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“Ghettoside”….Unsolved Murders….a CA Prison Healthcare Company and Inmate Deaths…and Helping Homeless Kids

January 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

“HOMICIDE REPORT” CREATOR JILL LEOVOY’S NEW BOOK PORTRAYS VIOLENCE IN INNER CITY COMMUNITIES

In her brand new book, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, LA Times crime reporter Jill Leovy tells the story of an 18-year-old son of a homicide detective, Bryant Tennelle, who was shot by gang members looking for an easy target from a rival neighborhood. Tennelle was a smart, black kid who was not in a gang.

Ghettoside uses Tennelle’s tragic death and subsequent investigation as a human portrait of homicide in Los Angeles and across the country, particularly young men of color killing other young men of color, breakdowns in the criminal justice system, and why so many of these murders go unsolved.

Leovy’s book is already getting a lot of well-deserved attention (and we’ll have more on Ghettoside when it’s released).

Prior to writing Ghettoside, Leovy created the LA Times’ Homicide Report, a ground-breaking blog that endeavored to record every homicide in LA County, and told the stories of the unknown and unnoticed victims, matching faces to the statistics.

NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Leovy about her book, which will be released tomorrow (Tuesday). Here’s a clip:

On what the Tennelle murder investigation found:

The [detectives] … call it “profiling murder.” And so what’s happening is gang members will get in a car, they will go to the rival neighborhood to send a message and they will just look for the easiest, most likely victim they can find. And [it's] probably going to be a young black man. And if he fits the part, that’s good enough. And an astonishing number of victims — I did a count in 2008 of 300-some LA homicides of the gang-related homicides, and I think something like 40 percent of the victims were this sort of a victim: non-combatant, not directly party to the quarrel that instigated the homicide, but ended up dead nonetheless.

On the challenge of getting witnesses to talk:

Well, everybody’s terrified. I’ve had people clutch my clothes and beg me to not even write that there was anybody at the scene. I’m not even describing them. They just don’t want anyone to know that there was somebody at the scene. …

In the big years in LA, in the early ’90s, young black men in their early 20s — who, by the way, are a disproportionate group among homicide witnesses because this is the milieu they’re in — had a rate of death from homicide that was higher than those of American troops in Iraq in about 2005. So people talk about a “war zone” — it was higher than a combat death rate. They are terrified, they have concrete reason to be terrified and then the justice system comes along and asks them to put themselves in possibly even more danger. What would you do?

Ghettoside also landed a front-page NY Times book review by Jennifer Gonnerman.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE UNSOLVED HOMICIDES IN L.A. OF YOUNG MEN OF COLOR…

The LA Daily News has two excellent stories sharing common themes with Leovy’s Ghettoside.

In the first, Sarah Favot, compiled and analyzed mountains of unsolved LA County homicide data from 2000-2010. Favot found that 46% of the 11,244 homicides recorded during those years remain unsolved. At 54%, LA County had nearly a 10% lower success rate than the national average (63%).

Here are some clips from Favot’s report:

The homicide information analyzed by this news organization is the first-of-its-kind database of unsolved homicide cases in L.A. County from Jan. 1, 2000, through Dec. 31, 2010. A 54 percent countywide clearance is not satisfactory, said L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “In the real world, these are people’s lives and their memories and how they view the system,” McDonnell said. “You can never bring the person back, but at least there is some level of justice when people are held accountable; it adds to the credibility of the system.”

[SNIP]

The data analysis is based on 11,244 homicides recorded over the time period by the L. A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. Law enforcement agencies throughout the county provided the statuses of 10,501 homicide investigations. Information was not provided on 682 cases and detectives determined an additional 61 deaths were no longer considered homicides.

In 44 percent of the cases in which the status was known, a suspect had been arrested. About 10 percent of the homicides are considered “solved by other means” either because the suspect had died, the case was deemed a murder-suicide or police investigators determined the death to be justified, as in the case of an officer-involved shooting.

“This is eye-popping data when you look at it in detail,” said Jody Armour, the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at USC. “You see stark differences in just homicide numbers and (clearance) rates as a function of race….It’s a window on race and class and crime in L.A. and therefore in much of America.”

[SNIP]

Half of the homicides of black victims remain unsolved. Black victims made up about 34 percent of all homicides recorded in L.A. County during the 11-year period.

Blacks and Latinos are killed most often because they are more likely to live in high crime and gang-affected areas where illegal weapons proliferate, said Jorja Leap, a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and nationally recognized gang expert conducting a five-year research study evaluating the impact of Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention and re-entry program in Los Angeles.

In the second, Rebecca Kimitch explores two crucial reasons many of these homicides go unsolved—witnesses’ mistrust of law enforcement and fear of retaliation for “snitching”—as well as what can be done to build trust between cops and communities. Here are some clips:

…some departments in large cities across the United States, including Houston, Denver, San Diego and Jacksonville, have bucked the trend, boasting homicide clearance rates of 80 to 90 percent. They’ve even cleared more of the most difficult to crack cases: those involving gangs.

How have they done it?

To start, by finding something that doesn’t cost a dime but eludes most police departments: community trust.

[SNIP]

“People just don’t want to get involved. Nobody would tell me, ‘Detective Yu, this is what I saw,’ ” the detective said. “That happens a lot in gang cases. At the end of the day, the common denominator is people are scared to talk.”

It’s the snitch rule, explained 26-year-old South L.A. student Shea Harrison. Talking means risking your life, he said, and it doesn’t matter if the victims weren’t part of a gang.

“It’s just the code,” he said.

On the rare occasion that witnesses come forward with information in gang-related homicides, getting them to testify in court “can take an act of God,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide Detective Frank Salerno.

And with the Internet and social media making it easier to track people down, the fear of retribution is growing, Salerno said, making the public less and less inclined to get involved. While social media has also made it easier, in come cases, for police to track down witnesses, just because someone said something on Twitter, they aren’t necessarily going to say more to police or in a courtroom, Salerno said.

In some cases, it’s not gangs that potential witnesses fear, it’s the police…


PRIVATE PRISON HEALTH CARE COMPANY SUED FOR INADEQUATE CARE IN THE WAKE OF INMATE DEATHS

California Forensic Medical Group provides health care (and in many cases mental health care) to 65 adult and juvenile facilities in more than 20 counties, including Ventura, Yolo, Monterey, and Sonoma.

Allegations of negligence via inadequate physical and mental healthcare, drug detox services, and severe understaffing have emerged as the number of healthcare-related deaths have jumped in counties across the state. CFMG has come up against more than a dozen lawsuits by California inmates’ families.

From 2004 to 2014, 92 people either committed suicide or overdosed on drugs under the care of CFMG in county facilities. In 2012, when CFMG took over health care in Santa Cruz, four people died within the nine months. Last year in Sonoma, four inmates died in less than a month.

The Sacramento Bee’s Brad Branan has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

On a Saturday morning in 2010, Clearlake police showed up at the home of 38-year-old Jimmy Ray Hatfield after he barricaded himself in his bedroom and told his parents he had a bomb.

Hatfield was mentally ill and thought someone was going to kill him, his parents told police. After a lengthy standoff, he was brought to a hospital, given an antipsychotic and a sedative and transported to the Lake County jail, records show.

The jail nurse received paperwork from the hospital detailing his psychotic state, but said she did not review it because that was the job of another nurse. That nurse wasn’t scheduled to work for another day and a half.

By then, Hatfield was found unresponsive in his cell, hanging from a bed sheet.

The company responsible for the jail’s health care, California Forensic Medical Group, was accused by Hatfield’s family of negligence in his death and settled the case for an undisclosed amount. It has faced allegations that it failed to provide proper care in dozens of U.S. District Court cases over the last decade.

CFMG is the state’s largest for-profit correctional health care company, delivering medical service in 27 counties, including El Dorado, Placer and Yolo. The company also provides jail mental health service in 20 counties.

The company started in 1984 with a contract to provide care in Monterey County and has consistently grown by taking over inmate health care in small and medium-size counties. Bigger counties, including Sacramento, tend to provide their own correctional health care.

Since the state started sentencing lower level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons in 2011, attorneys who successfully sued the state over inmate health care are now suing counties. That realignment has prompted more counties to rely on private companies such as CFMG to oversee jail health care to control costs and reduce liability.

At least three county grand juries have criticized the company’s role in inmate deaths. Some investigations have been spurred by a spike in deaths – four people in Sonoma County in an 11-month period ending in 2007 and four people in nine months in Santa Cruz County after CFMG took over health care in 2012.

Sonoma County officials are promising yet another investigation following the death of four inmates in less than a month last year.

A common thread in the reports and court complaints: CFMG allegedly provides insufficient mental health and detoxification services, two of the most persistent needs in jails.


NINE PRINCIPLES FOR HELPING KIDS ESCAPE HOMELESSNESS

In LA County in 2013, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members were children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s homeless count.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Robin Rivera, once a runaway herself, points to nine evidence-based approaches to help children out of homelessness, established by the Homeless Youth Collaborative on Developmental Evaluation.

Here are the first four:

Journey Oriented: Recognizing that everyone is on a journey and conveying that message to the client. It is helping them to see a future and they get to choose what they will create.

Trauma-Informed: All staff that have contact with clients need to be trauma trained as to be more successful and to not inflict any additional traumatic experiences for the youth.

Non-Judgmental: To make sure that clients know they will receive services and support regardless of their past, present, or future choices. This creates trust and openness.

Harm Reduction: Help clients to minimize risky behaviors in the short and long-term scenarios. This means understanding that risky behaviors do not go away over night, but an emphasis on working towards reduction.

Posted in Foster Care, Gangs, Homelessness, mental health, prison, racial justice | No Comments »

Cops, Group Homes & Criminalized Kids — by Brian Rinker

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

COPS, GROUP HOMES & CRIMINALIZED KIDS

Is There Collateral Damage If Law Enforcement is Called When Foster Kids Act Out?  

by Brian Rinker


This story was produced in collaboration with The Chronicle of Social Change.


Allyson Bendell wasn’t always the most well behaved girl, but that didn’t make her a criminal either.

In the world of group homes, however, where staff who are often undertrained and overwhelmed try to manage the severe behaviors that foster youth disproportionately exhibit, calling the police, for some, has become a go-to method for controlling kids. A new law that went into effect the first of the new year is trying to change all that by forestalling excessive calls to police and, in so doing, mitigating the stigmatizing effect that contact with law enforcement invariably has on the kids.

Bendell, 17, is one of those kids, who for years, was frequently on the receiving end of the kind of unnecessary police intervention that the new law hopes to eliminate. She wound up bouncing through group homes and foster families because her emotional and behavioral issues made her difficult for less trained staff to handle. She was defiant, prone to outbursts—screaming, yelling, cussing—and running away. She threw temper tantrums. A lot.

She spent most of her life in foster care, beginning when she was age 5. Bendell said her mother and father’s parental rights were terminated when she was 7. One of her parents was in prison, the other homeless.

“The anger came from being alone,” Bendell said. “I wanted someone to love me.”

In her 12 years in the system, she moved through more than 30 foster care placements, including a string of foster families, two group homes and many emergency shelters, temporary housing for foster youth in between placements.

While Bendell admitted that her behavior made life difficult for those trying to care for her, she said that none of her foster families called the police. It was only the group facilities that got the cops involved.

“I was trying to be heard and feeling like no one would really listen,” Bendell said. “I needed a one-on-one connection and a group is the worst situation for that.”

Joan Berry, who was Bendell’s Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, agreed with the assessment.

“Ally has had really good experiences in foster care, but her temper tantrums made it difficult,” Berry said. “Ally is a child of the system and it is very hard to overcome that.”

At 13, she went to live in a San Joaquin County level-14 group home, run by Valley Oak Residential. Level-14 homes are meant to serve youth with serious emotional issues, a designation that Bendell said she did not fit. She said that most of the girls there were older and violent, and that the staff regularly called the police.

“The group home staff used the police to intimidate the girls to keep them in check,” Bendell said. If the kids acted out, fought each other, yelled, threw chairs at the wall, the police would come and each girl would have to sit on their bed as the cops lectured them. “The police were used as a ruling hand. They were used as control. They were used as a behavioral correction.”

Valley Oak Residential did not respond to requests for comment.

“Being in a group home with that much police involvement made it so much harder to be normal,” said Bendell, “It was worse than a correctional facility, more like a holding cell. There was no correction going on, you’re just being kept there.”


HOPING FOR NORMAL

Providing foster youth with the most normal, homelike experience possible-—while making sure that the experience is a safe one—-is what’s at the heart of the new law, AB 388, which means minimizing the presence of law enforcement in group homes, and curtailing extended stays in juvenile hall for foster kids who are detained because they have nowhere else to go.

“The purpose of [the law] is to prevent foster youth from being arrested and charged for misbehavior that wouldn’t happen to anyone other than a foster youth,” said Martha Matthews, an attorney for Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm that represents children. “The mere fact that someone is in foster care should not result in their being detained.”

With these goals in mind, AB 388, will trigger a state investigation once a year into any group home that calls the police “a greater than average number” of times. What “greater than average” actually means is still to be determined. That number will probably arise from the new data the law is requiring group homes to collect and release. From now on group homes will have to report every time one of its youth comes in contact with law enforcement, and provide a follow-up report within six months to the state Community Care Licensing Division, a division of Social Services charged with overseeing residential facilities, including group homes.

For foster youth who are detained at juvenile hall, the law requires immediate notification of child welfare services and an attorney for alternative placement.

The law also mandates the creation of a committee of stakeholders, including government agencies, foster youth, advocates and providers, its purpose to strategize and research programs and interventions in order to further minimize law enforcement contact in group homes.

Former Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D) introduced the law, which Public Counsel and the other co-sponsors had drafted. (Chesbro termed out in November.) In a fact sheet on the bill circulated in July, Mathews cited case examples including that of a bipolar teen who spent 36 days in juvenile hall for punching a hole in the wall of her group home.

“We didn’t have scientific data (on how many times group homes called the police) but we had the experience of a lot of advocates,” said Matthews who, prior to coming to Public Counsel worked for Children’s Law Center, which represents all 25,000 foster youth in Los Angeles County.

Matthews said she hopes the law makes it clear to group homes that they must find better and more therapeutic methods than involving police when youth in their care act out.


BUT IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO THE LAW?

The California Alliance and Family Services, an association that represents more than 100 youth service providers including many group homes, worked with the authors of AB 388 last year as it made its way through the State Legislature. The alliance ended up neither endorsing nor opposing the law. The bill passed unanimously.

Yet some professionals in the field worry that the law will have unintended consequences, like preventing staff from calling the law enforcement at those times when police intervention is needed, for fear of triggering an investigation. Worse still, they say, is the concern that certain providers will be hesitant to take in the highest needs kids.

“I’m not sure the net affect of AB 388 will keep foster kids from being referred to the criminal justice system,” said Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca, a nonprofit service provider for children with serious emotional issues, which also ran group homes until 2012. “I fear the net affect will be kids who are most at risk will have a harder time being placed.”

Despite his reservations, Berrick sees no problem with the intent of the bill. “Using law enforcement as a behavioral tool is fundamentally a bad idea.”

Matt Madaus, CEO of Edgewood, a 48-bed, level-14 residential facility in San Francisco also had misgivings. “It is unclear to me what [AB 388] will actually achieve,” he said in an email. “Group Homes are already required to report all police contacts related to a resident to Community Care Licensing.”

Community Care Licensing is the state agency in charge of overseeing residential facilities, including group homes.

The new law “will not add any value to the lives of the foster youth that Edgewood serves,” Madaus said. “We do not use the police as an intervention or to punish or scare a youth,” he added “As a policy and cultural practice, we do not contact the police for property destruction, verbal or physical aggression, or other manageable behaviors.”

According to documents obtained from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, there were 460 calls for police service to Edgewood during the last three years, averaging three calls a week. The reasons stated included attempted suicide, juvenile beyond control, assault or battery and mental detention. The majority of calls—204 in all—were for runaways.


OFFICERS & RUNNERS

Bendell was a runner. And running away is one of the most common types of group home incidents that end up involving cops. At her very first group home she got in an argument with staff and took off. Staff and police found her walking alone on the highway. She was 10 years old.

At Valley Oak Residential, where she landed when she was 13, she went AWOL several times. Sometimes she returned on her own. Other times, officers brought her back.

“It’s not like [the Valley Oak staff] are horrible people,” said Berry, Bendell’s CASA. “They just don’t have the resources. And these are tough kids.”

Bendell said she wasn’t violent and never threw a punch at Valley Oak. But her earlier group home located in northern California, she got into a scuffle with another 11-year girl.

“It went bad and I needed to escape,” said Bendell. She yelled and screamed and attempted to run away.

In that instance, to keep her from leaving and to calm her down, staff members sent her to what was known at the home as the “safety room,” a barren, cement room where problem children went to cool down, she said. It wasn’t a locked facility, so they couldn’t lock her in a room. But every time she tried to leave she said a staffer pushed her back inside.

When Bendell continued to be upset, the staff called the police and she was taken to juvenile hall, she said. The group home never came to get her; they didn’t want her back.

“I was an 11-year-old girl who threw a tantrum,” Bendell said. “I wasn’t acting acceptable, but I felt I was acting in a way they could have handled.”

She ended up at Valley Oak, which was the very last home to kick Bendell out. At 14, no other group home would take her in.

With nowhere to go, she asked a high school friend she had made during her time at Valley Oak if she could move in with the friend’s parents. They agreed, and everything changed. Bendell finally found a real home, with a family who didn’t called police if she lost her temper.

“They gave me a chance when no one else would,” said Bendell.

After years in a stable environment with adults who made clear that her wellbeing mattered to them, Bendell began to thrive. She was able to graduate from high school early, and got a job working in a restaurant. She is now living in transitional housing as she moves toward full independence.

She is also an advocate for foster youth with the California Youth Connection.

Bendell credits her turnaround to the support of her new family. “They showed me love and patience. They embraced my goals and dreams. They truly listened to me. They loved me,” Bendell said. “That’s why I am successful now. That’s my home.”



Photos by Max Whittaker of Prime Collective

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement | No Comments »

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

January 20th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some clips from Gately’s story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NEWTON COUNTY, GEORGIA TRIES A DIFFERENT PLAN

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

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

Here’s a clip from Anderson’s story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reforms Trump Talking About Race, Solitary and Kids’ Brains, Next Steps for NYC Solitary Ban, and LA Foster Care Reform Efforts

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

In an op-ed for the LA Times, California Endowment President Robert Ross says that instead of pushing for a national discussion about race issues, we should take advantage of this “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to take action. Ross urges Californians to push forward with meaningful reforms to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for young people of color.

He points to four specific areas, which the state has already made some measure of progress on, where we should focus our efforts—public education, criminal justice, immigration, and healthcare. Here are the details on the first two:

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.

Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47′s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.


WHY WE LOCK KIDS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND WHAT IT DOES TO THEIR BRAINS

Dana Liebelson has an excellent longread for the January/February issue of Mother Jones Magazine, chronicling the history of solitary confinement in the US, and detailing the alarming effects isolation has on young developing brains, exacerbating existing mental illnesses, and even producing new ones. Here’s a clip, but we highly recommend reading the whole thing:

We now know…that new brain cells continue to develop in the hippocampus—a portion of the brain central to cognition and memory processing—throughout adulthood. When scientists began looking at animals kept in isolation, they discovered that they grew fewer new neurons than their nonisolated counterparts. That’s because isolation creates stress, and stress hormones inhibit neuron formation, which can result in harm to memory and learning. The effect is often more pronounced in juvenile animals, whose brains are undergoing rapid development. There “isn’t any question,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, that isolation is harmful to the brain and to overall health.

Last March, researchers from Brazil published a study in which they isolated adolescent marmosets, a kind of adorable South American monkey, in cages as small as two and a half feet across, and kept them from seeing or touching other monkeys. The animals soon grew anxious and spent less time on their usual grooming habits. Compared with controls, they exhibited “significantly” higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a steady drop in neuron production in the hippocampus—just one week in isolation decreased the observed number of new cells by more than one-third.

Ceylan Isgor, an associate biomedical science professor at Florida Atlantic University, has found that the effects of isolation on juvenile animals are “long-lasting.” As she explained it to me, the pruning of synapses—the connections between nerve cells—that occurs during adolescence and helps teenagers grow out of behaviors such as impulsiveness does not occur normally under conditions of extended isolation. Extrapolating from animal studies, she said, the results would suggest that kids already prone to breaking rules will become even more likely to act out: “You’re getting a whole different network.” And while the consequences may not be seen right away, they can pop up later as mental-illness symptoms or vulnerability to drug addiction. In other words, the way we often deal with messed-up kids in juvenile detention may increase the likelihood that they’ll reoffend down the road.

David Chura, whose 2010 book, I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine, chronicles the decade he spent teaching English to juveniles at the Westchester County Jail (an adult lockup in New York), has seen the effects of isolation firsthand. In 2004, the prison opened a new security housing unit, a.k.a. solitary wing. At first, it seemed like an improvement: The rooms, Chura recalled, were clean and quiet and “you could read or whatever.” But then his students began to deteriorate, rapidly and dramatically, and his teaching attempts fell apart: “The motivation for doing anything was lost.” Young men who used to fastidiously iron their orange uniforms stopped bathing. They became angrier and started acting out more. When they were allowed out of their cells into an adjacent recreation area—an empty room with a screen for fresh air—the kids would “plaster their faces against these screens and be yelling back and forth,” Chura told me, as though trying to prove, “I’m alive. I’m really still here.”

The class action suit in Ohio described a boy, “IJ,” who was 14 when he entered state custody in 2006. Grassian, by then retired from Harvard, was asked to review his records. When IJ first came into the system, Grassian testified, he was described as a “cooperative youth” who, despite his intellectual disabilities, didn’t require psychiatric drugs or mental-health services. But after a few years, and a lot of time spent in solitary, the teen was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder and PTSD. Six years into his sentence, he was “seen as simply incorrigible…and a misogynist,” Grassian noted. He assaulted a staff member that year too. “I hated being in my room,” IJ testified. “It made me mad. It made my anger issues way worse.”


NYC CORRECTIONS SAYS NO MORE SOLITARY FOR RIKERS INMATES UNDER 21, BUT THERE ARE…PROBLEMS

Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Corrections unanimously voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger. The decision is particularly important for the young people housed in the notorious Rikers Island Jail.

But while the move is a huge step in the right direction, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Taylor Pendergrass, says formidable obstacles must be overcome in order for the ban to be successful. The first is obtaining sufficient funding.

The Marshall Project’s Clare Sestanovich has the story. Here’s a clip:

Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, who has worked on their federal lawsuit challenging New York state solitary practices, foresees two problems with implementation. The first is one that the Board of Corrections itself has identified: funding. In fact, the board literally underlined this contingency in their new regulations. The ban on solitary will only take effect, they wrote, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.”

Even if funding is secured, a bigger challenge awaits: how to manage such a drastic policy overhaul in a place where, as one former corrections official told The New Yorker, staff has become “severely addicted to solitary confinement.” If this addiction is as deeply rooted as many claim (and Commissioner Joseph Ponte has himself identified a “culture of excessive solitary confinement”) the new policy could face stiff resistance. “The piece that’s complicated and harder to get a sense of,” Kysel says, “is how much buy-in there will be from officers who are putting them in practice.”

But more than getting corrections officers on board, the key, according to Pendergrass, will be “making sure that [guards] have tools other than sending [inmates] to solitary as a knee-jerk response. I think it’s certainly true that if you just take away solitary confinement and replace it with something else, there’s a high risk that the policy will never be properly implemented, or even if it is implemented, you will have a regression back to punitive responses.”

Solitary confinement, he says, has been used as a blunt instrument to respond to a wide array of problems, ranging from mental illness to substance abuse to adolescent defiance, and poses real dangers to those assigned to maintain order. Pendergrass says a long-term solution will require “fragmenting the approach”; tailoring responses to inmates who act out based on their underlying problems. That, of course, requires complicated – not to mention expensive – training. The BOC’s new rule seems to anticipate this approach. It specifies that all staff who monitor punitive segregation units will be provided with training that “shall include, but shall not be limited to, recognition and understanding of mental illness and distress, effective communication skills, and conflict de-escalation techniques.”


WHERE LA STANDS ON THE ROAD TO REFORMING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

After months of delaying the implementation of foster care reform recommendations made by a blue ribbon commission, including the hiring of a child welfare czar, the LA County Board of Supervisors appear to be gaining momentum.

On Tuesday, the Supes voted to move forward with two important child welfare reform recommendations.

Like most of us, the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection attributes the new energy, in part, to the arrival of two new board members determined to implement the commission’s reforms.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick reports that until now, the transition team has come up against resistance from members of the board, particularly Supervisor Don Knabe, who has opposed both the blue ribbon commission and the transition team as unnecessary bureaucracy. In addition, the transition team, once authorized to lend a hand in the hiring of the new czar, were subsequently excluded from the process.

Bolstered by the new activity from the Board of Supervisors, the transition team has set a list of priorities they intend to push in the coming months.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of Renick’s detailed report on the issue:

The transition team appointed to initiate sweeping child protection reform in Los Angeles met for the first time in 2015 this week, and seemed to embrace an optimistic attitude.

“A lot of times you wonder if this is going to be shelved, these recommendations, and what I’m seeing is that it’s alive and well, and we’re moving forward,” said Richard Martinez during the January 12 meeting. Martinez, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is a member of the transition team and Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.

“It’s so exciting that we’re moving forward with this,” said transition team member Janet Teague at the January meeting.

The positive tone belies the team’s frustration over spending the past six months grinding out small wins while being sidelined from the highest priority of the reform process: hiring the person who will oversee it.

The transition team’s meetings – held in the cavernous and almost entirely empty Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in downtown L.A. – have produced some results, such as the expansion of the medical hubs where children and youth receive health screenings.

But fitful relations between the team and some of the county’s five supervisors have left team members and outside observers wondering what could have been if the board had given the deliberative body a stronger mandate.

“We have not yet had an easy communication with respect to the people we’re serving, the Board of Supervisors,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during a December meeting. “A transition team really is only useful if there is a desire to use us in terms of our expertise and our opinions.”

Hope for better relations comes in the form of two new board members, both of whom have voiced support for the reform process.

“We need reports back [from the transition team] more often,” said newly sworn in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, during a recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “I think the public’s confidence in what we’re doing is very low. They haven’t seen us doing much and they don’t know that we will do much.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, health care, immigration, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Sheriff McDonnell’s Thoughts One Month In….Jail Beating Victims Win $5M in Legal Fees….Ferguson Grand Juror Sues….and Foster Kids

January 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL MAKES MEDIA ROUNDS, DISCUSSES DUAL-TRACK SYSTEM, OVERSIGHT, REPLACING JAIL

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he has his sights set on a plan that would keep new deputies from having to spend years working in jails before heading out on patrol. The aim would be to fill all jail positions within the next three years, so that patrol-seeking deputies would be able to skip or reduce the customary time spent learning the custody division (which can last up to seven years).

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell said the original intent of the system was to have deputies spend a year or two in the jails to allow them to learn about the custodial division.

But, over the years, that assignment grew to as long as seven years and has hurt recruitment, McDonnell said.

“Young people today are very sophisticated and they look at what the different departments offer,” McDonnell said. “They joined to be in patrol cars and help people. I don’t think you are helping recruitment when you send them to the jails for so long.”

The proposal to reduce use of new deputies in the jails was contained in a 2012 report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which McDonnell was a member. The panel also recommended the use of custody assistants to help staff the jails and relieve the need for deputies.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, which has been critical of the jail system, said he supports McDonnell’s proposal.

“I always thought the claim that jails are the appropriate place to learn about bad people is not right,” Eliasberg said. “Patrol requires a different response and temperament than is needed in the jails.

Sheriff McDonnell, who was sworn in a little over a month ago, as part of a media circuit, spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk about the dual track recruiting system, as well as the fate of Men’s Central Jail, and civilian oversight.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick has a good round up of McDonnell’s other appearances.


OVER $5 MILLION IN LEGAL FEES AWARDED TO MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL IMNATES

A federal judge has awarded nearly $5.4 million in legal fees to five Men’s Central Jail inmates who say they were brutally beaten and tasered by deputies in 2008. (Read about the trial here.) This number is in addition to $950,000 in damages won by the inmates last year.

Legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, Peter Eliasberg, points out that the county could have avoided paying over $5 million in legal fees (more than $6 million of tax payers’ money) by settling for less $1 million.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here are some clips:

The amount, approved by a federal judge last week, is unusually large for such cases and may encourage more attorneys to represent indigent plaintiffs who claim abuse by their jailers. It comes on top of $950,000 in damages that a federal jury awarded to the inmates after a trial last February.

Heriberto Rodriguez and the other inmates say that they suffered broken bones in beatings by sheriff’s deputies when they refused to leave their cells at Men’s Central Jail on Aug. 25, 2008. The county argued that deputies took the steps they felt were necessary after a riot broke out, with inmates setting fires and throwing porcelain shards from broken sinks.

In a Dec. 26 order, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall accepted the winning attorneys’ assessment that they spent nearly 6,000 hours on the case at rates of up to $975 an hour. The attorneys said they had been willing to settle the case, including legal fees, for about $900,000, but the county refused.

Of the $950,000 jury award, $210,000 was for punitive damages and $9,500 will go to the inmates’ attorneys, in addition to the nearly $5.4 million in attorneys fees granted by the judge’s order.


GRAND JUROR, WANTING TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT DARREN WILSON CASE PROCEEDINGS, SUES COUNTY PROSECUTOR

An unnamed member of the grand jury that chose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, is now suing the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, seeking to negate a gag order prohibiting grand jurors from speaking about the case. Normally, grand jurors who discuss cases face misdemeanor charges, but the lawsuit filed Monday by the ACLU of Missouri, says the unusual proceedings (which included sharing all evidence with the grand jury instead of recommending a charge), warrants permitting the juror to speak. The lawsuit says that the presumption that the grand jury’s decision was unanimous is inaccurate, as is other information shared with the public about the proceedings.

On Monday, in a letter to St. Louis Circuit Judge Maura McShane, the NAACP requested that a new grand jury be convened to reconsider charges against Darren Wilson. The group also asked for an investigation into the grand jury proceedings and McCulloch’s actions.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel has the story. Here’s a clip:

“In [the grand juror]’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate — especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges,” the lawsuit says. (A grand jury’s decision does not have to be unanimous.)

“Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [Doe]’s own,” the lawsuit continued. “From [the grand juror]’s perspective, the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim than in other cases presented to the grand jury.” Doe also believes the legal standards were conveyed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner to the grand jury.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri argues that this case is unique and that the usual reasons for requiring the jurors to maintain secrecy should not apply.

In this specific case, “any interests furthered by maintaining grand jury secrecy are outweighed by the interests secured by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit says, adding that allowing the juror to speak would contribute to a discussion on race in America.

As the grand juror points out in the lawsuit, the Wilson case was handled in a very different manner than other grand juries. Instead of recommending a charge, McCulloch’s office presented thousands of pages worth of evidence and testimony before the grand jury. At one point, McCulloch’s spokesman characterized the grand jury as co-investigators.

CBS News has more on the NAACP requests.


A LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF DRUGGED FOSTER KIDS

In the fifth installment of Karen de Sá’s important investigative series for the San Jose Mercury, a video documentary gives us a more intimate look at the young lives affected by the unchecked overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Watch it here, especially if you missed any of the previous installments (which can all be accessed via the same link).


IMPROVING FOSTER KIDS’ HIGHER EDUCATION OUTCOMES

When foster kids age out of the system, the odds are invariably stacked against them. They often leave their foster homes with little or no money, support, or tools to prepare them for college or adult life. (A 2011 study by the Hilton Foundation found that only 2% of the 2,388 LA County former foster youth tracked by researchers received an associate’s degree.)

A growing number of states are working to help level the playing field for former foster kids by offering college tuition waivers and educational support programs. While California does have cross-agency collaborative support systems in place, the state does not offer tuition waivers to aged-out foster kids.

NPR’s Jennifer Guerra discusses this issue on All Things Considered. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

By the time she aged out of foster care, Jasmine Uqdah had spent nearly half her life in the system. On a summer day in 2008, Uqdah grabbed her duffel bag and two small garbage bags, and she stuffed everything she owned inside.

It wasn’t much — just some clothes and a few stuffed animals. She said her goodbyes to her foster family in Detroit and moved out. She was 18 years old.

“It was pretty scary, to be honest,” she says. “Every 18- and 19-year-old thinks they’re ready, but you’re not. You’re not ready for shutoff notices. You’re not ready for eviction notices. You’re not ready for car repossessions.”

Uqdah was one of the more than 20,000 young people who age out of foster care in the U.S. every year. For most, the outcomes aren’t great. They’re heading out into the world with next to nothing — no family, no money, no support.

Roughly half drop out of high school, and few of those who do make it to college graduate. One study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, found that only 2.5 percent of former foster children in the Midwest had graduated from college by age 26.

Some states like Michigan are trying to bring that success rate way up, finding the money and other support needed to give young people like Jasmine Uqdah a fair shot at success.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

An LA Times editorial urges the LA County Board of Supervisors to regain lost momentum toward implementing foster care reform recommendations (approved last April) and appointing a child welfare czar. (Find the backstory here.) Here’s a clip:

In response to a social worker strike, rather than the blue-ribbon commission report or the urging of the CEO, the board last year allocated funding for additional social workers, which should translate into more manageable caseloads. DCFS adopted a stronger training program. These are positive steps. But the county also needs someone to focus the attention of numerous government agencies on child protection without running afoul of the board.

In the end, if the supervisors are to protect children from abuse and neglect, they must also grapple with the more prosaic issue of how to successfully run a bureaucracy.

Attempts at plea bargains with Gabriel Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend have so far failed, and the two defendants could very well go to trial this year. The supervisors would be wise to remember the young victim’s plight now, and ensure that the reform efforts are well underway when the news stories once again focus on the horrors that the young boy endured and the county’s failure to protect him.

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 26 Comments »

Jumpstarting Foster Care Reform, Kamala Harris’ New Initiative, the NYPD Protest, Indigent Defense, and Homeboy

January 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY RESUSCITATE DCFS REFORM PUSH

The two recently-elected LA County Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, help form a new majority focused on implementing foster care reforms recommended by a blue ribbon panel last April. Two critical reforms in particular have hit a wall after the approval of all 42 recommendations last year: the creation of a child welfare czar, and boosting the use of county “Medical Hub” clinics that provide medical and mental health screenings for foster kids as a means of detecting abuse and neglect.

Kuehl and Solis, joined by Supervisor Don Knabe, are also in favor of hiring more social workers to offset current DCFS workers’ unmanageable caseloads.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he hopes the arrival of the two new supervisors will rebuild the board’s lost momentum.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The board majority said they want to look again at recommendations made by a blue-ribbon commission that includes proposals to expand the use of county clinics for medical assessments of abused and neglected children and to appoint a child-welfare “czar” to coordinate services across departmental lines.

They are even considering going beyond the commission’s recommendations to significantly increase the number of social workers and finally erase long-standing disparities in the quality of service provided in different regions of the county. Although the supervisors say they won’t commit to a specific hiring target, their deliberations will occur at the same time the social workers union is pushing to hire 450 more staffers in 2015 — a proposal that would cost $60 million.

Recently elected Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis are among those saying the additional hiring must be reconsidered. Their predecessors, reluctant to add new costs, had argued that the Department of Children and Family Services needed only to better use the roughly 7,500 employees and $1.5-billion budget it already has.

“I’ve said all along that the caseloads are so high that it is virtually impossible for social workers to say that they’ve investigated nearly every possibility in a child’s case,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl and Solis, who campaigned with financial support from the social workers union, have joined hold-over Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to call for a fresh review of dozens of recommendations introduced a year ago by a blue-ribbon commission appointed in the aftermath of the beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez…

In recent interviews, Supervisor Don Knabe joined Kuehl and Solis to say the county should consider adding more social workers. Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich declined to state their positions on new hiring, but aides to Antonovich said he would be willing to examine the proposal.

“Los Angeles County social workers have caseloads that are among the highest in the nation; they need our support,” Solis said. “We need to look at how they’re deployed, trained, supervised and equipped. Hiring more social workers is one of the options that needs to be in the mix for consideration.”

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING KIDS…

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is expected to announce the creation of a new state Department of Justice bureau to combat crimes against kids. The new bureau will target the exploitation of foster kids, child sex trafficking, child labor, as well as truancy.

AP’s Don Thompson has more on Harris’ initiative. Here’s a clip:

She plans to announce during her swearing-in Monday that she is creating a bureau within the state Department of Justice that will focus on crimes against children.

Some of its work will expand on priorities during Harris’ first four years, including deterring school truancy and the trafficking of young women for sex, domestic labor or sweat shops.

The bureau also will tackle what Harris says are “tragically flawed” foster care and adoption systems and fight discrimination in schools, such as bullying.

“In the coming term, we’re going to double down. We’re going to use the power of this office to lift up the next generation of Californians,” Harris said in remarks prepared for her inauguration speech. She added later that, “We can’t keep letting down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and expect a different outcome next week.”


A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE NYPD PROTEST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

Protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alleged disloyalty to law enforcement, the New York Police Department slowed down work considerably, ticketing and arresting people “only when they have to.” Because of cops’ refusal to make arrests or hand out tickets for minor infractions, parking and traffic violations dropped 92% and 94% respectively, summonses went down 94% and overall arrests dropped a whopping 66%.

The Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has an interesting alternate take on the NYPD’s “work stoppage.” Taibbi says that while not the aim of the NYPD officers, the protest has put a spotlight on the police-citizen interactions—costly tickets, summonses, and arrests for quality-of-life offenses—that inflame communities and pad the city’s pockets. Here are some clips:

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”

It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.

[SNIP]

I’ve met more than a few police in the last few years who’ve complained vigorously about things like the “empty the pad” policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people “when they have to.”

Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.


FOUR CRITICAL THINGS THE INCOMING US ATTORNEY GENERAL MUST KNOW ABOUT THE STATE OF INDIGENT DEFENSE

Across the country, poor defendants guaranteed public legal counsel, receive a less than adequate defense—sometimes, no defense at all.

Current US Attorney General Eric Holder has made considerable efforts to reform the indigent defense system, increasing funding and grants for public counsel, holding a 50-state symposium, and creating the Access to Justice initiative.

The Marshall Project’s David Carroll applauds Holder’s efforts, but says that more must be done by the next Attorney General.

Carroll shares four specific things the next AG must know to accomplish lasting change. Here are the first two:

#1. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … judges do.

Though the speeches of Attorney General Holder and the other high-level DOJ officials define the problems perfectly in speech after speech, the DOJ most often talks about the crisis before the public defense community or at indigent defense summits hosted by groups like the American Bar Association. Those organizations and communities already know that the right to counsel is eroding in America. Judges do not.

The most prevalent manner for delivering indigent defense services in the United States is for a private attorney to handle an unlimited number of cases for a single flat fee, under contract to the judge presiding over the lawyer’s cases. (We estimate flat fee contracts are used in 64 percent of all counties). Generally, all trial expenses (experts, investigators, etc.) must be paid out of the same flat fee, meaning the lawyer’s take-home pay is depleted for seeking outside assistance. When judges are allowed to hand-select defense counsel in this manner, the judiciary is interfering with a lawyer’s ability to make independent decisions.

Judges need to hear that the independence of the defense function is not just a good idea – it is the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “independence of counsel” is “constitutionally protected,” and that “[g]overnment violates the right to effective assistance when it interferes in certain ways with the ability of counsel to make independent decisions about how to conduct the defense.” A lawyer operating under a flat fee contract to a judge necessarily takes into his consideration what must be done to please the court in order to get his next contract, instead of operating solely in the interests of his client. Judges must stop flat-fee contracting and hand-selecting attorneys, and the next Attorney General needs to be the one leading the call.

#2. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … prosecutors do.

Most people may be shocked to know that tens of thousands of poor people are convicted, and serve jail time, every year without ever having spoken to a criminal defense attorney. Every single one of those defendants had a right to a public lawyer, but in many of those courts, there may not even have been a defense lawyer in the courtroom. The Sixth Amendment Center calls them “no counsel courts”…

Read the rest.


THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ VISITS HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez introduces us to Rudy Martinez, a security guard for Homeboy Industries, who, after spending the majority of his adult years in lock-up, found his way to Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Ind., and a new perspective on life.

Lopez also tells of how it came about that Father Greg agreed to meet Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, in hope of engaging the Pope in mutual projects to change the world.

Here’s a clip from Rudy’s story:

“When I first went to county jail, it was like an accomplishment. Yeah, a badge of honor. And then I made it to the Big House,” said Martinez, who figures he’s spent more than half his adult life behind bars. And at a certain point, he began to wise up a little.

“It was 2012, I was sitting in my cell in Susanville, looking out the window, thinking about my future,” Martinez said.

And what did you see, I asked him.

“Emptiness. I had this moment of clarity, and I said, ‘Rudy, is this what you want to do with your life?’”

His answer was no. But he wasn’t out long before he got nabbed for driving without a license. There he was again, caged up and down on himself. And he decided the first thing he was going to do when he got out was go see this Father Greg guy he’d heard about. He’ll hook you up with a job, Martinez was told. That was the word.

“I came here not knowing what it was about,” said Martinez, who soon found that jobs are not handed out like candy canes. They’d give you an opportunity, yes. But you had to decide you were ready to make big changes and stay committed for 18 months.

Martinez is 14 months into it, determined to make it the rest of the way, stay out of trouble after that and go to work somewhere, preferably at Homeboy.

“I started going to classes,” he said. “Anger management, substance abuse, parenting, therapy. At first I was going to them because I had to go to them. But as time when on, I started going because I wanted to go and because it was making me feel better inside.

“There was a moment when I realized this was life. It’s spending time with family, being a productive member of society, paying taxes, pushing your kid on a swing.”

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Prosecutors, Public Defender | No Comments »

Part 4: “Drugging Our Kids,” Compensating Wrongfully Convicted, Rehabilitating CA’s Female Lifers, and WLA on Deadline LA

December 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

YOLANDA’S STORY: RESCUED BY A GROUP HOME DOCTOR WHO FOUND A DIFFERENT WAY TO TREAT TRAUMA

In August, September, and November, we linked to parts one, two, and three of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury uncovering the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Part four introduces readers to Yolanda Vasquez, a former foster kid with a winning smile who was once so severely drugged by doctors, she almost lost the ability to talk, and functioned at the education level of a five-year-old at age thirteen.

Yolanda was eventually rescued by a therapist who wondered who Yolanda really was “under all the medicine,” and psychiatrist who broke from the pack and helped Yolanda and other foster kids wean off of their psychotropic medication cocktails. Dr. Edmund Levin, resident psychiatrist at the Lincoln Child Center group home, began a trial of guiding the kids under his care through tapering off of their medications, of which they were often taking six or seven kinds at once.

When Yolanda emerged from the fog, nearly all of her learning and speech impairments began to fade with the drugs. And a majority of the other kids in Levin’s small experiment, which cut medication use at Lincoln by 80%, had similarly positive results.

Here are some clips from the latest in de Sá’s series:

Before Lincoln, Yolanda remembers taking 10 pills, morning, midday and at night. Levin’s records showed over time she was on a mix of psychiatric drugs that would fill a medicine cabinet: three antipsychotics to help calm her. A mood stabilizer to even her out. A stimulant to help her concentrate. An anti-seizure medication and another drug to help treat the other drugs’ side effects. And finally a drug to help her sleep. She remembers their sizes, shapes, colors and bitter taste.

And each pill had its own set of side effects. Yolanda gained weight and became so lethargic that she couldn’t play basketball — the one thing that excited her through all her moves. She often fell asleep in class, even on field trips.

And when Yolanda was awake, she often was afraid. Like so many traumatized children, Yolanda not only felt invisible but constantly on edge, an emotional state clinicians describe as “fight or flight” mode.

[SNIP]

The tapering trials proceeded gradually, one medication at a time. All child care workers would have to agree to reduce medications in the case of every child. And drugs would be quickly added back if any serious problems arose.

Week by week, Levin eliminated one of Yolanda’s medications, then watched her progress and carefully decided whether to reduce another. Within a couple of months, she was down to one drug — guanfacine, a hypertension medication used to treat attention-deficit disorder. Weeks later, she was done.

[SNIP]

But as Levin reduced Yolanda’s medications, the breakthroughs slowly came — along with the trust. She started sharing some painful memories with Forster, dark moments about being abused, deep sadness about longing for family.

As the “sleepy, fuzzy weirdness” wore off, the more she opened up.

She laughed more, stayed awake in class and took on a new role caring for the younger kids at Lincoln. She finally learned to tell time by reading the clock on the wall in Forster’s office.


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND REHAB PROGRAM FOR CALIFORNIA FEMALE LIFERS

A new program at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla for women serving life in prison is giving graduates a better chance at winning parole. The comprehensive program helps women realize the impact of their actions, overcome addiction, build relationships, and more. The program is the first of its kind: no other program has received the recognition of the Board of Parole Hearings, and it’s the first real state-funded effort at rehabilitating female lifers.

Sascha Khokha has more on the program for KQED’s California Report. Take a listen to the full audio, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

“Denial is real. It’s very difficult to look at yourself, especially if you’ve done horrible things,” says inmate Candace MacDonald, who is serving a life sentence for breaking into a 73-year-old man’s home in Eureka and beating and smothering him to death in 1980.

She says she was high on methamphetamine when she committed the crime.

“Because of my addiction, I did things that I would never do. Then I hated the things I was doing, so I would do more drugs because I hated the things I was doing,” she adds. “It’s just a horrible cycle.”

MacDonald is now 64 years old, and one of a number of senior citizen inmates who’ve spent most of their adult lives in prison. Some now use walkers or wheelchairs. She says in all her years here, this is the first program that’s truly pushed her to work deeply on herself. It held a mirror to her, made her dig into painful truths.

“To be able to peel that away, and look deep down inside, and gain an understanding of what you have done, and how it affected all of the people around you,” she says. “The ripple effect is incredible.”

MacDonald has unsuccessfully presented her case before the parole board a number of times over the years, repeating the same testimony she gave at her trial. But after doing this program, she says, she was able to speak from her heart and truly admit her regret. Last week, the board recommended that she be released on parole.


AFTER A WRONGFUL CONVICTION, A STRUGGLE TO WIN COMPENSATION FROM THE STATE

Rafael Madrigal was convicted in 2000 of attempted murder and sentenced to 53-years-to-life in prison. The victim, who had been shot in the head during a drive-by, identified Madrigal in a photo lineup. Madrigal, a 25-year-old father of four with a good job, said he had never been in a gang, and had a time card indicating he had been at work during the shooting.

But neither cops nor jury bought his story, and he spent the next nine years in prison before an attorney convinced a judge Madrigal received inadequate legal defense. And now, five years later, despite strong evidence pointing to his innocence, Madrigal has received nothing in his fight for compensation, and has struggled to pick up where he left off before his wrongful conviction.

In California, exonerees receive far less than the guaranteed federal payment of $50,000 for every year behind bars. The yearly payment is capped at $36,500 (a far cry from Texas’ $80,000), and the process is complex. As of 2013, only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Note: late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process a bit easier.)

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has Madrigal’s story, as well as a rundown of what it takes to receive compensation in California. Here’s a clip:

Madrigal walked out of Chino State Prison on Oct. 6, 2009, with the clothes on his back and $187. He was free to return to the life he’d left behind nine years earlier.

Except it didn’t exist.

Under a state law intended to compensate those wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, Madrigal appeared to qualify for $281,700 from the state of California.

In the five years since his release, he has argued his case before a state hearing officer and a state compensation board. But though a federal judge found “compelling evidence” that he was “actually innocent,” Madrigal has been paid nothing.

The Los Angeles Times has documented dozens of cases nationwide in which people convicted and later cleared by DNA or new evidence never received state compensation. Some — especially the low-income minorities who make up a large share of the wrongfully imprisoned — never file a claim because they can’t afford a lawyer or find one willing to take the case.

“They just opened the door and said, ‘Hey, walk away!’” said Madrigal, 39. “I didn’t have much when I went in. But I had what I had, and that little bit that I did have was all taken from me.”

[SNIP]

“If someone gets paroled, they get … food vouchers, clothing vouchers, benefits, even places to live. But for someone who gets exonerated, they just throw you on the street and don’t even give you an apology,” said Dwayne Provience, 41, who spent nearly a decade in prison before his murder conviction in Detroit was overturned in 2010. The city rejected his bid for compensation and then declared bankruptcy; Provience now works two jobs to support his four children.

[SNIP]

A 2012 survey by a researcher at the State University of New York at Albany found that California pays less than many other states and provides fewer services.

Since 1981, the earliest year with records available, the three-member board that decides compensation claims in California has denied 59 and granted 22, awarding payments of about $6.2 million.

A decade ago, President George W. Bush signed the Innocence Protection Act, which guarantees those exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for every year they spent in prison, $100,000 for each year on death row.


WLA’S CELESTE FREMON TO BE ON KPFK’S DEADLINE LA

WLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be discussing oversight of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, today (Monday), at 3:00p.m.

If you don’t catch it live (on 90.7 FM), you can find the episode in the archives, here.

Posted in Foster Care, Innocence, prison, Rehabilitation, Trauma | No Comments »

Summer Jobs Curb Teen Violence, Survey of Foster Kids Nearing Adulthood, a New Jail, and How Cops React to Scandal

December 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHICAGO TEENS’ VIOLENT CRIME RATE GETS CUT NEARLY IN HALF AFTER SUMMER JOB PROGRAM

For the last few years, the City of Chicago has provided thousands of disadvantaged kids with summer jobs in the hopes of reducing crime.

The One Summer Plus program provides kids with part-time work for eight weeks and pairs them with an adult mentor to help break down barriers to future jobs.

This year, the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania ran the numbers to see if (and how well) the program was working to divert kids from violent crime.

The study took 1,634 teens from 13 high-violence neighborhoods in Chicago and split them into three groups: kids that were to receive part-time summer employment (25 hours a week), kids that were to receive part-time summer employment (15 hours a week) as well as a cognitive behavioral therapy component, and kids who were to receive neither.

The study found that One Summer Plus reduced teens’ violent crime arrests by a whopping 43% over 16 months. And that reduction happened, for the most part, in the months after the program had ended. The positive effect was equal in both groups—those who were given part-time work only, and those who were given the combination of work and the emotional learning element.

Here’s a clip from the University of Chicago’s website:

This research comes as youth employment in the summer months, when teenagers are most likely to work, is near a 60-year low. The challenges facing minority and low-income youth are particularly stark; the 2010 employment rate for low-income black teens in Illinois was less than one-fourth the rate for higher-income white teens: 9 percent vs. 39 percent.

Study author Sara Heller, PhD‘13, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that acts of violence kill almost 150 people daily in the United States, and injure more than 6,000—a level the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a public health crisis. Individuals ages 10 to 24 are twice as likely as adults to be victims or perpetrators of violence, and the problem is concentrated among disadvantaged minority youth. Joblessness has been identified by experts as one of the major causes of these racial violence disparities.

[SNIP]

“The city of Chicago was courageous enough to put its One Summer Plus program to the test, and turns out that just eight weeks of summer programming decreases violent crime arrests by a huge amount for over a year after the job ends,” said Heller. “This is an incredibly encouraging finding.”

Heller noted that the decline occurred largely after the eight-week summer job program ended, indicating that the program did not just keep youth busier over the summer: It changed their behavior after the job had ended as well.

Previous youth employment programs have targeted young adults who have dropped out of school and are struggling to find jobs. But intervening before the students drop out of school and helping them develop skills needed to be successful on the job, like impulse control and decision-making, might do more with less by focusing on prevention rather than remediation.

The results of this study show that when such an intervention is offered to students while they’re still in school, it does not have to be lengthy or costly to change behavior.

And this isn’t the first study to find that summer jobs significantly lower teen violence. A 2013 Northeastern University study found that after employment, fewer kids reported getting into fights or threatening or attacking someone with a gun.

An Education Week story about the Northeastern study also pointed out that last year, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti boosted funding for Hire L.A. Youth Summer Employment Program to provide jobs to 5,000 more teens.

Elsewhere in the state, San Jose has been doing an excellent job of keeping teens busy during the summer, and thus lowering gang violence, through its Safe Summer Initiative.

In LA, Homeboy Industries helps formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated young people with job training and placement, in addition to many other crucial programs and services.

“Clearly, if you ask any inner city kid what would help them, not a single one would say anything other than…job, says Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder. “It gives them a reason to get up in the morning and honest money in their pocket, and if they are even remotely ‘gang involved,’ a reason not to engage in gang activity. There are always too few summer jobs and too many hoops and too many requirements for kids to secure them.”


CHECKING IN WITH CALIFORNIA FOSTER KIDS TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD

A five-year survey (half-way through its 2012-2015 span) assessed the conditions of California foster kids nearing adulthood, specifically 16 and 17-year-olds.

Ninety percent of the 727 transition-aged kids surveyed said they feel at least “fairly optimistic” about the future, 92% have at least one person they can turn to for support, and 70% said their caregivers had been helpful overall, according to the survey conducted by University of Chicago’ Chapin Hall.

These numbers are heartening considering the fact that foster kids aging out of the system face daunting statistics.

One-third of respondents said they had dropped out of middle school or high school because of a change in foster care placement. Twenty-seven percent said they had been expelled from school. Nearly half said the highest level of education they had completed was 11th grade. Only 11% reported finishing high school. A fifth of one percent finished a year of college.

Twenty-four reported having attempted suicide. Nearly 40% reported having been arrested, and 25% said they had been locked up in a detention facility.

Twenty-six percent of the foster teen girls said they had been pregnant at least once, compared with 10% of the general population.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the study and statistics. Here’s a clip:

The study is the first part of the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study, a collaborative effort among the California Department of Social Services, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, and five private foundations.

In 2010, the state passed Assembly Bill 12, which offers foster youths the option to remain in care until age 21. The bill guarantees transition-oriented options for older youths, including supervised independent living and more intensive transitional housing programs…

Researchers will re-interview the participants when they are between the ages of 19 and 21, years in which California now offers foster youths the chance to remain in care. Two-thirds of the survey participants indicated that they wanted to remain in care after age 18.

“In the next three years, the study will take a deeper look into the needs of subgroups of youth and will also compare young people’s and caseworker’s perspectives,” said Dr. Mark Courtney, who is leading this research for Chapin Hall, in a statement issued with the release of the survey. “This work will offer important guidance to California as well as other states that are extending foster care.”


SAN BERNARDINO CITY TO BUILD NEW JAIL…FOR LA COUNTY

On Wednesday, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 to move forward with building a new 3,264-bed jail, in the hopes that LA County will lease the facility and fork over some much-needed cash.

LA County has not signed a contract with the city, but private developer Doctor R. Crants says he expects to pitch the idea to the Board of Supervisors soon.

We at WLA sincerely hope that before the board signs on the dotted line for this new jail (while rebuilding and expanding Men’s Central Jail to the tune of $2 billion), they will run the numbers and figure out how much jail space LA really needs if: the county pushes for large-scale mental health diversion, increases its use of split-sentencing, and replaces a portion of economic-based bail practices with a risk-based pre-trial release.

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has the story. Here’s a clip:

…critics say the vote was premature because the city has not yet signed a contract with the county. They also question whether the county will have a need for an overflow jail facility after the passage of Proposition 47, a voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

“There will possibly be no need for the county to send innmates elsewhere,” said Christina Fialho, who heads a campaign against jail expansion in Adelanto.

County officials are still assessing how the new regulations will affect the size of its inmate population.

Several county supervisors have said they would consider leasing space in Adelanto, with Supervisor Don Knabe expressing support for the proposal.

But this week, newly elected Supervisor Hilda Solis suggested she may oppose it. Solis, who warned at her inauguration earlier this month against an “incarceration-industrial complex,” said in a statement that her priority was investing in mental health and substance abuse treatment, not new jail beds. “It is fiscally reckless to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year housing and feeding people who could be out working,” Solis said.

We agree.


FORMER POLICE UNION SPOKESMAN EXPLAINS LAW ENFORCEMENT’S SIDE OF A DEPARTMENT CRISIS

In a smart commentary for the Crime Report, Eric Rose, longtime spokesman of the Los Angeles Police Protective League who recently parted ways with the union, shares the law enforcement side of a crisis or scandal. Rose stresses the necessity of being transparent and honest with the public and media from the beginning.

Rose also explains what goes through the minds of officers and department leaders when their organization gets “lit up,” and what those leaders must do to confidently lead their rank and file through the trouble. Here’s a clip:

The reputation of every police or sheriff’s department depends on the confidence of its key stakeholders: the public, employees, the union, the media and sometimes outside government regulators. Sooner or later, virtually every law enforcement organization faces a crisis that has the potential to destroy its public reputation.

While that day is almost inevitable, it always comes as a huge shock.

No one is ever really prepared, no matter what contingency planning the organization has done. More often than not, the issue arises from an unexpected source without any prior notice.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of being responsive, credible and accurate early in the crisis. Every law enforcement organization struggles at this point with multiple anxieties that often paralyze management and labor and lead to indecision and non-communication. Hesitation, vagueness and unwillingness to factually communicate destroy credibility and plant the seeds of future disaster.

[SNIP]

The recent high-profile law enforcement events in Ferguson and New York demonstrate the contrasts in responses. In Ferguson, there was little factual response by the Police Department to the narrative being created around the shooting, ensuring that anything released when the investigation was concluded had little effect in either informing or changing minds of the public.

Without a coherent and organized response for a long period of time, subsequent events and agendas simply overwhelmed the police, and made virtually irrelevant any subsequent statement by the Police Department.

In New York, following the grand jury decision not to indict an officer in connection with the chokehold death of Eric Garner, what happened in the original incident was captured entirely on videotape. So the response did not need to concern itself with “what” happened—but how the New York Police Department (NYPD) would respond.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton was brilliant. He made himself available for national and local media, took the hard questions, and repeated calmly the procedures the department would follow after the grand Jury decision. Although the essence of what he said was not new to the media, nor to anybody who is aware of police procedure, the availability and measured response to questions has kept Bratton and his department relevant players in the fallout from the grand jury decision.

Commissioner Bratton has two terms every executive should use when getting out information quickly: “the information is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation proceeds” and “the first story (version) is never the last story (version).”

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPPL, law enforcement, Violence Prevention | 1 Comment »

Two Cities on Opposite Ends of the School Discipline Spectrum, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and Drugging Foster Kids

December 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

OAKLAND LEADING THE WAY ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

In 2007, an Oakland’s first restorative justice program was piloted at a middle school. That school improved student-teacher relations and reduced suspensions by 87%. Seven years later, nearly 30 schools in Oakland follow the restorative justice model, which fosters healing and conflict resolution between students and their teachers and peers. A forthcoming report shows that from 2011-2014, the Oakland Unified School District saw suspension rates drop by 40%, while academics and graduation rates improved.

Oakland is also dedicated to implementing restorative practices in the juvenile justice system. And families, communities, and police are working together to keep kids out of lock up.

In a guest commentary for the San Jose Mercury, Fania Davis, co-founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, shares some of Oakland’s powerful restorative justice triumphs, as it sets an example for the rest of California, as well as the nation. Here’s a clip:

Inspired by the successes of New Zealand’s Maori-influenced Family Group Conferencing, Oakland’s Community Works West has launched a restorative diversion pilot that is dramatically reducing recidivism.

The Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency is helping other jurisdictions initiate similar pilots.

Insight Prison Project is launching an in-custody restorative program. RJOY is pioneering a restorative re-entry model. The North Oakland Restorative Justice Council paints murals, plants trees, and facilitates healing circles after youth homicides.

Residents and police are working together to keep children out of prison. Police, probation officers, youth and others are being trained in restorative justice.

Youth and police are sitting together in healing circles, creating new relationships based on increased trust and recognition of one another’s humanity. Given the epidemic of police killings the nation is now grappling with, our work with law enforcement offers hope.


BUT OVER IN GEORGIA…

In stark contrast to the situation in Oakland, over in Atlanta, 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings faced serious criminal charges for writing on the walls of a bathroom at school after her family was unable to pay $100 in restitution. Through a deal with the state to have the charges dropped, Mikia was placed on probation and had to do 16 hours of community service. Mikia’s white friend who wrote on the walls with her, saw no legal consequences. Her parents were able to pay the restitution, and the girl received a few days suspension. And Mikia’s not the only one.

The NY Times’ Tazina Vega has Mikia’s story, and more on Georgia’s serious racial disparity in school discipline. Here are some clips:

To hear Mikia Hutchings speak, one must lean in close, as her voice barely rises above a whisper. In report cards, her teachers describe her as “very focused,” someone who follows the rules and stays on task. So it was a surprise for her grandmother when Mikia, 12, and a friend got into trouble for writing graffiti on the walls of a gym bathroom at Dutchtown Middle School in Henry County last year.

Even more of a surprise was the penalty after her family disputed the role she was accused of playing in the vandalism and said it could not pay about $100 in restitution. While both students were suspended from school for a few days, Mikia had to face a school disciplinary hearing and, a few weeks later, a visit by a uniformed officer from the local Sheriff’s Department, who served her grandmother with papers accusing Mikia of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.

As part of an agreement with the state to have the charges dismissed in juvenile court, Mikia admitted to the allegations of criminal trespassing. Mikia, who is African-American, spent her summer on probation, under a 7 p.m. curfew, and had to complete 16 hours of community service in addition to writing an apology letter to a student whose sneakers were defaced in the incident.

Her friend, who is white, was let go after her parents paid restitution.

[SNIP]

Michael J. Tafelski, a lawyer from the Georgia Legal Services Program who represented Mikia in the school disciplinary hearing, and advocates for students say the punishment Mikia faced was an example of racial disparities in school discipline.

In response to the actions taken against Mikia, Mr. Tafelski said his office had filed a complaint with the Justice Department claiming racial discrimination and a violation of the Civil Rights Act. “I’ve never had a white kid call me for representation in Henry County,” Mr. Tafelski said.

“What kid needs to be having a conversation with a lawyer about the right to remain silent?” he said. “White kids don’t have those conversations; black kids do.”

According to Mikia, her only offense was writing the word “Hi” on a bathroom stall door, while her friend scribbled the rest of the graffiti. “I only wrote one word, and I had to do all that,” Mikia said in a recent interview. “It isn’t fair.”


BRINGING BACK THE JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION ACT

A bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002), was introduced Thursday.

The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.

The bill proposes important changes to the JJDPA. Over the course of three years, an exception to the rules allowing courts to detain kids for status offenses via a “valid court order” would be eliminated. The new bill also would require states to record and report data on issues like the solitary confinement of kids, the detainment of kids for status offenses, and how many offenses occurred at school.

Because the bill reauthorization was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) toward the end of the Senate’s session, it will have to be reintroduced next year.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

In exchange for compliance with those requirements, states receive no less than $400,000 in federal funds, and more populous states typically receive millions. Forty-nine states at least try to comply with the act; Wyoming is the lone holdout.

The bill introduced today would phase out over three years the “valid court order,” an exception that permits courts to jail children for status offenses, which include truancy and running away.

While judges are not permitted under JJPDA to detain a youth directly for a status offense, a judge can issue a court order to any offender instructing them not to commit a status offense.

If the juvenile then commits one of the listed offenses, it would be permissible under the federal law to detain them. In 2012 alone, the exception was used more than 7,000 times, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

The bill would also require states to report data on several controversial issues regarding youth in detention or confinement. Among the reporting requirements:

- Use of restraints and isolation in juvenile facilities

- The number of status offenses who are detained, the underlying reason for the detention, and the average length of stay

- The number of pregnant juveniles held in custody

- The number of juveniles whose offenses occurred on school grounds


THINK TANK: WHAT TO DO ABOUT PHARMACEUTICALS’ TARGETING OF DOCTORS TREATING FOSTER KIDS

Last month, part three of Karen de Sá’s powerful series on drugging foster kids exposed pharmaceutical companies’ flagrant targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care. (If you haven’t, go back and read that story, and parts one and two, here.)

California Healthline put together a think tank that includes advocates, officials, and physicians to answer how California should deal with this issue.

Here’s what Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the state medical board, had to say (but do go read the other contributions):

The Medical Board of California takes the issue of inappropriate prescribing very seriously. The board is committed to consumer protection, and enforces this commitment through the education and oversight of its physicians. The board is currently working with the California Department of Health Care Services and the California Department of Social Services to identify physicians who may be inappropriately prescribing medications to foster children.

It is very important, for this issue and other cross-cutting issues, that state agencies collaborate and work together to share information that will allow each agency to take the necessary actions against their licensees. In addition, working together on a “united front” to tackle such an issue can provide more comprehensive solutions in order to continue to protect California consumers.

The board encourages any individual, agency, media or court official to notify the board and file a complaint if they believe a physician may be inappropriately prescribing. The board needs to be notified in order to investigate and take appropriate action against a physician’s license who is found to be inappropriately prescribing medications. It is critical for the board to be involved in this issue, as the board is the only state agency that can take the appropriate action against a physician’s license and his/her ability to practice.

The board is thoroughly committed to addressing the inappropriate prescribing issue by taking the appropriate action when necessary and providing and disseminating education to physicians, consumers and other state agencies.

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Child Welfare Czar Further Delayed, LASD Oversight, Long-Term Price of Locking Kids Up…and More

December 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS RESTART THE SEARCH FOR A CHILD WELFARE CZAR

In a closed session last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors broke off their contract with the firm chosen to identify candidates for the new child welfare czar. (If you are unfamiliar: this czar will be appointed to oversee much-needed reforms to the Department of Children and Family Services.)

The board, unsatisfied with the people recommended by the headhunting firm, will now restart the search for viable contenders for the position. Other reasons for the change of course included uncertainty about how much power the czar will have, and the arrival of two new Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

One key question is how much authority to give the new position. Antonovich cited this as another reason the board decided to change headhunters.

“The position was being sold as having more authority than it was really going to have,” he said. Oppenheim said county officials decided on the job description, not him.

Solis suggested any new job description should provide the child welfare director more authority, not less. McCroskey said the current description was unclear because of conflicting views on the board.

“It wasn’t clear what it is that the primary responsibility would be,” she said. “Are you there to coordinate different agencies ? Or are you there to direct other agencies?”

Solis said the board’s decision to hire a new headhunter and re-write the job description reflects a new day at the county Hall of Administration – especially as it relates to her and fellow newcomer Kuehl.

“We’re not just going to sit by and keep with the status quo or listen to the naysayers who say ‘oh, you don’t know enough about this,’ ” Solis told KPCC. “We are taking a new refreshing look at it, a new bite at the apple.”


FORMING THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of creating a citizen’s oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But what will that commission look like?

An LA Times editorial says the commission should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five Supes. That configuration would not have enough independence from the board. The editorial (as well as Sheriff Jim McDonnell), calls for a larger commission, one with non-board-appointed members who can only be ousted with good cause. Here’s a clip:

Will this new body remain a creature of the Board of Supervisors, or will it be granted some independence? Will it oversee the work of the department’s inspector general, or instead will it work in cooperation — or competition — with that office? Will it have power to subpoena documents? What sway will it hold over the actions of the sheriff, who will continue to report directly to voters and will, at least on paper, be accountable only to them? Can oversight be accomplished by a body that is merely advisory?

The answers to these and other questions are fundamental to the proper operation of the commission, which could become a useful tool for good sheriff-community relations and for transparency and accountability. Or, if the panel is put together with too little care, it could become another sedimentary layer of bureaucracy that consumes resources but offers little in return.

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The new oversight commission should be seen differently, not as a instrument of the board but rather as something more independent, with a focus more on disclosure and accountability than on limiting financial liability.

A five-member panel would almost certainly consist of one appointee from each of the supervisors, serving as extensions of their offices, removable by them.

That’s one reason that Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in Los Angeles Jails and The Times editorial board support a larger panel with members other than board appointees, each with staggered terms and removable only for cause.

The editorial also suggests county officials look to other municipalities with civilian oversight to see what’s working.


INCARCERATING KIDS COSTS BILLIONS DOWN THE LINE

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute examines the long-term costs, including the collateral consequences, of locking kids up.

Examining data from 46 states, the study found states spent an average of $148,767 a year locking up just one kid in the most expensive kind of confinement. California was among the 10 states spending the most on incarceration ($570.79 a day, $208,338 a year). Beyond that, the report estimates the US loses between $8-$21 billion in long-term secondary costs of needlessly incarcerating kids, including lost education time, lost future earnings, and lost future taxes.

Among other recommendations, the report suggests community-based treatment and supervision, investing dollars in diversion programs, better tracking of recidivism and outcomes.

Here are some clips from the accompanying story:

“Every year, the majority of states spend $100,000 or more to lock up youth who are mostly imprisoned for troubled behavior or nonviolent offenses,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of Justice Policy Institute. “And compared to the huge long-term costs to young people, their families, victims, and taxpayers, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a poor investment and we must do better.”

The billions of dollars in hidden costs result from formerly incarcerated young people earning lower wages, paying less in taxes, as well as having a greater dependence upon government assistance and higher rates of recidivism. Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future…

Beyond these costs, the report also notes that the system does not affect all young people equally. African American youth are incarcerated at a rate nearly five times that of white youth, and Hispanic/Latino youth at a rate twice as high as whites. Even though young people engage in similar behavior, there are differences in the way young people of color and white youth are treated.

“The significant and multi-faceted costs of incarceration paint a troubling picture for young people, their families and communities, as well as taxpayers,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Fortunately, proven alternatives to incarceration for holding youths accountable are not only cheaper, but most importantly are almost always the best answer for protecting the public and putting kids on the right track to being productive, law-abiding citizens.”


CONSIDERING THE INQUEST: A POSSIBILITY ALTERNATIVE FOR HANDLING POLICE KILLINGS

The non-indictments of both Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo—the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner—have prompted conversations about ways to eliminate bias in police killing cases generally handled by local District Attorneys. Appointing special prosecutors or handing cases to the state DA’s office have emerged as potential work-arounds.

Slate’s Josh Voorhees has the story on another idea that is entering the discussion: an inquest. Here’s a clip:

How do we resolve this disjoint between a binary system that sees things only in black and white and the public’s need for an honest investigation of the shades of gray in between? One little-discussed option comes from Paul MacMahon, a law professor at the London School of Economics. He argues in a forthcoming Yale Law & Policy Review article that the solution may be an inquest, a quasi-judicial proceeding with medieval roots that has largely fallen by the wayside in the United States. Inquests—which are still common in England and Ireland—are called in the aftermath of an unexpected or unusual death. Typically, a jury, with the help of a judge or coroner, seeks to establish the facts of the case but, importantly, has no legal authority to indict or convict. Think of this as akin to a civilian review board, but with more power, a clearer task, and an actual platform to make sure its conclusions are heard.

How would such an inquest work? MacMahon proposes launching one automatically anytime a police officer kills someone in the line of duty. Having either a judge or coroner lead the jury would remove the apparent conflict of interest of a district attorney investigating an officer who he relies on to do his job. The inquest would have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath, but unlike a grand jury, the proceedings would play out in public. The bigger wrinkle, though, is that the jury would have no power to decide the question of criminal or civil liability. The findings wouldn’t necessarily even be admissible as evidence in a court of law. Prosecutors would still be the ones to decide whether to take the case to the grand jury; the grand jury would still decide whether to indict the officer. But an inquest would bring a heavy dose of public accountability. In England, for instance, when an inquest concludes a homicide was an “unlawful killing,” the state doesn’t have to prosecute the case. If it chooses not to, however, it has to formally explain that decision.

The inability of an inquest to bring charges itself may sound like a weakness, but it’s what makes the process so valuable. Because the panel wouldn’t be preoccupied with the guilty/not guilty or indictment/no indictment binary, it would have more leeway to pursue the facts wherever they lead. “The inquest, more than any other institution, is charged with pursuing the truth—sometimes including the moral truth,” MacMahon writes. Inquests don’t just ask whether someone’s actions were justified in a legal sense, he says; they ask “whether or not a person’s conduct was justified in distinct and important ways from the question of whether or not the person should be held criminally responsible or liable to pay damages.”

In the case of Wilson or Pantaleo, then, an inquest could try to answer not just whether the officer was legally justified in his use of force, but whether the officer was right in a larger sense to do so. There’s no guarantee the inquest’s jurors would be able to settle that question once and for all, of course, but simply publicly attempting to would be a big step forward for a government that is struggling to convince communities of color that their lives matter in our criminal justice system…

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | 22 Comments »

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