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How LA County’s Pricey Jail Plan Fails the Mentally Ill, LA’s LGBTQ Foster Kids Report Mistreatment by DCFS, Medical Board Investigating Doctors Giving Foster Kids Psych Drugs, and Willful Defiance

August 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA WEEKLY QUESTIONS RUSHED $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN AND ABSENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

Phillip Cho, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for attempted commercial burglary after trying to purchase a $2,000 case of cigars while in the midst of an elaborate delusion regarding newly acquired wealth. Cho was jailed in Twin Towers for three months, causing his mental health to further deteriorate. Cho’s caseworker assured him that he would be moved out of jail to a residential treatment facility within two weeks, but the waiting list turned out to be months long.

Instead of receiving the therapeutic care he needed, Cho says he suffered abuse at the hands of Twin Towers jailers, as well as psychologically damaging solitary confinement in a silent, padded room. Cho has been released and re-incarcerated several times, not unlike many mentally ill offenders in LA. Cho has written a book about his encounters with the criminal justice system, and his time in the Towers.

Twin Towers jail was built in 1997 specifically as an upgraded facility to better address the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sound familiar? In May, LA County Board of Supervisors hastily approved a $2 billion plan to replace the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail. A staggering 3,200 out of 4,860 beds are reserved for the mentally ill.

In a crucial investigative story, the LA Weekly’s Chris Walker brings up some very important questions about the jail-replacement plan and why Los Angeles seems to be bent on warehousing people with mental illnesses instead of diverting them into treatment.

While the board was gearing up to vote on the $2 billion replacement plan, it was also working out the plans for a women’s facility in Mira Loma, for which the state’s funding of $100,000 was about to expire.

The Supervisors rushed into a vote on Men’s Central Jail plans, it seems, with the idea that they were working against the clock to secure the Mira Loma money. While the money for the women’s facility had nothing to do with the men’s facility, the Supervisors had the construction consulting firm lump the two plans together.

Here’s a clip from Walker’s assessment of the situation:

Could the vote by the Board of Supervisors — which some critics call a nod to the past that could negatively affect tens of thousands of lives — have been forced by an obscure fiscal deadline?

The Weekly’s request for public records concerning the vote and events leading up to it, made to the office of outgoing County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, shows that the five supervisors faced a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to secure $100 million in state funding for a women’s detention center in Mira Loma — which has nothing to do with Men’s Central Jail.

The state money, made available through Assembly Bill 900, is set to expire later this year. County officials didn’t want to lose the huge sum. For reasons that remain murky, the far more complicated proposals to replace Men’s Central Jail were lumped together with the Mira Loma facility plan in the documents prepared by Vanir Construction.

In a March 18 memo to the Board of Supervisors obtained by the Weekly, CEO Fujioka told the supervisors they had to pass one of the five Vanir proposals for replacing Men’s Central Jail in order to secure the state money for Mira Loma.

Were there other reasons for rushing the vote? At the time, all but one candidate for sheriff urged the board to wait to make a decision until after a new sheriff was in place. And Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey had launched a task force of 70 mental health professionals to look into alternatives to locking up the mentally ill. Lacey was informed of the particulars of the jail plan the day before the vote was to happen. She put together and presented to the board an early report, explaining that her task force had found better ways to work with the mentally ill and bring down the recidivism rate. Apparently, the neither the board nor Lacey were informed of the other’s work until it was too late. Neither were the Supes briefed on a trip LASD officials took to Miami to see the county’s hugely successful mental health diversion program in action.

The die was already cast, and the board voted in favor of a massive and costly new jail.

Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Nashville, all in the same boat as LA County at one time, are now seeing major success with mental health diversion programs. Miami-Dade cut their recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates down to 20%, compared with LA County, where 75% of mentally ill offenders return to jail.

Why were the Supes not informed of the Miami trip—one in which LASD attendees received actual “how-to” guides for replicating mental health diversion in their own county?

It…raises serious questions about an $18,000 trip taken last October by a group of L.A. County law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Cmdr. David Fender, who flew to Miami and saw firsthand its success in diverting mentally ill arrestees into treatment — part of the group’s “best practices” tour around the nation. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that L.A. Sheriff’s officials met with Miami’s top brass and received detailed “how-to” guides explaining the steps required to establish a comprehensive mental health diversion program from the ground up.

Yet nothing came of what the group learned in the other cities.

Assistant DA Bill Hodgman, who was on that fact-finding trip, delivered the how-to reports to his boss, Lacey, galvanizing her mental health task force to push for change in Los Angeles.

Yet the Board of Supervisors never received the documents from the DA or the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who voted against the new jail, complained about not being briefed. “I think I have been, as a member of this board, somewhat shortchanged by not having that information available to me as I’m being asked to make a decision — a $2 billion decision.”

This fall, DA Lacey will present another task force report, at which time the Supes are expected to vote on allocating $20 million for mental health diversion. But that doesn’t change the $2 billion jail rebuild.

Steve Fields of San Francisco’s Progress Foundation, whose diversion program treats the mentally ill for a fraction of the price of jailing them, asks what’s holding LA back:

According to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the yearly cost to support an individual with mental illness in a housing program in Los Angeles is $20,412.

It costs about $60,000 a year to jail him.

“I don’t know what is taking [Los Angeles] so long,” Fields says. “Counties that wanted to do this in California have had access to state funding for a long time.”


LA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS (20% OF FOSTER POPULATION) MORE LIKELY TO REPORT MISTREATMENT BY THE SYSTEM

LGBTQ kids in Los Angeles County’s foster care system are twice as likely to report being mistreated by the system, a new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study found that one in five foster kids (1,400) identify as LGBTQ, twice that of kids in LA’s general population, and that 86% of LGBTQ-identifying kids were a racial minority.

Researchers also found that, on average, LGBTQ kids had more placements than other foster kids, were more than twice as likely to live in a group home, and three times as likely to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.

This is the first study to put a number on LGBTQ foster population in any child welfare system—let alone Los Angeles, which houses the largest foster care system in the nation. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and funded by a federal grant.

The LA Times’ Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study.

“We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them,” she said.

In any given month, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has about 7,400 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 in out-of-home care, according to the study. Of those, about 1,400 identify as LGBTQ.

The study, funded by a federal grant, is the first of its kind quantifying sexual orientation and gender identity of youths in any foster system, its authors say.

Despite their large numbers in the foster care system, LGBTQ youths have been “relatively invisible,” the study said. Many do not feel safe telling their foster families or social workers about having same-sex attractions or questioning their gender identity.

[SNIP]

“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” [the executive director of the Children's Law Center of California, Leslie Starr] Heimov said. One recent case involved a child who was adopted and kicked out after her parents learned she was a lesbian.

The Williams Institute study noted that most of the LGBTQ foster youths in L.A. County were, like their straight counterparts, racial minorities. The study found that 83% of LGBTQ youths in foster care were Latino or black.

Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, said many of these youths can face added discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”

The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, Bianca Wilson, who said:

“We found that LGBTQ…were moved around more, were more likely to be in group homes, experiencing emotional distress. And these are all seen as barriers to finding permanent homes.”


CA MEDICAL BOARD INVESTIGATING DOCTORS PRESCRIBING PSYCH MEDICATIONS TO FOSTER KIDS

Earlier this week, Karen de Sá’s alarming investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. It has spurred state lawmakers into planning legislation to curb the over-medication.

And now, at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request, the state medical board says it has launched an investigation into whether doctors are prescribing medication to change behavior, rather than treat mental illness, and thus, “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

Karen De Sá has the update. Here’s how it opens:

With pressure on California’s foster care system to curb the rampant use of powerful psych meds on children, concern is mounting about the doctors behind the questionable prescribing.

For months, the state has adamantly refused to release data that this newspaper sought to expose which physicians are most responsible. Now, in response to a request from state Sen. Ted Lieu, California’s medical board is investigating whether some doctors are “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

The action comes after this newspaper’s investigation “Drugging Our Kids” revealed doctors often prescribe risky psychotropic drugs — with little or no scientific evidence that they are safe or effective for children — to control behavior, not treat serious mental illness. Many of these drugs are approved only for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other relatively rare mental illnesses.

To examine the problem, the newspaper spent nine months negotiating with the state Department of Health Care Services to release a decade of prescribing data that did not identify individual patients.

The numbers the state finally provided showed that almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychotropic medications over the past decade. Of the children on medications, almost 60 percent are being prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs with serious side effects.


ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE DISCUSSES CALIFORNIA BILL TO END “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” EXPULSIONS

Earlier this month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 420, that would eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion in any grade, and suspension in grades K-3. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, is now headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

On Thursday’s AirTalk, host Larry Mantle talked about the legislation with Brad Strong, Senior Director of Education at Children Now, the organization co-sponsoring the bill, as well as Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers (which took a neutral stance on the measure).

Take a listen.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LGBT, mental health, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 7 Comments »

Lawmakers Call for End to Reckless Medicating of CA’s Foster Kids….Head of State Foster Care Sez Not So Fast….Shadows & Ferguson….LAPPL Tells NYT Why Words Matter

August 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS CALL FOR END TO RECKLESS USE OF PSYCH MEDS ON STATE’S FOSTER YOUTH

After The San Jose Mercury News ran its eloquent and devastating investigative report by Karen de Sá about the over-use psychotropic meds on California’s foster youth, various lawmakers have come forward to call for fast-tracked action to curb the prescribing of psychiatric meds to essentially drug foster kids into submission.

De Sá writes about the various legislators who have come forward since her report appeared Sunday. Here are some clips:

“It’s easier to take care of a sleeping kid, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right,” State Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Monday. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s in the best interest of the child — it’s obvious that in so many instances, it’s not.”

Steinberg said he was deeply concerned about the newspaper’s finding that the state spends more on psychiatric drugs for foster children than on any other type of drug. An analysis of 10 years of Medi-Cal data showed psych meds accounted for 72 percent of spending on the 10 most expensive drug groups for foster children, topping $226 million.

Steinberg said that wide-open spigot, fueled by pharmaceutical company marketing, has to be restricted.

“What we know now is that $226 million, 72 percent of the total spent, is being used to over-prescribe and to over-rely on medication as the primary strategy to help these kids who have already had a tough life — and that the side effects and impact on their life and their growth are serious,” Steinberg said. “This report and these numbers tell me that this money is not being well spent in many instance…

[LARGE SNIP]

One senator on Monday said he was ready to lead the charge. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee — said his committee will consider new policies and legislation to curb overprescribing when the new session begins in December. Beall said he intends to focus on what he calls “‘trash can diagnoses’ — diagnoses that are made simply to control behavior, as opposed to diagnoses that have a medically therapeutic value.”

Beall agreed with Steinberg’s urgency, noting: “There needs to be some action taken to reduce the inappropriate use of drugs in our foster care system — this is not a lightweight issue.”

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, agreed.

“Drugging kids to make them behave isn’t care, isn’t responsible and shouldn’t be legal,” she said in a statement. “Silencing their youthful pain by inducing stupor simply leaves childhood issues to fester into adulthood — and violates the obligation to ‘do no harm’ to those in our care.”


HEAD OF CALIFORNIA’S DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES SAYS NO EASY WAY TO END OVER-MEDICATING OF KIDS IN STATE CARE

When the Mercury-News talked to Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, about their report, he told the paper that this over-drugging problem would take some time to solve.

Thankfully that answer didn’t work for the Mercury-News editorial board, the members of which seemed to think that every kid whose life was being potentially wrecked by being force-fed an untested cocktail of psychotropic meds, has a life that actually, you know, matters.

Here’s a clip from their editorial:

Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, says there’s no simple way to end the pattern of thousands of foster children spending much of their youth drugged into malleability — the horror eloquently revealed by reporter Karen de Sá on Sunday’s Page One. He says it has to be part of the holistic rethinking of the entire foster care system that’s under way, giving doctors better options than prescribing psychotropic drug upon psychotropic drug to control children who act out.

Really? Really? If this isn’t a crisis, then what is?

The abusive use of powerful medications on kids with formative brains cries out for action. Each child who grows up scarred by this is a human tragedy and, in many cases, a lifetime burden on society.

Yes, the whole foster care system needs rebuilding, and yes, that could reduce the incentive to drug kids to alter behavior. But we can’t write off the children in the system now. That’s like declining to treat a cancer because the cure hasn’t been found.

It’s time to act. There are things the state can do now to at least begin to control the damage to children’s minds and physical health….


FERGUSON, & THE LONG SHADOWS OF HISTORY

Author and associate history professor, Jeleni Cobb, writing for the New Yorker, has been one of the voices consistently worth reading during the most intense days in Ferguson.

His newest essay, posted late Tuesday afternoon at the New Yorker, is another thoughtful and emotionally affecting example. Here are two clips, one from the essay’s beginning, the second taken from near its end:

When I was eighteen, I stumbled across Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me. The poem, a retelling of a lynching, shook me, because while the narrator relays the details in the first person, the actual victim of that brutish ritual is another man, unknown to him and unknown to us. The poem is about the way in which history is an animate force, and how we are witnesses to the past, even to that portion of it that transpired before we were born. He writes,

darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

Nothing save random fortune separated the fate of the man who died from that of the one telling the story. Errin Whack and Isabel Wilkerson have both written compellingly about the long shadow of lynching. It is, too often, a deliberately forgotten element of the American past—one that is nonetheless felt everywhere in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests followed the shooting of Michael Brown, who was eighteen years old, by a police officer. One can’t make sense of how Brown’s community perceived those events without first understanding the way that neglected history has survived among black people—a traumatic memory handed down, a Jim Crow inheritance….

And then this:

…I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger.

I’m embarrassed to recall that my adolescent love of words doubled as a strategy to assuage those fears; it was both a pitiable desire for acceptance and a practical necessity for survival. I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here…

Read on.


LAPPL CALLS OUT NY TIMES, NOTING THAT “UNARMED” ALONE DOES NOT DEFINE WHETHER OR NOT SOMEONE POSES A DANGER

Being precise with words matters, as this new post on the blog for the LAPD’s union states, calling out the New York Times for what the LAPPL suggests is a careless use of language.

Here’s a clip from the post’s opening:

Repeated descriptions of a suspect as “unarmed” when shot by a police officer does not, contrary to the belief of the New York Times and others who use the term without further describing the facts of the encounter, determine if the force used by an officer was lawful or reasonable. Labeling the suspect as “unarmed” does not begin to answer the question of the danger they posed in each instance where deadly force was used.

According to the FBI’s online database of officers feloniously killed, as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page, since 2000, there have been at least 57 occurrences where the suspects have taken officers’ weapons and murdered the police officer with it….


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LAPPL | No Comments »

Keeping Foster Parents in the Loop, “Mass Incarceration on Trial,” IG Report on LAPD Misconduct-Flagging System, and Obama Orders Probe of Police Militarization

August 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD INFORMED OF COURT DATES AND DECISIONS AFFECTING THEIR KIDS

A lawsuit filed this month accuses the LA County Department of Children and Family Services of failing to inform foster parents of their foster kids’ court dates, as well as neglecting to give foster parents the 7-day notice required by law when children in their care are going to be taken and placed elsewhere. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the non-profit group Advokids and three foster parents.

The LA Times’ Jim Newton, who has been watching foster care issues closely, says lapses in communication between DCFS workers and foster parents are detrimental to the wellbeing of the kids they care for. Here’s how it opens:

Heather Whelan has been a foster mother to some 20 children. She has nurtured broken babies back to health and worked closely with parents to fix families. She has also cringed as social workers made life-changing decisions about her charges without consulting her. In one case, she says, the county abruptly separated a pair of sisters she’d been caring for, traumatizing the baby girls because the social worker did not know how much the girls had come to rely on each other.

Carrie Chung is a professional social worker who became a foster parent in 2008. She describes how she once cared for a very young infant who required special foods and exercise to grapple with a difficult ailment. When a hearing was scheduled to decide whether the child could be safely returned to her family, Chung says, no one even bothered to tell her it was taking place.

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles foster care system — in courtrooms and waiting rooms, with children and lawyers, birth parents and foster parents. And while I can’t say whether Whelan and Chung are the exception or the rule when it comes to how the county’s Department of Children and Family Services relates to foster parents, I can say that there are persistent breakdowns in communication between social workers and foster parents — and that kids are suffering as a result.

Of the 20,000 or so Los Angeles County children who were living outside their homes this summer under DCFS supervision, about 6,500 were placed with non-relative foster parents. The children have social workers, but they only see them once a month or so. Their lawyers are often overwhelmed. Foster parents are often the only people who see these children every day and can know if they’re having nightmares or trouble with bullies or if they are sinking or recovering.


LOOKING AT CALIFORNIA PRISONS TO UNDERSTAND MASS INCARCERATION NATIONWIDE

A promising new book by legal scholar and Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, takes a look at the issue of nationwide mass incarceration through the lens of California’s prison history, from the 70′s and 80′s when “tough on crime” triggered the rise of incarceration rates, to SuperMax prisons, to Brown v. Plata—the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling that said California’s prison overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and put a population cap in place.

Mass Incarceration on Trial challenges the belief that locking more people away promotes public safety.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “an eloquent critique of the American prison system.”

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick interviewed Simon about his book. Here are some clips:

The Crime Report: Considering that mass incarceration is a national problem, why did you focus on California?

Jonathan Simon: California is the Mississippi of mass incarceration. When people think of states that would follow the worst practices in incarceration you may think of Texas, Mississippi, or other Southern states because they have struggled with issues of segregation and racism that would crossover to how they treat their inmates. Historically California has been so progressive. It started out as the second most lenient region behind the Northeast, but then from the 1970s through the 1990s the rate swung all the way to be one of the most punitive regions. There was a 500% increase in incarceration—the biggest increase for any of the big states. The state defends itself by saying they in line with the national average of incarceration, but I say who wants to be part of the national average?

But in a way Californians are lucky, because it’s a state that has bad incarceration with good lawyers. And the story couldn’t be told—and the future of mass incarceration may be different—without the work of the California’s Prison Law Office, and the firm Rosen Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, which brought so many of the game-changing prisoners’ rights suit.

TCR: The California corrections system official title is “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” yet you note that the idea of rehabilitating prisoners has almost completely disappeared from the system.

JS: Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger actually added rehabilitation back into the title in 2004-2005. He saw that the system was in catastrophe. Putting that word back in was a clear sign that he knew things needed to change. Rehabilitation used to be a central theme of California prisons until the 1970s and the move towards determinate sentences in California. The purpose of the 1976 Determinate Sentencing Act is punishment. Rehabilitation was no longer the goal of the prison. The idea was to give criminals short and just sentences and then they would return home from prison.

But in reality that is not what happened, mass incarceration began to grow as legislatures and politicians added more punishments such as three strikes, and corrections lost their ability to parole. Long sentences replaced short sentences. It was a layer-cake effect. But by then, the idea of rehabilitation had been out of the system for so long, that corrections had stopped thinking of prisoners as human beings. The system began to treat people as a mass, instead of individuals.

[SNIP]

TCR: Should judges should be required to routinely visit correctional institutions so they can be kept apprised of the conditions?

JS: I think that’s a great idea. In Plata v. Brown our courts functioned almost as human right investigatory body. They went into these prisons and brought videos out of inhumane conditions happening in the prisons, overcrowding, bad -beds, unchecked mental illness. And with these videos they’ve opened a visual pathway through which the public can really confront what our nation has been doing with mass incarceration.

TCR: How can the American system learn from European correctional systems?

JS: In Europe they have the European Prison rule. The rule has three core features: individualization of the inmate; normalize the prison to make it as consistent with the community as possible, (provide equal medical care, employment rights, human rights); and be progressive—offer prisoners who obey the rules opportunities. These rules make a difference. In the United States (such an approach) could conserve the dignity of the prisoner and create a better system then we had in the past.


LAPD SYSTEM FOR FLAGGING OFFICER MISCONDUCT FALLS SHORT, SAYS INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s system for flagging questionable officer behavior triggers warnings against officers that turn out to be unfounded, while proving unsuccessful at flagging officers who go on to commit serious misconduct, according to a report by the LAPD inspector general, Alex Bustamante.

The department has asked a research group to analyze all the databases used to track officer behavior, and whether the system actually, created under a federal order, has any influence on officer conduct.

The Police Commission will discuss Bustamante’s findings during their meeting today.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

The report by the Police Commission’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, scrutinized an early warning computer program that the LAPD has used since 2007 to track patterns of excessive force and other misconduct by its roughly 10,000 officers. The analysis casts doubt on the usefulness of the computer system, which federal officials forced the LAPD to build after years of corruption and abuse.

[SNIP]

The Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, will discuss the inspector general’s report at a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the department’s current tracking system appears to be “providing limited predictive capabilities,” adding that Bustamante’s report raises “significant questions.”

“I look forward to understanding how the department is responding to correct the issues,” he said.

In his report, Bustamante examined nearly 750 warnings about officers generated over a recent four-month period. In 70% of the cases, supervisors took no action after determining that the conduct flagged by the computer system did not point to any problems, the report found.

The lack of action after so many red flag notifications raises questions about the criteria being used to trigger warnings — called “action items” in LAPD jargon. Currently, the system attempts to compare several aspects of an officer’s conduct to that of other officers in similar assignments. A warning is triggered when an officer exceeds acceptable limits for each benchmark. The various benchmarks include the number of times an officer uses force on a suspect, as well as complaints and lawsuits filed against the officer.

Maggie Goodrich, the LAPD’s chief information officer, said it could be that the system currently is too quick to issue a warning. The risk, she said, is that the department might narrow its assessment of officers too much and, in doing so, miss some misconduct.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” she said.


OBAMA RESPONDS TO FERGUSON CONFLICT BY ORDERING REVIEW OF POLICE MILITARIZATION

President Barack Obama is ordering a review of law enforcement militarization. The probe, to be conducted by White House officials, will focus on military surplus programs and federal grants that help civilian police forces buy military equipment, whether police should be receiving the equipment, how state and local police are using the equipment now, and what kind of training they should have in the future.

The president’s decision comes in the wake of images and reports of Ferguson, MO, police in combat gear and heavy weaponry clashing with people protesting the death of Michael Brown.

McClatchy News’ Christi Parsons has the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be led by White House staff, will also look into whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment it helps facilitate, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s in-house directive.

The federal government has been helping police purchase military equipment for more than 10 years, ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, raised concerns about police readiness for a serious attack. Through grant programs and transfers from the military, the U.S. government has helped make the gear available to law enforcement agencies across the nation that have asked for it.

But the gear hadn’t been widely noted until unrest broke out in Ferguson early this month over the shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man. The incident stirred protests, looting and some anti-police violence, which in turn inspired the police to get out their body armor, heavy vehicles and automatic rifles.

[SNIP]

After seeing images of the police gear in video footage, Obama asked senior advisers to look into the programs that provided them. He also spoke about the images in a news conference with reporters a week after Brown’s death. Some post-9/11 equipment upgrades have been useful, he said, noting in particular the improvements to radio communications and to equipment for dealing with hazardous material.

But Obama said he wanted to make sure that what police are buying is “stuff that they actually need.”

He also warned that “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

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

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

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

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Middle School Dropouts, Bill Passes to End Prison Sterilizations, Ferguson Protests…and More

August 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA HAS THOUSANDS OF FORGOTTEN MIDDLE SCHOOL DROPOUTS

More than 6,400 California middle-schoolers (7th and 8th graders) dropped out of school in the 2012-2013 year, more than 1,000 of which were LAUSD students. The number seems relatively low when compared with California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year, so these younger kids are often overlooked and underserved. Most schools do not even have the resources to track them down once they stop showing up.

KPCC’s Sarah Butrymowicz takes a closer look at the issue in a story produced by the Hechinger Report. Here’s how it opens:

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

But their numbers are so tiny in comparison to California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year that few school districts are paying attention to middle school dropouts.

One sign of the inattention: a 2009 state law mandating California education officials calculate a middle school dropout rate has gone largely ignored, although districts do publicly report the raw numbers.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO BLOCK STERILIZATION OF FEMALE INMATES MOVES ON TO GOVERNOR’S DESK FOR SIGNING

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that California prison doctors performed 148 unlawful (and ethically questionable) tubal ligations (or “tube-tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law, often without proper legal consent from the women, between 2006 and 2010.

On Tuesday, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill, SB 1135, that would prohibit prisoner sterilizations as a means of birth control, except in the event of a medical emergency or treating an illness.

The bill, now headed for the governor’s desk, would also require the CDCR to provide counseling to women receiving the procedure, as well as post data online about any sterilizations performed. The bill would also provide safeguards for those who might report future misconduct.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign (or not sign) the bill into law.

CIR’s Corey G. Johnson has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill, passed unanimously today by the state Senate, would ban sterilizations for birth control purposes in all state prisons, county jails and other detention centers. Surgeries would be restricted to treating life-threatening medical emergencies and addressing physical ailments.

Women would receive extensive counseling, and correctional facilities performing such surgeries would be required to post data about the procedures online. The bill also protects whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting violations.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pushed for the bill after The Center of Investigative Reporting found more than 130 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010. Former inmates and prisoner advocates told CIR that prison medical staff pressured women, targeting inmates deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” Jackson said. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”


WHAT MADE PROTESTS IN FERGUSON, MO, TURN INTO A WEEK OF VIOLENCE AND DISORDER

NBC’s Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter have delved into why protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, spiraled out of control, while nearby protests over an unconnected fatal shooting of a young black man did not turn violent. Here’s how it opens:

The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri has led to angry protests and violent clashes with police that reached a fresh crescendo earlier this week. A second, unrelated fatal police shooting of a young black man just a few miles east on Tuesday, however, sparked protests, but no violence.

Why did events spiral out of control in Ferguson? Why did this little-known St. Louis suburb, with just 21,000 people, explode into more than a week of unrest? Part of the problem seems to have been a series of missteps by local authorities.

Experts from around the nation, including law enforcement officials, academics and civil rights attorneys, cite four factors: A poisoned relationship between a virtually all-white police force and a majority black city; heavy-handed police tactics both before and after the shooting — including a military-style response to the initial protests; and mixed messages from local authorities, some of whom attempted to focus attention on an alleged robbery by the dead teen, Michael Brown, instead of updating the public about the investigation into Brown’s death.

“Put that all together and you have a ready-made disaster,” L.A.-based civil rights attorney Connie Rice told NBC News.

The Police vs. the Public: Rice and others said most of the problems in Ferguson flowed from the almost non-existent connection between the city’s police and its residents. Detective Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association, which represents many of the area’s officers, told NBC News he thought there had been early friction in Ferguson between police and protesters because there had been “no established lines of communication with community leaders.”

While two-thirds of Ferguson’s citizens are African-American, there are only three blacks on its 53-member police force. Where larger urban departments like the NYPD have used so-called “community-based policing” in recent years to build trust with a diverse public, Ferguson focused on old-fashioned top-down policing and revenue generation. That meant most contact with civilians involved traffic stops and writing tickets – an extraordinary number of tickets for traffic and other offenses. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics at the New School in New York City and a former resident and legislator in St. Louis County, described Ferguson as “a constant, simmering state of tension and mistrust.” Smith said community policing could have reduced tensions, but that “it’s like (Ferguson) missed the whole phenomenon.”

[SNIP]

Changing the Subject: Two related moves last week appeared to defuse tensions. Missouri State Police took over command of the scene from the local cops, and designated Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American who grew up near Ferguson, as the on-site commander and liaison with the community.

But then Ferguson Police Department Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference and released documents and surveillance video — over Justice Department objections — allegedly showing that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store a short time before he was fatally shot. Hours later, Jackson held another press conference to announce that the white officer accused of shooting Brown was unaware of Brown’s alleged involvement in the robbery when he shot him.

Eric Rose, a crisis management expert who advises police organizations across the country, called Jackson’s revelations “foolish,” saying they served “to further incite tensions.”

“The goal should have been to calm things down,” said Rose. “Releasing that information did not serve that purpose.” In high-profile cases, he said, “You never want to go public without truly knowing all the facts and you want to have a clear strategy. In this case, the stakes of being wrong could have meant riots. And that’s exactly what happened.”


CHILD WELFARE TRANSITION TEAM AND SUPERVISORS DIFFER ON HOW TO MOVE FORWARD

At the end of June, the LA County Board of Supervisors appointed a nine-member transition team to assist in the creation of a child welfare czar meant to oversee the implementation of child welfare reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

On Tuesday, in their first progress report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team members outlined qualifications the Office of Child Protection should have. Co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague also asked for an executive director to keep the group focused and moving forward on reforms until the czar can be put in place.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that the hiring of a child welfare czar was of higher importance than the hiring of an executive director, and that the BOS never approved staff for the transition team. Yaroslavsky also suggested that there might be a calculated delay on hiring a czar until he and Supe Gloria Molina are termed out of office in December.

Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the board to continue implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s other recommendations while the search for a czar continues.

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

In its first report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague presented the group’s work over the course of the past month. Those efforts have largely centered on clarifying the role and desired qualifications of the incoming director of the Office of Child Protection.

“The founding director of the Office of Child Protection will have the opportunity to forge a transformational process for the children of Los Angeles County and we hope you see it the same way,” Gilbert-Lurie said while addressing the Board of Supervisors at the August 19 meeting.

But the transition team remains hindered by confusion about its responsibilities beyond assisting in the search for a leader of the new office and questions about staffing support that team members say would help speed up the implementation of reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“What bothers me is that we’re not seeing eye to eye on what’s the most important thing for us,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “The most important thing is getting the Office of Child Protection person hired. The search firm in my opinion is moving very slowly, too slowly, and is responding to too many people. It’s August 19 and we’re no closer to hiring, or even searching for the office of child protection than we were a month ago.”

Transition team member Gilbert-Lurie argued that the team needs additional resources and support in the form of an executive director to accelerate efforts at implementing further recommendations.

“You have herded a group with a wide range of talents—we have doctors, Ph.D.s, judges, lawyers,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “But we need someone whose eye is on the ball of moving this forward. We believe there’s a lot of information that could be helpful in working with department heads. [We could] leverage the best of what you have in the county if there is someone available to take our ideas and help implement them when we’re working in our day jobs. We don’t believe we have access to that sort of person with that executive experience right now on a full enough time basis.”

Posted in DCFS, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Police, prison, women's issues | 18 Comments »

LAPD Misclassifying Violent Crimes as Minor Offenses, Programs for CA Lifers, Supe. Hopeful Bobby Shriver Discusses Child Welfare…and More

August 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD MISREPORTS 1200 VIOLENT CRIMES AS MINOR CRIMES, SAYS LA TIMES INVESTIGATION

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly changing the city’s crime statistics, according to an LA Times investigation by Ben Poston and Joel Rubin. The wrongly reported crimes were almost always aggravated assaults that were knocked down to simple assaults, and thus not included in the city’s serious crime count. Between October 2012-September 2013, the misclassifications created an aggravated assault tally 14% lower than if the crimes were reported correctly, and a 7% lower overall violent crime total.

Some officers said the misclassifications stemmed from pressure from the top to hit crime reduction quotas. Others, including Chief Charlie Beck have blamed it on human error. But, the investigation found that nearly every inaccurately reported crime was misclassified as a lesser crime, not a more serious offense.

The crime statistics play a role in how departments, captains, and chiefs are evaluated. This investigation comes just days before the police commission’s expected vote on Chief Beck’s reappointment.

Here’s a clip from Poston and Rubin’s story. Here’s a clip:

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found.

The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.

Nearly all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults. If those incidents had been recorded correctly, the total aggravated assaults for the 12-month period would have been almost 14% higher than the official figure, The Times found.

The tally for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher.

Numbers-based strategies have come to dominate policing in Los Angeles and other cities. However, flawed statistics leave police and the public with an incomplete picture of crime in the city. Unreliable figures can undermine efforts to map crime and deploy officers where they will make the most difference.

More than two dozen current and retired LAPD officers interviewed for this article gave differing explanations for why crimes are misclassified.

Some said it was inadvertent. Others said the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.

At the start of each year, top LAPD officials set statistical goals for driving down crime in the city. As part of that process, the department’s 21 divisions are given numerical targets for serious crimes each month.

Division captains, their command staff and other senior officials worry constantly about hitting their targets, officers said.

“Whenever you reported a serious crime, they would find any way possible to make it a minor crime,” Det. Tom Vettraino, who retired in 2012 after 31 years on the force, said of his supervisors. “We were spending all this time addressing what the crime should be called, instead of dealing with the crime itself. It’s ridiculous.”

In a written response to questions from The Times, LAPD officials said the department “does not in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data.”

Deputy Chief Rick Jacobs defended the crime-reduction targets, saying they are an important tool for tracking the department’s performance and holding division captains accountable. Captains are not judged solely on the numbers, but on the crime-fighting strategies they use, Jacobs said.

LAPD officials also say classification errors are inevitable in a department that records more than 100,000 serious offenses each year. They say the department has tightened its safeguards and improved its reporting accuracy.

“We recognize there is an error rate,” said Arif Alikhan, a senior policy advisor to Police Chief Charlie Beck. “It’s important to us to do what we can to reduce that error rate.”

The department “is relying on that data to determine where we are going to send cops … how we actually do things to prevent crime,” he added.

Alikhan, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, said the rate of misclassification has held steady or even declined over the years, so the public can trust figures showing that crime in L.A. has fallen in each of the last 11 years.

Beck declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said classifying crimes is “a complex process that is subject to human error.”

If the misclassifications were mainly inadvertent, police would be expected to make a similar number of mistakes in each direction — reporting serious crimes as minor ones and vice versa, said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But The Times’ review found that when police miscoded crimes, the result nearly always was to turn a serious crime into a minor one.


PRAISES AND CONCERNS REGARDING LAPD CHIEF BECK AS VOTE ON REAPPOINTMENT DRAWS NEARER

As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck heads into the police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint him for a second 5-year term, Brenda Gazzar of the LA Daily news looks at criticisms and praises of the chief. Here are some clips:

At a housing project in Watts earlier this year, gang expert Jorja Leap was leading a weekly support group for fathers that included former gang members and parolees when the topic turned to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck.

There had been a spike in gang violence that week, Leap recalled, and some of the men in Project Fatherhood were concerned that the LAPD would go back to its old, heavy-handed ways and “come down hard” on African-Americans. The adjunct professor for the UCLA Luskin School for Public Affairs was stunned, she said, when others in the group strongly disagreed, arguing that Beck would never do that because “he was different.”

“I’ve worked in South Los Angeles all my life — all my professional life — and there has always been mistrust and outright hatred of the LAPD and its chief,” said Leap, noting that this predominantly black neighborhood in particular had witnessed decades of police brutality dating back to the 1965 Watts riots. However, “there’s something about (Beck) that has fostered great trust in the community. He has to always be respectful of that and how he uses that.”

[SNIP]

The Rev.[sic] Greg Boyle, founder of the renowned L.A.-based anti-gang program Homeboy Industries, said Beck “has a reverence for the complexity of things — and the root of gang crime and kids’ involvement in it.” Boyle said his wish is that law enforcement will now realize that gang crime is really a community health issue.

“It’s not enough for law enforcement to keep saying (endlessly) that we ‘can’t arrest our way out of this problem,’” Boyle wrote in an email. “Usually, after saying this, it proceeds to try and solve this problem alone. L.A. is ready for the wider, more aerial view … and Charlie can bring the city to that place.”

But in addition to the new issue of the wrongly categorizing crimes, some commission members still expressed concerns.

“There are a number of (discipline) decisions that trouble me, partly because I felt they were too lenient and partly because I felt they were inconsistent from cases otherwise similar,” said Commissioner Robert M. Saltzman, who has served on the panel for seven years and declined to identify the specific cases due to “personnel matters.”

Meanwhile, Soboroff has publicly disagreed with the chief on two discipline cases, one involving Officer Shaun Hillman, who was given a suspension of more than two months after he allegedly called an African-American a “monkey” in an off-duty incident and lied to investigators. The chief overruled a disciplinary board’s decision to fire Hillman, whose father is a retired LAPD officer and whose uncle is a former deputy chief. The other case involved Beck’s decision to return to duty eight police officers who mistakenly fired more than 100 rounds at a pickup truck carrying two women delivering newspapers during the search for cop killer Christopher Dorner. Beck acknowledged the officers violated department policy but opted to retrain them. However, those decisions are taken against Beck’s total performance over five years, Soboroff said.


CLASSES FOR INFLUX OF LIFER INMATES WINNING PAROLE

Over the last five years, around 2,300 California inmates serving life with the possibility of parole have been released into supervision—more than twice as many as the preceding twenty years combined.

The new population of lifers winning parole has triggered a wave of programs to help these inmates—who have been locked up for decades—successfully reenter their communities and adjust to life on the outside.

KQED’s Scott Shafer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On a recent weekday morning at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, inmates lined up to receive certificates. They had just completed classes that help them understand how they ended up here. The special guest is not a typical graduation speaker. Instead, they hear from Teresa Courtemanche. Six years ago, her son, Matt, who was on the Fairfield City Council, was shot and killed. He was 22 — a victim of mistaken identity. She recalls that night when her home phone rang.

“It was my friend Terri and she said, ‘I think Matt got shot,’ ” Courtemanche remembers. “ ’What?’ ‘I think he got shot.’ I said, ‘OK, let me go. Let me call his phone.’ And I kept calling his phone and he didn’t answer.”

She goes on to describe through tears how the murder tore through her family — and still does. The audience, 40 or so lifers, sits quietly, many of them nodding slowly as she speaks. It’s one of the ways inmates hear about the impact that crime has on their victims and their families. Afterward, one of the inmates, James Ward, speaks passionately about the unfairness of violent crime.

“When I hear us complaining about how unfair we are treated — you want to see how unfairness is?” Ward says, pounding the podium for emphasis. “Look at her experience. When we talk about, ‘Oh, the police didn’t let me out on the yard or came to search my house.’ How messed up that is. That is not unfair!”

Ward has spent half his life in prison after stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death over 30 years ago. After being turned down for parole five times, he was finally found suitable earlier this year. Standing in a prison courtyard, Ward says unless that his parole is reversed by the governor, he’ll leave Solano Prison Nov. 5.

“I have mixed feelings about it, actually,” he confides. “There’s the elation of being found suitable but then the sobering realization of what this has cost — in my girlfriend’s life and her relatives’ lives and my family’s lives. So, the impact is widespread, so I can’t be too celebratory.”

A couple years ago, Ward was trained to be a drug and alcohol counselor at Solano, as well as a mentor for other inmates.

“Doing this work is part of that making amends in a kind of indirect way to my victims,” Ward says. “But there’s more that I think I could do out of the confines of this limiting environment.”

Programs like these are part of a different approach that Gov. Brown has brought to criminal justice. For the first time in decades, inmate rehabilitation is a funding priority. The inmates learn things like anger management, what leads to criminal thinking, the impact crime has on victims and how to reconcile with their own family members if they’re released.

Rodger Meier, deputy director for rehabilitation with CDCR, says the goal is “to try to make sure that they are suitable for parole, that they don’t impact public safety, and they can successfully go out into society and lead a productive life.”

Nearly half of Solano’s 3,300 inmates are lifers, and many will eventually be paroled. And the hope is that programs like these will help them make better decisions than they did before they were sent here.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE BOBBY SHRIVER ON CHILD WELFARE

Last month, Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback talked with Sheila Kuehl, one of the candidates running for LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, about what she would do, if elected, to push through much-needed Dept. of Children and Family Services reforms—particularly those recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety.

Now, Loudenback has interviewed Kuehl’s opponent, Bobby Shriver, about his thoughts on creating a better child welfare system for LA County’s most vulnerable.

Shriver discussed fixing DCFS’ outdated computer systems, staying on an issue—calling people “all day long and on the weekend”—until it is corrected, and finding innovators within the system to come together as champions for change.

Here are some clips:

Growing up as the son of Special Olympics founder and social worker Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Shriver says that the struggles of caseworkers in the child welfare system remind him of his mother.

“As a kid, I remember my mom was frustrated with the way with the way things were happening,” Shriver said, recalling his mother’s work in the Illinois juvenile justice system in the 1950s. “I grew up watching her assemble social workers at our house and figure out how to create programs for whatever funding streams in Illinois in the ‘50s and then in D.C. later.”

[SNIP]

Shriver has made the pursuit of new ideas at the core of his campaign for the Board of Supervisors. A self-described “innovation person,” Shriver says Los Angeles County needs to be shaken up.

“I’m more disposed emotionally and intellectually to solve a problem with a new idea that hasn’t been tried before,” Shriver says.

“I don’t want to be sitting here in 10 years with a new study showing me how the child welfare system has yet again failed this group of children. We’ve got a series of those studies already.”

“There’s has to be something that can be done that will shift us out of that and if that’s performance-based contracting in part, we have to take a serious look at it,” said Shriver.

Shriver points to a discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 29 about creating a mental-health diversion program that would route some offenders into mental-health programs instead of the county’s overcrowded system of jails as an example of how the long-serving board has not always been open to hearing new ways to address the county’s enduring issues

“Supervisor Yaroslavsky said at the meeting that the conversation about diversion was the first discussion of the topic he had heard in the 20-plus years he’s been on the board,” Shriver said. “It’s incredible to me that none of supervisors had brought forward that suggestion in 20 years.”

[SNIP]

“I would stick a fork through my hand if the computer system hasn’t been fixed in four years if I’m there, running for re-election,” he said, referring to the outmoded computer system used by county social workers. “I do have a plan, but the most important element of the plan is that when I say I’m going to absolutely do something, I mean it. I’m going to call people all day long and on the weekend. It has to be followed through on a daily basis. I’ve just never seen [change happen] by committees or consultants, that kind of way.”



See the original LA Times investigation for more LAPD documents.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, Reentry | 11 Comments »

How is LA doing on DCFS Reform?….Hostage Deaths and the LASD Oversight Debate….Feds Find Unchecked Violence Against Teens at Rikers….and a Homeboy Food Truck

August 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM “CHECKUP” REPORT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA PRESSURE TO KEEP DCFS REFORMS MOVING

Fostering Media Connections has released a 23-page report stressing the necessity for “hyper-vigilance” to propel LA County’s efforts to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with a final report and 42 recommendations.

The report, the first of a series of quarterly “checkups,” says that progress is being made on some of the recommendations (the county is working toward appointing a child welfare czar, for instance), but that momentum has slowed, and no new money seems to be making its way toward implementing these recommendations meant to better protect kids involved in the child welfare system.

Here are some clips:

The problem is that the county’s public administration is immense, and its bureaucracy can grind down the highest-minded of reforms. Soon, two new supervisors will replace those who have termed out, and two more are slated to change over in two years. The county’s chief executive officer has announced his resignation.

Any chance of seeing the dramatic change envisioned by the BRC will require hyper- vigilance.
In December 2013, the 10-person commission filed an interim report with a list of recommendations that were all but ignored by the Board of Supervisors.

The commission was so incensed by the lack of action that it laced its final report, released in April of this year, with hyperbole meant to attract media attention and influence the supervisors to action.

“Sustainable reform will require the Board of Supervisors to declare something akin to a STATE of EMERGENCY within the child welfare system, since clearly, the present system presents an existential threat to the safety and protection of our children,” the commission wrote.

It worked. The news media ran headlines decrying this “state of emergency,” and two months later, the Board of Supervisors approved all of the commission’s recommendations. This included the creation of an Office of Child Protection, which would be headed by a leader with the power to alter budgets and staffing decisions across child-serving agencies. By the end of June, the supervisors had named nine members to a “transition team” charged with creating a new child protection czar.

On August 12, 2014, the transition team will present a five-page progress report to the Board of Supervisors, which includes a job description for the Office of Child Protection and describes its role in implementing the BRC’s reforms.

Besides the creation of advisory bodies, designation of roles and public hearings, what has changed for children in Los Angeles County?

[SNIP]

There has been some movement to increase law enforcement’s role in child protection, definite steps toward designating a child protection czar, and concurrent developments that align with the BRC’s recommendations on increasing payments to kinship caregivers. But we have not uncovered any evidence that new monies have followed the recommendations, or any concrete assurance that the county will follow through on the myriad child protection improvements approved by the Board of Supervisors.

If child protection reform is viewed in terms of child development, one could say that it is still in its infancy in LA County. While able to swipe at broad concepts with unsure hands, the reform movement as laid out by the BRC is as of now incapable of manipulating its nascent but growing authority with much substance. It’s likely too early to know whether or not the reform’s development is delayed, but it is clearly not precocious.

Understanding the news media’s unique power to impel action, Fostering Media Connections is offering these quarterly checkups in the hopes that they will spur continued attention and nourish the reform effort.

KPCC’s Rina Palta interviewed Fostering Media Connection’s founder, Daniel Heimpel, about the report. Here’s a clip:

“What we see is a lack of real strong urgency,” Heimpel said. “A lot of that has evaporated and that’s been a little bit disheartening.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission made 42 recommendations the board then endorsed, but Heimpel said he’s unclear how they will be carried out.

“We have not seen any evidence that any financial resources have been committed to these reforms,” Heimpel said.


LASD IG SAYS OFFICERS’ MISTAKEN KILLING OF HOSTAGES HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR ACCESS TO LASD RECORDS

Today the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider establishing a civilian panel to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The board will also discuss what kind of access to LASD records Inspector General Max Huntsman should have. (Interim Sheriff John Scott has called for an IG-LASD relationship bound by attorney-client privilege. Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell told ABC7 he doesn’t believe it’s necessary.)

Huntsman says recent officer shootings of innocent people highlight the need for his office to have open access to LASD records, including personnel files, in order to make certain the department’s internal investigations are thorough.

On Friday, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an innocent man he mistook for a suspect during a hostage standoff. Frank Mendoza’s death marked the second mistaken killing by a deputy since April, when John Winkler, an LA production assistant who had been held hostage was gunned down by officers while trying to escape. (Winkler’s family has since filed claim against the sheriff’s dept. to the tune of $25 million.)

The LA Times’ Catherine Saillant and Jeff Gottlieb have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Frank Mendoza, 54, was shot when a deputy mistook him for an armed suspect who had broken into the Mendoza home late Friday afternoon, authorities said. The gunman, 24-year-old Cedric Ramirez, took Mendoza’s wife captive and held her until a tactical team entered the house and fatally shot him eight hours later, authorities said. The wife was unharmed.

The case is now under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department’s internal affairs unit as well as the district attorney and coroner, as is customary in officer-involved shootings.

But Max Huntsman, the new civilian monitor in the Sheriff’s Department, said Sunday the case underscores the need for his unit to also review all records, including a deputy’s personnel files, in deciding whether the department does a thorough job investigating.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Huntsman after a series of scandals in the department, which culminated with federal charges against sheriff’s officials over alleged inmate abuse in the jail system.

The Sheriff’s Department and Huntsman are still negotiating how much access the inspector general should have.

[SNIP]

Huntsman said his office will be closely involved with internal investigations that are underway in the Pico Rivera case.

The inspector general cannot conduct an independent investigation without access to the deputy files. But the office will review the sheriff’s inquiries to “make sure they are done in a correct way,” Huntsman said. If better training or changes to in-field tactics are necessary, his office will follow up with recommended changes, he said.


FEDERAL INVESTIGATION FINDS “DEEP-SEATED CULTURE OF VIOLENCE” AT RIKERS ISLAND’S JUVENILE FACILITIES

The office of United States Attorney Preet Bharara released a 79-page report detailing Rikers Island guards’ excessive (and unchecked) use of force against incarcerated teenage boys. The report says the NYC Department of Corrections does not adequately protect boys between the ages of 16-18 from unnecessary harm from guards, other inmates, and overuse of punitive solitary confinement. The investigation found that since 2012, nearly 44% of teens at Rikers had been subjected to at least one use of force, and that blows to the boys’ faces and heads occurred “at an alarming rate.”

The US Attorney’s office has given the NYC DOC 49 days to respond to the report, and threatened a federal lawsuit if the city did not begin working toward remedying the problems highlighted in the report.

The NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser and Michael Schwirtz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The report, addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other senior city officials, singled out for blame a “powerful code of silence” among the Rikers staff, along with a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. The result was a “staggering” number of injuries among youthful inmates, the report said.

The report, which comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the jail complex after a stream of revelations about Rikers’s problems, also found that the department relied to an “excessive and inappropriate” degree on solitary confinement to punish teenage inmates, placing them in punitive segregation, as the practice is known, for months at a time.

Although the federal investigation focused only on the three Rikers jails that house male inmates aged 16 to 18, the report said the problems that were identified “may exist in equal measure” in the complex’s seven other jails for adult men and women.

In just one measure of the extent of the violence, the investigation found that nearly 44 percent of the adolescent male population in custody as of October 2012 had been subjected to a use of force by staff members at least once.

Correction officers struck adolescents in the head and face at “an alarming rate” as punishment, even when inmates posed no threat; officers took inmates to isolated areas for beatings out of view of video cameras; and many inmates were so afraid of the violence that they asked, for their own protection, to go to solitary confinement, the report said.

Officers were rarely punished, the report said, even with strong evidence of egregious violations. Investigations, when they occurred, were often superficial, and incident reports were frequently incomplete, misleading or intentionally falsified.

Among more than a dozen specific cases of brutality detailed in the report was one in which correction officers assaulted four inmates for several minutes, beating them with radios, batons and broomsticks, and slamming their heads against walls. Another inmate sustained a skull fracture and was left with the imprint of a boot on his back from an assault involving multiple officers. In another case, a young man was taken from a classroom after falling asleep during a lecture and was beaten severely. Teachers heard him screaming and crying for his mother.


BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES’ NEW FOOD TRUCK THIS FALL

Homeboy Industries has announced the launch of a new Homeboy food truck that will grace the streets of LA this fall. The gourmet food truck will make its debut in September, creating new jobs for Homeboys and new connections with the community.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, media, Sheriff John Scott, solitary, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

LA Funding Behavioral-Parent Training to Keep Kids Safe….LASD’s New Re-entry Center….Realignment Recommendations….and Supe Ridley-Thomas and Others Back Jim McDonnell for Sheriff

July 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA INVESTING $20M IN PARENT-CHILD INTERACTION THERAPY TO IMPROVE CHILD SAFETY

The taxpayer initiative First 5 LA is putting $20 million toward expanding Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), a program aimed at preventing child maltreatment by providing educating parents in a therapeutic environment. Through the new funding, between 320 and 400 new PCIT therapists will be trained to give one-on-one live parenting instruction to moms and dads at risk of having their kids taken away from them. During the 12 to 14 therapy sessions, a parent sits and plays with their child while receiving coaching cues in an earpiece from a therapist watching from another room.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on PCIT and the county’s efforts to reform LA County’s child welfare system. Here’s the opening:

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors began implementing the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, which calls for augmented child maltreatment prevention efforts.

While implementation of the commission’s many recommendations is a long-term venture, leaders are hoping that the rollout of a maltreatment prevention initiative may improve child safety in the short-term.

First 5 LA, a taxpayer-supported initiative that provides a variety of services to families with young children in Los Angeles County, is investing $20 million in child maltreatment prevention with a five-year-long therapist-training program known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).

The goal is to train up to 400 PCIT practitioners through the state. First 5 LA’s PCIT grant is in partnership with the county’s Department of Mental Health, through which PCIT providers can access state-funded reimbursement for services.

PCIT emphasizes improving the quality of the parent-child relationship through one-on-one live coaching. During a PCIT session, a parent-child pair plays and interacts in a therapy room while the therapist watches through a one-way mirror and guides their interactions using a discrete earpiece worn by the parent. PCIT is typically delivered in a series of 12 to 14 sessions and is broken into two main parts, Relationship Enhancement and Strategies to Improve Compliance.

In Los Angeles, PCIT is being made available to families at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system, or who have open cases but are not currently in the process of having their parental rights terminated.

After linking a lack of prevention services with “an excessive number of referrals and investigations” and high caseloads in the county’s dependency court system, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report, issued in April, called on the county’s board of supervisors to direct the Department of Public Health and First 5 LA to jointly develop a comprehensive prevention plan.

By training hundreds of clinicians and therapists who will serve thousands of families in the county, this will be the largest PCIT initiative since its development in the early 1970s, a prospect that excites researchers close to the strategy.

“The prospect of prevention is very powerful because we’ve shown the parents, with PCIT…[they] can change and become positive, nurturing, sensitive parents who can set limits with their children in a safe and effective way,” said Cheryl McNeil, a professor of psychology at West Virginia University. “Prevention efforts with PCIT encourage parents to use highly positive parenting tools before they get into negative interactions with their children.”


LASD RE-ENTRY CENTER HELPS THOSE RELEASED FROM JAIL WITH TRANSITION BACK TO THEIR COMMUNITIES

The LASD-run Community Re-entry Resource Center opened late in May to help recently released LA County jail inmates successfully re-enter their communities. The Resource Center helps former inmates get connected with things like food stamps, mental health services, substance abuse programs, and employment services. This is a welcome step in the direction of accomplishing one of realignment’s goals: reducing recidivism.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

The 40-year-old man in the black jacket and jeans was getting out of jail with no money and no place to live.

As he left the county jail complex in downtown Los Angeles, he stopped at the new Community Re-entry Resource Center, where he received a bus token and a referral to a homeless shelter. The man, who would give only his first name, David, got a phone number for the police so he could see whether his car had been impounded while he was imprisoned.

The center, which opened at the end of May and is run by the Sheriff’s Department, helps people leaving the jails adjust to life on the outside, in hope they won’t come back again.

Newly released inmates get assistance with food stamps, mental health services and health insurance. A probation officer is on hand, along with officials from various county departments. The nonprofits HealthRight 360 and Volunteers of America offer referrals to job centers and substance abuse programs.

“They go back to their old neighborhood and fall into the same trap, with the same friends, and they end up right back in jail,” said Sgt. Joaquin Soto. “We’re trying to avoid that.”

David said he was behind bars for six days after missing a court appearance related to a drug offense. But that was enough to set him back. He had been living out of his car and has no family in the area. He needed something to tide him over until he started a new job in a few days.

“They’re helping me out at just the right time,” he said.

Inside the jails, the sheriff’s Community Transition Unit provides similar services. On the way out, the drop-in reentry center offers a final chance for newly released inmates to get the services they need, said sheriff’s officials and reentry experts.

Read on.


NEW RESEARCH ON CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT AND HOW TO REDUCE THE BURDEN PLACED ON COUNTIES

In a recent research paper expanding on her comprehensive study on the effects of California prison realignment released in November, Stanford corrections system expert Dr. Joan Petersilia says that AB109 has had “mixed results” for California counties thus far.

Petersilia recommends a number of legislative tweaks to the realignment plan, including mandatory split-sentencing for all felony sentences served in county jails, statewide tracking of all offenders, and jail sentences to max out at three years.

Stanford News’ Clifton Parker has more on Petersilia’s research and recommendations. Here’s a clip:

When California embarked on a sweeping prison realignment plan in 2011, The Economist described it as one of the “great experiments in American incarceration policy.”

The challenge was to shift inmates from overcrowded state prisons to jails in California’s 58 counties.

At this point, the results are mixed and the “devil will be in the details” as tweaks to the original legislation are urged, according to new research by a Stanford law professor.

“Only time will tell whether California’s realignment experiment will fundamentally serve as a springboard to change the nation’s overreliance on prisons,” wrote Stanford Law School Professor Joan Petersilia, a leading expert on prison realignment, in her article in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. “It is an experiment the whole nation is watching.”

[SNIP]

“If it works, California … will have shown that it can downsize prisons safely by transferring lower-level offenders from state prisons to county systems. … If it does not work, counties will have simply been overwhelmed with inmates, unable to fund and/or operate the programs those felons needed, resulting in rising crime, continued criminality and jail overcrowding,” wrote Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

[SNIP]

Petersilia urges legislative revisions to California’s realignment plan (some are now under discussion in the legislature). Suggestions include:

Requiring that all felony sentences served in county jail be split between time behind bars and time under supervised release (probation), unless a judge deems otherwise

Allowing an offender’s entire criminal background to be reviewed when deciding whether the county or state should supervise them

Capping county jail sentences at a maximum of three years

Allowing for certain violations, such as those involving domestic restraining orders or sex offenses, to be punished with state prison sentences

Creating a statewide tracking system for all offenders

Collecting data at the county and local level on what is and is not working in realignment

She said several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. Still, only 5 percent of felons in Los Angeles County have their sentences split. She called this type of flexibility “extraordinarily important” to realignment, as it would lessen space and cost burdens for counties.

(We would like to note that LA will increase its use of split-sentencing after Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey instructed prosecutors in her office to start seeking split sentences for certain low-level offenders.)


SUPE RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER LEADERS TO ANNOUNCE SUPPORT FOR JIM MCDONNELL IN LA SHERIFF RACE

Today at 9:30a.m., LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen other South LA leaders will gather at Southern Missionary Baptist Church to announce their support for LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | No Comments »

LA Foster Care Documentary, Los Angeles DA Calls for Split-Sentencing, Solitary Confinement and Kids’ Brains, and LASD Oversight

July 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WATCH THIS TONIGHT: LOS ANGELES FOSTER CARE DOCUMENTARY ON OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

Tonight (Thursday) at 7:00, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air an episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling,” exploring foster care in Los Angeles County and the children, families, and foster parents involved in the system.

In his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel tells us more about the documentary episode, which he co-produced, and why media access, when used to child dependency court proceedings is so important. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday July 3, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air an episode of its acclaimed docu-series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which focuses on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. It is important to me, because as a co-producer I worked very hard to make sure that we were granted access to a world often cloaked in confidentiality.

[SNIP]

[In March,] a California appeals court struck down a court order issued by Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, which had substantially eased media access to the largest juvenile dependency system in the nation. And despite spirited editorials by John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle calling for legislation that would, like Nash’s order, ease media access, no politician has stepped forward to take up the issue.

Of course, there is reason for caution. Children who have already been traumatized can be forever scarred by irresponsible media coverage. The potential costs to individual children supersedes the potential social good that exposing these systems to public scrutiny would bring, or so the argument goes.

And when journalists continue to chase the most salacious child welfare stories, it is understandable that attorneys and other child advocates are loathe to let the notebooks and cameras in. The media is hard to trust.

So into that absence of trust, I, alongside the incredible production team from Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, stepped lightly and came away with incredible access and an under-told story.

When you watch this episode on Thursday night, you will see what that access has won, and what we have chosen to do with it. You will see a simple, honest depiction of what the largest child welfare system in this country is up against; what every child welfare system in the country is up against. You will see, I hope, a picture not painted in black and white or even a scale of grays, but rather a story filled with color, vibrancy and the promise that the best in people can be forced to the surface by the hardest of moments.


LOS ANGELES TO (FINALLY) BOOST USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING—THANKS, DA JACKIE LACEY!

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has instructed attorneys in her office to begin seeking split-sentences—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation—for certain low-level felons convicted under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment.

This is certainly welcome news, as the jail system is hazardously overcrowded and Los Angeles is far behind other counties successfully implementing split-sentencing and reducing their jail populations.

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

Lacey said part of her reasoning for the policy shift is due to changes under prison realignment, the state’s policy that shifts responsibility for lower-level would-be state prison inmates to California’s counties.

Previously, nearly everyone leaving prison went on parole for one to three years. Now, that same population upon leaving jail gets released to the community without any supervision.

That is, unless they’re sentenced to split time.

“It makes sense that we utilize this tool in order to make sure they successfully reintegrate into society and don’t commit any new crimes,” Lacey said.

While some counties (including many with limited jail space) have embraced split sentencing — such as Riverside County and Contra Costa County, which sentence 74 percent and 92 percent respectively of their lower-level felons to half time in jail and half time on supervised release — L.A. County’s rate has hovered between 4 to 5 percent.

[SNIP]

Probation Chief Jerry Powers said he’s not sure how many new offenders will be coming his way, but his department can handle it.

“Having the district attorney say that she’s going to look at this and she’s not opposed to it is important,” Powers, who has pushed for more split sentencing in L.A. County said. “But you still have to get the judge to impose it. It’s progress.”


MORE ON THE DAMAGING (AND STILL WIDESPREAD) USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS

The Atlantic’s Laura Dimon has an excellent story on the use of solitary confinement on kids in the US—the disastrous effects on young brains, and the continued use of isolation in spite of increasing research and opposition. Here are some clips:

Solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in cells that are barely larger than a king-sized bed for 22 to 24 hours per day. It wreaks profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger. Boston psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote that “even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the EEG pattern towards an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium.”

If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, though, it can shatter a juvenile.

One of the reasons that solitary is particularly harmful to youth is that during adolescence, the brain undergoes major structural growth. Particularly important is the still-developing frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for cognitive processing such as planning, strategizing, and organizing thoughts or actions. One section of the frontal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, continues to develop into a person’s mid-20s. It is linked to the inhibition of impulses and the consideration of consequences.

Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, has been studying the psychological effects of solitary confinement for about 30 years. He explained that juveniles are vulnerable because they are still in crucial stages of development—socially, psychologically, and neurologically.

“The experience of isolation is especially frightening, traumatizing, and stressful for juveniles,” he said. “These traumatic experiences can interfere with and damage these essential developmental processes, and the damage may be irreparable.”

[SNIP]

The ACLU said that just hours of isolation “can be extremely damaging to young people.” In December 2012, the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence issued a report that read, “Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”

They noted that among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the victims were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent had a history of solitary confinement.

The task force requested that the practice be used only as a last resort and only on youths who pose a serious safety threat. The UN expert on torture went further and called for an “absolute prohibition [of solitary confinement] in the case of juveniles,” arguing that it qualified as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

In April 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a statement saying they concurred with the UN position. “In addition, any youth that is confined for more than 24 hours must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist when one is available,” they wrote.

Despite these declarations, there are about 70,000 detained juveniles in the U.S., 63 percent of whom are nonviolent. And in 2003—the most recent survey data available—35 percent had been held in isolation. More than half of them were isolated for more than 24 hours at a time.


WHAT THE SHERIFF DEPARTMENT NEEDS, MOVING FORWARD

On Tuesday, jurors found six LASD officers guilty of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system. After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about the “toxic culture” within the Sheriff’s Department.

An LA Times editorial says that the issue here is not the criminal actions of deputies, but instead, the structure of a department with an elected sheriff who has no accountability to the citizens who put him in office. The editorial calls, once again, for a civilian oversight commission to “create an incentive to act wisely.” Here are some clips:

…whose idea was this whole scheme in the first place? Was top management at the department so lax or vague that deputies felt entitled to come up with such a plan on their own? Or, as the defense argued, were they instead following direct orders from their superiors, including, perhaps, then-Sheriff Lee Baca? And if they were following orders, did they believe that their only possible courses of action were to commit crimes or give up their careers?

Any of those possibilities, and a dozen more besides, underscore the central problem at the Sheriff’s Department: not deputies committing crimes, although that is one especially troubling manifestation of the problem, nor deputies beating inmates, although that’s one result of it, but rather that unaccountable management of a paramilitary organization embodied in an elected sheriff with no effective civilian oversight and few limits on his powers is an invitation to abuse.

[SNIP]

…any sheriff, no matter the degree of his or her integrity or ability, must operate within a structure that creates an incentive to act wisely. And legally. Criminal prosecution of officials should not be considered one of the basic checks or balances on power, but rather an indication that those safeguards have failed and need repair.

The six convicted sheriff’s personnel might not have brought their misgivings, if they had any, to an oversight commission, if one had existed, so it’s impossible to demonstrate that such a panel would have prevented the crimes. But they might have. And either way, its presence would have reminded the sheriff that he and his command staff would be held accountable, in a public forum, for their actions.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, solitary | 5 Comments »

Impact of Criminal Justice System on Latinos….New Anti-Sex Trafficking Foster Program….Juvie Mandatory Minimum Bill Amended….and McDonnell and Tanaka Will Face Off in November

June 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LATINOS DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND CRIME

Latinos are heavily over-represented in the criminal justice system and as victims of crime, according to a new report from Californians for Safety and Justice and director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC, Roberto Suro. (The report compiles existing data and research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and elsewhere.)

The report found that Latinos are murdered at a rate more than twice that of whites in California, and are significantly more likely to be killed by a stranger. Latinos are 44% more likely to be locked up than whites for the same crimes. And Latinos awaiting trial in California also have a higher chance of being denied bail than whites, and average bail amounts are about $25,000 higher than both whites and African Americans. Latinos are also given mandatory minimum sentences more than any other race.

Here are some of the other statistics:

Latinos are more likely to be shot and burglarized than whites.

Hate crimes against Latinos rise as immigration increases.

California Latinos experienced more repeat crimes than survivors overall.

Half of Latino survivors are unaware of recovery services.

And here are some of the notable recommendations from the report:

• Arrest rates vs. convictions: California provides data on arrest rates by type of crime and racial or ethnic group, but data are lacking on conviction rates by types of crime and different populations. There is a need for comparative data on the first time someone is arrested or convicted.

• Community reintegration: Although research exists on how effectively Latino youth reintegrate into the community, there is a lack of documentation on how well Latino adults are reentering society.

• Racial Impact Assessments: Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon have laws requiring racial impact
statements before changing or adding criminal laws, as a way to guard against unintended consequences for people of a certain race or ethnicity. A racial impact statement is a nonpartisan analysis that examines the impact
of justice policy changes on racial and ethnic populations. For example, when new legislation is proposed in California, such an analysis could be conducted by an existing state agency (e.g., the State Interagency Team Workgroup to Eliminate Disparities & Disproportionality) and reported back to legislative committees on the potential adverse effects of the proposed bill.

• Racial profiling: Some law enforcement agencies have strong definitions of what constitutes racial profiling— and training on how to avoid the practice. Such standards should be in place in jurisdictions across the state and nation. Additional best practices in policing Latino communities across the country include Spanish-speaking liaisons (if officers do not speak Spanish), specific education and training of officers, Spanish hotlines and increased officer participation in community events.

• Risk assessments: When someone is arrested, determining their individual risk as they await trial (to reoffend, to show up to court, etc.) is key to managing jail space and minimizing undue disruption to families. Consistent use of proven risk-assessment tools can help local jurisdictions effectively manage their jail populations while also preventing unnecessary or biased decisions from disproportionately affecting Latinos

(The report also notes that while it focuses on Latinos’ contact with the justice system, African Americans do face greater disparities overall.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the report and its significance. Here are some clips:

Lead researcher Roberto Suro, director of USC’s Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, compiled public data available on Latinos’ interactions with the criminal justice system.

The data, he said, shows that “for Latinos, the criminal justice system has this process of cumulative disadvantage, where the disadvantages start at even the first encounters with the system.”

[SNIP]

But, until recently at least, criminal justice reform hasn’t prominently featured in Latino electoral politics, Suro said.

“In Southern California now, you have Latinos in positions of power or in positions of advocacy in a way that wasn’t the case twenty or thirty years ago when big decisions were made about a strategy of mass incarceration,” Suro said.


NEW TRAINING PROGRAM TO HELP LA COUNTY FOSTER PARENTS FIGHT CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a training program to teach foster parents and group home workers how to identify kids who may be victims of sex-trafficking and how to intervene on their behalf.

Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe recommended the program, and have both been working to put a focus on child sex-trafficking in LA County.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

The supervisors voted Tuesday to ask county staff to work with local colleges and universities to develop a training program that will become mandatory for foster care providers.

“The county should move as quickly as possible to help safeguard the county’s most vulnerable population from being sexually exploited,” Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe wrote in a memo to their colleagues.

County officials said state funds may be available to carry out the training. Staff will report back in 60 days on the costs to implement the training countywide.

AND A REMINDER OF HOW MANY KIDS ARE TRAFFICKED…

Time Magazine’s Nolan Feeny has the story on the FBI’s weeklong, nationwide child sex-trafficking bust that resulted in the rescue of 168 exploited children and the arrest of 281 pimps.


UPDATE ON BILL THAT WOULD INTRODUCE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES TO CALIFORNIA JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last week, California bill that would impose the first mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would have required two-year minimum out-of-home sentence on kids convicted of sexually assaulting someone who is unconscious or disabled.

On Tuesday, the committee passed the bill after the two-year mandatory minimum sentence portion was removed. Now, kids convicted of assaulting someone who is incapacitated will receive mandatory treatment and counseling. The bill still takes away the anonymity of kids charged with this crime, and includes a sentence enhancement of one year for kids who share texts or pictures of the crime.

SF Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has the story. Here’s a clip:

The bill was amended to take out language that would have required a two-year minimum sentence at juvenile hall or another out-of-home detention facility for teens convicted of sexual assault against a victim who is incapacitated. The bill now would require mandatory rehabilitative treatment and counseling, which could be accomplished while living at home.

SB838 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, maintained provisions that would open juvenile court to the public in cases where teens are prosecuted under Audrie’s Law and creates a one-year sentence enhancement for those convicted of sexual assaults who share pictures or texts of the crime to harass or humiliate the victim.

[SNIP]

Last week, the Assembly’s public safety committee delayed a vote on the bill after it was evident lawmakers would not support the mandatory minimum sentence provision.

Opponents of the bill argued mandatory minimum sentences create a “one-size fits all” model that emulates broken adult court sentencing laws. Mandatory minimum sentences have never been introduced in the state’s juvenile court system and many states and the federal government have begun to roll back the use of mandatory minimums in the adult court system.

Beall said he would have preferred to keep the mandatory minimum requirements, but he faced a deadline this week to pass the bill. The bill had previously passed the Senate unanimously.


NOVEMBER GENERAL ELECTION RUNOFF IN STORE FOR JIM MCDONNELL AND PAUL TANAKA IN BID FOR SHERIFF

The mail-in ballots have been counted, and appear to confirm a November runoff between between Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the office LA County Sheriff. The Board of Supervisors will make the results official on July 1.

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

McDonnell — the overwhelming victor in the June 3 primary election — finished just 0.65 percent short of the 50 percent plus 1 mark needed to skip the Nov. 3 election and be sworn in as head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka claimed 15.09 percent of votes to beat out third-place finisher Bob Olmsted and stay in the hunt. The department’s former second-in-command built the race’s largest campaign coffer, collecting more than $900,000 in contributions. McDonnell raised more than $760,000.

With thousands of ballots uncounted on election night, the ultimate outcome was not certain until the final count was released Wednesday.



Graphs: Traci Sclesinger, “Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Pretrial Criminal Processing,” Justice Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

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