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SCOTUS to Consider How Cops Deal with Mentally Ill, Asking the Right Questions About Police Killings, Gov. Brown Sez Hire Ex-inmates, and Trafficked Foster Kids

March 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US HIGH COURT TO HEAR ARGUMENTS ON HOW POLICE HANDLE ARMED, MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE

This week, the US Supreme Court will consider in what capacity law enforcement officers must adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act during an encounter with a mentally ill (or otherwise disabled) person who is armed and violent.

In San Francisco v. Sheehan, officers shot a woman with schizoaffective disorder in a group home who, in midst of a psychiatric crisis, had locked herself in a room with a knife after threatening her social worker. Sheehan survived the shooting. She has since sued the police department for resorting first to lethal force instead of attempting to deescalate the confrontation.

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah and Sam Hananel have more on the case and why it is so important. Here’s a clip:

Law enforcement groups are keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court case, which they say could undermine police tactics, place officers and bystanders at risk, force departments to spend thousands in new training and open them to additional liability.

The ADA was designed to regulate institutional policies, not an individual officer’s behavior, said Darrel W. Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which filed a brief supporting San Francisco.

Stephens said that while departments around the country receive training to de-escalate and avoid using force in a situation with an unstable person, it’s not always possible to do so.

But mental health advocates say the ADA requires police to act less aggressively when arresting or detaining people with disabilities. Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union’s disability rights program, said the ADA should apply to all situations, especially emergencies when the disabled most need to be accommodated.

“This case is not unusual. There are a lot of Sheehan situations out there where there is an opportunity not to rush in, and take a moment,” Center said.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: RADLEY BALKO SAYS WE ASK THE WRONG QUESTIONS ABOUT POLICE KILLINGS

Last summer, Dallas police officers shot and killed Jason Harrison, a mentally ill man who police say threatened them with a screwdriver. Late last week, Harrison’s family members, who are suing the Dallas Police Dept., released footage captured by one of the officers’ body cameras during the encounter. (You can watch it here.)

The police department concluded their internal investigation into whether or not the officers broke any laws and chose to turn it over to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says that instead of just looking at whether the killing was lawful and within department policy, we should also ask whether the killing was necessary, or whether it could have been deescalated by the officers. Balko also says that if the killing of this man suffering from mental illness could have been reasonably avoided, we must also determine what needs to change in order to prevent such shootings in the future. Here’s a clip:

Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.

Let’s go back to that Dallas shooting. Unfortunately, the video camera doesn’t capture the critical moments immediately prior to the shooting. But it does capture the initial police contact with Harrison. Let’s assume for a moment that the police account of the incident is 100 percent true — that Harrison did come at them with the screwdriver. The question we should be asking isn’t whether or not the police decision to shoot Harrison at that moment was justified. The question we should be asking is whether the interaction ever should have reached that moment. Or, to go back to our more basic question: Was this shooting necessary?

The video strongly suggests that it wasn’t. Why were two patrol officers responding to a call about a possibly schizophrenic man? Would it be better for a mental health professional to have accompanied them? If Dallas police officers are going to be the first responders to calls about mentally ill people who have possibly become dangerous, are they at least given training on how to interact with those people? Are they taught how to deescalate these situations?

From the video, it seems clear that these particular police officers did the escalating, not Harrison. It’s the cops who begin yelling and who take a confrontational stance. Yes, Harrison was holding a small screwdriver. And yes, in the right circumstances, even a small screwdriver can do a lot of damage. That doesn’t mean you pull your gun on everyone who is holding a small screwdriver. Now, there’s probably nothing illegal about a police officer unnecessarily escalating a situation with his words or his body. There’s certainly nothing illegal about his failure to deescalate.

But that’s precisely why Was this illegal? is the wrong question. The better question is, Was this an acceptable outcome? And if the answer is no, then the follow-up question is, What needs to change to stop this from happening again?


GOV BROWN CALLS ON CALIFORNIA BUSINESSES TO EMPLOY EX-OFFENDERS TO REDUCE REVIDIVISM

At a employer forum at Merritt College in Oakland, California Governor Jerry Brown urged businesses to hire former offenders to give them the means to successfully transition back into their communities. Brown called the issue one of public safety as well as about “being a human being.”

KQED’s Sara Hossaini has the story. Here are some clips:

Brown says a lack of work will keep them locked out of a permanent place in their communities and, too often, locked up behind bars once again.

“This work I see is, yes, about public safety, but it’s also about being a human being,” says Brown.

[SNIP]

Now, Brown is hoping that providing employers with information and incentives will encourage more of them to do their part. That means tax breaks, talent matching, bond reimbursements and training subsidies of between $5-10,000 per employee.

Businesses can also take part in a Joint Venture Program that offers what officials call attractive benefits for employing people while they’re still in custody, in the hopes of providing them a seamless transition once they’re out.


LA COUNTY DISAGREES ABOUT HOW TO KEEP SEX-TRAFFICKED KIDS FROM BEING PULLED BACK TO THE STREETS

Within the last few years, LA County has shifted away from criminalizing and locking up sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and diverting them from juvenile detention into foster care. But placing trafficked girls into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors does not always work. Sometimes the young girls run away, and return to the streets and their pimps.

The LA County Board of Supervisors and head of the Department of Children and Family Services, Philip Browning, don’t all agree on how to address this complex problem.

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

…as county supervisors debate establishing a treatment center for these youth, the issue of locking up foster children has become a quagmire.

On one side are those who say the state should act like a responsible parent to stop children from leaving their home to meet pimps and johns. On the other side are those who say that locking up children mirrors the confinement that predators subject them to, and will ultimately fail to cure the problem.

“This is really the issue that everyone keeps coming back to,” said Allison Newcombe, an attorney with the Alliance for Children’s Rights who represents sex-trafficked children. “Everyone has such strong opinions.”

Law enforcement officials say criminal gangs have increasingly turned from selling drugs to selling children for sex because a drug can be sold once, but a child can be sold repeatedly. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a child’s life expectancy after being involved in sex trafficking is seven years, with AIDS and homicide being the leading causes of death.

Pimps capitalize on the porous barriers between foster care facilities and the outside world, advocates say, by calling vulnerable children, sending them letters and infiltrating group homes with young recruiters. In some cases, the pimps persuade children to get tattoos of their names.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who opposes efforts to allow locking up foster children who are at risk of being lured into sex trafficking, said the recruitment for prostitution in the county’s juvenile detention facilities proves that confining children is not a solution.

Leading the push to establish a locked facility for some foster youth are Los Angeles County’s child welfare chief, Philip Browning, and Supervisor Don Knabe. Both are lobbying Sacramento lawmakers to change laws that currently prohibit confining foster care youth who are at risk.

Browning said he reluctantly came to support such an option after social workers watched children as young as 10 and 11 run from county foster care facilities to rendezvous with pimps and johns.

“We have a small number of youth in foster care where our current programs simply haven’t worked,” Browning said. “Frankly, I’m not certain that the current facilities provide the level of security that I would like.”

Posted in Child sexual abuse, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Reentry | No Comments »

Child Welfare Czar Update, Sen. Cory Booker Interview, a Coroner’s Inquest, and Henry Solis

March 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

MOVING FORWARD WITH THE OFFICE OF CHILD PROTECTION: TRANSITION TEAM STEPS BACK

After months of delays (and a little foot-dragging by the LA County Board of Supervisors), the transition team charged with preparing the way for the county’s new Office of Child Protection was able to relinquish control to the new interim child welfare czar, Fesia Davenport.

The co-chair of the transition team, Dr. Mitchell Katz, introduced the motion to have the team tear down shop.

Fesia Davenport, the new czar, (a former Chief Deputy Director of the Department of Children and Family Services) is already off to a productive start.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has the story. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, the interim director of the Office of Child Protection, took office on February 2, at which point the transition team appeared to loosen its grip on the implementation process, meeting only once that month and submitting a written progress report to the Board of Supervisors rather than appearing in person.

“She [Davenport] is espousing everywhere she goes that her role is to implement the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission and ensure that children are better off in this county,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team. “That’s what we would have hoped for when we finished the work of the blue ribbon commission last year.”

Transition team members extended their willingness to continue to be available to Davenport to share their expertise on specific issues, including education and law enforcement, and generally were optimistic about the transition team coming to an end.

“I think we’ve done great work and I’m so happy the office is up and running,” said Judge Margaret Henry, a member of the transition team. “Fesia [Davenport] has hit the deck running, and I’m just proud of the direction we’re going.”

The inauguration of two new county supervisors and an interim county CEO seemed to reinvigorate county government’s interest in the commission’s reforms in recent months. Supervisor Sheila Keuhl committed to delivering a new child-centric county mission statement around the same time that the county’s interim CEO, Sachi Hamai, moved to establish the Office of Child Protection and hire an interim director.


US SENATOR CORY BOOKER ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM URGENCY

Last week, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a first-of-its-kind bipartisan bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.

The reform-minded Sen. Booker has also introduced (along with Sen. Paul) the REDEEM Act, which would restrict juvenile isolation, allow many youthful non-violent offenders to seal or expunge their records, and lift bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders, among other things.

In an interview with Vox’s German Lopez, Booker discusses the immediate need for criminal justice reform, from the war on drugs and racial inequality, to solitary confinement and rehabilitation. Here are some clips:

In my state, blacks are about 13 to 14 percent of the population, but they make up over 60 percent of the prison population.

Remember: the majority of people we arrest in America are nonviolent offenders. Now you’ve got this disparity in arrests, but that creates disparities that painfully fall all along this system.

For example, when you get arrested for possession with intent to sell, you can do it in some neighborhoods where there are no public schools and it’s not as densely packed as an inner city. You do it in an inner city and now you’re within a school zone, so you’re facing even higher mandatory minimums. So when you face that and you get out from your longer term, now you’re 19 years old with a felony conviction, possession with intent to sell in a school zone.

But forget even all of that — if you just have a felony conviction for possession, what do you face now? Thousands of collateral consequences that will dog you for all of your life. You can’t get a Pell Grant. You can’t get a business license. You can’t get a job. You’re hungry? You can’t get food stamps. You need some place to live? You can’t even get public housing.

What that does within our country, especially in these concentrated areas where we have massive numbers of men being incarcerated, is create a caste system in which people feel like there’s no way out. And we’re not doing anything as a society like we know we could do. There are tons of pilot programs that show if you help people coming back from a nonviolent offense lock into a job or opportunity, their recidivism rates go down dramatically. If you don’t help them, what happens is that, left with limited options, many people make the decision to go back to that world of narcotic sales.

What’s more dangerous to society: someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home, or someone going 30 miles over the speed limit, racing down a road in a community? And yet that teenager who makes a mistake — doing something the last three presidents admitted to doing — now he has a felony conviction, because it’s more likely he’s going to get caught. And for the rest of his life, when he’s 29, 39, 49, 59, he’s still paying for a mistake he made as a teenager.

That’s not the kind of society I believe in, nor is it fiscally responsible…

[SNIP]

When you take juveniles, like we do in this country, and put them in solitary confinement — other nations consider that torture — you hurt them and you scar them through your practices. You expose them for nonviolent crimes to often violent people. You expose them to gang activity.

Then you throw them back on our streets. And you tell them, “We’re not going to help you get a job. You want a roof over your head? Forget it. In fact, if we catch you trespassing on public housing authority property, we’re going to take action against you. You’re going to get a Pell Grant, try to better yourself through education? Sorry, you’re banned from getting a Pell Grant.”

What do people do when they feel trapped and cornered by society?


CONSIDERING THE CORONER’S INQUEST AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO A GRAND JURY PROCEEDING

After the grand jury non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been much public discussion regarding the grand jury process, especially with regard to how the grand jury is handled by local district attorneys.

One possible alternative is a coroner’s public inquest.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer involved shooting.

The NY Times’ Jack Healy has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In most places, the actions of the police officer who fatally shot Kaileb Williams, 20, would have been judged in secret, by an anonymous grand jury weighing criminal charges behind closed doors.

Here, it all played out in the open, during a little-known proceeding called a coroner’s inquest. It unfolded like a miniature trial, with a county coroner presiding in place of a judge, and seven Montana residents questioning witnesses and examining the violent, chaotic path that led Mr. Williams to a deadly standoff with the police on an icy night this past December.

[SNIP]

Inquests do not indict officers or judge guilt or innocence, but lawyers here said they could be useful tools in cities inflamed by police killings. They take place before trials — often before any criminal charges are even filed — and offer a forum to air painful details and talk about disputed facts.

In Pasco, Wash., where the shooting death of a Hispanic orchard worker last month resulted in accusations of bias and cover-ups by the police, the coroner recently announced that he would hold an open inquest to head off “another Ferguson.”

“It helps to come to terms with a traumatic event to go through it in a public way,” said Paul MacMahon, an assistant law professor at the London School of Economics who recently wrote about inquests.

The inquests have the simple aims of officially declaring who was killed and when, but they also have the power to decide whether a killing is justified or a crime — a crucial question when a police officer has pulled the trigger. Whatever their outcome, the decision to file charges still rests with local prosecutors.


LAPD CHIEF FIRES OFFICER SUSPECTED OF POMONA SHOOTING

On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck fired Pomona officer Henry Solis who is missing and suspected of shooting 23-year-old Salome Rodriguez Jr. in a nightclub parking lot on Friday.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Henry Solis failed to meet the minimum standards of the Los Angeles Police Department and has been terminated effectively immediately,” Beck said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Beck had harsh words for the rookie cop, who has been missing since the fatal shooting occurred early Friday. Pomona police issued a warrant for his arrest Monday.

“If Henry Solis is watching this, you have dishonored this police department, your country and your service to the country, and your family,” Beck said, looking into television news cameras. “And you should turn yourself in and face the consequences for your actions.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD | 8 Comments »

Scott Budnick, For-profit Foster Care, the Youth Welcome Center, and Reentry Employment

March 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SCOTT BUDNICK: FROM PRODUCING THE HANGOVER MOVIES TO FOUNDING THE ANTI-RECIDIVISM COALITION

Jesse Katz has an excellent longread profile for the California Sunday Magazine on Scott Budnick and his journey from pre-med student to Hollywood producer to full-time criminal justice reform champion.

Budnick began mentoring kids in Sylmar’s juvenile detention center more than a decade ago through the Inside Out Writers program.

Budnick, executive producer of the Hangover series, left Hollywood behind in 2013 in order to take on criminal justice activism full-time. Budnick says he has Dede Gardner, producer of 12 Years a Slave, to thank for his decision.

After the split, Budnick founded the Anti-Recidivism Coalition with a $400,000 grant from California Endowment. While ARC was in its earliest stages, Budnick was instrumental in pushing SB 260 (a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who were convicted of murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole) through legislature and into Governor Jerry Brown’s hands. Budnick also used ARC as a platform to campaign for the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014.

Here are some clips from Katz’s profile:

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems.

[SNIP]

The break was unlikely, though, only if you did not know Budnick and his growing distaste for a business rife, he says, with “ego and selfishness and people that make every decision out of fear.” It was no coincidence, either, that he took his leave the same year that both The Hangover Part III and 12 Years a Slave hit theaters, the fierce moral compass of one making the other look even more aimless. After a day of guiding Dede Gardner, one of 12 Years’s Oscar-winning producers, around juvenile hall, Budnick credits her as the person “who changed my life, who made the movie that kicked me out of the business.”

Forgoing a paycheck at first and, he says, tapping much of his savings, Budnick began 2014 as a full-time activist, putting everything into the Anti-Recidivism Coalition — arc — a support and advocacy nonprofit he had begun in his garage. arc now has a $1.2 million budget, a paid staff of six, and an office in the downtown L.A. building that houses the rooftop lounge Perch. Instead of clients, arc has what Budnick calls “members” — 160 formerly incarcerated men and women, murderers and carjackers and tweakers — nearly all of whom he met and mentored while they were locked up.

“He is kind of an oddity,” says Robert Downey Jr., the onetime recidivist turned world’s highest-paid actor, who serves on arc’s board of directors. “In politics, usually, you try to align yourself with things that make you look as good as possible and disconnect with anything that’s the least bit tainted.”

Befitting a veteran of broad commercial entertainment, Budnick has chosen his moment shrewdly. After decades of throw-away-the-key policies, the nation is again considering the philosophy of second chances. With a growing number of conservatives daunted by the cost of mass incarceration, libertarians dismayed by the broad license to police that drug laws give the government, evangelicals committed to the promise of personal transformation, and the most crime-ravaged communities also the most crippled by tough-on-crime tactics, the movement defies easy labels.

California, a pioneer of three-strike sentencing laws, is now at a different forefront. In recent years, through ballot initiatives and legislative measures, the state has given breaks once unthinkable to thousands of felons: parole dates, sentence reductions, educational alternatives, employment opportunities. Budnick, campaigner and noodge, has had a hand in it all.

“When I first heard about him, I have to be honest with you: A white Hollywood guy? He can’t be real,” says Robert K. Ross, president and ceo of the California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation. Then Budnick invited him to visit Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A., where Ross was so moved by Budnick’s rapport with the inmates, he helped launch arc with a $400,000 grant. “Scott Budnick,” Ross says, “is the most extraordinary force in the state of California on badly needed incarceration and justice reform.”

[SNIP]

In the long run, Budnick dreams of removing every young person, 18 to 25, from the adult prison system and placing them on a campus with educational and therapeutic programs. He has been sketching plans for what he calls the California Leadership Academy for more than a decade — a Warner Bros. set designer helped with the earliest diagrams — and since his recent appointments to both the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the Board of State and Community Corrections, he now has more platforms for making it happen. While still years away, the project just received an $865,000 endorsement in Governor Brown’s budget. This sweeping proposal, with all of its promise and uncertainty, is not rooted in an especially religious perspective, nor is it particularly ideological. If pressed, Budnick will repeat the axiom “hurt people hurt” — and its corollary, “healed people heal.”

We’ve written about Budnick before (and, full disclosure: he is a pal of WLA’s).


THE DEATH OF ALEXANDRIA HILL…AND THE PROBLEM OF PRIVATIZED FOSTER CARE

In July of 2013, two-year-old Alexandria Hill was murdered by her foster mother, a woman screened and supervised by Mentor Network, a huge for-profit foster care agency.

After Alexandria’s death, Mother Jones’ Brian Joseph dove into an 18-month investigation into the world of privatized foster care.

Overloaded and understaffed child welfare departments across the US turn to private foster care companies to pick up the slack. These for-profit companies receive a bunch of tax dollars to vet potential foster families, train them, place kids in their care, and supervise them.

And there’s not much oversight.

Joseph found that very few states are even keeping a record of how many kids are in private foster care. No states are collecting data on how many kids involved in private foster care are being abused. And no one is running the numbers on the cost difference between privately-run and government-run foster care.

Here are some clips from Joseph’s investigation:

With blond hair and blue eyes, Alexandria stood 32 inches tall and weighed just 30 pounds. She liked kitties and the color purple….

At about a quarter to seven that evening, Clemon Small woke from a nap and left for a meeting at a nearby restaurant, leaving Sherill alone with Alexandria and the infant. About 15 minutes later, Sherill dialed his number, then 911.

First at the scene was Ward Roddam, the chief of the Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department, who was so surprised to find no one in the front yard waving him down that he called dispatch to make sure he had the right address. Inside, he encountered what he would describe as one of the strangest scenes in his 25-year career: Alexandria’s limp body lay on the floor while Clemon sat on the couch and Sherill talked to 911. Roddam found mucus on Alexandria’s mouth, suggesting that CPR, which foster parents are trained to administer, had never been attempted.

On the witness stand 15 months later, Roddam was asked if the Smalls seemed panicked. “‘Panic’ does not describe it at all,” he said. They seemed “very calm.”

What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities.

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

Nationally, no one tracks how many children are in private foster homes, or how these homes perform compared to those vetted directly by the government. As part of an 18-month investigation, I asked every state whether it at least knew how many children in its foster system had been placed in privately screened homes. Very few could tell me. For the eight states that did, the total came to at least 72,000 children in 2011. Not one of the states had a statistically valid dataset comparing costs, or rates of abuse or neglect, in privately versus publicly vetted homes.

[SNIP]

The bottom line for private foster care agencies—whether large, for-profit corporations or small, local nonprofits—is tied to the number of foster parents on their roster, and thus their ability to place children quickly. Given that every foster parent represents potential revenue, Zullo says, an agency may be more likely to overlook sketchy personal histories or potential safety hazards. There’s little incentive, he adds, to seek out reasons to reject a family, to investigate problems after children are placed, or to do anything else that could result in a child leaving the agency’s program. And as tough as the margins are for nonprofit agencies, the perverse incentives are exacerbated at for-profit agencies that need to make money for owners or shareholders.

“What happens,” Zullo says, “is the lives of these children become commodities.”

In 2013, the California spent $308 million on private foster care. Joseph was given a glimpse inside Positive Option, a small Sacramento set-up that is in charge of 70 kids. Here’s a clip from what he found there:

Kovill, the cofounder, is an energetic 82-year-old with a white beard who continues to manage the organization on a day-to-day basis. Kovill feels a special kinship with the foster children he serves: He says he was abandoned by his father when he was about seven and given to a shoemaker as a laborer. “Foster care is a good system,” Kovill said. “I wish it had been there when I was a kid.” (Kovill told me he changed his name long ago to break from the family that abandoned him. He wouldn’t tell me what his old name was.)

Kovill told me the margins are tight in private foster care, especially if child welfare is your top priority. He said he once had to sell land he owned in Arizona to keep Positive Option, which has annual revenues of about $1.2 million, afloat. Some of his employees report taking 10 percent pay cuts several years ago for the same reason, cuts that remain in effect today. “I’m still a businessman, and I still try to stay in the black as best I can,” Kovill told me one day in the cramped office he shares with his wife, Luan, who works at the agency for free. “But if it meant a car seat for a baby, if it meant diapers for a baby, if it meant safety for a child, the bottom line is gone.”

Kovill took responsibility for Positive Option’s problems, saying they came about in part because he was distracted by the agency’s financial struggles during the recession. “I just trusted everybody to do what I do—I work hard,” Kovill said, referring to some former employees he eventually fired. “I figured they did too. Well, you can’t do that.”


WHERE DISPLACED FOSTER KIDS GO TO WAIT

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf visited LA County’s Youth Welcome Center, the original purpose of which was to house kids new to the system while social workers placed them with foster parents or in group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like kids in their late teens, LGBTQ kids, and kids suffering from mental illness.

Here are some clips from Therolf’s story:

The center — outfitted with couches and televisions — was designed as a comfortable waiting room for children newly removed from their families; it was intended to house them for just one night while the staff tried to place them with a foster home.

Instead, the center has evolved into a holding facility for the most difficult to place youths who have been thrown out of foster homes. No one is turned away.

The facility is the last stop for some of the most desperate and extreme cases, a stark window on the difficulties of a child protection system that is burdened with maddening bureaucracy, a shortage of foster homes and crushing demands from a growing number of troubled children.

The youths who end up here are often older teenagers, sexual minorities, mentally ill or medically fragile. A significant number are involved in prostitution.

They stay here for nights, sometimes weeks, because there are so few homes willing to take them. Sometimes, the children refuse the homes offered to them and leave to live on their own. They come back sporadically to the center for a shower and a night’s rest — a respite from a life on the streets.

[SNIP]

Two of the system’s most debilitating pressures — the desperate shortage of foster homes and the swelling ranks of foster youths involved in prostitution — have conspired here to make this a place where social workers feel as though they are on a never-ending chase to find lasting foster homes for the children.

On this night, out of nearly 30 youths, only one has just entered foster care for the first time: Ruben, a small 13-year-old boy swimming in an oversized T-shirt….

Ashley spent her days in the department’s Torrance office to be near the social worker who was assigned to find her a new home. The worker was too busy to see her, however, and each night, she returned in a van to the Youth Welcome Center, where social workers take over the search on nights and weekends.

“When are you guys going to finally take me back to school?” Ashley asked the employees at the door.

“That’s not our job here at the YWC,” the woman with the clipboard replied.

“That’s not fair,” said Ashley, who was two grades behind in school.

She hoped to become a choreographer or child psychologist. She said, “I want to get my education.”


OP-ED: GOV. JOBS PROGRAM FOR RELEASED (AND SOON TO BE RELEASED) INMATES WOULD BE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

Boston saw a record-breaking “snowpocalypse” in February that is on track to break an even larger record: the snowiest season in Boston’s recorded history. All that snow buried streets, train tracks, cars, and even turned Nantucket waves into slush.

In addition to union workers and the National Guard, Boston has put county jail inmates to work shoveling the city out from under the snow. The inmates provide the labor for pennies on the hour.

In an op-ed for the Atlantic, Bruce Western and Linda Forman Naval say that local municipalities, taxpayers, and inmates would be better served if the government created a reentry job program—one that pays more than $.20 per hour and employs both incarcerated and newly released inmates.

The public maintenance jobs program would give those locked-up and recently released inmates a chance to make the money necessary for successfully transitioning back into life on the outside: for food, shelter, and paying back their debts. It would also fill a need on the city and county levels by building a public maintenance workforce, and on the individual taxpayer level by targeting recidivism.

Here’s a clip from the op-ed:

A regular government jobs program for formerly-incarcerated people could play a valuable role in maintaining public areas and infrastructure while assisting the transition from the prison to the community. Such a program would also provide a readily available workforce that could respond in moments of catastrophe.

Better yet, extending the program to provide real jobs to those who are about to be released would help them build a nest-egg to transition back into society. Pay all these workers the prevailing wage, and they will be able to afford rent and other necessities for successful reentry. And set up a payment plan so that former prisoners can pay back their debts, such as fines owed to the courts, once they are back up on their feet.

Such a payment plan for fees and fines would represent a big upgrade over the usual work-release programs. Financial obligations are usually deducted from the paycheck up front, and debt can follow formerly incarcerated people around for years. This erodes their incentive to work, makes crime more tempting, and absorbs money that might otherwise procure stable housing and other basic necessities.

People who have been incarcerated—mostly minority men with low-incomes and little schooling —continue to pay a price long after they have left prison. They often enter prison with close to nothing and return to society with little money to get established after incarceration.

Compounding the problem, they also face significant barriers to finding employment upon release.

Bruce Western is a sociology professor and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Harvard University, and the director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Linda Forman Naval is Deputy Director of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Reentry | No Comments »

School Money for Kids Who Need It Most, a Childhood Trauma Ted Talk, Kids in Gangs, and Pitchess Jail Teacher’s Sex Conviction

February 19th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

MOST CA SCHOOL DISTRICTS FAILING TO USE NEW BUDGET $$ TO RAMP UP SERVICES FOR FOSTER KIDS

Prior to a 2013 funding approach overhaul, California education budget allocation was severely inequitable, often giving more money to affluent school districts while short-changing schools—and kids—that needed the state dollars the most. The new budget system, the Local Control Funding Formula, is a weighted funding approach that allows districts (rather than the state) to decide how a portion of their funding is spent. The new formula aims to level the playing field for high-needs students, including foster kids, who are severely underserved by school districts.

The Local Control Funding Formula allocates more money for high-needs kids, and requires districts to set up goals and action plans for helping these students overcome barriers with regard to attendance, suspensions and expulsions, and interactions with school police.

A year into the Local Control Funding Formula implementation, a new report has found that, overall, California districts are failing to take advantage of the new system to analyze and address the needs of students in foster care.

Foster kids have the worst educational outcomes—including the lowest graduation rates—among high-needs student groups, which are comprised of kids from low-income households, kids with disabilities, and English-learners. In California, kids attend an average of eight different schools while in foster care. Nationwide 67% of foster kids have been suspended at least one time. Just under half of foster kids in the US battle emotional and behavioral problems, and a quarter of former foster kids (now adults) have PTSD, a rate twice that of war veterans.

According to the report, LA Unified was the only school district that had established baseline suspension data to measure the district’s progress in that area. No schools figured out the baseline data for expulsions. Only Temecula established a goal specifically targeting the expulsion of students in the child welfare system. And again, only Temecula set aside money expressly for lowering the rates at which foster kids get suspended and expelled.

Only two districts, including LAUSD, identified the baseline data for foster kids’ school attendance. Only 9% of districts named goals, and just 11% cited spending money on helping foster kids with attendance issues.

The report, authored by Laura Faer and Marjorie Cohen of Public Counsel, which focuses solely on districts’ implementation of the funding changes with regard to students in foster care, examined data from 64 California districts in which 55% of the state’s students in foster care are enrolled (the districts had to have at least 150 kids in the child welfare system).

Among other recommendations, the report calls on districts to get serious and analyze data, create goals, and, you know, earmark that extra money to help disadvantaged kids, as intended. The report lists some worthy things to put the money toward, like restorative justice, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and trauma-informed systems.

Fix School Discipline has a good roundup of the report’s main points. Here are some clips:

“Foster youth in California are disproportionately subjected to suspensions, expulsions and contacts with the juvenile justice system, all of which compound and exacerbate the trauma most have already experienced,” said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Director for Public Counsel and co-author of the report. “Improving school climate for foster youth means putting a stop to school removals and referrals to police and developing a school environment that supports their social, emotional and mental health. Developing a positive and trauma-informed school environment must be a top priority this year for districts that serve foster youth.”

[SNIP]

…very few districts analyzed the needs of foster youth or created specific strategies for addressing their challenges, which include barriers to enrollment, lack of transportation, disruptive school changes, multiple, disconnected system players, absence of a single and constant adult supporter, and exposure to high levels of trauma, all of which severely impact learning and behavior. However, in response to the new law and the efforts of organizations calling on and working with districts to prioritize school climate improvements, a large number of districts articulated promising overall school climate approaches…


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF KIDS AND TRAUMA…

Center for Youth Wellness founder Nadine Burke Harris explains the link between childhood trauma and long-term health issues in a TED talk (that everyone who hasn’t already, should watch).


NEW REPORT FINDS VERY DIFFERENT TEEN GANG INVOLVEMENT NUMBERS THAN LAW ENFORCEMENT ESTIMATES

There are more than one million kids in gangs across the nation, according to an interesting report that will be published in the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. That number is based on a sample of 6,700 surveyed kids and teenagers, and is three times higher than the number estimated by the law enforcement-based National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS).

According to the report, the turnover rate for gang membership was 37% within a year period, a rate that contradicts the notion that when kids join gangs, they never leave them.

The report also found that 30% of young gang members were girls.

The study’s lead author, David Pyrooz, is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the report’s findings, as well as why Pyrooz says the study’s gang population estimates are so far away from law enforcement numbers. Here’s a clip:

Law enforcement, the study said, puts more emphasis than the study did on older gang members and those involved in violent acts in determining the total number of gang members.

And while law enforcement relies on several factors, such as participating in violent acts or wearing gang colors, the researchers in the new study determined gang membership solely by youths identifying themselves as gang members.

“We’re picking up on this sort of dark figure of this hidden population of gang members in the U.S. that just aren’t going to be identified in law enforcement databases,” Pyrooz said.

“These are the guys who are more peripheral to the gang. They aren’t necessarily involved in deep-end gang activities, whereas law enforcement is picking up on those guys who are the deep end, those individuals who are committing crimes at high rates. They’re involved in lots of violence. They’re extremely embedded in the gang, hanging out on more of a daily basis, whereas we think we’re picking up on the entire picture as opposed to just that core element of the gang population.”

Pyrooz said most youths who join gangs do so at around ages 12 or 13, and the peak age for gang membership is 14.


LA COUNTY JAIL TEACHER CONVICTED OF SEX WITH INMATE STUDENT

A former LA County Pitchess jail teacher, 33-year-old Lisa Nichole Leroy, was sentenced to three years of probation and 40 hours of community service after pleading no contest to having sex with an inmate in a jail classroom.

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office has further information on the case.

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, PTSD, Trauma | No Comments »

Cops, Group Homes & Criminalized Kids — by Brian Rinker

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

COPS, GROUP HOMES & CRIMINALIZED KIDS

Is There Collateral Damage If Law Enforcement is Called When Foster Kids Act Out?  

by Brian Rinker


This story was produced in collaboration with The Chronicle of Social Change.


Allyson Bendell wasn’t always the most well behaved girl, but that didn’t make her a criminal either.

In the world of group homes, however, where staff who are often undertrained and overwhelmed try to manage the severe behaviors that foster youth disproportionately exhibit, calling the police, for some, has become a go-to method for controlling kids. A new law that went into effect the first of the new year is trying to change all that by forestalling excessive calls to police and, in so doing, mitigating the stigmatizing effect that contact with law enforcement invariably has on the kids.

Bendell, 17, is one of those kids, who for years, was frequently on the receiving end of the kind of unnecessary police intervention that the new law hopes to eliminate. She wound up bouncing through group homes and foster families because her emotional and behavioral issues made her difficult for less trained staff to handle. She was defiant, prone to outbursts—screaming, yelling, cussing—and running away. She threw temper tantrums. A lot.

She spent most of her life in foster care, beginning when she was age 5. Bendell said her mother and father’s parental rights were terminated when she was 7. One of her parents was in prison, the other homeless.

“The anger came from being alone,” Bendell said. “I wanted someone to love me.”

In her 12 years in the system, she moved through more than 30 foster care placements, including a string of foster families, two group homes and many emergency shelters, temporary housing for foster youth in between placements.

While Bendell admitted that her behavior made life difficult for those trying to care for her, she said that none of her foster families called the police. It was only the group facilities that got the cops involved.

“I was trying to be heard and feeling like no one would really listen,” Bendell said. “I needed a one-on-one connection and a group is the worst situation for that.”

Joan Berry, who was Bendell’s Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, agreed with the assessment.

“Ally has had really good experiences in foster care, but her temper tantrums made it difficult,” Berry said. “Ally is a child of the system and it is very hard to overcome that.”

At 13, she went to live in a San Joaquin County level-14 group home, run by Valley Oak Residential. Level-14 homes are meant to serve youth with serious emotional issues, a designation that Bendell said she did not fit. She said that most of the girls there were older and violent, and that the staff regularly called the police.

“The group home staff used the police to intimidate the girls to keep them in check,” Bendell said. If the kids acted out, fought each other, yelled, threw chairs at the wall, the police would come and each girl would have to sit on their bed as the cops lectured them. “The police were used as a ruling hand. They were used as control. They were used as a behavioral correction.”

Valley Oak Residential did not respond to requests for comment.

“Being in a group home with that much police involvement made it so much harder to be normal,” said Bendell, “It was worse than a correctional facility, more like a holding cell. There was no correction going on, you’re just being kept there.”


HOPING FOR NORMAL

Providing foster youth with the most normal, homelike experience possible-—while making sure that the experience is a safe one—-is what’s at the heart of the new law, AB 388, which means minimizing the presence of law enforcement in group homes, and curtailing extended stays in juvenile hall for foster kids who are detained because they have nowhere else to go.

“The purpose of [the law] is to prevent foster youth from being arrested and charged for misbehavior that wouldn’t happen to anyone other than a foster youth,” said Martha Matthews, an attorney for Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm that represents children. “The mere fact that someone is in foster care should not result in their being detained.”

With these goals in mind, AB 388, will trigger a state investigation once a year into any group home that calls the police “a greater than average number” of times. What “greater than average” actually means is still to be determined. That number will probably arise from the new data the law is requiring group homes to collect and release. From now on group homes will have to report every time one of its youth comes in contact with law enforcement, and provide a follow-up report within six months to the state Community Care Licensing Division, a division of Social Services charged with overseeing residential facilities, including group homes.

For foster youth who are detained at juvenile hall, the law requires immediate notification of child welfare services and an attorney for alternative placement.

The law also mandates the creation of a committee of stakeholders, including government agencies, foster youth, advocates and providers, its purpose to strategize and research programs and interventions in order to further minimize law enforcement contact in group homes.

Former Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D) introduced the law, which Public Counsel and the other co-sponsors had drafted. (Chesbro termed out in November.) In a fact sheet on the bill circulated in July, Mathews cited case examples including that of a bipolar teen who spent 36 days in juvenile hall for punching a hole in the wall of her group home.

“We didn’t have scientific data (on how many times group homes called the police) but we had the experience of a lot of advocates,” said Matthews who, prior to coming to Public Counsel worked for Children’s Law Center, which represents all 25,000 foster youth in Los Angeles County.

Matthews said she hopes the law makes it clear to group homes that they must find better and more therapeutic methods than involving police when youth in their care act out.


BUT IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO THE LAW?

The California Alliance and Family Services, an association that represents more than 100 youth service providers including many group homes, worked with the authors of AB 388 last year as it made its way through the State Legislature. The alliance ended up neither endorsing nor opposing the law. The bill passed unanimously.

Yet some professionals in the field worry that the law will have unintended consequences, like preventing staff from calling the law enforcement at those times when police intervention is needed, for fear of triggering an investigation. Worse still, they say, is the concern that certain providers will be hesitant to take in the highest needs kids.

“I’m not sure the net affect of AB 388 will keep foster kids from being referred to the criminal justice system,” said Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca, a nonprofit service provider for children with serious emotional issues, which also ran group homes until 2012. “I fear the net affect will be kids who are most at risk will have a harder time being placed.”

Despite his reservations, Berrick sees no problem with the intent of the bill. “Using law enforcement as a behavioral tool is fundamentally a bad idea.”

Matt Madaus, CEO of Edgewood, a 48-bed, level-14 residential facility in San Francisco also had misgivings. “It is unclear to me what [AB 388] will actually achieve,” he said in an email. “Group Homes are already required to report all police contacts related to a resident to Community Care Licensing.”

Community Care Licensing is the state agency in charge of overseeing residential facilities, including group homes.

The new law “will not add any value to the lives of the foster youth that Edgewood serves,” Madaus said. “We do not use the police as an intervention or to punish or scare a youth,” he added “As a policy and cultural practice, we do not contact the police for property destruction, verbal or physical aggression, or other manageable behaviors.”

According to documents obtained from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, there were 460 calls for police service to Edgewood during the last three years, averaging three calls a week. The reasons stated included attempted suicide, juvenile beyond control, assault or battery and mental detention. The majority of calls—204 in all—were for runaways.


OFFICERS & RUNNERS

Bendell was a runner. And running away is one of the most common types of group home incidents that end up involving cops. At her very first group home she got in an argument with staff and took off. Staff and police found her walking alone on the highway. She was 10 years old.

At Valley Oak Residential, where she landed when she was 13, she went AWOL several times. Sometimes she returned on her own. Other times, officers brought her back.

“It’s not like [the Valley Oak staff] are horrible people,” said Berry, Bendell’s CASA. “They just don’t have the resources. And these are tough kids.”

Bendell said she wasn’t violent and never threw a punch at Valley Oak. But her earlier group home located in northern California, she got into a scuffle with another 11-year girl.

“It went bad and I needed to escape,” said Bendell. She yelled and screamed and attempted to run away.

In that instance, to keep her from leaving and to calm her down, staff members sent her to what was known at the home as the “safety room,” a barren, cement room where problem children went to cool down, she said. It wasn’t a locked facility, so they couldn’t lock her in a room. But every time she tried to leave she said a staffer pushed her back inside.

When Bendell continued to be upset, the staff called the police and she was taken to juvenile hall, she said. The group home never came to get her; they didn’t want her back.

“I was an 11-year-old girl who threw a tantrum,” Bendell said. “I wasn’t acting acceptable, but I felt I was acting in a way they could have handled.”

She ended up at Valley Oak, which was the very last home to kick Bendell out. At 14, no other group home would take her in.

With nowhere to go, she asked a high school friend she had made during her time at Valley Oak if she could move in with the friend’s parents. They agreed, and everything changed. Bendell finally found a real home, with a family who didn’t called police if she lost her temper.

“They gave me a chance when no one else would,” said Bendell.

After years in a stable environment with adults who made clear that her wellbeing mattered to them, Bendell began to thrive. She was able to graduate from high school early, and got a job working in a restaurant. She is now living in transitional housing as she moves toward full independence.

She is also an advocate for foster youth with the California Youth Connection.

Bendell credits her turnaround to the support of her new family. “They showed me love and patience. They embraced my goals and dreams. They truly listened to me. They loved me,” Bendell said. “That’s why I am successful now. That’s my home.”



Photos by Max Whittaker of Prime Collective

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement | No Comments »

Reforms Trump Talking About Race, Solitary and Kids’ Brains, Next Steps for NYC Solitary Ban, and LA Foster Care Reform Efforts

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

In an op-ed for the LA Times, California Endowment President Robert Ross says that instead of pushing for a national discussion about race issues, we should take advantage of this “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to take action. Ross urges Californians to push forward with meaningful reforms to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for young people of color.

He points to four specific areas, which the state has already made some measure of progress on, where we should focus our efforts—public education, criminal justice, immigration, and healthcare. Here are the details on the first two:

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.

Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47′s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.


WHY WE LOCK KIDS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND WHAT IT DOES TO THEIR BRAINS

Dana Liebelson has an excellent longread for the January/February issue of Mother Jones Magazine, chronicling the history of solitary confinement in the US, and detailing the alarming effects isolation has on young developing brains, exacerbating existing mental illnesses, and even producing new ones. Here’s a clip, but we highly recommend reading the whole thing:

We now know…that new brain cells continue to develop in the hippocampus—a portion of the brain central to cognition and memory processing—throughout adulthood. When scientists began looking at animals kept in isolation, they discovered that they grew fewer new neurons than their nonisolated counterparts. That’s because isolation creates stress, and stress hormones inhibit neuron formation, which can result in harm to memory and learning. The effect is often more pronounced in juvenile animals, whose brains are undergoing rapid development. There “isn’t any question,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, that isolation is harmful to the brain and to overall health.

Last March, researchers from Brazil published a study in which they isolated adolescent marmosets, a kind of adorable South American monkey, in cages as small as two and a half feet across, and kept them from seeing or touching other monkeys. The animals soon grew anxious and spent less time on their usual grooming habits. Compared with controls, they exhibited “significantly” higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a steady drop in neuron production in the hippocampus—just one week in isolation decreased the observed number of new cells by more than one-third.

Ceylan Isgor, an associate biomedical science professor at Florida Atlantic University, has found that the effects of isolation on juvenile animals are “long-lasting.” As she explained it to me, the pruning of synapses—the connections between nerve cells—that occurs during adolescence and helps teenagers grow out of behaviors such as impulsiveness does not occur normally under conditions of extended isolation. Extrapolating from animal studies, she said, the results would suggest that kids already prone to breaking rules will become even more likely to act out: “You’re getting a whole different network.” And while the consequences may not be seen right away, they can pop up later as mental-illness symptoms or vulnerability to drug addiction. In other words, the way we often deal with messed-up kids in juvenile detention may increase the likelihood that they’ll reoffend down the road.

David Chura, whose 2010 book, I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine, chronicles the decade he spent teaching English to juveniles at the Westchester County Jail (an adult lockup in New York), has seen the effects of isolation firsthand. In 2004, the prison opened a new security housing unit, a.k.a. solitary wing. At first, it seemed like an improvement: The rooms, Chura recalled, were clean and quiet and “you could read or whatever.” But then his students began to deteriorate, rapidly and dramatically, and his teaching attempts fell apart: “The motivation for doing anything was lost.” Young men who used to fastidiously iron their orange uniforms stopped bathing. They became angrier and started acting out more. When they were allowed out of their cells into an adjacent recreation area—an empty room with a screen for fresh air—the kids would “plaster their faces against these screens and be yelling back and forth,” Chura told me, as though trying to prove, “I’m alive. I’m really still here.”

The class action suit in Ohio described a boy, “IJ,” who was 14 when he entered state custody in 2006. Grassian, by then retired from Harvard, was asked to review his records. When IJ first came into the system, Grassian testified, he was described as a “cooperative youth” who, despite his intellectual disabilities, didn’t require psychiatric drugs or mental-health services. But after a few years, and a lot of time spent in solitary, the teen was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder and PTSD. Six years into his sentence, he was “seen as simply incorrigible…and a misogynist,” Grassian noted. He assaulted a staff member that year too. “I hated being in my room,” IJ testified. “It made me mad. It made my anger issues way worse.”


NYC CORRECTIONS SAYS NO MORE SOLITARY FOR RIKERS INMATES UNDER 21, BUT THERE ARE…PROBLEMS

Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Corrections unanimously voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger. The decision is particularly important for the young people housed in the notorious Rikers Island Jail.

But while the move is a huge step in the right direction, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Taylor Pendergrass, says formidable obstacles must be overcome in order for the ban to be successful. The first is obtaining sufficient funding.

The Marshall Project’s Clare Sestanovich has the story. Here’s a clip:

Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, who has worked on their federal lawsuit challenging New York state solitary practices, foresees two problems with implementation. The first is one that the Board of Corrections itself has identified: funding. In fact, the board literally underlined this contingency in their new regulations. The ban on solitary will only take effect, they wrote, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.”

Even if funding is secured, a bigger challenge awaits: how to manage such a drastic policy overhaul in a place where, as one former corrections official told The New Yorker, staff has become “severely addicted to solitary confinement.” If this addiction is as deeply rooted as many claim (and Commissioner Joseph Ponte has himself identified a “culture of excessive solitary confinement”) the new policy could face stiff resistance. “The piece that’s complicated and harder to get a sense of,” Kysel says, “is how much buy-in there will be from officers who are putting them in practice.”

But more than getting corrections officers on board, the key, according to Pendergrass, will be “making sure that [guards] have tools other than sending [inmates] to solitary as a knee-jerk response. I think it’s certainly true that if you just take away solitary confinement and replace it with something else, there’s a high risk that the policy will never be properly implemented, or even if it is implemented, you will have a regression back to punitive responses.”

Solitary confinement, he says, has been used as a blunt instrument to respond to a wide array of problems, ranging from mental illness to substance abuse to adolescent defiance, and poses real dangers to those assigned to maintain order. Pendergrass says a long-term solution will require “fragmenting the approach”; tailoring responses to inmates who act out based on their underlying problems. That, of course, requires complicated – not to mention expensive – training. The BOC’s new rule seems to anticipate this approach. It specifies that all staff who monitor punitive segregation units will be provided with training that “shall include, but shall not be limited to, recognition and understanding of mental illness and distress, effective communication skills, and conflict de-escalation techniques.”


WHERE LA STANDS ON THE ROAD TO REFORMING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

After months of delaying the implementation of foster care reform recommendations made by a blue ribbon commission, including the hiring of a child welfare czar, the LA County Board of Supervisors appear to be gaining momentum.

On Tuesday, the Supes voted to move forward with two important child welfare reform recommendations.

Like most of us, the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection attributes the new energy, in part, to the arrival of two new board members determined to implement the commission’s reforms.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick reports that until now, the transition team has come up against resistance from members of the board, particularly Supervisor Don Knabe, who has opposed both the blue ribbon commission and the transition team as unnecessary bureaucracy. In addition, the transition team, once authorized to lend a hand in the hiring of the new czar, were subsequently excluded from the process.

Bolstered by the new activity from the Board of Supervisors, the transition team has set a list of priorities they intend to push in the coming months.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of Renick’s detailed report on the issue:

The transition team appointed to initiate sweeping child protection reform in Los Angeles met for the first time in 2015 this week, and seemed to embrace an optimistic attitude.

“A lot of times you wonder if this is going to be shelved, these recommendations, and what I’m seeing is that it’s alive and well, and we’re moving forward,” said Richard Martinez during the January 12 meeting. Martinez, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is a member of the transition team and Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.

“It’s so exciting that we’re moving forward with this,” said transition team member Janet Teague at the January meeting.

The positive tone belies the team’s frustration over spending the past six months grinding out small wins while being sidelined from the highest priority of the reform process: hiring the person who will oversee it.

The transition team’s meetings – held in the cavernous and almost entirely empty Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in downtown L.A. – have produced some results, such as the expansion of the medical hubs where children and youth receive health screenings.

But fitful relations between the team and some of the county’s five supervisors have left team members and outside observers wondering what could have been if the board had given the deliberative body a stronger mandate.

“We have not yet had an easy communication with respect to the people we’re serving, the Board of Supervisors,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during a December meeting. “A transition team really is only useful if there is a desire to use us in terms of our expertise and our opinions.”

Hope for better relations comes in the form of two new board members, both of whom have voiced support for the reform process.

“We need reports back [from the transition team] more often,” said newly sworn in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, during a recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “I think the public’s confidence in what we’re doing is very low. They haven’t seen us doing much and they don’t know that we will do much.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, health care, immigration, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Sheriff McDonnell’s Thoughts One Month In….Jail Beating Victims Win $5M in Legal Fees….Ferguson Grand Juror Sues….and Foster Kids

January 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL MAKES MEDIA ROUNDS, DISCUSSES DUAL-TRACK SYSTEM, OVERSIGHT, REPLACING JAIL

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he has his sights set on a plan that would keep new deputies from having to spend years working in jails before heading out on patrol. The aim would be to fill all jail positions within the next three years, so that patrol-seeking deputies would be able to skip or reduce the customary time spent learning the custody division (which can last up to seven years).

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell said the original intent of the system was to have deputies spend a year or two in the jails to allow them to learn about the custodial division.

But, over the years, that assignment grew to as long as seven years and has hurt recruitment, McDonnell said.

“Young people today are very sophisticated and they look at what the different departments offer,” McDonnell said. “They joined to be in patrol cars and help people. I don’t think you are helping recruitment when you send them to the jails for so long.”

The proposal to reduce use of new deputies in the jails was contained in a 2012 report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which McDonnell was a member. The panel also recommended the use of custody assistants to help staff the jails and relieve the need for deputies.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, which has been critical of the jail system, said he supports McDonnell’s proposal.

“I always thought the claim that jails are the appropriate place to learn about bad people is not right,” Eliasberg said. “Patrol requires a different response and temperament than is needed in the jails.

Sheriff McDonnell, who was sworn in a little over a month ago, as part of a media circuit, spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk about the dual track recruiting system, as well as the fate of Men’s Central Jail, and civilian oversight.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick has a good round up of McDonnell’s other appearances.


OVER $5 MILLION IN LEGAL FEES AWARDED TO MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL IMNATES

A federal judge has awarded nearly $5.4 million in legal fees to five Men’s Central Jail inmates who say they were brutally beaten and tasered by deputies in 2008. (Read about the trial here.) This number is in addition to $950,000 in damages won by the inmates last year.

Legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, Peter Eliasberg, points out that the county could have avoided paying over $5 million in legal fees (more than $6 million of tax payers’ money) by settling for less $1 million.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here are some clips:

The amount, approved by a federal judge last week, is unusually large for such cases and may encourage more attorneys to represent indigent plaintiffs who claim abuse by their jailers. It comes on top of $950,000 in damages that a federal jury awarded to the inmates after a trial last February.

Heriberto Rodriguez and the other inmates say that they suffered broken bones in beatings by sheriff’s deputies when they refused to leave their cells at Men’s Central Jail on Aug. 25, 2008. The county argued that deputies took the steps they felt were necessary after a riot broke out, with inmates setting fires and throwing porcelain shards from broken sinks.

In a Dec. 26 order, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall accepted the winning attorneys’ assessment that they spent nearly 6,000 hours on the case at rates of up to $975 an hour. The attorneys said they had been willing to settle the case, including legal fees, for about $900,000, but the county refused.

Of the $950,000 jury award, $210,000 was for punitive damages and $9,500 will go to the inmates’ attorneys, in addition to the nearly $5.4 million in attorneys fees granted by the judge’s order.


GRAND JUROR, WANTING TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT DARREN WILSON CASE PROCEEDINGS, SUES COUNTY PROSECUTOR

An unnamed member of the grand jury that chose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, is now suing the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, seeking to negate a gag order prohibiting grand jurors from speaking about the case. Normally, grand jurors who discuss cases face misdemeanor charges, but the lawsuit filed Monday by the ACLU of Missouri, says the unusual proceedings (which included sharing all evidence with the grand jury instead of recommending a charge), warrants permitting the juror to speak. The lawsuit says that the presumption that the grand jury’s decision was unanimous is inaccurate, as is other information shared with the public about the proceedings.

On Monday, in a letter to St. Louis Circuit Judge Maura McShane, the NAACP requested that a new grand jury be convened to reconsider charges against Darren Wilson. The group also asked for an investigation into the grand jury proceedings and McCulloch’s actions.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel has the story. Here’s a clip:

“In [the grand juror]’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate — especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges,” the lawsuit says. (A grand jury’s decision does not have to be unanimous.)

“Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [Doe]’s own,” the lawsuit continued. “From [the grand juror]’s perspective, the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim than in other cases presented to the grand jury.” Doe also believes the legal standards were conveyed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner to the grand jury.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri argues that this case is unique and that the usual reasons for requiring the jurors to maintain secrecy should not apply.

In this specific case, “any interests furthered by maintaining grand jury secrecy are outweighed by the interests secured by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit says, adding that allowing the juror to speak would contribute to a discussion on race in America.

As the grand juror points out in the lawsuit, the Wilson case was handled in a very different manner than other grand juries. Instead of recommending a charge, McCulloch’s office presented thousands of pages worth of evidence and testimony before the grand jury. At one point, McCulloch’s spokesman characterized the grand jury as co-investigators.

CBS News has more on the NAACP requests.


A LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF DRUGGED FOSTER KIDS

In the fifth installment of Karen de Sá’s important investigative series for the San Jose Mercury, a video documentary gives us a more intimate look at the young lives affected by the unchecked overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Watch it here, especially if you missed any of the previous installments (which can all be accessed via the same link).


IMPROVING FOSTER KIDS’ HIGHER EDUCATION OUTCOMES

When foster kids age out of the system, the odds are invariably stacked against them. They often leave their foster homes with little or no money, support, or tools to prepare them for college or adult life. (A 2011 study by the Hilton Foundation found that only 2% of the 2,388 LA County former foster youth tracked by researchers received an associate’s degree.)

A growing number of states are working to help level the playing field for former foster kids by offering college tuition waivers and educational support programs. While California does have cross-agency collaborative support systems in place, the state does not offer tuition waivers to aged-out foster kids.

NPR’s Jennifer Guerra discusses this issue on All Things Considered. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

By the time she aged out of foster care, Jasmine Uqdah had spent nearly half her life in the system. On a summer day in 2008, Uqdah grabbed her duffel bag and two small garbage bags, and she stuffed everything she owned inside.

It wasn’t much — just some clothes and a few stuffed animals. She said her goodbyes to her foster family in Detroit and moved out. She was 18 years old.

“It was pretty scary, to be honest,” she says. “Every 18- and 19-year-old thinks they’re ready, but you’re not. You’re not ready for shutoff notices. You’re not ready for eviction notices. You’re not ready for car repossessions.”

Uqdah was one of the more than 20,000 young people who age out of foster care in the U.S. every year. For most, the outcomes aren’t great. They’re heading out into the world with next to nothing — no family, no money, no support.

Roughly half drop out of high school, and few of those who do make it to college graduate. One study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, found that only 2.5 percent of former foster children in the Midwest had graduated from college by age 26.

Some states like Michigan are trying to bring that success rate way up, finding the money and other support needed to give young people like Jasmine Uqdah a fair shot at success.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

An LA Times editorial urges the LA County Board of Supervisors to regain lost momentum toward implementing foster care reform recommendations (approved last April) and appointing a child welfare czar. (Find the backstory here.) Here’s a clip:

In response to a social worker strike, rather than the blue-ribbon commission report or the urging of the CEO, the board last year allocated funding for additional social workers, which should translate into more manageable caseloads. DCFS adopted a stronger training program. These are positive steps. But the county also needs someone to focus the attention of numerous government agencies on child protection without running afoul of the board.

In the end, if the supervisors are to protect children from abuse and neglect, they must also grapple with the more prosaic issue of how to successfully run a bureaucracy.

Attempts at plea bargains with Gabriel Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend have so far failed, and the two defendants could very well go to trial this year. The supervisors would be wise to remember the young victim’s plight now, and ensure that the reform efforts are well underway when the news stories once again focus on the horrors that the young boy endured and the county’s failure to protect him.

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 26 Comments »

Jumpstarting Foster Care Reform, Kamala Harris’ New Initiative, the NYPD Protest, Indigent Defense, and Homeboy

January 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY RESUSCITATE DCFS REFORM PUSH

The two recently-elected LA County Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, help form a new majority focused on implementing foster care reforms recommended by a blue ribbon panel last April. Two critical reforms in particular have hit a wall after the approval of all 42 recommendations last year: the creation of a child welfare czar, and boosting the use of county “Medical Hub” clinics that provide medical and mental health screenings for foster kids as a means of detecting abuse and neglect.

Kuehl and Solis, joined by Supervisor Don Knabe, are also in favor of hiring more social workers to offset current DCFS workers’ unmanageable caseloads.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he hopes the arrival of the two new supervisors will rebuild the board’s lost momentum.

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

The board majority said they want to look again at recommendations made by a blue-ribbon commission that includes proposals to expand the use of county clinics for medical assessments of abused and neglected children and to appoint a child-welfare “czar” to coordinate services across departmental lines.

They are even considering going beyond the commission’s recommendations to significantly increase the number of social workers and finally erase long-standing disparities in the quality of service provided in different regions of the county. Although the supervisors say they won’t commit to a specific hiring target, their deliberations will occur at the same time the social workers union is pushing to hire 450 more staffers in 2015 — a proposal that would cost $60 million.

Recently elected Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis are among those saying the additional hiring must be reconsidered. Their predecessors, reluctant to add new costs, had argued that the Department of Children and Family Services needed only to better use the roughly 7,500 employees and $1.5-billion budget it already has.

“I’ve said all along that the caseloads are so high that it is virtually impossible for social workers to say that they’ve investigated nearly every possibility in a child’s case,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl and Solis, who campaigned with financial support from the social workers union, have joined hold-over Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to call for a fresh review of dozens of recommendations introduced a year ago by a blue-ribbon commission appointed in the aftermath of the beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez…

In recent interviews, Supervisor Don Knabe joined Kuehl and Solis to say the county should consider adding more social workers. Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich declined to state their positions on new hiring, but aides to Antonovich said he would be willing to examine the proposal.

“Los Angeles County social workers have caseloads that are among the highest in the nation; they need our support,” Solis said. “We need to look at how they’re deployed, trained, supervised and equipped. Hiring more social workers is one of the options that needs to be in the mix for consideration.”

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING KIDS…

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is expected to announce the creation of a new state Department of Justice bureau to combat crimes against kids. The new bureau will target the exploitation of foster kids, child sex trafficking, child labor, as well as truancy.

AP’s Don Thompson has more on Harris’ initiative. Here’s a clip:

She plans to announce during her swearing-in Monday that she is creating a bureau within the state Department of Justice that will focus on crimes against children.

Some of its work will expand on priorities during Harris’ first four years, including deterring school truancy and the trafficking of young women for sex, domestic labor or sweat shops.

The bureau also will tackle what Harris says are “tragically flawed” foster care and adoption systems and fight discrimination in schools, such as bullying.

“In the coming term, we’re going to double down. We’re going to use the power of this office to lift up the next generation of Californians,” Harris said in remarks prepared for her inauguration speech. She added later that, “We can’t keep letting down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and expect a different outcome next week.”


A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE NYPD PROTEST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

Protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alleged disloyalty to law enforcement, the New York Police Department slowed down work considerably, ticketing and arresting people “only when they have to.” Because of cops’ refusal to make arrests or hand out tickets for minor infractions, parking and traffic violations dropped 92% and 94% respectively, summonses went down 94% and overall arrests dropped a whopping 66%.

The Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has an interesting alternate take on the NYPD’s “work stoppage.” Taibbi says that while not the aim of the NYPD officers, the protest has put a spotlight on the police-citizen interactions—costly tickets, summonses, and arrests for quality-of-life offenses—that inflame communities and pad the city’s pockets. Here are some clips:

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”

It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.

[SNIP]

I’ve met more than a few police in the last few years who’ve complained vigorously about things like the “empty the pad” policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people “when they have to.”

Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.


FOUR CRITICAL THINGS THE INCOMING US ATTORNEY GENERAL MUST KNOW ABOUT THE STATE OF INDIGENT DEFENSE

Across the country, poor defendants guaranteed public legal counsel, receive a less than adequate defense—sometimes, no defense at all.

Current US Attorney General Eric Holder has made considerable efforts to reform the indigent defense system, increasing funding and grants for public counsel, holding a 50-state symposium, and creating the Access to Justice initiative.

The Marshall Project’s David Carroll applauds Holder’s efforts, but says that more must be done by the next Attorney General.

Carroll shares four specific things the next AG must know to accomplish lasting change. Here are the first two:

#1. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … judges do.

Though the speeches of Attorney General Holder and the other high-level DOJ officials define the problems perfectly in speech after speech, the DOJ most often talks about the crisis before the public defense community or at indigent defense summits hosted by groups like the American Bar Association. Those organizations and communities already know that the right to counsel is eroding in America. Judges do not.

The most prevalent manner for delivering indigent defense services in the United States is for a private attorney to handle an unlimited number of cases for a single flat fee, under contract to the judge presiding over the lawyer’s cases. (We estimate flat fee contracts are used in 64 percent of all counties). Generally, all trial expenses (experts, investigators, etc.) must be paid out of the same flat fee, meaning the lawyer’s take-home pay is depleted for seeking outside assistance. When judges are allowed to hand-select defense counsel in this manner, the judiciary is interfering with a lawyer’s ability to make independent decisions.

Judges need to hear that the independence of the defense function is not just a good idea – it is the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “independence of counsel” is “constitutionally protected,” and that “[g]overnment violates the right to effective assistance when it interferes in certain ways with the ability of counsel to make independent decisions about how to conduct the defense.” A lawyer operating under a flat fee contract to a judge necessarily takes into his consideration what must be done to please the court in order to get his next contract, instead of operating solely in the interests of his client. Judges must stop flat-fee contracting and hand-selecting attorneys, and the next Attorney General needs to be the one leading the call.

#2. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … prosecutors do.

Most people may be shocked to know that tens of thousands of poor people are convicted, and serve jail time, every year without ever having spoken to a criminal defense attorney. Every single one of those defendants had a right to a public lawyer, but in many of those courts, there may not even have been a defense lawyer in the courtroom. The Sixth Amendment Center calls them “no counsel courts”…

Read the rest.


THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ VISITS HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez introduces us to Rudy Martinez, a security guard for Homeboy Industries, who, after spending the majority of his adult years in lock-up, found his way to Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Ind., and a new perspective on life.

Lopez also tells of how it came about that Father Greg agreed to meet Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, in hope of engaging the Pope in mutual projects to change the world.

Here’s a clip from Rudy’s story:

“When I first went to county jail, it was like an accomplishment. Yeah, a badge of honor. And then I made it to the Big House,” said Martinez, who figures he’s spent more than half his adult life behind bars. And at a certain point, he began to wise up a little.

“It was 2012, I was sitting in my cell in Susanville, looking out the window, thinking about my future,” Martinez said.

And what did you see, I asked him.

“Emptiness. I had this moment of clarity, and I said, ‘Rudy, is this what you want to do with your life?’”

His answer was no. But he wasn’t out long before he got nabbed for driving without a license. There he was again, caged up and down on himself. And he decided the first thing he was going to do when he got out was go see this Father Greg guy he’d heard about. He’ll hook you up with a job, Martinez was told. That was the word.

“I came here not knowing what it was about,” said Martinez, who soon found that jobs are not handed out like candy canes. They’d give you an opportunity, yes. But you had to decide you were ready to make big changes and stay committed for 18 months.

Martinez is 14 months into it, determined to make it the rest of the way, stay out of trouble after that and go to work somewhere, preferably at Homeboy.

“I started going to classes,” he said. “Anger management, substance abuse, parenting, therapy. At first I was going to them because I had to go to them. But as time when on, I started going because I wanted to go and because it was making me feel better inside.

“There was a moment when I realized this was life. It’s spending time with family, being a productive member of society, paying taxes, pushing your kid on a swing.”

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Prosecutors, Public Defender | No Comments »

Jim McDonnell Swearing-in, Native American Kids’ Exposure to Violence, California Exoneration, and a Child Welfare Czar Update

December 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TODAY: LA GETS A NEW SHERIFF

Jim McDonnell will be sworn in as the 32nd Sheriff of Los Angeles County today, December 1. The swearing-in will take place downtown at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration at 2:00p.m.

McDonnell will replace Interim Sheriff John Scott, who took over for Sheriff Lee Baca after he resigned in January.

Former chief of the Long Beach Police Dept. and a 29-year LAPD veteran, McDonnell is the first new sheriff elected from outside the department—the fourth largest law enforcement agency in the US—in more than a century.

We will have much more on our new sheriff after the swearing-in.


NATIVE AMERICAN KIDS PLAGUED BY COMMUNITY VIOLENCE, FAILED BY THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Children growing up in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities experience violence at a rate higher than any other race, according to a recent report. (The 120-page report from the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence was presented to Attorney General Eric Holder in mid-November.)

According to the report, 75% of deaths of Native Americans between the ages of 12-20 are due to violence.

AI/AN kids are also five times more likely than the general population to have four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Kids with four ACEs have a much higher likelihood of having emotional and physical health issues, among other serious negative outcomes.

Clearly this is a national issue, but it’s a California issue, as well, in that our state has the second largest Native American population in the US (the largest is in Oklahoma).

The report makes 31 recommendations to improve the lives of AI/AN kids exposed to violence, including allowing tribes to prosecute non-Native Americans who abuse Native American children on reservations.

Here are some clips from the report:

Violence in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities occurs at very high rates compared with non-AI/AN communities—higher for AI/AN than all other races. And violence, including intentional injuries, homicide, and suicide, accounts for 75 percent of deaths of AI/AN youth ages twelve through twenty.2 Unfortunately, Indian children cannot escape the violence that surrounds them.

Repeated exposure to childhood violence has a staggering lifelong impact on an individual’s health and well-being. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study demonstrated that persons who experience four or more childhood adversities have a four- to twelvefold increased risk for alcoholism, drug use, depression, and suicide attempt when compared to those that had experienced none. This study, coupled with data that show American Indians and Alaska Natives have a fivefold higher risk of being exposed to four or more adverse childhood events, underscores the overwhelming impact of exposure to violence in AI/AN communities.

Children engulfed by this level of community violence often struggle with rebuilding trust, finding meaning in life apart from desires for safety and justice, finding realistic ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from danger and dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt. Additionally, when children experience ongoing violence in their communities, it may become an accepted condition of life. They may learn to think of recurring danger, fear, injury, and death as normal. Instead of celebrating life, too often they must mourn losses. This may confuse them in figuring out how to navigate life. These children wait nervously or helplessly for the next explosion of violence in their neighborhood or school, or they mourn the all-too-common deaths or devastated lives of families, friends, and community members. At some point, these children may feel the need to fight back against actual or potential perpetrators, causing them to have difficulty acting appropriately on those feelings. Unfortunately, a number of these children become perpetrators in adolescence and adulthood.

[SNIP]

Vulnerability Due to Homelessness. Homelessness may be caused by a need to escape violence in the home, and homeless youth become easy targets of violent crime in the community. In Minnesota, where the Advisory Committee conducted a Listening Session, it was reported that AI/AN youth make up 20 percent of homeless youth ages twelve through seventeen, although they make up only 1 percent of the general population.

[SNIP]

The cycle of violence that now grips AI/AN communities was years in the making and largely due to failed federal policies. Breaking the cycle of violence will require cooperation at the federal, tribal, and state level as well as the investment of significant new resources.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has more on the report.

In a more recent story for the Washington Post, Horwitz tells of how the federal justice system is failing Native American kids. Horwitz takes a particularly close look at kids from the violence-ridden Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and their encounters with the juvenile system. Here’s a clip:

Around the country, juveniles on reservations are left to languish in cash-strapped facilities that cannot afford to provide the kind of rehabilitative services afforded to most young offenders in the United States. Because some reservations have no juvenile detention centers, offenders often are shipped to facilities far from their homes, compounding the isolation of incarceration.

A jurisdictional legal maze in Indian country further complicates matters. Indian reservations are sovereign nations. So when juveniles commit minor crimes, their cases are usually handled by the tribes. But when they commit a serious felony, their cases are generally handled by federal prosecutors, and they can be sent to either federal prison or a federal facility.

In the federal system, there is no juvenile division, and no court judges, rehabilitation facilities or probation system for juveniles. From 1999 through 2008, as many as 60 percent of juveniles in federal custody were American Indians, according to a commission that last year recommended that tribes be given full jurisdiction over Indian children and be released from “dysfunctional federal and state controls.”

Advocates say Native American youths have essentially been forgotten.

“There is no systemic program to educate kids or provide services for them in detention centers,” said Troy Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission and a former U.S. attorney from Colorado. “They don’t have computer instruction. They don’t have classrooms. They have nothing, and their services are lacking because Congress hasn’t appropriated the funding. They just sit in a cell all day.”


MAN FREED AFTER THE LONGEST WRONGFUL INCARCERATION IN CALIFORNIA, PLUS INTERVIEW WITH HEAD OF INNOCENCE PROJECT

Michael Hanline, a man wrongly convicted of a 1978 murder, was released from prison after serving 36 years behind bars—the longest wrongful imprisonment ever in California. —and a 15 year battle on his behalf by the folks at the California Innocence Project. (You can read the rest of Hanline’s story here.)

UT San Diego’s Dana Littlefield interviewed Justin Brooks, founder of the California Innocence Project. Brooks discusses breaking the good news to Hanline about his exoneration. He also explains how the Innocence Project chooses cases, and a walk from San Diego to Sacramento to file twelve clemency petitions.

Here are some clips from the interview:

Q: What was it like to tell Michael Hanline he would finally be getting out of prison?

A: It was stunning. I think it had been such a roller coaster over all these years that it was hard for him to believe it. I still don’t think he really believed it until (the day after he was released). I think he had to get out. He had to go to bed and wake up somewhere else to really have it hit him.

I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve walked 15 people out of prison in that situation. And I still don’t know what it’s like because I’m still just an observer. I always try to imagine it, but I can’t imagine it. I mean, I don’t like staying home sick one day. I can’t fathom 36 years of in prison, thinking you’re gonna die there.

[SNIP]

Q: What’s the California 12?

A: With Hanline, we thought we’d run out of options. We were still fighting but we had been going on for so long. So one night I thought, Well, the governor has the ability to grant clemency and my goal isn’t necessarily to exonerate everybody it’s to free innocent people. Clemency isn’t about exonerating you, it’s about getting you out of prison.

So I thought, I’m going to file clemency on all the cases that we’ve been fighting for years and where we have strong evidence of innocence, but we haven’t been able to convince the courts of it.

Clemency is so hard to get because it’s so political and you have to get the governor’s attention. So I came up with this crazy idea that I would walk the clemency petitions from my office here (in San Diego) to his office in Sacramento. Fortunately two of my young and much fitter staff attorneys agreed to walk with me.

It was the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life and it was the most amazing experience of my life…

Read on.


WHY THE PROCESS OF FINDING AN LA CHILD WELFARE CZAR HAS BEEN DELAYED

The LA County Board of Supervisors was expected to begin interviewing candidates for the new child welfare czar—to oversee much-needed reforms to the Department of Children and Family Services—at the beginning of November. Instead, the board postponed the process until the two new Supervisors would be sworn in today, December 1.

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection, expressed concern over whether the search would gain momentum before the end of the year.

Gilbert-Lurie also noted that the Supervisors may not be happy with the size of the applicant pool. (Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of the LA Juvenile Courts, has been the only person to publicly announce interest in the position, thus far.)

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

“The interviews themselves were postponed,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during the Nov. 24 meeting. “I was disappointed to hear that the interviews were postponed, but hopefully it will lead to a very positive result.”

The board had also voted 3-2 on October 7 to include members of the transition team in the selection process to fill the director position. But Gilbert-Lurie reported to the rest of the transition team that the board of supervisors was not actually planning to include the transition team in that process.

“What our office was told on the Friday before interviews that were set for Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon was that this was going to be in closed session for the Supervisors only,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

[SNIP]

“What I would question is if the Supervisors were not happy with the search that took place, if they did not feel that they had enough choices, I don’t know how that search gets revved up, redone, and interviews take place again in December,” Gildbert-Lurie added. “I’m just not sure how that timing could possibly work.”

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, Foster Care, Innocence, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Youth at Risk | 12 Comments »

Report: LA Needs More Mental Health-Trained Officers and Diversion Tools, California Kids’ Well-Being, Mental Health and Foster Care, Sheriff John Scott Backs Jim McDonnell…and More

October 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPORT COMMISSIONED BY LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY SAYS COPS NEED MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING, AND MORE

More LA law enforcement officers need specialized training on how to better interact with people having mental health crises, according to a report from a consulting firm hired by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The report, by the GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, also said that there need to be more safe locations for officers to take people suffering from severe mental health problems who often end up in a jail cell because of delayed and overstuffed psychiatric ERs.

In addition, the GAINS report recommends bringing more social workers into LA’s justice system and bolstering current county mental health diversion efforts.

(These findings don’t just apply to Los Angeles. Other California counties would also be wise to take this report seriously.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

The county, the report by GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation concluded, puts “insufficient resources” into its mobile response teams, the report found.

The center was hired by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, who is heading a task force focused on the mental health issue. The task force intends to develop a detailed proposal for county supervisors to consider early next year.

The report also found that there weren’t enough safe places for officers to take people with serious mental health issues.

“It’s often more time-efficient for law enforcement to book an individual into jail on a minor charge … rather than spend many hours waiting in a psychiatric emergency department for the individual to be seen,” the report said.

The report also recommended expanding an existing county program that places social workers in the courts to identify defendants who might be candidates for diversion, putting a pre-trial release program in place for such defendants, and placing more social workers in the jails.


CALIFORNIA MISSES THE MARK WHEN IT COMES TO KIDS’ WELL BEING

A new report from the Children Now research group rates California and its counties on how well kids are faring with regard to education, health, and socio-economic issues.

Research director, Jessica Mindnich, says the numbers indicate too many California kids are slipping through the cracks. For instance, only 12% of California kids from low-income households have access to state-funded after-school programs.

California, as a whole, did not fare well in comparison with other states, and there were huge discrepancies across counties based on poverty levels. Although 81% of CA foster kids are placed with families (not in group homes), in some counties far fewer kids are placed in family settings, like Imperial (58%) and Sonoma (58%). And while the California average for 12th graders ready to graduate on time is 80%, some counties had much lower senior graduation rates, like Inyo (32%) and San Francisco (55%).

You can view all of the statistics via Children Now’s interactive Child Wellbeing Scorecard, including county-specific data.

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on what the numbers indicate. Here’s a clip:

Compiled every two years by the nonpartisan research group, Children Now, the 2014-2015 scorecard paints a bleak picture for many California children, particularly those who live in counties with concentrations of impoverished families.

“While some counties may be doing better than others, as a whole we are failing our children,” said Jessica Mindnich, research director for Children Now. “Despite having a large economy and more children than any other state, we are allowing too many to fall through the cracks and denying them the opportunity to be productive, healthy and engaged citizens.”

The data that Children Now collects and compiles come from publicly available local, state and national sources. It was used to evaluate how children are doing based on a series of key indicators.

Overall, California’s kids do not fare well when compared to other states, according to the data.

“Not only are we at the bottom nationally,” Mindnich said, “but we have pretty large disparities across the state based on where kids live.”


LA AND CALIFORNIA’S MANDATE TO PROVIDE MENTAL HEALTH CARE FOR FOSTER KIDS, HISTORY AND MOVING FORWARD

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has the first in a three-part series looking at Katie A. v Bonta, a 2002 lawsuit in which lawyers representing foster youth in Los Angeles and the state of California over its failure to provide mental health care services for kids in foster care or at risk of entering the foster care system.

John Kelly explains how the lawsuit came into being and what has resulted from its settlement. Here’s how it opens:

In 2002, lawyers representing foster youth in Los Angeles sued the county and California over its failure to service the mental health needs of children in or at risk of entering foster care. For years the mental health issues that these vulnerable children face were often ignored. The children who did receive treatment were frequently hospitalized when outpatient services would have sufficed.

Twelve years later, the clock has nearly run out on the settlements that stemmed from Katie A. v Bonta. On December 1, 2014, separate court settlements with the state and Los Angeles County could end.

Following is The Chronicle’s analysis of what has happened since the settlement and where the state and Los Angeles could go next with regard to providing quality mental health services to children in need.

In 2002, Los Angeles County and the state of California became ensnared in a federal lawsuit. Lawyers represented a handful of children and youth, alleging massive gaps in mental health care services available to children in the child welfare system.

These children were either in foster care or at risk of placement into foster care due to a maltreatment report. Katie A., the lead plaintiff, had never received therapeutic treatment in her home. By age 14, she had experienced 37 separate placements in Los Angeles County’s foster care system, including 19 trips to psychiatric facilities.

Evidence strongly suggests that children in foster care deal with significant mental health issues at a much higher rate than the community at large. One study showed that foster youth in California experienced mental health issues at a rate two-and-a-half times that of the general population.

Los Angeles County settled with the plaintiffs in 2003 and accepted the oversight of an advisory panel. After years of litigation and negotiation, the state came to terms only in 2011. A “special master” was appointed to oversee compliance efforts.


LASD INTERIM SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT BACKS LBPD CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF OF LA COUNTY

Interim Los Angeles County Sheriff John Scott has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for sheriff in next week’s general election.

In his endorsement, Sheriff Scott said, “I have every confidence that Jim will make an outstanding Sheriff of Los Angeles County. He is the right person, at the right time, to take the leadership role and re-build this department.”

“It is my hope that the voters of Los Angeles County will select a man of unquestionable integrity and proven leadership skills, with well over thirty years of law enforcement experience in LA.”

McDonnell responded to Scott’s support, saying, “I’m proud to be endorsed by Interim Sheriff John Scott and thank him for his vote of confidence. Sheriff Scott has worked to bring stability to the LASD during challenging times. I look forward to ushering in a new era at LASD, continuing to move the Department beyond past problems and restoring the trust of our community.”


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS TAKES UP ARTS ADVOCACY AS ZEV YAROSLAVSKY AND GLORIA MOLINA DEPART

With a new push for an $8 million cultural center in Culver City, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has jumped onto the arts advocacy stage. Outgoing Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina both have some remarkable arts accomplishments under their belts (for instance, Yaroslavsky’s 2004 Hollywood Bowl renovations and Walt Disney Concert Hall development, and Molina’s Grand Park and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes).

And we hope that the two new supervisors, Supervisor Elect Hilda Solaris and the candidate who replaces Supervisor Yaroslavsky, also emerge as champions of the arts.

The LA Times’ Mike Boehm has more on the proposed cultural center. Here’s how it opens:

Ridley-Thomas is the prime mover behind an $8-million plan to convert a county-owned former courthouse in Culver City into a cultural center that he envisions including a possible outpost of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a media-arts education hub supported by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Ridley-Thomas’ bid to headline the creation of a cultural facility is on a more modest scale than such big-ticket projects as Hollywood Bowl renovations, championed by Yaroslavsky, and the creation of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes and Grand Park, projects driven by Molina in downtown L.A.

His plan came to light recently when the Board of Supervisors approved $6 million for what’s tentatively called the 2nd District Arts and Cultural Center in Culver City, which is part of Ridley-Thomas’ 2nd Supervisorial District.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness | 7 Comments »

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