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Supervisors on Recommended Foster Care Reform, From Prison to Campaigning for State Assembly, Federal Recidivism Study…and More

April 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RESPONDS TO COMMISSION’S FINAL FOSTER CARE REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors responded to final recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. The Supes did not all agree on specific DCFS reforms—Supe Zev Yaroslavsky called the creation of a separate oversight panel “a non-starter”—but did agree to study the final report before acting on any recommendations.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Citing years of reforms, reports, and even court cases aimed at overhauling the Department of Children and Family Services, commissioner Leslie Gilbert-Lurie told the board that the county needs an oversight team to make sure the reform proposals don’t gather dust on the shelves in the county building.

“Recommendations will come and go,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “As we can all now recite in our sleep, there have been hundreds of them. The problem fundamentally is not a lack of good ideas or of good people.”

An oversight panel is the reform several commissioners called the most important. It’s also the most controversial among county leaders.

The panel has also suggested creating an Office of Child Protection to coordinate amongst the numerous agencies (DCFS, law enforcement, District Attorney, Department of Health) that touch on child welfare going forward.

“A solid structure that takes in good ideas, assesses them, funds them, implements them, and holds people accountable for better results than in the past will lead to sustainable change,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted against creating the blue ribbon panel in the first place, called the idea a “turkey.”

“What this issue needs is not more bureaucracy and more commissions, it needs results,” Yaroslavsky said.

The supervisor said moving resources from one under-funded department to a brand new one is hardly a solution.

“It’s a non-starter with me,” he said, though he said many of the ideas contained in the report were worth pursuing and more practical.

Board President Don Knabe has also expressed skepticism that more county agencies and commissions is that way to go.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pushed for the blue ribbon panel, said he’s “undeterred.”


PROPHET WALKER: FROM LOCKUP TO RUNNING FOR STATE ASSEMBLY

To say that Prophet Walker had a rough beginning, would be a rather large understatement. He grew up in the projects in Watts, was abandoned as a young child by his mother, and landed himself in prison at age 16. While in prison, Prophet made impressive use of his time, getting a college education, and helping to persuade the CDCR to allow certain young offenders to pursue education in lower security prisons.

Now, ten years later, Prophet is running for a state Assembly seat with the help of some serious mentors and supporters (namely “Hangover” producer Scott Budnick and Carol Biondi, commissioner of the LA County Commission for Children and Families).

James Rainey has a very cool Column One story about Prophet. Here’s how it opens:

The kids at Compton YouthBuild can be a tough audience. Many come from broken homes, flunked out of multiple schools, even spent time in jail.

By the last day of Black History Month, some at the alternative school — which looks boarded shut from Compton Boulevard — had gotten their fill of talk about hope and perseverance.

On this late Friday afternoon, though, a tall young man strode into their big multipurpose room and flashed a flawless smile. He looked a bit like the rapper Drake. Or so said a girl near the front, giggling.

When the visitor began, “How many people here are familiar with Nickerson Gardens?” some of the students stopped mugging and poking one another. They not only knew the housing project where their guest came up, they knew other young men not unlike him whose mothers struggled with addiction, who had children while still nearly children themselves, who had let violence win them over.

But his story didn’t end like most. He found a way to keep learning while behind bars, went to college, then got a job overseeing big-ticket construction projects. He told the students of knowing Kendrick Lamar from back in the day and how he recently visited the hip-hop star backstage at one of his shows. Hearing that, one boy in the audience whistled in admiration and exclaimed: “Damn!”

Not only had their visitor played fate for a fool, he had a name that seemed plucked straight from a Spike Lee drama: Prophet. Prophet Walker.

“A lot of people who came from the ‘hood don’t do anything. But he came back,” student Jonathan Chase Butler said after Walker’s talk. “He is trying to speak to us and inspire us, and I see I can actually push forward and keep going. That is huge.”

Now Walker, just 26, is trying to build on his unlikely story. With no experience in politics or government, he’s running for the California Assembly, hoping to represent a district that stretches from South L.A. to Compton, Carson and a slice of Long Beach.
Such is the power of his resurrection tale that actor Matt Damon has donated to his campaign and television pioneer Norman Lear sponsored a fundraiser.

His high-powered supporters tend to focus on Walker’s inspiring rise out of bleak beginnings. As he steps onto a bigger public stage, though, he will also have to address more directly what happened during his fall…

Read on.


NEW FEDERAL STUDY ON RECIDIVISM

Two-thirds of inmates released in 2005 were rearrested within three years, and three-quarters were rearrested within five years, according to a new study released by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The study samples former prisoner data from 30 states, including California, between 2005-2010, and is the first large-scale federal study of its kind in almost 20 years.

Here’s a clip of some of the study’s key findings from the BJS announcement:

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year…

During the five years after release, prisoners in the study were arrested about 1.2 million times across the country. A sixth (16 percent) of released prisoners were responsible for nearly half (48 percent) of the arrests. About two in five (42 percent) released prisoners were either not arrested or were arrested no more than once in the five years after release.

The longer released prisoners went without being arrested, the less likely they were to be arrested at all during the follow-up period. For example, 43 percent of released prisoners were arrested within one year of release, compared to 13 percent of those not arrested by the end of year four who were arrested in the fifth year after release.

Among prisoners released in 2005 in 23 states with available data on inmates returned to prison, about half (50 percent) had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new crime within three years that led to imprisonment, and more than half (55 percent) had a parole or probation violation or an arrest within five years that led to imprisonment.

Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.

Released prisoners who were incarcerated for a violent, property or drug crime were more likely than other released inmates to be arrested for a similar type of crime. Regardless of the incarceration offense, the majority (58 percent) of released prisoners were arrested for a public order offense within five years of release. An estimated 39 percent of released prisoners were arrested within five years for a drug offense, 38 percent for a property offense and 29 percent for a violent offense.

Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.


MAN WITH ALCOHOLIC TRIAL LAWYER STILL HEADED FOR EXECUTION

In yet another example of a flawed capital punishment system, a “borderline” mentally disabled man, Robert Wayne Holsey, faces execution in Georgia—a fate he would not likely be faced with had he been provided competent counsel. Instead, Holsey was represented by Andy Prince, a lawyer who says he drank a quart of alcohol per day during the death penalty trial.

Mother Jones’ Marc Bookman has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the early hours of December 17, 1995, Robert Wayne Holsey was arrested and charged for the murder of Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson, who pulled over Holsey’s car following the armed robbery of a Jet Food Store in the county seat of Milledgeville. As with any killing of a police officer, it was a high-profile affair. Most of the county’s judges attended Robinson’s funeral, and many sent flowers. To ensure an impartial hearing, the trial had to be moved two counties away.

Like the great majority of people arrested for serious crimes, Holsey could not afford a lawyer; he had to depend on the court to appoint one for him. But it is reasonable to wonder why any court would have chosen Andy Prince for the job. Beyond his chronic alcohol problem and the financial judgments piling up against him, Prince did not generally handle cases in the Milledgeville area.

As it turns out, little thought was given to his suitability. The selection process in the Holsey case conjures up the old military trope about volunteering by means of everyone else taking a step backward. “Because of who the victim was, nobody within the circuit wanted to be appointed to this case,” Prince later testified. “And I told [the judge], sure, I’d take it.”

On one condition: He insisted on picking his co-counsel. Prince had handled capital cases before, and with some success, but he’d only worked on the more traditional guilt/innocence part of the representation—never the crucial sentencing phase. He contacted Rob Westin, the lawyer he’d collaborated with previously. Westin said he’d do it, but then reversed himself in short order. Westin “had gone to the solicitor’s office in Baldwin County,” Prince later explained, “and had been told that they couldn’t believe that he was representing Mr. Holsey and that if he continued to represent him he would never get another deal worked out with that office.”

His next attempt to secure co-counsel failed as well; the lawyer quit after a few months on the case and took a job with the state attorney general’s office. Seven months before the trial date, Prince finally found his “second chair” in Brenda Trammell, a lawyer who practiced in Morgan County, where the case was to be tried: “She was about the only one that would take it.”

As for Trammell, she assumed she was selected “based on proximity,” as she later testified. “I had not tried to trial a death penalty case and I waited for him to tell me what to do, and there really was not a lot of direction in that way.”

There was still one thing missing. What distinguishes capital murder trials from noncapital ones is the penalty phase, wherein the jury hears additional evidence and determines the appropriate punishment—usually choosing between death and life without parole. During this phase, a “mitigation specialist,” whom the American Bar Association (ABA) describes as “an indispensable member of the defense team throughout all capital proceedings,” gathers information that might convince jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Indeed, the court provided Holsey’s defense team with sufficient funds to hire a mitigation specialist, but no one was ever able to account for the money. Prince later said that he didn’t remember what happened to it, only that he was certain no mitigation specialist was ever hired. Which may explain Trammell’s response to this question from Holsey’s appeals lawyer.

Q: When you got into the case, was there any theory with respect to mitigation in the event that he was convicted?

A: No, sir.

Mitigation theory or not, Holsey went on trial for his life in February 1997.

Read the rest.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

$$ for Relatives Caring for Kids in the DCFS System, LASD Tightening Use-of-Force Policies & Putting Body Scanners in Jails….LAPD Commission Responds to Vehicle Camera Tampering….and Wolves

April 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: GIVE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO RELATIVES CARING FOR CHILDREN IN THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would funnel some CalWORKS money directly to relatives caring for children removed from their homes.

An LA Times editorial says this bill is a step in the right direction, but that more funding support should be given to grandparents and relatives caring for children in the DCFS system.

Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

A little funding to allow a child to stay with relatives — $8,000 or so a year — is a drop in the bucket compared with the more than $100,000 a year it costs the public to maintain a child in a group home. And because children raised by family members have higher rates of graduation and lower rates of homelessness, drug abuse and arrest as adults, it’s smart policy to give grandparents and others living in retirement and on Social Security enough information and money on the front end to buy their young charges clothes and food and to pay for gas or bus fare to get to doctors and parent nights at school.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection wisely argued in its draft final report that funding and services for a child removed from his or her parents should be determined by the child’s needs, not by the status of the placement family. State lawmakers are considering a bill — AB 1882 — that would go part of the way toward helping to direct funding to relative caregivers, and it’s a good start. But so much more could be accomplished in Los Angeles County if the Board of Supervisors would make child welfare a priority across all county departments and not just at the Department of Children and Family Services.


LASD REVAMPING USE-OF-FORCE POLICIES, AND REPLACING JAIL PAT-DOWNS WITH BODY SCANNERS

LA County Sheriff’s Department officials are attempting to really solve the problem of excessive force by revising the department’s use-of-force policies. Deputies will be held accountable not only for their actions during a force incident, but also for any negligent actions that trigger the physical conflict.

The department will also launch a pilot program to replace pat downs and invasive cavity searches in county jails with body scanners, in an effort to relieve tension between inmates and deputies. To start, two scanners will be placed at the Inmate Reception Center downtown.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here are some clips:

Under the new policy, investigators will consider how officers acted prior to an incident when determining whether they acted properly. Previously, they were just supposed to focus on the moment when force was used.

“It’s so dramatic, it’s like an about-face from how this county has been doing it,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.

Under the ruling, force could be deemed unreasonable if the deputy acted negligently leading up to an force incident, attorney Richard Drooyan told supervisors.

Drooyan, who’s been tasked with monitoring the sheriff’s implementation of recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, said current department policies focus on the moment when force is used.

[SNIP]

The ruling may also increase the county’s potential liability from previous cases that are already headed toward litigation, prompting Molina to ask for a team of attorneys to review those cases again.

[SNIP]

…A major step forward in reducing jailhouse tensions will start testing Monday when the department puts a pair of body scanners to use at its Inmate Reception Center…

Once in place, [Assistant Sheriff Terri] McDonald said, the scanners will allow inmates to avoid physical searches, while more effectively keeping drugs and other contraband out of jails.

“It allows them in a more dignified way to be subjected to a search,” McDonald said.


LAPD COMMISSION NOT PLEASED WITH LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY REGARDING IN-CAR CAMERA TAMPERING

Last week, we pointed to a story about LAPD officers’ unauthorized dismantling of 80 in-car video cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate. (While it is no excuse, a story on the LAPD union’s blog provides some extra context.)

On Tuesday, LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, had to answer to the department’s civilian oversight commission regarding the lack of accountability and department transparency displayed in handling the issue.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Commissioner Kathleen Kim was especially troubled by the lack of accountability.

“The inability to investigate is probably as troubling as the incident itself,” Kim said. “Because the ability to investigate serves as a deterrent for these kinds of things happening in the future.”

[SNIP]

An investigation into the missing antennas didn’t lead to any disciplinary action against individual officers or supervisors. LAPD commanders told the police commission Tuesday it would be difficult to single out misconduct among the 1,500 officers at the South Bureau. That’s because officers on different shifts share patrol cars and they are often transferred in and out of the bureau.

“For me personally I didn’t see the potential for an outcome of holding anybody accountable,” said deputy chief Robert Green, in charge of LAPD’s South Bureau.

Green said he put all his officers on notice: “to make sure that they understood the importance of digital in-car video, the importance of the perception of missing antennas and the fact that if an antenna or a part of the system was tampered with, it was considered very, very serious misconduct.”

With president Steve Soboroff absent Tuesday, police commissioners Paula Madison, Robert Saltzman and Kim took turns questioning three high-ranking LAPD officials, including Chief Beck. They asked why individuals were not held accountable for the tampering and why the department didn’t notify the police commission sooner of the problem.

Deputy Chief Stephen Jacobs took responsibility for not notifying the L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general of the problem, calling it as an oversight and not an intentional act.

“The simple answer is this: If the commission believes that it was not notified correctly, then the commission is right,” Beck said.


CALIFORNIA WOLF NEWS

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission considered placing the gray wolf on the endangered list, in anticipation of a future generation of the wolves in the state. (Back in the early 1900′s California wolves were killed off by hunters. When the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, crossed the border in 2011, he was the first wild wolf in California since 1924.)

The commission opted to delay the decision for another 90 days in order to hear more public comment on the issue.

The AP’s Scott Smith has the story. Here’s how it opens:

While much of the country has relaxed rules on killing gray wolves, California will consider protecting the species after a lone wolf from Oregon raised hopes the animals would repopulate their historic habitat in the Golden State.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday postponed for three months a decision on whether to list the gray wolf as endangered. Commissioners heard impassioned arguments from environmentalists who want the wolves to again to roam the state and from cattle ranchers who fear for their herds.

“I think we made them blink,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection. “I think they heard our arguments.”

State wildlife officials say they don’t support the listing because wolf packs haven’t roamed in California for nearly a century and there’s no scientific basis to consider them endangered.

Recent interest in protecting the species started in 2011, when one wolf from Oregon — called OR-7 — was tracked crossing into California. The endangered listing has been under review for the last year.

[SNIP]

Wildlife officials oppose the listing because wolves have been absent from California, so researchers have no way of measuring threats or the viability of the animal in the state, said Eric Loft, chief of wildlife programs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yet, the animal is iconic of the western landscape and California could easily become the home to functioning wolf packs within a decade, said Chuck Bonham, director of the wildlife agency.

The hearing was in Ventura. Hopefully the next will be in reasonable driving distance of certain wolf-loving Los Angeles residents.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, wolves | No Comments »

Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for Sheriff

April 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS

In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.

Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.

Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:

California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.

When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.

But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.

Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.

“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.

Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.

Even the laundry became a battleground.

Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.

Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.

“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”

But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.

Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.

“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”

The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.

Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.

The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.


MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY

On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:

“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…

[SNIP]

According to the report:

• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;

• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;

• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;

• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”

“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.

But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”

“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.

He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.

Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.

He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.

On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.

Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.

An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.


FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.

The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.

Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.

Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.

Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.

The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.

Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.

[SNIP]

Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.

He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.


LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:

[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.

Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.

The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.

Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.

The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”

He’ll have to live up to that…

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, LASD, Mental Illness, prison policy, solitary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Isolation’s Effects on Kids…LAPD Motorcycle Officer Christopher Cortijo Has Died…Dismantled LAPD Dash-Cam Update…What’s Really Blocking Child Welfare Reform…and a New Prison Overcrowding Compliance Officer

April 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHILD PSYCHIATRIST SAYS LOCKING KIDS IN SOLITARY IS “THE ULTIMATE MESSAGE THAT WE DON’T CARE FOR YOU”

Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy, who has consulted on Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, and several other catastrophic events involving children.

In a Q&A with Trey Bundy of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Dr. Perry explains in clear terms why solitary confinement is so psychologically damaging to the kids unlucky enough to get locked inside.

Here’s a clip:

We hear a lot of stories about prolonged isolation, but what are the effects of just a few days of solitary confinement on kids?

They end up getting these very intense doses of dissociative experience, and they get it in an unpredictable way. They’ll get three days in isolation. Then they’ll come back on the unit and get two days in isolation. They’ll come back out and then get one day. They end up with a pattern of activating this dissociative coping mechanism. The result is that when they’re confronted with a stressor later on, they will have this extreme disengagement where they’ll be kind of robotic, overly compliant, but they’re not really present. I’ve seen that a lot with these kids. They’ll come out, and they’re little zombies. The interpretation by the staff is that they’ve been pacified. “We’ve broken him.” But basically what you’ve done is you’ve traumatized this person in a way that if this kid was in somebody’s home, you would charge that person with child abuse.

Kids in isolation must lose all sense of control. What’s the impact of that?

One of things that helps us regulate our stress response is a sense of control. With solitary, when you start to take away any option, any choice, you’re literally taking somebody with a dysregulated stress response system, like most of these individuals in jail, and you’re making it worse. The more you try to take control, the more you are inhibiting the ability of these individuals to develop self-control, which is what we want them to do.

How does it affect a kid’s sense of self-worth to be locked away from everyone else?

Most of these kids feel marginalized to start with. They feel like they’re bad, they did something wrong, they don’t fit in. And isolation is essentially the ultimate marginalization. You’re so marginalized you don’t even fit in with the misfits, and we are going to exclude you from the group in an extreme way. In some ways it’s the ultimate message that we don’t care for you. We are neurobiologically interdependent creatures. All of our sensory apparatus is bias toward forming and maintaining relationships with human beings. When you are not part of the group, it’s a fundamental biological rejection.

Do go read the rest of this worthwhile Q&A.


WELL-LIKED LAPD MOTORCYCLE OFFICER CRITICALLY INJURED IN CRASH, HAS DIED

Christopher Cortijo, an LAPD motorcycle officer, who was struck on Saturday by a driver allegedly under the influence of drugs, has died.

Cortijo, who was assigned to DUI enforcement, was stopped at an intersection in North Hollywood when a driver hit his motorcycle, pinning him between her SUV and the Honda in front of him. Officer Cortijo lost the fight for his life Wednesday.

Our hearts go out to Cortijo’s family, friends, and fellow officers. The death of a law enforcement officer is an unimaginable loss for loved ones, but it is also a blow to the greater community.

The LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar and Kelly Goff have the story. Here’s a clip:

Officer Christopher Cortijo was a 26-year police veteran who was assigned to DUI enforcement. He was gravely injured and went into a coma after a Chevy Blazer slammed into his motorcycle, which was stopped at a red light at Lankershim Boulevard and Saticoy Street, around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The driver, a Pacoima woman whose license had expired years ago, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. After several days in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, with officers or family at his bedside around the clock, Cortijo was taken off his ventilator on Wednesday, officials said.

The 51-year-old North Hollywood resident, who had served in the U.S. Marines, was married with adult children.

“It’s a tremendous sadness for all of us,” Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, who oversees the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, said in a telephone interview. “He was not only a great officer, but a great person. Everyone’s thoughts are with his family. His family will be our family forever.”

About 100 officers lined the walkway outside the ICU at Providence in Mission Hills as Cortijo’s body was taken to the coroner’s van, wrapped in a flag. Nurses similarly lined the hallways inside the building, according to hospital spokeswoman Patricia Aidem.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by about a dozen LAPD motor officers who worked with Cortijo, spoke to reporters late Wednesday afternoon in downtown.

“I was devastated when I heard the news,” Garcetti said. “My heart sank when the chief called me.”

Garcetti said Cortijo’s death was a reminder of the “sacrifice that our bravest heroes make.”

Garcetti said he ordered city flags lowered to half-staff in Cortijo’s honor.

Cortijo was twice named Officer of the Year as a motorcycle cop, Beck said. He arrested more than 3,000 people driving under the influence during his career, Beck said.

“The ultimate irony is that Chris spent his life keeping all of us safe from people who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol,” Beck said.


IN OTHER LAPD NEWS…

Yesterday, we pointed to a story about the unauthorized dismantling of 80 LAPD in-car surveillance cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate.

Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the LAPD union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League), has a story from February on the union’s blog that gives a little bit of extra context—another piece of the puzzle. Ingemunson says that many officers feel the tool is being used against them unfairly, in instances other than “crime documentation and prosecution.”

Read Ingemunson’s story about an officer who was punished for an accident that would have likely been considered non-preventable, if not for a questionable conversation he had with his partner (recorded by the dash-cam) right before the collision.

Here’s a small clip:

The accused officer and his partner engaged in a conversation that higher management did not like and felt reflected on the cause of the accident. This, of course, ignores another special order regarding the DICVS. Special Order 45 states “The Digital In Car Video System is being deployed in order to provide Department employees with a tool for crime documentation and prosecution and not to monitor private conversations between Department employees.”

While it does not excuse the officers who tampered with the cameras, it raises an issue that management might want to think about.


BUREAUCRACY IS THE TRUE KILLER OF DCFS REFORM

Later this month, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, established by the LA County Board of Supervisors, will present their final report, chock-full of recommendations for reforming the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. But these recommendations may not be all that new. The commission found 734 recommendations presented over the years, either not in play at all, or stuck in the beginning stages of implementation.

On March 28, at second-to-last meeting of the LA County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, commission-member Andrea Rich said that bureaucracy, itself, is what’s blocking past and present child welfare reforms.

Two members of the Board of Supervisors (Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina) are terming out and new faces will take their seats. Two years from now, two more supervisors will be replaced (Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe).

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says this change-up is a real opportunity for reform, if only the supervisor candidates will rise to the challenge. Here’s a clip:

“Bureaucracies not carefully managed and consistently improved have characteristics that are destructive to client-oriented services, impede innovation, stifle efforts at self-improvement,” she said. “This sort of narrow span of control and bureaucratic risk-aversion typical of the bureaucratic process constantly thwarts efforts toward meaningful reform. And we’ve seen it over and over in our studies here and in testimony.”

Commission Chairman David Sanders also headed an L.A. County department – the often-criticized Department of Children and Family Services – but he said Monday that he was surprised at the extent of the dysfunction he saw from his new perspective compared with what he saw at DCFS.

Translation: The county is messed up. Efforts to reform the child protection system are doomed without a thorough overhaul – not of DCFS but of the entire county governmental edifice, the way it thinks and the way it works.

So how can that kind of overhaul happen? There are two ways to answer the question. One way is to look at the list of 734 recommendations for improving the child protection system offered to the Board of Supervisors and various county departments over the years that the commission found gathering dust on shelves or at best stalled in some early stage of implementation, and conclude that county government is hopeless.

The other is to look at the looming change in county leadership, with two of the five supervisors leaving office this year – the first time there has been that sweeping a change since Michael D. Antonovich ousted Baxter Ward and Deane Dana booted Yvonne Burke a generation ago, in 1980 – and candidates vying to replace them. Antonovich, still serving on the Board of Supervisors 34 years later, and Don Knabe, who succeeded his boss and mentor Dana, will likewise be replaced in two years.

Los Angeles County can have the exact same government and culture with slightly different faces, or it can embrace an opportunity for new thinking.

It’s fine for candidates to talk about how they would hire more child social workers, although the county is already on track to do that. Or how they would change deployment, although those kinds of changes are constantly discussed and always seem to be in the works.

In the view of the commission – this is preliminary, because the final report is yet to be adopted – there is an even more global mandate, and while members of the panel may insist that their recommendations are all about ensuring child safety, a closer look suggests that they go to the heart of numerous challenges that this big, awful bureaucracy faces in order to accomplish anything: Explicitly define its mission; put someone in charge of executing it; measure success and failure.

Sitting supervisors may well protest that these things are already being done, and candidates may be puzzled at marching orders that sound more like a homework assignment in an MBA student’s organization behavior class than social work.

But that’s the point. The county has grown and segmented itself so quickly that it has lost its sense of priorities; or rather, its sense of priorities is set by news headlines, scandals, outrages and political campaigns.

Read the rest.


CALIFORNIA GETS A NEW PRISON POPULATION COMPLIANCE OFFICER

On Wednesday, federal judges named Elwood Lui California’s prison population “compliance officer.” Lui, a former associate justice of the California Court of Appeal, has been tasked with releasing prisoners if the state fails to comply with the judges’ population deadlines throughout the next two years. (Backstory here.)

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lui was one of two candidates for the position suggested by lawyers representing the state. He has agreed to serve without compensation but to have reasonable expenses reimbursed, according to the order from the panel issued Wednesday afternoon…

The judges originally ordered California in 2009 to cut its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, but appeals delayed that and resulted in the Feb. 10 order giving the state two more years to comply.

The February order also gave the compliance officer authority to release the necessary number of inmates to ensure that California meets the court-ordered deadlines.

The compliance officer now has the authority to release inmates if the prison population is not cut to 143 percent of capacity by June 30 (or 116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, solitary | No Comments »

Saving Kilpatrick, LA County to Request More $$ for Foster Kids’ Lawyers, Stop-and-Frisk, Sheriff’s Dept. Values…and More

April 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS CAMP STORY

Late last month, WLA posted a three-part story about LA County Probation’s Kilpatrick sports camp for locked-up kids (here, here, and here).

When it became clear that the scheduled demolition and renovation of the physical camp did not include space for the popular sports program, advocates, parents, and coaches rallied to save the camp. A study was ordered to measure the effectiveness of the program. Two years later, the study has come in and found that the sports program does indeed measurably help kids in a multiplicity of ways.

Now, Probation Chief Jerry Powers has come up with a plan to save the program and relaunch it for the fall 2014 sports season at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center camp in the Antelope Valley.

In the course of the study, researchers interviewed former Kilpatrick kids on various aspects of the program, including what they liked about it, and areas they thought could use improvement. The LA Times’ Sandy Banks takes a fresh look at the study, and includes quotes from the kids’ interviews. Here’s a clip:

The sports study — which looked at Los Angeles County probation records for hundreds of youths — offers a troubling snapshot of young lives.

Many of the boys had gang associations. Most came from unstable homes or were in foster care. Nine in 10 had substance abuse issues; almost as many had mental health problems. Almost all were failing, acting out or not showing up for school. Two-thirds had been in trouble with the law before. Their most recent offenses included robberies, assaults and weapons violations.

The study was not able to prove that the athletes did better in the long term than youths who were not on the teams. But there was a clear improvement in school attendance and performance. However when it came to returning to crime, or recidivism, the athletes did better only for the first six months of freedom.

“Clearly, there’s a positive impact,” said Cal State L.A. professor Denise Herz, the research team leader. “But the key is, they go back into the same environment… without much support.”

The interviews with former athletes described lives of constant upheaval, and explained how the sports teams filled gaps in their upbringing.

There was discipline there, where there was no discipline at home. The coaches… they worked with us, they tried to keep us motivated, I mean I still call them to this day.

To have that male figure around you that can give you a man’s perspective, and to hear a man’s voice. You know what I’m saying? It’s priceless.

Does the Kilpatrick sports model inoculate young men against the lure of the streets? Certainly not. But it can clear vision muddied by history and teach important life skills.

Probation department officials recognize that. Last week, they announced that the sports program won’t be disbanded but will move to the Challenger Memorial Youth Center camp in the Antelope Valley. Teams will resume play in their California Interscholastic Federation league this fall.

Go read the rest.


LA COUNTY SUPES TO LOBBY SACRAMENTO FOR EXTRA FUNDING FOR OVERBURDENED LAWYERS REPRESENTING FOSTER KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to lobby the state capital to allocate an extra $33.1 million in funding for lawyers appointed to foster children across California.

In LA County, these lawyers, like social workers, are spread far too thin, and are responsible for nearly twice the maximum number of cases recommended by the Judicial Council of California.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

With about 30,000 children in the foster care system in Los Angeles, each attorney is responsible for an average of 308 cases, said Leslie Heimov, executive director of the nonprofit Children’s Law Center, which provides attorneys to all foster kids in L.A. and Sacramento counties.

That’s nearly double the maximum caseload of 188 per attorney recommended by the Judicial Council of California. The optimal caseload would be 77 children per attorney.

“It’s huge, more than ‘a lot,’ if you look at the recommendations from various entities,” Heimov said.

She said the sky-high caseloads are a result of budgets not keeping up with growing numbers of children in foster care.

The numbers make it difficult for attorneys to advocate for the best interests of the children, she said, and turnover among attorneys has increased.

“Attorneys don’t have any time to do anything but the absolute bare minimum, instead of the maximum, and that’s not how any of us want to practice,” Heimov said. “So it also has a significant impact on burnout.”

Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, says that the money will help, but it’s not enough:

The only long term solution, in Nash’s opinion, is reducing the number of kids in the foster care system.

“More of these cases could be resolved effectively outside of the court system,” Nash said. “The courts should not be the first resort for these issues.”


A FATHER’S TAKE ON STOP-AND-FRISK

In a compelling piece for the Atlantic, Christopher E. Smith (a criminal justice professor at Michigan State), a white man with a black son and in-laws, tells of the impact of stop-and-frisk on his family members of color, and of the constant state of fear he lives in for the safety of his son. Here’s how it opens:

When I heard that my 21-year-old son, a student at Harvard, had been stopped by New York City police on more than one occasion during the brief summer he spent as a Wall Street intern, I was angry. On one occasion, while wearing his best business suit, he was forced to lie face-down on a filthy sidewalk because—well, let’s be honest about it, because of the color of his skin. As an attorney and a college professor who teaches criminal justice classes, I knew that his constitutional rights had been violated. As a parent, I feared for his safety at the hands of the police—a fear that I feel every single day, whether he is in New York or elsewhere.

Moreover, as the white father of an African-American son, I am keenly aware that I never face the suspicion and indignities that my son continuously confronts. In fact, all of the men among my African-American in-laws—and I literally mean every single one of them—can tell multiple stories of unjustified investigatory police stops of the sort that not a single one of my white male relatives has ever experienced.

In The Atlantic’s April feature story “Is Stop-and-Frisk Worth It?” author Daniel Bergner cited Professor Frank Zimring’s notion that stop-and-frisk is “a special tax on minority males.” I cannot endorse the conclusion that this “special tax” actually helps make communities safer. As indicated by the competing perspectives in Atlantic essays by Donald Braman and Paul Larkin, scholars disagree on whether crime rate data actually substantiate the claims of stop-and-frisk advocates. Either way, I do believe that the concept of a “special tax” deserves closer examination.

Proponents of stop-and-frisk often suggest that the hardships suffered by young men of color might be tolerable if officers were trained to be polite rather than aggressive and authoritarian. We need to remember, however, that we are talking about imposing an additional burden on a demographic that already experiences a set of alienating “taxes” not shared by the rest of society.

I can tell myriad stories about the ways my son is treated with suspicion and negative presumptions in nearly every arena of his life. I can describe the terrorized look on his face when, as a 7-year-old trying to learn how to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our suburban house, he was followed at 2-miles-per-hour from a few feet away by a police patrol car—a car that sped away when I came out of the front door to see what was going on. I can tell stories of teachers, coaches, and employers who have forced my son to overcome a presumption that he will cause behavior problems or that he lacks intellectual capability. I can tell you about U.S. Customs officials inexplicably ordering both of us to exit our vehicle and enter a building at the Canadian border crossing so that a team of officers could search our car without our watching—an event that never occurs when I am driving back from Canada by myself.

If I hadn’t witnessed all this so closely, I never would have fully recognized the extent of the indignities African-American boys and men face. Moreover, as indicated by research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the cumulative physical toll this treatment takes on African-American men can accelerate the aging process and cause early death. Thus, no “special tax” on this population can be understood without recognizing that it does not exist as a small, isolated element in people’s lives…

Read on.


THE IMPORTANCE OF AN OBSERVED SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT VALUE SYSTEM

On Monday, we pointed to a lawsuit filed last week alleging sexual assault by an LASD deputy clique called the “Banditos,” and sheriff candidate James Hellmold’s prank call (in which he seemed to use a South Asian accent).

An LA Times editorial says that, in the wake of these controversial stories (and previous scandals), campaigning sheriff candidates should focus on their own value systems and how they plan to make sure their standards are followed by the rank and file. Here are some clips:

Each Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy is supposed to carry a card at all times that sets forth the department’s core values, embodied in a single sentence pledging respect, integrity, wisdom and “the courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and bigotry in all its forms.”

The card has been variously called inspirational and plain silly, but if it’s silly, its silliness lies not in the values expressed but in the notion that words on a card could, by themselves, imbue deputies with values that they do not already hold or that are not instilled in them in training and reinforced each day on the job.

News reports and anecdotal tales of inmate abuse, the hazing of new deputies and disrespect paid to the communities it is supposed to protect suggest that the department has a long way to go to make its core values more than words on a card.

[SNIP]

There is a danger that the departure of Sheriff Lee Baca under a cloud created by his own mismanagement could be taken by those vying to replace him as an invitation to throw out everything he brought with him — the good as well as the bad, the vision as well as the often-sloppy implementation, the values as well as the card.

The sheriff is one of only three officials elected countywide to represent 10 million people, and the only one with uniformed officers acting as ambassadors to every corner of the county. They will be emissaries either for a system of gang-like cliques and frat-like pranks or for a culture of dignity and respect…


AND IN LA TIMES-RELATED NEWS…

Robert Faturechi will no longer be covering the LASD for the LA Times. We will miss his fine and important reporting.

He has passed the torch to Cindy Chang, who previously covered immigration and ethnic culture. Welcome, Cindy!

Faturechi tweeted the news on Tuesday:

Robert Faturechi ‏@RobertFaturechi
there’s a new sheriff (reporter) in town. I’ll be helping out for a couple more weeks, but @cindychangLA is now covering LASD.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Probation, racial justice, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Proposal to Keep Kilpatrick Sports Program Alive…..Judge Nash Plans New Order to Open Family Courts to Media…Does the LASD IG Need Greater Independence?….& More

March 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NEXT CHAPTER ON THE ONGOING CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM STORY


According to a motion sponsored at last Tuesday’s board meeting
by Supervisor Don Knabe, Probation Chief Jerry Powers was going to deliver a report on Tuesday of this week detailing exactly where and how he thought he could relocate the popular sports program that is right now in residence at Camp Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is the aging LA County juvenile probation facility that will be shuttered and torn down starting at the end of this month in order to make way for a brand new rehabilitation-centric juvenile probation camp that it is intended to be a model for future camps that help kids rather than simply punish them.

However, as much as California juvenile advocates are in favor of the new Kilpatrick project, the many fans of the sports program don’t want to lose one good thing, in order to get another.

(For the back story on the Kilpatrick sports issue, see our post of last week.)

It was everyone’s assumption that Powers’ report would be presented publicly at Tuesday’s meeting. But a few days ago, that plan changed and Powers said he would simply deliver his report to the supervisors on Tuesday, without a public presentation.

The report in question was finally delivered to all the Supes Wednesday, and we have obtained a copy.

There’s lots of good news in what Powers has proposed, like the fact that Powers has set a firm timeline for the sports program reopening for the fall season. However, some of the details may produce complications—particularly the fact that the proposed location for the sports program is Challenger Memorial Youth Camp in the Lancaster area, more than an hour away from where Kilpatrick is now located in Malibu.

Yet, the proposal also describes the advantages that Camp Challenger has to offer, like two gymnasiums, multiple areas for practice fields, and others. It also helps that moving the sports program there will not displace any existing programs.

But it’s complicated.

Hopefully, all parties can come together in good faith to work out any rough spots so that the sports program can resume for the Fall 2014 season with even more support than it has had in the past—which is what Powers has made clear he wants.

We also hope that this new plan will continue to support the work of the extraordinarily dedicated Kilpatrick coaches who continue to give so much of themselves to the kids who have been under their care.

We’ll keep you up to date as this story unfolds further.

Here’s a copy of Wednesday’s report. Garfield sports proposal


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH’S EXCELLENT & LEGALLY TWEAKED PLAN TO RE OPEN CHILD CUSTODY COURTS TO THE PRESS

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this month, in a 2-1 decision a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

Undeterred, Judge Nash will soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

Journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has more on the story in the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip:

Today, Presiding Judge Michael Nash continued his campaign to encourage media access to Los Angeles County’s historically closed juvenile dependency court, after a California appeals court had invalidated a similar, earlier order only this month.

While Nash had called the changes a “a distinction without a difference,” in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change last week, it appears that his new order will thread the needle on this highly contentious issue: by offering the press a way in, but forcing reporters to be conscious of the potential harm their coverage could cause to vulnerable children.

Nash sent a revision of his controversial 2012 order easing press access to a clutch of judges, journalists, child advocates and other stakeholders for comment. They have until April 14th, after which Nash intends on issuing a new order that will once again allow press into the courts.

Read the draft order HERE:

A key reason why two out of three judges in California’s Second Appellate District ruled against the 2012 order was because they believed it stripped individual judges and court referees of discretion in excluding the press from sensitive hearings involving child victims of maltreatment.

Nash’s rewritten order fixes all that.


DOES THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL HAVE THE NECESSARY POWER AND INDEPENDENCE?

The LA Times Editorial Board thinks new IG Max Huntsman needs more independence if he is to be effective. Here’s a clip from the editorial:

It was no surprise last week when Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended against renewing contracts with two agencies monitoring the Sheriff’s Department. The same citizens commission that called for the creation of Huntsman’s office also suggested that it absorb the functions of those other agencies, one of them established 22 years ago to report on excessive force and lax discipline, the other created nine years later to monitor the sheriff’s handling of deputy misconduct allegations.

One lesson arising from the commission’s hearings was that the county’s existing oversight and reporting agencies were insufficient to end a pattern of abuse in the jails; the implication was that a differently constructed and empowered office would be better suited to the task.

That lesson and that implication could stand some scrutiny. Without it, the county could find itself with new titles and offices but the same problems it failed to solve a decade ago and a decade before that.

Just why, for example, were the special counsel and the Office of Independent Review inadequate? The citizens commission noted that both did their investigations and reports but both met with a “lack of meaningful or timely action” by the Sheriff’s Department. And why did the department not respond? Because it didn’t have to. Criticism and critiques were filed by both monitors with the Board of Supervisors, which too often failed to use the political power at its disposal to develop sufficient public pressure to get the sheriff to act.

Read on.


A COOK COUNTY, ILL, JUDGE SENTENCED A KID TO DIE IN PRISON IN 1988 AND HATED THAT THE LAW MADE HIM DO IT

The Chicago Tribune’s Duaa Eldeib and Steve Mills report about how judges are glad that the US Supreme Court ordered an end to mandatory life for kids. Now various state courts are stepping in to put the Supremes ruling into motion.

Here’s a clip:

The Cook County judge made it quite clear he did not want to sentence Gerald Rice to life in prison without possibility of parole.

At the sentencing hearing in 1988, Judge Richard Neville noted that Rice was mildly mentally disabled and that evidence showed the 16-year-old had been coaxed by an older man into throwing a Molotov cocktail into a West Side house on a summer night two years earlier, killing a woman and three children. The co-defendant was acquitted.

Neville criticized state legislators for tying his hands and making a life sentence mandatory. Doing so, he said, stripped him of his discretion. He could not weigh Rice’s age, maturity level, lack of a criminal record or his role in the murders. Urging Rice’s attorney to appeal, the judge said he hoped that such mandatory sentences would be outlawed someday.

“I think it is outrageous that I cannot take that into consideration in determining what an appropriate sentence is for Mr. Rice,” a transcript quoted Neville as saying about Rice’s fate compared with his co-defendant’s. “It is with total reluctance that I enter the sentence, and it is only because I believe I have no authority to do anything else that I enter this sentence.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled the judge’s hopes, ruling that mandatory life sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week the state’s highest court weighed in, ruling that inmates in Illinois who received mandatory life sentences for murders that they committed as juveniles should receive new sentencing hearings.

“It’s a judge’s job and usually they’re the best qualified to decide what kind of sentence is appropriate,” Neville said last week. “I’ve got the most information and the best view of what happened and of the defendant’s background.”

Neville retired from the bench in 1999 and now is a mediator.

The ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday affects about 100 inmates who were under 18 at the time of their offenses, according to state prison officials. The youngest four were 14, while about half were 17. The vast majority were sentenced in Cook County. Most were convicted of more than one murder.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Probation, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Holder & Duncan Shocked at Pre-School Discipline #’s….Child Abuse Deaths Up….Looking at Sheriff Candidate Bob Olmsted….and More

March 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ERIC HOLDER & ARNE DUNCAN SHOCKED AT SUSPENSION OF PRESCHOOLERS

This past Friday the Civil Rights division of the US Department of Education released a report detailing the disturbing number of suspensions and other forms of discipline in American schools. The statistics on preschool suspensions, in particular, were so high that they succeeded in shocking the US Attorney General and the Secretary of Education.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed shock at data released Thursday showing that thousands of preschool kids were suspended nationwide during the 2011-2012 school year. The suspensions fell heavily on black children, who represented 18 percent of preschool enrollment yet 48 percent of all suspensions.

“I was stunned—I was stunned—that we were suspending and expelling four-year-olds,” Duncan said at a Washington D.C. elementary school, where he and Holder discussed findings of the latest Civil Rights Data Collection by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The survey showed that nearly 5,000 preschool students were suspended in the 2011-12 academic year.

“This preschool suspension issue is mind-boggling,” Duncan said. “And we need to as a nation find a way to remedy that tomorrow.”

Duncan said training is needed at schools that suspend large numbers of kids at all grade levels to demonstrate a “better way” of handling problem behavior. “We know there is a correlation between out-of-school suspensions and ultimately locking people up,” Duncan said. “And folks don’t like it when we talk about it. But for far too many children and communities the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ is real.”

Here’s the report.


SAME DATA FINDS AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESCHOOLERS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE SUSPENDED

Jesse Holland of the Associated Press looks deeper into the racial disparities in school suspensions found in the recently-released Dept. of Education report, including suspensions in the nation’s preschools, where African American preschoolers account for a stunning 48 percent of suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.


ALARMING SPIKES IN CHILD ABUSE & NEGLECT IN VARIOUS STATES

The Wall Street Journal reports about the frightening rise in child abuse deaths that is getting lawmakers to pay attention. Since the WSJ is hidden behind a pay wall, The Crime Report summarizes the story. Here’s a clip:

Seventy-eight children died in Florida last year as a result of abuse or neglect—36 of whom had prior involvement with the state Department of Children and Families, says the Wall Street Journal. The string of deaths triggered public outcry, plunged the state’s child-welfare system into crisis and led to the resignation of the agency’s secretary. Now, the Florida legislature has made overhauling the system one of its top priorities in the session that began this month. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican seeking re-election this year, has called for nearly $40 million in additional funding. Other states and localities are embroiled in similar controversies. In Massachusetts, the September disappearance of a 5-year-old boy, who is feared dead, went unnoticed by the state’s child-welfare agency for three months, prompting the governor to order an independent review. In California, the brutal death of an 8-year-old boy allegedly abused by his caregivers led Los Angeles County supervisors to create a commission on child protection that is due to issue recommendations next month…..


KPCC’S FRANK STOLTZE PROFILES BOB OLMSTED

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of retired LA County Sheriff’s Department commander Bob Olmsted. That makes three candidates that Stoltze has interviewed and profiled. (He’s also done stories on candidates Jim McDonnell and James Hellmold.)

The profiles aren’t long but they’re smart, featuring those who express pros and cons on each man.

You can find the podcast here, and here’s a clip from the written version of the Olmsted story:

Whistleblowing cops usually end up as pariahs. Bob Olmsted is no different.

“I’ve got a problem with a guy who runs to the FBI,” says retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Craig Ditsch. “We have some very good people who have been indicted.”

A federal grand jury has indicted 20 current or former sheriff’s officials on civil rights and corruption charges – in part because of Olmsted. Most of the charges relate to excessive use of force against jail inmates, or efforts to cover it up.

Now, Olmsted is using his whistleblower past to distinguish himself among the seven candidates hoping to succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca as head of one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Olmsted once oversaw Men’s Central Jail as a commander, and went to his superior seeking to remove a problem captain. When Olmsted didn’t get the help, he went higher.

“I told my chief, ‘I’m going over your head,’” Olmsted recounts. He sounds like a worried parent when he describes the corrosive effect of bad deputies.

“Who is protecting these young guys, the good guys?” he asks. “Nobody.”

In 2011, when Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka (now a candidate for sheriff), refused to help, according to Olmsted, he went to the FBI. Olmsted had just retired from the department.

Last summer, before Baca abruptly resigned and a slew of other candidates jumped into the race, Olmsted announced his run for sheriff. It was a bold move by a political novice against a powerful incumbent.

“It was my duty to run,” Olmsted says.

[SNIP]

While many current and former deputies loathe the idea of a whistleblower becoming sheriff, retired Commander Joaquin Herran is a proud supporter of Olmsted.

“He had the guts to go do the right thing for the right reason,” Herran says. “Other people did not.”


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC, HERE’S WHAT THE DAILY NEWS SAYS ABOUT THE LASD SHERIFF CANDIDATES AND THE RACE

The Daily News’ Christina Villacourte interviews experts about what the voters need to look for as they contemplate whom to choose as LA County’s new sheriff, and talks briefly to the candidate themselves.

Here’s a clip:

[Laurie] Levenson, the criminal law professor, said the new sheriff must meet stringent criteria.

“I think integrity is key,” she said. “It should be somebody who’s experienced in law enforcement, and who has the confidence of law enforcement personnel.”

“He should be a good manager, politically savvy, and with a great deal of courage to take on the different issues that confront the county — from homeland security to modern approaches toward law enforcement, even inmate rehabilitation and penal reform,” she added.

If a candidate were to win the majority of votes on June 3, the county Board of Supervisors could remove interim Sheriff John Scott, and appoint the sheriff-elect to lead the department immediately. If no candidate exceeds 50 percent, the top two would face a runoff election on Nov. 4 and the winner would be sworn in Dec. 1.

If voters choose poorly, the consequences can be costly — literally.

“County taxpayers paid about $40 million last year in settlements and jury verdicts for illegal behavior on the part of the Sheriff’s Department,” American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Peter Eliasberg said.


Pre-art photo of preschool kids from PreschoolMatters.org

Posted in 2014 election, DCFS, Education, Foster Care, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 34 Comments »

LASD Monitor Merrick Bobb Wants to Stay, LA Supervisors Move Forward on Mira Loma Jail Plan, Supes Gain Access to LASD Investigation Docs….and More

March 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LASD SPECIAL COUNSEL MERRICK BOBB SAYS HE STILL PROVIDES EFFECTIVE OVERSIGHT, DISAGREES WITH IG’S CALL TO FIRE HIM

On Wednesday, we pointed to Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman’s letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors urging the board to end contracts with LASD watchdogs Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review (OIR) and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb. Huntsman’s recommended the contract terminations, saying that the OIR and Merrick Bobb had not been effective enough in their oversight of the department, and that Bobb’s “influence has waned.”

Merrick Bobb has responded, saying that he is still of value to the department, pointing to reforms implemented following his recommendation. Bobb says he wants to continue his role as civilian LASD watchdog.

We think the issue would be a good topic for tonight’s LASD candidate debate. (Which, by the way, will be moderated by the ACLU League of Women Voters, and held at Mercado La Paloma on South Grand at 6:30p.m. — Event registration closed last Friday, but you can still register for the April debate in Santa Monica through mid April, if you’d like to attend.)

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story on Bobb’s reply. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Bobb said he wanted to continue to monitor the Sheriff’s Department for the county, saying he would even be open to working under Huntsman.

He said he respects Huntsman, but disagrees that his own impact has waned. He pointed out that a number of the reforms implemented after the department’s inmate abuse scandal were ones he had recommended over the years.

Bobb said the fact that many of those reforms were initially ignored was not a sign of diminishing clout.

“That doesn’t mean my influence has waned. That means my influence was very substantial,” he said. “Those are recommendations I made. It got done and it got done in substantial part because of me and my relationship with the department.”

He cited a number of past achievements, including highlighting problems with racially biased policing in the Antelope Valley before federal authorities did, and pushing the department to create a mentorship program for deputies showing signs of problem behavior.

Bobb has been with the county for more than two decades and said his last contract, which ends in June, paid roughly $167,000 for six months.

If the Board of Supervisors accepts Huntsman’s recommendations, it would mark the end of relationships with Bobb and Michael Gennaco, the head of the Office of Independent Review. Gennaco declined to say whether he wants to continue working with the county.

Huntsman said limited resources and structural problems undermined their success.

He said he had no plans to hire Bobb or Gennaco into his budding organization. The Sheriff’s Department, he said, would benefit from having one cohesive monitoring operation — in which staffers with various specialties share information and work together.

The creation of an inspector general’s office was recommended by a blue-ribbon commission created by the county after the sheriff’s jail abuse scandal.

Amid that scandal and others, Bobb and Gennaco came under scrutiny. The question was how such serious problems could have festered under their watch…


LA SUPES TAKE FIRST STEP TOWARD NEW WOMEN’S JAIL IN MIRA LOMA

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors voted unanimously to have architectural design firm DLR Group, Inc. draw up plans (to the tune of $5.5 million) for a proposed women’s facility in Mira Loma. The plans will come back to the board for approval in September.

We’ll be taking a closer look at this proposal in the meantime.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

L.A. County has a $100 million grant from the state to construct a women’s facility in Mira Loma. To keep on track and keep the grant, the county had to take steps now, said Supervisor Don Knabe.

The Mira Loma facility is part of a larger, tentative jail overhaul plan that would likely include replacing or shuttering Men’s Central Jail. The consulting firm Vanir is scheduled to provide an updated report to the board on the county’s jail needs in May.

Groups opposed to building more jails also spoke at the board, including those who warned the jail’s placement in the Antelope Valley could expose inmates to Valley Fever.

Joseph Maizlish of L.A. No More Jails said the board should not be primarily motivated by the free grant money.

“If we use it unwisely, it’s as bad as lost and maybe worse,” Maizlish said.

He said despite the advice of numerous groups, including the Vera Institute of Justice, the county has yet to come up with a way of evaluating the risk of releasing inmates who are in jail awaiting trial and not yet sentenced. That, he said, could reduce overcrowding.


IN OTHER LASD/LA COUNTY SUPES NEWS: SUPERVISORS TO HAVE ACCESS TO LASD INTERNAL INVESTIGATION FILES, ON APPROVAL

After some recent conflict between LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina and County Counsel over whether the Supes should be allowed access to LASD internal investigation files, a compromise satisfying all parties was reached. On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a review process submitted by County Counsel John Krattli.

Supervisors will now submit specific requests through Krattli’s office. If the sheriff refuses to share the records with the board, he will have to present a written response as to why releasing the information to the board would be detrimental to the case.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the update. Here’s a clip:

The vote followed a dispute between the department and Supervisor Gloria Molina, who had criticized the agency for stonewalling her request for information on a deputy who has been involved in seven shootings, including a Sept. 9 encounter in East Los Angeles that left a man dead. Molina had said that former Sheriff Lee Baca was willing to give her access, but that County Counsel John Krattli suggested the report be withheld because the District Attorney’s Office is still investigating the case. Molina had argued that the supervisors are the ones who authorize legal settlements involving the Sheriff’s Department, so they should be granted early access to case information.

“I think it is a great day for all of us,” Molina said Tuesday. “It’s great day for all of those that really want to provide the kind of transparency that I think we talked about in the jail commission (report) that was presented to us.”

[SNIP]

Under the measure, any supervisor can request a confidential file through the county counsel. If the Sheriff’s Department turns over the documents, any supervisor can confidentially review them.

But should the Sheriff’s Department decide to withhold records, it must list reasons that are specific to the case. The board would review the sheriff’s explanation in a closed-door session no more than two weeks after receiving the refusal.


LASD SMOKING PATIO TURNED BARBECUE SPACE IS DUBBED THE “TERRACE GRILL”

The controversial members-only LASD smoking patio, repurposed by Sheriff John Scott into a non-smoking barbecue area for all department employees to enjoy, has officially been named the “Terrace Grill.” Contract Program Manager Rachelle Jackson submitted the winning entry in the department’s naming contest. (Backstory, here.)

(We like that the department is taking credit for the symbolic significance of this move.)

Here’s a small clip from the announcement:

In a symbolic, yet important, gesture for the employees of the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Scott asked everyone who works at the Headquarters in Monterey Park to submit names for the patio located at the rear of the building. It previously gained the reputation as an area used for cigar smoking by exclusive patrons. Since then, Sheriff Scott declared the area accessible to all employees, reminded them that smoking is not permitted there and held a contest to name it.


STUDY: BLACK KIDS PERCEIVED AS OLDER AND LESS INNOCENT THAN THEIR WHITE PEERS

Participants in a recent study (comprised of college students and police officers) perceived black kids as older and less innocent than their white counterparts. The study, intended to measure the dehumanization of black children, and was published earlier this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Police officers in the study estimated that black kids were an average of 4.59 years older than they actually were, meaning that they perceived kids a little over 13.5 years old as adults. And college students and police officers both judged black children over the age of ten to be less innocent than their white peers.

Guest hosting MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show, Jonathan Capehart speaks with one of the authors of the study, Phillip Atiba Goff (a UCLA professor), along with other noteworthy guests, about the study’s findings. Watch the discussion here.

The Wire’s Philip Bump also has a worthwhile analysis of the report. Here’s how it opens:

Asked to identify the age of a young boy that committed a felony, participants in a study routinely overestimated the age of black children far more than they did white kids. Worse: Cops did it, too.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, aimed at figuring out the extent to which black children were likely to be treated differently than their white peers solely based on race. More specifically, the authors wanted to figure out the extent to which black kids were dehumanized. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” author Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA told the American Psychological Association. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”

The researchers ran four different experiments aimed at gauging how people perceived criminal acts (both misdemeanors and felonies) depending on if the boy that committed it was black or white. Participants took a series of tests gauging racial attitudes and subtle associations. One test “primed” participants by flashing the names of either great cats, like lions, or apes. Two groups of people were interviewed, college-aged students and police officers. The group of police officers were evaluated on another metric: their on-the-job record of use of force against criminal suspects.

Read on.


A CALL FOR NEW LEGISLATION AFTER A CALIFORNIA APPEALS COURT BARRED THE MEDIA FROM LA’S CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT HEARINGS

At the beginning of this month, a California appeals court struck down a 2012 order by Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court, that opened LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings to the press. The court system is, once again, shuttered from press and, thus, public scrutiny.

In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel explains why press access is in kids’ best interest, and why the appellate court ruling is an opportunity for new legislation to open dependency courts back up (or for an appeal to the state Supreme Court). Here’s a clip:

A fortnight ago, the appeals court for the Second Appellate District in California invalidated a court order that had eased media access to Los Angeles County’s otherwise closed juvenile dependency hearings.

This ends two years of intermittent sunshine on the complicated functionings of the largest child welfare system in the nation, and perhaps the world.

The appeals court decision hinges on how much discretion a judge should have in barring reporters, and has reignited the long-simmering debate about the costs and benefits of allowing reporters to be present at hearings where minors’ fates are decided.

While the March 3 ruling seemingly closed the door on the media, it also sets up the possibility of two developments: an appeal to the California State Supreme Court, or new legislation allowing greater media access to dependency proceedings, not only in Los Angeles, but across the state.

In my opinion, the dispute could and should be resolved through legislation that promotes a new, higher journalism: one practiced in the best interest of the child.

Read the rest.



(Photo by Sergeant Kresimir M. Kovac, LASD)

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, racial justice, Sheriff John Scott | 5 Comments »

LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and More

February 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES

The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”

[SNIP]

E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.

This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.

“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.

E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:

“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”

But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.

By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)


CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK

In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.

Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.

DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…

Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.


SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY

On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.

In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.

The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…

Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…

But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.


QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:

“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”

He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.

Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.

He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.

“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”

(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott | No Comments »

Feds Address Contra Costa Juvenile Hall’s Use of Solitary Confinement…a Call for LASD Oversight…and DCFS Simulates Home Visits for Social Worker Trainees

February 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL

Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.

The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:

“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.

The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.

In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.

An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”

“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”

Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.

Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.

The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.

(The LA Times’ Lee Romney also reported on this issue.)


EDITORIAL: THE LASD TROUBLES ARE NOT OVER YET

So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.

But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?

In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:

…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.

The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.

But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?

[SNIP]

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.

The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.

It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…


NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS

As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.

DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:

Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.

“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.

Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.

Fortunately, no one was in real danger.

The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.

“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.

“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”

[SNIP]

Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.

“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”

Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary, The Feds | 48 Comments »

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