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LA Supes Set $41M Toward Mental Health Diversion, Prison Banker Cuts Controversial Fees, LBPD’s New Chief…and More

November 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY’S MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PUSH LEADS SUPERVISORS TO ALLOCATE $41M FOR TREATMENT, OTHER SERVICES

On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report to the Board of Supervisors detailing how the county is failing the mentally ill by funneling them into the criminal justice system.

Thanks, in part, to Lacey’s urging, the Supervisors voted Wednesday to devote $41 million in state funding to opening up more 24-hour psychiatric emergency rooms, expanding the county’s mobile crisis response teams by 14 units, and increasing residential treatment programs’ capacity by approximately 560 beds.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here’s a clip:

The money will be used in part to expand mobile crisis support teams that work in tandem with police officers and sheriff’s deputies to identify mentally ill offenders.

A consultant hired by Lacey concluded that not enough law enforcement officers have been trained on how to deal with people undergoing a mental health crisis, and recommended more resources.

Health officials also plan to open three new 24-hour urgent care centers and expand residential treatment programs for the mentally ill by about 560 beds.

Civil rights activists — who protested outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration prior to speaking before the board — have been pushing the county to fund community-based programs in lieu of increasing the number of jail cells.

Lacey acknowledged that the county will need to do both, noting the state of deterioration of the Men’s Central Jail.

“It’s unfit even if you’re not mentally ill,” she said.

Effective community-based crisis treatment can cut costs associated with inpatient or emergency room care and jail time, officials said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky highlighted the expense involved.

“The cost of checking somebody in (to the jail) is probably greater than the cost of checking into a Four Seasons hotel,” Yaroslavsky said.

An LA Times editorial says having DA Lacey spearheading the mental health diversion endeavor has made all the difference. Here are some clips:

In the ideal world, police responding to a disturbing-the-peace or petty crime call arrive at the scene with the training to discern whether the subject’s behavior is due at least in part to a mental health problem. They defuse the situation and turn the subject over to the just-arrived psychiatric evaluation team, or else they take the subject to a crisis center where the intake process is efficient, allowing the officers to go back on patrol while the subject is stabilized, diagnosed and monitored by mental health professionals. Or, if the alleged crime is dangerous and the alleged criminal poses a risk to public safety, he or she is taken to jail.

The family is quickly contacted, and if jail is not the right track, trained experts identify available funding and choose the most appropriate clinic bed from an ample supply across the county. Services continue after the subject is stabilized. County workers and contractors find housing, if it is needed, connect the person with medical care and help him or her find work.

[SNIP]

In the real world, jail remains the easiest and sometimes the only option for police arresting mentally ill people…

But the gap between the real and the ideal worlds is slowly shrinking…

Lacey’s efforts have given renewed vigor to mental health and law enforcement professionals who got into their lines of work to help people but for too long have been beaten down by the sheer scope of Los Angeles County’s mental health needs.

Read the rest.


PRISON BANKING COMPANY DROPS FEES FOR MONEY ORDERS TO INMATES

Private financial institution, JPay, has stopped charging families fees to send money orders to inmates in Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma, benefiting around 100,000 families with incarcerated loved ones. After the change, Kansas is the last state in which families are charged a money order fee. (There are, of course, still tons of fees charged by JPay and other companies, but this is a step in the right direction.)

The Center for Public Integrity’s Daniel Wagner has the story. (For more backstory, read some of Daniel Wagner’s earlier reporting on this issue.) Here’s a clip:

The move comes after a Center for Public Integrity report showed that the families of hundreds of thousands of U.S. inmates had no way to send money to their incarcerated loved ones without incurring high fees. Several of the prison systems that had no free option for money transfers contracted with JPay for their inmates’ financial services.

JPay is one of the largest prison bankers, companies that provide financial services to inmates and their families, sometimes charging high fees and sharing their profits with the agencies that contract with them. The company handled nearly 7 million transactions last year and expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year.

JPay and other prison bankers have become central players in a multi-billion dollar economy that shifts the costs of incarceration onto families of prison inmates, according to the Center’s report. Families must send money to help pay for necessities like toilet paper and winter clothes that used to be provided by the government. JPay says it handles money transfers for 1.7 million offenders, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

JPay did not respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment about the decision to eliminate some fees. The company’s founder and CEO Ryan Shapiro earlier said The Center’s questions about money order deposit fees forced him to consider the impact of policies that affect the company’s poorest customers. He said he would seek to convince states to provide families with a free deposit option.

The change was confirmed by John Witherow, director of Nevada CURE, an inmates’-rights group. Witherow said he received an email announcing the change from JPay’s public relations manager sometime in the past two weeks. A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Corrections also confirmed the change. Spokesmen for the Ohio and Oklahoma departments did not respond to requests for comment.


DEPUTY CHIEF ROBERT LUNA TO BECOME LONG BEACH’S FIRST LATINO POLICE CHIEF

On Tuesday, Long Beach officials appointed Deputy Chief Robert Luna the city’s new police chief. Luna, who will replace outgoing chief, Los Angeles Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell, is the first Latino to serve as an LBPD chief.

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

Luna, 48, has been with the police department for 29 years. He commanded the patrol bureau and was second-in-command to McDonnell. He will be the city’s 26th police chief and the first Latino to serve in that role.

Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West announced the selection of Luna on Tuesday at police headquarters.

“I truly have a passion for this profession, this city and I absolutely love this police department,” Luna said after the announcement.

Luna said he plans to meet with the community to learn where the police department needs to improve. Last year, the department had a spike in officer-involved shootings compared to 2012. The deaths of several unarmed civilians have cost the city millions in legal settlements.


THE MAJORITY OF STATES SUCCESSFULLY CUT INCARCERATION RATES AND CRIME RATES

A Pew Charitable Trusts infographic released this week takes a look at the FBI’s newly released crime data against the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ incarceration data, and shows that in the 33 states where imprisonment numbers decreased, the crime rate was lowered an average of 13%. In the 17 states with increases in incarceration, crime rates still fell an average of 11%.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Police | No Comments »

New Report: DA Lacey’s Push to Divert Mentally Ill from Jails, LA Child Welfare Check-up, Post-Prop 47 Recommendations, and Gratitude to All Our Veterans

November 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY TO PRESENT REPORT ON HOW LA COUNTY JUSTICE SYSTEM COULD BETTER SERVE THE MENTALLY ILL

On Wednesday, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey will present to the Board of Supervisors a report on how the county’s criminal justice system is failing the mentally ill.

The report includes recommendations for each point of contact at which a mentally ill person might be diverted from the justice system and into a treatment setting. These points of contact are law enforcement and emergency services, a person’s first detention and court hearings, jails and courts, and community corrections and community support.

According to Lacey’s report (prepared by Policy Research Associates, Inc.), a higher percentage of law enforcement officers need to be trained to have better interactions with people suffering from mental illness. There is also a shortage of funding for county Psychiatric Mobile Response Teams.

The report points out that police officers can either wait 3-5 hours to drop someone in crisis off at a psychiatric emergency center, or they can book them on a minor charge and get back to work. Drop off centers for law enforcement must be established to make early diversion possible, according to the report.

It should be noted that the report also recommends law enforcement crisis response for veterans.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on Lacey’s report and what it means. Here’s a clip:

The report describes a system in need of significant changes: In the jails, mentally ill people are receiving inadequate care. At the courthouse, prosecutors, judges and social workers often “lack alignment” when deciding whether its safe to divert someone from criminal prosecution into treatment.

Once someone is released from jail, there’s often no place to go for help. The Department of Mental Health “needs more resources to keep pace with the high volume of referrals and short time frames with which to link individuals to needed services.”

The report identifies five points at which the criminal justice system can divert a mentally ill person into treatment – starting with the moment of police contact. It recommends the Board of Supervisors fund more training for police officers and expand diversion programs. It also recommends creation of a resource center for “criminal justice/mental health technical assistance,” so the justice system can collect and share data on mentally ill offenders.

[SNIP]

“We think the report exposes tremendous suffering for mentally ill people,” said Marc-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now. The report also is further evidence the county should abandon plans to spend $2 billion to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail, he added.

“We think the Board of Supervisors should stop the $2 billion jail plan and move forward with a mental health diversion program that is comprehensive.”

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported that in his acceptance speech, Sheriff Jim McDonnell pledged to work with Jackie Lacey on mental health diversion.


SECOND LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM CHECK-UP SAYS: PROGRESS!

Fostering Media Connections has released a 24-page “check-up” report on how LA County is fairing as it works to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. This check-up is the second in a series of quarterly progress reports after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with 42 recommendations.

The report says, among other recent improvements, $1.23 million has been allocated for boosting Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS), an inter-agency database for reporting child-abuse, and DCFS has completed a new risk-assessment model to target and prevent critical child abuse threats.

Fostering Media Connections founder Daniel Heimpel has more on the report over at the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

The BRC is not the first commission or task force created out of tragedy to improve child protection. But, having watched L.A.’s child protection reform process progress, I am hopeful that what is happening across sprawling Los Angeles County will somehow be different. Further, there is the unique possibility that if this process yields real gains, it will serve to enlighten other jurisdictions currently reeling under the pressure of seemingly preventable child deaths.

Today, we at Fostering Media Connections released our second quarterly “Checkup” on the developmental health of Los Angeles County’s child protection reform effort. In the 100-odd days since we last took such a comprehensive look at the reform process there have been some notable gains:

The Board of Supervisors approved $1.23 million to beef up law enforcement’s response to child abuse.

DCFS finished designing a risk-modeling tool to help prevent critical incidents of child abuse and death.

The department took the first step towards accessing a new pot of state funds to increase foster care payments to family members who take in their kin.

The BRC’s “transition team” charged with maintaining the reform effort made headway towards naming a child protection czar to oversee a new Office of Child Protection designed to integrate services to better protect the county’s children.

Such gains are important, not just for Los Angeles, but across the country.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LAWMAKERS, POLICE, AND PROSECUTORS POST-PROP 47 PASSAGE

Within mere days following the Nov. 4 passage of California’s Proposition 47, low-level offenders are already being resentenced, and released.

An LA Times editorial says the voters made it undeniably clear how the public feels about the war on drugs and tough-on-crime laws and policies of the previous decade, but that it would have been preferable for the legislature to have adopted 47′s changes.

The editorial says lawmakers entering the state capitol (as well as law enforcement and prosecutors) should take heed of voters’ wishes and begin working on a better justice system. Here’s a clip:

Lawmakers could begin by designing and establishing a sentencing commission. Such a step could at long last provide a buffer between the emotional urgency of high-profile crimes and the knee-jerk legislative response of ever-longer sentences. A commission that carefully weighs sentences against evidence of their effectiveness in reducing crime and recidivism could help stop the state from swinging back and forth, every 30 years or so, between punishment that is too tough and costly and punishment that is too lenient and dangerous.

Sacramento should also reject additional prison spending. Californians want and deserve to be protected from crime, but prisons that are too packed to offer the services that encourage inmates to recognize their mistakes or give them opportunities to change, and laws that make it harder rather than easier for former offenders to reenter society safely and productively, are not the answer. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown should focus on rehabilitation, reentry programs and alternatives to incarceration now — even before the additional funding from Proposition 47 for such programs kicks in a year from now.

Police and prosecutors, many of whom opposed the ballot measure, have it within their power to undermine it even after its overwhelming passage. Prosecutors could choose to reject the spirit of the measure and “charge up” — for example, to seek felony charges for possession for sale of a controlled substance in a case they might have charged last month as simple possession.

They could — but they should not. Their challenge is to implement the will of the voters in changing their stance toward drug users and petty criminals rather than looking for excuses not to.

Read the rest.


DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO ALL UNITED STATES MILITARY VETERANS – AND CALIFORNIA READS THE INVALUABLE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR

This year, the theme of Cal Humanities’ statewide initiative, California Reads, is “War Comes Home.” More than 340 libraries around the state will host their own programs and activities, including readings and discussions about the featured California Reads book What It Is Like to Go to War, by Marine Corps veteran and Rhodes Scholar Karl Marlantes.

Sebastian Junger (of The Perfect Storm and Restrepo) says Marlantes’ book “not only illuminates war for civilians, but also offers a kind of spiritual guidance to veterans themselves,” and predicts that Marlantes’ writing will save lives.

And the New Yorker suggests that one of the three purposes of the book is to let lawmakers know exactly what they’re asking military men and women sent into war.

(We at WLA urgently recommend you read this book.)

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, Mental Illness, Sentencing, Veterans | 1 Comment »

Will CA Lead on Criminal Justice Reform on Tuesday?…Is US Border Patrol Out of Control?…Can Over-Incarceration Cause Community Violence?…& More

October 31st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


NY TIMES SEZ CALIFORNIA POISED TO LEAD ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM WITH PROP 47

For decades, tough-on-crime proponents cowed lawmakers into passing ever more stringent sentencing statutes that, in turn, resulted in state and federal prison systems metastasizing to disastrous proportions.

Yet, any attempt at correcting the most problematic of the laws inevitably triggered shrieking from the same tough-on-crime folks who predicted that sentencing reform would surely result in a ghastly rise in crime.

The shriekers turned out to be dead wrong.

In fact, multiple recent studies showed that crime drops were greater in states that had taken steps to reduce their prison populations—California included, with it’s far-from-perfect realignment strategy.

Now it appears that California is likely on the verge of passing Proposition 47, a voter initiative that, if successful, will reportedly lower our prison population still further. With Prop 47 specifically in mind, the New York Times editorial board has weighed in with a new essay praising the state for leading the way “on justice reform.”

Here’s a clip:

An encouraging example [of crime drops accompanying prison population reduction] comes from California, the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it.

For five years, the state has been under federal court order to reduce extreme overcrowding in its prisons. In response, voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state’s notorious “three-strikes” law, leading to the release, so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison — in some cases, for petty theft.

Dire warnings that crime would go up as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, or less than one-tenth of the state’s average. That’s, in large part, because of a strong network of re-entry services.

The 2012 measure has provided the model for an even bigger proposed release of prisoners that California voters will consider on the ballot next week. Under Proposition 47, many low-level drug and property offenses — like shoplifting, writing bad checks or simple drug possession — would be converted from felonies to misdemeanors.

That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To keep people from returning to prison, or from going in the first place, the savings would be invested in anti-truancy efforts and other programs like mental health and drug-abuse treatment. Some would go to victims’ services, a perennially underfinanced part of the justice system.

Law-enforcement officials, not surprisingly, oppose the measure, warning that crime will go up. But they’ve already been proved wrong on three-strikes reform….


HOW DID OUR BORDER CONTROL SPIN SO OUT OF CONTROL?

“We made some mistakes,” said former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham. “We found out later that we did, in fact, hire cartel members.”

Between 2001 to the end of George W. Bush’s second term, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection—the Border Patrol— grew from 9500 agents to 18,000. The force jumped again to 21,000 agents in Barack Obama’s first term.

Now some officials are admitting that, in response to executive and congressional pressure, the CBP grew too fast, meaning that many of those brand new green-uniformed agents were not properly trained and vetted, a problem that was compounded by the fact that an adequate number of experienced supervisors was in short supply.

The consequence was a burgeoning problem of corruption, brutality, unnecessary uses of force and, in some cases, out-and-out infiltration by some true bad guys. In fact, from 2005 through 2012, nearly one CBP officer or Border Patrol agent was arrested every single day for misconduct.

Yet, when the FBI tried to investigate instances of wrongdoing, or when, due to urging by Congress, The Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank, examined CBP methods and actions then wrote a highly critical report, the Border Patrol management mostly just closed ranks.

Politico senior staff writer Garrett M. Graff has the deeply reported and well-written special investigation into the problems of the agency that some are calling The Green Monster.

Here are some clips:

The corners cut during the hiring surge were becoming clear by the final months of the Bush administration. There was the Miami CBP officer who used his law enforcement status to bypass airport security and personally smuggle cocaine and heroin into Miami. There was the green-uniformed agent in Yuma, Arizona, who was caught smuggling 700 pounds of marijuana across the border in his green-and-white Border Patrol truck; the brand-new 26-year-old Border Patrol agent who joined a drug-smuggling operation to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana in Del Rio, Texas; the 32-year-old Border Patrol agent whose wife would tip him off on which buses filled with illegal immigrants to let through his checkpoint on I-35 in Laredo, Texas. Some cases were more obvious than others, like the new Border Patrol agent who took an unusual interest in maps of the agency’s sensors along the border and was arrested just seven months into the job after he had sold smugglers those maps for $5,500.

In November 2007, CBP official Thomas Winkowski wrote an agencywide memo citing numerous incidents, or, as he called them, “disturbing events,” and saying that the leadership was concerned about the “increase in the number of employee arrests.” The memo, never made public but obtained by the Miami Herald, reminded officers and agents, “It is our responsibility to uphold the laws, not break the law.”

Although the allegations concerned just a fraction of the force, the work CBP did made it especially susceptible to corruption, and made that corruption uniquely damaging. “There’s a huge vulnerability there with employees who control the flow of goods and people on the border,” explains James Wong, the CBP internal affairs investigator. “You’ve got undocumented immigrants, contraband or even worse—a weapon of mass destruction.”

Which is why, acknowledges Basham, who oversaw the hiring surge as CBP commissioner, the border region is considered the “highest threat environment for government corruption.”

In fact, CBP was uncovering dozens of cases of criminal organizations like Mexican cartels and street gangs such as MS-13 infiltrating its ranks with new hires.

[SNIP]

What concerned Skinner, the DHS inspector general, was the possibility that he was hearing only about the most egregious misconduct. “We were getting more and more complaints, but our biggest concern was that there was a culture as to not report allegations to us,” Skinner says. “Out in the field, there was a culture to keep things to themselves. You’re familiar with ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?’ They had a ‘What happens in the field stays in the field.’”

Agents traditionally worked lonely patrols, with help far away and a strong tradition of frontier-style justice. The agency motto, “Honor first,” is a statement of both machismo and integrity, and its responsibilities require a mind-set far different from most law enforcement agencies. “Their mentality is everyone they encounter is a bad guy, which is totally different from other law enforcement,” Basham says.

[SNIP]

In the summer and fall of 2012, [FBI Assistant Director of Criminal Investigations Ronald] Hosko attended a series of meetings at CBP headquarters that left him stunned. CBP officials, just coming off the huge hiring surge that had doubled the size of the Border Patrol and increased Customs officers by thousands, had grave concerns about the people that they had hired.

Hosko heard senior CBP officials say at the meetings that they believed roughly 10 percent of the agency’s workforce had integrity problems, but he was even more stunned when they batted around a range of numbers, going as high at one point as 20 percent, of those who might deserve to be removed from the force.

“That’s a shocking number and chilling. If I have the senior leaders of an organization like CBP—with 40,000 uniforms and guns—saying 20 percent, that’s shocking,” Hosko told me. “Let’s say that’s a gross exaggeration. Let’s cut that in half. Let’s say it’s just 5 percent. That’s still thousands of people.” (Asked about Hosko’s numbers, CBP officials denied that the force had such systemic problems but refused to confirm whether the meetings he cited had taken place.)

Be sure to read the rest of this excellent and alarming story.

“Not a single Border Patrol agent for the last eight years has been disciplined for excessive use of force,” CBP internal affairs investigator James Wong told Politico’s Graff. “With a workforce that large, that’s amazing.”


WHY ARE SOME OF AMERICA’S IMPOVERISHED INNER CITY NEIGHBORHOODS SO PLAGUED BY VIOLENCE? RESEARCH SHOWS THAT OVER-INCARCERATION IS A BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM

In the discussions about events in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer, the high level of violence in America’s low income inner city neighborhoods often became part of the conversation. This was especially true among TV’s talking heads who frequently opined as to why so many young people of color were falling victim to gun violence in their communities.

Writing for the Atlantic, Heather Ann Thompson, looks at some of the less obvious causes, over incarceration prominently among them.

On first bounce this may sound counterintuitive. But, Thompson points to the research of Todd Clear, which is now famous in the criminal justice world.

(In brief: in a series of studies of various urban neighborhoods around the country, Clear—a Distinguished Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice— and his colleagues noted that when a certain number of lawbreakers were arrested in a community, crime went down. But there was a tipping point. If the percentage of community members arrested and incarcerated continued to increase, eventually the community became destabilized and crime actually went up.)

In any case, there’s a lot in Thompson’s interesting and thought provoking essay that is worth your time.

Here’s a clip:

The quadrupling of the incarceration rate in America since 1970 has had devastating collateral consequences. Already economically-fragile communities sank into depths of poverty unknown for generations, simply because anyone with a criminal record is forever “marked” as dangerous and thus rendered all but permanently unemployable. Also, with blacks incarcerated at six times and Latinos at three times the rate of whites by 2010, millions of children living in communities of color have effectively been orphaned. Worse yet, these kids often experience high rates of post-traumatic shock from having witnessed the often-brutal arrests of their parents and having been suddenly ripped from them.

De-industrialization and suburbanization surely did their part to erode our nation’s black and brown neighborhoods, but staggering rates of incarceration is what literally emptied them out. As this Pew Center of the States graphic on Detroit shows, the overwhelmingly-black east side of the Motor City has been ravaged by the effects of targeted policing and mass incarceration in recent years with one in twenty-two adults there under some form of correctional control. In some neighborhoods, the rate is as high as one in 16.

Such concentrated levels of imprisonment have torn at the social fabric of inner city neighborhoods in ways that even people who live there find hard to comprehend, let alone outsiders. As the research of criminologist Todd Clear makes clear, extraordinary levels of incarceration create the conditions for extraordinary levels of violence….


LOS ANGELES COUNTY IS USING MORE SPLIT SENTENCING….BUT STILL LAGGING BEHIND OTHER COUNTIES

Yes, LA County is finally getting a little bit better when it comes to split sentencing, according to data coming out of District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office, but LA still has a long way to go.

Split sentencing, if you’ll remember, means that low-level offenders spend half their time in jail, and the other half on probation where they can receive supervision and services to help them stay out of jail in the future.

Lacey has been strongly encouraging her prosecutors to use the strategy.

KPCC’s Andrea Gardiner has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Many counties throughout the state have used the policy, called split sentencing, to reduce overcrowding in their jails, after a wave of inmates were transferred there from state prisons. Riverside and Orange County reportedly use split sentencing in more than 50 percent of cases.

New numbers from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office shows in September, 14 percent of cases resulted in split sentences. That’s up from 3 percent in June, when District Attorney Jackie Lacey first issued a directive ordering prosecutors to give split sentences when appropriate.

[SNIP]

State law mandates split sentencing become the presumptive punishment for low-level felons starting in January. That means each low-level felon who is eligible for a split sentence will get one unless a judge states a reason for denying it on the record.

Posted in 2014 election, District Attorney, immigration, law enforcement, Realignment, Sentencing | 3 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 »

LA Elementary School Kids Still Without Libraries, Interrogating Kids, LA Times on LAPD “Ghost Cars,” and Jim McDonnell’s New Radio Ad

October 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAUSD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LIBRARIES STAFFING ISSUES EVEN WORSE AFTER BOOSTED FUNDING

Despite increased money for staffing libraries this year, the number of trained aides running LAUSD elementary school libraries has actually decreased by 20%, leaving around 100,000 LA kids without access to a school library. The problem, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says, is that it is very difficult to find specially trained staff willing to work just three hours per day.

(WLA has been following this issue for a while, now. Backstory can be found here.)

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has the story. Here’s a clip:

During budget hearings last spring, Superintendent John Deasy promised to spend $6 million to bring back the 192 library aides who would help open shuttered elementary libraries across the district this school year.

In 2011 budget cuts, Deasy and the school board laid off half of the district’s library aides and reduced the hours of many who were left. Without trained staff, schools can’t run a library under state law.

“Students don’t learn literacy skills (in the library). They learn that through trained teachers,” Deasy told KPCC in 2011, after the cuts were announced.

But despite a commitment to rehire staff, the number of elementary library aides have decreased by about 20 percent since last fall.

District officials said its difficult to recruit workers to work just three hours a day, five days a week – the schedule of many library aides.


PROBLEMS WITH USING ADULT INTERROGATION METHODS ON KIDS

The NY Times’ Jan Hoffman has an interesting story on interrogation techniques and why they elicit false confessions from teenagers. Hoffman points to a recent study of 57 interrogations of teens across the country. None of the teens exercised their constitutional rights: they did not remain silent, they did not leave, and they did not ask for a lawyer. Around 37% fully confessed, and 33% incriminated themselves.

Other research shows that kids do not fully understand their rights, and are easily worn down by persuasive interrogators trying to scare out a confession.

(For other WLA posts about problematic interrogation practices and false confessions, go here, here, and here.)

Here’s a clip from Hoffman’s story:

Teenagers, studies show, are not developmentally ready to make critical decisions that have long-term impacts.

“Adolescents are more oriented to the present, so they are less likely than adults to be thinking about the future consequences of what they’re saying,” said Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University who writes about teenagers in the justice system and was not involved in this study.

Teenagers, he added, are also less likely than adults to know that the police can lie during interrogations.

“The police often promise kids things in the present. ‘If you just tell me you did it, you can go see your mom,’ ” he continued. “And because the brain’s reward systems are hypersensitive during adolescence, that immediate reward of confessing will trump the thinking of, ‘What will happen when I come back to court in a month?’ ”

Moreover, research shows that teenagers aged 15 and younger will unwittingly comply with authority figures. They are very suggestible, so that during an interrogation, they are more likely than adults to change their answers in response to interviewers.


LA TIMES: FALSE DATA REPORTING SYMPTOMS OF LARGER LAPD ISSUES?

Within the last three months, two reports have emerged revealing false data reporting within the LAPD. The first, an August LA Times report, found nearly 1,200 violent crimes misclassified as minor crimes, resulting in lower city crime rates.

Then, on Friday, an Office of Inspector General report found that department supervisors were boosting patrol numbers by deploying “ghost cars,” reporting officers as out on patrol who were actually filling out paperwork or performing other duties.

An LA Times editorial says that either the LAPD administration is unaware of what’s going on at the ground-level, or they are enforcing a culture in which department supervisors can only achieve goals by fixing the numbers. The editorial says the department needs to be held responsible for the false data reporting, but that the police commission should also examine why these errors are occurring.

Here’s a clip:

The Inspector General’s revelation is troubling for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s dishonest. False data lead city leaders and the public to believe the streets are more heavily patrolled than they really are. That undermines our sense of how safe we are, and also influences policy decisions on, for example, whether the city should hire more civilians for administrative tasks or keep hiring officers. And if supervisors can justify lying about staffing levels in order to keep the bosses happy, what other transgressions or omissions will they allow?

Most worrisome is that this is the second report in recent months to conclude that the LAPD has been relying on bad data and inaccurate reporting. A Times investigation in August found that the department understated violent crime in the city by misclassifying nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses during a one-year period. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck chalked that up to human error, although department insiders said deliberate miscoding had become common as captains and other supervisors were — again — under intense pressure to meet crime-reduction targets set by the brass.


NEW RADIO CAMPAIGN BY “FRIENDS OF MCDONNELL”

The independent expenditure committee, Friends of McDonnell for Sheriff 2014, has launched a $250,000 radio campaign on LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell’s behalf.

In the 60 second ad, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey calls on listeners to vote McDonnell for Los Angeles Sheriff. Here’s the transcript:

This is Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. There is no better choice for Los Angeles County Sheriff than Jim McDonnell. Jim is recognized as a leader in law enforcement leader. He has decades of experience with LAPD and as Chief of the Long Beach Police Department.

I respect and endorse Jim because he has integrity, independence, and has served on the front line of law enforcement. Proven leadership is why Jim McDonnell is endorsed by four previous DA’s.

Jim McDonnell is endorsed by all 5 County Supervisors and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Every daily newspaper in Los Angeles County has also endorsed Jim McDonnell for Sheriff. I know Jim McDonnell can get the job done as Sheriff. I have seen him in action.

Whether you vote by absentee ballot or at the polls, be sure to vote for Jim McDonnell for L.A. County Sheriff.

While Paul Tanaka is technically still in the race, he has been rather quiet in his campaigning, opting to speak at smaller events, and posting a couple of videos on his social media pages (including a video of former sheriff contender Pat Gomez endorsing him).

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, LAUSD, Paul Tanaka | 14 Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Vote on Laura’s Law… as Sheriff Candidate McDonnell Commits Strong Support for Mental Health Diversion

July 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EXPANDING LAURA’S LAW IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider the issue of how best to help LA County’s mentally ill from two different perspectives.

First of all the supervisors are expected to vote to expand and fund something called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Demonstration Project Act of 2002—more commonly known as Laura’s Law.

Although Laura’s Law was passed by the California legislature in 2002, the statute was controversial, thus the state gave counties the option of adopting it or not.

In brief, Laura’s Law allows a family member, roommate, mental health provider, police officer or probation officer to ask the court to order a seriously mentally ill person into outpatient treatment. The law only applies to a narrow subset of people—namely the mentally ill who have landed in jail or in hospitals, or who appear to be a danger to themselves or others, but who don’t qualify for a “5150,” which mandates a psych hold. Moreover, the court can issue such an order for treatment only after an extensive and multi-layered review process.

Los Angeles and Yolo Counties already have pilot programs. Orange County has adopted the whole thing, as has Nevada County, which was where the law originated.

San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.

If the LA supervisors approve the expansion of the Laura’s Law pilot,—as they are expected to do—the county is expected to do approximately 500 evaluations for the program per year (up from around 50 evaluations per year during the pilot period). The expanded program would allow for around 300 people to be enrolled in outpatient treatment any given time (up from 20), plus 60 crisis residential beds.

Some mental health advocates have been adamantly opposed to Laura’s Law maintaining that it not only violates the rights of the mentally ill, it also compromises any therapeutic relationship by forcing people into treatment.

However, a similar law enacted in New York in 1999, called Kendra’s law, featured few of the feared problems and showed a range of improved outcomes for the mentally ill involved.

Some of the main supporters of Laura’s Law have been family members who say they need better tools to keep their loved ones out of jail, and off the street when they are too ill to realize they need treatment.

Supervisor Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the board’s lead supporter for Laura’s Law.


NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?

The second important discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding mental health will be centered on a board-requested status report from District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in which she is expected to present recommendations for “the next interim steps to be taken for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.”

Although most of the board members seem to be, at least in general theory, for the notion of diverting some of LA County’s non-violent mentally ill away from the jails and into community treatment, the supes have been short on action on the matter. A couple of months ago, however, after voting to go ahead with a giant jail expansion plan, the board did pass a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to ask DA Lacey to produce a 60-day progress report about what might be done with this whole diversion matter—hence Tuesday’s presentation. Yet, since the board has since showed no interest in factoring diversion into their calculations when ordering up a new jail, it was hard to view their commitment to the matter as full-throated.

Thus it was heartening when, on Monday, Long Beach Chief of Police and candidate for LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, put out a strong policy statement supporting Lacey’s work and calling in no-nonsense terms for LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

In other words, it’s time for a firm commitment by the county.

“Our Sheriff’s Department currently runs what amounts to the largest mental health institution in the nation,” wrote McDonnell, “yet our jails are not a place for those who are suffering from mental illness and who would be better served by community-based treatment options that can address the underlying problems, while still maintaining community safety. I applaud District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her leadership and her vision in developing a comprehensive plan for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.

McDonnell also praised the recent report released by the ACLU and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health,—which provided research showing why diversion works far better for non-violent inmates, and outlined the success of diversion programs in Miami-Dade and San Francisco. (Note: The ACLU report has already drawn support from organizations and individuals such as Chairman of the LA Police Commission, Steve Soboroff.)

As for the nuts and bolts of how he would aid in getting a comprehensive diversion program funded if he is elected to head the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said that the position of sheriff offers the “influence and the ability” to help “create priorities in the county.” He also stressed that all funding need not come from the county alone, that he’d seek out other sources—noting that once those sources saw that formerly siloed groups like the sheriff’s department, the DA’s office and the board of supervisors were able to “talk to each other” and work “collaboratively and strategically” on the issue, funds were far more likely to be forthcoming.

“I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country,” said McDonnell.

We think so too.

All the more reason to get going sooner rather than later.


PS: IF WE NEED ONE MORE REASON TO PUSH HARD AND SOON for a robust mental health diversion program, let us not forget that, in June, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies in its jails. The DOJ also encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: BRUTAL ATTACKS BY STAFF ON MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN NY’S RIKER’S ISLAND “COMMON OCCURRENCES”

As the LA County Board of Supervisors considers the above issues pertaining to LA County’s mentally ill, the results of a 4-month investigation into violence by staff against the mentally ill of Riker’s Island (the nation’s second largest jail) seemed perfectly—and painfully—timed to demonstrate the problem with using jails as default mental health facilities.

Here’s a clip from the opening of the alarming NY Times report, written by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz:

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis….

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 19 Comments »

LA’s Use of “Split Sentencing” Gets Worse (Can DA Jackie Lacey Help?)…..When CA Kids are “Double Charged” ….Pilot of Drug Smuggling Boat Sentenced for Coast Guard Murder

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



TUESDAY’S AB 109 REPORT SHOWS LA’S USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING GETTING WORSE, NOT BETTER

At Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ board meeting, Probation Chief Jerry Powers will present a report about what is going on with the various AB 109 offenders who have been passed to LA County for oversight rather than the state since California’s public safety realignment strategy was launched in October 2011.

The report is dry, extremely detailed and statistic heavy (you can find it here if you’d like to peruse). However, amid the welter of figures a few numbers do jump out, namely the stats showing the progress that LA County is making when it comes to beefing up its use of “split sentencing,” an approach that justice advocates, Governor Jerry Brown and the top brass at probation—among others—would like to see expanded.

And what kind of progress are we making? Um, none. Zero. Zip. As a matter of fact, rather than progressing, LA seems to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction.

In case you’ve forgotten, split sentencing is a sentencing strategy that has been adopted to greater and lesser degrees by California’s counties as part of California’s AB 109 public safety realignment system. With a split sentence, the court can divide a low-level felon’s time to be spent half behind bars, with the other half (or more) spent out of jail but under the supervision of county probation. The idea is that most offenders do better when they receive some kind of help and oversight when they get out of jail or prison rather than just getting dumped on the street with no further follow-up.

Moreover, split sentencing has the pleasant collateral effect of lowering the jail population.

Riverside county has over 60 percent of its AB 109ers serving split sentences.

In constrast, LA County was using the strategy only around 5 percent of the time in year one and two of realignment.

Looking at the first five months of year three, that percentage has dropped to closer to 2 percent—or 109 split sentences out of 5151 sentences handed down in that period.

(See line 2 of the “Custody” table on p. 14 of the report.)


CAN JACKIE LACEY HELP? (PLEASE!)

Thus far it has reportedly been prosecutors, public defenders and judges who mostly stand in the way of split sentencing.

With that in mind, perhaps this is another issue in which DA Jackie Lacey can take a strong part, as she has with her recent—and much welcomed— leadership in diversion for the mentally ill and other forms of alternative sentencing she has begun championing.

As the members of the board of supervisors listen to Tuesday’s realignment report, perhaps they could bring up such a possibility.

Can’t hurt.

PS: For a good rundown on split sentencing in general see last summer’s story by KPCC’s Rina Palta.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…. “DOUBLE CHARGING” FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA’S COUNTIES

In most California counties now, when a kid is arrested, the meter starts ticking for the boy or girl’s parent or guardian. This means that, in addition to whatever stress occurs when one’s child breaks the law and is sentenced to juvenile hall, probation camp or some other form of placement, there are the mounting bills.

Myles Bess of Youth Radio has a well-reported story for Marketplace about this double charging and the impact those charges have on families.

The bill starts adding up as soon as you’re arrested, before anyone reaches the courtroom. Even if you’re innocent, in Alameda County, the investigation alone will cost you $250.

“You get fined for the public defender,” said Debra Mendoza, probation officer-turned-advocate, who can list fees off the top of her head. “You get charged for incarceration. There’s a fee for being in juvenile hall. There’s a daily fee if you’re on GPS.”

Add the fees together for a juvenile who’s been incarcerated for an average amount of time in this county, and the total bill will be close to $2,000.

It’s parents who are responsible for the bill. And that’s the trend across states.

“There are more and more criminal justice fees that are added every year in this country,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, legal scholar at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. “In recent years, about 20 state legislatures passed laws holding parents responsible for their children’s crimes,” said Eisen.

In California, parents have the right to negotiate fees, but it’s not easy. If they don’t pay, officials can garnish parents’ wages, take their tax refunds or place liens against property. In Alameda County, one of the poorest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, half of the fees charged to parents remain unpaid. That’s according to the county’s own data, based on a recent five-year period.

“And sometimes it is more expensive administratively to collect these fees than the money you are actually receiving in revenue.” said Eisen. “That’s the great irony of the situation.

NOTE: In 2009, the LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske did some excellent reporting on the aggressive billing going on in LA County for the parents and guardians of incarcerated kids.


DRUG SMUGGLING PANGA BOAT PILOT GETS LIFE IN PRISON FOR MURDER OF COAST GUARD OFFICER TERRELL HORNE

The Mexican national who was found guilty of second degree murder in the 2012 death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was sentenced to life in a federal prison without parole on Monday, reports the office of U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. A second man was given ten years in federal prison for his part in Horne’s death.

Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified a second suspicious vessel nearby, a 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

After spotting the panga themselves, Coast Guard officers launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. As the four in the small boat approached the 2nd suspicious boat, the four officers activated their own boat’s police lights and ID’d themselves as law enforcement. The pilot of the panga boat reacted by throttling his engines and steering the panga boat directly toward the small Coast Guard inflatable.

Despite the coast guard officers’ frantic efforts to avoid a collision, the pilot of the panga boat deliberately rammed into the smaller boat, ejecting Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. However, just before the boat was about to be
rammed, rather than dodge, Horne reached forward—toward the point of impact—pushed his coxswain to safety.

Once in the water, Horne was struck in the head by a propeller and died of the injury.

The 34-year-old Horne was an extremely well-liked father of two with a baby on the way and, along with his devastated family, Horne’s colleagues reacted with heartbreak. He was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927.

U.S. Attorney Birotte told LA Times columnist Patt Morrison that the day Terrell Horne was killed was one of his two worst days on the job. (The other worst day was in 2013 when a man walked into LAX and opened fire killing TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez.)

Birotte said he keeps a note from Rachel Horne (Horne’s wife) on his desk “to remind me what this job is about.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation | No Comments »

Los Angeles DA Speaks Out Against Over-Incarceration, NYC Theater Troupe Hires Troubled Teens to Write & Perform…and Mother’s Day

May 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY SAYS LA NEEDS TO BE DOING MORE TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF JAIL

Last Tuesday, during the Board of Supervisors’ discussion about whether to move forward with a new $2 billion jail plan, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented to the board a plan in progress that would divert a considerable portion of the county’s mentally ill inmates away from jail and into community treatment programs.

While the board voted in favor of the jail proposal, they also asked DA Lacey and her jail diversion task force to report back in 60 days with a more complete picture of their plan.

In a refreshing interview with the LA Times Steve Lopez, DA Lacey discusses LA’s over-incarceration of people who would experience better outcomes in community-based treatment, other counties with successful diversion programs, and some of the justice reforms she wants to help Los Angeles achieve. Here are some clips:

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

If you’re scratching your head, you aren’t alone.

The supes also voted to study diversion, which was nice, except that they got it backward. If they’d scoped out better options first, they might have discovered that it makes sense to build a smaller and less expensive jail and invest more in drug and alcohol and mental health treatment, cutting into both the jail and homeless populations. The county already has roughly 1,200 people in diversion programs, a number that could grow if not for funding and resource limitations.

Lacey didn’t want to talk about the politics of the matter when I visited her Thursday. But she was happy to explain how she came to believe in diversion as the more humane and effective option in some cases.

“It has been an evolution,” she said. “If you spend day in and day out in a courtroom, it becomes like Groundhog Day…. You’re seeing the same people with the same issues — drug addiction and mental illness,” many of them in for low-level, non-violent crimes. “You start to wonder: Are we really making a difference, especially when you consider that California has such a high recidivism rate?”

[SNIP]

On a tour of the overstuffed mental wards in county jail last year, Lacey was disturbed by conditions there — specifically the chaining of inmates to tables for therapy sessions. She and jail commander Terri McDonald began sharing ideas last December on a better system, and Lacey formed a task force that includes McDonald, court and law enforcement officials, the county mental health department and numerous other public and nonprofit agencies.

Lacey sent Assistant D.A. Bill Hodgman to Miami and San Antonio to study successful diversion programs, and she went to see another one for herself.

“I’m the district attorney of progressive Los Angeles, and I’m down in Memphis, Tenn., where police officers are spending 40 hours of training learning how to deal with mentally ill people so they don’t have a Kelly Thomas situation like they had in Orange County,” she said of the young mentally ill man who died after an altercation with police officers in Fullerton.

Lacey said she wants that same kind of training to be mandatory for all police officers. She wants more emergency units composed of police officers and mental health workers, and pre-arrest diversion to crisis and referral centers. She wants guidelines for prosecutors on which cases to divert. And she wants to explore funding options for more community-based treatment and housing.


STARGATE THEATRE PROGRAM IN NYC AN ALTERNATIVE-TO-INCARCERATION PROGRAM THAT PAYS KIDS TO WRITE AND ACT

Last week, we pointed to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s announcement that the state would begin funding vital prison art programs once again.

Yet another example of why arts programming is so important for justice system-involved kids and adults, in NYC, the Stargate Theatre Company (a pilot program of the Manhattan Theatre Club) hires at-risk teenage boys, mostly low-level offenders, to write and act in their theatre troupe. The program is run by entertainment professionals, including four-time Emmy-winning writer Judy Tate, and the kids get to rehearse on the same stage as big-name actors in the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Nationswell’s David Wallis has more on the Stargate program, and the ways it empowers the kids involved. Here’s how it opens:

Last summer, on his first day on the job as an actor and writer for the Stargate Theatre Company in New York City, Christopher Thompson contemplated quitting. While many might consider getting paid to create performance art a step up from janitor’s assistant — his previous summer job — Thompson initially thought otherwise. Fear consumed the 17-year-old from Flatbush, one of Brooklyn’s less fashionable neighborhoods; he worried about being mocked for his grammar, handwriting and morbid humor. “I was afraid of people finding my form of expression really bad, really effed up,” says Thompson, who bears a resemblance to the Cat in the Hat with his lanky frame, long striped-knit cap and mischievous grin. He remembers feeling “extremely defensive” and thinking to himself, “This is awful. Why am I here? I’m not a talker, but I need the money.”

Thompson’s bumpy path to the stage began after a brief stint in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison. Police arrested him last year for punching a classmate; it was his first offense. He contends that the kid he slugged during lunch harassed him about his black skin, but Thompson acknowledges that he has “anger problems.”

An alternative-to-incarceration program recommended Thompson to Stargate, a pilot project founded last year by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), which produces Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. The unconventional Stargate theater troupe pays “court-involved” and at-risk teenage boys (most participants have committed low-level crimes) to stage a performance piece in a quest to reduce recidivism, teach literacy and provide work experience that looks far better on a CV than time in jail. The cast members — who applied to be part of the program — worked for a minimum of 12 hours a week for six weeks last summer to develop an autobiographical show, which they performed at New York City Center – Stage II, a sleek theater in Midtown Manhattan. After the premiere in August 2013, the teens returned to high school, though they reconvened for an encore performance of the show in October.

“We’re hiring these young men to be members of a theater company,” says David Shookhoff, education director of the Manhattan Theatre Club and an acclaimed director, most recently of the Off-Broadway hit “Breakfast With Mugabe.” “Their job is to write and to perform and to operate as an ensemble.” Shookhoff believes Stargate’s seven charter members learned to be timely, collegial and cooperative, valuable traits in the workplace.

Read on.


MOTHER’S DAY BEHIND BARS

With Mother’s Day just behind us and Father’s Day around the corner, Mother Jones’ Katie Rose Quandt reminds us that over three percent of kids in America have at least one parent behind bars.

Here’s the intro, but head over to the actual story (infographics abound):

My foster sister is in prison. Her four children see her briefly once a month, as part of a 368-mile round-trip that takes up their entire Saturday. (Before she was transferred last month, the trip measured 404 miles). She has missed so many milestones and special events in her children’s lives: first days of kindergarten, Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens, first school dances.

More than three percent of American children have a parent behind bars; so many that even Sesame Street thought to address the issue in a heartbreaking video and a recent initiative. With Mother’s Day upon us, I have to wonder: As kids grow up, what’s it like when the person they love most is locked away?

(For other WLA posts about kids with incarcerated parents, go here, and here.)

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

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