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California’s School Counselor Problem… The LA Sheriff’s Department’s Transparency Problem…Changing the Double Jeopardy of “Dual Status” Kids

January 20th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


CALIFORNIA HAS THE NATION’S WORST STUDENT-TO-COUNSELOR RATIO & IT’S KEEPING KIDS FROM GRADUATING

Many of California’s school counselors have so many students on their caseloads that even the best-meaning of them can’t possibly give most kids the help and time they need. As a consequence, students often land in the wrong classes and thus amass enough school credits to graduate and head toward college, but not the right credits—for either.

This is especially true in the state’s poorer communities, where kids move around or miss days of school due to foster care placements, family instability, brushes with the juvenile justice system, and other barriers to an uninterrupted school year, making the need for a counselor’s attention all the more crucial.

Brenda Iasevoli writing for the Hechinger Report has the story. Here’s a clip:

Jose Salas was in his freshman year of high school when his mother kicked him out because he was gay. He bounced from one friend’s house to another, and to a new high school each year: Hawthorne High in South Los Angeles, Edison High in Fresno, Morningside High in Inglewood. Somehow he stayed on track to graduate. Then, in his senior year, something went wrong.

The high school where he enrolled, Hillcrest Continuation School in Inglewood, placed him in remedial classes usually assigned to students learning English. He took and passed 35 credits worth in the fall semester before dropping out. Any guidance counselor looking at his transcripts would have seen that Salas had passed Advanced Placement English as an 11th grader and didn’t need these classes.

“I have no idea why they placed him in that set of classes,” says Nicole Patch, Salas’s counselor at YouthBuild Charter School of California, where in 2013 he earned his high school diploma at the age of 22 after working as a taxi dispatcher and in a fast-food restaurant. “This is a kid who had the skills. The work was being done. The school should have placed him in government and other courses he actually needed.”

Salas’s story is common, especially in school districts with too few guidance counselors to keep track of the large numbers of poor, transient students who move from school to school and across districts. California ranks worst in the nation when it comes to providing guidance counselors, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250 to 1. In California, the ratio was 1,016 to 1 for the 2010-2011 school year, the latest for which data is available.

By the time Salas graduated, he had 268.5 credits. He only needed 200 to graduate. All told, the credits mix-up cost him two semesters of high school, according to Patch, since California high schools typically offer 30 credits per semester. Salas said he trusted his counselors to place him in the classes he needed. “It is frustrating that things don’t work that way,” he says.


LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT INSPECTOR GENERAL SAYS LASD NOT TRANSPARENT, SHERIFF MCDONNELL SAYS HE AIMS TO RELEASE USE-OF-FORCE DATA & LOTS MORE ONLINE

In report that came out Friday, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman said that the LA county Sheriff’s Department is far less transparent than many other major law enforcement agencies when it comes to officer-involved-shootings, community members’ complaints, and deputy disciplinary proceedings.

Shortly after Huntsman issued his report, Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced that he intended to make sweeping changes. Here’s what KPCC’s Andrea Gardiner reported:

McDonnell responded immediately after the OIG report was made public, saying his department would distribute the data online, so the public can access it. The data will include the number and nature of officer-involved shootings, use-of-force claims, citizen complaints, and officer conduct that results in discipline. It will not name the officers.

McDonnell also appeared on ABC-7′s Newsmakers show with Adrienne Alpert on Sunday morning and talked further about the need for transparency. (Sadly Newsmakers isn’t archived online.)

On Monday, the LA Times editorial board wrote about the necessity for such transparency sooner rather than later.

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

First, the bad news, as laid out in a report by Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman and reported Friday in The Times: The Sheriff’s Department does a poor job of informing the public about shootings and discipline. That would be a big deal in any event, but especially at this moment in history, when law enforcement agencies nationwide are coming under renewed scrutiny, and properly so, for use of deadly force and poor access to data about it.

Huntsman’s findings aren’t particularly surprising, of course. The basic narrative of the Sheriff’s Department over the last five years has been a succession of jail beatings by deputies and, when the public asks questions, such hostile and arrogant responses as to strain even the best relationships the department has with the communities it serves.

But his analysis was particularly useful in that it compared the department with its law enforcement counterparts in California — including the California Highway Patrol, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department — and the largest police departments elsewhere in the country.

Almost everybody does better at making data on the use of force, complaints and discipline easily accessible to the public, either directly or through independent review boards. Even New York City, with its long history of tension between the department and the public, displays data about police shootings on its website: how many, where, against whom.

Some jurisdictions go further. Dallas, for example, posts it all on an Officer Involved Shooting Web page. What do we really want to know? Whom did the police shoot? Was the victim armed or unarmed? Of what race, gender and age? In what neighborhood? It’s all there, in one place — as it should be…


DO DUAL STATUS KIDS HAVE TO BE DOUBLE-SLAMMED BY THE SYSTEM?

“Duel Status Youth” is the term for kids whose actions and/or circumstances bring them contact with both the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system. In theory, the intention is for such kids to get twice the help because of their two-for-one contact with government systems.

Sadly, however, the opposite has turned out to be true. Instead of getting double the help, dual status youth seem, almost inevitably, to be exposed to twice the harm.

Put another way, if outcomes are often bleak, statistically speaking, for kids in foster care, they are generally far worse for youth who also manage to land in the juvenile justice system, which many foster care kids do for actions as minor as running away.

Child advocates have been pointing for a long time to this disturbing double jeopardy pattern of duel status youth, but with little success.

Part of the problem seems to be that, in most U.S. counties, the juvenile justice and foster care systems don’t coordinate with each other. (This is one of the issues pointed out by LA County’s Blue Ribbon Commission.)

Now, however, the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, together with the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, has taken a deep look at the dual status youth crisis and is helping four U.S. counties create a different model for dealing with double-jeopardy youth in order to reroute those kids’ futures in a healthy direction.

One of those municipalities working with the RFK people is Santa Clara County, California.

Gary Gately reporting for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange takes a look at the overall problem—and at some of the solutions.

Here are some clips from Gately’s story:

She was born to an incarcerated mother. She was repeatedly abused by relatives with whom she spent much of her early life.

By the time she turned 10, she had been sexually abused by an older brother, a pimp, who forced her into prostitution.

She didn’t last long at foster homes and ended up living in group homes in the Northern California area. She ran away from placements dozens of times and continued prostituting herself.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Alicia — whose real name is being withheld to conceal her identity — repeatedly landed in juvenile detention on solicitation or related charges.

But for most of her young life, the people responsible for helping her — in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems — hardly spoke to one another, much less coordinated services, because of the longstanding gulf between the two systems.

Alicia, now 18 and expected to be in jail through mid-January on prostitution and robbery charges, could be a poster child for kids known as “dual-status youth” — those involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Their cases typically present enormous challenges: Many of the children are chronic runaways who have suffered from severe physical or emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment. And they typically come from troubled homes often beset by domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness.

It’s hard to say how many children become entangled in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, partly because of the historical bureaucratic divides between the two systems.

Juvenile courts in the United States handled an estimated 1.2 million cases in which the youth was charged with a delinquency offense during 2011, according to the Pittsburgh-based, nonprofit National Center for Juvenile Justice, which collects and reports on juvenile court activity for the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. And the federal Children’s Bureau reported 3.8 million children in 2012 were the subjects of at least one report of abuse and neglect; for 686,000 children the maltreatment was substantiated.

Conservatively, tens of thousands of children a year are simultaneously involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. (Depending on the locale, these children are known by such terms as crossover, dual-jacketed, dual-involvement, dual-status supervision or dual-jurisdiction youths.)


NEWTON COUNTY, GEORGIA TRIES A DIFFERENT PLAN

Virginia Lynn Anderson, also writing for the JJIE, reports on what Newton County, Georgia-–another one of the RFK sites—is doing to keep dual status youth out of detention and to instead get them and their families the help they need to start to turn their lives around.

The first step, Newton found, is simply to start tracking whether or not a kid was dually involved. Astonishingly, Newton—like many counties—hadn’t previously managed to find out if a kid was in both systems.

Here’s a clip from Anderson’s story:

On a bright, fall day — the kind of day that kids love to be outdoors in, riding a bike, playing ball — a 15-year-old walked into a juvenile courtroom in Newton County for a hearing, wearing a dark blue jumpsuit, handcuffs and a look of fear on his face.

He had been picked up for riding a bicycle under the influence in next-door Rockdale County a day or two before and placed in detention.

Had Judge Lisa Mantz not known about the teen’s home difficulties, she might have sent him back to his foster mother’s home.

He’s faced some very hard obstacles. His father is in prison. His mother is absent for unknown reasons, and he hasn’t seen her in years.

Because Mantz and the Newton County juvenile justice team make it a matter of protocol to find out whether a youth has been in protective custody or has an open case with the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS), Mantz knew in this case not to send the boy home.

“The foster mom has a meth problem,” Mantz explained after a wrenching hearing. “He wouldn’t be safe going back into that environment.”

Newton County is one of four sites in the nation chosen by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps to serve as a demonstration project — to show how the juvenile justice court can work with DFCS, other children-serving agencies and the community to identify dual status youth and get them the help they need.

While this young person’s case resulted in his being kept in detention, the collaborative efforts of the Newton County Juvenile Court and DFACS play out in different ways in different cases. The goal is to keep dual status youth out of detention and to instead get them and their families the help they need to stay out of detention.

Using an initiative that recognizes that most juvenile offenders are dually involved in the child welfare system, Newton County is changing its strategy for working with youth in the juvenile justice system.

Previously, the county might have looked at a youth’s juvenile record without ever examining his or her involvement in the child welfare system. Now the county’s first step is to learn whether a young person has an open file with the Department of Family and Children Services. A separate intake form is created, and, within three days, DFCS returns information to the court that shows whether a youth is dually involved.

Read the rest. While the change is heartening, the fact that nobody in Newton bothered to track dual involvement until 2013…is not.

Posted in ACEs, Education, Foster Care, Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD | 12 Comments »

Obama Proposes Free Community College…. Should a 19-Year-Old Get the Death Penalty?…Horses Help Traumatized Kids….Pens v. Guns

January 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOR “ANYONE WILLING TO WORK FOR IT,” SAYS PRESIDENT OBAMA

In a surprise announcement recorded in a Vine video by President Obama aboard Air Force One and then released on Facebook on Thursday, the president stated his intention to propose that the two years of community college be offered free to students of any age.

“I’d like to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who’s willing to work for it,”

As to why he was doing this video release of a proposed policy, Obama explained:

“We’re doing a little preview of the state of the union. I figure why wait for two weeks.”

What he did not say but implied, is that the idea is a counter to the skyrocketing costs of college tuition, and the rise in student debt that is seen as increasingly problematic to young adults starting life after college.

“Education is the key to success for our kids in the 21st century,” Obama said. “But it’s not just for kids.” With the latter, he referred to adults who want to go back to school for additional training or retraining, “for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

He wants, he said, to make sure that “Congress gets behind these kinds of efforts…”

In other words, the pre-SOTU video release is a PR gambit.

According to a related White House information page, if all 50 states choose to implement the President’s new community college proposal, it could:

*Save a full-time community college student $3,800 in tuition per year on average

*Benefit roughly 9 million students each year

As to what the program would cost the taxpayer and how it would be funded…that information is still to come.

White House officials did say that the feds would pay 75% of the costs of the proposed program, with the states picking up the rest.


WHAT IF A TEENAGER CONVICTED OF MURDER IS ALSO AN ADULT? SHOULD WE PUT HIM OR HER TO DEATH?

When the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the still-living member of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing duo, begins later this month, the largest question the jury will have to consider will not be so much about guilt, but rather about punishment.

Tsarnaev is accused of multiple counts of murder for the April 15, 2013, bombings at the Marathon finish line that killed three people and injured more than 260 others, some of them gravely. Tsarnaev and his brother also reportedly killed an MIT campus police officer in Cambridge, a few days after the bombing. In addition, Tsarnaev is accused of mass terrorism—a federal crime that is eligible for the death penalty.

So will Tsarnaev be sentenced to death? Should he be? WLA is not a great fan of capital punishment, but certainly if there is a crime that would arguably be eligible it would be the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon.

And yet….

Yesterday we wrote about the new MacArthur Foundation report “Because Kids Are Different,” that outlines five different areas for juvenile justice reform based on what we know about the differences in cognitive development between adolescents and adults.

In their report, the MacArthur authors point to the 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that eliminated the use of the death penalty for young people under the age of 18.

“The court noted three key distinctions between adolescents and adults that require the law to hold youth to a different standard:
(1) adolescents lack maturity and a sense of responsibility,
which can lead to “impetuous and ill-considered” actions and
decisions;1
(2) adolescents are more vulnerable and susceptible
to negative influences and peer pressure; and (3) the personality
traits of adolescents are not fixed, and are more transitory than
those of adults. According to the court, a youth’s ability to grow,
mature, and change must be recognized by the law for reasons
of basic logic, science, and morality

So if all of the above is true at age 17-and-ahalf, what about at age 19?

In a story called “The Teenaged Brain of the Boston Bomber,” the Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein asks if Tsarnaev’s age—19 when the terrible bombings occurred—will be viewed as a valid defense when it comes to the sentencing phase of the trial.

Goldstein writes about the brain imaging that has been part of the new neuroscience of adolescence, which suggests young adults remain especially susceptible to peer influence, among other judgement altering factors, well into their twenties.

As it stands now, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has declined to take the death penalty off the table, saying that Tsarnaev acted in “an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner.” He also pointed to Tsarnaev’s seeming lack of remorse.

Wherever you personally stand on capital punishment, Goldstein’s is an interesting story in that it outlines factors that may come into play when in determining Tsarnaev’s fate.

Here are some clips:

When it comes to young adults, much of that brain research has been conducted by Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University. He and colleagues have observed that into the twenties, the brain is still undergoing myelination, a process in which a white, fatty substance coats nerve fibers, gradually improving the brain’s ability to make the neural connections necessary to plan ahead, weigh risks and rewards, and make complex decisions. Using functional Magnetic Reasoning Imaging (fMRI), Steinberg and colleagues have also been able to observe which parts of the brain are activated as teenagers and young adults complete various tasks.

In one laboratory experiment, two groups of subjects, one group in their teens and another in their mid-to-late-twenties, manipulated a vehicle along a track, first alone and then as two of their real-world friends observed. The teenagers and adults drove similarly when alone. But when performing in front of their peers, the teenagers took more risks and were more likely to crash their vehicles. The reward centers of the teenagers’ brains, which anticipate approval and pleasure, were highly active when observed by their peers, while the adults’ brains did not display such a pattern.

Those findings echo other studies — and common sense — suggesting that even intelligent teenagers act, essentially, stupid around their friends. This is true even in highly unusual, violent contexts, such as terrorist extremism. Research on radicalization shows young adults are often attracted to terrorist movements through loving relationships, particularly with siblings or romantic partners who hold extreme beliefs. This could be relevant to the Boston Marathon case, given the likelihood that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was influenced by his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan…

Judy Clarke, who represents Tsarnaev, is a high profile attorney and death penalty expert who has negotiated death-avoiding plea deals in such notorious cases as that of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and mass shooter Jared Loughner, who killed six people and shattered the life of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Clarke has not commented on the strategy she and her team intend to use in the case of Tsarnaev.

Interestingly, if this were a state trial, rather than a federal trial, the matter would not be an issue since Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, more than decade before Tsarnaev was born.


FOR TRAUMATIZED KIDS HORSES CAN BE “A BEACON OF LIGHT IN AN OTHERWISE DARK WORLD”

This coming February, 25 experts from as far away as Finland will arrive at Saguaro Lake Ranch, a 1940s dude ranch near Scottsdale, AZ, for a four-day conference on how to treat kids with severe childhood trauma. Prominent among the treatment methods to be discussed for helping children with a high number of so-called “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—is a method called equine assisted therapy.

(We’ve written in the past about the research on ACEs and their effect on the health well being of children and adults here and here.)

JoAnn Richi has the story on equine therapy for Aces Too High.
Here’s a clip:

Baylie is eight years old. Born to a mother addicted to cocaine and an alcoholic father, removed from her parents at six months and covered with bruises and cigarette burns, Baylie (not her real name) has spent her childhood shuffled from one foster home to another. She rarely speaks, makes little eye contact with adults, shows no interest in playing with kids her age, and recoils from any attempt at physical affection.

Baylie’s ability to connect with anyone, or anything, seemed impossible until the day she met a horse named Steady.

Baylie is very lucky. Her court-appointed therapist has found a way to combine her own love of horses with the rapidly evolving field of equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Once a week Baylie goes to the stables, holds out an apple for Steady to nibble from her hand, pats, brushes and talks quietly to him about the things she does not want anyone else to hear.

For children like Baylie who have never been able to trust people, a horse can become a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. Suddenly something big and powerful leans in, nuzzles you and looks you right in the eye. There is nothing to fear; this animal will not leave you, he will not betray you. With a trained equine-assisted therapist, a child like Baylie can be gradually introduced to forming a relationship with the horse. This ability to bond, perhaps for the first time in her young life, will then hopefully expand, allowing her to trust and connect with the wider world and to the people who exist within it.

[SNIP]

Equine-assisted psychotherapy has been widely used in Europe for decades. Nina Ekholm Fry, born and raised around horses in rural Finland, is a warm, friendly woman who merged her interest in psychology with her love of horses. Fry was recruited by Prescott College in Arizona to develop and lead one of the few equine-assisted psychotherapy graduate and post-graduate level counseling programs in the United States.

Fry is leading a day-long workshop at the conference. “In working with individuals who have experienced trauma, who have a high ACE score, trust and control are significant issues,” she says. “Equine-assisted therapy expands the therapeutic environment. Suddenly the client is taken out of the usual confines of an office. When we bring a horse into the picture, we have more treatment options; we are outdoors, we interact with the physical world, we utilize the body in an active rather than passive manner, it opens up an array of treatment possibilities.”


“Solidarité” – A PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK’S NEW YORKER COVER

More than perhaps any American publication, right now the New Yorker is loaded with commentary, essays and mini-stories about the massacre at the office of the longtime french satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Here, for example, is a clip from an essay by Philip Gourevitch called The Pen vs. the Gun, in which he writes about “a hellish day without consolation….”

We like to say—we who work with pens (or pixels)—that the pen (or pixel) is mightier than the sword. Then someone brings a sword (or Kalashnikov) to test the claim, and we’re not so sure.

The French cartoonist Stéphane (Charb) Charbonnier liked to say, when jihadis repeatedly threatened to silence him, that he’d rather be dead than live on his knees or live like a rat, so he kept right on drawing and publishing his loud, lewd, provocative, blasphemous caricatures of theocratic bullies. And now he’s dead—he and nine of his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine he edited in Paris—massacred by masked gunmen, who came for them in broad daylight, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” and also killed two policemen before fleeing with a cry, “The prophet Muhammad is avenged.”

It’s hard to imagine how the Charlie Hebdo crew would have wrung a joke out of their own executions. But you can bet that they wouldn’t have shrunk from the challenge, and you can be sure that the result would have been at odds with any standard of good taste, unless you consider it in good taste never to give any ground to the dictates of holy warriors who seek power by murdering clowns.

Ideally, it would never require great courage and commitment to make puerile doodles mocking those whom one perceives to be making a mockery of the things that they purport to hold sacred. But those dead French cartoonists were braver by far than most of us in going up against the deadly foes of our civilization, armed only with a great talent for bilious ridicule. On any given day, we might have scoffed at the seeming crudeness of their jokes, rather than laughing at their jokes on crudity. But the killers proved the cartoonists’ point with ghastly finality: theirs was a necessary, freedom-sustaining, and therefore life-giving, form of defiance. Without it, they knew, we—humankind—are less.

Last night, tens of thousands in France took to the streets of their cities in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Many carried signs, declaring “Je Suis Charlie,” a memorial slogan that had already overtaken Twitter, where the hashtag #JesuisCharlie could easily be misread as a compression of the equally apt exclamation: “Jesus, Charlie!” The spectacle of these great throngs of outraged, unbowed mourners reclaiming their public spaces was heartening. But the truth is—–for better and for worse—–that, no, most of us, even in the most free of Western societies, are not Charlie.

For better, because so many of us have the luxury of often feeling secure enough in our freedom to take it for granted. For worse, because in taking our freedom for granted, we are too often ready to trade it for a greater sense of security. We are not Charlie, in other words, because we risk so little for what we claim to value so much. We are not Charlie, too, because most of us are relatively inoffensive, whereas Charlie, like so many liberating pioneers of free expression—think not only of Lenny Bruce and Mad magazine but also of Gandhi and Martin Luther King—were always glad to give offense to what offended them. And we are not Charlie, today, because we are alive.

Georges Wolinski, one of the martyred Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, once said, “Humor is the shortest path between one man and another.” But a bullet is swifter. After his death, his daughter said, “Papa is gone, not Wolinski.” Meaning, rightly, that his work—his voice, and his drawings, what he wrought with his pen—is immortal. Yet the reason that some people with guns prefer to kill some people who use pens is always the same: because it is effective. Terror works. (Just ask anybody who stood to make a buck on the theatrical release of “The Interview….”)

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, juvenile justice, Sentencing, Trauma | 1 Comment »

LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 Comments »

CA’s Poorer Students Lose Weeks of Instruction…LAUSD Fires Lawyer Who Blamed 14-yr-old for Sex With Teacher….Kids, Trauma & Schools…and LAPD Braces for Ferguson Decision

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


STUDY FINDS CA’S LOW INCOME HIGH SCHOOLS LOSE 25 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION A YEAR

Teachers in California’s “high poverty” high schools provide their students with an average of 25 fewer days of classwork per year than do their higher income school counterparts, according to a new study released Tuesday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA) and funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the rough equivalent of shutting down classes in the state’s low income area schools as much as five weeks earlier than schools in more affluent areas.

The causes of this disparity in productive class time primarily fall into two categories, according to the UCLA report:

1. Incidental interruptions during each class period chip away at instructional time to the tune of around 1/2 hour per day in the state’s low income schools.

2. In this same way, in high poverty schools there are more in the way of large interruptions that cut into scheduled instructional time across the school calendar–things like emergency lockdowns, chronic teacher absences, overlong preparation for standardized tests, underprepared substitute teachers and more.

In addition there are community and personal sources of stress—unstable living conditions, neighborhood violence, concerns about safety, immigration issues, hunger—that can adversely affect a higher percentage of students’ ability to concentrate in high poverty schools than those affected in low poverty schools.

The result is a measurable lack of equality of opportunity, say the study’s authors:

“California holds students to a common set of assessment standards and requirements for university admission,” write UCLA researchers John Rogers & Nicole Mirra in the conclusion of their report. “Yet students have access to markedly different amounts of instructional time depending on the neighborhood in which they live. It is true that schools can use available learning time in more or less effective ways. But the amount of available learning time creates a ceiling, limiting the capacity of the school to promote student achievement and development.”

Jill Barshay writing for the Hechinger Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Interruptions, substitute teachers and test prep account for a large portion of the lost instructional time, according to a UCLA study released Nov. 18, 2014.

“These findings push us to think again about inequality in the schools,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, a co-author of “It’s About Time: Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools,” published by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “You have a quarter of the kids [here] in schools with concentrated poverty, and you see how unequal learning time is for these students.”

The inequities outlined in this report have little to do with school funding. In California, the state plays a large role in allocating school funds. That reduces the ability of wealthy towns to fund their schools more than low-income communities can.

“Differences in learning time between high and low poverty schools might actually be much more pronounced in states where high poverty schools receive less funding than schools in more affluent communities,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, which funded the UCLA study.

[SNIP]

A common disruption, for example, was a phone call from the main office during a lesson. Teachers reported that simple routines, such as settling the class down or distributing materials, take longer at high poverty schools. It may take only a minute, but the minutes add up. In a high poverty school, about 18 minutes per period are lost this way, compared with 13 minutes in a low poverty school — a five minute difference per class period….


LAUSD BELATEDLY FIRES LAWYER WHO ARGUED THAT 14-YEAR-OLD MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRL WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SAY YES TO SEX

Last week, KPCC’s Karen Foshay broke the story that one of LAUSD’s hired gun law firms had argued in a civil suit in August that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher—hence the district shouldn’t be liable for any of the teenager’s alleged injuries.

The former math teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The district’s attorney in the matter, W. Keith Wyatt of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, also brought the middle-schooler’s past sexual experience into court. (One is legally prohibited from such trash-the-victim tactics in adult rape cases, but evidently all bets are off in civil cases brought by the parents of young teenagers whose teachers had felonious sex with their students.)

Here are some clips from that first story:

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified’s trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Not content to stop there, Mr. Wyatt went on to opine:

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

In any case, last Friday, embarrassed LASD officials announced that they wouldn’t work with attorney Wyatt anymore but that they would continue to work with his firm—which was representing the district in a bunch of cases.

Then on Tuesday, KPCC’s Karen Foshey and Paul Glickman reported that LAUSD had changed its mind and was now yanking most of the cases.

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

When LAUSD said it would cut its ties with Wyatt, it said it would maintain its relationship with his firm, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which was representing the district in 18 cases.

On Tuesday, LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that Wyatt had been counsel on all 18 cases. His firm will continue representing the school district in four of the cases, but Wyatt will no longer be handling them, Rossall explained. The remaining 14 cases “are being reassigned to other firms,” he said.

There has also been fallout in Sacramento from KPCC’s report. State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) said that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS ADVISES SCHOOLS DEALING WITH STUDENTS & CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: “DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the San Francisco pediatrician and researcher who has become a national expert on the effect of “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—on a kid’s future health and behavior, spoke last week at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to the event, Burke Harris was interviewed by Ann Schimke at Chalkbeat Colorado about kids and toxic stress and how schools can unintentionally make things worse.

(WitnessLA wrote about Burke Harris and childhood trauma here.)

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

…First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

Calls have already gone out for a peaceful rally at Leimert Park (Crenshaw and Vernon) following the Missouri grand jury announcement expected later this month regarding whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the controversial shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Like law enforcement agencies all over the country, the Los Angeles Police Department is preparing for reactions to the grand jury’s decision, but Chief Charlie Beck also expressed hope that recent meetings by department members with LA’s most affected communities will aide in keeping the city calm.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Police departments nationwide are bracing for the grand jury’s decision — expected by the end of the month — in the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. The August shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparked protests nationwide along with criticism of police.

Beck told the city’s Police Commission that his department is “working very closely” with authorities in Missouri and hoped to get “some advance notice of the decision and the announcement.”

“This is an issue that we’re all concerned with,” he said.

The LAPD has also stepped up community outreach in anticipation of the decision, Beck said, and is prepared to deploy extra patrols when it comes.

“We will facilitate lawful demonstrations, just as we always do,” he told reporters after the meeting. “But we will not, and cannot, condone violence or vandalism. We want to help people to express their opinions, but we want them to do it lawfully.”

Beck stressed his hope that the outreach efforts would help quell potential violence in Los Angeles.

“I believe that the relationships with the Los Angeles Police Department and the communities that are most concerned is very strong,” the chief said.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, Education, LAPD, LAUSD, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

Election Night Snapshot

November 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


IT’S MCDONNELL, OFFICIALLY, FINALLY

Brand new LA County Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell took the stage last night around 10:45 p.m. at the Marriott hotel downtown. “I entered the race for sheriff less than one very long year ago…” he said, “because I realized the change needed in the LASD would not, and could not, come from within.” As a member of the citizens commision on jail violence, he said, he had seen “a failure of leadership” at the department’s highest levels….”But the fine men and women of the department are ready for a new day.”

After thanking everyone who needed to be thanked and then talking a bit about the department being at an historic crossroads, McDonnell paused and looked at those assembled, face flooded with emotion and resolve.

“I promise that I will not let you down,” he said.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, the new sheriff was surrounded on the stage by much of the leadership of the city and the county: Mayor Eric Garcetti was there, as was District Attorney Jackie Lacey, her predecessor Steve Cooley, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Don Knabe, Supervisor elect, Hilda Solis, City Attorney Mike Fuerer and acting sheriff John Scott. A good portion of the LA City Council, had showed up, including Herb Wesson who MC’d part of the festivities, and Mitch Englander who, together with Congressman Tony Cardenas kept flashing thumbs-up signs for the cameras.

The political figures who spoke to the crowd were nearly giddy in their praise for the new guy at the top of the LASD.

“He is up for the task! He is committed,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas and then urged audience members to turn to those around them and exchange high fives.

“We now have a sheriff who is worthy of that title,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.


We got back from the various election events ver-r-r-rry late last night, so this is just a snapshot post.

We’ll have more on the election—among other important topics—as the week goes on.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Reentry, Sentencing | 30 Comments »

Recommended Reading as We Head into Nov. 4 Elections: Education, Attorney General, County Supervisor, and Sheriff

November 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC EDUCATION RACE ROUNDUP

California’s race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is attracting a lot of attention, in part, because it has the potential to set a precedent for public education nationwide, but also because of the unusual amount of campaign money involved—over $20 million in contributions.

The race to oversee the state’s public schools, which rank 45th in the nation, has been pegged as “reformer versus union” sets education reform heavyweight Marshall Tuck against incumbent Tom Torlakson (who, along with the state, was slammed with a Temporary Restraining Order over Jefferson High School’s scheduling disaster, last month).

The NY Times’ Motoko Rich points out that the superintendent race has drawn a great deal of interest from outside the state because it represents a battle taking place at the national level. Here’s how it opens:

In California, one of just 13 states where the schools chief is an elected post, this year’s race is unusual: It seems to have drawn more attention from outside the state than inside, because it is seen as a proxy for the national debate over teacher tenure rules, charter schools and other education issues that have divided Democrats.

The contest for California superintendent of public instruction has attracted more than $20 million in campaign contributions, largely because it is viewed as a referendum on the future direction of policy in public schools. And with two Democrats — Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, and Marshall Tuck, the challenger — vying for the office, the race also reflects a national schism within the party.

On one side are those like Mr. Tuck, who say that teachers’ unions hold too much sway over the Democratic Party and that public education needs a more entrepreneurial approach. On the other are those like Mr. Torlakson, who say the proposed changes, which include the expansion of charter schools and greater use of test scores to evaluate teachers, amount to a corporate takeover of public schools.

The superintendent race is also the costliest in the state, with three times more campaign funding than the gubernatorial race.

Bloomberg’s Karen Weise has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

When the country’s most populous state heads to the polls for the midterm elections next week, big money won’t be riding on who will be California’s governor or represent it in Washington. Instead, a mountain of cash has focused on who will head the state’s Department of Education. Donors put $30 million into the race for state superintendent, three times more than in the gubernatorial campaigns, according to data compiled by EdSource.

And in an op-ed for national business magazine Forbes, former presidential appointee to the U.S. Dept. of Education, Dallas Lawrence, endorses Marshall Tuck, pointing out his triumphs as founder of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which included bringing up graduation rates at struggling LAUSD schools by 60%. Here’s a clip:

The most hotly contested race in the Golden State will have no impact on who controls the U.S. House or Senate. It won’t impact the gubernatorial race and it certainly won’t alter the lopsided Democrat majorities in the California legislature. Nestled 61 pages into the 2014 California Voter guide is perhaps the most important campaign being waged in America today—a campaign to reform the state’s broken public school system and shake up the dysfunctional status quo that has fueled a race to the bottom for California’s public schools which now rank 45th in the nation. The campaign for California’s non-partisan Superintendent of Public Instruction is about much more than which Democrat (as both candidates are Democrats) will be elected the state’s chief school officer. It is, as a recent San Diego Union Tribune headline declared, a campaign pitting “reformer versus union” in an election with significant national implications.

The reformer is Marshall Tuck, a scrappy, roll-up-your-sleeves and get-to-work fixing our schools, kind of leader. Tuck served most recently as founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a groundbreaking collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District to operate 17 struggling public elementary, middle and high schools serving 15,000 historically underserved students. Under Tuck’s leadership, these schools increased four-year graduation rates by over 60% while improving school safety and student attendance. Over the last five years, the Partnership schools ranked first in academic improvement among school systems with more than 10,000 students.


KQED’S CALIFORNIA REPORT PROFILE ON CA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS, SEEKING REELECTION

KQED’s Scott Shafer has an interesting profile piece on California Attorney General Kamala Harris, including her battle against California’s truancy crisis and her efforts to be “smart on crime” rather than tough (or soft) on crime. Here’s how it opens:

California’s attorney general is often known as the state’s “top cop.” And to be sure, Kamala Harris has done her share of “law and order” press conferences announcing drug busts and gang takedowns.

But, as she heads into Tuesday’s election, Harris has clearly emphasized different priorities than her predecessors.

One of Harris’ new TV ads makes clear how different she is from previous attorneys general. The ad features a smiling Harris sitting around a classroom table with young schoolkids.

“If you’re chronically truant from elementary school, you are four times more likely to drop out and become a perpetrator or a victim of crime,” Harris says in the commercial. “That’s why we’re taking on the truancy crisis in the California Department of Justice.”

The ad ends with a smiling Harris high-fiving all the children. It is, Harris acknowledges, a distinctly different emphasis from the typical “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to law enforcement.

“I think we have accepted a false choice, which suggests that one can either be soft on crime or tough on crime, instead of asking, ‘Are we smart on crime?’” Harris said this week. She compares law enforcement with public health — favoring prevention over treatment.

“If the sniffles (come) on, then it’s early intervention,” she says. “But if we’re dealing with it in the emergency room or the prison system, it’s much too late and it’s far too expensive.”

Harris has made reducing truancy a cornerstone of her job. Yet an A.G. has little direct impact over that. And Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed two anti-truancy bills she was pushing.

But Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero, who heads the state association of DA’s, appreciates Harris using the bully pulpit on issues like truancy.

“Truancy is a big issue,” Otero said. “If the attorney general comes down and starts talking about something like that, then you know I’m all for it.”


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATES SHEILA KUEHL AND BOBBY SHRIVER DEBATE ON WHICH WAY, LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY

If you’re looking for a way to decide between Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver, the the two candidates looking to replace LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for the 3rd District, take a listen to KCRW’s radio debate, moderated by Warren Olney.

Here are some clips from near the end of the program in which Kuehl and Shriver discussed the proposed $2 billion jail plan, mental health diversion, jail abuse, and the impending federal consent decree to address issues with mental health care within county jails.

Olney: The current board has voted to spend $2 billion on a new jail with a wing for the mentally ill, at the same time as an effort to reduce the number of inmates, partly through the diversion of people who are mentally ill. Would you, if you became a supervisor, continue the process of building that $2 billion new jail?

Shriver: No. I’ve said widely and everywhere that I would not. I think mentally ill folks should be treated in community settings. We’ve got a lot of research showing that it’s very, very bad to jail them—these are the non-violent mentally ill people.

Olney: But the jail is for other people as well. Is there a need for a $2 billion jail?

Shriver: No. There’s a need for a new jail, for bad people. There is not a need for a new jail to incarcerate mentally ill or substance abusing people. They should be treated in the community. But that’s the current plan—I think it’s important for your listeners to know—the current plan, brought forward by Mr. Fujioka and others, is to build a $2 billion jail and keep mentally ill people in that jail. I am completely against that. I am for community mental health care.

Kuehl: I agree. I’m against it as well. The supervisors did not vote uniformly on this jail, and I’m hoping there will be some way to open that up again, should I be elected. And I know Bobby agrees about trying to open it up. The difference, I think, between what they adopted and what would be right, is the ability to send more people into community treatment, not only for mental illness, but also substance abuse.

[SNIP]

Olney: The federal Justice Department is seeking consent decree to get in control of the county jails, which it describes as “dimly lit, vermin-infested, unsanitary, cramped, and crowded.” And that, they say, is one reason for the suicides of so many inmates, especially those who are mentally ill. Abuse by sheriff’s deputies appears to be part of the problem, but you don’t control them. The Dept. of Mental Health has a major presence in the jails. Does it need new leadership?

Shriver: It does. It reported to Mr. Fujioka, by the way. The consent decree will come, and I will not oppose it. I think that management in the jails is just been a disaster. Police officers have been indicted. As sheriff-candidate Jim McDonnell said the other day, they’re going to do hard time. So, when you’ve got police officers being indicted by the federal government, who are going to go to jail, you’ve got a situation that needs real addressing.

Olney: What responsibility is that of the board…?

Shriver: If I were on the board, I would be gnashing my teeth…. I would be examining the budget in a very aggressive way….The sheriff is independently elected. You can’t tell the sheriff how to police things. What you can do, is run the budget. That’s the supervisor’s job—to supervise the budget. And if you run somebody’s budget, you can have a lot of influence over them, and that just wasn’t done here. The CEO didn’t do it, the board didn’t do it, and this situation is out of control, and needs to be fixed.

Olney: And Sheila Kuehl, what about the consent decree? That’s liable to cost the county a lot of money.

Kuehl: It’s going to cost the county a lot of money. The supervisors actually have a great deal more they can do in addition to the budget, because their hands are going to be tied a little bit by the consent decree costing so much more. And that’s really about what needs to be done in the jail itself….it’s not just budget. It’s a question of, can there be a citizen’s oversight commission? It’s a question of whether the inspector general can have subpoena power…


FORMER UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA’S NEW COMMERCIAL

Sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka has released a new TV ad with a focus on public safety.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, Paul Tanaka | 8 Comments »

André Birotte Gets Robed Up….Brown Foes Say Realignment Causes Crime But Stats Say Otherwise….When Mental Disabilities Lead to Harsh School Discipline….& PPOA McDonnell Interview, Part 2….

October 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ANDRÉ BIROTTE SWORN IN AS FEDERAL JUDGE

By 4 p.m. on Friday night, courtroom 650 at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building —plus two overflow rooms—were absolutely jammed with judges, lawyers, higher echelon law enforcement types, local lawmakers and others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, all of whom had come to witness the formal investiture of André Birotte Jr as a United States District Judge.

Birotte, if you remember, was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama on April 3, 2014, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate on July 22, 2014 (an impressive feat in itself, considering the current fractious state of that august body).

The son of Haitian immigrants, Birotte graduated from Tufts University in 1987 with a B.A. in psychology, then came to Southern California to attend Pepperdine University School of Law. He began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to redefine and reform itself. Birotte is generally acknowledged as a significant part of that reform.

In 2009, while he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, after Senator Diane Feinstein strongly recommended him. Five years later, Feinstein again recommended him for the judgeship.

“In 15 years of [vetting] people for the senator,” said Trevor Daley, Feinstein’s state director who was tasked to check up on Birotte. “I’ve never gotten the kind of positive feedback on anyone as I did on André.”

Other speakers at the investiture were similarly effusive.

Birotte was a “champion on the individual as well as serving the underserved,” said former police commission chairman Rick Caruso. “Yet he never sought the spotlight.

Eric Holder praised Birotte for cracking down on public corruption and drug trafficking while also understanding that “we will never be able to prosecute and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.” Holder also pointed to CASA, the sentencing diversion program that Birotte championed, “which serves as a model for smart on crime initiatives throughout the nation.”

Now Birotte would be “strengthening and making more fair the justice system to which he has given so much of his life,” said Holder.

When it came time for the newly-minted judge himself to speak, Birotte quoted a poetry fragment by poet Antonio Machado, that he said had influenced him.

…Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

Indeed, Birotte doesn’t appear to have set his sites on the positions he has attained as part of some grandly ambitious lifeplan. Instead, according to his own account, and the accounts of those who lauded him on Friday, he has arrived at the present moment by “walking,” as the poet suggests—a.k.a. by doing the work that appeared before him, while guided by a strong sense of justice and compassion.

In fact, if it had not been for his wife’s encouragement, Birotte told investiture crowd, “I’m not sure that I would have put myself out for these positions.”

Birotte thanked a long list of people (including his faithful group of morning workout partners at his gym). He confided to the crowd that among the most important talismans he brought with him into his new courtroom were “my father’s medical bag and one of the many purses that my mom would keep by her side.”

At the mention of his mom, who died just a few years ago, Birotte choked up visably. He struggled similarly when he told his wife how much she and their kids meant to him, and also when he thanked Judge Terry Hatter, who had been a longtime hero, and who swore him in. Each time, the “baby judge,” as he called himself, was refreshingly unapologetic for his unruly emotions.

Although the investiture began just after 4 p.m., more than three hours later guests still lingered at the post-ceremony reception in the Roybal building’s lobby, as if wishing to bask a bit longer in the evening’s prevailing sentiment—namely that this particular judgeship, thankfully, had landed in very good hands.


AS ELECTIONS HEAT UP BROWN OPPONENTS SAY REALIGNMENT MADE CALIF. COMMUNITIES LESS SAFE, BUT ACTUAL NUMBERS SAY OTHERWISE

As we noted yesterday, although realignment was not originally a big issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, now Jerry Brown’s opponents are bringing up the topic with increasing frequency. Yet, while critics’ contend that realignment has harmed public safety, the state’s still falling crime figures don’t agree. Still, when it comes to pointing to lasting victories for the governor’s signature policy, even Brown and other advocates admit that realignment is a complicated work in progress.

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has more on the story (via the Sacramento Bee). Here are some clips:

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks re-election next month, Republicans say decisions he made to reduce prison overcrowding are endangering the public by putting more criminals on the streets.

About 13,000 inmates a month are being released early from crowded county jails while they await trial or before they complete their full sentences. More than 5,000 state prisoners had earlier releases this year because of federal court orders, legislation signed by the governor and a recently approved state ballot initiative.

Yet those statistics don’t tell the full story.

Crime rates statewide actually dropped last year and did so across all categories of violent and property offenses, from murder and rape to auto theft and larceny, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Justice.

[BIG SNIP]

Even as crime rates have dropped, realignment is presenting challenges for counties throughout the state. The total county jail population in California has increased by nearly 11,000 inmates since realignment took effect in October 2011.

Probation departments now handle offenders whose most recent convictions are for lower-level crimes but who may have serious or violent criminal histories.

County officials also say they are ill-equipped to deal with other offenders who used to go state prisons, including those with mental illness and those serving multi-year sentences.

“The population most likely to be the most problematic is the population being funneled to the counties,” said Margarita Perez, who was acting chief of the state’s parole division before realignment took effect in October 2011 and now is assistant probation chief in Los Angeles County.

Despite the tougher population, probation officers said they are becoming better at handling those inmates.

“There’s more of a culture of tolerance, more of a culture of using any resources at your disposal to try to get this individual to turn around instead of a philosophy of lock them up,” Perez said.

Dean Pfoutz is one of those trying to benefit from the new emphasis on rehabilitation.

His roughly two decade-long criminal history includes a three-year prison sentence for assault and another eight years for an assault causing serious injury to a girlfriend. He most recently served 16 months for receiving stolen property.

Despite his violent past, he is being supervised by Sacramento County probation officers instead of state parole agents because his most recent crime, possession of stolen property, is considered a lower-level offense.

Pfoutz said he is benefiting from the county’s approach.

“It’s more hands-on here than parole. With parole, it’s like, ‘Just don’t get arrested,’” he said before attending a self-help class at the probation center he visits five days a week. “They’re pulling for us to do all right.”


SPECIAL ED LEADS TO THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR TOO MANY AMERICAN STUDENTS

Although much of the concern about the disproportionate use of over-harsh school discipline has been focused on students of color, experts are increasingly aware that kids with mental disabilities are also disproportionately pushed into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz of the Juvenile Justice Education Exchange have the story. Here’s a clip:

Cody Beck was 12-years -old when he was handcuffed in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car outside of Grenada Middle School. Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student, and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken to the local youth court, and then sent to a mental health facility two hours away from his home. Twelve days later, the sixth-grader was released from the facility and charged with three counts of assault.

Officials at his school determined the incident was a result of Cody’s disability. As a child, Cody was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had been given an Individual Education Program, or IEP, a legal document that details the resources, accommodations, and classes that a special education student should receive to help manage his or her disability. But despite there being a medical reason for his behavior, Cody was not allowed to return to school. He was called to youth court three times in the four months after the incident happened, and was out of school for nearly half that time as he waited to start at a special private school.

Cody is one of thousands of children caught up in the juvenile justice system each year. At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

…..The vast majority of adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn’t been updated since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population – which has grown 700 percent since 1970 – in part to deep problems in the education of children with special needs.

In Mississippi and across the country, the path to prison often starts very early for kids who struggle to manage behavioral or emotional disabilities in low-performing schools that lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers, and appropriately trained staff. Federal law requires schools to provide an education for kids with disabilities in an environment as close to a regular classroom as possible. But often, special needs students receive an inferior education, fall behind, and end up with few options for college or career. For youth with disabilities who end up in jail, education can be minimal, and at times, non-existent, even though federal law requires that they receive an education until age 21.



PAY TO PLAY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS—THAT’S CLEARLY CORRUPTION, SAYS JIM MCDONNELL IN NEW PPOA INTERVIEW

In Part 2 of the 3-part interview series that PPOA Prez Brian Moriguchi has conducted with Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell, the candidate talks about personnel issues, like promotion strategies, and other matters that have been subject to corruption at the LASD in the past—plus how he plans to “put the shine back” on the badge “that means the world” to so many officers.


ALSO, SEE REPORT ON WEEKEND FORUM WITH MCDONNELL BY FRANK STOLTZE

KPPC’S Frank Stoltze reports that Jim McDonnell, the frontrunner for Los Angeles County Sheriff, “…is not yet prepared to support subpoena power for a proposed citizen’s oversight panel, although authority watchdogs say is important to reforming the troubled department.”

Read the rest of Stoltze’s report here.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Judge Slams State With Restraining Order Over Jefferson High’s Scheduling Mess…Powerful Prosecutors…and More

October 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. has taken a good look
at the mess that is occurring at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School, and he is furious.

Here’s the deal: Due to a hideously malfunctioning computer system, Jefferson High—which has been one of LA County’s most troubled high schools off and on for years now— fell into morass of scheduling dysfunction before this school year began in August. Kids were assigned to incorrect classes—in many cases courses they’d already taken. Or worse they were given pretend classes that weren’t classes at all, hours called “Service” periods, or “College Class” or “Adult Class”—each of which turned out, incredibly to provide no instruction. In still other cases, kids were even simply sent home because no classes—even the faux courses—-were available.

Now here we are in October and, according to Judge Hernandez, the debacle is showing no sign of getting straightened out.

As it happens, Jefferson High was already one of nine “high-need schools” named in a class action lawsuit, Cruz v. California, filed this past spring by Public Counsel and the So Cal ACLU (with pro bono support from the law firms Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP).

Cruz v. California challenges “California’s failure to provide meaningful learning time to students” of these nine schools.

Thus, thankfully, when the scheduling crisis erupted, there was already a legal instrument in place to address it.

All this brings us to the very unhappy Judge Hernandez who issued a tersely-worded temporary restraining order on Wednesday demanding that, no later than next Tuesday, Oct. 14, the state and LAUSD must come up with a viable plan to get kids back in appropriate classes, and then have the plan and the needed resources in place by no later than November 3.

“Absent such intervention,” wrote the judge, “there is a significant likelihood that Jefferson students will continue to endure chaos and disruption due to ongoing scheduling issues and low morale, will not have the opportunity to enroll in courses needed to graduate or qualify for college admission, will fail courses or receive poor grades due circumstances beyond their control (including the scheduling fiasco and lack of remedial resources) and, as a result, will be less equipped to succeed in life, in the job market, and (if they are able to gain admission) in college.”

The judge wrote a lot more in that vein about the harm he believed had been done to Jefferson’s students who, he noted, were “disproportionately low income, minority, first generation students, foster children and/or English learners.”

(Here’s a link to the order itself.)

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs praised the judge’s speedy action, but slammed California’s Department of Education for its inattention.

“The State stood by for months while students at Jefferson sat in classes they had already passed, made copies instead of learning math, and were sent home midway through the school day,” said Kathryn Eidmann, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “Students, parents, and teachers deserve better. Today’s ruling recognizes that the State must ensure that all California students have a chance to graduate, attend college, and succeed.”

David Sapp, staff attorney at the So Cal ACLU, added that although the situation at Jefferson is extreme, “it’s also typical of students at schools that have been ignored by the state for too long. We need a new attitude from our state leaders that all students deserve the same opportunity to learn,” he said.

Indeed.


HOW PROSECUTORS CAME TO HAVE SO MUCH POWER

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” said then U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson, in 1940.

In the intervening 74 years, prosecutors have gotten more powerful not less, with almost nothing in the way of legal consequences to rein in those prosecutors who choose to misuse their power.

The Economist Magazine has a good story that explores the matter of prosecutorial power.

Here are some clips:

Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of murdering his daughters in 1991 by setting fire to the family house. The main evidence against him was a forensic report on the fire, later shown to be bunk, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed to have heard him confess. He was executed in 2004.

The snitch who sent him to his death had been told that robbery charges pending against him would be reduced to a lesser offence if he co-operated. After the trial the prosecutor denied that any such deal had been struck, but a handwritten note discovered last year by the Innocence Project, a pressure group, suggests otherwise. In taped interviews, extracts of which were published by the Washington Post, the informant said he lied in court in return for efforts by the prosecutor to secure a reduced sentence and—-amazingly—-financial support from a local rancher.

A study by Northwestern University Law School’s Centre on Wrongful Convictions found that 46% of documented wrongful capital convictions between 1973 and 2004 could be traced to false testimony by snitches—making them the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death-penalty cases. The Innocence Project keeps a database of Americans convicted of serious crimes but then exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 318 it lists, 57 involved informants—and 30 of the convicted had entered a guilty plea.

[LARGE SNIP]

It is not clear how often prosecutors themselves break the rules. According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative outfit, compiled from data obtained from freedom of information requests, an internal-affairs office at the Department of Justice identified more than 650 instances of prosecutors violating the profession’s rules and ethical standards between 2002 and 2013. More than 400 of these were “at the more severe end of the scale”. The Justice Department argues that this level of misconduct is modest given the thousands of cases it handles.

Judge Kozinski worries, however, that there is “an epidemic” of Brady violations—when exculpatory evidence is hidden from defence lawyers by prosecutors. For example, in 2008 Ted Stevens, a senator from Alaska, was found guilty of corruption eight days before an election, which he narrowly lost. Afterwards, prosecutors were found to have withheld evidence that might have helped the defence. Mr Stevens’s conviction was vacated, but he died in a plane crash in 2010.

Prosecutors enjoy strong protections against criminal sanction and private litigation. Even in egregious cases, punishments are often little more than a slap on the wrist. Mr Stevens’s prosecutors, for example, were suspended from their jobs for 15 to 40 days, a penalty that was overturned on procedural grounds. Ken Anderson, a prosecutor who hid the existence of a bloody bandana that linked someone other than the defendant to a 1986 murder, was convicted of withholding evidence in 2013 but spent only five days behind bars—one for every five years served by the convicted defendant, Michael Morton.

Disquiet over prosecutorial power is growing. Several states now require third-party corroboration of a co-operator’s version of events or have barred testimony by co-operators with drug or mental-health problems. Judge Rakoff proposes two reforms: scrapping mandatory-minimum sentences and reducing the prosecutor’s role in plea-bargaining—for instance by bringing in a magistrate judge to act as a broker. He nevertheless sees the use of co-operators as a “necessary evil”, though many other countries frown upon it.

Prosecutors’ groups have urged Mr Holder not to push for softer mandatory-minimum sentences, arguing that these “are a critical tool in persuading defendants to co-operate”. Some defend the status quo on grounds of pragmatism: without co-operation deals and plea bargains, they argue, the system would buckle under the weight of extra trials. This week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vetoed a bill that would have allowed judges to inform juries if prosecutors knowingly withhold exculpatory evidence.


WHY ARE SO MANY WOMEN IN PRISON IN AMERICA? IT’S THE DRUG WAR, STUPID!

I turns out that nearly a third of the women who are incarcerated worldwide, are locked up in U.S. jails or prisons according to the International Center for Prison Studies. (Of course, given our overall incarceration rate per capita, that should not be surprising.)

The Huffington Post’s Nina Bahadur has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

So, why does America imprison so many women? Mandatory sentencing minimums have led to prison overcrowding in general. An estimated two-thirds of women incarcerated in federal prisons are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.

Female prisoners are disproportionately women of color, and one study suggests that 44 percent of female prisoners in the U.S. don’t have a high school diploma or GED. Incarcerating women also plays a huge role in breaking up families — 64 percent of female state prisoners lived with and cared for their minor children before their imprisonment.

Posted in Education, Innocence, LAUSD, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

Rigid New Screening Process for Visiting CA Prisoners, Black Girls Face Harsher Discipline at School, Risk Assessment in Sentencing…and More

September 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR ANNOUNCES MORE RIGOROUS SCREENING PROCESS FOR CALIFORNIA PRISON STAFF AND VISITORS, IN ATTEMPT TO CURB DRUGS ENTERING PRISONS

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced that, starting mid-October, state prison staff and visitors will be subject to much tougher screenings, in an effort to cut off prisoners’ access to illegal drugs. Both staff and visitors will be randomly chosen to submit to hand swabs and drug-sniffing dogs. Visitors will be strip-searched if either test suggests contact with drugs. While visitors would be allowed to walk away without submitting to a strip-search, anyone found to have drugs on them would be referred for possible prosecution.

Inmate advocates say the significantly more invasive screening process will rely on methods that are often faulty, and will also likely dissuade inmates’ loved ones from visiting them. This is of particular concern, since visits from family and friends have shown to produce better outcomes for inmates, both during the time they are behind bars, and once they are released back into their communities.

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

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition said in a statement.

Corrections officials say they are taking the steps to control a growing problem in California’s 34 adult prisons.

“The whole point is to deter and detect trafficking into our prisons,” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said. “It’s a serious issue.”

Drug-sniffing dogs discovered 404 pounds of illicit drugs last year and another 29 pounds through the first half of this year, prison officials said. Since July 1, another 26 pounds was discovered without the use of dogs. Each time, marijuana accounted for most of it.

So far this year, the department has had 546 visitors arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs and cellphones into prisons.

The state plans to spend at least $30,000 for each of the ion scanners that will be used to test the hand swabs. The machines are identical to those used by airport security to detect traces of explosive materials, but in this case will be programmed to scan for traces of the four drugs: marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

California plans to install at least two of the detectors at each state prison if funding permits, starting with 11 where illicit drugs are the biggest problem. The emergency regulations are expected to go into effect on a test basis in October.

[SNIP]

Prison advocacy groups criticized the new policy, saying it relies on two methods that sometimes provide false-positive test results. They said the Federal Bureau of Prisons abandoned its use of the ion-detector hand-swabbing machines in 2008 because of complaints about unreliability.

Representatives of national associations representing state prison and county jail officials and state legislators said they were unaware of any other state or local jail currently using the ion scanners.


BLACK FEMALE STUDENTS FACE EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE DISPARITIES

Black girls frequently receive more severe punishments than white girls for the same offenses at school, despite not being any more likely to act out than their white counterparts, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

According to the Dept. of Education, black girls make up 17% of enrolled female students, but receive 31% of girls’ referrals to law enforcement, and comprise 43% of school arrests of all female students.

The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Klein has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

When Georgia high school student Tiambrya Jenkins was in ninth grade, the teen, who is black, got into a fight with a white classmate. Both girls were transferred to an alternative high school as a result, but the white student returned to regular school after 90 days. Jenkins had to stay in the alternative school for a year.

“It was like being in prison,” Jenkins, now 16, said in a press release for the National Women’s Law Center. “The classrooms had no windows. There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang. A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school. But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me.”

Jenkins’ experience isn’t unusual for black female students, who are routinely given harsher punishments than white students — even though no evidence shows black students are more likely to misbehave, according to a report Tuesday from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report outlines the discipline disparities for African-American girls, and notes that pervasive racial and gender biases in education often prevent students from succeeding.

While black male students are the most frequently suspended, African-American girls also disproportionately receive harsh punishments, the report says. The discipline disparities for black girls are likely related to racial and gender stereotypes that portray African-American females as “loud, confrontational, assertive, and provocative,” the report says.


TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT RISING USE OF RISK ASSESSMENT IN SENTENCING

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo has an intriguing story about the complexities of judges’ increasing use of risk assessment tools to aid in sentencing rulings.

Risk assessment efforts have been touted as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by estimating an offender’s risk of reoffending. Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using risk assessment look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives. But while risk assessments are potentially useful, they are also extremely controversial because of a number of possible pitfalls.

In August, in response to a risk assessment bill making its way to Obama’s desk, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against using risk assessment to calculate drug sentences, saying that a number of the criteria (like education and location) may have an adverse effect on minorities and the poor. (California, for instance, uses a misguided form of risk assessment to tack on extra time behind bars via “sentence enhancements.”)

Palazzolo’s WSJ story is behind a paywall. Here’s a relevant clip, for those who don’t subscribe:

Many parole boards now weigh risk scores when considering early release, and prison officials use them to determine the level of security offenders need during their stay. But the adoption of such tools has sparked a debate over which factors are acceptable. Attributes such as age or sex, which employers are generally forbidden from including in hiring decisions, are considered by criminal-justice experts to be strong predictors of whether an offender is likely to commit a crime in the future.

The measures vary widely but generally are based on an offender’s criminal history and, in addition to age and sex, may include marital status, employment and education, according to Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Pennsylvania, one of the latest states to turn to actuarial tools in sentencing, is building a test that weighs the nature of offense, criminal history, age, sex and county of residence. The last factor is the most controversial as it could be considered a proxy for socioeconomic status. Missouri takes into account current offense and criminal history, age, whether the offender has a history of substance abuse, education level and employment.

Judges aren’t bound by the evaluations, but there is evidence they are taking them into account. Virginia officials attribute a more than 25% drop in the number of nonviolent offenders sent to prison annually to the assessments, used to score felons convicted of fraud, larceny and drug crimes since 2003. In the past decade, the percentage of offenders serving prison terms for violent crime has risen to 74% from 61%, said Chief Judge Bradley B. Cavedo of Richmond Circuit Court. “It doesn’t really control the outcome, but it is useful information,” he said of the measures.

The efforts have drawn skepticism from Attorney General Eric Holder, who told a group of defense lawyers in Philadelphia last month that basing sentencing on factors such as a defendant’s education level “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities.”

There is no research yet on whether the use of risk evaluations in sentencing has aggravated, for example, the gap between sentences for black and white men for similar crimes. Ms. Starr said the disparities created by risk measures are evident. “When it comes down to it, these assessments stand for the proposition that judges should sentence people longer because they were in foster care as children or had too many bouts of unemployment,” she said.

Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University law professor, said the alternative was potentially worse. “At least these risk-assessment instruments don’t explicitly focus on race or poverty, unlike what might occur in a sentencing regime where judges are making risk assessments based on seat-of-the-pants evaluations,” he said.


UNDOCUMENTED AT HARVARD

Dario Guerrero found out he was an undocumented immigrant at age 16. All at once, he learned that he could not obtain a California driver’s license, legally work, visit his family in Mexico, or receive financial aid to attend most US colleges. But a few private colleges, and all Ivy League schools, did offer assistance and full-rides to students in need, and Guerrero found himself accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship.

Here’s a clip from his story for the Washington Post:

A few weeks later, Oscar and I sat down, college applications in hand, to share what we had learned on our travels. We created a Web site for other undocumented students with everything we had learned by e-mail, phone, and in person. We got to work on our applications. Although we were undocumented applicants, most schools still asked to see some proof of income so they could determine our financial-aid award. Thankfully, my parents had filed taxes since the year we arrived; I sent our latest returns.

I applied to every Ivy League school, the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Wesleyan, Washington and Lee, and College of the Atlantic. On Jan. 11, as I sat in the library doing research for a government class project, I got a call from a Massachusetts area code. The Harvard Admissions Committee had voted to send me a likely letter of admission. (Oscar later got a call from Cornell.) And they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard’s dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I’d finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have.

I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different. But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity — as an undocumented Chicano — that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have.

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