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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 | 6 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 | 19 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 | 4 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 »

US AG Holder Announces Criminal Justice Reforms, Judge Rules NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Violates Rights, Gov. Brown Signs Transgender Student Bill

August 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

HOLDER REVEALS FED. SENTENCING REFORMS AND OTHER CHANGES AIMED AT REDUCING THE PRISON POP.

Monday morning Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a much-anticipated criminal justice reform package to the American Bar Association. Among many important changes, Holder announced that federal prosecutors would be instructed to stop seeking often-excessive mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no gang-ties.

(The entirety of Holder’s speech can be viewed here or read here.)

San Jose Mercury’s Josh Richman and Thomas Peele have the story. Here are a few clips:

In a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, Holder said the Justice Department would promote drug-treatment and community-service programs as alternatives to prison for many low-level offenders who for years have been caught up in the same strict federal sentencing laws aimed at gang members and drug kingpins.

“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” Holder said.

The new strategy would only apply in the federal justice system – where 47 percent of prisoners are being held on drug convictions — but drug policy experts said the symbolism is far-reaching. As Holder pointed out, states across the country, including Texas and California, have re-examined drug enforcement and tough sentencing standards to thin out bulging prison populations.

Holder can make some policy changes, but a number of these reforms will require legislation to bring about real change.

Many drug offenses violate both federal and state law, leaving federal and state prosecutors to work out their own policies about who’ll prosecute which cases; the Justice Department typically has had little or no role in pursuing those accused of simple possession or even small possession-for-sale cases.

Drug-policy reform advocates have been calling for Congress to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for years, but said Holder’s move was a good first step.

While most people praised Holder’s news, Slate’s Emily Bazelon said that the reforms aren’t enough. Here’s why:

Holder’s policy is not a new law: He’s the boss, so the U.S. attorneys around the country are supposed to do what he says, but if they don’t, they’re not lawbreakers.

The experts I consulted said that the attorney general is merely centralizing the decision-making that already occurs. There’s a recent precedent: In 2003, under President George W. Bush, former Attorney General John Ashcroft directed all federal prosecutors to charge the “most serious, readily provable offense” available. In other words, Ashcroft too recognized that prosecutors have choices at charging, and he told them to go with the biggest crime they can make stick without too much trouble. Then as now, the idea is to rein in disparities, so that like offenders receive like sentences. (Though the research showing that black men do more time than other defendants who commit the same crimes suggests that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.) The difference between Holder and Ashcroft is that he’s moving the needle of prosecutorial discretion in the direction of mercy rather than stiffer punishment.

I’m left with a different question about Holder’s announcement: How big a shift does it actually represent? Let’s go back to his description of the kind of defendants who may now escape an automatic mandatory minimum: nonviolent drug offenders without ties to big gangs or cartels. According to the Times article previewing the speech, a DoJ memo being sent to all U.S. attorney offices decrees that the defendants they’re supposed to save from mandatory minimums must have no “significant criminal history.” That phrase has a particular meaning in federal sentencing law, and it’s not reassuring. If you have a marijuana possession in your past, or you got caught jumping a turnstile a couple of times, you have a significant criminal history. In other words, it doesn’t take much. Also, how many drug offenders really have no ties at all to big gangs or cartels, since they all have to get their product from somewhere?


JUDGE SEZ NYPD’S CONTROVERSIAL “STOP-AND-FRISK” TACTICS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Monday that NYC’s stop-and-frisk practice is racially discriminatory, unfairly targeting blacks and Hispanics, and appointed an independent monitor to make sure changes are implemented. Mayor Bloomberg said that he will appeal the ruling.

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

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her ruling. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory.”

Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades in some form, but recorded stops increased dramatically under the Bloomberg administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by four men, all minorities, and became a class-action case.

About half the people who are stopped are subject only to questioning. Others have their bag or backpack searched, and sometimes police conduct a full pat-down. Only 10 percent of all stops result in arrest, and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time.

Scheindlin noted she was not putting an end to the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.

[SNIP]

Scheindlin did not give many specifics for how to correct such practices but instead directed the monitor to develop reforms to policies, training, supervision and discipline with input from the communities most affected. She also ordered a pilot program in which officers test body-worn cameras in the one precinct per borough where most stops occurred. The idea came up inadvertently during testimony, but Scheindlin seized on it as a way to provide objective records of the encounters.

(The NY Times’ Joseph Goldstein also has good coverage of the ruling.)


A WIN FOR CALIFORNIA TRANSGENDER YOUTH

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday allowing transgender students across California to participate in sports and use facilities based on their gender identity, not the gender listed on their school records.

SF Gate’s Ellen Huet has the story. Here’s a clip:

AB 1266 would ensure that schools respect students’ gender identity with respect to sports teams, locker rooms, restrooms and all other programs and facilities. The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, was introduced by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

State law already prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of gender identity, but backers of the measure say the extra clarity in the law will go a long way in making a growing population of transgender students feel comfortable and safe at school.

“Being accepted or not accepted at school makes all the difference in the world for these kids,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a San Francisco organization that sponsored the bill. “That’s in terms of both their abilities to succeed in school in the short term and their long-term health and well-being.”

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LGBT, prison policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Is Drug Sentencing Reform Really Coming?….In CA Who Will Get Early Release?….Baca Tells LB Rotary Club He’s Running…and More

August 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



We may be at the very beginning of a sea change when it comes to drug sentencing,
at least on the federal level, according to a new NPR story by Carrie Johnson, who reports that Attorney General Eric Holder would like to see things done differently.

“I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons,” Holder told Johnson.

Here’s more from her story:

The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” Holder said. “There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

That’s one reason why the Justice Department has had a group of lawyers working behind the scenes for months on proposals the attorney general could present as early as next week in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

Some of the items are changes Holder can make on his own, such as directing U.S. attorneys not to prosecute certain kinds of low-level drug crimes, or spending money to send more defendants into treatment instead of prison. Almost half of the 219,000 people currently in federal prison are serving time on drug charges.

“Well, we can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together

Yet Holder isn’t the only one calling for change. After three decades of lawmakers absolutely tripping over each other in their haste to see who can come off as the toughest on drug crime, it appears that there are pockets of sanity emerging in the Congress as well.

There is, for example, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Democrat Patrick Leahy, who is teaming up with Tea Party darling, Republican Rand Paul, to introduce a bill called the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which will give judges the power to consider sentences below the mandatory minimum for all federal crimes.

Leahy is also planning committee hearings on sentencing.

In addition to possible changes with federal sentencing laws, nearly two dozen states are moving toward sentencing reform as well, including Texas where change is driven by the conservative “Right on Crime” people, who continue to gain in significance in the realm of criminal justice reform.

And what, you might be wondering, does our progressive state of California have in the works when it comes to sentencing reform??

Pretty much zero.

But with the spectre of having to do something to lower the state’s prison population by 9400 inmates, perhaps even California will be motivated to get with the program.**

Our favorite legal blogger and law prof Doug Berman put it this way when he talked to NPR on the general topic of sentencing reform: “Are we using the prison system too broadly, too widely? Are we getting a poor return on our investment with criminal justice dollars when we’re constantly growing the federal prison population and especially in a time of sequester that comes with cuts to prosecutors, cuts to police forces, cuts to defender services?”

Return on investment. . Not a bad standard to use.

(**NOTE: While sentencing reform won’t solve California’s immediate overcrowding problem, it could, over time, help bring about a permanent and sustainable solution.)


IF CALIFORNIA HAS TO RELEASE INMATES, WHO WOULD THEY BE? SERIOUSLY ILL OFFENDERS BELONG TO ONE LIKELY GROUP

Now that the US Supreme Court has ruled that California has to lower its prison population by at least 9400 inmates by the end of the year, we are starting to get reports on how that number might be met.

The LA Times’ Chris Megerian and Paige St. John report that around 8000 or more of the necessary reductions might be found by moving inmates around—to private prisons, to out of state facilities, to certain jail systems in the state that have the room to take additional inmates (LA is not on that list), and to other facilities like fire camps.

That would still leave around a 1000 inmates who might need to be released early.

So who might those early releases be?

One category being examined for release, reports the AP’s Don Thompson, is certain inmates who are seriously ill.

Here’s a clip:

A federal official who controls prison medical care has given corrections officials files on about 30 women who could be released on medical parole as part of the state’s response. They are among 900 inmates statewide who have been preliminarily identified as eligible for medical parole, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver.

It’s just one step California is taking to meet the court order.

“We’re starting with the inmates with the most serious medical conditions. These are ones that likely will need to be placed in nursing homes,” Hayhoe said.

It should be noted that elderly and ill inmates are the most expensive for California to house. Those same inmates can be safely cared for by the state outside prison, say experts, for a fraction of the cost of keeping them inside.


BACA SPEAKS TO LONG BEACH ROTARY CLUB ON WEDNESDAY AND VOWS TO RUN FOR REELECTION

Beatriz Valenzuela of the Long Beach Press-Telegram has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday he is running for re-election next year despite a recent scathing editorial urging the sheriff to bow out of the race.

“I think I’m the most qualified for the job,” Baca said following a speaking engagement at the Long Beach Rotary Club Wednesday afternoon. The sheriff was slated to talk about the Los Angeles Times editorial and California’s Prison Realignment’s effects on the county, but seemed to dance around both topics in his talk to the local service group.

In an editorial piece that ran in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Baca is asked not to run for re-election due to the “extraordinary cascade of scandals that have exposed the dismal state of the department and the jails he runs.”

The sheriff also reportedly talked about his one of his favorite topics, Education Based Incarceration, which he said can help with deputy/prisoner conduct problems.

“Education is key,” he said.

In the county jail system, Baca helped create a program that allows inmates to receive an education while behind bars.

“We’ve had 6,000 go to school every day Monday through Friday and six have gone to the judge to ask for extended sentences to finish their classes,” Baca said.

A better educated inmate, he said, helps keep that person from returning to jail.

On that point, WLA strongly agrees.


AND THE AWARD FOR CREEPIEST STORY OF THE WEEK GOES TO: THE LOUISIANA ATTORNEYS WHO CLAIM THAT A 14-YEAR-OLD LOUISIANA GIRL WANTED TO BE REPEATEDLY SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY GUARD IN A JUVENILE FACILITY

John DeSantis of the Tri-Parish Times has the head-spinning story about a 20-year-old woman who is suing Terrebonne Parish, alleging she was repeatedly sexually assaulted when she was 14 and locked up in a local juvenile detention center.

In trying to avoid paying the young woman damages, local attorneys are using the time honored “she asked for it” defense. (No one evidently disputes that the guard had sex with the girl— who was, at the time, three years shy of the age of consent in the state of Louisiana.)

Here’s a clip:

….attorney Carolyn McNabb, a founding member of CASA of Terrebonne, whose members act as child advocates in court, and a board member of the Bayou Area Children’s Foundation, wrote a letter last week to attorney Alexander “Kip” Crighton, criticizing the tactic.

“To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record,” McNabb’s letter states.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, Right on Crime, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 19 Comments »

A Murdered Palmdale Child & the Everyday Wounds of Thousands of LA Children….One Good DCFS Story….Drug Convictions & The “Wobbler Option”

June 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



DCFS CHIEF BROWNING CLAIMS PRESSURE TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER IS PART OF THE “CULTURE” THAT RESULTED IN THE MURDER OF 8-YEAR-OLD GABRIEL FERNANDEZ


Many of us are still haunted by the entirely preventable murder last month of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez,
the Palmdale boy who was reportedly abused over and over again, before the day he was tortured and fatally beaten by his mother and the mother’s boyfriend.

The fact of this child’s terrifying death is made worse by reports from other adults who knew him, like his elementary school teacher, Jennifer Garcia, who said she repeatedly warned officials that the sweet-faced, big-eyed boy was in peril. And yet, despite a blizzard of red flags, LA County DCFS officials charged with working his case ignored the danger and left this boy in the hands of his tormenters.

As ABC 13 reported:

“My first report was from October,” said Jennifer Garcia, Gabriel’s teacher. “And in every single report I made, there was enough information in that report that he should have been removed that first October.”

Over the weekend I noted that LA Times columnist Sandy Banks—who is a parent as well as a journalist with a healthy access to her compassion— wrote a column in which she expressed her own outrage at the inexplicable failure by DCFS to protect this little boy.

In the course of researching the column, Banks asked DCFS Chief Philip Browning, who has been on the job for 15 months with a mandate to clean up the chronically dysfunctional department, what the hell was going on?

She reports that Browning told her the following:

… Social workers feel hamstrung by a departmental obsession with keeping children with their families, given the shortage of good foster homes.

That policy was the product of a previous culture change, aimed at reducing foster care rolls and strengthening troubled families with resources like drug treatment, mental health care and parenting classes.

But Browning said it has “immobilized” social workers, who rely on mindless allegiance to the goal instead of “common sense and critical thinking” about what’s best for children.

“Social workers have said they feel pressured to leave kids with families,” Browning said.

Reading DCFS Chief’s explanation, my own fury shot through the roof.

Even if Browning’s contention was true, that part of the problem was an overload of pressure to reunite families, it is stating the painfully obvious to point out that such “pressure” in no way explains how social workers could decide that it was perfectly fine to leave a child in a household where everyone from his teacher, to his therapist, to various close relatives, reported to authorities that Gabriel Fernandez showed clear and repeated signs of frightening abuse.

However, figures show that, contrary to Browning’s contention that DCFS workers feel overly pressured to leave at-risk kids with their families, in practical fact, quite the opposite is occurring.

While the county’s removal rate did decrease dramatically for a few years from around 2006 to 2009 when what was known as the Title IV E waiver allowed counties to spend federal foster care dollars on a wide variety of services aimed at strengthening families with problems so that children could be helped to remain safely at home, instead of going through the trauma of being removed to foster care.

But then headlines over a handful of terrible cases like that of the death of Gabriel Fernandez whipped up a frenzy of public pressure, which began to push the pendulum back the other direction. After that programs began to be cut and the pendulum swung still further.

Thus, since 2009, DCFS has, if anything, been filing to remove more kids from their homes every year, not less. There were 10,725 petitions filed in 2009. In 2012, the number jumped to 13,454. Thus far this year, the rate is reportedly going still higher.

As a consequence, many family advocates have expressed strong concern that a worrisome number of kids are being yanked from their homes and into court unnecessarily.

And then at the other end of the spectrum, we have Gabriel Fernandez.

Certainly we sympathize with Chief Browning, who is charged with the daunting task of reforming the largest foster care system in the nation, with 27,188 children under LA’s courts’ jurisdiction, at last count.

But we do not believe it is responsible to react to one ghastly tragedy, with wrong-headed rhetoric that could easily trigger more slow-motion, everyday tragedies.


A RARE HAPPY ENDING FOR ONE 17-YEAR-OLD FOSTER “CHILD” WHO GETS ADOPTED AFTER BEING ARRESTED

The always excellent Joe Piasecki has a story in the Pasadena Sun of the adoption of 17-year-old Fred Jingles, who had not only spent years in foster care, but had also landed himself in LA juvenile justice system when, emotionally whiplashed by his father’s terminal illness, and his misery at being separated from his family, he slugged a kid at the group home where he was staying and knocked him out.

But this tale appears, at the moment anyway, to have a happy ending. Here’s a clip from Piasecki’s story, but be sure read the rest, or at the very least, check out the photo of Jingles gazing happily at his new mom-to-be as he is going through adoption proceedings.

Here’s the clip:

Following a series of family tragedies, four years in the foster care system and a seven-month stint in a juvenile probation camp for a schoolyard assault, 17-year-old Fred Jingles sat in a Pasadena courtroom on Tuesday for arguably the most important hearing of his life.

He was being adopted.

Holding hands with his birth mother, who sat teary-eyed and wearing a blue Twin Towers jail uniform, Fred took the, almost unheard of, step of being united with new parents while a ward of the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

“You’re going to be all right. And your mother is, too. And I love you,” Kimberly Freeman told her youngest child before signing over parental rights to Fred’s paternal aunt, LaVetta White, and her husband, Rondia White.

Adoptions are typically a happy ending reserved for the dependency court system, which handles cases of parental abuse or neglect and oversees some 16,000 children in county-run foster care.

Fred’s adoption out of delinquency court is only the third such case in the history of Los Angeles County, said Lisa Campbell-Motten, a probation department supervisor.

She hopes many similar stories will emerge among the hundreds of Los Angeles-area foster kids mixed in with the county’s roughly 20,000 young offenders on criminal probation or living in juvenile halls and camps.


THE WAR ON DRUGS…AND THE “WOBBLER” OPTION

This smart editorial from the LA Times editorial board (written by Rob Greene) explains why, SB 649—the new drug “wobbler” bill that would allow simple possession of a small amount of an illegal substance to be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor— should be passed forthwith.

Here’s a clip, but as usual, we urge you to read the whole thing in order to get the full picture of why this piece of legislation should work for both sentencing reformers and law-and-order types.

Okay, here’s the clip:

Simple possession of small amounts of methamphetamine — enough for personal use but presumably not for dealing — is a “wobbler” in California, meaning that offenses can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors. It’s different with possession of cocaine, opiates such as heroin and many other addictive drugs; they currently can be charged only as felonies.

The state Senate has now passed a bill to bring criminal handling of those drugs into line with methamphetamine, and the measure is before the Assembly. SB 649, by Democrat Mark Leno of San Francisco, is good policy and should be adopted.

The bill is an improvement over a version Leno offered last year to convert possession to a misdemeanor, with no felony option.

True, there is something perverse about locking people up for any period for possessing highly addictive drugs for their own use. Most offenders have the stuff on hand because they are hooked. For years California sent such addicts to prison, where little or no treatment was available. They were released on parole, which they were practically fated to violate by using drugs again — because they were, after all, addicted.

This foolhardy approach gave California a steady supply of unrecovered addicts shuttling between prison and the streets. That meant continuing damage to neighborhoods dealing with the addicted, plus overcrowded prisons. At the end of last year, for example, there were more than 4,000 inmates in state prison for possessing drugs for personal use.

It would be better to divert addicts from the criminal justice system entirely if they could be successfully treated without ever going to jail or even to court. But for many addicts, there remains a role for punishment, or at least the threat of punishment…

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Sentencing, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | No Comments »

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