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Foster Care


Community Policing, Drugging Foster Kids, Banning Solitary for Kids, and Combatting Sex Trafficking

May 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAPD ANNOUNCES A COMMUNITY POLICING PILOT PROGRAM THAT WILL ADD 16 NEW FOOT PATROL COPS TO EASTSIDE

On Monday, the Los Angeles Police Department announced a pilot program that will increase the number of foot patrol officers in its Hollenbeck Division.

The “Hollenbeck Community Partners Program” will have sixteen beat cops walking corridors in areas like Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, as part of the LAPD’s increased community policing and crime prevention efforts. Eight new pairs of beat cops may not sound like a lot, but the move is a significant one for a department that has traditionally relied on officers in cruisers to patrol its territory, which stretches 468 square miles and has a population of four million.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the program and what the department and members of the community hope it will achieve. Here are some clips:

Relationship-based policing requires staying in a neighborhood. It is an increasingly popular term among criminal justice experts and civil rights activists who say police have become too disconnected from the communities they police. The Los Angeles-based Advancement Project is one proponent.

The LAPD, which has fewer officers per capita than many big city police departments, has used foot patrols on a limited basis on Skid Row, in Venice and elsewhere. The sprawl of Los Angeles makes it hard to patrol effectively and efficiently by foot.

The increase comes less than a month after the LAPD announced it’s quadrupling the size of its elite Metropolitan Division to 200. In contrast to the foot patrols, Metro cops are assigned to swoop into high crime areas with an eye toward making a lot of stops and arrests. Some worry that effort could hurt community policing efforts.

[SNIP]

Foot patrol officers typically make fewer arrests.

“I like to think of it as more preventing crimes,” said Officer Joe Romo, who may be the most veteran foot officer in the city at 16 years. “It’s a more positive way to police.”

He said he arrests about ten people a year. Officers in patrol cars responding to radio calls arrest five to ten people a month, he said.

“I’m not expecting these guys to be hauling people in left and right,” said Baeza, the area captain. “I am expecting them to build relationships and partnerships with the community.”

The LA Times’ Kate Mather also reported on the LAPD’s program. Here’s a clip:

If the effort goes well, officials said, they will look for ways to expand “foot beats” across the city.

It’s a back-to-basics approach that is common in other cities that are more compact, like Chicago, or that have larger departments, like New York, but it never became a staple of policing in Los Angeles, where officers rely on patrol cars to cover the city’s roughly 470 square miles.

“We have foot beats that come and go and foot beats that work some areas, but none that will be like in Hollenbeck,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas. “One hundred percent of the time, that’s all they’ll do.”

The move marks a step away from the iconic image of LAPD officers cruising down palm-lined streets in black-and-white cars.

Newsweek’s Victoria Bekiempis has an interesting story exploring the “catch-22″ of placing more cops—even cops intending to rebuild police-community relations—on the streets in communities that are feeling over-policed in the first place. Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, meanwhile, is charged with determining the best ways police can reduce crime and build trust with communities. In early March, the task force published an hundred-plus page interim report that emphasizes community policing as a way to achieve these goals—in fact, “Community Policing & Crime Reduction” is one of the six listed “pillars” in the report. Some of the recommendations in this section seem almost tailor-made for foot patrol proponents. Police must communicate with people at times other than emergency calls or crime investigations, the report recommends. Law enforcement agencies must allow officers time “to participate in problem solving and community engagement activities” during patrols, the report says.

Foot patrol sounds like an even better idea when you look at the data. Research has indicated it both improves police-community relations and fights crime. Though these positive outcomes make foot patrol quite an appealing policing tactic today, they happened before a year that saw the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott—and, most recently, Freddie Gray.

While man-on-the-street interviews wouldn’t provide quantitative data, I had been looking into foot patrol for a while, including earlier reporting on St. Petersburg’s initiative, and I had traveled to Baltimore hours before the city burned to try to find out whether residents thought the requirement would work, both in general and in light of Gray’s death. In interviews, the general sentiment was that foot patrol, like other community-policing techniques, was either a pipe dream or a paradox: Foot patrol could build much-needed trust in communities of color, but not until trust had first been restored. Residents conceded, however, that restoring trust probably wouldn’t happen if successful community-police engagement programs, such as foot patrol, weren’t already in place.

Sure, this doesn’t mean that foot patrol wouldn’t work, but it suggests that officials’ enthusiasm for foot patrol might be too glib—and that a lot of people supposedly poised to benefit from this kind of community policing absolutely do not want more cops on the streets right now.

On a stretch of sidewalk empty save for a few shuffling seniors, neighborhood resident Thomas Thornton says Baltimore’s foot patrol program isn’t inherently ill-conceived but is an awful idea given recent events. Before Gray brought police-community relations to a breaking point in Baltimore, resentment had long been building, explains Thornton, who works as a janitor. He says police routinely stop him and others in the neighborhood and ask, “Where are you going?” and “What are you doing?” Residents “see the uniform as a threat,” and that perception has intensified, he says.

“At this time, I don’t think it’s a good time to walk around—at all,” says Thornton, 45, speaking of foot patrol. “Maybe eventually, but at the present time, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not right now. Because it’s so tense.”

Marguerite Johnston, also a neighborhood resident, doesn’t think all police are bad based on the behavior of a few; she was raised not to judge people like that, she says. Johnston, 61, says the bad ones have nothing better to do than pick on people. Police officers should get to know their community, she says, recalling a time when a uniformed cop used to walk her neighborhood and even knew her by name. Maybe this kind of familiarity would build relationships, she says, and would make things better. Foot patrol is a good idea, she agrees, just not any time soon, given the present tensions.

“Maybe down the road? Probably sometime at the end of the year?” Johnston says. “It’s a catch-22. The police should probably try harder to gain the community’s trust before doing these projects.”

Then there was outright pessimism—a lot of it, actually.

“It’s only going to make it worse,” says Kyree Brown, who was sitting on a stoop with friends near the police station, talking about foot patrol. “It’s them against us.”

Could people trust police, then, if the programs that are supposed to engender trust don’t work?


THE COST OF PROTECTING CA’S FOSTER KIDS FROM DOCTORS PRESCRIBING THEM DANGEROUS PSYCHOTROPIC MEDS

A package of four California reform bills to address over-drugging in California foster care system could cost $8 million—and possibly over $22 million—per year, according to court estimates. The bills have bipartisan support, and have a good chance of making it through both legislative houses and onto Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Karen de Sá, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system, has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“When you consider the long-term harm and consequences to the kids being doped up like this, it’s really pennies — I personally believe $8 million is budget dust,” said Mike Herald, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “But in my experience, just about anything is subject to his rejection if it’s going to cost millions of dollars.”

In an early sign of possible support, however, Brown’s $115.3 billion budget plan released Thursday included two surprises: $149,000 to improve data on prescribing to foster children, and an increase of $1.5 million for social worker training that includes psychotropic medication issues.

“This is an exciting development,” said Kathryn Dresslar, who was chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and is with the nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Partnership. “The fact that there are dollars in the budget right now that specifically mention training for psychotropic drugs, and the kind of tracking that we need, is good news — I think that means that the administration intends to address this problem in some way to a greater extent than they have in the past.”

Under four bills inspired by this newspaper’s ongoing investigation “Drugging Our Kids,” a mix of federal and state funds would be used to hire 38 new public health nurses; provide second medical opinions, and train social workers and caregivers to watch out for side effects and to advocate for alternatives to mind-numbing meds. Juvenile court judges could not approve prescriptions for foster children without lab tests and ongoing monitoring and unless kids 14 and older consented in writing. Social workers would be alerted about prescriptions for young children and those on multiple meds; and there would be new oversight of residential group homes, where the medications are most frequently prescribed.

Policy analysts say the four reform bills authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel, will save the state money, with fewer costly and unnecessary drugs billed to the public health system. California taxpayers spend more on psychotropics than on drugs of any other kind for foster children, this newspaper found, more than $226 million over a decade.


CONTRA COSTA KICKS SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS TO THE CURB

As part of a groundbreaking settlement, Contra Costa County Probation and has agreed to end solitary confinement in the county’s Juvenile Hall. Kids will no longer endure prolonged isolation (for more than four hours) as punishment or for convenience. After the four-hour mark, kids must either be removed from solitary confinement, be placed in an individualized program, or be sent to a mental health facility.

Contra Costa’s Dept. of Education has also agreed to make sure that locked up kids with disabilities are getting their educational needs met.

Public Counsel has more on the settlement and its implications. Here’s a clip:

“At a time when the nation is re-evaluating the use of solitary confinement, this settlement is of extraordinary public importance,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Managing Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “In Contra Costa County, the draconian practice of solitary confinement will come to an end and the focus will be, as it should, on education and rehabilitation. Our hope is that other facilities across the nation will follow suit.”

Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Probation Department, the County will no longer use solitary confinement (also known as room confinement) for punitive reasons, discipline, or for expediency. In line with national standards, the County may segregate a youth in his or her room for no more than four hours and only if the youth’s behavior threatens immediate harm to themselves or others. After four hours, the Department must remove the youth from confinement, develop specialized individualized programming for the youth, or assess whether the youth should be transported to a mental health facility. The settlement also calls for two joint experts to review the Department’s practices, implement changes to improve conditions for young people with disabilities, and monitor compliance for two years.

“This landmark settlement puts an end to the egregious practice of subjecting children with disabilities to inhumane maximum security-like prison conditions and unconscionable deprivations of education,” said Public Counsel Education Rights Director Laura Faer. “The promise of this settlement for youth in the juvenile hall is real rehabilitation, support instead of isolation and segregation, and high quality special education services and options. If the Defendants bury the hatchet and focus on implementation, Contra Costa can become a model for the state and the Nation.”

Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the County Office of Education will retain an outside expert to evaluate its compliance with federal and state special education laws and to ensure that the students with disabilities in Juvenile Hall receive the special education that they need. The expert will make recommended revisions to policies, procedures and practices as they relate to Child Find, development and implementation of individualized education plans, and discipline and monitor compliance for two years.


LA COUNTY SUPES APPROVE $$$ FOR TRAINING STAFF AND COMMUNITY ON HOW TO RECOGNIZE KIDS WHO ARE VICTIMS OF SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allocate $250,000 to train county staff and community partners to identify young victims of sex trafficking. The LA County Probation Dept. has already trained 7,000 individuals, but more must be done to protect the county’s children from exploitation, according to the motion by Supe. Don Knabe.

Probation will use the money to develop further training in collaboration with other county departments and community groups, and to train thousands more people to recognize the warning signs earlier.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, solitary, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

Protecting Trafficked Foster Kids…Without Legal Representation…Splitting Detained Immigrant Moms from Kids…Sonoma Explores Law Enforcement Oversight

May 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISORS APPROVE PLANNING HIGH-SECURITY RESIDENCE FOR TRAFFICKED FOSTER KIDS

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors advanced with a plan to build a residential facility for foster kids who are at risk of being trafficked by pimps.

Over the last few years, the county has moved away from criminalizing and incarcerating sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and placing them in foster homes. While this is a big step in the right direction, placing trafficked kids into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors is not always enough. Sometimes young girls run back to the streets and their pimps.

The LA County Supervisors and the head of the Dept. of Children and Family Services have butted heads on this complex issue for months. The current model is not keeping the trafficked kids safe from exploitation, and yet, confining the foster kids in their homes is not much different than incarcerating them, and pimps have their claws in juvenile detention facilities, says Supe. Sheila Kuehl.

The new high-security live-in facility will be built to keep pimps out, while still allowing foster kids to come and go. The Supes have set a three-month planning period, during which time more than a dozen county departments and agencies will work together toward finding a design that will keep kids safe.

(Read the backstory: here.)

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

“If they really want to leave, they can leave, but we want to discourage it by giving them a real opportunity to heal,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in an interview.

Supervisor Don Knabe, who advocated for a locked facility, cited a recent case of an 11-year-old girl who recently left a foster care group home to return to her pimp and work at an event where men paid to have sex with her.

Knabe’s spokeswoman, Cheryl Burnett, said he “is pleased that we are moving forward, but he remains frustrated that he continues to hear that our ability to protect these girls is limited.”

County staffers are analyzing available public and private facilities as a site for the new center. Possibilities include rehabilitating the closed MacLaren Children’s Center in El Monte or one of the probation juvenile detention camps.

The supervisors established a three-month deadline for a detailed plan.


WHY PEOPLE CHARGED WITH MISDEMEANORS SO OFTEN GO WITHOUT LEGAL REPRESENTATION

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll has an informative run-down on the reasons people go to jail every day in the US for misdemeanor offenses without ever speaking to a lawyer, in violation of their constitutional right to legal representation. Carroll also sheds light on why these widespread constitutional breaches have been left unchecked for so many years.

One of the reasons defendants go without representation is prosecutor interference:

Following their arrest, most people are brought to a police station or detention center for processing. At some point thereafter the defendant is likely brought before a judicial officer to determine whether or not he should be released pending further court action. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the right to counsel attaches the first time a defendant is brought before a judge or magistrate. From that point forward, a court cannot proceed with a critical stage of the case without offering counsel to the poor defendant. (The 6AC wrote a whole report on these requirements, available here.)

Despite this, prosecutors often interfere with that right to counsel process. If the defendant is out of jail pre-trial he may be required to meet with a prosecutor before getting his constitutionally guaranteed lawyer, or more likely, enter a guilty plea without ever getting that lawyer at all. For example, a Sixth Amendment Center report details how one misdemeanor court in Delaware asks defendants appearing for arraignment to wait in one of two lines based alphabetically on last name. After standing in line, the first person a defendant encounters is not a public defender, but a prosecutor seeking to make a plea deal. On an average day during out site visits, these two lines totaled approximately 200 individuals. Not surprisingly, more than 75 percent of misdemeanor defendants in Delaware proceed through the Court of Common Pleas without ever having spoken to a lawyer.

And many municipalities and states, California included, do not employ tracking systems to compile data on whether the Sixth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment are being carried out:

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court made the provision of indigent defense services a state obligation through the Fourteenth Amendment. Though it is not believed to be unconstitutional for a state to delegate its constitutional responsibilities to its counties and cities, in doing so the state must guarantee that local governments are not only capable of providing adequate rep­resentation, but that they are in fact doing so. A number of states have no institutional presence to begin to assess whether its constitutional obligations under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments are being met at the local level, including: Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.


FEDS RESPONSE TO RULING AGAINST LOCKING IMMIGRANT KIDS AND MOMS IN UNLICENSED FACILITIES: THEN WE WILL SPLIT UP THE KIDS AND MOMS

Late last month, a US District Judge in CA, Dolly Gee, issued a tentative ruling against detaining immigrant kids and their mothers in unlicensed facilities, and against locking up kids and an accompanying parent unless they pose a safety or flight risk.

The US Dept. of Justice says that if the three unlicensed facilities get shut down, it will mean separating mothers and their children when the moms are deemed a flight risk. There are more than 1,000 women and children incarcerated betweem the three facilities, most of whom say they crossed the border fleeing gang violence in Central America.

Attorneys for the immigrant families and the DOJ have until May 24 to agree on a solution before Judge Gee makes a final decision.

McClatchy’s Franco Ordonez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Federal attorneys acknowledged the family detention system could collapse if the ruling stands. Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general, warned the court that such a ruling would actually encourage separation of parents and children and turn minors into “de facto unaccompanied children.”

“This isn’t a situation where we want to detain the mother. These are situations where we have to detain the mother, your honor,” Fresco told the court.

The practice of family detention has reached a tipping point. Multiple lawsuits against family detention have been filed in California, Texas and the District of Columbia. Advocates for the mothers say it’s unlawful to detain children with their parents in jail-like facilities.

The government has dug in its heels, arguing that it needs greater flexibility when detaining parents who are considered a flight risk but also that it needs to send a strong message to Central America that it’s not OK to cross the border illegally.

[SNIP]

The government argued the agreement didn’t take into account family detention, which didn’t begin until 2001. Fresco told the court that the government needed greater flexibility if the parent is considered a flight risk or if the officials think it’s safer to have the children with the parent.

He said he worried that if officials separated families, smugglers would seize the opportunity and take advantage of young migrants, pretending to be children’s parents in order to avoid being detained.

“The outcome of this is going to be to separate families, create uncertainty where we don’t have uncertainty now and to endanger children,” Fresco said, according to the transcript.


SONOMA COUNTY SERIOUSLY CONSIDERS LAW ENFORCEMENT OVERSIGHT AFTER 13-YEAR-OLD IS KILLED

In late 2013, a Sonoma County deputy fatally shot thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez who was holding a pellet gun that the officer mistook for an assault rifle. Andy’s death spurred lawmakers to reintroducing legislation that would require all fake firearms to be produced in bright colors.

Now, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is moving toward creating an Office of Independent Auditor to look into officer-involved shootings and complaints about the sheriff’s department and the probation department. The Auditor would also act as a community liaison. The Supes set a June 16 deadline for job descriptions and budget for the Independent Auditor’s Office.

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We need to turn this around fast,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s going to cost some money; it’s got to go into this budget.”

The auditor’s office was the central and most ambitious recommendation in a package of proposals made by a county-appointed panel studying community relations with law enforcement agencies in the aftermath of Andy Lopez’s October 2013 shooting death.

The 21 recommendations, put forward by the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, cover a sweeping set of ideas — from boosting mural projects to improving student mental health services.

But of all the recommendations, the independent body overseeing law enforcement generated the most study and public debate. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors dedicated the bulk of its hearing — its first on the entire set of proposals from the task force — to the oversight office.

Board Chairwoman Susan Gorin called Lopez’s death “a tragedy which is still tearing us apart” before supervisors voiced their support for advancing the auditor proposal. They said they would need more time to evaluate the other 20 proposals.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Prosecutors | No Comments »

LA’s Crossover Kids Desperately Need Our Help, Says a New Report. So Here’s What One Non-Profit is Doing About It – by Christie Renick

May 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:   
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County supervisors received a new report detailing how the county’s “crossover youth” had fared in 2014.

Crossover youth, as we’ve mentioned in past stories (two of which you can read here and here) are kids who have come in contact with both the county’s foster care system and its juvenile justice system.

The board-requested report is a rigorously data-driven examination by Cal State LA’s Dr. Denise Herz and her team that assesses how these crossover kids are doing in terms of school, mental and emotional health, their living situations and the like, and the numbers are not cheering.

For instance, the average crossover kid’s family had been referred to the child welfare system 10.3 times. Their average time in the system was 4.5 years.

Of the crossover girls, 10 percent fell into the category of sexually exploited.

Only 2/3 of the crossover kids were enrolled in school although nearly all were required by a judge to attend. Of those 2/3 who were enrolled, only 1/5 were attending with any regularity. Still fewer were doing well, or even “average,” the report found. In fact, the county could only find complete school records for 3.7 percent of the crossovers. For the rest, officials only managed to track down partial records—or no records at all.

When it came to mental and emotional health, 75 percent had a mental health diagnosis and were assigned some kind of treatment, although the report specified that the researchers had no data that told them if the treatment was appropriate or at all effective. In many cases, the kids had not been “able to access the services” anyway.

Over a quarter of the kids, or 27.4 percent, were put on psychotropic drugs. Yet, as with the other forms of treatment, the report could not get data to determine whether the drugs were either appropriate or effective for the kids taking them.

The Herz report has lots more, but the bottom line is simple: crossover kids face a scarily long list of challenges—more even than those faced by youth who are in either foster care or the juvenile probation system alone. Yet because they don’t belong wholly to either of the two systems, the crossovers seem to get the least oversight, instruction, guidance or consistent care.

That’s where the story below by Christie Renick comes in.

So read on.


This story was produced by the Chronicle of Social Change with participation by WitnessLA.


CATCHING THE CROSSOVERS

For years LA County’s crossover youth routinely fell through the crack between the foster care and juvenile justice systems.  But now one non-profit has stepped up to catch them. 

by Christie Renick



“NO ONE IS IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE THEY GET THE HELP THEY NEED”

On paper, the profile of young people caught up in both the juvenile justice and foster care systems in Los Angeles County is disheartening.

“Crossover youth,” as they are referred to, are likely to have experienced abuse or neglect, to have been arrested for a violent or threat-related offense while living in a group home, and to have substance abuse and mental health issues. In theory, dual-system involvement should mean these young people get twice as much attention and twice as many services.

But dependency attorneys and researchers are finding that, although these young people need the most help, they frequently fall victim to a game of policy hot potato, with each system assuming the other is responsible for assistance.

One Los Angeles-based law firm is working to change that on the ground, while in Sacramento legislators are amending a bill that will make it easier for crossover youth to access the benefits of extended foster care.

Children’s Law Center of California, the nonprofit law firm that represents all children in foster care in Los Angeles and Sacramento Counties, launched a grant-funded Crossover Advocacy and Resource Effort (CARE) pilot program in 2014 to make sure crossover kids get the services they need.

“Everyone just wants to point fingers at everyone else,” said Barbara Duey, a supervising attorney at CLC who led the creation of the CARE Unit. “These kids fall through the cracks.”

Last fall, a 16 year-old Los Angeles County crossover youth we’ll call Jake was moved from a foster home across town to a new foster home and a new school.

The new school would not enroll Jake, so he spent the next four months out of the education system. And despite the fact that attending school was a condition of his probation, Jake’s probation officer did not intervene.

“The social worker and the probation officers didn’t even know,” Duey said. “Had we not been involved, he would have been in violation of his probation because he wasn’t in school.”

Foster youth drop out of high school at a rate three times higher than that of their peers in the general population, according to The Invisible Achievement Gap report released in 2013. Only 40 percent of L.A.’s crossover youth enroll in any type of college, and a much smaller number actually complete degrees, according to the 2011 adult outcomes study by Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania.

In a 2005 study examining the relationship between placement instability and juvenile delinquency, Joseph Ryan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that delinquency rates for youth with a substantiated report of maltreatment in their past were 47 percent higher than those without reports.

In 2008, Ryan partnered with Denise Herz from California State University, Los Angeles, to analyze data from Los Angeles County’s Superior Court and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to better understand the characteristics and outcomes of crossover kids in Los Angeles.

Herz’s team at Cal State-L.A. is now assisting with the evaluation of the CARE Unit. Herz has also been tapped by the county to track service referrals and outcomes for crossover youth. The findings so far mirror what Herz and Ryan found years earlier. In her preliminary report to the county’s board of supervisors in 2014, Herz found that almost all the youth monitored had mental health or substance abuse issues, and two-thirds of the group struggled with both conditions.

The most recent report confirmed the earlier findings, and also showed that African-American youth are even more over-represented within the crossover system than in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems individually. There are more females in L.A.’s crossover population (about 35 percent) than in the juvenile justice system as a whole (where females make up only about 20 percent of the population).

As might be predicted, the report found that crossover youth and their families have had multiple contacts with child welfare. These kids tend to stay in the system for about five years.

The creation of CLC’s CARE Unit was driven by Herz’s and Ryan’s research.

“When we built this program, we’d been working with Dr. Herz, and we found out that no one was tracking how many crossover kids were getting services,” Duey said.

Culhane’s study showed that among systems-involved youth in L.A. County, crossover kids were more likely to receive services than child welfare or probation-involved youth, but this does not mean crossover youth are getting the right services when they need them most.


WHERE SYSTEMS CONVERGE

When California legislators passed Assembly Bill 129 back in 2004, counties were given permission – but not a mandate – to create a “dual-jurisdiction protocol” under which a youth may receive services from both the dependency and the delinquency systems.

Today, only 15 of 58 counties in California, including Los Angeles County, have put such a protocol into practice. In L.A., this means agencies are tasked with pulling together the various players who are called upon to intervene on the youth’s behalf: DCFS, the Department of Mental Health, Probation, and Children’s Law Center among others.

The CARE Unit strives to augment these multidisciplinary teams. Its approach pairs CLC’s investigators with social work interns who are then assigned to crossover youth cases.

These caseworkers immediately establish relationships with the youth, the DCFS social worker and the probation officer. They gather information about the young person that the social worker and probation officer may not be monitoring, and they present it to judges on the youth’s behalf. CLC also pulls in its internal mental health advocacy team when a youth has complex mental health issues.

The CARE unit currently works with 25 crossover kids, four of whom are pregnant or have had a child and are now parents. CARE caseworkers meet with each youth in person on a weekly basis for the first month, and then in-person visits are tapered down to every other week with phone calls on the off-weeks.

“We decided to focus on this issue and these kids who are the highest risk kids with the highest level of needs,” Duey said. “No one is in charge of making sure they get the help that they need.”

The CARE unit’s initial evaluation cites the example of Jane*, a 15 year-old in juvenile hall for petty theft who had issues getting her prescription medication and enrolling in school. CARE staff stepped in and worked with Jane’s attorney to have her placement changed, her DCFS social worker to have her medication issue addressed, and with education and delinquency attorneys to resolve the conflicting court orders that were preventing her from enrolling in school.

As it should, the evaluation of the CARE unit’s efforts so far depicts a picture of its crossover clients that is strikingly similar to what Herz and later Culhane found in looking at the county’s larger crossover population. More than 50 percent of the youth are African-American and came under DCFS’ supervision due to neglect. Two-thirds have a mental health diagnosis (such as ADHD, depressive disorder, mood disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or PTSD), and 80 percent of youth had a substance use problem at the time of referral.

The CARE unit’s main grant from The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University will run out next winter. It will be evaluated for a new grant, but such funds are never guaranteed.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE CROSSOVERS CROSS INTO ADULTHOOD?

Not surprisingly, the problem of lack of coordination between agencies often affects crossover youth after they turn 18.

Children’s Law Center attorney Lindsay Elliott oversees a program that hires and trains former foster youth, called peer advocates, to act as liaisons to other foster youth who may not know about the ways extended foster care can help them become more independent.

CLC’s peer advocates attend dependency court hearings where they connect with foster youth, face to face, and they spend hours on the phone reaching out to teens who have had their cases recently closed, or may be on the verge of that happening.

Despite the peer advocates’ keen sense of what foster care youth go through, they don’t always pick up on the fact that a young person is dually involved right away.

“Sometimes it can take a while before we find out other stuff is going on,” said Miranda Sheffield, a peer advocate who is now 28 and working full-time for CLC while raising a daughter.

For example, Sheffield worked with a young woman who had been in juvenile hall for two years, was released on probation, and then picked up on a shoplifting charge. The girl, who was pregnant at the time and had outstanding community service hours, resisted going to court or interacting with probation out of fear that she would be arrested and end up having her baby in jail.

But with help from the peer advocates and an experienced investigator, she was able to avoid jail time and remain in her transitional housing program.

“What helped this youth was this constant reminder that, ‘I really want to help you.’ That we’re here,” Sheffield said.


LEGISLATION BRIDGES SOME GAPS

In 2012, legislators passed Assembly Bill 12, which extended foster care benefits from age 18 to 21.

The law was intended mostly for youth aging out of foster care, but included a wrinkle for juveniles on probation. Under AB 12, kids who turned 18 on probation could access foster care if probation deemed their living situation neglectful, abusive or unsafe.

Los Angeles County’s Probation Department oversees about 200 crossover youth who are benefiting from extended foster care, according to Jed Minoff, a probation director.

Minoff also sits on the Los Angeles County AB 12 Steering Committee, which includes representatives from probation, the Department of Children and Family Services, CLC, and advocates and service providers across the county.

“We’re all around the table trying to do what we do better, and I have to take a serious look at my own program and say, ‘Are we doing the best that we can do for this population?’” Minoff said.

When asked about how LA County compares to other counties in terms of probation’s involvement with extended foster care for crossover youth, Minoff became more optimistic.

“This is not based on data, but I think L.A. County is very often at the forefront,” he said. “Back when AB 12 was first being implemented in Sacramento, I was the only probation representative sitting at the table.”

The uneven nature of how county probation departments administer AB 12 benefits was explored in a recent CSC/WLA story, with Contra Costa County and San Francisco County employing different strategies.

Although the results of a study meant to measure the impact of extended foster care in California have yet to be released, early data and anecdotal evidence from crossover kids in Los Angeles suggest that the efforts made by Children’s Law Center and the multidisciplinary teams may be making a difference.

In February, Children’s Law Center received a handwritten letter from a young woman named Monica* whose case was handled in part by Duey and her team:

“Because of the diligence that [my team] showed in working out resources that would benefit me, I felt cared for, which frequently encouraged me to care for myself,” Monica wrote.

Senate Bill 12, the legislation that is intended to make it easier for crossover youth to receive the benefits of extended foster care, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee as early as May 11.

*Names have been changed.

Christie Renick is Managing Editor for Fostering Media Connections.

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

Public Access to LA County Files, Hiring Former Offenders, Trauma’s Effect on Infants, Ending ICE Contract in LA Jails

May 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S NEW, EASY-TO-USE OPEN DATA WEBSITE

Late last week, LA County launched an “open data” website for public access to county records on crime statistics, budget expenditures, and more.

In the county employee salary section, there is a handy graph sorted by employees’ highest total compensation in 2013, which includes overtime and leave pay. When you go over and look for yourself, glance down at the third-highest paid person on the list. If you scroll down further, you’ll find some other interesting names.

The move by Interim Chief Executive Officer Sachi A. Hamai is a welcome and refreshing departure from the previous administration.

Hamai called the move “a tangible milestone in the county’s determination to provide new levels of transparency and accountability…”

In January, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved the open data initiative authored by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas.


LA COUNTY CONSIDERS GIVING BUSINESSES $$ TO HIRE PREVIOUSLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE

The LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday, on Supe. Hilda Solis’ motion to incentivize hiring former offenders.

Supe. Don Knabe co-sponsored the bill that would give money to certain businesses for hiring formerly incarcerated people, who face significant hurdles to employment when re-entering their communities and for many years afterward.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s how it opens:

It took a year for Dayvon Williams to find a job after he left jail in 2009 and it wasn’t a very good one. He got a data entry gig that paid under the table.

“I had a temporary job, then another, then another,” he said.

Filling out application after application, checking “yes” when asked if he’d been convicted of a crime felt useless.

“I always felt like I never had a chance, they were just throwing away my application,” he said.

Employers are often reluctant to hire the formerly incarcerated, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis. She’s proposing using the county’s contracting process to give employers an incentive to hire the formerly incarcerated.

“The county gives out millions and millions of dollars in opportunities for different types of services,” she said, everything from food services to landscaping. Solis said the county could give a leg up to bids from contractors who employ people coming out of jail or prison.


WHAT TRAUMA DOES TO INFANTS

In an op-ed for the Chronicle of Social Change, Toni Heineman sheds light on how trauma affects babies brains and development, how it manifests in their behaviors, and what one intuitive mother did to help her foster baby begin to heal.

(Toni Heineman is the head of A Home Within, which matches volunteer therapists with current or former foster youths.)

Here’s a clip:

Experiences teach the brain what to expect and how to respond. When experiences are traumatic, the pathways getting the most use are those responding to the trauma, and that reduces the formation of other pathways needed for adaptive behavior and learning. Trauma in early childhood can result in stress and anxiety, speech and language delays, and impaired emotional regulation.

Infants who experience trauma often become withdrawn or distressed, as they develop a sense that the external environment, including their caretakers, is unable to provide security and relief. As a result, their responses can be unpredictable: crying when held, content when alone for hours.

They will stop sending signals or send disorganized messages because they don’t know which cry or look will get adults to give them what they need. And when inconsistency becomes a defining feature of their experience, infants become confused and overwhelmed.

Healthy infants gain confidence that their caregivers will help them manage periods of discomfort or distress, and are progressively more able to cope with these states in a consistent and predictable way. But when caregivers are emotionally absent, inconsistent, violent, or neglectful, infants often respond by becoming withdrawn or distressed and can develop a sense that the external environment, including caretakers, are unable to provide relief.

As a result, they experience excessive anxiety, anger and frustration, and unfulfilled longings to be taken care of. These feelings may become so extreme as to cause dissociative states.

Most fundamentally, trauma refers to an event that overwhelms the child’s capacity to integrate it. This means that children can’t comprehend traumatic events, that they don’t understand what has happened to them. We often talk about traumatized children being “flooded” with feelings. It’s not just that their emotions feel too big to manage, but that the feelings seem to come from nowhere and without warning.


LA COUNTY MAY END CONTROVERSIAL JAIL CONTRACT WITH FEDERAL IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

For the last twenty years, an agreement between LA County and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement embedded federal immigration agents in LA’s jails to identify inmates to deport.

Opponents say that under the agreement, the majority of inmates selected for deportation had not been convicted of a serious felony. Most counties across the nation have voided this agreement. LA is the last participating county in California.

The LA County Board of Supervisors will likely vote Tuesday on a motion co-sponsored by Supes. Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas to end the ICE program.

LA renewed the ICE contract as recently as last October, around the same time that Riverside and Orange County chose to terminate their agreements, and a few short weeks before a new sheriff would step in.

LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell said of the upcoming immigration enforcement program decision, “I welcome the opportunity to work with local, state and federal leaders as we develop policies and procedures that appropriately balance both promoting public safety and fortifying trust within the multiethnic communities that make up Los Angeles County.”

Before McDonnell, former Sheriff Lee Baca had a much different stance on immigration, participating for years in the costly Secure Communities program, which kept undocumented immigrants locked in county jails for 20 days, instead of the federally required 48 hours. And in 2012, Baca said that if CA governor Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act, the sheriff’s department would not enforce it.

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The county entered into the agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a decade ago. Along with placing immigration agents inside Twin Towers jail, the program trains certain jail employees to act as immigration agents to investigate whether inmates convicted of certain crimes are in the country illegally.

Supporters of the program say it is an essential tool to help identify deportable criminals who pose risks to the community. “It ensures that the dangerous folks who are incarcerated in our jails who are undocumented are promptly identified,” said Andrew Veis, a spokesman for Knabe.

Opponents say it results in racial profiling and has landed scores of immigrants who don’t have serious criminal records in deportation proceedings.

The number of law enforcement jurisdictions participating in 287(g) has fallen from 75 to 35 in recent years, according to ICE data, as municipalities across the country rethink their cooperation with federal immigration officials. Los Angeles and Orange are the only two counties in California that still participate in the program.

Posted in Foster Care, immigration, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 2 Comments »

More Pandora’s Box Indictments? …”Electronic Backpacks” for Dual-Status Foster Kids…LA Mayor and LAPD Chief Missed Important Opportunity…Two Mississippi Officers Murdered…and More

May 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

RECORDINGS AND DOCUMENTS SUGGEST RESPONSIBILITY FOR OBSTRUCTING PANDORA’S BOX MAY LIE WITH LASD HIGHER-UPS, INDICTMENTS LOOMING

Last year, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were convicted of obstruction of justice for hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers. (Backstory here, here, and here.)

New court documents and FBI recordings obtained by ABC7′s Lisa Bartley once again suggest that fault may lie higher up in the LASD chain of command.

In the recordings, an indignant then-Sheriff Lee Baca can be heard loudly accusing the FBI of breaking the law by sending a phone into the jail. Upset that he was kept out of the loop while the feds investigated reports of abuse and corruption in Men’s Central Jail, Baca launched his own investigation into the matter.

Sources have told WLA that more indictments could come as soon as this month or next.

Here are some clips from Bartley’s story (but go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

SHERIFF LEROY BACA: The FBI doesn’t have a right to break the law!

At the heart of this case is Baca’s anger: How could the feds infiltrate HIS jail and go after HIS deputies, without telling Baca himself? Baca fervently believed the FBI had broken the law by setting up a sting that led a corrupt deputy to smuggle a cellphone into the jail and to inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown. Undersheriff Paul Tanaka told FBI agents about the angry phone call he received from Baca.

UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA: I just remember him being mad, mad, mad! A lot of colorful language – just mad! And – you find out that F-ing phone, you get that phone you hold onto that phone. I don’t want it to leave our custody!

Baca convenes a high-level Saturday meeting. Despite FBI Assistant Director Steve Martinez telling him that the phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI operation, Baca wants an investigation of his own. How did the phone get into jail? Who is responsible?

It’s NOT a crime, because it’s all part of a sanctioned, undercover operation by the FBI. Still, Baca issues the order: No one can get into see inmate Anthony Brown without permission from Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In the days and weeks to come, Anthony Brown is hidden from the FBI – his name is changed and computer records are falsified. The sheriff’s department puts Brown’s FBI handler Special Agent Leah Marx under surveillance and later threatens her with arrest.

Two sergeants harassed and threatened to arrest Special Agent Leah Marx, Brown’s federal handler, outside of her home (more about that here).

Baca told federal investigators that he was unaware that “we have an interest in arresting an FBI agent. That…strikes me as extreme.”

Yet, Captain Tom Carey testified that he, Baca, Lieutenant Steve Leavins and Paul Tanaka met prior to the incident, to discuss what to do about Special Agent Marx. According to Carey, Baca said “Just don’t put handcuffs on her.”


KEEPING IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS ON A “CLOUD” SYSTEM FOR KIDS INVOLVED IN BOTH JUVENILE JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE SYSTEMS

The Sierra Health Foundation, in collaboration with ZeroDivide, are working to create what they are calling “electronic backpacks” for California’s dual-status foster kids (kids who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems).

Dual-status (or “crossover”) kids often face trauma, neglect, and instability. And communication between agencies serving dual status kids, including school districts, can be patchy or nonexistent, making it hard for kids to access important services and enroll in school.

The “electronic backpacks” would allow kids to easily access their important documents (like birth certificates, proof of vaccination, and school records) from computers and mobile devices anywhere, by storing them on a “cloud” system.

Health Affairs’ McCrae A. Parker and Matt Cervantes have more on the effort, which is part of the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative. Here’s how it opens:

“And despite all best intentions, when youth leave the foster care system as adults, they are typically only given a sheaf of papers that detail their complicated histories. These records are easily lost and usually incomplete, which often creates burdens these young adults must carry for life.” –Wendy Lazarus, Founder and Co-President of the Children’s Partnership

Over the past year, ZeroDivide has collaborated with Sierra Health Foundation to serve as a thought partner in the integration of technology into the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative, which aims to create a major shift in California’s juvenile justice practice and policy at the county level. The initiative focuses on crossover youth—that is, young people with histories of neglect, abuse, trauma, and engagement in the child welfare system, who currently are involved with county juvenile justice systems.

As part of our exploration of promising practices in the use of technology in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, we discovered the “electronic backpacks.”

The central idea behind the electronic backpack is that a youth’s important life documents, medical records, and program reports “live” on an easily accessible, secure, “cloud” system. For crossover youth, the design, use, and adoption of the electronic backpack concept can potentially lead to better coordinated services and outcomes. Mobile technology provides a greater level of access to critical intervention and service records for youth, their families, and their friends or supportive adults.

Crossover youth are in particular need because of interaction with two systems (child welfare and juvenile justice), and the delay and withholding of services that they may experience without specific documents. For example, a youth who arrives at a new group home placement may have difficulty registering at his or her new school without vaccination records. With an electronic backpack, this issue can be eliminated.


STEVE LOPEZ: MAYOR AND LAPD CHIEF SHOULD HAVE ATTENDED TOWN HALL MEETING ABOUT BRENDON GLENN’S DEATH AT THE HANDS OF POLICE

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez wrote that, by not attending a Venice town hall meeting to discuss the recent shooting death of an unarmed homeless man by a police officer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti missed an important opportunity to show that Brendon Glenn’s death mattered. Here’s a clip:

When Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police last August in South Los Angeles, Beck and other top LAPD brass went into full damage control mode, meeting with a crowd of concerned citizens at Paradise Baptist Church.

Does Venice not matter as much as South L.A.?

Does Brendon Glenn not matter as much as Ezell Ford, both of them black, and both of them unarmed?

If City Hall wanted to send a message that these shootings matter, two people in particular should have gone to that meeting together Thursday night.

“Where is the mayor?” Mike Neely, a commissioner with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, asked from outside the standing-room-only Venice meeting. “Where is the chief of police?”

They were missing in action, that’s where they were.

The first matter the city needs to attend to is the police killing of an unarmed man. That in itself is worthy of the police chief’s and mayor’s attention…

But figuring out why Brendon Glenn was killed is only a small beginning. The next step is to address the underlying failures that foster these killings and so many other woes…

Being a cop isn’t easy, particularly when you’re asked to deal with the fallout from the city’s failure to help people off the streets and into services that can transform their lives, make neighborhoods safer and even deliver a savings to taxpayers.

A scuffle broke out near the Venice promenade, police were summoned, they wrestled with the suspect, and Brendon Glenn — said to have been intoxicated — ended up dead.

It happens too often.

Chronic homelessness is rampant in Venice. The first thing to consider, when there’s a call about a disturbance near the boardwalk, is that it might involve someone who is homeless, mentally ill and/or addicted. The situation might call for backup help, or one of the mental health/police units, or use of a disabling, less lethal weapon than a gun.

And yet, here we are once again, with police as the designated default agency when it comes to homelessness.


FATHERS OF TWO MISSISSIPPI POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY TALK ABOUT THEIR SONS

The nation got heartbreaking news on Saturday night when it learned that two Hattiesburg, Mississippi, police officers, Liquori Tate, 25, and Benjamin J. Deen, 34, had been shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.

On Sunday morning, four suspects were arrested.

Benjamin Deen was a K-9 officer whose father, Dan Deen, told NY Daily News reporter Joel Landau, that his son, a former “officer of the year” in the department, chose his profession so he could follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was a very good cop. He loved his family, he loved his job,” he told The News. “He did his job to the best of his ability.”

Benjamin Deen was married and had two children, a 9-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl, his father said. The family is devastated by what happened, he said.

Ronald Tate, father of Liquori Tate, who was not yet a year out of the police academy, talked with CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet about his son’s passion for policing and the way he treated those he was charged with protecting and serving.

“He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul, and I knew he meant that,” Ronald Tate said.

That doesn’t mean Liquori Tate didn’t know he was putting his life in danger when he joined the force.

“He really knew the risk,” Ronald Tate said, “but I think my son just thought people…are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”


Late last week, the California Senate passed a bill that would ban grand juries from investigating officer-involved shootings and excessive use of force incidents.

Eliminating the grand jury option would give local district attorneys no choice but to handle such cases. And because DAs are elected officials, the bill supporters believe there would be a higher level of public accountability involved.

The bill, SB 227, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-LA, must next be approved by the state Assembly.

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Protests sprouted up nationwide last fall after grand juries in Missouri and New York declined to indict white police officers who had killed unarmed black men during confrontations. The system, in which a jury of citizens weighs the evidence to decide whether to bring charges, came under fire for its secrecy.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who introduced Senate Bill 227, argued that the lack of transparency and oversight in grand jury deliberations, which do not involve judges, defense attorneys or cross-examination of witnesses, did not serve the public.

“The use of the criminal grand jury has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise the nature of our justice system,” she said.

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

DCFS Likely Never Distributed $571,000 in MTA Passes Needed by LA’s Foster Kids Says Report

May 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


THE VANISHING MTA PASSES

In an audit released Friday afternoon, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office revealed that, in a four month period, at least $160,000 word of MTA passes and/or tokens—and very probably $571,000 worth of those same passes/tokens—were never given out to the foster kids who urgently need them.

Here’s the deal: The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)—AKA foster care—provides transit passes or tokens to eligible foster youth who need to use public transportation in order to get to school, counseling sessions, family visitations, and and other required activities.

Transit passes/tokens are, as you might imagine, considered cash equivalents thus, as the auditor controller’s report put it, “should be safeguarded in the same manner as cash to prevent theft or misuse.”

And just give you an idea of the kind of “cash equivalents” we’re talking about, in FY 2012-2013, DCFS gave out approximately $12 million in passes.

With the above in mind, the A-C reviewed DCFS’s pass/token policy and record keeping, starting in FY 2014-2015, to make sure that the chronically troubled agency was safeguarding its inventory of passes and—even more importantly—to determine if the passes and tokens were getting to the kids who depend on them.

The results were not cheering.

We verified that during a four-month period, DCFS regional offices never distributed 1,906 transit passes valued at $160,000. We also reviewed MTA usage records for the same four months and noted that an additional 4,818 transit passes valued at $411,000 may have expired without being used. Based on our findings throughout this review, it is unlikely that all 4,818 of the transit passes were distributed to clients.


“MISAPPROPRIATED” WITHOUT DETECTION??

So what happened to the half-million $$ in passes that appear to never have been used in that four month period?

And are there more discrepancies where those came from?

Despite much looking into the matter, the auditor-controller’s office ultimately wasn’t sure. The report points to finding “critical internal controls and recordkeeping which could result in County funds being misappropriated without detection.”

To try to get to the bottom of the issue of the non-used passes, the A-C referred its concerns to its investigative arm, the Office of County investigations, or OCI—hoping that the sleuths could determine if the passes were stolen, lost, or just stuck in drawers and forgotten about. But because of DCFS’s sloppiness in record keeping, the investigators reportedly found themselves stymied.

Due to the lack of accountability and poor internal controls, OCI was unable to conclude whether County funds were misappropriated.”

Great.


SO WHERE DID THE PASSES AND TOKENS GO?

When the investigators visited 7 local DCFS offices and interviewed samplings of social workers, they found that 90 percent of the MSWs they interviewed kept the passes and tokens (that are, remember, the equivalent of cash) in unlocked desk draws, in overhead cabinets, unsecured in their purses, and like locations. In the case in one office, 38 of the things—all unused, and worth a total of $2,300—were sitting in the employee’s inbox in full view of anybody who strolled by.

Worse, when asked to produce the most recent monthly passes/tokens the workers had been issued, 30 percent of the 20 interviewed, couldn’t locate or account for all the tokens they had received.

In addition to the physical carelessness with the passes and tokens themselves, the A-C reported that, due to the shockingly bad record keeping maintained by regional offices, there was no way to know if small or large numbers of passes and tokens were vanishing regularly.

Regional offices do not maintain perpetual inventory records, and do not accurately complete reconciliation forms – None of the seven regional offices we visited maintain perpetual inventory records of transit passes/tokens. The regional offices also do not conduct monthly physical inventory counts, as required, or accurately complete monthly reconciliations. For example, one office’s reconciliation showed an ending balance of 6,452 tokens, but their beginning balance for the following month was 2,972 tokens. Regional office staff could not explain this discrepancy.


PASSES? WHAT PASSES?

When the passes actually were theoretically given out to foster kids, they were not necessarily given to the right people, or in a timely fashion. In some cases, they were simply not given out at all. And records of who got what were either sloppy or nonexistent.

For instance, in a random sampling of 65 kids who were marked as having to gotten passes/tokens, 20 percent reported to investigators they “did not receive any or all of the transit passes/tokens.”

In one instance, the guardian of a kid indicated that the child in his/her care had not received any of the required transit passes for six months. When confronted by this, the social worker “subsequently admitted that he had given the child’s transit passes to other clients. He could not recall who actually received the passes, but he claimed that he did not ‘keep or sell them.’”

Never mind that, for a kid to be issued the monthly passes/tokens, the distribution must be justified with a court order or case plan.

Out of the sampling, another 20 percent of the kids who had requested monthly passes got the passes, but “an average of 14 days afterthe month began, even though the requests had been submitted at or before the beginning of the month.”

And then there was the case of the social worker who had a form signed by the “client,” indicating that he or she had gotten the monthly passes when, in fact, the passes were still sitting on the MSW’s desk.

(And what sanctions have been levied against these people? Or never mind. Forget we asked.)


THE DOG ATE OUR ABILITY TO DISTRIBUTE MTA PASSES

The report also includes the response from DCFS, which—while no doubt well meaning—feels full of excuses.

For instance, among its plans to solve this lovely mess the department intends to reissue the rules and regulations around the passes, and institute—what else?—new rounds of training.

ln September 2014, the Department began working with the Auditor-Controller’s OCI Division to coordinate training for nearly 250 DCFS management supervisory level staff regarding Fraud Awareness. Training commenced on January 14,2015, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of June 2015…..

And so on. There’s more if you wish to read it. But the above is representative.

From sources close to the board of supervisors we have heard that the Supes are really.., really not happy with all this nonsense.

Good.

Laissez les têtes tomber.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 3 Comments »

Manifesting Justice This Week in Los Angeles

May 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CURTAIN RAISED FOR POP-UP ART EXHIBIT AND CIVIL RIGHTS CONVERSATION SPACE, MANIFEST JUSTICE

As events in Baltimore and elsewhere continue to unreel, on Saturday in Los Angeles, a unique combination pop-up art show and public discussion launched at the Baldwin Hills Theater to promote dialogue about civil rights, social and criminal justice, and activism in order to “build a healthier and more just future.”

The 10-day event, called Manifest Justice, put on by Yosi Sergant of TaskForce PR, along with the California Endowment and Amnesty International, features the work of more than 190 artists, discussions with criminal justice leaders and activists, as well as music, poetry, plays, workshops, and a lot more.

Manifest Justice opened Saturday morning with a Prop 47 Record Change Fair, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice. Attendees with felonies that qualified for reclassification under Prop 47 were offered free legal advice from LA County public defenders and volunteer attorneys, along with help in filling out required court forms. (We’ll have more on the Record Change Fair later this week.)

At 10:00a.m., US Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) chaired a community dialogue in which an array of panelists told of their personal experiences with the justice system.

There was, for example, Charity Chandler, a woman who now works as an activist at Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), founded by former film producer Scott Budnick.

Chandler’s first encounter with LA County’s juvenile justice system began in her early teens with a six-month stint in Juvenile Hall for petty theft after she stole a pack of underwear and a t-shirt.

From that point on, Chandler said she went through things “no child should have to experience,” cycling in and out of juvenile detention and foster care.

When she found out she was pregnant at 18 with a little boy, Chandler had to convince herself that she was not worthless. Chandler made a vow to herself, “I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to bring a black man into this world…and have him suffer like me and so many countless others.”

That decision sent Chandler down a path of transformation and redemption. Chandler became an advocate, and enrolled in school while she was pregnant. She said she finished graduate school this week.

(For more of Chandler’s story, watch her TEDx talk at Ironwood State Prison.)

Other panelists discussed their efforts toward policy change.

Dr. Paul Song, head of, Courage Campaign, spoke about the importance of funding universal pre-kindergarten as a force against poverty and crime.

Dr. Song pointed to stats indicating that kids in poor communities who didn’t participate in government-funded pre-K were 70% more likely than their peers to get arrested for violent crime by the age of 18, and that career criminals can cost the state as much as $1.3 million.

Song argues that while Governor Jerry Brown is intent on storing surplus budget money in a rainy day fund, “for many communities at risk…it has never stopped raining.”

Another panel member, Winston Peters, an LA County Assistant Public Defender, told his story of transformation. Peters said he focused only on the legal aspects of his cases, until he worked at a now-defunct juvenile center in South Los Angeles where, Peters said, he realized that, while he was a good a lawyer, his young clients faced a list of daunting issues that the law failed to adequately cover, abuse, trauma, and mental illness among them.

Peters also noted that LA’s public defender’s office has made efforts to bridge the gap he witnessed all those years ago, by creating a multidisciplinary approach that includes hiring social workers to team up with the attorneys in the juvenile justice division.

Elsewhere in the Baldwin Theater, a massive cardboard Lady Liberty holds her head in her hands. Across the room, a Ferguson police car has been turned into a garden.

Here are photos of a handful of the art installations on display (but really must be seen in person).

“The Talk,” by Michael D’Antuono:

Jordan Weber:

Yolanda Guerra:

Scheduled for later in the week are workshops, discussions, performing arts, and other not-to-be-missed experiences.

But, if you only choose one day to visit the Manifest Justice exhibit, consider making it Wednesday, May 6. At 6:30p.m., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom, and Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, will discuss “resilience,” followed by a play from Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now and #BlackLivesMatter.

There are a ton of other great events and reasons to take in Manifest Justice before it’s over, so check out the website and calendar for yourself.

Note: Watch artist Max Rippon paint overlapping NY Times headlines to create “The True Is a Moment of the False” in the above video.

Posted in American artists, American voices, art and culture, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 15 Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

Loretta Lynch, Baltimore, and Two Important Decisions Before the LA County Supes…and More

April 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LORETTA LYNCH SWORN IN AS 83RD US ATTORNEY GENERAL

On Monday, Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the first female US Attorney General. Lynch replaced Eric Holder, who was the first black Attorney General.

Here are a few clips from AG Lynch’s speech at the Justice Department:

…my mother, who could not be here today but is never far from my thoughts or my heart. She grew up in a world where she was always told what she could not do or could not be, but always knew in her heart that she could soar. She did what would have seemed impossible in the small North Carolina town of her youth. She raised a daughter whom she always told, whatever the dream, whether lawyer, prosecutor or even Attorney General, “of course you can.”

[SNIP]

Because I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see “way up high, Granddaddy,” can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything.

We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all. We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them. We can protect the most vulnerable among us from the scourge of modern-day slavery – so antithetical to the values forged in blood in this country. [my ital] We can protect the growing cyber world. We can give those in our care both protection from terrorism and the security of their civil liberties. We will do this as we have accomplished all things both great and small – working together, moving forward, and using justice as our compass.

I cannot wait to begin that journey.

But while Vice President Joe Biden was swearing Lynch in, the turbulent situation in Baltimore, MD further deteriorated.

This afternoon, the new Attorney General issued a statement on the riots, urging Baltimore citizens to put an end to the violence.

Here’s a clip:

“I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore. Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors who are working to improve their community for all its residents.

“The Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful. The Civil Rights Division and the FBI have an ongoing, independent criminal civil rights investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gray…

“As our investigative process continues, I strongly urge every member of the Baltimore community to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. In the days ahead, I intend to work with leaders throughout Baltimore to ensure that we can protect the security and civil rights of all residents. And I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence.”


BALTIMORE RIOTS: WHAT’S BEHIND THE VIOLENCE

To keep track of the latest developments in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun has a live update feed.

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb writes about the complex weave of underlying causes that led to Monday’s violence. Here’s a clip:

The sliver of hope that Baltimore might not fully teeter into bedlam went up along with the neighborhood CVS, the police vehicles, and the buildings that were ignited on Monday. The day began with a plea for a moratorium on protests from Fredricka Gray, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, so that her family might bury her brother in peace. But by the afternoon, there was no peace for Gray’s family, nor any other in the city. On Monday afternoon, the governor of Maryland issued a state of emergency. Flyers for a Saturday rally issued by the Black Lawyers for Justice urged protestors to “shut the city down.” Two days later, the city is a theater of outrage. The flames leaping into the sky underscored a crucial concern: if the pleas from Freddie Gray’s family could not forestall violence in the streets of Baltimore, the difficult question will be what can prevent more of it.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf shines a light on a pile of underreported police department abuses that fueled the Baltimore protests (and now, the riots). In one instance, a cop allegedly beat an 87-year-old woman while she tried to help her 11-year-old grandson who had been shot. Another cop allegedly tased a hospitalized meningitis patient to death.

Here are some clips, but read the rest of Friedersdorf’s story:

Let’s start with the money.

$5.7 million is the amount the city paid to victims of brutality between 2011 and 2014. And as huge as that figure is, the more staggering number in the article is this one: “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil-rights violations.” What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?

[SNIP]

There was a murder-suicide, with a policeman killing a firefighter, his girlfriend, and himself. There was a different officer who killed himself in jail after being charged with killing his fiancée. In yet another case, “Abdul Salaam, 36, says he was beaten in July 2013 after a traffic stop by officers Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz and that he never got a response to his complaint filed with internal affairs,” The Sun reported. “Those officers would be implicated less than three weeks later in the death of 44-year-old Tyrone West while he was in police custody.” Also in 2013, a jury acquitted an off-duty police officer on manslaughter charges after he chased down and killed a 17-year-old boy who may or may not have thrown a rock that thumped harmlessly into his front door.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, former Baltimore Sun reporter, and author also called for an end to the tidal wave of violence in Baltimore.

Here’s a clip from his blog, The Audacity of Despair:

…the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS LIKELY TO VOTE ON UNIQUE PROGRAM TO PREVENT ABUSE BY HELPING FORMER FOSTER KIDS WITH THEIR OWN KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are slated to vote on whether to launch and fund a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. The program would cost $202,000 and would provide parenting assistance to recently aged-out foster kids who have children of their own (or are expecting). The program, to be run by the non-profit, Imagine L.A., would pair the young parents with five volunteer mentors to help with every day activities like taking kids to sports practice and tutoring.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the proposed pilot program. Here’s a clip:

Harvey Kawasaki of the Department of Children and Family Services said many young adults depend on their parents to help with those kinds of things when they have children of their own. But these youths, who are aging out of foster care, don’t necessarily have that relationship.

“Having a family-mentoring service is creating a surrogate family,” Kawasaki said.

He said the idea is unique in L.A., as most DCFS programs deal with either responding to reports of child abuse or preventing it from reoccurring. This project would target the children of former foster children, something that hasn’t been done before. An estimated 200 foster youth in L.A. County are parents themselves.

“In some sense, this project is trying to test out whether or not this family-mentoring model will prevent intergenerational child abuse,” Kawasaki said.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY APPROVE DOJ SETTLEMENT OVER LASD PALMDALE AND LANCASTER DEPARTMENTS’ RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

In 2013, the US Justice Department slammed the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with 46 pages of “findings” regarding Lancaster and Palmdale deputies’ alleged systemic racial bias against minorities. The DOJ also ordered the LASD, LA County’s Housing Authority, and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, to cough up $12.6 million to pay residents who had allegedly been subject to harassment, discriminatory search and seizure, excessive use of force, and more. (Read the backstory.)

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a settlement with the DOJ. The full details of the proposed settlement are not available, but the Sheriff’s Dept. will reportedly have to compensate those whose rights have been violated and agree to (and comply with) orders regarding excessive force, training, and community relations.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on expected settlement. Here’s a clip:

The details of the settlement slated for approval Tuesday have not been publicly released, but a county official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the settlement will require the sheriff’s department to comply a list of requirements relating to training, use of force and community engagement. The county will be subject to ongoing monitoring and will be required to collect data to show its progress.

The settlement will also include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated, but the amount of that payment has not been released. The justice department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.

The official said the county is still working out a separate settlement agreement that will pertain to the Housing Authority. That settlement could include payments to people who lost their housing vouchers as a result of the raids.


JUDGE ORDERS LAPD TO RELEASE CLINTON ALFORD BEATING VIDEO

US Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg ordered the LAPD to release surveillance footage of an officer allegedly kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head. The video is to be released Wednesday to Alford’s attorney. (Here’s the backstory.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

“Today a judge validated my client’s right to have a copy of the raw video footage of the brutal beating that included him being kicked and hit by members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division,” Harper said. “I said six months ago that if Chief [Charlie] Beck were sincere about transparency he would have released the video then. He wouldn’t have made me compel the production of evidence showing what was done to my client.”

Under the order, Harper can pick up the video Wednesday. She said she will have a forensic expert on hand to examine it. A prior order forbids the public release of the video.

[SNIP]

Beck last week acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident, but he said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.” Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Rights, Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice | No Comments »

LA to Get a Conviction Integrity Unit, LA’s Judge Michael Nash is Back, Bridging the Gap Between Homelessness and Employment, and Crime Victims

April 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY DA JACKIE LACEY TO LAUNCH UNIT TO HUNT FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is establishing a conviction integrity unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The team will consist of three prosecutors, a senior investigator, and a paralegal. DA Lacey has asked the Board of Supervisors for around $1 million in funding.

(Read about conviction integrity units elsewhere in the US: here and here.)

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the new unit. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he expects that a new conviction review unit would particularly help people of color, who he said are wrongfully convicted at disproportionately high rates.

“It sends the message to law enforcement officers that trumped-up charges will not work,” he said. “It’s another dimension of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, which I think is sorely needed.”

The units have already had an effect in other places in California.

On Wednesday, at the request of the Ventura County district attorney’s office, a judge dismissed a murder case against Michael Ray Hanline, who was convicted in 1980. The office said it made the request after an investigation by its conviction integrity unit, along with the California Innocence Project, which turned up new evidence casting doubt on Hanline’s guilt.

[SNIP]

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said that setting up a unit won’t necessarily translate into meaningful change or exonerations.

“There are lots of people who can say, ‘Oh gee, I have a conviction integrity unit,’ because that’s now the necessary fashion accessory,” he said.

To be successful, Scheck said, Los Angeles County should search for someone with “a different way of looking at the cases” —- like a former defense attorney — to lead the unit. The other key, he said, is fostering robust relationships between prosecutors and defense lawyers in which neither side expects to be “sandbagged.”

“It’s no longer an adversarial relationship,” he said. “It’s a joint search for the truth.”


FORMER HEAD OF LA JUVIE COURT, JUDGE MICHAEL NASH, OUT OF RETIREMENT AND INTO DELINQUENCY COURT

Judge Michael Nash retired in January after serving for nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Fortunately, he did not remain retired for long. Judge Nash is back, and working as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and the Department of Children and Family Services, here.)

Holden Slattery interviews Nash for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Nash discusses the differences (and commonalities) between delinquency and dependency courts, and the kids he strives to protect. Here’s a clip:

He had shown interest in taking a lead as the county’s Director of Child Protection, a new office created after recommendations by a blue ribbon commission established to overhaul L.A.’s child protection system. But when the Board of Supervisors dithered on hiring him, he recalibrated his sights.

For a couple of months, he enjoyed relaxing at home with his puppy, doing projects, and watching TV shows that had never fit his schedule in years past.

But Nash wanted more than a cozy seat on the couch. He applied for California’s Assigned Judges Program, which assigns retired judges to benches where they are needed. Nash was appointed to the Juvenile Court in Compton. He now sits in Judge Donna Groman’s courtroom on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while Groman does administrative work.

As presiding judge, Nash was responsible for all of the delinquency courts and dependency courts in Los Angeles County—more than 40 courtrooms in total. In delinquency courts such as Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, a judge determines whether children have broken laws and takes corrective action. In dependency courts, a judge decides whether children have been victims of maltreatment. Before being elected as presiding judge, Nash worked in a dependency court. This is his first time working on the delinquency side of the county’s vast judicial system for minors.

“This is a new experience for me, and it’s great,” Nash says in Groman’s office during a break. “This court is really a hybrid between two systems.”

“On the front end of this process, it’s like a criminal court because kids are charged with crimes and you have to deal with that. But once you get to resolve that issue, it’s the same thing we do on the dependency side. We have to work with these kids and their families to ensure that they’re in stable settings and getting the services they need to become productive members of the community.”


LA TRADE TECH PROGRAM COMBATS SOUTH LA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, HELPS THOSE IN NEED LAND JOBS

Los Angeles Trade Tech’s nonprofit WorkSource Center, which opened in November, makes finding work an attainable goal for low-income men and women in the eastern part of South LA, where the unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the state average. The center serves as a hub, providing everything from employment training and job fairs, to work clothes and tools, and connecting participants to housing assistance and other indispensable services.

The program runs on a $1.1 million grant from the City of Los Angeles.

KPCC’s Brian Watt has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Job seekers take online classes, and complete resumes and job applications at the center’s computer terminals. Private meeting rooms are available for job interviews. The center will host a job fair on May 7.

Carlon Manuel, who works at the WorkSource center, said many of the people who come for help are homeless and hungry.

“We can help them find housing, food banks, rental assistance,” Manuel said, standing in a large closet full of donated suits, ties, dress shoes and business-casual sweaters. “We can give you everything but underwear and a T-shirt and socks. The underwear, T-shirts and socks you work on your own.”

Manuel’s colleague, John Wilson, added: “We’ve put gas in someone’s car so they could get to an interview.”

On a recent Thursday, Manuel, Wilson and other staffers at the center helped a group of men sign up for a construction apprenticeship program. Some were military veterans. Others were what Manuel called “veterans of the streets,” who were referred to the center by representatives at Homeboy Industries, a local nonprofit that helps current and former gang members.

Applications and training are the first steps for job seekers. As they near the end of that process, and are at the cusp of getting hired, other needs can get in the way. Construction work might require tools and boots that the employer doesn’t pay for. The same goes for culinary knives for line cooks in restaurants. If the aspiring worker doesn’t have the cash to cover those items, the center tries to find a way.


CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS WEEK: POLICE WIDOW AND ADVOCATE CALLS FOR EQUAL ACCESS TO VICTIM SERVICES

In the summer of 2005, Dionne Wilson’s police officer husband, Dan, was talking with three drunken young men outside of an apartment building when one of them pulled out a gun and shot him.

In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Dionne Wilson explains how her husband’s murder led her to become a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Wilson says that while she received excellent support as a victim of crime, her experience did not fall within the norm. Not all crime survivors are treated the same by the criminal justice system, and many do not have easy access to support and resources. Wilson helped secure funds for one-stop-shop trauma recovery centers in California to combat these problems. Currently, there are just three centers in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. Wilson says more are needed, and lauds the allocation of anticipated Prop 47 funds for future trauma recovery centers.

Here’s a clip:

Responding to a minor disturbance outside an apartment complex, Dan spoke with some young, very intoxicated men. One man, who had been in jail for drugs and feared a return trip, drew his gun and shot Dan. The man was caught, convicted and received the death penalty. But the healing I expected did not come. I was angry, depressed and broken.

As a police widow, I had all the support you could want: Friends brought me food, Dan’s colleagues helped me navigate the justice system and everyone always saw me as a victim. Without this support, I would not have made it.

However, the entire experience led me to view the system itself as broken…

This endless cycle of incarceration is largely driven by mental health and drug addiction issues that continue to be punished instead of healed. This is exactly what happened with the man who shot my husband.

The current approach is not working; it’s expensive and not making us safer. This realization led me to work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide network whose members were in Sacramento on Monday and Tuesday to call for new priorities that better aid survivors.

For example, the support I received after Dan’s death is the exception, not the rule. After meeting with survivors, I realize that the justice system does not respond to victims equally. Equally troubling is that a vast majority of crime survivors don’t know about, or have access to, services for victims.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

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