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Cops, Group Homes & Criminalized Kids — by Brian Rinker

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

COPS, GROUP HOMES & CRIMINALIZED KIDS

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

by Brian Rinker


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valley Oak Residential did not respond to requests for comment.

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


HOPING FOR NORMAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BUT IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO THE LAW?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


OFFICERS & RUNNERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Photos by Max Whittaker of Prime Collective

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

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

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBS News has more on the NAACP requests.


A LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF DRUGGED FOSTER KIDS

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

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


IMPROVING FOSTER KIDS’ HIGHER EDUCATION OUTCOMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY RESUSCITATE DCFS REFORM PUSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE NYPD PROTEST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.


THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ VISITS HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

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

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

Here’s a clip from Rudy’s story:

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

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

And what did you see, I asked him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TODAY: LA GETS A NEW SHERIFF

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some clips from the report:

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advocates say Native American youths have essentially been forgotten.

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


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

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

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

Here are some clips from the interview:

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

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

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

[SNIP]

Q: What’s the California 12?

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

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

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

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

Read on.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

October 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Antonio’s Mental Health Diversion, Judge Michael Nash Seeks Child Welfare Czar Position, DEA Steals Woman’s Identity, and Combatting Child Sex Trafficking in LA

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SAN ANTONIO SETS EXAMPLE OF HOW TO TURN AROUND OVER-INCARCERATION OF MENTALLY ILL

LA County is facing a federal consent decree over jail conditions and treatment of the mentally ill, and at the state level, a US District Judge ordered California to improve policies regarding the handling of mentally ill inmates languishing in solitary confinement.

And the problem isn’t just here, it’s happening across the country (save for a few special cases): more than half of everyone behind bars in the US has mental health problems.

One of those exceptions is San Antonio, Texas, where 95% of officers have completed specialized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses help train officers on how to treat them. Officers take mentally ill people in crisis to treatment centers instead of jail. The program has saved the city a whopping $50 million.

ACLU Center for Justice Senior Counsel Kara Dansky has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Approximately 95 percent of police officers in San Antonio have gone through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program that teaches them how to spot the symptoms of mental illness and how to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental health crisis.

People with mental illnesses, including Michelle, work with the police officers to teach them how they should be treated. Michelle helps to train them. Even though it’s not the ideal solution, some people call the police when having a mental health crisis. Instead of putting people in handcuffs and taking them to jail, officers in San Antonio take them to a center staffed with mental health professionals.

In the new short film series, “OverCriminalized,” we interviewed several members of the San Antonio police force. They report that they are much more confident and comfortable dealing with mental health crises after going through the training. Most importantly, since the implementation, none of the CIT teams have used extreme force.

But it’s not just about how to police; it’s about the entire goal of these interactions. People struggling with mental illness are no longer taken to a jail cell by way of lengthy and expensive stops in the ER. This program has saved the city about $50 million dollars.

It’s good to celebrate what’s happened in San Antonio. But we need to step back and ask how the city got into this problem in the first place. The answer is that for decades, this county has been shoving social problems like mental illness and drug addiction into a criminal justice system ill equipped to solve them. This mass criminalization has led to way too many people behind bars, often for too long and for reasons that have no business being crimes in the first place. Communities of color have been hardest hit.


HEAD OF JUVENILE COURT JUDGE MICHAEL NASH WANTS TO BE APPOINTED LA’S NEW CHILD WELFARE CZAR

LA County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash says he wants to be LA’s new Child Welfare Czar. (We at WLA think this is a fantastic idea.)

During his time as head of the juvenile court system, Nash has worked to bring public accountability to the children’s court system and the Department of Children and Family Services.

It is yet unclear when the new czar will be named, but LA County’s transition team is working to give the new leader a head start when they are finally appointed.

Daniel Heimpel broke the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Nash told The Chronicle of Social Change that he had indeed thrown his hat in the ring, telling recruiters that he wanted the job.

He said that moving from the courts to a highly politicized office was like, “going from the frying pan into the fire.” But years of experience weighing the complexities of child maltreatment and foster care made it almost impossible for him to resist. “Sadly that’s the way it is,” he added with a chuckle.

Dilys Garcia, who heads Los Angeles County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and works out of Nash’s courthouse, was both sad to see Nash leave the court, and hopeful about his prospects for leading the new office.

“He has been an inspiration to people in the child welfare field,” Garcia said. “Even at the darkest moment he finds a beacon of light to point to. His leaving is going to be a big loss, but I think it would be terrific if he ended up in this new role as child protection czar.”


AN IDENTITY STOLEN “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” …AND THE DEHUMANIZATION OF DRUG OFFENDERS

Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby has an alarming story about a woman whose identity was stolen by the DEA in an attempt to communicate with other drug crime suspects with whom she was associated. A DEA agent used photos found on Sondra Arquiett’s cell phone, including a photo of her wearing only a bra and underwear, and another one with her young son and niece, to create a fake Facebook page while Arquiett was locked up awaiting trial.

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cellphone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.

The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page . . .

The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen.

Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this story points to the dehumanization of drug offenders (by law enforcement and politicians) that has been occurring for decades now.

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

The DOJ filing was in response to Arquiett’s lawsuit. Consider what the federal government is arguing here. It’s arguing that if you’re arrested for a drug crime, including a crime unserious enough to merit a sentence of probation, the government retains the power to (a) steal your identity, (b) use that identity for drug policing, thus making your name and face known to potentially dangerous criminals, (c) interact with those criminals while posing as you, which could subject you to reprisals from those criminals, (d) expose photos of your family, including children, to those criminals, and (e) do all of this without your consent, and with no regard for your safety or public reputation.

The mindset that would allow government officials to not only engage in this sort of behavior, but to then fight in court to preserve their power to continue it is the same mindset that, for example, allows drug cops to compel juveniles and young women to become drug informants, with little regard for their safety — and to then make no apologies when those informants are murdered.


COMMISSIONER CATHERINE PRATT’S EFFORTS TO HELP YOUNG GIRLS CAUGHT UP IN SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has an interesting story about Compton Juvenile Court Commissioner Catherine Pratt and the work she began three years ago to help teen girls involved in prostitution. Until recently, Los Angeles has treated these young girls as criminals, and locked them up, but Pratt and the Los Angeles County Supervisors are working to change that mindset, and instead treat young girls sold for sex as what they are—victims of child sex trafficking.

Pratt devotes Tuesdays to sex trafficking cases, and connects teens with education resources, mentor programs, and legal help. Pratt does her best to divert the girls in her court from juvenile detention and into foster care (the only alternative for these trafficked kids), but sometimes difficulties arise: girls run away from group homes, and return to the streets.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

The humble, affirming approach of Pratt’s Compton courtroom began as an experiment three years ago, when she applied for grant money to provide professional help for the young prostitutes and she set aside Tuesdays to focus exclusively on sex trafficking cases.

Advocates from at least three charities providing mentors, educational liaisons and lawyers sit in the jury box of Pratt’s courtroom to connect with youths as soon as the need arises.

Los Angeles County supervisors launched a plan this year that adopts Pratt’s ethos, and social workers, police officers and others are being trained to take a softer approach to the children involved in prostitution. They are instructed to treat these young prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators.

[SNIP]

“I used to lecture them,” Pratt said. ” ‘You’re making bad choices. This is dangerous.’ I tried to explain to them how short the life span for people in prostitution is. And they were not at all interested. It really didn’t resonate with them at all.”

A personal relationship and trust have to be developed first, she said, and she measures her progress in the pictures, emails and poems that some of the youths send her.

Still, there is risk.

More than 60% of Los Angeles County’s children arrested for prostitution had previously come to the attention of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, and the foster care system’s group homes have become one of most frequent gateways to the sex trade because the children there have fewer family ties and pimps target them for recruitment.

But the foster care system is currently the county’s only alternative to juvenile detention facilities.

Posted in DCFS, DEA, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Gov. Brown Signs a Mountain of Bills, SFPD’s Problem of Lethal Use of Force Against Mentally Ill, Americans Ignoring Conditions in Prisons, and Paul Tanaka’s Campaign

October 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN SIGNS “GUN VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER” BILL AND MANY OTHER SIGNIFICANT BILLS

On Sunday and Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of important bills, including a piece of legislation that will give family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals from possessing firearms who are displaying certain warning signs that they may harm themselves or others.

Reuter’s Sharon Bernstein has more on the “Gun Violence Restraining Order” bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation – the first such measure in the United States - was introduced after police near Santa Barbara said they were unable to confiscate weapons from a man who later went on a rampage and killed six people, despite concern from his family he was in poor mental health and might become violent.

Under the so-called gun violence restraining order in the court system, immediate family members and law enforcement agencies could ask a judge to order guns temporarily removed from certain individuals.

The restraining order would last 21 days, and could be extended up to a year, after a notice and a hearing.

“The new ‘Gun Violence Restraining Order’ law will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to reduce the risk of mass shootings and gun violence both in the home and on our streets,” said Nick and Amanda Wilcox, legislative co-chairs of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gov. Brown also signed SB 1111, which will establish safeguards for kids involuntarily transferred (because of expulsion or probation referral) to community schools, making sure they are given schooling options that are “geographically accessible” to students. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has done excellent reporting on this particular issue.) The bill will also exempt homeless children and kids with certain probation referrals from having to transfer to a county community school.

Another newly signed bill, AB 2276, will ensure that kids exiting juvenile justice facilities are immediately enrolled in school. (We previously linked to this issue here.)

AB 2124, which will allow judges to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed, also made it past the governor’s desk this week.

Brown also approved a heap of bills to help and protect California’s foster children, including, SB 1252, which will extend housing for foster kids until they are 25 if they remain enrolled in school. (The rest of the list can be found here.)


MORE THAN HALF OF PEOPLE KILLED BY SFPD ARE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHAT THE DEPT. IS DOING TO ABOUT IT

Between 2005 and 2013 in San Francisco, 58% of people police officers had shot and killed had mental disabilities. While California does not mandate specialized training to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations with the mentally ill, most of the Bay Area police forces have implemented a program Called Crisis Intervention Training, which includes diverting the mentally ill from lock-up.

While the SFPD adopted CIT in 2011 after several years in which every person officers killed was mentally ill, it has been slow going. Only 18% of officers have received the specialized training (20-25% is ideal) more than three years into the program.

KQED’s Alex Emslie and Rachael Bale have the story. Here’s a clip:

The San Francisco Police Department adopted the Memphis Model of CIT in 2011, after three years in a row in which every person killed in a police shooting had a mental illness.

But it’s clear implementing the program hasn’t been fast or easy.

Three and a half years into the program, the department has trained about 18 percent of its patrol officers. Ideally, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of officers are trained, with the goal of at least one trained officer at each station for each shift.

Finding the right officers for the training hasn’t been easy, and that’s true anywhere, said Major Sam Cochran, who founded CIT while at the Memphis Police Department.

“There are some officers that are not ready to be CIT officers,” said Cochran, who is now at the University of Memphis. “They don’t have the experience. Some officers don’t have the maturity level.”

In some cities, like Berkeley, the program is so elite that officers must compete to get in. But as it launched in San Francisco, few officers volunteered, and station chiefs simply had to choose who got sent to training. Cochran says it’s the the role of a police chief to elevate the status of the team so officers want to be a part of it.

“That chief needs to make sure that those men and women understand that they have an identity and that they have a role,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s model calls for CIT to be an elite, and independent, team within the department, like SWAT or hostage negotiation. In an interview with KQED, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said he’d prefer it not to be separate.

“Police officers by nature find niches,” Suhr said. “I don’t want cops to find a niche and be expert on what they do and don’t do. I want them to do it all.”

That’s how SFPD Commander Richard Corriea once felt. He’s the third person to lead SFPD’s Crisis Intervention Team in three years.

“I’m a convert on the issue of team,” he said. “I think it inspires officers who are engaged in this. They have a special skill. It makes them feel part of something. And the outcome is better and better service.”

A team creates a feedback loop, said Angela Chan, a former police commissioner who spearheaded the program. The unit is supposed to learn from each response. It allows officers perfect their skills, share information with other CIT officers and establish strong relationships with mental health providers.

The SFPD is one of many forces struggling with this issue: the Department of Justice has said that Albuquerque, NM, police have a serious problem with excessive use of force, sometimes escalating confrontations until there is reason to use force against someone.

NPR’s Kelly McEvers has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some officers argue that in these situations, it’s black and white. There is no gray. If someone has a weapon and points it at police, police are going to shoot. And they don’t shoot to wound, police told NPR; they shoot to kill.

But the Justice Department says it is gray sometimes. In its report, the Justice Department said Albuquerque police sometimes use force when there is not an imminent threat to officers or others, and that they themselves sometimes escalate the situation until there is a reason to use force.

Sam Costales, a former Albuquerque cop for more than 20 years, says of course there is a gray area.

Back in 2001, Costales was chasing an armed robbery suspect who grabbed a piece of pipe from the back of his truck and came at him. Costales took out his gun.

“I could’ve shot him,” he says. “I had every right to shoot him. But I didn’t want to shoot him.”

Instead, he put his gun back in the holster, maced the guy and arrested him.

Back at the station, Costales put the suspect in an interview room and went to get him something to drink. A couple of detectives walked by.

“And they go, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m getting the guy a Coke.’ ‘You’re getting the guy a Coke? This guy that just came at you with a pipe? A guy that’s gonna kill you, you’re gonna buy him a Coke now?’ I said, ‘He didn’t kill me, and he’s thirsty,’ and I left it at that,” Costales says.

Costales says he tried to treat suspects with respect. But other cops yelled at people, beat people up, used their weapons against people and then covered it up, he says.

Riot police faced off with protesters Sunday, during a demonstration against recent police shootings in Albuquerque, N.M. The march lasted at least nine hours.

A lot of this bad behavior is the work of a good-old-boys network, where it’s all about who you’re related to, says Cassandra Morrison, another former Albuquerque cop of 20 years.

Doug Brinson sits on a stoop next to a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold by police officers while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. His death has been ruled a homicide.

It’s about “who you know, who you hang out with, who you smoke cigars with, who you go have a beer with,” she says.

If you’re in the club, she says, you don’t get punished when you act like a cowboy, break the rules and use excessive force. It’s a system that won’t change until some of those cowboys get punished, she says.


CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER SAYS AMERICANS PAY NO MIND TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL CONDITIONS IN PRISONS ACROSS THE US

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Martin Garbus, an attorney and author of several books on constitutional law, says Americans are disregarding reports of atrocious conditions prisoners across the nation are held in, particularly in solitary confinement. Garbus says that turning the other way is a matter of “bad public policy,” and that the prisoners enduring cruel and unusual punishment, health hazards, and sexual assault will eventually return to their communities. Here’s a clip:

As a litigator and constitutional lawyer, I have heard appalling stories from the nation’s prisons and jails. One prisoner described to me how he was handcuffed to the bottom of his bunk in his underwear day after day for months. Another described how his cell was located directly beneath broken toilet pipes, which meant the cell smelled horribly of urine and excrement. I’ve heard how cells are unbearably hot or cold and how four prisoners are confined to spaces intended for two, with only one set of bunk beds. I’ve heard about showers that produce only scalding or icy water and about how, when cell toilets overflow, staff are in no hurry to fix them or to clean up.

The health risks in prisons are also unacceptable. MRSA, a bacterial infection whose strains are often resistant to antibiotics, now runs through maximum security prisons. I contracted it myself after visiting such a prison in June and was hospitalized for three days. Sexual assaults and sexual activity are well known to occur in prisons, but prisoners rarely have access to protection, such as condoms, that can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there is solitary confinement. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Today, 44 states allow it, but many states do not report how many inmates are held in solitary. A 2005 report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimated the number at 81,622.

Reports from those who have been held in solitary make clear how inhumane the punishment is. Even the most optimistic lose hope. I have heard it described more than once as like being trapped in a coffin. Lights are sometimes kept on 24 hours a day. Prisoners often have no books or reading material. Visits from lawyers and family members, as well as phone calls, are severely restricted, leaving prisoners feeling totally isolated from everything and everyone.


PAUL TANAKA’S CAMPAIGN (OR LACK THEREOF) FOR SHERIFF

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a story about sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka and his campaign that isn’t a campaign, consisting of a handful of social media posts, a video, and a few appearances in Gardena, the city of which he is mayor. Here’s how it opens:

After squeaking into the runoff election for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka posted a message on his website.

He had been trounced by Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, but his hopes of leading the department where he spent 31 years were still alive.

“We need someone who is ready to lead on Day One,” he wrote June 5. “We have just begun this effort!”

Since then, the retired undersheriff has mostly disappeared from view, throwing the contest to lead one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies into a strange limbo.

He has ignored requests to debate McDonnell. He dismissed his campaign team after the primary and apparently has not brought on replacements. His public appearances have largely been limited to City Council meetings in Gardena, where he is mayor, and his testimony at the criminal trials of sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing an FBI investigation of jail abuse.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Paul Tanaka | No Comments »

“Drugging Our Kids” Part 2, Nuestra Familia, City Attorney’s Community Court Program, and Rick Orlov Interviews Paul Tanaka

September 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

D’ANTHONY’S JOURNEY THROUGH 29 DIFFERENT HOMES AND A PLETHORA OF ANTI-PSYCHOTICS

Last month, we linked to part one of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury about the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Part two of de Sá’s series takes us through the heartbreaking story of D’Anthony Dandy, a foster kid who was moved 29 times to various group homes, foster families, and shelters, and prescribed cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs from the age of 13 to improve his behavior. D’Anthony broke free from the psychotropic fog, graduated high school, and is now living in his own apartment and reconnecting with his family through the help of Tara Beckman, his court-appointed advocate.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the beautiful videos):

Whisked away from his drug-addicted mother, then rejected by his adoptive mom, D’Anthony Dandy spent his childhood wondering where he fit in. Often, the trauma made him depressed. Sometimes it made him defiant.

At school, he called his teacher “bald-head,” hurled pencils and got suspended twice in the ninth grade.

So California’s foster care system did what it often does with a complicated kid — it moved him.

Twenty-nine times.

And, in a futile attempt to control his behavior and dull his pain, it medicated him for years with a risky regimen of mind-altering drugs — lithium, Depakote, even an adult dose of the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal.

D’Anthony’s story, revealed through dozens of interviews over 10 months and an exhaustive review of his juvenile dependency court records, illustrates a disturbing pattern detailed in “Drugging Our Kids,” this newspaper’s yearlong investigation: When it comes to managing challenging childhoods, the nation’s largest child welfare system relies on expedient choices that often don’t work and resists tough ones that do.

It took an extraordinary adult who finally listened to help D’Anthony realize there might be a better path, but his frequent moves and a haze of medication made it difficult for him to settle down.

Until then, “nobody actually told me like, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ ” said D’Anthony, now 19. “ ‘What’s goin’ on in the inside? I know you can be a good kid.’ ”

[BIG SNIP]

At least 14 psychiatrists throughout Northern and Central California examined D’Anthony, diagnosing him variously with post-traumatic stress, reactive attachment, major depression, bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity. They prescribed an ever-changing “cocktail” of medications, including two antipsychotics at once, that experts called dangerous and ineffective after reviewing his case at this newspaper’s request. One even called it “disgusting.”

De Sá’s valuable reporting is already having a considerable legislative impact. In late August, lawmakers called for fast-tracked legislation to curb the rampant drugging of California’s foster kids, and the state medical board began investigating doctors at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request.

Now, de Sá reports that, beginning October 1, California doctors will have to obtain additional authorization by pharmacists to prescribe antipsychotics to kids under 17 who are on Medi-Cal, which includes foster kids. Here’s a clip:

Beginning Oct. 1, a state pharmacist must verify the “medical necessity” of each antipsychotic prescription before the medications can be given to children who are 17 and younger and covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for the poor that also includes foster children.

The tightened restrictions come three years after the federal government called on states to better monitor the use of psychotropic medications on foster children….

Doctors involved in statewide efforts to curb overmedication of foster youth called the new measure a good start — though they say it’s still up for debate whether it will have a widespread impact.


IMPORTANT NEW BOOK ON NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S NUESTRA FAMILIA GANG

For more than ten years, award-winning journalist Julia Reynolds followed Nuestra Familia, the powerful northern California gang that was born a half century ago in San Quentin State Prison, then spilled its violence outside the prison walls into the farm towns of Monterey County and beyond. The result of Reynolds’ unprecedented access to gang members and their families is an excellent and deeply-sourced new book, Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang, in which she follows the lives of individual members of Nuestra Familia, and of the local law enforcement who try to combat their influence. Reynolds looks at the decade-long Operation Black Widow, the FBI’s controversial and largely unsuccessful attempt to take down Nuestra Familia, and at the split structure of the gang’s leadership, which now calls shots from inside Pelican Bay State Prison, and from the supermax federal prison in Florence, CO, causing new friction and attendant violence within the gang.

KPCC’s Take Two has more on Reynolds and her new book. Here’s a clip:

“A lot of young kids were dying,” she recalled. In the farm cities along California’s northern coast, shootings and revenge hits were tearing communities apart.

“I finally decided that as a journalist and living in the area, it was my responsibility to face this issue and see what was going on,” said Reynolds.

So she embarked on a journey that took her inside the lives of the gang’s top leaders, operating from Pelican Bay State Prison, to its foot soldiers and recruits on the streets of Salinas, recording both the mundane and the chilling details of Nuestra Familia. She also explores the law enforcement agents and their battle against the gang.


PILOT PROGRAM TO GIVE LOW-LEVEL OFFENDERS SECOND CHANCE TO SERVE COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF FACING JAIL

As part of the City Attorney Office’s Community Justice Initiative, the Neighborhood Justice Program will form community courts in South LA, the Valley, and the Harbor area. The program will give low-level offenders—those who have committed quality of life crimes—a chance to repay their communities instead of going to jail. (We previously linked to the city attorney’s Neighborhood School Safety Program, which is part of the same initiative.)

Park Labrea News’ Aaron Blevins has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“This is likely to be, if it continues to grow as we anticipate, the largest effort of its kind in the nation,” Feuer said during a meeting with reporters at his office.

The model calls for violators of quality of life offenses to go before a panel of trained community members, who would determine a fitting way for the individual to make it up to the neighborhood.

For example, if an individual is arrested for graffiti, accepts responsibility and his or her case is handled by a community court, he or she could be tasked with repainting the wall that was vandalized. In return, the court would provide the individual with services and the city attorney’s office will not file charges.

Feuer said that is in contrast to the traditional system, in which an individual is arrested, it takes “awhile” for the system to process the charge and, in the end, the neighborhood may or may not notice the intervention of the justice system. With jails being overcrowded, there is very little consequence as a result, he said.

[SNIP]

Feuer said his office opted to partner with neighborhood-oriented locations that are the “centers of community life.” The goal is to host one panel per week at each location, he said.

The city attorney said the approach has been used in San Francisco, though they are not exactly alike. He said the community court there handles approximately 600 cases per year, and he expects the L.A. version to exceed that figure. The office hopes to handle four cases per session, and court will be in session in the early evening to ensure access.


PAUL TANAKA TALKS WITH RICK ORLOV ABOUT HIS CAMPAIGN FOR SHERIFF

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov interviewed former LA undersheriff Paul Tanaka about his campaign for sheriff, which save for a tweet or two and one video, has appeared to be largely nonexistent. Tanaka also discusses his time as undersheriff and as current mayor of Gardena. Here are some clips:

…[Tanaka] insisted in a telephone interview, he remains in the race and is planning an active effort in the final weeks leading up to the election.

“I am absolutely campaigning,” Tanaka insisted in a telephone interview this past week. “I do have a campaign. It is a different type of campaign. Sometimes you need a change in the team makeup. I felt we needed to make some adjustments, and that’s what we have done.”

The changes are stark.

No campaign manager or aides. No active Web page, relying instead on Facebook. No plans for advertising. There are no debates for the runoff, unlike the series of confrontations held in the primary.

[SNIP]

In talking with Tanaka, however, it appears he is still shell shocked over the way the election turned out. He barely managed a second-place finish to McDonnell to force a runoff election. With 49.4 percent of the vote, McDonnell fell just short of avoiding the runoff. Tanaka came in a distant second with 15.1 percent.

“Look, there were six people running against me and they decided to all attack me as if I was the sheriff,” Tanaka said. “I actually had very little to do with all the areas of controversy in the jails. That was outside my area. When I was in charge of the jails, we didn’t have the same problems.”

[SNIP]

Tanaka said he has consoled himself over how he was attacked and with the fact that he was able to make the runoff.

“The fact we are still in this has given a lot of people hope, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people were energized by the fact we have made it as far as we did. It is what keeps me going.”

But Raphael Sonenshein, executive director at the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., said it appears to the public as if the Tanaka campaign has evaporated.

“You see this in other elections where an incumbent faces a light challenge, but in this one, he had a lot of money and an identified base of support that he was counting on,” Sonenshein said. “When he did so badly in the primary, I think the rationale for his candidacy collapsed. After that, he had to keep a low profile.”

After the primary, Tanaka closed down his main campaign office in Torrance and didn’t even inform his staff members.

Tanaka said he simply moved the operation to El Monte and has continued to speak to groups that invite him. His most recent campaign reports show him with a deficit of $18,000.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Foster Care, Gangs, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 7 Comments »

New Program to Help Kids Get to School Safely, Bill to Defer Sentencing on Certain Misdemeanors, No Nationwide Data on Police Shootings, and Celebrating Successful Family Reunifications

September 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CITY ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO REDUCE TRUANCY BY HELPING KIDS GET TO SCHOOL SAFELY

Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced an extensive new LAUSD pilot program to combat truancy by ensuring kids have “safe passage” to school.

Often, kids in high-violence neighborhoods don’t feel safe getting to school, so they just don’t go. The Neighborhood School Safety Program (NSSP), launching at four middle schools across the district, will create a “neighborhood school safety attorney” for each school. These attorneys will collaborate with parents and LAUSD administrators to keep kids safe by reducing gun violence and negative environmental factors. A number of parents from each school will also be trained to keep students safe on their walks to and from school.

The San Fernando Valley Post-Periodical’s Matt Thacker has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

A designated “neighborhood school safety attorney” will work with parents and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators to develop plans for improving safety for children who walk to school, reducing truancy, preventing gun violence and reducing environmental threats near schools.

One component of the program includes “safe passage to schools” – a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office, Casa Esperanza and school administrators. Feuer said they are recruiting and training 15 Vista parents to make sure children make it to and from school safely.

A number of other programs have been implemented, including the City Attorney’s Truancy Prevention Program which combats truancy through educational letters, parent and community meetings and enforcement hearings.

“Kids need to know they can be safe in school so they will go to school,” Feuer said. “School truancy issues are very important to all of us. We need our kids to stay in school.”

The neighborhood school safety attorney also organizes a “parent safety cadre” which educates parents how to address safety issues near schools. Following a recent meeting on tobacco enforcement, a parent contacted a local store which was selling e-cigarettes to minors, and the store’s owners agreed to stop the illegal practice immediately, according to Feuer.

A gun violence prevention coordinator will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to check that people who live near the schools and are not allowed to own or possess guns do not have firearms or ammunition. A multi-agency task force called “Los Angeles Strategy Against Violent Environments near Schools” began conducting compliance checks on parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders who reside near schools. On Aug. 12, nine felony arrests were made in an operation near Vista, while five children were removed from unsafe environments.


BILL WOULD ALLOW JUDGES TO GIVE SECOND CHANCES ON FIRST-TIME MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES

A new pilot program awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2124, would give judges the ability to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed. The defendant would have a year to complete restitution, participate in any required programs, and fulfill any other conditions. If the defendant meets all requirements, they will walk away free of a criminal conviction.

An LA Times editorial urges the governor to sign this smart piece of legislation. Here’s a clip:

Many people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced directly to probation, especially in counties such as Los Angeles, where jails are crowded and cells are generally held for the most serious criminals. For the offenders, that means they don’t have to lose their jobs or school placements while they sit in jail. But they still end up with criminal records that could hinder their full reintegration into society as law-abiding members.

Some states have recognized that they can do even better by putting probation on the front end. The defendant pleads guilty and complies with various conditions, including monetary restitution, and the judge can opt not to enter the plea or the conviction. At the end of the year, presuming the offender has made amends, he or she is on a better track and winds up with no criminal conviction. If the conditions aren’t met, the conviction is entered and the offender is sentenced.

Hawaii has had a great deal of success with a version of the program. Virginia has its own twist, with some good results.

So how about California? Lawmakers here have slowly — very slowly — come to realize that we convict and lock up too many people for less serious crimes and in so doing put people on a path that limits their chances to move on with a crime-free life.


WHERE’S THE NATIONAL DATA ON OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING NUMBERS?

The federal government does not have keep a comprehensive record of the number of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings by law enforcement officers. Instead, the Department of Justice lets police agencies “self-report” officer-involved shootings. Advocates say the uncollected data keeps law enforcement agencies from creating better policies and practices to lower the number of avoidable deaths.

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Police unions and some law-and-order conservatives insist that shootings by officers are rare and even more rarely unjustified. Civil rights groups and some on the left have just as quickly prescribed racial motives to the shootings, declaring that black and brown men are being “executed” by officers.

And, like all previous incarnations of the clash over police force, the debate remains absent access to a crucial, fundamental fact.

Criminal justice experts note that, while the federal government and national research groups keep scads of data and statistics— on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upwards of 64,000,000 according to 2010 numbers) — there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.

The government does, however, keep a database of how many officers are killed in the line of duty. In 2012, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, it was 48 – 44 of them killed with firearms.

But how many people in the United States were shot, or killed, by law enforcement officers during that year? No one knows.

Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.

That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.

[SNIP]

Law enforcement watchdog groups and think tanks say that the lack of comprehensive data on police shootings hampers the ability of departments to develop best practices and cut down on unnecessary shootings.


DCFS HONORS PARENTS WHO TURNED THEIR LIVES AROUND TO GET THEIR KIDS BACK

The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services has faced intense scrutiny since the horrific and preventable death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. But the department does have triumphs, including many successful and safe family reunifications.

On Tuesday, DCFS held its fifth annual Family Reunification Heroes ceremony to celebrate reunited families and honor the parents who turned their lives around to win their children back.

LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

On a clear night four years ago, Angel Ramirez got ready to sleep in a parking lot again. Homeless, strung out from years of heroin use, he thought this — after years of hitting bottom — was, in fact, rock-bottom.

He was alone. Broke and broken. His sister didn’t talk to him anymore, his children hardly knew him sober, and the weight of shame he carried on that patch of hard asphalt in East Los Angeles seemed to prove it was the lowest point in his life.

Ramirez said he just looked up into the dark sky and cried out.

The memory was fresh Tuesday when he recalled the gang ties, the jail time and the hopelessness. He stood up — sober since 2010 — and thanked Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials who helped him start to get his life back.

And his children back.

Ramirez, 49, of Los Angeles, joined three other parents honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting as DCFS officials marked the fifth annual celebration called Family Reunification Heroes. Each parent, who had been chosen from a board member’s district, received a scroll and a picture with a board member.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LAUSD, Sentencing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

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