Running against a well-liked incumbent Los Angeles mayor is usually considered…well…nuts, but education reformer Steve Barr has a record for taking on the impossible.
Barr is the founder of Green Dot charter schools, which—in the early 2000s—launched small charters in low income areas of LA County, where sprawling and dysfunctional LA Unified School District facilities, like Jefferson High School, were then failing catastrophically, with drop out rates through the roof, and grad rates in the toilet. Yet, at the same time, local teachers’ unions and others got in the way of anyone trying to fix them.
Enter Green Dot, begun when Barr was unsuccessful in finding a way to partner with LAUSD. and was determined to give families living in impoverished neighborhoods an educational option that acted as if their kids actually mattered.
Locke, with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures. It was also the first such “hostile takeover” in the U.S. of a public high school by a charter, and it made national news.
Amazingly, Green Dot’s small-is-better education model, with its high degree of teacher autonomy and parent involvement, actually worked. Kids who showed up at the Green Dot start-up charters on the first day of class with their reading and math abilities discouragingly far below grade level, not only stayed in school and graduated, they applied to college.
Two years later still, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”
Green Dot is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools repeatedly made headlines.
In 2010, Barr left Green Dotto do education reform work elsewhere in the U.S., helping to open a Green Dot-style charter schools in New York and New Orleans
Barr, a Silver Lake resident and darling of education-reform advocates who has not previously held elected office, said he has grown impatient with what he sees as Garcetti’s passivity in the face of a worsening public education crisis. He said Garcetti is “a really nice guy” who lacks “a sense of urgency” about solving the city’s problems, foremost among them the shortcomings of the nation’s second-largest school system.
“The school district – and I’m saying this as a big fan of the school district, as a parent in the school district – in some ways is a little bit like an alcoholic who hasn’t bottomed out yet,” Barr said. “It’s getting better, but we can’t afford as a city to just let this thing linger out there, because it’s not just affecting them anymore. It’s affecting our city and it has for a long time.”
Barr’s entry into the 2017 race comes amid a historic push by local activists to expand charter schools as an answer to problems in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and is likely to revive debate around a recurrent theme in L.A. government: the relationship between LAUSD and City Hall. L.A.’s mayor, unlike those in Chicago or New York City, has no formal authority over the school district.
In taking on Garcetti, Barr faces long odds against an incumbent who has built a broad base of political support and an impressive fundraising machine – and who has made no major missteps during his first three years in office.
Jaime Regalado, an emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A., said he thought nothing short of a serious scandal – or perhaps an abrupt exit by Garcetti to accept an appointment in a Hillary Clinton White House – would create “any chance at all” for Barr’s success.
Others cautioned against underestimating Barr’s appeal to an unpredictable electorate in a city where public school quality still tops most polls as an issue of voter concern.
“He’s running as an outsider at a time when voters are powerfully suspicious of the political establishment, and he’s running on an issue that’s close to the hearts of most Angelenos,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “It will be an uphill fight for him, but this is something that Garcetti and his team would be smart to take very seriously.”
BERKELEY STUDENTS’ PATH FROM LOCK-UP TO COLLEGE GRADUATION
On Sunday, UC Berkeley held its first ever graduation ceremony honoring 14 formerly incarcerated Berkeley graduates.
The ceremony was organized by the Underground Scholars Initiative, founded by two former Pelican Bay State Prison inmates, Danny Murillo and Steven Czifra, who made it out of solitary confinement and into UC Berkeley. The group’s focus is on supporting fellow former offenders-turned-Berkeley-students through their college years.
One of the graduates, David Maldonado earned his master’s degree in education this year, and hopes to continue on at Berkeley and earn a PhD in social and cultural studies. Maldonado earned his GED while in prison, then went to Berkeley City College before transferring to UC Berkeley.
CA Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) delivered the keynote speech, praising USI’s work to “build a new pipeline, the prison-to-school pipeline.”
The Daily Californian’s Logan Goldberg has the story. Here’s a clip:
Pride was a central theme for the 14 formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley graduates who were honored at a special ceremony held Sunday afternoon in Anna Head Alumnae Hall. The ceremony — organized by the the Underground Scholars Initiative, a campus student group that advocates for current and prospective students affected by the prison system — was the first of its kind.
The USI was founded in 2013 by Danny Murillo and graduate Steven Czifra, who met at UC Berkeley and quickly realized that they had both been incarcerated at the Security Housing Unit in Pelican Bay State Prison. The pair has since worked tirelessly, alongside other formerly incarcerated students, to assist, support and “provide a safe space” for those with similar backgrounds, according to Murillo.
“We’re resilient overachievers,” Murillo said at the ceremony, adding that for the USI, “this is just the beginning.”
The ceremony’s keynote speaker, state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, said the state plans to have community college and degree programs in every California prison by year’s end. She noted that such efforts to reform the prison system are driven by success stories like those of the graduates.
“Having spent so much time trying to break a pipeline, the school-to-prison pipeline, it’s amazing now to work with the USI to build a new pipeline, the prison-to-school pipeline,” Hancock said at the ceremony.
THE LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS TO SEEK A “MILLIONAIRES TAX” TO HELP HOMELESS
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to seek—via state legislation—a new “millionaires tax” that would fund housing and other crucial services for the county’s homeless population.
LA County and the City of LA are working on a collaborative plan to help and house homeless residents, but much of the funding is still in limbo.
Through the motion, proposed by Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the board would lobby the capitol for a law—likely a budget trailer bill—to give the county the power to tax millionaires’ income. The board unanimously approved a related motion by Supes Don Knabe and Hilda Solis to take a closer look at the county’s spending on homeless adults using mental health treatment, public assistance, emergency medical services, as well as how much the county spends locking homeless people up in jail.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl proposed lobbying the state for legislation that would give the county authority to impose a new tax on personal income over $1 million a year to fund efforts on homelessness.
The question would still need to go to voters and receive two-thirds approval before it could take effect, but because the county does not have authority to increase income taxes, it would first require a change in state law.
A recent county-commissioned poll that looked at various possible funding measures for the November ballot found that likely voters were most supportive of the millionaires tax option, which would raise an estimated $243 million a year, with 76% of those surveyed being supportive.
The city and county of Los Angeles passed plans earlier this year aimed at reducing the region’s growing problem of homelessness, and the county has approved $150 million in initial funding, but the source of ongoing funding to build housing and provide services remains in question. County analysts say almost $500 million a year would be needed to make significant reductions in the countywide homeless population, which currently stands at nearly 47,000.
But Supervisor Hilda Solis last week put the brakes on the proposal to move toward a millionaires tax, raising questions about the methodology of the polling and of the most recent homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
She said Tuesday that the majority of her concerns had been addressed and joined Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl in voting to pursue authority for counties to impose a millionaires tax for homeless services, probably through a budget trailer bill that would take effect in July.
SPEAKING OF THE SUPERVISORS…HERE ARE THE 4TH DISTRICT CANDIDATES’ VIEWS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE ISSUES
LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has a helpful guide on the contenders for LA County Supervisor Don Knabe’s 4th District seat, including background information and their thoughts on criminal justice and other relevant issues.
The candidates are Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), Steve Napolitano, Knabe’s senior deputy, and Ralph Pacheco, a minister and board member of the Whittier Union High School District.
(Earlier this month, we posted a story about the top five candidates for Supe. Michael Antonovich’s seat, and their views on child welfare and juvenile justice.)
Here’s a clip:
Hahn, who has served as a congresswoman since 2011, said she wants more sheriff’s deputies hired to keep up with rising crime. She also wants more community policing efforts in the wake of the highly publicized jail abuse scandal that has the county “reeling right now.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to prevent crime if we don’t have real trust between the Sheriff’s Department and the people they serve,” she said in a phone interview.
While serving as a member of the Los Angeles City Council, Hahn created in 2005 the Watts Gang Task Force, which included law enforcement, clergy and community activists who met each week in her office. That group was credited with building trust between police and the community and helping to reduce gang-related crime, she said.
Napolitano said he would also work to put more sheriff’s deputies on the streets, and he’d like to work with the Sheriff’s Department and Veteran’s Affairs to launch a veterans hiring initiative to help fill as many vacant Sheriff’s Deputy positions as possible. The Sheriff’s Department has funding for nearly 500 deputy vacancies, according to a department spokeswoman.
“We’ve got troops coming back from overseas who needs jobs,” Napolitano said in an interview. “We need sheriff’s (deputies). They make great public safety officers.”
Napolitano, a former Manhattan Beach mayor and councilman, said the county also needs better diversion programs with “measured outcomes” for the mentally ill and addicts as well as probation programs that end recidivism. The Board of Supervisors recently created an Office of Diversion and Re-Entry to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates who are low-level offenders, he said, but it’s the next board “that will really determine how that looks … and what the outcomes are going to be.”
Pacheco, an ordained minister and chairman and CEO of the Whittier-based nonprofit LC Foundation, said he wants the newly authorized civilian oversight commission to empower Sheriff Jim McDonnell “to take action to eradicate corruption in the department.”
While much of the jail abuse scandal has been adjudicated and resolved, “there are still pockets within the department that need to be addressed,” he said in an interview.
“The commission needs to be empaneled, needs to be given teeth with the addition of subpoena power to assist the sheriff in helping to restore accountability and confidence in the Sheriff’s Department,” Pacheco said.
RECOMMENDED READING: LA MAG INTERVIEW WITH LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK COVERS HIS LAW ENFORCEMENT HISTORY, PROP. 47, CRIME RATES, COMMUNITY POLICING, AND MORE
In an LA Magazine interview with Gabriel Kahn, a USC Annenberg Journalism professor, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck discusses his time as an police officer in the ’80s and ’90s, through the crack epidemic, the Rodney King beating, and the LA riots, and how the LAPD’s policing strategies have evolved since then.
Chief Beck also talks about the impact he believes California’s Proposition 47 has had on crime rates and rehabilitation services, as well as discusses racism and officers’ use of deadly force, community policing, and the legacy the Beck wants to leave behind. Here’s a clip:
Your first big challenges as an officer were dealing with the PCP craze in the late 1970s and then the crack epidemic of the ’80s. How did those periods shape your experience?
It was a frenetic time. I worked in South Los Angeles, and we would routinely have these huge battles with people on PCP because they were so violent. As we went into the ’80s, the crack epidemic started to take hold. The crime rate was about three times what it is now. Homicide rate, too. You could just watch lives disappear on the street. People would succumb to the addiction, and families would break up and life became very cheap.
How did the LAPD combat that?
This was in the time of rock houses. There was major gang influence. People would take over a home and set up retail cocaine or crack sales. They’d put up an armed gate with one guy inside with the product and a gun, and he’d sell all day. We would hit five or six of those houses a day—send in an undercover, do a buy, pry the door off, and make the arrest. We would do that over and over; our arrest rate was about 1,000 a month. We had phone lines set up for people in the neighborhood to tell us where the crack houses were, and the tips would just flood in. We would start work at around noon, and we would work off our list and do the raids. The next day we’d come back in, and there would be a new list.
Did it feel as if you were on the losing side of a war?
Oh, yeah. All of that led up to Rodney King and then the riots, when we were having 1,100 murders a year. My conclusion as a police officer up through the late ’90s was that it would always get worse. And it always did. It was kind of idyllic when I was a young cop, and then it got more violent, more dangerous. The infrastructure of the city was deteriorating. So that was my conclusion. I was a lieutenant in the mid-’90s. And that’s when I began to see that there were ways to work this. I began to go in the opposite direction and think that we could do better and more effective policing.
The first thing you have to accept is that you can make a difference. You have to accept that crime is not inevitable. That was Bratton’s litmus test for police management: “Do you think crime is a given?” I moved firmly onto the side where I thought, “If you put in the right pieces in the landscape, you could change a neighborhood.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune has an excellent series on exonerations in San Diego County that we didn’t want you to miss. SD District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ recently launched a task force to investigate wrongful convictions. The conviction integrity unit’s two full-time prosecutors work in conjunction with the SD Public Defender’s Office and the California Innocence Project to right justice system wrongs.
Between 1989 and 2015, in San Diego County, there were 15 exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The Union-Tribune’s series tells those exonerees stories.
One of those exonerees, Kevin Baruxes spent 7 years behind bars, and survived a near-fatal stabbing, after a neighbor falsely accused him of raping her when he was 18 years old. Here’s a clip from Baruxes’ story:
Despite discrepancies in Mahaffy’s changing story, a lack of physical evidence and Baruxes’ alibi that he was home with family, the jury convicted him.
Baruxes said he had to keep most of the other inmates from finding out his charges.
“I didn’t go to the bathroom for like four days,” he recently recalled of his first nights behind bars. “That’s how scared I was.”
Baruxes managed to stay out of harm’s way until about five years into his sentence.
He said he got a new cellmate, who, unlike the others, wasn’t willing to keep quiet about why Baruxes was in prison. Later that day, he was stabbed twice with a seven-inch knife made out of a cookie pan from the kitchen. The blade nicked his lung and his kidney, almost killing him.
As courts denied appeal after appeal, Baruxes decided to go into protective custody.
“I was thinking, man, I might have to do 20 years. I wouldn’t make it without them killing me,” he said.
In 2002, the district attorney’s office received an email from Mike Chaney, Mahaffy’s ex-fiance, according to court documents. Chaney said that Mahaffy confessed to him that Baruxes did not rape her. He also said she was a chronic liar.
Baruxes’ lawyer hired an investigator to find others who could corroborate Chaney’s statements. He found an ex-boyfriend, a former roommate and her ex-husband. They all talked about fake illness and injury stories that she used to get attention and told the different versions they’d heard of her rape.
Meanwhile, a prosecutor tracked down Mahaffy, who admitted over the phone that she didn’t think Baruxes had raped her.
Baruxes went free soon after. He received $258,000 in compensation.
REPORT FINDS INADEQUACIES IN MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR IN CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS, AND A PIPELINE TO THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
California school districts are failing to provide students with the mental health services they are legally entitled to, and sending mentally ill kids into the juvenile justice system instead, according to a report from the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Mental Health Advocacy Services, and Learning Rights Law Center.
Even with a $400 million per year budget for mental health services, California school districts have not done enough to identify the 580,000 students eligible for—and in need of—mental health services, as required by the state’s Mental Health for Students Law. And the inability to identify kids that need mental health treatment, leads to harsh school discipline and creates a funnel for kids into the juvenile justice system.
“We are limiting too many of our children, especially children of color, who can and will do well in school, graduate with their class, and go on to successful careers, if given the right services,” said Antionette Dozier, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “We know what the services are, we have providers who can provide them, and we have the funding available for the services.”
The study’s authors collected data from 15 California school districts (including the Los Angeles Unified School District), special education advocates representing more than 900 kids every year, mental health providers in 20 counties, and over 70 parents.
Advocates in Los Angeles told researchers that 50% of LAUSD students who were involved with the Probation Department, receiving special education services, and had serious emotional disturbances, were not getting the mental health services they needed in school. The same was true of Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin counties. And when schools did provide kids with mental health services, they were often inadequate or the wrong kind of treatment altogether.
Here’s the story of one young Long Beach Unified student and his family:
Michael is a 9-year-old, male student with social phobia and anxiety disorders, which included symptoms that made leaving his room a serious obstacle. Michael’s mother informed the school numerous times about his condition, and made multiple requests for a special education assessment. The district replied that they could not assess the student because he could not attend school, essentially using the child’s mental health condition against him as an excuse for their inaction to address it.
The report calls for a wider offering of school-based mental health services and crisis intervention, increase parent participation, and tracking of data on mental health spending and kids’ outcomes, among other actions.
HOMELESS YOUTH 10 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DIE THAN THEIR PEERS
The study followed 218 homeless transitional age youth between 2004-2010. Of the 218, eleven died during the six-year study period (around 5%), mostly from drug abuse and suicide.
“Given that these youth come disproportionately from groups for which society has a fiduciary responsibility, including survivors of physical and sexual abuse, foster youth and youth with a history of involvement in the juvenile justice system, our collective mandate to address their disparity in mortality is even more pressing,” the report reads.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF HOMELESS YOUTH…
A California bill by Assemblymember Young Kim (R-Fullerton) would allocate $25 million for emergency services for homeless children, including up to three years of transitional housing, as well as life and family skills, employment, and interventions.
According to the California Homeless Youth Project, approximately 298,000 kids in the state will experience homelessness during the school year. And according to the Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County, more than 32,000 of our county’s kids are homeless. This is a tragedy.
Many of these kids come from a background of violence, neglect and poverty. They typically end up on the streets, exposed to risks that jeopardize their health and well-being.
That is why it is imperative we provide different programs and services to help homeless youth – so we can earn their trust, transition them into permanent homes, and help them achieve successful lives. Through intervention at an early age, we can get them the tools they need to ensure that homeless children do not grow up to be homeless adults.
I am leading the fight in the Legislature to address this growing problem. First, I introduced Assembly Bill 1699, which passed the Assembly Human Services Committee with bipartisan support and would set aside $25 million for homeless youth emergency service projects. These projects would provide transitional living for up to 36 months and create access to education and employment assistance. They would also teach independent living skills, family engagement, and interventions.
I also have asked the Budget Committees in both houses to allocate the funds that my bill calls for, and just last week the relevant budget subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the $25 million that I requested for homeless youth.
I am hopeful that by tackling this issue in both the legislative process and the budget process, we will be able to provide the help that these children need. And it can’t happen soon enough.
SF CHRON EDITORIAL BOARD ASKS: WHO IS SAFEGUARDING CALIFORNIA’S PRISON BUDGET?
Despite a 22% decrease in California’s prison population—thanks in large part to realignment and Prop. 47—prison spending continues to rise. Part of the overall increase can be attributed to more rehabilitative services and federally mandated improved health care within the state prison system, but pay for prison staff is also on the rise, even though there are fewer inmates to supervise. Part of the problem, according to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, is that prisons were already understaffed. And the state doesn’t have plans to close any prisons in the near future—one particular move that would reduce the number of corrections officers needed.
…salaries for the approximately 29,000 members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) cost the state about $2.1 billion last year, not including an additional $350 million for overtime and other special payments.
The CCPOA is negotiating a contract. If approved, the latest agreement would add incremental annual costs to the state that top out at $588 million in fiscal year 2018-19. In addition to getting raises (9.3 percent over three years), CCPOA members would also receive enhanced benefits like an increase in “physical fitness incentive pay” from $65 to $130 per month per member. The enhanced benefit would also be counted as base pay — meaning that it would count toward retirement.
The members would begin contributing to a retiree benefits trust fund, but that’s a relatively small concession for any state worker in 2016. The general trend is increased state costs for a union that has fewer charges. And the choices the state makes with regard to the CCPOA are crucial to doing the right thing on criminal justice reform.
…the legislative analyst’s office says that the new contract will increase overtime costs by tens of millions of dollars each year. And while the state has decreased the number of state prisoners, it has no plans to close any prisons — the kind of move that could reduce the number of corrections officers.
In what teachers unions are calling a huge victory, a state appeals court reversed a major Superior Court ruling that struck down five provisions of California’s Education Code—including teacher tenure, layoff, and dismissal statutes—as unconstitutional.
Permanent Employment Statute: The permanent employment law forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after an evaluation period of less than 16 months—before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher induction programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term.
Dismissal Statutes: The process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. Out of 275,000 teachers statewide, 2.2 teachers are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance per year on average, which amounts to 0.0008 percent.
“Last-In, First-Out” (“LIFO”) Layoff Statute: The “LIFO” law forces school districts to base layoffs on seniority alone, with no consideration of teachers’ performance in the classroom.
The original Superior Court decision in Vergara v. California established that the teacher tenure laws take away kids’ right to equal education by effective teachers, and are especially harmful for low-income and minority students.
In a 36-page decision, the appeals court said the plaintiffs failed to show that the provisions violate equal protection and result in some student groups receiving inferior education, and “failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.”
“Every student deserves a great public education; yet California’s education laws make this impossible,” said Dave Welch, the founder of Students Matter, the nonprofit organizational sponsor of Vergara v. California. “Today, the courts failed to safeguard students’ constitutional rights. I hope and expect that the California Supreme Court will step in and protect the rights of millions of students across California.”
“We have a looming teacher shortage that is made worse by lawsuits like this one and the constant attacks on teachers and public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “We need to work together to raise up teacher performance and create a climate that keeps veteran teachers in the classroom and attracts young people to the profession.”
The nine California public school students who filed Vergara v. California say they plan to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
NEW FOSTER/ADOPTION APPLICATION PROCESS MAY DETER RELATIVES FROM FOSTERING FAMILY MEMBERS
The Resource Family Approval Program, California’s new accelerated foster and adoptive family approval process is aimed at qualifying more potential parents, boosting permanency, and increasing preparation for new foster and adoptive parents. But advocates worry that the process—the extra requirements and the earlier 90-day deadline—will discourage relative caregivers from fostering their young family members.
RFA is going into effect statewide with funding from a child welfare system overhaul bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October. The new process combines the approval processes for foster parents, relative caregivers, and adoptive parents, which before, had different standards. Now, all applicants, including relatives seeking to foster, will have to submit to a psychosocial assessment, give references, undergo training, and pass an annual review.
Thirty-six percent of the state’s foster children are placed with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or other family members. After completing a home environment check within five days of taking in children, and a criminal background check within ten days, all applicants have to complete the rest of the RFA requirements within the 90-day time frame, a deadline advocates say may be unrealistic for relative caregivers.
Until now, foster parents who wanted to adopt a child have had to repeat portions of the lengthy and invasive approval process that includes a social worker visiting and assessing their home. RFA combines the approval standards for adoption, relative foster homes, and non-relative foster homes. Under the program, every potential parent will undergo a single approval process, authorizing them to be able to both foster and adopt.
“The new coordinated process will eliminate duplication, reduce paperwork and maximize the efficient use of staff and system resources,” according to an overview of RFA produced by CDSS.
It will also more thoroughly assess and train potential foster and adoptive families, and a single case worker will shepherd the parents through the approval process. According to a CDSS webinar, this change will allow parents to build a relationship with their case worker, making the process less confusing and intrusive.
At the same time, all parents will be required to complete a psychosocial assessment, provide references, and complete training before they are approved, as well as undergo an annual review. CDSS and advocates hope these steps will better prepare parents for taking children into their home and that, ultimately, this will lead to greater placement stability and the forging of lifelong relationships.
Though RFA is a positive step in many regards, the additional requirements of RFA combined with its time constraints may prove to be a stumbling block for relative caregivers.
When a child is removed from his or her home, the social worker first looks for relatives who may be able to foster the child before searching the pipeline of approved non-relative foster parents.
Unlike non-relative caregivers who typically complete the approval process prior to having a foster child placed with them, relatives often take in a child before they fully complete the process. These relatives step up in an emergency situation to foster a particular child, for instance a grandchild, niece or nephew.
Once RFA takes effect, relative caregivers will have to complete a home safety check within five days of receiving the child and a criminal records check within 10 days. They must complete the full Resource Family Approval process within 90 days.
Meeting these time constraints may prove difficult for relatives given the other demands on their time and the traumatic nature of the situation. While completing RFA requirements, relatives are caring for a child or multiple children for whom they were unprepared. They are helping the child to cope with the trauma of being removed for his or her home. They may also be helping with the legal or psychological issues of the family member from whom the child was removed.
BILL TO TRACK AND STOP PHYSICIANS OVER-PRESCRIBING PSYCHOTROPIC MEDS TO FOSTER KIDS CLEARS FIRST HURDLE
A bill to combat the excessive and alarming prescribing of psychotropic medications to California’s foster kids has made it past the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development in an 8-0 vote. (For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)
The bill would trigger quarterly reports of prescription claims, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children. SB 1174, which builds on a package of similar reform bills inspired by de Sá’s powerful reporting, now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
California’s foster care system has come to rely on powerful antipsychotic drugs to sedate troubled teens, the newspaper’s investigation revealed. But while a series of bills passed last year instituted many new measures to curb the practice, the laws did nothing to target the source of the drugs: the doctors who prescribe them.
“The vast majority of medical professionals are doing their job well, but as in any industry there are going to be outliers, and medical professionals are no different,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “And if there is an outlier, it could cost someone their life, or cause permanent damage for a child.”
Lobbyists for the California Medical Association, the California Psychiatric Association and the California Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry oppose McGuire’s bill, unless it is watered down to include an “education-first” rather than an “enforcement-first” approach.
They argue that the additional oversight will drive physicians from working with foster children and “add another bureaucratic layer to a process that is already highly regulated.”
Under McGuire’s bill, the medical board would monitor physicians through quarterly reports of prescription claims that would not reveal patient names, but rather the prescribers’ practices. Prescribing to very young children, high dosages of medications, and the use of multiple psychotropic medications at once could be grounds for investigation under the bill.
While physicians have due process rights to defend themselves, ultimately the worst offenders could lose their licenses. The new scrutiny of psychotropic prescribing is similar in some ways to curbs on the overuse of pain medications, now tracked by the state Attorney General’s Office.
SEVEN CALIFORNIA COLLEGE PROGRAMS FOR INMATES AND FORMER INMATES GET $6 MILLION
A total of $5.9 million in funding will be used to launch seven pilot college programs for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Californiansthrough the Opportunity Institute’s Renewing Communities Initiative. People who take college classes in prison have a 51% lower recidivism rate than those inmates who don’t participate, according to a RAND study. And when former offenders return to their communities after their release, if they have participated in an education program behind bars, their chances of finding employment increases considerably.
“Getting a college education turned my life around,” said Jared Walker, a participant in Project Rebound who spent three years behind bars. “People think I’m an exception, but I’m not. There are lots of guys just like me who are thirsty for education and would jump at the chance to do something to change their lives.”
One of the grant recipients, Bakersfield College will bring in-person college courses to inmates in two state prisons located in rural Kern County, the local jail, and a reentry center to create a pathway from incarceration to college graduation.
Through one of the other seven pilot programs, Cal State University Los Angeles will offer the first in-person Bachelor’s degree program to adults locked up in a California prison.
A pilot program in Shasta County will take people exiting the local jail and enroll them directly at Shasta College.
“This is an unprecedented coming together of private foundations, our public higher education institutions, and our criminal justice agencies to make communities across California stronger and safer by investing in student success,” said Debbie Mukamal, executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School, pointing out that other states may benefit from taking advantage of similar public-private partnerships.
The nine contributing organizations are the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation, ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Rosenberg Foundation.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that UCLA was offering the Bachelor’s degree program. The Bachelor’s program will, in fact, be piloted by CSU LA.
SECRECY SURROUNDING CALIFORNIA’S GANG DATABASE MEANS MANY PEOPLE DON’T EVEN KNOW THEY’RE ON THE LIST
CalGang, California’s gang-involvement tracking database, includes information on more than 150,000 people. Cops say it’s critical to reducing gang-related violence and other crimes, but critics say that because the data is so carefully guarded, too many innocent people may be on the list without even knowing.
People who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database.
The full criteria for designating someone as a gang member on CalGang is outlined in the 1988 STEP Act (California’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act), which created sentencing “enhancements” for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a gang. These enhancements were increased in 2000 by CA’s Proposition 21. (Include how long some of the enhancements are) Thousands of Californians are currently serving longer sentences because of gang enhancements.
Advocates say the vague criteria often have the effect of penalizing people of color for living in the wrong neighborhood. In response to widespread criticism, the state has launched an audit of the system which is scheduled to be completed this fall.
In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed an important billthat requires local law enforcement to notify kids under 18 and their parents in if they are added to the gang database, and give parents the opportunity to contest the designation. For adults it’s impossible to be removed from the database. That may change if the state legislature passes a 2016 bill by CA Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) to require notification for adults listed in CalGang—although a similar bill failed last year.
Ali Winston, who rode along with Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies assigned to the Operation Safe Streets Bureau, has an excellent longread for the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal News, which tells the history of CalGang and the STEP Act, and of efforts to bring sunshine to the mysterious gang database. Here’s a clip:
Aaron Harvey learned the hard way what it can mean to be documented as a gang member. He was a 26-year-old seeking his fortune in the Las Vegas real estate industry when he stepped out of his apartment to get some lunch on July 18, 2014. The San Diego native had moved there a year earlier to get away from the tumult of the hardscrabble Lincoln Park neighborhood where he grew up and where his family has lived for decades.
Suddenly, nearly a dozen plainclothes U.S. marshals swarmed around Harvey with their guns drawn. He was arrested, booked at the Clark County jail and flown back to San Diego on a warrant in connection with nine shootings back home – shootings that had taken place after Harvey left for Nevada.
The shooters in these incidents never were identified. Instead, several men recorded on a wiretap discussing how to obtain a gun were charged with offenses ranging from attempted murder to assault. Harvey was not among them.
Even after the San Diego County district attorney’s office acknowledged that Harvey was not present for the shootings, he was charged with nine counts of criminal street gang conspiracy to commit a felony – one for each shooting. Prosecutors claimed that Harvey was a participant in the conspiracy because he was, they alleged, a member of the Lincoln Park Bloods and stood to benefit because the shootings would increase his notoriety. The gang conspiracy charge is relatively new, created in 2000 when California’s Proposition 21 increased penalties for gang offenses.
To establish Harvey’s gang ties, prosecutors introduced photos from his Facebook account that showed him with other men from his neighborhood, wearing green clothing and making hand signs that prosecutors said were gang related.
They also cited evidence gathered from more than a dozen contacts Harvey had with San Diego gang police over the years – evidence that prosecutors suggested established his involvement with the Lincoln Park Bloods. Many of the contacts dated back to his teenage years, and none had resulted in a criminal charge.
Harvey ended up being held without bail for eight months. Last March, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Louis Hanoian threw out the case against Harvey and several of the other men, finding insufficient evidence to charge them.
“How can you attach a conspiracy,” the judge asked, “to a crime that doesn’t have a defendant?”
But release offered little relief. While he was in jail, Harvey lost his apartment and job as a club promoter. He moved back in with his parents in Lincoln Park. Motivated by what he sees as his own unfair targeting by law enforcement, he is now taking prelaw classes and organizing for criminal justice reform.
“I tell people that it might be a black and brown issue now, but it is going to be yours later,” Harvey said.
The case was a dark revelation for him. During an interview last spring at his parents’ home, Harvey vividly recalled those police stops, but it was only after prosecutors filed documents that he realized that police had documented each stop and taken detailed notes – about his tattoos, the colors he was wearing, where he was and the people he was with.
Each time, Harvey insisted that he was not affiliated with a gang. Still, he said, “you knew what the police considered you.”
Harvey now knows that information like that gathered about him routinely is fed into CalGang. That data – according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials, attorneys and academics – frequently plays a role in arrests, inclusion in civil gang injunctions, deportations and criminal investigations.
The secrecy around CalGang and the loose criteria for inclusion in the database terrifies Harvey.
“It’s like a virus that you have, that you don’t know you have, and you’re spreading it to other people,” he said of gang classification. “(Someone) infected me with this disease; now I have it, and there’s no telling how many other people I have infected.”
KIDS IN A COMPTON MIDDLE SCHOOL HEAL THEIR OWN TRAUMA BY TRAINING SHELTER DOGS
Humane Education, a trauma-informed elective class and an after school program at Bunche Middle School in Compton, puts kids in charge of training rescue dogs to boost their likelihood of finding permanent homes. The program run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) aims to heal kids’ trauma and help them get the most out of their time at school. Students use positive reinforcement obedience training to make dogs more adoptable, and learn empathy, conflict resolution, and other social skills along the way.
But advocates say kids in Compton need more programs and support to help address trauma and toxic stress that disrupts learning and comes from living in violence-plagued neighborhoods.
A lawsuit filed in last year alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law. If the lawsuit prevails, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.
Compton school officials argue that offering more trauma-informed services to students is impossible without more money.
“[The students are] able to come and work with their partner and their dog in a very non-judgmental environment and they’re able to kind of relax,” said Bunche teacher (and part-time dog trainer) Rachel Worthington. “It just helps remove all the other chaos that’s going on. When they’re here and working with their dog and they get to see the progress their dog is making, it really makes them feel successful.”
Worthington partnered with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) to bring this afterschool program, called Teaching Love and Compassion, to Bunche in 2010. And this year, for the first time, spcaLA partnered with the school to expand the program into the school day through a new one-semester elective class at Bunche called “Humane Education.”
These kinds of grassroots efforts in Compton to help students learn social and emotional skills are springing up in the absence of what advocates say are badly-needed, much more widespread changes to school curriculum to help counterbalance the effects of trauma on learning.
Last year, public interest lawyers sued Compton Unified School District on behalf of students there, arguing that the district is not doing enough to counteract complex trauma among students. Unaddressed, they said, the trauma is preventing students from receiving a quality education.
The lawsuit cites studies that demonstrate that the “alarms” that trauma triggers in the body induces a fight or flight reaction that floods the body with adrenaline, expecting other threats. The alarm could also cause a freeze and surrender reaction that leads the body to tune out and disconnect. Both types of reactions undermine the memorization, comprehension and organizational skills necessary for effective learning.
Research shows that multiple three or more traumatic experiences lead some children to repeat a grade, miss school, have behavioral problems and be suspended — all of which in turn contribute to higher dropout rates.
In Compton, where the poverty rate is twice the national average and the murder rate is five times the national average, lawyers argue that trauma has caused an educational crisis.
At Bunche, Worthington said, those statistics mean that the pre-teens and teenagers at the school have seen “a lot of gang-related traumas, death of family members, shootings, loss of family members from shootings, a lot of divorce, a lot of abuse.”
Worthington reached out to spcaLA to start the program at Bunche after a sad incident prompted her and other teachers to ask what they could do to counter students’ aggressive behavior that they believed was rooted in the violence they’ve witnessed at home and in their neighborhoods.
A sick, stray dog had wandered onto the campus, Worthington said, so she put out a blanket outside her class for the dog to lay on. Students then told her that a group of kids had been kicking the dog and when she went outside the dog was dead.
spcaLA’s after-school program was founded two decades ago, initially as an attempt to stop that kind of cruelty to animals, but organizers say they noticed benefits for the students too.
Many of the teens said they enrolled because they like dogs.
“It’s really sad for me to see dogs in the shelter, so I just want to see them adopted,” said seventh-grader Adriana Ruiz as she rewarded the dog Gracie with a treat for sitting when commanded to do so.
But Ruiz also said that she’s working on raising two C grades, a task that she said is complicated by her surroundings.
“Gangs… don’t help me concentrate on my work because I’m always thinking about the stuff that happens to people, drive-bys, a lot of killing, that type of stuff, it puts me down,” she said.
CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE REPORT – CA’S HEAVY PARTICIPATION IN CONTROVERSIAL FEDERAL PROGRAM SECOND ONLY TO RHODE ISLAND
Asset forfeiture laws allow government entities to keep money, cars, real estate, and other property that may be associated with a crime (usually a drug crime). Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool, using it as a cash cow, by taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.
In its latest “Policing for Profit” report, the Institute for Justice gave California a C+ grade for its civil asset forfeiture laws, which require “beyond reasonable doubt” for law enforcement officers to seize most property.
In CA, police cannot keep assets under $25,000 unless the owner is convicted, and for amounts above $25,000, officers have to be able to give “clear and convincing evidence” beyond a reasonable doubt, that the cash or property was connected to a crime.
But California and other states circumvent their own forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes law enforcement agencies to use seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, by bringing the feds into an investigation.
(This year, a California bill to reform civil asset forfeiture, which would have required a conviction for assets to be forfeited, could not survive lobbying from law enforcement groups.)
California ranks second-worst—50th out of 51 states (and DC)—for its heavy participation in the Equitable Sharing Program.
This second Policing for Profit report “highlights the continued need for forfeiture reform” and increased transparency, says Institute for Justice senior attorney, Scott Bullock. “Updated grades for state and federal civil forfeiture laws find that protections against unjust forfeitures still range from bad to worse, and too many laws incentivize revenue generation over the impartial administration of justice.”
THE GRIZZLY YOUTH ACADEMY AND THE STRUGGLING KIDS BEST REACHED BY THE MILITARY-INSPIRED EDUCATION PROGRAM
While schools across the nation replace problematic “zero-tolerance” discipline practices with more gentle and healing “restorative justice” methods, there may still be a place for military-inspired schools that protect and nurture—rather than punish—kids.
Over a period of a year, the Atlantic’s Michael Godsey visited one such school, the National Guard-run Grizzly Youth Academy at Camp San Luis in San Luis Obispo, California. At Grizzly, leaders act as father figures, giving teens who have dropped out (or are at risk of dropping out) boundaries and teaching them discipline.
Kids voluntarily enroll at the charter boarding school (in fact, there is a waiting list), and at the end of the 22-week program, many students don’t want to leave.
While the model doesn’t work for most struggling students, it reportedly works for some kids who are suffering from a lack of structure in their lives. Those teens come away from Grizzly feeling empowered, rather than defeated, according to Godsey. Here’s a clip:
When I visited Grizzly Youth Academy on Orientation Day, I observed as the new students waited in long lines, wearing identical gray sweats and black baseball caps, carrying their minimal belongings in clear garbage bags. Near the entrance, military personnel silently inspected their bags, while a sergeant in the distance yelled out instructions to a large group of boys, demanding that they answer him with a loud “Yes, sir!” I also heard a sergeant firmly promising an anxious new student: “Do not think for a second that I will let you fail here.”
Grizzly is a charter boarding school run by the National Guard that’s designed for high-school dropouts (or would-be dropouts) and operates using “quasi-military” style of governance. Its authoritarian structure is aimed at fostering the kind of protective and caring environment many of these kids—who often have track records of disciplinary issues and substance abuse—are seeking.
And it seems to work. A three-year study conducted by the nonpartisan think tank MDRC showed significant statistical success in the program; participants are more likely than their control group counterparts to have obtained a high-school diploma, to have earned college credits, and to be working.
…the waiting list for enrollment indicates that this school is fulfilling a need in a unique and valuable way. In contrast with the high suspension rates often found at schools with a strict discipline policies, Grizzly makes a point to keep its students within its vision and reach. “We make it very hard for your son or daughter to quit,” one sergeant explained to the parents on Orientation Day. The school even takes custody of the students in cases of emergency. “For the five months they’re here at Grizzly, it’s like they’re our kids,” I heard a sergeant promise a group of parents, “and we take full responsibility for them.”
On the first day of classes, I stood with a Grizzly teacher as the kids jogged to their respective classrooms along designated clockwise paths, forming lines in front of classrooms and each staring at the head of the person in front of them as they waited for permission to enter the room. “If you saw this without any context, you might think it’s oppressive and question the purpose of it,” the teacher told me. “But many of these kids come from an absence of structure, and they really respond to this. A lot of them lack stability—family stability, home stability, economic stability—and the environment here is safe and predictable. They come to appreciate all the routines and rules.”
THE FIVE STUDIES THAT HELPED DEBUNK THE AGING “SUPERPREDATOR” MYTH
In the early 90′s a wave of teen violence prompted a small cluster of academics led by political scientist John Dilulio to forecast the emergence of a new breed of children—”superpredators”—impulsive kids without compassion who would commit innumerable violent crimes.
The superpredators never arrived, and the myth was eventually debunked, but not before the theory did a great deal of damage, producing harsh sentencing laws for juveniles.
Pacific Standard Magazine’s Ben DeJarnette has compiled five studies that have shifted the conversation about youthful offenders and their brains, their conditional culpability, and whether they should face the same criminal consequences as adults. Here’s how it opens:
Princeton political scientist John Dilulio dubbed them superpredators—murderous teenagers who could commit heinous acts of violence without feeling a trace of guilt. “They fear neither the stigma of arrest nor the pain of imprisonment,” Dilulio wrote in 1995. “They live by the meanest code of the meanest streets.” According to Dilulio, the country was on track toward a scourge of youth superpredator violence, precipitated by troubling demographic shifts (read: more black kids) and a perceived morality deficit. The crisis, it seemed, was inevitable. Harrowing true-crime headlines splashed across the covers of Time and Newsweek. State and federal lawmakers scrambled to toughen sentencing laws for juvenile offenders. And Americans everywhere braced for the insurgence of some 30,000 new teen superpredators that Dilulio predicted would roam the streets by the end of the decade.
But for all the fear and frenzy, America’s teen violence apocalypse never arrived. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Juvenile violent crime rates that were forecast to double instead dropped by more than 50 percent, and advances in modern neuroscience began to complicate the prevailing superpredator caricature. Soon even Dilulio was walking back his claims. “Thank God we were wrong,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “I’m sorry for any unintended consequences.”
Yet those unintended consequences now litter the country’s federal and state justice systems. Today, kids as young as 11 years old are still being tried as adults, and many mandatory-minimum sentencing laws passed in the 1980s and ’90s remain on the books—even in progressive states like Oregon.
The mythical superpredator continues to cast a long shadow over American politics, but a promising reform movement—helped along by the Supreme Court—has recently made some major strides…
Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple founder Steve Jobs’ widow, co-founded the College Track program, which has 55 Watts participants this year, but hopes to expand to 300 students by 2019. The College Track program has also served Roosevelt High students in Boyle Heights since 2012, where it is expected to hit the 300-student mark by 2016. The program has a college graduation rate 2.5 times higher than non-participating low-income college students.
“It’s our privilege to work with College Track students as they chart their course toward a college degree,” Powell Jobs, said. “They bring persistence, creativity, and extraordinary discipline throughout their academic journey.”
In the first year, 55 Jordan students, who were selected after a brief interview process, will participate. The program accepts students in the summer before ninth grade and works with them through college graduation, providing academic support, leadership training, college and financial aid advising and scholarships totaling up to $5,600 per student.
“I am thrilled to see College Track bring its incredible program to Watts, which will help us ensure this great community is a platform for educational, social and economic mobility,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a statement. Garcetti joined Powell Jobs in last week’s ceremony at Jordan High. “This complements broader efforts across Los Angeles, as we tell our young people that we don’t just want them to go to college — we expect them to go to college, and we’ll give them the tools to get there.”
The program hopes to serve 300 students per year at Jordan by 2019. The Boyle Heights location, which opened in 2012, expects to reach 300 students per year by 2016.
Powell Jobs is one of the wealthiest individuals in the United States, with a net worth of $19.1 billion, according to Forbes. Although known for keeping a low public profile, Powell Jobs attracted attention recently with her announcement of a $50-million project to reshape the American high school.
WATTS GETS A NEW PROGRAM TO HELP TEENS GO TO (AND GRADUATE) COLLEGE
On Thursday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Joe Busciano, education groups, students, and supporters, gathered at Jordan High School to celebrate the launch of an important new program in Watts called “College Track.”
Garcetti and Busciano were joined by Green Dot, the Partnership for LA Schools, Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the Emerson Collective, and the Wasserman Foundation, with whom College Track has partnered to bring crucial resources and services to Watts students.
College Track, which has already been successfully implemented in other areas, is an innovative program to help kids in underserved communities attend and graduate college. The 10-year program supports kids from 9th grade through completion of their college degree.
The program provides students with academic support, leadership training, scholarships, help with housing, and college and financial advice.
Through College Track, 93% of the 2,400 participating students were accepted into a four-year college, and those kids had a graduation rate 2.5 times that of low income students nationally.
(Here’s a sweet video of a young College Track participant named Alex, who wants to major in computer science at Boston College, speaking at the event.)
“GHOST SUSPENSIONS” TAKE THE PLACE OF PROHIBITED SUSPENSIONS FOR “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” IN LA SCHOOLS
In 2013, Los Angeles banned suspensions for “willful defiance,” a broad term that could be slapped onto anything from talking back in class, to not having the right materials for an assignment, to a dress code violation. Suspension rates have plummeted in Los Angeles and across California as school districts have been moving away from harsh school discipline practices toward more healing restorative justice practices. The Los Angeles Unified School District also announced last year that it would stop issuing citations to students for youthful offenses like truancy, possession of alcohol or marijuana, and fighting, in an effort to stop the flow of students into the juvenile justice system. But the transition to smarter school discipline has not been an easy one.
Last week, a story from the LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume revealed that some LAUSD teachers said that lack of financial resources had resulted in half-implemented restorative justice policies, leaving teachers, no longer able to suspend students for “willful defiance,” without proper tools to handle unruly classrooms.
And those massively reduced suspension rates may not be as impressive as they seem, thanks to informal “ghost suspensions.” Some advocates say schools are lowering suspension rates by sending kids home with their parents or putting them in a separate classroom all day without counting them as out-of-school suspensions.
As the push for restorative justice grows nationwide, LAUSD is not only citing fewer students for minor infractions but suspending fewer also. In May 2013, the school board passed the School Climate Bill of Rights to ban suspensions for willful defiance. This catchall category included infractions like talking back or cursing and faced criticism from activists who said they led to racial disparities in school discipline.
After eliminating willful defiance suspensions, the suspension rate in LAUSD dropped to 1.3 percent, half of L.A. County’s rate of 2.8 percent and more than three times lower than the state rate of 4.4 percent.
But community organizers such as McGowan question whether the district’s impressive suspension rate tells the whole story about discipline in LAUSD. His organization represents students in South Los Angeles schools, where they’re subject to informal suspensions, he said.
“They find a room to send them,” he said of local schools. “They’re not going to call it in-school suspensions, but one high school has a Room 100 where they send kids.”
McGowan also asserted that schools sometimes remove students “having a bad day” from class by asking parents to pick them up.
“They’re sending kids out of the classroom for extended periods of time,” he said. “They’re just not counting it as out-of-school suspensions.”
Earl Perkins, LAUSD’s assistant superintendent of school operations, denied McGowan’s claims.
“Informal suspensions are not in our makeup,” he said. “There might have been one case. We have referral rooms for students, but it’s not suspension. They may go out of class, but it’s not suspension. We don’t have ghost suspensions. It’s not supposed to be happening. If it does, it’s dealt with very severely.”
But like McGowan, Kim McGill, a Youth Justice Coalition organizer, expressed concerns about the tactics LAUSD uses to lower its rate of suspensions and expulsions. She said that some schools pressure families to transfer their children to continuation or alternative schools to keep discipline numbers down.
“Our main concern is that schools are pushing students out of the comprehensive school district,” she said. “Our concern is that schools can reformat things so it looks like expulsion [but] has a different name.”
LA POLICE COMMISSION PREZ AIMS TO CUT DOWN ON OFFICERS’ USE-OF-FORCE INCIDENTS
In an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Matt Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said his goal is to reduce officer use-of-force numbers, through de-escalation training and an examination of the less-than-lethal weapons officers use.
Johnson is the only black member of the civilian commission tasked with overseeing the LAPD. Johnson says his personal experiences with racism from law enforcement officers in New Jersey (his home state) give him a unique perspective on the “crisis of confidence” between communities of color and law enforcement.
JOHNSON: We’ll look at tactics in training. We’ll look at the tools that they have, whether it’s Tasers or beanbag shotguns, and we will also look at things like de-escalation techniques which are really – you’re talking about communication skills, verbal skills to bring a situation down. If it’s at a six, let’s try and bring it down to a two rather than having it get to a ten.
MCEVERS: You’ve been criticized by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement because you now work inside the system. Is that going to make it hard for you to work with certain people in the community?
JOHNSON: Well, I think, first of all, you have to recognize that that is one group out of many, many, many groups, and it’s not really about me as an individual although they may say otherwise. Look; I understand the pain and anger that comes out of where they’re coming from. Their anger is at the institution, and as president of the Police Commission, I am absolutely the representative, the primary representative of the commission. And one – you know, along with the chief of police, we are primary representatives of the police department.
So my focus is really on two things. We have to really look very hard at every one of these use-of-force instances and judge them fairly. And secondly and probably more importantly, we need to be making sure that we’re doing everything we can to decrease the numbers of use-of-force.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF USE-OF-FORCE….POLICE UNIONS BLAST LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S “PRESERVATION OF LIFE” AWARD
On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced the creation of a new award, called the “Preservation of Life Medal,” to recognize officers who “display commendable restraint” rather than use deadly force. The medal, Chief Beck said, would be on the same level as the Medal of Valor.
The police chief pointed to two particular recent instances in which officers safely took suspects into custody. In one of the incidents, two officers wrestled a man with a sawed-off rifle into submission. “It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed, but it was not,” Beck said.
“I know many times at the commission, you hear about the times when officers are forced into using deadly force,” Beck said to the commission. “But I also want to make sure we cover and recognize the many times law enforcement officers are able to save lives by their restraint.”
The LA Times editorial board applauds the decision as part of a larger effort on the part of Chief Beck to address use-of-force issues. Here’s a clip:
Of course, an award alone won’t immediately change public opinion or police behavior. But it’s a step in the right direction. What’s more, the announcement at Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting was just one manifestation of the attention Beck and other L.A. officials have been paying recently to the public’s concerns about deadly encounters between officers and suspects.
At the meeting, Beck described the details of a fatal officer-involved shooting on Monday in Lake Balboa, and he reported statistics on the use of force and how many of the suspects involved were African American. This is new. In recent years, Beck typically hasn’t talked about shootings by officers during his weekly report to the commission (because such shootings had been way down, at least until this year).
These actions and others, such as the expansion of training for police officers in how to de-escalate tense situations, suggest that Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti are taking seriously complaints from the public about unnecessary use of force. After a slow start, Garcetti has called on Beck and Matt Johnson, a recent appointee to the commission, to respond. To their credit, they have.
But not everyone is pleased with the new award. Beck’s announcement of the new award raised the hackles of leaders from the police union, who made the point that officers hold their fire whenever possible, but shouldn’t hold their fire to the point of endangering their lives.
LAPD TO RECEIVE $1 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDING FOR BODY CAMS, DESPITE ACLU OBJECTIONS
On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Department of Justice funding of over $23 million for officer-worn camera programs would go to 73 police departments across the nation, including $1.1 million to the Los Angeles Police Dept., in an effort to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community relations.
Earlier this month, the ACLU of Southern California urged the Department of Justice not to contribute funding to the LAPD’s body cam program, citing concerns about department policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.
Among other California recipients, Pasadena and San Bernardino police departments were awarded $250,000 and $546,502, respectively.
“This vital pilot program is designed to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility,” AG Lynch said during the announcement. “The impact of body-worn cameras touches on a range of outcomes that build upon efforts to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to thrive.”
“Everybody wants body cameras on deputies and officers for the accountability piece, and I’m supportive of that, because it gives us a greater context to see what the full story was when we go to evaluate an incident,” said Sheriff McDonnell. “The downside is just the tremendous cost.”
McDonnell points out that the actual purchase of the cameras, and even the cost of storing the footage, are a tiny fraction of what it would cost to train and maintain personnel to handle all that video.
“When somebody is arrested, they get a traffic citation, they are involved in a use of force, so they bring litigation against the department, they want that tape, they want that video to be able to use for their case, so we go through discovery motions to provide that,” McDonnell explained. “The staff necessary who would be trained and certified that they have the ability to be able to pull the appropriate length of video and then to be able to go in and pixelate where appropriate uninvolved, innocent parties, to be able to present that then for court or if we’re going to make it public, that piece there alone is a tremendous added expense…”
The sheriff also expressed concern over the LA County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a 3,885-bed jail to replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail after three separate consultant groups came back with recommendations closer to a 5,000-bed facility.
McDonnell has a lot more to say,so go listen to the segment in its entirety.
HOW THE PURPOSE OF SCHOOL OFFICERS SHIFTED FROM BUILDING COMMUNITY-RELATIONS TO ARRESTING STUDENTS, AND HOW SOME SCHOOL DISTRICTS ARE ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
The Atlantic’s Melinda Anderson gives a history of cops in schools (hint: officers weren’t originally placed in grade schools to handcuff 4-year-olds throwing tantrums) and why having cops on campus leads to over-criminalization of kids.
Some school districts are making efforts to undo the school-to-prison-pipeline, in part by pushing for specialized training for officers as well as eliminating police involvement in school discipline.
Here are some clips:
The origin of school-employed police—who are often officially referred to as “school resource officers” (SROs)—dates back to the 1950s. It arose as part of an effort in Flint, Michigan, to foster relationships between local police and youth. That basic idea then spread to other locales, where SROs soon took on roles ranging from counselors and coaches to tutors and mentors. But in the 1990s, the initiative’s focus underwent a dramatic policy shift, with SROs drifting from their mission as community liaisons, largely thanks to the Justice Department’s “COPS in Schools” grant program. Between 1999 and 2005, the department’s community-policing division reportedly awarded in excess of $750 million in grants to more than 3,000 law-enforcement agencies, resulting in more than 6,500 newly hired SROs. And because the recruitment and training of these officers were largely overseen by conventional police departments, board and district officials—who are typically the decision-makers when it comes to school policies—had little, if any, clout over these efforts.
The sharp increase in campus-based law enforcement coincides with the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which left 15 dead, including two teen gunmen, and prompted calls across the country for a stronger police presence on school grounds…
Combined with the rapid expansion of zero-tolerance discipline in schools that accompanied the War on Drugs, these isolated yet seminal incidents of mass violence help explain the upsurge in school resource officers, making them a fixture in many of the nation’s schools. A recent survey conducted by the Department of Education found that 43 percent of public schools employ security staff, including school resource officers, while 28 percent have “sworn law enforcement officers routinely carrying a firearm.”
While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian.
A recurring theme in debates over school police involves concern over the officers’ reportedly poor training; in McKinney, for example, the officers receive no special training before being dispatched to schools. In some cases, questions have also been raised about the amount of funding invested in such programs. In Chicago, for instance, “school police services”—the result of an agreement between the city’s police department and the mayor-appointed school board—cost taxpayers $13 million in 2013, a period during which Chicago students were protesting school-budget cuts and a shortage of school counselors.
Meanwhile, a group of parents, students, and community members in the Bronx, alarmed at the high number of arrests and summonses issued by SROs in their schools, called for a public hearing in 2012 with the New York City Department of Education and the NYPD Safety Office. That discussion led to monthly meetings and, eventually, a training workshop for New York City school police—known in the city as “school safety agents”—at which rookie officers are tasked with reflecting on racial disparities in campus-arrest data, discussing the often hidden costs of arrests and summonses on students, and engaging in conflict resolution through role play. Since the trainings commenced in 2012, Bronx schools have seen a significant fall in arrests and summonses, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the Bronx still outranks New York’s four other boroughs when it comes to the total number of arrests and summonses, the Bronx’s 2011-12 school year reports cited by the NYCLU showed 256 arrests and 796 summonses, compared to 86 arrests and 285 summonses in 2014-15.
YOUTHBUILD PROGRAM IN SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY GIVES NEW HOPE AND A CAREER PATH TO KIDS AT RISK OF DROPPING OUT OR ENTERING THE JUVIE JUSTICE SYSTEM
In California’s San Joaquin County and across the nation, the YouthBuild program teaches construction skills to struggling teens while helping them obtain their high school diplomas or GEDs.
The alternative education program lasts for six months to two years and serves 16 to 24-year-olds who are aging out of foster care, have had contact with the juvenile justice system, or are otherwise at risk of dropping out. YouthBuild also connects teens and young adults with contractors and apprentice programs upon their graduation from the program.
Last month, six YouthBuilds in California received a portion of $76 million in funding from the US Labor Department. The $1.1 million allocated to San Joaquin’s YouthBuild will cover the cost of 80 students for two years, plus a year of assistance after graduation.
The Stockton Record’s Reed Fujii has more on YouthBuild and how it shifts struggling kids’ trajectories. Here’s a clip:
Roosevelt Webb lost his way after his father died.
He had dropped out of school as a senior at Edison High in Stockton to help take care of his dad and, at age 21 and with no diploma, he said, “I didn’t know what to do.”
Another Stocktonian, James Vong, said as a teenager he had no guidance, no father figure, and growing up on the city’s gritty streets, found himself falling into drugs and the gang life.
But both have found a new direction through San Joaquin County’s YouthBuild program, an alternative educational program that emphasizes building-trades skills as well as academic school standards.
Webb, now 24, works for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, helping supervise YouthBuild teams on construction sites.
And Vong, 20, is enrolled in the program and was working on an affordable housing project in south Stockton as part of Webb’s team.
“Ever since attending YouthBuild, I made a 360 degree flip,” he said of his life. “Now I’m working at Habitat (for Humanity’s Dream Creek project), doing what I love.”
JUDGES (AND PROSECUTORS) HAVE THE ABILITY TO GRANT LENIENCY TO INMATES SERVING OUTDATED, TOUGH-ON-CRIME SENTENCES
Despite increased federal efforts to lower prison populations by releasing non-violent drug offenders, President Barack Obama ranks among the ten least merciful presidents of the United States, having granted only 153 pardons, commutations, remissions, and respites, thus far.
Recent releases of two men serving excessively high and outdated sentences (often for drugs) have brought attention to another less-used method of leniency. The two men, Francois Holloway and Luis Anthony Rivera have successfully petitioned judges to reduce their old, disproportionately harsh sentences. The original prosecutors had to consent to the judges’ decisions.
Advocates and legal experts believe that if federal prosecutors will agree not to oppose judges’ leniency, the appropriately named “Holloway Doctrine” has the potential to lead to the release of many more inmates serving sentences that would not be handed down today.
Rivera and Holloway asked federal judges for leniency, something that happens frequently, and federal prosecutors agreed not to fight, which is rare.
The original sentencing judges agreed to take a fresh look at the punishments of the two men. Assured that both had turned their lives around, the judges and prosecutors agreed to vacate parts of their original convictions and reduce their sentences to “time already served.”
Legal experts predict the cases could open the door to similar requests by many more prisoners if federal prosecutors are willing to take the same approach elsewhere.
“That’s a pretty novel way to do things,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. “I’ve not run across a lot of people who ever get out that way, and we get letters every day from people wanting help.”
Mauer predicted that the Rivera and Holloway examples will prompt defense lawyers around the country to seek similar relief for clients and will give judges “a level of comfort” in agreeing.
“It’s always the courageous ones that go first,” he said.
Holloway’s case went to court last year in Brooklyn, where the top federal prosecutor at the time was U.S. Atty. Loretta Lynch, who is now attorney general. Lynch at first resisted his release, suggesting he seek a presidential commutation. But she ultimately agreed not to oppose his appeal.
The original sentencing judge, John Gleeson, a former prosecutor who had put Mafia boss John Gotti in prison, noted that Holloway had served more time for robbing three cars than “if he had committed first-degree murder.”
“Black men like Holloway have long been disproportionally subjected to the stacking of counts,” Gleeson said, referring to sentencing rules that he said forced him to sentence Holloway to 57 years in prison in 1996.
The judge applauded Lynch for consenting to the release.
“This is a significant case, and not just for Francois Holloway,” he said. “It demonstrates the difference between a Department of Prosecutions and a Department of Justice.”
FEDERAL IMMIGRATION DEPT. CHANGES APPROACH IN HOPES OF REGAINING COMPLIANCE FROM CA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
In the face of law enforcement agencies’ widespread refusal to comply with federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants in jails for up to 48 hours, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives say the department is trying to be more flexible and meet law enforcement groups in the middle.
Under the new system, ICE analysts in a SoCal office run data on arrests to determine who is high priority for deportation before issuing detainer requests. ICE still asks law enforcement to let them know when they are releasing someone facing deportation, but issues fewer detainer requests for low-level offenders.
The LA County Sheriff’s Department changed its stance from no compliance with ICE detainer requests to allowing ICE to interview incarcerated immigrants, but still refuses to keep immigrants locked up past their release dates.
…immigration authorities have also narrowed their focus to people convicted of more serious crimes, and the number of so-called detainer requests — which aim to have jails hold inmates up to 48 hours for deportation officers to pick them up — dropped by 24 percent in the 2014 fiscal year from a year earlier.
At the same time, the number of people deported from the United States, not counting those apprehended on the border, fell 24 percent, federal statistics show.
Immigration authorities had begun issuing detainers based on electronic data after getting access to fingerprints from jail bookings under enhanced law enforcement information-sharing after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
ICE initially started the hub in suburban Southern California to streamline the process for the region, one of the key spots where detainers were used. Now, the Pacific Enforcement Response Center issues about 40 percent of all immigration detainers and requests for notification when inmates are being released, handling the task for much of the country on nights and weekends.
The office, which issued 6,800 detainers and notification requests between June and August, contains half a dozen computers that collect leads for potential deportees and spit out the results on a large printer. Analysts and agents then search for matches in databases for visa holders, naturalized citizens and border arrests to determine the immigration status of those booked into local jails.
In the last three months, detainers or notification requests were sent in 11 percent of the center’s cases. Others are typically sent to field agents for investigation and about half are set aside because the person is here legally or doesn’t have a serious criminal conviction to make them a priority for deportation under the program, which was revamped last year, ICE officials said.
Under the new approach, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department lets immigration agents interview inmates who have detainers but won’t hold them beyond their release date. In Santa Clara County, officials still won’t honor detainers but are weighing whether to notify ICE about serious offenders, while authorities in San Francisco won’t do either despite public outcry after the shooting.
CALIFORNIA BILLS AWAITING GOV. BROWN’S SIGNATURE WOULD CREATE NEW FELONIES AND PUT MORE PEOPLE IN JAILS AND PRISONS, BUT THE PUBLIC SAFETY BENEFITS MAY TO OUTWEIGH THE NEGATIVES
Several noteworthy bipartisan-supported criminal justice bills that have landed on CA Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would create new felony offenses. Critics say the bills would contribute to prison overcrowding (backstory on California prison overcrowding saga: here), and go against the national push for decriminalization and decarceration.
But the bills’ authors and supporters argue that while keeping California’s prison population down is important, these public safety measures are more important.
A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) would bump possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense. The bill, SB 333, would mean that those found with such drugs would face up to three years behind bars.
“The malicious intent behind possessing and using ‘date rape’ drugs on another individual necessitates an aggressive response from law enforcement,” said Galgiani, urging the governor to sign SB 333. “Assaulting a person that has become incapacitated from being drugged is an especially despicable crime.”
Under SB 722, sex offenders on probation or parole who disable or remove their GPS ankle monitors with the intention of absconding would also face a three-year sentence. The bill was authored by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel).
AB 256 aims to protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Another bill, SB 347, would not reclassify any misdemeanors as felonies, or create new crimes, but would include two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).
Governor Brown, who has not hinted about which way he’s leaning, has until October 11 to sign or veto the measures.
ANOTHER CONSEQUENTIAL BILL TO WATCH: AB 1012 WOULD BAN FAKE CLASSES IN CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOLS
Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation. (Read that story: here.)
Another meaningful bill passed by CA legislature, AB 1012, would prevent school districts from placing kids in pretend classes without any educational instruction for more than a week per semester (with some exceptions), which has been a problem for students in the LA Unified, Compton, and Oakland School Districts, among others.
“Continual reforms to California’s education system have not fixed an underlying cause of education inequity, equal time for learning,” said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). “It is time to ensure that all of our schools have the support they need to provide real classes to every student until they graduate.”
AB 1012 would also bar schools from assigning students to classes they have already completed and passed.