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School Achievement and the Unmentionable “I” Word

August 10th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The achievement gap between white students and minority students
narrowed by nearly 20 points during the height of school desegregation. In more recent years, however, the fissure has once again widened. During the heyday of No Child Left Behind a plethora of methods were tried to once again narrow the educational disparity affecting so many minority children. But, with certain notable exceptions, in general, most of the strategies failed to consistently produce the needed progress.

A report released last year by the Department of Education noted dourly that, 60 years after Brown v. the Board of Education, the disparity in allocation of educational resources was exacerbating the “achievement and opportunity gap,” rather than remedying it: Black and Latino children are the least likely to be taught by a qualified, experienced teacher, noted Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights for the DOE, in a letter. They are also the least likely to get access to AP courses or such college-prep courses as chemistry and calculus, to have gifted and talented programs in their school, or to have access to technology or such education niceties as science labs.

What the Assistant Secretary did not say is that it turns out there is one strategy that has been proven to invariably make the stubborn achievement gap—along with the resource gap—grow smaller. It is, however, a strategy that it is very unfashionable mention—namely school integration.

With this thorny problem in mind, This American Life has produced a a two-part series on education reform that should be mandatory listening. It doesn’t prescribe what we ought to do to improve the minority/white gap in our nation’s schools, but it lays down some interesting facts that bear discussion.

In Part 1, which aired last week, reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones delves into the issue that Lhamon, of the U.S. Department of Education, pointed to unequivocally. “American schools are disturbingly racially segregated, period,” Lhamon said.

in the course of her exploration, Hannah-Jones tells the story of a school district in Missouri, which accidentally ended up integrating—at least for a while. And how it turned out.

In Part 2, which aired this past weekend, producer Chana Joffe-Walt reports on the Hartford, CT, school district, which actively tried to integrate its schools. The challenge was to convince white families that it was to their advantage to go to integrated schools. What happened may surprise you.

The show then follows producer Joffe-Walt as she interviews the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan on the topic of integration and student achievement.

Both shows are informative, disturbing and hopeful—and loaded with good storytelling.

Don’t miss them.


The painting above is, of course, by Norman Rockwell. It is his famous, “The Problem We All Live,” painted in 1964 to depict Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl, on her way into an all-white public school in New Orleans on November 14, 1960.

Posted in Education, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Juvie Solitary Confinement, College in Prison, Alleged Boot Camp Abusers Arrested, and Kelly Thomas’ Death Violated Police Policy

August 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A BIPARTISAN PUSH TO BAN THE PSYCHOLOGICALLY HARMFUL USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS LOCKED UP IN FEDERAL FACILITIES

On Wednesday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bipartisan bill to end solitary confinement for kids in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.

The Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act of 2015 (MERCY) is cosponsored Rand Paul (R-KY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Specifically, the bill would ban solitary confinement except as a temporary placement when a kid poses a serious threat to themselves or others and after less restrictive methods (like deescalation techniques and meeting with a mental health professional) had been tried.

The bill would also require facility staff to explain to a confined kid why they have been placed in isolation, and that they will be released after they have calmed down or after a specific amount of time. And the isolation of kids believed to pose a risk to others would be limited to three hours (thirty minutes for kids who pose a risk to themselves).

“Not only is solitary confinement cruel and demeaning, it’s a violation of one’s human dignity,” said Sen. Booker. “When imposed on adolescents, it can cause serious long-term psychological and physical harm.”

Noting the increased risk of depression and suicide for kids locked in solitary confinement, Sen. Durbin said, “I am glad to join Senators Booker, Paul and Lee in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with them as we consider how to fundamentally reform our approach to this controversial practice.”


PROGRAM TAKES COMMUNITY COLLEGE TO CALIFORNIA PRISONERS

Four community colleges are launching classes inside nearby California state prisons as part of an 18-month, $2 million pilot program starting this fall.

The colleges will offer between two and three business-related classes each semester, through which inmates will have the opportunity to earn an associates degree in liberal arts.

Lassen College will hold classes at High Desert State Prison, Folsom Lake College at Folsom Women’s Facility, Antelope Valley College at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, and Chaffey College at California Institution for Women.

The push for education in prisons is also happening on the federal level. Last week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a pilot program to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 22-year ban on giving such grants to inmates.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The state also has been moving to boost education access for inmates, after a 2014 law that allowed community colleges to receive the same level of state funding for educating students behind prison walls as they do for students on college campuses.

The legislation called for collaboration between prison and community college officials to provide college instruction, resulting in a $2 million, 18-month pilot program launching this fall…

“Part of the proposal was to look for innovative programs that are not only face-to-face but offer a full student experience of orientation, advising, counseling,” said BJ Snowden, director of inmate education in the community college chancellor’s office. “We want this to be a sustainable and replicable model with real goals.”

One of the state’s most successful prison education programs, the Prison University Project, will provide training for community college faculty.

The privately-funded project operates at San Quentin and was founded after inmates lost Pell eligibility. Instructors come from the faculty ranks at UC Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State University, said executive director Jody Lewen.

Obama’s Pell grant initiative could greatly aid programs like hers, Lewen said, providing it is focused on offering a quality education.

“It could be fantastic, but if we allow institutions to come in and do it as cheap as possible with little investment, it will be garbage,” Lewen said. “It will be one of those things in the prison system that’s called better than nothing.”


LA-AREA OFFICERS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH ALLEGED ABUSE AT SAN LUIS OBISPO BOOT CAMP FOR TEENS

Four Los Angeles-area officers were arrested this week in connection with alleged abuse of kids participating in a boot camp called Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) in San Luis Obispo.

Investigators identified fifteen kids who said they were victims of abuse at the hands of the officers leading the camp.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially the two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused and threatened them.

The program leaders would take the kids into a “dark room,” where the they would hold them against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers after an officer stepped on his hand.

Marissa Larios and Patrick Nijland of the Huntington Park Police Department, and brothers Carlos Gomez-Marquez and Edgar Gomez of the South Gate Police Department were each arrested and released on $20,000 bail.

In June, at least two of the officers, the Gomez brothers, were still on patrol despite being subjects of investigation.

Here’s a clip from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department:

After a two month investigation which involved interviewing 37 participants at the camp, Sheriff’s Detectives were able to identify 15 male and female victims ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old who claimed they were assaulted by the drill instructors while at the camp….

Gomez and Gomez-Marquez were arrested on the following five charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal threats (felony), 3. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 4. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 5. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

Larios was arrested on four charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 3. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 4. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor)

Nijland was arrested for: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 3. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

All charges will be filed with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

KTLA’s Kennedy Ryan and Eric Spillman have more on the arrests.


JUST-REVEALED INDEPENDENT REPORT SAYS FULLERTON COPS ACTED OUTSIDE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY IN BEATING DEATH OF KELLY THOMAS

Three former Fullerton police officers, Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe, violated department policy when they beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death (while he screamed for his father), according to an independent report released as part of a civil lawsuit.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Corporal Jay Cicinelli violated the Fullerton Police Department’s deadly force policy when he kneed 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the head twice and beat him in the face with his Taser “multiple times” on July 5, 2011, according to the report by independent auditors. The incident was caught on street surveillance video.

Former officers Manuel Ramos and Joseph Wolfe violated the department’s use of force policy when they used their body weight to subdue and arrest Thomas, the report said.

Thomas died five days after the beating. The coroner’s report determined Thomas died as a result of mechanical chest compressions and cranial-facial injuries.

“Ramos’ weight and the body weight of other responding officers on Thomas may have been partially responsible for Thomas’ ultimate demise,” according to the report. It used similar language for Wolfe.

In January 2014, an Orange County jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli, and the charges against Wolfe were later dropped. All three are still fighting to get their jobs back after being terminated.

Posted in CDCR, Education, juvenile justice, Police | 2 Comments »

The US Would Save $$$ by Helping Disadvantaged Kids…Disparate School Discipline….California Endowment’s Robert Ross on Justice Reform…and the Struggles of an Understaffed Juvie Lock-Up

July 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

KIDS OF COLOR FACE HUGE BARRIERS TO OPPORTUNITY AND ACHIEVEMENT, AND THE US COULD SAVE A TON OF MONEY IF THOSE GAPS WERE CLOSED

A new White House Council of Economic Advisers report shows that it is much more expensive not to tear down the school-to-prison pipeline, lower incarceration rates, and ensure boys and young men of color have the same opportunities to succeed as their white peers.

While black kids represent 18% of the preschool population, they make up 48% of preschoolers who have received two or more out-of-school suspension. Those disparities certainly don’t get any better as kids get older, either. There were 875,000 kids arrested in 2013, the majority of them racial minorities.

Despite similar rates of marijuana use, black people are four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The White House report points out that we spend around $112,000 on incarcerating a kid for a year, in comparison to $23,000-$31,000 for a year of college, $13,000 for K-12 public school, and around $1,300 for a major mentoring program like Big Brothers Big Sisters or One Summer Plus.

There are disparities in higher education achievement as well. Only 12.4% of Latino men and 20.8% of black men ages 25-29 have a college degree, compared to 37.7% of white men of the same age.

If we closed the higher education gap between men of color and white men ages 25-64, the number of men of color with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) would double, and they would earn around $170 billion more per year.

The report says that intervention at these milestone life changes are crucial to close the gaps:

• Entering school ready to learn
• Reading at grade level by third grade
• Graduating high school ready for career and college
• Completing post-secondary education and training
• Successfully entering the workforce
• Reducing violence and providing a second chance


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC… STUDY SAYS BLACK STUDENTS GET “CRIMINALIZED” DISCIPLINE WHILE WHITE STUDENTS GET “MEDICALIZED”

Black kids often receive suspensions, expulsions, or justice system referrals, while white kids receive medical treatment for the same offenses, according to a Penn State study.

The study, published in the Sociology of Education, used data from 60,000 schools in 6,000 schools districts.

The Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage has more on the report (which is behind a paywall). Here’s a clip:

David Ramey—assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State and the author of the study—has spent years researching how sociological factors affect schools’ modes of punishment. Even when the level of misbehavior is the same, he says, the treatment is not. “White kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem,” he says. “Black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn.”

Ramey is clear about the distinction between the two disciplinary styles. Criminalized discipline revolves around penalizing the student, using concrete things like suspension, expulsion, or referral to law enforcement. Medicalized is distinctly more benign, searching for solutions through medical attention or psychological intervention.

The deeper implications of Ramey’s results are troubling. Misbehavior from black students is seen as a crime that warrants punishment; misbehavior from whites is a malady that needs medicine.

The American Civil Liberties Union refers to this issue as the “school-to-prison-pipeline” (STTP): “a nationwide system of local, state, and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system.” Dwindling resources, pressure to bring in high test scores, and increased caution from school shootings are all cited as contributing factors.


CALIFORNIA A MODEL FOR OTHER STATES IN THE PUSH FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, California Endowment President Robert Ross applauds President Barack Obama’s recently heightened focus on shifting the nation away from punitive and costly mass incarceration, moving instead toward a prevention and opportunity mindset. Ross highlights the progress California has made toward meaningful criminal justice reform, including passing Prop 47 (which reclassified certain non-serious felonies as misdemeanors), and implementing restorative justice in schools that were funneling kids into the juvenile justice system. Here’s a clip:

We worked with young leaders to address the fact that, for many of our young people, their criminalization begins as early as elementary school. Rather than asking why our students are acting out, they are being pushed out of school and police are being called in to deal with things such as talking back to teachers.

Through our grantees’ efforts, more schools in California are now adopting positive school discipline–giving students the opportunity to reconcile their mistakes–rather than pushing students out of schools and into the juvenile justice system.

Not only do our policies reflect prioritization of punishment over prevention, but so does our state spending. In California, we spend $62,300 a year to keep one inmate in prison but just $9,100 per year to educate one student in our public schools, one of many statistics we highlighted through our Do The Math campaign.

Realizing this contradiction, California voters decided to shift spending priorities towards prevention by passing Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, which gives Californians a second chance at opportunity by lowering some non-violent offenses to misdemeanors rather than felonies and shifts up to $1 billion dollars every year toward community health programs.

These efforts will help turn the tide on our prison population, which has grown 430 percent nationally since 1970. At the same time that we seek to break the school-to-prison pipeline, we cannot forget those who have ended up in prison.

One of the most moving things we did last year was visit one of our prisons here in California, to be able to hear from incarcerated people about the type of opportunities they’d like while behind bars to prepare them to best re-enter their lives and communities.

What we heard is they’d like to further their education, be offered opportunities to heal from intense trauma, and have more communication with their families.

We applaud President Obama for visiting El Reno Correctional Institution and we encourage more of our national leaders to do the same. And to take time listening to our youth, you’d be surprised how much information they’ll share about the type of opportunities and future they’d like us to build for them, but it’s up to us to act on that information.


CRITICALLY UNDERSTAFFED ALAMEDA COUNTY JUVIE DETENTION CENTER STRUGGLES TO MEET KIDS’ NEEDS

Brett Myers of of NPR’s Youth Radio visited a juvenile detention facility in San Leandro, CA, that’s struggling to maintain their reputation as a model juvenile facility to due to severe understaffing. Even though they watch over a smaller population of kids than the facility housed around 2010, guards are doing double the amount of overtime they did five years ago, and the kids are paying the price. Use-of-force incidents have tripled, and kids are spending more time in their cells missing out on recreation time.

Myers’ story is part of a series on juvenile justice. (On Thursday, WLA pointed to two stories on juvenile probation that are also from this series.)

Here’s a clip from the write up of the radio show:

According to county records obtained by Youth Radio, guards used pepper spray 147 times last year. The kicker: 90 percent of state-run juvenile correctional agencies don’t allow guards to carry pepper spray. But here, with guards working an average of 30 hours of overtime per week, there has been an increase in the use of force on juvenile inmates — like guards performing takedowns or handcuffing inmates. The department calls these acts “use of physical and mechanical restraints,” and that number nearly tripled in the past five years…

Supervisor Ray Colon has been working for Alameda County Juvenile Hall for 25 years.

“You’ve got a couple of staff watching a number of kids, and things happen,” he says.

During waking hours, the state mandates a minimum of one guard for every 10 kids in detention.

When they’re short on guards, supervisors sometimes run what they call split recs — basically dividing recreation, exercise and dinner time in half. Fifteen kids come out while the other 15 remain in their cells.

“The kids don’t always get the services they should get because we’re running short. They spend more time in their room, which is unfortunate, but it’s the reality of not having the staff to complete the duties we need to do,” Colon says.

Malik, 18, spent more than four months incarcerated in Alameda County Juvenile Hall. He says when young people are locked in their cells, tensions flare.

“Man, more fights, more attitudes. Kicking and banging — it’s just angry. They want to be out of their rooms. That’s why I used to kick and bang,” he says. “If I know that I have a guaranteed hour of PE each day no matter what, I’m going to be angry if I can’t get that.”

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, Obama, racial justice, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 5 Comments »

LA Supes Hold Discussion on LASD Oversight, Richmond’s Anti-Violence Program, Pell Grants for Prisoners, and Calexico’s Police Chief

July 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS HEAR RECOMMENDATIONS AND HOLD DISCUSSION ON CREATING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LASD

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors held a discussion on the final recommendations from the working group tasked with figuring out how to structure a civilian oversight panel for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The group spent six months working toward this final report, and held 13 public meetings and 9 town halls across the county to gather public input.

Former CEO of Public Counsel and working group member, Hernan Vera, said in looking at other counties’ oversight boards, they noted three broad powers: to look into and address systemic and procedural problems within the department, to investigate individual instances of alleged misconduct and excessive use of force allegations, and building a bridge to the community through transparency, accountability, and dialogue.

The working group voted 4-3 in favor of recommending giving subpoena power to the commission. Vera acknowledged it as the “elephant in the room” jumped right into discussing the issue.

“First, we believe at the end of this process, that this commission wouldn’t enjoy the full trust and confidence of the public without that power,” said Vera. “That was made clear to us. So much of the public testimony centered around this issue.”

Vera continued, “The majority who voted for this believed that this commission wouldn’t be able to do its job as effectively without its power. …the commission itself wouldn’t be seen as truly independent without this power because everything would have to be negotiated. And the commission, bottom line, would be dependent on the generosity or good will of the sheriff’s department to get the records that it needs.”

There may have to be changes to state law, however to make subpoena power possible. County Counsel told the board they are still looking into whether it would need to go on next year’s ballot or not.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich expressed concern over officer privacy. “We would have to ensure that anyone who has access to those records is aware of the need to keep them confidential. We’re exploring options to address that issue,” said Antonovich. “We could have confidentiality agreements drafted. And there could be penalties associated with violation of those agreements. Under the law, there’s also the Peace Officer Bill of Rights…if you violate it and breach confidentiality…there could be consequences, even misdemeanor consequences.”

Also on the working group, was LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, who said Sheriff Jim McDonnell was concerned about the idea of subpoena power, and thought it unnecessary.

The sheriff wants the county to hold off on trying to set up subpoena power, and first work on a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which could take as little as a couple of weeks to establish. Then, if that agreement does not live up to the level of access desired by the commission and board, subpoena power could go on the 2016 ballot.

In answer to this, Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas said that the issue must be looked at structurally and systematically, and that, respectfully, his “days of of deferring to a sheriff, elected or not…are over.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who is also part of the working group, says he has been trying to get an MOA in place for the Office of Inspector General for the last year and a half, and because the working group did not yet have an MOA from the Sheriff for the commission, the group had to consider subpoena power. “In order to accomplish the goals of this board, I think what’s important is complete access,” said Huntsman. “At the time we took that vote, there was no MOA on the table. We still do not have an MOA in place. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and haven’t been able to get an MOA. …In the working group, we had no option but to pursue something else that would allow us to implement that goal.”

Huntsman continued, “Subpoena power by itself does not get us access to the kind of detailed internal information that I think is absolutely critical in order to accomplish the goals of this board.”

Vera said that having subpoena power would be important for the commission to have as backup. “What we weard from cities like San Diego…is that the mere fact of having subpoena power facilitates broader access and a more effective commission,” said Vera. The subpoena power will not be needed 99% of the time, according to Vera, as the the commission will go through the MOA. “But the fact that it exists just creates more of an incentive to comply…the jurisdictions that haven’t had that, have had to work out a way of negotiating for records. And when the sheriff’s department says no, the conversation ends there.”

Among other important topics of discussion were whether retired sworn personnel could serve on the commission, or whether that created a conflict of interest, and whether undocumented immigrants could serve.

No consensus was definitively reached by the board on any one topic, and no date was set to vote on the commission, but the hearing was an important step toward establishing oversight.

“It is not as if we are engaged in any revolutionary act here with respect to the establishment of an oversight commission….we are rather late to the party,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Oversight commissions exist all over the length and breadth of this country, and it’s about time that Los Angeles County got with the program.”


NEW REPORT SAYS RICHMOND, CA, HAS MADE A HUGE TURNAROUND ON GUN VIOLENCE AND RECIDIVISM RATES THROUGH THEIR FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PROGRAM

The city of Richmond, CA, is seeing incredible success with their unique anti-violence program, according to a new report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Just under a decade ago, the city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. In 2007, there were 47 gun-related homicides in the city of 106,000 people. The situation was so dire, the city authorized an unheard of new program that would identify the most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and pay them to keep out of trouble.

Four times per year, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, conceived and developed by DeVone Boggan, selects 50 candidates under 25 to take part in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for nine of those months, along with mentoring, education, and other services.

In 2013, 6 years after the launch of ONS, there were 15 homicides per 100,000 residents—the lowest number Richmond had seen in 33 years. And the homicide rate continues to drop.

And those participants, most likely to shoot or be shot, are, for the most part, staying alive and out of trouble: 94% of the 68 men to complete the program are still alive, and 79% have not been arrested or charged with a firearm-related crime since.

(WLA has previously written about Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus, who has vastly improved officer morale and the police-community relationship.)

Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The conclusion was positive: “While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond.”

As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.

“While replication of the Fellowship itself may be more arduous because of the dynamic leadership associated with the current model, the framework of the Fellowship could be used to improve outcomes for communities across the country,” the study’s authors wrote. “The steps taken to craft programming developed with clients in mind, and being responsive to their needs and the needs of the community, can serve as a model.”


OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO TRY OUT GIVING FEDERAL PELL GRANTS TO PRISONERS

On Friday the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch are slated to reveal A 3-5 year plan to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 1993 ban on giving such grants to inmates.

Through the grants, prisoners will receive up to $5,775 per year to spend on tuition, books, and other education expenses,

The hope is that, by opening up access to education for prisoners, recidivism rates will drop, saving tons of money in the long run.

The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell and Joe Palazzolo have the story. Here’s a clip:

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.

Between the mid-1990s and 2013, the U.S. prison population doubled to about 1.6 million inmates, many of them repeat offenders, Justice Department figures show. Members of both parties—including President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—have called for a broad examination of criminal justice, such as rewriting sentencing guidelines.

A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.

Some congressional Democrats have proposed lifting the ban. Meanwhile, administration officials have indicated they would use a provision of the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department the authority to temporarily waive rules, such as the Pell-grant ban, as part of an experiment to study their effectiveness.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to announce the program, which likely would last three to five years to yield data on recidivism rates, at a prison in Jessup, Md., on Friday. Key details aren’t yet clear, such as which institutions and what types of convicts would be allowed to participate.


MEET CHIEF MICHAEL BOSTIC, HEAD OF THE TROUBLED CALEXICO, CA POLICE DEPARTMENT

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has a long read profile on Calexico Police Chief Michael Bostic, a former LAPD Assistant Chief, who took the helm of an agency that was drowning in officer misconduct scandals and was the subject of an FBI investigation. Chief Bostic has been very vocal about problems plaguing the department he says he has come to fix.

In April, Chief Bostic asked the DOJ to step in and help him clean up the border city’s police department. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said it would provide extensive training and would help build a community policing unit over the next three years.

Bostic does have critics, however, including some who question the hefty paycheck he receives for leading a rather small department.

Here’s a clip from Rubin’s story:

Since arriving in Calexico, Bostic has unabashedly presented himself as a savior, promising residents he will rid their Police Department of “the cancer living within it” — a refrain during his first months on the job.

“These people are so desperate for help,” he said. “The LAPD has given me a unique set of skills and training that you can’t get many places…. I know exactly what to do to fix this place.”

Bostic hasn’t shied away from such grand statements, touting the major role he played in reforming the LAPD. Although he did have a hand in trying to push through changes that followed some of the LAPD’s worst episodes, the reality of his time there is more modest.

In the wake of the videotaped beating by officers of Rodney King, then-Chief Daryl Gates assigned Bostic to review the department’s use-of-force and training procedures. In his role, Bostic was critical of some problems he identified but wasn’t in a position to make significant changes himself.

Bostic testified as the government’s use-of-force expert during the state trial against the officers. Defense attorneys picked him apart on cross-examination, however, forcing him to admit he had formed his opinion of the beating after only a few viewings of the tape. After acquitting the officers, jurors said that they did not find Bostic credible.

He climbed the ranks to become an assistant chief, at times running the department when the chief was away. But after Bostic clashed with William Bratton, who was hired as chief in 2002, Bratton demoted him and exiled him from his inner circle.

Soon after he took over in Calexico, Bostic said he contacted the FBI, relaying concerns he had about some of his officers. Then, on a morning in late October, dozens of agents descended on the police station, seizing computer hard drives and documents.

FBI officials acknowledged the ongoing investigation but declined to comment on its scope or focus. Bostic, for his part, has refused to elaborate on the probe. But it seems to have struck a sensitive chord with him. Twice after the raid, Bostic choked back tears when answering reporters’ questions about the investigation.

“There could be nothing more embarrassing than to have your department under that kind of scrutiny…. It was literally the most disappointing day in all my years of policing,” he said at one news conference after composing himself.

The problems, Bostic said, stemmed from half a dozen or so officers, who also held sway in the police officers union. Bostic said they effectively ran the department, threatening other officers with misconduct investigations if they got out of line and running the department’s $450,000 annual budget for overtime to nearly $1.5 million.

“They believed they were untouchable. They still believe it, even since I’ve arrived. They’ve been protected for so long.”

Posted in Education, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, prison, Violence Prevention | 16 Comments »

Judge Forces Gardena to Release 2013 Video of City’s Cops Shooting Unarmed Man…& More

July 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release two disturbing videos of Gardena police officers shooting an unarmed man named Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, whose brother’s bicycle had been stolen, causing someone to call the police. As they waited for police to come, Diaz Zeferino and two friends went out to look for the bike but ran into the police instead, who assumed that the three were the bike thieves. The encounter ended with a volley of gunfire that killed Diaz Zeferino and badly injured one of his friends.

The tragedy may have been in part set in motion when the police dispatcher wrongly described the called-in theft as a robbery, suggesting that it involved force.

The June 2, 2013 encounter between the three men and the police was captured by two patrol car-mounted video cameras.

City officials and the Gardena police department have been battling for two years to keep the videos from public view, even though the city had already settled with Diaz Zeferino’s family and others for $4.7 million.

In making his ruling, Judge Wilson was responding to a collective request from the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Bloomberg, which challenged a blanket protective order by 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, that had prohibited the release of the videos and other evidence in the court case.

LA Times reporters Richard Winton and Joel Rueben have more details.

Here’s a clip:

In unsealing the videos, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said the public had an interest in seeing the recordings, especially after the city settled a lawsuit over the shooting for $4.7 million. Wilson rejected last ditch efforts by Gardena attorneys, who argued the city had paid the settlement money in the belief that the videos would remain under seal.

The “defendants’ argument backfires here — the fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos,” Wilson wrote. “Moreover, while the videos are potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict, they are not overly gory or graphic in a way that would make them a vehicle for improper purposes.”

[SNIP]

Wilson’s decision comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly have embraced the use of cameras worn by officers and placed in patrol cars to record police interactions with civilians. But few agencies have made their videos public, spurring a debate over the need to balance the privacy of those captured on the recordings and transparency in policing.


IN A MAJOR ADDRESS PRESIDENT OBAMA CALLS FOR SWEEPING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND A REEXAMINATION OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

On Tuesday, President Barak Obama gave what turned out to be a serious policy speech when he addressed the annual conference of the NAACP in Philadelphia. The speech, which was also broadcast, had criminal justice reform advocates madly tweeting to each other: “Is anybody watching this?!!”

And, Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, (the book on which the series is based) giddily retweeted nearly all of the post speech tweets of @POTUS.

The enthusiasm was for good reason.

Among the topics @POTUS tackled was the controversy over solitary confinement-—but there was lots more.

The BBC has more. Here’s a clip:

President Barack Obama has called for sweeping reforms to the US criminal justice system including curbing the use of solitary confinement and voting rights for felons.

He said lengthy mandatory minimum sentences should be reduced - or thrown out entirely.

“Mass incarceration makes our entire country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” he said.
Mr Obama urged Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill by year’s end.

On Thursday, Mr Obama will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison - part of week long focus by the White House on the criminal justice system.

Speaking to a gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Philadelphia, Mr Obama discussed investments in education, alternatives to trials and prison job training programs.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been tasked with reviewing the overuse of solitary confinement, Mr Obama said.

“Do we think it makes sense to lock people up in tiny cells for 23 hours a day? It won’t make us safer and stronger.”

The country should not be tolerating overcrowding in prisons, gang activity or rape, which Mr Obama called “unacceptable”.


DOES THE TREATMENT OF LAUSD’S RAFE ESQUITH SUGGEST THAT BUREAUCRATS ARE WRECKING EDUCATION?

Robby Soave writing for the Daily Beast argues that “when the feelings of students are prized above all else,” talented teachers like Rafe Esquith “looking to inject a little personality into the classroom are the first to suffer.”

Here’s a clip about Esquith’s case, but read on for other examples:

Teachers with unusual, engaging methods are often mistreated by the education system—even, like Buchanan, when they win awards. Rafe Esquith, an elementary school teacher at Hobart Boulevard in Los Angeles who won numerous teaching distinctions and was dubbed the world’s most famous teacher by The Washington Post, earned a suspension this year for a familiar reason: he told a joke.

Whereas Buchanan said some mildly provocative things to a bunch of full-grown adults, Esquith made a completely inoffensive remark to a bunch of children. He runs his own nonprofit, puts on productions of Shakespeare plays, and takes his low-income LA students on educational field trips—relying on private donations to fund his activities. In March, Esquith joked with his students that unless he was able to raise more money, they would have to perform the play naked. He made this remark after reading a relevant passage from Huckleberry Finn that concerns a king “prancing out on all fours, naked.”

The joke was essentially harmless. But another teacher overheard it, divined some sinister intention, and reported it to school authorities. Esquith had to cancel his production and sit in a rubber room while administrators interrogated his students about his behavior. A California credentialing committee ruled that Esquith did nothing wrong, but the district still hasn’t let him return to teaching.

Last month, Esquith’s attorneys announced that they were filing a class action suit in behalf of “thousands of well-respected teachers deprived of their rights by the Los Angeles Unified School District.”


Posted in Education, law enforcement, Obama, solitary | 23 Comments »

ACLU Sues LAUSD, Justice Breyer and the Death Penalty, Parole Bill for Juvie Offenders, and Leland Yee

July 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAUSD TAKING STATE FUNDS AWAY FROM KIDS WHO NEED IT MOST, SEZ LAWSUIT

In Mid June, a UC Berkeley and United Way report found that the Los Angeles Unified School District had misappropriated state funding set aside for kids who desperately need it.

In response, the ACLU of SoCal and others have filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging misuse of $126 million earmarked for foster students, English-learners, kids with disabilities, and kids from low-income households in the 2014-2015 school year, and if left unchecked, will deprive those kids of $2 billion in funding over the next decade.

According to the lawsuit, between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the school district is counting close to $450 million in separate special education funding (required by law) as funds that “increase or improve” services for those targeted high-needs students. That number will hit $2 billion by 2021, and add an additional $450 million every year thereafter.

Despite the school board planning out how best to spend a total of $145 million most of the money did not make it to those students. Instead, the LAUSD spent money re-hiring nurses, librarians, and other staff members at elementary and middle schools, according to the UC Berkeley and United Way report.

The suit was filed by the ACLU of Southern California, Public Advocates, and Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and an LAUSD parent, Reyna Frias.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU:

“LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future, with the services they need and the law says they should receive,” said Ms. Frias, whose children qualify for the funds targeted by LCFF.

The plaintiffs are represented by Public Advocates Inc., the ACLU of California and Covington & Burling LLP.

“Community Coalition has spent decades working to transform the social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles,” said Alberto Retana, president and CEO of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We want to ensure that our students aren’t short-changed by LAUSD’s budget process. We see too many students in our public schools struggling because they don’t receive the services they need to thrive academically.”

The law directs school districts to use state funds under LCFF to “increase or improve” services for the targeted students. Each district calculates what it will spend partly on what it has spent in the past on such services. The lawsuit alleges that by counting prior spending for “special education” — which the district is already required to provide — as spending on services for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, LAUSD has in effect reduced its specific legal obligation to those very students by over $400 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16 combined. Over time, if allowed to continue the practice, LAUSD will short-change these students by over $2 billion by 2021, and $450 million additionally every year after that.

“If every district uses its new LCFF funds to pay for things it’s already legally required to do like LAUSD, the promise of California’s new funding law will evaporate overnight,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney with Public Advocates. “LCFF requires that LAUSD use these hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver new and better services to targeted students.”


SCOTUS JUSTICE BREYER AND HIS 40-PAGE DEATH PENALTY DISSENT

On Monday, in a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug cocktail execution method challenged by three OK death row inmates after three lethal injections were botched last year.

Justice Stephen Breyer didn’t just disagree with the ruling. He wrote a colossal 40-page dissent focused on the constitutionality of the death penalty, even though the issue was not directly before the court.

The New Yorker’s David Cole has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Justice Breyer raised a still more profound question: Is the death penalty unconstitutional, as a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment? Capital punishment is expressly mentioned in the Fifth Amendment, which requires a grand-jury indictment for a capital crime, so the Court has never held the death penalty unconstitutional under all circumstances. But, in 1972, the Court did declare the death penalty—as it was then administered—unconstitutional, reasoning that the imposition of death, at the time left to the unfettered discretion of prosecutors and juries, rendered the sanction so arbitrary as to be cruel and unusual. As Justice Potter Stewart famously put it, “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” (Four years later, the Court restored the death penalty, concluding that new procedures and requirements were, in theory, sufficient to limit arbitrary decisions.)

[SNIP]

There are about fifteen thousand murders a year in the United States. Last year, we executed thirty-five people. Studies, Breyer notes, have consistently found that what determines who lives or dies is more likely to be race, geography, or the quality of one’s lawyer than the defendant’s culpability. In addition, DNA evidence has demonstrated that, no matter how many procedural safeguards we put in place, human error is inevitable. A hundred and fifteen people convicted and sentenced to die have subsequently been found innocent of the crime, and that number certainly will continue to rise. Last year alone, six death-row inmates were exonerated, but not before spending more than thirty years each on death row. Capital cases are notoriously beset by errors; from 1973 to 1995, state and federal courts found constitutional errors in nearly seventy per cent of all capital cases before them.

What’s more, Breyer noted, defendants today routinely spend decades on death row while their cases are reviewed. That lengthy period of intense uncertainty, nearly always spent in solitary confinement, adds to the cruel and unusual character of capital punishment. The thirty-five individuals executed in 2014 spent, on average, nearly eighteen years on death row. In 1960, the average delay between sentence and execution was two years. As Justice John Paul Stevens argued in 2009, such delays expose inmates to “decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement”—in particular, the solitary confinement that Kennedy finds so problematic. And the delays undermine whatever deterrent or retributive value death sentences are supposed to provide, as a penalty carried out several decades after the crime is unlikely to serve as a warning to others or to offer much solace to the victim’s family. “The upshot,” Breyer writes, “is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale.”

The problem, Breyer suggests, may be irresolvable. We can have executions without long delays, or we can have the procedural review necessary to avoid unfair executions, but we can’t have both. If the Constitution requires both, the death penalty may well be unconstitutional.


EXPANDING AGE ELIGIBILITY FOR LAW THAT GIVES LIFER INMATES WHO COMMITTED CRIMES AS KIDS A SECOND CHANCE AT PAROLE

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole. Now, a bill that is making its way through legislature, SB 261, would expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23.

The bill passed through the Senate in early June, and through the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday. Now, it heads to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

San Jose Inside’s Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The California legislature passed SB 260, a youth offender bill that set up a new parole process for those who were minors at the time of their crimes. These youth offenders could now visit the board of parole hearings ahead of schedule—after 15, 20 or 25 years, depending on their original sentence—and have their age at the time of the crime considered “with great weight.”

“I didn’t know there were people out there fighting for individuals like me,” Mendoza says. “As a young inmate, you spend so many years believing that you’re being thrown away, and now they’re picking you up, saying, ‘We see the potential that you have.’ After so many years, it started to make me realize that I should prove people right for a change.”

Mendoza went before the parole board, eager to show that he was “no longer that 15-year-old boy.” After 17 years—more than half of his life—Mendoza got his release.

Today, the 34-year-old lives in Oakland, works full-time for a marketing firm and is studying to get his bachelor’s degree in business marketing at San Francisco State. Mendoza’s story isn’t unusual—so far, there hasn’t been a single incident of recidivism among several hundred SB 260 parolees. With the success found in changing the law, California’s legislature is now deliberating SB 261, which would expand the young offender parole hearings by upping the age of eligibility to 23.

“SB 260 and 261 give young people hope, give them an incentive to change,” says state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), who authored both bills. “And really, it’s only an opportunity. The board of parole hearings is very tough, and they only grant parole in less than 15 percent of cases—but it’s an opportunity that means a lot to the individual human beings.”


FORMER CA SENATOR LELAND YEE PLEADS GUILTY

On Wednesday, Former CA Sen. Leland Yee pled guilty to one felony count of racketeering and faces up to a 20-year maximum sentence.

Leland Yee was arrested last March in an FBI corruption sting for alleged gun trafficking in exchange for donations to his campaign for California Secretary of State. A long-time associate of Yee’s and head of an international crime ring, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and 24 others were also picked up in the sting.

Before his indictment, Yee authored a number of important juvenile justice and foster care bills as senator (some of which we have pointed to here and here).

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has the update on the Yee corruption saga. Here’s a clip:

“Guilty,” Yee said, when asked by Judge Charles Breyer how he was pleading.

“Are you pleading guilty of your own free will, because you are guilty?” Breyer asked.

“I am,” Yee said.

As part of the agreement, Yee admitted to exchanging political favors for campaign contributions, including:

▪ $10,000 to help a business secure a contract with the California Department of Public Health. According to the revised indictment, Yee met with undercover agents representing a software consulting company client, Well Tech. One of the agents said he wanted to position Well Tech to compete for state grants and contracts.

▪ $6,800 to issue a proclamation honoring a community organization in Chinatown that prosecutors allege is connected to criminal activities. According to the indictment, Yee gave the proclamation to Chee Kung Tong at a celebration of the group’s anniversary.

▪ $11,000 to introduce an undercover FBI agent to another state senator with influence over medical marijuana legislation. Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff has said he thinks he was “State Senator 2” in the affidavit. He said he met with Yee and “some long-haired guy in plain clothes” to discuss Republicans’ views on the legislation.

Yee also admitted to conspiring to extort several individuals who, at the time, had an interest in pending legislation extending the state athletic commission and changing the workers’ compensation program for professional athletes.

And he acknowledged offering to facilitate a multimillion-dollar arms deal for shoulder-fired missiles and automatic weapons with a source tied to Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines – a particularly bizarre and damaging allegation for the staunch gun-control advocate.

[SNIP]

Donald Heller, a Sacramento defense attorney, estimated that Yee ultimately would be sentenced to 30 to 37 months in prison, much less than if he went to trial.

He said Yee could work with the prosecution to corroborate evidence against other defendants or target new ones, but there was no confirmation in the plea agreement either way.

“If he’s agreed to cooperate, I would expect there’s going to be a lot of soiled underwear at the Capitol,” said Heller, who represented lobbyist Clayton Jackson during a massive corruption scandal in the early 1990s that ensnared several members of the Legislature. “Political corruption cases are not usually isolated to one member.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Foster Care, LAUSD, LWOP Kids, parole policy | No Comments »

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

June 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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


SAN QUENTIN DEATH ROW INMATES SUE OVER SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CONDITIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

They entered the foster care system after abuse and abandonment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


POWERFUL “DRUGGING OUR KIDS” DOCUMENTARY RECEIVES NATIONAL AWARD

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

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

Posted in CCPOA, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, prison policy, solitary | 1 Comment »

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

June 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA BILL TO OPEN EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM TO FOSTER KIDS LIVING WITH RELATIVES, WHO NEED JUST AS MUCH HELP AS THOSE IN NON-FAMILY RESIDENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES EZELL FORD, DISCIPLINE, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a deadline for that?

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

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

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


GOV. BROWN OKAYS $$ SETTLEMENT FOR THREE OF CA’S WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


US CRIMINAL JUSTICE MOVERS AND SHAKERS EXPERIENCE GERMAN PRISONS: DAY TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleged Abuse at a Boot Camp for LA-Area Kids….Disclosing LA County’s Legal Bills….LAUSD Program Re-Enrolls Kids Exiting Juvie Detention….Fight in Men’s Central Jail

June 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SEVEN KIDS SAY THEY WERE ABUSED DURING A BOOT CAMP PUT ON BY HUNTINGTON PARK AND SOUTH GATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS

Out of 36 kids who attended the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp program in May, seven say they were punched, slapped, stepped on, and beaten by officers running the program. LEAD is sponsored by the Huntington Park and South Gate Police Departments.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused them, stepping on them as they did push-ups.

The program leaders would take them into a “dark room,” where the they would hold kids against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers from an officer stepping on his hand.

The kids said those responsible threatened physical harm if the kids broke their silence.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating the allegations. The Gomez brothers have been suspended from the kids’ program, but are still on patrol, according to lawyers.

KTLA’s Ashley Soley-Cerro, Eric Spillman, Christina Pascucci, and Melissa Palmer have the story. Here are some clips:

Bridget Salazar said her 13-year-old son was punched, slammed up against a wall and choked.

“He just couldn’t stop crying,” Salazar said. “Right there, I knew something happened.”

Araceli Pulido said her daughters, aged 12 and 14, were among the seven alleging abuse. There are more campers who were hurt but they are too scared to come forward, Pulido said.

The children were allegedly told they were worthless and their parents did not love or want them, and that the camp was three months long rather than a week, according to Owen.

The “Gomez brothers” were primarily responsible for the mistreatment, the children reported.

“Many of the children are suffering from nightmares and other emotional trauma because the Gomez brothers are out on the streets. They are afraid the Gomez brothers will come after them,” Owen’s news release stated.


EDITORIAL: COUNTY SHOULD DISCLOSE TO TAXPAYERS $$ AMOUNTS SPENT ON PRIVATE LAW FIRMS FOR LAWSUITS AGAINST LASD

Last June, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel (particularly the ones alleging LASD misconduct, abuse, and excessive use of force that typically drag on for a year, or three, presumably while the meter is running).

But this April, an appeals court agreed with the county that any information between lawyer and client, including invoices, is confidential. Last week, Preven and the ACLU petitioned the CA Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision.

An LA Times editorial says the Supes answer to the public, and should be forthcoming with how much taxpayers are forking over for these lawsuits, and preferably before the Supreme Court has to deal with it. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven is one such county resident, and he sought the invoices for a handful of cases under the California Public Records Act. When the county rejected much of his request, he and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued. A judge ruled in Preven’s favor a year ago, but in April an appeals court sided with the county, accepting its argument that billing records — indeed, anything at all that passes between a lawyer and client — are protected from disclosure.

That’s an unduly expansive reading of the attorney-client privilege, which is widely understood to apply to a lawyer’s advice, a client’s directives and other substantive communications made in the scope of the lawyer’s representation, but not to billing records of the type sought by Preven and the ACLU, cleansed of sensitive information. In the case of Los Angeles County, where voters or residents might understandably believe they are collectively the clients and ought to have access to relevant information, the privilege protects not them but their elected representatives, the Board of Supervisors.

The public should be pleased that Preven and the ACLU are not taking the ruling lying down. Last week, they petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

As intriguing as the legal issue is, however, it should not obscure the basic fact that the supervisors, as the client, have the authority to waive the privilege and release the documents right now — but have opted instead to fight.


PROGRAM RE-ENROLLS AND RE-ENGAGES LAUSD HIGH SCHOOLERS WHEN THEY ARE RELEASED FROM JUVENILE DENTENTION FACILITIES

As of last year, California law mandates juvenile justice systems connect with school systems to keep kids who are released from juvenile detention facilities from slipping through the cracks. According to the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, more than 80% of kids leaving lock-up are not enrolled in school within the first month of their release.

An LA Unified School District counseling program works to catch those kids and help them re-enroll in school and keep up with classes, and also to direct them to other important services.

More than 100 LAUSD kids are released from lock-up every month. In fact, there are more LAUSD kids cycling in and out of the detention centers than in any other school district. But because of budget cuts, the program cannot sustain enough counselors to meet the needs of every justice system-involved kid.

And when the counselors do reach out, those kids have to be receptive to the idea of returning to (and completing) high school. Some are not.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the program.

Gilbertson’s story follows two formerly incarcerated high school kids, one who completes high school and moves on to community college while working for Homeboy Industries, the other who, unfortunately, does not triumph over the statistics. Here are some clips:

When 19-year-old Liliana Flores was in fifth grade, her parents immigrated into the United States from El Salvador. Her family was fleeing gang violence, but it only followed them to Los Angeles.

“I never had a happy home,” she said.

Social workers thought Flores would be safer in foster care. She was tossed from group home to group home packed with troubled teens.

“I started doing the same things they were doing,” Flores said.

She got into drugs, and it led to a series of stints in juvenile detention centers scattered throughout Los Angeles County. In between her time away, she attended continuation high schools filled with other at-risk students struggling to stay within the law.

[SNIP]

Even after her incarceration, Flores wears a uniform: a long-sleeve, button-down shirt with a neat collar.

It conceals the tattoos climbing her arms, inked across her chest and spread around her scalp. On her neck, a tattoo she got when she was 14 years old says “f— love” in swirling letters.

Valli Cohen, a nurse practitioner, is taking a laser to Flores’ tattoo at the Homeboy Industries medical office, which specializes in gang tattoo removal…

It’s hard to tell if the attempt to track students exiting juvenile detention is having an impact. LAUSD declined to provide the numbers of students who re-enroll and go on to graduate.

But Flores said it is working for her…

“Right now, I’m taking Criminal Justice I, and I’m taking Criminal Justice II,” she said.

Flores plans to transfer to University of California, Santa Cruz, and eventually become a probation officer. Her report card is full of Bs and she said the fact that she’s undocumented is her motivation.


FIGHT BETWEEN 80 INMATES AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

At 12:30p.m. on Wednesday, a fight broke out between around 80 inmates in Men’s Central Jail in downtown LA. Deputies succeeded in quelling the disturbance in about ten minutes. One inmate was stabbed and three others were wounded in the fight. There were no serious injuries. Both Men’s Central and Twin Towers jails, which are across the street from each other, were placed on lockdown.

CBS has more on the incident.

Posted in ACLU, California Supreme Court, children and adolescents, Education, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

The Power of “Freedom Schools” to be in 7 Juvenile Probation Camps in Alameda & LA Counties, But Will Probation Staff Fully Buy In?

June 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Freedom School Program Liberates Kids in Probation Camp from Mark Ridley-Thomas on Vimeo.

This summer, the kids in seven California juvenile probation camps located in LA and Alameda counties will experience something called Freedom School—a combination literacy enrichment program and self-esteem building strategy that is the brain child of the Children’s Defense Fund.

For decades, Freedom school has been used to improve literacy and a love of learning for kids in communities around the nation, through the use of some unique strategies including a sort of noisy, high-energy pep rally called the Harambee (Swahili for Let’s Pull Together) that occurs at the beginning of each school session.

Eight years ago, CDF brought the program to juvenile justice facilities in four states: Minnesota, Texas, Maryland, and New York. Then, in the summer of 2013, with the sponsorship of LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA County Probation agreed to try out Freedom School in two of the county’s juvenile probation camps on a pilot basis—Fred C. Miller Camp in the hills of Malibu and Afflerbaugh Camp in the LaVerne.

Although there was initial resistance from some of the probation staff at the LA camps, particularly during the morning Harambee—which featured cheering, singing, energetic jumping and dancing—the two-camp pilot was deemed a success.

When a team from UCLA, USC and Vital Research evaluated the before and after effect of Freedom School on the camps probationers in the two camps, researchers found that the kids’ reading scores went up an average of 51 points. Their love of/interest in reading increased as well, as did their own anecdotal ratings of their reading ability.

But, the researchers noted that one of the areas was in need of improvement. There was a lack of “buy-in,” they said, by many of the probation officers in the two camps. “The role of Probation Officers was observed as being limited…only sticking to their traditional roles of disciplining and monitoring students,” wrote the evaluators.

More specifically, although some of the staff seemed to embrace the program, others declined to participate in any of the group activities and instead stood off to the side frowning, barking at kids for minor pretexts.

With the idea of improving staff “buy-in,” in preparation for this summer’s expanded Freedom School, the California Children’s Defense Fund (CA-CDF) brought a larger than ever group of probation officers, teachers and others involved in the program, to the week-long preparatory, Harambee-heavy training that began over the weekend in Knoxville, TN, and which featured superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson as one of the weekend’s kick-off speakers.

And this year, the event in Knoxville includes special juvenile justice training sessions, during which those working with the programs inside youth justice facilities can exchange ideas.

“In the CDF Freedom Schools program children learn to fall in love with reading and are engaged in activities that develop their minds and bodies and nurture their spirits,” said Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund. “The children are encouraged to dream about college and set goals for themselves, and for many of them, the program is a life-changing experience.”

The same appeared to be true in 2013 for many of the kids at LA County’s Camps Afflerbaugh and Miller.

“I used to get Ds and Fs in school,” said one sixteen-year-old who participated in the Freedom School pilot at Camp Afflerbaugh. “Now I want my family to know I get Bs and Cs. And I want to go to college and become a counselor so I can help other kids learn how to read.”

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

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