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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 »

LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and More

February 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES

The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”

[SNIP]

E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.

This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.

“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.

E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:

“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”

But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.

By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)


CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK

In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.

Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.

DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…

Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.


SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY

On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.

In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.

The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…

Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…

But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.


QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:

“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”

He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.

Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.

He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.

“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”

(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott | No Comments »

Feds Address Contra Costa Juvenile Hall’s Use of Solitary Confinement…a Call for LASD Oversight…and DCFS Simulates Home Visits for Social Worker Trainees

February 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL

Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.

The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:

“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.

The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.

In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.

An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”

“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”

Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.

Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.

The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.

(The LA Times’ Lee Romney also reported on this issue.)


EDITORIAL: THE LASD TROUBLES ARE NOT OVER YET

So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.

But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?

In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:

…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.

The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.

But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?

[SNIP]

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.

The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.

It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…


NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS

As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.

DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:

Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.

“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.

Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.

Fortunately, no one was in real danger.

The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.

“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.

“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”

[SNIP]

Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.

“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”

Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary, The Feds | 48 Comments »

Two Extra Years to Ease California Prison Overcrowding, More Than a Child Welfare Czar, and DOJ Sez: Equal Rights for Same-Sex Couples

February 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGES GRANT GOV. BROWN TWO MORE YEARS TO REDUCE PRISON POPULATION

On Monday, the federal three-judge panel agreed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a two year extension on the state’s deadline for reducing the California prison population to 137% capacity. The judges’ order calls on the state to begin Gov. Brown’s proposed parole expansion and early release credit program immediately. Among other stipulations, the order says that Brown cannot increase the number of inmates in out-of-state facilities, and says the state should try to bring the current number (8,900) down.

The state’s final deadline will be Feb. 28, 2016, but there will be two smaller targets to hit—the first is a 1000-inmate reduction by June 30, 2014.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, has more on the judges’ decision. Here’s a clip:

Monday’s ruling comes with new conditions: The judges will appoint a compliance officer with the power to release inmates if the state misses interim deadlines for easing the overcrowding. And even as they granted more time to comply with the court order, they criticized the state’s efforts to delay the release of inmates, who remain packed into prisons at more than 144 percent of capacity.

[SNIP]

Had the judges refused to extend the deadline, Mr. Brown had planned to spend about $20 million this fiscal year and up to $50 million in the next to house prisoners in out-of-state facilities. California currently houses about 8,900 inmates in other states, and Monday’s order prohibits the state from adding to that number.

Now, instead, Mr. Brown has proposed spending $81 million in the next fiscal year for the rehabilitation programs intended to reduce the recidivism rate and help bring the prison population down over time. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” Mr. Brown said.

[SNIP]

“This extension means two more years of suffering for inmates that should not have been granted,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for some inmates.

Mr. Bien said that to keep the prison population from continuing to rise, California would have to reform its sentencing laws. The state has agreed to consider establishing a commission to recommend reforms of state penal and sentencing laws, according to Monday’s court order…


CREATING LASTING FOSTER CARE REFORMS

In December, the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection handed the Board of Supervisors a set of preliminary recommendations for reforming DCFS. While the final recommendations will be issued in April, the commission urged the board to implement the early recommendations immediately, including choosing a lead agency (or child welfare czar) to oversee the suggested DCFS reforms.

During last week’s meeting, the Supervisors moved forward with just two of the recommendations, citing a lack of extra funds. The board requested a fiscal analysis for the other recommendations, and will wait until April to make their next move.

In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has some insightful suggestions for both the commission and the Board of Supervisors, moving forward:

As the Board of Supervisors and the commission moves forward, they should consider four key elements to success. These are:

Lessons from child welfare reform initiatives that hinge on cross-agency collaboration.

The value of putting front-line workers from various child-serving departments in the same building.

The power and necessity of incorporating youth in the process.

The role of the news media in ensuring that all the players involved are getting the job done.

And here’s a clip expanding upon the third and fourth ideas in Heimpel’s list (but do go read the rest):

Youth as Part of the Solution

This is not the first time Los Angeles has seen a Blue Ribbon Commission and unless we finally get it right, it won’t be the last. As far as I see it, there has to be a fundamental change in the strategy for protecting children.

Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is the point of doing any of this if it is not guided by the young people who experience the system? The commission should recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay for youth to be a part of the decision-making process under any eventual czar. It can’t only be a bunch of grayhairs calling the shots.

The Press

The very existence of the Blue Ribbon Commission is attributable to the press’ role in compelling the Board of Supervisors to act. And it wasn’t until the press took notice of the commission’s preliminary recommendations that the debate about spending money or designating a czar became real. The commissioners shouldn’t forget this when laying out their final recommendations.

They should recommend that press coverage of child welfare is expanded. The commission should advocate for the easing of confidentiality laws on the state level, the continuance of Judge Michael Nash’s blanket order giving greater access to the media in juvenile dependency courts after he steps down next year, and the creation of a fund to support journalism projects that cover the system and the Board of Supervisors independently.


US AG ERIC HOLDER ANNOUNCES NEW JUSTICE DEPT. POLICY: EQUAL PROTECTION FOR SAME-SEX MARRIED COUPLES

On Saturday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice will extend equal protection to same-sex married couples who encounter the criminal justice system. (Woohoo!) For instance, couples will now have the right to refuse to testify against their spouse, the federally incarcerated will receive the same visitation and furlough rights as heterosexual married couples, and death benefits for surviving spouses of peace officers will be extended to same-sex couples.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the Justice Department policy, federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in heterosexual marriages, including visitation by a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.

In addition, an inmate in a same-sex marriage can be furloughed to be present during a crisis involving a spouse. In bankruptcy cases, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly. Domestic support obligations will include debts, such as alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse. Certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses should be excepted from discharge.

“This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where he announced the new policy.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”


Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, prison | No Comments »

Potential Partnership Between LA County and Homeboy Industries…Supes Address Foster Care Commission Recommendations…ACLU Sues California for Disenfranchising Probationers…and More

February 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES TO EXPLORE PARTNERSHIP WTIH HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

The LA County Board of Supervisors agreed to collaborate with the Chief Probation Officer on a potential partnership with Homeboy Industries. (Last week, we pointed to a story by LA Times’ Steve Lopez regarding Father Greg Boyle’s dire shortage of government funds for Homeboy services.)

The last grant given to Homeboy for tattoo removal and other reentry tools expired last summer, according to the motion submitted by Supervisor Don Knabe.

Here’s a clip from Knabe’s motion:

Homeboy Industries has a proven, academically verified model for breaking the cycle of gang violence that impacts families and communities in very direct and tragic ways. Every day, gang members from all over the County are walking in to Homeboy Industries, asking for help to change their lives. These are often the very same young men and women who have been in the County’s foster care system, have been in and out of our juvenile detention facilities and have been the ones that have “graduated” to County jail or state prison, only to continue the endless cycle of violence and trauma…

I, for one, have been convinced for a long time that if we are serious about helping the most challenged people in our communities and if we are serious about reducing violence and recidivism, then we need to look seriously at a strategic partnership with Homeboy Industries.

We hope that they do work out a partnership that allows Father Greg to maintain Homeboy’s vital services.

(The above photo, which was taken by Homeboy photographer Jerry Condit, shows Father Greg bidding farewell to a homeboy who is moving on to a new job.)


SUPES ONLY MOVE FORWARD WITH TWO FOSTER CARE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON CHILD PROTECTION

The Board of Supervisors also discussed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s preliminary recommendations for reforming a dysfunctional DCFS. The supervisors only agreed on two of the recommendations, and requested a report on the financial feasibility of the other eight recommendations (to be presented to the board in 60 days).

The board did agree on both placing law enforcement officers within DCFS offices to facilitate background checks for potential caregivers, and developing protocols with local law enforcement agencies for reporting alleged child abuse.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The board directed law enforcement agencies to post staff inside offices of the Department of Children and Family Services so background checks for potential foster parents can be completed more quickly during emergency placements.

It also directed them to report all cases of child abuse to other agencies that can help victims.

The board balked when Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas endorsed the commission’s recommendation that nurses accompany social workers investigating allegations of abuse or neglect against infants younger than 1.

By the way, the motion to examine the state of LA County’s juvenile indigent defense system (which we pointed to on Monday) was moved to next Tuesday’s meeting. We’ll keep you updated as we know more.


ACLU SUES CALIFORNIA FOR DENYING REALIGNMENT PROBATIONERS THE RIGHT TO VOTE

The California ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing California Secretary of State Debra Bowen of illegally disenfranchising thousands of voters serving community probation under realignment (AB 109). In 2011, Bowen told election officials that former state prisoners moved to county supervision through realignment were ineligible to vote until their probation ended. Current state law does not address this new category of people, but bans those in prison or on parole from voting.

Here is a clip from the ACLU’s website:

According to the lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the state’s actions clearly violated state law when the secretary of state issued a directive to local elections officials in December 2011 asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision. These are two new and innovative forms of community-based supervision created under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes.

The Secretary of State should be working to increase voter participation, not to undermine it,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “California has dismal rates of voter registration and participation. The Secretary of State is making this even worse by disenfranchising tens of thousands of California citizens who are trying to re-engage with their communities. With voting rights under attack across the nation, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s disappointing decision striking down a critical law that protected the right to vote for people of color and language minorities, California needs more protection – not less – for voting rights.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people who have or will soon lose their right to vote, along with the League of Women Voters of California and All of Us Or None, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families.

The law clearly establishes a presumption in favor of the right to vote, with only limited and specific exceptions,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Secretary of State unilaterally expanded these exceptions, without any public comment or input, disenfranchising thousands of members of our community and creating confusion around the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. This unconstitutional disenfranchisement particularly impacts communities of color, who are too often excluded from the democratic process.”


CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ DISMAL REHABILITATION SITUATION

After receiving proposals from both Gov. Jerry Brown and prisoner advocates, a panel of federal judges is expected to order a solution to California’s prison overcrowding crisis. Gov Brown has until April to lower the prison population by around 6,000 inmates. He has requested a additional deadline extension of two years to meet the population goal through rehabilitation measures (and moving inmates into private prisons), but, as it stands, California has serious issues providing inmates with adequate substance abuse treatment.

In collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Michael Montgomery has the story for KQED’s California Report podcast. Here’s a clip from the transcript, but do go take a listen:

Inside a gleaming white modular building topped with barbed wire, two dozen state inmates are going through a response drill in a class dealing with addiction. Four prisoners lead the session. They’re lifers who earned state certification for substance abuse counseling. This was the scene two years ago at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. The class was part of an innovative program praised for its effectiveness by top corrections officials, treatment experts, and even some Hollywood celebrities…

Hundreds of prisoners got treatment at Solano, and some have been paroled, so it’s not surprising that many people were stunned when officials quietly closed the program last summer…

Solano Prison wasn’t alone. Over the past four years, as state officials talked about the need to expand rehabilitation efforts, enrollment in substance abuse programs plummeted nearly 90%. As of last July, when the Solano program was shut down, just over 1000 inmates were getting treatment—the lowest level in a decade or more.

[SNIP]

Shutting down the program at Solano wasn’t just a budget decision. [CDCR Director of Rehabilitation Programs, Millicent] Tidwell says the closure was part of a plan to move many programs to so-called “re-entry hubs,” places within the prison system designed to prepare inmates for release. Tidwell says finding vendors, hiring staff, and developing space for the new centers is slow and disruptive: “There’s a lot of moving parts…to bring up any effective program takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen overnight.” Problem is, only four of a planned 13 hubs have opened, due to contract disputes and other delays…

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

Goodnight Pete Seeger….We’ll See You in Our Dreams….& Other News

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

WITH LOVE & GRATITUDE TO PETE SEEGER, AMERICA’S JOY-FILLED AND FEROCIOUS MUSICAL CONSCIENCE: 1919 -2014

Whether singing his own compositions or American roots songs with provenances long ago lost such as The Worried Man Blues

…or the rescued and reworked gospel that, in his hands, became so indelible, We Shall Overcome, or the songs of others, like Woody Guthrie’s haunting national anthem for the ordinary American, This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger embodied a pain-informed but miraculously unsullied optimism about his fellow humans that burned the most brightly when he was on stage.

In later years, his banjo was inscribed with the words: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

And he meant it.

When he couldn’t sing anymore, he got everyone else to sing it for and with him. And we did, because Seeger’s music felt like it was always there—-in the wind, in the land, in our blood….

Good night, dear Pete, we’ll see you in our dreams.


RACE & SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 4 WAYS TO START ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

Rolling Stone Magazine has an worthwhile story by Molly Knefel about the persistent problem of racial inequities or, in some cases, just straight up racism, that plague our school discipline systems nationally. Cheeringly, the story doesn’t just describe the problem, it looks at four strategies taken from a new federal report aimed at fixing the problem as well.

Here’s a clip:

When Marlyn Tillman’s family moved from Maryland to Georgia, her oldest son was in middle school. Throughout his eighth grade year, he was told by his school’s administration that his clothing was inappropriate. Even a simple North Carolina t-shirt was targeted – because it was blue, they said, it was flagged as “gang-related.”

Things got worse when Tillman’s son got to high school, where he was in a small minority of black students. While he was in all honors and AP classes, he received frequent disciplinary referrals for his style of dress throughout ninth grade and tenth grade. Frustrated, his mother asked for a list of clothing that was considered gang-related. “They told me they didn’t have a list, they just know it when they see it,” Tillman tells Rolling Stone. “I said, I know it when I see it, too. It’s called racism.”

One day, Tillman’s son went to school wearing a t-shirt that he had designed using letters his mother had bought at the fabric store – spelling out the name of his hometown, his birthday and his nickname. He was again accused of gang involvement and and told that his belongings would be searched. “He’d just been to a camp where they gave out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution,” Tillman recalls. “My son whips out that copy and tells them that they’re violating his rights.”

The administrators accused the teen of disrespect. He was suspended and pulled out of his AP classes. That’s when Tillman – convinced that her son had been targeted because of his race – went to Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union.

[SNIP]

…Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education released a set of documents detailing how school discipline policies across the country may be violating the civil rights of American elementary and secondary school students.

[SNIP]

So what can we do to make our schools fairer? The federal guidance recommends a number of best practices to ensure that schools recognize, reduce and eliminate disproportionate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities, while fostering a safe and supportive educational environment…..

Read on for the solutions.


JUDGE NASH TO LEAVE THE BENCH???? UM…THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR US

The Metropolitan News reported this week that Judge Michael Nash will leave his position as presiding judge of the juvenile court by next January or (ulp) sooner. Among other acts of bravery and sane thinking, Nash, if you remember, in 2011 opened the LA County Dependency Court to reporters….and some desperately needed outside scrutiny.

Here’s a short clip from the Met News story:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court for more than 16 years, said Friday he will not seek re-election.

Nash, who previously told the MetNews he was undecided whether to file for a new six-year term, said that after nearly 29 years on the court, it was time to search out “whatever other opportunities may come my way.” He said he had no specific plan, but that “life has just always worked out” for him.

Today is the first day that judicial candidates can file declarations of intent to run in the June primary. Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat.

Nash said he had made no decision on whether to retire, or to serve out his term, which expires in January of next year. “It was enough of a hump to get to this point,” he said…

Okay, sure, we understand that Judge Nash has to do what’s right for his life, but still…


.

Posted in American artists, American voices, children and adolescents, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, Life in general, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Sheriff’s Race: A Candidate Has a Plan…Who’s the Interim?… A New Child Safety Czar for LA’s Foster Kids?

January 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SHERIFF’S HOPEFUL BOB OLMSTED HAS A PLAN

On Wednesday morning, as TV cameras rolled, retired Commander Robert Olmsted stood in front of Men’s Central Jail to introduce a 9-Part Plan that outlines how he hopes to “transform” the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department “and root out its corruption.”

Olmsted is one of the six candidates competing to replace Lee Baca for the job of LA County Sheriff.

Those also in the race include Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold.

Hellmold formally announced his candidacy this week in front the iconic First AME Church in South Los Angeles with civil rights attorney Connie Rice endorsing him.

The LAPD detective Lou Vince and retired LASD lieutenant Pat Gomez are also vying for votes.

Olmsted’s plan is smart and thoughtful—in short, something that other candidates would do well to peruse.

It features various ways to improve nuts and bolts policing, while also outlining ideas to “institute systemic safeguards” to ensure that, as he puts it, “nobody can ever again do what the current top brass have done to undermine the primary mission of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.”

These proposed safeguards include pushing for a permanent Citizen’s Oversight Commission, similar to that which is proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, plus adding an additional office for internal oversight inside the LASD itself, with the idea of helping the department better police itself.

In other points, Olmsted says he would hire independent auditor to do a forensic audit to find out where the department’s money has been spent. (We really hope other candidates will embrace this idea as we have long believed a deep and rigorous forensic audit of the LASD’s fiscal matters is sorely needed.)

The candidate also notes department programs that have been woefully underfunded, like the The LASD’s Special Victims Unit, which investigates sexual and physical abuse against children and, according to Olmsted has an alarming backlog of some 2000 cases.

In the arena of realignment, Olmsted promises to look at “best practices” around the state, thereby “using the county as a laboratory for criminal justice” reform. (This is another principle we applaud.)

Olmsted declares himself a strong believer in the importance of “rehabilitative not just punitive, incarceration” so recommends continuing to support Baca’s education-based incarceration but also beefing up the department’s gang and drug prevention programs aimed at helping kids before they hit the justice system, programs that of late seem to have been drastically slashed.

You can find more on Olmsted’s “Pathway to Reform” here.

Attention all you other candidates….now it’s your turn.


ASSISTANT SHERIFF TERRI MC DONALD IS LACKING LEGAL CREDENTIALS TO BE INTERIM SHERIFF

Ever since Lee Baca recommended Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, as his interim replacement earlier this month when he announced that he’d be leaving the department, we’d been hearing that Ms. McDonald didn’t have the proper credentials to step into the gap Baca is leaving.

Terri McDonald oversees the LASD’s custody division

Now the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has a story about this very issue and more. Here’s a clip:

The law enforcement leader many expected would replace Sheriff Lee Baca when he steps down next week does not have the required credentials, complicating the job of Los Angeles County supervisors who must pick an interim sheriff.

When Baca unexpectedly announced his plans to drop his reelection bid and retire at the end of this month, he recommended that supervisors appoint Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald to run the department until voters select a permanent sheriff later this year.

McDonald, a former state corrections official, was brought in last year to oversee the department’s massive and troubled jail system and is highly regarded by the supervisors. But state law requires that sheriff’s candidates have either advanced certification through the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or specific types of field experience and education as a law enforcement officer. McDonald has neither.

The supervisors will meet in closed session on Thursday to further discuss the interim appointment.


DCFS BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION RECOMMENDS A CHILD SAFETY CZAR

While the rest of us were getting ready to ring in the new year late last month, LA County’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection issued an interim report calling for—among other changes— the appointment of a Child Welfare Czar. This post, if created, would be “empowered by the Board of Supervisors to have the ability to transcend structure and propose the movement of financial and staff resources without regard to department lines.”

If you’ll remember, the commission was formed last year to make recommendations as to how to fix LA’s chronically and tragically dysfunctional foster care system.

Now Christie Renick of the Chronicle of Social Change writes about the proposal to create such a position.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, established more than six months ago in the wake of a tragic child death and on the heels of a scathing report on 13 others, submitted a far-reaching set of recommendations to Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors just before the New Year.

The question is whether or not the recommendations, submitted as a first step towards a complete overhaul “of the current ‘dysfunctional’ County child protection system,” will be funded in such a way as to have impact.

[BIG SNIP]

The commission suggested the Board of Supervisors name a lead agency to oversee implementation of its recommendations by the end of January. Further, the recommendations suggest, this lead agency should have sweeping powers.

“The lead agency must be empowered by the Board to have the ability to transcend structure and propose the movement of financial and staff resources without regard to department lines,” the report said.

The commission suggested as a possible lead agency the District Attorneys office, the Violence Intervention Program at University of Southern California Medical Center, or a combination of the two.

In essence, the commission envisions a Child Safety Czar, with an expectation to present implementation plans, specific to the other agencies involved, as early as March.

Here’s an earlier post about a LA Times editorial noting the commission’s views on the catastrophic lack of coordination between agencies who interact with foster kids, or potential foster kids, and what can be done about it.

Posted in 2014 election, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD | 41 Comments »

LA Child Sex Trafficker Pleads Guilty…Gov Brown to Increase Spending on Private Prisons…State School Board to Decide on New School District $$$ Rules…and More

January 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

US ATTORNEY BIROTTE ANNOUNCES GUILTY PLEA OF LOS ANGELES CHILD SEX TRAFFICKER

On Tuesday, US Attorney André Birotte’s office announced that Paul Edward Bell, an alleged member of the Rolling 60s Crips, pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking of young girls in LA. Specifically, Bell housed four girls between the ages of 15 and 17, who were recruited in the Inland Empire, and forced them to work as prostitutes in Lynwood and Compton in 2011. Bell faces 30 years in federal prison, and is the last of eight defendants convicted after an investigation by the Inland Child Exploitation/Prostitution Task Force. (The task force is made up of officers from the FBI and law enforcement agencies across Southern California.)

Here’s how the investigation began, according to the FBI’s announcement regarding Bell’s conviction (Alberti and the Rogers brothers are three of the other aforementioned defendants):

The investigation in this case began in January of 2011, when the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department learned that teenage girls attending schools in the Inland Empire were being recruited to work as prostitutes. The investigation later revealed that Alberti attended one of the schools and recruited underage females by “grooming them”—or gaining their trust and telling them that they could make large sums of money by working as prostitutes for Alberti’s pimp. The girls who were successfully recruited to work as prostitutes were brought to the Los Angeles area, where they were housed by Bell and the Rogers brothers at hotels on and near Long Beach Boulevard or at Bell’s apartment.

Bell also admitted to physically abusing one of the girls. Here’s a clip from the plea agreement detailing the incident:

In April 2011, Victim 4, then 17, worked as a prostitute for defendant while Samuel Rogers [one of the other eight defendants] was incarcerated. During that time, defendant harbored Victim 4 at the Euclid Residence with other prostitutes defendant employed. Also, during that time, defendant knew that Victim 4 was 17 years old. While working as a prostitute under defendant’s supervision and direction, on our about April 6, 2011, defendant physically abused Victim 4 for not performing as a prostitute and for acting up. Therefore defendant used force to cause Victim 4 to engage in commercial sex acts.

Here’s what US Attorney Birotte had to say about Bell’s case, according to the FBI’s announcement:

“Sex trafficking is an abominable crime that condemns its victims to physical and psychological trauma, hardship and abuse,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Mr. Bell and his cohorts coldly and brutally victimized young women and juveniles, subjecting them to treatment that can only be described as inhumane. Bell exploited his victims for profit and now he will be held accountable and punished for his predatory conduct.”

We’ve reported on this issue before. Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe are working to put a focus on child sex trafficking, with an emphasis on decriminalizing and aiding the child prostitutes. (These arrests were actually made in Mark Ridley-Thomas’ district.)

Here are a couple of clips from Supe MRT’s website regarding this issue:

“Every day, children as young as 12 are bought and sold by adult men,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas…“We will shine a light on this despicable behavior. You, who come here days, nights, weekends to buy these girls, we see you. And we will bring changes throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California.”

[SNIP]

Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.


GOV BROWN TO PUMP MORE MONEY INTO PRIVATE PRISONS REGARDLESS OF JUDGES’ PENDING DECISION

Governor Jerry Brown’s recently proposed budget, which banks on federal judges pushing back California’s prison overcrowding deadline by two years, would still increase spending on private prisons and jail leasing. We at WLA are not thrilled with this news. (Read the backstory here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the latest on the prison saga. Here’s a clip:

Detailed expenditure records released after Brown announced the highlights of his proposed budget for 2014-15 show that the governor expects to increase the use of outside prison contracts. His plan sets aside nearly $500 million to pay for and administer prison contracts to take nearly 17,700 inmates, increases of $100 million and 4,700 prisoners over the current year.

A little more than half of those prisons are out of state. The rest are community correctional centers, which could be run by local governments or private prison operators.

The governor’s planning documents show that even with that increase in spending, California prisons would remain 3,000 inmates over what federal judges say they can safely hold and still provide adequate healthcare and psychiatric services. The documents do not show how Brown plans to address further growth of the state’s prison population.


STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO VOTE ON SPENDING RULES REGARDING HIGH-NEEDS YOUTH

Today, the California Board of Education is expected to vote on important new rules to ensure school district accountability on spending extra budget money on at-risk students.

Ana Tintocalis has the story for KQED’s California Report. Here’s a small clip from the transcript:

The first draft of these spending rules was trashed by education advocates three months ago. They said districts would have the freedom to spend extra money however they pleased. Now the state board is back with new rules that require each school district to show how they’ll use the money to increase services for low-income students, foster youth, and english-learners…but student advocates are not entirely satisfied…

Go listen to the rest.


PATT MORRISON DISCUSSES THE STRANGER THEORIES REGARDING THE LOWERED CRIME RATE

Last week, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that citywide violent crime rates were down by 12% and property crimes were down 4%, in 2013, keeping up an 11-year crime reduction streak.

In an LA Times editorial, Patt Morrison offers some of the loonier circulating theories on what factors may have contributed to the decline in crime. Morrison says the crime rate drop is cheering, but that it cannot go on forever, and advises the mayor and police chief to be prepared for a time when the numbers move in a different direction.

The mayor and the police chief, Eric Garcetti and Charlie Beck, respectively, were justifiably over the moon this week about the winning streak, 11 years of plummeting crime rates, the lowest overall since 1949.

Both of them credited community policing, community groups and the use of computerized crime data for the laudable numbers.

Some other theories have been floated, some more far-fetched than others, but there’s a master’s thesis lurking in each and every one of them:

Full prisons. The more people you put behind bars, the fewer criminally inclined are out and about to commit more crimes. Although that seems right intuitively, the numbers don’t necessarily bear that out.

Recession. Also counterintuitive because you’d expect that poverty would drive people to desperate, violent measures. Researchers are puzzling over why this didn’t happen. Maybe the potential evildoers just couldn’t afford to buy guns and bludgeons.

[SNIP]

Whatever’s making crime diminish, I am, as an Angeleno, delighted that it’s happening. But logic argues that this decline can’t go on indefinitely; there has never been a zero-crime society in human history, insofar as I know.

The difficult part for both Garcetti and Beck will be in tempering their deserved pleasure at the good numbers and getting some talking points and research ready for the inevitable day when the numbers are not so good.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, LAPD, LAUSD, prison, Youth at Risk | 2 Comments »

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