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Foster Care


When Relatives Take in Out-of County Foster Kids, the Bureaucratic Snafus Double – by Melinda Clemmons

August 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



EDITOR’S NOTE:
Earlier this month, we co-produced a story with The Chronicle of Social Change about the difficulties that arise when California foster children wind up in what is known as: out-of-county placement.

The story, by Daniel Heimpel, looked at the problems faced by one bright and active teenager who was taken into foster care and subsequently placed with a family that lived a county or two away.

The story below, by Melinda Clemmons (also co-produced with CRC) looks at the problems faced by a husband and wife who took in another family member’s the out-of-county child (or, in this case, children), and thus found themselves dealing with the bureaucratic systems of not one, but two different counties.



The Two-County Headache of Becoming Out-of County Foster Kin

by Melinda Clemmons


Mariana Rivera* had her hands full.

Holding her newborn niece, she filled out the paperwork for the infant’s first medical appointment while her four other nieces and nephews, all under the age of 10, ran around the clinic’s waiting room.

“We had just gotten two of the kids earlier that day, and the other two a couple days before that,” Rivera said. “They weren’t used to us yet, and they were confused about why they were with us, so they couldn’t sit still.”

It was the spring of 2014 and, after nine months waiting for their home to be approved, Rivera and her husband had just become relative caregivers to her brother’s five children. The children, and now the baby, had been removed from her brother and his girlfriend, their mother, and placed in foster care by child protective services in Solano County, the eastern-most county in the North Bay area of California.

Knowing that the siblings would likely be separated if they went into non-relative foster care, the Riveras agreed to take them all into their home in neighboring Yolo County when asked by her brother, even though that meant their own 18-year-old son had to move out to make room in their small house.

“We wanted the kids to stay together,” Rivera said. “So we started the process of getting approved right away.”

Over one-third of the children in California who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect are placed with relatives. The Riveras’ nieces and nephews are among the 20 percent of foster children in the state who are placed in a different county from the one in which they were removed, a circumstance that, as the Riveras would find out, brings complications in terms of support services, funding streams and the sheer logistics involved in taking care of children in foster care.

According to Aaron Crutison, deputy director of Solano County Child Welfare Services, relative caregivers are crucial to the department’s focus on permanency for children and strengthening families.

“When we remove a child,” said Crutison, “we’re placing that child in the least restrictive environment while we work with the family and their issues. A relative placement is someone they’re familiar with…so we minimize the trauma to the child when a relative steps in while we work with the family.”

Juggling paperwork, a newborn and four restless children at the clinic, Rivera was quickly finding out that all it takes is a little bureaucratic foul-up to make the already challenging job of caring for traumatized children even harder.

She had driven from her own home in Yolo County to the clinic in Solano County for the baby’s appointment, which had been scheduled by the Solano County hospital where she was born just three days earlier. But after she completed the registration forms at the Solano clinic, she was told that the baby could not be seen in that clinic since she and her siblings now resided in Yolo County with the Riveras.

A frustrated Rivera was advised to go to a clinic in her county of residence, which she did the next day. There she was told that the Yolo clinic could not see the baby either, since as a newborn, she was still on her mother’s MediCal health insurance in Solano County. According to the intake staff at the clinic, Rivera would need to visit a clinic back in Solano County.

When handing over the baby two days after her birth at the hospital in Solano County, the infant’s social worker gave the Riveras her essential paperwork, including the relative foster care placement papers, which they signed. The mother’s MediCal information was absent from the file, a fact the Riveras didn’t learn until they needed it for the Yolo clinic visit.

“The worker should have known that since we lived in a different county, there might be trouble with [the MediCal card] but I don’t know if she knew,” Rivera said.

When she called the worker to untangle the mess, the worker said she did not know how to resolve the problem, and would have to check with her supervisor and get back to her.

“We kept going back and forth to the clinics,” Rivera said. “I called and called the worker until she fixed it.”

The baby was finally seen by a doctor at the clinic in Yolo County, a week after her original appointment.


OUT-OF-COUNTY KIN CARE

As the Riveras discovered when they were ping-ponged between clinics, living in a different county than the one in which your foster children originally resided means an array of complications that go well beyond the expected difficulties of dealing with the state’s overwhelmed foster care system.

While Aaron Crutison of Solano County Child Welfare could not speak about a particular case, when told of the Riveras’ frustration in trying to navigate the two county health care systems, he acknowledged the system has challenges.

“We do all we can to make sure that does not happen,” Crutison said.

Waiting nine months for their home to be approved to receive the children was difficult for the Riveras, as they felt the children needed to be with family after what they had been through. While they did not know the details, they understood that the cause of removal was neglect.

“My brother had told me some things, but I didn’t know the whole story,” Rivera said. “But I knew it wasn’t a good environment.”

In addition to the bureaucratic mix-up at the clinics, the Riveras have faced multiple challenges imposed by the distance between their home in Yolo County and the children’s home county of Solano, both during the nine-month-long relative caregiver approval process, and now while they have the children in their care.

For instance, while the Riveras waited for the wheels to turn so the children could be placed with them, the siblings were split up into two different foster homes in Solano County. Anxious to provide their nieces and nephews with some sort of emotional continuity, they traveled over an hour each way to visit the children as often as they were allowed to visit and could manage with their own schedules.

Now that the four children, and the baby, are finally living with them, Rivera drives the same distance once a week to deliver her nieces and nephews for visits with their parents.

In addition, after the children were placed in their home, the kids’ social worker told the Riveras about something called the Foster and Kinship Care Education program in Solano County. Sensing she needed some kind of support, Rivera went to one of the meetings. “It took me an hour to get there, and the meeting was a couple hours, then I had to drive home. It took up the whole day.”

When the children were assigned to a new social worker this past May, she told the Riveras about the Foster and Kinship Care Education program at Woodland Community College near their home in Yolo County. Rivera attends as often as she can, and says that she wishes she had known about it earlier as she gets a lot of support from the staff and fellow relative caregivers who attend the program.


UNEQUAL FOSTER CARE FUNDING FOR RELATIVES

In the spring of 2014, when the children and the baby were placed with the Riveras, relative caregivers did not receive the same level of funding that non-relative foster parents received. The state provided no foster care support to relatives of children who were not eligible for federal foster care support, which accounts for one-third of California’s foster children.

Relatives caring for children who were not eligible for federal foster care support were told to apply on their own for CalWorks and food stamps.

The Riveras did so, and found the process “very frustrating and confusing.” Moreover, as they live “more or less paycheck to paycheck,” the couple hundred dollars per month they received for each child left them struggling to pay for the children’s needs.

Things improved in June 2014 when, thanks in large part to a statewide advocacy effort led by the Step Up for Kin coalition, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Approved Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program. Also known as ARC, the program provides relative caregivers financial support equal to the basic foster care benefits. (It does not pay for specialized care, something that the coalition is working to change.)

“I am very happy that Solano County opted in to this program,” Rivera said. The Riveras finally began receiving the basic foster care rate for each child earlier this summer after the children had been in their home for more than a year.

Inequities still exist, however, as not all counties have opted into the program. Relative caregivers whose foster children originate from one of the 15 counties that have not opted in do not get the ARC dollars even if they themselves live in a county that has accepted the ARC option.


REUNIFICATION AND PERMANENCY

Rivera’s brother and his girlfriend are attending counseling, working to reunify with their children, and have recently asked Rivera to be their “support person” if the children are returned to them.

She was very glad to agree to do that since she wants to remain involved in the children’s lives. As a relative who stepped in during a time of crisis, she does not feel prepared for the children to leave her home.

“When you’re a foster parent, you’re more mentally prepared for it when the children come to you and when they go back home,” Rivera said. “But when you’re family, you can’t believe it when it happens. It’s a shock. It’s like they’re your own children.”

“I love them” she said, “and I’m going to miss them.”

For now, Rivera enjoys watching the younger children run to the older ones when they come home from preschool.

“They need each other,” she said. “We wanted to keep them together, in spite of the struggles, and we have.”


Melinda Clemmons is a reporter and the Marketing Manager for The Chronicle of Social Change.

* The names of the relative caregivers and a few details in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the children in their care.

Meiling Bedard and Maria Akhter contributed to the data visualization for this story.

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

Trauma Lawsuit Against Compton School District, Drugging Foster Kids, the Brown Act-violating Jail Vote, and California’s New Resident Wolves

August 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

FIRST HEARING LANDMARK LAWSUIT AGAINST COMPTON SCHOOL DISTRICT OVER PUNISHING TRAUMATIZED KIDS INSTEAD OF HELPING THEM

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald heard arguments in a potentially precedent-setting suit against Compton Unified School District for failing to help severely traumatized kids struggling with learning.

The lawsuit filed by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in May, alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law.

If Judge Fitzgerald grants the injunction, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.

A decision in favor of the young plaintiffs could also have a ripple effect on schools across the country.

Compton Unified’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the suit could have the effect giving all of Compton’s students a disability designation just because of where they live.

(Go here for WLA’s previous reporting on this lawsuit.)

NPR’s Cory Turner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them.

The LA Times’ Stephen Caesar also reported on this issue.


BILL TO CREATE NURSE OVERSIGHT OF FOSTER KIDS’ PSYCHOTROPIC PRESCRIPTIONS LOSES $$$

A California bill would have mandated oversight of the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, giving current public health nurses power to monitor the kids, and paying for 38 new public health nurses across CA’s 58 counties.

The bill likely would have been a meaningful step forward in addressing a serious breakdown in foster kids’ mental health care, (uncovered in Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids“) that is, until its author Senator Jim Beall had to strip it of nearly all of its power in the hopes of getting it past budget hawks.

Implementation would have cost $5 million in the first year, and up to $10 million per year, thereafter.

Because Sen. Beall cut the funding out of the bill to give it a chance in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, nurse oversight is no longer be mandatory: counties can choose to opt in (or not) and will have to cough up the money if they want to participate.

Unfortunately, according to National Center for Youth Law’s Anna Johnson, “If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it.”

Contra Costa Times’ Josh Richman has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Appropriations committees are usually the highest hurdle you have to jump over … second perhaps only to the governor’s signature,” Beall, D-San Jose, said later Wednesday. “We’re going to get the bill on the governor’s desk.”

Beall’s SB 319 is one of four pending bills inspired by the Bay Area News Group’s investigative series “Drugging Our Kids,” which revealed that nearly 1 in 4 foster care teens takes psychiatric drugs.

The drugs are often used to control behavior, not to treat mental illnesses. Most of those on the drugs are prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of medication that have the most harmful side effects.

The bill still would give public health nurses the authority to get foster youth’s medical records from social workers and prescribing doctors, Beall said, even though it won’t be required. Almost all of the state’s largest counties will do so, he predicted, and he can use his seats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees to revisit funding for more nurses and perhaps a statewide mandate in next year’s budget talks.

Still, foster-youth advocates were disappointed.

The Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law sponsored SB 319, and center policy analyst Anna Johnson testified on its behalf Wednesday. Afterward, she said the state’s refusal to spend any money on this is especially disappointing because the federal government would pay 75 percent of the bill.

“If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it” as many other states have, she said. Refusing to do so means “we’re happy with passing that cost on to foster children’s bodies” by “taking a big risk that children will continue to not be monitored on these medications, whether they’re medically necessary or not.”


LA COUNTY SUPES’ IMPROPER JAIL PLANS VOTE IS RESCHEDULED, BUT THE BOARD CAN’T TAKE BACK THE BREACH OF PUBLIC TRUST

Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a letter confronting the Board of Supervisors about violating the Ralph M. Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, the vote did not honor the public’s guaranteed right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

The LA Times’ editorial board says that even though the Supes remedied the improper vote by recalendaring it, the move doesn’t do anything to solve the public trust issue the first vote created. Here’s a clip:

Then, without prior notice, they proceeded to discuss and adopt a separate plan to downsize a facility to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to move ahead with construction of a women’s jail in the Antelope Valley. They offered this ludicrous explanation: The proper jail size depended on the number of people they could divert, so the agenda item on diversion programs and funding necessarily provided the public adequate notice that they would also take up and vote on the controversial multibillion-dollar public works projects.

The true reason for trying to shoehorn in the jails vote? It might be that they had just discovered that state officials were serious about a looming deadline to apply for construction funding, and that they were going to miss it because of their inattentiveness; or that properly calendaring the item for a later meeting would interfere with their vacation plans; or that providing legally adequate notice would raise too much of a public ruckus; or all of the above.

Some county officials also reasoned, after the fact, that anyone who cared about jails also cared about diversion, and therefore was already in the room and received their (very short) notice in real time.

But the purpose of public notice requirements isn’t solely to allow people to show up at board meetings to offer comments, especially in a county of 10 million residents. Only a small slice of the public weighs in that way. Others voice their opinions by calling, emailing, organizing, lobbying or arguing in advance of a major decision affecting them — if they know, as the law entitles them to know, when that decision is to be made. And when push comes to shove, taxpayers and other members of the public have every right to know what their elected representatives are doing, whether they plan to weigh in or not.


CALIFORNIA’S NEW WOLF PACK: THE FIRST IN NEARLY A CENTURY

A new pack of gray wolves, called the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials, has appeared in California. The two adult wolves and five pups, captured on a trail camera, are the first resident pack in CA in decades.

In 2011, a lone gray wolf, OR-7, made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon. OR-7 now lives with his pack just over the Oregon border.

Here’s what the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has to say about the new pack:

Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.

In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.

CDFW is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick who has been following the California wolf saga for years has the story.

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Trauma, wolves | 7 Comments »

Does CA Have to Send So Many Foster Kids “Out-of-County?” by Daniel Heimpel

August 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



EDITOR’S NOTE:
This story by Daniel Heimpel about a former foster child named Heather Matheson, is the first of a series of stories exploring the good and the harm done by a strategy called out-of-county placement that is used by the various county agencies in California’s foster care system. The story was co-produced by WitnessLA & the Chronicle of Social Change, of which Heimpel is the founder and executive director.


OUT OF COUNTY, CA: THE PROBLEMS WITH GOING THE DISTANCE

What is the cost/benefit ratio of putting foster children—who have already lost so much—into “out-of-county” placement?

by Daniel Heimpel


Heather, slight and precocious, made her Los Angeles County high school’s track team as a freshman.

It was a major feat, something to be proud of in the maelstrom of the 14 year-old’s life. Only months before, the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had removed Heather from her home after a harrowing week of physical abuse and domestic violence.

After 15 months in what had been a promising foster-care placement near Taft High School, set in a pleasant part of the San Fernando Valley, things had started to fall apart. The department decided to move her in with relatives in neighboring Ventura County.

The only problem, one that seemed deceptively small in the context of her painful family history, was that she now had to take three buses to get to school, the only real support system she had left.

“Looking back on it,” Heather says, “it was this short period of time, but it was really stressful. It was a stressful year of life. I could have been going to school dances and football games, but I didn’t because the buses don’t run that late.”

In 2009, when Heather was put into what is called an out-of-county placement, California’s feudal foster care system was larger than it is today, with roughly 70,000 kids in the state’s care who had been removed from their parent’s custody and then placed with foster parents, in group homes or with extended family.

Yet, what hasn’t changed in the eight years since Heather began her foster care odyssey is the fact that 1 in 5 California foster youth will find themselves taken away from the county where they lived and placed in another county. At present, a total of 12,626—or 20 percent of all California children and youth in a foster care placement—live in a different county than the one that they previously called home.

The reasons why foster children and youth are forced to cross county lines so often boils down to conflicting goals within the system, simple geography, and the push and pull of housing costs.

One way to understand the out-of-county issue is to look at the different types of placements to which children are sent. In April, the Center for Social Services Research (CSSR) at the University of California, Berkeley, drawing data from California’s 58 counties, reported that there were 62,915 children in foster care, a number that has been steadily rising since a low point of around 55,000 in 2011. The main placement types for children are with kin, in privately run foster family agencies (FFA), in county-run foster homes and, finally, in group homes, which generally get the older and harder-to-place youth.

Data pulled from CSSR’s California Child Welfare Indicators Project shows that in 2015, 21 percent of kin (such as extended family members), 24 percent of FFA, 5 percent of county foster care and a whopping 36 percent of group home placements were out-of-county.

When it comes to kin—-the preferable foster care placement according to many child welfare leaders-—the reason why 21 percent of kids cross county borders has a lot to do with simple geography. If you live in L.A. County, but your aunt and uncle live in Ventura County, as was true for Heather, you’ll be placed in Ventura County since, all things being equal, that’s a better solution than asking you to live with strangers in L.A.

For children in FFA placements, the movement is, in part, due to the fact that privately run foster family agencies often span more than one county, and some of those counties do a better job at recruiting foster parents than others. So if the agency can’t find a child a foster home out of their list in one county, they’ll bounce them to a neighboring county.

When it comes to group homes, the cost of doing business is cheaper in suburban and exurban areas than the city centers where many high-needs youth come from. In addition, political pressure to reduce reliance on group homes has been felt most by the urban counties where anti-group home sentiment has taken deepest root. This means that in counties like Alameda and San Francisco, some group homes have been shuttered. As a result, the only place to send the kids who need to be in these higher-level placements is out of county.

The implications for children’s lives can range from the good, where foster youth are placed with family members who welcome and care about them, to the bad, where contact and eventual reunification with biological parents becomes strained by distance, and access to critical mental health services, and other services that the child needs, is often delayed or degraded, if ever delivered.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance for Children and Family Services, sympathizes with the limited choices court officers and caseworkers often have to work with when placing foster kids.

“They have to make these kinds of Solomonic decisions all the time, and they have to do it at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday,” Schroeder said.


IN COUNTY

Heather’s case fell into the part good, part bad category.

Her journey began on March 5, 2007. That was the day that DCFS took the 13 year-old from her parents.

The official status review report submitted six months later to the county’s juvenile dependency court described the details of the situation. On that day, “and on numerous prior occasions, the child Heather Matheson’s mother, [redacted], and father, [redacted], have engaged in violent altercations in the presence of the child including father chasing mother in his vehicle… Additionally, father got the child involved in the parent’s arguments by requiring the child to call the mother on father’s behalf.”

What the report neglects to describe is the run-up to her removal. A week before Heather’s father chased her mother in the car, Heather showed up to John A. Sutter Middle School in Winnetka with bruises on her arms, prompting her teacher, who was also her track coach, to report child abuse to DCFS. When a social worker showed up at her parents’ door to investigate, Heather says she was too scared to say anything in front of her father, whom she remembers as being “short fused.”

After the social workers left, Heather’s father flew into a rage. Her mother, who was planning to move to Idaho with a new man, was not at the house.

“He wanted her to come over,” Heather says.

The girl’s father had a gun in his hand, and told Heather to call her mother.

“When I made a big deal that I didn’t want to do that, he hit me with the gun,” Heather says.

The blow knocked the 90-lb. 13 year old unconscious. When Heather came to, she made the call.

“I said, ‘I am scared, Dad has a gun and I don’t want to be there,’” Heather recalls saying.

But she got no help from her mom.

“If you want to live with him, you have to learn how to deal with him. It’s not my problem,” Heather recalls her mother saying.

Heather’s father then forced her into the car, leaving the gun on the dashboard. As he drove wildly from street to street looking for his wife at every motel he could find, Heather remembers watching the gun slide back and forth in front of her.

When the DCFS investigator who had visited Heather’s home days before showed up at school the next day for a scheduled interview with Heather, the frightened girl told the social worker the whole story. After hearing her out, the investigator told Heather she would have to take her to an emergency shelter. At this point Heather’s teacher, who was also in the room, broke in.

“I don’t want her to end up with strangers,” Heather recalls the woman saying. “My husband and I can take her in.”

Despite the teacher’s initial good will, the placement would not last.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 1 Comment »

Gov. Brown Signing Bills, Hearing on Overmedication of Foster Kids, Defining Solitary, and the Folsom Riot

August 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

IT’S BILL-SIGNING SEASON IN SACRAMENTO: GRAND JURIES BLOCKED FROM USE-OF-FORCE CASES, RECORDING COPS, PRISON DATA TRACKING…AND MORE

CA Governor Jerry Brown has signed several noteworthy bills, so far this week:

SB 411, the Right to Record Act, clarifies the First Amendment right to photograph and record video of law enforcement when officers are in a public place or where the recording citizen has a right to be.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, said, “With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reinforces our First Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians. At a time when cell phone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

And here’s why this bill is important, according to Sen. Lara’s website:

In California and beyond, members of the public have been arrested while recording or photographing police activity in public places. News accounts and videos have surfaced showing that some civilians have been arrested for recording officers in the cities of Los Angeles, Torrance, and San Diego, as well as the County of Orange. This conflict extends past police officers and civilians to professional photographers and media personnel. In Berkeley, CA a journalist was arrested after recording law enforcement officers in a public place. Last week, a bystander caught a police officer in North Charleston, S.C. in a shooting incident that has led to charges being filed against that officer.

In May, the ACLU of California launched a “Mobile Justice” app that allows users to take video (of an officer-involved incident, for instance) and immediately send it to the ACLU by pressing a button. According to the ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page, the app has been downloaded over 160,000 times as of this week.

Another bill, SB 227, bans the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases involving alleged fatal excessive use of force and fatal shootings by law enforcement officers.

The bill follows controversial secret grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson and Staten Island.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), SB 601, which aims to boost transparency and accountability by increasing the amount of required public data reporting from California prisons.

The data will be published quarterly online as a “data dashboard,” which will include inmate population numbers; rehabilitation program numbers, including enrollment and achievement statistics; the number and nature of deaths in the facility; use of force incidents; staff overtime, vacancies, pay, and positions; inmate appeals; solitary confinement population; budget and money spent; and information on lockdowns.


MEANWHILE, IN THE CALIFORNIA SENATE…A HEARING ON THE OVER-PRESCRIBING OF PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO FOSTER KIDS

A three-hour joint oversight hearing between two CA Senate committees focused on a package of four California reform bills addressing the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsberg), chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, voiced frustration at the lack of data tracking and transparency to explain why foster kids are so heavily medicated.

Here’s a quick explanation of the bill package from California Healthline:

SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;

SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts’ process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;

SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and

SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 5/18).

The four bills are on their way to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week, and if passed there, will land on Gov. Brown’s desk.

(For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Seipel has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

The hearing was intended to look more closely at the standards and tools used by state and local governments in evaluating psychosocial services for foster care youth that minimize the need for the reliance on psychiatric drugs.

“You can imagine the challenges our vulnerable kids faced when they were trying to access care within the foster health care system,” McGuire said.

The senator said he was having trouble getting answers to basic questions, including: How many of the youths had been prescribed prescription drugs? How many were taking multiple prescribed drugs? How many doctors had the youths seen?

“How can we treat them if we don’t have their medical history?” McGuire asked, noting that much of this data is submitted to state departments on a voluntary, but not mandatory, basis.

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, Hernandez told the panel that after this newspaper’s series brought the problem to his attention he wanted some answers.

“The questions I have are: Why is it that this population is being prescribed drugs at the rates they are being prescribed? Is that normal, standard protocol? How do we compare to other states?”

Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, told the senators that California lacks a system capable of tracking prescription practices about psychotropic medications for foster youth.

“Care coordination should be provided immediately upon entry into foster care,” Johnson said, noting that California can learn from states.


INMATES REACT TO US BUREAU OF PRISONS’ COMMENTS ABOUT THE ABSENCE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN FEDERAL LOCK-UPS

At a Senate hearing focusing on conditions in federal prisons, Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, insisted that solitary confinement is not used in federal detention facilities.

Samuels said that inmates are housed two to a cell. Because of this, even if the prisoners are held for 22 or more hours per day and experience every other aspect of isolation, the practice no longer qualifies as solitary confinement, according to Samuels.

(Read more about the Senate hearing: here.)

Vice’s Seth Ferranti and Robert Rosso gathered some reactions to Samuels’ statements from federal prisoners. Here are some clips:

“Reading what Samuels said was like watching Bill Clinton change the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ when he denied that Monica Lewinsky gave him head,” says Jay Martt, a federal inmate serving 14 years for robbery at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana. “He’s redefining what solitary confinement means in modern times.”…

“We do not, under any circumstances, nor have we ever had the practice of putting an individual in a cell alone,” while housed in the SHU, Samuels swore before members of the Senate.

“How can he get away with saying such a bald-face lie?” wonders Martt. ” Of course they put guys in single-cells in the SHU. All that one of these senators needs to do is subpoena any log-book from any SHU in the BOP and they could prosecute Director Samuels for lying to members of Congress.”…

“Prison officials like to tell the public and the courts that when we are put in the hole, or the ‘SHU,’ that we get one hour out of our cells every day for recreation. It’s a lie,” Martt, who gets released from prison next year, tells VICE. “Sometimes, when the staff feels like it, they might let us go from our cell into a cage that’s the size of two cells combined with up to six other people in it, and we stand around looking stupid. That’s what the BOP calls our ‘one hour’ out of the cell per day.”…

Troy Hockenberry, serving a ten-year sentence for a gun charge, says it’s the misuse of the special housing units that concerns him. “I know a guy who was sent to the hole for not tucking in his shirt. He stayed back there for over a month—for not tucking in his shirt! That’s absurd,” he said. Hockenberry argued that staff will target inmates that they don’t like and have them placed in the SHU for an “investigation.” According to BOP policy, an inmate can remain in the SHU under investigation for a period 90 days, at which time a decision must be made: Charge the inmate, or place them back into general population.

“But they’ve got a trick for that, too,” Hockenberry tells VICE. “They ask for an extension.” An officer investigating an alleged wrong doing can request three extensions, meaning that an inmate can be held in the SHU for nine months without ever being charged. “The bottom line is they can do whatever they want to us and nobody cares,” Hockenberry concludes.


RIOT AT NEW FOLSOM PRISON ENDS IN DEATH OF ONE OF THE “SAN QUENTIN SIX” INMATES

On Wednesday, 71-year-old Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, one of the “San Quentin Six” inmates who attempted to break out of the state prison in 1971, was killed during a 70-inmate riot at New Folsom Prison in Sacramento.

Pinell and other inmates were reportedly stabbed with makeshift weapons. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals. No prison staff members were injured in the brawl.

Pinell was locked-up in 1965 for rape, and in 1971 was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after killing a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. That same year, Pinell was part of a prison break that resulted in the death of two guards and four inmates, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Richard Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.

Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, law enforcement, mental health | 11 Comments »

LASD Civilian Oversight Report, Kids and Prop 47, and Still No Child Welfare Czar

July 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES TO CONSIDER WORKING GROUP’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CREATING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LASD

The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the shape that civilian oversight for the LA County Sheriff’s Department should take is expected to present a final report to the Supes next Tuesday, on July 28th. The report includes five key recommendations for the composition and reach of the oversight commission.

Arguably the most important recommendation is that the commission should have the power to subpoena LASD documents. In order to make that subpoena power possible, however, there would have to be changes to state law.

The LASD’s Inspector General, Max Huntsman, who is also a member of the working group, has had his own trouble getting personnel documents from the department.

“I used to be an attack dog,” Huntsman said, back when the Supes voted to create civilian oversight. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

At a KPCC panel discussion on police transparency last week, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler said the department has been working cooperatively “for a year and a half…to deepen Max Huntsman’s…access to the department. And we’re poised to do that.” But, it’s complicated.

Other recommendations include having nine board-appointed commissioners-–one chosen by each of the five supervisors, and four voted on by all of the Supes. Members should also serve three-year terms, and should be diverse (different races, ages, etc.), according to the working group. And, the oversight commission should use the Inspector General’s staff to for monitoring and investigation purposes.

The working group is slated to present the report to the Supes in two weeks. (For backstory on the working group’s preliminary decisions and how they came to make these recommendations, go here.)

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

Subpoena power has emerged as a critical issue for activists, who claim it’s necessary to have access to internal department documents. During 13 public meetings and nine town halls conducted by the working group, activists lobbied hard for subpoena power. Patrice Cullors of Dignity and Power Now called it “make or break” for successful oversight.

Sheriff’s representatives who sat on the group strongly opposed the idea.

They felt it was important the new commission begin its work in a “cordial and cooperative relationship,” and that Sheriff Jim McDonnell – elected last year – be given time to “effectuate reforms,” according to the report. None was immediately available for comment.

“Subpoena power would be available as a last resort,” said attorney Dean Hansell, who chaired the group. “It provides a club.” Hansell once served on the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Hansell acknowledged subpoena power would require voters to approve a change in the County Charter. The working group voted four to three to recommend supervisors place the question on the next ballot.

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who sat on the working group, supported giving the new oversight panel subpoena power, but said it may be overrated.

“A subpoena just gets you the right to get somebody to court to say ‘hey give me stuff’,” he said. The department – and the powerful labor union that represents deputies – can always argue that personnel and investigation records are not public.

Huntsman knows this challenge firsthand. The sheriff has denied Huntsman access to personnel records, which include a wide range of information about internal investigations. McDonnell has cited conflicting California laws and court rulings on access.


FOURTH DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS SEZ JUVIE OFFENDERS BENEFIT FROM PROP 47 TOO

In a ruling on Thursday, a California appeals court said kids qualify, just like adults, for crime reclassifications—from felony to misdemeanor—that adults convicted of certain non-serious felonies receive under Proposition 47. (We at WLA applaud the court’s very sensible decision.)

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The court of appeal said the reclassification of offenses under Proposition 47 applies to juveniles because they are judged by the same criminal code as adults.

“Accordingly, when a criminal offense is reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor in the adult context — as occurred under Proposition 47 — the reclassification likewise applies in juvenile wardship proceedings,” Associate Justice Judith Haller wrote for the court.

The ruling came in a San Diego County case involving a minor who acknowledged in 2013 that he had committed felony commercial burglary, according to the appeals court ruling.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office said it will review the court’s ruling and decide whether to appeal.

“We support a juvenile justice system that has a goal of rehabilitation focused on providing the care, treatment and guidance in the best interest of minors,” the office said in a statement.


FOR CANDIDATES AND TWO OF INTERVIEWS, AND STILL NO CHILD WELFARE CZAR

After two rounds of interviews with four candidates to act as child welfare czar, a position recommended by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system, the LA County Board of Supervisors has still not made up its mind as to who will lead the new Office of Child Protection.

The board was supposed to continue deliberating in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, but decided to put off the meeting for another two weeks.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, says she has been interviewed twice for the important role, and hopes the Supes make a final decision soon.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, during a break at a community meeting on data and analytics in child welfare at the University of Southern California, Fesia Davenport, interim director of the Office of Child Protection (OCP) confirmed that she has been interviewed and re-interviewed.

“I’m hoping that a decision will be made soon,” Davenport said.

Davenport, who previously served as chief deputy director of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), said she feels a greater ability to effect change at the OCP than she did at DCFS.

“Working for DCFS you see a lot of things that need to happen, that should be corrected or need to be changed, and it’s difficult to do that because you’re just focused on core mission and task,” Davenport said. “I really appreciate being in a position where I don’t have the constraints of DCFS. I can effect change with the team, in partnership with the other county departments and the community-based organizations.”

Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, attended Wednesday’s community meeting, which was organized by the Office of Child Protection. Garen praised Davenport for her performance.

“We know that she’s engaged and willing to do the work that’s necessary, and really whatever’s asked of her,” Garen said. “That’s a tremendous asset to this community.”

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors | 6 Comments »

LA Housing Authority Will Pay $2 Million for Antelope Valley Housing Discrimination…Bill to Limit Drugging of CA Foster Kids Won’t Fix the Problem

July 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE COURT-ENFORCEABLE SETTLEMENT OVER RACIAL DISCRIMINATION MEANS LA HOUSING AUTHORITY WILL PAY $2 MILLION TO RESIDENTS

On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced a settlement with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County (HACLA), as well as the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, after a DOJ investigation into an alleged inter-agency pattern of housing discrimination.

In April, the DOJ agreed on a separate court-enforceable settlement with LA County to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale sheriff’s stations. The settlements follow two years after a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. The DOJ investigation found that officers from the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s Antelope Valley stations were conducting racially biased searches and seizures, using excessive force against people already in handcuffs, and harassing and intimidating Section 8 housing voucher holders along with the county Housing Authority with the intent to oust residents and push them into moving out of the area.

The county agreed to 150 reform requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement, as well as paying $700,000 to compensate the Section 8 housing voucher holders whose rights had been violated—a far cry from the $12.5 million the Justice Department originally demanded of the county in 2013.

Through Monday’s settlement, HACLA will be forced to cough up $1,975,000 to compensate residents. And HACLA and the county each have to pay a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States. The Housing Authority is required to reform the way it enforces the housing voucher program, and will not be allowed to perform surprise compliance checks on residents. HACLA will also have to stop giving residents’ information to the sheriff’s department and Lancaster and Palmdale.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California said the $2.6 million in damages and the court-enforceable reforms “will ensure [the racially discriminatory enforcement] does not recur.”


CHILDREN’S ADVOCATE SAYS THERE ARE BETTER WAYS TO FIX OVERDRUGGING OF FOSTER KIDS THAN CA BILL TO CREATE MORE COURT OVERSIGHT

A package of four reform bills addressing over-drugging in California foster care system is working its way through state legislature.

The main bill, SB 253, would put judges in charge of deciding when and how much doctors can prescribe psychotropic medications to foster kids, and would require second medical opinions for prescriptions to kids under five.

Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project, says this bill is not the answer to the problem. Gardner argues that SB 253 will only waste time and resources, instead of getting at the root of the problem—kids’ quality of mental health care. Here’s a clip:

The problem is in its premise: that the medications are the problem. In fact, quality of care is the real challenge. Foster children who are overmedicated are getting inadequate mental health care. In an improved system of care, foster children would be offered individualized, intensive therapies that allow them to live at home whenever possible; provided interventions before crises happen; treated with effective evidence-based practices; and receive coordinated care consistent with their expressed needs and treatment goals.

By focusing on improving quality of care instead of limiting access to medication, S.B. 253 could be much improved. Mandating second opinions doesn’t directly improve health care practice. In most cases, nothing happens, except added time and costs, because the two doctors’ opinions will be the same. In cases where there’s a difference of opinion, the decision maker has more treatment options.

But, as the decision making judge has no mental health training, what you will get is a somewhat random decision on which of two proposed courses of action is “better.” Taking a quality-based approach can improve both individual interventions and the quality of mental health care overall.

Providing expert consultation to the initial prescriber (rather than a second opinion from the judge) can directly improve the quality of the assessment, diagnosis and/or prescribing, especially in cases where the prescriber is a general practitioner and the consultant is a child or adolescent psychiatrist. Systemic consulting can also improve overall care as doctors become better trained through expert mentoring. It’s been done in other states and it works.

Posted in Department of Justice, Foster Care, LASD | 5 Comments »

Private Prison Medicine, Foster Care Benefits for Dual Status Kids, Presidential Pot Pardons, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on WWLA? …and More

July 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WHEN FOR-PROFIT CORPORATIONS TAKE OVER PRISON HEALTH CARE INMATE MORTALITY RATES RISE

The private medical company, California Forensic Medical Group, is the largest prison health care provider in CA. And, not unlike the largest prison health care company in the nation, Corizon Correctional Health Care, CFMG continues to rake in money despite being mired in scandals and lawsuits alleging mistreatment, neglect, and short-staffing.

CFMG holds medical care contracts for 64 detention facilities in 27 of California’s 58 counties. Most of the counties are rural, like Imperial and Yolo, but CFMG is also responsible for thousands of inmates in counties like San Diego, Ventura, Santa Cruz, and it’s hometown, Monterey.

Around 200 inmates have died in the last decade under CFMG medical care, and more than 80 lawsuits have been filed against the company in the last 15 years, according to an investigation by FairWarning.

FairWarning’s Brian Joseph takes an in depth look at CMFG’s history (which is not unlike many other private prison companies), as well as the stories of inmates who died seemingly preventable deaths while under the care of CFMG. Here are some clips:

The outsourcing of medical care in jails and prisons reflects a nationwide push for privatizing government duties. The private sector, outsourcing advocates say, offers better services at a lower cost. But while other government services have outspoken constituencies, jails and prisons do not. Inmates usually have little clout to demand change if they believe they are receiving poor health care.

“Society doesn’t really care about prisoners,” said Neville Johnson, a Beverly Hills lawyer. Johnson sued CFMG and Yolo County, near Sacramento, over the August 2000 jailhouse suicide of Stephen Achen. A drug addict, Achen warned some jail staffers that he could become self-destructive but promised another that he wouldn’t hurt himself. “As we got into it, we were astonished at what we felt [was] the deliberate indifference of the jail staff and especially CFMG, which is nothing but a money-making machine,” Johnson said. CFMG settled with the Achen family for $825,000 after a judge found evidence of medical understaffing, according to media reports.

The private sector started providing health services to jails and prisons in the 1970s, when negligent medical care became a foremost prisoners’ rights issue. Inmates across the country filed lawsuits alleging inadequate care. Courts ruled that depriving prisoners of competent medical services was unconstitutional and in some cases ordered states and counties to take corrective action. Wardens and sheriffs, lacking backgrounds in medicine, turned to outside contractors for help.

[SNIP]

Ryan George, age 22, was serving time for domestic violence in 2007 when he experienced the onset of a sickle cell crisis, a painful, but treatable, condition where blood vessels become clogged by the misshapen cells. For days, Valerie says, Ryan called her from jail in obvious pain, complaining that he was being neglected.

Finally, when he was found “unresponsive” in his bed, Ryan was taken to the hospital, according to court records. But after a couple of days, of treatment, doctors there decided Ryan was exaggerating some of his symptoms and sent him back to jail. Shortly thereafter, Valerie said, a CFMG doctor called her, saying Ryan was getting worse. She says she demanded that the doctor take him to the hospital, but he said “that’s not a possibility.”

The company doctor acknowledged in court papers that he spoke with Valerie George, but disputed her version of what was said. CFMG executives also acknowledged that the company would have incurred more costs if Ryan was sent back to the hospital, but denied that financial concerns had anything to do with his death.

A few days later, Ryan George was found dead in his cell, with dark green fluid oozing from his mouth and eyes, according to the civil complaint. A subsequent Sonoma County Grand Jury investigation found that the “Sheriff’s (department) and CFMG medical staff failed to fully intervene” when Ryan’s condition worsened. “He was not re-hospitalized, despite exhibiting symptoms of jaundice, severe dehydration, bone pain, altered level of consciousness and loss of urinary and bowel control,” the grand jury found. Said Valerie George, whose family settled with CFMG: “They let him die like a dog in a cage because this company would not pay for him to get proper medical treatment.”

[SNIP]

“Why wasn’t an ambulance called?” a guard later recalled someone asking when he wheeled a pale Dau into El Centro Regional Medical Center at about 9:30 a.m. on July 23, 2011. A doctor rushed to her side and felt her neck. “She has no pulse!” the doctor yelled, according to a deposition given later by the physician. Hospital staff cut off her jumpsuit and attempted CPR, but it was no use: at 9:56 a.m. Dau was declared dead.

A subsequent autopsy by Imperial County Chief Forensic Pathologist Darryl Garber determined Dau died of heart disease with a contributing factor being acute drug intoxication from the multiple medications she was prescribed. Garber also discovered Dau had a bed sore on her lower back, suggesting that she had been unable to move for some time.

Later, according to the minutes from a meeting about Dau’s death, CFMG and jail staff decided that an ambulance should have been called and that Dau was “probably” going through Valium withdrawal.


CRUCIAL BILL TO CLOSE A LEGAL LOOPHOLE AND EXTEND BENEFITS TO “DUAL STATUS” FOSTER KIDS MOVES FORWARD

A CA bill to give foster kids involved in the juvenile justice system (often called “dual status” or “crossover” youth) extended foster care benefits was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

SB 12, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would close a loophole in existing law, and ensure kids who turn 18 while in juvenile detention receive extended benefits like their non-justice-system-involved peers.

Sawsan Morrar has more on the bill and its progress for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

DeAngelo Cortijo, an intern at the National Center for Youth Law, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about his firsthand experience as a crossover youth. Cortijo was removed from his home when he was two after his mother attempted suicide. He was placed with family members, and at one point returned to his mother, before he was sent to foster care amid reports of abuse. Since then, he was in over four detention facilities, and ran away from group home placements several times.

“When I was released, I faced many challenges,” Cortijo said. “I now have to fend for myself as an adult. I had to find stable and clean housing. I didn’t have an income to support myself.”

Cortijo was left depending on others for the most basic needs like purchasing a toothbrush or borrowing socks.

“Do you know what that does to a person’s confidence? It completely destroys it,” he said.

With extended benefits in place, Cortijo would have received about $800 a month, just like other transition-age foster youth, to help pay for food, housing and school.

Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, said these probation youth in transition are exactly who extended foster care aims to support.

“We know that the rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration for young people who cross from dependency to delinquency are double to triple the rates for youth who are just in dependency or delinquency,” she said.

According to the Youth Law Center there are approximately 4,000 probation-supervised foster youth in California. There are over 50,000 foster youth in the state.


WHAT IF PRESIDENT OBAMA FOLLOWED IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FDR AND WILSON AND USED HIS PARDON POWER ON MARIJUANA OFFENDERS?

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, bringing the total number of approved commutation petitions up to 89. While this is a good step in the right direction, there are 95,265 federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses.

The Atlantic’s Zach Hindin makes the case for presidential pardons for all marijuana offenders in federal prison. Former President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences and pardoned 189 during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton commuted 61 sentences and pardoned 396. Our current president has granted just 64 pardons, thus far. (If you are fuzzy on the difference between the two, a pardon wipes a person’s criminal record and restores rights, a commutation shortens a person’s sentence, but does not offer a clean slate.) Obama’s latest move seems far less historically meaningful when compared to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s thousands of post-prohibition acts of clemency for alcohol offenses, says Hindin.

Here’s a clip:

…Compared with the last few administrations, commuting the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders may seem historic. But history sets the bar higher still.

In May 1919, Woodrow Wilson was in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It’s hard to think of a moment when any president had a better reason to shelve domestic affairs, but on Monday, May 12, Wilson telegraphed his secretary in Washington: “Please ask the Attorney General to advise me what action I can take with regard to removing the ban from the manufacture of drink.” A week later Wilson sent another cable, this time to Congress: “It seems to me entirely safe now to remove the ban upon the manufacture and sale of wines and beers.”

Congress declined, and instead introduced a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients.

Unlike Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been ambivalent about Prohibition. During his time in the New York State Senate, the powerful Anti-Saloon League had praised Roosevelt’s “perfect voting record.” Even after the repeal of Prohibition became central to his presidential platform, according to one biographer, “the story persisted that whatever Roosevelt might say, there was a voting record to prove he was ‘dry’ at heart.” But when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied.

Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms.

The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital. And just as Prohibition offered a legal apparatus for racism, today, the racial imbalances in marijuana arrests and sentencing are so stark that many in this country consider them a proxy for racial control. In 49 states, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana—in the worst offending counties, by a factor of eight. The limit of this analogy is scale—together, Wilson and Roosevelt issued some 2,000 alcohol-related acts of clemency. In 2012 alone, almost 7,000 people were convicted in federal courts for marijuana offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than for any other type of drug.


LA SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL TALKS JAIL ABUSE AND MORE ON WHICH WAY, LA?

After 10 jail employees were relieved of duty this past weekend in connection with alleged jail abuse, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss jail abuse, transparency, mental illness, and his hopes for the facility that will replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail.

Take a listen.

In another segment, investigative reporter Jeffrey Sharlet talks about his in-depth GQ story about the March LAPD shooting of Charly Keunang, an unarmed homeless man in Skid Row, and the unreleased officer body cam videos he was able to watch of the incident.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF TROUBLING FOOTAGE OF OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS…FAMILY OF UNARMED MAN KILLED BY GARDENA POLICE SEEK CIVIL RIGHTS INVESTIGATION

In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed man they mistook for a robbery suspect. According to officers involved, Diaz Zeferino appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release videos of the shooting, because of privacy concerns.

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release the videos. And at a press conference on Wednesday, an attorney representing Diaz Zeferino’s family called for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC update:

Mercardo said the videos allow the public to see for themselves what took place shortly after police stopped Diaz Zeferino and two others suspected of stealing a bike.

“The public can be the judge of what really happened that night,” she said, adding the family had been searching for justice, not money.

Diaz Zeferino’s brother, Augustine Reynoso, holding aloft a picture of the two of them embracing, said he wanted to bring the Gardena police department to account for the death of his brother.

“Money is not what’s important in life. Life is what’s important in life,” he said through Mercado, who translated his comments. “I want justice to be done. I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That’s why I’m here.”

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, medical care, Mental Illness, Obama, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

President Obama – Pardons and Prisons….Feds Return Control of CA Prison Health Care at Folsom…Helping Out-of-County Foster Kids Retain Mental Health Care….and Solitary Confinement

July 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

OBAMA FOCUSES ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND THE U.S. AS “A NATION OF SECOND CHANCES,” COMMUTES 46 SENTENCES AND WILL VISIT A PRISON

On Monday, President Barack Obama, who has previously faced criticism for seldom granting clemency, announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. This brings President Obama’s total number of approved clemency petitions up to 89. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton granted clemency to 61 offenders. There are still nearly 8,000 pending clemency petitions.

In a letter, Obama tells those given a second chance, “…it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change…but remember you have the capacity to make good choices.”

Neil Eggleston, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and criminal defense attorney, has more on Obama’s new push for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…federal sentencing practices can, in too many instances, lead nonviolent drug offenders to spend decades, if not life, in prison. Now, don’t get me wrong, many people are justly punished for causing harm and perpetuating violence in our communities. But, in some cases, the punishment required by law far exceeded the offense.

These unduly harsh sentences are one of the reasons the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system. Today, he is continuing this effort by granting clemency to 46 men and women, nearly all of whom would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today…

In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.

Obama will also become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he tours the El Reno prison in Oklahoma next week as part of a VICE special documentary for HBO on mass incarceration. The president, along with VICE founder Shane Smith, will tour the grounds and speak with prison staff, prisoners, and law enforcement officials. Here’s a clip from VICE’s announcement:

Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates convicted of violating federal law. It was home to Jason Hernandez, a prisoner convicted on drug charges who had his life sentence commuted by Obama in 2013.

The interviews will be part of a documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America’s approach to crime and imprisonment. The special is the latest in VICE’s ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.

“There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways,” Smith said. “Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one on one conversations with the men and women living this reality. It’s going to be fascinating.”

The President says he will also be discussing bipartisan-backed ideas for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia on Thursday. Stay tuned.


CA REGAINS CONTROL OF HEALTH CARE FROM FEDS AT FOLSOM STATE PRISON

After nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system, the state will regain control in Folsom State Prison—the first from the federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso. Folsom is the first prison to be returned to state control.

Kelso says much progress has been made in Folsom and in other prisons, but U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson says federal oversight will only end after the state has had control of health care in all of its prisons for a full year.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re pleased and ready to start taking back control of medical care,” corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in a statement. “We know that other CDCR prisons are ready to step up in the months ahead and we will continue collaborating with the Receiver’s Office to ensure inmates at all of our facilities receive appropriate health care.”

Don Specter, director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office that represents inmates in the lawsuit, said it’s good that care has improved at Folsom, but attorneys will continue monitoring.

“One of the things I’m most concerned about is whether the state has reformed its processes so that all the improvements that the receiver has made over the last 10 or so years are sustained,” Specter said.

Kelso reported in March that conditions statewide have substantially improved, though some prisons are doing better than others and more work remains to be done statewide.

Under the judge’s rules, Kelso could retake control of a transferred prison if conditions decline, but the goal is for the receiver to eventually monitor rather than run the health care system.


FOSTER KIDS MOVED AWAY FROM THEIR HOME COUNTIES SUFFER LONG DELAYS FOR MENTAL HEALTH CARE

When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.

A California bill, which would ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties, will be heard California Senate Health Services Committee today (Tuesday), after passing out of the Assembly.

The bill, authored by CA Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), aims to fix a serious lack of collaboration between departments serving foster kids between counties.

In LA County, 17% of foster kids are in out-of-county and out-of-state placements, in comparison to Alameda and San Francisco—59% and 60% respectively.

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

AB 1299, which was introduced by State Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), would require the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to create clear policies to guide the transfer of responsibility for mental health services to a child’s county of residence. The bill would also compel the Department of Finance to establish a system to ensure that counties are fully reimbursed for providing mental health services, during the fiscal year when the services are delivered, by May of 2016.

All California foster youth are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program. But under current law, when a foster youth moves to a different county, responsibility for providing mental health services—and any related funding—remains with the county of origin and its network of service providers

As a result, nearly 12,000 out-of-county foster youth—or about one in five of all youth in the state’s child welfare system—are routinely left in limbo, waiting for mental health services that often take months to begin.

A 2011 report from the state’s Child Welfare Council, which is responsible for improving collaboration among child-serving agencies, revealed disparities between children in and out of county who were receiving mental health services. An examination of the data for all 58 counties in California showed that out-of-county youth received fewer average days of mental health outpatient or day services when compared to children with in-county placements (2.3 days versus 2.9).

“Part of the issue is that the counties have been in control of the money up until this point, and the money has not been flowing as it needs to when these kids are moving from one county to another,” said Khaim Morton, chief of staff for Ridley-Thomas. “We want to get to the point where we can collaborate and reach a compromise that will enable more of the money to reach these kids and more swiftly.”

California may once again find itself back in court as part of a class-action lawsuit if there isn’t an agreement soon, according to mental health advocate Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project.

“If there isn’t a solution by the end of the year, either through negotiations under the auspices of the Child Welfare Council or through the work being done in the legislature, a judge is going to have to step in to fix this, because letting this continue is completely unacceptable,” said Gardner.


CA TURNING AWAY FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT…SLOWLY

In 2011, California prisoners went on the first of three major hunger strikes over prison conditions and excessive and punitive use of solitary confinement.

Real efforts toward curbing solitary in state prisons began in late 2012. Prison officials reviewed the cases of prisoners in solitary, and released a modest number of long-isolated inmates back into the general population.

But the process has been slow and hard-fought.

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

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on California’s efforts toward limiting the use of solitary confinement. Here’s how it opens:

Even as it prepares for a courtroom showdown over the use of prolonged solitary confinement to keep order in its prisons, California has adopted emergency rules to dial down such isolation.

Inmates may no longer be put in isolation for refusing a cell assignment, for example, one of several prison infractions for which solitary confinement punishment has been reduced or dropped. And those being disciplined with segregation can cut that punishment in half with good behavior.

“This is part of an ongoing evolution in how we manage inmates in segregation,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. “There will be more changes.”

The new rules went into effect last month, ahead of public hearings scheduled for August. They come atop other changes that have cut the count of California prisoners held in near-constant lockdown from more than 9,800 in early 2014 to just under 8,700 last month.

The revisions also have been made amid an escalating debate over solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, of which California has the largest share.

Advocates for inmates are preparing to release research by a prominent corrections psychiatrist describing a malady he calls “SHU Post-Release Syndrome,” a reference to the Security Housing Unit, California’s name for long-term solitary confinement.

The study documents some of the same psychiatric effects raised last month by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in an unusual opinion in a California death penalty case. He essentially invited a constitutional challenge to long-term isolation and the “terrible price” it extracts.

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, mental health, Obama, prison, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds | No Comments »

Finding the Child Welfare Czar….”Overcorrected, Overdirected, and Overpunished” Kids…Dylan Roof and CA Prison Segregation…and More

July 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY NAME A CHILD WELFARE CZAR TODAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to interview two candidates to lead the Office of Child Protection, an entity recommended by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart much-needed reform efforts in the county child welfare system.

The Supes are slated to interview two more candidates today (Thursday), and could possibly issue their final decision today, as well.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, is reportedly among those being considered for the position.

Holden Slattery has more on the issue in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, who the board appointed as interim director of the office in February, is a candidate for the position, according to Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, which was one of 17 foundations to endorse the BRC recommendations in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s been a robust process. There are outside candidates,” Garen said. “I do believe that Fesia [Davenport] is a candidate and that her performance to date has been remarkable.”

Garen said she has no knowledge about the other candidates and, due to that, she does not know whether Davenport is the best candidate for the job.

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was the most prominent recommendation to emerge from the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon on Child Protection’s (BRC) December 2013 interim recommendations and again in its final report in April.

“I hope that the OCP director who the board ultimately hires is a person that is imbued with many of the traits that the child protection commission envisioned initially,” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with implementing the BRC recommendations, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A strong leader with experience in child welfare who is collaborative and imaginative, and not afraid to stand up to the existing institutions.”


TO CHANGE “CHALLENGING” KIDS’ BEHAVIOR – DONT: PUNISH AND REWARD; DO: HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND AND LEARN FROM THEIR ACTIONS

Katherine Reynolds Lewis has an excellent longread for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine about psychologist Ross Greene’s game-changing discipline methods of teaching kids problem-solving skills instead of employing the now largely discredited punishment-reward system developed by B.F. Skinner in the mid-20th century.

The idea is that, punishing children who are acting out, and who are often called “challenging,” only exacerbates kids’ underlying problems and helps to push them through the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids brains have not developed enough to have control over their behavior and emotions, so punishing them, instead of helping them understand the “why” behind their behavior, is extremely counterproductive, according to Greene’s theory.

Here are some clips:

…consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

Schools and juvenile detention centers are starting to pick up Greene’s methods and are experiencing complete behavior turnarounds:

In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene’s workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about “that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach.” It wasn’t hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek’s one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. “The senior staff that resisted us the most,” Bouffard told me, “would come back to me and say, ‘I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.’”

Read on…


PERSISTING WHITE SUPREMACY IN CA STATE PRISONS…AND DYLAN ROOF

In an essay for the Marshall Project, James Kilgore, who spent the majority of a six-and-a-half year prison term in California facilities, considers how Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof might be received at a CA prison where inmates have been racially segregated for decades.

Kilgore calls for national dialogue on white supremacy in prisons and urges lawmakers and corrections officials to put an end to their “complicity in reproducing hatred and division” through racially segregated detention facilities.

Here’s a clip:

He would certainly find instant camaraderie with the Peckerwoods, the Skinheads, the Dirty White Boys, the Nazi Low Riders. His admirers, men with handles like Bullet, Beast, Pitbull, and Ghost, would vow to live up to Roof’s example, either by wreaking havoc when they hit the streets or maybe even the very next day in the yard.

Roof’s newfound fan club would be ready to provide him with prison perks — extra Top Ramen, jars of coffee, a bar of Irish Spring. The guards, many with their own Roofish sympathies, would cut him some slack — an extra roll of toilet paper here, a few illicit minutes on the telephone there. If Roof were so inclined, the guards might turn a blind eye to his indulgence in illegal substances, from tobacco to papers of heroin to the carceral Mad Dog 20/20 known as “pruno.”

If Roof played by the convict code, he might quickly rise in the ranks of the white-power structure in the prison yard. Maybe after a few years, he would earn the status of “shot caller,” the highest rank within the racial groups. Then he could order hits on young white boys who defiled the race by playing a game of chess with a black man or offering a Latino a sip of his soda. Like all his white comrades, Roof would use the white showers, the white phones, the white pull-up bars. The yard might spark visions of a segregated utopia for Dylann, a wonderland where everyone was in their right place — separate and unequal.

But white supremacists in prison also live in a world of racial enemies. Fueled by paranoia and buttressed by complicit guards and administrators, Roof would be the target of personalized vengeance attacks. Just like on the streets, he would be constantly looking over his shoulder to fend off real and imagined enemies. In particular, he would realize that in a prison yard, there are plenty of black lifers who have nothing to lose and the muscle power to break him in half, like a dry stick. A warrior who took down Roof would get a hero’s welcome in the torturous isolation blocks at Pelican Bay or Corcoran. All this tension would no doubt make Roof a little uneasy, perhaps force him to remain “suited and booted,” armed with a razor blade in his mouth or a sharpened shank up his rectum.

But even with danger all around him, Roof might find solace in the fact that the prison authorities would not assign any whites and blacks to share a cell and would enable the segregation of day rooms and exercise spaces. This would be a refreshing change of pace for Roof.


WHY WAS POMONA TEEN ACCUSED OF ROBBERY FOUND BLUDGEONED TO DEATH IN HIS CELL, FAMILY ASKS

The parents of a 19-year-old robbery suspect, Rashad Davis, fatally beaten in his jail cell in May, want answers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department about why their son was assigned to a cell shared by a mentally unstable cellmate accused of beating a man to death with a baseball bat.

The SB Sheriff’s Dept. has not indicated whether or not Davis was housed with 22-year-old Jeremiah Ajani Bell due to a breakdown in screening protocol, but the department has recently been the subject of several scandals and investigations, including alleged excessive use of force and inadequate mental health treatment for inmates.

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel has the story. Here’s a clip:

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, race, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Protecting CA’s Foster Kids….Investigating OC District Attorney and Jailhouse Informant Practices….LAPD Chief Must Answer Ezell Ford Questions….and the LA Supes Take Power from CEO

July 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA AUDITOR SEZ STATE SOCIAL SERVICES SHOULD DO MORE TO PROTECT FOSTER KIDS, AND IS HEMORRHAGING MILLIONS OF $$

The California Department of Social Services is not doing enough to protect vulnerable foster kids from sexual exploitation and may be spending millions placing kids with more expensive foster care agencies instead of licensed foster family homes, according to a report from the California State Auditor.

The report says that while Social Services has made some progress, it has not fully implemented recommendations from a 2011 Auditor report regarding the same issue. One of the major recommendations was to start comparing addresses to ensure that registered sex offenders were not living or working in foster homes.

The Auditor’s latest report said that Social Services took two years to start checking the sex offender registry against the addresses of group homes and foster families and, among other methodology problems, the department could not initially provide the Auditor with documented outcomes on 8,600 investigations out of 25,000 address matches, and 422 address matches were not investigated within a 45-day deadline.

When the addresses of sex offenders and foster kids appear to be the same, it sometimes turns out that the sex offender is actually a foster kid, or that there is no longer a foster family or group home at that address. But for the times when investigators find sex offenders among foster kids, either the sex offender is removed from the house, or the foster children are removed. Sometimes facilities lose their licenses.

The new report also said that California counties are still too often paying foster family agencies that privately recruit and certify foster homes and cost over $1000 more per month, rather than giving state-licensed foster homes and relative caregivers priority when placing kids. The report recommends revising the fee structure for agencies, and giving other foster care placements higher priority.


OUTSIDE COMMITTEE WILL INVESTIGATE HOW OC DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE USES JAILHOUSE INFORMANTS

Following string of informant-related scandals that resulted in the unraveling of a series of cases, the Orange County DA’s Office announced the creation of an independent panel of retired judges and lawyers to investigate how the DA’s Office handles in-custody informants. (Here’s the backstory.)

Committee members include retired OC Superior Court Judge Jim Smith, retired LA County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Dixon, former OC Bar Association President Robert Gerard, and Blithe Leece, an attorney specializing in ethics law and professional responsibility.

The Informant Policies and Practices Evaluation Committee (IPPEC) is expected to submit their findings at the end of 2015.

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

In March, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed the district attorney’s office from the Scott Dekraai murder trial after finding prosecutors failed to turn over jail records about informants to Dekraai’s public defender.

Dekraai, 45, pleaded guilty last year to killing eight people at the Salon Meritage hair boutique in 2011.

It’s not illegal for law enforcement to use informants or jailhouse snitches. But they must act as a listening post and not elicit statements or question an inmate once he has exercised his right to an attorney.

A jailhouse informant recorded conversations with Dekraai about the killings, but after Dekraai had been charged and had obtained legal representation…

[SNIP]

The DA’s office said in a statement that it has already made some changes to avoid similar abuses in the future, including updating its informant policy manual and creating an internal committee headed by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to approve or disapprove the use of jailhouse informants.

In addition to those moves, “I think it’s important to have an objective and expert external committee with different points of view, to thoroughly review and analyze the issues regarding the use of in-custody informants so we can improve our procedures and avoid any future mistakes,” Rackauckas said in the statement.

The committee will issue a report by the end of this year, according to the DA’s office.

“I want everything that we do to be above board and fair,” Rackauckas told KPCC. “I want to make sure that the court, the defense bar, the individual defendant and the public have faith – that although we’re aggressively prosecuting cases – we’re doing it in a fair way.”


FED JUDGE SAYS LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK MUST ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT EZELL FORD SHOOTING

A federal judge ruled Monday that LA Police Chief Charlie Beck will have to answer questions in a formal deposition from the family attorney for Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally ill man who was fatally shot by LAPD officers last year.

Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle’s ruling comes after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the LA Police Commission came to very different conclusions regarding whether the officers acted within department policy when they shot Ford.

(If you missed it, you can read the backstory here.)

The Associated Press has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle found Ford’s shooting was conspicuous enough that Beck should speak to contradictory findings about whether it was within policy.

Last month, the Los Angeles Police Commission found that officers had no reason to stop and question Ford, and that a violation of department policy led to an altercation that ended with Ford’s death. Beck has said the officers in the shooting acted appropriately.

“This is not the ordinary case,” Nagle said. “It’s a high-profile, high-visibility case, and whether the policy of the policymaker — the police commission — is being enforced or implemented appropriately, I think is something on which Chief Beck can, and in this case should, be questioned.”

[SNIP]

In August, Los Angeles police Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas decided to stop Ford because he appeared nervous and was walking away with his hands in his pockets, according to a report by the police commission.

Wampler said he thought Ford might have been hiding drugs and told him to stop for questioning. The officers said Ford looked in their direction and walked away quickly with his hands in his waistband area.

A struggle ensued when Wampler tried to handcuff Ford, who knocked the officer to the ground and grabbed for his gun, the officers said. Villegas fired two shots, and Wampler said he pulled out a backup gun and shot Ford in the back.


LA SUPES TAKE BACK POWER FROM COUNTY CEO’S OFFICE

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to take away the county Chief Executive Office’s power to hire and fire (non-elected) county department heads, returning the power to the board. The Supes gave these powers to the CEO in 2007, along with day-to-day management of county departments, in response to complaints that the board was too involved in the minutiae of the departments it oversaw, but have spent much of those eight years clashing with the CEO.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip (we are giving you a bigger clip than usual because it’s an interesting tale):

The change back to a weaker executive has many wondering whether the supervisors’ new power will result in more streamlined, decisive management or simply create more meddling by the elected officials and politicize the workings of government.

“In the short term, there will be a lot less conflict between the supervisors and the CEO’s office,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. “The question is what’s it going to do for the daily operations… They won’t know when they’re too involved. They’ll think their involvement is just right. The other shoe to drop is how will it affect everybody else’s ability to do their job?”

Tuesday’s vote represents a reversal for the Board of Supervisors, which in 2007 gave the unelected chief executive officer more powers, including day-to-day management responsibilities and the authority to hire and fire department heads with board approval. Those changes were sparked in part by complaints that the supervisors were micromanaging the departments and giving conflicting marching orders, and that there was no single leader to hold accountable for the success or failure of initiatives.

The results have been mixed. An assessment by a county advisory commission in 2008 found that the stronger chief executive officer structure had increased collaboration between departments, but had also slowed down work in some cases by adding another layer of bureaucracy. The commission found that it also had increased tensions between the supervisors and the top administrator. Three years later, the board took back control of the probation department and Department of Children and Family Services, criticizing the chief executive officer’s handling of the agencies after a series of scandals.

Former Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, who had supported the stronger chief executive officer, said weakening the role now may be largely symbolic, because the board never fully gave up its hands-on role in agency operations.

“Everybody meddled. We all meddled, one way or the other,” Molina said.

Yaroslavsky agreed that board members had continued to micromanage — even going as far as having their aides ghostwrite recommendations that were supposed to be coming from department heads. He added that some initiatives were stalled because of power struggles between supervisors and the chief executive.

Yaroslavsky is now advocating for an elected county executive, a proposal that has not found support among the current board members.

“Outside of the former Soviet Union, Los Angeles County is the only … 10-million-resident government that ever ran by committee of five,” he said.

On the other hand, instead of going into micro-management, some have suggested that one alternative to taking the power away from the CEO is hire a CEO that they liked and respected a bit better than they did the former CEO William Fujioka.

Posted in Charlie Beck, District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, Orange County | No Comments »

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