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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 | 2 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 »

The Power of LASD Inspector General…Breakdown of Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…DOJ to Consider Thousands of New Clemency Requests…and More

April 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DOES LASD CIVILIAN WATCHDOG MAX HUNTSMAN HOLD ENOUGH SWAY TO CLEAN UP THE DEPARTMENT?

In January Max Huntsman took on the role of Inspector General over the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But as civilian oversight of a department with an elected sheriff, Huntsman does not have the power to enforce reform. The only way he can turn up the heat on the department is by focusing a public spotlight on areas in need of reform, and making recommendations.

Monday NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at Huntsman’s power as IG, and whether it will be enough to bring some lasting change to the department.

Here’s a clip (but go take a listen):

Max Huntsman’s job — in the newly created role of watchdog — is to help clean up the department. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any real power.

In a sign perhaps of how unglamorous his new job will be, Huntsman’s new digs are a cramped collection of dark offices and cubicles, two floors above the famous food stalls of LA’s Grand Central Market.

On a recent visit, he had just one employee — a receptionist — but soon a team of 30 lawyers, auditors and retired law enforcement officers will be in place here. They’ll help Huntsman set up a system to monitor the Sheriff’s Department — namely its jails.

Just blocks from here, at the Men’s Central Jail, deputies are accused of beating and choking inmates without provocation, harassing visitors, then conspiring to cover it all up. In the indictments last fall, federal prosecutors portrayed a “culture of corruption” inside the agency.

“The bottom line is, I think you need to have people looking over your shoulder and knowing what you’re doing in order to make sure those cliques don’t develop, that you don’t get a group of people in the jail who think of themselves more as a gang than as deputy sheriffs,” says Huntsman. “That’s when you don’t have that light shining that that happens.”

That “light” is really the only tool Huntsman will have. Unlike a police chief in a big city who answers to the mayor or a civilian commission, LA’s sheriff is elected and enjoys a lot of autonomy. Huntsman can only present his findings and recommend reforms.

So far he’s gotten a warm welcome and promises of cooperation — but it’s early.

“They really, really want to respond to all these problems,” says Huntsman, “as they should. I mean, there are federal indictments on the table, there’s talk of a federal consent decree, or a memorandum of understanding.”


THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON FOSTER CARE’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORMING DCFS AND BETTER PROTECTING LA’S MOST VULNERABLE

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has a helpful analysis of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s recommendation for a new and separate entity to oversee and unite the Department of Children and Family Services and other county departments involved in child welfare.

Kelly also breaks down the rest of the commission’s final report and recommendations presented to the Board of Supervisors, including lower caseloads for social workers and boosted funding for relatives taking care of children in the DCFS system who would otherwise be in foster care.


DOJ OPENING UP CRITERIA FOR CLEMENCY APPLICATIONS TO PRE-FAIR SENTENCING ACT NON-VIOLENT DRUG OFFENDERS

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (mostly) balanced out the 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sale convictions and those for crack cocaine sales. Still, there are thousands of drug offenders serving longer sentences than they would be given under the FSA.

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Dept. is launching an initiative to grant clemency to non-violent crack cocaine offenders sentenced under pre-FSA outdated and harsh mandatory minimums.

The DOJ will also be beefing up the number of attorneys in the pardons office to handle the influx of clemency applications.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder has announced a series of initiatives to tackle disparities in criminal penalties, beginning in August, when he said that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would not be charged with offenses that call for severe mandatory sentences. He has traveled across the country to highlight community programs in which nonviolent offenders have received substance abuse treatment and other assistance instead of long prison sentences.

Underlying the initiatives is the belief by top Justice Department officials that the most severe penalties should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. On April 10, after an endorsement from Holder, the U.S. Sentencing Commission — the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges — voted to revise its guidelines to reduce sentences for defendants in most of the nation’s drug cases.

In the meantime, however, thousands of inmates are still serving federally mandated sentences that imposed strict penalties for the possession of crack cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed in 2010, reduced the disparity between convictions for crack and powder cocaine, and Obama has called sentences passed under the older guidelines “unduly harsh.” The law also eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the simple possession of crack cocaine.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said Monday. “This is simply not right.”

[SNIP]

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce details about the new criteria the Justice Department will use in considering clemency applications and how the department plans to review those applications.

The department has asked the American Civil Liberties Union and other nonprofit groups to help identify candidates for clemency. Some of those groups are likely to help inmates submit the necessary paperwork.


PARTISAN SHIFTS IN SENTENCING REFORM STANCES

As sentencing reform is picking up steam at national and state levels, once stark party lines are blurring. The realities of mass incarceration, especially the fiscal consequences, have created a shift in positions. Conservatives, formerly of a tough-on-crime mindset, are now some of the strongest supporters of sentencing reform.

For instance, the Texas-based conservative program Right on Crime has—successfully—led Texas’ prison reform agenda. Once faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis, the state has built up rehabilitation programs and incarceration alternatives. Instead of building new prisons and leasing more space in private facilities (looking at you, California), Texas is closing prisons and saving millions.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has more on the partisan shift. Here’s a clip:

…As the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most far-reaching changes in years to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups seeking to rehabilitate convicts.

A surprising number of high-profile Republicans are working arm in arm with Democrats on legislation to shorten jail terms and hasten prisoner releases. At the same time, in their own reversal of sorts, key Democrats are arguing against the legislation in its current form.

“It’s a little counterintuitive,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a conservative former judge who is co-sponsoring a proposal to let tens of thousands of inmates out of federal prisons early if they complete rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

As soon as this month, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that combines two bills that easily passed the Judiciary Committee. One cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and the other makes it easier to win early release. The combined measure would also make retroactive a 2010 law that reduced sentences for those previously convicted of possessing crack cocaine.

The legislation has attracted strong support from Republican conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. “I think it’s a mistake for people to assume that all conservatives or all Republicans have the same view in this regard, that we should kill them all and let God sort it out,” said Paul Larkin, a criminal justice expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Sentencing nonviolent offenders to decades in prison is “costly, not only in dollars but also the people involved,” Larkin said. “Sending someone to prison for a long time is tantamount to throwing that person away.”

But the new politics of crime remain complicated, with some old-line Republicans still opposed to the proposals. “Do we really want offenders like these out on the streets earlier than is the case now, to prey on our citizens?” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a recent Senate speech, referring to the bill to ease mandatory-minimum sentences. Grassley, however, supports the early-release proposal.

In a twist, some key Democrats are also opposed to the efforts to relax mandatory minimums and allow early releases, while others remain on the fence. Facing a Republican campaign to seize control of the Senate this fall, Democrats are concerned about appearing soft on crime, a vulnerability that has haunted them in the past.

Posted in Foster Care, Inspector General, LASD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 20 Comments »

Tricking Teenagers into Breaking the Law, Inmate Allowed to Sue Baca Personally, TX Gov. Perry and PREA, and an ALADS Story Update

April 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

RIVERSIDE COUNTY’S PENCHANT FOR UNDERCOVER HIGH SCHOOL DRUG STINGS

In 2012, Jesse Snodgrass, an autistic high school student in Temecula, was pressured into buying $20 worth of marijuana for an undercover officer posing as a new classmate and friend. Jesse—a kid who had no idea how to obtain marijuana before he was ensnared by an undercover sting operation—was thrown into the juvenile justice system.

And Jesse is not the only kid who has been solicited and entrapped by undercover officers posing as high schoolers in Riverside County. Jesse is not even the only special-needs student caught up in one of Riverside Sheriffs’ high school stings.

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Theshia Naidoo and Lynne Lyman (senior staff attorney and California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, respectively) call Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and school districts to task for the “ill-advised” and harmful use of undercover drug stings in high schools.

Here’s a clip:

…Should we really allow adults to dress up as kids, embed themselves in school classrooms and trick children into breaking the law?

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department regularly targets high school students, sometimes, as in this case, inspiring crime where it otherwise would not have existed. In the last four years, the department has staged four undercover sting operations in which adult officers, masquerading as high school students, repeatedly pressured students to obtain illegal substances for them. Over the last four years, nearly 100 students, a number of whom were special-needs students, have been arrested.

It is unclear why the Riverside sheriff continues to use this ill-advised strategy, and why area school districts continue to allow it. Such stings have been abandoned by many law enforcement agencies and banned by school districts across the country. The Los Angeles Unified School District hasn’t allowed undercover stings in its schools since 2004, when it concluded that they had the potential to harm students but had not reduced the availability of drugs on campus. The National Assn. of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officials has concluded that undercover high school operations have a high potential for bad outcomes for kids without evidence of corresponding good results for communities.

For a more in-depth account of Jesse Snodgrass’ “entrapment,” Rolling Stone featured an excellent longform narrative by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in their March issue. Here’s how it opens:

Jesse Snodgrass plodded around yet another stucco corner, searching for Room 254 in time for the second-period bell, only to find he was lost yet again. Jesse felt a familiar surge of panic. He was new to Chaparral High School and still hadn’t figured out how to navigate the sprawling Southern California campus with its outdoor maze of identical courtyards studded with baby palm trees. Gripping his backpack straps, the 17-year-old took some deep breaths. Gliding all around him were his new peers, chatting as they walked in slouchy pairs and in packs. Many of their mouths were turned up, baring teeth, which Jesse recognized as smiles, a signal that they were happy. Once he regained his composure, he followed the spray-painted Chaparral Puma paw prints on the ground, his gait stiff and soldierly, and prayed that his classroom would materialize. He was already prepared to declare his third day of school a disaster.

At last, Jesse found his art class, where students were milling about in the final moments before the bell. He had resigned himself to maintaining a dignified silence when a slightly stocky kid with light-brown hair ambled over and said, “Hi.”

“Hi,” Jesse answered cautiously. Nearly six feet tall, Jesse glanced down to scan the kid’s heart-shaped face, and seeing the corners of his mouth were turned up, Jesse relaxed a bit. The kid introduced himself as Daniel Briggs. Daniel told Jesse that he, too, was new to Chaparral – he’d just moved from Redlands, an hour away, to the suburb of Temecula – and, like Jesse, who’d recently relocated from the other side of town, was starting his senior year.

Jesse squinted and took a long moment to mull over Daniel’s words. Meanwhile, Daniel sized up Jesse, taking in his muscular build and clenched jaw that topped off Jesse’s skater-tough look: Metal Mulisha T-shirt, calf-length Dickies, buzz-cut hair and a stiff-brimmed baseball hat. A classic suburban thug. Lowering his voice, Daniel asked if Jesse knew where he might be able to get some weed.

“Yeah, man, I can get you some,” Jesse answered in his slow monotone, every word stretched out and articulated with odd precision. Daniel asked for his phone number, and Jesse obliged, his insides roiling with both triumph and anxiety. On one hand, Jesse could hardly believe his good fortune: His conversation with Daniel would stand as the only meaningful interaction he’d have with another kid all day. On the other hand, Jesse had no idea where to get marijuana. All Jesse knew in August 2012 was that he had somehow made a friend.


APPEALS COURT AFFIRMS THAT INMATE CAN SUE SHERIFF LEE BACA PERSONALLY

In 2006, Juan Roberto Albino was booked into Men’s Central Jail under suspicion of rape. LA County officers placed Albino in general population where fellow inmates beat and raped him under the alleged mistaken belief that he had sexually assaulted a minor. Albino was attacked two more times, and hospitalized.

He asked guards to put him under protective custody on multiple occasions. They refused. Albino is now blind is right eye, deaf in his left ear, and walks with a cane.

Normally, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Albino would have to go through the jail’s internal complaint process, but Albino says officers never told him of existing complaint forms or procedures.

In a 9-3 decision, California’s full 9th Court Circuit ruled in Albino’s favor, allowing him to move forward with a lawsuit against LA County and (former) Sheriff Lee Baca.

Courthouse News Service’s Tim Hull has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County jail officials ignored an accused rapist’s pleas for protective custody after inmates mistook him for a child abuser and brutalized him, the full 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.

Jailers housed the 5-foot-3, 123-pound Juan Roberto Albino in the general population of a high-medium security housing unit after booking him into the county’s Central Jail on suspicion of rape in 2006.

He was soon beaten, cut and raped by fellow inmates under the allegedly mistaken belief that he had raped a 16-year-old girl. Though charged with rape, Albino had not been arrested for abusing a minor.

Albino allegedly requested protective custody before and after he was attacked, but he said the guards always told him to talk to his lawyer.

The detainee suffered two more attacks in general population after a stay in the hospital. He now has nerve damage on the right side of his face, uses a cane, and can’t hear with his right ear or see with his right eye.

A federal judge awarded the county summary judgment on Albino’s pro se complaint after finding that he had failed to exhaust his administrative options through the jail’s formal complaint process.

Though a three-judge appeals panel affirmed, the 9th Circuit agreed later to consider the issue en banc.

The court revived Albino’s civil rights claims against the county and its sheriff, 9-3, Thursday, finding that guards had neglected to inform him how to file an official complaint…

“Albino was beaten several times and repeatedly complained orally to deputies in the jail, asking repeatedly to be placed in protective custody,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the majority. “The jail had a manual describing a procedure for handling inmate complaints, but this manual was for staff use only and was not made available to inmates…


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING INMATES FROM RAPE…

An NY Times editorial directs some righteous indignation at Texas Governor Rick Perry’s refusal to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Here’s a clip:

Mr. Perry’s complaints about the rules are without merit, but the governor wants to show that he’s opposed to federal oversight of any sort. Unfortunately, his cynical stance could prompt state corrections officials to ignore policies that protect inmates from sexual predation. The consequences could be terrible since the Texas system is replete with the sexual violence that prompted Congress to pass this law.

Mr. Perry announced his intention to flout the law in a March 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. He implied that Texas had its own rape-prevention measures and did not need federal oversight. Federal data consistently tell a different story. A 2013 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that Texas had more prison facilities with high rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence than any other state.

There are several rules that seem to particularly irk Mr. Perry. One requires states to periodically audit rape prevention programs. Another requires them to certify that their prisons are in compliance. Mr. Perry complains that he couldn’t possibly certify compliance because he can’t audit all of the facilities covered by the law at once. However, the rules make clear that only one-third of the covered facilities need to be audited each year.

Moreover, the Justice Department has explained that the compliance process is flexible — the governor does not have to rely solely on audit data but can take into account internal reports or any other information that could be used to gauge whether the system meets the requirements of the law.

Mr. Perry also takes issue with a provision that sets minimum staffing levels for juvenile facilities so that young people are adequately protected from predators, including those who might be part of the institution’s staff. The levels set in the rules are consistent with those used in a dozen states and are deemed necessary to keep young people safe. The states are not required to reach those levels until 2017.


AN UPDATE ON THE ALADS BATTLE

Last week, we reported on the power struggle between two factions of the LASD deputies’ union, and the $2.5 million in sheriff campaign PAC money at stake.

Finally, last Wednesday, in a welcome moment of sanity, LA County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has declared the union leaderless until a court hearing on April 17. In the meantime, a panel of three individuals—one from each faction and a neutral party—will make union decisions. (Thank you, Judge Chalfant!)

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, prison policy, School to Prison Pipeline, War on Drugs | 5 Comments »

Homeboy Needs Funding to Continue Crucial Services…Cams in LA Jails a Success…More LASD Indictments?…and Drug Sentencing Reform and the State of the Union

January 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES FORESEES MORE LAYOFFS WITHOUT DESPERATELY NEEDED FUNDING

Of late, it has become a distressing fact of LA County life that, for all the indispensable work done by Homeboy Industries—the respected gang recovery program that for over 25 years has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—in the past few years, the program’s famous founder, Father Greg Boyle, has not been able to raise enough money keep Homeboy’s services fully afloat. As a consequence, last year, Boyle had to lay off 40 people. This year, if more government funding doesn’t find it’s way to Homeboy, an estimated 60 additional people will have to be laid off.

This doesn’t seem to prevent various LA County agencies from relying on Homeboy for services—without paying a penny in return.

This was part of the message that Boyle brought when Chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff, invited the priest to speak at last week’s commission meeting.

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.

Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.

Making ends meet.

“Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%,” Boyle told the police commissioners.

And then he had this pithy observation:

“I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we’d be endowed by now. But we’re a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It’s a tough sell, but a good bet.”

[SNIP]

Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.

“I’m heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%,” Boyle told the commission. “And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that.”

But Boyle didn’t hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy’s services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.

“We shouldn’t be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself,” he said. “They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”

[SNIP]

…this is Los Angeles, home to 22 billionaires at last count. Home to a Hollywood crowd that congratulates itself for its social conscience and, in just one night at George Clooney’s house, raised $15 million for Barack Obama — more than Homeboy’s annual budget.


CAMERAS PLACED IN LA COUNTY JAILS PROVIDE “AN OBJECTIVE EYE,” SAYS OIR REPORT

Video cameras installed in LA County jails in 2011 have proven to be greatly helpful in determining which party is telling the truth in excessive use-of-force allegations against deputies, according to a new report from the LASD watchdog, Office of Independent Review. The cameras (more than 1500 between CJ, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center) were put up amid a 2011 federal investigation into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report released by the agency’s civilian monitor Thursday found that the footage has helped to exonerate deputies who were falsely accused and build cases against those who break the rules.

“The department now has a video record of 90% of force incidents in its downtown jails and is no longer completely reliant on ‘observations’ of inmates and jail deputies,” the report by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review stated.

Dozens of cameras were installed inside the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2011 — when the FBI’s investigation of deputy misconduct inside the lockups first became publicly known. Today there are 705 cameras in the facility, with about 840 more in the sheriff’s other downtown jail facilities, Twin Towers and the Inmate Reception Center.

Gennaco’s report found that there are still areas of the lockups that cameras don’t cover, causing shortcomings in some investigations, but that overall, use-of-force investigations have improved because of the cameras.

A multi-million dollar surveillance system for CJ was in the works all the way back in 2006, only to be abandoned by LASD officials. (You can read more in the first installment of Matt Fleischer’s “Dangerous Jails” series.) A number of cameras were purchased later, in 2010, and then tucked away in someone’s office for a year before actually being installed at Men’s Central.

In their latest report, the Office of Independent Review laments that the cameras were not put in place sooner:

…the success of the cameras causes us to question why it took so long to heed our requests for this technology. However, rather than labor to try to understand the delay, we embrace the video cameras that help us with making credibility and accountability calls that were not possible in the years during which the LA County jails did without.


ARE THERE MORE INDICTMENTS IN STORE FOR THE LASD?

David Ono of ABC7 digs into rumors of further indictments headed for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Here’s the backstory, if you missed it.) Here’s how it opens:

Seven sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant’s FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?

Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?

Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.

That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”

It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men’s Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown’s cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.

What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

“They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI,” said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.

Brown was moved — allegedly hidden — for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.

“These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department,” said Eliasberg.

(Read the rest.)


OBAMA SHOULD CALL FOR SENTENCING REFORM IN HIS STATE OF THE UNION, SAYS SORENSEN

In an excellent piece for the Atlantic, Juliet Sorensen, daughter of Ted Sorensen (JFK’s advisor and speech-writer) makes a case for Obama including drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Here’s how it opens:

In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.

As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”

President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs. In a January 8 statement, Obama endorsed the very same priorities articulated in LBJ’s War on Poverty and catalogued exactly 50 years ago in Johnson’s own State of the Union address. This indicates that he will also focus on income inequality—21st century lingo for entrenched poverty—in his speech on January 28. While a renewed commitment to tackling persistent poverty is laudable, Obama should also seize the moment to further another, related legislative aim of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations: reduced sentencing for drug-law violators who are nonviolent offenders.

The stark increase in federal inmates in recent decades has overcrowded prisons, impeded rehabilitation, and cost taxpayers millions. A “lock them up and throw away the key” response to the rise of crack cocaine 30 years ago—echoing Johnson’s reaction on that December night—resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners in the United States between 1980 and 2012…

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, jail, LASD, Obama, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | 7 Comments »

LA Supes Talk Interim LA Sheriff, Majority of LASD Excessive Force Payouts Related to Patrol, Marijuana Offense Lifers, and the Empowerment Congress Summit

January 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS HOLD PRIVATE SESSION ON INTERIM SHERIFF

The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss and interview prospective candidates to take over as interim sheriff upon Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement at the end of this month. (The temporary sheriff will run the department until December, when the newly-elected sheriff will be sworn in.)

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

On Tuesday, L.A.’s county counsel is expected to brief the board on what certifications an interim sheriff is required to have, as well as any other specifics on who is eligible for the position. Members of the board have said [Terri] McDonald is a contender, along with other assistant sheriffs in the department.

One outstanding question is whether supervisors will choose an interim sheriff who does not plan to run for the job…

County counsel has already told the board they can choose an interim leader from outside of the department, leaving open the possibility the board will appoint an interim sheriff from a different law enforcement agency.


PATROL GENERATED MOST OF LASD’S EXCESSIVE FORCE LAWSUIT PAYOUTS…NOT THE JAILS

On Monday, we mentioned that, in 2013, the LASD spent $43M in litigation payouts—accounting for almost half of the county’s total legal costs. But while much focus has been on lawsuits pertaining to the jails, three-fourths of the $20M spent on excessive force payouts came from the patrol divisions, a county attorney told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The LA Daily News’ City News Service has more on the numbers. Here are some clips:

Nearly half of the $43 million the county spent last year on lawsuits involving the department related to claims of excessive force, though most of the incidents occurred in the field, said litigation cost manager Steven Estabrook.

Supervisor Gloria Molina and others have drawn attention to payouts related to jail abuse. And the December indictment of 18 current and former deputies and supervisors in a federal investigation related to the abuse of inmates and visitors nearly ensures that those costs will rise. But it was not the primary driver of higher costs this year.

[SNIP]

The year-over-year comparisons can be somewhat misleading, because they track dollars on a cash basis and ignore settlements agreed to and judgments ordered that have not yet been paid.

There will likely be more to come.


LOCKED UP FOR LIFE ON A MARIJUANA CHARGE

Indiana man, James Romans, is serving a life sentence for trafficking marijuana. There has been a steady movement toward marijuana legalization in a number of states, and last August, AG Eric Holder announced a reform package that included instructing federal prosecutors to stop seeking harsh mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders. There are at least 24 others like Romans across the US who are serving life behind bars for larger-scale marijuana trafficking.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

At least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade, according to The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group. Some played relatively small roles in larger distribution rings and got life sentences in part because they refused to plead guilty and testify against associates. Others held positions of power in major trafficking organizations.

James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana, says he belongs in the former category. But last year, a federal judge ruled differently, sentencing him to life based on evidence suggesting that he helped run a multimillion dollar operation.

Whatever his role, the case raises questions about the fairness of punishing marijuana offenders with the criminal justice system’s harshest penalty short of death.

“It doesn’t seem to me in this day and age, when states are debating whether marijuana should be legal, that people who traffic in it should be spending their lives behind bars,” said David Zlotnick, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and an expert on drug sentencing laws at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. “If we’re not sure whether this drug should even be an illegal narcotic, why are we sending people to jail for life for it?”

[SNIP]

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, it costs an average of $30,000 a year to keep someone confined in a high-security lockup, and as a person ages and requires more medical care, the cost increases. “We’re talking 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars a year to keep someone in a cell until they die, when they could be working and paying into their insurance,” Zlotnick said. “It’s insane.”


EMPOWERMENT CONGRESS AT USC THIS WEEKEND

The 22nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit will take place this Saturday, Jan. 18, at USC. The congress, started by LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will bring advocate groups together, and include discussions on the sex trafficking of kids, healthcare, racial justice, and other topics of high importance to Los Angeles and beyond.

Here’s a clip from the announcement from Supe MRT’s office:

The summit’s plenary session, which begins at 9 a.m. in Bovard Auditorium, will feature a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Nelson Mandela, and will have participation from an array of elected officials and community leaders. Participating will be: Compton Mayor Aja Brown; Lynwood Mayor Aide Castro, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke, surgeon, medical researcher, businessman and philanthropist Patrick Soon-Shiong, Dr. Robert K. Ross, CEO of the California Endowment, Irma Muñoz, founder of the environmental non-profit environmental justice group Mujeres de la Tierra and Laphonza Butler, president of Service Employees International Union–the United Long Term Care Workers’ Union.

Widely regarded as the forerunner to the neighborhood council movement, the Empowerment Congress was founded by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas when he was a Los Angeles City Councilman. Each year, the various committees of the organization come together to re-dedicate themselves to activism and advocacy. This year’s summit will honor the civil and human rights legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died last month. Both King and Mandela were enormously influential in the struggle to establish equal rights for all human beings and inspired generations of activists here in Los Angeles and around the world.

(You can learn more about the summit, and register, here.)

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 33 Comments »

LA Libraries to Issue High School Diplomas, Life as a Kid in a GPS Ankle Monitor, LA’s Potential Sheriffs…and More

January 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM TO PILOT A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA PROGRAM

The Los Angeles Public Library announced Thursday that it will be teaming up with Career Online High School to offer an adult high school diploma program. LAPL aims to grant 150 diplomas in the first year, and if the program is successful in LA, it may be expanded to other libraries across the country.

The Associated Press has the story. Here are some clips:

It is the latest step in the transformation of public libraries in the digital age as they move to establish themselves beyond just being a repository of books to a full educational institution, said the library’s director, John Szabo.

Since taking over the helm in 2012, Szabo has pledged to reconnect the library system to the community and has introduced a number of new initiatives to that end, including offering 850 online courses for continuing education and running a program that helps immigrants complete the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

[SNIP]

Szabo believes this is the first time a public library will be offering an accredited high school diploma to adult students, who will take courses online but will meet at the library for assistance and to interact with fellow adult learners.

High school course work is not required for a GED diploma, which can be obtained by passing an extensive test. The online high school program, however, will require its students to take courses to earn high school credits. The program is slated to begin this month.

[SNIP]

Unlike traditional high school students, the online adult learners must choose a career path so their education can be geared toward their future job. Library staff will be trained to help the adult learners and the library system is looking at making available spaces for the students so they can meet their fellow pupils. Szabo said the library will target about a dozen areas with high percentages of high school dropouts to offer the program at those neighborhood branches initially. The Los Angeles public library system has 72 branch libraries and 22 literacy centers.


A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIVES OF KIDS WITH ELECTRONIC ANKLE MONITORS

Zora Murff, a monitor of youths on probation who have to wear ankle bracelets in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has published a series of photos depicting daily life of the kids he tracks. Murff includes portraits of the kids, their environments, essays written by the kids, and other snapshots of a young population stigmatized by youthful wrongdoing.

Wired’s Jakob Schiller has the story. Here’s a clip:

“When people think about kids on probation they often negatively stereotype them,” he says. “In this project I’m trying to remind viewers that they’re still just kids who sometimes can’t make the best decision for themselves.”

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2010 “an estimated 491,100 delinquency cases resulted in a term of probation” nationwide. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation there are more than 60,000 youth confined in juvenile correctional facilities or other residential programs on any given night in the United States. Murff, who works for the Linn County Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services in Cedar Rapids, says his office normally monitors anywhere from 100-120 kids at a time.

Nationally, the majority of children on probation are there because of property offenses. The same is true for the kids Murff works with.

Along with portraits, Murff has also included shots that show the locations (or areas that resemble the locations) where the kids committed their crimes.

(You can view more of Murff’s “Corrections” collection, here.)


A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO THE SHERIFF CANDIDATES (AND POTENTIAL CANDIDATES)

KPCC’s Kristen Lepore has assembled an overview of current contenders for the sheriff’s seat, in addition to those that are yet undeclared, but may join in. Here are the first two (but do go and get familiar with the others):

Patrick Gomez: Former Sheriff’s lieutenant

A former L.A. County Sheriff’s lieutenant, Gomez retired after 31 years in the department.

In 2010, Gomez received a nearly $1 million settlement from the Sheriff’s Department after claiming he faced retaliation for criticizing Lee Baca when he ran against him for sheriff in 2002.

Gomez says he believes the Sheriff’s Department needs major reform. Under his leadership, Gomez says each department member will be held accountable and responsible for their actions and/or inaction.

Gomez was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. He currently lives in La Cañada Flintridge with his wife.

Bob Olmsted: Former Sheriff’s Dept. commander

A retired Sheriff’s commander who was with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for more than three decades, Olmsted threw his hat into the race early on.

During his tenure, he commissioned internal audits that concluded some deputies used unnecessary force against inmates in the nation’s largest jail system and testified before the Los Angeles Citizens Commission on Jail Violence in May 2012.

Olmsted, a former member of Baca’s senior staff, says the department needs major changes and is running on a promise to create greater transparency. He has heavily criticized Tanaka as being part of the leadership that lead to the department’s many problems.

Olmsted has taught criminal justice at El Camino College and his father previously served as a Lieutenant in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.

Today (Friday), sheriff-hopeful Patrick Gomez will be interviewed by Doug McIntyre on 790 KABC Radio at 7:15AM. If you can’t tune in, you can still listen to the interview once it is posted on Gomez’ campaign website.


SHERIFF BACA WANTS TO STAY ON AS A RESERVE OFFICER

Although Sheriff Lee Baca will be stepping down at the end of this month, he may not be going very far. According to LASD Spokesman Steve Whitmore, Baca has plans to become a reserve deputy.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has this story.


FEDERAL SENTENCING COMMISSION PUBLISHES PROPOSED CHANGES TO DRUG TRAFFICKING SENTENCING GUIDELINES

On Thursday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to issue proposed amendments to sentencing guidelines for federal drug trafficking offenses. The proposed guideline amendments would reduce drug trafficking sentences by about 11 months and lower the federal prison population by about 6,550 inmates by the end of five years.

Here’s a clip from the commission’s important announcement:

“The Commission’s proposal reflects its priority of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, without endangering public safety,” said Judge Patti B. Saris, Chair of the Commission.

A Commission study of offenders who received a reduced sentence pursuant to a similar two-level decrease in guideline levels for crack cocaine offenders in 2007 found no difference in recidivism rates for those offenders released early compared to those who served their full sentence.

“Like many in Congress and in the executive and judicial branches, the Commission is concerned about the growing crisis in federal prison populations and budgets, and believes it is appropriate at this time to carefully consider the sentences for drug traffickers, who make up about half of the federal prison population,” Saris said. “Our proposed approach is modest,” Saris said. “The real solution rests with Congress, and we continue to support efforts there to reduce mandatory minimum penalties, consistent with our recent report finding that mandatory minimum penalties are often too severe and sweep too broadly in the drug context, often capturing lower-level players.”

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, LASD, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 15 Comments »

California Locks Up Too Many Undocumented Kids…Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers…Holder’s Reforms Won’t Stop Racial Disparity…and Andrew Blankstein Leaving LA Times

August 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

EXCESSIVE DETENTION OF UNDOCUMENTED YOUTH IN CALIFORNIA

According to a newly compiled fact sheet, undocumented kids in California are often unnecessarily incarcerated in local detention facilities.

In the report released Tuesday, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice says that the lock ups are happening despite Attorney General Kamala Harris’ 2012 announcement that law enforcement officers are not required to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention requests, the government’s low prioritization of kids for immigration enforcement, and other safeguards.

Here’s a clip from the introduction:

The federal government has identified youth as low priority for immigration enforcement, and implemented relief programs such as DACA to facilitate undocumented youth integration, yet they still make requests to detain youth in local detention centers. Additionally, the juvenile justice system has recognized the importance of serving all youth in the least restrictive setting, yet local law enforcement still actively respond to detainer requests. Responding to ICE requests to detain youth longer than is necessary for immediate public safety concerns, defies the purpose of the juvenile justice system and wastes public safety resources. Counties should reconsider their responses to ICE hold requests for youth in accordance with public safety and juvenile justice best practices.

And here are a few of the statistics listed on the fact sheet:

Orange County detained approximately 43 percent of California’s youth subject to ICE holds.

The data include records for 697 ICE hold requests against youth in California during the 41-month period. Only 13 counties were listed as responsible for detaining these youth (percent): Orange (43), San Francisco (13), Santa Barbara (12), San Mateo (12), Monterey (2), Los Angeles (2), San Luis Obispo (1), San Diego (1), Santa Cruz, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda, Tehama counties (<1).

[SNIP]

45.6 percent of youth with an ICE hold had no documented criminal history.

Of those that did, approximately 50 percent were for non-violent, non-serious crimes. In fact, of the youth with documented criminal records 15 percent were for immigration related charges, including possession of false immigration documents and illegal entry. Detaining youth for low-level crimes is detrimental to their development as it exposes them to a more sophisticated
criminal element and isolates them from pro-social supports in the community (Mendel, 2011).

Most youth are detained in local juvenile halls, subjecting youth to unnecessarily prolonged detention and costing taxpayers an estimated $127,978 per year.

Eighty-nine percent of all youth ICE holds were detained in local facilities. At an average $352.06 per
day for confinement in local juvenile halls, holding a youth for an extra 48 hours increases costs and
uses bed space that should be reserved for youth who present a danger to public safety (BSCC, 2012).


CALIFORNIA HUNGER STRIKE FORCE-FEEDING DECISION: DOES IT BREAK INTERNATIONAL LAW?

As we reported yesterday, A federal judge ruled Monday that California prison officials have permission to force-feed hunger striking inmates if it is believed that their life is in danger.

An attorney for the striking prisoners, Jules Lobel, says that force-feeding inmates against their will violates international law and should only be used when there are no other alternatives.

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

A prisoners’ rights lawyer says Monday’s federal judge’s order allowing California prison doctors to force-feed inmates on hunger strike “violates international law and generally accepted medical ethics.”

Force-feeding “should only be used as a last resort, but here there are a number of reasonable alternatives,” said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents many of the hunger strike leaders in their related lawsuit over solitary confinement conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison.

[SNIP]

Lobel said prison officials could avoid the need for forced feedings by allowing protesters to drink juice, or even to hasten an end to the hunger strike by negotiating with inmates over issues the state finds reasonable. The hunger strike at one prison ended last week when the warden agreed to expand canteen and television privileges.

The Associated Press spoke with a prison medical official who said that if California prisoners are force-fed, it will likely be intravenously—not via a feeding tube through the nostril as is done with Guantanamo hunger strikers.

Here are a couple of clips from the AP story:

Dr. Steven Tharratt, director of medical services for the federal official who oversees medical care for California’s prisons, said if the state employs force-feeding, it’s most likely to be done by pumping nutrient-enriched fluids into the bloodstreams of unconscious inmates.

“It’s not really a forced re-feeding at that point,” Tharratt said. “It doesn’t evoke images of Guantanamo Bay or anything like that. It’s actually a totally different setting.”

[SNIP]

Many of the hard core strikers are likely to reach crisis stage in the next two weeks as they reach 60 to 70 days without significant nutrition, Tharratt said. They already are risking irreversible kidney damage, he said, and eventually they won’t be able to make decisions about their own care.


AG HOLDER’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS STILL LEAVE MINORITIES AT A DISADVANTAGE, CRITICS SAY

Attorney General Eric Holder’s reform package (announced last week), including the news that Holder is working toward ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, was seen as a significant step for criminal justice reform. (You can read about it here.)

Some critics, however, believe that requiring all drug offenders to participate in drug treatment programs to avoid being locked up is a problematic approach, and fails to address racial disparities.

The Atlantic’s Jeff Deeney has the story. Here are some clips:

…as the excitement over the mandatory minimum announcement cools, some public health and drug policy professionals are finding devils in the details of Holder’s statement. Specifically, critics are troubled by the latter parts of Holder’s address that highlight the requirement of mandatory court stipulated drug treatment as a requirement for nonviolent drug offenders to stay out of jail. Laura Thomas, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in California, says, “It’s always good to have someone like Eric Holder talking about the counterproductive harms of over incarceration, that’s really fantastic. But there is a concern that putting people into coerced drug treatment is not a health based approach, it’s a criminal justice approach.”

[SNIP]

The problem, critics say, with the new system the administration envisions is that while addiction may be a great equalizer, who gets arrested for drug crimes is not. Holder’s address noted this fact, stating that “…some of the enforcement priorities we’ve set have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color.” And yet while Holder is willing to shift the policy towards sentencing people convicted of drug offenses, there’s nothing in his address stating that law enforcement will be any less likely to arrest people for them. Presumably the racial disparities in arrest rates will continue.

[SNIP]

Criminal justice policy reformers say that when courts flood the drug treatment centers with the kinds of drug offenders who more often get arrested, the outcome is no longer a system for treating drug addicts who want help with their drug problems. Instead, the treatment system becomes an extensive community-based surveillance network whose primary purpose is to monitor the behavior of people who are primarily black and poor. In fact, as some sociologists have argued, this changes the definition of what a drug problem is and who requires treatment. This suits perfectly the needs of a justice system that refuses to decriminalize drugs, but now has to put offenders somewhere other than jail.

(Read the rest.)


BLANKSTEIN BIDS FAREWELL TO THE LA TIMES

We want to congratulate our talented pal and colleague, Andrew Blankstein, who is leaving the LA Times after 23 years to be an on-air investigative reporter for NBC news. We are bereft to lose Andrew’s stellar reporting on crime and law enforcement from our hometown paper. But we’re delighted that his great instincts, unassailable ethics, and fine and indefatigable journalism will soon be coming to our TV screens.

Kevin Roderick has the LAT staff memo over at LA Observed. Here’s a clip:

Sadly, Andrew’s amazing run at The Times is coming to end. After 23 years and nearly 4,000 bylines (not including innumerable blog posts and his many contributions to other reporters’ work), he is leaving to take a job at NBC News as an on-air reporter focusing on West Coast investigations. In many ways, this is the culmination of his growing interest in broadcast news reporting.

It is impossible not to feel happy for someone who has contributed so much to The Times. Still, we will miss him, and we will feel his loss keenly.

Posted in CDCR, juvenile justice, Los Angeles Times, prison, racial justice, U.S. Attorney, War on Drugs | No Comments »

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