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ABC 7 Obtains Evidence From LASD Obstruction Trial…In Depth on California’s Sex Trafficked Children…3 Roads Out of Foster Care….& More

October 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


ABC7 SHOWS WHAT THE JURY HEARD & SAWA IN LASD OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIALS

The video that shows Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long confronting FBI Special Agent Leah Marx outside her home and threatening her with arrest in September 2011, (even though they never intended to arrest her) was one of the pieces of evidence that resulted in felony convictions for the two sergeants and for four other former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (All six are expected to surrender for their respective prison terms on January 4.)

ABC7 News has obtained that video plus various other recordings and documents that were considered crucial to the jury’s guilty verdict.

Here are a couple of clips from the excellent expanded web version of Tuesday night’s story by investigative producer Lisa Bartley.

By late September 2011, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “Special Operations Group” had FBI Agent Leah Marx under surveillance for more than two weeks. Her partner, FBI Agent David Lam, was under surveillance as well.

“Locate target and establish lifestyle,” reads the surveillance order for Agent Lam.

Surveillance logs on Agent Marx turned up nothing more nefarious than the young agent picking up after her medium-sized brown and white dog. The surveillance team notes in its report that the dog went “#2″.

It’s highly unusual for a local law enforcement agency to investigate and conduct surveillance on FBI agents, but this is an incredibly unusual case. Seven former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants stand convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their roles in trying to block a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in L.A. County Jails.

[LARGE SNIP]

Lying to the FBI is a crime, as Sgt. Craig would soon find out. Marx was not “a named suspect in a felony complaint” and Craig knew he could not arrest the FBI agent for her role in the FBI’s undercover operation at Men’s Central Jail. The FBI sting included smuggling a contraband cell phone into inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown through a corrupt sheriff’s deputy who accepted a cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent.

Craig did not have probable cause to arrest Marx because the contraband phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI investigation. No less than the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office had told then-Sheriff Lee Baca that himself more than a month before the threat to arrest Agent Marx.

The federal judge who oversaw all three trials delivered a harsh rebuke to six of the defendants at their sentencing last month.

Judge Percy Anderson: “Perhaps it’s a symptom of the corrupt culture within the Sheriff’s Department, but one of the most striking things aside from the brazenness of threatening to arrest an FBI agent for a crime of simply doing her job and videotaping yourself doing it, is that none of you have shown even the slightest remorse.”

The story also features other evidence such as the audio of Sgt. Long lying to Agent Marx’s FBI supervisor, Special Agent Carlos Narro, when he called to inquire about the arrest threat. (Then, after hanging up, Long appears to laugh with a sort of gloating amusement at Narro’s reaction, as the recorder was still rolling.)

In addition, there are examples of former Lt. Stephen Leavins and Sgt. Craig attempting to convince various witnesses not to cooperate with the FBI—AKA witness tampering.

For the jury—as those of us sitting in the courtroom who heard these and other recording snippets played over and over—the evidence could not help but be very potent.

ABC7′s Bartley has still more, which you can find here.


GONE GIRLS: LA MAG LOOKS AT SEX TRAFFICKING OF CALIFORNIA’S CHILDREN

In the US, California has become a tragic growth area for sex trafficking of children. Out of the nation’s thirteen high intensity child prostitution areas, as identified by the FBI, three of those thirteen are located in California—namely in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas.

In the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, Mike Kessler has a terrific, in depth, and very painful story about those who are fighting to help the young victims of repeated rape for the profit of others.

We’ve excerpted Kessler’s important story below.

The sex trafficking of minors, we’ve come—or maybe want—to believe, is limited to developing nations, where wretched poverty leaves girls with few options. But too many children in Los Angeles County know that the sex trade has no borders. They can be runaways fresh off the Greyhound, immigrants from places like Southeast Asia and eastern Europe, aspiring “models” whose “managers” have them convinced that sexual favors are standard operating procedure. Uncovering the sale of children is difficult at best. While some authorities suspect that boys are sexually exploited as often as girls, nobody knows for sure. Boys are rarely pimped, which isn’t the case for girls. And what little law enforcement agencies can track usually happens on the street, at the behest of pimps, albeit in areas that society tends to ignore. In L.A. County that means poor black and Latino neighborhoods such as Watts, Lynwood, Compton, and parts of Long Beach, along with Van Nuys and Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. “This is the demographic that’s most afflicted,” Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Marymount University’s law school, a member of L.A.’s police commission, and an expert on human trafficking, told me. “It’s a problem among marginalized children.” According to the district attorney’s office, 29 confirmed cases of child sex trafficking were reported in L.A. County in the first quarter of this year. That’s roughly 120 minors sold for sex annually, but, authorities agree, the statistics fall short of reality when there are so many ways to hide the crime.

LAPD Lieutenant Andre Dawson is a 32-year department veteran who, for the past four years, has run an eight-person team dedicated to slowing the commercial sexual exploitation of children, whom he once thought of us prostitutes. Now he sees the kids as the victims they are.

Fifty-six and a year away from retirement, Dawson is six feet three inches, bald, and handsome, with a graying mustache. When I met him on a recent Friday evening, he was sharply dressed in a black Kangol cap, chunky glasses, a collarless white shirt, and dark designer jeans. In his cubicle he keeps binders documenting the lengths to which pimps go to lay claim to the children they sell. There’s a photo of a girl’s chest, the words “King Snipe’s Bitch” tattooed on it. King Snipe, or Leroy Bragg, is in prison now. Girls are stamped in dark ink with their pimp’s nickname, “Cream,” an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” One bears his name on her cheek. The girl was 14 and pregnant at the time she was branded. The burn mark on a different young woman’s back was from an iron applied by her pimp, Dawson said. He brought out a twist of lime-colored wires that was two feet long and as thick as three fingers, duct tape binding them together. “We call this ‘the green monster,’ ” he said. “It’s what one of these pimps used to discipline his girls. He beat one of them so bad, he pulled the skin off of her back.”

Once the sun went down, Dawson draped a Kevlar vest over my torso and drove me through “the tracks,” stretches of city streets where money is exchanged for sex. They’re also known collectively as “the blade,” owing to the risks one takes when walking them. Threading his SUV through the crush of downtown traffic, he recounted how he used to regard the kids he arrested as willing participants. They were defiant toward police, he said. Invariably the girls protected their pimps and went back to the streets. But as he talked to child advocates, he came to the realization that most of the kids lacked the emotional maturity to know they were being abused. “The chain is around the brain,” he said, passing the big airplane by the science museum at Fig and Expo. “The more I work with this population, the more I understand that 12- and 13-year-old girls don’t just call each other up and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out prostituting.’ They’re not just using bad judgment. They’re doing it because they’re desperate for love or money or both. They think they’re getting what they can’t get somewhere else.” Even more tragic, Dawson said, is that “these girls think the pimp hasn’t done anything wrong.”

While poverty, parentlessness, and crushingly low self-esteem are all factors, there’s another reason so many kids wind up in “the game,” or, as some call it, “the life”: Dawson estimates “nine-and-a-half or ten out of ten” of the girls he encounters were victims of sexual abuse that began long before they turned their first trick. I asked him how many adult prostitutes he encounters started when they were underage. “Ninety-nine percent,” he said. “It’s all they’ve known.”

Kessler met up with LA County Supervisor Don Knabe in Washington D.C. when Knabe—who says he has grandchildren the age of some of the sex trafficking victims—was working to shake loose federal dollars to fund some of LA County’s programs, like LA’s STAR Court (that WLA posted about here), that prevent underage girls from being bought and sold for sex. The supervisor brought with him a trafficking survivor, who predictably had more of an affect on the D.C. crowd at a press conference on the topic, than the gathered politicians.

Knabe has been a vocal supporter of California legislation introduced by Republican state senator Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar, and Democrat Ted Lieu, of Torrance. Their “War on Child Sex Trafficking” package consists of bills that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain wiretap warrants on suspected pimps and list pimping as an official gang activity, since pimps often have gang affiliations and sentences can be stiffened for crimes committed by members. Consequently Governor Jerry Brown this year created a CSEC budget of $5 million, which will go toward training and services; next year that budget will jump to $14 million. At the federal level Knabe has been a point man for Democratic Representative Karen Bass, whose district encompasses several South L.A. County neighborhoods, and for Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe, both of whom are pushing tough-on-trafficking legislation.

Knabe had brought Jessica Midkiff, the survivor I’d met at the diner in L.A., to D.C. for the press conference. After the supervisor spoke, she took the microphone and addressed the 30 or so reporters in the room. Choking back her nervousness, she said, “I was exploited beginning at the age of 11 and was arrested several times across the United States before the age of 21. For a lot of young women like me, trauma began at an early age. Before the commercial sexual exploitation, abuse was a major factor in most of our childhoods. In my case, I was raped, beaten, and mentally abused from 3 to 11 years old by a number of men.” She made no effort to conceal the blot of ink on her neck, the indecipherable result of one pimp’s tattoo being covered by another’s over the course of a decade. She spoke of the violence and coercion, the desperation and loneliness that victims suffer, the cruelty of pimps and the ubiquity of johns. “Our buyers can be members of law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, and business owners,” Jessica said. “Why would anybody believe us?” One of her johns, she added, was an administrator at a school she attended “who followed, stalked, and harassed me to get into his car” when he was “in his forties and I was only 14 years old.”

During the Q&A afterward, a reporter asked what Jessica or her pimps charged for their services. She demurred at first. Asked again a few minutes later, she reluctantly said, “It starts at 50 dollars and moves its way up to a couple hundred and even thousands. The younger the child, the higher the cost.”

There’s lots more to the story, so be sure to read on.


THREE BROTHERS & THREE VERY DIFFERENT TALES OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On a Sunday in 2006, three brothers escaped from the home of their alcoholic, abusive grandmother. (Their mother was a drug addict so they no longer lived with her.) A month later, social services showed up at their sister’s door and took the three boys—Matt, 14, Terrick, 12, and Joseph, 11—into the foster care system. A social worker told them they would not be separated. The promise turned out not to be true.

Brian Rinker of the Chronicle of Social Change looks at the experiences and subsequent paths of each of the three boys, and what those paths say about the foster care system in California.

Here’s a clip:

They stashed a black plastic garbage bag full of clothes next to a dumpster outside their grandmother’s apartment in Whittier, California, and wore extra socks, shirts and pants underneath their church outfits. Their older sister, 23, would pick them up at a nearby Burger King. From there, according to the brothers, she would whisk them away and raise them as her own.

So instead of stepping onto that church bus as they had done every week past, the Bakhit brothers walked to Burger King praying that whatever lay ahead was better than what they left behind.

Matt, the eldest, was the mastermind. At 14, a wrestler and high school freshman, Matt said living in the strict, abusive home stifled his maturity. How could he grow into a man?

“My grandma, over any little thing, would pull my pants down and whoop me with a belt,” Matt, now 22, said in an interview.

But freedom from his abusive grandmother didn’t mean an end to his and his brothers’ hardships.

Child protection intervened less than a month later at their sister’s San Diego home. The brothers remember a social worker telling them they would not be separated. They packed their belongings once again into plastic bags and piled into the social worker’s car. The brothers cried.

Despite the promise, 20 minutes later the social worker dropped Matt off at a foster home. Terrick and Joseph were taken to the Polinsky Children’s Center, a 24-hour emergency shelter in San Diego for kids without a home, or as Joseph calls it, “purgatory.”

[BIG SNIP]

The tale of the brothers Bakhit exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of a foster care system struggling to care for thousands of abused and neglected children. The same system that nurtured Joseph also alienated Matt, and lost Terrick to the juvenile justice system, which cut him from foster care and cast him out on the streets: broke, hungry and with nowhere to go.

[SNIP]

Despite a traumatic childhood, Joseph, the youngest, now 19, grew up a success by most standards. He graduated as valedictorian from San Pasqual Academy, a residential school for foster youth. The academy gave him a car: a black 2008 Toyota Scion XD.

When he got accepted to UC Berkeley, scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth paid his full ride. And because of a 2010 law extending foster care to age 21, he gets a $838 check every month until age 21.

Now in his second year of college, Joseph works at a dorm cafeteria and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.

Terrick and Matt’s experience was totally different.

By the time Joseph graduated from high school, Terrick and Matt were homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego….

Read on.


AZ PRISONS & JAILS CAN NO LONGER PEPPER SPRAY SCHIZOPHRENICS FOR ANY OLD REASON…AND OTHER SETTLEMENT TERMS

Across the nation, 45 percent of those in solitary confinement are mentally ill, notes Shane Bauer, of Mother Jones Magazine in a story about a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and by inmates at 10 of Arizona’s state prisons, which reached a settlement Tuesday with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care—including mental health care—and solitary confinement conditions in Arizona’s prisons.

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story about the settlement:

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—–the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—–are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country’s three largest mental health care providers are jails.

Tim Hull of the Courthouse News also has a story on Tuesday’s settlement that even requires Arizona to pay $5 million in attorneys’ fees.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, crime and punishment, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

San Antonio’s Mental Health Diversion, Judge Michael Nash Seeks Child Welfare Czar Position, DEA Steals Woman’s Identity, and Combatting Child Sex Trafficking in LA

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SAN ANTONIO SETS EXAMPLE OF HOW TO TURN AROUND OVER-INCARCERATION OF MENTALLY ILL

LA County is facing a federal consent decree over jail conditions and treatment of the mentally ill, and at the state level, a US District Judge ordered California to improve policies regarding the handling of mentally ill inmates languishing in solitary confinement.

And the problem isn’t just here, it’s happening across the country (save for a few special cases): more than half of everyone behind bars in the US has mental health problems.

One of those exceptions is San Antonio, Texas, where 95% of officers have completed specialized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses help train officers on how to treat them. Officers take mentally ill people in crisis to treatment centers instead of jail. The program has saved the city a whopping $50 million.

ACLU Center for Justice Senior Counsel Kara Dansky has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Approximately 95 percent of police officers in San Antonio have gone through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program that teaches them how to spot the symptoms of mental illness and how to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental health crisis.

People with mental illnesses, including Michelle, work with the police officers to teach them how they should be treated. Michelle helps to train them. Even though it’s not the ideal solution, some people call the police when having a mental health crisis. Instead of putting people in handcuffs and taking them to jail, officers in San Antonio take them to a center staffed with mental health professionals.

In the new short film series, “OverCriminalized,” we interviewed several members of the San Antonio police force. They report that they are much more confident and comfortable dealing with mental health crises after going through the training. Most importantly, since the implementation, none of the CIT teams have used extreme force.

But it’s not just about how to police; it’s about the entire goal of these interactions. People struggling with mental illness are no longer taken to a jail cell by way of lengthy and expensive stops in the ER. This program has saved the city about $50 million dollars.

It’s good to celebrate what’s happened in San Antonio. But we need to step back and ask how the city got into this problem in the first place. The answer is that for decades, this county has been shoving social problems like mental illness and drug addiction into a criminal justice system ill equipped to solve them. This mass criminalization has led to way too many people behind bars, often for too long and for reasons that have no business being crimes in the first place. Communities of color have been hardest hit.


HEAD OF JUVENILE COURT JUDGE MICHAEL NASH WANTS TO BE APPOINTED LA’S NEW CHILD WELFARE CZAR

LA County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash says he wants to be LA’s new Child Welfare Czar. (We at WLA think this is a fantastic idea.)

During his time as head of the juvenile court system, Nash has worked to bring public accountability to the children’s court system and the Department of Children and Family Services.

It is yet unclear when the new czar will be named, but LA County’s transition team is working to give the new leader a head start when they are finally appointed.

Daniel Heimpel broke the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Nash told The Chronicle of Social Change that he had indeed thrown his hat in the ring, telling recruiters that he wanted the job.

He said that moving from the courts to a highly politicized office was like, “going from the frying pan into the fire.” But years of experience weighing the complexities of child maltreatment and foster care made it almost impossible for him to resist. “Sadly that’s the way it is,” he added with a chuckle.

Dilys Garcia, who heads Los Angeles County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and works out of Nash’s courthouse, was both sad to see Nash leave the court, and hopeful about his prospects for leading the new office.

“He has been an inspiration to people in the child welfare field,” Garcia said. “Even at the darkest moment he finds a beacon of light to point to. His leaving is going to be a big loss, but I think it would be terrific if he ended up in this new role as child protection czar.”


AN IDENTITY STOLEN “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” …AND THE DEHUMANIZATION OF DRUG OFFENDERS

Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby has an alarming story about a woman whose identity was stolen by the DEA in an attempt to communicate with other drug crime suspects with whom she was associated. A DEA agent used photos found on Sondra Arquiett’s cell phone, including a photo of her wearing only a bra and underwear, and another one with her young son and niece, to create a fake Facebook page while Arquiett was locked up awaiting trial.

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cellphone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.

The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page . . .

The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen.

Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this story points to the dehumanization of drug offenders (by law enforcement and politicians) that has been occurring for decades now.

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

The DOJ filing was in response to Arquiett’s lawsuit. Consider what the federal government is arguing here. It’s arguing that if you’re arrested for a drug crime, including a crime unserious enough to merit a sentence of probation, the government retains the power to (a) steal your identity, (b) use that identity for drug policing, thus making your name and face known to potentially dangerous criminals, (c) interact with those criminals while posing as you, which could subject you to reprisals from those criminals, (d) expose photos of your family, including children, to those criminals, and (e) do all of this without your consent, and with no regard for your safety or public reputation.

The mindset that would allow government officials to not only engage in this sort of behavior, but to then fight in court to preserve their power to continue it is the same mindset that, for example, allows drug cops to compel juveniles and young women to become drug informants, with little regard for their safety — and to then make no apologies when those informants are murdered.


COMMISSIONER CATHERINE PRATT’S EFFORTS TO HELP YOUNG GIRLS CAUGHT UP IN SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has an interesting story about Compton Juvenile Court Commissioner Catherine Pratt and the work she began three years ago to help teen girls involved in prostitution. Until recently, Los Angeles has treated these young girls as criminals, and locked them up, but Pratt and the Los Angeles County Supervisors are working to change that mindset, and instead treat young girls sold for sex as what they are—victims of child sex trafficking.

Pratt devotes Tuesdays to sex trafficking cases, and connects teens with education resources, mentor programs, and legal help. Pratt does her best to divert the girls in her court from juvenile detention and into foster care (the only alternative for these trafficked kids), but sometimes difficulties arise: girls run away from group homes, and return to the streets.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

The humble, affirming approach of Pratt’s Compton courtroom began as an experiment three years ago, when she applied for grant money to provide professional help for the young prostitutes and she set aside Tuesdays to focus exclusively on sex trafficking cases.

Advocates from at least three charities providing mentors, educational liaisons and lawyers sit in the jury box of Pratt’s courtroom to connect with youths as soon as the need arises.

Los Angeles County supervisors launched a plan this year that adopts Pratt’s ethos, and social workers, police officers and others are being trained to take a softer approach to the children involved in prostitution. They are instructed to treat these young prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators.

[SNIP]

“I used to lecture them,” Pratt said. ” ‘You’re making bad choices. This is dangerous.’ I tried to explain to them how short the life span for people in prostitution is. And they were not at all interested. It really didn’t resonate with them at all.”

A personal relationship and trust have to be developed first, she said, and she measures her progress in the pictures, emails and poems that some of the youths send her.

Still, there is risk.

More than 60% of Los Angeles County’s children arrested for prostitution had previously come to the attention of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, and the foster care system’s group homes have become one of most frequent gateways to the sex trade because the children there have fewer family ties and pimps target them for recruitment.

But the foster care system is currently the county’s only alternative to juvenile detention facilities.

Posted in DCFS, DEA, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Gov. Brown Signs a Mountain of Bills, SFPD’s Problem of Lethal Use of Force Against Mentally Ill, Americans Ignoring Conditions in Prisons, and Paul Tanaka’s Campaign

October 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN SIGNS “GUN VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER” BILL AND MANY OTHER SIGNIFICANT BILLS

On Sunday and Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of important bills, including a piece of legislation that will give family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals from possessing firearms who are displaying certain warning signs that they may harm themselves or others.

Reuter’s Sharon Bernstein has more on the “Gun Violence Restraining Order” bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation – the first such measure in the United States - was introduced after police near Santa Barbara said they were unable to confiscate weapons from a man who later went on a rampage and killed six people, despite concern from his family he was in poor mental health and might become violent.

Under the so-called gun violence restraining order in the court system, immediate family members and law enforcement agencies could ask a judge to order guns temporarily removed from certain individuals.

The restraining order would last 21 days, and could be extended up to a year, after a notice and a hearing.

“The new ‘Gun Violence Restraining Order’ law will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to reduce the risk of mass shootings and gun violence both in the home and on our streets,” said Nick and Amanda Wilcox, legislative co-chairs of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gov. Brown also signed SB 1111, which will establish safeguards for kids involuntarily transferred (because of expulsion or probation referral) to community schools, making sure they are given schooling options that are “geographically accessible” to students. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has done excellent reporting on this particular issue.) The bill will also exempt homeless children and kids with certain probation referrals from having to transfer to a county community school.

Another newly signed bill, AB 2276, will ensure that kids exiting juvenile justice facilities are immediately enrolled in school. (We previously linked to this issue here.)

AB 2124, which will allow judges to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed, also made it past the governor’s desk this week.

Brown also approved a heap of bills to help and protect California’s foster children, including, SB 1252, which will extend housing for foster kids until they are 25 if they remain enrolled in school. (The rest of the list can be found here.)


MORE THAN HALF OF PEOPLE KILLED BY SFPD ARE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHAT THE DEPT. IS DOING TO ABOUT IT

Between 2005 and 2013 in San Francisco, 58% of people police officers had shot and killed had mental disabilities. While California does not mandate specialized training to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations with the mentally ill, most of the Bay Area police forces have implemented a program Called Crisis Intervention Training, which includes diverting the mentally ill from lock-up.

While the SFPD adopted CIT in 2011 after several years in which every person officers killed was mentally ill, it has been slow going. Only 18% of officers have received the specialized training (20-25% is ideal) more than three years into the program.

KQED’s Alex Emslie and Rachael Bale have the story. Here’s a clip:

The San Francisco Police Department adopted the Memphis Model of CIT in 2011, after three years in a row in which every person killed in a police shooting had a mental illness.

But it’s clear implementing the program hasn’t been fast or easy.

Three and a half years into the program, the department has trained about 18 percent of its patrol officers. Ideally, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of officers are trained, with the goal of at least one trained officer at each station for each shift.

Finding the right officers for the training hasn’t been easy, and that’s true anywhere, said Major Sam Cochran, who founded CIT while at the Memphis Police Department.

“There are some officers that are not ready to be CIT officers,” said Cochran, who is now at the University of Memphis. “They don’t have the experience. Some officers don’t have the maturity level.”

In some cities, like Berkeley, the program is so elite that officers must compete to get in. But as it launched in San Francisco, few officers volunteered, and station chiefs simply had to choose who got sent to training. Cochran says it’s the the role of a police chief to elevate the status of the team so officers want to be a part of it.

“That chief needs to make sure that those men and women understand that they have an identity and that they have a role,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s model calls for CIT to be an elite, and independent, team within the department, like SWAT or hostage negotiation. In an interview with KQED, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said he’d prefer it not to be separate.

“Police officers by nature find niches,” Suhr said. “I don’t want cops to find a niche and be expert on what they do and don’t do. I want them to do it all.”

That’s how SFPD Commander Richard Corriea once felt. He’s the third person to lead SFPD’s Crisis Intervention Team in three years.

“I’m a convert on the issue of team,” he said. “I think it inspires officers who are engaged in this. They have a special skill. It makes them feel part of something. And the outcome is better and better service.”

A team creates a feedback loop, said Angela Chan, a former police commissioner who spearheaded the program. The unit is supposed to learn from each response. It allows officers perfect their skills, share information with other CIT officers and establish strong relationships with mental health providers.

The SFPD is one of many forces struggling with this issue: the Department of Justice has said that Albuquerque, NM, police have a serious problem with excessive use of force, sometimes escalating confrontations until there is reason to use force against someone.

NPR’s Kelly McEvers has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some officers argue that in these situations, it’s black and white. There is no gray. If someone has a weapon and points it at police, police are going to shoot. And they don’t shoot to wound, police told NPR; they shoot to kill.

But the Justice Department says it is gray sometimes. In its report, the Justice Department said Albuquerque police sometimes use force when there is not an imminent threat to officers or others, and that they themselves sometimes escalate the situation until there is a reason to use force.

Sam Costales, a former Albuquerque cop for more than 20 years, says of course there is a gray area.

Back in 2001, Costales was chasing an armed robbery suspect who grabbed a piece of pipe from the back of his truck and came at him. Costales took out his gun.

“I could’ve shot him,” he says. “I had every right to shoot him. But I didn’t want to shoot him.”

Instead, he put his gun back in the holster, maced the guy and arrested him.

Back at the station, Costales put the suspect in an interview room and went to get him something to drink. A couple of detectives walked by.

“And they go, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m getting the guy a Coke.’ ‘You’re getting the guy a Coke? This guy that just came at you with a pipe? A guy that’s gonna kill you, you’re gonna buy him a Coke now?’ I said, ‘He didn’t kill me, and he’s thirsty,’ and I left it at that,” Costales says.

Costales says he tried to treat suspects with respect. But other cops yelled at people, beat people up, used their weapons against people and then covered it up, he says.

Riot police faced off with protesters Sunday, during a demonstration against recent police shootings in Albuquerque, N.M. The march lasted at least nine hours.

A lot of this bad behavior is the work of a good-old-boys network, where it’s all about who you’re related to, says Cassandra Morrison, another former Albuquerque cop of 20 years.

Doug Brinson sits on a stoop next to a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold by police officers while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. His death has been ruled a homicide.

It’s about “who you know, who you hang out with, who you smoke cigars with, who you go have a beer with,” she says.

If you’re in the club, she says, you don’t get punished when you act like a cowboy, break the rules and use excessive force. It’s a system that won’t change until some of those cowboys get punished, she says.


CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER SAYS AMERICANS PAY NO MIND TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL CONDITIONS IN PRISONS ACROSS THE US

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Martin Garbus, an attorney and author of several books on constitutional law, says Americans are disregarding reports of atrocious conditions prisoners across the nation are held in, particularly in solitary confinement. Garbus says that turning the other way is a matter of “bad public policy,” and that the prisoners enduring cruel and unusual punishment, health hazards, and sexual assault will eventually return to their communities. Here’s a clip:

As a litigator and constitutional lawyer, I have heard appalling stories from the nation’s prisons and jails. One prisoner described to me how he was handcuffed to the bottom of his bunk in his underwear day after day for months. Another described how his cell was located directly beneath broken toilet pipes, which meant the cell smelled horribly of urine and excrement. I’ve heard how cells are unbearably hot or cold and how four prisoners are confined to spaces intended for two, with only one set of bunk beds. I’ve heard about showers that produce only scalding or icy water and about how, when cell toilets overflow, staff are in no hurry to fix them or to clean up.

The health risks in prisons are also unacceptable. MRSA, a bacterial infection whose strains are often resistant to antibiotics, now runs through maximum security prisons. I contracted it myself after visiting such a prison in June and was hospitalized for three days. Sexual assaults and sexual activity are well known to occur in prisons, but prisoners rarely have access to protection, such as condoms, that can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there is solitary confinement. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Today, 44 states allow it, but many states do not report how many inmates are held in solitary. A 2005 report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimated the number at 81,622.

Reports from those who have been held in solitary make clear how inhumane the punishment is. Even the most optimistic lose hope. I have heard it described more than once as like being trapped in a coffin. Lights are sometimes kept on 24 hours a day. Prisoners often have no books or reading material. Visits from lawyers and family members, as well as phone calls, are severely restricted, leaving prisoners feeling totally isolated from everything and everyone.


PAUL TANAKA’S CAMPAIGN (OR LACK THEREOF) FOR SHERIFF

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a story about sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka and his campaign that isn’t a campaign, consisting of a handful of social media posts, a video, and a few appearances in Gardena, the city of which he is mayor. Here’s how it opens:

After squeaking into the runoff election for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka posted a message on his website.

He had been trounced by Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, but his hopes of leading the department where he spent 31 years were still alive.

“We need someone who is ready to lead on Day One,” he wrote June 5. “We have just begun this effort!”

Since then, the retired undersheriff has mostly disappeared from view, throwing the contest to lead one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies into a strange limbo.

He has ignored requests to debate McDonnell. He dismissed his campaign team after the primary and apparently has not brought on replacements. His public appearances have largely been limited to City Council meetings in Gardena, where he is mayor, and his testimony at the criminal trials of sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing an FBI investigation of jail abuse.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Paul Tanaka | No Comments »

“Drugging Our Kids” Part 2, Nuestra Familia, City Attorney’s Community Court Program, and Rick Orlov Interviews Paul Tanaka

September 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

D’ANTHONY’S JOURNEY THROUGH 29 DIFFERENT HOMES AND A PLETHORA OF ANTI-PSYCHOTICS

Last month, we linked to part one of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury about the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Part two of de Sá’s series takes us through the heartbreaking story of D’Anthony Dandy, a foster kid who was moved 29 times to various group homes, foster families, and shelters, and prescribed cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs from the age of 13 to improve his behavior. D’Anthony broke free from the psychotropic fog, graduated high school, and is now living in his own apartment and reconnecting with his family through the help of Tara Beckman, his court-appointed advocate.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the beautiful videos):

Whisked away from his drug-addicted mother, then rejected by his adoptive mom, D’Anthony Dandy spent his childhood wondering where he fit in. Often, the trauma made him depressed. Sometimes it made him defiant.

At school, he called his teacher “bald-head,” hurled pencils and got suspended twice in the ninth grade.

So California’s foster care system did what it often does with a complicated kid — it moved him.

Twenty-nine times.

And, in a futile attempt to control his behavior and dull his pain, it medicated him for years with a risky regimen of mind-altering drugs — lithium, Depakote, even an adult dose of the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal.

D’Anthony’s story, revealed through dozens of interviews over 10 months and an exhaustive review of his juvenile dependency court records, illustrates a disturbing pattern detailed in “Drugging Our Kids,” this newspaper’s yearlong investigation: When it comes to managing challenging childhoods, the nation’s largest child welfare system relies on expedient choices that often don’t work and resists tough ones that do.

It took an extraordinary adult who finally listened to help D’Anthony realize there might be a better path, but his frequent moves and a haze of medication made it difficult for him to settle down.

Until then, “nobody actually told me like, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ ” said D’Anthony, now 19. “ ‘What’s goin’ on in the inside? I know you can be a good kid.’ ”

[BIG SNIP]

At least 14 psychiatrists throughout Northern and Central California examined D’Anthony, diagnosing him variously with post-traumatic stress, reactive attachment, major depression, bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity. They prescribed an ever-changing “cocktail” of medications, including two antipsychotics at once, that experts called dangerous and ineffective after reviewing his case at this newspaper’s request. One even called it “disgusting.”

De Sá’s valuable reporting is already having a considerable legislative impact. In late August, lawmakers called for fast-tracked legislation to curb the rampant drugging of California’s foster kids, and the state medical board began investigating doctors at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request.

Now, de Sá reports that, beginning October 1, California doctors will have to obtain additional authorization by pharmacists to prescribe antipsychotics to kids under 17 who are on Medi-Cal, which includes foster kids. Here’s a clip:

Beginning Oct. 1, a state pharmacist must verify the “medical necessity” of each antipsychotic prescription before the medications can be given to children who are 17 and younger and covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for the poor that also includes foster children.

The tightened restrictions come three years after the federal government called on states to better monitor the use of psychotropic medications on foster children….

Doctors involved in statewide efforts to curb overmedication of foster youth called the new measure a good start — though they say it’s still up for debate whether it will have a widespread impact.


IMPORTANT NEW BOOK ON NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S NUESTRA FAMILIA GANG

For more than ten years, award-winning journalist Julia Reynolds followed Nuestra Familia, the powerful northern California gang that was born a half century ago in San Quentin State Prison, then spilled its violence outside the prison walls into the farm towns of Monterey County and beyond. The result of Reynolds’ unprecedented access to gang members and their families is an excellent and deeply-sourced new book, Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang, in which she follows the lives of individual members of Nuestra Familia, and of the local law enforcement who try to combat their influence. Reynolds looks at the decade-long Operation Black Widow, the FBI’s controversial and largely unsuccessful attempt to take down Nuestra Familia, and at the split structure of the gang’s leadership, which now calls shots from inside Pelican Bay State Prison, and from the supermax federal prison in Florence, CO, causing new friction and attendant violence within the gang.

KPCC’s Take Two has more on Reynolds and her new book. Here’s a clip:

“A lot of young kids were dying,” she recalled. In the farm cities along California’s northern coast, shootings and revenge hits were tearing communities apart.

“I finally decided that as a journalist and living in the area, it was my responsibility to face this issue and see what was going on,” said Reynolds.

So she embarked on a journey that took her inside the lives of the gang’s top leaders, operating from Pelican Bay State Prison, to its foot soldiers and recruits on the streets of Salinas, recording both the mundane and the chilling details of Nuestra Familia. She also explores the law enforcement agents and their battle against the gang.


PILOT PROGRAM TO GIVE LOW-LEVEL OFFENDERS SECOND CHANCE TO SERVE COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF FACING JAIL

As part of the City Attorney Office’s Community Justice Initiative, the Neighborhood Justice Program will form community courts in South LA, the Valley, and the Harbor area. The program will give low-level offenders—those who have committed quality of life crimes—a chance to repay their communities instead of going to jail. (We previously linked to the city attorney’s Neighborhood School Safety Program, which is part of the same initiative.)

Park Labrea News’ Aaron Blevins has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“This is likely to be, if it continues to grow as we anticipate, the largest effort of its kind in the nation,” Feuer said during a meeting with reporters at his office.

The model calls for violators of quality of life offenses to go before a panel of trained community members, who would determine a fitting way for the individual to make it up to the neighborhood.

For example, if an individual is arrested for graffiti, accepts responsibility and his or her case is handled by a community court, he or she could be tasked with repainting the wall that was vandalized. In return, the court would provide the individual with services and the city attorney’s office will not file charges.

Feuer said that is in contrast to the traditional system, in which an individual is arrested, it takes “awhile” for the system to process the charge and, in the end, the neighborhood may or may not notice the intervention of the justice system. With jails being overcrowded, there is very little consequence as a result, he said.

[SNIP]

Feuer said his office opted to partner with neighborhood-oriented locations that are the “centers of community life.” The goal is to host one panel per week at each location, he said.

The city attorney said the approach has been used in San Francisco, though they are not exactly alike. He said the community court there handles approximately 600 cases per year, and he expects the L.A. version to exceed that figure. The office hopes to handle four cases per session, and court will be in session in the early evening to ensure access.


PAUL TANAKA TALKS WITH RICK ORLOV ABOUT HIS CAMPAIGN FOR SHERIFF

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov interviewed former LA undersheriff Paul Tanaka about his campaign for sheriff, which save for a tweet or two and one video, has appeared to be largely nonexistent. Tanaka also discusses his time as undersheriff and as current mayor of Gardena. Here are some clips:

…[Tanaka] insisted in a telephone interview, he remains in the race and is planning an active effort in the final weeks leading up to the election.

“I am absolutely campaigning,” Tanaka insisted in a telephone interview this past week. “I do have a campaign. It is a different type of campaign. Sometimes you need a change in the team makeup. I felt we needed to make some adjustments, and that’s what we have done.”

The changes are stark.

No campaign manager or aides. No active Web page, relying instead on Facebook. No plans for advertising. There are no debates for the runoff, unlike the series of confrontations held in the primary.

[SNIP]

In talking with Tanaka, however, it appears he is still shell shocked over the way the election turned out. He barely managed a second-place finish to McDonnell to force a runoff election. With 49.4 percent of the vote, McDonnell fell just short of avoiding the runoff. Tanaka came in a distant second with 15.1 percent.

“Look, there were six people running against me and they decided to all attack me as if I was the sheriff,” Tanaka said. “I actually had very little to do with all the areas of controversy in the jails. That was outside my area. When I was in charge of the jails, we didn’t have the same problems.”

[SNIP]

Tanaka said he has consoled himself over how he was attacked and with the fact that he was able to make the runoff.

“The fact we are still in this has given a lot of people hope, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people were energized by the fact we have made it as far as we did. It is what keeps me going.”

But Raphael Sonenshein, executive director at the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., said it appears to the public as if the Tanaka campaign has evaporated.

“You see this in other elections where an incumbent faces a light challenge, but in this one, he had a lot of money and an identified base of support that he was counting on,” Sonenshein said. “When he did so badly in the primary, I think the rationale for his candidacy collapsed. After that, he had to keep a low profile.”

After the primary, Tanaka closed down his main campaign office in Torrance and didn’t even inform his staff members.

Tanaka said he simply moved the operation to El Monte and has continued to speak to groups that invite him. His most recent campaign reports show him with a deficit of $18,000.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Foster Care, Gangs, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 7 Comments »

Crime Decline Higher in States That Also Reduced Incarceration, California Foster System Behind on Investigating Mistreatment, Inmates Average Only Two Visits, and SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

September 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE COMPLICATED CONNECTION BETWEEN HIGHER INCARCERATION AND LOWER CRIME RATES

Since 1994, when Congress passed the “tough-on-crime” Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the national incarceration rate has risen 24% while the crime rate has dropped 40%. But the link is not that simple.

A new Pew Charitable Trusts infographic shows that some states have successfully lowered both crime and imprisonment. California is among the top three states with the biggest reductions of crime and incarceration, along with New York and New Jersey.

For further reading on the issue, Vox’s German Lopez has an interesting story explaining a bit more about mass incarceration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which was enacted when violent crime levels were already falling), and what the Obama administration is doing to counteract the outdated law.


CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE SYSTEM NOT INVESTIGATING MISTREATMENT COMPLAINTS QUICKLY ENOUGH

The state’s Department of Social Services has nearly 1,000 pending investigations of child mistreatment that have sat unaddressed past the three-month deadline. More than half of those complaints—for things like abuse, malnourishment, and poor living conditions—have been pending for more than six months.

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

Agency officials blame the problem on chronic staffing shortages and warn that the backlog is likely to persist for at least another year.

“We didn’t get into this overnight, and we are not going to solve it overnight,” said Pam Dickfoss, who was appointed deputy director of social services earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The majority of the lagging investigations — which include allegations of serious abuse, inadequate food, homes in disrepair or other licensing violations — have remained open for more than six months, according to data obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.

The delays can make investigations more difficult, officials said. Witnesses become unavailable or memories fade. And children could remain in potentially substandard homes as inquiries back up.

In one case, investigators took four months to confirm that a child’s hands had been placed under scalding water by other children, resulting in second-degree burns, records show. It also took four months to determine that another child was not being fed regularly and that his surroundings were filthy and stank of mildew.

The backlog has grown steadily since Brown took office in 2011, when the department probed 3,491 complaints and finished 60% on time. This year, complaints against state-licensed foster homes requiring investigations are on pace to exceed 4,000, and only 40% of those inquiries are being completed on time, records show.

And this isn’t just a state level issue, it’s happening at the county level, as well:

More than 6,100 current county investigations have remained open for more than 30 days, a nearly eight-fold increase since 2011. Cases open more than 60 days have increased from from 2,700 to 3,559 in the same period. Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning said he has deployed a strike team of top managers to develop a new plan to reduce the backlog.


PRISONERS RECEIVE JUST TWO VISITS DURING INCARCERATION ON AVERAGE

Using Florida prison data, a study in Crime and Delinquency found that inmates received an average of only two visits throughout the entirety of their incarceration. Not surprisingly, the Florida research found that inmates who received more visits had better outcomes while behind bars and once released.

The study showed that inmates receiving the most visits were around 20-years-old, had fewer offenses, were white or latino, or had come from communities that had either high incarceration rates or were considered socially altruistic. Black inmates and those who were older or had multiple offenses received fewer visits.

University of Minnesota sociology professor and author, Chris Uggen, has more on the study for Sociological Images. Here’s a clip:

There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.

These are common problems nationwide, particularly in large states like California, Texas, and Montana.


SUPREME COURT MAY SOON SET NATIONAL STANDARD ON GAY MARRIAGE

Federal judges across the US have been overturning state bans on gay marriage. There have been more than twelve rulings, so far, this year. But none of these rulings (nor last year’s Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act) have set the national standard. For now, gay marriage rights are in the hands of the states.

That may change as SCOTUS has decided to review a package of seven gay marriage cases from lower courts, and experts say the high court will most likely choose to take up one of the cases, if not more.

Each of the seven cases challenges a state’s right to ban gay marriage. And all but one case would call on the court to decide whether gay marriages should be recognized in other states.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova has more on the issue (as well as a rundown on each case). Here’s a clip:

This cluster of cases centers on two key questions: All seven ask SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also raise the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled on two landmark gay marriage cases in 2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned California’s Proposition 8, and US v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act. But neither weighed in on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, leaving the choice to allow gay marriage up to each individual state. If the court takes one of these new cases, it’s likely that its decision will have a broad and more definitive impact. “Should they decide that the 14th Amendment actually protects the rights of same-sex marriage, that would have the effect of being binding on the federal government,” says Jane Schacter, a professor at Stanford Law School.

The cases before the court involve the 14th Amendment’s guarantees to equal protection under law and due process. If the high court rules that it is a violation of either promise for one state to deny a marriage license to a same sex couple, then it would become unconstitutional for any state to do so. Any state that failed to comply with the ruling, Carpenter elaborates, “would face immediate lawsuits—a complete waste of time and money.”

It’s anyone’s guess which case (or cases) SCOTUS may choose…



Above visual taken from a portion of this Pew infographic.

Posted in crime and punishment, Foster Care, LGBT, prison, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Funding for Relatives Caring for Kids, Bill to Keep Kids Exiting Detention Enrolled in School, LA Metro May Boost Oversight of LASD Contract, and a Non-profit Prison Idea

September 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WILL LA COUNTY ACCEPT MUCH-NEEDED STATE FUNDING FOR KINSHIP CAREGIVERS?

In June, Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $30 million from the state budget for giving relative caregivers the same CalWORKS financial support as non-relative foster parents.

Counties have until October 1 to opt-in to receive the crucial funding. The LA County Department of Children and Family Services says it is considering whether to opt-in, but will make its decision by the deadline.

Giving equal funding to kinship caregivers was one of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s top recommendations for reforming a troubled DCFS.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue and why it is so important. Here are some clips:

With the highest number of foster children in the state, Los Angeles County could see as much as $25 million in state funds go to family caregivers, according to advocates with the California Step Up coalition. They say the county’s participation in the Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program would lead to greater placement stability, better outcomes for foster children and significant cost savings to the county by avoiding more expensive placement alternatives such as group homes.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer from where we sit,” said Laura Streimer, the legal director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Why not roll the dice and use it now? The majority of the $30 million allocation state budget would come to L.A. County because we have the most children who qualify for it. Why wouldn’t you take that?”

The county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is weighing whether or not to opt in. According to a statement emailed to The Chronicle of Social Change by DCFS Public Affairs Director Armand Montiel, Los Angeles County will “resolve the issue” by October 1.

“The Department supports equity for relative caregivers and is preparing a recommendation for our Board regarding this program,” Montiel wrote in an email. “At this point, the State has not finalized the methodology it will use to determine each county’s base caseload and funding level. Understanding the State’s methodology for determining the base caseload and funding is essential in making accurate projections regarding the potential county costs of this program for the first year and for outlying years.”

The clock is ticking.

[SNIP]

Despite recent research that shows that living situations with family members translate to better educational outcomes for foster youth than congregate-care placements like group homes, most relative caregivers receive a paucity of funding that lags behind the support given to unrelated caregivers.

Because of arcane eligibility rules based on the poverty standard from 1996, more than half of all foster children living with relatives do not qualify for federal foster care benefits. For relative caregivers who aren’t eligible for federal money, this means that the only support California offers them are CalWORKs benefits. This ends up being less than half the amount of money non-relative caregivers typically get from the foster care system.

The yawning gap in funding and support has hit family caregivers particularly hard, according to advocates. The scant funding and support provided to family caregivers is seldom enough to care for children who often have specialized care needs that result from experiencing trauma or abuse.

California is “forcing families—primarily low income, single women, and a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos—into deep poverty to keep their families together,” Kinship in Action Director Joseph Devall wrote in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. Kinship in Action supports the rights of family caregivers in South Los Angeles.

The LA Times’ editorial board is also urging the county to opt-in to boosting funding for relatives caring for kids that would otherwise be placed with strangers or sent to group homes. Here’s how it opens:

Thousands of California children who have suffered abuse or abandonment are sent to live with strangers in foster homes. That often happens even if there are extended family members ready and willing to take them in, despite California laws requiring placement with relatives when possible, and even in the face of countless studies that show the kids do better in the long run after stays with relatives rather than strangers.

So why do we keep doing it? Because so many of those relatives, retired or with their budgets maxed out raising their own kids, need a bit of financial assistance to be able to take in their nieces and nephews, siblings or grandchildren — and because under a complicated and outdated set of state, federal and local laws and rules, they can get only a tiny fraction of the funding that non-related foster parents get. Worse yet, there is a shortage of foster parents, so the children often end up being sent to group homes, which are the most expensive option and produce the least desirable outcomes. Government foolishly requires itself to pay more to get worse results.


BILL TO REQUIRE THAT KIDS LEAVING DETENTION CENTERS ARE PROMPTLY RE-ENROLLED IN SCHOOL

Over 42,000 kids attend school in California juvenile detention facilities on average each year, yet only 20% of those re-entering their communities re-enroll in public schools within the first 30 days of their release.

Experts say these kids fall through the cracks due to broken communication between the government agencies responsible for these kids.

An important bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2276, would address this issue by ensuring kids exiting detention facilities will be immediately enrolled in school.

New America Media’s Michael Lozano has more on the bill authored by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra. Here’s a clip:

In high school, Tanisha Denard struggled to get herself to class on time. Her walks from home to John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles were long, the buses were crowded and when there was space, Denard rarely had the fare. “I got passed by the bus a lot and I didn’t have money,” she recalls.

The truancy tickets piled up – Los Angeles municipal code allows schools to issue citations of up to $250 to tardy and absent students – and so Denard, now 20, whose family was unable to cover the cost, paid her debt by serving time at a county juvenile hall. When she was released, school officials informed her that reenrolling at her old public high school wasn’t an option — she would need to begin the much lengthier process of finding a new school and getting herself enrolled.

Although Denard was eventually able to navigate her way into another school, she is by far the exception. The story of young people leaving the juvenile justice system with no clear academic transition plan is a familiar one to youth advocates, despite existing laws that are meant to avoid such scenarios.

“They’re supposed to be coordinating – there are laws that talk about coordination and communication – but that’s not happening the way it needs to happen,” says Laura Faer, Education Rights Director with Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm.

What makes AB 2276 different from current laws, says Faer, is the requirement that juvenile probation and county education departments work together to form transition policies in collaboration with local education agencies. In addition, the bill would create a statewide stakeholder group headed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Board of State Community Corrections that would study best practices and be required to report back to the state legislature.

Faer has seen plenty of past instances where court school records are not transferred from probation officials to the county office of education immediately upon a child’s release, which in turn creates a negative outcome for the student.

“A student shows up at the school and the school says, ‘you don’t have any of your documents, so you can’t come.’ Or worse, even if they are allowed to go to school, [the schools] don’t know anything about them,” says Faer. “A child [may have] already taken algebra when they were in the hall or in the camp, then they’re put in the exact same classes. Then they get disaffected and they drop out, because they keep getting shuffled and doing the same things over and over again. So that handoff, that transition, is really critical.”


LA METRO WORKS TOWARD ROBUST OVERSIGHT AFTER AUDIT REVEALED LASD MISSED POLICING GOALS

In July, an audit found that the LA County Sheriff’s Department had fallen short of Metro policing goals for reducing crime. The audit came as Metro was considering renewing a three-year contract with the LASD.

Part of the problem, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says, is a failure to administer adequate oversight.

The mayor (who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has proposed a motion to hire several Metro staff to keep track of contract goals, and to have the department’s inspector general audit the LASD-Metro contract every two years.

The LA Times’ Laura J. Nelson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a motion proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the chairman of the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority, board members asked for several new Metro staff members who would keep tabs on key contract benchmarks, including fare evasion, system safety and response times. The board also asked Metro’s inspector general, the internal agency watchdog, to audit the transit police contract every two years.

The audit, written by an outside firm and commissioned by Metro officials, also faulted the transit agency itself for weak oversight of the contract.

“We didn’t hit some of the most basic things that are part of the contract,” Garcetti said during a meeting at Metro’s downtown headquarters. “We have failed on the oversight.”

The push comes as officials weigh awarding a three-year security contract expected to cost about $400 million. The transit police agreement with the Sheriff’s Department expires Dec. 31.

Sheriff’s Department officials said they agree with the majority of the findings and are working to correct the issues raised in the audit.


TRANSFORMING A PRIVATE PRISON INTO A NON-PROFIT FACILITY

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a 20,000-member activist group, has proposed that a privately run D.C. jail be transformed into a non-profit-run jail focused on rehabilitating rather than warehousing inmates.

The jail is currently operated by the controversial private prison group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), but its contract will end in 2017.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the unique idea. Here’s a clip:

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world. At this point, the idea is just that — an idea. The group, which claims some 20,000 members throughout the country, convened its first meeting about the proposal on Friday at D.C.’s Harrington Hotel, but has yet to figure out any of the logistics of what they admit would be a complicated, even quixotic effort.

Charlie Sullivan, the executive director of CURE, acknowledged that the idea might make him sound like a knight “chasing after one of those windmills.” Still, he argues that his idealism may be exactly what is needed.

“What both the private and government-run prisons are doing is just holding people,” said Sullivan. “They’re playing defense; we need to play offense. We need to give people an opportunity to change their lives.”

The group has set its sights on the Correctional Treatment Facility, one of the city’s two jails. For nearly two decades, the facility has been run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit, private prison company based in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the last few years, criticisms of such companies have grown louder, with advocates for inmates saying that private prisons are incentivized to lobby for harsh laws that keep beds filled while skimping on rehabilitation services, training programs for corrections officers, and anything else that could cut into their profit margins.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor | 1 Comment »

How LA County’s Pricey Jail Plan Fails the Mentally Ill, LA’s LGBTQ Foster Kids Report Mistreatment by DCFS, Medical Board Investigating Doctors Giving Foster Kids Psych Drugs, and Willful Defiance

August 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA WEEKLY QUESTIONS RUSHED $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN AND ABSENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

Phillip Cho, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for attempted commercial burglary after trying to purchase a $2,000 case of cigars while in the midst of an elaborate delusion regarding newly acquired wealth. Cho was jailed in Twin Towers for three months, causing his mental health to further deteriorate. Cho’s caseworker assured him that he would be moved out of jail to a residential treatment facility within two weeks, but the waiting list turned out to be months long.

Instead of receiving the therapeutic care he needed, Cho says he suffered abuse at the hands of Twin Towers jailers, as well as psychologically damaging solitary confinement in a silent, padded room. Cho has been released and re-incarcerated several times, not unlike many mentally ill offenders in LA. Cho has written a book about his encounters with the criminal justice system, and his time in the Towers.

Twin Towers jail was built in 1997 specifically as an upgraded facility to better address the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sound familiar? In May, LA County Board of Supervisors hastily approved a $2 billion plan to replace the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail. A staggering 3,200 out of 4,860 beds are reserved for the mentally ill.

In a crucial investigative story, the LA Weekly’s Chris Walker brings up some very important questions about the jail-replacement plan and why Los Angeles seems to be bent on warehousing people with mental illnesses instead of diverting them into treatment.

While the board was gearing up to vote on the $2 billion replacement plan, it was also working out the plans for a women’s facility in Mira Loma, for which the state’s funding of $100,000 was about to expire.

The Supervisors rushed into a vote on Men’s Central Jail plans, it seems, with the idea that they were working against the clock to secure the Mira Loma money. While the money for the women’s facility had nothing to do with the men’s facility, the Supervisors had the construction consulting firm lump the two plans together.

Here’s a clip from Walker’s assessment of the situation:

Could the vote by the Board of Supervisors — which some critics call a nod to the past that could negatively affect tens of thousands of lives — have been forced by an obscure fiscal deadline?

The Weekly’s request for public records concerning the vote and events leading up to it, made to the office of outgoing County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, shows that the five supervisors faced a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to secure $100 million in state funding for a women’s detention center in Mira Loma — which has nothing to do with Men’s Central Jail.

The state money, made available through Assembly Bill 900, is set to expire later this year. County officials didn’t want to lose the huge sum. For reasons that remain murky, the far more complicated proposals to replace Men’s Central Jail were lumped together with the Mira Loma facility plan in the documents prepared by Vanir Construction.

In a March 18 memo to the Board of Supervisors obtained by the Weekly, CEO Fujioka told the supervisors they had to pass one of the five Vanir proposals for replacing Men’s Central Jail in order to secure the state money for Mira Loma.

Were there other reasons for rushing the vote? At the time, all but one candidate for sheriff urged the board to wait to make a decision until after a new sheriff was in place. And Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey had launched a task force of 70 mental health professionals to look into alternatives to locking up the mentally ill. Lacey was informed of the particulars of the jail plan the day before the vote was to happen. She put together and presented to the board an early report, explaining that her task force had found better ways to work with the mentally ill and bring down the recidivism rate. Apparently, the neither the board nor Lacey were informed of the other’s work until it was too late. Neither were the Supes briefed on a trip LASD officials took to Miami to see the county’s hugely successful mental health diversion program in action.

The die was already cast, and the board voted in favor of a massive and costly new jail.

Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Nashville, all in the same boat as LA County at one time, are now seeing major success with mental health diversion programs. Miami-Dade cut their recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates down to 20%, compared with LA County, where 75% of mentally ill offenders return to jail.

Why were the Supes not informed of the Miami trip—one in which LASD attendees received actual “how-to” guides for replicating mental health diversion in their own county?

It…raises serious questions about an $18,000 trip taken last October by a group of L.A. County law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Cmdr. David Fender, who flew to Miami and saw firsthand its success in diverting mentally ill arrestees into treatment — part of the group’s “best practices” tour around the nation. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that L.A. Sheriff’s officials met with Miami’s top brass and received detailed “how-to” guides explaining the steps required to establish a comprehensive mental health diversion program from the ground up.

Yet nothing came of what the group learned in the other cities.

Assistant DA Bill Hodgman, who was on that fact-finding trip, delivered the how-to reports to his boss, Lacey, galvanizing her mental health task force to push for change in Los Angeles.

Yet the Board of Supervisors never received the documents from the DA or the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who voted against the new jail, complained about not being briefed. “I think I have been, as a member of this board, somewhat shortchanged by not having that information available to me as I’m being asked to make a decision — a $2 billion decision.”

This fall, DA Lacey will present another task force report, at which time the Supes are expected to vote on allocating $20 million for mental health diversion. But that doesn’t change the $2 billion jail rebuild.

Steve Fields of San Francisco’s Progress Foundation, whose diversion program treats the mentally ill for a fraction of the price of jailing them, asks what’s holding LA back:

According to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the yearly cost to support an individual with mental illness in a housing program in Los Angeles is $20,412.

It costs about $60,000 a year to jail him.

“I don’t know what is taking [Los Angeles] so long,” Fields says. “Counties that wanted to do this in California have had access to state funding for a long time.”


LA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS (20% OF FOSTER POPULATION) MORE LIKELY TO REPORT MISTREATMENT BY THE SYSTEM

LGBTQ kids in Los Angeles County’s foster care system are twice as likely to report being mistreated by the system, a new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study found that one in five foster kids (1,400) identify as LGBTQ, twice that of kids in LA’s general population, and that 86% of LGBTQ-identifying kids were a racial minority.

Researchers also found that, on average, LGBTQ kids had more placements than other foster kids, were more than twice as likely to live in a group home, and three times as likely to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.

This is the first study to put a number on LGBTQ foster population in any child welfare system—let alone Los Angeles, which houses the largest foster care system in the nation. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and funded by a federal grant.

The LA Times’ Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study.

“We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them,” she said.

In any given month, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has about 7,400 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 in out-of-home care, according to the study. Of those, about 1,400 identify as LGBTQ.

The study, funded by a federal grant, is the first of its kind quantifying sexual orientation and gender identity of youths in any foster system, its authors say.

Despite their large numbers in the foster care system, LGBTQ youths have been “relatively invisible,” the study said. Many do not feel safe telling their foster families or social workers about having same-sex attractions or questioning their gender identity.

[SNIP]

“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” [the executive director of the Children's Law Center of California, Leslie Starr] Heimov said. One recent case involved a child who was adopted and kicked out after her parents learned she was a lesbian.

The Williams Institute study noted that most of the LGBTQ foster youths in L.A. County were, like their straight counterparts, racial minorities. The study found that 83% of LGBTQ youths in foster care were Latino or black.

Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, said many of these youths can face added discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”

The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, Bianca Wilson, who said:

“We found that LGBTQ…were moved around more, were more likely to be in group homes, experiencing emotional distress. And these are all seen as barriers to finding permanent homes.”


CA MEDICAL BOARD INVESTIGATING DOCTORS PRESCRIBING PSYCH MEDICATIONS TO FOSTER KIDS

Earlier this week, Karen de Sá’s alarming investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. It has spurred state lawmakers into planning legislation to curb the over-medication.

And now, at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request, the state medical board says it has launched an investigation into whether doctors are prescribing medication to change behavior, rather than treat mental illness, and thus, “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

Karen De Sá has the update. Here’s how it opens:

With pressure on California’s foster care system to curb the rampant use of powerful psych meds on children, concern is mounting about the doctors behind the questionable prescribing.

For months, the state has adamantly refused to release data that this newspaper sought to expose which physicians are most responsible. Now, in response to a request from state Sen. Ted Lieu, California’s medical board is investigating whether some doctors are “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

The action comes after this newspaper’s investigation “Drugging Our Kids” revealed doctors often prescribe risky psychotropic drugs — with little or no scientific evidence that they are safe or effective for children — to control behavior, not treat serious mental illness. Many of these drugs are approved only for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other relatively rare mental illnesses.

To examine the problem, the newspaper spent nine months negotiating with the state Department of Health Care Services to release a decade of prescribing data that did not identify individual patients.

The numbers the state finally provided showed that almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychotropic medications over the past decade. Of the children on medications, almost 60 percent are being prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs with serious side effects.


ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE DISCUSSES CALIFORNIA BILL TO END “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” EXPULSIONS

Earlier this month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 420, that would eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion in any grade, and suspension in grades K-3. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, is now headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

On Thursday’s AirTalk, host Larry Mantle talked about the legislation with Brad Strong, Senior Director of Education at Children Now, the organization co-sponsoring the bill, as well as Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers (which took a neutral stance on the measure).

Take a listen.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LGBT, mental health, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 7 Comments »

Lawmakers Call for End to Reckless Medicating of CA’s Foster Kids….Head of State Foster Care Sez Not So Fast….Shadows & Ferguson….LAPPL Tells NYT Why Words Matter

August 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS CALL FOR END TO RECKLESS USE OF PSYCH MEDS ON STATE’S FOSTER YOUTH

After The San Jose Mercury News ran its eloquent and devastating investigative report by Karen de Sá about the over-use psychotropic meds on California’s foster youth, various lawmakers have come forward to call for fast-tracked action to curb the prescribing of psychiatric meds to essentially drug foster kids into submission.

De Sá writes about the various legislators who have come forward since her report appeared Sunday. Here are some clips:

“It’s easier to take care of a sleeping kid, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right,” State Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Monday. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s in the best interest of the child — it’s obvious that in so many instances, it’s not.”

Steinberg said he was deeply concerned about the newspaper’s finding that the state spends more on psychiatric drugs for foster children than on any other type of drug. An analysis of 10 years of Medi-Cal data showed psych meds accounted for 72 percent of spending on the 10 most expensive drug groups for foster children, topping $226 million.

Steinberg said that wide-open spigot, fueled by pharmaceutical company marketing, has to be restricted.

“What we know now is that $226 million, 72 percent of the total spent, is being used to over-prescribe and to over-rely on medication as the primary strategy to help these kids who have already had a tough life — and that the side effects and impact on their life and their growth are serious,” Steinberg said. “This report and these numbers tell me that this money is not being well spent in many instance…

[LARGE SNIP]

One senator on Monday said he was ready to lead the charge. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee — said his committee will consider new policies and legislation to curb overprescribing when the new session begins in December. Beall said he intends to focus on what he calls “‘trash can diagnoses’ — diagnoses that are made simply to control behavior, as opposed to diagnoses that have a medically therapeutic value.”

Beall agreed with Steinberg’s urgency, noting: “There needs to be some action taken to reduce the inappropriate use of drugs in our foster care system — this is not a lightweight issue.”

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, agreed.

“Drugging kids to make them behave isn’t care, isn’t responsible and shouldn’t be legal,” she said in a statement. “Silencing their youthful pain by inducing stupor simply leaves childhood issues to fester into adulthood — and violates the obligation to ‘do no harm’ to those in our care.”


HEAD OF CALIFORNIA’S DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES SAYS NO EASY WAY TO END OVER-MEDICATING OF KIDS IN STATE CARE

When the Mercury-News talked to Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, about their report, he told the paper that this over-drugging problem would take some time to solve.

Thankfully that answer didn’t work for the Mercury-News editorial board, the members of which seemed to think that every kid whose life was being potentially wrecked by being force-fed an untested cocktail of psychotropic meds, has a life that actually, you know, matters.

Here’s a clip from their editorial:

Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, says there’s no simple way to end the pattern of thousands of foster children spending much of their youth drugged into malleability — the horror eloquently revealed by reporter Karen de Sá on Sunday’s Page One. He says it has to be part of the holistic rethinking of the entire foster care system that’s under way, giving doctors better options than prescribing psychotropic drug upon psychotropic drug to control children who act out.

Really? Really? If this isn’t a crisis, then what is?

The abusive use of powerful medications on kids with formative brains cries out for action. Each child who grows up scarred by this is a human tragedy and, in many cases, a lifetime burden on society.

Yes, the whole foster care system needs rebuilding, and yes, that could reduce the incentive to drug kids to alter behavior. But we can’t write off the children in the system now. That’s like declining to treat a cancer because the cure hasn’t been found.

It’s time to act. There are things the state can do now to at least begin to control the damage to children’s minds and physical health….


FERGUSON, & THE LONG SHADOWS OF HISTORY

Author and associate history professor, Jeleni Cobb, writing for the New Yorker, has been one of the voices consistently worth reading during the most intense days in Ferguson.

His newest essay, posted late Tuesday afternoon at the New Yorker, is another thoughtful and emotionally affecting example. Here are two clips, one from the essay’s beginning, the second taken from near its end:

When I was eighteen, I stumbled across Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me. The poem, a retelling of a lynching, shook me, because while the narrator relays the details in the first person, the actual victim of that brutish ritual is another man, unknown to him and unknown to us. The poem is about the way in which history is an animate force, and how we are witnesses to the past, even to that portion of it that transpired before we were born. He writes,

darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

Nothing save random fortune separated the fate of the man who died from that of the one telling the story. Errin Whack and Isabel Wilkerson have both written compellingly about the long shadow of lynching. It is, too often, a deliberately forgotten element of the American past—one that is nonetheless felt everywhere in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests followed the shooting of Michael Brown, who was eighteen years old, by a police officer. One can’t make sense of how Brown’s community perceived those events without first understanding the way that neglected history has survived among black people—a traumatic memory handed down, a Jim Crow inheritance….

And then this:

…I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger.

I’m embarrassed to recall that my adolescent love of words doubled as a strategy to assuage those fears; it was both a pitiable desire for acceptance and a practical necessity for survival. I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here…

Read on.


LAPPL CALLS OUT NY TIMES, NOTING THAT “UNARMED” ALONE DOES NOT DEFINE WHETHER OR NOT SOMEONE POSES A DANGER

Being precise with words matters, as this new post on the blog for the LAPD’s union states, calling out the New York Times for what the LAPPL suggests is a careless use of language.

Here’s a clip from the post’s opening:

Repeated descriptions of a suspect as “unarmed” when shot by a police officer does not, contrary to the belief of the New York Times and others who use the term without further describing the facts of the encounter, determine if the force used by an officer was lawful or reasonable. Labeling the suspect as “unarmed” does not begin to answer the question of the danger they posed in each instance where deadly force was used.

According to the FBI’s online database of officers feloniously killed, as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page, since 2000, there have been at least 57 occurrences where the suspects have taken officers’ weapons and murdered the police officer with it….


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LAPPL | No Comments »

Keeping Foster Parents in the Loop, “Mass Incarceration on Trial,” IG Report on LAPD Misconduct-Flagging System, and Obama Orders Probe of Police Militarization

August 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD INFORMED OF COURT DATES AND DECISIONS AFFECTING THEIR KIDS

A lawsuit filed this month accuses the LA County Department of Children and Family Services of failing to inform foster parents of their foster kids’ court dates, as well as neglecting to give foster parents the 7-day notice required by law when children in their care are going to be taken and placed elsewhere. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the non-profit group Advokids and three foster parents.

The LA Times’ Jim Newton, who has been watching foster care issues closely, says lapses in communication between DCFS workers and foster parents are detrimental to the wellbeing of the kids they care for. Here’s how it opens:

Heather Whelan has been a foster mother to some 20 children. She has nurtured broken babies back to health and worked closely with parents to fix families. She has also cringed as social workers made life-changing decisions about her charges without consulting her. In one case, she says, the county abruptly separated a pair of sisters she’d been caring for, traumatizing the baby girls because the social worker did not know how much the girls had come to rely on each other.

Carrie Chung is a professional social worker who became a foster parent in 2008. She describes how she once cared for a very young infant who required special foods and exercise to grapple with a difficult ailment. When a hearing was scheduled to decide whether the child could be safely returned to her family, Chung says, no one even bothered to tell her it was taking place.

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles foster care system — in courtrooms and waiting rooms, with children and lawyers, birth parents and foster parents. And while I can’t say whether Whelan and Chung are the exception or the rule when it comes to how the county’s Department of Children and Family Services relates to foster parents, I can say that there are persistent breakdowns in communication between social workers and foster parents — and that kids are suffering as a result.

Of the 20,000 or so Los Angeles County children who were living outside their homes this summer under DCFS supervision, about 6,500 were placed with non-relative foster parents. The children have social workers, but they only see them once a month or so. Their lawyers are often overwhelmed. Foster parents are often the only people who see these children every day and can know if they’re having nightmares or trouble with bullies or if they are sinking or recovering.


LOOKING AT CALIFORNIA PRISONS TO UNDERSTAND MASS INCARCERATION NATIONWIDE

A promising new book by legal scholar and Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, takes a look at the issue of nationwide mass incarceration through the lens of California’s prison history, from the 70′s and 80′s when “tough on crime” triggered the rise of incarceration rates, to SuperMax prisons, to Brown v. Plata—the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling that said California’s prison overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and put a population cap in place.

Mass Incarceration on Trial challenges the belief that locking more people away promotes public safety.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “an eloquent critique of the American prison system.”

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick interviewed Simon about his book. Here are some clips:

The Crime Report: Considering that mass incarceration is a national problem, why did you focus on California?

Jonathan Simon: California is the Mississippi of mass incarceration. When people think of states that would follow the worst practices in incarceration you may think of Texas, Mississippi, or other Southern states because they have struggled with issues of segregation and racism that would crossover to how they treat their inmates. Historically California has been so progressive. It started out as the second most lenient region behind the Northeast, but then from the 1970s through the 1990s the rate swung all the way to be one of the most punitive regions. There was a 500% increase in incarceration—the biggest increase for any of the big states. The state defends itself by saying they in line with the national average of incarceration, but I say who wants to be part of the national average?

But in a way Californians are lucky, because it’s a state that has bad incarceration with good lawyers. And the story couldn’t be told—and the future of mass incarceration may be different—without the work of the California’s Prison Law Office, and the firm Rosen Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, which brought so many of the game-changing prisoners’ rights suit.

TCR: The California corrections system official title is “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” yet you note that the idea of rehabilitating prisoners has almost completely disappeared from the system.

JS: Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger actually added rehabilitation back into the title in 2004-2005. He saw that the system was in catastrophe. Putting that word back in was a clear sign that he knew things needed to change. Rehabilitation used to be a central theme of California prisons until the 1970s and the move towards determinate sentences in California. The purpose of the 1976 Determinate Sentencing Act is punishment. Rehabilitation was no longer the goal of the prison. The idea was to give criminals short and just sentences and then they would return home from prison.

But in reality that is not what happened, mass incarceration began to grow as legislatures and politicians added more punishments such as three strikes, and corrections lost their ability to parole. Long sentences replaced short sentences. It was a layer-cake effect. But by then, the idea of rehabilitation had been out of the system for so long, that corrections had stopped thinking of prisoners as human beings. The system began to treat people as a mass, instead of individuals.

[SNIP]

TCR: Should judges should be required to routinely visit correctional institutions so they can be kept apprised of the conditions?

JS: I think that’s a great idea. In Plata v. Brown our courts functioned almost as human right investigatory body. They went into these prisons and brought videos out of inhumane conditions happening in the prisons, overcrowding, bad -beds, unchecked mental illness. And with these videos they’ve opened a visual pathway through which the public can really confront what our nation has been doing with mass incarceration.

TCR: How can the American system learn from European correctional systems?

JS: In Europe they have the European Prison rule. The rule has three core features: individualization of the inmate; normalize the prison to make it as consistent with the community as possible, (provide equal medical care, employment rights, human rights); and be progressive—offer prisoners who obey the rules opportunities. These rules make a difference. In the United States (such an approach) could conserve the dignity of the prisoner and create a better system then we had in the past.


LAPD SYSTEM FOR FLAGGING OFFICER MISCONDUCT FALLS SHORT, SAYS INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s system for flagging questionable officer behavior triggers warnings against officers that turn out to be unfounded, while proving unsuccessful at flagging officers who go on to commit serious misconduct, according to a report by the LAPD inspector general, Alex Bustamante.

The department has asked a research group to analyze all the databases used to track officer behavior, and whether the system actually, created under a federal order, has any influence on officer conduct.

The Police Commission will discuss Bustamante’s findings during their meeting today.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

The report by the Police Commission’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, scrutinized an early warning computer program that the LAPD has used since 2007 to track patterns of excessive force and other misconduct by its roughly 10,000 officers. The analysis casts doubt on the usefulness of the computer system, which federal officials forced the LAPD to build after years of corruption and abuse.

[SNIP]

The Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, will discuss the inspector general’s report at a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the department’s current tracking system appears to be “providing limited predictive capabilities,” adding that Bustamante’s report raises “significant questions.”

“I look forward to understanding how the department is responding to correct the issues,” he said.

In his report, Bustamante examined nearly 750 warnings about officers generated over a recent four-month period. In 70% of the cases, supervisors took no action after determining that the conduct flagged by the computer system did not point to any problems, the report found.

The lack of action after so many red flag notifications raises questions about the criteria being used to trigger warnings — called “action items” in LAPD jargon. Currently, the system attempts to compare several aspects of an officer’s conduct to that of other officers in similar assignments. A warning is triggered when an officer exceeds acceptable limits for each benchmark. The various benchmarks include the number of times an officer uses force on a suspect, as well as complaints and lawsuits filed against the officer.

Maggie Goodrich, the LAPD’s chief information officer, said it could be that the system currently is too quick to issue a warning. The risk, she said, is that the department might narrow its assessment of officers too much and, in doing so, miss some misconduct.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” she said.


OBAMA RESPONDS TO FERGUSON CONFLICT BY ORDERING REVIEW OF POLICE MILITARIZATION

President Barack Obama is ordering a review of law enforcement militarization. The probe, to be conducted by White House officials, will focus on military surplus programs and federal grants that help civilian police forces buy military equipment, whether police should be receiving the equipment, how state and local police are using the equipment now, and what kind of training they should have in the future.

The president’s decision comes in the wake of images and reports of Ferguson, MO, police in combat gear and heavy weaponry clashing with people protesting the death of Michael Brown.

McClatchy News’ Christi Parsons has the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be led by White House staff, will also look into whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment it helps facilitate, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s in-house directive.

The federal government has been helping police purchase military equipment for more than 10 years, ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, raised concerns about police readiness for a serious attack. Through grant programs and transfers from the military, the U.S. government has helped make the gear available to law enforcement agencies across the nation that have asked for it.

But the gear hadn’t been widely noted until unrest broke out in Ferguson early this month over the shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man. The incident stirred protests, looting and some anti-police violence, which in turn inspired the police to get out their body armor, heavy vehicles and automatic rifles.

[SNIP]

After seeing images of the police gear in video footage, Obama asked senior advisers to look into the programs that provided them. He also spoke about the images in a news conference with reporters a week after Brown’s death. Some post-9/11 equipment upgrades have been useful, he said, noting in particular the improvements to radio communications and to equipment for dealing with hazardous material.

But Obama said he wanted to make sure that what police are buying is “stuff that they actually need.”

He also warned that “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, Obama, prison | 1 Comment »

Drugging California’s Foster Kids, Suspect Asking for Help Dies in LAPD Custody, “Reasonable Fear,” and a Bill to Seal Juvenile Records

August 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRESCRIBING PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO CALIFORNIA’S FOSTER KIDS

The San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has an excellent investigative longread exploring the issue of the high rates at which foster kids are prescribed psychotropic drugs (often a cocktail of several different pills), why they are prescribed, and the lasting negative effects the drugs are having on kids.

An investigation by the Mercury found that one-in-four of California’s foster kids are receiving psychotropic drugs—a number more than three times that of all kids across the nation. The study also revealed that kids are receiving questionable prescriptions for drugs that are not approved for children.

The story is the first in a five-part series. Subsequent installments will explore topics like group homes’ excessive use of drugs to manage kids, how young kids are being medicated, and the cost to taxpayers and kids.

Here’s how it opens:

They are wrenched from abusive homes, uprooted again and again, often with their life’s belongings stuffed into a trash bag.

Abandoned and alone, they are among California’s most powerless children. But instead of providing a stable home and caring family, the state’s foster care system gives them a pill.

With alarming frequency, foster and health care providers are turning to a risky but convenient remedy to control the behavior of thousands of troubled kids: numbing them with psychiatric drugs that are untested on and often not approved for children.

An investigation by this newspaper found that nearly 1 out of every 4 adolescents in California’s foster care system is receiving these drugs — 3 times the rate for all adolescents nationwide. Over the last decade, almost 15 percent of the state’s foster children of all ages were prescribed the medications, known as psychotropics, part of a national treatment trend that is only beginning to receive broad scrutiny.

“We’re experimenting on our children,” said Los Angeles County Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the nation’s largest juvenile court.

A year of interviews with foster youth, caregivers, doctors, researchers and legal advocates uncovered how the largest foster care system in the U.S. has grown dependent on quick-fix, taxpayer-funded, big-profit pharmaceuticals — and how the state has done little to stop it.

“To be prescribing these medications so extensively and so, I think, thoughtlessly, with so little evidence supporting their use, it’s just malpractice,” said George Stewart, a Berkeley child psychiatrist who has treated the neediest foster children in the Bay Area for the past four decades. “It really is drugging them.”

The state official who oversees foster care, Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne, concedes drugs are overused, but insists his department is wrapping its arms around the problem: “There’s a lot of work to be done here to make sure we do things right.”

No one doubts that foster children generally have greater mental health needs because of the trauma they have suffered, and the temptation for caregivers to fulfill those needs with drugs can be strong. In the short term, psychotropics can calm volatile moods and make aggressive children more docile.

But there is substantial evidence of many of the drugs’ dramatic side effects: rapid-onset obesity, diabetes and a lethargy so profound that foster kids describe dozing through school and much of their young lives. Long-term effects, particularly on children, have received little study, but for some psychotropics there is evidence of persistent tics, increased risk of suicide, even brain shrinkage.

Sade Daniels, of Hayward, became so overweight in her teens, that at age 26 her bathroom mirror still taunts and embarrasses her. Mark Estrada, a 21-year-old from Anaheim, said he felt too “zoned out” to focus on high school and so groggy he was cut from his varsity basketball team.

And Rochelle Trochtenberg, now 31 and living in Eureka, still struggles to bring a glass to her lips because her hands are so shaky from the years she spent on a shifting mix of lithium, Depakote, Zyprexa, Haldol and Prozac, among others. When people ask, she tries to cover it up with remarks about a possible hereditary condition.

The truth is too painful to explain, she said. “I don’t want to tell people I have a tremor because I was drugged for my whole adolescence.”

The interactive longread is full of great videos and photos by Dai Sugano, so be sure to click over to the Mercury for the rest of the story.


MAN DIES OF ASTHMA IN LAPD CUSTODY AFTER REPEATEDLY ASKING OFFICERS FOR HELP

Last September, Jorge Azucena died in police custody after reportedly requesting help numerous times from LAPD officers because he was having trouble breathing.

Azucena led police on a car chase for a few miles before getting out of his vehicle and fleeing on foot. Azucena gave himself up to officers at an apartment complex nearby. Audio recordings from the officers’ microphones indicated that Azucena then complied with officers’ commands to lie down on the ground. The microphones also recorded Azucena telling the officers that he could not breathe.

A new report by the Inspector General says that microphones picked up Azucena telling officers he was having a hard time breathing at least five times. The IG’s report shows that officers dismissed Azucena’s pleas for help, telling him that if he was able to talk, he was able to breathe.

Azucena continued to beg officers for help after arriving at the station. He was left in a holding cell until an officer noticed that he appeared to have stopped breathing. Forty minutes after he was brought into the station, paramedics arrived, tried to revive him, and transported him to a hospital where he was declared dead a few hours later.

While blood tests showed meth in Azucena’s system, his autopsy suggested that he died of his asthma attack.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

…as he was lying handcuffed on the ground, Azucena said again that he was struggling to breathe and told the officers he had asthma. Officers had to help him to his feet and hold him by the arms as he walked to a patrol car. One officer recalled to investigators that Azucena was “walking wobbly” and seemed “fatigued,” Beck’s report said.

Over the next 10 minutes, as various officers and sergeants watched over him, Azucena is heard on the recordings complaining about his trouble breathing at least five times, the reports showed. In one exchange, he told officers he was on drugs and believed he was having a seizure. At another point, he began yelling to onlookers.

“Help me, help me, help me,” he shouted, according to the inspector general’s report. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.”

In response, a sergeant ordered officers to place him in the back seat of a patrol car, believing he was trying to incite the crowd watching, the report said.

The patrol car’s camera recorded Azucena as he tried to lie down in the back seat. When an officer ordered him to sit up, Azucena kicked the car door and said, “I can’t breathe. Help me, help me. I can’t breathe,” according to the reports.

Several officers and sergeants told investigators afterward they did not see any indications that Azucena was in serious distress. One recalled that Azucena seemed to be trying to catch his breath as he sat in the patrol car waiting to be brought to the station but nonetheless appeared to be fine.

The inspector general’s report highlights several exchanges in which police dismiss Azucena’s complaints and tell him that he is fine because he is talking. Several officers told investigators they noticed that Azucena was sweating but believed the humid weather and his attempt to flee were responsible, the report said.

Steve Soboroff, president of the civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said it was “troubling” that so many officers ignored Azucena. The case, he said, underscored the need to better train officers on department policies that require them to call for an ambulance whenever a suspect complains of breathing problems.

“I don’t think this points to a culture of officers who don’t care about people,” Soboroff said. “But it’s important that we make sure officers know they can follow their own moral compass and can feel comfortable speaking up in any situation if they have questions about what is going on.”

Read the rest.


“REASONABLE FEAR” MOST CRUCIAL FACTOR IN DETERMINING FATE OF OFFICER WHO SHOT MICHAEL BROWN

The NY Times’ Michael Wines and Frances Robles talk with a number of criminal justice experts about what factors will go into a grand jury’s determination of whether Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, earlier this month. Experts point out that while there are pages and pages of rules on officer use of force, in split-second, life-or-death decisions, “reasonable fear” of a suspect causing grave injury or death to an officer or civilian is enough cause for deadly use of force. The question of whether Wilson had an “objectively reasonable” fear will be crucial in deciding whether the shooting was within the law.

Here’s how it opens:

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

But as sweeping as restrictions on the use of weapons may be, deciding whether an officer acted correctly in firing at a suspect is not cut and dried. A host of outside factors, from the officer’s perception of a threat to the suspect’s behavior and even his size, can emerge as mitigating or damning.

The police, the courts and experts say some leeway is necessary in situations where officers under crushing stress must make split-second decisions with life-or-death consequences. A large majority of officers never use their weapons. A handful of officers may be rogue killers, researchers say, but laboratory simulations of armed confrontations show that many more officers — much like ordinary civilians — can make honest mistakes in the pressure cooker of an armed encounter.

“It’s a difficult job for coppers out there,” Timothy Maher, a former officer and a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said in an interview. “In the heat of the moment, things are happening so quickly. If they were role-playing, they could say, ‘Time out.’ But in real life, it’s, ‘Wow — in my training, this guy stopped, but here, he didn’t.’ ”

Some citizens who read witnesses’ accounts of police shootings or view cellphone videos of them see the shootings as brutal and unjustified, which underscores a frequent gap between public perceptions and official views.

The rules dictate when an officer may move from mild coercion, such as issuing an order or grabbing a suspect’s arm, to stronger or even deadly action. In general, officers are allowed to respond with greater force after a suspect does so, and the type of response — from a gentle push to a tight grip, a baton strike to a stun gun shock to a bullet — rises as the threat grows.

Every step, however, is overshadowed by a single imperative: If an officer believes he or someone else is in imminent danger of grievous injury or death, he is allowed to shoot first, and ask questions later. The same is true, the courts have ruled, in cases where a suspect believed to have killed or gravely injured someone is fleeing and can only be halted with deadly force.

Read on.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO AUTOMATICALLY SEAL JUVENILE RECORDS AND GIVE KIDS A CHANCE TO START OVER FRESH

Late last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, SB 1038, that will automatically seal kids’ non-violent juvenile records from the public upon completion of probation. Current law allows kids to seal their records, but only through petitioning the court, which can be costly and time-consuming.

You can read more about the bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), on Sen. Leno’s website. Here’s a clip:

“This important legislation helps ensure that young people who have been in trouble and have paid their debt to society are given the chance to turn their lives around before it’s too late,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Without a fresh start, a young offender could be prevented from pursuing higher education or entering the workforce, two of the best ways to keep youth from entering a life of crime as adults. I thank Governor Brown for his leadership in signing this measure.”

SB 1038 provides for the automatic sealing of juvenile records in cases where the youthful offender successfully completes all court-imposed sanctions. Existing law already allows for the sealing of non-violent juvenile records, but requires a young person to petition the court. Many young people never file a petition because it can be a lengthy process and have significant costs. Others are unaware of their right to petition, move away, or assume their record is automatically sealed when they turn 18.

The bill does not apply to serious, violent crimes, which remain un-sealable under all circumstances.

“Today California has taken a significant step to help non-violent juvenile offenders move past mistakes they made in their young lives,” said Maureen Pacheco, legislative committee member with the California Public Defenders Association (CPDA). “We are redoubling our focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders back into society, an objective that is nearly impossible to attain when that person is forever stigmatized by a past crime.”

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