LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and MoreFebruary 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES
The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:
“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”
E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.
This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.
“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.
E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:
“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”
But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.
By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)
CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK
In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.
Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:
…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.
DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…
Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.
Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.
It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.
SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY
On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.
In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:
Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.
The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…
Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…
But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.
QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE
The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:
“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”
He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.
Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.
He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.
“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”
(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)