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Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry)

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

October 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


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.


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.”


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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 | 1 Comment »

CA Education Bill to Help Foster Kids, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, CA Wrongful Convictions,

June 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


CA Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill that would beef up California’s Foster Youth Services program (FYS). FYS provides vital education-related support to foster kids through mentoring and tutoring services. FYS, which began as a pilot in 1973, had such favorable results, that it was expanded statewide 17 years later, in 1998.

FYS and Assemblymember Weber’s related bill target a population of kids who often struggle to finish high school (nearly half of foster kids do not).

FYS in its current form, only lends support to foster kids who are living with a non-relative foster family or in a group home. Foster children living with their relatives are not eligible for the program.

AB 854 would extend services to the 40,000 foster kids living with family members—that’s two-thirds of all CA foster youth—who do not actually have better graduation rates than kids in non-relative foster homes.

Anna Maier and Zefora Ortiz have more on the bill in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

A 2006 study conducted on behalf of the state legislature found that nearly half of foster youth (46 percent) drop out of high school—compared with 16 percent of non-foster youth—and less than 10 percent enroll in college.

“I feel strongly that I need the authority to serve students with the greatest need,” said Lustig.

The Foster Youth Services program began as a pilot in 1973 with four California school districts, and a 1981 statute formally established and funded FYS in the four pilot districts. In 1998, the state legislature expanded grant funding to county Offices of Education with an emphasis on serving students in group homes. The 2006-07 State Budget renewed existing FYS funding and provided additional grant money for county Offices of Education to serve a broader array of foster youth, including those in juvenile detention facilities. FYS programming looks a little different in each county. But in Mt. Diablo Unified (one of the original pilot districts), the approach is working. The program supports all foster youth, regardless of their placement type. The district partners with group homes, mental health providers and local universities in order to provide comprehensive support.

“We get to see kids who are smiling and feeling good about themselves,” said James Wogan, administrator of School Linked Services, which oversees FYS programming in the district. “Many people thought [these students] would need a higher level of placement, but they get support from their peers as well as us. The culture has really taken off here.”

Throughout the state, FYS programming is showing similarly positive outcomes. A California Department of Education report for the 2012-13 school year found that participating foster youth exceeded their 90 percent target rate for attendance, and more than 70 percent of students who received tutoring met their goals for academic growth. Less than one percent of participating foster youth were expelled from school, far surpassing the target rate of less than 5 percent expulsion.


On KPCC’s AirTalk, Patt Morrison (filling in for Larry Mantle), speaks with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about the Ezell Ford case, officer discipline, and transparency.

The chief said he wished the department had more liberty to discuss disciplinary actions against police officers. Because of confidentiality rules, Chief Beck says his hands are tied. Beck will not be able to explain the discipline (nor the rationale behind the decision) the two officers involved in the death of Ezell Ford will receive.

“I must follow the law,” Beck told Morrison. “Now, we can have discussions about what would be a better way to regulate this but that won’t change how this will be regulated.”

Last week, after Chief Beck determined the officers acted within policy, the LA Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford in August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

Here’s a clip from Chief Beck’s interview:

Chief, you and the commission are looking at the same set of guidelines, why is it that you found this to be in policy and the police commission didn’t? How could that happen?

CB: Well people, as I said, disagree on this topic all the time. Reasonable suspicion is a topic of contention in every criminal case in which it applies. This is not unusual for people to have different opinions on this and especially when you recognize that I see things through my experience, in my eyes, which is very different than theirs. That’s not to say who’s right and who’s wrong, but it is to say that I have strong reasons and strong beliefs in my opinion on this. I also have my role in the process and my role is to determine discipline if it applies to the employees involved and that has yet to come and I will absolutely do the right thing on that.

Do you have a deadline for that?

CB: You know, I have a personal deadline. I’m not going to reveal that because I don’t think it helps the discussion for a couple of reasons. One of which is that by state law, I cannot make public whether or not I discipline these officers and what that discipline was so to create an expectation that there is going to be some type of announcement based on a date point would be unreasonable.

Why no mention of the police commission in your message to officers?

CB: Well, it wasn’t intended to put forth a position for or against the officers by the commission. It was intended to do exactly what it did. It was intended to tell officers that they needed to continue to develop community support, that they had community support. I used myself as an example; I used the mayor as an example; I used the vast majority of Los Angeles as the other example. No intent to omit the commission. No intent to comment one way or the other about the commission’s support for the rank and file. I know all the commissioners very well, they’re good people. I believe that they were guided by what they thought was right. I am not disparaging them; that was not the intent of the video.


On Wednesday, CA Gov. Jerry Brown approved nearly $1 million in settlements to be paid to three wrongfully convicted Californians.

A former Long Beach high school football star, Brian Banks, was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction in 2012 with help from the California Innocence Project. Banks spent six years falsely imprisoned. Once on parole, Banks met with his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, and secretly recorded Gibson admitting the accusation was false. Banks will receive $197,000.

Susan Mellen, who spent 17 years in prison after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her boyfriend, will receive $597,200.

Ronald Ross was found factually innocent after being convicted in 2006 of assault and attempted murder. Ross will receive $229,000.

The LA Times’ Phil Willon and Patrick McGreevy have the story. Here’s a clip:

At the time, Banks insisted that their sexual contact was consensual. However, he took his attorney’s advice to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison….

Banks, who as a high school player had caught the eye of coaches at USC, UCLA and other college football programs, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison but was not signed. In 2014, he was hired by the National Football League to help monitor games for problem calls by referees.

Claims are filed with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and automatically recommended to the Legislature for payment if the petitioner was wrongly convicted and found by a judge to be factually innocent.


On Wednesday, we pointed to a tour of German prisons organized by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Seventeen criminal justice officials and experts are examining how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and other areas of the criminal justice system.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has committed to a daily tour journal. Day two found the travelers at Heidering Prison, where inmates can smoke, cook for themselves, wear their own clothes, and visit family. Inmates never spend more than eight hours in isolation. And corrections officers are trained more, paid more, and even knock before entering inmates’ rooms.

Here’s a clip from Chammah’s day two offering:

Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media.

“We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride.

As the tour took turns walking through the cell, I briefly met a 24-year-old prisoner named Bryan Meyer. He was wearing his own clothes—cargo shorts, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a black baseball cap. One of the most visually striking aspects of German prisons is how prisoners wear regular street clothes. It adds to the sense that the only thing being denied them is their liberty.

Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.

Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?

The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Bills to Curb Drugging of Foster Kids Clear CA Senate…Veteran’s Court Makes Vets Feel at Home…LA FBI Agent Indicted…and More

June 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, the California Senate approved a package of four California reform bills addressing over-drugging in California foster care system. The bills have bipartisan support, and have a good chance of making it through the Assembly and onto Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. But a price tag of between $8-$22 million may be a tough sell for the governor.

Among other changes, the bills, authored by Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Jim Beall (D-San Jose), and Bill Monning (D-Carmel), would require state-wide data-tracking on the prescribing of psychotropic drugs and other potentially harmful drugs to foster kids, as well as restrict how juvenile courts authorize such medication, set up a system of nurses to monitor the kids who are medicated, and push doctors to choose non-medical treatments before psychiatric drugs.

Karen de Sá, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system, has more on the issue for the San Jose Mercury News. Here’s a clip:

The newspaper’s investigation found the powerful medications, which can cause debilitating side effects, are often prescribed to control troubled children’s behavior. But the bills, approved unanimously in the state Senate on Thursday, would improve how the state’s juvenile courts approve prescriptions; create new training programs; expand the ranks of public health nurses; and require ongoing reporting of how often foster children are being medicated.

Social workers would be alerted when kids receive multiple medications or high dosages and when psychiatric drugs are prescribed to very young children. And residential group homes, where prescribing is typically the highest, would be more closely monitored and subject to corrective action.

“The Senate has sent a clear message: The system must never permit powerful psychotropic drugs to replace other effective and necessary treatments,” said Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who authored the bills along with Sens. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

While the legislation faces no formal opposition, some child psychiatrists have expressed concerns that too many new rules could hinder care when access to medication is vital. The bills also carry a multimillion dollar price tag that could threaten their passage if they reach the governor’s desk.


A court in Orange County aims to help, rather than punish, veterans who are often suffering from PTSD, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The veterans court is modeled after drug courts and offers low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration.

To make the veterans feel more comfortable, the court does certain things military-style, like addressing participants by their rank. Participants receive a mentor (who is also a combat veteran), intensive therapy, substance abuse treatment, and other services they must take advantage of to make it through the program.

The veterans court, one of many cropping up across the nation, believes it has saved $2 million so far in jail and prison expenses since its inception five years ago.

Alisa Roth has more on the program for the Marketplace Morning Report. Here’s a clip:

Castro ended up in the veterans court in Orange County, California, after he got drunk and beat up a worker in a Subway restaurant. He says he doesn’t remember much of what happened, but he woke up the next morning in jail facing a bunch of felony charges.

The veterans court wasn’t his first choice, he says, but it seemed better than prison. And when he started the program, he was pleasantly surprised to find that it felt familiar.

“It was like being in the Marine Corps again,” he says. “They’re watching you … they’re on you.”

The program is modeled on drug courts, so the emphasis is on treatment and recovery rather than punishment. In this case, the court connects clients to existing services, mostly through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then forces the vets to make use of them or go back to jail. It’s intense: there’s substance abuse treatment, group therapy and individual therapy, plus regular check-ins with the judge and probation officer at court.

“They make you get those demons out,” Castro says. “They make you work, work, work.”

But it’s also supportive.

“What makes this unique,” says Joe Perez, the presiding judge, “is we’re all getting together, trying to figure out what’s the best way to keep this person from coming back.”

In Orange County, one of the ways they try to keep people from coming back is to make court feel like the military. The judge makes references to the military, sometimes addressing clients by their rank.


A former FBI agent, Scott Bowman, was indicted Wednesday for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 in confiscated drug raid money, and for obstructing justice by falsifying FBI reports to hide his ill-gotten gains. As part of the Gang Impact Team “GIT” in San Bernardino, Bowman carried out state and federal search warrants throughout the Central District of California, seizing and documenting evidence from drug raids.

Bowman allegedly spent the money on two cars plus upgraded equipment, plastic surgery for his wife, and a weekend in Las Vegas at a luxury hotel with his girlfriend.

As an explanation for his increased spending, Bowman allegedly told his fellow agents that he had received an advance inheritance of $97,000 from his sick father.

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

The indictment alleges that Bowman used the stolen money for his own purposes, including spending $43,850 in cash to purchase a 2012 Dodge Challenger coupe, $27,500 in cash to purchase a 2013 Toyota Scion FR-S coupe and approximately $26,612 in cash to outfit these vehicles with new equipment including speakers, rims and tires. According to the allegations in the indictment, the defendant also used approximately $15,000 of the misappropriated cash to pay for cosmetic surgery for his spouse, and opened a checking account into which he deposited approximately $10,665 of the stolen funds, a portion of which he used to pay for a weekend stay at a luxury hotel, casino and resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

According to the indictment, to conceal his misappropriation of the drug proceeds, Bowman allegedly falsified official FBI reports and other records. Specifically, in connection with one of the seizures, Bowman allegedly endorsed an evidence receipt knowing that it did not accurately reflect the amount of cash seized and altered the same receipt by forging the signature of a police detective next to his own.

The indictment further alleges that Bowman made false representations to his colleagues regarding the disposition of certain seized drug proceeds. In addition, Bowman allegedly sent an email to the detective whose signature Bowman had forged setting forth a detailed cover story that the detective should offer if asked about Bowman’s activities with respect to the seized drug proceeds. According to the indictment, Bowman also allegedly provided the detective with a copy of the forged receipt so that the detective falsely could claim the forged signature as his own, if asked.

The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General has investigated this case, and now it is in the hands of prosecutors from the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.


Fusion’s Collier Meyerson has a worthwhile guide to black-on-black crime for those sometimes generality-ridden discussions about crime in predominantly black communities.

Meyerson excerpts articles, research, and statistics to help move the public dialogue away from common myths toward more fact-driven context. Here are some examples:

2. Gun violence in black communities is a matter of public health, and it depends on a variety of structural inequalities.

Jonah Birch and Paul Heideman break it down in Jacobin:

“Research suggests that violent crime rates are driven by a variety of social factors which tend to make American cities particularly prone to gun violence against black residents. Among the most of these factors are very high levels of neighborhood segregation, concentrated un- and underemployment, poverty and a dearth of adequate social services or institutional resources. Fundamentally, gun violence has to be treated like other kinds of public health problems — not as the basis for continuous, empty calls for an introspective discussion about ‘black on black violence.’ And like other kinds of public health disparities, tackling high rates of inter-personal violence requires confronting the social context in which it occurs.”


5. Crime in black communities and crime committed against black people by the state are not created equal.

Michael Eric Dyson gives a compelling reason: “Black people who kill black people go to jail. White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail.”

“Focusing on black-on-black crime distracts from the current news (the murder case against Slanger, in this instance) that is worthy of discussion and analysis. Worse, it randomly zooms in on one phenomenon — that sometimes black people kill people who are also black — while ignoring the issues that go hand in hand with it. And that’s a lot to ignore. As Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote at the Atlantic in 2014, “The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts — they evidence them.”

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, mental health | 6 Comments »

Realignment Revisited, CA Bill to Conceal Child Abuse Death Cases, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Crowdfunding Lawsuits Against Law Enforcement

May 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


California’s prisoner realignment, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) to the states’ 58 counties.

In 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California looked at what effect, if any, realignment had on crime in its first year of existence. It found a slight uptick in violent crime, but noted that it was comparable to similar increases in violent crime elsewhere in the country in states that had no new realignment strategy. (There was however, an anomalous uptick in auto theft, for which the researchers had no explanation.) At the same time, in that first year, the state’s prison population dropped by around 27,000 to 133,400 inmates.

On Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California released a second report, finding that in 2013, crime rates dropped several percentage points (or more) in all categories of violent crime and property crime calculated.

And, thanks to realignment, and more recently, Prop 47, the state’s prisons are now 2,200 inmates below the 137.5% capacity deadline set by a panel of federal judges. (Prop 47 reclassified certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.) County jail population growth has also slowed down.

A Sacramento Bee editorial lauds California Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice reform efforts, calling realignment an important accomplishment and a model for the nation.


A “trailer bill” tucked away in the CA budget proposal would hide records of child deaths at the hands of a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend. It would also limit access to other case notes, and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Interestingly, the bill would also implement a federal order to release case files when kids are brought close to death.

Because the bill is attached to the budget, it will bypass the usual committee review process.

According to the Times, the bill could be voted on as early as today (Thursday).

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here are some clips:

…state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.

But the bill currently under consideration would relax deadlines for the release of records, and keep the names of social workers secret. It would deny the public access to original case notes, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children.

It would also exclude the public from reviewing case files concerning children who were killed by their parents’ boyfriends or girlfriends.

[EDITOR'S UPDATE: We have just deleted a sentence in our clip from this LA Times story. It had to do with DCFS's purported sponsoring of this worrisome bill, which---according to information we have subsequently received---turns out to be incorrect. (A DCFS spokesman said that those at his office first learned of the bill's existence this morning from the LAT's and WLA's reporting. He assured me that DCFS is not at all in favor of the information-restricting proposed legislation.)

The Times too has removed the problematic sentence, although without notifying readers that they have done so. Instead the faulty information just unaccountably vanished. (Bad LAT, no cookie!)]


Pete Cervinka, the deputy director of the social services department who reportedly led efforts to draft the rollback, declined to answer questions about the proposal.

A spokesman noted that the department had not yet publicly introduced the language of the bill, which he said will implement a federal mandate to release records for the first time in cases where children are injured to the point that they are “near death.”


In a story for the Nation, Debbie Nathan, a journalist and freelance “mitigation specialist” for death penalty cases, gives an interesting take on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case from the eyes of someone whose job is to “de-monster the monsters.”

In death penalty cases, when guilt is already established, mitigation specialists dig through the defendant’s past to present a humanizing narrative that will sway jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Often, according to Nathan, the investigations turn up prior abuse, mental illness, and other traumas. But, Nathan says, the concepts and practices of mitigation investigations, vilification, and even innocence claims are indicative of a broken criminal justice system. Nathan argues that humans should be allowed to make bad decisions, even catastrophic ones, and remain among the living.

Here are some clips from Nathan’s insider take on the issue:

We search out hardship in early life. In death-penalty cases, this is usually like shooting into barrels of fish. Capital murder is an extreme behavioral outlier and almost always is associated with a gross inability to control one’s frustration, anger, and other antisocial impulses. The problem is most often associated with conditions like intellectual disability, mental illness, exposure to environmental and workplace toxins, and substance abuse. Learning this background can liberate a jury from simplistic and legalistic notions of “guilt,” toward the more complicated understanding that when terrible things happen to someone, even grotesquely violent responses are imbued with a quantum of moral innocence.


Exposition. Rising action. A plot gone awry and a horrible climax. The denouement remains to be written. We mitigation specialists hope the poetics of our client’s life will move the jury to consider their own poetics. To think, as they lie in bed at night after court: “There but for the grace of God go I. Or my child!” They might vote to kill a monster, but not a human. Mitigation narratives don’t work all the time—witness what’s just happened with Tsarnaev. But they work often enough, and they save lives.

As a result of this work, I see capital cases from the inside. I see privy things. Very occasionally, I see strong evidence that someone is actually innocent: they seem truly to have done no wrong. These cases underscore the State’s outsized and often corrupt power, exercised though egomaniacal and dishonest district attorneys, lying cops, inept “experts.” These cases have become a powerful argument against the death penalty.

But I’ve also seen cases in which the defendant and his lawyers have publicly claimed innocence—yet during my work I’ve found evidence suggesting my client is guilty. I’ve seen attorneys hide the “bad facts” of the case—facts, kept quiet by the defense, which suggest that my client did commit murder. These are the moments in which I question the corrosive role that “innocence” plays in criminal justice, and in our effort to reform that broken system.

Claims of innocence can be tremendously useful tools. In court they can rout a death sentence, particularly when raised on appeal to contest an execution that is imminent. Politically, innocence claims are a potent argument against capital punishment, because who, even among the most die-hard of capital punishment advocates, wants to mistakenly execute the blameless?

But innocence claims, even in far lesser crimes than murder, can be as corrosive to our struggling comprehension of humanity as is the prosecutor’s rant about “monsters.” Handed down in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion, a judgment of innocence gives indigent people, people of color, and immigrants the right in America to live. But the other side of the shiny coin of innocence is the crumpled currency of guilt. You’re not innocent? You fucked up? Then you deserve your exile—prison for an eternity, ejection from the United States, your life injected away on a gurney. After all, you’re not innocent.


Anoush Hakimi turned to crowdfunding to “level the legal playing field” by helping indigent victims of alleged police abuse pay their attorney’s fees.

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

The effort is designed to address a perennial problem in police abuse litigation: most victims are poor and their attorneys only get paid when there’s a settlement or a jury finds in their favor.

In the meantime, attorneys spend their own money to hire expert witnesses, conduct discovery and prepare the case.

“So naturally, plaintiff attorneys are reluctant to take on cases unless they are a slam dunk,” said Hakimi, 37, a Century City finance lawyer. “This leaves a lot of people out in the cold.”

Too often, he argued, victims are forced to settle a case on the cheap because their lawyers can’t afford to fight. The Iranian immigrant, who graduated from UCLA Law School, said he co-founded to raise investor money to bolster good cases.

Hakimi said investor money will “level the legal playing field” against deep-pocketed cities, counties and corporations.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Innocence, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, prison, Realignment | No Comments »

Community Policing, Drugging Foster Kids, Banning Solitary for Kids, and Combatting Sex Trafficking

May 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, the Los Angeles Police Department announced a pilot program that will increase the number of foot patrol officers in its Hollenbeck Division.

The “Hollenbeck Community Partners Program” will have sixteen beat cops walking corridors in areas like Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, as part of the LAPD’s increased community policing and crime prevention efforts. Eight new pairs of beat cops may not sound like a lot, but the move is a significant one for a department that has traditionally relied on officers in cruisers to patrol its territory, which stretches 468 square miles and has a population of four million.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the program and what the department and members of the community hope it will achieve. Here are some clips:

Relationship-based policing requires staying in a neighborhood. It is an increasingly popular term among criminal justice experts and civil rights activists who say police have become too disconnected from the communities they police. The Los Angeles-based Advancement Project is one proponent.

The LAPD, which has fewer officers per capita than many big city police departments, has used foot patrols on a limited basis on Skid Row, in Venice and elsewhere. The sprawl of Los Angeles makes it hard to patrol effectively and efficiently by foot.

The increase comes less than a month after the LAPD announced it’s quadrupling the size of its elite Metropolitan Division to 200. In contrast to the foot patrols, Metro cops are assigned to swoop into high crime areas with an eye toward making a lot of stops and arrests. Some worry that effort could hurt community policing efforts.


Foot patrol officers typically make fewer arrests.

“I like to think of it as more preventing crimes,” said Officer Joe Romo, who may be the most veteran foot officer in the city at 16 years. “It’s a more positive way to police.”

He said he arrests about ten people a year. Officers in patrol cars responding to radio calls arrest five to ten people a month, he said.

“I’m not expecting these guys to be hauling people in left and right,” said Baeza, the area captain. “I am expecting them to build relationships and partnerships with the community.”

The LA Times’ Kate Mather also reported on the LAPD’s program. Here’s a clip:

If the effort goes well, officials said, they will look for ways to expand “foot beats” across the city.

It’s a back-to-basics approach that is common in other cities that are more compact, like Chicago, or that have larger departments, like New York, but it never became a staple of policing in Los Angeles, where officers rely on patrol cars to cover the city’s roughly 470 square miles.

“We have foot beats that come and go and foot beats that work some areas, but none that will be like in Hollenbeck,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas. “One hundred percent of the time, that’s all they’ll do.”

The move marks a step away from the iconic image of LAPD officers cruising down palm-lined streets in black-and-white cars.

Newsweek’s Victoria Bekiempis has an interesting story exploring the “catch-22″ of placing more cops—even cops intending to rebuild police-community relations—on the streets in communities that are feeling over-policed in the first place. Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, meanwhile, is charged with determining the best ways police can reduce crime and build trust with communities. In early March, the task force published an hundred-plus page interim report that emphasizes community policing as a way to achieve these goals—in fact, “Community Policing & Crime Reduction” is one of the six listed “pillars” in the report. Some of the recommendations in this section seem almost tailor-made for foot patrol proponents. Police must communicate with people at times other than emergency calls or crime investigations, the report recommends. Law enforcement agencies must allow officers time “to participate in problem solving and community engagement activities” during patrols, the report says.

Foot patrol sounds like an even better idea when you look at the data. Research has indicated it both improves police-community relations and fights crime. Though these positive outcomes make foot patrol quite an appealing policing tactic today, they happened before a year that saw the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott—and, most recently, Freddie Gray.

While man-on-the-street interviews wouldn’t provide quantitative data, I had been looking into foot patrol for a while, including earlier reporting on St. Petersburg’s initiative, and I had traveled to Baltimore hours before the city burned to try to find out whether residents thought the requirement would work, both in general and in light of Gray’s death. In interviews, the general sentiment was that foot patrol, like other community-policing techniques, was either a pipe dream or a paradox: Foot patrol could build much-needed trust in communities of color, but not until trust had first been restored. Residents conceded, however, that restoring trust probably wouldn’t happen if successful community-police engagement programs, such as foot patrol, weren’t already in place.

Sure, this doesn’t mean that foot patrol wouldn’t work, but it suggests that officials’ enthusiasm for foot patrol might be too glib—and that a lot of people supposedly poised to benefit from this kind of community policing absolutely do not want more cops on the streets right now.

On a stretch of sidewalk empty save for a few shuffling seniors, neighborhood resident Thomas Thornton says Baltimore’s foot patrol program isn’t inherently ill-conceived but is an awful idea given recent events. Before Gray brought police-community relations to a breaking point in Baltimore, resentment had long been building, explains Thornton, who works as a janitor. He says police routinely stop him and others in the neighborhood and ask, “Where are you going?” and “What are you doing?” Residents “see the uniform as a threat,” and that perception has intensified, he says.

“At this time, I don’t think it’s a good time to walk around—at all,” says Thornton, 45, speaking of foot patrol. “Maybe eventually, but at the present time, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not right now. Because it’s so tense.”

Marguerite Johnston, also a neighborhood resident, doesn’t think all police are bad based on the behavior of a few; she was raised not to judge people like that, she says. Johnston, 61, says the bad ones have nothing better to do than pick on people. Police officers should get to know their community, she says, recalling a time when a uniformed cop used to walk her neighborhood and even knew her by name. Maybe this kind of familiarity would build relationships, she says, and would make things better. Foot patrol is a good idea, she agrees, just not any time soon, given the present tensions.

“Maybe down the road? Probably sometime at the end of the year?” Johnston says. “It’s a catch-22. The police should probably try harder to gain the community’s trust before doing these projects.”

Then there was outright pessimism—a lot of it, actually.

“It’s only going to make it worse,” says Kyree Brown, who was sitting on a stoop with friends near the police station, talking about foot patrol. “It’s them against us.”

Could people trust police, then, if the programs that are supposed to engender trust don’t work?


A package of four California reform bills to address over-drugging in California foster care system could cost $8 million—and possibly over $22 million—per year, according to court estimates. The bills have bipartisan support, and have a good chance of making it through both legislative houses and onto Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Karen de Sá, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system, has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“When you consider the long-term harm and consequences to the kids being doped up like this, it’s really pennies — I personally believe $8 million is budget dust,” said Mike Herald, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “But in my experience, just about anything is subject to his rejection if it’s going to cost millions of dollars.”

In an early sign of possible support, however, Brown’s $115.3 billion budget plan released Thursday included two surprises: $149,000 to improve data on prescribing to foster children, and an increase of $1.5 million for social worker training that includes psychotropic medication issues.

“This is an exciting development,” said Kathryn Dresslar, who was chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and is with the nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Partnership. “The fact that there are dollars in the budget right now that specifically mention training for psychotropic drugs, and the kind of tracking that we need, is good news — I think that means that the administration intends to address this problem in some way to a greater extent than they have in the past.”

Under four bills inspired by this newspaper’s ongoing investigation “Drugging Our Kids,” a mix of federal and state funds would be used to hire 38 new public health nurses; provide second medical opinions, and train social workers and caregivers to watch out for side effects and to advocate for alternatives to mind-numbing meds. Juvenile court judges could not approve prescriptions for foster children without lab tests and ongoing monitoring and unless kids 14 and older consented in writing. Social workers would be alerted about prescriptions for young children and those on multiple meds; and there would be new oversight of residential group homes, where the medications are most frequently prescribed.

Policy analysts say the four reform bills authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel, will save the state money, with fewer costly and unnecessary drugs billed to the public health system. California taxpayers spend more on psychotropics than on drugs of any other kind for foster children, this newspaper found, more than $226 million over a decade.


As part of a groundbreaking settlement, Contra Costa County Probation and has agreed to end solitary confinement in the county’s Juvenile Hall. Kids will no longer endure prolonged isolation (for more than four hours) as punishment or for convenience. After the four-hour mark, kids must either be removed from solitary confinement, be placed in an individualized program, or be sent to a mental health facility.

Contra Costa’s Dept. of Education has also agreed to make sure that locked up kids with disabilities are getting their educational needs met.

Public Counsel has more on the settlement and its implications. Here’s a clip:

“At a time when the nation is re-evaluating the use of solitary confinement, this settlement is of extraordinary public importance,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Managing Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “In Contra Costa County, the draconian practice of solitary confinement will come to an end and the focus will be, as it should, on education and rehabilitation. Our hope is that other facilities across the nation will follow suit.”

Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Probation Department, the County will no longer use solitary confinement (also known as room confinement) for punitive reasons, discipline, or for expediency. In line with national standards, the County may segregate a youth in his or her room for no more than four hours and only if the youth’s behavior threatens immediate harm to themselves or others. After four hours, the Department must remove the youth from confinement, develop specialized individualized programming for the youth, or assess whether the youth should be transported to a mental health facility. The settlement also calls for two joint experts to review the Department’s practices, implement changes to improve conditions for young people with disabilities, and monitor compliance for two years.

“This landmark settlement puts an end to the egregious practice of subjecting children with disabilities to inhumane maximum security-like prison conditions and unconscionable deprivations of education,” said Public Counsel Education Rights Director Laura Faer. “The promise of this settlement for youth in the juvenile hall is real rehabilitation, support instead of isolation and segregation, and high quality special education services and options. If the Defendants bury the hatchet and focus on implementation, Contra Costa can become a model for the state and the Nation.”

Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the County Office of Education will retain an outside expert to evaluate its compliance with federal and state special education laws and to ensure that the students with disabilities in Juvenile Hall receive the special education that they need. The expert will make recommended revisions to policies, procedures and practices as they relate to Child Find, development and implementation of individualized education plans, and discipline and monitor compliance for two years.


The LA County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allocate $250,000 to train county staff and community partners to identify young victims of sex trafficking. The LA County Probation Dept. has already trained 7,000 individuals, but more must be done to protect the county’s children from exploitation, according to the motion by Supe. Don Knabe.

Probation will use the money to develop further training in collaboration with other county departments and community groups, and to train thousands more people to recognize the warning signs earlier.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, solitary, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

CA Counties “Step Up” for Mental Health Diversion…Jazz Therapy in Jail…and Preschool Savings

May 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A new national initiative to divert people with mental illness from jails will connect counties with resources to create concrete action plans and track results.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF) launched the initiative, which will use money from Department of Justice’s Bureau
of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Sheriff’s departments in California counties and across the nation are signing up to participate in the “Stepping Up” initiative, which is intended to be “a long-term, national movement—not a moment in time,” according to organizers.

Here are a few of the areas sheriff’s departments participating in the initiative will focus on:

- Learning from a group of criminal justice, mental health, and substance abuse experts, as well as people with mental illnesses and their families

- Collecting data and using it to assess needs of (and to better serve) people who are both mentally ill and justice system-involved

- Developing, implementing, and thoroughly tracking the progress of a diversion plan involving research-based approaches

Counties that see progress over the next year will be eligible to attend a national summit in the Spring of 2016, after which certain counties with the best diversion results will be selected to receive grant money to expand their efforts.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the initiative, and what the LA and OC sheriffs have to say about it. Here’s a clip:

“You will not find a sheriff in this state or this nation who is not struggling with the growing number of people who are mentally ill in our jails,” Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said at a kickoff event for the initiative in Sacramento….

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was not present Thursday at the Sacramento event, but said in a previous interview, “Absolutely, we want to be a participant.”

“Jails were not built as treatment facilities with long-term treatment in mind,” McDonnell said. “When you think about a jail environment, it’s probably the worst possible place to house or attempt to treat the mentally ill.”

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has been researching and working on a comprehensive mental health diversion program, and is expected to present the full plan to the Board of Supervisors next month.


After singing three songs to an extremely appreciative crowd of women housed in the San Francisco County Jail last year, cultural anthropologist and jazz singer, Naima Shalhoub, formed a weekly music therapy class to bring a little happiness and hope to the inmates.

The SF Chronicle’s Carolyne Zinko has the story. It’s behind a paywall, but here are some clips:

You don’t need a master’s degree to know that jail inmates are lonely, but during the past year, cultural anthropologist Naima Shalhoub has seen it doesn’t take much, or cost much, to make them feel less isolated and sad.

The difference between happy and unhappy just might be eight minutes. That’s the time it took for Shalhoub, also a jazz artist, to sing three songs on her first visit to a women’s unit at the San Francisco County Jail a year ago, right around Mother’s Day.

“One woman said, ‘I’ve been here two years and this is the happiest I’ve felt,’” she recalled during a visit to the women’s unit on Tuesday. With feedback so powerful, she had to come back, and has taught music therapy classes almost every Friday since.

For this Mother’s Day, Shalhoub went further: She and a four-piece band performed a 45-minute concert in the jail’s E pod on Tuesday, and recorded it before a captive audience of 50 female inmates, a first in the jail’s history.


“Even though it’s not much to bring music on the inside, it’s a way to learn the day-in, day-out on the inside in the lives of women, and to intervene in their isolation and confinement,” Shalhoub said. “Dreaming about other systems that are restorative is what fuels my passion for this work.”


There are 31,500 4-year-olds from low-income households in California that don’t have access to public preschool.

Providing preschool to 31,500 kids—which was included in Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 Budget Act—could save California $820 million per year (at $26,000 per child), according to a new report by ReadyNation.

Heres a clip from ReadyNation:

Long-term savings are substantial. An independent cost-benefit analysis of more than 20 different studies of high-quality state and local preschool programs by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that providing high-quality early childhood education can have, on average, a net return of over $26,000 for every child served.

These savings result from fewer placements in special education, less grade repetition, increased lifetime earnings thanks to higher graduation rates, more income taxes collected from those earnings, reduced health care costs, and decreased crime.

In keeping with the promise in the 2014-15 Budget Act, an estimated additional 31,500 preschool slots are needed in order to provide early learning for all low-income 4-year-olds in California. Applying the estimated $26,000 in lifetime net savings per child served by preschool means that serving these children in California would result in savings to our state of close to $820 million for each graduating preschool class.

“When it comes to early education for at-risk youth, the research is clear: investing in our youngest learners now will pay big dividends in the future,” said Moreen Lane, Deputy Director of READYNATION California. “Hopefully, our state legislators and the Governor will agree and fulfill the promise of least year’s Budget Act to make early education available for all low-income 4-year-olds. Smart investments in preschool would be a solid step for our state economy.”

Posted in District Attorney, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, mental health, racial justice | 5 Comments »

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