Tuesday, July 28, 2015
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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 »

Arresting Kids Under 12, Hidden Costs of Running Jails, Pell Grants for Inmates, Body Cams, and Freddi Gray

May 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


CALIFORNIA ARRESTS 93% FEWER KIDS AND PRE-TEENS THAN 30 YEARS AGO, BUT TWO CITIES DO NOT LINE UP WITH THE TREND

Arrest rates for California’s kids under the age of twelve have experienced a steep decline over the last 30 years, according to a new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. The number of young arrestees dropped a whopping 93%. The decrease appears to be due, in part, to a drop in child crime between the late 70′s and now, but it may also be attributable to local efforts to decriminalize kids. Two cities, however, have not gotten their act together with regard to child and pre-teen arrests.

Statewide, almost 14,000 kids under twelve were arrested in 1978, nearly a third of whom were younger than ten. Thirty-five years later, in 2013, when the number of kids under twelve had risen by 40%, just under 1,400 kids younger than twelve (219 under ten) were arrested.

Most of California’s 58 counties mirrored the state trend, but eleven did not. Nine of those counties were tiny. No kids were arrested in those counties spanning the three decades. But two small counties experienced higher arrest rates, but those counties’ only arrested between zero and four kids. Stockton and the city of San Bernardino broke from the pack. In both cities, school district officers are allowed to arrest young kids, and they do arrest them—a lot. Stockton only has 1% of the state’s total number of kids under ten, those kids account for 26% of the state’s total arrests of kids in that age group.


NON-BUDGET JAIL SPENDING NOT CALCULATED BY COUNTIES, COULD HAVE AN IMPACT ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM IF COUNTIES WOULD TRACK THE $$$

The US spent $22.2 billion on jails in 2011. And that price tag is much lower than if it included costs not covered in the official jail budgets—for example, employee benefits, inmate health care, capital costs, administrative costs, legal costs, and inmate services—, according to a new survey and study from the Vera Institute of Justice.

Vera researchers surveyed 35 jail systems (including Alameda County) in 18 states, holding 9% of the US jail population. The study found that many jail systems had difficulty calculating the total cost (incurred by taxpayers) of running their jails. And if jails don’t track those costs, and taxpayers do not know how much they are truly spending on locking people up in local jails, and neither do the policymakers pushing criminal justice reform.

According to the Vera survey, eight of the jail systems spent non-budget dollars equaling more than 20% of their budget. Twelve of jail systems surveyed could not come up with their non-budget costs.

Here’s a clip from the study:

…in addition to the $1.1 billion spent by the City of New York Department of Correction in 2014, other city agencies spent an additional $1.3 billion for jail employee benefits, health care and education programs for incarcerated people, and administration, bringing the total cost to $2.4 billion.

Because reported jail costs are too often incomplete, policymakers and the public are seldom aware of the full extent of their community’s financial commitment to the jail. As policymakers focus on justice reform at the local level, they need to understand how much the community is actually spending. To this end, researchers at the Vera Institute of Justice developed a survey to help counties tally the actual price of their jails.

The only way to safely reduce the cost of jail is to limit the number of people in the jail, because the cost largely comprises expenses for staff and the number of staff is dictated by the population of incarcerated people. In fact, the inmate population is such a key cost driver that it is possible for “expensive” jails (meaning those with a high average per-inmate cost) to be the least costly to taxpayers.

Consider the example of two counties of similar size: Johnson County, Kansas, and Bernalillo, New Mexico. By comparing the average cost per inmate, the jail in Johnson County appears to be more than twice as expensive as the jail in Bernalillo County ($191.95 per day versus $85.63 per day in 2014). But taxpayers in Johnson County actually spend less on the jail than taxpayers in Bernalillo County do, because the incarceration rate in 2014 was more than three times lower (121 per 100,000 versus 369 per 100,000). As a result, the annual cost of jail in Johnson County is $49 million ($82 per county resident), versus $78 million ($113 per county resident) in Bernalillo County.


PELL GRANTS MAY BE EXTENDED TO SOME INMATES…US DEPT. OF EDUCATION, MAY OVERTURN A PORTION OF A SHORT-SIGHTED 1994 BILL

The US Department of Education is expected to lift a portion of a punitive 1994 ban on inmate eligibility for Pell Grants to attend college while they are behind bars.

A RAND study found that for every dollar spent on education for inmates, the state would save $5, and greatly reduce recidivism rates.

PBS’ Paul Fain has more on the issue, including what ending the Pell Grant ban would look like from a financial standpoint. Here’s a clip:

If the project is successful, it would add to momentum for the U.S. Congress to consider overturning the ban it passed on the use of Pell for prisoners in 1994.

“The idea is under consideration,” a department spokesperson said.

Sources said the Obama administration backs the experiment, and that it would be unveiled this summer.

A likely scenario would be for state and federal prison education programs from a handful of colleges to become eligible for Pell Grants. Various restrictions might apply, such as for participating students to be eligible only if they are scheduled for release within a specific number of years.

Even a limited experiment will provoke controversy. Spending government money on college programs for convicted criminals is an easy target for conservative pundits and for some lawmakers from both political parties.

For example, last year New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped his proposal to use state funds for prison education programs after the plan received immediate and fierce opposition.

Yet advocates for removing the federal ban point to evidence that supporting educational opportunities for prisoners pays off for students, for government coffers and for society on the whole.

[SNIP]

Some Republican state lawmakers support prison education programs, experts said, because they like the clear return on investment.

“It is financially wise,” said John Dowdell, coeditor of The Journal of Correctional Education. “It’s time to get over the emotional bias and do what the data says.”


LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES GRAPPLE WITH HOW MUCH ACCESS PUBLIC SHOULD HAVE TO BODY CAM FOOTAGE

In LA and around the country, law enforcement agencies are purchasing and implementing police body cameras as a means of increasing accountability to the public. But so far, police forces (including the LAPD) have argued that privacy for both officers and the people they come in contact with, and maintaining investigation integrity, outweigh the public’s desire for department transparency.

In April, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that officers could review their body cam footage before writing reports. Chief Beck also said that for the most part, captured video will be treated as evidence, and will not be made public. (The LA County Sheriff’s Dept. requires the officers to provide statements before viewing footage.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton sheds some light on the controversy and the difficulty in finding a middle ground. Here’s how it opens:

Cameras mounted inside patrol cars captured every moment.

With their guns drawn, Gardena police officers screamed instructions at three men on the sidewalk. The officers warned them to keep their hands above their heads, mistakenly believing that they had been involved in a robbery.

Exactly what happened next is in dispute, but what is undisputed is that the men were unarmed when police opened fire, killing one and seriously wounding another.

Afterward, the Gardena Police Department allowed the officers — over the objection of a sheriff’s investigator — to review video of the incident. But the department has refused to make the videos public, even after the city agreed to pay $4.7 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit over the shooting.

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are equipping police and patrol cars with cameras to capture interactions between officers and the public. But many of those police forces, like Gardena’s, do not release the recordings to the public, citing concerns about violating the privacy of officers and others shown in the recordings and the possibility of interfering with investigations.

That approach has drawn criticism from some civil rights activists who say that the public release of recordings is crucial to holding police accountable — especially if the officers involved in the incidents are allowed to view the videos.

Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano defended his department’s position as consistent with that of other law enforcement organizations around the country. He added that it was intended to protect the integrity of investigations as well as the privacy of officers and those who come into contact with police.

“The general public does not have an unfettered right to see every video that is taken by law enforcement,” Medrano said in an email. “Thus, absent a court order to the contrary, many agencies across the country, including Gardena, do not intend to release videos to the public.”


FREDDIE GRAY UPDATE: FED. GRAND JURY INDICTS OFFICERS

On Thursday, a grand jury chose to indict six officers allegedly connected to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Sun has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Baltimore grand jury returned indictments against the six officers charged earlier this month in the in-custody death of Freddie Gray, State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced Thursday.

Prosecutors presented evidence to the grand jury over the course of two weeks, Mosby said. Reckless endangerment charges were added against all six officers, while false imprisonment charges against three were removed. The remaining charges are largely the same ones her office filed May 1, following an independent investigation.

“As our investigation continued, additional information has been discovered, and as is often the case during an ongoing investigation, charges can and should be revised based upon the evidence,” Mosby said at a news conference.

The case now moves to Baltimore Circuit Court, where the officers will be arraigned July 2. All remain free on bail.

Gray, 25, was arrested April 12 after running from officers patrolling the Gilmor Homes area of West Baltimore. His death seven days later led to widespread protests that gave way to citywide rioting, deployment of the National Guard and institution of a curfew.

Thrust into a national debate over cases of police brutality, Mosby stunned many when she moved swiftly to bring charges against the officers that included second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Posted in Education, jail, juvenile justice, LAPD, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk | 21 Comments »

Oakland School Board May Vote Wed. to End “Willful Defiance”…. LA County Supes Toss ICE Agents Out of Jail (Mostly)…More Reasons to Like Body Cameras

May 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday afternoon, May 13, the Oakland Unified School District board
is planning to vote on whether or not to eliminate all “willful defiance” suspensions and involuntary transfers by July 1, 2016.

Representatives of a coalition of organizations that are pushing for the vote—including Public Counsel, the Black Organizing Project, the ACLU of Northern California, and others—have commended the district for making “great strides” by instituting changes in its discipline policy that have decreased school suspensions by 50% in the last 2 years.

But in a statement issued Tuesday, the group pointed out that African-American students continue to be removed from school at “extremely disproportionate rates,” particularly for “disruption and willful defiance.” (Although African American students made up 28% of the students enrolled in OUSD, in 2013-14, they accounted for more than half of the students suspended for “disruption and willful defiance.”)

Willful defiance, as you may remember, is the nearly infinitely expandable category that means kids can be tossed out of school for such minor misbehaviors as talking back, failing to have school materials, forgetting to turn off a cell phone, and dress code violations.

Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the largest district in the state, and the second largest in the nation, banned willful defiance as a cause for suspension in May of 2013.

Then in September 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 420, a bill that eliminated all expulsions for the catch-all category, and banned its use for suspensions in grades K-3.

The law made California the first state in the nation to put such limits on the use of willful defiance.

In a November 2013 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that “out-of-school suspension and expulsion are counterproductive to the intended goals, rarely if ever are necessary, and should not be considered as appropriate discipline in any but the most extreme and dangerous circumstances…”

We’ll let you know how the vote turns out.


UPDATE: Oakland did indeed vote unanimously to eliminate willful defiance as a reason to suspend any student and to invest at least $2.3 million to expand restorative justice practices in its schools. Good job, Oakland!


MEANWHILE, BACK IN LA COUNTY, SUPES VOTE TO END PROGRAM THAT TURNS LASD DEPUTIES INTO ICE AGENTS

At Tuesday’s board meeting, in a 3-2 vote, the LA county Supervisors voted to dump a long-controversial immigration-related program, which former sheriff Lee Baca had been notoriously loath to relinquish, many thought, because of the extra funding it brought in from the feds.

KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday afternoon to discontinue the immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which since 2005 has allowed trained deputies to act as immigration agents in county jails.

Supervisors Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Shiela Kuehl voted in favor of the motion to scrap the program, a voluntary partnership with the Department of Homeland Security.

Under 287(g), sheriff’s deputies trained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were tasked with questioning jail inmates about their immigration status, and notifying federal agents.

The board meeting was packed with activists for and against discontinuing 287(g), with dozens of people stepping up to comment before the vote took place. Those against the program said it exacerbated deportations and separated families; those in favor of keeping the program argued that it promoted public safety.

The vote was taken after nearly three hours of impassioned public comment, most of it by community members with personal stories to tell about how 287(g) had affected their lives.

But while the supes closed one door to ICE, they opened another with an agreement to cooperate with a new federal program known as the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP, which replaces the unpopular Secure Communities, and which allows ICE to be invited inside the jails in certain instances, theoretically when inmates who have convicted more serious crimes are deemed deportable.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against the PEP agreement.


CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY HAS MORE ON WHY HE BELIEVES POLICE BODY CAMS WILL BE GREAT FOR COPS AND COMMUNITIES

Oakland police have seen use of force incidents cut in half since their employment of police body cams, and the number of complaints against police have tumbled as well, writes civil rights attorney James S. Muller in an Op Ed for the LA Times, about what he has concluded regarding the need for body cameras based on his years of suing police in court.

Here’s a clip from the opening:

Across the table from me, about to be deposed in a case of alleged LAPD excessive force, sat a young police officer. For once, I thought, I was facing a cop who might help my case. She clearly wasn’t accustomed to this. I could read in her face a combination of anger and disgust. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, she would tell the truth.

It was an especially egregious case. An elderly woman had been thrown down the steps by an officer pursuing a suspect. The woman suffered a devastating compound fracture of her leg; she wouldn’t walk again. It was avoidable, bad policing, and I hoped the officer who had witnessed it might not feel bound by the cop code of silence.

As it turns out, I was wrong. That deposition would be one more in the long history of the refusal of police to be honest about excessive force, a history that those of us who do civil rights work know all about but that the general public has only begun to understand as videos of bad policing come to light.

The practice of police videotaping is both part of the solution for excessive force and evidence of how routinely officers have lied about it with impunity. Results from police departments using body cameras demonstrate these effects.

Read on.

Posted in Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, Willful defiance, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

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

May 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA, OC, OTHER COUNTIES JOIN UNIQUE MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION INITIATIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A JAZZ SINGER’S MUSIC THERAPY CLASS LIFTS SPIRITS OF WOMEN LOCKED IN SAN FRANCISCO JAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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


HOW MUCH COULD CALIFORNIA SAVE BY EXPANDING ACCESS TO PRE-K?

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

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

Heres a clip from ReadyNation:

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

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

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

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

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

VISALIA: What Happened to Suspension Rates When a California School District Decided That ALL Its Kids Mattered?

April 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


VISALIA CHANGES COURSE

California’s Visalia Unified School District used to suspend their students at an appalling clip. For instance, for the 2009-2010 school year—a time when other districts were getting pressure to improve their stats—Visalia still suspended a flabbergasting 40.5 percent of its secondary school students. But then its superintendent and a few of his administrators got together and made some profound changes in how they disciplined kids.

So what did they do and how did they do it?

We’ll get to that in a minute. First a very brief overview of school discipline in America.


THE BEST & the WORST

We initially became aware of Visalia’s record a month ago when a national report was released that looked at which of the nation’s school districts had the worst records for overuse of suspensions and expulsions, and which districts were doing things right.

The report—“Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?”—was created by UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, and the numbers it documented were alarming. It turned out that, despite a several years of public conversation about the damage that an overuse of suspensions can do to kids’ ability to succeed in the classroom and beyond, nearly 3.5 million public school children were suspended at least once during the 2011-2012 school year—with many suspended multiple times. Since most suspensions were an average of 3.5 days, that meant that in one school year, 18 million hours of learning were lost for American kids.

Beyond the overview of suspension patterns, the report also looked at individual states and individual school districts within those states, to find out which districts were still doing a bad job at finding disciplinary solutions other than tossing kids out of class —especially black and disabled kids—and which districts had actually managed to take great leaps in improving their discipline stats.

The report also found that, in some districts, the overall numbers weren’t all that awful, but the racial disparities were, said Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, and the report’s lead author.

“The fact that 14 percent of districts suspended more than one of every 10 black elementary students, and 21 percent of the districts suspended one of every four black secondary students, or more, is shocking when compared to the Latino and white distribution,” Losen said. “The Normandy school district in Missouri, where Michael Brown attended is among the highest suspending districts in the entire nation with an overall suspension rate for black students of just under 50 percent.” This type of large disparity, he said, “impacts both the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children, inflicting upon them a legacy of despair rather than opportunity.”

But the report’s news wasn’t all bad, Losen pointed out when I spoke to him recently.

For example, in California, he said, there was one particular district that made it on the list of the report’s most improved districts in the nation when it came to secondary schools. The district was Visalia, and it went from suspending a gasp-worthy 40.5 percent of its secondary students in 2009-2010, to 15.5 percent in 2011-2012.

Now Visalia’s rate is down to around 11 percent (still lower when Visalia includes its charter high schools).

Losen suggested I check out Visalia.


POSITIVE DISCIPLINE AND CHANGING A CULTURE

“We still overuse suspension in our system,” said Dr. Craig Wheaton, Visalia’s superintendent, when I called him to ask him about his precipitous drop in out-of-school discipline numbers “I think we had very high rates that we brought down to a more reasonable level. But they need to be lower,” he said.

Okay, fair enough, but how did they make the drastic change they’ve already accomplished?

Changing a system is not something you do overnight, Wheaton said. “It’s a cultural change we’re talking about. You can’t just quit suspending kids. We had to first begin with the cultural change around how we approach discipline as a whole and, over time, that began to affect our suspension/expulsion rate.

“We began asking ourselves,” Wheaton said, “how do you work with discipline in such a way that it becomes a positive learning experience, rather than punitive?”

One of the specific things Wheaton did to reboot the district’s approach to discipline was to ask all of his teachers to read a best-selling parenting book called “Positive Discipline,” by Jane Nelson.

“We had Jane Nelson work with us, and she developed a positive discipline work training for us that really helped.”

What really affected their data, he said, “was just looking at ourselves and asking how we could create discipline as a learning environment that kept the behavior from occurring again.”

Yet, upstream of everything was a change in attitude by the adults toward the kids they were teaching, and that occurred slowly.

“We started looking at two rails. One rail was student achievement. But we were having to emphasize school achievement so much because of No Child Left Behind. So we started saying that the other rail was really about relationships with kids. All kids need to feel like they belong. They need a sense of significance and belonging. You can’t just demand that students achieve at high levels. You need to win their hearts first. You need to establish a relationship.”


FINDING THE POINT WHEN DETACHMENT BEGINS

Wheaton said that he and his colleagues also began looking at where kids started to detach from school that ultimately led them to acting out.

To find out, they pulled together all the district’s expulsion cases for the prior year-–which amounted to around 100 folders. “Then we reviewed them in teams. We looked all the way back to when the kids were in grade school, and noted when they began acting out, and what was going on with each of them then. In the majority, 9th grade was the big moment. In general, kids started disengaging in 3, 4th and 5th grades. By 7th grade it got more serious. And by 9th grade, they’re getting suspended.”

So Wheaton and company started thinking, “How do we ID and support kids— especially in elementary and middle school—and help them to feel like they belong, and are engaged?” Going off the rails, he said, “It doesn’t just happen over night.”

Another part of keeping kids engaged, Wheaton said, was to have programs other than academics that the students found important and gave their school time extra meaning. “We tried to hold on to all those things, in spite of budget cuts.” He fought to keep strong athletic activities, and other things, like music and performing arts. “We have a very strong music program that starts in 4th or 5th grade, and musical theater at all high schools and some middle schools.” Most recently they’ve done Guys & Dolls and Grease. “And Mary Poppins, a fabulous production with a professional company coming in and putting up the wires so she could fly through the rafters.”


DOES EVERY STUDENT REALLY MATTER?

Not everyone bought in to the new discipline practices, Wheaton said.

“I just don’t want to paint a rosy picture that everything’s alright, because it’s a struggle. Some people are against what we’re doing. They feel that we’re turning too soft, that we’ve gone overboard, and that certain kids should be kicked out.” But a lot of those people are older, he admitted, and are retiring out of the system.

“But even now, our teachers’ association still reminded teachers that they have the right to suspend.” Wheaton sighed.

“The truth is, we identified the need [for a new discipline system] long ago. We really wanted our schools to be safe learning environment, but the answer was always suspension.”

The new direction really began, Wheaton said, “when we talked about doing the best we could for ‘all students.’ And we started questioning who was ‘all?’ Who does that include? Did we mean all? Or did we really mean most.

And if all truly meant all, they were going to have to make some changes.

So they did. “And we’ve still got farther to go.”


AND…BEFORE YOU GO OFF FOR THE WEEKEND: THE ACLU IS STRONGLY ADVOCATING FOR SUBPOENA POWER FOR THE SOON-TO-BE-CREATED SHERIFF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION. Here’s the ACLU’s forceful and fact-driven letter, for your reading pleasure. It was sent on Friday to those who have decision-making capabilities in the matter. It should also be noted that the LA Times editorial board is of the same opinion.

Posted in Education, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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