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Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry)


Newly Signed Criminal Justice Laws, Youth Planting Trees, and New Data on Foster Students

September 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN SIGNS IMPORTANT CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS

On Wednesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will change criminal justice summary reports published annually by the state Attorney General’s Office into incident-based digital data sets that will be published on AG Kamala Harris’ OpenJustice website.

The bill, introduced by Harris and Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), would also require the DOJ to work toward implementing a smoother, all-electronic collection of criminal justice data that would be updated on the OpenJustice site at least every quarter, rather than on an annual basis.

Ab 2524 will “bring criminal justice data reporting into the 21st Century,” says AG Harris.

“…Only approximately 40% of local law enforcement agencies currently submit required data sets through electronic means, impeding the ability of the state to implement a uniform reporting structure through which information is made available to the public more frequently and more effectively,” the bill reads.

Last September, AG Harris launched the OpenJustice site to bring transparency to the state’s justice system by publishing crime and policing statistics. The website shows city, county, and state crime and arrest rates, deaths during arrest, deaths in custody, and the number of law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. Users can view data on interactive maps and graphs, and sort data groups by race, gender, and age.

Gov. Brown also signed a bill that aims to help more justice-system involved California kids graduate high school on time.

The bill, AB 2306, would exempt kids locked up in county juvenile detention facilities from having to complete locally required coursework (like health and language courses) beyond what the state requires for graduation. Other high-needs student groups—homeless and foster youth—are already exempt from having to complete additional coursework.

In April, a report by the Youth Law Center found that juvenile court schools, which provide public education to kids in CA’s county probation camps fail to provide locked-up students with a quality education as required by state and federal law.

The report found that some court schools struggled to get incarcerated kids into class and keep them there, leading to alarmingly high truancy and suspension rates during the 2013-2014 school year.

Another serious problem plaguing court schools is that the kids, who must learn from worksheets rather than stimulating class discussions and lectures, often don’t improve their math and reading skills. In fact, some kids’ proficiency levels were even found to have declined under this system.


FUNDING FOR GROUPS THAT HIRE AT-RISK YOUNG PEOPLE FOR PLANTING AND CONSERVATION WORK

Earlier this week, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to earmark $1 million for a program that employs teens and young adults from underserved communities to plant trees along roads and in parks in and near East Los Angeles.

City News Service has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed allocating the money to the San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps.

“Our goal is to create healthier neighborhoods, especially for those most vulnerable in our communities. Trees provide cooler areas by up to 10 percent, help conserve energy and reduce the carbon footprint,” Solis said.

The youth-led, community-centered conservation group, which focuses on education and training of at-risk youth and young adults, will offer stipends to 90 participants.

One member said he hoped the planting program would spark interest in invasive species and green spaces, but highlighted a bigger goal.

The board approved a similar motion to use up to $2 million annually for each of the Los Angeles, California, San Gabriel, and Long Beach Conservation Corps for landscaping, water conservation projects, habitat restoration, trail work, and other services that provide job training and education to at-risk young people.


NEW DATA ON CALIFORNIA FOSTER STUDENT EDUCATION SHOWS HOW FAR WE ARE FROM CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP FOR FOSTER KIDS

Late last week, the California Department of Education released the first batch of information on the educational outcomes of foster children in public schools in an effort to better serve high-needs students. Not surprisingly, foster students scored well below their peers not involved in the child welfare system on Common Core tests.

Soon, the department will expand public data to include suspensions and expulsions of foster youth from schools, graduation rates, and more.

This new data gathering is part of California’s relatively new education budget system, the Local Control Funding Formula, which is a weighted funding approach that allows districts (rather than the state) to decide how a portion of their funding is spent. The formula aims to level the playing field for high-needs students, including foster kids, who are severely underserved by school districts by allocating more money (and help) for those high needs kids.

Writing for EdSource, the National Center for Youth Law’s Michelle Traiman says the data collection is an important step toward addressing inequalities in the education system, but more must be done to improve educational outcomes for California’s foster youth. Here are some clips:

As an organization deeply committed to helping foster youth receive the education they deserve, we are all too familiar with the reasons foster youth struggle in school. We observe how untreated trauma is addressed not with school-based mental health services, but with suspensions and expulsions.

We meet countless elementary students who have already faced multiple school changes after disruptions in their foster home placements. We hear from high school youth who have endured multiple mid-semester school changes, failed to receive credit for their hard work in previous schools and are woefully behind their classmates — through no fault of their own. We hear, several times over, the degree to which adults hold heartbreakingly low expectations for their futures.

[SNIP]

There must be a new focus and commitment that reaches vertically throughout all levels of the education system, and horizontally across the multiple systems that serve foster youth:

School districts, through their Local Control and Accountability Plans, can embrace their mandate to engage the community in an effort to learn about the needs of their foster youth, then increase and improve services to those students.

County offices of education have a unique role to play in identifying opportunities to coordinate services to foster youth and supporting school districts’ efforts to serve foster youth.

The California Department of Education and California Collaborative for Educational Excellence have an opportunity to provide school districts and County Offices of Education with targeted technical assistance focused on students in foster care.

Child welfare agencies, behavioral health agencies and the courts must all recognize the importance of educational achievement in the lives of foster youth and take a coordinated approach to removing systemic barriers to educational success.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | No Comments »

Noteworthy New Laws, and Bills on the Governor’s Desk….and Policing Skid Row

September 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA’s JUSTICE-RELATED BILLS—SOME SIGNED INTO LAW, AND SOME “STINKERS”

On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill giving all female state prisoners access to contraceptive counseling and their birth control of choice, upon request. The bill’s author Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) notes that some women incarcerated in California can have conjugal visits.

“This law means that an inmate will be able to more fully engage in family planning before she’s released, enhancing the likelihood of a successful re-entry into society,” said Mitchell.

The bill, SB 1433, will require corrections facilities to provide incarcerated women who can become pregnant with information about the availability of family planning services behind bars. SB 1433 requires those services and contraceptives to female inmates at least 60 days before their scheduled release from prison.

Another bill Brown signed into law on Monday, AB 2083, will authorize disclosure of otherwise confidential information—like mental health records, child abuse reports, and criminal background information—to interagency child death review teams.

These teams help local agencies look into suspicious child fatalities, in order to identify child abuse and neglect-related deaths. The teams also work to make sure that siblings and other non-offending loved ones are connected with appropriate services following the death of a child. The bill passed through both the Senate and Assembly with full support before receiving the final stamp from Brown.

The LA Times Editorial Board has listed several bills—so-called “stinkers”—that have reached Brown’s desk, but (according to the board) should not be signed.

The first bill the board believes Brown should veto is AB 2888, a well-intended bill introduced in response to the very unpopular six-month jail sentence given to Stanford rapist Brock Turner.

Under current law, many felony sex crimes—rape by force, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and others—disqualify those convicted from receiving a sentence of probation. Prison time must be served. But sexual assault of someone who is unconscious or too intoxicated to consent (a la Brock Turner) does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. That would change if the governor chose to sign AB 2888.

By prohibiting probation, the bill would create new mandatory minimum sentencing, as justice reformers and lawmakers work to reduce the prevalence of mandatory minimum sentencing, which disproportionately affects people of color.

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board also criticize the “heavy-handed” bill, which would take sentencing discretion away from judges and give it to prosecutors.

AB 2888 is also running in opposition to Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which voters will decide on in November. Prop. 57 increases non-violent felony offenders’ access to early release credits. The ballot measure would bar inmates accused of violent felonies included in Penal Code Section 667.5, which does not count rape of an unconscious person as a violent offense.

A group of 25 feminist organizations wrote a letter to Brown, calling for a veto of AB 2888. In the letter, they explain that while raping someone while they are unconscious isn’t any less harmful than raping a conscious person, “mandatory minimum-term laws are a harmful, mistaken solution to our rightful anger over the Brock Turner case and the many others like it.”

In the letter, the women’s groups argue that mandatory minimums can even dissuade victims, particularly those assaulted by a family member, partner, or friend, from reporting assault. “When survivors do come forward, mandatory minimums deter prosecutors from pressing charges against particular defendants—namely those who, like Turner, are white and wealthy—and make juries less likely to convict,” the letter reads. And the threat of mandatory minimum sentences doesn’t actually reduce assault. “Studies have shown that the severity of sanction does not deter violence,” the letter continues.

Vice’s Tess Owen has more on the letter.

Another bill the Times editorial board believes Brown should veto is SB 813, the bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assaults (which is currently 10 years).
The bill was triggered by the fact that the statute of limitations has been up for many of the dozens of women who have come forward and accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Proponents believe the bill would get rid of “arbitrary” deadline for seeking justice. Opponents of SB 813 argue that removing the statute of limitations would make wrongful convictions more likely.

Read the rest.


BROWN APPROVES FUNDING “HOUSING FIRST” STRATEGY FOR HOMELESS VIA $2 BILLION IN BONDS

On Tuesday, Brown also signed budget bill AB 1628, which officially authorizes the state to issue up to $2 billion in bonds to fund the “No Place Like Home” Initiative.

The “No Place Like Home” money will go to counties to pay for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people suffering from mental illness.

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) says developing supportive housing “will improve the quality of life in our communities and give hope to thousands of Californians currently living in despair across our state.”


SOCIOLOGIST DISCUSSES NEW BOOK ABOUT POLICING SKID ROW

In spite of law enforcement efforts to provide compassionate “relationship policing”, relations between police and Skid Row’s homeless are tenuous, says sociologist Forrest Stuart.

In his new book, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row, sociologist Forrest Stuart explains why law enforcement’s “therapeutic policing” model may seem more like punishment to LA’s homeless, rather than compassion.

Stuart argues that giving people who commit minor infractions—like entering a crosswalk after the countdown clock has started ticking—a choice between receiving a ticket and taking advantage of available services, does not build trust between Skid Row residents and officers, even if the strategy is well-intentioned. Instead, Stuart believes ramping up permanent affordable housing—with those services—is a better strategy.

Stuart discusses his book on KPCC’s Take Two with hosts A. Martinez and Alex Cohen. Here’s a clip:

Police in Skid Row would target people who do that and give them a ticket.

At the same time, however, those officers will say the ticket can go away IF that person gets assistance from one of the nearby social service providers.

“There’s this notion that people have chosen to be poor, that people have chosen to have chronic addictions,” says Stuart. “When we talk to officers, one of the ideas is, ‘I want to make this place as uncomfortable as physically possible so people don’t want to live here.’”

Stuart says that officers, themselves, see that they are acting out of compassion for the people of Skid Row and that those social services will help get them off the streets and out of the neighborhood.

“What I was hearing time after time was that these officers would have to throw their hands up and say, ‘I’m not a social worker, I’m not a case worker. But yet the city has asked me to deal with all of these social issues,’” says Stuart.

Meanwhile, the people of Skid Row getting those citations viewed service organizations with suspicion and distrust, according to Stuart.

Couples would need to be apart because shelters and services are separated by gender, for instance, or shelters would force residents to abandon most of their belongings to bring in just one bag with them.

“These spaces – people look at them as not a real, viable alternative,” he says, “but now they’ve got police saying, ‘Either you go into these places or else we’re going to arrest you.’”

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | 9 Comments »

Jerry Brown Blocks Parole—Again—for former Mexican Mafia Hitman Rene “Boxer” Enriquez

July 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown blocked parole for self-described former shot-caller and hitman for the Mexican Mafia, Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, after a two person panel of California’s parole commissioners approved Enriquez’ release.

It is the second time Brown has reversed the parole board’s decision to free Enriquez.

For those unfamiliar with Rene Enriquez’ background, a brief reminder: In 1993, “Boxer” Enriquez was convicted of killing two people, and sentenced to 20-to-life. He has admitted to killing or attempting to kill others, one of whom he attacked when both were in jail awaiting trial, stabbing the man 26 times.

Earlier during that same period, when he was out on parole in December 1989, Enriquez ordered the killing of a 28-year-old mother of two. The woman, Cynthia Gavaldon, was allegedly selling drugs for the gangsters. Enriquez thought she might not be turning over her full earnings, so he ordered her death. (Gavaldon’s family comes to every parole hearing and pleads that he not be released.)

A few weeks later still, he personally pumped five bullets into another member of the Mexican Mafia, after first giving the man what was intended as a heroin overdose. The victim, Enriquez told an earlier probation board, was someone he was ordered to kill by higher-ups in the EME after the guy supposedly ran away from a fight.

Enrique also admits to being part of the gang rape of an 18-year-old girl, in his own teenage years. Moreover, according to his own account, he didn’t just kill people in anger, or because he was drunk or drugged up, or as part of a fight, but coldly, as a “business” decision, and/or to enhance his status in the notorious prison gang.

Nevertheless, in 2014, another parole panel also decided that it was time for Enriquez to be released.

In 2014, Governor Brown had affirmed around 82 percent of the parole commission’s decisions, according to the Associated Press. Yet, back then, as now, the governor declined to go along with the decision to let Enriquez out.

So why has Rene “Boxer” Enriquez been marked eligible for parole—-not once, but twice, in two years—-while men and women convicted of murder for one terrible act of lethal violence committed when they were young and troubled, get turned down repeatedly? Never mind that many of those same lesser known inmates have decades of blemish-free behavior in prison, have worked to make positive use of their time inside, and who have also worked to face the grievous harm that they did to others in their youth.

The primary reason that Enriquez gets a yes vote, while others a no, appears to be the fact that, in 2002, Enriquez became disenchanted with his relationship with the Mexican Mafia, wondering if he too might soon be marked for execution, and agreed to become a source for law enforcement officers eager for an inside look into the infamous, dangerous California prison gang, La EME. Enriquez, with his extravagant personality, and his former position of prominence in the organization, could provide genuine information—and has now done so for years, (although his information has reportedly become less and less useful, simply because it is dated).

In providing an insider look at the workings of the “Big Homies,” Enriquez morphed into more than just an informant, he became a star, and—most relevant to his bids for parole—the darling of many in law enforcement.

In fact, prior to his most recent hearing earlier this year, Enriquez received more than 60 letters from law enforcement agencies supporting his release.

Jerry Brown, however, does not share this infatuation. In his three-page letter explaining why he was again declining to okay Enriquez’ exit from lock-up, Brown acknowledged that the would-be parolee has “earned the appreciation of many prosecutors and law enforcement entities for his willingness to provide information and testify despite the risk to his personal safety.”

Yet, while Brown commended Enriquez for taking various positive steps, including participating in “a few self help programs” such as anger management classes, Jerry found “they are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate he remains unsuitable for parole.”

Brown’s reasons for the turn-down were specific and cogent.

“It is clear,” Brown wrote “that Mr. Enriquez is knowledgeable about the nature of the gang, and how it uses violence to achieve its goals. But he has not yet articulated what made him so eager to adopt such a violent lifestyle. He purported to take full responsibility for “promoting the philosophies of the organization” and “embracing the violence.” But when pressed to discuss the reasons behind his own actions, he responded in generalities, “That’s the nature of the Mexican Mafia….”

According to Brown, Enriquez told the parol panel that “he “‘gravitated toward the lifestyle’ because he had low self esteem, ‘liked being a rebel…’” And later, once he was in prison, was “‘flattered’ by the invitation to joint the very elite group’ of the Mexican Mafia and that he wanted the ‘mythic’ level of respect the members received from other inmates.”

Brown also noted that Enriquez “blames the gang for his own choices and for his many years of extremely violent gang leadership.” But his explanation,’gang members are violent because gangs are violent,’is a truism,” wrote Brown dryly, (presumably sending many readers of the letter scuttling for their dictionaries). “Mr. Enriquez did not participate in the violence just because it was expected of him. He personally molded and shaped the Mexican Mafia’s expectations of its members, and expanded the gang’s reach outside the prison.”

In other words, Boxer’s participation was not reluctant. Nor was a person who had taken a life, who was now tortured by the sorrow he had caused. He was an icy, calculating killer who, on multiple occasions, used violence with ambitious zeal in order to advance his status

“Over and over again,” Brown wrote, “he made an independent decision to turn away from his ‘normal,’ ‘upper-middle-class’ upbringing to become a leader of one of the most dangerous gangs in America. His claim that he knew ‘early on’ that he would leave the gang is absurd—he continued participating in violent gang activity for years and carried out these murders a decade into his membership…

Furthermore, Jerry wrote, “Mr. Enriquez has been disciplined many times for serious misconduct in prison, including for trafficking drugs…physical and sexual assault on an inmates, and stabbing and inmate. Mr. Enriquez trafficked large amounts of narcotics into prison and pioneered a way to use and control a vast network of violent drug dealers and gang members outside the prison walls.” And “athough he has not been convicted of additional murders, attempted murders, or criminal conspiracies, there is no doubt he is responsible for much more devastation….”

At WitnessLA we commend the governor for his wise, carefully reasoned and refreshingly factual reversal of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez’ bid for parole.

(You can read Brown’s letter here: Enriquez, Rene 2016 Reverse Decision)

Maybe there will come an appropriate time in the future for Boxer to rejoin the non-incarcerated world. Or maybe not. In any case, we would like to gently suggest that there are many less glamorous people who, while they have no authorized biographies written about them, are right this minute far more deserving of forgiveness and freedom that Rene “Boxer” Enriquez.


VIDEO NOTE: In order for the CDCR to recognize Enriquez’ separation from La Eme, and thus his need for protective housing within the prison, he was required to “debrief,” which meant to tell much of what he knew about the organization to prisons officials, sessions that were videotaped. The excerpts above, which are from one of his debrief tapes, are courtesy of RadioWorks.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), parole policy | 2 Comments »

CA High Court Rules in Favor of Allowing Gov. Brown’s Prison Initiative to Move Forward

June 7th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A 6-1 ruling from the California Supreme Court on Monday allows Governor Jerry Brown to put his criminal justice reform initiative on the November ballot.

The high court shot down a lower court ruling alleging Brown’s amendments to the measure—which would give judges, rather than prosecutors, the final say on whether juvenile offenders are charged as adults and increase prisoners’ access to good time credits—did not go through the proper public commentary period for amendments.

The state Supremes found the amendments to be “reasonably germane” to Brown’s original initiative.

“There is no question that the changes the proponents made to this initiative measure were, in certain respects, quite extensive,” Justice Carol Corrigan said in the majority opinion. “However, that is their right, so long as the changes are reasonably germane to the original theme, purpose, or subject. The amended measure, like the original, addresses the process for transferring minors to adult court for criminal prosecution, and expands parole suitability review for state prisoners.”

In his solo dissent, Justice Ming Chin stressed the importance of the public comment period to identify and correct flaws in in proposed measures. “We must interpret section 9002, subdivision (b) in a way that makes the review process meaningful, rather than something easily evaded.”

Tomorrow (Wednesday), there will be a joint legislative hearing on the initiative, featuring testimony from proponents Elizabeth Calvin from Human Rights Watch, Frankie Guzman from Nat’l Center for Youth Law, and Probation Chief Mary Butler.

Last month, Brown’s campaign team turned in just under a million signatures, nearly double the 585,407 signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the fall ballot.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | No Comments »

Update: Another Roadblock Cleared for CA Gov. Jerry Brown’s Criminal Justice Initiative

March 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT ALLOWS GOV. BROWN TO CONTINUE WITH CRIMINAL JUSTICE BALLOT INITIATIVE

Two weeks ago, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative to give judges discretion—rather than prosecutors—over whether a child defendant is transferred to adult court, and increase inmates’ access to early release credits. Chang sided with California District Attorney’s Association members, whose lawsuit alleged that amendments to the initiative did not go through the proper legal process. Last week, Brown filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court requesting an immediate stay of Judge Chang’s ruling. The next day, the state Supremes put a temporary hold on Chang’s ruling, allowing Brown’s initiative to move forward.

The California Supremes ruled Wednesday that Gov. Brown could continue collecting signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot, while the court considers whether the amendments were improper. The court gave both sides of the lawsuit until the end of March to submit arguments.

(Read the backstory on Brown’s initiative: here and here.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | No Comments »

Criminal Justice Bills, Stopping Mass Shootings Before They Start, and Tasers

October 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN TAKES ACTION ON TONS OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS

Over the weekend, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed (and vetoed) a number of notable criminal justice-related bills we have been following at WLA.

Also among the ranks of passed bills was SB 261, a bill to expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23. (In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life-without-parole. SB 261 extends the reach of that 2013 bill.)

The bill was sponsored by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), and Youth Justice Coalition (YJC).

“If a young person demonstrates personal growth and rehabilitation, and shows remorse for their crime, they deserve a second chance,” says ARC Founder and President Scott Budnick. “This new law holds young people accountable for the mistakes they have made, but also offers them compassion and the opportunity to begin contributing positively to their communities.”

“California’s new law acknowledges that young adults who have done wrong are still developing in ways that makes a real turnaround possible,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at HRW. “This law gives imprisoned young offenders hope and the motivation to work hard toward parole.”

A bill to ban strip searches of kids in juvenile detention by (or in front of) members of the opposite gender was also signed into law on Saturday. The bill, AB 303, was introduced in response to reports of San Diego juvie detention officers pepper spraying young inmates who refused to be searched by staff of the opposite gender.

Another new law, AB 256, will protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), will make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Other notable signings include a bill that will require law enforcement agencies to provide the DOJ with detailed use of force reports and data, a bill to curb prosecutorial misconduct, two bills to boost mental health training for law enforcement, and a mental health diversion bill.

THE VETOES

A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), SB 333, would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.

Brown also vetoed SB 722, a bill by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), that would have made it a felony for sex offenders on parole to remove or tamper with their GPS tracking devices.

Expressing her disappointment at the veto, Sen. Bates said, “If anyone deserves to serve longer prison terms, then it should be violent sex offenders who tamper with their GPS devices.”

And SB 347 would have added two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

The governor vetoed a several other bills that would have created new crimes, saying, “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.”

“Before we keep going down this road,” continued Brown, “I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.”


THREAT ASSESSMENT TEAMS AND WHAT IT TAKES TO DETECT AND PREVENT MASS KILLINGS

Mother Jones’ Mark Follman has an excellent longread on threat assessment teams and how they root out and prevent school shootings.

Threat assessment teams comprised of cops, psychologists, and counselors, successfully divert and treat young people at risk of harming others via a strategy that includes identifying and quickly and carefully evaluating a person’s risk of harming others, followed by intervention efforts like counseling, mentoring, and other services.

It’s rare that a team has to go so far as to hospitalize or arrest a person.

The risk assessment is an interesting and complicated process for law enforcement officers, especially because their subject has committed no crime.

Mass shootings are nearly always carefully planned—usually by a young white male in the midst of a mental health crisis. These massacres are not impulsive crimes.

The concept of multidisciplinary efforts to prevent mass killings began as an LAPD response to public outrage after 21-year-old actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was fatally shot by an obsessive fan.

The specialized teams seem to be working, for the most part. According to the FBI, of the hundreds of subjects its team has tracked, only one has gone on to harm someone else. But cases still slip through the cracks, and it’s hard to tell when a person no longer needs the intervention services. Some of the monitored young people who appear well and out of crisis mode still go on to commit those mass murders, just years later.

Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona, were both evaluated by threat assessment teams before their rampages.

One troubled Oregon teen, Erik Ayala, whom law enforcement found to be contemplating shooting fellow classmates, received years of help and mentorship from an assessment team. The team believed they had successfully navigated Ayala through his crisis and diverted him from a path of violence, but years after his intervention, Ayala went out and killed teens very similar to those he targeted in high school.

Here’s the opening from Mark Follman’s story on the assessment teams, the copycat killer trend known as the “Columbine effect,” and gun control (but do go read the rest):

Soon after the school year started in September 2000, a police officer working at McNary High in Keizer, Oregon, got a tip about a junior named Erik Ayala. The 16-year-old had told another student that “he was mad at ‘preps’ and was going to bring a gun in.” Ayala struck the officer as quiet, depressed. He confided that “he was not happy with school or with himself” but insisted he had no intention of hurting others. Two months later, Ayala tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of Aleve tablets. He was admitted to a private mental health facility in Portland, where he was diagnosed with “numerous mental disorders,” according to the police officer’s report.

To most people, Ayala’s suicide attempt would have looked like a private tragedy. But for a specialized team of psychologists, counselors, and cops, it set off alarm bells. They were part of a pioneering local program, launched after the Columbine school massacre the prior year, to identify and deter kids who might turn violent. Before Ayala was released from the hospital, the Salem-Keizer school district’s threat assessment team interviewed his friends, family, and teachers. They uncovered additional warning signs: In his school notebooks, Ayala had raged about feeling like an outsider and being rejected by a girl he liked. He had repeatedly told his friends that he despised “preps” and wished he could “just go out and kill a few of them.” He went online to try to buy a gun. And he’d drawn up a hit list. The names on it included his close friend Kyle, and the girl he longed for.

The threat assessment team had to decide just how dangerous Ayala might be and whether they could help turn his life around. As soon as they determined he didn’t have any weapons, they launched a “wraparound intervention”—in his case, counseling, in-home tutoring, and help pursuing his interests in music and computers.

“He was a very gifted, bright young man,” recalls John Van Dreal, a psychologist and threat assessment expert involved in the case. “A lot of what was done for him was to move him away from thinking about terrible acts.”

As the year went on, the team kept close tabs on Ayala. The school cops would strike up casual conversations with him and his buddies Kyle and Mike so they could gauge his progress and stability. A teacher Ayala admired would also do “check and connects” with him and pass on information to the team. Over the next year and a half, the high schooler’s outlook improved and the warning signs dissipated.

When Ayala graduated in 2002, the school-based team handed off his case to the local adult threat assessment team, which included members of the Salem Police Department and the county health agency. Ayala lived with his parents and got an IT job at a Fry’s Electronics. He grew frustrated that his computer skills were being underutilized and occasionally still vented to his buddies, but with continued counseling and a network of support, he seemed back on track.

The two teams “successfully interrupted Ayala’s process of planning to harm people,” Van Dreal says. “We moved in front of him and nudged him onto a path of success and safety.”

But then that path took him to another city 60 miles away, where he barely knew anyone.


A TASER FOR EVERY LAPD COP

In the coming months, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to equip every officer with a taser, in an effort to lower the number of officer-involved shootings. Currently the LAPD only has 3,500 tasers, and will need to buy 4,000 more to equip every police officer. Critics worry that because there are not concrete standards in place for taser-use, the tools may be misused. And while considered a “less-than-lethal” weapon, people do sometimes die after being shocked by a law enforcement officer taser. For example, Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless Fullerton man died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by police officers.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank and file officers.

“There might be a situation where a Taser would be effective in stopping the threat, and then you don’t have to go to your firearm,” he said.

It stands to reason that the availability of less than lethal weapons like Tasers and beanbag shotguns prevent police shootings. But its impossible to say for sure, said Lally. And many shootings will still happen.

“You’re not going to shoot a guy with a Taser when he’s got a gun.”

One use of force expert said there is no doubt police will shoot fewer people.

“I think there’s quite a number of incidents over the years that clearly could have been prevented had a Taser been immediately available,” said Greg Meyer, a former LAPD captain who now testifies on police use of force in court cases around the country.

This is “long overdue,” Meyer said of the LAPD’s new policy.

He noted Tasers don’t always work. Two electronic probes must make contact with the suspect. The LAPD’s Murphy said internal studies found Tasers work about 67 percent of the time.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LAPD | No Comments »

A Look at Controversial Law Enforcement Bills on CA Gov. Jerry Brown’s Desk…and One Education Bill

September 15th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA BILLS AWAITING GOV. BROWN’S SIGNATURE WOULD CREATE NEW FELONIES AND PUT MORE PEOPLE IN JAILS AND PRISONS, BUT THE PUBLIC SAFETY BENEFITS MAY TO OUTWEIGH THE NEGATIVES

Several noteworthy bipartisan-supported criminal justice bills that have landed on CA Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would create new felony offenses. Critics say the bills would contribute to prison overcrowding (backstory on California prison overcrowding saga: here), and go against the national push for decriminalization and decarceration.

But the bills’ authors and supporters argue that while keeping California’s prison population down is important, these public safety measures are more important.

A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) would bump possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense. The bill, SB 333, would mean that those found with such drugs would face up to three years behind bars.

“The malicious intent behind possessing and using ‘date rape’ drugs on another individual necessitates an aggressive response from law enforcement,” said Galgiani, urging the governor to sign SB 333. “Assaulting a person that has become incapacitated from being drugged is an especially despicable crime.”

Under SB 722, sex offenders on probation or parole who disable or remove their GPS ankle monitors with the intention of absconding would also face a three-year sentence. The bill was authored by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel).

AB 256 aims to protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Another bill, SB 347, would not reclassify any misdemeanors as felonies, or create new crimes, but would include two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Governor Brown, who has not hinted about which way he’s leaning, has until October 11 to sign or veto the measures.

The LA Times’ Paige St. Brown has more on the issue.


ANOTHER CONSEQUENTIAL BILL TO WATCH: AB 1012 WOULD BAN FAKE CLASSES IN CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOLS

Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation. (Read that story: here.)

Another meaningful bill passed by CA legislature, AB 1012, would prevent school districts from placing kids in pretend classes without any educational instruction for more than a week per semester (with some exceptions), which has been a problem for students in the LA Unified, Compton, and Oakland School Districts, among others.

“Continual reforms to California’s education system have not fixed an underlying cause of education inequity, equal time for learning,” said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). “It is time to ensure that all of our schools have the support they need to provide real classes to every student until they graduate.”

AB 1012 would also bar schools from assigning students to classes they have already completed and passed.

Posted in crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education | 2 Comments »

Bills to Pay Attention to as CA Closes in on the End of the Legislative Session

September 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE BILL THAT HAD POTENTIAL TO RIGHT SERIOUS WRONGS HAS BEEN WATERED DOWN, AND LIKELY WON’T PASS OVER THE LAST HURDLE BEFORE GOV. BROWN’S DESK

A bill to block police agencies from abusing civil asset forfeiture has come up against major opposition from law enforcement. Asset forfeiture laws allow government entities to keep money, cars, real estate, and other property that may be associated with a crime (usually a drug crime). Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool, using it as a cash cow, by taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime. SB 443, introduced by and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would have only allowed law enforcement agencies to seize assets post-conviction, even after legislators weakened the bill to give it a better chance of passing.

But law enforcement groups went to battle against the bill this week, storming the capitol and urging legislators to pull their support or further amend the legislation, which they say will result in an annual budgetary loss in upwards of $80 million for CA law enforcement. And the US Department of Justice has stepped in to say that if the bill passes into law, CA may lose out on federal funding from an asset forfeiture program.

Today, legislators will take a final vote on SB 443 before it either heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, or more likely, the garbage bin.

In his column, San Diego Union Tribune’s Steven Greenhut preemptively laments the bill’s demise. Greenhut says that if the bill dies, “California police agencies and district attorneys don’t care about justice. They’re just about the money.” Here’s how it opens:

…When police agencies use “civil asset forfeiture” to take private property, they are not allowed to build their budgets around such takings. The funds are supposed to support extra programs – not supplant current dollars. That’s so agencies don’t replace the pursuit of justice with the pursuit of cash.

Unfortunately, forfeiture has become a widely abused practice. Instead of targeting drug kingpins as intended, police sometimes target average citizens who haven’t been convicted or even accused of a crime. For instance, officials tried to take a $1.5 million Anaheim office building because one of the owners’ tenants was accused of illegally selling a $37 in marijuana.

There are many cases of police pulling over a driver and finding a large sum of cash – and they often keep the cash even if there’s no evidence it was tied to a crime. It’s clear why this happens. A recent report shows a number of Southern California cities rely on forfeiture cases to fund their budgets. If they can take it, they will. And to avoid California’s tougher restrictions on these takings, police partner with the feds and split the loot.

SB 443 is a bipartisan effort to rein in the abuses. Mainly, it required a conviction before police can take property. It also was designed to stop police from bringing in the feds to circumvent state law and make it easier for people to contest a taking. It forces police to use this fearsome tool as intended – to target criminal enterprises – rather than to grab the cars of people caught in a minor offense.

The bill is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday, but law-enforcement lobbies are swarming the Capitol. Police chiefs are calling legislators. Some legislators from both parties are reportedly getting wobbly.


ADVOCATES HOPE A BILL PROTECTING THE PRIVACY OF UNDOCUMENTED MINORS WILL SERVE AS A MODEL FOR THE NATION

Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill to protect juvenile justice system-involved immigrant children from being deported by banning the unauthorized disclosure of kids’ records to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a court order.

The Voice of OC’s YVette Cabrera (whose recent series explored the hardships of undocumented boys navigating the juvenile justice system) has more on the bill and its implications. Here’s a clip:

In short, the new law makes it clear that the long-standing practice by some probation agencies in California of referring juveniles suspected of being undocumented to immigration authorities is illegal.

The controversial practice was contested for years by legal scholars, attorneys and immigrant youth advocates who said the referrals violated the state’s existing law protecting juvenile confidentiality as well as the constitutional rights of vulnerable youth in the juvenile justice system, including those with mental health and developmental issues.

Probation officials across the state — from Orange County to Santa Barbara to San Mateo — have disputed these assertions. They’ve claimed the referrals are legally sound, citing a federal law that not only protects their right to communicate and cooperate with immigration authorities, but which they said also supersedes state law.

San Francisco attorney Angie Junck with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which helped draft AB 899, said she was relieved with the outcome.

“We are extremely happy and grateful for the leadership in Sacramento that understood that we need to uphold the law for everybody in the state regardless of immigration status,” Junck said. “We understand that there’s a lot of work ahead, but this is an important milestone in upholding due process and equal protection for all minors in our state.”

Junck said she plans to share the legislation with national legal and immigration networks and hopes that California’s efforts will be replicated in other states.


BILLS TO PROTECT THE STATE’S MOST VULNERABLE POPULATION

When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.

AB 1299, introduced by Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), which would have ensured foster kids transferred outside of their home counties received continued mental health services in their new counties, was tabled until next year.

Writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, Patrick Gardner, director of the Young Minds Advocacy Project, has more on why AB 1299 failed to make it into the governor’s hands. Here’s a clip:

What is clear is that lobbyists for three county-centered entities — the California State Association of Counties, the California Behavioral Health Directors Association and the California Welfare Directors Association — opposed two critical parts of the solution. They opposed having funding follow the child to the child’s county of residence. Instead, the counties proposed giving half of the cost of services (the federal reimbursement half) to the county that provides treatment.

They also opposed having the foster parent, or the person who is responsible for making mental health decisions for the child, decide whether to transfer mental health care responsibility. Instead, the counties wanted social workers and probation officers to be gatekeepers.

It’s absurd to think that a system fix that covers only half the cost of care would work. It is also unreasonable to put responsibility for making system-wide mental health policy on individual social workers or probation officers, something that is clearly outside of their wheelhouse.

In short, it appears that the county lobbyists opposed the bill because it would have changed business as usual to ensure that foster youth who are sent to live in another county are no longer discriminated against when seeking mental health care. It’s a classic case of taking care of the system instead of taking care of the kids.

When one talks to individual social workers and probation officers, or even directors of children’s services or mental health care programs, they universally favor shifting responsibility for care to the county that can best deliver treatment and making sure full funding is there to pay for the services provided.

A package of three weakened, but still important, bills to curb doctors over-prescribing of dangerous psychotropic medications to vulnerable foster kids, has passed through the Assembly and is headed to the Senate for a final vote. (If you haven’t, read Karen De Sá’s powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked over-drugging of California’s foster children.)

California Healthline has more on the individual bills.

Another noteworthy foster care bill, SB 731, would give guidance to social workers placing transgender foster kids to ensure they are placed in safe, welcoming homes. The bill, by Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), has been passed by both houses and awaits the governor’s signature.

The bill “provides critical guidance to child welfare professionals by making clear that all children in foster care have the right to placements that are consistent with their gender identity,” said Shannan Wilber, the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Youth Policy Director.

A bill by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), SB 445, which is also on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, would ensure children who become homeless can continue to attend their schools of origin.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LGBT | No Comments »

Gov. Brown Signing Bills, Hearing on Overmedication of Foster Kids, Defining Solitary, and the Folsom Riot

August 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

IT’S BILL-SIGNING SEASON IN SACRAMENTO: GRAND JURIES BLOCKED FROM USE-OF-FORCE CASES, RECORDING COPS, PRISON DATA TRACKING…AND MORE

CA Governor Jerry Brown has signed several noteworthy bills, so far this week:

SB 411, the Right to Record Act, clarifies the First Amendment right to photograph and record video of law enforcement when officers are in a public place or where the recording citizen has a right to be.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, said, “With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reinforces our First Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians. At a time when cell phone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

And here’s why this bill is important, according to Sen. Lara’s website:

In California and beyond, members of the public have been arrested while recording or photographing police activity in public places. News accounts and videos have surfaced showing that some civilians have been arrested for recording officers in the cities of Los Angeles, Torrance, and San Diego, as well as the County of Orange. This conflict extends past police officers and civilians to professional photographers and media personnel. In Berkeley, CA a journalist was arrested after recording law enforcement officers in a public place. Last week, a bystander caught a police officer in North Charleston, S.C. in a shooting incident that has led to charges being filed against that officer.

In May, the ACLU of California launched a “Mobile Justice” app that allows users to take video (of an officer-involved incident, for instance) and immediately send it to the ACLU by pressing a button. According to the ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page, the app has been downloaded over 160,000 times as of this week.

Another bill, SB 227, bans the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases involving alleged fatal excessive use of force and fatal shootings by law enforcement officers.

The bill follows controversial secret grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson and Staten Island.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), SB 601, which aims to boost transparency and accountability by increasing the amount of required public data reporting from California prisons.

The data will be published quarterly online as a “data dashboard,” which will include inmate population numbers; rehabilitation program numbers, including enrollment and achievement statistics; the number and nature of deaths in the facility; use of force incidents; staff overtime, vacancies, pay, and positions; inmate appeals; solitary confinement population; budget and money spent; and information on lockdowns.


MEANWHILE, IN THE CALIFORNIA SENATE…A HEARING ON THE OVER-PRESCRIBING OF PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO FOSTER KIDS

A three-hour joint oversight hearing between two CA Senate committees focused on a package of four California reform bills addressing the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsberg), chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, voiced frustration at the lack of data tracking and transparency to explain why foster kids are so heavily medicated.

Here’s a quick explanation of the bill package from California Healthline:

SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;

SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts’ process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;

SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and

SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 5/18).

The four bills are on their way to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week, and if passed there, will land on Gov. Brown’s desk.

(For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Seipel has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

The hearing was intended to look more closely at the standards and tools used by state and local governments in evaluating psychosocial services for foster care youth that minimize the need for the reliance on psychiatric drugs.

“You can imagine the challenges our vulnerable kids faced when they were trying to access care within the foster health care system,” McGuire said.

The senator said he was having trouble getting answers to basic questions, including: How many of the youths had been prescribed prescription drugs? How many were taking multiple prescribed drugs? How many doctors had the youths seen?

“How can we treat them if we don’t have their medical history?” McGuire asked, noting that much of this data is submitted to state departments on a voluntary, but not mandatory, basis.

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, Hernandez told the panel that after this newspaper’s series brought the problem to his attention he wanted some answers.

“The questions I have are: Why is it that this population is being prescribed drugs at the rates they are being prescribed? Is that normal, standard protocol? How do we compare to other states?”

Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, told the senators that California lacks a system capable of tracking prescription practices about psychotropic medications for foster youth.

“Care coordination should be provided immediately upon entry into foster care,” Johnson said, noting that California can learn from states.


INMATES REACT TO US BUREAU OF PRISONS’ COMMENTS ABOUT THE ABSENCE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN FEDERAL LOCK-UPS

At a Senate hearing focusing on conditions in federal prisons, Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, insisted that solitary confinement is not used in federal detention facilities.

Samuels said that inmates are housed two to a cell. Because of this, even if the prisoners are held for 22 or more hours per day and experience every other aspect of isolation, the practice no longer qualifies as solitary confinement, according to Samuels.

(Read more about the Senate hearing: here.)

Vice’s Seth Ferranti and Robert Rosso gathered some reactions to Samuels’ statements from federal prisoners. Here are some clips:

“Reading what Samuels said was like watching Bill Clinton change the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ when he denied that Monica Lewinsky gave him head,” says Jay Martt, a federal inmate serving 14 years for robbery at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana. “He’s redefining what solitary confinement means in modern times.”…

“We do not, under any circumstances, nor have we ever had the practice of putting an individual in a cell alone,” while housed in the SHU, Samuels swore before members of the Senate.

“How can he get away with saying such a bald-face lie?” wonders Martt. ” Of course they put guys in single-cells in the SHU. All that one of these senators needs to do is subpoena any log-book from any SHU in the BOP and they could prosecute Director Samuels for lying to members of Congress.”…

“Prison officials like to tell the public and the courts that when we are put in the hole, or the ‘SHU,’ that we get one hour out of our cells every day for recreation. It’s a lie,” Martt, who gets released from prison next year, tells VICE. “Sometimes, when the staff feels like it, they might let us go from our cell into a cage that’s the size of two cells combined with up to six other people in it, and we stand around looking stupid. That’s what the BOP calls our ‘one hour’ out of the cell per day.”…

Troy Hockenberry, serving a ten-year sentence for a gun charge, says it’s the misuse of the special housing units that concerns him. “I know a guy who was sent to the hole for not tucking in his shirt. He stayed back there for over a month—for not tucking in his shirt! That’s absurd,” he said. Hockenberry argued that staff will target inmates that they don’t like and have them placed in the SHU for an “investigation.” According to BOP policy, an inmate can remain in the SHU under investigation for a period 90 days, at which time a decision must be made: Charge the inmate, or place them back into general population.

“But they’ve got a trick for that, too,” Hockenberry tells VICE. “They ask for an extension.” An officer investigating an alleged wrong doing can request three extensions, meaning that an inmate can be held in the SHU for nine months without ever being charged. “The bottom line is they can do whatever they want to us and nobody cares,” Hockenberry concludes.


RIOT AT NEW FOLSOM PRISON ENDS IN DEATH OF ONE OF THE “SAN QUENTIN SIX” INMATES

On Wednesday, 71-year-old Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, one of the “San Quentin Six” inmates who attempted to break out of the state prison in 1971, was killed during a 70-inmate riot at New Folsom Prison in Sacramento.

Pinell and other inmates were reportedly stabbed with makeshift weapons. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals. No prison staff members were injured in the brawl.

Pinell was locked-up in 1965 for rape, and in 1971 was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after killing a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. That same year, Pinell was part of a prison break that resulted in the death of two guards and four inmates, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Richard Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.

Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, law enforcement, mental health | 11 Comments »

CA Cuts Prison Guard Training Time, a San Quentin Lawsuit, Graduating LA Foster Students Honored, and an Award for “Drugging Our Kids”

June 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

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STARTING NEXT MONTH, CALIFORNIA PRISON GUARDS TRAINING WILL BE SHORTENED BY A MONTH—FROM 16 WEEKS TO 12 WEEKS

Through an agreement between California Correctional Peace Officers Association and Gov. Jerry Brown, the training academy for California prison guards will be shortened from 16 weeks to 12 weeks starting in July.

The shortened training will allow for the CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation to graduate an additional class of around 250 each year, to help the department reach its three-year goal of hiring 7,000 new prison guards.

Some classes will be cut and some will be merged to account for the lost four weeks.

Concerned about their already maligned profession, CCPOA agreed to the shorter training on the condition that a training standards oversight commission be relaunched and funded.

The Sacramento Bee’s Jon Oritz has more on the issue. Here are some a clips:

CCPOA under founding President Don Novey, for years fought for a 16-week academy as part of an agenda to elevate the professionalism and safety of front-line prison staff. Part of the calculus was money: The more training and expertise required for the job, the stronger the argument for higher compensation.

So the union was well-positioned in the 1980s when lock-’em-up laws in California sparked a boom in prison construction and a demand for officers to staff those facilities. By the early 2000s, the confluence of politics and policy made California’s prison officers among the highest-paid in the nation.

Today, California state correctional officers earn from $3,172 per month at entry level to $6,644 per month for the most senior employees. The figures do not include officers’ overtime, which has climbed as the state has run short of staff.

Over the last several years, however, court orders to cut the state’s prison population and a shift to incarcerating more offenders in local jails reduced the number of inmates in state prisons. The state also shut down its cadet academy in Galt, effectively choking off the pipeline of new employees to replace hundreds who retired each month. Overtime among prison officers soared.

[SNIP]

The union agreed to the shorter academy in exchange for reviving and reconstituting the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which lost funding during the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration.

The new six-member board will be comprised of three seats appointed by the governor and three rank-and-file seats. Before the board went dormant, the department appointed three members and the governor appointed three – essentially making the panel an extension of the executive branch.


SAN QUENTIN DEATH ROW INMATES SUE OVER SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CONDITIONS

Six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates, who are classified as gang-affiliated, are held between 21-24 hours per day, receive three showers per week, and say they don’t get enough sleep they are subjected to frequent suicide checks.

Courthouse News Service’s Nick Cahill has more on the issue, including the controversial gang-affiliation designation. Here’s a clip:

All are classified “Grade B” prisoners, subjecting them to “stark and cruel deprivations,” including 21 to 24 hours per day in their cell, just three showers per week and lack of sleep due to constant suicide checks by jailers.

Lopez claims that all condemned prisoners deemed to have gang affiliations are classified Grade B, whether they were in a gang or not. He claims the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violates their constitutional rights by making them Grade B prisoners though they have not participated in gang activity at San Quentin.

“The condemned unit has no process or quality control measures for assessing whether plaintiffs and the class remain active participants in prison gangs,” the complaint states. “As a result, plaintiffs and the class are often assessed as having gang allegiances because of their ethnicity and the region in which they grew up.”

Though prison regulations require review of Grade B classification every 90 days, Lopez calls it a “meaningless and perfunctory process.” Though several plaintiffs have no disciplinary infractions at San Quentin, they are subjected to Class B restrictions anyway.


STUDENTS IN FOSTER CARE MOVING ON TO HIGHER ED RECEIVE RECOGNITION, SCHOLARSHIPS AT WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL

More than 170 high-achieving students in foster care received scholarships and were honored at the Walt Disney Concert Hall late last week. In California, only 58% of foster kids graduate high school. Beating the odds, all students honored graduated high school with a 2.8 or higher, and are heading off to college or a vocational school.

KPCC’s Rina Palta and Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery reported on the event and some of the incredible challenges overcome by the students honored.

Palta has the story of quadruplets who were shuffled around in foster care before reuniting and completing high school together. Here’s a clip:

“People definitely look down on us and think you’re not going to make it out of college and stuff – we’re going to end up in jail, we’re going to end up homeless,” said Bianca Lucci, the fraternal sister amongst the quadruplets. “But I believe that’s not true. As long as you have determination and you work hard in school, you’ll achieve your goals.”

The quadruplets are among 175 high-achieving foster children who were honored with scholarships at an event at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday.

They entered the foster care system after abuse and abandonment.

Madison Lucci remembers the exact moment — on Christmas Eve — when the police showed up to take the girls from their home, where they had been left alone.

“Christmas is supposed to be when you’re with your family,” she said. But that day, the sisters were split up and spent the next few years in and out of foster homes and group homes. In 2011, they all finally settled in Rancho Palos Verdes, where they all graduated from high school this month.

Slattery follows the story of Destinee Ballesteros, a straight A student with dreams of becoming Chief Supreme Court Justice whose life was turned upside down when she entered foster care. Here’s a clip:

Destinee was accepted into the competitive magnet program at AV Soar High School, located right on the Antelope Valley College campus in Los Angeles County, where she could challenge herself with college classes.

But during those high school years, her mother began using methamphetamines, which made her hallucinate, Destinee explained in a recent interview. Destinee’s mother would take her and her brother away from their home to escape from “unsafe people.”

“Even though we had a house, she thought it was unsafe,” Destinee said. “So we would bounce from hotels to shelters.” Destinee started missing school because she had no way to get there, and because caring for her younger brother became her top priority.

After a hotel clerk called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), a social worker determined that the two siblings had been neglected. Destinee and her brother entered foster care, and Destinee was transferred to a different school. There, during her junior year, she got her first F.

“It [getting an F] was really hard,” Destinee said. “It really broke my heart, but then again, I realized that sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to appreciate the success.”


POWERFUL “DRUGGING OUR KIDS” DOCUMENTARY RECEIVES NATIONAL AWARD

San Jose Mercury reporter Karen de Sá and photojournalist Dai Sugano have won a well-deserved Edward R. Murrow Award for the country’s best news documentary video by a large online organization, for their series “Drugging Our Kids,”—a powerful investigation into the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

De Sá and Sugano’s five-part series (which won three other national awards) sparked important legislative change and reforms. Read the series and watch the documentary: here.

Posted in CCPOA, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, prison policy, solitary | 2 Comments »

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