, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler said the department has been working cooperatively “for a year and a half…to deepen Max Huntsman’s…access to the department. And we’re poised to do that.” But, it’s complicated.

Other recommendations include having nine board-appointed commissioners-–one chosen by each of the five supervisors, and four voted on by all of the Supes. Members should also serve three-year terms, and should be diverse (different races, ages, etc.), according to the working group. And, the oversight commission should use the Inspector General’s staff to for monitoring and investigation purposes.

The working group is slated to present the report to the Supes in two weeks. (For backstory on the working group’s preliminary decisions and how they came to make these recommendations, go here.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

Subpoena power has emerged as a critical issue for activists, who claim it’s necessary to have access to internal department documents. During 13 public meetings and nine town halls conducted by the working group, activists lobbied hard for subpoena power. Patrice Cullors of Dignity and Power Now called it “make or break” for successful oversight.

Sheriff’s representatives who sat on the group strongly opposed the idea.

They felt it was important the new commission begin its work in a “cordial and cooperative relationship,” and that Sheriff Jim McDonnell – elected last year – be given time to “effectuate reforms,” according to the report. None was immediately available for comment.

“Subpoena power would be available as a last resort,” said attorney Dean Hansell, who chaired the group. “It provides a club.” Hansell once served on the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Hansell acknowledged subpoena power would require voters to approve a change in the County Charter. The working group voted four to three to recommend supervisors place the question on the next ballot.

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who sat on the working group, supported giving the new oversight panel subpoena power, but said it may be overrated.

“A subpoena just gets you the right to get somebody to court to say ‘hey give me stuff’,” he said. The department – and the powerful labor union that represents deputies – can always argue that personnel and investigation records are not public.

Huntsman knows this challenge firsthand. The sheriff has denied Huntsman access to personnel records, which include a wide range of information about internal investigations. McDonnell has cited conflicting California laws and court rulings on access.


FOURTH DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS SEZ JUVIE OFFENDERS BENEFIT FROM PROP 47 TOO

In a ruling on Thursday, a California appeals court said kids qualify, just like adults, for crime reclassifications—from felony to misdemeanor—that adults convicted of certain non-serious felonies receive under Proposition 47. (We at WLA applaud the court’s very sensible decision.)

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

The court of appeal said the reclassification of offenses under Proposition 47 applies to juveniles because they are judged by the same criminal code as adults.

“Accordingly, when a criminal offense is reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor in the adult context — as occurred under Proposition 47 — the reclassification likewise applies in juvenile wardship proceedings,” Associate Justice Judith Haller wrote for the court.

The ruling came in a San Diego County case involving a minor who acknowledged in 2013 that he had committed felony commercial burglary, according to the appeals court ruling.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office said it will review the court’s ruling and decide whether to appeal.

“We support a juvenile justice system that has a goal of rehabilitation focused on providing the care, treatment and guidance in the best interest of minors,” the office said in a statement.


FOR CANDIDATES AND TWO OF INTERVIEWS, AND STILL NO CHILD WELFARE CZAR

After two rounds of interviews with four candidates to act as child welfare czar, a position recommended by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system, the LA County Board of Supervisors has still not made up its mind as to who will lead the new Office of Child Protection.

The board was supposed to continue deliberating in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, but decided to put off the meeting for another two weeks.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, says she has been interviewed twice for the important role, and hopes the Supes make a final decision soon.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, during a break at a community meeting on data and analytics in child welfare at the University of Southern California, Fesia Davenport, interim director of the Office of Child Protection (OCP) confirmed that she has been interviewed and re-interviewed.

“I’m hoping that a decision will be made soon,” Davenport said.

Davenport, who previously served as chief deputy director of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), said she feels a greater ability to effect change at the OCP than she did at DCFS.

“Working for DCFS you see a lot of things that need to happen, that should be corrected or need to be changed, and it’s difficult to do that because you’re just focused on core mission and task,” Davenport said. “I really appreciate being in a position where I don’t have the constraints of DCFS. I can effect change with the team, in partnership with the other county departments and the community-based organizations.”

Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, attended Wednesday’s community meeting, which was organized by the Office of Child Protection. Garen praised Davenport for her performance.

“We know that she’s engaged and willing to do the work that’s necessary, and really whatever’s asked of her,” Garen said. “That’s a tremendous asset to this community.”

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors | 6 Comments »

How Do You Rate the Risk of Kid in a Troubled Family of Being Abused? This Woman Has an App for That….& More

July 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Ruby Guillen is a social worker who has worked for LA’s Department of Children and Family Services
since 1995, and she cares enormously about the wellbeing of the thousands of kids with whom she’s come in contact.

Part of this has to do with the fact that she grew up in foster care herself.

Ruby is one of the people who drives to a child’s home to check things out after someone has called the DCFS hotline to warn that a child is being abused or neglected.

Ruby is also a hacker, a super geek, a code ninja. Now it seems she’s put her two passions together in a manner that relates directly to the brave new world of big data, risk modeling and analytics that many in the field see as the necessary next step in protecting children, while others are not so convinced.

Holden Slattery of the Chronicle of Social Change has Ruby’s story.

Here’s a clip:

…Since she started this job in 1995, Guillen has assessed the safety of 6,000 children in their homes, she estimates. She’s also encountered and responded to domestic violence, homicides, drug trafficking and sex trafficking.

“Everything that has to do with child welfare—I’ve done it all,” Guillen said in an interview.

Like all of the other case workers at DCFS, Guillen uses her knowledge and experience, along with the agency’s risk assessment tools and protocols, to decide how to keep children safe and improve their wellbeing—one child at a time.

Unlike many of her colleagues, Guillen has a passion for computer science and technology that she channels into creating mobile applications for child safety and wellbeing. Her aim is to use technology to start helping all the county’s vulnerable children, all at once.

Since she started this job in 1995, Guillen has assessed the safety of 6,000 children in their homes, she estimates. She’s also encountered and responded to domestic violence, homicides, drug trafficking and sex trafficking.

“Everything that has to do with child welfare—I’ve done it all,” Guillen said in an interview.

Like all of the other case workers at DCFS, Guillen uses her knowledge and experience, along with the agency’s risk assessment tools and protocols, to decide how to keep children safe and improve their wellbeing—one child at a time.

Unlike many of her colleagues, Guillen has a passion for computer science and technology that she channels into creating mobile applications for child safety and wellbeing. Her aim is to use technology to start helping all the county’s vulnerable children, all at once.

Guillen fell in love with technology when she joined the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s. While working full-time for DCFS, she decided to get a degree in computer information systems, and after graduating in 2010, she kept taking online programming classes.

This year Guillen led a team of fellow techies to victory in two hackathons hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Hackathons are events in which computer programmers and others involved in software and hardware development collaborate intensively on projects.

At her first hackathon, in February, Guillen’s team created an app to prevent and report child sex trafficking. At her second hackathon, in June, they created an anti-bullying app.

Guillen has another app that she created for foster care placement, and she is now finishing up her work on a fourth app for assessing risk of child abuse or neglect.

This past Wednesday, the county’s recently formed Office of Child Protection met to discuss the uses and implications of big data and kids.

More on all that soon.


MORE ON JUDGE KOZINSKY’S ONGOING CAMPAIGN TO START HOLDING PROSECUTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS

We wrote in Monday’s California Justice Report newsletter (to which, if you haven’t yet subscribed, you are woefully missing out) about Judge Alex Kozinski’s new article in the Georgetown Law Journal, on reforming the criminal justice system.

But now Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post has been selectively serializing Kozinski’s paper. (Volokh clerked for Kozinski a couple of decades ago.) In any case, we thought you’d be interested in this particular chapter of the serialization in which Judge Kozinski takes aim at his latest favorite target of choice: prosecutors.

Naturally, Judge K also has recommendations about what we ought to be doing about the situation-–namely do away with judicial elections and then do away with absolute prosecutorial immunity.

It’s well written and wonderful stuff.

Here’s a clip, but do read thing whole thing:

On March 8, 2015, A.M. “Marty” Stroud III, a Shreveport lawyer and former state prosecutor, published a remarkable piece in the Shreveport Times reflecting on the case of Glenn Ford, who spent 30 years on death row after being convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1984. Ford was released after the state disclosed evidence proving his innocence. Stroud offered a public apology for his conduct in the case. It is well worth reading in full, but here is the gist of it:

At the time this case was tried there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford. The easy and convenient argument is that the prosecutors did not know of such evidence, thus they were absolved of any responsibility for the wrongful conviction.

I can take no comfort in such an argument …. Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago …. My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me.

I did not question the unfairness of Mr. Ford having appointed counsel who had never tried a criminal jury case much less a capital one. It never concerned me that the defense had insufficient funds to hire experts ….

The jury was all white, Mr. Ford was African-American. Potential African-American jurors were struck with little thought about potential discrimination …. I also participated in placing before the jury dubious testimony from a forensic pathologist that the shooter had to be left handed …. All too late, I learned that the testimony was pure junk science at its evil worst.

In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.”

What is remarkable about Stroud’s statement is not that he gained a conviction and death sentence for a man that turned out to be innocent. Or that that man spent three decades caged like an animal. That kind of thing is all too common.

Nor is there anything unusual about the confluence of errors that led to the wrongful conviction — failure to uncover exculpatory evidence, inexperienced defense lawyers, race-based jury selection, junk science, and a judge who passively watched the parade and sat on his thumbs. The same goes for a prosecutorial attitude of God-like omniscience and unwillingness to entertain the possibility that the wrong man is being prosecuted. These things happen all the time in case, after case, after case.

What is unusual — unique really — is Stroud’s willingness to accept personal responsibility for the calamity he helped inflict on Glenn Ford and his family — his willingness to embrace this as his personal failure, not just an unfortunate failure of the system. Most prosecutorial attitudes run the gamut from “that’s why they put erasers on pencils” to “they must be guilty of something.” Everyone else in the system, starting with trial judges, absolves himself of personal responsibility when a heinous failure occurs. We could do with a lot less of that.

In a sense, however, the system is responsible because it places a great deal of power and responsibility in young, ambitious lawyers, like Stroud, who have every incentive to close their eyes to the possibility of innocence, to testilying by police, to bogus experts and to suggestive eyewitness identification procedures.

So, sign up for the CJR Newsletter. Now!


WHAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED IN THE SANDRA BLAND VIDEO

Eli Hager, writing for the Marshall Project, noticed something at the end of the Sandra Bland arrest video that he found interesting. So we’re passing it along to you.

Posted in DCFS, Prosecutors | No Comments »

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