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CA Cuts Prison Guard Training Time, a San Quentin Lawsuit, Graduating LA Foster Students Honored, and an Award for “Drugging Our Kids”

June 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

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STARTING NEXT MONTH, CALIFORNIA PRISON GUARDS TRAINING WILL BE SHORTENED BY A MONTH—FROM 16 WEEKS TO 12 WEEKS

Through an agreement between California Correctional Peace Officers Association and Gov. Jerry Brown, the training academy for California prison guards will be shortened from 16 weeks to 12 weeks starting in July.

The shortened training will allow for the CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation to graduate an additional class of around 250 each year, to help the department reach its three-year goal of hiring 7,000 new prison guards.

Some classes will be cut and some will be merged to account for the lost four weeks.

Concerned about their already maligned profession, CCPOA agreed to the shorter training on the condition that a training standards oversight commission be relaunched and funded.

The Sacramento Bee’s Jon Oritz has more on the issue. Here are some a clips:

CCPOA under founding President Don Novey, for years fought for a 16-week academy as part of an agenda to elevate the professionalism and safety of front-line prison staff. Part of the calculus was money: The more training and expertise required for the job, the stronger the argument for higher compensation.

So the union was well-positioned in the 1980s when lock-’em-up laws in California sparked a boom in prison construction and a demand for officers to staff those facilities. By the early 2000s, the confluence of politics and policy made California’s prison officers among the highest-paid in the nation.

Today, California state correctional officers earn from $3,172 per month at entry level to $6,644 per month for the most senior employees. The figures do not include officers’ overtime, which has climbed as the state has run short of staff.

Over the last several years, however, court orders to cut the state’s prison population and a shift to incarcerating more offenders in local jails reduced the number of inmates in state prisons. The state also shut down its cadet academy in Galt, effectively choking off the pipeline of new employees to replace hundreds who retired each month. Overtime among prison officers soared.

[SNIP]

The union agreed to the shorter academy in exchange for reviving and reconstituting the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which lost funding during the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration.

The new six-member board will be comprised of three seats appointed by the governor and three rank-and-file seats. Before the board went dormant, the department appointed three members and the governor appointed three – essentially making the panel an extension of the executive branch.


SAN QUENTIN DEATH ROW INMATES SUE OVER SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CONDITIONS

Six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates, who are classified as gang-affiliated, are held between 21-24 hours per day, receive three showers per week, and say they don’t get enough sleep they are subjected to frequent suicide checks.

Courthouse News Service’s Nick Cahill has more on the issue, including the controversial gang-affiliation designation. Here’s a clip:

All are classified “Grade B” prisoners, subjecting them to “stark and cruel deprivations,” including 21 to 24 hours per day in their cell, just three showers per week and lack of sleep due to constant suicide checks by jailers.

Lopez claims that all condemned prisoners deemed to have gang affiliations are classified Grade B, whether they were in a gang or not. He claims the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violates their constitutional rights by making them Grade B prisoners though they have not participated in gang activity at San Quentin.

“The condemned unit has no process or quality control measures for assessing whether plaintiffs and the class remain active participants in prison gangs,” the complaint states. “As a result, plaintiffs and the class are often assessed as having gang allegiances because of their ethnicity and the region in which they grew up.”

Though prison regulations require review of Grade B classification every 90 days, Lopez calls it a “meaningless and perfunctory process.” Though several plaintiffs have no disciplinary infractions at San Quentin, they are subjected to Class B restrictions anyway.


STUDENTS IN FOSTER CARE MOVING ON TO HIGHER ED RECEIVE RECOGNITION, SCHOLARSHIPS AT WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL

More than 170 high-achieving students in foster care received scholarships and were honored at the Walt Disney Concert Hall late last week. In California, only 58% of foster kids graduate high school. Beating the odds, all students honored graduated high school with a 2.8 or higher, and are heading off to college or a vocational school.

KPCC’s Rina Palta and Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery reported on the event and some of the incredible challenges overcome by the students honored.

Palta has the story of quadruplets who were shuffled around in foster care before reuniting and completing high school together. Here’s a clip:

“People definitely look down on us and think you’re not going to make it out of college and stuff – we’re going to end up in jail, we’re going to end up homeless,” said Bianca Lucci, the fraternal sister amongst the quadruplets. “But I believe that’s not true. As long as you have determination and you work hard in school, you’ll achieve your goals.”

The quadruplets are among 175 high-achieving foster children who were honored with scholarships at an event at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday.

They entered the foster care system after abuse and abandonment.

Madison Lucci remembers the exact moment — on Christmas Eve — when the police showed up to take the girls from their home, where they had been left alone.

“Christmas is supposed to be when you’re with your family,” she said. But that day, the sisters were split up and spent the next few years in and out of foster homes and group homes. In 2011, they all finally settled in Rancho Palos Verdes, where they all graduated from high school this month.

Slattery follows the story of Destinee Ballesteros, a straight A student with dreams of becoming Chief Supreme Court Justice whose life was turned upside down when she entered foster care. Here’s a clip:

Destinee was accepted into the competitive magnet program at AV Soar High School, located right on the Antelope Valley College campus in Los Angeles County, where she could challenge herself with college classes.

But during those high school years, her mother began using methamphetamines, which made her hallucinate, Destinee explained in a recent interview. Destinee’s mother would take her and her brother away from their home to escape from “unsafe people.”

“Even though we had a house, she thought it was unsafe,” Destinee said. “So we would bounce from hotels to shelters.” Destinee started missing school because she had no way to get there, and because caring for her younger brother became her top priority.

After a hotel clerk called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), a social worker determined that the two siblings had been neglected. Destinee and her brother entered foster care, and Destinee was transferred to a different school. There, during her junior year, she got her first F.

“It [getting an F] was really hard,” Destinee said. “It really broke my heart, but then again, I realized that sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to appreciate the success.”


POWERFUL “DRUGGING OUR KIDS” DOCUMENTARY RECEIVES NATIONAL AWARD

San Jose Mercury reporter Karen de Sá and photojournalist Dai Sugano have won a well-deserved Edward R. Murrow Award for the country’s best news documentary video by a large online organization, for their series “Drugging Our Kids,”—a powerful investigation into the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

De Sá and Sugano’s five-part series (which won three other national awards) sparked important legislative change and reforms. Read the series and watch the documentary: here.

Posted in CCPOA, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, prison policy, solitary | 1 Comment »

CA Education Bill to Help Foster Kids, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, CA Wrongful Convictions,

June 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA BILL TO OPEN EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM TO FOSTER KIDS LIVING WITH RELATIVES, WHO NEED JUST AS MUCH HELP AS THOSE IN NON-FAMILY RESIDENCES

CA Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill that would beef up California’s Foster Youth Services program (FYS). FYS provides vital education-related support to foster kids through mentoring and tutoring services. FYS, which began as a pilot in 1973, had such favorable results, that it was expanded statewide 17 years later, in 1998.

FYS and Assemblymember Weber’s related bill target a population of kids who often struggle to finish high school (nearly half of foster kids do not).

FYS in its current form, only lends support to foster kids who are living with a non-relative foster family or in a group home. Foster children living with their relatives are not eligible for the program.

AB 854 would extend services to the 40,000 foster kids living with family members—that’s two-thirds of all CA foster youth—who do not actually have better graduation rates than kids in non-relative foster homes.

Anna Maier and Zefora Ortiz have more on the bill in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

A 2006 study conducted on behalf of the state legislature found that nearly half of foster youth (46 percent) drop out of high school—compared with 16 percent of non-foster youth—and less than 10 percent enroll in college.

“I feel strongly that I need the authority to serve students with the greatest need,” said Lustig.

The Foster Youth Services program began as a pilot in 1973 with four California school districts, and a 1981 statute formally established and funded FYS in the four pilot districts. In 1998, the state legislature expanded grant funding to county Offices of Education with an emphasis on serving students in group homes. The 2006-07 State Budget renewed existing FYS funding and provided additional grant money for county Offices of Education to serve a broader array of foster youth, including those in juvenile detention facilities. FYS programming looks a little different in each county. But in Mt. Diablo Unified (one of the original pilot districts), the approach is working. The program supports all foster youth, regardless of their placement type. The district partners with group homes, mental health providers and local universities in order to provide comprehensive support.

“We get to see kids who are smiling and feeling good about themselves,” said James Wogan, administrator of School Linked Services, which oversees FYS programming in the district. “Many people thought [these students] would need a higher level of placement, but they get support from their peers as well as us. The culture has really taken off here.”

Throughout the state, FYS programming is showing similarly positive outcomes. A California Department of Education report for the 2012-13 school year found that participating foster youth exceeded their 90 percent target rate for attendance, and more than 70 percent of students who received tutoring met their goals for academic growth. Less than one percent of participating foster youth were expelled from school, far surpassing the target rate of less than 5 percent expulsion.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES EZELL FORD, DISCIPLINE, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Patt Morrison (filling in for Larry Mantle), speaks with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about the Ezell Ford case, officer discipline, and transparency.

The chief said he wished the department had more liberty to discuss disciplinary actions against police officers. Because of confidentiality rules, Chief Beck says his hands are tied. Beck will not be able to explain the discipline (nor the rationale behind the decision) the two officers involved in the death of Ezell Ford will receive.

“I must follow the law,” Beck told Morrison. “Now, we can have discussions about what would be a better way to regulate this but that won’t change how this will be regulated.”

Last week, after Chief Beck determined the officers acted within policy, the LA Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford in August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

Here’s a clip from Chief Beck’s interview:

Chief, you and the commission are looking at the same set of guidelines, why is it that you found this to be in policy and the police commission didn’t? How could that happen?

CB: Well people, as I said, disagree on this topic all the time. Reasonable suspicion is a topic of contention in every criminal case in which it applies. This is not unusual for people to have different opinions on this and especially when you recognize that I see things through my experience, in my eyes, which is very different than theirs. That’s not to say who’s right and who’s wrong, but it is to say that I have strong reasons and strong beliefs in my opinion on this. I also have my role in the process and my role is to determine discipline if it applies to the employees involved and that has yet to come and I will absolutely do the right thing on that.

Do you have a deadline for that?

CB: You know, I have a personal deadline. I’m not going to reveal that because I don’t think it helps the discussion for a couple of reasons. One of which is that by state law, I cannot make public whether or not I discipline these officers and what that discipline was so to create an expectation that there is going to be some type of announcement based on a date point would be unreasonable.

Why no mention of the police commission in your message to officers?

CB: Well, it wasn’t intended to put forth a position for or against the officers by the commission. It was intended to do exactly what it did. It was intended to tell officers that they needed to continue to develop community support, that they had community support. I used myself as an example; I used the mayor as an example; I used the vast majority of Los Angeles as the other example. No intent to omit the commission. No intent to comment one way or the other about the commission’s support for the rank and file. I know all the commissioners very well, they’re good people. I believe that they were guided by what they thought was right. I am not disparaging them; that was not the intent of the video.


GOV. BROWN OKAYS $$ SETTLEMENT FOR THREE OF CA’S WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

On Wednesday, CA Gov. Jerry Brown approved nearly $1 million in settlements to be paid to three wrongfully convicted Californians.

A former Long Beach high school football star, Brian Banks, was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction in 2012 with help from the California Innocence Project. Banks spent six years falsely imprisoned. Once on parole, Banks met with his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, and secretly recorded Gibson admitting the accusation was false. Banks will receive $197,000.

Susan Mellen, who spent 17 years in prison after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her boyfriend, will receive $597,200.

Ronald Ross was found factually innocent after being convicted in 2006 of assault and attempted murder. Ross will receive $229,000.

The LA Times’ Phil Willon and Patrick McGreevy have the story. Here’s a clip:

At the time, Banks insisted that their sexual contact was consensual. However, he took his attorney’s advice to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison….

Banks, who as a high school player had caught the eye of coaches at USC, UCLA and other college football programs, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison but was not signed. In 2014, he was hired by the National Football League to help monitor games for problem calls by referees.

Claims are filed with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and automatically recommended to the Legislature for payment if the petitioner was wrongly convicted and found by a judge to be factually innocent.


US CRIMINAL JUSTICE MOVERS AND SHAKERS EXPERIENCE GERMAN PRISONS: DAY TWO

On Wednesday, we pointed to a tour of German prisons organized by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Seventeen criminal justice officials and experts are examining how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and other areas of the criminal justice system.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has committed to a daily tour journal. Day two found the travelers at Heidering Prison, where inmates can smoke, cook for themselves, wear their own clothes, and visit family. Inmates never spend more than eight hours in isolation. And corrections officers are trained more, paid more, and even knock before entering inmates’ rooms.

Here’s a clip from Chammah’s day two offering:

Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media.

“We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride.

As the tour took turns walking through the cell, I briefly met a 24-year-old prisoner named Bryan Meyer. He was wearing his own clothes—cargo shorts, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a black baseball cap. One of the most visually striking aspects of German prisons is how prisoners wear regular street clothes. It adds to the sense that the only thing being denied them is their liberty.

Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.

Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?

The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Protecting Kids with Locked-Up Parents, German Prisons, LA Investigating Social Workers after Brutal Beating of Baby…and More

June 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

COALITION IN ALAMEDA COUNTY FOCUSES ON TRAUMA-INFORMED EFFORTS TO HELP AND PROTECT KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS

Nearly 80% of Alameda County jail inmates are parents or caregivers of kids under 25-years-old, according to a soon-to-be-released survey of 1100 inmates by the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP). (It is estimated that there are 2.7 million kids nationwide with parents behind bars.)

And out of a separate, smaller survey of 100 kids with incarcerated parents in San Francisco, nearly half had watched their parent get arrested. And more than half of those kids said they had witnessed officers rough up their parents during the arrest.

ACCIPP is comprised of advocate groups, government agencies, service providers, and others committed to bettering the lives of kids with locked-up parents, and reducing the effects of trauma. At the coalition’s fourth annual meeting in Oakland, attendees heard from kids with incarcerated parents, parents who had been locked up, as well as child welfare and law enforcement representatives.

The ACCIPP is calling on the Alameda County Police Department to implement a model policy from “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents,” by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Melinda Clemmons has more on the particulars of the policy and why it’s important. Here’s a clip:

The report is part of a White House Domestic Policy Council justice initiative focused on reducing trauma experienced by children who have parents in prison or jail.

The model policy is informed by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, first published in 1998, which shows the connection between adverse childhood experiences and health status in adulthood. Parental incarceration is recognized as one of the adverse childhood experiences that heighten a child’s risk of negative outcomes in adulthood…

“Where possible,” the policy states, “officers shall determine whether any child is likely to be present at the location” when an arrest is planned. “When reasonably possible, officers may delay an arrest until the child is not likely to be present (e.g., at school or day care), or consider another time and place for making the arrest.”

If delaying the arrest is not possible, arrangements should be made to have child welfare services or a partner agency at the scene. The policy also calls for officers to directly ask arrestees if they are parents and whether or not a child is present.

Tim Birch, manager of research and planning for the Oakland Police Department, told the May 18 gathering that the department will incorporate as much of the model policy as is feasible for the department.

“We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do a better job taking care of children when their parents are arrested even when the children are not present or it is not obvious that the arrestees are caretakers of children,” Birch said.


VERA AND JOHN JAY SEND CRIMINAL JUSTICE HEAVY HITTERS TO LEARN FROM THE GERMANS

The Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice hand-selected a group of prison officials, prosecutors, researchers, and advocates from across the nation to send on a week-long tour of prisons in Germany.

On the International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange tour, the 17 criminal justice field-trippers will have the opportunity to observe how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and more. And Germany has methods worth learning. Germany’s incarceration rates are almost 90% lower than the US.

Among those chosen to participate are Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at Charles Koch Institute (formerly of Right on Crime), and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movies and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah is also on the tour and will be providing updates along the way. Here’s a clip from his first story:

The Vera Institute has chosen these leaders in hopes that they’ll take the European lessons seriously, and that they have the clout and credibility to enact change once they return home.

The track record for this idea is short but promising. In 2013, Vera took a similar group on tours of prisons in the Netherlands and Germany. John Wetzel, who runs the prison system in Pennsylvania, adapted ideas from the trip as he revamped the way his state handles prisoners before they’re released. He learned how in Germany, correctional officers are more like therapists than guards, and when he returned, Wetzel told me, he increased training in communication skills for his employees, “shifting the whole focus around humanizing offenders and lifting the expectations for officers, to get every staff member to feel some ownership over outcomes.” Wetzel also increased mental health training because “when people understand the root cause of behavior, they are more likely to not interpret something as disrespectful.”

The point of all this, Wetzel added, is to figure out what’s causing prisoners to commit crimes so you can find out how to make sure they’re less likely to commit more once they leave prison, thereby protecting the public. “It almost smacked me in the face when they said that public safety is a logical consequence of a good corrections system, and not the other way around.”

Beyond policy, comparing American and German prisons will surely unearth some deeper undercurrents in the histories of both societies. Just as no study of American prisons is complete without looking at the history of race relations all the way back to slavery, German incarceration exists in the shadow of the 1940s and that decade’s unspeakable combination of prison, factory, and slaughterhouse.

“I’m interested in how contemporary German officials imagine the past in relation to their current practices,”f said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and will be on the trip. He has argued in the past that American public discourse is far more willing to examine the horrors of the Holocaust than to reckon with the legacy of slavery.

Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen is also a member of the group touring Germany prisons.

Contra Costa Times’ Tracey Kaplan has more on Rosen and his impression of German incarceration practices, thus far. Here’s a clip:

The group includes people from both ends of the political spectrum, from Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Patrick “Dan” Malloy to a senior research fellow at the conservative Charles Koch Institute, Vikrant P. Reddy. Rosen, who also is a Democrat, was one of only three district attorneys in California to advocate easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, which had allowed life sentences even for nonviolent third felonies. He also supported Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for crimes such as petty theft.

Other members of the tour include Craig DeRoche, who helps run the largest prison ministry in the world and was once Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in Michigan, and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movie series and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles.

The only other district attorney is Milwaukee’s John Chisholm, a Democrat profiled by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker magazine recently for his uphill efforts to right the racial imbalance in American prisons.

The institute conducted a similar tour two years ago, but it was mostly for law enforcement and corrections officials.

“We wanted a broader range this time so we can reach more people,” Vera spokeswoman Mary Crowley said.

The eclecticism of the group reflects a sea change in the ranks of criminal justice reformers. An increasing number of tough-on-crime advocates now agree with social justice champions on the left that the prison-only approach for nonviolent offenders is failing and that there are more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars to make communities safe.

Rosen already has taken some steps to change the status quo. Among them: a pre-filing diversion program that allows about 1,500 people a year who trespass or commit other petty crimes to avoid having a criminal record by letting them take classes and make restitution.

“It’s saving tens of thousands of dollars a year,” Rosen said.


DCFS INVESTIGATES WHETHER A TODDLER’S TRAGIC BEATING COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY MORE PROACTIVE SOCIAL WORKERS

LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services officials are reviewing the actions of social workers leading up to the near-death beating of a 13-month-old by his mother’s boyfriend. Detectives said they did not expect the boy, Fernando Garcia, to survive. When LA deputies found Fernando last week in near Compton in his family’s home, the toddler was not breathing, and his body, covered with bruises and a burn, had gone cold.

Social workers chose to keep Fernando’s three sisters with their mother following the June 7th beating and the arrest of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez.

DCFS is investigating whether social workers should have paid more heed to callers to the child abuse hotline who gave reports of domestic violence involving men and Fernando’s mother.

DCFS has ordered the social workers to be retrained pending the investigation.

After a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection recommended 163 important action items last year to reform the dysfunctional DCFS, county child welfare has seen some improvements, but there are still some major problem areas that need to be addressed. For instance, WLA reported recently on an audit that found, over a period of four months, at least $160,000 worth of MTA passes and/or tokens—but most likely $571,000 worth of those passes/tokens—were never given to foster kids in desperate need of them.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s deputies responding to a call arrived at the boy’s home and discovered that he was not breathing, according to sheriff’s records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of finger marks covered his chest and abdomen, and a burn mark covered a portion of his leg, according to the DCFS records.

Investigators later learned that Fernando received a gash under the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez. The boy’s mother also told detectives and the DCFS that she had observed Hernandez poking the boy. Witnesses reported that Fernando was visibly afraid and would cry when Hernandez was in the room, the DCFS records say.

[SNIP]

In February 2009, a caller to the county’s child abuse hotline reported that the mother’s boyfriend at the time pushed her while she carried one of her daughters. Social workers ruled the report to be “unfounded” and did not require court-ordered domestic violence services for the family, the DCFS records say.

That September, a caller told the hotline that the mother’s boyfriend — who was not Hernandez — was violent toward the mother. Social workers found significant bruising on the mother’s back, but they accepted her story that the injuries were self-inflicted. They did not pursue further evaluation by doctors or other professionals and ruled the allegations “inconclusive,” the DCFS records say.

The department closed the mother’s case the following month without further interventions. Social workers did not explain their rationale, the DCFS records say.


LAWSUIT BY FORMER OC SHERIFF’S COMMAND STAFF SAYS SHERIFF SANDRA HUTCHENS USED BUDGET CUTS AS AN EXCUSE TO FIRE THEM, HUTCHENS SAYS THEY WERE LAID OFF TO SAVE MONEY

Former OC Assistant Sheriffs Jack Anderson and John Davis, and former captains Brian Cossairt, Deana Bergquist and Robert Eason are alleging that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens unfairly terminated them, using a $28 million budget shortfall as an excuse to get rid of them.

The plaintiffs say they were let go because of their affiliation with the former, scandal-plagued OC sheriff, Mike Carona, from whom Hutchens took over the department after Carona’s downward spiral for which he served time for witness tampering. The former command staff argue that Hutchens aimed to cleanse the department of top brass she considered to be involved in the corruption, and that she did not allow them the hearings they were entitled to. (But under Hutchens’ assertions that they were laid off to save the department millions, hearings would not be necessary.)

The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement and millions in combined damage.

The OC Register’s Sean Emery has the story. Here’s a clip:

Carona was in the midst of his downfall from being dubbed “America’s Sheriff” to serving time as a felon convicted of corruption charges. One of his closest allies, former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, had already been convicted of tax evasion.

Hutchens, a veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, had been appointed by a tight 3-2 vote by the Orange County Board of Supervisors with a mandate to reform the demoralized Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Among those Hutchens brought on to her newly created command staff were John Scott and Michael Hillmann, who she had worked with during her time with the LA County Sheriff’s. They joined high-level sheriff’s officials who remained with the department during the transition.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchens, Scott and Hillmann “made clear their belief” that, compared to Los Angeles, Orange County was a “backwoods” territory that was still “rife with corruption,” even after Carona’s departure.

Joel W. Baruch, who is representing the five former sheriff’s officials, said Tuesday that the new leadership soon clashed with Anderson, who they accused of not informing them quickly enough about several incidents, including a reserve deputy acting inappropriately during an event involving presidential candidates at Saddleback Church and a deputy being arrested during a “peeping tom” incident.

“They told him ‘quit acting like the sheriff, there is a new sheriff in town,’ ” Baruch said.

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

Bail, Blocked Video of a Fatal Shooting in Gardena, LA County Spending, and More on the Ezell Ford Decision

June 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

INEFFECTIVE BAIL BOND SYSTEM TARGETS POOR

Bail in America is a punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and contributes to overcrowding in jails and prisons.

One man protesting in Boston after the death of Freddie Gray was locked up with $250,000 bail—the same bail amount set for real estate mogul (and accused murderer) Robert Durst. Dominick Torrence spent a month in jail before the disorderly conduct and rioting charges against him were dropped.

According to a Vera Institute of Justice study, in 2013 in New York City, more than half of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, remained behind bars solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates had been charged with misdemeanor offenses.

The New York Times’ Shaila Dewan has more on the issue and what municipalities are doing to reverse the trend. Here’s a clip:

No amount of money, they say, should buy the freedom of someone who is truly dangerous. By the same token, the inability to pay should not keep defendants who pose little risk locked up. Instead, they should be released using a range of nonfinancial conditions like GPS monitors, pretrial supervision (similar to probation), or even unsecured bonds. With unsecured bonds, a defendant is released without having to pay but owes money if he or she fails to appear in court.

The critics say risk should be evaluated not in a quick, subjective hearing, but rather through a scientifically validated assessment that weighs such factors as the defendant’s age, lifestyle and previous record. The use of risk assessments is also supported by law enforcement groups that include the National Sheriffs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

As an example of a model system, advocates for change point to Washington, D.C., where money bail was effectively eliminated in the 1990s. About 15 percent of defendants are deemed too risky to release and are held on what is called “preventive detention.” Of the rest, very few fail to appear in court or are arrested on a new charge.

New Jersey is phasing in a system modeled on Washington’s, but elsewhere, change has been blocked. In Maryland last year, a pretrial reform committee appointed by the governor at the time, Martin O’Malley, issued a host of recommendations, including the use of risk assessments and the elimination of money bail. None have been adopted — in part, said Mr. DeWolfe, the public defender, because of opposition from the powerful bail bond industry.

Equal Justice Under Law, a civil-rights group based in Washington, has been trying a novel legal tactic to dismantle money bail: going after jurisdictions that use bail fee schedules, in which the amount of bail is fixed based on the offense instead of the flight risk or public safety concerns resulting in the unconstitutional imprisonment of people solely because they cannot pay.

In one of the suits, against the town of Clanton, Ala., the federal Department of Justice filed a rare supporting brief, writing that setting bail in this fashion, and without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay, “not only violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.”

In fact, the Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo points out, 22-year-old Kalief Browder’s tragic story would have likely turned out much differently, if his family had been able to pay $3000 to bail him out when he was first locked up. (In case you missed it, Kalief Browder spent three years on Rikers Island—around 800 days of which were spent in solitary confinement—without a trial, for allegedly stealing a backpack, charges that the prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Saturday, just a few years after his release, Browder committed suicide.)

Here’s a clip from Santo’s story:

Browder, who insisted on his innocence, sat in jail initially because his family could not afford to post bail. About two-thirds of America’s jail population — 450,000 people — are behind bars awaiting trial. And five out of six of those people are in jail because they could not afford bail or because a bail agent declined to post a bond.

Stuck in jail and without easy access to his lawyer, Browder was at a disadvantage in preparing a defense. He was also at the mercy of prosecutors, who offered to reduce his jail time or release him, but only if he pleaded guilty, an option he refused.

Such circumstances aren’t uncommon at Rikers, said Bryanne Hammill, a member of the Board of Correction who leads its committee on adolescents. “With regards to the adolescent and young adults I talk to and meet, many of them are in on low-level charges but with bail set,” said Hamill. “And bail essentially results in an incarceration because they nor their family have the financial wherewithal to post any bail.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the Browder case on Monday, in response to a question at an unrelated news conference.

“There’s just no reason that someone should be held for a long period of time if they can’t pay bail,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told the New York Observer. “[W]e need some type of bail reform,” de Blasio said, but he wasn’t specific about what type of reform, according to the Observer. “I deeply wish we hadn’t lost him — but he did not die in vain.”

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales. Watch his segment above.


THREE NEWSPAPERS FILE MOTION TO RELEASE VIDEO OF GARDENA OFFICERS’ FATAL SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN

In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, eight times, because he allegedly appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release video of the shooting, because of privacy concerns. Gardena officials also argued that making the videos available to the public might bring down unnecessary speculation.

Three news outlets submitted a federal court motion on Monday to release footage of the shooting, while Gardena still stonewalled.

The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg say the city is withholding the video to evade criticism and accountability.

It’s worth noting that former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was elected to his third term as mayor of Gardena in 2013, and two years later, indicted on obstruction of justice and other charges. The jury selection for his trial and that of former LASD captain Tom Carey is to begin on November 3. Tanaka has taken a leave of absence from his duties as mayor.

The Associated Press’ Amanda Lee Myers has the story. Here’s a clip:

…there’s profound public interest in the release against the backdrop of fatal police shootings around the country, the media outlets contend.

“Access to the videos is critical for the public to have a full and accurate account of the proceedings that occurred before this court, and the circumstances that led to the city defendants’ payment of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to settle allegations of alleged police misconduct,” the news organizations argued in their motion.

Videos of such interactions often prompt institutional change, it said.

The city in Southern California argued in February for sealing the videos, citing privacy concerns and saying release could cause unfounded speculation.

“This is a particularly legitimate concern given the anti-police sentiment which has recently become so prevalent,” according to the city’s arguments.

A judge granted the request before the case was settled.


MONEY TO RELATIVE CAREGIVERS “CHUMP CHANGE” WHEN COMPARED TO LA COUNTY’S SPENDING ON JAIL PLANS?

A motion by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl requests DCFS allocate $1.25 million to bolster services for relative caregivers, who are often overlooked, and thus, underserved.

That money would be split up: $250,000 would go to each district. That number may not seem like much, especially when compared with the approximately $6 million to contractor AECOM for work on the jail plan, to-date.

The county has already paid out several millions to Vanir Construction Management, Inc. just for coming up with the various high-priced jail construction strategies, of which the supervisors chose one that came it at approximately $2 billion. The county has approved $30 million in funding just for these jail plans.

One community member who spoke to the board about the kinship caregiver support funding, noted that $250,000 for 17 or 18 cities in a district is “chump change.”

Supe. Sheila Kuehl responded by saying that while it may not be a whole lot of money, “I don’t think that there’s one person in here who would say, ‘No, that’s okay. It’s only $250,000 for our district. We don’t need it.’ …It’s not much as a whole, but I’ll tell you what, it’s something.”


REACTIONS TO LAPD COMMISSION’S EZELL FORD DECISION

The Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally slammed the LAPD Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified. Lally said the ruling will make cops scared to do their jobs and make those split second decisions.

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

Lally said the commission’s ruling would probably make officers hesitant to patrol proactively. He said the decision, along with the impending department-wide rollout of body cameras, has prompted concerns that officers will be unfairly scrutinized for doing even routine police work.

“It’s going to be a different way of life,” he said. “They’re scared. They’re worried. What is an officer supposed to do?”

Although Officer Sharlton Wampler may have been in a fight for his life with Ford, the commission decided Tuesday that he did not have a reason to stop and detain Ford in the first place. His handling of the encounter, the commission concluded, was so flawed that it led to the fatal confrontation.

The decision marked a significant departure for the commission, which for decades when evaluating police shootings has looked only at whether an officer faced a threat at the moment deadly forced was used.

The commission instead relied for the first time on a small but significant change it made last year to its policy on shootings, requiring the panel to take a broader view of incidents. On Tuesday, the commission said it based its ruling on “the totality of the circumstances, and not just the moment in which the force was used.”

Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, is calling on LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to press charges. And the SoCal ACLU called the commission’s decision an important step in the right direction.

KTLA has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In a statement that called for Beck to go beyond a “slap on the wrist,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the commission’s decision marked an “encouraging step” towards the panel “reinforcing its independence.”

[SNIP]

Ford’s mother said her first reaction was, “hallelujah.”

“I didn’t believe God would allow my son’s life to be taken in vain,” Tritobia Ford said.

The ruling, “strongly, on the record, stated that what happened to Ezell was wrong,” she said.

However, Tritobia Ford said she was disappointed the second officer was most found not to have acted against policy, adding that she hoped Beck would do more than give the officers a “slap on the wrist.”

Lacey was also called upon to file charges.

“You need to step up,” Tritobia Ford said, addressing Lacey. “She needs to press charges and the court needs to figure it out.”

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Eric Garcetti, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | 6 Comments »

What Happens When Predictive Analytics Enters the World of Child Protection?….How Do You Define a Gang Member?……The LAPD & the Guardian’s Count

June 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WHERE ABUSED CHILDREN MEET THE WORLD OF PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS AND BIG DATA

Much has rightly been made of the unbearably tragic child deaths in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state, at the hands of those who should have kept them safe, deaths like that of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez. To refresh your memory, when paramedics showed up at Gabriel’s mother’s home in May 2013, they found the little boy with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, bruises and burns in too many places to count, and his mouth absent two of his teeth. BB pellets were embedded in his lungs and his groin.

Both LA County’s Department of Children Services and the LA County Sheriff’s Department had received complaints that Gabriel was being abused. But somehow nobody acted. And the two-agency non-action resulted in the torture and violent death of an eight-year-old.

Yet, there are other documented cases where DCFS seems to act too quickly, yanking kids out of less-than-ideal but non-dangerous homes and putting them through encounters with the foster care system that were, at best, traumatic and, at worst, deeply damaging.

So how does one tell the difference? Certainly, in some cases, it seems that a modicum of caring attention and common sense would have helped. But in others, the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

Some counties and states around the nation think they might have found at least part of the answer in the realm of what numbers geeks call predictive analytics.

Take for example, the case of Florida’s Department of Children & Families, which had nine child deaths in the state’s Hillsborough County area between 2009 and 2012. All of the kids were under three years old, and all but one were killed by either a parent or paramour.

At the time, the region’s child protective services were contracted out, at a cost of $65.5 million a year, to private youth services agency called Hillsborough Kids.

Florida dumped Hillsborough Kids, bumped up the budget for social workers and, perhaps most significantly, Florida officials contracted to use a new decision-making tool to help the agency prioritize calls of suspected child abuse. It is called Rapid Safety Feedback.

Darian Woods, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at where predictive analytics has entered the world of child protection, who is involved, and what that entry could mean in terms of the future safety of kids.

Here’s a clip:

So in 2012, the department made changes. It commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the data behind the child deaths that were concentrated in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough Kids lost out on the $65.5 million contract and went into liquidation. A private youth services agency, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, was selected by the department to take care of approximately 2,900 abused children in Hillsborough County. The next year, Florida Governor Rick Scott boosted funding for new social workers. Perhaps most radically, a new decision-making tool called Rapid Safety Feedback was introduced in the county.

Rapid Safety Feedback uses — in the parlance of big data crunchers and, increasingly, social scientists — predictive analytics to prioritize calls of suspected child abuse.

Predictive analytics in child protective services means assigning suspected abuse cases to different risk levels based on characteristics that have been found to be linked with child abuse. These risk levels can automatically revise as administrative data is updated. Administrative data may be as simple as school reports or could delve deeper into other information that the state holds: the parents’ welfare checks, new criminal offenses or changing marital status.

Combining predictive analytics with more investigators seems to be producing results in Hillsborough County. According to Eckerd, who also holds contracts in Pasco and Pinellas counties, since it took over the contract in 2012, the quality of reviews has improved 30 percent. There is a significant increase in completed documentation by caseworkers. There have also been zero child homicides in the county since the handover.

LA County is one of the counties that is looking hard at the use of predictive analytics, but they are less positive that big data can solve the problem.


HUMAN JUDGEMENT VERSUS THE MACHINE: CAN SAVVY PEOPLE KEEP KIDS SAFER THAN PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS? OR IS BIG DATA THE ANSWER?

Holden Slattery, also writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, looks further into what LA County is doing as it “struggles to strike the right balance between human judgement and increasingly sophisticated predictive tools when determining the risk that a child will be abused.”

Here’s how Slattery’s story opens:

On weekdays, calls to Los Angeles County’s child abuse hotline reach their peak between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.—right after school. On average, 70 to 80 calls about child maltreatment in Los Angeles County reach the hotline per hour during that span, according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the agency charged with responding to alleged abuse.

There are about 85 social workers manning the phones at any given time. They ask callers to explain how child abuse or neglect took place.

The number of calls made to the largest child welfare system in the United States creeps up each year, said Carlos Torres, an assistant regional manager for the DCFS hotline. In 2014, the hotline received 220,000 calls, he said.

After listening and marking down answers on a computer program, the social workers decide whether a situation meets the criteria for an in-person response. They also decide whether DCFS should respond by the end of their current shift, within 24 hours, or within five days, Torres said.

These decisions, based on small bits of information shared by a caller, determine where DCFS directs its limited human resources. DCFS responds with an in-person investigation to 35 percent of the calls, Torres said. In these cases, a social worker drives to the home, interviews the family, gathers information, and enters his or her findings into a web-based decision-making tool, which, like a questionnaire that an insurance company gives to prospective clients, estimates risk; in this case, risk that a child will be abused.

When everything goes right, DCFS can save a child from harm. When something goes wrong, the result can be heartbreaking. A 2011 report on recurring systemic issues that led to child deaths in Los Angeles County put the onus largely on flawed investigations and problems with the decision-making tool employed. In the search for solutions, public officials have looked toward new technologies, such as analytics software used primarily by private companies, to see if that can keep more children out of harm’s way. As public officials make these kinds of inquiries, in Los Angeles County and across the globe, they confront the conundrum of human judgement versus machine. Some say technological advances hold the answers, while others say that only savvy people are up to the task.

Slattery notes that a number of experts cite research that suggests all this predictive analytics isn’t particularly effective when it comes to assessing if a kid is safe or not.

In any case, read on.


IS IT TIME TO REFORM CALIFORNIA’S “STEP ACT?”

One night in January 1988, rival gang members were shooting each other on the streets of Westwood and mistakenly hit and killed a young woman named Karen Toshiba.

The murder of Karen Toshiba became a flashpoint, as such tragic deaths often do, and 1988 became the year the so-called war on gangs was declared in Los Angeles and, in Sacramento, the state legislature passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act (STEP Act), Statute 186.22 of the penal code.

Among its other functions, the the STEP Act imposed greater punishment for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a criminal street gang. In the beginning, the sentencing “enhancements” were no more than a few years. But it 2000, crimes that were “serious” or “violent,” as defined by the California Penal Code, could be enhanced by five or ten or, in certain cases, a life sentence.

The STEP Act can be brought to bear even when a young man or woman is at the periphery of a gang, with a relationship that has more to do with where he or she lives, than any kind of actively committed or formalized association.

It has resulted in multi-decade sentences for juveniles tried as adults as a consequence of their proximity to violent acts in which they did not participate, even in cases when no one was injured.

If a so-called gang expert can successfully label a defendant as a gang member, even if he or she is not, then the enhancement can kick in, and conviction is also much more likely.

In a story by Daniel Alarcón in this week’s New York Times Magazine called “How Do You Define a Gang Member?” Alarcón
describes a case that shows the STEP Act in action.

The story has to do with a case in Modesto, California, where the primary gangs are variation on the theme of Norteño, or northerners, or Sureños—southerners.

Here’s a clip:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

But this time the defense has a gang expert of its own, a former gang member turned PhD named Jesse De La Cruz…

In any case, read on.


THE LAPD HAS THE MOST POLICE KILLINGS IN 2015 OF ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY IN THE NATION, SAYS THE GUARDIAN, WHICH HAS DECIDED TO COUNT

The Guardian newspaper has launched a project it is calling The Counted, the purpose of which is to count people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015.

It’s an interactive project, which you can find here.

Over at KPCC, Aaron Mendelson writes that, according to the Guardian’s database, the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more people (10), than any other law enforcement agency in the United States this year, that’s twice as many as the four law enforcement agencies, one of which is the LASD, that are in second place.

Anyway, it’s interesting so take a look, both at what KPCC has isolated from the database, and at the Guardian database itself.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, families, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 17 Comments »

Protecting Trafficked Foster Kids…Without Legal Representation…Splitting Detained Immigrant Moms from Kids…Sonoma Explores Law Enforcement Oversight

May 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISORS APPROVE PLANNING HIGH-SECURITY RESIDENCE FOR TRAFFICKED FOSTER KIDS

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors advanced with a plan to build a residential facility for foster kids who are at risk of being trafficked by pimps.

Over the last few years, the county has moved away from criminalizing and incarcerating sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and placing them in foster homes. While this is a big step in the right direction, placing trafficked kids into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors is not always enough. Sometimes young girls run back to the streets and their pimps.

The LA County Supervisors and the head of the Dept. of Children and Family Services have butted heads on this complex issue for months. The current model is not keeping the trafficked kids safe from exploitation, and yet, confining the foster kids in their homes is not much different than incarcerating them, and pimps have their claws in juvenile detention facilities, says Supe. Sheila Kuehl.

The new high-security live-in facility will be built to keep pimps out, while still allowing foster kids to come and go. The Supes have set a three-month planning period, during which time more than a dozen county departments and agencies will work together toward finding a design that will keep kids safe.

(Read the backstory: here.)

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

“If they really want to leave, they can leave, but we want to discourage it by giving them a real opportunity to heal,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in an interview.

Supervisor Don Knabe, who advocated for a locked facility, cited a recent case of an 11-year-old girl who recently left a foster care group home to return to her pimp and work at an event where men paid to have sex with her.

Knabe’s spokeswoman, Cheryl Burnett, said he “is pleased that we are moving forward, but he remains frustrated that he continues to hear that our ability to protect these girls is limited.”

County staffers are analyzing available public and private facilities as a site for the new center. Possibilities include rehabilitating the closed MacLaren Children’s Center in El Monte or one of the probation juvenile detention camps.

The supervisors established a three-month deadline for a detailed plan.


WHY PEOPLE CHARGED WITH MISDEMEANORS SO OFTEN GO WITHOUT LEGAL REPRESENTATION

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll has an informative run-down on the reasons people go to jail every day in the US for misdemeanor offenses without ever speaking to a lawyer, in violation of their constitutional right to legal representation. Carroll also sheds light on why these widespread constitutional breaches have been left unchecked for so many years.

One of the reasons defendants go without representation is prosecutor interference:

Following their arrest, most people are brought to a police station or detention center for processing. At some point thereafter the defendant is likely brought before a judicial officer to determine whether or not he should be released pending further court action. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the right to counsel attaches the first time a defendant is brought before a judge or magistrate. From that point forward, a court cannot proceed with a critical stage of the case without offering counsel to the poor defendant. (The 6AC wrote a whole report on these requirements, available here.)

Despite this, prosecutors often interfere with that right to counsel process. If the defendant is out of jail pre-trial he may be required to meet with a prosecutor before getting his constitutionally guaranteed lawyer, or more likely, enter a guilty plea without ever getting that lawyer at all. For example, a Sixth Amendment Center report details how one misdemeanor court in Delaware asks defendants appearing for arraignment to wait in one of two lines based alphabetically on last name. After standing in line, the first person a defendant encounters is not a public defender, but a prosecutor seeking to make a plea deal. On an average day during out site visits, these two lines totaled approximately 200 individuals. Not surprisingly, more than 75 percent of misdemeanor defendants in Delaware proceed through the Court of Common Pleas without ever having spoken to a lawyer.

And many municipalities and states, California included, do not employ tracking systems to compile data on whether the Sixth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment are being carried out:

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court made the provision of indigent defense services a state obligation through the Fourteenth Amendment. Though it is not believed to be unconstitutional for a state to delegate its constitutional responsibilities to its counties and cities, in doing so the state must guarantee that local governments are not only capable of providing adequate rep­resentation, but that they are in fact doing so. A number of states have no institutional presence to begin to assess whether its constitutional obligations under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments are being met at the local level, including: Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.


FEDS RESPONSE TO RULING AGAINST LOCKING IMMIGRANT KIDS AND MOMS IN UNLICENSED FACILITIES: THEN WE WILL SPLIT UP THE KIDS AND MOMS

Late last month, a US District Judge in CA, Dolly Gee, issued a tentative ruling against detaining immigrant kids and their mothers in unlicensed facilities, and against locking up kids and an accompanying parent unless they pose a safety or flight risk.

The US Dept. of Justice says that if the three unlicensed facilities get shut down, it will mean separating mothers and their children when the moms are deemed a flight risk. There are more than 1,000 women and children incarcerated betweem the three facilities, most of whom say they crossed the border fleeing gang violence in Central America.

Attorneys for the immigrant families and the DOJ have until May 24 to agree on a solution before Judge Gee makes a final decision.

McClatchy’s Franco Ordonez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Federal attorneys acknowledged the family detention system could collapse if the ruling stands. Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general, warned the court that such a ruling would actually encourage separation of parents and children and turn minors into “de facto unaccompanied children.”

“This isn’t a situation where we want to detain the mother. These are situations where we have to detain the mother, your honor,” Fresco told the court.

The practice of family detention has reached a tipping point. Multiple lawsuits against family detention have been filed in California, Texas and the District of Columbia. Advocates for the mothers say it’s unlawful to detain children with their parents in jail-like facilities.

The government has dug in its heels, arguing that it needs greater flexibility when detaining parents who are considered a flight risk but also that it needs to send a strong message to Central America that it’s not OK to cross the border illegally.

[SNIP]

The government argued the agreement didn’t take into account family detention, which didn’t begin until 2001. Fresco told the court that the government needed greater flexibility if the parent is considered a flight risk or if the officials think it’s safer to have the children with the parent.

He said he worried that if officials separated families, smugglers would seize the opportunity and take advantage of young migrants, pretending to be children’s parents in order to avoid being detained.

“The outcome of this is going to be to separate families, create uncertainty where we don’t have uncertainty now and to endanger children,” Fresco said, according to the transcript.


SONOMA COUNTY SERIOUSLY CONSIDERS LAW ENFORCEMENT OVERSIGHT AFTER 13-YEAR-OLD IS KILLED

In late 2013, a Sonoma County deputy fatally shot thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez who was holding a pellet gun that the officer mistook for an assault rifle. Andy’s death spurred lawmakers to reintroducing legislation that would require all fake firearms to be produced in bright colors.

Now, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is moving toward creating an Office of Independent Auditor to look into officer-involved shootings and complaints about the sheriff’s department and the probation department. The Auditor would also act as a community liaison. The Supes set a June 16 deadline for job descriptions and budget for the Independent Auditor’s Office.

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We need to turn this around fast,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s going to cost some money; it’s got to go into this budget.”

The auditor’s office was the central and most ambitious recommendation in a package of proposals made by a county-appointed panel studying community relations with law enforcement agencies in the aftermath of Andy Lopez’s October 2013 shooting death.

The 21 recommendations, put forward by the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, cover a sweeping set of ideas — from boosting mural projects to improving student mental health services.

But of all the recommendations, the independent body overseeing law enforcement generated the most study and public debate. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors dedicated the bulk of its hearing — its first on the entire set of proposals from the task force — to the oversight office.

Board Chairwoman Susan Gorin called Lopez’s death “a tragedy which is still tearing us apart” before supervisors voiced their support for advancing the auditor proposal. They said they would need more time to evaluate the other 20 proposals.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Prosecutors | No Comments »

LA’s Crossover Kids Desperately Need Our Help, Says a New Report. So Here’s What One Non-Profit is Doing About It – by Christie Renick

May 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:   
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County supervisors received a new report detailing how the county’s “crossover youth” had fared in 2014.

Crossover youth, as we’ve mentioned in past stories (two of which you can read here and here) are kids who have come in contact with both the county’s foster care system and its juvenile justice system.

The board-requested report is a rigorously data-driven examination by Cal State LA’s Dr. Denise Herz and her team that assesses how these crossover kids are doing in terms of school, mental and emotional health, their living situations and the like, and the numbers are not cheering.

For instance, the average crossover kid’s family had been referred to the child welfare system 10.3 times. Their average time in the system was 4.5 years.

Of the crossover girls, 10 percent fell into the category of sexually exploited.

Only 2/3 of the crossover kids were enrolled in school although nearly all were required by a judge to attend. Of those 2/3 who were enrolled, only 1/5 were attending with any regularity. Still fewer were doing well, or even “average,” the report found. In fact, the county could only find complete school records for 3.7 percent of the crossovers. For the rest, officials only managed to track down partial records—or no records at all.

When it came to mental and emotional health, 75 percent had a mental health diagnosis and were assigned some kind of treatment, although the report specified that the researchers had no data that told them if the treatment was appropriate or at all effective. In many cases, the kids had not been “able to access the services” anyway.

Over a quarter of the kids, or 27.4 percent, were put on psychotropic drugs. Yet, as with the other forms of treatment, the report could not get data to determine whether the drugs were either appropriate or effective for the kids taking them.

The Herz report has lots more, but the bottom line is simple: crossover kids face a scarily long list of challenges—more even than those faced by youth who are in either foster care or the juvenile probation system alone. Yet because they don’t belong wholly to either of the two systems, the crossovers seem to get the least oversight, instruction, guidance or consistent care.

That’s where the story below by Christie Renick comes in.

So read on.


This story was produced by the Chronicle of Social Change with participation by WitnessLA.


CATCHING THE CROSSOVERS

For years LA County’s crossover youth routinely fell through the crack between the foster care and juvenile justice systems.  But now one non-profit has stepped up to catch them. 

by Christie Renick



“NO ONE IS IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE THEY GET THE HELP THEY NEED”

On paper, the profile of young people caught up in both the juvenile justice and foster care systems in Los Angeles County is disheartening.

“Crossover youth,” as they are referred to, are likely to have experienced abuse or neglect, to have been arrested for a violent or threat-related offense while living in a group home, and to have substance abuse and mental health issues. In theory, dual-system involvement should mean these young people get twice as much attention and twice as many services.

But dependency attorneys and researchers are finding that, although these young people need the most help, they frequently fall victim to a game of policy hot potato, with each system assuming the other is responsible for assistance.

One Los Angeles-based law firm is working to change that on the ground, while in Sacramento legislators are amending a bill that will make it easier for crossover youth to access the benefits of extended foster care.

Children’s Law Center of California, the nonprofit law firm that represents all children in foster care in Los Angeles and Sacramento Counties, launched a grant-funded Crossover Advocacy and Resource Effort (CARE) pilot program in 2014 to make sure crossover kids get the services they need.

“Everyone just wants to point fingers at everyone else,” said Barbara Duey, a supervising attorney at CLC who led the creation of the CARE Unit. “These kids fall through the cracks.”

Last fall, a 16 year-old Los Angeles County crossover youth we’ll call Jake was moved from a foster home across town to a new foster home and a new school.

The new school would not enroll Jake, so he spent the next four months out of the education system. And despite the fact that attending school was a condition of his probation, Jake’s probation officer did not intervene.

“The social worker and the probation officers didn’t even know,” Duey said. “Had we not been involved, he would have been in violation of his probation because he wasn’t in school.”

Foster youth drop out of high school at a rate three times higher than that of their peers in the general population, according to The Invisible Achievement Gap report released in 2013. Only 40 percent of L.A.’s crossover youth enroll in any type of college, and a much smaller number actually complete degrees, according to the 2011 adult outcomes study by Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania.

In a 2005 study examining the relationship between placement instability and juvenile delinquency, Joseph Ryan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that delinquency rates for youth with a substantiated report of maltreatment in their past were 47 percent higher than those without reports.

In 2008, Ryan partnered with Denise Herz from California State University, Los Angeles, to analyze data from Los Angeles County’s Superior Court and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to better understand the characteristics and outcomes of crossover kids in Los Angeles.

Herz’s team at Cal State-L.A. is now assisting with the evaluation of the CARE Unit. Herz has also been tapped by the county to track service referrals and outcomes for crossover youth. The findings so far mirror what Herz and Ryan found years earlier. In her preliminary report to the county’s board of supervisors in 2014, Herz found that almost all the youth monitored had mental health or substance abuse issues, and two-thirds of the group struggled with both conditions.

The most recent report confirmed the earlier findings, and also showed that African-American youth are even more over-represented within the crossover system than in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems individually. There are more females in L.A.’s crossover population (about 35 percent) than in the juvenile justice system as a whole (where females make up only about 20 percent of the population).

As might be predicted, the report found that crossover youth and their families have had multiple contacts with child welfare. These kids tend to stay in the system for about five years.

The creation of CLC’s CARE Unit was driven by Herz’s and Ryan’s research.

“When we built this program, we’d been working with Dr. Herz, and we found out that no one was tracking how many crossover kids were getting services,” Duey said.

Culhane’s study showed that among systems-involved youth in L.A. County, crossover kids were more likely to receive services than child welfare or probation-involved youth, but this does not mean crossover youth are getting the right services when they need them most.


WHERE SYSTEMS CONVERGE

When California legislators passed Assembly Bill 129 back in 2004, counties were given permission – but not a mandate – to create a “dual-jurisdiction protocol” under which a youth may receive services from both the dependency and the delinquency systems.

Today, only 15 of 58 counties in California, including Los Angeles County, have put such a protocol into practice. In L.A., this means agencies are tasked with pulling together the various players who are called upon to intervene on the youth’s behalf: DCFS, the Department of Mental Health, Probation, and Children’s Law Center among others.

The CARE Unit strives to augment these multidisciplinary teams. Its approach pairs CLC’s investigators with social work interns who are then assigned to crossover youth cases.

These caseworkers immediately establish relationships with the youth, the DCFS social worker and the probation officer. They gather information about the young person that the social worker and probation officer may not be monitoring, and they present it to judges on the youth’s behalf. CLC also pulls in its internal mental health advocacy team when a youth has complex mental health issues.

The CARE unit currently works with 25 crossover kids, four of whom are pregnant or have had a child and are now parents. CARE caseworkers meet with each youth in person on a weekly basis for the first month, and then in-person visits are tapered down to every other week with phone calls on the off-weeks.

“We decided to focus on this issue and these kids who are the highest risk kids with the highest level of needs,” Duey said. “No one is in charge of making sure they get the help that they need.”

The CARE unit’s initial evaluation cites the example of Jane*, a 15 year-old in juvenile hall for petty theft who had issues getting her prescription medication and enrolling in school. CARE staff stepped in and worked with Jane’s attorney to have her placement changed, her DCFS social worker to have her medication issue addressed, and with education and delinquency attorneys to resolve the conflicting court orders that were preventing her from enrolling in school.

As it should, the evaluation of the CARE unit’s efforts so far depicts a picture of its crossover clients that is strikingly similar to what Herz and later Culhane found in looking at the county’s larger crossover population. More than 50 percent of the youth are African-American and came under DCFS’ supervision due to neglect. Two-thirds have a mental health diagnosis (such as ADHD, depressive disorder, mood disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or PTSD), and 80 percent of youth had a substance use problem at the time of referral.

The CARE unit’s main grant from The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University will run out next winter. It will be evaluated for a new grant, but such funds are never guaranteed.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE CROSSOVERS CROSS INTO ADULTHOOD?

Not surprisingly, the problem of lack of coordination between agencies often affects crossover youth after they turn 18.

Children’s Law Center attorney Lindsay Elliott oversees a program that hires and trains former foster youth, called peer advocates, to act as liaisons to other foster youth who may not know about the ways extended foster care can help them become more independent.

CLC’s peer advocates attend dependency court hearings where they connect with foster youth, face to face, and they spend hours on the phone reaching out to teens who have had their cases recently closed, or may be on the verge of that happening.

Despite the peer advocates’ keen sense of what foster care youth go through, they don’t always pick up on the fact that a young person is dually involved right away.

“Sometimes it can take a while before we find out other stuff is going on,” said Miranda Sheffield, a peer advocate who is now 28 and working full-time for CLC while raising a daughter.

For example, Sheffield worked with a young woman who had been in juvenile hall for two years, was released on probation, and then picked up on a shoplifting charge. The girl, who was pregnant at the time and had outstanding community service hours, resisted going to court or interacting with probation out of fear that she would be arrested and end up having her baby in jail.

But with help from the peer advocates and an experienced investigator, she was able to avoid jail time and remain in her transitional housing program.

“What helped this youth was this constant reminder that, ‘I really want to help you.’ That we’re here,” Sheffield said.


LEGISLATION BRIDGES SOME GAPS

In 2012, legislators passed Assembly Bill 12, which extended foster care benefits from age 18 to 21.

The law was intended mostly for youth aging out of foster care, but included a wrinkle for juveniles on probation. Under AB 12, kids who turned 18 on probation could access foster care if probation deemed their living situation neglectful, abusive or unsafe.

Los Angeles County’s Probation Department oversees about 200 crossover youth who are benefiting from extended foster care, according to Jed Minoff, a probation director.

Minoff also sits on the Los Angeles County AB 12 Steering Committee, which includes representatives from probation, the Department of Children and Family Services, CLC, and advocates and service providers across the county.

“We’re all around the table trying to do what we do better, and I have to take a serious look at my own program and say, ‘Are we doing the best that we can do for this population?’” Minoff said.

When asked about how LA County compares to other counties in terms of probation’s involvement with extended foster care for crossover youth, Minoff became more optimistic.

“This is not based on data, but I think L.A. County is very often at the forefront,” he said. “Back when AB 12 was first being implemented in Sacramento, I was the only probation representative sitting at the table.”

The uneven nature of how county probation departments administer AB 12 benefits was explored in a recent CSC/WLA story, with Contra Costa County and San Francisco County employing different strategies.

Although the results of a study meant to measure the impact of extended foster care in California have yet to be released, early data and anecdotal evidence from crossover kids in Los Angeles suggest that the efforts made by Children’s Law Center and the multidisciplinary teams may be making a difference.

In February, Children’s Law Center received a handwritten letter from a young woman named Monica* whose case was handled in part by Duey and her team:

“Because of the diligence that [my team] showed in working out resources that would benefit me, I felt cared for, which frequently encouraged me to care for myself,” Monica wrote.

Senate Bill 12, the legislation that is intended to make it easier for crossover youth to receive the benefits of extended foster care, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee as early as May 11.

*Names have been changed.

Christie Renick is Managing Editor for Fostering Media Connections.

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

DCFS Likely Never Distributed $571,000 in MTA Passes Needed by LA’s Foster Kids Says Report

May 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


THE VANISHING MTA PASSES

In an audit released Friday afternoon, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office revealed that, in a four month period, at least $160,000 word of MTA passes and/or tokens—and very probably $571,000 worth of those same passes/tokens—were never given out to the foster kids who urgently need them.

Here’s the deal: The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)—AKA foster care—provides transit passes or tokens to eligible foster youth who need to use public transportation in order to get to school, counseling sessions, family visitations, and and other required activities.

Transit passes/tokens are, as you might imagine, considered cash equivalents thus, as the auditor controller’s report put it, “should be safeguarded in the same manner as cash to prevent theft or misuse.”

And just give you an idea of the kind of “cash equivalents” we’re talking about, in FY 2012-2013, DCFS gave out approximately $12 million in passes.

With the above in mind, the A-C reviewed DCFS’s pass/token policy and record keeping, starting in FY 2014-2015, to make sure that the chronically troubled agency was safeguarding its inventory of passes and—even more importantly—to determine if the passes and tokens were getting to the kids who depend on them.

The results were not cheering.

We verified that during a four-month period, DCFS regional offices never distributed 1,906 transit passes valued at $160,000. We also reviewed MTA usage records for the same four months and noted that an additional 4,818 transit passes valued at $411,000 may have expired without being used. Based on our findings throughout this review, it is unlikely that all 4,818 of the transit passes were distributed to clients.


“MISAPPROPRIATED” WITHOUT DETECTION??

So what happened to the half-million $$ in passes that appear to never have been used in that four month period?

And are there more discrepancies where those came from?

Despite much looking into the matter, the auditor-controller’s office ultimately wasn’t sure. The report points to finding “critical internal controls and recordkeeping which could result in County funds being misappropriated without detection.”

To try to get to the bottom of the issue of the non-used passes, the A-C referred its concerns to its investigative arm, the Office of County investigations, or OCI—hoping that the sleuths could determine if the passes were stolen, lost, or just stuck in drawers and forgotten about. But because of DCFS’s sloppiness in record keeping, the investigators reportedly found themselves stymied.

Due to the lack of accountability and poor internal controls, OCI was unable to conclude whether County funds were misappropriated.”

Great.


SO WHERE DID THE PASSES AND TOKENS GO?

When the investigators visited 7 local DCFS offices and interviewed samplings of social workers, they found that 90 percent of the MSWs they interviewed kept the passes and tokens (that are, remember, the equivalent of cash) in unlocked desk draws, in overhead cabinets, unsecured in their purses, and like locations. In the case in one office, 38 of the things—all unused, and worth a total of $2,300—were sitting in the employee’s inbox in full view of anybody who strolled by.

Worse, when asked to produce the most recent monthly passes/tokens the workers had been issued, 30 percent of the 20 interviewed, couldn’t locate or account for all the tokens they had received.

In addition to the physical carelessness with the passes and tokens themselves, the A-C reported that, due to the shockingly bad record keeping maintained by regional offices, there was no way to know if small or large numbers of passes and tokens were vanishing regularly.

Regional offices do not maintain perpetual inventory records, and do not accurately complete reconciliation forms – None of the seven regional offices we visited maintain perpetual inventory records of transit passes/tokens. The regional offices also do not conduct monthly physical inventory counts, as required, or accurately complete monthly reconciliations. For example, one office’s reconciliation showed an ending balance of 6,452 tokens, but their beginning balance for the following month was 2,972 tokens. Regional office staff could not explain this discrepancy.


PASSES? WHAT PASSES?

When the passes actually were theoretically given out to foster kids, they were not necessarily given to the right people, or in a timely fashion. In some cases, they were simply not given out at all. And records of who got what were either sloppy or nonexistent.

For instance, in a random sampling of 65 kids who were marked as having to gotten passes/tokens, 20 percent reported to investigators they “did not receive any or all of the transit passes/tokens.”

In one instance, the guardian of a kid indicated that the child in his/her care had not received any of the required transit passes for six months. When confronted by this, the social worker “subsequently admitted that he had given the child’s transit passes to other clients. He could not recall who actually received the passes, but he claimed that he did not ‘keep or sell them.’”

Never mind that, for a kid to be issued the monthly passes/tokens, the distribution must be justified with a court order or case plan.

Out of the sampling, another 20 percent of the kids who had requested monthly passes got the passes, but “an average of 14 days afterthe month began, even though the requests had been submitted at or before the beginning of the month.”

And then there was the case of the social worker who had a form signed by the “client,” indicating that he or she had gotten the monthly passes when, in fact, the passes were still sitting on the MSW’s desk.

(And what sanctions have been levied against these people? Or never mind. Forget we asked.)


THE DOG ATE OUR ABILITY TO DISTRIBUTE MTA PASSES

The report also includes the response from DCFS, which—while no doubt well meaning—feels full of excuses.

For instance, among its plans to solve this lovely mess the department intends to reissue the rules and regulations around the passes, and institute—what else?—new rounds of training.

ln September 2014, the Department began working with the Auditor-Controller’s OCI Division to coordinate training for nearly 250 DCFS management supervisory level staff regarding Fraud Awareness. Training commenced on January 14,2015, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of June 2015…..

And so on. There’s more if you wish to read it. But the above is representative.

From sources close to the board of supervisors we have heard that the Supes are really.., really not happy with all this nonsense.

Good.

Laissez les têtes tomber.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 3 Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

LA to Get a Conviction Integrity Unit, LA’s Judge Michael Nash is Back, Bridging the Gap Between Homelessness and Employment, and Crime Victims

April 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY DA JACKIE LACEY TO LAUNCH UNIT TO HUNT FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is establishing a conviction integrity unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The team will consist of three prosecutors, a senior investigator, and a paralegal. DA Lacey has asked the Board of Supervisors for around $1 million in funding.

(Read about conviction integrity units elsewhere in the US: here and here.)

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the new unit. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he expects that a new conviction review unit would particularly help people of color, who he said are wrongfully convicted at disproportionately high rates.

“It sends the message to law enforcement officers that trumped-up charges will not work,” he said. “It’s another dimension of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, which I think is sorely needed.”

The units have already had an effect in other places in California.

On Wednesday, at the request of the Ventura County district attorney’s office, a judge dismissed a murder case against Michael Ray Hanline, who was convicted in 1980. The office said it made the request after an investigation by its conviction integrity unit, along with the California Innocence Project, which turned up new evidence casting doubt on Hanline’s guilt.

[SNIP]

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said that setting up a unit won’t necessarily translate into meaningful change or exonerations.

“There are lots of people who can say, ‘Oh gee, I have a conviction integrity unit,’ because that’s now the necessary fashion accessory,” he said.

To be successful, Scheck said, Los Angeles County should search for someone with “a different way of looking at the cases” —- like a former defense attorney — to lead the unit. The other key, he said, is fostering robust relationships between prosecutors and defense lawyers in which neither side expects to be “sandbagged.”

“It’s no longer an adversarial relationship,” he said. “It’s a joint search for the truth.”


FORMER HEAD OF LA JUVIE COURT, JUDGE MICHAEL NASH, OUT OF RETIREMENT AND INTO DELINQUENCY COURT

Judge Michael Nash retired in January after serving for nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Fortunately, he did not remain retired for long. Judge Nash is back, and working as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and the Department of Children and Family Services, here.)

Holden Slattery interviews Nash for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Nash discusses the differences (and commonalities) between delinquency and dependency courts, and the kids he strives to protect. Here’s a clip:

He had shown interest in taking a lead as the county’s Director of Child Protection, a new office created after recommendations by a blue ribbon commission established to overhaul L.A.’s child protection system. But when the Board of Supervisors dithered on hiring him, he recalibrated his sights.

For a couple of months, he enjoyed relaxing at home with his puppy, doing projects, and watching TV shows that had never fit his schedule in years past.

But Nash wanted more than a cozy seat on the couch. He applied for California’s Assigned Judges Program, which assigns retired judges to benches where they are needed. Nash was appointed to the Juvenile Court in Compton. He now sits in Judge Donna Groman’s courtroom on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while Groman does administrative work.

As presiding judge, Nash was responsible for all of the delinquency courts and dependency courts in Los Angeles County—more than 40 courtrooms in total. In delinquency courts such as Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, a judge determines whether children have broken laws and takes corrective action. In dependency courts, a judge decides whether children have been victims of maltreatment. Before being elected as presiding judge, Nash worked in a dependency court. This is his first time working on the delinquency side of the county’s vast judicial system for minors.

“This is a new experience for me, and it’s great,” Nash says in Groman’s office during a break. “This court is really a hybrid between two systems.”

“On the front end of this process, it’s like a criminal court because kids are charged with crimes and you have to deal with that. But once you get to resolve that issue, it’s the same thing we do on the dependency side. We have to work with these kids and their families to ensure that they’re in stable settings and getting the services they need to become productive members of the community.”


LA TRADE TECH PROGRAM COMBATS SOUTH LA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, HELPS THOSE IN NEED LAND JOBS

Los Angeles Trade Tech’s nonprofit WorkSource Center, which opened in November, makes finding work an attainable goal for low-income men and women in the eastern part of South LA, where the unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the state average. The center serves as a hub, providing everything from employment training and job fairs, to work clothes and tools, and connecting participants to housing assistance and other indispensable services.

The program runs on a $1.1 million grant from the City of Los Angeles.

KPCC’s Brian Watt has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Job seekers take online classes, and complete resumes and job applications at the center’s computer terminals. Private meeting rooms are available for job interviews. The center will host a job fair on May 7.

Carlon Manuel, who works at the WorkSource center, said many of the people who come for help are homeless and hungry.

“We can help them find housing, food banks, rental assistance,” Manuel said, standing in a large closet full of donated suits, ties, dress shoes and business-casual sweaters. “We can give you everything but underwear and a T-shirt and socks. The underwear, T-shirts and socks you work on your own.”

Manuel’s colleague, John Wilson, added: “We’ve put gas in someone’s car so they could get to an interview.”

On a recent Thursday, Manuel, Wilson and other staffers at the center helped a group of men sign up for a construction apprenticeship program. Some were military veterans. Others were what Manuel called “veterans of the streets,” who were referred to the center by representatives at Homeboy Industries, a local nonprofit that helps current and former gang members.

Applications and training are the first steps for job seekers. As they near the end of that process, and are at the cusp of getting hired, other needs can get in the way. Construction work might require tools and boots that the employer doesn’t pay for. The same goes for culinary knives for line cooks in restaurants. If the aspiring worker doesn’t have the cash to cover those items, the center tries to find a way.


CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS WEEK: POLICE WIDOW AND ADVOCATE CALLS FOR EQUAL ACCESS TO VICTIM SERVICES

In the summer of 2005, Dionne Wilson’s police officer husband, Dan, was talking with three drunken young men outside of an apartment building when one of them pulled out a gun and shot him.

In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Dionne Wilson explains how her husband’s murder led her to become a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Wilson says that while she received excellent support as a victim of crime, her experience did not fall within the norm. Not all crime survivors are treated the same by the criminal justice system, and many do not have easy access to support and resources. Wilson helped secure funds for one-stop-shop trauma recovery centers in California to combat these problems. Currently, there are just three centers in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. Wilson says more are needed, and lauds the allocation of anticipated Prop 47 funds for future trauma recovery centers.

Here’s a clip:

Responding to a minor disturbance outside an apartment complex, Dan spoke with some young, very intoxicated men. One man, who had been in jail for drugs and feared a return trip, drew his gun and shot Dan. The man was caught, convicted and received the death penalty. But the healing I expected did not come. I was angry, depressed and broken.

As a police widow, I had all the support you could want: Friends brought me food, Dan’s colleagues helped me navigate the justice system and everyone always saw me as a victim. Without this support, I would not have made it.

However, the entire experience led me to view the system itself as broken…

This endless cycle of incarceration is largely driven by mental health and drug addiction issues that continue to be punished instead of healed. This is exactly what happened with the man who shot my husband.

The current approach is not working; it’s expensive and not making us safer. This realization led me to work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide network whose members were in Sacramento on Monday and Tuesday to call for new priorities that better aid survivors.

For example, the support I received after Dan’s death is the exception, not the rule. After meeting with survivors, I realize that the justice system does not respond to victims equally. Equally troubling is that a vast majority of crime survivors don’t know about, or have access to, services for victims.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

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