Friday, April 25, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Foster Care


Playing Catch Up: Some Highlights of What We’ve Missed

January 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ONE SIMPLE FIX FOR LA’S FOSTER CARE SYSTEM THAT CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED IMMEDIATELY SEZ BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION—IF THERE WAS THE WILL TO DO IT

This LA Times editorial runs it down and says what stands in our way. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County fails to protect children from abuse and neglect because no single person or entity in county government takes responsibility for the problem or has the power to prevent it.

But how can that be? There is a Department of Children and Family Services specifically charged with child protection, and there are dozens of other agencies, programs and policies intended to further the goal.

A divided and frustrated Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors formed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection this year in the wake of the May death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale to try to figure out why the county keeps failing in its mission. To its credit, the panel made clear from the outset that it would focus on why the puzzle is never completed. It sent the board an interim report Monday.

[SNIP]

But all of those departments, programs and policies too often operate in bureaucratic isolation, with poor communication and coordination. It’s as if several dozen people, each given a piece of a puzzle, went off on their own to ponder what the whole picture might look like if they ever got together. No one sits them down at a table and starts putting the pieces together…..

Read on.


WHY GOOD AND SKILLFUL TEACHERS OF COLOR OFTEN QUIT TEACHING

Amanda Machado at the Atlantic Monthly writes a thought provoking essay about how the painfully personal knowledge of what is at stake for students in today’s public education can drive black and Latino teachers to leave the profession at higher rates than their white peers because of the stress they place on themselves to be perfect in order to make sure kids succeed.

Here’s a clip:

…Because our backgrounds often parallel those of our students, the issues in our classrooms hit us more personally. This ultimately places an extreme amount of pressure on us to be good teachers immediately, since we know or have experienced ourselves the consequences of an insufficient education. A Latino Teach for America alum in Miami told me: “While teaching, I was acutely conscious of the fact that I wouldn’t have obtained the same level of success if my own teachers had not given everything they had to push me to where I needed to be. This intensified the pressure I already felt to do well.

I knew what happened when our kids failed at school—many of my relatives and friends had failed, and some never recovered. Relatives and friends who had dropped out of school now lived in poverty, became alcoholics, or spiraled into depression. With these pictures in my mind, the job became almost a matter of life and death. With every lesson I planned, I had this big-picture anxiety: I worried that if I did not teach this lesson impeccably, in a way that compelled my students to stay committed to their education in the long-term, my students would inherit the same fates of so many people I knew. I worried that my failure would ultimately become theirs….


WHEN WILL YOUR CHILD BE ELIGIBLE FOR PAROLE? HANK COXE TALKS AT TEDX

Celebrated trial lawyer Hank Coxe gives a must watch TEDX talk about how out-of-whack our juvenile justice system has become.


A CONTROVERSIAL OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING IN SANTA BARBARA BRINGS THE FILING OF A $10 MILLION LAWSUIT

Reporting for Mission & State, Sam Slovic follows-up on his story from last month about the fatal shooting of a mentally ill man named Brian Tacadena who was welding a knife on a public sidewalk, and who may or may not have tried to die. Now members of Tacadena’s family have filed a big bucks lawsuit, saying that the legal action is their only way to find out if Tacadena’s sad death could have been avoided.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll have more on the LASD news we missed later in the week.

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

LA Sheriff’s Department Had Special Hiring Program for Pals……Citizen Previn, LA County’s WatchDog…The Dangers of LA’s Private Foster Care System…Mississippi Contemplates Serious Sentencing Reform…

December 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S SPECIAL FAVORS HIRING SCHEME

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has a new story about questionable hiring practices at the LASD. This time the story centers around a program called “Friends of the Sheriff,” that “granted preferential treatment to the friends and relatives of department officials, including some candidates who were given jobs despite having troubled histories…”

According to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore, the program did indeed exist, and the department shut the thing down last Thursday after the sheriff became aware of the Times’ reporting.

The Times characterizes the program as a project stamped with the approval of the Sheriff, but Whitmore is emphatic that Baca did no such thing. “He didn’t authorize it. He didn’t approve it! He didn’t sponsor it,” Whitmore said hotly.

Whitmore does not, however, dispute the Times’ reporting of the involvement of former undersheriff Larry Waldie with the project. He also said that the program started in 2005 and that one of those who helped to jump start it was former LASD captain Bernice Abrams.

Abrams, if you’ll remember, is a longtime friend of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and, a year ago, was allowed to retire ahead of being terminated for her alleged protection of a reported drug dealer.

(For more on Abrams, go here and here. and here.)

It appears that the idea of lowered standards to increase hiring is not a new one for the LASD.

In the February 2009 report by the Office of Independent Review, OIR chief attorney, Michael Gennaco, delivers a harshly critical 31-page assessment of the department’s background checking process in 2005-2007, during which time Gennaco notes that the department’s application of its standards “changed dramatically” resulting in far “fewer disqualifications.” He also described how independently contracted psychologists were pressured to lower their standards during the background process…and provided a series of individual case studies showing how the lowering of hiring standards had unpleasant results.



CITIZEN PREVIN: LA COUNTY’S FEROCIOUS AD HOC WATCHDOG

LA County watchdog Eric Previn often drives the staffs of the LA County Board of Supervisors and other county officers absolutely crazy because when he grabs hold of an issue, he does not relinquish it. His missives to selected press persons and to denizens of county government are long and full of wordplay, but his institutional knowledge is broad and deep, and his willingness to dig for facts indefatigable.

Reporters frequently gain from the information Previn uncovers.

Elected officials ignore Previn at their peril.

Above is a video portrait of Citizen Previn by Matthew Hamilton, a grad student at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.


DOES LA’S PRIVATE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM ENDANGER KIDS?

In 1986, the California state legislature allowed for the creation of private non-profit foster care agencies with the idea that these new privatized agencies, known as FFAs, would be safer and better for kids, a lot less expensive for the state, and would take some of the heat off the state and counties’ often disastrously over-burdened systems.

As the FFAs proliferated it turned out that they were more expensive, not less. Moreover, while many of the new private agencies were quite good. Some were affected by the system’s perverse fiscal incentives to get kids into placement faster, keep them in foster care longer and to cut corners on the quality of care.

A report by the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf looks at the numbers on these FFAs, and tells some of the worst of the FFA horror stories that point to a system painfully in need of reform.

Unfortunately, the problem is not new as shown in this 2009 news story by Daniel Heimpel in which he paints an almost identical picture of the FFAs and their unhappy potential for abuse and tragedy.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

….Today, the state’s private foster family system — the largest in the nation — has become more expensive and more dangerous than the government-run homes it has largely replaced.
Those living in homes run by private agencies were about a third more likely to be the victims of serious physical, emotional or sexual abuse than children in state-supervised foster family homes, according to a Times analysis of more than 1 million hotline investigations over a recent three-year period.

In Los Angeles County, at least four children died as a result of abuse or neglect over the last five years in homes overseen by private agencies, according to county officials. No children died in government-run homes during that period.

The flow of money to private foster care — now about $400 million a year — introduced a powerful incentive for some to spend as little as possible and pack homes with as many children as they could.

Those agencies are so short of homes that they accept convicted criminals as foster parents. The state has granted waivers to at least 5,300 people convicted of crimes. In the most egregious cases, people with waivers later maimed or killed children.

The system is so poorly monitored that foster care agencies with a history of abuse can continue caring for children for years. Substantiated cases of wrongdoing can bring little punishment from regulators.

Private agencies now care for 15,000 children statewide. The care comes at greater cost — an additional $327 million between 2001 and 2010, the state auditor found.
Los Angeles County has come to heavily rely on this system; five out of six foster children who are not placed with relatives go to private homes.

It is “as bottom of the barrel as you can imagine,” said Jill Duerr Berrick, co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy at UC Berkeley. “They are clearly not keeping track of quality issues. It’s really quite surprising we don’t have more tragedies.”


SWEEPING PRISON AND SENTENCING REFORMS PROPOSED IN MISSISSIPPI (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA?)

There is serious talk about big reforms going on the Magnolia State reports Geoff Pender of the Clarion-Ledger. (Hat tip to Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law & Policy for flagging this development.)

After taking a look at the fact that the state had the second highest incarceration rate in the nation, which was resulting in ghastly fiscal burdens on the state budget (sound familiar, California?) Mississippi’s lawmakers decided they needed to stop tinkering around the edges and go for serious reform without sacrificing public safety.

Here’s a clip:

A criminal justice task force on Tuesday recommended sweeping reforms to reduce Mississippi’s soaring prison population and costs, standardize sentences and reduce recidivism.

“This is the first time in my career — 32 years — that we have taken a comprehensive look at corrections in this state,” said Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. “… We all know the cost of doing nothing.”

The recommendations include providing more discretion for judges to impose alternatives to prison and creating “true minimums” on when violent and nonviolent offenders are eligible for release. They also call for defining what constitutes violent crime — something officials said isn’t clear in state law. Proposals also include increasing the threshold from $500 to $1,000 for felony theft and lowering drug sentences for possession of small amounts while cracking down on large drug dealers.

Epps headed the bipartisan, 21-member task force of lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and defense attorneys. The group, after working for seven months with assistance from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project, developed recommendations for the 2014 Legislature.

Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker pro tem Greg Snowden and others voiced their support for the proposal after the task force adopted it. The task force was created by a bill Snowden authored this year.

Bryant said the reforms “put victims first,” protect public safety and provide “clarity of sentencing.” Reeves praised the recommendations as “evidence-based, data-driven, fiscally sound criminal justice reforms.”

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 41 Comments »

Press May Lose Access to LA Dependency Courts, Pregnancy and Parenthood in CA Prisons, Tanaka on Concealed-Carry Permits, the LASD “Asshole Culture,” and More

December 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

APPEALS COURT (TENTATIVELY) SAYS JUDGE HAD NO RIGHT TO GRANT MEDIA ACCESS TO DEPENDENCY COURT

Earlier this year, Michael Nash, presiding juvenile court judge in LA County, ordered that the county’s juvenile dependency courts be open to the press (unless it was established that having reporters in a hearing would be detrimental to the child). This good and important action by Judge Nash let some light into the previously shrouded dependency court proceedings, and brought a new degree of public accountability to DCFS and the court system.

On Wednesday, a California appeals court tentatively ruled that the order was not within the scope of Nash’s legal power, and that it would likely be overturned. (The final decision will be made on Dec. 19. We’ll keep you updated.)

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

In January, Michael Nash, the presiding judge of Los Angeles County Juvenile Court, issued an order decreeing that dependency hearings, which had been presumptively closed, were now to be presumptively open to the press.

But the appeals court’s tentative ruling, issued Wednesday, said Nash’s order violated state law.

“There may be merit in effecting the reforms provided in the blanket order, but it is not the role of the judiciary to provide a more open system,” said the tentative ruling by California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight. “It is for the Legislature, not the courts, to effect changes to the system it has put in place.”


PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH, AND MOTHERHOOD WITHIN THE CONFINES OF CALIFORNIA PRISONS

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has a thought-provoking interactive longread that sheds some light on the women who give birth while serving time in California’s prisons. Fernandes (and photographer Mae Ryan) documented several mothers’ experiences, including one woman who was approved to live with her daughter in a special facility for incarcerated moms with young children. In almost all cases, however, if there is not a spouse or family member willing to take the newborn, the child ends up in the foster care system or with an adoptive family.

Here’s a clip:

In the first days of 2013, Regina Zodiacal was escorted from a Santa Ana jail cell to a bus headed to the California Institute for Women, a state prison in Chino.

Zodiacal had been in and out of trouble for minor crimes for years and her conviction this time was not remarkable – armed robbery for a $66 shoplifting incident gone wrong, and forgery for cashing bad checks.

“I grew up on the streets,” said Zodiacal, who left home at 15. “I’ve always been on my own and got money in the way I knew how – and that’s fast money.”

But in one significant way, Zodiacal was different from most of the women who routinely board this bus: She was five months pregnant.

Despite all the trouble she’d been in and caused, this was the one thing she was determined not to be – the girl who “went to prison to give birth.” Yet, here she was.

Pregnant women like Zodiacal make up less than 1 percent of female prisoners – 188 California inmates gave birth in 2011 and 45 in 2012, when officials began moving prisoners to county jails to comply with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

Despite their small numbers, these women have posed a thorny question for guards and rights advocates for decades: how do you balance what’s best for the community with what’s best for the babies born to incarcerated felons?

For the most part, their children are raised by someone else in the outside world – a relative, a foster parent or an adoptive family.


PAUL TANAKA’S SHIFT ON THE ISSUE OF CONCEALED-WEAPONS PERMITS, AND GENE MADDAUS ON THE LASD “ASSHOLE CULTURE”

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka is taking a conservative tack on the issue of concealed-weapons permits in his campaign for sheriff, promising policy reform to allow for more approved permits. In the course of the two years that Tanaka was in charge of authorizing permits as undersheriff, however, he issued only a handful—one of which was to a billionaire movie mogul who is now a supporter of his campaign.

The LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has more on Tanaka’s seeming double-standard. Here’s how it opens:

As he campaigns for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka is making a pitch to the gun-rights community by promising to reform the way the department handles permits for concealed weapons, or CCWs. In a statement on his campaign website, Tanaka calls himself “a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” and laments that L.A. is one of the toughest counties in the state in which to get a permit.

Tanaka also alludes to allegations that Sheriff Lee Baca, his opponent and former boss, takes a more liberal approach to issuing permits when the applicant happens to be a friend or supporter — allegations covered by the Weekly last year (“Sheriff Lee Baca and the Gun-Gift Connection,” Feb. 15). As sheriff, Tanaka said, he will issue permits “without favoritism.”

Yet Tanaka’s record of handling concealed weapons has been more complicated. For a two-year period when he was Baca’s undersheriff, Tanaka was in charge of issuing concealed-weapons permits. In that time, he denied the vast majority of applications he received. Of the few he approved, one went to a billionaire movie producer who is now a key supporter of his campaign.

Tanaka declined to be interviewed for this story. At a campaign event in Azusa on Nov. 21, he turned and walked away rather than discuss the issue.

However, he did respond in writing to a series of emailed questions, stating in part that when he worked for Baca, he was implementing Baca’s policies, not his own. “During my time as Undersheriff, my handling of the CCW permits was a direct reflection of the policies I was responsible to uphold by my former boss,” he wrote.

Steve Whitmore, Baca’s spokesman, takes issue with that.

“How long before Mr. Tanaka takes responsibility for anything?” Whitmore asks. “Or is it always going to be ‘I was only following orders?’”

Maddaus has also written a witty editorial on the LASD’s “asshole culture” with regard to the alleged needless handcuffing and searching of an Austrian diplomat, the threatening an FBI agent at her home, and officers’ behavior within the county jails. (Backstory on this week’s LASD indictments: here and here.) Here are some clips:

Evelin Fischer, an Austrian consul, went to the Men’s Central Jail on June 6, 2011, to pay a visit to an Austrian citizen who had been arrested. It was a routine diplomatic errand, and she brought her husband along.

While he was standing outside the visitor center, he walked a little too close to the entrance. According to an indictment unsealed on Monday, Deputy Sussie Ayala confronted him and then placed him in handcuffs.

When Fischer protested to a supervisor, she, too, was handcuffed. According to the indictment, Ayala and Deputy Noel Womack took her to a break room and searched her, though she was not suspected of a crime and should have been protected by diplomatic immunity.

As the jail scandal has unfolded over the past two years, it’s become commonplace to talk about the culture of violence within the Sheriff’s Department…

But many of the offenses outlined in the series of indictments unsealed on Monday do not fit neatly into that category. While some of the cases do involve allegations of extreme brutality, others involve misconduct of a different nature. We might call it asshole behavior.

What do we mean by “asshole”? Aaron James, a professor of philosophy at UC Irvine, has taken the trouble to answer that question with some rigor.

In his book, “Assholes: A Theory,” James defines an asshole as someone who “systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.”

Among his examples are people who cut in line, swerve in traffic or routinely interrupt conversations. The definition could as well apply to deputies who decide to handcuff and search a consular officer because her husband stood too close to a door…

(This is only the beginning—we really, really recommend you read the whole thing.)


FEDS LIKELY TRYING TO WIDEN THE NET IN LASD MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATION

We recommend you read the LA Times story by Jack Leonard, Victoria Kim and Robert Faturechi about how federal investigators are likely hoping to flip some of those whom they indicted on Monday in order to—so to speak—catch larger fish, particularly with regard to an obstruction of justice case having to do with allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown. We agree with the Times. By all accounts, Monday’s 18 indictments are not an end point, but a starting point.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison | 18 Comments »

$5.9M LAPD Ticket Quota Settlement…Fed. Judge Orders Improved Care for CA’s Mentally Ill on Death Row…LA Social Worker Strike Ends…and More

December 11th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LAPD TRAFFIC TICKET QUOTA LAWSUIT SETTLED FOR ALMOST $6M

On Tuesday, the LA City Council approved unanimously a $5.9M settlement to 11 LAPD officers who claimed they were forced by superiors (namely West Traffic Division Captain Nancy Lauer) to comply with a traffic ticket quota of 18 tickets per shift, 80% of which were to be for major violations. The officers further alleged that they were retaliated against when the failed to make the quota or raised objection to it.

The settlement brings the LAPD’s total for legal fees and payouts from quota suits to roughly $10M, with one more case pending, according to the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Catherine Saillant. Here are some clips:

The ticket controversy has been a black eye for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ticket quotas are against state law. After the officers’ allegations were made public, LAPD officials met with police union representatives and signed a letter emphasizing that the department prohibits quotas.

Dennis Zine, a former City Council member and career LAPD motorcycle officer, said the settlement calls into question LAPD’s traffic division management. Zine is also incensed that Capt. Nancy Lauer, who ran the LAPD’s West Traffic Division at the time of the allegations, has been promoted.

“This whole thing clearly shows me that management did not do what they needed to do and taxpayers are footing the bill for that,’’ said Zine, who lost a bid for city controller in this year’s municipal elections.

[SNIP]

The lawsuits alleged that Lauer, who ran the division starting in 2006, required officers to write at least 18 traffic tickets each shift and demanded that 80% of the citations be for major violations.

Officers who failed to meet the alleged ticket minimums or raised concerns about them were reprimanded, denied overtime assignments, given undesirable work schedules, and subjected to other forms of harassment, according to the lawsuits. In a few instances, Lauer allegedly tried to kick officers out of the motorcycle unit, the lawsuits claim.

In a statement, Chief Charlie Beck defended the division’s practices. Management set “goals” to reduce traffic violations that resulted in serious injury and death, Beck said, but the jury in a separate 2009 case interpreted that as quotas, he said.

“We do not agree with the original jury’s findings,” he said. “Unfortunately the large jury award in the earlier court case made settling this case the most prudent business decision.”

Lauer, who currently runs one of the department’s patrol divisions, said she instructed officers to ticket illegal driving but did not set quotas.

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov also covered this story. Here’s a clip of LA Police Protective League Prez Tyler Izen’s take on the settlement:

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said he hopes the suit sends a message to the department.

“I hope this is the last time any of our officers have to settle a grievance in the court system,” Izen said. “I would like to see us get to a point where we can figure out a way to enforce the laws without us ending up in court.”


FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL DEATH ROW INMATES NEED INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC CARE

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the CDCR is not providing adequate psychiatric treatment to California’s mentally ill death row inmates, and ordered state officials to come up with a solution. The ruling by US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (a member of that three-judge panel who ordered Gov. Jerry Brown’s compliance with a prison population reduction SCOTUS ruling) is a development in a federal case brought in 1991 against the state alleging rampant abuse of mentally ill prisoners. (Here is an October WLA post about recent hearings.)

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered state officials to work with a court-appointed monitor to find solutions. Options include creating a specialized inpatient psychiatric facility at San Quentin State Prison, which houses condemned inmates.

State officials are not meeting their constitutional duty to provide condemned inmates with sufficient inpatient treatment, the Sacramento-based judge said in a 28-page ruling.

“The state is committed to providing quality medical and mental health care for all inmates,” Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement. She said the state will work with the court’s special master to make sure that mentally ill inmates on death row receive proper care.

Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill inmates in the ongoing class-action lawsuit, called the ruling “a very significant victory.”

[SNIP]

Inmates’ attorneys would not object to creating a psychiatric unit at San Quentin to treat inmates awaiting execution, Bien said. That would keep the inmates close to their families and attorneys while saving the state the expense of building a high-security mental health unit at another prison, he said.


LA COUNTY DCFS STRIKE ENDS, BUT NOT BEFORE DEMONSTRATORS ARE ARRESTED

A six-day LA County social worker strike ended Tuesday after heated rallies and the arrests of seven protestors who refused to move from the middle of an intersection. (In case you missed the story this week: the striking DCFS workers were demanding smaller caseloads in order for DCFS workers to adequately serve LA’s “most vulnerable” kids.)

DiamondBar-Walnut Patch posted this story from City News Service. Here’s a clip:

Social workers who walked off the job Thursday were expected back at work Wednesday. The resumption of labor talks was bargained by a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.

“Today the county got the message loud and clear,” according to Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721. “When they saw the incredible solidarity of our members on the street, the supervisors knew they had to act. And now I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county.”

Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police…

Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.

“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.

About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.

The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.


RECOMMENDED LONGREAD: LIFE FOR A HOMELESS CHILD IN A NEW YORK SHELTER

We didn’t want you to miss NY Times’ Andrea Elliot’s excellent five-part longread that, over the course of several months, follows an eleven-year-old named Dasani who shares a room in a crumbling Brooklyn shelter with her parents and seven younger siblings. Here’s how it opens:

She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire State Building, the first New York skyscraper to reach 100 floors. Her gaze always stops at that iconic temple of stone, its tip pointed celestially, its facade lit with promise.

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she says, taking inventory: The fork and spoon are her parents and the macaroni, her siblings — except for Baby Lele, who is a plump chicken breast.

“So that’s a lot on my plate — with some corn bread,” she says. “That’s a lot on my plate.”

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

Homeless children across the country are living in very similar conditions—many without even a shelter to provide the most basic necessities. In LA County, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members are children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2013 homeless count.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, DCFS, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LAPPL, Mental Illness, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

LA County DCFS Workers Strike, a Close Look at Juvenile Public Defense, the Challenge of Healing Traumatized Kids…and Interrogation Techniques Redux

December 9th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(NOTE: Today’s posting is a joint project by Walker Taylor & Celeste Fremon)



LOS ANGELES COUNTY SOCIAL WORKERS RALLY AGAINST COLOSSAL CASELOADS

Striking social workers rallied in front of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services headquarters on Friday (the second day of the strike) demanding smaller, more manageable caseloads and the hiring of more social workers. High caseloads are a crucial issue for department reform, because they impede DCFS workers’ ability to competently do their job—to make sure every kid they are assigned to is safe.

The strike was set into motion after contract negotiations between the public service workers union, SEIU 721, and DCFS came to an impasse. (KPCC’s Rina Palta has the backstory here.)

According to SEIU 721′s website, DCFS strikers will move their picket lines to the LA County Board of Supervisors’ field offices today, where thousands of workers from the Department of Public Social Services will join the strike.

The LA Times’ Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell have the story. Here are some clips:

About two-thirds of social workers and their supervisors did not show up for work Friday, similar to Thursday’s numbers. During a raucous rally in front of the county Department of Children and Family Services building, the head of the agency made a surprise appearance.

“I support social workers, but I want you to come back to work,” said Philip Browning, prompting sustained boos from the crowd of several hundred employees.

[SNIP]

Speaker after speaker railed against county leaders for failing to help overburdened social workers or punishing them when things went wrong — the agency has mishandled several cases of child neglect and abuse, a few leading to deaths. The real culprit, speakers said, was a refusal by county officials to see how the caseloads were harming children.

The current contract sets the maximum caseload for most social workers at 31. Union representatives argue that is too high and also say that 680 social workers have caseloads above the maximum.

[SNIP]

In a brief interview, [head of DCFS Philip] Browning said he agreed that caseloads were too high and he outlined steps that county officials were taking to reduce them, notably the hiring of 300 to 400 new social workers, which would result in lowering caseloads by 30% within a year.

“I’m confident we’re on our way. I know the board [of supervisors] and the CEO want this strike to be over and everyone to come back to work,” he said.

When asked about the union’s proposal that officials pledge to hire 35 new workers per month for 17 months, Browning demurred, saying it was a budgetary issue, before heading inside the building.


“A DAY IN THE LIFE” OF AN OVERWORKED JUVENILE PUBLIC DEFENDER

Speaking of overly large caseloads, juvenile public defenders—often the last line of defense for indigent kids facing time in the system—across the nation are critically overworked, making it difficult to adequately serve the kids that need them most.

As part of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s “Juvenile Indigent Defense” series, Katy McCarthy has written an excellent piece about what an ordinary work day for a juvenile public defender looks like (both good and bad), through the eyes of Dominique Pinkney, an Alameda County assistant public defender. Here are some clips:

The main job of juvenile public defenders is to act as the voice of children in the juvenile justice system. Public defenders for juveniles are required to understand not just the law — but the circumstances of their young clients and how to connect them with the most appropriate services. To the general public, even those involved in the juvenile court system in some way, the area of juvenile defense can seem shadowy and hidden. To provide insight into this world JJIE spent a day trailing juvenile public defender Pinkney at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center, atop a hill in this city in the East Bay, just south of Oakland.

Assistant public defender Dominique Pinkney arrives in the hallway outside the courtrooms every morning at 8:30 a.m. sharp, to meet with any clients who happen to come in early…

On this day, no one is around early. So Pinkney has a few moments to review his cases for the day. Sitting quietly at a table in a sparse interview room adjoining the court, he opens the red and green files of his clients and nods to himself as he pores over drug test results, completed community service reports and school records. Over the course of the morning, he and nine young clients will go in front of the judge…

The first client of the morning is sitting on the bench with his mom, dressed in a crisp green button-down shirt.

This is the first time the teen has been in trouble and he has unpaid restitution fees.

“It can be really hard for these poorer families to pay,” explains Pinkney…

Pinkney glances over his list of charges and intake report. Apparently, the teen was at a demonstration in downtown Oakland, when he and a group of other kids broke off from the group and started vandalizing cars.

Pinkney is hoping he will get informal supervision for six months, a more casual version of probation. Afterwards, his case would be dismissed. That is, however, if he pays restitution. If, after six months, he hasn’t paid, his supervision will be extended for another six months.

After the second extension, if he still hasn’t paid, the kid will go on standard probation.

In the 1967 ruling In re Gault, the United States Supreme Court ruled that youth had a constitutional right to counsel in delinquency proceedings — essentially guaranteeing them many of the same due process rights as adults in criminal trials.

However, for this right to be relevant, young people need access to skilled representation.

According to the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) in its National Juvenile Defense Standards that means creating, “an environment in which defenders have access to sufficient resources, including investigative and expert assistance, as well as specialized training, adequate and equitable compensation, and manageable caseloads.”

The reality for many juvenile indigent defense practitioners is that this is easier said than done.

Many young accused are not getting timely access to attorneys — and when they do, the level of counsel they receive is frequently inadequate. A report by the NJDC raised serious concerns that “the interests of many young people in juvenile court are significantly compromised, and that many children are literally left defenseless.”

Pinkney, who spends many weekends in the office, is highly qualified and dedicated to the young people he represents. Multiple parents spoke highly of Pinkney. Several people called him “the best.” One mother stated that “he really fights for his clients.”

This is, however, not always the case with public defenders.

In many instances this is because of impossible workloads. The NJDC report found high caseloads to be “the single most important barrier to effective representation.” And that the ultimate impact of this on youth involved in the court was “devastating.”

(We urge you to go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


TRAUMATIZED KIDS, AND AN INSTRUCTIVE STORY OF REDEMPTION

This week’s This American Life focuses on unconditional love and, while the whole show is definitely worth listening to, it is the second segment titled “Love is a Battlefield” that is utterly essential.

It is about a couple who adopt a 7-year old Romanian boy named Daniel, who was raised under awful circumstances in an emotionally bleak orphanage where he didn’t interact with any of the adults caring for him intimately enough to know their names.

The couple—Heidi and Rick Solomon—assumed that with enough love, they could break through to their son whom they learned was suffering from “attachment disorder. Instead Daniel became increasingly unmanageable to the point of being genuinely dangerous.

What happened next is both humbling and instructive. It provides a frightening snapshot of the kind of horrific damage that trauma and neglect can wreak on a child. The story is also a reminder that one is unwise ever to give up on any kid—a concept that was central to our juvenile justice system when it was formed more than a century ago. Yet it is an outlook that seems too often in the last two decades to have slipped out of our focus.

In any case, listen. It really is an amazing story. (And you can also read the transcript of the segment here.)


S.F. DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND AN INNOVATIVE PSYCHOLOGIST UNITE IN BAYVIEW, CA, TO LOOK AT THE EFFECT OF “TOXIC STRESS” ON KIDS’ BEHAVIOR

With the above TAL story in mind, it is heartening to hear that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is helping put into place a program that tests the theory that many future crimes can be prevented by making available help to kids—and other community members—who have been exposed to the kinds of trauma that is now being called “toxic stress,”

Max Aldax of the San Francisco Examiner has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Police in the Bayview district are getting crime-fighting help from an unlikely source: A pediatrician.

Founded by innovative pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Center for Youth Wellness on Third Street has been a pioneer in the treatment of “toxic stress” in children who are exposed to violence, neglect and other trauma, and who lack a support system.

The federal government plans to pump money locally following studies showing there are biological reasons for why a child who suffers chronic adversity might engage in high-risk behaviors as an adult.

In September, District Attorney George Gascón lobbied in Washington, D.C., and received help from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, to secure $1 million to evaluate victimized children in the Bayview. In the eastern section of that neighborhood, Gascón says, 70 percent of black youths are referred to the juvenile justice system by age 17.


DOES THE MOST COMMONLY USED INTERROGATION TECHNIQUE IN THE U.S. TEND TO PRODUCED FALSE CONFESSIONS?

We linked last week to the fascinating New Yorker article by Douglas Starr about police interrogations, and the problems with the Reid technique, which is the style of interrogation most widely used by law enforcement forces in the U.S., yet—according to Starr’s research—it is also a strategy that has a propensity to produce false confessions.

Unfortunately, however, for those of you who don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, the story was unavailable due to the magazine’s paywall. (I think it may be available now.)

The good news is that NPR’s Terry Gross also liked Starr’s report and brought him on her show to talk about the flaws in the Reid technique, and about an alternate technique, “PEACE” (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate), used in England, Newfoundland, Wales, Denmark and New Zealand with great success.

Anyway, listen to the story. We think you’ll find it extremely interesting.

In the meantime, here’s a clip from the online story on the story:

As part of his research, Starr took a training course in the Reid technique. “It has the appearance of being very scientific,” he says. But a growing number of scientists and legal scholars say this approach is based on outdated science and psychology — and can sometimes produce false confessions.

“There doesn’t seem to be a national conversation [about interrogator tactics] of any sort,” Starr says, “and that’s unfortunate because for every innocent person that’s put away, the person who really committed the crime is still on the streets.”

[SNIP]

“One of the problems of the technique is that it’s based on some science that’s no longer current. When John Reid was doing this in the 1950s, people thought you could see anxiety in people’s body language. If they folded their arms, or hunched over, or looked away, they were being anxious, and also that anxiety was a hallmark of lying. But unfortunately, 40 years of extensive psychological research has shown both of those premises to be untrue. Anxiety has nothing to do with lying.”


The above photo came from the SEIU 721 website.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Public Defender, Trauma | No Comments »

LA Supes to Pay LASD Inmate Settlement, More Time for LA Foster Care Panel, the Recidivism Conundrum, and Inmate Firefighters

November 27th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS AGREE TO PAY SETTLEMENT IN JAIL MISCONDUCT CASE

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors said they would be paying a settlement of $722K to Dion Starr, a Men’s Central Jail inmate who, during the supervising deputy’s absence, was stabbed 23 times by three other inmates while awaiting trial on a minor charge. (In 2012, the Supreme Court rejected Sheriff Lee Baca’s appeal to be protected from personal liability in Starr v. Baca. Read the backstory here.)

This isn’t the only costly LASD settlement in recent times, either. Last month, a federal jury found Sheriff Baca personally responsible for punitive damages in a jail beating case. And just two weeks ago, a different federal jury awarded $740K to five inmates in another excessive force case.

Supe. Gloria Molina, who “chose not to support the [Dion Starr] settlement,” had this to say:

I do not have a problem defending lawsuits and supporting settlements for our law enforcement personnel, deputies, and managers who act in good faith and within policy. I do have an issue, however, both ethically and as a fiduciary of the public’s money to continue to defend alleged force actions by law enforcement personnel when those actions are inappropriate…

I chose not to support the settlement, even though it was a good business decision, as most settlements are…

Money spent in the defense of employees who do not act in the scope of their duties is not appropriate. The sheriff must thoroughly investigate the cases in his department, legal and otherwise, to get to the root cause and to start addressing these issues…saying you embrace change is not enough. In my opinion, the sheriff’s failure to seek appropriate corrective actions for each and every claim of excessive force…whether in our jails or our patrols, raises significant issues of potential liability and threatens all of the work this board has done over the years as prudent stewards of taxpayer resources. This is especially true when the department continuously finds that every action in the department is “within policy,” when juries continue to find otherwise…


MUST-READ EDITORIALS: GIVING THE LA FOSTER CARE COMMISSION A DEADLINE EXTENSION, AND THE DEFINITION OF “RECIDIVISM”

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the life of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection by three and a half extra months, until April 18, 2014, when the panel will be required to submit a final report on dysfunction within the foster care system. (For backstory, go here.)

In a Monday LA Times editorial, our pal, Robert Greene explains why the commission deserves some extra time to finish the job.

Here are some clips:

The commission is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: It’s examining the entire network of agencies and institutions, public and private, that deal with abuse and neglect of children in Los Angeles County, to determine the degree to which they actually solve real problems and the degree to which they instead trip over one another’s feet. It must next take what it has learned and craft a set of critiques and recommendations that transcend politics and power bases and can lead directly to improved results for children at risk.

[SNIP]

Despite the many previous audits, reviews and reports, there really hasn’t been anything quite like this effort. Previous efforts confined themselves to examining the Department of Children and Family Services, or focused on the county’s legal liability or some other particular aspect of the child welfare system.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection does something entirely different. Its effort was never intended to be either an inquest into Gabriel Fernandez’s death or a dissection of the department, although there were plenty of critics demanding just such a thing. The commission’s task is to outline why, despite all of those previous reports and reform efforts, avoidable child deaths keep happening.

The commissioners are finding their answers, to judge from the testimony of witnesses and the discussions among commissioners so far, chiefly in two places: in the bureaucratic silos that keep teachers, doctors, nurses, police officers and others from reporting warning signs of child abuse or neglect (or that keep any such reports from getting action by social workers); and the political push and pull on the Board of Supervisors that all too often results in at least the impression, and often the reality, that the rules that social workers must follow are in flux and that the directions under which department leaders operate can change at any moment.

That latter point provides two more reasons to keep the panel working. First, the chief argument of Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe in opposition to the motion creating the commission was that the buck stops with the board, the board made a management change at the Department of Children and Family Services and is monitoring progress, and it is the board, and not some outside commissions, that should oversee and correct the department.

But if the child welfare system extends beyond the department and even county government, as it does, it requires a point of view from outside the county; and if the barriers to an effective system include the Board of Supervisors itself, as they do, the board cannot be counted on to provide its own critique.

And here’s another excellent LA Times editorial we didn’t want you to miss—this one on California AG Kamala Harris’ new DOJ recidivism division, the definition of “recidivism,” and why the statistics are misleading. Here’s a clip:

One bit of popular lore that Californians often hear regarding our criminal justice system is that the state has an extraordinarily high rate of recidivism — the nation’s highest, at somewhere between 65% and 75%. That figure is cited in legislative hearings, community meetings and news conferences, and in fact was repeated last week by Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris as she unveiled a new division in her office to deal with the problem.

[SNIP]

In common parlance the word is generally taken as the criminal justice analog of the medical term “relapse.” A person who has cancer and is treated, for example, but is later diagnosed again with the disease is said to have relapsed, and likewise a criminal offender who commits another crime is said to have recidivated.

But what if the cancer patient catches a cold? He’s sick again, but has he relapsed?

Of course not. It would be both alarming and comical to insist that every cancer patient who ever again has to call in sick or take an aspirin has relapsed, if the word is to have any useful meaning…

So does California define recidivism as a kind of relapse? Sometimes. Our chief anti-recidivism law, known popularly as “three strikes,” applies only to those instances in which a person convicted of a serious or violent felony is later convicted of another serious or violent felony. But other statutes and guidelines, used for other purposes — such as declaring our recidivism rate the nation’s highest — apply to a felon or misdemeanant who is later convicted of any kind of crime, or not convicted but merely arrested, or not even arrested but tests positive for drug use, or not even that but is cited by a parole agent or probation officer for failing to show up on time for an appointment.

[SNIP]

It is in part the high rate of return to incarceration due to so-called technical violations that makes California so different from the rest of the nation and makes our recidivism rate seem so high. Returns to prison are a useful measure for officials who need to know how many inmates are likely coming back, and when, but not so useful for gauging how much risk a former inmate poses to his neighborhood or how likely he is to commit another felony.

When technical parole violations are stripped out and the measure of recidivism is a new crime with a new arrest and a new conviction, the way we calculate the number for three-strikes offenses, California’s recidivism rate is closer to 50% — not good, but just about the same as most other states.


THE BENEFITS OF INMATE FIREFIGHTING CAMPS

Inmate wilderness firefighting crews have shown to be viable, cost-effective options for states with dwindling forestry budgets and growing fire problems. The prison crews are also valuable rehab and reentry tools, allow inmates to be spend time in nature, and provides them with skills and experience they can use in firefighting jobs outside of prison. (Both the CDCR and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department utilize these firefighting camps.)

The NY Times’ Fernanda Santos has the story. Here’s how it opens:

When the air was hot and the woods were parched last summer, the peak of the wildfire season in the West, these trained wilderness firefighters fought 13 forest fires in Arizona, including the one in June that half-destroyed the nearby village of Yarnell and killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team. On a crisp morning this fall, they were using chain saws and pulaskis — a firefighting tool that combines an ax and an adz — to chop overgrown bushes in a private development here, offering a measure of fire prevention for houses built in the wild.

Their home base is the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, but when asked where they are from, the reply is simply “Buckeye,” the name of the town where the prison is located. If there are other questions, they call it a “gated community” and leave it at that.

“That we’re inmates is the last thing on anybody’s mind,” said John Chleboun, 33, who has been serving time for burglary at the Lewis complex and is entering his second year with the crew.

As federal agencies have cut costs during the budget standoffs in Washington, further decreasing the size of a firefighting work force that has already been reduced by 40 percent since the 1980s, the burden of fighting wildfires has been shifted to states and local jurisdictions, even as they struggle under the weight of a sluggish economy. Prison crews, cheap and dependable, have emerged as a solution as wildfires burn bigger, hotter and longer each year and take up a growing portion of the United States Forest Service budget. (In 2012 alone, federal agencies spent $1.9 billion on wildfire suppression, just shy of the record, set in 2006.)

[SNIP]

States log significant savings, paying inmates a small fraction of the reimbursement fees paid to federal agencies for using their teams to fight fires or the price of hiring private companies to do the work the prisoners do in the off-peak season, like picking up trash along highways in Nevada, maintaining hiking trails in Colorado, and thinning forests and removing dried vegetation all across the region.

California pays inmates $1 per hour for work in emergencies like fires and floods, saving the state an estimated $80 million per year, according to forestry and fire protection statistics. In Nevada, where inmates work for the same pay, they bring in around $3.5 million in annual revenue from the nonfirefighting projects for which they are hired, said Jody Weintz, who manages the program for the Nevada Division of Forestry. (Noninmate firefighters earn around $10 an hour, as well as hazard pay and overtime.)

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Reentry, Uncategorized | No Comments »

New LA Weekly Bob Olmsted Profile…LA’s Foster Care-Involved Teen Moms Passing on Abuse…Shocking LWOP Sentences…and SCOTUS Looks at Warrantless Search Case

November 15th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

ON SHERIFF-CHALLENGER BOB OLMSTED AND THE SHERIFF SHOWDOWN

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus, one of LA’s best political writers, has an excellent profile on LA County Sheriff contender Bob Olmsted. Maddaus explains all the complexities of Olmsted’s situation—the new guy, the whistleblower, the long-shot, and arguably the only viable opponent—and the impending “palace bloodbath,” as Maddaus once termed it.

Here are some clips (but we urge you to read the piece in its entirety):

On a recent Monday, Olmsted has an appointment at the Jonathan Club, the downtown refuge for the city’s most fortunate. He’s addressing about 30 men — mostly retirees — who belong to a service organization called the Vikings…

It’s all new to Olmsted…and he’s still trying to get the hang of it. As the Vikings dig into their pork chops, he tries to tell his story in a way that will connect.

“Have you ever had to go outside your organization to accomplish goodness?” he asks.

Apparently no one has.

“That’s a hard thing to do,” he continues. “I lost about three days of sleep before I decided to go to the feds.”

[SNIP]

Battered by scandals, for the first time ever Baca faces serious competition. His former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, announced his candidacy over the summer. Olmsted also is in the hunt, as are two lesser-known candidates, Lou Vince and Patrick Gomez.

Looked at individually, none of these candidates should be able to win. But one of them will have to, unless someone else joins the race.

Baca is still the favorite, if only by default. Inside the department and out, there is a growing sentiment that his time has come and gone.

[SNIP]

There is one wild card — a possible additional candidate who could provide another alternative to Baca and Tanaka. Over the summer, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announced that he would not be a candidate. McDonnell, who served on the jails commission and was once an LAPD assistant chief, was widely seen as the most serious threat to Baca. Though he has no political background, he does have the credentials.

McDonnell’s supporters are urging him to reconsider, and the filing deadline is not until March. If he were to change his mind, that would shake up the race…

But for now, Olmsted is the only halfway viable contender who is untarnished by scandal. In other words — as unlikely as it seems — he just might be the next sheriff.

Thomas, Olmsted’s strategist, says the campaign will have to make a strong case that Baca and Tanaka have both failed, and neither should be given four more years.

“The real challenge for us is going to be to make sure that voters and the media understand that Paul Tanaka and Lee Baca are one and the same,” Thomas says. “They’ve created the mess together.”

As Olmsted puts it: “I don’t have a hole to dig myself out of.”

(Great illustration, by the way.)


NOTE: On Thursday, KCRW’s Warren Olney, on his show Which Way, LA?, talked with Gene Maddaus and SoCal ACLU’s legal director Peter Eliasberg…about Bob Olmsted and his “dark horse” sheriff’s race.


THE INTERGENERATIONAL CHILD WELFARE CYCLE

In LA County, kids with teen mothers involved with the child welfare system experienced a rate of abuse and neglect, themselves, two to three times higher than kids born to teen moms with no DCFS-involvement, according to a new report funded by the Hilton Foundation and authored by USC professor Emily Putnam-Hornstein and other researchers.

The alarming statistics point beyond themselves to the need for trauma-informed policies and intervention in the foster care system, schools, and the juvenile justice system—not just in LA County, but in California and across the nation.

Foster care journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel, has more on the report and its implications regarding the foster care system in his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

Putnam-Hornstein identified 24,767 teen mothers ages 15-19, who had a child during 2006 or 2007 in Los Angeles County. They then traced the child maltreatment histories of those mothers back to their tenth birthdays, while tracking the instances of child maltreatment for their children up to age five.

…For babies born to teen moms who were victims of alleged abuse or neglect while they were children, 30.7 percent went on to be alleged victims of abuse themselves, while nearly 12 percent were victims of substantiated abuse or neglect.

When accounting for mothers who had been victims of substantiated abuse or neglect the numbers shoot up further, with almost 40 percent of their children linked to reported maltreatment while 18 percent suffered substantiated maltreatment.

Amy Lemley, policy director of the John Burton Foundation, was tapped by the Hilton Foundation to present a series of policy recommendations to complement the release of the research. Among Lemley’s six bullets was a call to increase child care for pregnant and parenting foster youth.

“According to the report, the rates of substantiated abuse and neglect among children born to teen mothers with a history of reported or substantiated maltreatment were a full two to three times higher than the rates of children whose teen mothers had no history of involvement with Child Protective Services,” Lemley wrote in the short memo circulated at the convening. ”This dramatic effect highlights the need to provide intensive support services to parenting dependents… One such support is access to affordable high-quality child care.”


LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR PETTY THEFT AND OTHER UNDESERVING CRIMES

The ACLU has a new report out identifying 3,278 people in federal prison (and nine states) serving life without parole for non-violent offenses. Because of three-strike rules, penalty enhancements, and other mandatory minimum-triggering laws, people are spending the rest of their lives in prison for non-violent drug and property crimes.

The NY Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof, in his biweekly op-ed column, says mass incarceration is a “monstrous injustice,” and points out some preposterous examples of LWOP for non-violent offenses. Here’s a clip:

So you’re a judge, and Sharanda P. Jones comes before you for sentencing for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

She’s a 32-year-old mom with a 9-year-old daughter and no prior arrests, but she has been caught up in a drug sweep that has led to 105 arrests in her Texas town. Everyone arrested is black.

There are no drugs found on Jones, but her supposed co-conspirators testify against her in exchange for reduced sentences. The whole case is dubious, but she has been convicted. What’s your sentence?

You have little choice. Given the presumptions of the case, she gets a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Jump to today and already Jones has spent 14 years in prison and is expected to die behind bars — for a first offense…

Judges and prison officials are rebelling at the injustice of our justice system. Here’s what Judge James R. Spencer, a federal district judge, said when sentencing a former F.B.I. informant to life without parole for selling crack cocaine to support his own addiction: “A life sentence for what you have done in this case is ridiculous; it is a travesty.”

But federal law on mandatory minimums left Judge Spencer no leeway. He added: “I don’t agree with it, either. And I want the world and the record to be clear on that. This is just silly.”


US SUPREME COURT HEARS ARGUMENTS ON COMPLICATED WARRANTLESS SEARCH CASE

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments on whether law enforcement officers have the right to search a house without a warrant when two people disagree about letting officers in, after the person refusing the search leaves the house. Normally, when two people disagree about a search without a warrant, the objecting occupant has the final say. But what happens when that person is arrested and no longer at the residence in question?

The Associated Press’ Mark Sherman has more on the case and hearing. Here’s a clip:

The court took up the case of Walter Fernandez, who is serving a 14-year prison term on robbery and guns charges. Police found a shotgun, ammunition and a knife when they searched the Los Angeles apartment Fernandez shared with his girlfriend, Roxanne Rojas.

Fernandez told police they could not enter his apartment. But about an hour after his arrest, officers returned to the apartment and persuaded Rojas to let them in.

When Rojas first answered the door for police, she was crying and holding her 2-month-old baby. She had a fresh bump on her nose, and blood on her hands and shirt. She said she had been in a fight.

At that point Fernandez appeared and ordered the police to get out, telling them he knew his constitutional rights. The police believed the couple had just been in a fight and removed Fernandez from the apartment in handcuffs. An officer noticed a tattoo on Fernandez’ shaved head that matched the description of a robbery suspect. Fernandez soon was arrested.

When officers went back to the apartment, they had sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant, California Deputy Attorney General Louis Karlin told the court. But, “Rojas had the authority, as the sole present tenant, to call the shots…and to consent to a search,” Karlin said.

Would that be so even if Fernandez had stepped out to make a quick trip to the drugstore, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.

Yes, Karlin said, a departure for any reason, dramatically changes the situation.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed angry in his questioning of Fisher. “You have a woman who has been beaten up. She’s got bruises. She’s standing on the doorstep of her house. And she says to the police: I’d like you to come into the house and see evidence of what my husband has been doing to me. And you say she can’t do that…It’s her house, but she can’t invite the police in?” Alito said.

In response, Fisher said Rojas and Fernandez both have rights in that situation. “And what the Constitution says is that searches of homes presumably have to be done under warrant,” he said.

There are likely going to be very interesting arguments on both sides of the case. (We’ll be tracking the proceedings as they unfold.) The NY Times has an interesting editorial that comes down strongly on the side of Fernandez. Here’s a small clip:

A tenant’s right to object to a warrantless search should not depend on whether he can permanently stand guard at his front door. If the police have probable cause to make an arrest, they will almost surely have the basis for a warrant as well. Warrants can be issued in a matter of minutes, and, in the meantime, the police can secure the home if they are concerned that evidence may be destroyed.

The state contends that obtaining consent is “simpler, faster and less burdensome” than getting a warrant. But that is precisely the point. By forcing the government to get a judge’s approval before intruding into a private home, the warrant requirement ensures oversight of law enforcement and informs citizens that the search has been authorized by a neutral arbiter.

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, DCFS, Foster Care, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 15 Comments »

MINING THE “UNTAPPED POTENTIAL” OF CALIFORNIA’S FOSTER CARE KIDS

November 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

MINING THE “UNTAPPED POTENTIAL” OF CALIFORNIA’S FOSTER CARE KIDS

Some dynamic programs help California’s former foster youths succeed in school…but more resources are desperately needed


With a drug addict mother, and no father around, Eniqua Sampson had the kind of turbulent childhood that lands many kids in foster care. Now twenty-two, Eniqua hopes to beat the dismal odds that California foster youth face regarding education outcomes. She plans to finish college and land a steady job to provide her three-year-old son with the secure, untroubled upbringing she never knew.

Eniqua is an engaging young woman whose face lights up when she talks about her little boy. She says that, despite the lack of stability in her family life, she has always had a strong determination to succeed in school. She graduated high school when she was seven months pregnant, and did not hesitate to launch right into college classes as a brand new mother. “School is what keeps me going,” she says.

At LA Trade Technical College, Eniqua is one of 167 current and former foster youths receiving assistance toward their academic goals through the school’s comprehensive Guardian Scholars Program.

Programs like LATTC’s can be crucial in determining whether young people affected by the foster care system complete post-secondary education. Statewide, only 58% of 12th grade foster kids graduated high school in 2009/2010—a rate lower than kids with low socioeconomic status or any other at-risk student group, according to a recent report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd in San Francisco. A 2011 study by the Hilton Foundation found that only 2% of the 2,388 LA County former foster youth tracked by researchers received an associate’s degree. (In 2012, Los Angeles County had by far the largest population of foster youths in the state at 18,523—more than the next six most populous counties combined.)

Advocates say that these grim statistics are both unacceptable—and entirely avoidable. “When foster youths are given adequate support through college, they persist and achieve at or better than their peers in the general population,” says Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections. “What does that tell you? We are leaving a wealth of potential untapped because our school systems and our post-secondary education systems are not geared toward raising expectations for foster youth and ensuring that they have a fair shot at success. And that is stupid.”

A 2013 report from the Stuart Foundation, which has helped fund the Guardian Scholars Program across the state, found that California foster youths who were involved in comprehensive support programs like GSP were three times more likely to persist in college than the national average.

GSP helps students persevere and graduate by providing such services as career advice, academic mentoring and counseling, tutoring, and assistance with community resources for housing and transportation needs.

The program has proved successful for many young adults transitioning out of the child welfare system, but there are still some troublesome gaps in support. For instance, Eniqua needs childcare assistance to be able to attend classes. And, although childcare is available, she had to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops to get her son approved, only to find this merely got his name on a formidable waiting list. Eniqua says she has been on the list for a about a year. “It’ll be time for me to put him in preschool before I make it off that list,” she says. It is extremely challenging for Eniqua to find someone to babysit her son during the day. On two occasions when she had no other options, she brought him to class with her. “I got kicked out both times for being a disturbance,” she says.

The number of higher education programs for foster youths is growing in LA County and across the state. According to California College Pathways, 112 community colleges in California have at least one designated foster youth liaison (thanks to the Foster Youth Success Initiative), and 80 campuses have support programs like GSP. To really reverse years of bleak educational outcome statistics, advocates say more funding is needed to provide vital resources for youths like Eniqua who are bursting with potential. Heimpel says, “Throughout the lives of children who go through the system, we make a big investment. Why does this investment stop at making them safe…why don’t we invest in making them leaders?”

Posted in Education, Foster Care | 1 Comment »

The State of Incarceration in California and Nationwide, 2200+ LA Foster Kids Not Seen by Social Workers Last Month…and More

October 29th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

ANALYZING CORRECTIONS TRENDS TO MAINTAIN THE US PRISON POPULATION DECLINE

A worthwhile editorial by the NY Times appeared on Sunday, yet law professor and sentencing expert Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy has an interesting analysis of what he says the NY Times editorial board is missing.

The NYT editorial says that the national prison population drop of 3.8% over the last four years is due to the trend toward bipartisan sentencing reforms in many states. The editorial suggests that more states need to use things like risk-assessment data-gathering to create lasting sentencing policy reforms. Here are some clips:

Underlying the state reforms is a relatively new and more sophisticated way of using data about the offender — including criminal history, drug abuse and instances of antisocial behavior — to assess the likelihood of that individual’s committing a new crime. And by examining arrest, sentencing and probation data, the states can revise policies that might be driving people back into prison unnecessarily.

[SNIP]

Despite the merits of a risk-assessment approach, a report issued earlier this year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center said that many states are still flying blind, because they don’t have the resources to gather data. Moreover, the study noted, handling high-risk and low-risk offenders in the same way is a big mistake, because “low risk individuals have an increased likelihood of recidivism when they are oversupervised or receive treatment or services in the same programs as medium- and high-risk individuals.”

There are proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies. More states need to adopt these approaches.

Doug Berman says that the NYT editorial board missed, among other things, that populous and diverse states like California (and Illinois) should be prime focuses for determining which policies work and which do not. Here are two of them:

I am fully supportive of the ideas and themes in this editorial, but a lot more could and should be said at this dynamic moment of sentencing and corrections reform. For example, in the wake of the latest crime data indicating a spike up in national violent and property crimes (discussed here), this editorial should be stressing the need and importance of a careful state-by-state examination of where crime is going up and whether new (and still emerging) data on changes imprisonment rates and crimes rates provide critical new lessons concerning what we can now conclude about the connections between crime and punishment.

In addition, I think this editorial (and other advocacy concerning these critical issues) ought to be urging sustained examination and analysis of a handful of big jurisdictions in which stories of crime and punishment have been especially dynamic over the last few years. Specifically, I strongly believe that the big states of California, Illinois, New York and Texas, all of which have diverse urban and rural regions and all of which have changes its sentencing laws in diverse ways in recent years, should be a special focal point for sorting through and fairly assessing “proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies.”


WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: LA TIMES EDITORIAL SAYS ILLINOIS SHOULD LEARN FROM CALIFORNIA’S BAD EXAMPLE

In Illinois, legislators are considering a measure by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to impose a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal firearm possession.

An LA Times editorial says that Illinois should learn from California’s current state of extreme over-incarceration, brought on by mandatory minimum sentencing and other overly tough-on-crime laws. Here’s a clip:

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to require minimum three-year prison sentences for unlawful possession of loaded weapons. If the proposal sounds both familiar and ominous, it should: California has been down this road, and in fact is on it still.

It’s a road paved with fear and desperation, and it leads to a shocking diversion of public resources, prison overcrowding, unconstitutional treatment of inmates, federal court oversight and orders to suspend state laws and release felons before their full time is served. It’s a long road and can take a generation to walk — one tough-on-crime law is merely a first step — but it turns out to be a closed circle, taking weary travelers from get-tough laws like mandatory minimum sentences back again to crime, fear and overreliance on prisons.

Beset by gun violence, especially in Chicago, Illinois finds itself roughly in the spot on that road where California was in the 1980s after a 400% rise in violent crime over a 20-year period. That jump, by itself, increased the prison population. But so did laws passed in response to the jump…

The editorial also advises California to take note of Illinois’ predicament:

Illinois should serve as a reminder of where California once was, with a rising crime rate that so stoked public fear that it moved people to demand that the state just do something, anything, to stop the violence, and to worry about the consequences — the taxpayer costs, the broken neighborhoods, the normalization of prison as a natural part of some young mens’ lives, the revolving door, the reckoning — later.

And Illinois should likewise remind them that California has caught a break, with a historic decline in violent crime and, as a result, public openness to spending more resources on mental health treatment and drug rehab rather than new prison beds. This state’s lawmakers should examine the sentences they and their predecessors have passed into law and the opportunities for smart and safe alternative sentencing that they have previously missed. And they should take hold of the rare political moment to redesign the state’s criminal justice system so that it provides rehabilitation where possible, promotes safe reentry into society, spends public resources wisely and effectively, and still punishes and incapacitates criminals where appropriate.

[SNIP]

And ultimately, the example of Illinois should teach lawmakers here the futility of merely pushing the state to a different spot on the same circular road. We need not be fated to 30-year cycles of locking people up and letting them out, depending on the prevailing political or philosophical fashions or even on the ebb and flow of crime.


MORE THAN 2200 LA FOSTER KIDS WERE NOT VISITED LAST MONTH BY SOCIAL WORKERS

According to testimony by social workers at Monday’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, over 2200 Los Angeles foster youths were not seen by social workers last month due to severe DCFS understaffing.

KABC’s Michael Linder has the story.


LA COUNTY SUPES’ VOTE MAY END JAIL BED CONTRACT WITH TAFT

The LA County Board of Supervisors will be voting today (Tuesday) on Supe Molina’s motion to discontinue the previously approved contract to move 500 LA County inmates to a correctional facility in Taft, CA. (Backstory if you missed it: here.)

Posted in crime and punishment, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Sentencing | No Comments »

Advocates Oppose LA’s Newest Jail Contract…New CA Foster Youth Education Data…90% of Pasadena Juvenile Arrests are Minorities…and Gov. Brown on Criminal Justice Bills

October 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY RESIDENTS AND ADVOCATES STILL FIGHTING TAFT JAIL CONTRACT

Last month, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a $75M contract to send 500 county jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. (You can read about it here.)

Advocates and residents were still voicing their opposition at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and a new petition from Board of Supes watchdog Eric Preven asks the Supes to cancel the contract and use realignment funds for community alternatives.

In the above videos: Susan Burton founded A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project for incarcerated women after decades of cycling through the criminal justice system herself. Former gang member James Horton works for Homeboy Industries. He spent twelve years on death row before having his murder charge reversed.


NEW CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE REPORT LOOKS AT EDUCATION CHALLENGES

Foster care kids in California face an “invisible achievement gap,” according to a report released today.

There are some alarming findings in the report, including the fact that the graduation rate for 2009-2010 high school seniors in foster care was almost 30% lower than that of their peers, and that little more than a third of foster youths perform at grade level in math.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:

The study, which provides the first detailed statewide look at foster youths and their academic challenges, was made possible by a new data-sharing agreement between the state education and social services agencies. It comes as school districts across California prepare to launch the nation’s first effort to systematically address the yawning academic deficiencies among foster youths, using additional money provided by the state’s new school financing law.

“This report makes these invisible kids visible,” said Teri Kook of the Stuart Foundation, which funded the study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd in San Francisco. “The experiences they’ve had — abuse, neglect, moving from home to home — are having an impact on their ability to academically achieve.”

The report shows that Los Angeles County had by far the most public school students in foster care — 12,648 of the 43,140 students identified — with the largest number attending L.A. Unified schools. Although Latinos made up the biggest group at 43%, African Americans were disproportionately represented at 26% — more than three times larger than their share of the population —followed by whites at 23% and Asians at 2%.

The youths switched schools more often than other students — each transfer can set a student back as many as six months, research shows — and suffered far greater levels of emotional trauma than their peers. Such factors, researchers said, are key reasons why they performed worse in English, math and the high school exit exam than even low-income students overall.

Only 37% of foster youths were at grade level in math — scoring lower than all other student groups, including those with disabilities and limited English. Their high school dropout rate in 2009-10 was 8%, more than twice the rate of their statewide peers.


MINORITIES COMPRISE MAJORITY OF PASADENA YOUTH ARRESTS

Almost 90% of Pasadena juvenile arrests between 2008-2012 were of Black and Latino youths, according to data obtained by LA Daily News. The accompanying infographic does also show that the total arrests of both Latinos and African Americans were reduced by more than half from 2008 to 2012.

LADN’s Sarah Favot has the story. Here are some clips:

The data, obtained in a response to a public records request, covers 1,464 incidents. It includes the date, charges, sex, age and race of those youths who were arrested after encounters with police.

Black youths represent 16  percent of Pasadena Unified School District’s school-age population, school district records show, but account for 41  percent of the juvenile arrests, according to the data.

U.S. Census data show that the total black population in Pasadena was about 11 percent in 2010.

Black and Latino youth were also arrested more frequently than white youth for serious crimes like assault, battery, murder and arson, according to the data.

City Councilman John Kennedy has called on Mayor Bill Bogaard to have the data further analyzed by a blue ribbon commission.

“Certainly I think there’s an opportunity to look at the data, analyze the data and present that data and then in a dispassionate way determine what that data portends for making Pasadena a more livable and enjoyable city and to see if in fact there is a necessity for positive interventions to change the demographics of the high incidence of arrests among African Americans and Latinos,” said Kennedy, a former deputy police chief in Virginia.


GOV BROWN’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL DECISIONS

On Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown decided on 33 bills, including SB 57, a bill that would require sex offenders who were apprehended after tampering with their GPS devises to spend 180 days behind bars.

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John have the story. Here are some clips:

Some counties with severely crowded jails have freed such offenders almost immediately after detaining them for tampering with the GPS devices, a Times investigation found this year. The bill Brown approved requires that the offenders be sentenced to 180 days and serve their entire parole revocation in jail.

[SNIP]

The sex offender bill was introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) after The Times documented a sharp increase in reported cases of such offenders removing their GPS devices. Many served little or no time behind bars after doing so, and some committed new crimes — including rape and murder — that might have been prevented if they had been kept in custody.

The monitors are required under a law approved by California voters in 2006. But “when sex offenders know that there are little or no repercussions” for disabling them, “it’s time to strengthen the deterrent,” Lieu said in a statement Saturday. “Real deterrents for sex offenders drastically reduce the likelihood they will commit another crime.”

State corrections officials said that more than 5,000 warrants for GPS tampering were issued in the first 15 months after penalties for doing so were reduced under Brown’s 2011 prison “realignment” program.

Brown also vetoed SB 649, a bill that would have given prosecutors the option to charge possession of cocaine or heroin as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Go read the rest of the criminal justice legislation highlights.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, race, Realignment | 5 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »