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Foster Care


$$ for Relatives Caring for Kids in the DCFS System, LASD Tightening Use-of-Force Policies & Putting Body Scanners in Jails….LAPD Commission Responds to Vehicle Camera Tampering….and Wolves

April 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: GIVE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO RELATIVES CARING FOR CHILDREN IN THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would funnel some CalWORKS money directly to relatives caring for children removed from their homes.

An LA Times editorial says this bill is a step in the right direction, but that more funding support should be given to grandparents and relatives caring for children in the DCFS system.

Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

A little funding to allow a child to stay with relatives — $8,000 or so a year — is a drop in the bucket compared with the more than $100,000 a year it costs the public to maintain a child in a group home. And because children raised by family members have higher rates of graduation and lower rates of homelessness, drug abuse and arrest as adults, it’s smart policy to give grandparents and others living in retirement and on Social Security enough information and money on the front end to buy their young charges clothes and food and to pay for gas or bus fare to get to doctors and parent nights at school.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection wisely argued in its draft final report that funding and services for a child removed from his or her parents should be determined by the child’s needs, not by the status of the placement family. State lawmakers are considering a bill — AB 1882 — that would go part of the way toward helping to direct funding to relative caregivers, and it’s a good start. But so much more could be accomplished in Los Angeles County if the Board of Supervisors would make child welfare a priority across all county departments and not just at the Department of Children and Family Services.


LASD REVAMPING USE-OF-FORCE POLICIES, AND REPLACING JAIL PAT-DOWNS WITH BODY SCANNERS

LA County Sheriff’s Department officials are attempting to really solve the problem of excessive force by revising the department’s use-of-force policies. Deputies will be held accountable not only for their actions during a force incident, but also for any negligent actions that trigger the physical conflict.

The department will also launch a pilot program to replace pat downs and invasive cavity searches in county jails with body scanners, in an effort to relieve tension between inmates and deputies. To start, two scanners will be placed at the Inmate Reception Center downtown.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here are some clips:

Under the new policy, investigators will consider how officers acted prior to an incident when determining whether they acted properly. Previously, they were just supposed to focus on the moment when force was used.

“It’s so dramatic, it’s like an about-face from how this county has been doing it,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.

Under the ruling, force could be deemed unreasonable if the deputy acted negligently leading up to an force incident, attorney Richard Drooyan told supervisors.

Drooyan, who’s been tasked with monitoring the sheriff’s implementation of recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, said current department policies focus on the moment when force is used.

[SNIP]

The ruling may also increase the county’s potential liability from previous cases that are already headed toward litigation, prompting Molina to ask for a team of attorneys to review those cases again.

[SNIP]

…A major step forward in reducing jailhouse tensions will start testing Monday when the department puts a pair of body scanners to use at its Inmate Reception Center…

Once in place, [Assistant Sheriff Terri] McDonald said, the scanners will allow inmates to avoid physical searches, while more effectively keeping drugs and other contraband out of jails.

“It allows them in a more dignified way to be subjected to a search,” McDonald said.


LAPD COMMISSION NOT PLEASED WITH LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY REGARDING IN-CAR CAMERA TAMPERING

Last week, we pointed to a story about LAPD officers’ unauthorized dismantling of 80 in-car video cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate. (While it is no excuse, a story on the LAPD union’s blog provides some extra context.)

On Tuesday, LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, had to answer to the department’s civilian oversight commission regarding the lack of accountability and department transparency displayed in handling the issue.

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

Commissioner Kathleen Kim was especially troubled by the lack of accountability.

“The inability to investigate is probably as troubling as the incident itself,” Kim said. “Because the ability to investigate serves as a deterrent for these kinds of things happening in the future.”

[SNIP]

An investigation into the missing antennas didn’t lead to any disciplinary action against individual officers or supervisors. LAPD commanders told the police commission Tuesday it would be difficult to single out misconduct among the 1,500 officers at the South Bureau. That’s because officers on different shifts share patrol cars and they are often transferred in and out of the bureau.

“For me personally I didn’t see the potential for an outcome of holding anybody accountable,” said deputy chief Robert Green, in charge of LAPD’s South Bureau.

Green said he put all his officers on notice: “to make sure that they understood the importance of digital in-car video, the importance of the perception of missing antennas and the fact that if an antenna or a part of the system was tampered with, it was considered very, very serious misconduct.”

With president Steve Soboroff absent Tuesday, police commissioners Paula Madison, Robert Saltzman and Kim took turns questioning three high-ranking LAPD officials, including Chief Beck. They asked why individuals were not held accountable for the tampering and why the department didn’t notify the police commission sooner of the problem.

Deputy Chief Stephen Jacobs took responsibility for not notifying the L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general of the problem, calling it as an oversight and not an intentional act.

“The simple answer is this: If the commission believes that it was not notified correctly, then the commission is right,” Beck said.


CALIFORNIA WOLF NEWS

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission considered placing the gray wolf on the endangered list, in anticipation of a future generation of the wolves in the state. (Back in the early 1900′s California wolves were killed off by hunters. When the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, crossed the border in 2011, he was the first wild wolf in California since 1924.)

The commission opted to delay the decision for another 90 days in order to hear more public comment on the issue.

The AP’s Scott Smith has the story. Here’s how it opens:

While much of the country has relaxed rules on killing gray wolves, California will consider protecting the species after a lone wolf from Oregon raised hopes the animals would repopulate their historic habitat in the Golden State.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday postponed for three months a decision on whether to list the gray wolf as endangered. Commissioners heard impassioned arguments from environmentalists who want the wolves to again to roam the state and from cattle ranchers who fear for their herds.

“I think we made them blink,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection. “I think they heard our arguments.”

State wildlife officials say they don’t support the listing because wolf packs haven’t roamed in California for nearly a century and there’s no scientific basis to consider them endangered.

Recent interest in protecting the species started in 2011, when one wolf from Oregon — called OR-7 — was tracked crossing into California. The endangered listing has been under review for the last year.

[SNIP]

Wildlife officials oppose the listing because wolves have been absent from California, so researchers have no way of measuring threats or the viability of the animal in the state, said Eric Loft, chief of wildlife programs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yet, the animal is iconic of the western landscape and California could easily become the home to functioning wolf packs within a decade, said Chuck Bonham, director of the wildlife agency.

The hearing was in Ventura. Hopefully the next will be in reasonable driving distance of certain wolf-loving Los Angeles residents.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, wolves | No Comments »

LA Times’ Sheriff Stories, Lower Recidivism Rate for Kids on In-Home Probation vs. Probation Camp…and More

April 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO NOTEWORTHY LASD-RELATED LA TIMES STORIES

The LA Times has two worthwhile sheriff’s department-related stories we don’t want you to miss:


CHECKING IN WITH SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT AND THE POST-BACA LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

Since he replaced Lee Baca in February, Sheriff John Scott has made significant adjustments to the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. One of Scott’s first acts as sheriff was to turn the controversial members-only smoking patio into an open barbecue space for all LASD employees. It was a symbolic move.

Since then, Scott has dismissed seemingly politically-placed field deputies and reserve deputies, and bolstered the department’s hiring requirements and academy, among other changes.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang takes a look at how (interim) Sheriff Scott has started the task of turning the department in a new direction. Here’s a clip:

Soon after taking office, Scott got rid of the four politically connected field deputies who drew six-figure salaries and answered directly to Baca.

Recently, his housecleaning extended to some volunteer reserve deputies who carry badges and, in some cases, guns. About 40 of the department’s roughly 800 reserves have been let go, officials said. The reserve program came under scrutiny several times during Baca’s tenure, often over allegations of politically connected people being given special treatment to become reserves.

In 2010, a state report found that the department gave reserve badges to people who flunked mandatory law enforcement tests. As a result, 99 reserves were stripped of their badges.

One of the reserve deputies who recently was asked to resign was Gary Nalbandian, a Glendora auto shop owner and Baca fundraiser. Nalbandian made headlines in 2006 when as head of Baca’s homeland security support advisory board, he distributed official-looking photo identification to 48 local business owners and political donors who made up the group.

In a letter to The Times, Nalbandian said he was being forced out because he is not supporting the candidacy of two sheriff’s captains seeking to replace Baca. “It is my strong belief that I was politically targeted,” he wrote.

Scott did not say why he pushed Nalbandian out. But in describing several of his moves, Scott argued that he was trying to take the politics out of the department.

“There were a lot of people brought into this department for political reasons,” he said.

Scott is both an insider and an outsider, a 36-year department veteran who retired in 2005, then became undersheriff in Orange County. After Baca resigned, the Board of Supervisors brought Scott, 66, back to lead the troubled agency until the winner of a seven-man election takes over at the end of the year.

Nearly three months into his tenure, Scott has ruffled a few feathers but is generally winning praise as he treads the line between not doing enough and doing too much.


PATRISSE CULLORS AND THE COALITION TO END SHERIFF VIOLENCE IN LA JAILS

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has an excellent profile on Patrisse Cullors, an activist against the “culture of violence” in LA County Jails. Spurred on by her brother and father’s encounters with the LASD and jail system, Cullors formed the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in LA Jails. The advocacy group has kept meaningful pressure on the LA County Board of Supervisors to establish civilian oversight.

Here are some clips:

Outside the bunker-like county jail complex, bail bondsmen hover by the visitors’ entrance, thrusting fliers at potential customers as they file in to see husbands, sons and friends. Along the sidewalk, taxi drivers hustle for fares among newly released inmates who pace about, dialing cellphones, reconnecting and searching for rides.

A young woman with a short shock of dreadlocks atop a mostly shaved head set off by chunky gold earrings joins them. She has a brisk walk, a broad smile — and a clipboard.

Patrisse Cullors, self-described “freedom fighter, fashionista, wife of Harriet Tubman,” comes to the jail complex regularly in search of recruits to her 18-month-old campaign to upend what she contends is a culture of violence among deputies inside the walls.

[SNIP]

Cullors and a small group of fellow activists have helped gain new respect and momentum in the halls of power for a once-floundering idea: creating a civilian commission to oversee the troubled L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

For more than a year, Cullors’ Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails has applied steady pressure on the county Board of Supervisors, in part by trying to organize a large and unlikely bloc of county voters — former jail inmates. The coalition hopes it can become a constituency with clout in the June election to replace former Sheriff Lee Baca, who unexpectedly stepped down in January.

His department had been under scrutiny by media and advocates for years over alleged abuses in the county jails. A federal investigation led to criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies late last year.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has pushed for civilian oversight of the department, lent support to Cullors’ effort from the start. But others are skeptical of setting up a commission with no legal power over the elected sheriff.

“They have a legitimate point of view, a point of view that I actually agree with,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “Where we have a parting of ways is, doing what they want to do is not going to accomplish what they want to accomplish.”

Still, Cullors’ group made sure the issue stayed on the supervisors’ radar — in part by recruiting dozens of former inmates to call Yaroslavsky’s office.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the board-appointed blue ribbon commission that studied jail violence in 2012, appreciates the group’s efforts:

“The constant drumbeat that they were able to sound underscored for everyone on the commission the importance of the work we were doing.”


LOS ANGELES KIDS SERVING IN-HOME PROBATION HAVE LOWER RECIDIVISM RATES THAN THEIR PEERS IN PROBATION CAMPS (AND GROUP HOMES)

Kids who are sentenced to in-home probation are far less likely to re-offend than kids sentenced to time in probation camps, according to a paper published in Social Work Research, by scholars Joseph Ryan (University of Michigan), Laura Abrams (UCLA), and Hui Huang (Florida International University). Using data predominantly from the LA Department of Child and Family Services and the LA County Dept. of Probation between 2003-2009, the paper’s authors found that kids in probation camps and group homes were more 2.12 and 1.28 times more likely to re-offend than kids serving probation at home, respectively.

Alexandra Raphel of Journalists’ Resource has a helpful summary of the paper, which is stuck behind a paywall. Here are the key findings:

Rates of re-offending varied significantly relative to youths’ punishment and treatment: “Compared with in-home probation, the likelihood of recidivism was 2.12 times greater for youths assigned to probation camp and 1.28 times greater for youths assigned to group homes.”

“Within the first year only, 13% of youths assigned to in-home probation experienced a subsequent arrest. Twice as many (26%) probation camp youths and 17% of group-home youths experienced a subsequent arrest within the same time period.”

“At five years, 39% of in-home probation cases, 47% of group-home placements, and 65% of probation camp placements were associated with a new offense.”

“Male youths are significantly more likely to recidivate [re-offend] as compared with female youths, and African American youths are significantly more likely to recidivate as compared with both Hispanic and white youths.”

However, “African American and Hispanic youths were more likely to receive placement in either a probation camp or group-home setting as compared with white youths adjudicated for a similar offense.”

Certain family-related factors were correlated with negative outcomes: “The risk of recidivism was 1.36 times greater for youths with an open child welfare case.”


A WELCOME MOVE BY THE LA DA’S OFFICE TO BOOST ELECTRONIC REPORTING OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE

In anticipation of the forthcoming recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, the LA County DA’s office has been hearteningly proactive, requesting the hiring of three paralegals and an attorney to the office that manages the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS). This software, a crucial inter-agency (DCFS, LASD, DA, LAPD, etc.) database for reporting child abuse, is currently underfunded and under-utilized.

Daniel Heimpel has the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has asked the county’s chief executive to pay for three paralegals and an attorney to beef up the underfunded unit that oversees electronic tracking of suspected child abuse.

The request suggests that officials are anticipating increased costs and accountability for electronic reporting, which is expected to be one of many recommendations offered by the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission at the end of the week.

The allocation, which was not included as a line item in CEO William Fujioka’s recommended budget released on April 15, would be used “to create a unit within the Department’s Family Violence Division to more efficiently and accurately comply with its duty to audit Suspected Child Abuse Reports (SCARS) cross-reporting in the County, as recommended by the Board-approved Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.”

[SNIP]

Since being launched in 2009, the system – which provides a database for all child abuse allegations and the disposition of follow up investigations – has been administered by one full-time and one part-time employee in the district attorney’s Family Violence Division.

There has been no money to pay for software updates. Further, there has been little capacity to ensure that DCFS, the district attorney, the Sheriff’s Department and the county’s 45 other law enforcement agencies were acting on the child abuse reports coming into their computer terminals.

ESCARS “can tell the operator how long it took law enforcement to open a SCAR [child abuse report] and close it,” [Commissioner Dan] Scott said. “We saw huge discrepancies.”

Scott pointed to the percentage of calls of suspected child abuse that wound up being charged as crimes. At some agencies, “six to seven percent turned into crimes, while at other agencies the number was around 30 percent. There is something wrong there.”

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Probation | 28 Comments »

At Least 9 Dead in Crash of LA Student Tour Bus, More Injured

April 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

We are heartbroken

The LA Times has a team covering updates on the tragic crash.

Here’s a clip:

Hours after a deadly head-on collision here claimed the lives of at least nine people and injured dozens more, skid marks from the charter bus carrying L.A.-area high school students extended nearly 100 yards down the pavement.

The hulk of the charred bus sat nose down in a ditch, pressed against a mangled small white car.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. Thursday, a FedEx truck crossed the grassy median that separates Interstate 5 here and slammed into the bus packed with students en route to visit Humboldt State University, about 200 miles north of the crash site.

The impact, which sounded like a series of explosions to witnesses, sent both vehicles exploding into flames. The fireball and towering black smoke was captured by the cell phone cameras of others in nearby cars.
California Highway Patrol officials said the dead included the drivers of both the bus, operated by Silverado Stages, and the FedEx truck.
The identities of the others killed were not immediately known. CHP Officer Tracy Hoover said in addition to the students from the Los Angeles area the bus passengers included several chaperones.

And here are live updates from the scene.


MEANWHILE, THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON FOSTER CARE SAYS LA COUNTY SYSTEM IS IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY

All the details on Monday. In the meantime, here’s Rina Palta’s report on the report for KPCC.

Posted in BREAKING L.A., Foster Care | No Comments »

LA Foster Girls Get Ready for Prom with Help from Glamour Gowns, California Leasing More Private Prison Space, Enforcing PREA, and Children of Re-entry

April 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CASA’S GLAMOUR GOWNS GIVES LOS ANGELES GIRLS IN FOSTER CARE THE FULL PROM TREATMENT

Glamour Gowns, an event organized by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Los Angeles, pulls out all the stops to help girls in foster care get ready for prom. The girls get to “shop” for a brand new prom dress, shoes and accessories—all brand name items donated by sponsors—for the big night. They are assigned their own personal shopper, a seamstress to tailer their dress, and industry professionals to do their hair and makeup.

For 10 years, CASA has used Glamour Gowns as a way to help foster kids feel important, and to give them a special prom experience that might not have been possible otherwise. So far, Glamour Gowns has provided over 5000 dresses to teenage girls in foster care, and are aiming for 500 more in 2014.

Neon Tommy’s Janelle Cabuco has more on the event. Here are some clips:

Each year, organizers and volunteers aim to make each participant feel like a princess as they go through the dress selection process.

“We are really giving girls in foster care the gift of the prom experience, which is a rite of passage in American culture,” said Dilys Tosteson Garcia, the executive director of CASA Los Angeles. “They get to remember that they are beautiful, that they look beautiful, that we value them, and that the world values them.”

When this event first started, Glamour Gowns provided girls with gently-used garments, but with the help of partners – such as David’s Bridal, Jenette Bras, and Chinese Laundry, to name a few – everything that is now provided is brand new.

“All the dresses, jewelry, makeup, shoes and handbags are donated by sponsors,” said Garcia.

“We have folks from the hair and makeup arena who donate their time to be here today to help the girls come up with a makeup scheme that works with their look. We also have seamstresses that volunteer to do the alterations so when the girls walk out today their dress is ready to go.”

Glamour Gowns started in a conference room as a pretty small event. Once it outgrew the conference room, it moved to a children’s court cafeteria, and then moved into community churches. In more recent years, Glamour Gowns has held their yearly event at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where they have been provided a space free of charge. Since their costs are minimal, those who work with Glamour Gowns are able to help hundreds of girls rather than just a few dozen.

[SNIP]

In the last decade, Glamour Gowns has provided more than 5,000 dresses to young women in the foster care system. Last year, Glamour Gowns helped about 300 girls find outfits for their prom; this year, volunteers expected to help over 500 girls create lasting memories.


ANOTHER CALIFORNIA FOR-PROFIT PRISON DEAL

On Tuesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation signed an agreement lease more private prison space through GEO Group, to the tune of $9 million a year for 260 women (with options to expand). The McFarland Community Reentry Facility is located north of Bakersfield, and will begin housing the female inmates by this fall.

The LA Times Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

The four-year contract for the McFarland Community Reentry Facility will house women serving the final portion of their prison terms. The Florida-based prison operator said in a statement to investors Tuesday that it expects to begin accepting inmates by this fall, and that the contract allows occupancy to be doubled within the year. GEO already has contracts to house 2,000 male prisoners in McFarland and Adelanto.

One out of 10 California inmates is serving time in a leased or private prison as the state grapples with federal court orders to reduce crowding in its own institutions. Women’s prisons are the most cramped: The Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla is listed at 182% capacity in last week’s state prison census report, with 1,600 prisoners more than it was intended to hold.

In a report to the Legislature on Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration said it was 500 inmates over judges’ interim goal of reducing crowding statewide by June to 143%. The administration has yet to roll out elderly and expanded medical parole programs the judges had also ordered to ease crowding.

(In the above Public Policy Institute of California video, Joe Hayes, a PPIC research associate, provides a quick status update on the state corrections system—incarceration rates, realignment, etc.)


STATES COMING INTO COMPLIANCE (OR NOT) WITH THE PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION ACT, AND WHY IT MATTERS

In 2003, a federal law called the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), was passed. It took a commission almost ten years to decide (and agree upon) a set of “zero-tolerance” standards to eliminate rape in state and federal prisons. Now, the DOJ is enforcing compliance.

If the states don’t pass an audit, or choose to forego it (looking at you, Texas), they will forfeit 5% of their federal prison funding. But even more important than the funding, is if a sexually abused inmate brings a lawsuit against a state, non-compliance with PREA may be viewed as deliberate indifference.

NPR’s Laura Sullivan has more on the complications of implementation, and how states are responding. for All Things Considered. Here’s a clip from the accompanying piece (but do go listen to the short segment):

All states have to put the new standards into place, including things like training staff to stop sexual assaults and report them properly, and providing victims with rape kits and counseling. Then states have to pass an audit. If they don’t pass, or don’t want to go through the audit, they will lose 5 percent of their federal prison grant funding.

“What we are hearing from the field is, this is challenging, it’s difficult to put this policy into action. But it is absolutely the right thing to do,” Leary says.

This 5 percent of grant funding isn’t much for many states. Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said his state will not adopt the standards, calling them “ill-conceived.” Most other states seem to be getting on board, though.

Experts say the real power of the law is in liability. If an inmate is raped repeatedly in a facility in a state that has refused to adopt national standards, that could look an awful lot like deliberate indifference to a jury in a civil lawsuit.

Plus, there appears to be a problem. At least 4 percent of adult inmates reported being victimized in 2012, according to the Justice Department. In juvenile facilities, one in 10 kids reported being raped, sexually assaulted or victimized in the preceding year — and 80 percent of those kids said they were victimized by staff.

“The audit process is an audit of your culture,” says Steven Jett, who runs the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center. “It’s not a policy audit.”

Last month the Detention Center became the first facility in the country to pass a PREA audit.

“I could have said, ‘We don’t need it here. We don’t have any incidents like that.’ I could have taken that attitude,” Jett says. “But it is best practices that we don’t let our inmates or our residents in our facilities be abused sexually or any other way.”


SIDE-EFFECTS OF PRISON AND RE-ENTRY ON KIDS WITH LOCKED-UP PARENTS

Over the last two years New American Media has offered a glimpse into the lives of kids and adults with incarcerated parents through a series of videos called “Children of Re-entry.”

Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) held a forum in March to examine how the criminal justice system affects the families of California’s incarcerated, especially their kids—these “Children of Re-entry.” Leno’s forum was sponsored by the California Homeless Youth Project of the California Research Bureau and the California Council on Youth Relations (a project of New America Media).

Here’s a clip from New American Media’s Anna Challet’s reporting on Sen. Leno’s forum:

On March 5, Senator Mark Leno convened a discussion on the impacts of post-incarceration release on children and families. The event, “Children of Re-entry: A Media Showcase & Policy Forum,” was sponsored by the California Homeless Youth Project, California Research Bureau, California Council on Youth Relations and New America Media. Nationwide, over 2 million children have a parent in prison or jail, and over 7 million have a parent on parole or probation.

Leno cited Attorney General Eric Holder’s work at the national level to end mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders. Law enforcement leaders who have been tough on crime, he said, are now realizing that the funding going to excessive incarceration is not money well spent, especially without reentry services that prevent recidivism.

In California, it costs about $50,000 a year to incarcerate one inmate. And in addition to state spending, advocates made clear that children have had to pay a huge price.

Nell Bernstein of the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership said, “If we collectively don’t take responsibility … in whether or not we prepare people for reentry and in what barriers we do or don’t place in front of them … it falls to the kids.”

She points to “post-prison punishments,” such as laws that prohibit people with drug convictions from accessing public housing.

Leno agrees. “We scratch our heads and wonder [why we have] a 65 percent recidivism rate when we’re setting people up for an obvious opportunity to fail,” he said.

Bernstein says that the key variable is whether or not those released have family support. “The single greatest predictor of successful reentry is an ongoing connection with one’s family during incarceration,” she said. “If we do start supporting family connections, we’ll see success on a system level and on a family level.”

This story is from late last month, but we didn’t want you to miss New American Media’s “Children of Re-entry” series (we’ll be keeping an eye on it in the future).

Posted in CDCR, Foster Care, prison, Reentry | No Comments »

Saving Kilpatrick, LA County to Request More $$ for Foster Kids’ Lawyers, Stop-and-Frisk, Sheriff’s Dept. Values…and More

April 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS CAMP STORY

Late last month, WLA posted a three-part story about LA County Probation’s Kilpatrick sports camp for locked-up kids (here, here, and here).

When it became clear that the scheduled demolition and renovation of the physical camp did not include space for the popular sports program, advocates, parents, and coaches rallied to save the camp. A study was ordered to measure the effectiveness of the program. Two years later, the study has come in and found that the sports program does indeed measurably help kids in a multiplicity of ways.

Now, Probation Chief Jerry Powers has come up with a plan to save the program and relaunch it for the fall 2014 sports season at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center camp in the Antelope Valley.

In the course of the study, researchers interviewed former Kilpatrick kids on various aspects of the program, including what they liked about it, and areas they thought could use improvement. The LA Times’ Sandy Banks takes a fresh look at the study, and includes quotes from the kids’ interviews. Here’s a clip:

The sports study — which looked at Los Angeles County probation records for hundreds of youths — offers a troubling snapshot of young lives.

Many of the boys had gang associations. Most came from unstable homes or were in foster care. Nine in 10 had substance abuse issues; almost as many had mental health problems. Almost all were failing, acting out or not showing up for school. Two-thirds had been in trouble with the law before. Their most recent offenses included robberies, assaults and weapons violations.

The study was not able to prove that the athletes did better in the long term than youths who were not on the teams. But there was a clear improvement in school attendance and performance. However when it came to returning to crime, or recidivism, the athletes did better only for the first six months of freedom.

“Clearly, there’s a positive impact,” said Cal State L.A. professor Denise Herz, the research team leader. “But the key is, they go back into the same environment… without much support.”

The interviews with former athletes described lives of constant upheaval, and explained how the sports teams filled gaps in their upbringing.

There was discipline there, where there was no discipline at home. The coaches… they worked with us, they tried to keep us motivated, I mean I still call them to this day.

To have that male figure around you that can give you a man’s perspective, and to hear a man’s voice. You know what I’m saying? It’s priceless.

Does the Kilpatrick sports model inoculate young men against the lure of the streets? Certainly not. But it can clear vision muddied by history and teach important life skills.

Probation department officials recognize that. Last week, they announced that the sports program won’t be disbanded but will move to the Challenger Memorial Youth Center camp in the Antelope Valley. Teams will resume play in their California Interscholastic Federation league this fall.

Go read the rest.


LA COUNTY SUPES TO LOBBY SACRAMENTO FOR EXTRA FUNDING FOR OVERBURDENED LAWYERS REPRESENTING FOSTER KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to lobby the state capital to allocate an extra $33.1 million in funding for lawyers appointed to foster children across California.

In LA County, these lawyers, like social workers, are spread far too thin, and are responsible for nearly twice the maximum number of cases recommended by the Judicial Council of California.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

With about 30,000 children in the foster care system in Los Angeles, each attorney is responsible for an average of 308 cases, said Leslie Heimov, executive director of the nonprofit Children’s Law Center, which provides attorneys to all foster kids in L.A. and Sacramento counties.

That’s nearly double the maximum caseload of 188 per attorney recommended by the Judicial Council of California. The optimal caseload would be 77 children per attorney.

“It’s huge, more than ‘a lot,’ if you look at the recommendations from various entities,” Heimov said.

She said the sky-high caseloads are a result of budgets not keeping up with growing numbers of children in foster care.

The numbers make it difficult for attorneys to advocate for the best interests of the children, she said, and turnover among attorneys has increased.

“Attorneys don’t have any time to do anything but the absolute bare minimum, instead of the maximum, and that’s not how any of us want to practice,” Heimov said. “So it also has a significant impact on burnout.”

Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, says that the money will help, but it’s not enough:

The only long term solution, in Nash’s opinion, is reducing the number of kids in the foster care system.

“More of these cases could be resolved effectively outside of the court system,” Nash said. “The courts should not be the first resort for these issues.”


A FATHER’S TAKE ON STOP-AND-FRISK

In a compelling piece for the Atlantic, Christopher E. Smith (a criminal justice professor at Michigan State), a white man with a black son and in-laws, tells of the impact of stop-and-frisk on his family members of color, and of the constant state of fear he lives in for the safety of his son. Here’s how it opens:

When I heard that my 21-year-old son, a student at Harvard, had been stopped by New York City police on more than one occasion during the brief summer he spent as a Wall Street intern, I was angry. On one occasion, while wearing his best business suit, he was forced to lie face-down on a filthy sidewalk because—well, let’s be honest about it, because of the color of his skin. As an attorney and a college professor who teaches criminal justice classes, I knew that his constitutional rights had been violated. As a parent, I feared for his safety at the hands of the police—a fear that I feel every single day, whether he is in New York or elsewhere.

Moreover, as the white father of an African-American son, I am keenly aware that I never face the suspicion and indignities that my son continuously confronts. In fact, all of the men among my African-American in-laws—and I literally mean every single one of them—can tell multiple stories of unjustified investigatory police stops of the sort that not a single one of my white male relatives has ever experienced.

In The Atlantic’s April feature story “Is Stop-and-Frisk Worth It?” author Daniel Bergner cited Professor Frank Zimring’s notion that stop-and-frisk is “a special tax on minority males.” I cannot endorse the conclusion that this “special tax” actually helps make communities safer. As indicated by the competing perspectives in Atlantic essays by Donald Braman and Paul Larkin, scholars disagree on whether crime rate data actually substantiate the claims of stop-and-frisk advocates. Either way, I do believe that the concept of a “special tax” deserves closer examination.

Proponents of stop-and-frisk often suggest that the hardships suffered by young men of color might be tolerable if officers were trained to be polite rather than aggressive and authoritarian. We need to remember, however, that we are talking about imposing an additional burden on a demographic that already experiences a set of alienating “taxes” not shared by the rest of society.

I can tell myriad stories about the ways my son is treated with suspicion and negative presumptions in nearly every arena of his life. I can describe the terrorized look on his face when, as a 7-year-old trying to learn how to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our suburban house, he was followed at 2-miles-per-hour from a few feet away by a police patrol car—a car that sped away when I came out of the front door to see what was going on. I can tell stories of teachers, coaches, and employers who have forced my son to overcome a presumption that he will cause behavior problems or that he lacks intellectual capability. I can tell you about U.S. Customs officials inexplicably ordering both of us to exit our vehicle and enter a building at the Canadian border crossing so that a team of officers could search our car without our watching—an event that never occurs when I am driving back from Canada by myself.

If I hadn’t witnessed all this so closely, I never would have fully recognized the extent of the indignities African-American boys and men face. Moreover, as indicated by research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the cumulative physical toll this treatment takes on African-American men can accelerate the aging process and cause early death. Thus, no “special tax” on this population can be understood without recognizing that it does not exist as a small, isolated element in people’s lives…

Read on.


THE IMPORTANCE OF AN OBSERVED SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT VALUE SYSTEM

On Monday, we pointed to a lawsuit filed last week alleging sexual assault by an LASD deputy clique called the “Banditos,” and sheriff candidate James Hellmold’s prank call (in which he seemed to use a South Asian accent).

An LA Times editorial says that, in the wake of these controversial stories (and previous scandals), campaigning sheriff candidates should focus on their own value systems and how they plan to make sure their standards are followed by the rank and file. Here are some clips:

Each Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy is supposed to carry a card at all times that sets forth the department’s core values, embodied in a single sentence pledging respect, integrity, wisdom and “the courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and bigotry in all its forms.”

The card has been variously called inspirational and plain silly, but if it’s silly, its silliness lies not in the values expressed but in the notion that words on a card could, by themselves, imbue deputies with values that they do not already hold or that are not instilled in them in training and reinforced each day on the job.

News reports and anecdotal tales of inmate abuse, the hazing of new deputies and disrespect paid to the communities it is supposed to protect suggest that the department has a long way to go to make its core values more than words on a card.

[SNIP]

There is a danger that the departure of Sheriff Lee Baca under a cloud created by his own mismanagement could be taken by those vying to replace him as an invitation to throw out everything he brought with him — the good as well as the bad, the vision as well as the often-sloppy implementation, the values as well as the card.

The sheriff is one of only three officials elected countywide to represent 10 million people, and the only one with uniformed officers acting as ambassadors to every corner of the county. They will be emissaries either for a system of gang-like cliques and frat-like pranks or for a culture of dignity and respect…


AND IN LA TIMES-RELATED NEWS…

Robert Faturechi will no longer be covering the LASD for the LA Times. We will miss his fine and important reporting.

He has passed the torch to Cindy Chang, who previously covered immigration and ethnic culture. Welcome, Cindy!

Faturechi tweeted the news on Tuesday:

Robert Faturechi ‏@RobertFaturechi
there’s a new sheriff (reporter) in town. I’ll be helping out for a couple more weeks, but @cindychangLA is now covering LASD.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Probation, racial justice, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Proposal to Keep Kilpatrick Sports Program Alive…..Judge Nash Plans New Order to Open Family Courts to Media…Does the LASD IG Need Greater Independence?….& More

March 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NEXT CHAPTER ON THE ONGOING CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM STORY


According to a motion sponsored at last Tuesday’s board meeting
by Supervisor Don Knabe, Probation Chief Jerry Powers was going to deliver a report on Tuesday of this week detailing exactly where and how he thought he could relocate the popular sports program that is right now in residence at Camp Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is the aging LA County juvenile probation facility that will be shuttered and torn down starting at the end of this month in order to make way for a brand new rehabilitation-centric juvenile probation camp that it is intended to be a model for future camps that help kids rather than simply punish them.

However, as much as California juvenile advocates are in favor of the new Kilpatrick project, the many fans of the sports program don’t want to lose one good thing, in order to get another.

(For the back story on the Kilpatrick sports issue, see our post of last week.)

It was everyone’s assumption that Powers’ report would be presented publicly at Tuesday’s meeting. But a few days ago, that plan changed and Powers said he would simply deliver his report to the supervisors on Tuesday, without a public presentation.

The report in question was finally delivered to all the Supes Wednesday, and we have obtained a copy.

There’s lots of good news in what Powers has proposed, like the fact that Powers has set a firm timeline for the sports program reopening for the fall season. However, some of the details may produce complications—particularly the fact that the proposed location for the sports program is Challenger Memorial Youth Camp in the Lancaster area, more than an hour away from where Kilpatrick is now located in Malibu.

Yet, the proposal also describes the advantages that Camp Challenger has to offer, like two gymnasiums, multiple areas for practice fields, and others. It also helps that moving the sports program there will not displace any existing programs.

But it’s complicated.

Hopefully, all parties can come together in good faith to work out any rough spots so that the sports program can resume for the Fall 2014 season with even more support than it has had in the past—which is what Powers has made clear he wants.

We also hope that this new plan will continue to support the work of the extraordinarily dedicated Kilpatrick coaches who continue to give so much of themselves to the kids who have been under their care.

We’ll keep you up to date as this story unfolds further.

Here’s a copy of Wednesday’s report. Garfield sports proposal


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH’S EXCELLENT & LEGALLY TWEAKED PLAN TO RE OPEN CHILD CUSTODY COURTS TO THE PRESS

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this month, in a 2-1 decision a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

Undeterred, Judge Nash will soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

Journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has more on the story in the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip:

Today, Presiding Judge Michael Nash continued his campaign to encourage media access to Los Angeles County’s historically closed juvenile dependency court, after a California appeals court had invalidated a similar, earlier order only this month.

While Nash had called the changes a “a distinction without a difference,” in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change last week, it appears that his new order will thread the needle on this highly contentious issue: by offering the press a way in, but forcing reporters to be conscious of the potential harm their coverage could cause to vulnerable children.

Nash sent a revision of his controversial 2012 order easing press access to a clutch of judges, journalists, child advocates and other stakeholders for comment. They have until April 14th, after which Nash intends on issuing a new order that will once again allow press into the courts.

Read the draft order HERE:

A key reason why two out of three judges in California’s Second Appellate District ruled against the 2012 order was because they believed it stripped individual judges and court referees of discretion in excluding the press from sensitive hearings involving child victims of maltreatment.

Nash’s rewritten order fixes all that.


DOES THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL HAVE THE NECESSARY POWER AND INDEPENDENCE?

The LA Times Editorial Board thinks new IG Max Huntsman needs more independence if he is to be effective. Here’s a clip from the editorial:

It was no surprise last week when Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended against renewing contracts with two agencies monitoring the Sheriff’s Department. The same citizens commission that called for the creation of Huntsman’s office also suggested that it absorb the functions of those other agencies, one of them established 22 years ago to report on excessive force and lax discipline, the other created nine years later to monitor the sheriff’s handling of deputy misconduct allegations.

One lesson arising from the commission’s hearings was that the county’s existing oversight and reporting agencies were insufficient to end a pattern of abuse in the jails; the implication was that a differently constructed and empowered office would be better suited to the task.

That lesson and that implication could stand some scrutiny. Without it, the county could find itself with new titles and offices but the same problems it failed to solve a decade ago and a decade before that.

Just why, for example, were the special counsel and the Office of Independent Review inadequate? The citizens commission noted that both did their investigations and reports but both met with a “lack of meaningful or timely action” by the Sheriff’s Department. And why did the department not respond? Because it didn’t have to. Criticism and critiques were filed by both monitors with the Board of Supervisors, which too often failed to use the political power at its disposal to develop sufficient public pressure to get the sheriff to act.

Read on.


A COOK COUNTY, ILL, JUDGE SENTENCED A KID TO DIE IN PRISON IN 1988 AND HATED THAT THE LAW MADE HIM DO IT

The Chicago Tribune’s Duaa Eldeib and Steve Mills report about how judges are glad that the US Supreme Court ordered an end to mandatory life for kids. Now various state courts are stepping in to put the Supremes ruling into motion.

Here’s a clip:

The Cook County judge made it quite clear he did not want to sentence Gerald Rice to life in prison without possibility of parole.

At the sentencing hearing in 1988, Judge Richard Neville noted that Rice was mildly mentally disabled and that evidence showed the 16-year-old had been coaxed by an older man into throwing a Molotov cocktail into a West Side house on a summer night two years earlier, killing a woman and three children. The co-defendant was acquitted.

Neville criticized state legislators for tying his hands and making a life sentence mandatory. Doing so, he said, stripped him of his discretion. He could not weigh Rice’s age, maturity level, lack of a criminal record or his role in the murders. Urging Rice’s attorney to appeal, the judge said he hoped that such mandatory sentences would be outlawed someday.

“I think it is outrageous that I cannot take that into consideration in determining what an appropriate sentence is for Mr. Rice,” a transcript quoted Neville as saying about Rice’s fate compared with his co-defendant’s. “It is with total reluctance that I enter the sentence, and it is only because I believe I have no authority to do anything else that I enter this sentence.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled the judge’s hopes, ruling that mandatory life sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week the state’s highest court weighed in, ruling that inmates in Illinois who received mandatory life sentences for murders that they committed as juveniles should receive new sentencing hearings.

“It’s a judge’s job and usually they’re the best qualified to decide what kind of sentence is appropriate,” Neville said last week. “I’ve got the most information and the best view of what happened and of the defendant’s background.”

Neville retired from the bench in 1999 and now is a mediator.

The ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday affects about 100 inmates who were under 18 at the time of their offenses, according to state prison officials. The youngest four were 14, while about half were 17. The vast majority were sentenced in Cook County. Most were convicted of more than one murder.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Probation, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Holder & Duncan Shocked at Pre-School Discipline #’s….Child Abuse Deaths Up….Looking at Sheriff Candidate Bob Olmsted….and More

March 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ERIC HOLDER & ARNE DUNCAN SHOCKED AT SUSPENSION OF PRESCHOOLERS

This past Friday the Civil Rights division of the US Department of Education released a report detailing the disturbing number of suspensions and other forms of discipline in American schools. The statistics on preschool suspensions, in particular, were so high that they succeeded in shocking the US Attorney General and the Secretary of Education.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed shock at data released Thursday showing that thousands of preschool kids were suspended nationwide during the 2011-2012 school year. The suspensions fell heavily on black children, who represented 18 percent of preschool enrollment yet 48 percent of all suspensions.

“I was stunned—I was stunned—that we were suspending and expelling four-year-olds,” Duncan said at a Washington D.C. elementary school, where he and Holder discussed findings of the latest Civil Rights Data Collection by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The survey showed that nearly 5,000 preschool students were suspended in the 2011-12 academic year.

“This preschool suspension issue is mind-boggling,” Duncan said. “And we need to as a nation find a way to remedy that tomorrow.”

Duncan said training is needed at schools that suspend large numbers of kids at all grade levels to demonstrate a “better way” of handling problem behavior. “We know there is a correlation between out-of-school suspensions and ultimately locking people up,” Duncan said. “And folks don’t like it when we talk about it. But for far too many children and communities the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ is real.”

Here’s the report.


SAME DATA FINDS AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESCHOOLERS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE SUSPENDED

Jesse Holland of the Associated Press looks deeper into the racial disparities in school suspensions found in the recently-released Dept. of Education report, including suspensions in the nation’s preschools, where African American preschoolers account for a stunning 48 percent of suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.


ALARMING SPIKES IN CHILD ABUSE & NEGLECT IN VARIOUS STATES

The Wall Street Journal reports about the frightening rise in child abuse deaths that is getting lawmakers to pay attention. Since the WSJ is hidden behind a pay wall, The Crime Report summarizes the story. Here’s a clip:

Seventy-eight children died in Florida last year as a result of abuse or neglect—36 of whom had prior involvement with the state Department of Children and Families, says the Wall Street Journal. The string of deaths triggered public outcry, plunged the state’s child-welfare system into crisis and led to the resignation of the agency’s secretary. Now, the Florida legislature has made overhauling the system one of its top priorities in the session that began this month. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican seeking re-election this year, has called for nearly $40 million in additional funding. Other states and localities are embroiled in similar controversies. In Massachusetts, the September disappearance of a 5-year-old boy, who is feared dead, went unnoticed by the state’s child-welfare agency for three months, prompting the governor to order an independent review. In California, the brutal death of an 8-year-old boy allegedly abused by his caregivers led Los Angeles County supervisors to create a commission on child protection that is due to issue recommendations next month…..


KPCC’S FRANK STOLTZE PROFILES BOB OLMSTED

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of retired LA County Sheriff’s Department commander Bob Olmsted. That makes three candidates that Stoltze has interviewed and profiled. (He’s also done stories on candidates Jim McDonnell and James Hellmold.)

The profiles aren’t long but they’re smart, featuring those who express pros and cons on each man.

You can find the podcast here, and here’s a clip from the written version of the Olmsted story:

Whistleblowing cops usually end up as pariahs. Bob Olmsted is no different.

“I’ve got a problem with a guy who runs to the FBI,” says retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Craig Ditsch. “We have some very good people who have been indicted.”

A federal grand jury has indicted 20 current or former sheriff’s officials on civil rights and corruption charges – in part because of Olmsted. Most of the charges relate to excessive use of force against jail inmates, or efforts to cover it up.

Now, Olmsted is using his whistleblower past to distinguish himself among the seven candidates hoping to succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca as head of one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Olmsted once oversaw Men’s Central Jail as a commander, and went to his superior seeking to remove a problem captain. When Olmsted didn’t get the help, he went higher.

“I told my chief, ‘I’m going over your head,’” Olmsted recounts. He sounds like a worried parent when he describes the corrosive effect of bad deputies.

“Who is protecting these young guys, the good guys?” he asks. “Nobody.”

In 2011, when Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka (now a candidate for sheriff), refused to help, according to Olmsted, he went to the FBI. Olmsted had just retired from the department.

Last summer, before Baca abruptly resigned and a slew of other candidates jumped into the race, Olmsted announced his run for sheriff. It was a bold move by a political novice against a powerful incumbent.

“It was my duty to run,” Olmsted says.

[SNIP]

While many current and former deputies loathe the idea of a whistleblower becoming sheriff, retired Commander Joaquin Herran is a proud supporter of Olmsted.

“He had the guts to go do the right thing for the right reason,” Herran says. “Other people did not.”


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC, HERE’S WHAT THE DAILY NEWS SAYS ABOUT THE LASD SHERIFF CANDIDATES AND THE RACE

The Daily News’ Christina Villacourte interviews experts about what the voters need to look for as they contemplate whom to choose as LA County’s new sheriff, and talks briefly to the candidate themselves.

Here’s a clip:

[Laurie] Levenson, the criminal law professor, said the new sheriff must meet stringent criteria.

“I think integrity is key,” she said. “It should be somebody who’s experienced in law enforcement, and who has the confidence of law enforcement personnel.”

“He should be a good manager, politically savvy, and with a great deal of courage to take on the different issues that confront the county — from homeland security to modern approaches toward law enforcement, even inmate rehabilitation and penal reform,” she added.

If a candidate were to win the majority of votes on June 3, the county Board of Supervisors could remove interim Sheriff John Scott, and appoint the sheriff-elect to lead the department immediately. If no candidate exceeds 50 percent, the top two would face a runoff election on Nov. 4 and the winner would be sworn in Dec. 1.

If voters choose poorly, the consequences can be costly — literally.

“County taxpayers paid about $40 million last year in settlements and jury verdicts for illegal behavior on the part of the Sheriff’s Department,” American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Peter Eliasberg said.


Pre-art photo of preschool kids from PreschoolMatters.org

Posted in 2014 election, DCFS, Education, Foster Care, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 34 Comments »

LASD Monitor Merrick Bobb Wants to Stay, LA Supervisors Move Forward on Mira Loma Jail Plan, Supes Gain Access to LASD Investigation Docs….and More

March 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LASD SPECIAL COUNSEL MERRICK BOBB SAYS HE STILL PROVIDES EFFECTIVE OVERSIGHT, DISAGREES WITH IG’S CALL TO FIRE HIM

On Wednesday, we pointed to Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman’s letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors urging the board to end contracts with LASD watchdogs Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review (OIR) and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb. Huntsman’s recommended the contract terminations, saying that the OIR and Merrick Bobb had not been effective enough in their oversight of the department, and that Bobb’s “influence has waned.”

Merrick Bobb has responded, saying that he is still of value to the department, pointing to reforms implemented following his recommendation. Bobb says he wants to continue his role as civilian LASD watchdog.

We think the issue would be a good topic for tonight’s LASD candidate debate. (Which, by the way, will be moderated by the ACLU League of Women Voters, and held at Mercado La Paloma on South Grand at 6:30p.m. — Event registration closed last Friday, but you can still register for the April debate in Santa Monica through mid April, if you’d like to attend.)

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story on Bobb’s reply. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Bobb said he wanted to continue to monitor the Sheriff’s Department for the county, saying he would even be open to working under Huntsman.

He said he respects Huntsman, but disagrees that his own impact has waned. He pointed out that a number of the reforms implemented after the department’s inmate abuse scandal were ones he had recommended over the years.

Bobb said the fact that many of those reforms were initially ignored was not a sign of diminishing clout.

“That doesn’t mean my influence has waned. That means my influence was very substantial,” he said. “Those are recommendations I made. It got done and it got done in substantial part because of me and my relationship with the department.”

He cited a number of past achievements, including highlighting problems with racially biased policing in the Antelope Valley before federal authorities did, and pushing the department to create a mentorship program for deputies showing signs of problem behavior.

Bobb has been with the county for more than two decades and said his last contract, which ends in June, paid roughly $167,000 for six months.

If the Board of Supervisors accepts Huntsman’s recommendations, it would mark the end of relationships with Bobb and Michael Gennaco, the head of the Office of Independent Review. Gennaco declined to say whether he wants to continue working with the county.

Huntsman said limited resources and structural problems undermined their success.

He said he had no plans to hire Bobb or Gennaco into his budding organization. The Sheriff’s Department, he said, would benefit from having one cohesive monitoring operation — in which staffers with various specialties share information and work together.

The creation of an inspector general’s office was recommended by a blue-ribbon commission created by the county after the sheriff’s jail abuse scandal.

Amid that scandal and others, Bobb and Gennaco came under scrutiny. The question was how such serious problems could have festered under their watch…


LA SUPES TAKE FIRST STEP TOWARD NEW WOMEN’S JAIL IN MIRA LOMA

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors voted unanimously to have architectural design firm DLR Group, Inc. draw up plans (to the tune of $5.5 million) for a proposed women’s facility in Mira Loma. The plans will come back to the board for approval in September.

We’ll be taking a closer look at this proposal in the meantime.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

L.A. County has a $100 million grant from the state to construct a women’s facility in Mira Loma. To keep on track and keep the grant, the county had to take steps now, said Supervisor Don Knabe.

The Mira Loma facility is part of a larger, tentative jail overhaul plan that would likely include replacing or shuttering Men’s Central Jail. The consulting firm Vanir is scheduled to provide an updated report to the board on the county’s jail needs in May.

Groups opposed to building more jails also spoke at the board, including those who warned the jail’s placement in the Antelope Valley could expose inmates to Valley Fever.

Joseph Maizlish of L.A. No More Jails said the board should not be primarily motivated by the free grant money.

“If we use it unwisely, it’s as bad as lost and maybe worse,” Maizlish said.

He said despite the advice of numerous groups, including the Vera Institute of Justice, the county has yet to come up with a way of evaluating the risk of releasing inmates who are in jail awaiting trial and not yet sentenced. That, he said, could reduce overcrowding.


IN OTHER LASD/LA COUNTY SUPES NEWS: SUPERVISORS TO HAVE ACCESS TO LASD INTERNAL INVESTIGATION FILES, ON APPROVAL

After some recent conflict between LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina and County Counsel over whether the Supes should be allowed access to LASD internal investigation files, a compromise satisfying all parties was reached. On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a review process submitted by County Counsel John Krattli.

Supervisors will now submit specific requests through Krattli’s office. If the sheriff refuses to share the records with the board, he will have to present a written response as to why releasing the information to the board would be detrimental to the case.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the update. Here’s a clip:

The vote followed a dispute between the department and Supervisor Gloria Molina, who had criticized the agency for stonewalling her request for information on a deputy who has been involved in seven shootings, including a Sept. 9 encounter in East Los Angeles that left a man dead. Molina had said that former Sheriff Lee Baca was willing to give her access, but that County Counsel John Krattli suggested the report be withheld because the District Attorney’s Office is still investigating the case. Molina had argued that the supervisors are the ones who authorize legal settlements involving the Sheriff’s Department, so they should be granted early access to case information.

“I think it is a great day for all of us,” Molina said Tuesday. “It’s great day for all of those that really want to provide the kind of transparency that I think we talked about in the jail commission (report) that was presented to us.”

[SNIP]

Under the measure, any supervisor can request a confidential file through the county counsel. If the Sheriff’s Department turns over the documents, any supervisor can confidentially review them.

But should the Sheriff’s Department decide to withhold records, it must list reasons that are specific to the case. The board would review the sheriff’s explanation in a closed-door session no more than two weeks after receiving the refusal.


LASD SMOKING PATIO TURNED BARBECUE SPACE IS DUBBED THE “TERRACE GRILL”

The controversial members-only LASD smoking patio, repurposed by Sheriff John Scott into a non-smoking barbecue area for all department employees to enjoy, has officially been named the “Terrace Grill.” Contract Program Manager Rachelle Jackson submitted the winning entry in the department’s naming contest. (Backstory, here.)

(We like that the department is taking credit for the symbolic significance of this move.)

Here’s a small clip from the announcement:

In a symbolic, yet important, gesture for the employees of the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Scott asked everyone who works at the Headquarters in Monterey Park to submit names for the patio located at the rear of the building. It previously gained the reputation as an area used for cigar smoking by exclusive patrons. Since then, Sheriff Scott declared the area accessible to all employees, reminded them that smoking is not permitted there and held a contest to name it.


STUDY: BLACK KIDS PERCEIVED AS OLDER AND LESS INNOCENT THAN THEIR WHITE PEERS

Participants in a recent study (comprised of college students and police officers) perceived black kids as older and less innocent than their white counterparts. The study, intended to measure the dehumanization of black children, and was published earlier this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Police officers in the study estimated that black kids were an average of 4.59 years older than they actually were, meaning that they perceived kids a little over 13.5 years old as adults. And college students and police officers both judged black children over the age of ten to be less innocent than their white peers.

Guest hosting MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show, Jonathan Capehart speaks with one of the authors of the study, Phillip Atiba Goff (a UCLA professor), along with other noteworthy guests, about the study’s findings. Watch the discussion here.

The Wire’s Philip Bump also has a worthwhile analysis of the report. Here’s how it opens:

Asked to identify the age of a young boy that committed a felony, participants in a study routinely overestimated the age of black children far more than they did white kids. Worse: Cops did it, too.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, aimed at figuring out the extent to which black children were likely to be treated differently than their white peers solely based on race. More specifically, the authors wanted to figure out the extent to which black kids were dehumanized. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” author Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA told the American Psychological Association. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”

The researchers ran four different experiments aimed at gauging how people perceived criminal acts (both misdemeanors and felonies) depending on if the boy that committed it was black or white. Participants took a series of tests gauging racial attitudes and subtle associations. One test “primed” participants by flashing the names of either great cats, like lions, or apes. Two groups of people were interviewed, college-aged students and police officers. The group of police officers were evaluated on another metric: their on-the-job record of use of force against criminal suspects.

Read on.


A CALL FOR NEW LEGISLATION AFTER A CALIFORNIA APPEALS COURT BARRED THE MEDIA FROM LA’S CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT HEARINGS

At the beginning of this month, a California appeals court struck down a 2012 order by Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court, that opened LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings to the press. The court system is, once again, shuttered from press and, thus, public scrutiny.

In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel explains why press access is in kids’ best interest, and why the appellate court ruling is an opportunity for new legislation to open dependency courts back up (or for an appeal to the state Supreme Court). Here’s a clip:

A fortnight ago, the appeals court for the Second Appellate District in California invalidated a court order that had eased media access to Los Angeles County’s otherwise closed juvenile dependency hearings.

This ends two years of intermittent sunshine on the complicated functionings of the largest child welfare system in the nation, and perhaps the world.

The appeals court decision hinges on how much discretion a judge should have in barring reporters, and has reignited the long-simmering debate about the costs and benefits of allowing reporters to be present at hearings where minors’ fates are decided.

While the March 3 ruling seemingly closed the door on the media, it also sets up the possibility of two developments: an appeal to the California State Supreme Court, or new legislation allowing greater media access to dependency proceedings, not only in Los Angeles, but across the state.

In my opinion, the dispute could and should be resolved through legislation that promotes a new, higher journalism: one practiced in the best interest of the child.

Read the rest.



(Photo by Sergeant Kresimir M. Kovac, LASD)

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, racial justice, Sheriff John Scott | 5 Comments »

After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Fighting Zero-Tolerance in a North Carolina County…Why States Turn to Private Prisons…Foster Kids’ Need for Consistent Education…and Disney Cuts $$ to Boy Scouts Citing Anti-Gay Policy

March 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“MISSION CRITICAL” DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS KIDS BEING PUSHED THROUGH THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

In the nationwide push to end the school to prison pipeline, many school districts are turning away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline practices (LAUSD included). Last week, President Obama launched an important initiative to keep kids of color in school and out of the justice system, but there is still much work to be done.

A new documentary produced by Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina) looks at the battle raging in Wake County, North Carolina, where 10% of kids were suspended during the 2011-12 year.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the documentary (which can be watched in its entirety in the above video). Here’s a clip:

The lawyers and staff of the organization bought a $200 camera and over 18 months shot raw interviews of parents and students who’ve been affected by the pipeline. After piecing it together, “Mission Critical: Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Wake County” was released last week at a community screening.

“We really wanted to humanize and personalize what really is a civil rights crisis in our community,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services and one of the film’s directors.

Wake County Public Schools has one the biggest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation, Langberg said. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district gave out 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions. The figure amounts to one suspension given for every 10 students, according to a report by Advocates for Children’s Services.


PRIVATE PRISONS: EXTRA SPACE FOR STATES WITH OVERCROWDING PROBLEMS, BUT IS IT WORTH IT?

For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America claim to save states money, but often have less than desirable track records, and employ lock-up quotas. (WLA previously pointed to CCA’s run-in with contempt of court in Idaho.)

Politico’s Matt Stroud takes a closer look at why states, including California, (and even the feds) enter into contract with private prisons. Here’s a clip:

In October, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison behemoth, onlookers might’ve wondered if he’d been following the news.

The same could be asked of Wall Street in general. Over the last five years, CCA’s stock price has increased by more than 200 percent and earlier this month Jim Cramer’s investment website The Street praised the company’s “strengths” on Wall Street, enthusiastically rating its stock a “buy.”

As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government. Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013, its most ever and more than a hundredfold increase since the company went public ten years ago.

But while privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea.

[BIG SNIP]

Yet companies such as CCA continue to get contracts—and Congress has been one of the industry’s benefactors. A 2009 change to the Department of Homeland Security’s federal spending bill requires officials to keep 34,000 people in federal immigration detention centers operated by private prison companies. The federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service all contract with private prison companies.

Again: Why?

Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.

Gilroy is director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to government problems and has also received financial support from both CCA and the GEO Group. He explains the lure of private prisons as a simple matter of cost and convenience: “It costs a lot of money to open a prison,” he says. “And to have it fully ready, you need a full contingent of staff, you need to set that staff up with health care, arrange for maintenance workers, provide food and utilities. And that’s a big order, particularly if you’re in a rush.” Private prisons can fill that rush order, he says.

A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California

(Read on.)

Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for CCA wrote a lengthy reply to Stroud’s Politico story. Owen says that Stroud only focused on the company’s problem areas, or “challenges,” and says there are many positive things CCA is doing for states and inmates. Here’s a clip:

The opinion writer opens his piece with ill-informed commentary about CCA’s relationship with California. In fact, there is perhaps no better example of the important role we can play in addressing corrections challenges. The difficulties the state has faced with overcrowded facilities are well documented, and for more than seven years, CCA has provided an important relief valve to help them manage their inmate population. Our facilities and professional staff have alleviated unsafe conditions and created opportunities for offenders to access a wide range of programs that prepare them to re-enter their communities once their time is served. The most recent iteration of our partnership is an innovative agreement that allows California to lease needed space from our company and staff the facility with public employees.

Additionally, the tools we are providing to help manage this difficult situation are being delivered at a significant cost savings. Overall, economists from Temple University, in an independent study receiving a partial grant from our industry, analyzed state government data and found companies like ours save 12 percent to 58 percent in long-term taxpayer costs.

The opinion piece moves on from California to cherry-pick stories of incidents that portray our company and industry through a lens that is not only incomplete but also often factually inaccurate and disingenuous. It is an unfortunate reality that no corrections system—public or private—is immune to challenges. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working each and every day to address concerns head on and learn from our mistakes, as we have recently in Idaho…

And here’s what Owen has to say about those pesky lock-up quotas:

I also want to address the issue of minimum-occupancy guarantees. Fewer than half of our contracts have them, and those that do contain explicit provisions allowing our government partners to terminate the agreement in a short period of time if the capacity is no longer needed. The idea that somehow our partners are locked into space they aren’t using is grounded more in politics than in fact…


FOSTER KIDS WHO REPEATEDLY CHANGE HOUSES AND SCHOOLS LOSE MONTHS OF EDUCATION, LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE

The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey has a worthwhile story about how frequent uprooting and instability in a foster kid’s life create significant gaps in learning and reduce their likelihood of graduating high school. Here are some clips (but do go read the rest):

When 12-year-old Jimmy Wayne’s parents dropped him off at a motel and drove away, he became the newest member of the North Carolina Foster Care system. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended 12 different schools.

“I don’t even remember what I learned—no, let me rephrase that—I don’t remember what they tried to teach me—after fifth grade,” he told me recently. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about science, I was thinking about what I was going to eat that day or where I could get clothes. When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

[SNIP]

Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster care children years behind their peers. Falling behind isn’t the only problem with frequent school moves: School transfers also decrease the chances a foster care student will ever graduate from high school.

[SNIP]

Kate Burdick, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Juvenile Law Center, shared the changes she’d make that would greatly improve the chances that children in foster care get the educational stability they need:

Schools must ensure school stability for children in foster care by requiring schools to be flexible around residency requirements in order to allow children to remain in the same school or district, and provide the supports to make that stability happen, such as reliable transportation and dedicated adult liaisons who can provide academic support.

Promote greater collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools in order to ensure that foster children’s particular educational needs are being met.

Collect tracking data on educational progress and outcomes, including attendance, school moves, enrollment delays and academic outcomes in order to reveal where policies and practices could be improved.

(For recent stories on the state of foster care in Los Angeles County, go here and here.)


DISNEY TO STOP GIVING MONEY TO BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OVER ANTI-GAY POLICY

The Walt Disney Company is cutting funding to the Boy Scouts of America starting in 2015 because of its policy banning gay scout leaders.

The AP has the story. Here’s a small clip:

The Boy Scouts organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect the organization’s ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.

[BIG SNIP]

The memo was posted on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that is critical of the Boy Scouts’ policy to ban adult gay troop leaders.

Last week corporate giants like Delta, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple threatened to move outside of Arizona if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto legislation that would have let businesses refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. (Bloomberg’s Thomas Black and Jennifer Oldham have that story.)

It’s heartening to see these two instances of corporate America standing up for LGBT equality.

Posted in CDCR, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LGBT, Obama, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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