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Alternative Sentencing Program LA Graduation Feat. AG Eric Holder, a SWAT Convention, Prosecutorial Power, and Ezell Ford

October 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

US ATTORNEY GEN. ERIC HOLDER TO SPEAK AT GRADUATION OF ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING PROGRAM SPEARHEADED BY ANDRE BIROTTE

SoCal graduates of a unique alternative-to-prison program will celebrate their success with the help of US Attorney General Eric Holder today (Friday). Holder will be speaking at the Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Los Angeles graduation ceremony, as part of his “Smart on Crime” tour.

CASA gives a second chance to certain federal defendants charged with low-level felonies in Southern California. Participants are assigned a special CASA judge and must agree to enter a guilty plea, then they must satisfy a number of requirements, including regularly appearing before a CASA panel and engaging in assigned programs. When participants complete the CASA program, they will either have their charges dismissed or will receive a reduced sentence that does not include prison time, depending on their criminal history.

Although there are state programs of a similar nature, CASA was brought to life by former US Attorney André Birotte who saw the need for such a program at the federal level.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, when asked about the program’s success rate, said that it’s going “very well.” Also, when WLA talked to Birotte about the program last year, he was visibly enthusiastic.

For more reading on CASA, we suggest Jill Cowan’s October 2013 story for the LA Times.

By the way, André Birotte’s formal investiture as a federal judge will take place Friday afternoon.


SWAT-CON: LARGE-SCALE CATERING TO POLICE MILITARIZATION

Mother Jones’ Shane Bauer attended the September 2014 Urban Shield conference, a Department of Homeland Security-funded event for domestic and international SWAT teams. The convention showcases cutting edge military gear, vehicles, and prototypes, as well as things like t-shirts bearing an AR-15 sight that reads, “This is my peace sign.”

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story:

The event felt surprisingly open at first—vendors talked to me freely and I could sit in on workshops—but by the second day, I started noticing cops whispering to each other while looking in my direction. Some came over to feel me out, asking what I thought of the term “militarization.” One of them worked for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a Homeland Security project to coordinate intelligence from local cops and federal agencies like the FBI. As I flipped through the counterterrorism handbook at his booth, he snatched it away. “That’s for law enforcement only,” he said. He told me he knew who I was.

Bauer explains that SWAT teams were originally created by the LAPD to respond to things like hostage situations and mass shootings, but now the majority of SWAT deployments are to serve search warrants, mostly for drugs, and (surprise) disproportionately affecting minorities.

Special weapons and tactics teams were created in the late 1960s for extreme scenarios like saving hostages and taking down active shooters. But police departments soon began deploying them in more mundane situations. In 1984, just 40 percent of SWAT teams were serving warrants. By 2012, the number was 79 percent. In all, the number of SWAT raids across the country has increased 20-fold since the 1980s, going from 3,000 per year to at least 60,000. And SWAT teams are no longer limited to large cities: In the mid-1980s, only 20 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had such teams. By 2007, 80 percent did.

Much of the increase has been driven by the drug war, says David Klinger, a former Los Angeles cop and a professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “If we didn’t think that drugs were the most evilest thing in the history of God’s green earth,” he says, “and weren’t running hither and yon trying to catch people with dope in their house, none of this would have happened.”

Today, 85 percent of SWAT operations are for “choice-driven raids on people’s private residences,” Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University researcher who studies tactical policing, said in a recent Senate hearing. According to a study released by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year, 62 percent of SWAT deployments were for drug raids. The study found that in these raids, drugs were found only half of the time. When weapons were “believed to be present,” they were not found in half of the cases for which the outcome was known.

Besides the gear, the convention included a two-day training in which SWAT teams completed 35 scenarios in 48 hours. The winning SWAT team would receive a trophy.

Bauer was able to film a UC Berkeley SWAT hostage rescue session (click over to Mother Jones for the video) before he was banned from the conference.

I left the training site feeling unsettled. If you were the hostage in a real-life version of one of these scenarios, would you want someone to come and save you? Of course you would. If you were a cop, would you want to be protected against anything that might come your way? Of course. And yet, nearly every SWAT cop I talked to at Urban Shield was spending most of his time doing drug busts, searching houses, and serving warrants.

“When equipment is requested for SWAT teams, it’s common to talk about the threat of terrorism [and] other rare but highly dangerous situations like hostage taking, barricaded suspects, and riots,” David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford law professor who studies criminal law and policing, told me. “But the majority of times that SWAT teams have been deployed, it’s been for more conventional kinds of operations.”

“SWAT teams definitely have legitimate uses,” he added. “But like lots of other things, when they are sitting around they can wind up getting used when they are not required and may do more harm than good.”


MORE POLICE MILITARIZATION, OVERCRIMINALIZATION AND PROSECUTORIAL POWER

Washington Post’s Radley Balko shared two noteworthy videos depicting an unjust criminal justice system.

The first video, by Reason’s Anthony Fischer, tells of a drug raid on a smoke shop in Alpine, TX. While federal charges against the owner, Ilana Lipsen, were eventually dropped, she faced a coercive bond deal, prosecutorial misconduct, and, of course, a violent police raid that resulted in the arrest of her sister and mother.

The second video is from the folks at Right on Crime, a Texas-based, conservative criminal justice reform group. The video tells the story of a retired couple, Jack and Jill Barron, who were handed four felony charges for building on a wetland (that actually was found to be a site just plagued by poor drainage). While the Jack was found not guilty, they sunk their entire life-savings into the legal fees and are still prohibited from building on their own land.


LA CITY ATTORNEY SAYS LAPD OFFICERS SHOT EZELL FORD IN SELF-DEFENSE

According a court filing by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, LAPD officers acted in self defense when they shot and killed Ezell Ford in August. The filing says that the mentally ill man knew what he was doing when he allegedly tried to grab one of the officer’s guns, and caused a necessary use of force by the officers involved.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the story. Here’s a clip:

The two officers shot Ezell Ford, who was unarmed, after he tried to grab one of their guns, according to LAPD officials and the court filing.

The shooting occurred August 11 on West 65th Street in South LA. Ford was 25.

Ford “knew and understood the degree of risk, and voluntarily assumed such risk,” according to documents the city filed in response to a lawsuit by the family. “The forced used…was caused and necessitated by the actions of the decedent, and was reasonable and necessary for self-defense.”

Posted in law enforcement, Prosecutors, Right on Crime, Sentencing, The Feds, War on Drugs | No Comments »

OIG: LAPD Deployed “Ghost Cars” to Boost Patrol Numbers, Asset Forfeiture $$, Black Teens’ 21 Times Higer Risk of Death by Officer, and LA’s New Poet Laureate

October 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INSPECTOR GENERAL FINDS LAPD MET PATROL GOALS BY SENDING OUT “GHOST CARS”

An investigation by the LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General found department supervisors falsified documents to augment the recorded number of cars on patrol to meet policy requirements. Department commanders in at least 5 of 21 divisions sent out “ghost cars” while the officers recorded as on patrol were actually completing paperwork or performing other duties, according to the report released Friday.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has more on the investigation. Here’s a clip:

To keep call response times down throughout the city, department policy requires at least one car to patrol each of the department’s roughly 200 geographic areas at all times. A workforce constrained by budget cuts and pressure to report positive statistics may have pushed commanders to manipulate information, some say.

“In the broadest sense, perceptions become reality,” Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said in an interview. “People perceive there are a lot of police in the street, but they would act differently if there’s only one car patrolling their neighborhood.”

Department spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith declined to comment until the full Police Commission addresses the report at its Tuesday meeting.

The investigation found that the officers’ patrol cars, which were reported to be responding to emergency calls, were actually parked at the stations or otherwise not on patrol. They are known as “ghost cars.”

[SNIP]

“It appears that the area personnel provided inaccurate accounts of actual patrol strength to [headquarters], and not to the public,” the report by Inspector General Alex Bustamante stated, “for the express purpose of meeting the patrol plan mandate.”

Bustamante’s report details one officer who was assigned to work patrol, but instead worked the equipment room checking out items such as microphones, rifles and car keys. Another spent six hours writing reports and conducting follow-up investigations in the station, despite his official status as patrolling. The report doesn’t list officers’ divisions or names, to protect whistleblowers’ confidentiality.


LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES USE SEIZED ASSETS AS FUNDING, BUY WEAPONS, GEAR, AND MORE

A new Washington Post investigation found that since 2008, local law enforcement agencies across the US have used billions of dollars obtained through civil asset forfeiture to buy things like weapons, gear, vehicles, a $637 coffee maker, and a clown. (No, we’re not kidding about the clown.)

The Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steven Rich analyzed tens of thousands of expenditure reports submitted to the DOJ through the Equitable Sharing Program which allows law enforcement agencies to use the money they take from citizens. The investigation found that 81% of the $2.5 billion reported was taken from people who were never charged with a crime. But because people have to jump through hoops to prove they legally acquired the money or property that officers took from them, they do not often win it back.

(You can read our earlier posts about asset forfeiture here, here, and here.)

Here are some clips:

The details are contained in thousands of annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. The Washington Post obtained 43,000 of the reports dating from 2008 through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents offer a sweeping look at how police departments and drug task forces across the country are benefiting from laws that allow them to take cash and property without proving a crime has occurred. The law was meant to decimate drug organizations, but The Post found that it has been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level.

“In tight budget periods, and even in times of budget surpluses, using asset forfeiture dollars to purchase equipment and training to stay current with the ever-changing trends in crime fighting helps serve and protect the citizens,” said Prince George’s County, Md., police spokeswoman Julie Parker.

Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post. Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back.

The police purchases comprise a rich mix of the practical and the high-tech, including an array of gear that has helped some departments militarize their operations: Humvees, automatic weapons, gas grenades, night-vision scopes and sniper gear. Many departments acquired electronic surveillance equipment, including automated license-plate readers and systems that track cellphones.

The spending also included a $5 million helicopter for Los Angeles police; a mobile command bus worth more than $1 million in Prince George’s County; an armored personnel carrier costing $227,000 in Douglasville, Ga., population 32,000; $5,300 worth of “challenge coin” medallions in Brunswick County, N.C.; $4,600 for a Sheriff’s Award Banquet by the Doña Ana County (N.M.) Sheriff’s Department; and a $637 coffee maker for the Randall County Sheriff’s Department in Amarillo, Tex.

Sparkles the Clown was hired for $225 by Chief Jeff Buck in Reminderville, Ohio, to improve community relations. But Buck said the seizure money has been crucial to sustaining long-term investigations that have put thousands of drug traffickers in prison.

“The money I spent on Sparkles the Clown is a very, very minute portion of the forfeited money that I spend in fighting the war on drugs,” he told The Post.

About 5,400 departments and drug task forces have participated in the Equitable Sharing Program since 2008. Justice spokesman Peter Carr said the program is an effective weapon to fight crime but should not be considered “an alternative funding source for state and local law enforcement.”


PROPUBLICA: BLACK TEENS FACE MUCH HIGHER RISK OF BEING FATALLY SHOT BY OFFICERS THAN WHITE TEENS

ProPublica’s Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara analyzed federal data on fatal “officer-involved” shootings of young males up to the age of 19. The analysis, which included 1,217 deadly shootings between 2010 and 2012 (as well as a larger pool of 12,000 incidents from as far back as 1980), revealed black teens faced a risk of being killed by officers that was 21 times greater than white teens.

Here’s a clip from the ProPublica analysis:

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.

ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police certainly seems to support what has been an article of faith in the African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said the FBI data is a minimum count of homicides by police, and that it is impossible to precisely measure what puts people at risk of homicide by police without more and better records. Still, what the data shows about the race of victims and officers, and the circumstances of killings, are “certainly relevant,” Loftin said.

[SNIP]

The data, for instance, is terribly incomplete. Vast numbers of the country’s 17,000 police departments don’t file fatal police shooting reports at all, and many have filed reports for some years but not others. Florida departments haven’t filed reports since 1997 and New York City last reported in 2007. Information contained in the individual reports can also be flawed. Still, lots of the reporting police departments are in larger cities, and at least 1000 police departments filed a report or reports over the 33 years.


LUIS RODRIGUEZ NAMED LOS ANGELES POET LAUREATE

Last week, Luis Rodriguez, an iconic LA poet, novelist, memoirist, teacher, publisher, and advocate, best known for his memoir, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA, was named Los Angeles’ second ever poet laureate.

(We at WLA think this is a wonderful thing, and we’ll have more on the story later in the week.)

LA Weekly’s Jennifer Swann has more on our new poet laureate. Here’s a clip:

As L.A.’s poet laureate, Rodriguez will serve a two-year term in which he’ll act as “the official ambassador of L.A.’s vibrant creative scene,” a sort of spokesman for the written word, according to a statement issued by the mayor’s office. It’s a natural fit for Rodriguez, who’s already been filling that role on his own, as the founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, a nonprofit bookstore and cultural center that fosters art, literary and music workshops in the largely Latino community of Sylmar.

In his new position, the best-selling author of the memoirs Always Running, La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. and It Calls You Back is expected to host a series of readings, workshops and classes at the L.A. Public Library, which sponsors the poet laureate program, along with the Department of Cultural Affairs. The program is aimed at educating inner-city kids with limited access to poetry.

Posted in LAPD, racial justice, War on Drugs, writers and writing | 38 Comments »

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

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

Still, there is risk.

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

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

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

The Case for Prop 47, Other States’ Lessons on Reducing Prison Pop., a Mentally Ill Diversion Program for LA County, and Gov. Brown Signs Ex-Inmate Job Training Grant Bill

September 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEWT GINGRICH AND B. WAYNE HUGHES JR ENDORSE PROP 47, CALL ON CALIFORNIA TO TAKE NOTES FROM THE RED STATES

Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 ballot, would reduce certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, keeping people who have committed low-level drug and property crimes out of lock-up and under better-suited supervision and treatment. (A report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice estimates $175 million in savings for LA County, if voters pass Prop 47.)

Newt Gingrich and B. Wayne Hughes Jr., founder of Serving California, in an op-ed for the LA Times, urge Californians to vote yes on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Contributing to the growth in the number of prisoners and in prison spending has been a dramatic expansion in the number of felonies. In addition, mandatory minimum sentences have been applied to an increasing number of crimes. These policies have combined to drive up the prison population, as more prisoners serve longer sentences. On top of that, California has an alarmingly high recidivism rate: Six out of 10 people exiting California prisons return within three years.

It makes no sense to send nonserious, nonviolent offenders to a place filled with hardened criminals and a poor record of rehabilitation — and still expect them to come out better than they went in. Studies show that placing low-risk offenders in prison makes them more dangerous when they are released.

Over-incarceration makes no fiscal sense. California spends $62,396 per prisoner each year, and $10 billion overall, on its corrections system. That is larger than the entire state budget of 12 other states. This expenditure might be worth it if we were safer because of it. But with so many offenders returning to prison, we clearly aren’t getting as much public safety — or rehabilitation — as we should for this large expenditure.

[SNIP]

Most notably, Texas in 2007 stopped prison expansion plans and instead used those funds for probation and treatment. It has reduced its prison population, closed three facilities and saved billions of dollars, putting a large part of the savings into drug treatment and mental health services. Better yet, Texas’ violent crime rates are the lowest since 1977.

Another red state, South Carolina, made similar reforms for nonviolent offenses. The drop in the number of prisoners allowed South Carolina to close one prison and also lower its recidivism rate. Other states (Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Mississippi) have similarly shifted their approach to nonviolent convictions.

Now voters in California will have a chance to do the same, using costly prison beds for dangerous and hardened criminals. It is time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on locking up low-level offenders. Proposition 47 on the November ballot will do this by changing six nonviolent, petty offenses from felony punishments (which now can carry prison time) to misdemeanor punishments and local accountability.

The measure is projected to save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars per year, and it will help the state emphasize punishments such as community supervision and treatment that are more likely to work instead of prison time.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

The folks over at Zócalo asked five criminal justice experts what California can learn by example from other states who have successfully reduced their prison populations. Here’s what Lois M. Davis, a RAND Corporation senior policy researcher, had to say about Washington state, and its success with making rehabilitation high priority.

California’s experiment in public safety realignment is being credited with closing the revolving door that keeps low-level offenders cycling through the state prison system by housing them instead in county jails and providing counties funding and flexibility to provide for these inmates. Currently the state’s 58 counties are doing their own experiments to determine how much of the realignment resources should be devoted to rehabilitative programs. But reducing California’s prison population over the long term will require the state to provide rehabilitative services like education that reduce recidivism and help to turn individuals’ lives around once they return to communities.

California can learn a great deal from the state of Washington, which has implemented a series of reforms focused on rehabilitation—on diverting offenders to treatment and other options and making serving time in prison the last option. The logic for this is clear: Analyses by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show that cognitive-behavioral programs for adult offenders in prison and community settings can be expected to reduce recidivism rates by 6.3 percent, on average.

RAND’s recent national study on correctional education shows that adult offenders who participated in prison education programs reduced their risk of recidivating by 43 percent. Every $1 invested in these programs resulted in about $4 to $5 in savings in re-incarceration costs. Beyond the stark economic benefits is the broader incentive that such rehabilitation is good for society as a whole. As a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences indicated, mass incarceration is associated with negative social and economic outcomes, which make it very difficult for ex-offenders to turn their lives around when they return, disproportionately, to disadvantaged communities.

California took a bold step in implementing the Public Safety Realignment Act. Now it should move beyond realignment to focus on rehabilitation.

Head over to Zócalo for for more lessons from other states, including a tip California can take from 45 other states, and something the state can learn from itself.


A RELATIVELY SMALL BUT PROMISING LA COUNTY PROBATION PROGRAM TO DIVERT MENTALLY ILL FROM JAIL

On Wednesday, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a small pilot program to divert homeless, mentally ill people charged with low-level offenses from jail. To start with, the program will target 50 participants in Van Nuys, but both Yaroslavsky and Lacey both say they would like to see the program expanded county-wide.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“We want to demonstrate that it works, demonstrate that it saves money, we want to demonstrate better outcomes for the individuals in the program,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at a press conference.

L.A.’s county jails are overcrowded with mentally ill offenders, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office. Earlier this year, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.8 billion jail overhaul plan that includes building a new downtown jail to house mostly inmates with serious mental illnesses.

The new diversion program will offer chronically homeless men and women an alternative to jail when they’re initially charged with a misdemeanor or low-level felony. Those who opt to participate will be sent to the San Fernando Community Mental Health Center and, if needed, placed in subsidized housing. They’ll also receive mental health and employment services.

But it’s limited to 50 participants at a time and only in Van Nuys. It’s expected to cost approximately $750,000, funded partially by the county and partially through a federal grant.

Palta has a second interesting Los Angeles Probation story, along with Karen Foshay, regarding an alarming number dubious worker’s compensation claims filed by Probation Dept. staff. Here’s a small clip from the opening:

KPCC reviewed hundreds of Probation Department workers’ compensation files from 2010-2012 and found dozens of questionable cases, including workers spending months away from the job after getting spider bites or tripping in parking lots, or falling out of chairs.

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers stresses that the vast majority of workers’ compensation claims are legitimate, but he has taken several steps to crack down on questionable injuries since taking office in 2011. Since then, the number of probation staff on disability has dropped by one third, Powers says.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL CREATING A GRANT PROGRAM TO GIVE JOB TRAINING TO EX-INMATES

For more on the bill, Assemblymember Perez has this update from June when the bill passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee. Here’s a clip:

“Workforce training for the re-entry population is a practical strategy for improving access to a stable job,” said Pérez. “It helps improve offender outcomes, reduces the likelihood of recidivism, and promotes community safety and stability.”

Specifically, the bill establishes a new competitive grant program for workforce training for the re-entry population. The grant program would be administered by the California Workforce Investment Board and would be available to counties on a competitive basis, with greater consideration for those that provide matching funds, have demonstrated collaborative working relationship with local workforce investment boards, and/or have a workforce training program for the reentry population already in place.

To fund the program, Pérez secured $1 million in the 2014-15 Budget Act, which will be appropriated through the state’s the Recidivism Reduction Fund.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Probation, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 1 Comment »

More on the LAPD Ezell Ford Shooting, DOJ to Review Police Tactics, LAUSD Welcomes Immigrant Kids…and More

August 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD UNION MAKES STATEMENT ON FORD SHOOTING…AND QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED BY THE INVESTIGATION

On Monday, an LAPD officer shot Ezell Ford, an unarmed, young black man who was reportedly mentally disabled. According to LAPD officials, two officers stopped Ford, a struggle ensued, and Ford tackled one officer and tried to take his gun from its holster, at which point the officer shot Ford with his back-up weapon. The second officer also shot Ford. It is not yet clear how many bullets were fired.

Eyewitnesses are telling a conflicting story, one in which Ford was complying with officers.

Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League urges us not to rush to a conclusion on the matter—that a thorough investigation will take time to determine whether the shooting was within policy. Here’s a clip:

“Increasingly, in the immediate aftermath of any police shooting, unvetted statements by persons claiming to be witnesses are given prominent play. While a factual investigation unfolds at a deliberate and slower pace, an inaccurate narrative can be created before the actual facts are determined. The Ezell Ford incident on August 11, 2014, in Newton Area is no exception, as we have read and viewed some inaccurate reports of what occurred.”

“It is critically important, both for the LAPD and the community to establish what actually happened. The LAPPL reminds everyone that it is necessary for a thorough and transparent investigation to take place so the final conclusion is trustworthy and can withstand critical scrutiny—and that will take time. This thorough and complete investigation is being conducted by Force Investigation Division. The Inspector General and the district attorney monitor the investigation and ensure that it is complete and unbiased. The preliminary facts, according to LAPD officials, are that two LAPD officers assigned to the Gang Enforcement Detail in Newton Area stopped Ezell Ford at about 8:10 p.m. as he walked on a sidewalk near 65th Street and Broadway in South Los Angeles. A violent struggle ensued, and Ford grabbed one of the officers and tried to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster, prompting a deadly use of force.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is out of town, but KPCC’s Frank Stoltze spoke with LAPD Commander Andrew Smith and LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger about the Ford incident.

According to Smith, the struggle was chaotic and did end in Ford being shot while on the ground. Here’s a clip from Stoltze’s story:

The incident started when two officers with the Newton Division’s Gang Enforcement Detail confronted Ezell Ford during an “investigative stop” around 8:20 pm, according to Commander Andrew Smith. He did not know what precipitated the stop. Gang officers regularly approach people who they believe may be involved in gang activity.

“As the first officer gets close, the suspect spins around and grabbed the officer around the waist, threw him to the ground and was laying on top of the officer,” Smith said. “There was a struggle over the officer’s weapon and the officer on the ground withdrew his backup weapon and shot the suspect.” Many officers carry backup weapons in ankle holsters or tucked inside pants pockets.

The second officer also fired at Ford. Smith would not say how many bullets were fired or how many struck the suspect. Both officers are “veterans” with at least seven years at the department, he said.

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told KPCC that Ford “made suspicious movements, including attempting to conceal his hands.” Paysinger also said Ford “attempted to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster.” He added that “the suspect partially removed the gun from the officer’s holster, and it was indeed a struggle for their lives.”

Whether or not the shooting is determined to be within policy, it had a tragic outcome. Here are some of the questions that we’d like to see answered by the investigation:

Why was Ford stopped in the first place?

Are Ford’s fingerprints on the officer’s gun?

How many bullets were fired by the officers? Which shot proved fatal? After the first shot, were any following shots necessary, or were they products of an adrenalized action that could have been avoided?


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF QUESTIONABLE USE OF DEADLY FORCE ON MINORITIES AND THE MENTALLY ILL: JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAUNCHING LARGE-SCALE REVIEW OF POLICE TACTICS

The Department of Justice is conducting an extensive review of police policies with regard to contact with the mentally ill, use of deadly force, and more, according to a federal law enforcement official. The review is expected to be completed early next year. The DOJ is also considering forming a national commission to oversee and direct police protocol and conduct.

USA Today’s Kevin Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In addition to deadly force, the review is expected to examine law enforcement’s increasing encounters with the mentally ill, the application of emerging technologies such as body cameras, and police agencies’ expanding role in homeland security efforts since 9/11, said the official, who is not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

The review is slated to be completed early next year while authorities consider establishing a special law enforcement commission similar to a panel created by President Johnson to deal with problems then associated with rising crime.

Rather than violent crime, which has been in decline in much of the country, police are now grappling with persistent incidents involving use of force and their responses to an array of public safety issues, from drug overdoses to their dealings with the mentally ill and the emotionally disturbed.

The call for a broader federal policy review, while not directly tied to any specific incident, grew out of a meeting involving law enforcement advocacy groups and Justice officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, the official said.

“Nobody has looked at the profession in any holistic way in more than 50 years,” the official said.


LAUSD TO WELCOME NEW IMMIGRANT STUDENTS “WITH OPEN ARMS”

All kids in the United States have a right to attend school regardless of their immigration status. In 2013, 13,000 kids entered the country without a parent or guardian. The number jumped to 25,000 this year, as kids are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said that he is preparing for about 1,000 new immigrant children to enter the public school system this year, and told the LA Times, “We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s how it opens:

At the low-slung bungalow west of downtown, a youngster screams from a vaccination and a nurse records the height and weight of an older boy. Academic counselors stand by, because it is here that many children who recently crossed the southern border enroll in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As the line runs out the door of the cramped reception area, José Miguel waits his turn to sign up 17-year-old niece Elena, a native of Guatemala who crossed over from Mexico in March without her parents or a guardian.

Under federal law, these children are entitled to attend public school regardless of immigration status.

“I am planning for 1,000 this year, but I will know more when our doors open,” L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said just before the nation’s second-largest district started its school year on Tuesday.

Across the country over the next year, federal agencies expect to manage about 60,000 minors who entered or will arrive in the United States without an adult guardian. That figure compares with about 7,500 who came in annually before the numbers surged to 13,625 last year and about 25,000 in the current year.

“We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD,” Deasy said last week in an interview with reporters and editors at The Times.

Many unaccompanied minors land in Southern California; here they can be cared for by relatives who are part of well-established expatriate communities from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — the impoverished and sometimes violent countries from which most have journeyed.

José Miguel, a worker in the garment industry, needs assistance in part because his own education was limited. He speaks Spanish, but his first language is a Guatemalan dialect. Immigration authorities left him a stack of papers for his niece. He’s not sure what district staff need to see.

The center is outfitted to handle Spanish and Korean speakers, and brings in interpreters as needed.

L.A. Unified officials have warned schools to be prepared for students who may be afraid to enroll or who could experience separation anxiety and grief. Some have suffered trauma from witnessing violence. They may be undereducated or even illiterate.

Some of the girls might have been sexually abused; some are parents themselves. Diapers are among the supplies at the school enrollment, placement and assessment center, located in a fenced corner of Plasencia Elementary School.


BILL TO END RACIAL DISPARITY IN CRACK/POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING HEADS FOR GOVERNOR’S DESK

The California Assembly has passed a bill to equalize the punishment for possession (for sale) of powder and crack cocaine. Crack previously held a higher penalty of three to five years, while powder was punishable by two to four years.

SB 1010, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, after which it will land on the governor’s desk.

The Drug Policy Alliance has more on the bill’s progress. Here’s a clip:

“As Assemblymember Bradford said in presenting the bill today, the current disparities in our drug laws amount to institutional racism,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Fair Sentencing Act will take a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. The time has long come.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body. Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda. Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Posted in LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 52 Comments »

Creating Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Dept….Paul Tanaka Campaign Inactive….LA Times Urges Five More Years for LAPD Chief Beck….and 91% ATF Drug Sting Arrests are of Minorities

August 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPE RIDLEY-THOMAS, JIM MCDONNELL, OTHERS DISCUSS LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT ON ABC7 “EYEWITNESS NEWSMAKERS”

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider creating a civilian commission to oversee the sheriff’s department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas appeared on ABC7′s “Eyewitness Newsmakers” Sunday morning with host Adrienne Alpert to discuss the issue. He was joined by LBPD Chief (and LA sheriff hopeful) Jim McDonnell, Miriam Krinsky, the former executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, and Lt. Brian Moriguchi, president of the Professional Peace Officers Association.

Ridley-Thomas urged his fellow supervisors to vote in favor of the commission Tuesday, without further delay.

Jim McDonnell agreed that the commission should be created, and said that it’s establishment could help the county ward off a federal consent decree. McDonnell said it should be set up while the particulars of the Office of Inspector General are being decided, so that they work together properly. McDonnell also told Alpert that the IG should report to the civilian commission and that he does not believe the IG should have to be bound to the LASD by attorney-client privilege (as interim Sheriff John Scott has recommended).

PPOA president Moriguchi disagreed with Ridley-Thomas and McDonnell about the timing, saying that the OIG should be established before a civilian commission, and that effective oversight is of greater importance than simply creating more oversight.

And while the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence chose to not take a position on the issue, former executive director of the commission, Miriam Krinsky, urged the creation of a permanent civilian watchdog panel.

Here’s a clip from Alpert’s pre-show story:

After years of reports of mismanagement, corruption and brutality in the sheriff’s department, Ridley-Thomas says the board should not wait any longer to approve the commission.

Speaking on Sunday’s “Eyewitness Newsmakers,” Ridley-Thomas said, “What are we waiting for? More federal indictments? What are we waiting for? More embarrassment?”

Appearing with the supervisor, the leading candidate for sheriff, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who supports the citizen commission, said it could help L.A. County avoid a federal consent decree imposed on the sheriff’s department. “I think it could happen,” said McDonnell. “We have an opportunity to put oversight in place.”

The LA Times also had a Sunday editorial urging the board to vote in favor of creating the commission.


PAUL TANAKA, CAMPAIGN STAFF M.I.A.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka did not respond to requests to speak on Newsmakers (story above).

In fact, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze says it appears his campaign headquarters has been deserted for about a month. While Tanaka was unreachable (as were his campaign manager and his chief fundraiser), his campaign consultant, Reed Galen, says he is no longer employed by Tanaka.

Political scientist and head of the Center for the Study of L.A. at Loyola Marymount, Fernando Guerra, says the former undersheriff should shut down campaign operations and go on vacation after only receiving 15% of the vote in the primary election (to Jim McDonnell’s 49%).

What Tanaka is actually going to do remains unknown.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

The once bustling campaign headquarters of Paul Tanaka, tucked in the middle of a Torrance strip mall is empty now. No volunteers busily calling voters, no campaign signs stacked high. No Tanaka buzzing around, giving orders and thanking people. One of the agents at the State Farm Insurance office next door says Tanaka’s people decamped about a month ago.

KPCC calls and emails to both the would-be sheriff’s campaign manager and chief fundraiser went unreturned. His campaign consultant during the primary election, Reed Galen, said he no longer works for Tanaka. He did not elaborate.

Tanaka, a former undersheriff who finished second in the primary, has not returned numerous calls this week or responded to emails. He didn’t appear to be home at his Gardena residence on Friday afternoon.

[SNIP]

The most recent post on Tanaka’s campaign website was June 5, when he thanked supporters. He has no upcoming events listed on the website.

Tanaka garnered just 15 percent of the vote in the primary, a distant second to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell’s 49 percent of the vote.

“I think his best strategy is to shut down, don’t spend any money, and go on vacation,” said Fernando Guerra, a political scientist who heads the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a KPCC board member. “He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance.”


LA TIMES ENDORSES REAPPOINTMENT OF LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK

The LA Times editorial board says despite a few missteps, Charlie Beck deserves to be reappointed for another five-year term as Los Angeles Police Chief. (We at WLA agree wholeheartedly with their endorsement.) Here’s a clip:

Just look at the numbers. Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row, beginning under the previous chief, William J. Bratton, and continuing for the last five years under Beck. It’s true that L.A. has benefited from a long-term trend in which cities across the country are becoming safer, but that doesn’t negate the impact that smart policing and good management have had here. In fact, Los Angeles has continued to cut crime even as other cities, such as Chicago, have experienced a resurgence in homicides and gang violence. While overall crime in L.A. was down in the first six months of this year, it should be noted that there was a small increase in violent crime, due partly to a rise in aggravated assaults. If Beck is reappointed, he will be under tremendous pressure to turn that around.

Beck should get extra credit for keeping crime low even though he has had, on average, significantly fewer officers on duty each day than his predecessor did, as a result of budget cuts that forced officers to stay home rather than be paid overtime.

[SNIP]

This is not to say that Beck is above criticism. In recent months, some weaknesses in his management style have become apparent; left unchecked, they could undermine some of the tremendous improvements of the last decade. There is, for instance, a widespread perception in the department that Beck, who has the final say on discipline of officers, has been unfair in meting out punishment — too harsh on some unlucky officers and too easy on favored employees. In one case, Beck overruled a panel’s recommendation that he fire an officer caught lying to investigators — an officer who also happened to be the nephew of a former deputy chief.

Beck also faced some discontent inside and outside the department when he returned eight officers to duty even though they had violated policy by carelessly firing more than 100 rounds at two women delivering newspapers during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last year.

Beck has repeatedly chosen to retrain officers rather than fire them for mistakes on the job, including out-of-policy shootings that killed or injured people. He was challenged publicly on this in 2012 by members of the Police Commission, who said his seemingly lenient punishments could send the wrong message to officers. Two years later, the police officers’ union and a new civilian panel appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti also expressed concern about uneven discipline. If reappointed, Beck must address lingering perceptions of leniency and favoritism. He should lay out clear standards for discipline so officers know what to expect and so commissioners can hold him accountable if he deviates from his own policy.


ATF DRUG STINGS: 91% ARRESTED ARE MINORITIES, SAYS USA TODAY INVESTIGATION

A whopping 91% of those arrested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during drug sting operations during the last ten years were minorities (55% black, and over 33% hispanic), according to a USA Today investigation we didn’t want you to miss.

ATF officials say there is no racial bias occurring in their drug stings—that they are simply targeting “the worst of the worst.” Academics and criminal justice advocates say otherwise. US District Court Judge – and many others say otherwise.

USA Today’s Brad Heath has this story. Here’s how it opens, but there’s a lot more, so do go read the rest:

The nation’s top gun-enforcement agency overwhelmingly targeted racial and ethnic minorities as it expanded its use of controversial drug sting operations, a USA TODAY investigation shows.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has more than quadrupled its use of those stings during the past decade, quietly making them a central part of its attempts to combat gun crime. The operations are designed to produce long prison sentences for suspects enticed by the promise of pocketing as much as $100,000 for robbing a drug stash house that does not actually exist.

At least 91% of the people agents have locked up using those stings were racial or ethnic minorities, USA TODAY found after reviewing court files and prison records from across the United States. Nearly all were either black or Hispanic. That rate is far higher than among people arrested for big-city violent crimes, or for other federal robbery, drug and gun offenses.

The ATF operations raise particular concerns because they seek to enlist suspected criminals in new crimes rather than merely solving old ones, giving agents and their underworld informants unusually wide latitude to select who will be targeted. In some cases, informants said they identified targets for the stings after simply meeting them on the street.

“There’s something very wrong going on here,” said University of Chicago law professor Alison Siegler, part of a team of lawyers challenging the ATF’s tactics in an Illinois federal court. “The government is creating these crimes and then choosing who it’s going to target.”

Current and former ATF officials insist that race plays no part in the operations. Instead, they said, agents seek to identify people already committing violent robberies in crime-ridden areas, usually focusing on those who have amassed long and violent rap sheets.

“There is no profiling going on here,” said Melvin King, ATF’s deputy assistant director for field operations, who has supervised some of the investigations. “We’re targeting the worst of the worst, and we’re looking for violent criminals that are using firearms in furtherance of other illegal activities.”

The ATF’s stash-house investigations already face a legal backlash. Two federal judges in California ruled this year that agents violated the Constitution by setting people up for “fictitious crime” they wouldn’t otherwise commit; a federal appeals court in Chicago is weighing whether an operation there amounted to entrapment. Even some of the judges who have signed off on the operations have expressed misgivings about them.

On top of that, defense lawyers in three states have charged that ATF is profiling minority suspects. They asked judges to force the Justice Department to turn over records they hope will prove those claims. Last year, the chief federal judge in Chicago, U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, agreed and ordered government lawyers to produce a trove of information, saying there was a “strong showing of potential bias.”

Justice Department lawyers fought to block the disclosures. In one case in Chicago, the department refused to comply with another judge’s order that it produce information about the stings. The records it has so far produced in other cases remain sealed.

Because of that secrecy, the data compiled by USA TODAY offer the broadest evidence yet that ATF’s operations have overwhelmingly had minority suspects in their cross hairs. The newspaper identified a sample of 635 defendants arrested in stash-house stings during the past decade, and found 579, or 91%, were minorities.

Posted in Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, The Feds, War on Drugs | 13 Comments »

SWAT Raid Study, Restraining and Isolating Students as Punishment, Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against LASD, and New Gay Marriage States

June 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

POLICE MILITARIZATION AND THE WAR ON DRUGS

The ACLU released a report this week detailing the extreme militarization of police forces in the US. According to the report—which compiled data on 800 SWAT raids by 20 local, state and federal agencies between 2011-2012—62% of raids were conducted in search of drugs. Only 7% of SWAT deployments were for hostage, barricade, or shooter situations (the original function of SWAT teams when they began at the LAPD).

Nearly 80% of deployments were to serve a search warrant, predominantly for drugs, something the ACLU says can and should almost always be done by regular officers—not a paramilitary team.

And in at least 36% (but as high as 65%) of drug search raids, no contraband was found.

SWAT raids also disproportionately affect minorities. Of the raids executed to serve a search warrant, 42% targeted African Americans, and 12% targeted Latinos.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s website:

There are an estimated 45,000 SWAT raids every year. That means this sort of violent, paramilitary raid is happening in about 124 homes every day – or more likely every night – not in an overseas combat zone, but here in American neighborhoods. The police, who are supposed to serve and protect communities, are instead waging war on the people who live in them.

Our new report, War at Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, takes a hard look at 800 of these raids – or at least what state and local law enforcement agencies are willing to tell us about them. We found that almost 80% of SWAT raids are to search homes, usually for drugs, and disproportionately, in communities of color. During these drug searches, at least 10 officers often piled into armored personnel carriers. They forced their way into people’s homes using military equipment like battering rams 60 percent of the time. And they were 14 times more likely to deploy flashbang grenades than during SWAT raids for other purposes.

Public support for the failed War on Drugs is at its lowest ever, and yet police are still using hyper-aggressive tactics and heavy artillery to fight it. This paramilitary approach to everyday policing brutalizes bystanders and ravages homes. We reviewed one case in which a young mother was shot and killed with her infant son in her arms. During another raid, a grandfather of 12 was killed while watching baseball in his pajamas. And we talked with a mother whose toddler was covered in burns, shot through with a hole that exposed his ribs, and placed into a medically induced coma after a flashbang grenade exploded in his crib. None of these people was the suspect. In many cases like these, officers did not find the suspect or any contraband in the home.

Even if they had found contraband, the idea of cops-cum-warriors would still be deeply troubling. Police can – and do – conduct searches and take suspects into custody without incident, without breaking into a home in the middle of the night, and without discharging their weapons. The fact is, very few policing situations actually require a full SWAT deployment or a tank. And simply having drugs in one’s home should not be a high-risk factor used to justify a paramilitary raid.

This militarization has occurred without oversight to speak of, and with minimal data-collection.

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

…State legislatures and municipalities should impose meaningful restraints on the use of SWAT. SWAT deployments should be limited to the kinds of scenarios for which these aggressive measures were originally intended – barricade, hostage, and active shooter situations. Rather than allowing for a SWAT deployment in any case that is deemed (for whatever reason the officers determine) to be “high risk,” the better practice would be for law enforcement agencies to have in place clear standards limiting SWAT deployments to scenarios that are truly “high risk.”

SWAT teams should never be deployed based solely on probable cause to believe drugs are present, even if they have a warrant to search a home. In addition, SWAT teams should not equate the suspected presence of drugs with a threat of violence. SWAT deployment for warrant service is appropriate only if the police can demonstrate, before deployment, that ordinary law enforcement officers cannot safely execute a warrant without facing an imminent threat of serious bodily harm. In making these determinations it is important to take into consideration the fact that use of a SWAT team can escalate rather than ameliorate potential violence; law enforcement should take appropriate precautions to avoid the use of SWAT whenever possible. In addition, all SWAT deployments, regardless of the underlying purpose, should be proportional—not all situations call for a SWAT deployment consisting of 20 heavily armed officers in an APC, and partial deployments should be encouraged when appropriate. Local police departments should develop their own internal policies calling for restraint and should avoid all training programs that encourage a “warrior” mindset.

Finally, the public has a right to know how the police are spending its tax dollars. The militarization of American policing has occurred with almost no oversight, and greater documentation, transparency, and accountability are urgently needed.

A requirement that SWAT officers wear body cameras would create a public record of SWAT deployments and serve as a check against unnecessarily aggressive tactics.

In his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, Radley Balko
outlines the history of the over-militarization civilian police forces
and how disastrously unsafe it can be for citizens and law enforcement, particularly in smaller municipalities.


RAMPANT (AND LEGAL) PHYSICAL RESTRAINING AND ISOLATION OF KIDS WHO ACT OUT IN SCHOOL

ProPublica’s Heather Vogell turned an investigative spotlight on all-to-common and punitive use of physical restraint and isolation on kids in schools across the nation.

In 2012, schools recorded 163,000 instances of physical restraint. Straps or handcuffs were used 7,600 of those times. And kids were placed in isolation rooms or “scream rooms” around 104,000 times.

At least 20 kids died between 1989 and 2009 allegedly due to being restrained or locked in isolation at school.

(Vogell’s story is co-published with NPR.) Here’s a clip:

Restraining and secluding students for any reason remains perfectly legal under federal law. And despite a near-consensus that the tactics should be used rarely, new data suggests some schools still routinely rely on them to control children.

The practices—which have included pinning uncooperative children facedown on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape—were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year, a ProPublica analysis of new federal data shows. Three-quarters of the students restrained had physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities.

Children have gotten head injuries, bloody noses, broken bones and worse while being restrained or tied down—in one Iowa case, to a lunch table. A 13-year-old Georgia boy hanged himself after school officials gave him a rope to keep up his pants before shutting him alone in a room.

At least 20 children nationwide have reportedly died while being restrained or isolated over the course of two decades, the Government Accountability Office found in 2009.

“It’s hard to believe this kind of treatment is going on in America,” says parent and advocate Phyllis Musumeci. A decade ago, her autistic son was restrained 89 times over 14 months at his school in Florida. “It’s a disgrace.”

The federal data shows schools recorded 163,000 instances in which students were restrained in just one school year. In most cases, staff members physically held them down. But in 7,600 reports, students were put in “mechanical” restraints such as straps or handcuffs. (Arrests were not included in the data.) Schools said they placed children in what are sometimes called “scream rooms” roughly 104,000 times.

Those figures almost certainly understate what’s really happening. Advocates and government officials say underreporting is rampant. Fewer than one-third of the nation’s school districts reported using restraints or seclusions even once during the school year.

Schools that used restraints or seclusions at all did so an average of 18 times in the 2012 school year, the data shows. But hundreds of schools used them far more often—reporting dozens, and even hundreds, of instances.

[SNIP]

More than four years ago, federal lawmakers began a campaign to restrict restraints and seclusions in public schools, except during emergencies. Despite a thick stack of alarming reports, the legislation has gone nowhere.

Opponents of the legislation say policy decisions about the practices are best left to state and local leaders. The federal government’s role, they say, should be limited to simply making sure districts have enough money to train staff to prevent and handle bad behavior.

But states and districts have shown they won’t create enough safeguards on their own, say advocates and other supporters of the legislation. Despite years of public concern about the practices, schools in most states can still restrain kids even when imminent danger doesn’t exist.

This February, timed with the re-introduction of legislation to limit the practices, Senate staffers released a report concluding that dangerous use of restraints and seclusion is “widespread” in public schools. Neither practice, the report said, benefits students therapeutically or academically.

“In fact, use of either seclusion or restraints in non-emergency situations poses significant physical and psychological danger to students,” it warned.

ProPublica also has a podcast on this issue that’s worth listening to.


FAMILY OF UNARMED MAN KILLED BY LASD DEPUTY TO SETTLE WITH COUNTY FOR $1.5M

A settlement of $1.5 million will be awarded to the family of 22-year-old Arturo Cabrales, who was fatally shot while unarmed by LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Paez.

Paez allegedly forcibly entered Cabrales’ property, after telling Cabrales that he didn’t need a warrant. Cabrales turned and ran, at which point the deputy allegedly shot him six times in the back and the side.

The suit accuses Paez and his partner Julio Martinez of trying to cover up the incident by planting a firearm in a neighbor’s yard and filing false police reports claiming Cabrales pointed a gun at the officers before throwing it over a fence.

Paez and Martinez were both fired in February 2013 after being charged with planting guns at a marijuana dispensary in order to falsely arrest two men. The ex-deputies face more than seven years each behind bars, if convicted.

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has the story. Here’s a clip:

The suit alleged that Paez and other deputies involved in the shooting were associated with the Regulators, a deputy clique operating out of the Century station. The suit blamed former Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for giving tacit support to such cliques. Tanaka is a candidate for sheriff in the November election.

Paez is no longer with the department. In April, he and another deputy, Julio Martinez, were charged with conspiracy and perjury for allegedly planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary to justify an arrest. Those charges are still pending. Paez and Martinez were both terminated in February 2013.

Ellis contends the two cases add up to a pattern of false reports and planted evidence. In the shooting case, the lawsuit alleged that Cabrales was standing inside the gate of his home, near the Jordan Downs housing project, when he saw four deputies harassing his uncle.

Paez, one of the deputies, began talking to Cabrales and tried to enter his property. Cabrales objected that the deputies did not have a warrant, at which point Paez answered in “foul, offensive and intimidating language,” saying that he did not need a warrant. Paez forcibly entered the gate, and Cabrales turned and ran. Paez then opened fire, according to the suit. Ellis said Cabrales was hit twice in the size and four times in the back.

Read on.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: GAY MARRIAGE ARRIVES IN INDIANA AND UTAH

On Wednesday, just a day short of the anniversary of the Defense of Marriage Act’s abolishment, federal courts struck down gay marriage bans in both Indiana and Utah. The states have joined the list of (now) 21 states that boast marriage equality. (Congratulations, Utahans and Hoosiers!)

Reuters has more on the decisions.

Posted in ACLU, LGBT, Police, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 20 Comments »

Realignment and Untapped Solutions to Overcrowding at the Local and State Levels, Federal Sentencing Reforms Stalled, and More

June 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT THREE YEARS IN: STILL OVERCROWDED WITH MINIMAL SAVINGS

California prison realignment, AB 109, (which diverts lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision) was supposed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding while saving the state money. Three years into the implementation of AB 109, however, California is spending $2 billion more per year locking people up, jails are overcrowded, and the state prison population is on the rise, once again.

Through realignment, counties were allotted money to spend on things like community-based alternatives to incarceration, but some counties (Los Angeles, for instance) have failed to use available methods like split-sentencing and other programs to lower recidivism.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the realignment issue. Here are some clips:

Nearly 15 months after launching what he called the “boldest move in criminal justice in decades,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades.

Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation.

“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said in early 2013.

The numbers tell a different story.

Today, California is spending nearly $2 billion a year more on incarceration than when Brown introduced his strategy in 2011. The prisons are still overcrowded, and the state has been forced to release inmates early to satisfy federal judges overseeing the system.

Counties, given custody of more than 142,000 felons so far, complain that the state isn’t paying full freight for their supervision. Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more.

“The charts are sobering,” Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said at a hearing this year on crime, prison costs and inmate numbers.

Still, Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. “It is not going to create miracles overnight,” he said as he returned to his office from a Capitol rally for crime victims earlier this spring.

The governor’s office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state.

Putting prisoners back in local hands “is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives,” he said.

[SNIP]

The prison population fell sharply at first, dropping from 162,400 to 133,000, but it is rising again. There now are 135,400 inmates in state custody, a number expected to grow to 147,000 in 2019.

The state Finance Department originally projected that realignment would reduce prison spending by $1.4 billion this fiscal year and that about two-thirds of that savings would be passed on to counties to cover the costs of their new charges.

Instead, the state’s increased costs for private prison space and the compensation it pays out for county jails, prosecutors and probation departments adds up to about $2 billion a year more for corrections than when Brown regained office.

Without stemming the flow of prisoners into the system, the problems created by crowding continue. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state agency that investigates government operations, said in a May report that realignment simply “changed the place where the sentence is served.”


OVERCROWDING AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, AND WHAT LOS ANGELES COULD BE DOING ABOUT IT

Los Angeles County is facing A $1.7 billion (or more) plan to tear down and replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail. Currently, 4,000 more men are crammed into the facility than allowed by the government. There is no question that the aging and grossly overcrowded facility needs to be replaced, but there are ways to fix the population problem.

Before we get to that, LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story on the overpopulated jail. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Dyer, commanding officer of the downtown Men’s Central Jail, couldn’t help but grimace during a recent inspection of Dorm 9500.

More than 200 low-security inmates were crammed inside the room, every now and then tripping over each other’s bunks spaced a foot apart.

The space was not originally intended to serve as living quarters, so toilets were an afterthought, installed haphazardly in the middle of a row of bunks in the 1980s. They’re exposed to the room with no stall walls and only a few feet from the nearest bunk.

“That’s just wrong,” Dyer said, gesturing toward the inmates who have to eat and sleep next to the toilets.

[SNIP]

“We are at serious risk of litigation,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald warned. “If the courts take over, we’ll end up spending a lot of money which could have gone toward rehabilitation and treatment.”

County Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop said Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 decision to ease overcrowding in state prisons by diverting inmates to county jails created a crisis.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” he said. “Something must be done.”

Alsop called for additional funding support to ensure inmates’ “appropriate and effective supervision and rehabilitation.”

[SNIP]

The jail population peaked at about 23,000 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sheriff’s Lt. Sergio Murillo recalled, “We used to have inmates all over the place — they were on the roof, in the chapel, on the floors of the cells.”

The number dropped to about 15,000 three years ago, but AB 109 pushed it up to 19,000 currently. That’s 4,000 more than government regulations allow.

“That’s horrific, horrendous and unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a court-appointed monitor of the jails.

“It raises very significant questions as to whether this is an unconstitutional level of overcrowding, especially when they have space they are not utilizing,” he added.

Dyer admitted the East Facility at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic has room for 1,500 inmates but isn’t being used because of budget problems.

SoCal ACLU Director Peter Eliasberg told WLA that if LA County is worried about getting sued by the federal government, we might want to find a way to use those 1500 beds in Pitchess.

Eliasberg also shared three ways to further lower the jail population, including amping up the county’s currently minimal use of split-sentencing (dividing sentences into part jail time, part probation):

1. Have the Board of Supervisors authorize the Sheriff to do risk-based pretrial release, rather than having the county rely on the bail system, which is not risk-based and leaves lots of poor low risk individuals in jail awaiting disposition of their cases. If the Sheriff were to use a sound risk assessment tool to do non-bail pretrial release, it would likely lower the average daily jail population by about 1,000.

3. If the proposed state criminal justice trailer bill (AB 1468) passes, it will likely increase the amount of split sentencing in LA County significantly because it contains the presumption that an N3 [a non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender] will receive a split sentence “Unless the court finds, in the interest of justice, that it [a split sentence] is not appropriate in a particular case…”

Los Angeles has one of the lowest, if not the lowest rates of split sentencing in California at about 3%. By contrast, 87% of the N3s in Contra Costa receive split sentences; the figure is 67% in Riverside and 39% in Orange County. The best estimates are that if LA raised its rate of split sentencing to 30%, it would lower the average daily jail population by about 900 a night.

If the District Attorney achieves her goal of cutting the number of inmates with mental illness by about 1,000 through a diversion program, the Board of Supervisors gives the Sheriff pretrial release authority, and LA raises its level of split sentencing to 30%, the County would be looking at a reduction of the average daily jail population of about 2,900 below the projections that were used to justify the jail plan the BOS voted to move forward on in May.


BIPARTISAN SENTENCING REFORM BILLS DELAYED IN CONGRESS

Over the last few years, there has been a significant bipartisan push to reduce incarceration. Unfortunately, two promising and far-reaching criminal justice reform bills have stalled in Congress.

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.


An NY Times editorial explains why the bills have stalled,
and calls on Congress to “do its job” and fix the defective laws feeding our over-stuffed prison system. Here’s a clip:

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal inmates — many of whom have already served years of unjustly long drug sentences — continue to sit in overstuffed prisons, wasting both their lives and taxpayer dollars at no demonstrable benefit to public safety.

The slowdown is all the more frustrating because there is mounting evidence that criminal justice reform works. States from South Carolina to Ohio to Rhode Island have cut back on mandatory minimums, improved rehabilitation services and reduced their prison populations while seeing crime rates go down, or at least not go up.

So why the delay? One major factor has been resistance from members of the old guard, who refuse to let go of their tough-on-crime mind-set. In May, three senior Republican senators — Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama — came out against the sentencing reductions, arguing that mandatory minimums are only used for the highest-level drug traffickers. This assertion is contradicted by data from the United States Sentencing Commission, which found that 40 percent of federal drug defendants were couriers or low-level dealers.

Another factor was the Obama administration’s April announcement that it would consider clemency for hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates currently serving time under older, harsher drug laws. Republicans complained that this — along with other executive actions on criminal justice by Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. — took the wind out of reform’s sails.

But with the exception of some old-line prosecutors and resistant lawmakers, everyone still agrees on the need for extensive reform…


LA PROGRAM HELPS PARENTS COMBAT EFFECTS OF TRAUMA IN BABIES AND TODDLERS

A Children’s Hospital Los Angeles program is targeting trauma and toxic stress experienced by babies, in hopes of averting mental health problems as they get older. The program provides in-home therapy and coaching for parents of babies and toddlers exhibiting signs of toxic stress. (For more WLA posts about trauma and toxic stress in children, go here and here.)

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Through its “early childhood mental health program,” the hospital sends therapists into the homes of hundreds of kids who are showing signs of anxiety, trauma and stress that can pile up causing what experts call “toxic stress.”

…counselors in this program teach parents how to diffuse stress in the home and to understand and meet their children’s emotional needs. About 400 families are served every year.

Among them are Shantoya Byrd and her toddler, Anmarie Paz.

When Anmarie was just weeks old, her aunt committed suicide in the home they shared.

“I was so, so, sad,” Byrd said. “And then you feel really bad because you’re like, now I have a baby, and the baby sees you so sad.”

Byrd was also living with her mother, who was struggling with drug addiction. When Anmarie was six months old, social workers found the home unfit and removed her. She was reunited with her mother a few days later, when Byrd moved out on her own.

“When I got her back, I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without her like following behind me screaming,” she said. “If she could not like touch me, she would scream, she would cry.”

Anmarie was suffering from severe anxiety. She cried and yelled nonstop. Byrd didn’t understand why or how to deal with it.

[SNIP]

Child welfare workers referred Byrd to the program, which sent psychotherapist Lorena Samora to her Los Angeles apartment.

During weekly visits, Samora was able to coach the young mother on techniques for helping her toddler to self-soothe and lessen anxiety.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health, prison, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma, War on Drugs | 3 Comments »

Causes and Collateral Damage of Mass Incarceration, Fewer Kids Dying from Abuse in LA County…and More

May 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW NATIONAL REPORT ON THE U.S. INCARCERATION CRISIS: THE FISCAL, FAMILIAL, AND SOCIETAL COST, AND HOW TO REVERSE THE DAMAGES

On Tuesday we shared an NY Times story about what sparked the United States’ prison crisis, in anticipation of an important 464-page report on the causes and repercussions of mass incarceration over the last 40 years.

On Wednesday the National Academy of Sciences released the extensive report, which analyzes in-depth America’s racially disproportionate incarceration epidemic which has had minimal benefit and has, instead, been disastrously damaging to children, families, and communities.

The Washington Post’s Emily Badger has a breakdown of the report’s findings (complete with helpful graphs). Here are some clips:

…black men younger than 35 without a high school degree are now more likely in America to be imprisoned than employed in the labor market.

These disproportionate impacts extend to their children: As of 2009, 62 percent of black children under 17, whose parents had not completed high school, have had a parent in prison. The same was true for 17 percent of Hispanic children and 15 percent of white children (with similarly educated parents).

Prisoners are more likely to come out of poor communities (and to return to them). This means that communities with the least capacity to absorb former prisoners are home to the largest share of them. This also means that economic, social and political problems tied to incarceration tend to fall on communities that have many other related challenges.

“There is little question,” as the report puts it, “that incarceration has become another strand in the complex combination of negative conditions that characterize high-poverty communities in U.S. cities.”

[SNIP]

That concentrated disadvantage is also passed to the next generation. Research has linked incarceration to frayed relationships between parents and between men and their children. It’s linked to economic distress for families, housing insecurity and reliance on public assistance. Incarceration reduces fathers’ involvement with their children, even after their release from prison, and it undermines their roles as parents and earners. Having an incarcerated father also increases a child’s chances of having behavioral problems, bad grades and lower educational attainment.

[SNIP]

The National Research Council calls for reform on three fronts. On sentencing policy, we could reduce the length of sentences and the harshness of drug laws. With prison policy, we could work to improve the programs and conditions for people serving in prison, while trying to make the consequences of incarceration less harmful on their families and communities on the outside.

There’s also much we could do in the realm of social policy, far beyond the typical reach of the criminal justice system. Given that incarceration has become deeply intertwined with other problems within impoverished communities, policies that reduce school dropout rates, that ameliorate neighborhood poverty or mental illness would also have an impact.

The U.S. also needs to recall principles that have been “notably missing,” in the report’s language, in public discussion of criminal justice policy as incarceration rates have skyrocketed. Namely, these:

Proportionality: Criminal offenses should be sentenced in proportion to their seriousness.

Parsimony: The period of confinement should be sufficient but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing policy.

Citizenship: The conditions and consequences of imprisonment should not be so severe or lasting as to violate one’s fundamental status as a member of society.

Social justice: Prisons should be instruments of justice, and as such their collective effect should be to promote society’s aspirations for a fair distribution of rights, resources and opportunities.

Executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, says America must bring down its lock-up rates significantly to “re-join the family of civilized nations”—that we cannot be satisfied with reducing the prison population without solving the underlying issues, or trading our overloaded prison system for excessive supervision. Here’s a clip:

The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.” It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the U.S. should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws.

Even as bipartisan support for reducing incarceration grows across the country, I have two fears. The first is that we will succeed in reducing incarceration rates by 10 percent or so over the next few years, pat ourselves on the back, and think enough has been done. The second is that we will reduce incarceration by at least that much but increase by millions more the number of people on probation, parole and otherwise under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Transforming America from a maximum incarceration society to a maximum surveillance society will be a very mixed blessing.

Reducing incarceration involves more than just eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and harsh criminal penalties for nonviolent drug crimes. Removing marijuana from the criminal justice system through responsible regulation and taxation of legal markets would make a meaningful difference. So would ending the criminalization of drug use and possession of all drugs and making a true commitment to treating drug use and addiction as health issues.

Ultimately we need to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control as much as possible while protecting public safety and health.


DEATHS FROM CHILD ABUSE DOWN IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Child abuse-related deaths in 2012 dropped to the lowest in 25 years in Los Angeles County, while reports of suspected child abuse or neglect increased, according to the latest annual reports by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and Child Death Review Team. (We at WLA hope for a deeper examination of what these numbers mean.)

The reports follow on the heels of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final recommendations for fixing the county’s dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“One can conclude that the number of referrals is not indicative of a bigger problem, but indicative of more awareness and better opportunity to help children, protect them and keep them safe,” Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect Director Deanne Tilton-Durfee said.

Even though child abuse deaths dropped nearly 40 percent from 238 in 2011 to 219 in 2012 — the latest data available — gaping holes remain in the county’s safety net for the most vulnerable.

[SNIP]

ICAN’s report comes just a few weeks after the county Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection said the system was in a “state of emergency” and called for various reforms.

ICAN’s Child Death Review Team found more than half of the children killed by a parent, relative or caregiver in 2012 were babies who had yet to celebrate their first birthday. Almost all of them were under age 5.

About 60 percent of the homicides were committed by a woman, usually the child’s own mother. In the preceding year, the vast majority of the killers were men.

Most of the children died as a result of inflicted trauma, likely from beatings. A few were drowned or abandoned as newborns. There was a death each from stabbing, strangulation and poisoning.

The team, led by District Attorney’s Family Violence Division chief Michele Daniels and Harbor/UCLA Medical Center pediatrics division chair Dr. Carol Berkowitz, recommended that law enforcement officers responding to domestic violence calls also check on the children in the home.

“Violence between adults impacts children in the home as they are at risk for emotional and/or physical abuse as a result of the violence,” they said.

The team also called for training workers to spot high risk factors when they come into contact with families, including multiple referrals to DCFS, parents or caregivers having a history of being abused themselves, substance abuse, and social isolation.


STATE USING HALF-EMPTY MEDICAL PRISON TO LOWER OVERALL OVERCROWDING AVERAGE

Two weeks ago, Governor Jerry Brown has began the process of releasing certain low-level offenders early in compliance with federal judges’ order to reduce California’s prison population.

The judges’ first population goal for the state was an average of 143% prison capacity by June 30. According to the state’s April status update to the judges, the average prison population has already made it to 141%.

But inmate attorneys say the state is counting beds at a problematic medical prison that is currently half-empty and closed to new admissions. The lawyers say this is a workaround that lets the state leave other facilities at a higher-than-allowed capacity, and asked the judges to remove the facility from the calculated average.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has this update on California’s continuing prison overcrowding saga. Here’s a clip:

A panel of three federal judges gave California until June 30 to reduce crowding to a statewide average of 143% of what its prisons can hold, the first of a series of increasingly lower population limits. In an April update to the court, lawyers for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris said the system is now at 141% of capacity.

They reached that average by including 1,500 empty beds at a new medical prison outside of Stockton. The facility is at 47% capacity, and was closed to new medical admissions earlier this year after the death of an inmate and concerns it was poorly run.

In a court motion filed Friday, lawyers from the Prison Law Office representing inmates argue that counting empty cells and medical beds allows California to keep 4,000 more inmates in other prisons than would be permitted.

They have asked judges to calculate the crowding average by looking at only the state’s 33 other prisons. State population reports show 16 of those prisons currently exceed what the court will allow as a statewide average June 30.

There’s more, so read the rest.

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison policy, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

New, More Expensive Los Angeles Jail Proposal, LASD Deputies Planted Guns in Marijuana Clinic, DCFS Director on Foster Care Reforms, and the New Clemency Criteria

April 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES JAIL REPLACEMENT PROPOSAL RELEASED, AND IS EVEN MORE PRICEY THAN THE LAST TWO BIDS

On Wednesday, Vanir Construction Management Inc. released a report detailing five options for replacing the aging Men’s Central Jail, as requested by the Board of Supervisors. The proposed options range in price from $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over a ten year period.

This isn’t the first jail construction bid presented to the county. Last July, the jail-replacement proposals ranged in price from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.

A few months before that, in March of 2013, LA County CEO Bill Fujioka and Sheriff Lee Baca proposed a $933 million jail building project.

We presume there’s a good reason for the repeatedly escalated price, and we hope that will be a topic of discussion by the Board of Supervisors.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the latest on the construction proposals. Here’s a clip:

The county supervisors, concerned about deteriorating facilities and poor living conditions for inmates with mental health issues, want to tear down the aging Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and replace it. The new facility would be primarily focused on housing inmates with physical and mental health needs and substance abuse issues.

Officials are also contemplating creating a new 1,600-bed women’s jail at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, to replace the overcrowded women’s jail in Lynwood.

The plan is not expected to increase the county’s total number of available jail beds, but officials said it would help the county comply with federal mandates on the treatment of mentally ill inmates, and would allow women — who are typically lower risk than male inmates — to be housed in a less restrictive environment with more options for job training and other programs.

The report by Vanir Construction Management laid out five options, all of which involve replacing the Men’s Central Jail. The new facility would hold between 4,860 and 5,860 inmates, depending on the option chosen, with the bulk of the beds set aside for inmates needing medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and a smaller number of beds for high-security inmates. Four of the five options also include a new women’s jail.

The construction is projected to cost between $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over the next 10 years, and after that would add $162 million to $300 million a year to the county’s jail operating costs.


LOS ANGELES DEPUTIES PLANT GUNS IN MARIJUANA CLINIC, FALSELY ARREST TWO MEN

In an alarming story, two former LA County deputies, Julio Martinez and Anthony Paez, are accused of planting two guns in a marijuana dispensary in order to arrest two men. Over a year later, an internal investigation found inconsistencies between the deputies’ report and the dispensary’s surveillance tape.

The ex-deputies face more than seven years each behind bars, if convicted.

ABC7′s Hanna Chu has the story. Here’s a clip:

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged on Wednesday with one felony count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and peace officer altering evidence, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office announced. Martinez was also charged with two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

Prosecutors say the deputies wrote a report saying they “witnessed a narcotics transaction and observed one suspect with a firearm” while they were on patrol in the area of West 84th Place on Aug. 24, 2011.

Martinez apparently followed one suspect inside a pot clinic, where he allegedly found a firearm near a trash bin and another next to ecstasy pills. One man was taken into custody for possession of an unregistered firearm, while another man was arrested for possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.

Charges had been filed against the two men falsely arrested. The case against one of the men was later dismissed, however the other suspect had pled before the corruption was discovered. The district attorney’s office said it was in the process of notifying the man’s defense attorney.

An investigation into the incident about a year later found that the deputies’ report was inconsistent with a video recording from the pot clinic. According to a criminal complaint, Martinez kicked at a wall outlet to shut off electricity inside the room during the incident, while Paez “opened a drawer and retrieved a handgun and placed it on a chair.”

Charges were dropped against one of the two men falsely arrested, but the other was sentenced to a year in jail (according to the LA Times’ Kate Mather).


DCFS DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT

On Wednesday’s Air Talk, host Larry Mantle talks with Philip Browning, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services about the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report.

Browning has some interesting things to say about the commission’s recommendations, so take a listen.

Here is a clip from the episode’s summary:

The department’s director, Philip Browning, says they have an oversight body already – the Board of Supervisors. He says many of the ideas have been instituted already – “about 96% have been partially or fully implemented.”

He goes on to say new social-worker training incorporates home-call simulations and promotes critical thinking and common sense. Was the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection more of the same – or critical to overhaul DCFS? What will the Board of Supervisors decide?


DOJ ANNOUNCES NEW CLEMENCY CRITERIA

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative by the Department of Justice to open up the possibility of clemency to low-level drug offenders sentenced under outdated federal guidelines.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the new, broader criteria for clemency applications.

Here’s a clip from the Justice Dept. website:

Under the new initiative, the department will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following factors:

They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;

They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;

They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;

They do not have a significant criminal history;

They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and

They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole. “Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.”

Posted in Foster Care, jail, LASD, War on Drugs | 9 Comments »

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